Friday, February 8, 2013

An "Agenda"!

There's a certain word which my ideological opponents often use in their criticisms of my work. Here are some examples from some heated comments to the previous posts:
Could it be that the Gedolim realized that your agenda was to show that Chazal make mistakes and hence banned your books?
...[you have] an agenda to promote one approach and dismiss/invalidate all the others.
...Natan Slifkin and his Bible Critisism agenda...
i now stand in awe in front of the Gedolei Torah who somehow perceived that we are talking about someone with an agenda.
What exactly is an "agenda"? The definition of an "agenda" is an underlying ideological mission. There are two possible reasons why having an agenda could be a bad thing. One is that the underlying ideological mission could itself be bad. The other is that the mission itself is concealed and therefore devious.

The second possibility is certainly not the case. In the introduction to Mysterious Creatures (which, admittedly, those who banned the book did not read), I was very explicit about my ideological mission. I noted that when students are bothered by conflicts between Chazal and science, teachers usually only  teach conservative approaches. I noted that this often causes severe disillusionment, and that it is therefore important for people to be aware of the approach of Rambam, Rav Hirsch and others to these issues. And I added that although my book describes and applies many different approaches to these topics, in several cases I emphasized the approach of Rambam and co., since these explanations are the least widely known and understood, and it is therefore appropriate to give them a fuller presentation.

So, there was no deviousness involved. But what about the first possibility - that the ideological mission is itself bad? I don't see how that could possibly be the case, unless you think that Rambam, Rav Hirsch and co. had a seriously perverted view of Chazal. The mission is to promote an approach to Torah which makes sense. Some people choose to promote Maharal's approach, and nobody objects. Others choose to promote the Nishtaneh Hateva approach, and nobody objects. Why should it be evil to promote the approach of Rambam, Rav Hirsch and co.?

The greatest irony is when people accuse me of "promoting one approach and dismissing/invalidating all the others" - as though the Gedolim were the open-minded ones who want to give every approach a fair hearing, whereas I am the narrow-minded one! I've seen this claim a few times, and it always makes me laugh. In my books, I discuss every approach, and note that all of them have a strong history of great Torah scholars behind them. My opponents, on the other hand, claim that the approach of Rambam, Rav Hirsch and many other Torah scholars is heretical and/or is forbidden to be taught! And Rav Moshe Shapiro in particular only ever gives credence to the Maharal's approach, and denies the legitimacy and historicity of any other approach. If anyone is guilty of having an "agenda" to dismiss and invalidate the approach of great Torah scholars, it is certainly my opponents rather than me.

In ideological battles, words are often wielded in nefarious ways. It's important to remember that what one person calls "an agenda" is what another person calls "a worthy mission." Describing my books as having "an agenda" is misleading; you might as well say the same about the Gedolim. Let's stick to discussing the real issues, rather than using inappropriate terminology which clouds the discussion.

(Don't forget that this Sunday are my two lectures at the Bridge Shul in Washington Heights - details on this flyer. They are planned to take place despite the weather forecast - if there is any change, I will post it here. If anyone can give me a ride after the lectures to Queens or (preferably) Long Island, I would greatly appreciate it.)

28 comments:

  1. Natan,

    It was YOU who brought the hallowed word into play with your opening sentence of the previous post...

    During the Great Torah-Science Controversy of 2004/5, everyone had a different take on what was going on. Blogger A claimed that the Gedolim were concealing a secret, devious agenda.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, that's not why people mentioned that word, they've been using that word for years.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed meeting you and listening to you Tuesday night. I'm also glad my friends who I mentioned it to came for themselves, they had a blast! I still have a few questions. In what way can I ask you for a follow up? Here in comments, or via email?

    -LFD

    ReplyDelete
  4. > There are two possible reasons why having an agenda could be a bad thing.

    I think that “agenda” is being used a pejorative term on its own. After all, the thinking goes, someone who was wholly objective would naturally come to the conclusion that the gedolim, and even more so chazal, are infallible and that Chareidi Judaism today is essentially the same religion practiced by pious Jews down through the ages. Only someone with an “agenda” would be so biased that he couldn’t see the glaringly obvious truth.

    > I don't see how that could possibly be the case, unless you think that Rambam, Rav Hirsch and co. had a seriously perverted view of Chazal.

    For R’ Hirsch, at least, it is commonly held in the Chareidi world that his approach was only meant as a stop-gap measure to slow the hemorrhaging of Orthodox German Jewry to the Reform movement. It is so widely held that the rav of Bruer’s shul repeated it at a shaleshudis drasha a couple of years ago, leading to the resignation of the kehila’s long-time president.

    > as though the Gedolim were the open-minded ones who want to give every approach a fair hearing, whereas I am the narrow-minded one!

    Ah, but the gedolim have Daas Torah, so their favored approach is de facto the correct one, while you do not (obviously – if you did have daas torah, you would agree with the gedolim!).

    Really, you should know by now that the frum world only tolerates the “correct” answers. Anyone who opposes the party line is considered misguided at best, and often evil.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Everybody has an "agenda", in the plain meaning of "goal" or "motive". (Otherwise why would they bother commenting on a topic in the first place?). Nobody is completely objective and detached. Religion, like politics, is a emotionally charged and personal subject. So I think that in this context it is pejorative in that it implicitly asserts that your motives or goals are objectionable to the speaker. Logically it is an ad hominem fallacy. It avoids addressing the actual issue or facts, and attacks you instead.

    So my response to accusations of "having an agenda" is to proudly proclaim "yes, I do, just like you! Now please address my claim..."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Agreed. What you have is a.hashkafa, not an agenda. An agenda usually involves some sort of nefarious attempt to get others to do one's bidding.

    ReplyDelete
  7. When I was a young schoolboy agenda was the plural of (the never used) agendum and meant a list of things to be done or discussed. And no, I did not go to school in ancient Rome.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Rabbi -

    Thank you for posting on this issue specifically, and although some may claim this is merely "semantics," it isn't.

    For the moment, let's replace "agenda" with (perhaps) a more neutral term like "thesis." At the heart of this debate is interpretation of evidence and what evidence is more significant/important than other evidence. A thesis is an interpretation (an opinion, perspective, etc.) that should not be just "based on" the evidence, but be the most plausible, logical conclusion drawn from all the evidence.

    Here is where "agenda" enters. The most plausible, logical conclusion may conflict with a writer's agenda - that is, the writer's pre-conceived thoughts/belief system that guides their approach to the evidence. No one is truly objective; everyone brings their own bias to the table! The key - as you demonstrate - is to not let that agenda/bias guide the treatment of the evidence so that it veers into less plausible, less logical territory.

    This is the mistake made by those, like Dr. Betech, who critique your interpretation of the evidence, but do not themselves bring more convincing/plausible interpretations of that same evidence. Why? Because they have an external agenda/bias (e.g. a certain belief about the Torah or "daas Torah") that prevents them from doing so.

    We should all strive to heed Psalm 51:8 as much as possible.

    Shabbat Shalom,
    M. Singer


    ReplyDelete
  9. What you call an ideological mission they call on agenda.
    Now, I'm going to add my voice to those who have noted that this blog has gone way off topic in recent times with posts like this. Yes, I know there's a lot of criticism against you out there. You have people who are so obsessed they start blogs whose sole purpose is to attack you. Talk about having no life!
    But if you are on an ideological mission then pursue it despite the criticisms.
    Let's look at one of the most successful ideologies within Judaism today: Chabad. There is plenty to object to about modern Chabad theology but Chabadniks themselves don't waste much time dealing with that. They keep their eyes on the ball (or the rebbe, whatever) and keep moving with their mission. They know that if they continue on singlemindedly their critics will fall to the side in the face of their determination.
    I propose you try the same thing. You have an important ideology to spread so spread it! Don't waste time preaching to the choir (your fans who don't care about what the others say) and the others who don't care about what you say.

    ReplyDelete
  10. R' Slifkin,

    There's something that many people lack these days, and that's the idea of objective analysis.

    To your opponents, there's no such thing as approaching an issue with an open mind to all the possibilities. Why do people ask about contradictions in science? Because obviously, they are non-believers who want to destroy Judaism from the inside out!

    They've created this insane alternative reality where the only reason someone asks questions on a topic beyond the "acceptable" ones is because they are "kofrim" who just want to make trouble. There's no possibility that their perfect "divine" system has any flaws in it whatsoever.

    So that's why they banned your books in the end. You're either with us, or against us. There's no neutral place you could possibly come from.

    ReplyDelete
  11. > To your opponents, there's no such thing as approaching an issue with an open mind to all the possibilities. Why do people ask about contradictions in science? Because obviously, they are non-believers who want to destroy Judaism from the inside out!

    I realized recently that the Chareid world HAS to adopt the attitude that anyone who questions the party line is part of a conspiracy to destroy religion in general and Yiddishkeit in particular. It’s the logical conclusion of their belief system:

    1. Torah is obviously true – Avraham Avinu realized that Hashem runs the world while sitting by himself in a cave at three years old.
    1a. Given that Torah/Yiddishkeit is obviously true, anyone who seriously questions any part of it must be trying to poke holes in it in order to justify his desire to disregard the mitzvos.
    2. Huge chunks of modern science call traditional understandings of the Torah into question.
    2a. It must be that the scientists are trying to poke holes in Yiddishkeit order to justify their desire to disregard the ratzon Hashem.
    C. There is a huge conspiracy among the world’s scientists to actively discredit religion.

    If you need more proof of the conspiracy, well, a huge percentage of scientists are atheists or deists. Obviously their trying to justify their beliefs by asking questions on Judaism. It CAN’T be the other way around, that their scientific knowledge and inquiries lead them to become atheists and deists, because, as stated in premise 1, it is so obvious that the Torah is true that even a three year old could figure it out on his own!

    It follows that anyone who reconciles what we know about the how the world works and what traditional sources say in favor of the sciences is part of the conspiracy.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I would respond to the critics in the same way you responded in your previous post - which is "Kol haposel, bemumo posel".

    Their "agenda" is so transparent it's ridiculous.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Before you said that the Haredim are trying to preserve their way of life, and I say soo? Is that supposed to be something evil? The Haredim do not want their children becoming Hilonim as happened to MANY youth who have been indoctrinated by the Medina. They made an approach of being locked in to their ghettos instead. I can understand them for this. What I do not understand are those like you who will lead many religious youth to despise the religion while then slowly becoming hilonim!

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Moshe

    It is the naiveté of those like you who lead people to become Chiloni. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of legitimate questions regarding science and history in the words of Tanach and Chazal. If you try to bury a questioner's head in the sand, they are more likely to fight you and abandon your way of life. Not everyone wants to blindly follow the Ministry of Truth. Some people want actual truth.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Avi I was not talking about that. I have no problem what-so-ever about those things. I was talking about some of the different things and some of the attitudes of putting down the "Haredim". It almost becomes an "us" vs. "them" attitudes and the them (the "Haredim") are the bad one's while the "us" which then becomes everyone else and then eventually leading to the hilonim are the good ones.
    For example the issue of the army. Their are different things at stake and different sides to this issues. Of-course the Haredim should try to preserve their way of life without a problem and I do not agree with all of their statements and attitudes. BUT at the same time when basically trashing them it would be proper to point out some of the obstacles that the hiloni leadership deliberately makes against the Haredim and against the Torah and religious Jews. This is a very big topic I'm not going into right now, but you get the point?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Moshe, your statements don't have any logical consistency. If haredim have locked themselves in the ghetto on purpose from the beginning, then how can you claim that they acted on historic precedent which showed that not being inside leads to "indoctrination by the medina" and becoming chiloni? They had no examples of this. They just acted on utter fear? And is that what you maintain now? An unthinking fear? According to you they've been locked away the whole time and have never been indoctrinated by the medina, never had a chance to become chiloni and (ignoring all the haredi dropouts and otd's) never became chiloni. Explain what logic there is within your comment.

    You ask if rabbi slifkin thinks its evil? Why? Did you read that into it? How about just taking it at face value. If he says they are trying to preserve their way, he means they are trying to preserve their way. Why inject a venomous unstated "agenda" to a comment like that? Maybe it's projection. People with nefarious or dishonest agenda themselves will always assume others act on the same base motives even though that is not true.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @Moshe,

    I apologize. I figured you were writing in context, which is the idea that R. Slifkin's books should be censored by Charedim for Charedim because they present uncomfortable truths.

    In general I don't have a problem with any group maintaining their way of life, but I do have an issue with groups who feel entitled to other people's work and protection without contributing anything meaningful in return. And claiming that "learning" is meaningful only works if the providers agree. Forcing a population to accept one's values is wrong in both directions. Charedim don't seem to get that.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Before you said that the Haredim are trying to preserve their way of life, and I say soo? Is that supposed to be something evil?

    Personally, I think that this agenda is understandable. My complaint is that the Haredi leaders (both Rabbis and politicians) are never transparent about their agenda. Rather, they always couch their battle cry in holier-than-though silly arguments.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Student V- The situation is complicated. These things are not in a vacuum. The facts are that their were/are those in the medina who tried and are trying to destroy Judaism and anything connected to real authentic Judaism. Some of these people do not even want the Haredim in the army (Because they are afraid and I will agree to this that one day the religious will over run them) . Others want to bring religious youth into the army as a way to indoctrinate them as to the rest of the population to their leftist ideology. This is a sad fact of the State of Israel. 80% who came to the land were religious while after time people were "wheened" away from religion. Today the situation is somewhat different yes, but we need to understand that if not for the Haredim "locking themselves in" soo to speak the situation for most of them would have been even worse and their wouldn't have been that many Shomer Misswoth individuals.
    Also look at the sad fact that about 20% of Religious zionist youth that go into the army become non-observant once they come out. These are sad facts. You mention the Haredi drop out rate, it is nothing close.
    If those who want to see Haredim in the army should ask themselves this- what do you want to truly see? Youth leaving "Religion" and becoming Hilonim or serving in the army like everyone else? I am sure you will say the second, but you also need to realize that their are those liek Ehud Bardak who made all types of promises to religious and then broke them. What needs to be first and foremost fought for is to have an army and units etc. that are secured without quesition is following Halacha over anything else. If they want Religious youth in army then the army needs to be religious and according to Halacha before all else (at least the units) and no compromise on these issues. Why do they demand they join the army and then do things like have female singers provoke these things? What are they interested in Defense or in "culture" and imposing their way of life unto others?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Everyone needs an agenda to get anything done.

    The question is what motivates their agenda.

    Being the subject is Torah in this case. The motivation should be to seek the ultimate truth.

    What then is the Torah if not truth ?

    If one is of a humble spirit, he will not care where the truth comes from, and whom it will disprove.

    He is therefore on a high spiritual level.

    If on the other hand one is guided by ego, then he will defend his false beliefs with his very life, why ? For the sake of the ego.

    "Be persistent."
    o

    ReplyDelete
  21. "80% who came to the land were religious while after time people were "wheened" away from religion."

    Don't know where you get your numbers from, but that's simply not true. By that time a huge amount of Europe's Jews had become assimilated in one form or another, mostly due to Haskala. The vast majority who came from Germany to EY were definitely not religious (infected by reformism in Germany).

    Furthermore, it was the Sefardim who had Judaism systematically ripped away from them during their mass aliyah and forced exile from arab countries, and the state cannot get away with tricks like that anymore, nor are most of those people still around today. The present-day "zionist" or pseudo-zionist leadership is not cut from the same cloth as the chalutzniks of europe who came and dug swamps and worked kibbutzim. The ideology has evolved, the personalities have evolved, the entire situation is different - Deal with what exists today instead of pretending we are living in a different era.

    "Today the situation is somewhat different yes, but we need to understand that if not for the Haredim "locking themselves in" soo to speak the situation for most of them would have been even worse and their wouldn't have been that many Shomer Misswoth individuals"

    We are talking about today, not the past.

    "Also look at the sad fact that about 20% of Religious zionist youth that go into the army become non-observant once they come out. These are sad facts. "

    Many of them join regular units. What is the percentage of those who join the Hesder units? How about the religious zionists who join the Nachal haredi? (religious zionists make up most of the nachal haredi recruits, NOT haredim! Although they claim to have a 30% limit on chardal/religious zionist guys, it seems from observations of the people on the inside the percentage is higher). Do the percentages of dropouts change? If haredim enter the army in greater numbers, it's only in the context of frum units. And to be scientific about it, we have to consider the enlisting population only Out of those haredim who will enlist under a new system, how many of THOSE would have been OTD? Well let's see, if a guy isn't capable of kollel learning and poverty, he wants to work for a living, but he is not allowed because he has to do army first, but his society ostracizes him if he does army.... What percentage of THAT population segment do you think goes OTD?

    " You mention the Haredi drop out rate, it is nothing close. "

    Was this a contest? Should I give a round of applause?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Part 2:

    ". What needs to be first and foremost fought for is to have an army and units etc. that are secured without quesition is following Halacha over anything else. If they want Religious youth in army then the army needs to be religious and according to Halacha before all else (at least the units) and no compromise on these issues. Why do they demand they join the army and then do things like have female singers provoke these things? What are they interested in Defense or in "culture" and imposing their way of life unto others?"

    Well for one thing, this is why it's important that haredi politicians exist, so that they can ensure these things, and secondly yes they are trying to impose their values and do use the army to achieve that, and that's part of the battle. Religious zionist politicians don't have any backbone to fight them on these things. We already know the haredi politicians would. I don't think they will be so bold with haredim. They know they can't walk on them.

    On the first part of your comment, no one in the haredi camp ever demanded a halachic army except Rabbi Kahane. There is not one voice there saying they would send haredi youth but only contingent on a new army culture that values the soldier's life over the enemy. Not one. So it may be a worthwhile concern for you and me, but that's not what the haredi leadership is fighting over and therefore it's irrelevant in the context of this discussion.

    On the rest of that comment, I just have to say that the oft-stated concern about frumkite in the army rings hollow. Because when nahal haredi was formed, and even rabbi Shteinman was in support of it, still the charedi community reacted with violent opposition to it. And that was a system built specifically by people who were helping at-risk youth and trying new solutions to help keep them on the path. Specifically designed with haredi standards of kashrut and so on, daily learning, visits by rabbis, minyanim, and so on - and yet they still opposed it. So how can anyone believe there is any sincerity behind these complaints today? No, it is not about frumkite, it is about a haredi "lifestyle" and culture that they don't want to change, no matter how unsustainable and unrealistic and emasculating it is.

    ReplyDelete
  23. KWRBT. I agree with you on these things. I was and am also pointing out that this did not occur in a vacuum.

    "but that's not what the haredi leadership is fighting over and therefore it's irrelevant in the context of this discussion."

    BUT IT IS relevant. That is the point. One cannot demand on the one hand and not fight over these things on the other. It is that simple. The sad facts are that the Religious world is not properly united. If their had been true unity we could of had a true Jewish leadership by now. But many of this "opposition" is precisely demanding and working for the destruction actually at this point SUBJUGATION of Judaism, the Torah and people to the State and the small elite that run it.
    They want to divide and conquer the Torah world be they the Haredim or the Mamlachtim which many of these religious opponents of the Haredim actually are.

    ReplyDelete
  24. If a "way of life" is based on ignoring and denying reality it is already doomed. The only thing its adherents can do is go through increasingly hysterical and eventually violent means to keep people from abandoning falsehood. The saddest part is by clinging to the lies they eventually people to abandon the truth, too.

    As one of my favorite (secular, goyishe) fiction authors said "What can be destroyed by the truth should be"

    ReplyDelete
  25. Dan- How many of them actually behave that way? Why when their were very very few (for example in that school in Beit shemesh)were ALL Haredim blamed and this became an international incident while you mamlachti secularist loving say NOTHING about the THOUSANDS not a few, but thousands of children that the secularists kidnapped and threw into kibbutzim. Those people you praise (like ben-gurion and co.) but the Haredim ALL are blamed for the actions of a few reshaim.(Even when some like R' Ovadia Yosef spoke out against them).

    ReplyDelete
  26. Rabbi Slifkin, you quoted my comment out of context.
    It was to explain why your books were singled out even though other books mentioned the rationalistic approaches.
    It wasn't intended to explain the ban itself. That is easy enough.

    ReplyDelete
  27. There's another word, besides "agenda" that appears a lot on this blog, by commenters. It's "ilk". Why say "ilk" when you can say "cohorts" or something neutral like that?

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.