Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Group That Threatens Traditional Judaism

Spending the last two weeks on a lecture/ fundraising tour across the United States, I met a lot of different people with a lot of different views about a lot of different things.

There was one thing, however, about which everyone was in agreement.

Everyone said that traditional, Orthodox Judaism is facing a threat from a group that is departing from tradition.

They all agreed that this group publicly goes against the views of Chazal, the Rishonim and the Acharonim. They all agreed that this group cherry-picks isolated views in order to attempt to kasher that which it wants to do, rather than looking at what Hashem and Torah actually wants it to do. They all agreed that this group is wrong in claiming that the circumstances of today legitimizes going against the traditions of thousands of years. They all agreed that this group is attempting to fundamentally re-write the nature of Judaism.

They all agreed that this group poses a great danger to traditional Judaism.

But they weren't all talking about the same group!

59 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I think they are overestimating ability of this group to pose "a great danger to traditional Judaism". Judaism survived reform and conservative, and will survive modern orthodox group along with self proclaimed open orthodox sub-group.

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  3. Rabbi Slifkin, in your absence, we've resolved the identity of this group:

    Sabbatean Geocentrists

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  4. Are they talking about Chabad Lubavitch?

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  5. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Now it's your opportunity to enumerate all the groups people mentioned.
    IMHO, Open-Orthodoxy is taking advantage of a loophole generated by the american label-everything system. Being Orthodox ordained Rabbis they know that departing from 'Orthodoxy' has no way back. I cannot tell how things work from the inside, I live in Argentina. And it's not everything they do but some things, that gives me the impression they are not considering Chazal at all, and IMHO they are not foreseeing the consequences for what are they doing. But they're doing no good by labeling themselves as (yet) Orthodox (I'm not comfortable by that word, too, but it is what we have...) in the effort of "being part of that group" (which has it's benefits as we all know).

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  6. More guesses: Women of the Wall? The Rabbanut Harashit?

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  7. You are all missing the obvious: chareidim!

    Extremist poorly supported chumrahs regarding: kollel/not working; tzniyus as an ultimate; separatism; and the list goes on.

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  8. Maybe I'm just projecting, but I recently heard a nice vort in the name of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, zt"l. He asked his grandson, "What is the difference between someone who hates שקר and someone who loves אמת?"
    The grandson didn't know what to answer--seemingly they're identical. Rabbi Levin continued: "Someone who hates שקר will search out to find the שקר in every thing, so as to have what to hate. Someone who loves אמת will search out to find the אמת in every thing, to see what he should love."

    I think we should concentrate on how each group is seeking to preserve Judaism, rather than to look how each group is threatening it.

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  9. The biggest threat to traditional Judaism is the group of people who are certain they know which group of people are the biggest threat to traditional Judaism.

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  10. yehuda p - nice try, but that would take away the negative tone of the blog, which after a few posts without venom, sarcasm, and negativity, we all really missed....

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  11. Hilarious!

    The Vilna Gaon said it about the Hasids.

    Rav Saadia Gaon said it about the Karites.

    Bet Shammai said it about Bet Hillel.

    The Pharisees said it about the Sadducees.

    Solomon Algazi said it about Shabbatai Zevi.

    The Baal Shem Tov said it about Jacob Frank.

    Rav Hirsch said it about the Reform.

    Most bloggers today have taken a swipe at Chabad and Israeli Haredim.


    My point? History will tell who will flourish and who will fall my the wayside. Mere mortals like us can only use our heads, our hearts, hang on, and hope.

    Blessed be the True Judge !

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  12. Beit shammai did NOT say it about beit hillel!

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  13. You are all missing the obvious: chareidim!

    Yes, those identifying specific groups are missing something obvious, but it isn't Chareidim!

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  14. The groups they are talking about are the haredim who accept govt funds for learning all day in a mass kollel system, and Avi Weiss.

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  15. The interesting side to all of this is that we finally have the technology and the communications infrastructure for the various groups and subgroups to exchange information and views quickly and efficiently without censorship or interference. Such philosophical exchanges usually...not always...facilitate tolerance, as most people are still decent and psychologically sound enough to want friendship, unity and dialogue, rather than the opposite. More open communication can expose and isolate the behavioural failures, the crooks, cranks, quacks, pervs, the personality disorder gorks, the charlatans. Evolution through adaptation to a new environment.

    As things are, though, traditional brakes on communication, hierarchies, the tendency to stick to print and formal organization models, such and others are still in charge, so perhaps a new generation will have to punch through these limits ("culture lag" in anthropology) and devise new, more functional conventions. There will be quite a bit of kicking, screaming and warning about the sky falling, though.

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  16. smh at reform destructionFebruary 2, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    "Bet Shammai said it about Bet Hillel."

    Reformists always try to rewrite talmudic history to support their cause. Do they think no one notices?

    No, Geiger was not a gilgul of Hillel.

    Are you not satisfied enough yet with the destruction of american Jewry, you must chase down Israeli Jews and open up your "synagogue" business in Israel too? How long before Arabs are declared Jews by the reform movement in Israel in order to improve their membership?

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  17. This is why Zionism was and is needed to bring all of us together to be the one people that we really are and that Torah has defined us as. During the period leading up to the destruction of the Second Beit HaMikdash ideological fights between Perushim, Tzedukim, Haverim (people who maintained maximum tahara [ritual purity]), Amei Ha'aretz (simple people who did not make effort to maintain tahara), Essenes, the Dead Sea sect, etc, etc, tore us apart and HAZAL point out that this hatred lead to the destruction.
    The need of everyone to work together and transcend ideological differences to maintain the State of Israel has cracked everyone'e heads together with the realization that if we don't work together we will go under once again. This has lead to a moderation of the ugly divisions that existed in European Jewry and other Jewish communities before the establishment of the state.
    Ideology has become a curse because ideology does NOT make people act better, only good midot does and these midot exist in Jews from all ideological trends. I am not saying that beliefs are not important, but they must not get out of control to the point of tearning society apart.

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  18. smh at reform destructionFebruary 3, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    Y Ben David, that can't possibly be true that " HAZAL point out that this hatred lead to the destruction." Hazal promoted the hatred of saducees, essenes, and other freaks throughout the Talmudic literature, and for good reason. You seem to be conflating hatred with justified opposition to forces which aim to destroy Judaism.

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  19. Y. Ben-David speaks well. Zionism is a unifying force, a goal which goes to the core of Judaism and Jewishness, a purpose all can join in and adjust their perspectives with. But as important, one might argue, is unity of the scattered communities in the hutz la'aretz. These are hemorrhaging members at rates approaching some of the historic slaughters and mass destructions of Jewries and yet because the process is so relatively slow and "peaceful," this dire existential emergency is hardly noticed amidst the din of daily life and yes, the battle of ideologies (and theologies) Ben David mentions.

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  20. I would suppose the answer is "the Jews". Those who are secular, of course. Those who believe they are being traditional but follow the "wrong" tradition are heretics and are even worse. The ones in my group are probably fine, at least up until they become too hidebound or too permissive at which point they are wrong.

    Eventually you're left with two guys glaring suspiciously at each other......

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  21. To "smh at reform destruction"-
    I don't know why you think Reform falling apart is good for the Jewish people since it will mean even more total assimilation and thousands of more Jews will be lost forever to the Jewish people.
    If you think Torah is the right way, then it should be possible for the religious community to hold its own in disputations with the Reform and to show non-observant Jews that Torah observance is the way to go.

    You seem to be repeating the myth that the Reform movement, like secular Zionism caused the massive falling away of Jews from Torah observance in the 19th and 20th century. This implies that up until them everything was fine, but then suddenly, out of the blue, Jewish mothers gave birth to entire generations of Jews who were "reshaim" and who decided, for some unkown reason (reinforced Yetzer HaRa?) to fight against Torah. This is WRONG. Those generations of Jews abandoned Torah because it no longer spoke to them, because the leaders of the time were not capable of showing how the Torah was relevant in a world of rapidly changing technology and values, and, as I see it, mostly because of despair at the seemingly unending GALUT (Exile) from Eretz Israel, which is the only place the Jew and his Torah can only be really healthy.
    If the Torah community wants to really understand why Judaism doesn't speak to the majority of the Jewish people, one should turn away from looking at conspiracy theories, and rather to look in the mirror.

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  22. To "smh (happy) at Reform's destruction"=

    I challenge you to show me where HAZAL says one is to "hate" ideological opponents. Of course they opposed those who distorted the Torah, such as the Tzedukim, but they came to realize that ideological conflicts must be kept within bounds. HAZAL stated that the hurban of the 2nd Beit HaMikdash occurred because the ideological conflicts became so inflamed that people suspected one another of being on the wrong side even if there was no reason to. Tell me where the limits of "hate" are? Can you kill someone you hate for a "good ideological reason"? If not, why not? Remember how Rabi Akiva said loving one another was the essence of the Torah? DO you recall that he was once on one side of the barricades, on the side of the "Amei Ha'aretz" where he said he hated talmidei hachamim? Once he became a talmid hacham himself he saw how that was wrong and he worked tirelessly to unite the Jewish people against the true enemy, the Roman occupier. Also don't forget the halacha where you see your "enemy" is in trouble (IIRC it is the case where his pack animal is overloaded-correct me if I am wrong) yet you are required to help him and again, IIRC, Rashi says the "enemy" is that in the sense that he does not accept the Torah in the sense you do.

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  23. smh at reform destruction said: "Hazal promoted the hatred of saducees, essenes, and other freaks throughout the Talmudic literature, and for good reason.

    And that's just it. The Hazal singled out Sadducees, Essenes and others, period. Not the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. As simple-minded as this statement may seem, it is undeniably true. It may seem easy and logical to compare and transfer properties and identities to more or newer groups, but it can be neither right nor true...nor good. Continue on that trajectory and one will soon enough see Canaanites, Moloch-worshippers and Amalekites around in the faces of his brothers.

    A sweeping historical analysis if one may indulge in such immodesties: The centrifugal forces that have always pulled at the peripheries of Jewries were natural, tangible and comprehensible. At least in retrospect and on the simple, observable level, as one would hesitate to guess at the mind of God. Internally, they included quality of religious leadership and communal administration, education, strength of cultural traditions, integrity of the family units, and economic redistribution. Externally, the macroeconomic, climate, political and strategic realities.

    In addition to this, the "hemorrhaging" of Jews has always occurred under conditions of relative tolerance and politically and economically favourable conditions, even more so than under times of stress and attack. Strengthening the core religiously and culturally, improving the internal economy, growing wealth, acquiring respect and admiration--genuine kavod--and most of all, maintaining a healthy pro-natalist culture of "being fruitful and multiplying" appear to have been the more successful strategies in countering the effects of the seemingly unavoidable and inevitable outflow. The extremists, purists, fanatics, ideologues, sectarians and heretic hunters have been little more than self-absorbed and unwitting symptoms of decline.

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  24. All the groups described may or may not be seriously at fault. Nevertheless, whether or not they threaten "traditional Judaism" is neither here nor there. We are commanded to love Hashem with all our heart, life and might and to follow all of his commandments. Doing so will necessarily threaten "traditional Judaism", but this is irrelevant. We are not commanded to follow traditional Judaism.

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  25. "If the Torah community wants to really understand why Judaism doesn't speak to the majority of the Jewish people, one should turn away from looking at conspiracy theories, and rather to look in the mirror."

    Not only well said, but that is also exactly what Chazal teach us in general.

    I never understood while Cheshbon Hanefesh only gets applied to the individual, and almost never to the system.

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  26. smh at reform destructionFebruary 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    " don't know why you think Reform falling apart is good for the Jewish people since it will mean even more total assimilation and thousands of more Jews will be lost forever to the Jewish people."

    Not sure where you interpreted this from, but I never said it. The destruction wrought by Reform is a bad thing. A very bad thing. My family is destroyed because of it. Countless others too. It has literally destroyed american Jewry. Because it replaced religion with politics and no one cares *that much* about politics! No surprise that the allegiance withered away to nothingness leaving all those Jews with almost nothing, and many with literally nothing as they seek to marry out.

    "If you think Torah is the right way, then it should be possible for the religious community to hold its own in disputations with the Reform and to show non-observant Jews that Torah observance is the way to go."

    This is an oversimplification which could only be true in an ideal world we don't inhabit, and it reflects a grave misunderstanding and ignorance of the history of Reform. The secular Jews in Israel are just fine. Leave them alone. They know that there is Judaism out there, and they can choose to be religious if they like, choose to observe if they so choose. But when you present them with some foreign import which is not real Judaism, proselytize them to believing that the traditional faith is NOT real Judaism, and that reform is, that will lead to the destruction. It condones and sanctions the non-observance they already live with. When that is viewed as "religious" intermarriage and complete break from religion is the next step. It is reform that kills the Jewish people, not saves them. Why you think it saves them is beyond my comprehension. Maybe you never experienced it or witness its deeds in whatever world you are living in.

    "You seem to be repeating the myth that the Reform movement, like secular Zionism caused the massive falling away of Jews from Torah observance in the 19th and 20th century. "

    I don't seem to be doing anything. You are simply ascribing arguments to me which I didn't make.

    Reform has led to the current state of affairs in the US where something like 75% of reform Jews intermarry. There is no denying the facts.

    "his implies that up until them everything was fine,"

    I've had enough of your strawman arguments. Stop trying to glorify reform.

    "one should turn away from looking at conspiracy theories, and rather to look in the mirror."

    Conspiracy theories? What the ?

    Look buddy, I am prozionist, but Reform or as I call it Empty Judaism, or perhaps Empty Liberalism, is exacerbating the situation in my family where people are cutting themselves off from the chain of the Jewish people because it has no significance to them. Because I can "fall in love" with a non-Jew and therefore I am meant to be with them, and we are all Americans. No self-respecting shul teaches this, even if you go only once a year. But what do we have in the reform "shuls" ? Do you even know what goes on in one?

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  27. smh at reform destructionFebruary 3, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    You also failed to address my point. Hazal promoted the hatred of Sadducees, Cutheans, and others. Address this, please.

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  28. smh at reform destruction-
    You seem to have a lot of anger in you, which I can understand. I grew up in the Conservative movement and when I started identifying with the Orthodox, I felt this anger at them as well, but time, and a study of Zionism and Jewish history has lead me to modify my views.
    The Reform movement did not cause the unfortunate things we are seeing in American Jewry. It is simply a reflection of pre-existing assimilationist sicknesses that already existed in American Jewry long before Reform even came around. Of course, there have always been ideologically motivated anti-religous people around, but if the Torah leadership is strong and confident and WISE enough, it can withstand the challenge. The Reform movement started in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, but a study of Jewish history shows that a major decline began with the expulsion from Spain already around 1500. This decline and the despair that was generated at the time lead to the Shabbatean movement in the 17th century, then the Frankists, all this accompanied by the Chmielnicski (sp?) massacres. Add to this the upheavals in the Christian world due to the Reformation, the Counter-reformationa and a general revulsion with religion after the devastating 30 Years War. Finally the spread of Englightenment ideas in the 18th century made it inevitable that many Jews would become alienated from Torah observance. The Torah leadership, confronted by this secularization, accompanyed by the discomfort brought by the rebellion by the Hasidic movement, hunkered down into a defensive posture which it has not come out of to this day, which a few exceptions like Rav Kook and some others.

    The thing to always keep in mind is that the Jews are a PEOPLE and the Torah is our Constitution. Thus, just as all Americans are bound by the Constitution of the US, whether they are concious of it or not, or whether they accept the laws made under it, same with non-religious Jews and the Torah. However, this also binds those of us who do recognize and observe the Torah to those who don't...we are still responsible to them and they are still our "fellow citizens" and we must respect them as such, even if they don't go along with the Torah. Thus Reform Jews and even Reform rabbis are our brother Jews, even if they are badly mistaken.
    I asked you to show me where HAZAL says we are to "hate" Tzedukim and other sectarians. I do know the RAMBAM, who confronted the challenge of Karaism, which was a worse challenge than Reform because they didn't just ignore the Torah as Reform does, they tried to completely redefine it, ruled that Rabbanite Jews (i.e. mainline Torah Jews) should live in peace with the Karaites as long as the Karaites didn't disrupt the Rabbanite community.
    Just as in the US, ideological confrontation between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives are all part of the democratic process under the Constituation, the Jewish world can confron Ideological challenge as well, but "hate" is quite an illegitimate response to the challenge.

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  29. Reform has led to the current state of affairs in the US where something like 75% of reform Jews intermarry. There is no denying the facts.

    "smh at reform destruction": Your opponents are claiming that without Reform the intermarriage rate would be the same or higher. Do you have evidence to support cause and effect here?

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  30. Ok, so what's the answer???

    Please reveal the identity of this mysterious group.

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  31. Well, the people that I met were either talking about charedim or Open Orthodoxy.

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    1. Were any talking about both?

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  32. Rabbi Slifkin, I think the problem is a crisis

    For things one can neither prove not disprove, belief is a personal choice. But traditional Judaism makes claims that should be testable and falsifiable. And when they are falsified, then we get all sorts of splinters into various groups.

    You were brought up in a question I posted on a Jewish Q&A site, which I think sums it up:

    http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/35059/how-to-reconcile-biblical-flood-story-vs-science-and-history

    One can have only three approaches as I can see:

    1) Stay Haredi, believe the world is 6000 years old and everyone died in a global flood, and say that enough miracles happened that scientists can't determine what occurred before 4000 years ago

    2) Try to read Genesis as Allegory to whatever extent is required to salvage Judaism. I have heard Rav Kook's followers say that even if the exodus didn't occur, the revelation is still true. I don't know what that means exactly. Can anyone elaborate?

    3) Consider Judaism to be a man-made religion.

    What is keeping most people from doing #3? Is it the Kuzari argument?

    PS: It would be cool if some people here would attempt to answer the question in that link.

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  33. And a question that has bedeviled one forever. Smh said, "...but Reform or as I call it Empty Judaism, or perhaps Empty Liberalism, is exacerbating the situation in my family where people are cutting themselves off from the chain of the Jewish people because it has no significance to them.

    A fair point and a regrettable situation. One certainly understands the reason for "smh's" anger. The question Temujin has for anyone out there, though, is whether the liberal denominations are like greased chutes of sorts, jettisoning Jews off The Good Ship Judaism, or whether they function as catch-basins, slowing down the bleed, keeping many in the community, making it possible for some to return to at least a partially observant life and from intermarrying. Where there is life, there is hope, as they say. One suspects the latter, a mostly intuitive, anecdote-based speculation to be sure, but does any one have facts and numbers?

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  34. Traditionally, everyone to the left of me is too krum, and everyone to the right of me is too frum.

    The question is, did the people who you heard it from say it about each other, or about a third group?

    Is there a core of people who see themselves as continuation of "traditional Judaism"?

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  35. I just read an article by Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Wolf in Makor Rishon regarding the state of American Jewry and he points out that the religion of most of American Jewry (including parts of Orthodoxy!) is "social justice liberal progressivism". This is what a high percentage of Jews define Judaism as standing for. That is why a prominent self-professing Orthodox Jew could not bring himself in an interview to say that there is anything wrong with intermarriage. I once heard a young Orthodox Jew who went to good Orthodox day schools and yeshivot that it was 'fascistic' to oppose homosexual 'marriages'. This American 'progressive' philosophy is so overwhelmingly suffocating that it takes real courage to oppose it. So is it any wonder that Reform and increasingly Conservative leaders are parroting these ideas? It is not only Jews who profess these ideas, the President, the Supreme Court and many politicians are now espousing the same ideas. Thus, the tragic Jewish absorption into this dominant culture and values has nothing to do with Reform's ideology...it seems they are simply saying "give the Jewish public what it wants and maybe we can keep them in the Jewish orbit for one more generation". I repeat...even Orthodox Jews are spouting this liberal-progressive line as well, so to blame the Reform movement for causing the Jews to think this way is missing the mark. The fact of the matter is that the self-professing Reform Jew rarely ever steps foot into one of their synagogues so the influence of their rabbis on the Reform community must be minimal. The problem is much more deeply rooted that just the problematic nature of the Reform and Conservative movements, which are imploding IN SPITE of their adoption of the "progressives" agenda and values.

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  36. Temujin, there is a very important distinction to be made between Reform 200 years ago and Reform now. Over the last few decades, it has gone from "you don't have to believe in G-d to be a Reform rabbi" (a headline from the 1980s), when all observance was looked down upon, to Reform rabbis encouraging people to keep Kosher, and even Shabbat.

    It is a different situation, and needs to be approached with a different attitude. It is a strategic mistake to fight the battles of 200 years ago.

    The same applies to the Progressive movement in Israel, which aims at bringing more Jewish content into people's lives, not less.

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  37. A Man -

    For someone with sufficient warrant to accept Judaism, shouldn't be pushed by questions to option 3.
    Doesn’t Devarim (13:2-4) explicitly say that G-d may test us with suggestions arising from empirical evidence?
    כי מנסה ה’ אלקיכם אתכם לדעת הישכם אוהבים את ה’ אלקיכם בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם

    See also Sifre ad loc.:
    “אמר ר’ יוסי הגלילי ראה עד היכן הגיע הכתוב סוף עובדי עבודה זרה ינתן להם ממשלה אפילו על חמה ולבנה כוכבים ומזלות, אל תשמע להם, מפני מה, כי מנסה ה’ אלוקכם אתכם לדעת הישכם אוהבים. אמר ר’ עקיבא חס ושלום שמעמיד המקום חמה ולבנה כוכבים ומזלות לעובדי עבודה זרה, הא אינו מדבר אלא במי שהיו נביאי אמת מתחילה וחזרו להיות נביאי שקר”
    It seems pretty explicit; according to R. Yose HaGlili G-d may actually test us by changing the laws of science, whereas R. Akiva holds G-d would only do so having formerly reliable sources send us false information.

    But regardless, it's clear that Jewish theology does holds that G-d would challenge our faith with questions - whatever the answers may be; whether it be a change in natural law, allegory or scientific fallibility.

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  38. "The question is, did the people who you heard it from say it about each other, or about a third group?"

    Today, as soon as you question or criticize you are immediately part of a "third group"

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  39. gh500: I am not sure a verse about false prophets is the same as saying don't trust the scientists. Scientists aren't prophets. Also, the test for a prophet is whether their specific prediction comes true or not. It's like an early application of the scientific method to prophets :)

    In any case, I don't think that any amount of rational discourse would lead one away from Torah. We are told in Pirkei Avot to follow the Sages even if they tell us that left is right and right is left. The idea is that Judaism and the Jewish people are eternal, and these questions of whether something is literally true or not are mere nuances.

    http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter6-624.html

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  40. gh500: I am not sure a verse about false prophets is the same as saying don't trust the scientists. Scientists aren't prophets. Also, the test for a prophet is whether their specific prediction comes true or not. It's like an early application of the scientific method to prophets :)

    In any case, I don't think that any amount of rational discourse would lead one away from Torah. We are told in Pirkei Avot to follow the Sages even if they tell us that left is right and right is left. The idea is that Judaism and the Jewish people are eternal, and these questions of whether something is literally true or not are mere nuances.

    http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter6-624.html

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  41. That is very true, Kira. This shift to the "right" is more pronounced in Canada, where all denominations appear to be more conservative in nature than those in the U.S. One American friend compared his trip to a Canadian Jewish community to going up to the Appalachians where people still go to church and women wear 40s-style cotton dresses and hats.

    Unfortunately, one hasn't seen a marked shift towards greater observance of kashrut or Shabbat observance neither personally, anecdotally or in the latest statistics on the condition of Canadian Jews. But all of these may mean little, as kitchens in homes and shades of "kosher-style" are hard to gauge and the statistics tend to get skewed by re-definition of what a Jew is due to inter-marriages and speedy liberal conversions.

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  42. I have done some research on Open Orthodoxy and have found that what they are doing in comparison to Ultra Orthodoxy aka charedim lead by their Gedolim is not as detrimental to Traditional Judaism as its critics will have you believe.

    People are always being confronted with contrast, for the purpose of expanding to higher levels.
    The universe is set up to cause us to expand. One can not be standing still.
    In every moment no matter where we are standing there is contrast that is causing us to grow and if we don't go with the expansion, then we feel the resistance of being pulled apart.

    The Oral Torah, itself declares there has to be change.
    The Midrash says. "The Jewish people should be like a reed in the water--flexible enough to bend with the winds of time, but not so flexible as to be washed away by the tide."

    Meaning, there should be a balance in the changes we make for the times we live, not far right, nor far left.

    To canonize the past (the Gemara, Chazal, the Rishonim and the Acharonim) is to canonize stagnation.

    The Jewish people must ascend, it is our destiny.
    o

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  43. gh500 said...
    > Doesn’t Devarim (13:2-4) explicitly say that G-d may test us with suggestions arising from empirical evidence?

    If you’re going to invent a belief system that is frequently at odds with reality, wouldn’t it be smart to build into it the notion that anything that apparently contradicts your teachings is just a “test?”

    More realistically, since no one sat down and cynically invented Judaism, isn’t it likely that some very clever person at some point noticed that certain things just didn’t add up, and “realized” that what he was seeing must be a test of his faith in the revealed wisdom?

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  44. (1) My (possibily limited) understanding about the statement that we should follow the Sanhedren "even if they say right is left and left is right" is referring to judidicial/legal decisions, not hashkafa.

    (2) Regarding the effect of the Reform movement on American Jewry-I just spoke to a friend who was born in France. He told me intermarriage there is at least as bad as in the US (it even effects the Orthodox/religious community) and yet there is no real Reform movement there, the synagogues are almost all nominally Orthodox. The same is true in England where the non-Orthodox movements are small relative to the Establishment Orthodox synagogues, and there the intermarriage is again very high. Thus, one can not state that the Reform movement in the US is responsible for the mass assimilation...it merely reflects an already existing situation.

    (3) Interwar Poland was probably the religious center of traditional Orthodox Jewry in the 1920s and 1930s having most of the prominent yeshivot. THere was something called Reform Judaism which wasn't very big, and, as I understand it was really more like Modern Orthodox, but the religious life was dominated by traditional Orthodox institutions. Yet, in spite of this, the majority of the religous youth abandoned religious life. Unlike the situation in the US today, the situation of the Jews was VERY bad, antisemitism, poverty, despair. THus, we see that the causes of Jews abandoning religious observance are varied (affluence, poverty) and go far beyond mere ideological influences of one movement or another. This must always be kept in mind when confronting differences between Jewish ideological/religious groups.

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  45. A. Man writes:
    In any case, I don't think that any amount of rational discourse would lead one away from Torah. We are told in Pirkei Avot to follow the Sages even if they tell us that left is right and right is left. The idea is that Judaism and the Jewish people are eternal, and these questions of whether something is literally true or not are mere nuances.

    I believe you have just contradicted yourself. Rational discourse is impossible with someone whose mind is not even in principle capable of being changed by facts or reason. If one cannot be Jewish without whipping these two together from the Temple, then Judaism's much vaunted respect for reason and evidence is a sham, a fraud.

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  46. I am not sure a verse about false prophets is the same as saying don't trust the scientists
    True the verse is talking about a false prophet, but also an actual/apparent change in natural order. To posit that such a principle is applicable only in the context of prophecy, is, as far as I can reason, baseless. As you said, there is a similarity between the role of a scientist today, and the role of a future-teller then who based himself on some sort of evidence. From the perspective of an individual seeing a false prophet perform miracles, there's no reason someone today should not be tested similarly.

    G3, so in your Documentary Hypothesis put Deuteronomy 13 post the onset of the Bible Criticism Era.

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  47. I believe that Rabbi Weiss' intentions are good, but simply the measures he is taking are faulty. I remember Rabbi Avi Weiss from the '80's, when he was very active in protesting on behalf of Soviet Jewry. I once said to my wife (who is from a refusenik family) that I regretted not having taken a part in those protests near the Soviet Embassy/Consulate then. My wife said that protests like that only caused the Soviets to "tighten the screws", because the Soviets didn't like being portrayed as villains. (Much more was accomplished for the refusenik families by diplomatic means and negotiations.)

    I think the same applies here with Open Orthodoxy--from reading articles on Cross-Currents, the Open Orthodoxy approach is taking the views in which society is headed, and trying to find halachic precedent afterward among Rishonim. The motivation is correct--that Judaism shouldn't be perceived as antiquated (as Islam is, l'havdil--trying to implant 8th century values on 21st century life). But to what kind of extrapolations will his approach lead?

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  48. I live in Canada and Temujin's comments are spot-on (though the Appalachian analogy is weird).

    An Orthodox friend visiting from NYC commented to me that "everything here is so frum". Catering to the most machmir common denominator is par for the course, within communal institutions at least.

    Within the "liberal" movements, many of the Conservative shuls in Canada still don't count women in a minyan, and those that do only instituted this recently. Many Conservative shuls in Canada left the USCJ (movement umbrella organization) due both to its move away from tradition and its NYC-centric approach. There is now a Canadian Conservative rabbinical training program whose participants include traditionalist refugees from JTS.

    Within the Canadian Reform movement things are also more traditional. From what I hear, tallis and kippa are pretty much now non-optional for men, for what that's worth. I also believe that the Canadian Reform movement does not recognize patrilineal descent.

    The political connection is weaker here, as the social-activism component of "liberal" Jewish movements never gained a strong foothold. Formerly most Canadian Jews supported the centre- and centre-left political parties here but this was largely due to these parties' support of minority rights. These days most Canadian Jews support the conservative political party, largely because of its single-minded support of Israel (really of Netanyahu).

    The Canadian Jewish community has a lower rate of intermarriage and a very high rate of day-school attendance. As Temujin notes, it's not clear if this translates into greater personal observance. I know many day-school-educated people, even from nominally Orthodox day schools, who are completely unobservant. Certainly many families who send their children to nominally Orthodox day schools do not regularly attend synagogues nor do they keep Shabbos.

    Possible reasons for differences between the USA and Canada are that Jewish immigration to Canada occurred later (not as much in the 19th century, much more in the early 20th century) thus everyone is a little closer to the Alte Heim. My brother-in-law is the only Canadian Jew I know whose four grandparents were all born in Canada. Also institutionalized discrimination against Jews was more prevalent in Canada through the mid-20th century.

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  49. gh500, there is no requirement, or even solid basis, to overly generalize the statement in the torah about not following the advice or commands of someone who seeks to deflect people away from divine worship and keeping the torah, on the strength of demonstrated wizardry. Some generalization may be appropriate, however. For example, if leading scientists, and most of them are non-believers, tell you not to believe in GOD - don't listen. Their authority, such as it is, extends only to the subject of their expertise in science - not to philosophy, politics, or religion. On the other hand, if they tell you that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and that the earth is somewhat older than 4.5 billion years, they can be believed since there is ample evidence for such statements. Moreover, such differences from a simple reading of the torah is not a contradiction of the latter. The torah is often not given its simple reading, and there is no reason to do so with regard to Genesis 1-11. In other words, it is not a question of a test of faith to accept a 6 day creation process against the challenge of counter scientific arguments and evidence. Faith in GOD and in the truth of the torah can remain even accepting these scientific arguments for the great antiquity of the earth and universe. It's just a question of revising our understanding of some phrasing of the torah, i.e., a day meaning an era (I realize that I am greatly simplifying matters with the day=era statement, but this is not the right time for elaboration).

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  50. > G3, so in your Documentary Hypothesis put Deuteronomy 13 post the onset of the Bible Criticism Era.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean. What is the “Bible Criticism Era,” and what do it or the Documentary Hypothesis have to do with whether or not lampshading the inconsistencies between Judaism and empirical reality is sufficient to keep someone from concluding that Judaism is man-made?

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  51. Please keep the comments on-topic. Thank you.

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  52. NS please let me just respond.

    Y Aharon, I don't think It's overgeneralizing; the fact is the Torah says there can be a change in (perceived?) natural order in order to test us through a false prophet. We see: 1- that G-d would test our faith 2- He would even change perceived natural order in order to do so. I never ruled out allegory - as I myself wrote in the post you were responding to. But even Slifkin calls creation a "challenge" - so I brought a source implying that challenge is to be expected. That's it!!

    G3, I was responding that your claim would suppose that Devarim 13 is a forged response necessarily-modern empirical challenges.

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  53. Joe Q commented, "I live in Canada and Temujin's comments are spot-on (though the Appalachian analogy is weird)."

    Sorry, should have explained. That comment was made by Temujin's friend, who spent some time in the small town in the Appalachians in the 80s and what he meant by it is that it seemed to him that our Orthodox community in Toronto seems to be stuck in a time-warp of strange traditionalism in terms of clothing fashions, just as in the more isolated mountain towns he had visited.

    A better example would have been pre-WWII Central Europe, perhaps. For a time Toronto's frum fashions emulated the cuts and the fabric patterns, the puffed-up swooping sheitl styles, the men's rakish hats and classic-cut suits of the 30s. This was before the super-tsniut explosion, when colour was still allowed, before the appearance of the all-black women's outfits with the disappearing waste lines and the now-ubiquitous loose, curtain-like black skirts. With more recent arrival of the black wraps to take care of the upper body, one suspects that the endgame, the ideal, the Platonic template, is the post-Revolution Teheran burka. A tip: Anyone who can open a store featuring New York-style Mororthodox cuts and wildly-patterned, hippie-esque Israeli dati leumi women's clothing will make a killing. Even if only from the ladies in Temujin's family.

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  54. > G3, I was responding that your claim would suppose that Devarim 13 is a forged response necessarily-modern empirical challenges.

    Sorry again, but I’m having trouble even parsing that sentence, let alone understanding what you mean.

    Do you think that I mean that the Torah really was written by Hashem, and then at some point someone forged a pasuk to explain why the Torah sometimes contradicts reality? But that’s not what we’re talking about. Nor are we talking about the Documentary Hypothesis, which is the theory that Tanach is made up of different literary traditions that have been stitched together. We’re talking about the inconsistencies between the Torah and reality leading someone to conclude that Judaism is man-made, and whether or not the fact that the Torah points out that this happens is sufficient to prevent someone from reaching that conclusion.

    I think it’s a brilliant defense mechanism, right up there with banning thinking about heresy and defining heresy as anything that contradicts the revealed wisdom. And like all such defense mechanisms, it is not at all reassuring to someone trying to figure out where the Torah came from.

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  55. Sorry, I wrote in haste (skipped "to").

    I meant the following: G3 wrote above that the principle shown by Devarim 13, is what "some very clever person" decided to add into Judaism to defend against modern empirical attacks. So G3 holds Devarim 13 was written in the modern era.

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  56. Rabbi Slifkin,

    At first I read your post as an amusing anecdote and relayed it as such at the Shabbos table. However, it then occurred to me that perhaps we ought to move beyond this and not treat it as something of a "he said/she said" situation (and I do not at all mean to say that you are treating it this way). That is, while it is true people might describe each other in this way, it does not necessarily mean none, or all, are correct. In principle, at least, one should be able to compare the halakhic and hashkafic claims of various groups and compare them with evidence from the history of our tradition. If we do so, we might be able to determine which group or groups are departing from tradition and attempting to rewrite Judaism.

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  57. At first I read your post as an amusing anecdote and relayed it as such at the Shabbos table. However, it then occurred to me that perhaps we ought to move beyond this and not treat it as something of a "he said/she said" situation (and I do not at all mean to say that you are treating it this way). That is, while it is true people might describe each other in this way, it does not necessarily mean none, or all, are correct. In principle, at least, one should be able to compare the halakhic and hashkafic claims of various groups and compare them with evidence from the history of our tradition. If we do so, we might be able to determine which group or groups are departing from tradition and attempting to rewrite Judaism.

    You are absolutely right and all groups agree with you. In fact, each group has already taken your advice and collectively they are unanimous: Members of each group have determined that they themselves represent the truth as supported by all available evidence while all others distort the truth to a greater or lesser degree, may God forgive and enlighten them.

    I suggest a different approach might be appropriate.

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