In the preface to the book, Rabbi Meiselman writes as follows:
I have almost always avoided quoting directly from any specific work in the genre to which I am responding in order that my comments will not be taken to be, in any way, ad hominem. My response is not ad hominem.After reading this, and the rest of the book, I had to double-check the meaning of ad hominem, because I thought that perhaps I was making a mistake as to the meaning of the term. But no, I wasn't.
Ad hominem is an argument based on the perceived failings and shortcomings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case itself. There is absolutely nothing ad hominem in quoting from a specific work and attempting to rebut it - indeed, if one is addressing a specific work, then it is appropriate to quote it by name. However, throwing out charges regarding the personal shortcomings of people, as Rabbi Meiselman does throughout the book, is very much ad hominem, even if you don't name the person (and even if the person cannot be identified).
Perhaps one could claim that Rabbi Meiselman means that he doesn't want the book to be taken as a personal response/ vendetta against me. But that doesn't help his claim make sense; aside from Rabbi Meiselman's history of attacking me, the vast majority of his book is quite obviously targeted primarily or exclusively at my work. Simply not naming me does not change this!
I wasn't sure whether to write a post about this, but I just received the following letter, which I am presenting (with permission of the writer):
Thanks for all your blog posts. I'm an anglo chareidi who after nearly a decade in kollel, has come round to your way of thinking regarding the legitimacy of the rationalist approach to reconciling Chazal with modern science. I just finished reading Rabbi Meiselman's book. I admit that I started out prejudiced against it, but nonetheless, having read it I was surprised by how annoyed it made me!
I literally laughed out loud when 600 pages in - after calling you an amateur, a dilettante, sophomoric, unsophisticated, unqualified, and a purveyor of ersatz Torah, again and again and again - he repeats the claim that your name is avoided in case people misconstrue this as an ad hominem attack!I know you probably don't want to make this controversy more personal than it already is, but I think this point deserves a blog post of its own.1. In a book which grapples with the definition of heresy, calling someone a Kofer is not an ad hominem attack. In this case, the issue itself is whether your approach is legitimate. If his argument is that your approach is illegitimate, and furthermore that it is so illegitimate that it makes you a Kofer, then spelling that out is not an ad hominem attack - it's an attack on your view.2. Hypocrisy - he claims to play fair and avoid ad hominem attacks, yet he repeatedly and gratuitously insults you.3. Intellectual Honesty - If you are writing a book against an approach to torah-science, why not quote repeatedly from your chief opponents, to show where you think they are wrong, and help people make up their minds.4. Menschlichkeit/ Mean-spirited
ness - OK, so he falsely claims in front of his whole yeshiva that Slifkin was thrown out of Shaarei Torah, and won't retract or apologize. Fine. But would it really kill him to include one sentence in the book naming you as his chief opponent, to say he believes you to be a well-meaning guy but nonetheless gravely mistaken. How hard is that? And even if he doesn't fully believe it, at least pretend to be a mentsch!5. Ignoring your chief opponent is itself an ad hominem attack - This move implicitly states that R. Slifkin is less important than the hundreds of useless and irrelevant footnotes that made it into the book (Note from N.S. - This reminds me of Isaac Betech's book about the shafan, which boasts of having one thousand bibliographic references, but does not mention the only book that was written on this specific topic, and in response to which his book was written!) It also sends the message that the only worthy opponents are people who either can't defend themselves (R. Aryeh Carmell, R. Aryeh Kaplan), or won't defend themselves (R. Jonathan Sacks).6. Abuse of high minded principles - It is quite obvious that the real reasons that he won't mention your name is because:a) Unlike R. Jonathan Sacks who won't fight back and cause a stink - you will.b) He believes in demonization of opponents, so therefore he won't break the taboo of mentioning your name.c) He is worried that quoting your work will give it legitimacy, and may cause his readers to look up your writings.So why not come out and say what you think, instead of hiding behind the principle of avoiding ad hominem attacks?!
7. Name calling without naming names - making personal attacks against unnamed dilettantes and sophomores is no less ad hominem just because you didn't name them. It is merely ad hominem by stealth.
I thought you should know that this all really bothered me. Keep up the good work!