Monday, February 4, 2013

Striking The Wrong Balance

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. Apologist B claimed that the Gedolim didn't really mean it, but were being forced by communal pressure. Zealot C claimed that the Gedolim were correct, and that I was an evil denier of God. Blogger D claimed that the Gedolim secretly thought that the Torah-science questions were more powerful than the answers, but had to pretend to fill their role. And so on, and so forth.

Someone, I forget who, made a fascinating observation. All of these people, in declaring the shortcomings of the Charedi Gedolim or me, were subconsciously projecting their own shortcomings. Blogger A had a secret, devious agenda that he never revealed. Apologist B was always being forced by communal pressure to write things that he didn't believe. Zealot C turned out to be someone who was evil and clearly didn't believe in God. Blogger D secretly thought that there were no good answers, but had to pretend to be frum. And so on, and so forth. As Chazal say, Kol haposel, bemumo posel - whoever disqualifies, does so with his own blemish.

I was reminded of this when reading Rabbi Yisroel Miller's take on the ban in his new book "In Search of Torah Wisdom." He's a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Before discussing his take on the ban, I would like to make some general comments about the book. As a book presenting charedi hashkafah, it suffers from the inevitable shortcomings. However, with that in mind, it's vastly better and more nuanced than one would expect. The author is a nephew of Rav Avigdor Miller, and although he quotes him on numerous occasions, the style of his book is certainly light-years ahead of the books of Rav Avigdor Miller. If all books on charedi hashkafah were like this one, the world would be a much better place!

Anyway, back to the topic of the ban on my books. It is mentioned in several chapters, confirming what we all know - that it was a pivotal event. Rabbi Miller agrees that there were Torah authorities who stated that Chazal occasionally erred in science (although he wavers between saying that this was a minority view, that it was the lone view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam, and even quoting Rabbi Meiselman's desperate claim that Rabbeinu Avraham is a forgery.) He claims that the real issue behind the ban is one of balance. In the introduction to Mysterious Creatures, I noted that there are a variety of different approaches to conflicts between Chazal and science, which Rabbi Miller approves of. But the problem was in how I applied these approaches in the rest of the book. Instead of presenting the approach of Chazal being infallible as the mainstream approach, with the rationalist approach being a bedi'eved minority view, "the message the book conveys to the reader is that the Sages of the Gemara were wrong - not only as a possible interpretation (which might not even be correct) but as the main approach - again and again and again."

Now, the first observation to be made is that while this is a good approximation of Rav Elyashiv's approach, Rabbi Miller is clearly not representing the views of the Gedolim who were the actual driving force behind the ban. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Elya Weintraub and Rav Moshe Shapiro don't believe that the rationalist approach is a bedi'eved minority view. They believe that it is utter heresy that was never held by any genuine Torah authority!

The second observation to be made is that Rabbi Miller is not representing my book correctly. Contrary to the way he described it, with the majority of creatures described in the book I did not say that Chazal were wrong. I either explained that the words of Chazal had been mistranslated, or that Chazal were speaking metaphorically. Only in three cases did I say that they were wrong.

So, amazingly, Rabbi Miller says that the problem with my books was one of balance; yet in describing the views of the Gedolim, and in describing my book, he suffers from an extreme lack of balance!

I didn't read the entire book, but flipping through it, I noticed other examples of his lack of balance. On p. 142 he talks about the problem of making statements without citing sources, which he says is a particular problem amongst non-Orthodox clergy. He further states that another problem, of selective citation, occurs in Orthodox circles. The examples that he gives in the next three paragraphs - the Hakirah journal, various panel discussions on women's issues and organ donation - are all from non-Charedi circles. Then, noting that this problem occurs on both ends of the spectrum, he gives a single paragraph discussing how selective citation regarding conversion requirements occurs on both ends of the spectrum.

Is this the correct balance? Four and a half paragraphs about non-citation and selective citation amongst non-charedim, and half a paragraph about selective citation amongst charedim? You must be kidding me. Since when do the Gedolim cite detailed sources for their pronouncements? And does anyone really think that selective citation and misrepresentation is more of a problem with Hakirah than in charedi publications?!

Chazal were indeed correct. Kol haposel, bemumo posel. 

(Note: If anyone wants to know my own take on the ban, read my essay "In Defense of my Opponents" and the postscript.)

49 comments:

  1. Even though it was cited in only 3 places, could it be that the Gedolim realized that your agenda was to show that Chazal make mistakes and hence banned your books?

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  2. What does that even mean? That the books were okay, but the Gedolim banned them due to a secret goal?

    Besides, it's difficult to see how they could have figured out my alleged secret "agenda" without even reading the books.

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  3. Having Daas Torah means never having to say sorry.
    It also means you don't have to cite sources. The Daas Torah itself is the source.

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  4. Actualy, Mum shebo, it's the opposite. If the Gedolim were only shown the three places where R. Slifkin claimed that Hazal were wrong and not the many places where he defended their views, it is not surprising that they- mistakenly--claimed that his goal was to discredit Hazal.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  5. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel reads English. Rav Elya Weintraub certainly read English. I don't know Rav Moshe that well, but I would imagine that he investigated what it said in the books before he banned them.

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  6. IIRC, the initial ban was about the millions of years. So, even if the Gedolim didn't read your books, if someone came to them and said a Hareidi writer is publishing books by Feldheim that argue that the world is many years older than 6000 years, and he also writes that Hazal made mistakes in science...would that not be reason enough to ban your works?

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  7. Actually, Professor, they saw more than 3 places. I remember the plaint that they marked up countless pages and sent them around to many rabbis for perusal.

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  8. This blog claims to explore the legacy of the rationalist medieval Torah scholars. When will you stop using it as a forum to bash Haredim and get back to doing that?

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  9. I don't think there is any gainsaying the fact that the explicit goal stated in the introduction to Mysterious Creatures was to publicize and promote Rav Avraham Ben HaRambam's approach.

    And with any genuine conflict between Chazal/rishonim and science mentioned in the book, you always determined that Chazal were wrong and science was correct.

    So although these cases may have made up the minority of the book, the rest of the cases in the book weren't real challenges from science at all.

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  10. moe G.: It would be a reason to say, as R. Slifkin himself has said often, that a Haredi publisher should not publish the books, not that the books are kefirah and that R. Slifkin's mouth should be stoped with dust Speaking of venom!

    Lawrnece Kaplan

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  11. Hi-

    Can you start a second blog where you discuss this sort of thing? I used to really enjoy the material on your blog as it added to the discussion on rationalist judaism.
    We all know that you suffered terribly because of the ban, and we feel your pain.

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  12. Anybody else wondering what the three specific instances were?

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  13. People, please read the header at the top of the blog "Exploring the legacy of the rationalist medieval Torah scholars, AND VARIOUS OTHER NOTES". Albeit i don't think that's what it alway said but NOW IT DOES.
    I mean nobody is holding your eyelids open forcing you to read this blog, so you cant really complain.

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  14. Michal B. said, "if someone came to them and said a Hareidi writer is publishing books by Feldheim that argue that the world is many years older than 6000 years, and he also writes that Hazal made mistakes in science...would that not be reason enough to ban your works?"

    Rabbi Slifkin once wrote that all Orthodox Jewish scientists that he knows hold that the world is 4.5 billion years old. Also, one commentor mentioned the book by R. Aryeh Carmell, Challenge, which anthologizes a lot of approaches by Orthodox Jewish thinkers which echo the same opinion: that the world is much older than 6000 years. I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly is it about "The Science of the Torah/The Challenge of Creation" that deserved a ban, whereas the other such anthologies which echo the same thing don't get banned.

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  15. Rabbi Slifkin if you had an adopted son who was not aware that he was adopted, then in his teenage years he begins to get a bit wayward would you then deem it the right time to break to him the news that he is not your real son or would you use common sense that the last thing he needs now is to find out this information and that it may actually be the straw that breaks the camels back?
    To get to my point charedi judaism at the end of the long golus are holding on to a straw in the raging sea. There are so many of us whom have problems in so many areas eg: in Emuna etc etc.
    So can you not understand that perhaps the gedolim are aware of this and are perhaps in touch with the lowly state of the "sheiris hapleita" slightly more than yourself and feel our generation will not be able to withstand the news that chazal erred in the talmud, and therefore for the greater good it would be even ok to say a lie (that they did not err) just to keep Judaism on its path

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  16. Elan A.

    >This blog claims to explore the legacy of the rationalist medieval Torah scholars. When will you stop using it as a forum to bash Haredim and get back to doing that?

    Really? Natan Slifkin is abusing his own forum by posting his reaction to a book which writes about his views and his books? Are you.... serious?

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  17. It's not an "agenda" to say chazal erred, it's a viewpoint. (In my opinion, the only viewpoint anyone with an ounce of sense can possibly hold.)

    It realy is amazing. The most religious of Jews routinely laugh at people or communities who believe in leprechauns, witch doctors, crytal ball prognosticators, infallibility, ghosts, palm readers, etc. Yet it is all around their own community, and in spades. The notion that chazal - all the thousands of 'em -never made a mistake, is so foolish of a notion, no one not indoctrinated to think such a belief was a religious obligation could ever accept it. It is really only the (justifiable) fear that once we acknowledge mistakes the whole foundation begins to crumble, that keeps thinking people from admitting the obvious.

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  18. In response to Eli4, if the path of Torah is truth, deviating from the truth in order to uphold Torah is oxymoronic - and will not work.

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  19. "Also, one commentor mentioned the book by R. Aryeh Carmell, Challenge, which anthologizes a lot of approaches by Orthodox Jewish thinkers which echo the same opinion: that the world is much older than 6000 years. I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly is it about "The Science of the Torah/The Challenge of Creation" that deserved a ban, whereas the other such anthologies which echo the same thing don't get banned."

    Timing. Challenge was first published in 1976. Daas Toirah didn't exist then.

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  20. Dear Tessya
    You are right - Torah must be truth, however in very extreme circumstances a lie may be what Hashem wants. If Yaakov Avinu would not have lied about his identity to Yitzchak we would not be here today.
    Its not just Yaakov Avinu, Nach has many examples of aveira lishma.
    My point was that even if we follow the view of those authorities that Chazal erred, the Gedolim however are looking deeper into things and realise that unfortunately judaism today, after a long and bitter golus will not be able to withstand that kind of information.
    So Rabbi Natan is right, there were rishonim and achronim who stated Chazal erred, however the Gedolim with their deep understanding of the state of Judaism today are just being responsible in trying to keep our nation on the straight and narrow.
    Thats why the ban was issued, they felt R' Natan was being irresponsible to publish books on this nature in this low generation.

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  21. Nice try Eli4, but you are merely attempting to justify the absurd. First, they inculcute a generation or so with a singularly narrow view of Judaism that is filled with bobeh maasehs. Then, they wax indignant and heap abuse on someone who wishes to bring some clarity into their dim worldview. Your argument is not far removed from the tale of the murderer of his parents who pleads for clemency since he is now an orphan.

    Besides, in this modern age of communication, there is little prospect of keeping the inhabitants of the Hareidi world long insulated from the knowledge and realities of the outside world. The quicker, the leadership of the Hareidi world realizes the error of their ways, the better will it be for their adherents. It may take the succession of a new generation of leadership to make this happen, however.

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  22. Jewish Observer wrote: with any genuine conflict between Chazal/rishonim and science mentioned in the book, you always determined that Chazal were wrong and science was correct.

    So although these cases may have made up the minority of the book, the rest of the cases in the book weren't real challenges from science at all.


    R. Slifkin works hard writing a book that shows the majority of challenges to be non-challenges,so that Jewish Observer would be able to say that since the rest of the cases aren't "genuine" challenges, R. Slifkin must have a hidden agenda. Nice spinning.

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  23. I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly is it about "The Science of the Torah/The Challenge of Creation" that deserved a ban, whereas the other such anthologies which echo the same thing don't get banned.

    The other anthologies didn't have an agenda to promote one approach and dismiss/invalidate all the others.
    Natan Slifkin's books always cite all the various approaches and then carefully explains why each of them is unreasonable, untenable, etc., except for the one that says Chazal/the Torah are factually incorrect.

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  24. LOL. "always" here meaning on three occasions!

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  25. Natan:
    Do you know as fact that the rabbis did not read the book, and if they did not, do you agree or disagree that they may ban a book if they are told that the contents are kefira in their opinion?

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  26. I always wondered why otherwise totally levelheaded people believe in "Shedim", early middle age refuos, "nishtane ha'teva", "niskatnu ha'zeissim" & flat earth theory of Talmud Bavli.
    Lately I realized that this is a different type of belief than, say, the belief in the effectiveness of antibiotics.
    It is the belief that my Olam Ha'Ba is dependent on accommodating these items in my small brain. It is the key to either Gan Eden or Gehennom.
    It is more of a fear than a belief.
    A superstition of sorts.

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  27. to eli4...Re: the (so-called) gedolim realizing the situation and creating this great lie.

    thanks for giving me my laugh for the day.

    Alas, i can't laugh long as the situation is really quite serious.

    the so-called "gedolim" actualy believe their view of the world and sadly are the Jewish version of pied piper, leading the faithful down a foolish path.

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  28. Rabbi Slifkin,

    With respect to source citation, Rabbi Miller is not talking about public pronouncements but scholarly articles (I didn't read the book I am relying on your description).

    Knowing Rabbi Miller, I don't think he takes pashkevilim seriously at all. When it comes to teshuvot and scholarly articles he is arguing that in recent times those with an interest in being mattir selectively quote among the earlier sources to give a false impression that a new leniency is the norm.

    The same thing occurs with new chumros, but less often because they can always quote both and say "it is better to be machmir."

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  29. I have not read Rabbi Miller's new book but I was present when many of the ideas in the book were originally delivered as part of sermons or lectures.

    In his speeches Rabbi Miller defended you and clearly stated that there were many Rishonim that subscribed to your view. He presented the other side as holding there was such a thing as "psak" in hashkafa and that it was no longer permitted to subscribe to this view.

    Rabbi Miller's talk, and presumably his book, was not to give a historical description of what the motivations of the parties were (I doubt he ever spoke to R'Elya Ber) but to the broader dispute as he saw it and how an ordinary Torah Jew should relate to it.

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  30. Dear Annonymous
    I put down what in my opinion is the Gedolims view, if you just call it absurd or bobbeh maasehs without explaining why my point is not an argument i find it hard to debate with you.
    Your second point that it is just a matter of time till the charedi worlds insulation from todays modern age of communication erodes, i am sorry but your wrong. And i will prove it.
    Have you ever wondered why generally speaking we do not get many posts from charedim on this site? (here and there they pop up but just as quickly dissapear)Its because millions of charedim understand that the Gedolims psak halacha to only use internet for business purposes is not because we are all narrow minded.
    Rather we understand that Charedi rabbis do not like sweeping things under the carpet like other communities seem to be doing and pretent internet dangers do not exsist. They actually do something about it.
    (I hear your questions formulating,as a charedi why am i using internet. The answer is i used to be addicted to internet. My rabbi advised me not to break off suddenly but to limit it to an hour a day for 1 year)

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  31. S. Said...

    Really? Natan Slifkin is abusing his own forum by posting his reaction to a book which writes about his views and his books? Are you.... serious?

    My comment wasn't directed at this specific post. As you pointed out, R. Slifkin obviously has the right to (and should) defend himself on his own forum. That said, I really enjoy reading R. Slifkin's clear and incisive blog posts and essays related to exploring the legacy of the rationalist medieval Torah scholars, and would like to see more posts related to that topic.

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  32. Its amazing that whenever Rabbi Slifkin writes about this topic there is a backlash from certain people (perhaps some sockpuppets?) Attempting to coerce, convince, or guilt him into not writing about it anymore. As a regular reader of this blog, it happens to be one of my favorite subjects partially because of its relevance. As an issue it still touches on the precise nerve of the rationalist vs non or antirationalist conflict and all the implications in our society. Its funny, like people want to publicly victimize slifkin but then don't you dare analyze what we did or talk about what happened. Their followers, by demanding you not to talk about it on your own blog, are confirming that they know what was done to you was wrong.

    Also funny is the number of people who TO THIS DAY still create hypotheticals and theories to explain the behavior. As if they've been in a coma for 10 years, are just learning of this event now from your post, and think up all sorts of "possibilities" that aren't really possible based on facts we already know.

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  33. "I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly is it about "The Science of the Torah/The Challenge of Creation" that deserved a ban, whereas the other such anthologies which echo the same thing don't get banned."

    There are a few factors, including the lack of any men of real learning (I mean beyond basic rabbinics) in today's cahredi leadership. It's mindboggling, but those called "Gedoilim" are often remarkably ignorant, not only of anything in the broader world, but also of the many streams and currents that make up the broader orthodox world. Read the Haskomos to R. Carmell's book, particaurly those of R. Yaakov Kaminezky and the late Gerrer Rebbe. You would never see anything similar from today's crop.

    That said, the single most important difference between then and today is one word which has changed everything completely - Internet.

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  34. Student V. said...

    Their followers, by demanding you not to talk about it on your own blog, are confirming that they know what was done to you was wrong.

    As a regular reader of this blog, I'm a major supporter of R. Slifkin and am fully convinced that the ban against R. Slifkin was completely ridiculous and totally uncalled for. It's so obvious! As such, posts related to the ban seem superfluous, as they are just confirming to everyone what has already been clearly proven. At this point, people who fail to see the correctness in R. Slifkin's position are not worth responding to, and I feel like R. Slifkin could be using his immense talents in a more productive manner.

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  35. "My point was that even if we follow the view of those authorities that Chazal erred, the Gedolim however are looking deeper into things and realise that unfortunately judaism today, after a long and bitter golus will not be able to withstand that kind of information."

    Eli,

    First, outside the chareidi world, Judaism has managed not only to survive but to thrive. There is a tremendous kol torah among serious, authentic, deeply religious Jews who have somehow managed to seamlessly integrate the information that the world is more than 6,000 years old - a fact (yes, fact) that in no way contradicts anything in the Torah, or ikarei emunah.

    As to the idea that fantastical, self-evidently unbelievable lies are better than truth for defending the Torah, I'll quote the Rambam from Perek Chelek on the impact of treating such fantasies as statements of reality:

    "The first group is the largest one. . . . They accept the teachings of the sages in their simple literal sense and do not think that these teachings contain any hidden meaning at all. They believe that all sorts of impossible things must be. They hold such opinions because they have not understood science and are far from having acquired knowledge. . . . They understand the teachings of the sages only in their literal sense, in spite of the fact that some of their teachings when taken literally, seem so fantastic and irrational that if one were to repeat them literally, even to the uneducated, let alone sophisticated scholars, their amazement would prompt them to ask how anyone in the world
    could believe such things true, much less edifying.

    The members of this group are poor in knowledge. One can only regret
    their folly. Their very effort to honor and to exalt the sages in accordance with their own meager understanding actually humiliates them [the sages]. As God lives, this group destroys the glory of the Torah of God say the opposite of what it intended.

    ***For He said in His perfect Torah, “The nation is a wise and understanding people”
    (Deut. 4:6). But this group expounds the laws and the teachings of our sages in such a way that when the other peoples hear them they say that this little people is
    foolish and ignoble. . . .
    . . . Would that they keep silent about what
    they do not know, as it is written: “If only they would be utterly silent, it would be
    accounted to them as wisdom” (Job 13:5).***


    Or they might at least say, “We do not understand what our sages intended in this statement, and we do not know how to explain it.” But they believe they do understand, and they vigorously expound to the people what they think rather than what the sages really said."


    That was how the Rambam excoriated those who truly believed impossible things and preached them to the masses as literal truths, for destroying the glory of Torah.

    What do you think his position would be on those who deliberately lie to make Torah seem filled with impossibilities?

    No. I cannot believe that any Gadol worthy of the name would deliberately lie about Torah in the manner you are suggesting.

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  36. Akiva M, please see introduction to Rabbi Slifkins "Mysterious Creatures" where he clearly lists out the authorities (rishonim & achronim) those who held chazal did err and those that held chazal did not err.
    So quoting this Rambam is irrelevent to the point eli i think was trying to make.
    Surely todays gedolim can subscribe to one view, and then for the greater good of a Judaism not acknowledge the other.
    So bringing the rambam into the debate is just not relevent, since there were those authorities who disputed him.....

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  37. I don't know if this comment is appropriate for the blog--Rabbi Slifkin will use his discretion:

    In the movie "Religulous", Bill Maher interviews the Vatican astronomer, George Coyne (the Wikipedia article on him shows that he has quite a few scholarly articles on astronomy, as well as being a Jesuit priest). Dr. Coyne expresses his exasperation with the fundamentalist Christian position which go to great lengths to try to say that the dinosaurs lived at the same time as man, etc.--that this in no way can be called science. He cites Pope John Paul II as saying that evolution as already gone beyond the level of being just a theory, and instead must be considered fact. He also said that it can't be expected of the Bible to make scientific statements, since so many centuries separate the compilation of the Bible and the Scientific Revolution.

    It's interesting that someone espousing such a view is not only not censured, but can attain such a high post.

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  38. So can you not understand that perhaps the gedolim are aware of this and are perhaps in touch with the lowly state of the "sheiris hapleita" slightly more than yourself and feel our generation will not be able to withstand the news that chazal erred in the talmud, and therefore for the greater good it would be even ok to say a lie (that they did not err) just to keep Judaism on its path

    For the sake of argument, let's posit that this is correct.

    It is also true that there are many, many Jews (likely a majority in the US) who consider it a "proven truth" that the earth and universe are quite a bit older than 6000 years. When I say "proven truth", I mean that they think of this fact as sure as facts like "the earth is a spheroid", "men have landed on the moon", "George Washington was the first president of the US", and "scientists have created bombs with the explosive power measured in megatons of TNT". For those people, stating Torah mandates belief in a young earth is equivalent to saying that that the Torah is mistaken. Basically if "A is true", and "B implies not A", then "B is false".

    For those people, books taking the approach that R. Slifkin takes are just as essential as you claim the opposite is for Charedim. Which I believe is why R. Slifkin has endorsed the idea that his books should be marketed to the proper target audience and not to the general Charedi public.

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  39. Eventhough the ban was back then in 2005, i shudder every time i think of the sheer chutzpah a 29 year old had to publicly go against the wishes of the ziknei hador.
    Nosson, you claim to base your views on rationalist Rambam but have you ever - with an unbiased mind seen what Rambam writes on people whom are mevaze talmidei chachamim?
    Nosson, i daven for you nearly every day that you should see the truth, the truth in this case being that in our long history it was always the gedolei torah who guided us. For how long will you give history a slap in the face?

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  40. JJ,

    "Give history a slap in the face?" What does that even mean? Do you think you can respect history, by DENYING historical facts, which is what it seems to me that you are trying to do?

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  41. There's definitely a generational aspect to this. DF says the gedolim changed. David Ohsie says the people changed. They're both right. There are more charedim today who have grown up isolated from secular knowledge, and the result is that their leaders are focused on keeping them isolated. In earlier generations, the assumption was that a Torah/science book was needed because there was broad exposure to science among anyone who could read English, and extreme need for kiruv in an age where Orthodox Judaism was assumed to be on the decline. Today, the charedi communities are rapidly growing, and kiruv is ignored as a core problem (except by Chabad). So writing a book that presupposes scientific truth is, well, true, is a problem for people not exposed to science in the first place.

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  42. And with any genuine conflict between Chazal/rishonim and science mentioned in the book, you always determined that Chazal were wrong and science was correct

    I believe that this a complete mischaracterization of R. Slifkin's approach. Here is an example: Chazal/Rishonim (at least some of them) and the "scientists" (philosophers) of their time both believed in spontaneous generation.

    How does that translate to Chazal/Rishonim were wrong and science right?

    It is true that in latter times, some Rabbis have felt compelled by religious impulse to specifically deny basic science, and even going so far as to revert to geocentrism, but this is not R. Slifkin's fault.

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  43. "judaism today, after a long and bitter golus will not be able to withstand that kind of information."

    If Judaism is so fragile then it doesn't deserve to survive. Fortunately, it isn't fragile at all and can withstand any and all information.

    "have you ever - with an unbiased mind seen what Rambam writes on people whom are mevaze talmidei chachamim?"

    Would Rambam consider someone who rejects universally accepted scientific facts to BE a talmid chacham?

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  44. >>>> Rambam writes on people whom are mevaze talmidei chachamim?

    As far as I can tell, the so-called Gedolim might be as guilty, if not guiltier, in that they are an embarrassment and possibly a chillul Hashem to the outside world. Their lack of true wisdom, ignorance and complete eschewing of secular knowledge, and their blatant distortion of history. So maybe you should pray for them and their blind followers who believe in all kinds of nonsense.

    As for secular knowledge, I just ran across this:

    Baruch of Shklov [Schick, Baruch] (1752–1810), in the introduction to his book/sefer “Euclid”, quotes a Talmid of the Vilna Gaon, who wrote in the Gaon’s name, ”To the degree that a man is lacking in knowledge and secular sciences he will lack one hundredfold in his wisdom of the Torah.”

    I suppose they’ll just say it’s a forgery.

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  45. In my humble opinion the biggest proof for "daas torah" in the 21st century was the "Slifkin affair"
    Back in 2005 i was also amazed why the gedolim came out so strongly on a ben torah whose only "sin" seemed to be quoting the pachad yitzchak on mud lice.
    Yet as the years go by i have changed my mind and i now stand in awe in front of the Gedolei Torah who somehow perceived that we are talking about someone with an agenda.
    Yes, it started with mud lice but continued with throwing bits and bobs of Judaism that this rabbi did not understand out the window, so for eg: since the facts on the ground do not prove that talmidei chachamim bring security it is perhaps not true. (R'Natan, i asked you over a year ago if you pray, as facts on the groung do not prove it works - i am still waiting for your reply.)
    Anyway, along the path of the Rabbi deciding what parts of Judaism we must believe in (God told you flood unlikely took place)we got it peppered with publicly shaming the Gedolei Hador so for eg: R' Kanievski is not fit for leadership, R Mattisyahus ways are pathetic, bats pooping on R Ovadia Yosef etc etc etc.
    So yes i stand in awe in front of our Gedolim who percieved all of this was coming back in 2005.
    (please do not reply as you replied to me a year ago that it was the gedolims actions that threw you off, as you seem to have changed your mind about that in your post on 31/12/12)

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  46. David Ohsie makes a strong point--If I understand correctly, Rabbi Slifkin's work was originally planned as a דע מה שתשיב לאפיקורוס--in response to the argument that if Chazal's knowledge of science was found to be faulty, it should shake the whole foundation of Judaism.
    Instead of having an agenda of trying to find places where Chazal were wrong and modern science is right, Rabbi Slifkin's aim was rather to show how, despite the dissonance between the science of Chazal and modern science, it shouldn't weaken our commitment to Judaism as a whole.

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  47. Eli4, sorry if I offended you. I didn't call your characterization of the book bans by leading Hareidi figures as "absurd" or "bobeh maises", rather, the nature of acceptable ideology that is propagated by those figures. I merely believe your rationale of their behavior to be misguided. Had the bans been directed at their own communities, there would have been less cause for consternation and ridicule. R' Natan, has previously justified such an attitude as a not unreasonable defensive position. However, when they made it a cause celebre, that was bound to raise hackles in the non-Hareidi Orthodox world. This is besides the underhanded and vicious ways the bans were initially proclaimed and circulated.

    A small example of how respect for religious authority figures need not interfere with the quest for truth is given by the Tosafot in Eruvin 76b (s.v. Rabbe Yochanan) who demonstrate that the leading Amora, R' Yochanan in Eruvin and the conclusion of the Gemara in Succa 8b dealing with the same geometry (but different cases - Eruvin treats a circular hole enclosing a square space of 4x4 tefachim, while Succa treats a circular succah enclosing a square space of 4x4 amot)were mistaken.

    If the Tosafot can attribute simple error to R' Yochanan and the gemara, based on their mathematical demonstrations, why shouldn't people today be able to demonstrate errors about the physical world made by their illustrious predecessors based on well-established physical data and knowledge?

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  48. JJ said:
    Eventhough the ban was back then in 2005, i shudder every time i think of the sheer chutzpah a 29 year old had to publicly go against the wishes of the ziknei hador.
    Nosson, you claim to base your views on rationalist Rambam but have you ever - with an unbiased mind seen what Rambam writes on people whom are mevaze talmidei chachamim?
    Nosson, i daven for you nearly every day that you should see the truth, the truth in this case being that in our long history it was always the gedolei torah who guided us. For how long will you give history a slap in the face?


    JJ, even though the ban was back then in 2005, i shudder every time i think of the sheer chutzpah that the gedolim had to publicly go against the heilige Rishonim and Acharonim and declare their views to be kefirah.

    JJ, you claim to base your views on the gedolim but have you ever - with an unbiased mind seen what Rambam writes on people who insist on the literal truth of aggadata?

    JJ, i daven for you nearly every day that you should see the truth, the truth in this case being that in our long history it was always the rishonim who guided us. For how long will you give history a slap in the face?

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  49. I recently subscribed to Rationalist Judaism toward my purpose of trying to sympathetically understand all aspects of Judaism. While it seems impossible to thoroughly understand such a huge body of information, in my anticipated remaining lifetime of one or two decades, I hope to at least touch the tops of all the topics. At this time, I feel very confused about the Orthodox Jewish world, and I hope that someone here is willing to direct me to some comprehensive book that objectively compares and contrasts Orthodox elements.

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