Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Is There Wisdom In Bans?
At a meeting of rabbis in Kovno in 1885, the suggestion was raised that the community ostracize anyone who studied Darwinian evolution. Rabbi Yitzchak Elchonon Spector and Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapidus opposed the measure, but only due to the foresight that it would inevitably result in people being more attracted to it and rebelling against rabbinic authority.
I was reminded of this after reading about the Vatican condemning a book by an American nun about sexuality. The day before the Vatican's statement, the book ranked 142,982 on Amazon. The next day, it was number 16.
Of course, the same thing happened with the ban on my own books. While it was an absolutely awful experience that I would not wish on anyone (well, with a few exceptions), it was certainly good for sales and a tremendous boost to my career. Ever since the ban, I have had a long list of speaking invitations.
This doesn't mean that, from the perspective of those banning the books, it is necessarily the wrong decision. It all depends on what their priorities are. It could be that they see it as more important to draw the lines of permissible beliefs, or to prevent certain obedient types of people from reading the books, or to assert authority, regardless of the fact that they will actually cause more people to read the banned books.
But I would imagine that their professed primary goal is to stop the book from being read and thereby harming people. In which case, 21st century rabbis that ban books are out of touch with the results of their actions.
(Inspired by this article. Hat-tip to DES.)
On another note - to the Israeli readers - if anyone can volunteer to translate my museum prospectus into Ivrit (not rabbinic Hebrew!), please be in touch!
Posted by Natan Slifkin