Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Torah, Chazal and Science (Updated)

I was unsure whether to begin this post with a description of my personal history with Rabbi Meiselman. Some would doubtless use it to brand me as petty or vengeful. But if I left it out, others (or perhaps even the same people) would say that I am trying to conceal a personal agenda. And so I have decided to present it.

During the Great Torah-Science Controversy of 2004-5, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman of Jerusalem attained notoriety for being by far the most vicious of my rabbinic opponents. The series of lectures that he delivered at Toras Moshe about my books was noteworthy for three reasons. One was that he repeatedly engaged in ad hominem insults. Two was that he engaged in the most bizarre and nasty slander, claiming that I had been thrown out of yeshivah in England for bad behavior (!). Three was that while he doubtless has many points of genuine disagreement with me, almost every single one of his references to my works, that he mentioned in order to refute, was something that is not in my works and which I never actually said.

I wrote a polite but forceful letter to Rabbi Meiselman in which I pointed all this out, but he neither retracted his slander nor responded to me. Since it was difficult for some people to believe that the reports that he was spreading about me and my work stemmed from nastiness rather than being an honest portrayal, and my account of his behavior was rather surprising and likewise hard for people to believe, I uploaded his three lectures to my website so that people could judge for themselves. Many people, including some supporters of Toras Moshe, were shocked at Rabbi Meiselman’s behavior, and protested to him.

At this point Rabbi Meiselman initiated his only communication to me, requesting me to remove the recordings from my website. I saw no reason to do so. In a subsequent interview with the Five Towns Jewish Times, Rabbi Meiselman claimed that “I never gave shiurim on this in my beis midrash. Someone taped a conversation that I had with some talmidim.” This was, however, contradicted by the very first words of Rabbi Meiselman’s first lecture, in which he stated that “he decided to discuss this with the entire student body.”

Possibly in an attempt to draw attention away from his lectures and regain credibility, Rabbi Meiselman decided to publish a lengthy book on the topic of Torah, Chazal and science, which was released this week and is descriptively titled Torah, Chazal and Science. In this book, Rabbi Meiselman does not issue any explicit ad hominem attacks on me at all; in fact, although he references countless sources, from both believers and atheists, he does not reference my books at all. However, although he claims that his book “is not directed against any single author,” there is no great mystery as to who he has in mind when he constantly refers dismissively to books on Torah and science written by “amateurs” (as though if I were a professional scientist, I would not believe that the world is billions of years old!) In addition, on several occasions Rabbi Meiselman issues rebuttals to the claims of “some writers,” where he is invariably referring to me; but on each occasion he is misrepresenting what I wrote. For example, on p. 262 he argues against the claim of “some modern authors,” who mistakenly believe that Chazal’s rule about animals lacking upper teeth being kosher is meant to be absolute, and who point out counterexamples. But in fact the conclusion and purpose of my discussion in The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax is that Chazal’s rule about upper teeth is not meant to be absolute. Just as he did in his lectures, Rabbi Meiselman is still misrepresenting my views.

I will be reviewing Rabbi Meiselman's book in a series of posts, but let’s start with something basic. One of the first aspects of the book that stands out is the conspicuous absence of comments from other people. Books in this genre usually include approbations or praise from various authorities and experts. But in Rabbi Meiselman’s book, there are no approbations, nor sentences of praise of any sort. There is nothing from Gedolei Torah, nothing from academic scholars of Jewish studies, nothing from scientists.

This may seem surprising, until one reads the book and realizes why nobody will put their name on it. Presumably, no Gadol will endorse a book that repeatedly asserts that all the Rishonim and Acharonim were wrong (as I will detail in a forthcoming post). Presumably, no charedi Gadol will endorse a book that repeatedly and reverentially refers to Rav Soloveitchik (even though R. Meiselman portrays Rav Soloveitchik in a charedi revisionist way that is not shared by any other family member or disciple of the Rav), while no non-charedi Gadol will endorse a book that engages in charedi revisionism of Rav Soloveitchik. No academic scholar of Jewish studies will endorse a book that is so ahistorical in its approach to Chazal and that is so intellectually dishonest in its discussion of sources. No scientist (outside of Christian fundamentalists) will endorse a book that insists that all science dealing with periods longer than 5773 years ago – astronomy, geology, paleontology, biology, archeology – is nonsense.

With no endorsement from authorities in Torah or science, Rabbi Meiselman resorts to presenting himself as an authority. Time and again, he speaks dismissively of “amateurs” who address these topics (in fact, I’ve almost never seen a book that spends so much time denigrating others). In the first pages of the preface, and again on pp. 673-4, he stresses that this topic can only be addressed by people with "training in the sciences." He repeatedly condemns literature on Torah and science that “has not been written by people trained simultaneously in Torah and science.” The back flap states that Rabbi Meiselman was “trained by some of the greatest names in mathematics, philosophy and the sciences at two of America’s premier universities.”

Yet Rabbi Meiselman himself is not extensively trained in the natural sciences! What the back flap does not reveal is that his degree is in mathematics. As we will see in reviewing the book, Rabbi Meiselman has no knowledge of even the basics of astronomy, geology, paleontology, archeology, and biology - all fields in which he claims to have fundamentally refuted the most basic facts. Even more to the point, the “greatest names in mathematics, philosophy and the sciences” that taught Rabbi Meiselman "at two of America’s premier universities" would consider his theories in these areas to be amateur nonsense. Claiming that his work has scientific authority on the grounds that he was trained by the greatest names in science is like claiming that Louis Jacobs had Orthodox rabbinic authority because he was taught by Rav Dessler.

To be continued...

UPDATE: I will be updating this post with links to the various posts critiquing this book, as I publish them:
R. Meiselman: All The Rishonim Were Wrong, Again And Again And Again
Rabbi Meiselman Tries To Hide From The Sun
Anti-Rationalist Mania
A Mistake In Science, Or A Mistake In Torah?
Omitting Inconvenient Sources
When Is A Mesorah Not A Mesorah?
The Limits of Science
Metzitzah and the Rav
Metzizah and the Rav Part II
Mouse Torture
A Recipe for Intellectual Dishonesty
Rambam on Demons and Segulos
Chinese Dinosaurs and Challenging Camels 
That's Bats!
The Bat, The Platypus, And The Echidna 
Rav Soloveitchik's Spectacular Failure
Confronting Dinosaurs
Egg-Laying Elephants and Overly-Pregnant Wolves
The Rav, Cosmology, and Evolution

And here are David Ohsie's posts regarding R. Meiselman's claim that, based on Rambam, one can pasken the age of the universe:

http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2014/01/guest-post-can-we-pasken-age-of.html
http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2014/01/guest-post-can-we-pasken-age-of_19.html
http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2014/01/guest-post-can-we-pasken-age-of_2184.html
http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2014/01/guest-post-summary-and-conclusion-can.html

59 comments:

  1. My personal feeling is that with a book such as this, Rav Meiselman will dig himself into an intellectual hole that he will not be able to climb out of. He will be the greatest victim of his own hostility and intellectual dishonesty.

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  2. He will be the greatest victim of his own hostility and intellectual dishonesty.

    That's why creationists publish so few books. Credit is due to Rabbi Meiselman for putting his word out there and subjecting himself to critique.

    And by the way - what's this have to do with Beith Shemesh politics?

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  3. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I am not aware of all the details of the whole controversy. And I have no opinion on who is right or wrong (not that anyone cares what I think).

    However, it is clear that you do have talent and what to give to klal Yisrael. You may even have been attacked inappropriately. However, it appears this (perhaps justifiably) has left you bitter and quite angry and has made you very anti-charedi.

    I would recommend that you let go of that and instead focus on the positive of what you can give to klal Yisrael instead of getting caught up in all these vicious attacks be it with Rabbi Meiselman or with Beit Shemesh politics.

    You do have positive things to give to klal Yisrael - focus on that and leave the mudslinging to others.

    Bracha v'hatzlacha

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    1. I disagree. I greatly appreciate Rav Sllfkin pointing out of the hypocrisy and failures of intellectual coherence and integrity of supposed scholars and rabbinic leadership. I believe it is an essential service to Klal Yisrael for the purpose of maintaining our moral clarity. Rav Slifkin also provides moral comfort to many like myself who are outraged by the perversion of Logic and Torah for personal kavod or power. it is critical that honest individuals not feel alone and powerless in the face of the continuing desecration of truth and G-ds name by alleged "rabbinic" leaders

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  4. Why are you giving his book press, if nobody put a haskama on it?

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  5. Nice letter, but why did you have to say something negative about Louis Jacobs at the end

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  6. It's factual. Louis Jacobs did not consider himself to be Orthodox.

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  7. re his charedi revisionism of Rav Soloveitchik, he spoke in sharei in Lawrence maybe 10-12 years ago, and related that the last time his mother and her siblings were together his mother complained to the rav that he (moshe meiselman) was becoming to charedi, to which the rav responded, "had I not gone to berlin i would be the same way".

    Meiselman's charedi revisionism of Rav Soloveitchik has been going on for a long time.

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  8. 1. The best type of book reviews are those that can be read even by those who haven't read the book under review. Such people are usually the vast majority of any given reviewer's readership. Please keep that in mind, if possible, in your forthcoming posts. In other words, less about Meiselman, more about the ideas.

    2. To refer to your own personal story as "The great Torah-Science Controversy" is self-referential, and makes you appear self-centered. Try to keep a sense of proportion. Your battles, though understandably of supreme importance to you, are part of an unbroken chain of dueling ideologies going back to the period of chazal. In other words, less about Slifkin, more about the ideas.

    3. Yitz Waxman - there are plenty of books by creationists. As a community they are no more and no less intellectually honest or dishonest than any other community of thinkers devoted to a specific idea, be that idea evolution, global warming, daas torah, or any other belief system. We are all each of us adherents of beliefs, and it is useless to deny it.

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    1. he has been in fact at the center of one of the most significant coinflicts facing the Torah world in the past 50 years. its NOT hubris or self centeredness. This is simply a statement of fact. I have never met Rav Slifkin, but I am sick of the cowardly ad adhominem attacksattacks on his character when he is one of the few people to have the courage to deal with these issues against the powerful group think of the cowardlyfrum establishment. He does so with scholarly balance and intellectually integriTy often not displayed by his opponents & he does so without the cover of anonymity or a pseudonym that those who utilize ad hominem attacks against him so often cower behind.

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  9. He argues against the claim of “some modern authors” who mistakenly believe that Chazal’s rule ... is meant to be absolute.... But in fact the conclusion ... of my discussion ... is that Chazal’s rule about upper teeth is not meant to be absolute.... Rabbi Meiselman is still misrepresenting my views.

    Maybe Rabbi Meiselman really didn't have you in mind when he wrote this part. Maybe he's objecting to "other modern authors."

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  10. I'm the only person who ever wrote on this!

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  11. I only know of Rav Meiselman from your blog. Is he supposed to be well-known or something? If he's just one of these guys running his little 20-person yeshiva, it might not be worth the bother to review his book. But, of course, I will read your review if you do!

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    1. No he is a huge Rav with good credentials.

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  12. @Concerned Yid

    In certain situations asking someone to leave go of their bitterness is sheer cruelty.

    If you are concerned indeed, exert yourself and come up with something else to remove the bitterness (that you believe exists.)

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  13. Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms Ho Ho Ho, Rabbi Meiselman is the Rosh Yeshiva of Toras Moshe, named after Rosh Yeshivah’s grandfather, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, whose legacy R'Meiselman is trying to change and appropriate a bit. And then some.

    Acording to Rabbi Kobre in a fawning Mishpacha article, "...while the Rosh Yeshivah’s family name is Meiselman, it is the Soloveitchik legacy that informs every fiber of his being." Ravs Michel Shurkin, and Moshe Twersky also teach at Toras Moshe along with R'Soloveitchik's fibres.

    No, our Rabbi Slifkin doesn't tangle with little guys; he is an unflinching fellow warrior who fears no Rav when convinced of his righteousness, a trait that keeps him in trouble and us, his readers from boredom. Temujin raises a tankard to Rabbi Slifkins latest campaign suggests the Thomas Macauly family motto for Rav Natan and his growing clan: Dulce periculum, “danger is sweet.” If someone would now kindly offer a more appropriate Hebrew translation....

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  14. How sad - when the ban on your books was first announced, you (and your blogosphere supporters) publicly called for a written explanation from the other side, claiming that it 'just wasn't fair', nor honest - to just ban you outright without even providing a cogent and reasoned explanation. Now, nearly ten years later, there have been a number of serious works written to explain the opposition to the ideas you promote, each of which explain at length why these attempts to reconcile Torah with science are inauthentic, misunderstand and minimize Chazal and the Rishonim, and have brought foreign ideas into Orthodox Judaism. But surprise, instead of welcoming these efforts, and confront them in a Beis Medrash of your peers, all you do is shower them with mocking and ridicule in such a boorish manner.

    You did the same thing to R Aharon Feldman's article, and then to Chayim B'Emunasam, as if his five thousand sources can be easily dispensed with a few clever jokes, or finding fault with two ill-placed lines in a massive well-researched book.

    Now R Meiselsman's 900 pages of clearly-reasoned argument will be cast aside with a few well-placed insults, and of course, reminding everyone of how not nice he is, he actually insulted you ten years ago. Oh, poor R. Slifkin, the big, bad wolves are so mean.

    And then you cry foul when no one wants to debate with you?

    Let's be real: it is you that needs to hide behind your computer screen, speaking only to Am Ha'aratzim who can be easily fooled, for in a face-to-face discussion with a Talmid Chacham, the great lie would be revealed to all - you are a nice young man, and perhaps you even meant well one long-ago day, but the truth is out.

    You have no business pretending to be a scholar, and certainly not a Torah expert.

    Perhaps you should just stick with political commentary in Beit Shemesh?

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  15. Ouch.

    I actually respect those chareidi gedolim who stay out of Torah/science debates altogether (e.g., Reb Moshe, Reb Yaakov, Reb Shlomo Zalman etc.,) than those who don't and end up looking foolish.

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  16. @Concerned Yid

    Also, I don't understand you at all. R Meiselman writes a book, parts of which are an attack against Rabbi Slifkin, and you reprimand RABBI SLIFKIN for attacking back?!?

    Have you asked Rabbi Meaiselman to express at least a shred of an apology? Do you think he might be bitter and should let go?

    Search your soul. Are you really concerned for Rabbi Slifkin or for yourself, and Rabbi Slifkin's attacks hurt YOU...?

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  17. Casual Observer, unlike R Meiselman (and yourself), R Slifkin does not engage in insults or mocking or jokes. The critiques of R Feldman's article and of Chayim B'Emunasam were focused, comprehensive, and clearly revealed these works to be fundamentally flawed. Presumably his critique of R Meiselman's book will be the same.

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  18. "although he references countless sources, from both believers and atheists, he does not reference my books at all... Rabbi Meiselman issues rebuttals to the claims of “some writers,” where he is invariably referring to me; but on each occasion he is misrepresenting what I wrote... Rabbi Meiselman is still misrepresenting my views..."

    I'm sorry, but logically these two claims are mutually exclusive. If he doesn't reference Slifikin or his works, it is unfair to say that he is "misrepresenting what I wrote". He doesn't claim to be (re)presenting Slifikins views, so how can he be misrepresenting that which he doesn't purport to be (re)presenting. He doesn't quote Slifkin at all, yet Slifkin is convinced that Rabbi Meiselman PhD must be referring to him and his works & "misrepresenting what I wrote", as if they are the only ones on the subject.
    This does seem a bit egocentric (&/paranoid).

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  19. Of course he's referring to me, because I indeed am the only person to have written on these specific points!

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  20. Thanks for the background, Temujin. Sometimes I just wonder whether it's worth debating know-nothings who want to hold onto the idea that the world is 6000 years old, etc. When the Mormon kids come knocking at our door, we just say "thanks, not interested, have a great day." No need to debate their beliefs. At a certain point I think educated people just need to move on from debating the know-nothings. And I wish I could follow this advice myself.

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  21. I'm surprised he couldn't get a haskama from R. Dovid Gottleib. A fellow traveler whose shift toward close-minded fundamentalism in the guise of high-minded intellectualism is also wrapped in an expired PhD.

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  22. " If he doesn't reference Slifikin or his works, it is unfair to say that he is "misrepresenting what I wrote".

    Then, it's actually worse than we thought, Mr Sternberg. A PhD, which you kindly reminded us that Rabbi Meiselman holds (not suggesting you'd wave ye olde argumentum ab auctoritate, at R'Slifkin, of course) doesn't typically go about citing imaginary opponents, quixotically tilting at windmills and such, nor does hint at real ones, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, while being too coy or shy to actually utter their name. Not PhD-ish of him at all, you know, quite amateurish as a matter of fact.

    Always one's pleasure to provide background and colour too, whenever one can, Ho Ho Ho. And, one often feels the same way about the importance of Age of the World debates and such, even mumbles about them to whoever happens to be nearby, until honourable wife snaps one to the present nexus of the time-space continuum, reminding him that the trash will not escort itself to the bin or that the dishes have been calling one's name. At such times of suffering six thousand years versus billions or gazillions appear to make no difference.

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  23. When I was a kid, the academic scholars at JTS used to claim that they actually knew how to learn better than the Roshei Yeshiva and their level of learning was superior. Today, as we watch with sadness the death of the Coservative movement, no one actually has the temerity to make such ludicrous claims, for there is nary a soul in the entire Conservative movement, not to mention the rabbis at JTS who would even know how to read a Tosafos, much less understand it.

    I am reminded of this while reading the hubris of the comments and postings here, a posture which is so far-removed from reality.

    R Meiselman knows Shas and Poskim inside and out. There is not a person in the world who knew Rav Soloveichik better than he, and he went through three-quarters of Shas learning privately with his uncle. He has an excellent secular education, and a broad range of knowledge, as is evident in the book he has just published.

    You may disagree with what he has written, but to pretend he is foolish or ignorant is nonsense.

    Is this all a game here, pretending all to be intellectuals? Is there anybody reading this blog who can honestly justify this kind of talk? If you have a problem with what R Meiselman has written, he (and many other Talmidei Chachamim) are readily accessible to you. Or, as R Slifkin, perhaps you are really unprepared to walk into a serious Bais Medrash, so you stay at home where you can mock them all from the safety of your computers?

    I wonder honestly how many of you will ever merit having a child who is a Talmid Chacham, and how many of you will instead (as in the 'intellectual' or 'rational' Conservative movement) ultimately lose your own children as a result of your own cynicism and sarcasm (and then blame it on the rabbis).

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  24. I did not say that he was foolish, or that he was ignorant of Shas or Poskim or math. I said that he is ignorant of astronomy and paleontology and biology (which I will demonstrate in future posts). If you have evidence otherwise, I'd be glad to hear it.

    I tried engaging him in direct discussion a few years ago, but he wasn't interested. There is no reason why I should not critique his book in this forum. He, or you, are welcome to submit counter-arguments. So far, you're just issuing ridicule.

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  25. "When I was a kid, the academic scholars at JTS used to claim that they actually knew how to learn better than the Roshei Yeshiva and their level of learning was superior. Today...."

    Observer, don't kid yourself. When JTS was in its heyday, it had numerous - not just one or two, but numerous - men who could "learn" circles around rosh yeshivah. But of course, its all depends how one defines "learning." Rosh yeshivas and JTS scholars have completely different understandings of the word.

    Today, I would agree with you, more or less. Having made the fateful decision to ordain women, they went down the path of touchy-feely hood, and scholarship was sacrificed. A crying shame.

    As to what R. Meiselman does or does not know about shas or poskim - neither you nor r slifkin have any idea. Math, we know he knows something, because he was tested objectively to get his degree. But nobody tests anybody in learning. You sit in the beis medrash enough years, and automatically you are called a talmic chacham.

    Gershon pickles

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  26. Umm, actually no, Mr Observer, a strong and passionate appeal for favouritism based on authority, but that and your insulting attempt at shaming people here will not wash.

    Neither a PhD nor the status of a Rosh Yeshiva provides immunity to claims of fact, much less to unscholarly conduct of ridiculing fellow scholars, apparently un-named "others" as amateurs. This is not how it's done in the arena R'Meiselman chose to enter.

    Are you saying R'Slifkin and others should not review R'Meiselman's book? Or that mindful of his stature in his own camp, they should only heap praises on it and play the game by keeping quiet over any problems, perhaps seeking private appointments as supplicants? R'Meiselman submitted a scholarly work, not a sermon. He appears to have chosen an aggressive way of presenting it which is fine...if one knows what one is talking about, and if one does so with at least the formalities of professional courtesy to one's opponent, no matter how junior.

    So, have no fear, Mr Observer, and onserve. His work will be reviewed in a proper and routine manner; by examining claims and arguments, checking sources or lack thereof, arguing and refuting wherever appropriate. Temujin and many others, not to mention the blog's owner, will make certain of that. The fact that you can speak your mind should be proof sufficient.

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  27. RNS wrote:

    "But in Rabbi Meiselman’s book, there are no approbations, nor sentences of praise of any sort. There is nothing from Gedolei Torah, nothing from academic scholars of Jewish studies, nothing from scientists."

    This is irrelevant. If Meiselman's claims are false then no haskama, endorsement etc. will make them true and if his claims are true, no haskama or endorsement will add to their truth.

    The truth shines on its own and is its own validation.

    So let's consider Meiselman's arguments so we can judge for ourselves.

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  28. No, this blog is not a serious way for a Talmid Chacham to critique a specific book, and certainly not to present a new Derech that rejects the entire approach to Torah of the past 200 years. Torah study, as R Meiselman stresses in his book, is an independent tautology that must be accessed and addressed on its own terms. It is impossible to study Torah and derive its depths on an Internet site, and R Slifkin, who once studied in Yeshiva, understands this. Rather, this is all a game, and much like the popular media, he has the power and skill of the master editor to spin any issue as he wishes.

    So, R Meisleman will be found not to be a strong paleontologist or biologist, and R Slifkin will find one or two mistakes in 900 pages to completely discredit him, and in that way sidestep the real issues: the approach to Torah and Chazal championed by R Slifkin is not in keeping with the traditions of Orthodox Judaism and is an abandonment of the Mesoras HaTorah. R Soloveichik would be his strongest critic on this issue, as Meiselman demonstrates, but R Slifkin will claim that R Meiselman is not reliable enough to cite R Soloveichik, and hence, sideswipe the basic issues, as he always does by discrediting the messenger, as if it is a "Science and Torah controversy" or "Ha, Ha,he actually thinks the world is 6000 years old and there were no dinosaurs", and "Rav Soloveichick's other nephew never liked or agreed with him anyway".

    I am not making an appeal to authority, but merely advising that in no other field of professional study would anyone take seriously an amateur quack who opens his own clinic to challenge accepted experts. Would an untutored medical practitioner's opinions matter if he could not pass muster with his peers and colleagues? Similarly, the test of a true Chiddush in Torah has to be in the Bais Medrash.

    If R Slifkin is confident in his approach, let him open a Shul, a Bais Medrash, a Yeshiva, and let us see how many followers he attracts (and he has more money than R Meiselman). Let us then determine how many Mesechtos his students have mastered and how many adherents he has developed that have followed his scholarly approach and become respected scholars. But, I doubt that R Slifkin could even last with one Chavrusa though one Mesechta, not to mention ever becoming a Rosh Chabura, or saying a Shiur to a respectable audience of young scholars (though maybe he could do Daf Yomi). But, he wants to skip all those steps of developing respect, authority, and a following
    and jump to the head of the class as a new Gadol HaDor, with his own brilliant new approach to Judaism, demonstrating to all that he has rediscovered the approach of the classical Rishonim, all of which has somehow escaped the view of the thousands of scholars who have spent their days and nights studying those very same Rishonim for the past five hundred years.

    On the other hand: to those who claim we don't know if R Meiselman is a Talmid Chacham because "he has not been tested" - he has trained thousands of young men for the past thirty years - those who have heard his Shiurim, questioned and debated the Sugyos, and ultimately, many of them today have become teachers of Torah who follow his path and have produced families and students of their own who are continuing in the methods that he has taught.

    Perhaps there were once scholars at JTS - but time has proven that their Torah was not true. It could not take root, because it was not the Derech HaEmes. Slifkin's end will be the same - at this point, he can still make a lot of noise, and be a fancy lecturer on the Modern Orthodox scholar-in-residence circuit, telling anyone who will listen that the Yeshiva world is backwards and ignorant. But, it is a scam. It is the classic huckster utilizing the new media that he has mastered.

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  29. > I wonder honestly how many of you will ever merit having a child who is a Talmid Chacham,

    If “Talmud chacham” means a yungerman who spends all day in kollel while his wife is mother and father to his children, or worse, someone who has spent many hours learning gemara but has nothing but insults and condescension for those who disagree with his worldview, then chas v’shalom that my child should be a talmid chacham.

    > and how many of you will instead (as in the 'intellectual' or 'rational' Conservative movement) ultimately lose your own children as a result of your own cynicism and sarcasm

    Lose our children? What does that mean? That our kids will go OTD? Not identify as Jewish? I can speak only for myself, but my children’s religious choices will never affect my relationship with them. That you can describe your children disagreeing with you on religion as “losing” them says everything about your attitude towards those outside your little world.

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  30. He no longer even claims to do anything but harm, and his scholarly approach consists of nothing more than saying: the Charedim and Yeshivos have it wrong: Torah study is not so important; Chazal were not so great; secular studies are great.

    Is there any possibility that a true Derech HaTorah will emerge from this?

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  31. a number of people are accusing slifkin of ego-centricity, because he thinks Meiselman means him.

    but it is a tribute to slifkin then nobody writes as well as him on torah and science. agree or disagree with him.

    I would say you cannot be uptodate on the subject without reading him.

    so no ego-centricity here a simple fact meiselman means slifkin.

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  32. Sweet sweet irony. Similar to his talmid the "maniac" Rabbi meiselmans disparaged your work and disrespected you on the supposed grounds that the gedolim do not endorse or accept your views of the universe, but then he proceeds to present his own view which not only no gadol will accept or endorse but even has no support in rishonim or chazal.

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  33. DF wrote:

    "2. To refer to your own personal story as "The great Torah-Science Controversy" is self-referential, and makes you appear self-centered. Try to keep a sense of proportion. Your battles, though understandably of supreme importance to you, are part of an unbroken chain of dueling ideologies going back to the period of chazal. In other words, less about Slifkin, more about the ideas."

    What dueling ideologies? There is only one ideology that goes back to Chazal and that is Rabbi Slifkin's. It is not accurate to suggest this is an age-old machloketh.

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  34. It's obvious that some people are very afraid of the critiques Rabbi Slifkin will bring which will demolish the arguments of their rebbe and possibly make him look silly because they are already trying with absurd accusations and insults to scare and intimidate Rabbi Slifkin into not publishing these critiques. Oh, this is such a laugh!

    Perhaps if their rebbe's work is not up to par, it reflects very negatively on their yeshiva, on their own learning and their own pedigree? Oh yes, they are in trouble, indeed!

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  35. I wonder if something else is going on here. R' Meiselman is no fool - he must recognize the limits of his knowledge of the relevant sciences.

    Perhaps he feels that his mis-characterization of the scientific facts (not to mention the positions of chazal on the matter) are less dangerous to one's emunah than the positions taken by R' Slifkin. He probably feels that he's performing a valuable service to the Jewish people through his attack, and saving people from having to confront the difficult questions that R' Slifkin's books raise.

    In fact, you might even say that R' Meiselman is... Lying For Truth.

    (I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry.)

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  36. "Of course he's referring to me, because I indeed am the only person to have written on these specific points!"
    What makes you think that?

    One of the ways to identify a ruminant is the lack of teeth in the upper jaw (we will preface our remarks and state that there are four types of teeth: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. Most animals have these in their upper and lower jaws, but most ruminants do not have incisors and do not have canines in their upper jaws). Therefore Chazal determined a rule in Hulin 59a, "If it has no teeth above, it is known to be pure; otherwise it is known to be impure."

    "...But Chazal, who noticed the difference with the camel, asked, "But a camel is a ruminant and has no upper teeth, yet it is impure? The camel has canines... The camel has two incisors and two canines in the upper jaw, for a total of four teeth. Another thing you should know is that bucks generally have incisors in their upper jaw and they are ruminants and have cloven hooves; they are kosher and pure. So Chazal erred even in the matter of teeth, and their rule is no rule at all..."
    http://www.daatemet.org/articles/article.cfm?article_id=13

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  37. Yaakov Aryeh, good catch. Still, considering that Rabbi Meiselman gave a series of three shiurim against me, and has never mentioned Daat Emet, and says that his book is to counter those who give wrong approaches in the name of Orthodoxy (which rules out Daat Emet), it's still abundantly clear that he's referring to me.

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  38. Observer, you are totally wrong about the Talmud study. I have an MA from the JTS graduate school and there are a number of great Talmud scholars there and in the Conservative movement.

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  39. How sad - when the ban on R. Slikins books was first announced, you (and your blogosphere supporters) believed that there was real substance behind the bare letters of condemnation. Obviously, there would eventually be a written explanation from the your side, as it 'just would not be fair', nor honest - to just ban R. Slifkin outright without even providing a cogent and reasoned explanation. Now, nearly ten years later, there have been a number of works written to explain the opposition to the ideas R. Slifkin promotes, each of which attempt to explain at length why these attempts to reconcile Torah with science are inauthentic. Unfortunately, each misunderstands and minimizes Chazal's capacity for creative thought beyond that received from Sinai and contradict the Rishonim's interpetations of Chazal. As such, they have brought foreign ideas into Orthodox Judaism. But surprise, instead of defending these efforts, and confronting them in a Beis Medrash of your peers, all you do is shower R. Slifkin with mocking and ridicule in such a boorish manner.

    You did the same thing to the many responses to R Aharon Feldman's article, and then R. Slifkin's demonstration of the inaccurate quotations in Chayim B'Emunasam, as if his many sources can be easily dispensed with a few clever jokes, or finding fault with in his tone in a well-researched blog post.

    Now R. Slifkins many pages of clearly-reasoned argument will be cast aside with a few well-placed insults, and of course, reminding everyone of how not anti-charedi he is. Oh, poor concerned yid, the big, bad wolves are so mean.

    And then you cry foul when no one wants to debate with you?


    Let's be real: it is you that needs to hide behind your computer screen name "concerned yid", speaking only to Am Ha'aratzim who can be easily fooled, for in a face-to-face discussion with a Talmid Chacham, the great lie would be revealed to all - you are a nice young man, and perhaps you even meant well one long-ago day, but the truth is out.

    You have no business pretending to be a scholar, and certainly not a Torah expert.

    Perhaps you should just stick with trolling?

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  40. "the approach to Torah and Chazal championed by R Slifkin is not in keeping with the traditions of Orthodox Judaism and is an abandonment of the Mesoras HaTorah.... R Slifkin is demonstrating to all that he has rediscovered the approach of the classical Rishonim, all of which has somehow escaped the view of the thousands of scholars who have spent their days and nights studying those very same Rishonim for the past five hundred years."

    Actually, I learned this approach from Rav Aryeh Carmell. And it can also clearly be found in the writings of Rav Hirsch and Rav Herzog, amongst others. But you'd never know that from reading R Meiselman's book, because he never mentions them.

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  41. Observer said:
    -----------------------------------
    Torah study, as R Meiselman stresses in his book, is an independent tautology that must be accessed and addressed on its own terms
    -----------------------------------
    I don't understand what this means. Certainly, for things like psak halacha, the Torah must be studied within its own terms of reference, but regarding the issues we are discussing here, we must relate to what is learned in the Beit Midrash in terms of TORAT EMET....searching for the truth. The truth is achieved by using our G-d given reason. Science also works the same way. Thus, it is legitimate to use historical and scientific studies to understand what people claim are the Torah's viewpoints on things that are not clear in the corpus of Torah studies, such as the age of the universe or understanding the pshat of the narratives of the TANACH.

    The Torah must be accessible on a level the average person can understand (again, I am not talking about psak halacha) and the proof of this is that the Torah is publicly read out loud. Unlike other religions which try to keep the "unwashed masses" from having access to their basic source material, Judaism encourages the average Jew to be exposed to it. Thus, its message must be accessible to those who don't have the "extensive Beit Midrash" experience.
    A good example of this is the clear message in the Torah, on a pshat level, of love of Eretz Israel and the importance of living there. I have heard anti-Zionist religious Jews claim that it is wrong to support Zionism because some authority says we are NOT supposed to relate to Eretz Israel in that way "because we don't understand what is written in the Torah" and only this particular authority is qualified to tell us what it means even though the plain message is clear on the issue, as I said. I then have to ask why the Torah is read in public if we are not capable of undrestanding it. The same applies to descriptions of flaws in the heroes of the TANACH which some authorities claim are not really the flaws described explicity in the text, and that "we don't understand what is written in the TANACH". This approach makes no sense to me.

    Rav Slifkin-
    It seems the book is very long. Could you give a brief description of how it is laid out?

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  42. Observer said:
    -----------------------------------
    Torah study, as R Meiselman stresses in his book, is an independent tautology that must be accessed and addressed on its own terms.

    "Tautology" means:
    "needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness, as in 'widow woman.'”

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  43. think the reason that there are no Haredi haskamot (approbations, recommendations) for the book is because the writer and his Haredi authorities consider it undesirable for the average Haredi believer to read the book, since it may introduce questions and difficulties into their mind that weren't there previously. If the book had haskamont, someone might pick up the book just because it has the haskamot and start reading it. This is similar to the case of the RAMBAM's "Moreh Nevuchim" (Guide for the Perplexed) whose study is discouraged in the Haredi world and which, as I understand, Artscroll refused to put out in an English translation.

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  44. "Torah study, as R Meiselman stresses in his book, is an independent tautology(sic.) that must be accessed and addressed on its own terms"

    Ha ha ha! You should hope that you are misquoting R'Meiselman, Mr Observer, because if that is as you say, things don't bode too well for his book, much less for his theory on Torah study and commentary.

    One notes that you began with claims to a superior authority in science by R'Meiselman and that you have now shifted to demands for obscurantism with pleas for a special immunity from critique, smoothly segueing to dark mutterings about attacks on tradition and abandonment of mesorah. As R'Slifkin has barely started, how on Earth do you hope to escalate the panic and the threats?

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  45. " Natan Slifkin said...

    Yaakov Aryeh, good catch. Still, considering that Rabbi Meiselman gave a series of three shiurim against me, and has never mentioned Daat Emet, and says that his book is to counter those who give wrong approaches in the name of Orthodoxy (which rules out Daat Emet), it's still abundantly clear that he's referring to me.
    "

    To be fair, I think it could still be positioned against Daat emet, because that guy does bring opinions (in order to refute them) in the name of Orthodoxy. Perhaps he does so in setting up a straw man to attack, but he definitely presents what he claims is the position of Orthodoxy and then proceeds to bash it and "refute" it. So I think R Meiselman could very well be referring to daat emet when he says that bit about wrong approaches in the name of orthodoxy. But I also have no doubt that his sefer is also directed at you even if he doesn't say so openly.

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  46. " Similarly, the test of a true Chiddush in Torah has to be in the Bais Medrash.

    If R Slifkin is confident in his approach, let him open a Shul, a Bais Medrash, a Yeshiva, and let us see how many followers he attracts"

    I don't get it.

    Did Rabbi Meiselman write his book in a Bait Midrash?

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  47. his blog from Torah in Motion should be of interest to the readers. It says alot about talmidei chachamim and has a very nice Netziv



    Pesachim 113: The Chicken, the Prostitute, and the Rabbi
    October 29, 2013

    By: Rabbi Jay Kelman
    The Netziv, in his commentary on Chumash, explains that the first verse of the priestly blessing “May G-d guard you and protect you” has different meanings for different types of people. For one engaged in business, we ask G-d to bless us with great material success, yevarechecha, and that such success does not destroy our character, veyishmerecha.

    For the Torah scholar, for whom material success is (or should be) a secondary concern, we ask for G-d’s blessing to achieve great heights in Torah learning and teaching, yevarechecha, and that such success does not destroy our character, veyishmerecha. A master of Torah, the Netziv explains, “needs protection from arrogance, and desecration of G-d’s name, and similar things” (Emek Davar, Bamidbar 6:24). It is not just that when a Torah scholar does something wrong the chilul Hashem is magnified, which it surely is; but that somehow, Torah scholars have an increased risk of acting in a way that brings shame to the Torah. Having achieved great heights in scholarship, and often serving as leaders, they are no less susceptible to the arrogance that often afflicts many a successful person—and perhaps even more susceptible.

    Our Talmudic Sages were well aware of the risks associated with those of great Torah scholarship. “Our rabbis taught: three hate each other: dogs, chickens and chavrim” (Pesachim 113b). As Rashi (Shabbat 11a) explains, the chavrim were part of the Persian nation—but whomever they may be, this passage seems to have little application to us, save perhaps for letting us know that we humans are not the only species that fight amongst ourselves. But then the Talmud adds, “and some say, even prostitutes”. Competing for business—and unable to use legal means to regulate the competition—it is to be expected that those engaged in this unlawful and immoral activity fiercely guard their turf. There can be little trust and there is little love lost in such an industry. That, too, is well understood, and (hopefully) directly impacts on only a very few of us.

    However, the last opinion cited by the Gemara should make our hair stand on end: “And some say, also Torah scholars in Babylonia [hate each other]”. Apparently, Torah scholars can act little differently than dogs, chickens, and prostitutes. The halls of academia and that of the beit midrash are much too full of jealousy and backstabbing[1]. With little room at the top for these people of immense talent, jealously and even hatred of one’s colleagues is never too distant. Instead of working towards the goal of serving mankind, too many are worried about their own personal status. Only the truly great and humble can joyfully step aside for those more qualified than they.

    The link to prostitution is unfortunately quite precise. We prostitute ourselves when we sell out our principles for money, power, or prestige. A Torah scholar’s focus must be on teaching Torah and setting an example for others to emulate. Using Torah as a tool to achieve some other goal, or turning Torah into a cause for hatred, is akin to prostitution. Like a prostitute, such a person is turning something that can be most holy into something of ill repute.

    The Gemara teaches that G-d sheds a tear each and every day for those who are involved in the teaching of Torah, but are better suited for other endeavours. Torah must make us better people; if it leads to anything else, we have destroyed G-d’s precious gift. And that is something worth crying over.




    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    [1] A former professor at a university in Israel once remarked to me that he decided to run for Knesset because he could no longer stand the politics of university life!

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  48. What dueling ideologies? There is only one ideology that goes back to Chazal and that is Rabbi Slifkin's. It is not accurate to suggest this is an age-old machloketh.

    October 30, 2013 at 3:21 AM

    I don't agree. Reading the Talmud Bavli you can clearly see members of Chazal who believed in Magic, Zugot, named angels, and Talismans and you can clearly find members of Chazal that do not believe in any of those things.

    You might also find it interesting to know that the Talmud Yerushalmi says you may not kill lice on shabbat, while the Talmud Bavli says you can. This debate is as old as our recorded Tradition.

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    Replies
    1. I was referring only to the main topics under discussion here in this post, namely the age of the universe question and whether rabbis could err in science. There is no chazal to support the world being 5775 years old. And pesachim clearly sides with gentile scholars on the suns path

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  49. If R' Meiselman is good at perpetuating Torah study and observance in many students, great!

    And if R' Slifkin can show that his own positions on Torah/ Science questions are more likely to be true than R' Meiselman's positions, great!

    These don't have to be mutually exclusive, regardless of how each feels about the other. Why can't we have both?

    Andy

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  50. NS, you are making a mistake by being so sure he is referring to you. I have heard him specifically use the phrase about not bein trained in Torah and science to refer to a specific Talmid Chacham who had written on the topic. He did not feel that he dealt with the science of the matter correctly. I will not say who, because other people who I respect disagree with his feeling on it, but it's true--he did not mean you (there, at least).

    Actually, I kind of have hard time believing that you are the only one who addressed certain topics, especially in recent times. You yourself surely know that there are fine differences between your positions and other, similar ones which have been offered in the last several decades. I am sure of this because you have pointed to such works to support yourself in the past. While you may feel those differences are inconsequential, you know that others disagree.

    So if there is something in there that you feel doesn't quite fit with what you feel you wrote, I expect to see a calm, peaceful, non-bombastic explanation of where your approach varies and why that variance is significant. You need not accuse him of anything to accomplish that, so that is all that is needed, nothing more, nothing less. Anything harsher is gratuitous and makes the reader feel that your arguments stand upon rhetoric and not substance.

    If your arguments are of substance, then your words will find their mark. Speaking harshly only serves to limit your ability to reach a larger audience.

    In this post, you do something of the sort when you say that "R. Meiselman portrays Rav Soloveitchik in a revisionist way that is not shared by any other family member or disciple of the Rav." Yet a poster here on this blog points out that Rav Twerski is a Rebbi in his yeshiva [who is a family member]. Although not proof by any means that his lifestyle represents the Rav's, unless you have spoken with them, your statement is overly enthusiastic--because Rabbi Twerski's position doesindicate something. State what is reasonably verifiable--nothing more nothing less. If most family members agree with you, you can say that...but overstatements detract from your position and dishonestly portray the reality.

    Further, Rabbi Holtzer's book on the Rav (Thinking Aloud) similarly gives a more "Chareidi" view of the Rav. While one may disagree with it (although the argument would have to very convincing to make someone ignore verbatim-quotes, obviously. [I read a response from Lawrence Kaplan's within something that was linked to on this blog, and I my opinion is that it was not convincing), I does not seem correct to paint a more chareidi view of the Rav as patently ridiculous. I know that There has been discussion about it that you are surely aware of, but I understand from things you have said that you have intellectual honesty to agree that it cannot be simply dismissed.

    (I have asked Gush talmidim what RAL says on the matter, and they have not been able to tell me anything. I don't know whether he has indeed spoken publicly about the matter or not, but if he hasn't, then obviously I assume you are not referring to him... Although of course it would need to be discussed whether he feels he is giving his own views or R' Soloveitchik's--a son-in-law does not necessarily make him beholden to the Rav's views, of course.)


    It has been noted, of course, that the Rav's son has not spoken out on the matter. (Unless he did and I missed it, but I think that this statement is true). There is obviously unclarity on this issue.

    I think, therefore, that your comment was overly cynical, harsh, and misrepresentative of the reality of the situation. It doesn't further the goal of reaching Emes.

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  51. I didn't claim that he is *always* referring to me. For example, in one instance, he is referring to Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

    Your other points are well taken. Thank you!

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  52. +1 for Rabbi Slifkin.
    -10 for Rabbi Meiselman.

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  53. "Torah study, as R Meiselman stresses in his book, is an independent tautology (sic!) that must be accessed and addressed on its own terms."

    The keen Observer probably means "axiology", not "tautology". I learned with R Meiselman for a year in the early '70s (when he was sans beard and peyot) and heard him refer several times to Torah as an "independent axiology". Neither his rap nor his character seems to have changed much since then. But his students apparently have -- unlike the Observer, we knew the meaning of, and the difference between, "axiology" and "tautology".

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  54. " student V said...
    I was referring only to the main topics under discussion here in this post, namely the age of the universe question and whether rabbis could err in science. There is no chazal to support the world being 5775 years old. And pesachim clearly sides with gentile scholars on the suns path"

    There are at least two statements of Chazal that suggest the world is less than 6,000 years old, and will only last for a maximum of 6,000 years. There are other words of Chazal which say it will only last for 7,000 years.

    If you read Pesachim, you will note that there are multiple opinions about the size of the world, and how the sun operates.

    Again, this sort of debate of world views goes back to the times of Chazal. There are statements of Chazal that say that all knowledge can be found within the Torah, and you have statements of Chazal that indicate (but do not out right say) that knowledge of the sciences comes from people and not from Torah.

    Despite the charedi and Rambamist world views, Chazal were not monolithic in their thoughts and traditions, nor did students always follow the hashkafah of their teachers.

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  55. Is anyone else scratching their heads about the vociferous argument about a book that no one here read. Wait a week, read the book and then opine.

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