Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Sun's Path at Night Redux

In previous posts, I explained that placing things in context is a key feature of the academic approach to Torah literature, and gave several examples. In this post, I would like to present an example that is, I think, extremely significant to readers of this forum.

One of my biggest mistakes during the 2004-2006 controversy over my books was neglecting to properly study the Gemara in Pesachim 94b, which records Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi as conceding that the Sages of Israel were mistaken in their belief that the sun travels behind the sky at night. It's by far the clearest and most overwhelming evidence that the notion of Chazal being fallible in scientific matters has broad support from Rishonim and Acharonim, and it's a pity that I didn't present it while the controversy was raging. Eventually I did study the topic properly, and wrote a monograph entitled "The Sun's Path at Night" (which you can download at this link).

In this monograph, I surveyed all the views that I could find on this topic. I divided them according to the approach that they took. Thus, in one section, I listed all the rationalist approaches, from the Geonim through to recent authorities; in another section, I listed all the mystical approaches, and so on. That reflects a traditional, yeshivish way of arranging sources.

When I applied for the PhD program in Jewish History at Bar-Ilan, I had to submit a thesis (my MA was course-based rather than thesis-based), and I decided to rework this monograph. Under the guidance of Dr. David Malkiel, I reorganized the material with a more academic approach.

From the academic standpoint of evaluating intellectual Jewish history, it matters little how many sources can be listed with each approach. The point is to examine the context in which intellectual history develops. With this topic, the most relevant way to divide up the different views is not via their approach, but rather the historical setting. And the key is the sixteenth century. Prior to the sixteenth century, every single rabbinic authority, without exception, understood the Gemara to be talking about astronomy (as opposed to mystical matters). Furthermore, prior to the sixteenth century, virtually all understood it according to its plain meaning (that the Sages were mistaken regarding the sun's path at night). Most reported this in a matter-of-fact way, apparently not seeing it as any cause for concern, while for some it was positive testimony of the Sages’ intellectual honesty. The few who did not understand the Sages as being mistaken apparently took this approach not because they believed the Sages to be infallible, but because they really did believe the sun to go behind the sky at night.

It was in the sixteenth century that everything changed. Some reinterpreted the Gemara in very forced ways. Others claimed that the Gemara was speaking about mystical phenomena, despite the complete lack of precedent for this approach, and the difficulty of reading it into the Gemara. Still others entirely ignored this part of the Gemara and focused instead on an adjacent section of the Gemara in which the Sages' views on astronomy appeared to be vindicated. And even those who accepted the plain meaning of the Gemara were very apologetic about it, in contrast to the Rishonim.

Once it becomes clear that the sixteenth century marks a dramatic transition, the next question to ask is why. In my thesis, I suggested that Jews in Europe, feeling intellectually put to shame by the scientific advances of Christendom in general, and the dramatic achievements in astronomy of Prague and Cracow at that time in particular, could not accept that the Sages of the Talmud had been so grossly mistaken in these matters. I am, of course, open to other suggestions, but this seems to be the historical context that explains the dramatic shift in approaches to this topic.

In other news: If you live in Chicago, don't forget that this Sunday is the Torah Tour of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Reservations are required! There may also be a Sunday evening lecture; details to follow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Context: How it Plays Out

In the previous post, I noted that a primary difference between traditional and academic modes of Jewish study is that the latter evaluates sources in light of their context - geographical, cultural, intellectual, etc. (I must reiterate that, as with everything, this is not a black-and-white difference, but it is certainly true in broad terms. And I must also reiterate that there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.) Here are several examples of how I myself have used this methodology in previous posts:

Kezayis - The geographical context accounts for why the Rishonim of Sefarad never bothered discussing the size of the kezayis, whereas the Rishonim of Ashkenaz strived to figure it out, and came up with a very large quantity.

Jumping elephants - Why did Rabbeinu Meshulam believe that elephants will jump to obtain food? Because he'd never seen one.

Metzitzah b'peh - If Chasam Sofer was ready to acknowledge that metzitza b'peh was instituted as a medical precaution and should thus be abandoned if dangerous, why did his disciple Maharam Schick describe it as halachah l'Moshe MiSinai? Answer: Because he was following Chasam Sofer's policy of exaggerating the halachic status of things when under threat from reformers, and in his time, metzitzah b'peh was being challenged by reformers.

The Rav and the Immutability of Halachah - Why did Rav Soloveitchik seem to state that it is heretical to base Chazal's rulings on historical circumstances, when so many great authorities did precisely that? Perhaps because of his own historical circumstances!

In a forthcoming post, I will discuss another example that is extremely relevant to this forum.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Difference is Context

One of my teachers, Rabbi Dr. Yosef Tabory, encapsulated the difference between traditional and academic forms of Torah study with a single word: Context. Although I have briefly mentioned this previously, I would like to begin a series of posts which explore it in more detail, because it is of great significance.

Traditional Torah study analyzes the words of Torah scholars over the ages without regard to external factors (aside from considering whether they were Rishonim or Acharonim, for example, which serves only in order to rate their stature).

Academic study, on the other hand, analyzes the words of Torah scholars over the ages with the aid of examining the context in which they were written. What societal, cultural, intellectual, political factors could have been involved?

In traditional Torah study, the words of the Sages and Rabbis are timeless, eternally relevant in virtually every way, and not subject to any external influence. As such, they are sacrosanct and inspirational. Whereas once one starts to examine the context in which words were written, their stature is lessened and they have less of an impact. But on the other hand, examining their context often sheds much light on their meaning. And so I would not pass a value judgment on whether traditional or academic methods of Torah study are superior - each has its advantages.

Of course, this distinction is blurry at the boundaries, and has certain exceptions, but it is basically true and fundamentally important. In future posts, I will elaborate on all this, with examples, along with discussing other aspects of tradition vs. academic Torah study.

In other news: Don't forget that this Sunday morning, I am delivering a double multimedia presentation in Cherry Hill, NJ. Details here. It's even accessible to New Yorkers, if you get up at 7 am!
And if anyone can give me a ride from Lawrence to Cherry Hill tomorrow, or to Teaneck tomorrow morning, I would be indebted.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What is a Halachic Source?

In the previous post, I noted that the idea that people in yeshivah protect the country is an aggadic, i.e. non-halachic concept. Some people challenged this, citing the halachah that a Torah scholar need not pay taxes towards town security (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 243:2). If this is being presented as a halachic source for some degree of protection afforded by Torah for some people, then fine. But if it is is being presented a halachic justification for an unlimited number of yeshivah students protecting the country via their studies rather than serving in the IDF, then one must wonder about the halachic skills possessed by those who present it as such.

Let me count the ways in which this is not a halachic source.

First of all, this source says nothing about Torah scholars protecting others. In fact, it clearly limits their protection to themselves!

Second, this is talking about talmidei chachamim. It is specifically not talking about all young men learning in yeshivah.

Third, this is talking about paying money towards protection during peacetime. As halachic authorities have noted, this has nothing to do with serving in the army during a time of clear and present danger.

A halachic source would be like that in the Torah and the Mishneh Torah, that a newlywed, or someone with a new house or new vineyard, is exempt from serving in the army for a milchemes reshus (and not for a milchemes mitzvah). No such source exists for someone in yeshivah or kollel. There is no statement in the Gemara, in the Mishneh Torah, or in the Shulchan Aruch, that someone learning Torah is exempt from serving in the army during a time of danger.

Furthermore, from the absence of such a source, it is clear that at least from a halachic perspective, there is no exemption!

So, I reiterate: there is no automatic halachic exemption from the army for someone who is in yeshivah. The idea that learning Torah provides an equivalent protective service is a non-halachic concept (at best), just like the Mishnah's statement that "For one who accepts the yoke of Torah, the yoke of worldly affairs is removed for him." I propose that the latter is recited to charedim who don't serve in the army or the economy and demand financial support. Tell them that the yoke of worldly affairs has been removed from them, and thus they have nothing to worry about!

And, I reiterate: charedim do not really believe that their learning Torah provides protection for the country. They might believe that they believe it, but, for obvious reasons, they don't actually believe it.

On another note: If you live in NY, have a car, and would like to drive me to Cherry Hill for my lectures this Shabbos, I can arrange Shabbos hospitality for you! Please email me if you would like to do this.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Hypocrisy of Selective Bitachon

The biggest topic in Israel these days is the debate over drafting the charedim into the IDF. The non-charedi population of Israel has always resented the exemption from army service granted to charedim, and its lack of contribution to the economy. However, with the huge growth of the charedi community, the issue has become much more serious. The Plesner Committee recommended that most charedim be drafted, and economic sanctions leveled against those who refuse to serve - loss of housing grants, child benefit payments, etc. The charedi community has reacted by declaring this to be an act of war, against which they will fight to the very end.

The charedim defend their approach on the grounds that learning Torah protects the nation. This is something which, obviously, non-religious people entirely dispute. Most American charedim seem to understand the perspective of non-religious people, and are sympathetic to their grievance that only their children put their lives on the line, and shoulder the economic burden. Israeli charedim, on the other hand, charge those demanding the draft with baseless hatred and even Christian ancestry and antisemitism!

But the charedim take the idea of Torah-as-protection a huge leap further, and claim that this protection is best, primarily and even only provided by those who learn Torah exclusively and who never serve in the army or do national service at any point in their lives. Furthermore, they are oblivious to the leap that they are taking with this, and equate serving in the army with the abandonment of Torah. They charge the non-charedim with trying to destroy Torah - as though there are no fine frum Jews who serve in the army! They charge the non-charedim with trying to destroy yeshivos - as though there are no dati-leumi yeshivos! They charge the non-charedim with trying to destroy traditional Judaism - despite the fact that there is nothing traditional about having tens of thousands of people in kollel!

However, I would like to focus on what seem to be a very basic and important perspective on all this that, strangely, has apparently been entirely overlooked.

Let's consider the basic concept of "learning Torah and trusting that this will provide Divine protection." That is an aggadic concept found in sources such as the Gemara. But here's the rub - there are much more sources, and of more weighty (i.e. Scriptural) authority, that one should trust in God to provide economic sustenance! Yet one never sees that religious principle playing a role in politics! Instead, the charedim are going berserk about the government cutting the financial benefits to charedim who don't serve in the army!

The charedim want to have it both ways. When it comes to military service, they demand an unlimited number of exemptions, claiming that the more people who learn Torah, the more Divine protection there will be. But when it comes to receiving money, bitachon goes out of the window, and they demand to receive it from the State of Israel. If they trust in their Torah and mitzvos and bitachon to provide physical security, why don't they trust in it to provide financial security?

(Cue all the hair-splitting distinctions, produced by minds honed at intellectual gymnastics. I'm not expecting to convince those who are determined to oppose any criticism of the charedi system.)

And there's more. What is the charedi world's reaction to the planned draft? Conspicuously absent is genuine fear for national security and for our very lives - the kind of fear that we would have if we found out that a computer virus had rendered all the IDF's weapons systems and aircraft useless. Instead we have hysteria over the disruption to their way of life, declarations of war, some calling for cancelling the yeshivah summer vacation (unlike during the Lebanon war!) while others take time off learning for demonstrations. But where is their bitachonLearning Torah protects you from Syria and Hezbollah and Iran, but not from the Israeli government?!

All this further proves a point that I made a while ago. The real reasons why charedim don't serve in the army have nothing to do with the highly questionable notion that having sixty thousand people in kollel provides essential security for the country. It is because they want to maintain a certain way of life. Not that one cannot be sympathetic to that, and to their reasons for it. But when it comes at the expense of others disproportionately shouldering the burden of national security and the economy - why, that's just selfish.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Status Update

Since many of my readers contribute to my work in a variety of ways, I decided to share a status update regarding the various projects that I am working on.

1. PhD - My dissertation proposal was accepted - the topic is "Rabbinic Encounters with Zoology in the Nineteenth Century." (The most common response to that is, "Were there any?" And the answer is yes, there were a lot!) This will be taking up a lot of my time in the next year or two.

2. The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom - Baruch Hashem, I have been making great progress with this. I've nearly finished writing the first volume, on chayos (a sample chapter, on leopards, can be downloaded at the link above). However, publishing this work (which, for various reasons, I am doing privately) will be a great challenge, due to the scale of the project - masses of proof-reading, full-color photos, a very complicated layout, and I don't even want to think about the indexes. If there are any Adobe InDesign professionals reading this who would be willing to contribute some advice, please write to me! I also need to raise a lot of funds for the publication of this work; I have a charitable foundation for this purpose, and if you are interested in helping, please be in touch.

3. The Jewish Museum of Natural History - Due to my heavy workload on the previous two projects, I am not yet able to devote much time to this. However, the nucleus of the museum is assembled in my basement, and I already offer private presentations to groups. Next year, I will be starting a series of weekly lectures, each focusing on a different exhibit.

4. Sacred Monsters - Hebrew edition. The translation was finished a while ago; it still needs some more editing. Unfortunately I don't have the time/ funds to pursue its publication right now. If somebody who genuinely understands the Israeli publishing world wants to take on this project, please be in touch.

5. Future planned publications - I plan to eventually publish a book on Rationalist Judaism, which will include most of the monographs that I e-published here, as well as other material. I also have a book on rabbinic confrontations with revolutions in astronomy that is basically finished, but I simply have no time to edit it and deal with getting it published at the moment.

6. Website - Some volunteers have been working on a redesigned version of my ZooTorah.com website, and hopefully it will be launched soon. If anyone is a skilled web graphics artist and wants to help, please be in touch.

That's where things are at. My thanks again to all those who support my work in various ways!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Higgs Boson and God

It's rare that a discovery in physics is headline news. This week's announcement regarding the Higgs Boson particle was even more sensational due to it also being called "the God particle"; one headline read "Discovery of 'God particle' may explain how world came to exist." And yidden everywhere were scratching their heads, trying to figure out if it was Good For The Jews or Bad For The Jews.

Modern physics is hugely significant to monotheism. As I discuss in detail in The Challenge Of Creation (newly reprinted and available online here), the entire enterprise of modern science emerged from the monotheistic worldview. To quote Loren Eisley:
"The philosophy of experimental science… began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation… It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption."
The more thoughtful physicists wonder at the extraordinary nature of scientific laws. Where did they come from? Why do they have the form that they do? Almost every other possible configuration of the laws of nature would result in a universe near-infinitely less interesting than our own. The Higgs Boson is part of this extraordinary order, being the particle that gives mass to matter and enables a universe with structure instead of a bland sea of energy.

Another theologically significant aspect of modern physics is that the secrets of the universe are able to be unraveled by the human mind. It's a pity that there are Jewish educators who seek to constantly highlight cases of scientists changing their minds, as though this fundamentally undermines the entire enterprise. The scientific enterprise is an amazing testimony not only to the wonder of the universe, but also to the wonder of the human brain. Not only does the universe follow an orderly set of laws; it is a set of laws that can be comprehended by the human mind. As several physicists have noted, it gives the distinct impression that the whole universe was designed for man to be able to grasp. The Higgs Boson was predicted to exist, and was discovered to actually exist fifty years later.

Finally, the Higgs Boson is significant in that it fills a major gap in our knowledge and ties together disparate entities. As such, it plays a crucial role in understanding the overall unity of the universe. Not only did modern science emerge from monotheism, it continues to support monotheism insofar as it discovers the unity present in the universe. As Rav Hirsch writes:
"In light of the foregoing, would Judaism not be justified in viewing this idea of a universal unity, which inquiring minds have already pieced together from the textbook of the universe and which man’s consciousness yearns to express, as nothing less than the long-awaited triumph of the truth of Judaism? This is the truth with which, thousands of years ago, Judaism first appeared in the midst of a chaotic multitude of gods, proclaiming that there is only one, sole God in heaven and on earth, and that all the phenomena of the universe are founded upon His Law. This idea, the concept of the Unity of God, is the truth for which Judaism has endured a course of martyrdom without parallel in world history."
And so, I would firmly conclude that the discovery of the Higgs Boson is Good For The Jews.

Shabbat Shalom! (And happy birthday to me.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I Was Wrong

I was wrong. I made a confident assertion, and I was 100% wrong, and I apologize.

Last week, I posted a letter that I wrote to Ami magazine in response to an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran. I introduced the letter by noting that there is not the slightest chance of their printing it.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they actually printed it! Not only that, but I even made the front cover, which stated "Slifkin vs. Shafran on Blogistan"!

Before quoting and discussing Rabbi Shafran's response, here again is my letter:
To the Editor:

R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice-President of Agudath Israel of America, was recently interviewed in Mishpachah magazine. He explicitly acknowledged two obvious truths: (1) that abuse and molestation issues have not been taken seriously in the charedi community, and (2) that this has begun to change as a result of pressure created by blogs. In light of that, how could Rabbi Avi Shafran, in his latest column, deny any positive value to blogs that contain criticism of the charedi community, and equate them all with Korach?

I was further taken aback to see Rabbi Shafran derisively describe the world of blogs as "blogistan." The suffix "-stan" is usually used to describe an entity that has taken on attributes of restrictive, dictatorial theocracies that are common in the Moslem world. Is it not ironic that Rabbi Shafran, who insists on the unqualified, unimpeachable authority of Daas Torah and the suppression of any public criticism, uses the term "-stan" to describe those who seek precisely the opposite?

Rabbi Natan Slifkin
Ramat Bet Shemesh

And here is Rabbi Shafran's response:
Whether or not the Jewish world would have been any slower to understand the scope and tragedy of abuse had the subject been raised, and the need to confront it promoted, in a responsible, honorable way is a question whose answer neither the letter writer nor I can possibly know.

One is, however, required to acknowledge good things and what brought them about, even if those vehicles are unworthy in other ways. Examples of hakaras hatov to inanimate things, and even to malevolent people, abound in the Torah, as the baalei mussar point out. I think I can say with surety that Rabbi Zwiebel's comments were in that vein, and can safely assert that he does not consider Blogistan a proper place for any thoughtful Jew.

As to that place, I clearly wrote that I was not referring to all blogs but to those who, in their crassness, cynicism, negativity, and disdain for talmidei chachamim and gedolim, emulate Korach. As to my neologism, the suffix "stan" has been used creatively by many to recall the lawlessness, malice, and violence in certain countries whose names end in that syllable. As such, it is most properly adapted for reference to the world of pernicious blogs.

It is telling that now, with the issue of abuse squarely in the focus of the Jewish world (indeed, of the larger world as well, on front pages and in lead newscast stories), the inhabitants of Blogistan continue to lob their indiscriminate bombs and to shoot wildly at those they imagine to be their enemies, with the same unbridled and unhidden contempt as always. That really says all one needs to know about the true motivations of those militants. It is not the welfare of the Jewish people that they seek, but rather, for whatever personal reasons they may feel they have, to attack and undermine true Jewish authority. That was the point of my essay, and its veracity is self-evident.

I would first like to say that I was extremely impressed with Rabbi Shafran's respectful way of treating me in his response. He opposes everything that I represent, and he had the upper hand here (in terms of getting the final word). He could have easily taken the opportunity to put me down in all kinds of ways, and to directly criticize my own blog, but he didn't. That was another pleasant and impressive surprise.

I would also like to stress that I most certainly agree that there is plenty to criticize about the blogosphere. There are blogs that are way too quick on the draw to judge unfavorably. There are blogs that level accusations without basis. There is also a tendency towards negativity which, even if it serves a useful purpose, is unhealthy. Indeed, my own blog certainly suffers from the latter (although, at least in my case, a large portion of the blame can certainly be attributed towards the Gedolim that Rabbi Shafran defends). And there is an inbuilt problem with the very nature of blogging, in terms of the rapid pace, and the loss of responsibility and respectability that accompanies anonymity. My dispute with Rabbi Shafran should certain not be read to mean that I think that there is nothing to criticize about the blogosphere.

Now let us turn to the substance of his arguments.

1. "Whether or not the Jewish world would have been any slower to understand the scope and tragedy of abuse had the subject been raised, and the need to confront it promoted, in a responsible, honorable way is a question whose answer neither the letter writer nor I can possibly know." Surely he can't be serious. But even if he is, and even if he were to be correct, it's irrelevant. The point is that it's due to blogs that the issue was taken seriously, and appreciation should therefore be shown.

2. "One is, however, required to acknowledge good things and what brought them about, even if those vehicles are unworthy in other ways... I think I can say with surety that Rabbi Zwiebel's comments were in that vein..." Exactly. So if Rabbi Zwiebel could do that in a few short paragraphs, why couldn't Rabbi Shafran do that even once in a full-length article on the topic? Even in this response, there is zero hakaras hatov! That was the main point of my letter.

3. "As to that place, I clearly wrote that I was not referring to all blogs but to those who, in their crassness, cynicism, negativity, and disdain for talmidei chachamim and gedolim, emulate Korach." Wrong. As Rabbi Kahn pointed out in his letter (which was unfortunately not printed), "While he accepts that there are some responsible bloggers, the examples he enumerates (those "who seek to share community news or ideas... [or] explore concepts in Jewish thought and law... [or] focus on Jewish history and society") demonstrate by omission that those who attempt to expose anything negative in Chareidi society are comparable to the villains in Parashat Korach." Rabbi Shafran, is it possible for a blog to point out genuine problems with Charedi society and its leadership, without you accusing it of emulating Korach?

4. "As to my neologism, the suffix "stan" has been used creatively by many to recall the lawlessness, malice, and violence in certain countries whose names end in that syllable. As such, it is most properly adapted for reference to the world of pernicious blogs." I think that Rabbi Shafran is correct in that the suffix does not necessarily mean what I thought it meant, and he is entitled to use it with this connotation. However, let us examine whether, with this connotation, it is indeed appropriate for him, of all people, to use it in reference to the blogosphere.

"Lawlessness, malice, and violence"? With regard to lawlessness, the critique of the blogosphere towards the charedi system of authority and society is exactly that! Abuse is handled illegally and inappropriately (if at all) rather than through the legal system. Rabbinic pronouncements are arranged via all sorts of shady (sometimes criminal) askanim and with complete lack of protocol rather than via any halachic and professional procedures. And he is accusing the blogosphere of lawlessness?!

With regard to violence, I assume that he means verbal violence (as far as I know, the only physical violence relating to charedi rabbinic authority is on the part of charedim, in Ramat Bet Shemesh, New Square, Ponovezh, and last week in the offices of Yated Ne'eman in Bnei Brak). Now, there's certainly plenty of unfortunate verbal violence in the blogosphere. However, I think that it is evenly matched by the verbal violence issued by the Gedolim and those who act in their name, whether in letters, speeches, or books calling for the execution of rationalists. I would further add that such verbal violence is much worse when issued by people in positions of authority rather than when issued by some random blogger.

And with regard to malice - the malice in Rabbi Shafran's own article certainly matches anything coming from the blogosphere.

5. "It is telling that now, with the issue of abuse squarely in the focus of the Jewish world (indeed, of the larger world as well, on front pages and in lead newscast stories), the inhabitants of Blogistan continue..." Surely Rabbi Shafran is joking. Does he really expect people to accept that now, all of a sudden, the Gedolim are adequately taking care of matters? Agudah still insists that people with suspicions of abuse must not go to the authorities without asking a rabbi! The Gedolim still have not apologized for decades of covering things up! There are still "Gedolim" who are publicly known to have enabled abusers for decades that continue to receive honor!

6. "That really says all one needs to know about the true motivations of those militants." It's amazing that Rabbi Shafran considers it impossible to know whether the blogosphere effected the strongest change regarding abuse, but he is 100% sure regarding people's personal motivations. Rabbi Shafran should take a lesson from Rabbi Zwiebel, who said that he's not going to judge, and who pointed out that "I do believe that among them there are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain."

7. "It is not the welfare of the Jewish people that they seek, but rather, for whatever personal reasons they may feel they have, to attack and undermine true Jewish authority. That was the point of my essay, and its veracity is self-evident." The personal reasons of bloggers are unknowable and irrelevant. Rabbi Shafran's essay compared all those who critique Charedi society to Korach's entirely villainous act that was punished by death. Whereas the truth is that, despite shortcomings, the blogs are addressing real problems with charedi rabbinic authority and effecting real improvement, as admitted by none other than the Executive Vice-President of Agudah. Rabbi Shafran should be expressing some of the hakaras hatov that he quotes the baalei mussar on, and should be engaging in some introspection regarding the flaws of the system that he defends as "true Jewish authority," rather than issuing malevolent condemnations.