Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rav Sternbuch Clarifies... Or Does He?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch, head of the Bedatz - Eidah Charedis, is an interesting figure. On the one hand, during the controversy over my books, he condemned any attempt to reconcile Bereishis with science. On the other hand, he openly voiced his endorsement of Rabbi Nosson Kamenetzky's banned book Making Of A Godol.

The "Silver Segulah Ring" advertisement, that we discussed yesterday, cited Rav Sternbuch as endorsing it. But in this week's Mishpachah, Rav Sternbuch clarifies his stance (courtesy of the Daas Torah blog):


But what does this actually mean? There are several possibilities.

It superficially appears to mean that he firmly believes that the true silver segulah ring works, but he has not ascertained if this is the real McCoy.

But it could be that he doesn't believe in such segulos, yet of course cannot say so in public, and so this is how he avoids endorsing it.

Alternatively, it could be something in the middle - he does believe that segulos work, but is uncomfortable with the excesses of the silver-segulah-ring advertisement, and wants to disassociate from it.

I have no idea which of these is what he meant.

42 comments:

  1. Personally, I have no interest in trying to tease out what R. Sternbuch thinks.

    As long as he does not come out and clearly condemn the makers of the Segulah ring, he is effectively complicit with them.

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  2. Please, can't we call a spade a spade? These rings are riddiculous, with no "power" whatever. The "conditions" attached to their usage, which R. Sternbuch says he cannot supervise, are simply hedges erected to explain away the failures of the ring to produce results. What the "Raavad" thinks or says about it is immaterial.

    There is no difference between ring-sellers or kabba-lists, and the palm-readers and tarot-card-reading gypsies one finds in inner cities. Not a wit of difference at all. And yet one can find plenty of good religious Jews who would laugh (privately) at the poor fools who go to these places, and then turn around to give kovod to and wear the red strings of the "mekubalim". Amazing.

    A. Schreiber

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  3. He simply avoided answering the real question. People are talking about 70,000 going to Uman this year. Why not just love G-d and Humanity and be a good person? Why are we so twisted and crazy?

    I am trying to get a price for the ring and give them a piece of my mind, but nobody is picking up. If I get thru I'll let you know.

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  4. Constructive ambiguity.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_ambiguity

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  5. He simply avoided answering the real question. People are talking about 70,000 going to Uman this year. Why not just love G-d and Humanity and be a good person? Why are we so twisted and crazy?

    I am trying to get a price for the ring and give them a piece of my mind, but nobody is picking up. If I get thru I'll let you know.

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  6. As long as he does not come out and clearly condemn the makers of the Segulah ring, he is effectively complicit with them.

    Done in one

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  7. Even children know that magic is fake. How can adults, even rabbis, actually believe in that nonsense? Why don't they understand that when a midrash talks about something magical or supernatural, it is to be understood allegorically? And similarly, for the early verses of the book Genesis. They are in the grip of cognitive dissonance.

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  8. Probably means that the hechsher dpt of the Eida Chareidit wasn't thrilled that they weren't making money off an advertisement that one of their rabbis was endorsing something. I guess the manufacturer wouldn't pay for the hechsher, so the Raavad had to pull his endorsement in a tactful way.

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  9. I agree with Carol.

    And I guess we are twisted and crazy because we are lazy. It is much easier to wear a segula ring than to work on our character -- or to work on loving God and humanity, both of Whom/whom are sometimes hard to love.

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  10. $280 a ring can be purchased in Boro Park on 13th Ave corner 52. Group discounts are available. If they are still open by the time I get home, I am stopping by to check out the 'holy' names inside the ring.

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  11. Canuck, why are you so sure that midseason speaking about magic are allegorical?

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  12. That should say "midrashim. I'm typing on a phone.

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  13. First of all, you can get a LoTR ring of power for $30 plus delivery charge on ebay. Comes with chair and authentic elven script. I'm just saying...

    Secondly, my reading of what Rav Sternbuch wrote is:
    1) There are seforim that say that you can indeed produce such a segulah ring if certain conditions are met
    2) I don't know if these rings meet those conditions
    3) Therefore I can't tell you if these are the segulah rings that the books talk about and imply are potent.

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  14. Rabbi Slifkin wrote:

    I have no idea which of these is what he meant.

    What’s the difference? You’ve raised an important issue and supported your position admirably. You’ve taught klal Yisrael a Torah lesson. Leave it alone. Don’t debase your original post with irrelevancies…

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  15. why not just take it at face value. Assuming there is such a reference in the sfarim hakedoshim, what else could R' Sternbuch say without taking a position on all segulot?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  16. From the American Yated(see link):

    "A great-granddaughter of Rav Shimon Schwab had been to Eretz Yisroel. Upon returning, she visited her grandfather, a red string tied around her wrist. When Rav Schwab saw the string, he asked his granddaughter why she was wearing it. The girl told her grandfather that it was a piece of a red string which had been wound around Kever Rochel seven times and that wearing such a string was supposedly a segulah for a shidduch and other things.

    When he heard this, Rav Schwab - in his trademark pleasant manner - asked the girl if she thought that perhaps she should not wear it. The granddaughter asked if he thought she should remove it, and he responded in the affirmative. Of course, the girl obliged, and Rav Schwab himself removed the red string from her hand. After removing the string, Rav Schwab explained to his granddaughter why he had felt that it should be removed.

    “If you wish for something,” Rav Schwab explained, “then you should daven for it. That’s how a Jew deals with all situations - with tefillah, Torah, and mitzvos. If there is a segulah which is part of our general service to Hashem, then such a segulah may be acceptable. There are no quick-fixes, however. A segulah which is not tefillah and has no component of avodas Hashem in it, but rather is merely a quick-fix, such as wearing a red string, is unacceptable.”

    http://www.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/yated/kishke_segula.html

    My own comments:

    I'm a little baffled why Mishpacha advertised this, based on its own hashkafah and analysis of what's needed in Klal Yisroel.

    The editor of Mishpacha, as well as writers such as Jonathan Rosnblum, have discussed how both children and adults need to work on both intellectual and emotional belief, as well as a passinate relationship with Hashem. Similarly, organizations such as Project Inspire, Project Chazon, 6Constant Mitzvos Project, R. Dovid Sapirman's organization deal with these matters.

    I am sure, however, if I call up the above people and tell them that this is the #1 segulah, the ikkar of ikkarim, which the community needs to be focused, they would try to disabuse me from such a notion(or think I am crazy).

    Now, Mishpacha has hashkafic standards for its ads(R. Efraim Wachsman at the recent Agudah convention asked publications, "b'chol lashon shel bakashah", to have proper standards in their ads).If so, why accept this ad if it conflicts with what it's own editorial line, as above, rightfully understands as what needs to be emphasized today as what's important in Yiddishkeit?

    (My guess is that it is a good conversation starter and it stimulates discussion !)

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  17. >Canuck, why are you so sure that midseason speaking about magic are allegorical?

    You are suggesting that perhaps the sages of the Talmud actually believed in magic. If children today intuitively know magic is illusion and sleight of hand, why wouldn't the sages of the Talmud have known this too? Where does the Torah say that man has the power to independently change the laws of physics or nature? Miracles in Tanach were ascribed to G-d, with human beings simply acting as agents or conduits. Those miracles were rare, occurred only when necessary, and usually involved many witnesses.

    In midrash, magical acts seems to occur on a whim, with supernatural power ascribed to man. The Tanach doesn't show that kings or prophets had supernatural powers, so why would midrash suggest that people living hundreds of years later did? Why would midrash contain fantastic or seemingly impossible descriptions of figures from Tanach, when the Tanach itself makes no such suggestions? The only reasonable explanation is that those descriptions in midrash are literary devices meant to convey deeper meanings (e.g. moral or psychological lessons). This should be obvious.

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  18. My suspicion is that Rav Sternbuch believes that the ring is silly, but operates on the assumption that if anyone questions anything in the "seforim hakedoshim" in public it would lead to heresy. So he found a way to state his unbelief without appearing to question any "seforim hakedoshim."

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  19. >“If you wish for something,” Rav Schwab explained, “then you should daven for it. That’s how a Jew deals with all situations - with tefillah, Torah, and mitzvos. If there is a segulah which is part of our general service to Hashem, then such a segulah may be acceptable. There are no quick-fixes, however. A segulah which is not tefillah and has no component of avodas Hashem in it, but rather is merely a quick-fix, such as wearing a red string, is unacceptable.”

    This is supposed to be a nice story about R. Schwab, but in my opinion this is precisely the attitude which encourages this stuff. If it's a "quick fix" that means it works, but you should be a goody two-shoes and do the hard work instead. Who is going to listen to that?

    What is needed is for a rabbi not to say that it's a "quick fix" but that it's baseless, it's expensive nonsense, it's superstition, it's false. This does raise problems, like why if it's fake did other great rabbis say that it's real? But the "quick fix" answer will not realistically put a stop to this. All people hear is "it works, it's real."

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  20. There's dunces, and then there's dunces. This ad, imbecilic as it is, cannot meet the famous "jogger with a gemara" ad the Jewish Observer once ran. Some company was selling treadmills. The ad featured a guy with a beard on a treadmill -in a full black suit, in dress shoes, with tzitzis out - peering into a Gemara on the treadmill backstop. The tag was "learn while you exercise". I think even JO was embarassed at all the hooting, and stopped running it. Or maybe the company wisened up.

    Now, THAT was a classic.

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  21. Why can't one of the choices be that R Shternbuch believes that it is possible for there to be such a ring, which if it has the correct shaimos and made properly can protect someone, yet not be ensorsing this ring from this guy?

    @canuck, before you make accusations of the sort that you did, try to consider that their are valid and legitimate derachim in Judaism that do accept the existence of magic. I understand that most people here fo with the Rambam, but he is not th only view out there, there are other Rishonim too.

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  22. You are suggesting that perhaps the sages of the Talmud actually believed in magic.

    Of course they did. There are countless sugyas discussing demons and other occult phenomena.

    If children today intuitively know magic is illusion and sleight of hand, why wouldn't the sages of the Talmud have known this too?

    That is patently false. The overwhelming majority of people for most of history "intuitively knew" that magic is real.

    Where does the Torah say that man has the power to independently change the laws of physics or nature?

    Pharaoh's magicians? Witches? Of course there are other ways of interpreting these, but the pashtus is certainly that there is such a thing as magic!

    The Tanach doesn't show that kings or prophets had supernatural powers, so why would midrash suggest that people living hundreds of years later did?

    Because times change. Within Judaism, there have been many different cultures and outlooks on these things. You are making the common mistake of imposing your own perspective on people from a very different time and place.

    I recommend that you read my monograph on demons!

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  23. Rabbi Slifkin, I didn't expect such a reproof! Maybe I was projecting a rational mindset to others. But, many people loosely accept falsehoods which would otherwise cause them to question their core beliefs and values.

    Is it tenable to suggest that while the Talmudic sages believed in magic (as a cultural quirk), they included magical or miraculous tales in the Talmud as allegorical devices, not intending them to be understood literally? Is there any other rational explanation? If the Torah represents Truth, then how could it include false ideas? I appreciate your taking time to respond.

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  24. Why is it too difficult to accept that Rav Sternbuch simply believes in the ring as a concept and on that the makers relied but he did not endorse the ring in question? Why does Rav Sternbuch need a Peirush?

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  25. Understanding the fact that through out Jewish history there has always been idolatrous superstitious beliefs and practices that never ceased to this day. Early Rabbinic Judaism obviously never purged the beliefs from their teachings and its fairly clear many of the Sages themselves were superstition and taught the same to their students.

    Holding the Talmudic Sages on too much of a pedestal itself is dangerous and a form of idolatrous ancestor worship that holds back Judaism from clear thought and arrests the purging of idolatry and other normal Jewish Torah beliefs.

    We can't keep indoctrinating the next generation into the belief that the Sages are only great, holy, special, infallible people that hold full authority, etc... we can never see them for what they were, human beings that can err and have limitations like everyone else and were products of their culture.

    Thoughts?

    Please forgive any type o's

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  26. > If children today intuitively know magic is illusion and sleight of hand, why wouldn't the sages of the Talmud have known this too?

    Children today grow up in a world where it is generally accepted that magic is not real. They are TAUGHT that magic is not real. It’s not intuitive. The Amoraim lived in a world where everyone believed in magic.

    Up to about age 8, children absolutely believe in magic.

    http://www.psy.utexas.edu/psy/faculty/woolley/pdf/wishconstraints.pdf

    “Children believe that by wishing for something they can affect physical reality. Research indicates that preschool-age children know a great deal about wishing and also believe in its efficacy. Vikan and Clausen (1993) showed 4- and 6-year-old participants drawings of children and told them that the child was making a wish in an attempt to influence another person depicted in another scene. Children were asked to indicate the effectiveness of the child’s wish. Results showed that 94% of the 4- to 6-year-old children believed they could influence others by wishing.”

    “When asked about the magical nature of wishing, children’s responses indicate that they consider wishing to be more similar to magical events, like a frog turning into a princess, than to ordinary events, like water coming out of a faucet (Woolley et al., 1999). Woolley et al. also had children make wishes that appeared to come true. When asked whether magic was involved in the event, children overwhelmingly responded affirmatively. Thus, rather than representing a case of ordinary mental–physical causality, children appear to view wishing as a form of magical causality.”

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  27. If the Torah represents Truth, then how could it include false ideas?

    Are you asking about the Talmud, or the Chumash? It sounds like you are talking about the Talmud. Why can't it include false ideas? It's not just a collection of material from Sinai; there's lots more besides.

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  28. Can someone who checked "kefira" please explain what is the problem with this post?

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  29. "There are no quick-fixes"

    Much of the world is extremely resistant to accepting this simple fact.

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  30. Most of Onkelos' translation of the Chumash into Aramaic has recently been translated into English, with the final volume due out in a few weeks. I had never paid attention to Onkelos as it is not-easy Aramaic, and I never understood why an Aramaic translation would be of interest when there are plenty of English translations.

    Boy, was I missing something! Onkelos often departs from the literal meaning in order to clarify the meaning, and when he does he scrupulously avoids anthropomorphic characterizations of the divine as well as the somewhat wild interpretations found in the Midrash. Onkelos was promoting rationalist Judaism a millenium before Rambam! And it was Onkelos who was accepted as the definitive translater/interpreter by Chazal.

    There is an old custom, mentioned in the gemara and rishonim as well as the Shulchan Aruch, that it is a mitzvah (presumably d'rabbanan) to read Onkelos translation of the parsha every week. Yet I've only met one Jew who does this consistently. I wonder if the decline of that custom and the lack of exposure to the early and definitive rationalist interpretation of Onkelos has led to the wider acceptance of these un-rational aspects of Judaism.

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  31. >>If the Torah represents Truth, then how could it include false ideas?

    >Are you asking about the Talmud, or the Chumash? It sounds like you are talking about the Talmud. Why can't it include false ideas? It's not just a collection of material from Sinai; there's lots more besides.

    I was asking about the Torah in a general sense, but the question is valid for Tanach or Talmud. False ideas in Torah could undermine belief in Judaism. We could overlook that the sages included contemporary scientific and medical knowledge, which are presently out of date (although surely they contain useful information). That acknowledgement shouldn't undermine the Torah. But, if the sages were to have promoted idolatrous beliefs, then that would certainly undermine their authority as transmitters of tradition. When aggadata/midrash relate fantastic or magical stories, I prefer to understand that these stories were not intended to be taken at face value, and fools who do so will come to the wrong conclusions. Maybe the sages intended it that way, to prevent fools from delving too deeply into Talmud? How did rationalist transmitters of the mesora (e.g. Rambam) deal with the "less-rational" transmitters?

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  32. 'Can someone who checked "kefira" please explain what is the problem with this post?'

    Disecting a statement of a Talmid Chochom in manner that casts him in a negative light, instead of humbly asking for additional clarifications, for example. Also, remember that kfira on this blog is used as a sign of disagreement and not in its literal sense.

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  33. instead of humbly asking for additional clarifications

    I'm sorry, I missed the phone number and contact information that was provided with the statement that would allow me to get that additional clarification. When the President gives a press conference -- it's a PRESS conference. When a company issues a statement -- there is always contact information that accompanies the press release. But issuing directives without dialogue? Only in a dictatorship.

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  34. Rabbi Slifkin: While chazal believed in magic, they also believed that many types of magic was prohibited. Thus, in the absence of some Jewish source allowing a type of magic, the inclination of Rabbi Sternbuch would be to prohibit it.

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  35. Simon: unless practical kabbalah is somehow different than magic I.e. using different types of /forces/

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  36. A continuation of my comment on your last blog.

    There is a book "Safer HaMiddot/The Aleph-Bet Book" by Rabbi Nachman.
    It is packed with segulahs, (mostly in the form of aphorisms,) for all subjects. From dealing with evil forces, to obtaining joy and happiness, honor and respect etc.

    The book contains over 2500 aphorisms, some of which I find questionable.
    But for the most part, very entertaining and educational, as well.
    (I have not notice any rings in the book, at least not yet.)

    With having in mind, that we are in control of what our experiences in life will be, through the attitude of our thoughts, and beliefs.
    e.g. "Think good, and it will be good" Tzemach Tzedek.
    Then this book may perhaps be helpful.

    I have heard it been said, that when someone goes to a Rabbi for a blessing, they can lose that blessing before they walk out the door.
    Due to disbelief in the power of the blessing.
    In other words, with or without segulahs and the blessing from Rabbis, the power lies within ourselves.

    I am not trying to sway anyone in believing in segulahs or blessings from Rabbis.
    Just to relate, that some people believe, segulahs and/or blessings from Rabbis, are a helpful conduit.
    o

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  37. "Disecting a statement of a Talmid Chochom in manner that casts him in a negative light, instead of humbly asking for additional clarifications, for example. Also, remember that kfira on this blog is used as a sign of disagreement and not in its literal sense."

    Rabbi Slifkin is not a talmid chacham and doesn't deserve the same consideration?

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  38. usually when I hear the term "seforim kedoshim" I know that it will be follwed by some obscure claim. Can Rav Sternburch calrify which seform are these, and are they obsolute authority.

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  39. I don't understand, when did someone steal the (rishon) Raavad's nickname and give it to Rav Shternbuch? Are we going to call Rav Elyashiv "Rashi" now, too? It's so ludicrous.

    (Sorry if this posted twice, I'm not sure if it went thru with the phone).

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  40. Student V, Raavad stands for Rav Av Beis Din and has nothing to do with any rishon. This is standard usage.

    Charlie Hall, two wrongs don't make a right. I wasn't the one who cast the kfira vote anyway.

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  41. I read his statement a fourth way.

    He was asked a specific question. Hypothetically, it could have been something along the lines of: "Does this ring appear in a sefer about segulah rings, and is the sefer a forgery?".

    He answered, that no its not a forgery, and yes the ring appears in the sefer.

    That is all. What he believes or doesn't believes about the ring is not revealed, and not really relevant.

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  42. If segulot would work as advertised, then everyone would be rich, healthy, easily find good shidduchim, etc.

    That does not mean that there is no magic and nothing outside of the so called laws of nature. Nor is today's understanding of the laws of physics, biology etc. perfect.

    Of course a large part of this blog and its many followers is that we don't need to accept the words of the Talmud in many areas.

    What about the Tanach? When we (and I don't mean me) don't like it, let's reinterpret.

    A case in point is Shemuel I, perek 28, Shaul and the ba'alt ov (called the witch of En D'or in English). The Gemorra explains that the ba'alat ov knew that Shaul was the customer, because normally the neshama comes out upside down, and in this case it came out head first in honor of the king.

    The Gemorra clearly understands that the ba'alat ov really in this world raised up the neshama of Shmuel.

    The Rambam disagrees about all of the issurim of "magic" related things, and the Vilna Gaon says that philosophy caused the Rambam to err.

    A result of the Rambam's approach is that sleight of hand is forbidden by the Torah, and so called magic shows are assur.

    If Chachmei HaTalmud didn't understand Tanach, and didn't understand Chumash in matters of halacha, specifically the halacha of ba'alat ov, then why bother with them altogether?

    Did the sea split? Did the sun stand still (meaning did the earth cease rotating) in the time of Yehoshua and Hizkiyahu?

    This discussion has nothing to do with the discussion of what is a c'zayit or a c'beitzah. This is about the fundamentals of the Torah. Not that belief in segulot is a fundamental of the Torah. But the relationship of Chachmei HaTalmud to understanding the halachot of the Torah certainly is a fundamental belief.

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