Thursday, January 1, 2015

R. Meiselman: Rav Soloveitchik Was A Spectacular Failure

No, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman did not explicitly say that Rav Soloveitchik was a spectacular failure. But he has effectively made such a claim. After all, R. Meiselman claims that virtually all of Rav Soloveitchik's disciples are actual heretics!

In the most recent issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Gil Student reviews two books: Jeremy Brown's excellent book on Copernicus, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's disappointing and disturbing Torah, Chazal and Science. Set alongside the article is an interview with one of Rav Soloveitchik's most prominent disciples on the more yeshivish end of the spectrum, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshivah of RIETS, on the topic of science and Torah. The interview begins as follows:
Jewish Action: Did the Tannaim and Amoraim learn science from the Torah or from the scientists of their generations?
Rabbi Hershel Schachter: The Gemara says in the first chapter of Bechoros that just like the Sages had rules regarding how to derive halachah from the Torah (middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen), they also had rules about deriving science from the Torah. We don’t even know how to use the rules for halachah, let alone for science. But the Tannaim did. However, this does not mean that they learned all their science from the Torah. They clearly also relied on the scientists of their time, as we all do. Sometimes this means that they relied on what was later discovered to be the scientific mistakes of their time.
This position is, of course, perfectly normative. It echoes countless statements by Chazal themselves, as well as being stated implicitly by many dozens of Rishonim and Acharonim (see list here), and most explicitly by Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and Rav Hirsch. But Rabbi Moshe Meiselman believes this to be utter heresy. Rabbi Meiselman further claims that Rav Soloveitchik's understanding of Rambam's category of makchish maggideha would be applicable to such a position.

So, according to Rabbi Meiselman, Rav Schachter and all those to the left of him - which is virtually all of the Rav's talmidim - are heretics. I wonder how he would account for Rav Soloveitchik's spectacular failure to produce disciples that adhere to the very basics of Jewish belief.

Other posts on Rabbi Meiselman's book:

Is R. Meiselman an Authority on Torah, Chazal and Science?
R. Meiselman: All The Rishonim Were Wrong, Again And Again And Again
Rabbi Meiselman Tries To Hide From The Sun
Anti-Rationalist Mania
A Mistake In Science, Or A Mistake In Torah?
Omitting Inconvenient Sources
When Is A Mesorah Not A Mesorah?
The Limits of Science
Metzitzah and the Rav
Metzizah and the Rav Part II
Mouse Torture
A Recipe for Intellectual Dishonesty
Rambam on Demons and Segulos
Chinese Dinosaurs and Challenging Camels 
That's Bats!
The Bat, The Platypus, And The Echidna 

35 comments:

  1. Jewish Action: Did the Tannaim and Amoraim learn science from the Torah or from the scientists of their generations?
    Rabbi Hershel Schachter: The Gemara says in the first chapter of Bechoros that just like the Sages had rules regarding how to derive halachah from the Torah (middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen), they also had rules about deriving science from the Torah. We don’t even know how to use the rules for halachah, let alone for science. But the Tannaim did. . COME ON THEY KNEW HOW TO DERIVE SCIENCE FROM THE TORAH BUT THEY DDN'T

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    1. You might be misunderstanding his statement. I think what he meant is that they knew how to derive "science" from the Torah, but not actual science. So for example, when they speak about the cat ashes concoction on the ground showing the footprints of demons or whatever, that may have been derived from some kind of rules we don't understand. But not to say that they could use those rules and derive cancer cures or whatever. They derived what they at that time believed was "science."

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  2. Very, very sad. What he is really saying, without saying, is that RYDS was the heretic.

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  3. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Is it true that there are "rules about deriving science from Torah" ? Is science even meant to learned from the Torah?

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  4. My rebbe, Rabbi Shachter, has been saying this for years in one context or another, including halach l'maase (such a metzitza b'pe). I'm surprised it took you so long to mention him. :)

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    1. Rabbi Schachter actually writes in one of his seforim about the Rav that the Rav held that Metziza should NEVER be done by mouth, and that his father would not allow Mohalim to perform Metzitza Bpeh!!

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    2. To be precise, he felt that metziza b'peh should only be performed with an instrument and not directly.

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    3. In which of Rabbi Shachter's sforim does he mention the Rav's position on metzitza b'peh?

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    4. In which of Rabbi Shachter's sforim does he mention the Rav's position on metzitza b'peh?

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  5. I don't think that RMM has any issue with his belief that most students of RYDS are not aligned with their Rebbe's true approach. He believes in his approach, and he is entitled to his opinion.

    BTW, RHS does not agree with the Dor Revii's approach either! I remember that you had a dispute in Tradition with Rav J.D. Bleich as well. Did you ever respond to him?

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  6. I think Ari's question is a good one. I would also like to know the answer to it. When I first became a baal teshuva, I recall a certain rabbi telling me that I could learn absolutely everything from the Torah including how to build a computer (or maybe he said an atomic bomb; I can't recall any longer but it was something sophisticated like that) if you just knew where and how to look in the Torah.

    Today I say "gag me with a spoon".

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    1. If you want a good laugh take a look at:
      http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2006/01/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html
      http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2007/07/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html

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  7. "gag me with a spoon"

    Tsk, tsk. An archaic expression, Mr Berry. Late 80s and nearly gone by the turn of the century. Almost as old as, "Eew, grody!"

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  8. It's well known that virtually every Rosh Yeshiva in YU agrees with your books and approach. It's unfortunate that they couldn't come out publicly and defend you at the time!

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    1. What do you mean? Many did. I remember a book launch event attended by a number of YU people, and others spoke up as well.

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  9. "Rabbi Meiselman further claims that Rav Soloveitchik's understanding of Rambam's category of makchish maggideha would be applicable to such a position."
    Can you please clarify more clearly what you mean by this sentence ?
    Thank you, Eli Goldberg

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  10. Very good point. I never thought of it that way. Indeed, according to Rabbi Meiselman, Rav Soloveitchik must have been horrible at imparting a very basic rule of Torah Judaism. (I say "rule" because Rav Soloveitchik famously complained that he failed in transmitting the emotional core of Judaism to his students. That is understandable. Transmitting feelings is not easy. But an intellectual axiom is very easy to impart. And yet, according to Rabbi Meiselman, his uncle apparently failed miserably. I wonder if he would feel comfortable saying so explicitly: My uncle was a terrible teacher.

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  11. did i mention the rav never forgave michel shorken for ruining(making a yishivishbore) of his prize grandson moshe twerski

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    1. R' Slifkin, pls remove this inflammatory and false comment.

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  12. What about gravity, are we allowed to believe that it`s real? Or thermodynamics, and storm systems.

    For that matter, Newton`s laws of Motion.Do we still have to put on seatbelts ?

    Sometimes it seems that we`re being weighed down with an enormous amount of add-ons to what should be a simple faith.

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    1. Read the articles and books in question before offering up idiotic comments like this one.

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  13. As usual this is a misleading title and untrue article. Also pls answer the question above where R' Meislman says that this is Machish Umagideha. And R' Meislman has a much better idea of what his uncle held then you. And seeing some of your positions on this blog you seem to disagree with positions of R' Solivetchik agreed to by all of his talmidim.

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    1. Re. makchish maggideha, see R. Student's article.
      Re. R. Meiselman's knowledge of his uncle, the point is not to compare it to me (I know very little about the Rav), but to compare it to what other talmidim and family members say about the Rav, as well as the Rav's own writings. In this vein, see http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/12/metzizah-and-rav-part-ii.html.

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  14. Joe Berry, I can't respond directly to your question since I don't have the specific reference to the Gemara in Bechorot that Rav Schachter alluded to in his Jewish Action interview. However, the various exegetical means used in the Talmud are not designed to show the quantitative relationships that underlie the exact sciences. It is almost absurd to speculate that the Tanna'im could have developed modern instrumentation, devices, and techniques had they so desired - as you indicated. The erroneous ideas about the world that is sprinkled in the Talmud is a testament to their general inability to surpass contemporary understandings. Arguing that any such errors found are strictly due to their reliance on contemporary knowledge, while anything they seemingly derived from the torah must be correct, is a cop-out. For example, in Eruvin 14, the discussion assumes that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (pi) is exactly 3 based on corresponding verses in Kings I and Chronicles I. Actually the real value is nearly 5% greater (3.1415926..) based on mathematical demonstration. Indeed, the approximate value of pi as 3.14 (an error of 0.05% - a 100 fold improvement) is of ancient origin and was widely used by the Greek and Roman savants. Another error is the figure for the 490 year time frame between the destruction of the temples based on a verse in Daniel. The historical record, however, shows the 1st temple was destroyed in 586 BCE and the 2nd in 70 CE, or an interval of 656 years. The conclusion that can be drawn is that interpreting verses is an inexact art - a fact that also underlies all those disputes in the Talmud, and should not be used to draw conclusions about the world. While the Talmudic sages were given the authority to base halachic rulings on their verse interpretations, that does not extend to general statements about the natural world. In fact, according to the Rambam in his Mishne Torah - hilchot Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin will be ultimately reestablished with authority to review and change Talmudic halachot based on their interpretation of verses. Hence, even halachic rulings found in the Talmud are not necessarily eternally binding or 'the truth'. However, traditional practices have a hold on us as a matter of loyalty, regardless of their truth content.

    Y. Aharon

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  15. Rav Soloveitchik actually complained (in the 1970's, to Rav Amital and separately to others) that many of his students admired him for his Torah, but felt his was an apikores when is came to halacha- i.e., that they were becoming too charedi for his tastes. I wonder if R' Meiselman has ever been asked about that statement.

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    1. Nachum: I think you meant to write "hashkafah."

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    2. Indeed. I notice a few other typos.

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  16. R. Slifkin: While I am in agreement with the content of your post, I agree with anon Chareidi that its title is misleading and sensationalist. In a similar way, your last post, where you anticipated being called a Chareidi i fanatic though no one had called you this, was also overdramatized. and bordered on sensationalism. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell: To indulge in such overdramatization once may be a misfortune, to so twice is carelessness.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  17. Re. Chareidi. 5.5
    Oy vey.For one thing, this is not the fist time an anti-scientific attitude has been declared as the frum way to go

    But never mind that. Why am I bothering to answer somebody who doesn't have the guts to use his own name ?

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  18. Natan - would you agree with Rabbi Schachter's statement that "the Sages . . . also had rules about deriving science from the Torah"?
    My impression is that you are of the opinion that the Sages did NOT have a reliable method of deriving science from Torah, and that science is not in the Torah at all.

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    1. Well, they had rules. He never says those rules led to correct results. :-)

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    2. Understood; but from Rabbi Schachter's quote, it appears that he DOES believe that they lead to correct results.
      Read the quote again: "The Gemara says in the first chapter of Bechoros that just like the Sages had rules regarding how to derive halachah from the Torah (middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen), they also had rules about deriving science from the Torah. We don’t even know how to use the rules for halachah, let alone for science. But the Tannaim did. However, this does not mean that they learned all their science from the Torah. They clearly also relied on the scientists of their time, as we all do. Sometimes this means that they relied on what was later discovered to be the scientific mistakes of their time."

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  19. I haven't read the article because while I believe there is at least a very significant amount of truth in it, the amount of related posts about R' Meiselman on your blog, serves to once again remind me and other readers of your goals which seem to be about minimizing his credibility or worse, inviting Jews to criticize Jews rather than focus on productive learning and Ahavas Yisrael. You have, Rabbi Slifkin, admitted openly that your experience specifically with Rabbi Meiselman as well as the Cheirem debacle in general caused you a great deal of pain and suffering and that you are determined to heal those wounds by the cathartic exercise of nemesis-bashing. What is the point? Focus on what is right and teach it. Stop wasting so much energy on deriding that with which you disagree (especially since your readers were never looking to ToMo for spiritual guidance).

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    1. Avi's comment is one of the best on this blog if a good comment is defined as "what we are all thinking and you said it".

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    2. "Focus on what is right and teach it."

      If you weren't aware, R' Slifkin is writing an encyclopedia and directs a museum.

      I think we are all lucky that he has the spare time to expose the nonsense in Rabbi Meiselman's book – which was motivated by his opposition to R' Slifkin, by the way.

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