Friday, October 3, 2014

Closing the Book on the Ban

This week marks ten years since the controversial ban on my books. It was ten years ago that I received the phone call warning me to retract three of my books or face scandal and humiliation; ten years ago, on erev Yom Kippur, that flyers condemning my books as heresy appeared in certain shuls in Ramat Beit Shemesh. This was followed by a year and a half of raging controversy, and extreme turmoil in the lives of many people.

Ten years on, it has completely died down. The zealots who engineered the ban have been publicly disgraced. The rabbonim who signed on to the ban were taken aback at how it blew up in their faces and had many negative consequences. Meanwhile, I wrote an essay in which I accepted that the ban, if interpreted as a sort of social policy, should be understood and respected. The new editions of my books are not targeted at the charedi world - I wrote this explicitly in The Challenge Of Creation - and therefore do not pose a threat.

While the controversy was swirling, I started writing a book about it. Recently, someone urged me to complete it and publish it. But I have no plans to do so, even though it would no doubt gain much publicity and be a bestseller. Allow me to explain why.

My major project in life, for the foreseeable future, is The Biblical Museum of Natural History. Unlike my books about science, this is something that can benefit every type of person. It is as universal as my book on Perek Shirah, which was never banned, and my input to the Schottenstein Talmud, which remains in place. There is nothing controversial about the museum, no reason for anyone to avoid it. And I want it to remain that way.

The museum is bigger than me; I am not the only member of staff. Many visitors (especially Israelis) won't even see me! Still, as its creator and director, I am, to a certain degree, significantly associated with it. I therefore want it to be clear that I am making a fundamental bifurcation in my career. The museum will be entirely non-controversial. There will be no dinosaur fossils, and nothing relating to evolution. My so-called controversial books will not even be on display in the gift store. They will remain in print and will be available for those who are suited to them, but the museum is not the place to market them. The museum website does not and will not link to this blog (and I am probably going to be posting less and less on this blog).

It's time to close the book on the ban and move on. Hopefully, everyone else will realize that this is to everyone's benefit.

I wish you all a gemar chasima tovah!

80 comments:

  1. You have been a spokesman and beacon of guidance to many in the modern orthodox world. I don't know why you say you will "probably going to be posting less and less on this blog." I think this blog and its ideas expressed - which has helped strengthen many people's faith in torah - is much more important than your incredible museum, wadr. The museum may educate many people about Judaism, but the blog has and can continue to save many from leaving completely.

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  2. Does this mean that you regret the posts, the books and are reconsidering your position on the issues that you have represented in your books and posted a lot about in your blog? Your answer is somewhat important to me since some time ago "The challenge of creation" saved the yarmulke that was about to fall off my head.

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    1. Not at all! No regrets or reconsideration.

      Delete
  3. For some very many people, I don't think your name will ever be associated with anything but heresy. These people don't know you, and so they needn't actually confront your essence. You're merely a name and a taboo one at that.

    Do you really suppose that because your museum contains no fossils and no Challenge (where is the italics function when you need it?) that the rabbis will direct their masses to visit?

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  4. I Gmar Tov Rabbi. and good luck in your future endeavors. Please keep this blog alive as much as your schedule allows.

    A 'Chusid' from Monsey,NY

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  5. The new editions of my books are not targeted at the charedi world - I wrote this explicitly in The Challenge Of Creation - and therefore do not pose a threat.
    ========================================
    Interesting assertion. I'd imagine that the threat level percieved by the "homeland security" individuals in the chareidi community is not determined by the author's perception of his target market but rather by the likelihood that the books will impact the homeland's citizens. Perhaps the times have changed over ten years and the books may now be safely categorized (with dino the dinosaur ) as books which are not likely to come into the community canon.
    GCT
    Joel Rich

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  6. Tricky issue. I agree that there is no reason to stir up controversy when the controversy has already died down. I also agree that one should try to accomplish as much in life as possible, and if that means hiding a part of you from certain people some of the time, one should do so.

    However, this is a fine line to walk, and it doesn't always work. I hope it does for you. But I also hope that if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to make a choice between choosing/saying a significant truth or keeping your mouth shut that you will say the truth. Of course, sometimes there is no point. But sometimes there is and sometimes remaining mum again and again is a sin against one's inner integrity and one's duty.

    Like I said, it is a fine line. I wish you the best of luck in walking it and the best of luck in all your endeavors. If your new projects mean you will be blogging less for the reasons you mentioned, I understand. But I (and I'm sure many others) will miss you all the same. I am very grateful for your wisdom over the years. Have a gmar chasima tova.

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  7. Natan,
    Not sure, what to make of this? How can one person close a book which many are determined to keep open?
    You are still 'persona non grata’ in the Hareidi world and that will not change; nor does it appear that you want that to change.
    If that is good or not is not relevant; however, that is the fact.
    Unfortunately as well your claim: "There is nothing controversial about the museum, no reason for anyone to avoid it" is also (unfortunately) untrue.
    As long as Natan Slifkin is associated with the place it will be "controversial" and his name alone will be "plenty of reason for anyone to avoid it".
    That is the truth and unfortunately that is the sad reality of life in the Orthodox Jewish world today.
    I wish you all the best.
    This may be sad; however, I believe it to be true.
    As Thomas Wolfe said: "You Can't Go Home Again"
    Good, bad, or sad, that is life.
    Also, keep the blog alive, why stop that which you are successful at and have developed a following?
    The museum is great, however, it can only touch those who are there; your blog can touch all.

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  8. "I am probably going to be posting less and less on this blog"

    Say it ain't so. Please. You're needed here.

    And gmar chatimah tovah to you and your family.

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  9. I see I am not the first to regret your expectation of decreasing your posting on this blog. I do not expect to ever be interested enough in your museum to bother entering it, even if I happen to be passing by, but I feel that your books & especially some of your postings on this blog have been of enormous (perhaps more than you realize) value to me as well as many others (again perhaps more than you realize). And I think we gained far more intensely than I would expect your museum visitors (an entirely different audience) will ever gain. I have never written you before (perhaps I should have), but I (& I assume many others) have appreciated your efforts far more than you think. My best wishes on your future efforts, and my plea to remember to add to the rationalist Judaism blog as much as you can. It is needed & appreciated more than you think.

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    1. "I do not expect to ever be interested enough in your museum to bother entering it, even if I happen to be passing by"

      Sorry - that's just rude. I for one plan to bring my family to the museum as soon as it opens.

      I also appreciate this blog, R. Slifkin, but kudos to you for going "veiter" with your life and dreams, and on to new frontiers!

      Delete
  10. I hope that you have a Rov and that you are taking these steps after having discussed them with him. I think it is almost impossible to function properly as an Orthodox Jew without a Rov to act as a mashpia and if necessary as an advocate.

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    Replies
    1. "Almost impossible"? Most Orthodox Jews manage very well with consulting a Rabbinic authority on halakhic issues only. (Some don't, but then many who consult their "Rov" for everything don't manage either.)

      Delete
    2. One of the worst fates a person could have is to believe that he is a tzaddik

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    3. "Tzaddik" is not a halakhic concept.

      Delete
  11. Why no dinosaur fossils? Are they not part of the world according to every opinion? You could have them and say that these are either pre-flood creatures, a test from Hashem on our belief in Torah, or are real bones of ancient creatures from prior worlds. Let us not be afraid of truth.

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  12. "The museum will be entirely non-controversial."

    Methinks it will be controversial whether you want it to be or not (see below).

    "There will be no dinosaur fossils, and nothing relating to evolution."

    Why? Why kowtow to obscurantists & the willfully ignorant?

    "My so-called controversial books will not even be on display in the gift store."

    Why? With all due respect (and that is considerable; you are a first-rate scholar) I think that you are missing the point. Your books and museum are not controversial. *You* are. Everything you say, do or write will be tinted (so to speak) in the eyes of certain people. You will never be able to satisfy them.

    Shavua tov!

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    Replies
    1. I'd guess because dinosaur fossils and evolution are not necessarily related to biblical natural history, as there is no explicit discussion of either. It's just not the focus of the museum

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  13. The issue may be over, but it opened a whole new world for many people.

    Your book ban was a watershed in my life - it caused me to rethink my entire understanding of (among other things) "Da'as Torah". It wasn't the only thing that caused me to change my approach to Judaism, but it was certainly the biggest and easiest to point to.

    Tizku L'miztvot, Gmar Chatima Tova and chag Same'ach.

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  14. A virtual talmud muvchakOctober 5, 2014 at 2:41 AM

    I need your blog. For real! Your frequent postings regularly inform me of essential Torah truths that I otherwise dont find accessible in a language and presentwtion that speaks to both my intellect and my heart.

    Your blog also continually reassures me that there is truth and sanity in the orthodox approach to Torah -- as opposed to failed rabbinic leadership that too often attempts to replace the authentic mesora with their personal neurotic fixations. PLEASE continue your regular blog postings to help keep our collective orthodox ship on course!!

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  15. A virtual talmud muvchakOctober 5, 2014 at 3:17 AM

    I need your blog. For real! Your frequent postings regularly inform me of essential Torah truths that I otherwise dont find accessible in a language and presentation that speaks to both my intellect and my heart.

    Your blog also continually reassures me that there is truth and sanity in the orthodox approach to Torah -- as opposed to failed rabbinic leadership that too often attempts to replace the authentic mesora with their personal neurotic fixations. PLEASE continue your regular blog postings to help keep our collective orthodox ship on course!!

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  16. 1) As much as I enjoy the "controversial" posts, the change sounds very positive. A person's intellectual legacy is ultimately judged by their positive contributions, not the controversies they were involved in. Your books are your positive contribution and the rest was a necessary evil.

    2) If things go well, I think that there'll be plenty of interesting stories to blog about that your current readers will enjoy.

    3) I won't believe you until the next Beit Shemesh political fight comes up an you leave it to others to hash out :).

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    1. David, some of us, perhaps most of us here, believe the books subsequently deemed a source of "controversy" by certain people, WERE positive contributions and very much should be included in any judgement of R Slifkin's intellectual legacy (whatever that is) or else the judge would insufficiently praise him.

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    2. David, some of us, perhaps most of us here, believe the books subsequently deemed a source of "controversy" by certain people, WERE positive contributions

      I agree. That is why I wrote: "Your books are your positive contribution...".

      Delete
    3. That's what David said; the books themselves were a positive. The controversy ... not so much

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    4. It seems I misunderstood your comment, but I still disagree with you. It is others who deem something controversial because of their relative comfort level with the topic. The same who view his posts as "controversial" also deemed his books as controversial (or, in some cases, maybe some people fall into one category but not the other - it's not relevant). Yet both the posts and the books have inherent value, independent of the labels others attach to them, or the discomfort they may cause some people.

      Do you really believe his books were not a source of controversy he was involved in? Or you think they were so positive that they transcend the controversy, but the posts you view differently?

      Delete
  17. This is definitely the smart move for you. As much as we all love to "bicker" here at rationalistJ, the bottom line is, it doesn't pay your bills. That's why keeping the museum PC is a must. While all these "truth junkies" hassle you about not letting the "Man" win, I congratulate you for putting your family first.

    One thing I have always wanted to suggest to you (that I don't think you have ever done, if you have ignore my advice) that I'm figuring now is a good time. I think you should try to find a Rebbi whom you can learn Kabbalah from. Obviously you know what mysticism "is", but until one has actually learnt it - especially R' Chaim Vital's writings and from a Rebbi - one cannot really reject it. Just as someone who has never read your book cannot reject modern rationalist Judaism.

    While I am obviously no one to give a haskama or not on any subject, I can tell you that since beginning to get exposure to "source" kabbalah, I have realized that there is much more there than meets the eye.

    Good luck with everything!

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    1. One simple question: What is the "source" of which you speak? You do realize that a large number of perfectly religious Jews (starting with, oh, the Rambam) think kabbalah is, well, nonsense, to put it mildly. Why should someone who feels that way have any desire or need to learn it?

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    2. The Arizal.

      And had the Rambam had access to the Zohar including tikkunim and a way to decipher it's language (Sifrei Ari) then maybe he would not have been so impressed with Aristotelean Metaphysics. Or maybe he would have. We'll never know.

      The reason someone should care to learn it (especially before unilaterally rejecting it) is that according the vast majority of Torah leaders in the last thousand years...including the Gra, kabbalah is not only valid, but it is in fact the deepest understanding of the universe that we as humans possess.

      If that doesn't do it for you than how about da ma l'hashiv.... at least that.

      Delete
    3. The reason the Rambam didn't have access to the Zohar was because it hadn't been written yet. That should tell you something.

      You also don't need any subsequent sefarim to "decipher" the Rambam. Indeed, it seems that only Kabbalah needs "deciphering." (Rashi cannot be said to be "deciphering," whatever else he may be doing.) That should also tell you something.

      I also asked what makes a kabbalistic "source." It can't be the Ari, since he lived after most "source" kabbalah was written. The fact that you need to point to him should also tell you something.

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    4. The Zohar was written by R' Shimon Bar Yochai. You can claim it was only attributed to him. To that I say touché, just like the Torah is only attributed to Moshe. I accept what the majority of believing Jews say is our mesorah, not the academics looking for paper to cover in ink.

      Lol about the Rambam, care to venture a guess how many pirushim have been written on just the yad, not to mention the guide? Kabbalah needs decifering because it is the only thing initially written in code, hence the term "Sod" - secret.

      By source I mean, a systematic and internally consistent corpus of mystical thought - not merely a Wikipedia search on the doctrine of kabbalah.

      The fact that you are defending the legitimacy of staying ignorant to quite possibly the deepest wisdom known to man should tell you something.

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    5. Oh, come on. It was written over a thousand years after Shimon b. Yochai, and you know it.

      I will not base my religion on something that needs deciphering. That's not the way God works.

      Delete
    6. 1) Wow, too bad no one told Rav Yosef Caro, Rama, Maharshal, Gra, Aruch Hashulchan, Chafetz Chaim, Rav Moshe Feinstein, or any of the Sefardic or Chassidic Chachamin and Rebbeim over the past 300 years.

      2) Really, so you are a Karaite?

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    7. 1) Well, the glory of Judaism is that I can say they were all wrong. No knock against them: They didn't have access to the tools we do.

      It helps that belief, or not, in this alleged "fact" is not a matter of halakhic import. As such, an appeal to authority is not binding on me, or any Jew who isn't a haredi. (Leaving aside that appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.)

      2) Of course not. I believe in Torah shebeal Peh. And of course you need Rashi, say, when learning Gemara. But you just said that Kabbalah is *deliberately* written so as to be hard to understand. No one claims the Gemara is *intentionally* difficult. The Mishna and Rambam happen to be easy.

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    8. 1) So you create a "folder" and call it "haredi", then you get to put everything you don't like about Judaism into it, so that way you can have a religion that is tailor made for you. Without authority (Mesorah) Judaism doesn't exist. We can discuss how far it goes but authority cannot be waved away in Torah like it can in the world of academia.

      2) Not "hard to understand", it's written symbolically, metaphorically. Knowing what the symbols refer to is part of either having a mesorah, or having a unique gift (ruach hakodesh) of understanding, neither of which you, me or RNS have claimed to have.

      3) The mishna was written *specifically* to necessitate having a mesorah in order to understand it, hence why eventually we needed the gemara to explain it. Too bad all those geniuses who wrote running commentary on the Rambam didn't realize that it was easy to learn and understand. What is your background in learning Torah if you don't mind me asking? Based on your statements here it doesn't seem to me that you have a strong background in learning Mishna, Gemara or Rambam and therefore for you I agree, you should assume Kabbalah is not real and stay far away.

      Delete
  18. "The issue may be over, but it opened a whole new world for many people...Your book ban was a watershed in my life"

    Same for me. That said, life goes on, and it's not a contradiction to "moving on".

    Interestingly, R. Adlerstein was quoted using the same language("watershed") in Tablet Magazine this April("Online and Unabashed: Orthodox Rabbis and Scholars Take to the Internet"):

    ““Slifkin was a watershed moment in contemporary yiddishkeit,” Adlerstein told me. “Many began to question what world they were living in.”

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  19. Thank you for choosing the higher road. When we argue about who is right and wrong and rehash resentments, everyone loses. Focusing on win/win and making positive contributions changes the world. It is also wonderful that you are not planning on changing your own views to suit others. That is a lesson unto itself. May this decision be a zechus for you, your family and the Jewish people

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  20. I can only echo the other comments. I have no interest in animals (except when I eat them), but am very interested in Rationalist Judaism. Then again, for you personally, I agree that you are probably making the right decision. I hope that you can find the time to continue your quality posts on this blog.

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  21. Well, living well is the best revenge. That, and the satisfaction of seeing those who attacked you having to rely on you.

    A while back I had dinner with some Beit Shemesh residents who mentioned that there's really no attractions in the city. Wait and see: For lack of anything else, the haredi schools will be forced to take trips to your museum. Ha!

    (Their plan was to make an archaeological park based around Tel Beit Shemesh and maybe some other places. An idea if you're thinking of expanding some day...)

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  22. I want to start this comment by saying thank you.

    Thank You for being out in front of the RationalistJ boat and weathering the storm. Thank You for facing the automatic vitriol and fury every time you raise an important issue. Thank You for the insights that engage my mind and brighten my day. Thank You most of all for being brave at a time when most of us shelter in our own protected bubbles of anonymity.

    I can only imagine the fatigue and toll that being on the front-lines has taken on your family and on yourself personally. This is a battle that I do not believe that you ever wanted to fight, but was thrust on you by others and a person of your integrity has little choice, but to stand up for what you believe to be the truth.

    As a person who has learned much from your yourself, your books and your blog I will support any decision you take. I know that you have carefully considered this decision with the same dedication and honesty that you invest in all that you do - the self same undertakings that I and many other have benefitted so much from.

    In short I wanted to express my personal gratitude for the time and effort you put into this blog. I will miss the almost daily presence that your blog has become in my life.

    Jake Shepherd

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  23. I wish you lots of success with the museum, but I have a feeling that your major contribution to the modern day jew will be with your books and not the museum.

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  24. How about publishing the book about the ban under a pseudonym (perhaps N. Kamenetzky)?

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  25. Perhaps the Rabbi is jesting? Goading us on for a reaction to what appears to our gullible minds as a defeat snatched out of the jaws of victory, as the cliché goes? His approach and his "controversies" revolutionized and energized a neglected sector of Orthodox Judaism, changing many lives for the better in the process, as some have attested here (yes, Mr Ohsie, controversies can be positive and enriching). It is precisely these "controversies," ongoing in his blog as well, and his assumed presence and availability at the planned exhibit which would make his museum internationally known and worth a visit to a backwater town and an exhibit which would easily fit into a corner of a wing of a larger museum situated conveniently in a national capital. Just from a marketing perspective it would be a puzzling direction; to turn away from one's growing, international and financially healthy client base in the hope of being accepted by an embittered and financially declining local one with a long memory.

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    1. I'm with you Temujin. As a great admirer of R. Slifkin I wish him well, but he is dreaming in technicolor if he thinks his museum will succeed in bring "entirely non-controversial." The danger is that he will "sell out" step by small step without even realizing that that is what he is doing.

      R. Slifkin: :Please remember that there is only one way a lamb can appease a lion.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    2. I'm up against the two academics again!

      Here are some examples:

      Should Galileo held out and fought to the end? Or was it better that he retired and wrote the "Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences". (Not to blame him in any way, but would the world have been better off if he could have been better at conflict avoidance?)

      Which has enduring importance: the controversy between Newton and Leibniz over priority in the invention of calculus (and the subsequent controversies) or the Principia?

      By which do we best remember the Gr"a? By his controversies with the Chasidim or his commentary on Shulchan Aruch?

      Which do you think is a more important contribution: "The Challenge of Creation" or blog posts on Beit Shemesh politics?

      His approach and his "controversies" revolutionized and energized a neglected sector of Orthodox Judaism, changing many lives for the better in the process, as some have attested here (yes, Mr Ohsie, controversies can be positive and enriching).

      Perhaps. But my comment was: "A person's intellectual legacy is ultimately judged by their positive contributions, not the controversies they were involved in." After ten years, I think that a person has a right and perhaps duty to turn to something else.

      to turn away from one's growing, international and financially healthy client base in the hope of being accepted by an embittered and financially declining local one with a long memory.

      I think that the goal is to have a wide base. I seriously doubt that there would be anything "pseudo-scientific" in the museum to turn off the "rational".

      he is dreaming in technicolor if he thinks his museum will succeed in bring "entirely non-controversial."

      An experiment is the best way to decide this one, no? :)

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    3. No at all, David, you're up against one academic; Dr Kaplan. Temujin's neural functions flat-line and his respiratory system resorts to hyperventilation in academic settings and so, prefers to serve-up mainly unsubstantiated speculations and hopefully entertaining diversions.

      You know, your arguments are not entirely without merit, even though you offer poor examples; you are reaching too far back in history and to issues which might bear some superficial similarity in terms of topic, but which took place in environments which were very different from ours. To wit, the most obvious difference between the times of Galileo, the Gra, the Hasidim, Mitnagdim, Musarniks and such is one of numbers, as in what percentage of the population had the kind of education and cultural exposure to science and rationalism as compared to our times. In more materialistic and quantifiable terms, rationalism is merely the by-product of a gainfully employed and economically and socially liberal society. It is the only cognitive "operational system" which can handle rapid communication and a high volume of information across classes and cultures; what we think of as the hallmarks of modernity, but what actually goes back to Roman and Medieval Jewish societies before their breakdowns and the waves of persecution, expulsions and disenfranchisement which nearly destroyed European Jewry. Under such disastrous or depressed conditions commerce is a managed monopolistic game of favouritisms and the professions are fossilized protection rackets and rationalism is of little use, contracting within itself into a marginal philosophical curiosity of a tiny, embattled elite.

      Aaany-how, one digressed a bit with those points to lead up to one's contention that Rav Slifkin's approach is neither an airy theological innovation, nor a divisive aggressive controversy of his own making. It is in fact a substantive, positive and fundamentally conservative continuation of a very rationalistic and demonstrably successful Rabbinic Judaism. It is actually the panicked irrational reaction to it which is controversial . There is also no "wide base" large enough to be of significance. Jewry is fragmented into two mutually incomprehensible and hostile camps whose extremes manifest themselves as crude, materialistically obsessed universalist secularism versus an archaic and economically failing messianic mysticism of dubious origins. The unfortunate by-products of their squabbles are distancing and assimilation. It has become impossible, even within the sub-fragments of these camps, to do or think anything which will not engender some sort of a divisive controversy.

      Temujin is not without sympathy or understanding for Rav Slifkin's laudable desire for a harmonious approach, broader acceptance and a calm, financially stable and "normal" life. It's just that Temujin thinks that our Rabbi will have a much harder struggle with trying to appeal to a theoretical "wider base" by attempting to tame his temperament and intellect. And judging by your quip about him being unable to take a back-seat in municipal politics (which impact the practical and philosophical far more than we think), it looks like that at least intuitively, even you know this.

      Delete
    4. You know, your arguments are not entirely without merit, even though you offer poor examples; you are reaching too far back in history and to issues which might bear some superficial similarity in terms of topic, but which took place in environments which were very different from ours.

      I don't get your point about picking the wrong point in history. We yesterday, today, and tomorrow value all those thinkers and others throughout the ages for their intellectual output and not for their controversies.

      Delete
    5. Straw man. Temujin was criticising your specific comparison of current to past examples, not the value of anyone's intellectual output. As for the controversies...the Karaites and the rationalist vs mystics, Hasidim vs Mitnahedim, etc debates, for example...these have generated much of the intellectual output we admire and continue to keep Jewish thought vibrant, rather than a stale collection of dogma.

      Delete
  26. There is still an unfinished thread, IMO. Shouldn't there be a book-length response to R. Meiselman's book? If not from R. Slifkin, than from someone else?

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  27. Also unfinished- A full length article (if not a book) analyzing the various approaches that have been taken with regard to the mabul, with a detailed explanation as to how any of the solutions are able to simultaneously answer the scientific and historical problems without creating intractable theological problems of their own. Annual citations to outside sources with little to know analyses really doens't cut it.

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    Replies
    1. Yes please
      please
      please.
      A book preferably. A long one with lots of detail.
      please.

      Delete
  28. So, if you are no longer publicly carrying the flag for rationalist Judaism, can we assume that you will start wearing tekhelet?

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  29. I think R' Slifkin's contribution in this matter was to open the eyes of some subsection of the chareidi community. I know that a generation of MTA/YU guys at least from the 60's on were raised on this approach as "mother's milk" and just wondered how the cognitive dissonance was resolved by their coreligionists.
    GT
    Joel RIch

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  30. You want to do a major, constructive project free of unnecessary distractions. In the end, both you and we will benefit more from this project than from reliving old arguments that we've resolved in our own minds anyway.

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  31. I don't like that you are abandoning the fight....

    I've never really believed that you can stand up for rationalism the way you do and still be 'accepting' of the haredi non-rationalist approach.
    I can accept that they both exist in our tradition, but to stand up for rationalism means to oppose the other stance...

    I know that I don't get to speak about what you actually believe, but I just have a hard time accepting it.
    Shalom bayis is OK, as far as it goes, but there are real issues here and you have highlighted over the years on your blog the sad results of the non-rational approach. the results come from the attitude as you have well documented over the years and it's not OK, I think, to take a 'live and let live' stance...

    but many many thanks and all the best mamash for your new museum can't wait to come and see it.

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  32. Rabbi Slifkin, while I wish you success in all your endeavors, I think you may be underestimating how important this blog is to so many people.

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  33. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. I never (yet) said that I am stopping this blog. Just that I will probably be posting less!

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  34. Of course, R' Natan is free to lead his life anyway he chooses. If he doesn't wish to continue to carry the banner for a more rationalistic approach to torah Judaism, so be it. Far be it for me to disapprove when I don't even post with my real name. I only wish him much success in his endeavors. I fear, though, that his name is still anaethma in many Hareidi circles. There are enough radical Hareidim in RBS to make even an 'inoffensive' natural museum project controversial. I further assume that the depiction of the hyrax (rock badger) as the biblical shafan will either be missing or explained away as a 'yesh omrim' - as a sop to the Hareidi crowd.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. I think that Y. Aharon hit the nail on the head, and I was planning to raise this very issue in response to David Ohsie. I do not see how R. Slifkin's museum can be "entirely non-controversial" and at the same time present, say, his identifications of biblical animals with any intellectual honesty and integrity. Do you, David Ohsie? Will he pull his punches, as Y. Aharon suggested? And will even the "sop' of a "yesh omrim" approach suffice to appease the radical Haredi crowd? Perhaps R. Slifkin can tell us how he plans to deal with that issue. Again, let me emphasize that had R. Slifkin written that he does not wish his museum to be more controversial than absolutely necessary- well, OK. But "entirely non-controversial?" Come on.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    2. will matter much, does the chareidi world directly quote R'YBS's non-contreversial torah chiddushim in his name? I have a feeling that going to the museum, unless R'NS "recants", will be viewed as validating him as a general source of knowledge. I hope I am wrong.
      GT

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    3. Professor Kaplan, I don't think that anything in the world can be "non-controversial", so in that sense you are correct because you are asserting a tautology. Let's set the bar at something like "as non-controversial as Daf Yomi" which does attract Jews from across the spectrum, despite being somewhat controversial.

      If you take this tack, then I think that the answer to this is yes, it might be done, but I'm not a prophet. I will say that until the issue became politicized, the position of R. Ben-David in "Sichas Chulin" was that Shafan is a hyrax. And of course Saadiah Gaon said that Shafan is a hyrax supported in part by Rav Ibn Janach. And it was later translated as Rabbit by many authorities, while I agree with R. Slifkin that they were most likely mistaken in this identification. So I think that it would be possible to explain that there were in fact various "positions" over time without being untruthful.

      Of course, even the controversy of the other books was artificially generated. Despite all the "bans," the college psychology course daughter's at my daughter's high school was taught from an "unexpurgated" textbook and I remember helping explain to her some theory of evolutionary psychology that was in the book. Obviously, they would not have such a textbook in B'nei Brak, but some diversity has always been tolerated. They haven't kicked R SR Hirsch out of the club yet. While for better or worse, Rabbi Slifkin happened to be caught up in an imbroglio, there is really no dispute that hasn't been around for quite a while.

      Which to say that all of conflict so far was contingent and not necessary. Which means that it might or might not continue.

      As I result it would say that it's not necessary to pull you punches if you avoid the confrontation to begin with. Maybe you are right that it is not possible or maybe it is. We may find out soon.

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    4. Davod Ohsie: It was R. Slifkin who stated that the museum "will be entirely non-controversial," so your criticism should be directed at him. Perhaps he might wish to modify his unfortunate choice of words.

      But that choice of wording indicates a willingness to bend over backwards to avoid controversy, lending support to my concern that in his desire to make the museum acceptable to the Haredi community he will pull his punches.

      And will he succeed? The example of Galileo, to the extent it is relevant, points to the opposite of what you say. Under fire for advocating Heliocentrism , Galileo sought to avoid criticism by writing his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, where he presented the Geocentric and Heliocentric systems side by side,a type of yesh omrim ve-yesh omrim. It don't help him at all!

      Lawrence Kaplan
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    5. Maybe just be a cute fluffy bunny rabbit in the cage next to the Hyrax and leave it vague.

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    6. David Ohsie: It was R..Slifkin who said wrote that his museum "will be entirely non-controversial," 'so your criticism should be directed at him. Perhaps R. Slifkin might wish to reconsider that statement.

      My concern, however, beyond that specific statement. is that R.Slifkin in his understandable desire to have his museum accepted by the Haredi community, will step by small step pull his punches and end up satisfying neither the Haridi nor the DL communities, while forfeiting his well earned reputation for forthrightness and courage.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    7. Sorry for the repetition.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    8. David Ohsie: It was R..Slifkin who said wrote that his museum "will be entirely non-controversial," 'so your criticism should be directed at him. Perhaps R. Slifkin might wish to reconsider that statement.

      I guess I prefer to invoke the principle of charity to interpret his words in a way that they could be true (and I think that is what he intended).

      My concern, however, beyond that specific statement. is that R.Slifkin in his understandable desire to have his museum accepted by the Haredi community, will step by small step pull his punches and end up satisfying neither the Haridi nor the DL communities, while forfeiting his well earned reputation for forthrightness and courage.

      I can't prove you right or wrong. Let's wait and see...

      And will he succeed? The example of Galileo, to the extent it is relevant, points to the opposite of what you say. Under fire for advocating Heliocentrism , Galileo sought to avoid criticism by writing his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, where he presented the Geocentric and Heliocentric systems side by side,a type of yesh omrim ve-yesh omrim. It don't help him at all!

      My example was referring to what happened after Galileo was convicted. He abjured, was sentenced to house arrest, and then wrote "Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences" (also translated as "Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences" and not to be confused with "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems").

      The new work includes the first correct description "kinematics" (how bodies move) which is still the first thing taught in any freshman physics courses.

      What I said was that Galileo could have continued fighting, or refused to abjure, etc. I suppose that this would have made him an even greater "inspiration" or somesuch, but his intellectual contribution and legacy was much greater on the path that he took.

      Finally, is your description that "Galileo sought to avoid criticism" accurate? My impression is that by placing the words of the Geocentrist in the mouth of "Simplicio", he was viewed as mocking the position and he could have been more subtle had he wanted to be, but it didn't suit his personality. In "The Assayer" (which I haven't read) he engaged in sharp polemics which alienated many in the Church that had supported him (and in fact his theory of comets was apparently wrong).

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    9. I'm still lost. I said that "A person's intellectual legacy is ultimately judged by their positive contributions, not the controversies they were involved in." I then said that "We yesterday, today, and tomorrow value all those thinkers and others throughout the ages for their intellectual output and not for their controversies." You say "straw man", so you apparently agree. My examples are examples of those things; which time periods are we allowed to consider that would be good examples and not bad examples of this truth that we agree to?

      As for the controversies...the Karaites and the rationalist vs mystics, Hasidim vs Mitnahedim, etc debates, for example...these have generated much of the intellectual output we admire and continue to keep Jewish thought vibrant, rather than a stale collection of dogma.

      Yes, we value the new ideas produced that were often in conflict with the older or other new ideas produced. That doesn't mean all the other results conflict outside the ideas have any intellectual value. Again, "Commentary on Shulchan Aruch": lasting value; fighting Chasidim: no lasting value. Polemic can have entertainment value, just like a game of football (and I like both). But they are not lasting intellectual contributions (except in the field of polemics, I suppose).

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    10. "They haven't kicked R SR Hirsch out of the club yet."

      They don't have to, because they've rewritten him to match their views.

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    11. Nachum- Both sides have.

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    12. My last comment was directed to Temujin's comment above, not this subthread.

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    13. "They haven't kicked R SR Hirsch out of the club yet."

      They don't have to, because they've rewritten him to match their views.


      Yes, there are a variety of mechanisms for resolving cognitive dissonance. I my point is simply that there is no way to know with certainty whether or not the prior controversy will carry over to this new project. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I think that the museum, if well done as I expect it to be, will appeal to people for whom the book is unacceptable. We'll see...

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  35. @RAM: "In the end, both you and we will benefit more from this project than from reliving old arguments that we've resolved in our own minds anyway.

    Except that the arguments are neither "unnecessary distractions," old, or resolved. It's just that the combatants are taking a break. You and Mr Aharon rightly note that it's Rabbi Slifkin's right to withdraw from the arena. Of course it is. But since the Rabbi put this issue up for discussion and until he tells us to mind our own beeswax and support him unconditionally, we the humble commenters have a duty to him and ourselves to comment truthfully. And so, this commenter believes along with Dr Kaplan and others that it will be hard for the Rabbi to maintain a non-controversial stand with his project due to the reasons they list. Furthermore, this commenter maintains that it's generally not a sound business decision (and perhaps even possible) to dump one's well-established "brand" (with a successful supporting blog site which should be revamped rather than geared down) in order to appeal to an entirely different "client base." The private modern museum relies on public support through ticket sales, which are dependent on topical interest and ongoing publicity. In short, excitement and debate. Today there is no better free publicity than a dynamic discourse projected in the traditional and electronic news and social media. So, why exactly do you believe that both he and we will benefit from the announced approach?

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    1. I do because he does. We're not privy to his cost-benefit caculations, but should take him at his word.

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  36. David, our debate has veered off. Your straw man is also a non-sequitur: "We yesterday, today, and tomorrow value all those thinkers and others throughout the ages for their intellectual output and not for their controversies." So what? Of what value or significance is our common historical ignorance and inability to value the turbulent process which led to the valued product? And who does the evaluation anyway? We value cell phones and haven't a clue about the struggles, contentions, revolutions and tremendous costs which made them possible.

    Again, "Commentary on Shulchan Aruch": lasting value; fighting Chasidim: no lasting value. And again, says who? Without a definition of terms and context, this is a statement of personal preferences and opinion. How do you compare a commentary on a commentary against a conflict which lead to the synthesis of contemporary Orthodoxy? To varieties of Zionism which forged Jewry into national entity with a state? One can only hold to this view if he suppresses intellectual history and replaced it with proclamations and homey adages. The turbulent battles over paradigms and the painful processes of syntheses aren't mere polemics or a game of football; they made us who we are...and produced the frustrating quirky device Temujin is painstakingly typing on with his index finger in a supermarket parking lot when he should be hurrying to snatch the last good chickens.

    On that note, a chag sameach to you and yours, our patient host and all here!

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    1. David, our debate has veered off. Your straw man is also a non-sequitur: "We yesterday, today, and tomorrow value all those thinkers and others throughout the ages for their intellectual output and not for their controversies." So what?

      Therefore, the lasting value of R Slifkin's books already written are likely much higher than that of the unwritten book on the controversy as entertaining as such a book might be.

      so here's a concrete example of why your mysterious system for auguring what is valuable and what is just football, as you put it, is problematic.

      I have no system. I'm making an simple and obvious observation. But I think that it is easy to understand that if you reveal a truth, it is timeless, while conflicts of the day, as important as they are in other ways at that time, fade in importance intellectually.

      Just to make clear, I was no arguing that any idea should not be pursued because it is controversial. I'm arguing that the controversy itself is a necessary evil and thus had no lasting intellectual value. If you have an argument against the Chofetz Chaim, go ahead.

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    2. Therefore, the lasting value of R Slifkin's books already written are likely much higher than that of the unwritten book on the controversy as entertaining as such a book might be.

      Entertaining subjects are more far conducive to arousing interest and facilitating learning and problem-solving than restating agreements. You can delve into pedagogical theories and studies to confirm this...or, you can just ask your kids. A controversy is not necessarily an "evil" nor is valuable only because it's entertaining (your repeated claim), but because it addresses crucial issues which have either been temporarily buried under the surface or are ongoing and provides opportunities for growth and even new syntheses (Temujin's repeated claim).

      I'm making an simple and obvious observation...I think that it is easy to understand that if you reveal a truth, it is timeless, while conflicts of the day, as important as they are in other ways at that time, fade in importance intellectually.

      One contends you are not making an observation, but merely stating a personal preference as an unexamined truism, David. Conflicts can indeed fade in importance when they are either intentionally suppressed for political reasons or a forgotten due to ignorance of or indifference to history. What you seem to be saying is that whatever position we hold now is resolved forever and must be the truth. That censorship and collective amnesia are preferable. You realize that such would be much closer to garden variety obscurantism than to an intellectual process?

      If you have an argument against the Chofetz Chaim, go ahead.

      Heavens forbid! Temujin has enough trouble on his plate as it is. Perish that thought; that would be like...like...casually bringing up Ralbag's position that God willingly suspends foreknowledge in order to facilitate Man's freedom of choice at a cheerful, all-heads-nodding Discovery seminar! No, no, don't ask....

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  37. Further to Temujin's previous rant, David, since he appears to have missed this morning's comments deadline and now the Rabbi is enjoying his chag on Jerusalem time ...if only the Earth were flat, or we all went to the same shul so we could bicker endlessly.

    Funny, the things that can pop-up while shopping and hyperventilating over the price of brisket (buy Temujin's CD on the art of supermarket meditation), so here's a concrete example of why your mysterious system for auguring what is valuable and what is just football, as you put it, is problematic. Take the Chofetz Chaim. You'll find a lot of fridge magnet portraits of him everywhere, but won't find a word against his ideas in the Orthodox world which began to treat his arguments as halakhah only in the last thirty or forty years. You won't hear, for example, that the Chazon Ish thought highly of his Mishnah Berurah but politely dismissed the Chofetz Chaim / Desiring Life, the book. As did R'Meir of Dwinsk, Rav Shlomo Auerbach and a few others. Essentially, they didn't think that one could take a few spoons of mussar ethics, a measure of haggadah and a sprinkling of kabbala and cook up binding halakha on loshon hara and other things. Were they right or were they wrong? Doesn't matter now because we can't ask. Because to bring up the issue would be contentious, would create conflict and even sinat chinam and so somehow...perhaps you can explain it to this outside observer exactly how and by whom...that discussion, that process,has been shut down. And that is the paradox and the challenge; one needs solidarity, unity and common goals at the same time as one needs vigorous debate, open inquiry and conflict even, all hopefully conducted in an orderly and ethical manner, lest one wants to totally surrender Judaism over to the power elites of the day and their latest musings.

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  38. How are dinosaur bones and evolution controversial? It seems like you are trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but I don't see what's in it for you or your cause. Qui tacet consentire videtur.

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  39. Dear R' Nathan עמו"ש

    While I still prefer R' Avigdor Miller זצ"ל's approach to Sefer בראשית, I have been a fan of yours ever since the ban started.

    As others have already said, it opened up our eyes to certain realities in our society. Sad realities we prefer did not exist, and others tried hard to prevent us from realizing they exist.

    10 years later we are now dealing with a generation who have never had to deal with the "secret hidden agenda" of our society. In the internet age you can no longer hide reality and get away with it for long.

    A big יישר כוחך for being of the few brave trail blazers!

    An even bigger יישר כוחך for putting it all behind you and "moving on" with your life. This proves - more than anything else - that "Nathan Slifkin" is not the equivalent of "that fellow who exists because of his ban" but rather that the ban was something that happened to you.

    I much prefer the zoo with its live animals, but The Biblical Museum of Natural History is something I plan on visiting, at least once.



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