Thursday, April 10, 2014

Loving It, Hating It

While some of the posts here deal with the philosophy of rationalist Judaism, others deal with contemporary Orthodox society, from the perspective of rationalist Judaism as I understand it. The disparity in the reactions to these posts is quite extraordinary. It's even more amazing in that radically different reactions come from people who are in all other respects extremely similar, and even davven in the same shuls!

On the one hand, one person wrote as follows...
Rav Slifkin - Thank you so much for your bold and comprehensive contributions to this very unfortunate conflict that has broken out amongst Torah-observant Jews. As someone who became religious in University in Southern California in the 1970's, I thought Torah was beautiful and meaningful and the Jewish revival in Eretz Israel coming as a result of the Zionism movement was an inspiring fulfillment of the visions of the prophets. As the years passed it was unpleasant to see how things that seemed so obvious to me were not to large parts of the religious communities and how this lead to tragic discord.  I really appreciate your invaluable contributions which allow us to get to a full understanding of the issues involved and I hope you will continue in this vein.
But someone else wrote to me:
You’ve established yourself as a fanatic. You’ve moved yourself out of the fold. You are not a mentsch. You are spreading hate and darkness.
Meanwhile, another person says:
Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for restoring honesty, real fear of G-d, compassion for our fellow man and sanity to the dialogue Klal Yisroel is having about what it means to be a Torah Jew. Without people like you, I would find it very challenging to maintain my faith in the Yeshiva-educated Orthodox community as being able to support an intelligent and moral way of life. You are mekadesh Shem Shamayim by restoring my faith and the faith of so many others in the great moral clarity and decency of rabbinical teachers such as yourself.
But someone else says:
I understand you may have your differences with the chareidi community but the ongoing attempt to smear this community is sort of hurtful to many and probably falls under the Issur of talking lashon harah about an entire community. Now you probably will not listen to me but I truly think you should stick to this subtitle and stop consistently bashing a very large segment of the Jewish population. 
Yet another person feels differently:
I know some people comment that you should stick to the main subject of this blog (rationalist judaism), but I think you perform a valuable service with posts like this. If nothing else, you show that a person can study for years in yeshiva and still have enough common sense, decency, and empathy to see this army issue for what it is. This gives chizuk to those, such as myself, who hear the constant whining and arrogance that comes from the so-called "Torah world", and wonder if there is something about all of this Torah study that turns these people deaf to the basic unfairness of the blanket deferment they are so desperate to maintain.
Such different reactions! The post earlier this week, The Angst of Anglo Charedi Converts, is a potent example of this. One person commented that they particularly appreciated it:
Rav Natan, I really enjoyed this post. I found it to be qualitatively different from your other posts which are usually more centered around a Torah point. This was sociologically astute and full of very precise and sharp observations. I flirted in the past with many of the emotions and processes described here. Thanks!  
But someone very near and dear to me did not like it at all:
What was the point of that post? I hated it.
Yet a rabbi heading a very important organization took a different view:
The Anglo Charedi post is perhaps one of the most important ever. Perhaps we should print it and distribute.
Thus, very similar people - all of them good people - can have radically different views as to what kind of material they like to read. So if you don't like what I write here, you don't need to read it, but please realize that other people may find it very helpful!

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  1. While I understand (and agree with) your intentions of pointing out the flaws of Israeli/Anglo charedi society/philosophy, it would be an interesting exercise for your intellectual honesty were you to analyze and post a critique of the DL community (from the rationalist perspective, of course). And, if that's not precisely the community in which you would define yourself, to do the same for that community.
    Surely you would agree that no community is free from flaws...

    1. cs, I believe there tends to be more blogs attacking the hareidi community versus other ones for one reason. when a community sends the message that only they are correct this self-righteousness lends itself to attack when proved otherwise.

  2. Rabbi Slifkin,

    This is a good blog because the posts always make one think about the issue at hand. The arguments are clearly laid out and a conclusion given. I'm guessing the essays are at least circa 1,000 words on average, so to produce that output daily is quite an achievement.

    I'd say that to the credit of the moderators, the comments section are not a simple 'echo chamber' of loyal sycophants and there is an fair spread of opinion and aside from the odd bit of trolling now and again, the comments section are worth reading through as well.

    My personal opinion would be to continue to post on matters which you wish to do so.Ignore the calls from people who want you to stop, or even who tell you what they want you to post on, as they can get their own blog to give their view about the world (getting a google account is not a taxing process and is free), but just because people don't like what you have to say doesn't mean you should be stopped or pressured into doing so. So continue with this enterprise, if you will, Sir.

  3. This is the best and worst post I have ever read.

  4. CS-You have made a fair request. As as committed DL-Religious Zionist I will be glad to let you know where I think improvements can be made in our movement.
    On a recent Shabbat I asked several young people who are just past high-school age this very question. They had attended DL-Torani schools which are gender separated. They said they felt that Torah was taught as "just another subject" like Math and not enough emphasis was placed on emunah and really feeling our relationship with G-d. It was only in post-high school yeshivah gedolah or hesder (again, DL) or Midrasha for women that they really started to get a real feel for emunah.
    In the boys high-school yeshivot there has been a decline in Talmud studies over recent years, although they can make it up once they go to post-high school if they are motivated. There is also the ongoing problem of making Talmud INTERESTING to the boys, however, this is no less a problem in the Haredi world where many , if not most kids, find it difficult, not relevant and uninteresting. The main difference between the Haredi and DL worlds is that in the Haredi world mastery of Talmud is THE main way to social advancement which gives the boys a big incentive to progress, in spite of their personal reservations. In the DL world, social acceptance can also be gained in realms outside of Torah, (army, professions, arts, etc). Having said this, the DL education system is succeeding in turning out new generations of Torah-committed Jews who also devote daily time to Torah study. I believe a lot of this is due to army service where young men come into contact with existential questionsand who are forced to find resources of strength, endurance and will-power in themselves and a committment to helping other people, which I also see in secular Israelis who go through this. All of this is missing in the Haredi education system and I think the results can be seen in basic midot in the outside world. Although the "mussar system" in the yeshivot is supposed to also emphasize personal middot, Haredi people have told me that the mussar study segment of the day is viewed by all too many as a mere formality and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in this area.

  5. O, poppyckock, Rabbi! Now that we are on the disagreements topic, let's have one. No, not all who disagree with you are "otherwise good people" and there is nothing "extraordinary" about some of their base, churlish reactions. Very banal, in fact. Some characters are simply selfish, shallow and spoilt brats. Silly "kidults" who grew up under doting, "yes-dearie" parents validating every inane thought to come out of their somnolent brains, treating their clinical deficiency in empathy and their common rudeness as a profound expression of a precious and creative personality. The rest of their frustrated lives will be wasted on trying to recapture that illusion...that unfortunate white lie, really... of worth, and will remain forever frustrated at the fact that no one cares. It's your bad luck that they sometimes try to get a charge, a fix, by attacking you...not just your ideas... here in your blog and it's Temujin's good fortune and pleasure to have a jolly go at the nastier specimens when the opportunity presents itself. So, there!

    --Temujin the Barbarian

  6. Rabbi Slifkin:

    I know of a number of people who remained religious because of your writing. You have provided a lifeline to people and that is extremely valuable.

  7. But I always suspect that the people claiming you are bashing charedim or encouraging you to stop "hating" or spreading "lashon hara" (Who is the first to invoke lashon hara except the guilty one?) are really just trolls who are trying to combat your message and silence you. Trolls who, are charedi themselves, fully buy into their system and either feel threatened that someone else is presenting an alternative view, or have some vested interest / power in that system and involved in promoting it. In other words, I think those type of comments are very rarely, if ever, sincere.

    One way of promoting the charedi view is to advertise that view, as Rabbi Hoffmann often does. Another way to promote it is to silence the opposing view as some of your commenters attempt to do by trying to influence you and invoke emotional pleas about lashon hara and bigotry. Just different approaches to the same goal.

  8. I find your blog to be extremely valuable. I think about each blog and many of the respondents' views. It acts as a prompt to try and organize what my response is. Many times, I write down my reaction in this comments space. When in this space, you can review the different quotes, visit the links [often crucial to the issue] and review the other comments. I often edit my writing and coalesce my feelings into a more comprehensible internal expression. This expression is more precise and "on-issue" and inevitably allows for a renewal of commitment to the larger Klal.

    I learned a huge amount from the writings of Dr. Betech about those who deny the present state of a science when it is inconvenient to something else that they deem important, but which has already been ruled-out in the scientific process. In the end, from my point of view, there was no point to his argument. Yet, he and others were passionate that there was a point and that we [as Jews] should buy-in to his view even if they are based in deveikus to fallacious arguments.

    However, where Dr. Betech and many others have an argument to make, there are others who just want to say "nyah-nyah" to R. Slifkin. I think those are below the dignity of this blog....though good fodder for Temujin who rides in on his Mongolian horse and vanquishes them in very good humor....which almost makes it worthwhile.

  9. I think you make a mistake if you assume all the comments are honest.
    For example the sob stories such as "I was sympathetic to your perspective and your ordeal in the ban, but now I see that you are just... bla bla bla". Nope, I am willing to put money on the fact that this person was never sympathetic to your views and never had a change of heart but uses this type of intro to make his own argument sound more convincing and make it sound like you are victimizing charedim.

  10. I don't know if you'd ever be interested in undertaking this kind of project, but I think it would be very useful for you, as a spokesperson for rationalist Judaism, to write a defense of Orthodox Judaism from your perspective. One reason why many people react so negatively to rationalism is that it could be a slippery slope, since Conservative Judaism is even more rationalistic than your Orthodox rationalism (since it sees the Oral Torah as human rather than Sinaitic), as are Reform Judaism and atheism, of course. Making a strong case for a rationalist-leaning Orthodoxy (instead of what most Jews today choose -- heterodoxy or atheism) could give chizuk to many Orthodox Jews who are losing their faith and/or considering going off the derech, while showing your critics that you are willing to criticize those to the "left" of you as much as you are to those on the "right."

    1. Agreed on most points, Yair, except for the notion that Reform and Conservative Judaism, or even secular philosophy are necessarily more rationalistic than Judaic orthodoxy. Reform began with the presumably rational notion...but without a scrap of evidence, but with ladlefulls of imagination...that Jews must subsume their national and cultural identities and adopt the values and manners of their host societies. The Conservative movement trumpeted an Age of Reason in theory, promising a dispassionate, rationalistic study of Judaism with their lofty Wissenschaft des (/den?) Judentum. These movements are failing because their core premises are ludicrously irrational, products of current cultural myths and if you look at it closely, fundamentally little different from the bombastic claims of swivel-eyed mystics. It just took a while for the manifested claims of these pseudo-rationalist systems to fail and for the internal and external contradictions to begin wreaking the damage.

      But the thing about rationalism is that it isn't a claim, a brand, a fashion or even a movement one can rally behind and go back to sleep. At its best, it's only a rather humdrum methodology, a somewhat pedantic way of knowing, of studying the world and interpreting reliable data. It's basis is a process of routine checks and balances which allow for constant renewals and corrections from the widest field of sources possible. Unlike doctrines and dogmas, it works best as an ongoing "organic" process that was in times past a fleeting rarity, but for various reasons is now well-developed and accessible to anyone. This is why rationalism presents the greatest challenge and the greatest promise to Judaism.

      --Temujin the Pontificator

    2. He did! It's called, The Challenge of Creation. You can buy it on Amazon.

    3. Continuing Temujin the Pontificators thought-
      Daniel Gordis, who is a scion of a distinguished line of Conservative rabbis recently wrote a scathing denunciation of the movement he was born into (it should be pointed out that while he has disassociated himself from the C movement, he doesn't seem to be Orthodox, either). Much of his criticism was in line with what Temujin stated. He says that he once asked his grandfather Robert Gordis why one should observe the halacha which is sometimes inconvenient and difficult (those of you who are cleaning for Pesach will understand what I mean) and yet accept the theories of Bible criticism at the same time.
      The only answer his grandfather would give him was "because that's what Jews do". So there you have the great intellectual response the C movement says it is proud of.

  11. Yair-
    There are people who have done what you have suggested-written a rationalist defense of Orthodox Judaism. Right off the bat, I can think of Rav Eliezer Berkovits, particularly his book "G-d, Man and History" and the writings of Rav Natan Lopes Cardozo. There are numerous others, as well.

    1. Not quite true. If by a book on the defense of orthodox judaism, one means defending and responding convincingly to the many arguments against the divinity of the Torah, it hasn't been done and IMHO won't ever, because it likely can't.

  12. This post shows how you put rationality before Judaism. Who cares what people think of your writing.... For us observant Jews Halacha dictates what is right and wrong not Temujin, Joel Rich or Student V
    So your blogs which are very much centered on naming and shaming the ziknei hador is halachically wrong eventhough from a rational point of view it may be right.
    Similarly a charedi (or any other jew) speaking negatively on Rabbis Aurbach or Rabbi Stienman would be halachically wrong.
    You love your Rambams on working for a living etc but what he has to say on defaming Talmidei Chachamim suddenly you are shtum.
    Natan, you cannot get away with your rebellious nature long term.
    You have had your day.
    You have called R Mattisyahus ways "pathetic" You have had your bats poop on a pic of Chacham Obadia. You have suggested R Moshe's knowledge of halacha could be less than yours.........
    Now is the time to think about teshuva. You can do it. Its never to late. You can do it
    Shalom Shalom

    1. Didn't Rabbis Orbach and Steinman speak badly of each other? Check mate!

  13. Rav Slifkin, can we please try to keep this post as kosher as possible? I would prefer not to see pictures of inappropriatetly dressed woman in the desert

    1. If one may suggest an easier solution; remove the jeweler's loupe when looking at the photo ;o)

      --Temujin the Problem Solver

    2. Moishe, that's not a leopard-print outfit, it's an actual leopard.

  14. I actually learned an important 'rationalist' lesson from the fact that some posts resonate with me more than others: it's entirely possible to regard someone as possessing crucial insights (even that they are the leading expositor) in one area of Torah, whilst not having to entirely adopt their views on other matters.

  15. I enjoy and benefit from virtually all the posts. But maybe people would complain less if the by-line of the blog was adapted to 'exploring the legacy of the rationalist rishonim, relentless chareidi bashing, and various other notes'. Then they would know what to expect.

    1. Sir, hard to tell if you're honest. If in fact you enjoy and benefit from virtually all the posts - many of which are quite critical of charedim, you would never use the the words "relentless chareidi bashing" but would go for "informative chareidi reprimanding" or something like that. I also have no idea which visitor to this blog doesn't know what to expect because the subtitle doesn't mention that it has what you call "chareidi bashing".

  16. I was afraid you were going to end by saying that all the people were really one person. I know people like that.

  17. I like to think that this blog tries to answer the question: If the Rambam (or Ralbag, or Radak--who were also rationalists) were alive today, what would they say about topic X? Just the issue of learning in kollel, for example, will get a variety of responses as to what the Rambam would say about it: Rabbi Slifkin would say that the Rambam would be vehemently against it, whereas commentors would say that that present-day kollel is not what the Rambam decries. And so on with the other topics discussed.
    On the other hand, I'm sure other things that incense the charedim, like compromises on civil marriage here in Israel, or leniencies in conversions, would also incense the Rambam. Rabbi Slifkin doesn't usually handle those issues, where the charedim are essentially right, and Israeli society (or, more accurately, the present administration) is leaning in the wrong direction.

  18. !! I love your blog. This is a cool site and I wanted to post a little note to tell you, good job! Best wishes!


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