Friday, July 15, 2011

Was The Hyrax Banned?

As everyone knows, a ban was placed on some of my books by around thirty leading charedi rabbinic figures back in 2004/5. There was some confusion about whether the ban was just on The Science Of Torah and Mysterious Creatures, or also on The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax. While the pashkevil that went out mentioned all three books, the article in the Israeli English edition of Yated only mentioned the first two. Furthermore, while it was obvious (to some) that the first two books conflicted with Charedi approaches, this was far from clear with The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax. References to the antiquity of the universe and the scientific errancy of the Talmud were fleeting and tangential; the thrust of the book was to show that the Torah and Talmud's statements on this topic were, in fact, correct (when understood properly), despite claims of errancy by others.


Indeed, no less a figure than Rav Aharon Feldman of the Mo'etzes Gedolei HaTorah told me at the time that he was mystified as to what people could object to about that book. He himself had written a haskamah for it, and only decided at the last minute not to have it printed in the book because he thought that the book should only be read by charedim, and I could not guarantee that that would happen!


Nevertheless, the ban was indeed on all three books. And as Rav Feldman told me some months later, after speaking with Rav Moshe Shapiro, he understood the opposition to it - as did I. In fact, the problem could even be seen in the subtitle of the book (which, ironically, I did not come up with, but was instead written by one of the rabbonim who wrote a haskamah!). The subtitle is, "The laws of animals with one kosher sign in light of modern zoology." That encapsulates the problem with this book.


In extreme charedi culture (i.e. not the more moderate kind that you find in many parts of the US), one does not "evaluate" statements in the Gemara "in light" of modern science. One approaches Torah with awe, reverentially -- and unquestioningly. One does not ask, How is this statement of the Gemara true in light of modern science, and answer that the statement is to be understood differently than done in yeshivos.


I understand this objection, especially after reading Samuel Heilman's "People of the Book." Nevertheless, it reflects the particular norms of charedi society, not an unequivocal approach to Torah throughout history. The rationalist Rishonim of Sefard, for example, had a very different approach to their discourse in these areas. Such attitudes are a function of particular sub-cultures. Thus, while the book was heretical for some, it is not heretical for others.

16 comments:

  1. he thought that the book should only be read by charedim
    =====================
    Why?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  2. I suppose that the sentiments described in this post go some way towards explaining why 'creation science' is more of a Christian phenomenon than a charedi one. The extreme charedim feel that the very discussion of how the Torah 'fits in' with reality is unwarranted (besides from the fact that there are fewer charedim with the educations required for writing pseudo-scientific propaganda tracts) - the Torah is sui generis; apart from providing us with useful technological advances (which are themselves often derided amongst extreme charedim), a sophisticated understanding of the natural world is ascribed very little value. Thus there is no need to waste time, and to lower one's self to dealing with scientific challenges, unless it's for kiruv purposes - and even this is rejected amongst the real extremists (not much Satmar literature on how fossils are not a kashya on bereishis etc.)

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  3. >He himself had written a haskamah for it, and only decided at the last minute not to have it printed in the book because he thought that the book should only be read by charedim, and I could not guarantee that that would happen!

    Could you elaborate on that? That's a reason to ask you not to print the haskamah? That seems to make, well, no sense.

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  4. Joel - If I recall correctly, it's because it shows certain kiruv organizations in a bad light.

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  5. But I may be mistaken as to why he wanted it only restricted to charedim - it was a long time ago.

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  6. 'He himself had written a haskamah for it, and only decided at the last minute not to have it printed in the book because he thought that the book should only be read by charedim, and I could not guarantee that that would happen!'

    Shomer Psaim Hashem!

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  7. I seem to recall that you claimed that the Mashgiach of Ner Israel told was present at Rabbi Feldman's meeting with Rav Elyahiv. This turned out to be false as you admitted when Rabbi Feldman sent you a letter (which appeard on this blog)

    You either lied or posted unreliable information. (I hope it is the latter)

    So how can we assume taht the information you post today about Rabbi Feldman is accurate?

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  8. R. Slifkin,

    It's been a few years, so I might have a different reaction now, but when I first read the Hyrax book, I was extremely troubled -- much more so than after reading the other books, which didn't bother me at all.

    Essentially, you state that when the Torah states "chewing its cud," it doesn't literally mean that. For your average Orthodox Jew with a standard Orthodox education, that is extremely troubling at first.

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  9. I seem to recall that you claimed that the Mashgiach of Ner Israel told was present at Rabbi Feldman's meeting with Rav Elyahiv. This turned out to be false as you admitted when Rabbi Feldman sent you a letter (which appeard on this blog)

    I have no first-hand knowledge of whether it was true or false. Someone who spoke with R. Weisbord told me he was there; R. Feldman says he wasn't.

    This post, on the other hand, refers to something of which I have firsthand knowledge.

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  10. Unbiased ObserverJuly 16, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    You wrote in a post recently:
    "In my view, although some of the Rishonim applied the rationalist approach to Judaism without limitations, we cannot do so. This is for both practical and theoretical reasons."

    And now you say:
    "The rationalist Rishonim of Sefard, for example, had a very different approach to their discourse in these areas."

    It seems you are picking and choosing which aspects of the rationsit rishonim of Sefard you are theologically comfortable with.
    How does this give you any leverage to say that Chareidim have no right to delegitimize any critical approaches to Chazal (which they consider an aspect of fundamental belief) when you have delegitimized a critical approach to the fundamentals of belief?

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  11. I have never said that Chareidim have no right to delegitimize rationalist/ critical approaches to Chazal. In fact, I have repeatedly said that they do have that right.

    It's their distortion of the views of the Rishonim/ Acharonim that I object to.

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  12. IIRC, rabbonim were sent a fax of some 30 pages from the 3 banned books. I assume that some of those pages were from this book, and if that is true, it should not be so puzzling why the book was banned.

    Can you confirm if you received Hagaos on this book also?

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  13. I was just thinking the same thing! I'll look for it and post it.

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  14. In extreme charedi culture (i.e. not the more moderate kind that you find in many parts of the US), one does not "evaluate" statements in the Gemara "in light" of modern science. One approaches Torah with awe, reverentially -- and unquestioningly. One does not ask, How is this statement of the Gemara true in light of modern science, and answer that the statement is to be understood differently than done in yeshivos.

    Not exactly. One approaches commentaries on commentaries on opinions on Torah made by imperfect human beings with awe, reverentially and without question. A man who inherited his position as Pope of his own little Church is infallible because his great great great great great grandfather was the only literate guy in the village.

    The culture of mindless obedience is self-perpetuating. It becomes its own reason for being and swallows everything. Freedom and education are among the first to be sacrificed on its altar. Any difference in opinion is forbidden if it falls outside of rigid boundaries. Perspective is an existential threat to the system.

    Science is the worst. It is based on truths which are accessible to anyone. The results are at the center, not the pedigree or status of the speaker. It undermines their authority and strikes at the heart of the system which gives them their privilege.

    A world where yichus is an important consideration in making life decisions cannot survive contact with the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Idolatry cannot abide iconoclasts.

    That's the real reason Hyrax and the rest of your Science-friendly works are banned.

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  15. "I was just thinking the same thing! I'll look for it and post it."

    It's already available online...

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/package%20extract.pdf

    Also:

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/Response%20to%20Campaign%20Package.pdf

    --Shades of Gray

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  16. To Yehuda,

    Are you bothered also by, say, 'an eye for an eye'? Clearly, that is not taken literally.

    There are scores of examples where the Torah is not interpreted literally by Chazal, sometimes diametrically so.

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