Monday, May 23, 2011

Diatribe + Monologue = "Dialogue"

A new journal has just appeared, by the name of "Dialogue." Its rabbinic board consists of Rabbi Aharon Feldman from Baltimore, Rabbi Shlomo Miller from Toronto, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman from Jerusalem. I will be publishing a detailed rejoinder to Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's article, and others will be responding to the other articles. For now, I would like to simply address the editors' preface, which contains some astounding and deeply disturbing statements. The first paragraph raises the question of what need there is for such a publication, and the second paragraph provides the justification:

...this journal hopes to fill a void which exists in the present Torah observant world. There is presently no platform for the intelligent, Torah-oriented discussion of important contemporary issues and ideas by writers who are both steeped in Torah knowledge and committed exclusively to its values.

What?! What about Tradition and Hakirah? The preface continues:

The existing Orthodox magazines are either family magazines which by definition are not dedicated to such serious discussions, or else they are intellectual journals that, in their perspectives and language, seem to be directed exclusively to an academic readership and often espouse opinions which, from a Torah standpoint, are problematic.

I don't think that either Tradition or Hakirah could be said to exclusively address an academic leadership in either their perspective or language. Thus, I assume that they "fail" on the last point. So in the very second paragraph of this new publication, we are told that Tradition and Hakirah - two popular and respected publications in the Orthodox Jewish community - are not "Torah-true" publications. Indeed, this sets an accurate tone for "Dialogue," as the articles in the inaugural issue demonstrate: It is a journal whose primary objective is to discredit and disqualify others.

Later in the preface, we are told the following:
DIALOGUE hopes to be true to its name and will welcome dissenting opinions as well, whether submitted as full articles or as letters to the editor.

That sounds promising - living up to its name, seeking dialogue between those with dissenting opinions. But, lest one receive the wrong impression, the editors immediately clarify matters:
There is one limitation which DIALOGUE will place on itself, the limitation imposed by the verse from Malachi (3:16) whose beginning appears on the masthead: “Then the fearful of God spoke to each other...” This means that the dialogue in this journal will be conversations of yirey Hashem, i.e., those who consider the truths of the Torah and the interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages until our day to be immutable and fully binding. Its pages will be open to anyone, regardless of which grouping he belongs to, whose ideas are based on these premises, and who are able to present fresh ideas and perspectives for modern-day Jewry.

This paragraph is quite disingenuous. Pay attention to the all-important phrase "the interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages until our day" - and note especially the last few words. Now, Rav Feldman is well-known for claiming that a view espoused by dozens and dozens of Rishonim and Acharonim - that Chazal were not infallible in scientific matters - can now be termed kefirah, since it has been paskened unacceptable by Rav Elyashiv and other Charedi gedolim. The interpretation of virtually all the Rishonim, many Acharonim and innumerable contemporary Torah scholars on Pesachim 94b must be rejected from Torah-true discourse. In other words, the Torah "interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages" count for nothing at all - the only thing that counts is that legitimized by the Torah teachers of our day - by which they mean a particularly extreme sub-set of the Charedi world.

Furthermore, claiming that DIALOGUE's standards of Torah-true discourse, by which widespread views of Rishonim and Acharonim can be termed kefirah, and respected Orthodox journals such as Tradition and Hakirah are not considered acceptable, are all simply the standard imposed by the verse from Malachi - peshat in the passuk! - is nothing less than perverse.

We live in an upside-down world, where sexual perverts and predators are honored by the Gedolim's cohorts for publishing sefarim on taharas Yisrael; where the followers of Daf Yomi are given short shrift at its siyum, in favor of those who disdain it; where those crying about the fate of the yeshivah boys in Japan are simultaneously sending more people to prison (I'll be posting about these last two points in due course). But perhaps there is no greater irony than that a journal such as this, built upon a foundation of delegitimizing anything that doesn't fall within its incredibly narrow standards of acceptability, calls itself "Dialogue."

31 comments:

  1. You can't blame them for not wanting to read that there was no flood (Tradition) or that God is Corporeal (Hakirah).

    Also, might your vehemence be directed to the three men linked in your post who do not agree with your worldview?

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  2. My goodness...
    For a person who runs a blog which is very explicit about what type of world view comments must have, you seem to have gotten needlessly upset about a publication which requires it's comments to have a specific world view.

    Also, I think Tradition and Hakira would admit that they are committed to values which are not exclusive to Torah.

    I don't see what is wrong with arguing from within the cannan only if that is the dialogue they wish to have. Presumably, if an argument is "correct" (meaning, it's part of the system of Judaism) then one doesn't require "outside values" to make the argument.

    Would you be understanding if Tradition or Hakira refused to publish letters and articles arguing for the divinity of Jesus, or the requirement for Jews to be servants of a Caliphate?

    The main difference between Dialogue and Tradition, IMO, is that Tradition is open to outside values, and defines Judaism as a religion which is the combination of Torah and Creation. Dialogue, wishes to only look at Torah. The title of both journals then become quite ironic.

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  3. Garnel IronheartMay 23, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Well calling its Monologue would be a bit too obvious, wouldn't it?

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  4. You can't blame them for not wanting to read that there was no flood (Tradition) or that God is Corporeal (Hakirah).

    No article in Hakira ever proposed that God is corporeal.

    Also, might your vehemence be directed to the three men linked in your post who do not agree with your worldview?

    Well, obviously they aren't my favorite people in the world, to put it mildly! But either my points are valid or not.

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  5. For a person who runs a blog which is very explicit about what type of world view comments must have, you seem to have gotten needlessly upset about a publication which requires it's comments to have a specific world view.

    I don't have any problem with a publication wanting to be extreme-charedi-only. I do have a problem with claiming that other views are not Judaism, with it describing itself as being inclusive of differing views, and with it claiming respect for Torah interpreters "throughout the ages."

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  6. This magazine is really quite disturbing. It seems these people are totally incapable of self-critique and seem to spend all their intellectual efforts on denigrating others, which is really very sad. There is no hint in their writings of trying to understand or solve the problems that you (or anyone else dealing with other complex issues) are trying to answer. The fact that they couldn't care less about helping people who have questions on these topics, whilst concurrently pouring scorn on anyone who is actually doing the hard work of trying to come up with solutions is frankly odious.

    I'm sure you've heard about the terrifying attack in Skver, perpetrated by the Rebbe's 'haus-bochur', against someone who davened outside of the rebbe's shul. Maybe the only good that can come out of this and similar incidents is that people may begin to learn where the end of this road (which is animated by similar instincts to those who fight against you) leads to.

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  7. Exactly. There's nothing wrong in extreme-charedim wanting to limit their framework of discussion to those subscribing to their values. The problem is that they concentrate their efforts on discrediting others rather than developing their own approaches.

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  8. I received their magazine recently. What a shame. It's all about knocking down (or clumsily attempting to) people they differ with, and does nothing to advance the cause of chareidim.

    My advice - don't get preoccupied with deconstructing their arguments. It confers a legitimacy upon them that they dont deserve. Devoting three separate posts to this brand-new magazine, as you intend to do, is way, way too much. Adarrabah - to the extent anyone has to care about yenem, they should be devoting articles to you, not the other way around.

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  9. Can't recall the name but I believe there is another platform published in Israel in hard-covered book form. Probably has too many Zionist Rabbi's writing in it for them.

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  10. "those who consider the truths of the Torah and the interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages until our day to be immutable and fully binding". That is when you loose all objectivity. That is what is so frustrating about reading these publications. How can you be objective when everything said by your sages must be 100% true.

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  11. "the truths of the Torah and the interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages until our day to be immutable and fully binding"

    Presumably including the rejected minority opinions like Chizkiyahu was Mashiach, that God had a body, and that we can eat chicken and milk together.

    Order one chicken parmesan, please!

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  12. Yench, Yawn..

    I thought you accepted that R'Elyashiv could call your books kefirah for his circles.
    Hakirah & Tradition obviously contain stuff that haredim would not consider "committed exclusively to Torah values". There's nothing new here to attack.

    And your last paragraph is entirely irrelevant. Your article is just a long speech by one person bitterly attacking the haredim. Now I get your title.

    You can just say "I am angry at haredim and especially at R' Meiselman". People would understand.

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  13. I'd like to preface this remark by saying that the exact quote you slammed bugged the heck out of me, too. With that said...

    I picked up the unsolicited Dialogue from my counter and started to read it. At first I thought I should let my wife read it first, but then I saw the names Feldman, Miller, and Meiselman. I thought, "I bet this will discussed at rationalistjudaism very soon!" I got to about page 5 when I entered a friend's house. This friend is a Modern Orthodox rabbi. He saw the journal in my hand and asked me what I thought about it. I answered that I just started it. He said, "it looks like it's not a dialogue at all but just rabbis telling the people what to think." Trying to be clever instead of thinking about the results of my response, I replied, "Kind of like what you're doing right now?"

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  14. "those who consider the truths of the Torah and the interpretations given by its teachers throughout the ages until our day to be immutable and fully binding. Its pages will be open to anyone, regardless of which grouping he belongs to, whose ideas are based on these premises, and who are able to present fresh ideas and perspectives for modern-day Jewry."

    Does nobody see the irony in fresh immutable ideas?

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  15. I thought you accepted that R'Elyashiv could call your books kefirah for his circles.

    Absolutely! FOR HIS CIRCLES.

    Hakirah & Tradition obviously contain stuff that haredim would not consider "committed exclusively to Torah values".

    Of course it's not their hashkafic cup of tea. Still, for them to absolutely disqualify those journals in such stark terms is significant.

    There's nothing new here to attack.

    A lot of people seem to be misunderstanding and missing my point here. Again: I have no problem with a journal wanting to limit itself to charedi norms. The (main) problem is that they concentrate their efforts on discrediting others rather than developing their own approaches. The other problem is that they are not exactly honest about what they are doing.

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  16. "Does nobody see the irony in fresh immutable ideas?"

    They mean fresh ideas for arguing in favor of immutable ideas.

    May this journal reveal the full nakedness of the emperor.

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  17. I'm not sure that a charedi journal can be completely honest. By self-definition, the charedi journal must pledge fealty to the recognized charedi leaders at all costs. This policy is sometimes not compatible with simple and plain honesty.

    מה לעשות?

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  18. Ten Jew Very MuchMay 24, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    The (main) problem is that they concentrate their efforts on discrediting others rather than developing their own approaches.

    But what else can they do? In effect, R' Meiselman has proposed a theory of creation that has no external or empirical supporting evidence, cannot be verified or falsified, and has no explanatory power.

    As the lawyers say, "If the facts support you, pound the facts; if the facts don't support you, pound the law; and if neither the facts nor the law support you, pound the table."

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  19. Actually, it can certainly be falsified. I'll be posting on this (and it's already in my book).

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  20. "
    A lot of people seem to be misunderstanding and missing my point here. Again: I have no problem with a journal wanting to limit itself to charedi norms. The (main) problem is that they concentrate their efforts on discrediting others rather than developing their own approaches. The other problem is that they are not exactly honest about what they are doing."

    I thought you tried to refrain from making criticisms against others that could be directed at yourself.

    Sometimes, as I am sure you know, you have to "discredit others" before you can even start having a conversation. Define your terms as they say.

    If you truly felt that the proper way to be was to only build up your own case, and not to discredit other people's cases, you never would have written this blog post!

    You have effectively written here that the journal of Dialogue is to be removed from the conversation. (Which is fine, and I have no intention of ever reading it) But please recognize that you are doing exactly what you say is so bad about them.

    However, I must admit, the challenge of responding and refuting their arguments while following their rules does strike me as fun if I had the time. And I fully believe that it is possible since I know of enough charedi people who don't object to evolution or science in general.

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  21. TenJew Very MuchMay 24, 2011 at 10:28 PM

    I agree it can be falsified--but that only works with people who are looking to understand facts, rather than just explain them away.

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  22. I thought you tried to refrain from making criticisms against others that could be directed at yourself.

    You think that I concentrate my efforts on discrediting others rather than developing my own approach? Have you not read my books?

    If you truly felt that the proper way to be was to only build up your own case, and not to discredit other people's cases, you never would have written this blog post!

    I never said that the proper way is ONLY to build up one's own case and NEVER to criticize others. Rather, I said that the focus should be on building up one's own approach rather than discrediting others.

    You have effectively written here that the journal of Dialogue is to be removed from the conversation... please recognize that you are doing exactly what you say is so bad about them.

    No, I'm not. If they want to talk about the charedi approach to these topics, fine.

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  23. I thought you accepted that R'Elyashiv could call your books kefirah for his circles.

    Absolutely! FOR HIS CIRCLES.


    Can you explain this, please? Dialogue is aimed at those circles, and R' Feldman considers himself a close talmid of R' Elyashiv. Of course they consider many things to be kefirah which you do not. You seem to be bothered by their delegitimization of even Tradition and Hakirah, which are not part of "their circle." But once you concede that chareidim, for themselves, can view something as kefirah, then of course they will criticize others who disagree. Heresy is not subjective. No one is going to to think - well, this is kefira for me, but the MO crowd can say it, no problem. That makes no sense.

    As a former Ner guy, I heard that R' Feldman was in fact bothered by an article in Tradition last year (or maybe a little more) which accepted as obvious that the mabul is only allegorical, as well as R' Broyde's article permitting married women to uncover their hair. And I'm sure R' Feldman did not take kindly to your suggestion, made in Hakirah, that Rashi believed in the corporeality of G-d. He truly believes these positions are heretical. Once you concede his right to hold that belief, there is nothing to complain about.

    As far as the claim that the chareidim do not develop their own approaches, there is in general a lot of truth to that. Chareidi society is basically reactive, not proactive. However, in this journal, R' Meiselman is attempting to articulate an alternative to your positions. You may think that his suggestions are incredibly stupid, and that is OK. But at least recognize that he is formulating his own approach.

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  24. I feel like I'm repeating myself here. Probably because I'm repeating myself.

    First of all - while I understand that Charedim don't like non-Charedi approaches, it's still objectionable from our perspective that they describe them in such negative terms.

    Second, they focus on discrediting others rather than grappling with the problems that the others are trying to solve. Third, they call themselves "Dialogue"!

    R. Meiselman is formulating his own approach - but before doing that, he discredits all others as being not legitimate from a theological perspective, and equates them with undermining the fundamentals of faith.

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  25. "First of all - while I understand that Charedim don't like non-Charedi approaches, it's still objectionable from our perspective that they describe them in such negative terms.

    Second, they focus on discrediting others rather than grappling with the problems that the others are trying to solve. Third, they call themselves "Dialogue"!

    R. Meiselman is formulating his own approach - but before doing that, he discredits all others as being not legitimate from a theological perspective, and equates them with undermining the fundamentals of faith."

    I guess I can see where you are coming from on the first point, but only because you are personally involved. I don't get offended when a Christian tells me I'm going to hell. I ignore them.

    On your second and third point: your second point, contradicts your last paragraph. And on your third point: There has only been one publication so far, so you have no idea if it's a dialogue or not. Maybe some people aren't silenced by the article, and will respond, and those responses will be published.

    On this blog, and in your books, you discredit approaches that you don't agree with. You declare them irrelevant, or not satisfying. Or you say they don't apply to the context of your argument for reasons x,y or z. It is what people do when they have an argument!


    " and equates them with undermining the fundamentals of faith.""

    I'm guessing, he believes that they do. Perhaps he gets just as insulted when you suggest that he doesn't respect the Rishonim, or that his arguments undermine the entire rational approach.

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  26. your second point, contradicts your last paragraph.

    What do you mean?

    On this blog, and in your books, you discredit approaches that you don't agree with.

    I'm pretty sure that I ONLY do so when either (a) it is people who are condemning my own approach or (b) it is in the context of presenting my own approach - and most significantly, what I do is to explain why those other approaches do not work - NOT to say that those espousing them are beyond the pale of Judaism!

    " and equates them with undermining the fundamentals of faith.""

    I'm guessing, he believes that they do.


    Well, if he takes such an astonishing position, it should be spelled out and justified, not glossed over.

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  27. "What do you mean?"


    A. Second, they focus on discrediting others rather than grappling with the problems that the others are trying to solve.

    B. R. Meiselman is formulating his own approach - but before doing that, he discredits all others


    You don't see how these two general statements contradict each other? Granted, you could parse the text and show how they aren't contradictions, but in the context of this post, and this conversation, you are saying
    A. All they do is destroy, they don't build. and then B. Sure they are building, but only after first destroying things.



    "I'm pretty sure that I ONLY do so when either (a) ... (b) ..., what I do is to explain why those other approaches do not work - NOT to say that those espousing them are beyond the pale of Judaism!"

    Now you are giving excuses as to why its ok for you to do something, but not ok for somebody else to be doing the same thing.

    Also, based on what I read elsewhere, it seems that he does explain why these things don't work ("they don't apply because nature changed/ nature isn't constant")

    "Well, if he takes such an astonishing position, it should be spelled out and justified, not glossed over."

    You yourself have said that he doesn't agree with these things on theological grounds. Why are you now pretending that this is astonishing? If he thinks it is wrong theology, then he thinks it undermines his theology to believe them.. I really don't get what is so astonishing about this.

    Personally, if I was in your boat, I wouldn't be arguing that evolution or an ancient world is true, I would be arguing that the age of the universe, or "how we got here", aren't things which Torah true jews should be wasting their time with. I'd be waving the Mishna which says to not spend time thinking about what was before, what is above, or what is below... i.e. argue theology with them.

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  28. A. Second, they focus on discrediting others rather than grappling with the problems that the others are trying to solve.

    B. R. Meiselman is formulating his own approach - but before doing that, he discredits all others

    You don't see how these two general statements contradict each other?


    You are mixing up my critique of the journal as a whole with my critique of R. Meiselman's article. His article is much less negative than some of the others.

    But even his article does not actually grapple with the problems. I will be explaining this in a future post.

    Now you are giving excuses as to why its ok for you to do something, but not ok for somebody else to be doing the same thing.

    No, my point is that they are not doing the same thing!

    You yourself have said that he doesn't agree with these things on theological grounds. Why are you now pretending that this is astonishing?

    What's astonishing is to equate the universe being billions of years old with the universe not having been created.

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  29. I was actually happy we received Dialogue in the mail.

    We were almost out of toilet paper.

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  30. Sorry, I do not think you addressed the point adequately.

    I thought you accepted that R'Elyashiv could call your books kefirah for his circles.

    Absolutely! FOR HIS CIRCLES.


    Kefirah is pretty much the most extreme possible sentiment that can be expressed. This quote does not square with what you then wrote:

    ..it's still objectionable from our perspective that they describe them in such negative terms.

    If something is kefirah, it will be described negatively. I personally think the correct position is to deny R' Elyashiv's ability to decide the issue at all. This is a centuries old machlokes, with no halachic ramifications, thus he has no right to declare your positions kefirah. But once you grant R' Elyashiv that right, you can't complain that his followers treat your positions as kefirah.

    You are mixing up my critique of the journal as a whole with my critique of R. Meiselman's article. His article is much less negative than some of the others.

    In order for there to be a critique of the journal as a whole, you have to establish a general trend to which R' Meiselman, who you agree is formulating his own (deeply flawed) approach, is the exception. I myself did not notice such a trend. Your critique does hold for Kobre's article about feminism, and I guess it holds for the attack on R' Broyde article (although they were mainly just attacking his lomdus, and I am not sure it is legitimate to see that article as part of a larger trend). I though the other three were neutral. So, 2 vs 1 = journal as a whole?

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  31. Turns out there's also a journal published by Torah Yosef Hamivtar, called "Dialogues"!

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