Why do people go off the derech?
I got into a somewhat heated discussion about this last night. After my presentation at a wonderful shul, K'hal Bnei Torah in Brooklyn, a very yeshivishe gentleman came over to me. He complimented me on my talk, which was about the animal kingdom in Jewish thought, but asked me why I had to publish my books on Torah-science issues. He didn't dispute that there are Rishonim and Acharonim who take the rationalist approach, but he argued that it is too dangerous to write about such things. He complained that a talmid of his is going off the derech because of my books, saying that "if Chazal could be wrong about science, then they could be wrong about everything!"
In response, I told him that I fully acknowledge that the approach presented in my books is potentially dangerous. However, I continued, I believe that the more conservative approach is at least as dangerous, if not more so. Telling people that everything in the Gemara is absolutely correct, and that you're an apikores if you think otherwise, turns many people off Judaism. As Faranak Margolese writes in her insightful book Off The Derech, when people are rebuffed for their questions, they feel disenfranchised from the community.
The gentleman responded that he has learned in all the top yeshivos, and he has never heard of rebbeim telling their talmidim that they are apikorsim if they don't believe that everything in the Gemara is true. Furthermore, he continued, he firmly rejects the notion that anyone goes off the derech because of such a thing.
"There is only one reason why people go off the derech," he stated firmly. "Tayveh!"
I was so horrified at this that I could not continue the discussion any longer. But later, it occurred to me that I missed a chance for a perfect rejoinder. If people only go off the derech because of tayveh, then my books are not making anyone go off the derech!
(In other news: Stay tuned for some extraordinary things that I discovered in New York, which I hope to post about in the next few days. Also, this Shabbos I am speaking at Young Israel of Lawrence/Cedarhurst, and I will be doing a book signing there on Sunday morning.)