Monday, November 16, 2015

Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect.

Does Torah study actually protect from terrorists?

In the past, I have discussed this question from several angles. I have analyzed sources which discuss the parameters of such protection, and I have discussed the mechanism of such protection. In this post, I would like to discuss a different angle: whether this concept can be said to be of any practical value.

Yated Ne'eman, quoting Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv), says that it does:
The first thing to do is to learn, Rav Yitzchok added, citing the Gemara (Makos 10) which says: "How do we know that Torah protects [a person as effectively as a city of refuge protects the inadvertent murderer]? For it says, 'Betzer in the desert' [among the list of cities of refuge] and says afterwards, 'And this is the Torah'." “The greatest safeguard for a bus is to learn inside it, especially with a chavrusah,” he said. “For then the bus turns into a beis medrash. If the murderers want to attack a bus, it’s not a bus, it’s a beis medrash.”
The claim being advanced here is that the Gemara teaches that learning Torah on a bus protects a person from being killed just as the city of refuge legally protects a person from being killed. But if we look at the Gemara, we see that it is not necessarily saying any such thing.

This passage is raised in the Gemara as a question on a ruling of Rabbi Yochanan. The ruling is that if a rabbi accidentally killed someone, he has to go to a city of refuge (Ir Hamiklat), along with his disciples, in order to avoid being killed by the victim's relative. On this, the Gemara asks that Rabbi Yochanan elsewhere says that Torah protects just like a city of refuge protects, so why should he have to go to a city of refuge? The Gemara presents two answers to this contradiction. First is that Torah only protects during the actual minutes that one is busy with it. Second is that Torah only protects from the Angel of Death, not from the victim's relative.

Now let us analyze the Gemara more carefully. The first point to note is that, according to Ritva, the Gemara's question is not talking about the Torah providing metaphysical protection, but rather about legal protection - that the relative is legally prohibited from killing someone who is busy with Torah, and is himself charged with murder if he does so.

Second, the whole point of the Gemara's second answer (see Maharsha) is that Torah does not, in fact, provide any protection from human killers, only from death by natural causes (the "angel of death").

Third, Aruch LeNer points out that just a few lines earlier, the Gemara discusses the ruling that a Torah student who inadvertently kills someone must go to a city of refuge, and the Gemara does not raise the question that his Torah should protect him. Why not? One of the answers suggested by Aruch LeNer is that the only notion of Torah providing protection is with a teacher of Torah, not a student of Torah.

So, this Gemara does not in fact prove what it is being brought to prove. But there is a bigger issue to discuss here.

One thing that emerges from our brief analysis of this passage of the Gemara is that, as with every passage of Aggadata, there are all kinds of different interpretations, qualifying criteria, and so on. There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist.

It's just as well that the Gemara does not make any such claim, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. All such claims about the protective value of Torah and mitzvos - "Torah scholars do not need protection," "Someone on their way to do a mitzvah (shaliach mitzvah) cannot be harmed," "When you're learning Torah, you can't be harmed," might be true in some abstract or hyper-qualified aggadic sense, but are clearly not true in any practical sense today.

"Torah scholars do not need protection"? We saw the terrible tragedy of the Torah scholars who were massacred in Har Nof. In fact, Mishpachah magazine expressed concern that charedim are attacked in proportionately even greater numbers than non-charedim.

"Someone on their way to do a mitzvah (shaliach mitzvah) cannot be harmed"? Some of the stabbing victims of the last few weeks were on their way to davven or to give shiurim.

"When you're learning Torah, you can't be harmed"? We saw otherwise in the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav.

Again, you can come up with all kinds of ways to explain how these statements are nevertheless true and why they are not applicable to these situations. Yet it makes no difference. The bottom line is that there is no practical truth or ramifications for these statements.

Now, many people, even in the charedi world, realize this, at least to some degree. That's why, since the stabbings began, many charedim have been learning self-defense, buying pepper spray, and requesting increased army protection. But the problem is that when it comes to sharing the duty of army service, many charedim still trot out these Aggadic statements in order to claim that their learning Torah provides protection and that they should therefore be exempt from serving in the IDF.

There is no claim in the Gemara that a yeshivah student learning Torah provides any protection from Arabs. And the painful facts on the ground show very clearly otherwise. It's time for everyone to face up to this, and to its ramifications.

See too these posts:
Torah Against Terror?
Torah Protection: What is a Halachic Source?
Parameters, Please!
What Is The Mechanism Via Which Torah Protects?
Who Doesn't Believe That Kollel Students Are As Good As Soldiers?
Torah Study and the IDF - A Response to Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Torah, Army, and the Bizarre Chess Analogy 
"Rabbis Do Not Need Protection" 
(and possibly other posts that I have forgotten about)

80 comments:

  1. Only a very small percentage overall of chareidim do not offer to serve in the army.

    Only the litvishe sect. The chasidim, whom far outweigh in numbers the litvishe yeshivisha sect all believe in gainfully working for a living (maybe this blog does not consider them chareidi for that reason) and serving in the army. But the army rejects them when they apply.

    This blog is really targeted at not more than 25% of chareidim, a relatively small number of actual families.

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    1. You're kidding, right? Virtually no charedim, Litvish or Chassidish, volunteer for military service. Those few who do are eagerly accepted. There are even special units just for them.

      Some chassidim in the US work. In Israel, they can't, because to be exempt from military service, they are theoretically learning full time. At best, some may work off the books. Again, Israel is trying to correct this by allowing charedim to work without military service after learning for a certain amount of time. These offers are being strongly rejected by the charedi leadership.

      Basically, you've made your claims up out of whole cloth.

      (All charedim, apart from a few extreme Litvaks and, I assume, Chassidim, *report* to the draft office and immediately claim an exemption. The movement saying that they shouldn't even do that is growing. Perhaps you mean that, or are being misled by that fact, but that's a very, very different thing.)

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    2. So all of the hasidim associated with the Eidah haHaredit all go down to lishkat haGiyus and apply to serve in the army?

      You might want to fact-check your post.

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    3. I think that he might be referring in a distorted way to the "Zionist" Chasidim like the Gerrer Chasidim who all do national service (or at least they used to).

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    4. "Used to" being the operative term.

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  2. Your blogging would turn off many potential baaly tshuva , You take the appeal and excitement from one who is or thinking about becoming frum.

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    1. Lots of frum people- a large majority, in fact- enthusiastically serve in the IDF and think these tactics are disgusting. I suppose you don't consider those people frum for that reason, but that doesn't mean they aren't.

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    2. "Your blogging would turn off many potential baaly tshuva , You take the appeal and excitement from one who is or thinking about becoming frum."

      Good. Why would we want to subject them to a crazy way of life?

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    3. If I wasn't frum these posts would probably turn me on to being frum.

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    4. Speaking as someone who is a hair away from abandoning the jewish religion entirely, Rabbi Slifkin's blog and basic common sense are one of the very few things keeping me minimally observant. I would say that there is a balance in all things.

      Mendel.

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    5. as a baalas teshuva, i was taught many things in my journey to frumkeit that were not intellectually consistent and made me very uncomfortable- such as "learning torah will protect you! mitzvos will protect you!!" as if it were some magic protection spell. this is obviously not true to any thinking person, as this article points out. it has bothered me more and more that my fellow religious jews buy into these kinds of concepts to the point where i have almost become disillusioned with our society. thankfully, this blog is around to address this sort of thing. anyways, my point is that you are incorrect and that this blog may even be instrumental to someone becoming frum who is turned off by ridiculous blaring inconsistencies in hashkafa

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  3. So why don't we ever take these facts to their logical conclusion: That they don't really mean it! That their opposition to IDF service is almost purely a result of their non-acceptance of the State of Israel in general and their general aversion to participating in anything that is not seen as "theirs."

    (A lesser reason would be their fear of losing adherents who serve, but they wouldn't admit that in public.)

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    1. That lesser reason is more likely than not the greater reason in my opinion.

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  4. Chasidim (with the obvious exception of Satmar) in general oppose the IDF only because of the detrimental impact it will have on their yiddishkeit and all that goes with it. That's a point this blog has never addressed.

    The chasidic members of my family all turn up to the IDF when ready to serve and are rejected, too old, family etc. And then they go to work.

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    1. The chasidic members of my family all turn up to the IDF when ready to serve and are rejected, too old, family etc. And then they go to work.

      I'm not sure that you have your facts right, as I believe that the Zionist Chasidim do national service, not IDF. But how does "volunteering" after you are exempt help anything? Everyone who serves at 18 sacrifices by putting off what it important to their future in order to serve. You can't put together an infantry with 30 yo's.

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  5. There is a common tendency to try to get out of the observation that Torah does not, in fact, protect, by saying that it is still technically true that Torah (T) protects, but there are many countering factors that cause all of the observed instances of T learners being harmed. I think that this betrays a lack of understanding of the philosophy of statistics. For we are not talking about a few instances, we are talking about an obvious lack of correlation between Limud Torah (LT) and being protected from harm at very large sample sizes. So even though it is technically possible that LT does, in a vacuum, confer protection, we would have to posit that there is a reliable principle countering it in order to explain the data. We don't have to care what the nature of this countering principle is. For example: A popular apologetic explanation for why we don't observe the efficacy of T protection or Segulahs in general is that Hashem needs to keep up the appearance of naturalism. Lovely. What seems to be missed is that this in itself defeats the claim that LT is an effective means of protection practically, as there is a reliable principle (Hashem's commitment to appearances) that counters it's effectiveness. Even if it were true that any time one learns a word of T, a vast army of ethereal dragons, Jedi knights, fierce Leprechauns mounted on Pegasi, and Mirkwood Elves were generated for his protection, only to be vaporized by a mysterious dark power a moment before harm befalls the learner, the claim that a practical way to protect oneself is to learn Torah would be just as false. Our observation of the bottom line pattern would still be just as accurate.
    The other option is to claim that LT does protect, but that in all of our observed instances there was some individual countering cause that only applied to that case specifically, and that there is no overarching reliable countering principle, so that there is no inherent relationship between the principle of LT protection and all of the countering causes, but rather just coincidence. The odds of this are incalculably minuscule and get smaller every time a Yeshiva Bochur gets the flu or stubs his toe.
    Now the only recourse would be to make the more sophisticated claim that there is protection generated (army of dragons, AOD), and there is a reliable principle countering it (mysterious dark power, MDP) but that we can know the nature and identity of MDP, thus enabling us to remove it and restore the protection. The instances we observe where the AOD did not avail are irrelevant because the MDP was not appropriately dealt with. A popular example of this is "well we all have so many Aveiras (A) nowadays, of course we weren't protected; but if we do proper Tshuva of course it works". This claim fails too. For one thing, in order to make this practical, one would have to demonstrate precisely how one can successfully remove one's A in a way that works reliably, and, more importantly, this would have to be incorporated into the principle. The claim that LT serves to protect practically would still be false. The claim would have to be that LT serves to protect practically when one has removed the MDP of A by X practical method. Furthermore, we would then have another concrete claim to check against observation. Namely, that the AOD serves to protect when the MDP is dealt with using method X. This claim in turn would be subject to the same refutation all over again, as we do would only need to locate the segment of the population of Torah learners who also apply method X and see if there is indeed any lower incidence of harm to these august personages.
    Bottom line: One cannot escape the large-scale statistical patterns by appeal to metaphysical goings-on because the methods of statistical inference are designed to deal with the metaphysical questions not by settling them, but by rendering them irrelevant. For these purposes it doesn't matter exactly what underlies the reliable patterns that we observe, only the reliability itself matters.

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  6. Great post Rabbi Slifkin! I think that this is all part of a bigger problem - that recent generations have turned the mitzvah of Talmud Torah into a quasi avodah zara. I realize that we have become a religion defined by Torah she'beal peh, but a simple reading of the Chumash would indicate that Hashem demands concrete actions from us, not holing ourselves up in a beis medrash cut off from the rest of society.

    One line about talmud Torah in Chumash (really twice in Shema) and even there the focus is on teaching your son Torah rather than learning yourself. In contrast, how many times does the Torah tell us to care about the less fortunate? Not to mention what you Rabbi Slifkin have pointed out countless times about how the Rishonim believed that the purpose of studying Torah is primarily (and according to some exclusively) in order to know how to perform the mitzvos.

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    1. Actually, the pasuk in Shma refers to הדברים האלה אשר אנוכי מצווך היום. It makes no sense to interpret that to mean the learning of all Torah texts. It clearly refers to something much more limited and specific.

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  7. The problem with this kind of analysis is that there are all sorts of things integral to OJ that are derived in a similar way, where a fragment of a pasuk is interpreted out of context. While your analysis seems obvious, when it comes to interpretation never make the mistake of thinking that a text means what it says.

    As for the obvious fact that, practically, learning does not protect, I think what you're seeing here is the odd epistemological division you find with many deeply religious people. In their mundane interactions with the world they, like nearly everyone today, are empiricists. When it comes to their religion, they accept a priori that the precepts of their religion are true. When the two ways of thinking conflict, they often intellectually hold on to the truth of the religious principles while coming up with clever ways to square those principles with the practical steps they're taking. It one of those things that drives non-religious people nuts.

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    1. I like your analysis, but don't think its true here. In this case, charedim don't even believe themselves, even intellectually, that "Torah protects." It is pure PR, nothing more, that they trot out to deflect criticism. They smile at posts like this that disprove it, because merely engaging in the argument is a win for them. I went to a charedi yeshivah. Perhaps some of the younger and/or more benighted bochurim believe it, but overall very few do. How can they, its utter baloney.

      [To clarify, I'm saying they don't believe in the clear nonsense that "Torah protects." They DO genuinely believe in their lifestyle, and its hard to live that lifestyle while being in the army. They thus use the slogan they don't believe in, to protect the lifestyle they do believe in. In the world of politics and PR campaigns, this is absolutely common.]

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  8. I am reminded here of the story from the Gemara about when Rabbi Yehuda was dying (Ketubot 104a - http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/death-and-mourning-sources-from-the-babylonian-talmud/). Because his students were all fervently praying, he couldn't die. Until his maid disturbed their prayers momentarily, and during that moment, Rabbi Yehuda died.

    It seems to me that there's a lesson here. Although prayer and study may protect one from death (although in this case, not from a violent death), if the prayer and study stops for even an instant, the protection vanishes.

    No amount of religious fervor can turn a human being into a perpetual-motion prayer machine. Very few people can maintain this level of concentration for more than a few hours, and those who can still need to stop to eat and sleep from time to time. And that is what would be needed to simply protect one person from death by natural causes.

    If you were to attempt to scale this up to what would be required to protect an entire nation from violent death at the hands of other humans, even if you want to believe it would even be possible in theory, it would require virtually every Jew to do nothing but pray at these superhuman levels for years at a time. Even if you believe it such protection is real, there is really no way to use it for practical purposes, with respect to defending an entire nation against another nation.

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    1. The point of that story is that at some point it is better to die and that it is not necessary to needlessly prolong suffering indefinitely. In the story, the prayer is effective, but counterproductive.

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    2. I am aware of that and I don't disagree with anything you wrote, but why can't that story be used for any other purpose? What I wrote seems to me like another perfectly reasonable lesson that can be learned.

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  9. Here's a quote from R' Shlomo Kluger's Imrei Shefer (ויצא, ויגדלו הנערים):
    הנה אחז״ל אף דכישוף גדול שמכחישין פמליא של מעלה מ״מ בת״ח אין יכולים לשלוט כמו שאמר ר״ח (סנהדרין סז:) אין עוד מלבדו כתיב ולכך מכישוף אין לת״ח להתיירא אבל מחרב כיון דהיכא דשכיחא הזיקא שאני

    He writes that Torah scholars do need to fear common/natural dangers...



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  10. Please explain the often quoted drashah of עומדות היו רגלינו בשערייך ירושלים which, to this commenter's limited understanding is talking about metaphysical protection on a national level. This drashah is cited as support for the need for a "learning class" in contemporary Israeli society. Coupled with the axiom that "a thousand enter and one leaves[sic]" we have a justification of the Haredi position.

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    1. Hardly. Most chareidim are not fit to learn seriously all day, just like any other group. And, chareidim aren't the only segment population that has gifted kids that could be leading Torah scholars for their generation either. However, the chareidim want all of their kids exempted knowing the it increases the burden on the rest of the population. Even in the summer of 2013 when the government attempted to get the chareidim to serve, they allowed for 1,800 exemptions per year. That's approximately 20% of the chareidi population eligible to serve. Allowing the top 20% to be that learning class wasn't good enough. Providing 36,000 Torah scholars, yielding 36 elite per generation, (if you take your 1 in 1000 literally) resulted in excruciating demonetization of Torah observant politicians who supported the policy and labeling them Amalek.

      The chareidi position does not even begin to be reasonable by any standard.

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    2. I'm not sure that the 1000:1 ratio I mentioned is davka. Do you have some proof that it is? It seems to my admittedly quite limited understanding that the quote here is referring to your very point - that "most chareidim are not fit to learn seriously all day, just like any other group". But nonetheless, the argument goes, in order to do proper service to the Torah so to speak, those mass numbers of students are necessary.
      Standards aside, do you have a read on omdot hayyu which goes against the way i, rather naively, portrayed it? I don't have a dog in this fight (at least, not yet...) I'm just trying to understand.

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  11. The Gemarah says that "shluchay mitzvah" are not harmed. I guess the Rabbis didn’t mean what that said? You can’t keep jumping from accepting some things chazal said and some things not. That’s what the heretics’ did.......they didn’t like certain things the Rabbis said so they ditched all of rabbinic Judaism and created a Rationalist Judaism.....Judaism is NOT rational – who ever claimed it is??? Judaism is a religion based on belief, if you don’t believe then……….Seriously, like the Rabbis were just idiots and some guy in the 21st century knows better than them all, c’mon!

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    1. Are you trying to start an argument against the very concept of rationalism in Judaism? That might be an interesting discussion (if it can somehow be done in a civil tone) but that should be a separate topic, because it's far too great a scope for a reply to this article.

      That being said, of course Judaism has a core set of beliefs that must be accepted. But that doesn't mean you are obligated to check your brain at the door and believe everything every rabbi tells you. Rambam listed 13 principles that he says must be accepted. Other rabbis have different lists. Are we to claim that one or the other must be a heretic just because they don't agree with each other? In every generation there are rabbis who disagree with each other - are you saying that one side of the argument must always be declared a heretic for doubting the others?

      In case you haven't noticed yet, Rabbi Slifkin (and others) are not declaring facts and demanding that you accept them. He presents large amounts of source material, from Mishna, Gemara and Rishonim in order to substantiate his opinions. That is and always has been considered the proper way to study Torah and present arguments. It is not the approach of a demagogue claiming to know better than everybody else in the world.

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    2. The only "evidence”' presented was the "fact' that Rabbi's have died while studying Torah. I didn’t see any Mishna, Gemara and Rishonim to perhaps suggest this. On the contrary, the gemarah at face value suggest the opposite of what Rabbi Slifkin suggests! Why twist the gemarah? Unless, perhaps if the Torah isn’t so "holy" and it doesn’t protect then somehow or other we don’t have to lead lives according to the Talmud and all this other Judaism stuff.....yeah this prohibitive restrictive lifestyle of following the Rabbis doesn’t allow me to enjoy life the way I want to…..

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    3. > Judaism is a religion based on belief, if you don’t believe then……….Seriously, like the Rabbis were just idiots and some guy in the 21st century knows better than them all, c’mon!

      If Judaism is based on belief, then why are you trying to prove it rationally with your appeal to "the Rabbis" authority? And if we are to accept Judaism because the idea that the Rabbis were idiots and we might know better than them is ludicrous, what about all of the brilliant Christian theologians? Are we smarter than Pascal, who invented game theory, or Newton and Leibnitz, who each independently invented calculus? All three were also Christian theologians.

      > .yeah this prohibitive restrictive lifestyle of following the Rabbis doesn’t allow me to enjoy life the way I want to…..

      This is a common canard used against those who go OTD. Yet the point of this blog is to present a form of Orthodoxy that is palatable to people with an intellectual bent. Do you, despite your username, believe that only the Chareidi version of Judaism has any value?

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    4. The Gemarah says that "shluchay mitzvah" are not harmed.

      @ModernOrthodox: You might want to dig a little deeper. Here is the quotation from Pesachim:

      [In the case of] a hole between a Jew and a Syrian [i.e., a Gentile], he must search as far as his hand reaches, and the rest he annuls in his heart. Pelimo said: He does not search it at all, on account of the danger.
      [...]
      But R. Eleazar said: Those sent [to perform] a religious duty do not suffer harm? —
      Where the injury is probable it is different, for it is said, And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take a heifer with thee, etc.

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    5. Faith
      is complete confidence or trust in a person or thing; or a belief not based on proof. It may also refer to a particular system of religious belief.

      not based on proof.= faith
      faith = no evidence

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  12. I'm not sure how you can definitively say that the statement that a person on his way to performing a mitzvah is protected is false. Of course it is not a guarantee, but how can you say that it offers no protection? Hashem's calculus is extremely complex. We have no clue how He measures the reward of various mitzvos (presumably the person's kavanah and personal effort and situation play a role as do many other myriad factors). No, one doesn't use these dictums to replace practical effort, but I believe that these dictums are true, just a I believe that Hashem rewards us for mitzvos even though bad things sometimes happen to good people.

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    1. > I'm not sure how you can definitively say that the statement that a person on his way to performing a mitzvah is protected is false.

      You can't definitively say that wearing blue shirts protects from danger, either, because even if a person is hurt while wearing a blue shirt, if he hadn't been wearing it, he might have been hurt even worse. But at that point the premise is unflasifiable, and so useless as a guide to how to act.

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    2. Wait! I'm wearing a blue shirt. Are you telling me that it's all for nothing?! Oh, the humanity!

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    3. I apologize for taking a maamar Chazal seriously. If you want to mock it, by all means, go ahead. Frankly, Rabbi Slifkin, I'm surprised you let these two responses go through. There are enough blogs out there that let mockers of Torah run rampant. I didn't think yours was one of them.

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    4. Neither of those two comments are mocking a maamar Chazal.

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    5. G*3, it's not just that the premise is unfalsifiable. It kind of is. If blue shirts did confer protection you would expect that there would be a lower incidence of harm among the blue-shirt-wearing population. While correlation doesn't imply causation, causation certainly implies correlation.

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  13. All three of your points are wrong. At the end of the day, according to all three commenters you mention, the second answer of the Gemara is that Torah study is not a legal Ir Miklat, but does protect an individual LEARNING from death - regardless of whether it is by nature or human hand. This is blatantly obvious.

    As for the thrust of your post, I wonder why you think this is a new question... as if the Gemara were not aware of the Asarah Harugei Malchus..

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  14. I fail to understand this Aggadic matter. Why does the gemara question and seek to resolve two seemingly contradictory statements of R' Yochanan. There is no contradiction between saying that a teacher of torah who accidentally kills must be exiled to a designated city of refuge, and that torah protects like a refuge city. While the torah may offer protection, the perpetrator of the killing must face the punishment of exile. The judgment of the torah is not simply a matter of protecting the inadvertent killer, but to also to deprive him of liberty in a mild way. Perhaps the gemara focuses on the view of R' Yochanan that the students are also exiled with their teacher. That would minimize the teacher-killer's punishment, so that exile would not be a deterrent or wake-up call. On the other hand, why should the totally innocent students be exiled. Let them find another teacher. In any case, this source is hardly a basis for the claim that torah study offers concrete protection. Furthermore, the citation from Rav Zilberstein is ironic in that allegedly turning a bus into a bet midrash by studying torah there should not accomplish more than an actual bet midrash/shul which suffered terroristic murders not too long ago.

    Y. Aharon

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  15. I guess what sells these days is that somehow the Torah is archaic and irrelevant. Chazal said scientifically inaccurate statements. The Torah doesn’t protect. Science is more accurate and reliable than the internal truths of the Torah S'bal Peh and Torah S'Bksav. Who holds the truths of Judaism, it’s somehow a guy who is the world’s most fabulous genius since the six days of creation?! Am I reading fantasy or is this somehow the Rationalist Judaism blog?! Astounding! Does everyone here really buy this story? Or perhaps is this blog somehow really a front for an anti Judaism campaign?

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    1. I've got some more bad news for you. I'm really not a fabulous genius. Nothing that I say is remotely original. My views are shared by lots and lots and lots of people.

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    2. True, the Reform and Conservative movement already beat you to it. "The Rabbis were cave men and old fashioned. Torah Judaism needs to change with the times and we need to relieve ourselves of these ancient archaic practices and ways of life"

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    3. Modern_Orthodox, your moniker is misleading if not a misnomer. Neither R' Natan nor anyone else commonly responding to this blog has suggested that "the Torah is archaic and irrelevant". What has been suggested is that some statements in the Torah can't be taken at face value since they conflict with well established scientific facts such as the ostensible completion of creation in a week or a global flood some 4 millenia ago. The fact that some statements of the talmudic sages about the physical world are incorrect when taken literally is something that has been said since the times of the Gaonim. In fact, R' Yehuda Hanasi in Pesachim 94 says that the earlier sages were incorrect when they assumed the sun goes through 'windows' in an opaque rakia at dawn and dusk. Tosafot in Eruvin 76 demonstrate that R' Yochanan misunderstood the sages of Caesaria and came to the wrong halachic conclusion involving geometry. It is an indisputable fact that studying torah need not protect the one engrossed in such studies, given many examples where such people were killed. These are things that any rational person can accept. Genius is not required - as per R' Natan.

      Y. Aharon

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    4. Actually, if you look closely, his moniker is "STOP Modern Orthodox".
      He is under the mistaken impression that Judaism is a "religion" that one may join in order to save one's soul and/or to get "spiritual fulfillment", but if one isn't looking for those things, they can take their chances outside one religion or another.
      The reality is the Jews are a NATION and the Torah is our CONSTITUTION. We follow the Torah because it is the law system we were born into or joined voluntarily from the non-Jewish world. We follow the laws out of a sense of duty, because it is the truth and it is the right thing to do. If we read the Torah, it promises us beneficial things in both the material and spiritual realms if we live up to it but there are no guarantees on the individual level.
      A similar example is the US Constitution (I am not saying they are the same but there are parallels)...everyone in the US is obligated to live by the Constitution even if they don't like some of the laws promulgated under it (e.g. income tax) but doing so is said to be beneficial.....promoting "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".
      In addition there is a bond between all citizens of the US and those who are conscious of the laws and the resulting American identity with those who are different and may strongly disagree with them.
      It is the same with the Jewish nation. All Jews are bound together in this nation and a "religious" Jew who follows the laws of the Torah is still bound to the Jew who hasn't understood his obligations under that Torah.
      In the end, observing the laws of the Torah is beneficial and much spiritual satisfaction can be enjoyed, although as I said, there are no guarantees on the individual level.

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    5. FYI, Meiri has a much more satisfying understanding of Rabbi Yohanan. But your point still stands because Eruvin 76 makes a mess of the geometry anyway. I explored the many interpretations of that Gemara here.

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    6. Rafi, yasher koach for that comprehensive analysis of the sugya in Eruvin 76 and the full citations. I still maintain, as does the Torafot on 76b (v'R' Yochanan), that R' Yochanan made a basic error in geometry, if not also logic, in relying on his understanding of the geometric rule of the sages of Caesaria. According to that understanding, the circumference of a circle around a 4x4 square is 24. That means that the diameter of the circle in the Talmudic approximation is 8 (i.e., 24/3). 8 is the sum of the sides of the square, which is a gross overestimate of its diagonal (a straight line is the shortest distance between 2 points in a plane - a basic axiom in geometry). In any case a vertical diameter of 8 has 2 below the enclosed square, so that the bottom of the circle must be within 8 of the ground in order for the bottom of the square to be within 10 of the ground. This is the straight-forward understanding of the words of R' Yochanan. I am pleased that you presented the view of the Rashba that R' Yochanan was really describing a 'clover leaf' type opening rather than a circular one since I had thought of it independently. It, however, is not the evident understanding of the term 'egula' used by R' Yochanan to describe his opening, nor does such a complicated opening require elucidation by the sage as opposed to a simple circular one. The main point is that the Tosafot were prepared to reject R' Yochanan's view as simply incorrect, and that both he and the Gemara in Succah 8 had misunderstood the Caesarian rule, applying it to perimeters when it really referred to areas.
      P.S. the units in the above are tefachim (1/6 ama or about 3.3 inches).

      Y. Aharon

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    7. The Gemara and almost all Rishonim understand Rabbi Yohanan's 24 and 2-plus-something as measuring lengths. But the Meiri convinced me that he means areas. If the inner square has area 16, then the circle has area 24 (i.e., 8π, with π=3), and the region under the square has area 2 (i.e., 2π–4).

      This is just as straightforward in Rabbi Yohanan's words. In fact, it makes more sense to say that the 2-plus-something is "from" the 24 if you are talking about one area within another, than if you were talking about a vertical segment orthogonal to the circle.

      Of course, I agree with Tosafot that someone made a serious error in this Gemara. But I think it was more likely an anonymous Babylonian amora, who mistook area for length, than Rabbi Yohanan himself.

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  16. Rabbi Slifkin, did you ever serve in the IDF?

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    1. Alas, no, for a variety of unfortunate reasons. I plan to send my kids to the IDF, though, even though it scares the willies out of me.

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    2. Actually the kids seem to look forward to it. Those of us who send kids but didn't serve ourselves don't really understand it and we can't give advice to them but I have seen any number of kids come from soft, bookish religious families in the US or UK whose fathers didn't serve in the Army yet who go into tough, elite units and they love it and are highly motivated.

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    3. Good luck dealing with those willes.

      I did Shlav Bet (3 weeks of basic training & a 13 week medic's course) back in 1991 & then ten years of regular miluim (reserve duty). Our eldest (almost 19) is now doing his 32 months' service. My willies have left and won't come back until he is safely discharged in 2.5 years. And then it will be almost time for our youngest (15) to go in.

      Not meaning to be disrespectful but I don't see how any frum Yid can compare those who come home home every night to those who may not come home at all (G-d forbid!). The families of the former don't have to live with the gnawing existential fear that the next knock at the door might be two IDF officers with news that they do not want to hear. I thought United Torah Judaism MK Menachem Eliezer Moses' remarks in the Knesset on Monday, in which he (inter alia) compared the previous government to Tsar Nicholas II's regime, were particularly appalling.

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    4. I hope someone in the Knesset yelled at him. How disgusting.

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  17. Technically, it's not Torah that protects- Hashem protects. Hashem protection depends on our zechuyot. And learning Torah increases our zechuyot. Whoever denies this link is apicorus. Giving opposite examples (i.e. when bad things happens) is pathetic since nobody can know how much worse the things could be if not Torah studies.

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    1. > Whoever denies this link is apicorus.

      That may be true, but it's not an argument. It's a tactic to bully naysayers into submission.

      > Giving opposite examples (i.e. when bad things happens) is pathetic since nobody can know how much worse the things could be if not Torah studies.

      Right. No one can know how much worse things might have been if not for the zechus of the Torah study. Then again, in exactly the same way, no one can know if the Torah study had no effect at all. Since we can't know if Torah study has any effect at all, why bother with it as a means of protection?

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    2. Lazar, you're both correct and incorrect. Of course, the serious study of torah is a merit for the participant. How that translates into protection is uncertain, however. While the sages do say that torah study protects they also insist that the reward for mitzvoth (presumably including Talmud torah) is for the world to come. Stating that no one knows how much worse things could be otherwise is rather meaningless for the torah student who is killed. He, at least, wasn't physically protected. The Rambam would maintain, as in his Moreh, that divine providence is restricted to those who are closest to Him in their knowledge. Dedication to torah studies, without such a philosophical knowledge and emotional tie won't do it. Your argument also reminds me of a story told many years ago by an acquaintance who had just had an audience with a prominent Hasidic rebbe only to find that his parked car and others had been side-swiped by a drunken hit-and-run driver. When he went back to complain about the seeming inefficacy of the rebbe's blessing, the Shamash exclaimed, "think of how much worse it could have been without the rebbe's b'racha".

      Y. Aharon.

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    3. " nobody can know how much worse the things could be if not Torah studies. "

      So let's see. A very large number of Torah scholars were killed this year. Now you're saying that if they weren't Torah scholars, just regular chareidim, things would have been worse. What, they would have been tortured? And why are so many charedim being killed?

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    4. Meaning what? That those of us whose children are risking their necks to (b'ezrat Hashem) protect all of us should be grateful to the parents of those children who are risking nothing? Since when did Torah study become a tool for claiming privilege? Doesn't Rav Tzadok tell us (in Mishna Avot 4:7), "Do not make the Torah into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself or a spade with which to dig"? If somebody wants to dig, let them dig. Just please stop expecting me to buy the spade or my son and his peers to risk their lives standing guard.

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    5. OK. I'm an Apikoris. Now what?

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    6. There are many examples in Gemara on how bad things (like ceiling collapse) did not happen because of zechus of a certain person. Gemara may not say that it was because of their study, it says that protection was due to their righteous behavior, but how can the latter be without the former?

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    7. > There are many examples in Gemara on how bad things (like ceiling collapse) did not happen because of zechus of a certain person.

      Anecdotes are not evidence.

      > it says that protection was due to their righteous behavior, but how can the latter be without the former?

      "Tzadik" and "talmid chacham" have only recently become synonyms. One can behave righteously while being academically ignorant, especially in an age when transmission of proper practice was though direct observation rather than reading about it in a book.

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    8. Lazar, before we go further, could you answer this: Do you think that story of "Tanur Shel Achnai" was intended as a literal telling of events? The difference between your answer to that question and the answer of the Rationalist Rishinom may explain the difficulty that you are having here.

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    9. Do you think that story of "Tanur Shel Achnai" was intended as a literal telling of events?
      David, I do.

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    10. Then there is the root of the differences in interpretation. I think that it falls squarely into the Rambam's examples of literal belief in odd things never meant to be taken literally.

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  18. “Rabbi El’azar said: Messengers engaged in a mitsvah do not come to harm—where danger is to be expected, it is different, for it is written: And Samuel said, ‘How can I go? For should Saul hear, he will kill me.’ And YHWH said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and you will say, ‘To sacrifice to YHWH I have come’ (1 Samuel 16:2)” (BT Yoma 11a).

    Can someone interpret this passage?

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    1. What is the question? When God told Shmuel to go to David to annoint him as the next king, he knew that Shaul would kill him, so he asks God what to do. God gives him a ruse to trick Shaul. The implication is that even if Shmuel was following God's command he could be killed and one must take precautions

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  19. I would like to suggest a rationalist interpretation. Learning Tora increases ones motivation to fight. Thus before soldiers go to war the Mashuach Milchama gives them a derasha. Similarly, unlike leftists Chazal tell us that we should kill someone who is coming to kill us. Regarding the IDF, there are many more jobnikim than combat troops and this is necessary. Why not have the best learners give appropriate shiurim to soldiers. They will learn so their rabbanim should be happy and they will be in the IDF so the "equality" crowd should be happy. The only people who will not be happy are those who live to create conflict but that's the way it goes.

    So far as the general difficulty raised from facts, first of all perhaps Chazal were speaking of someone who would have been considered a talmid chacham in their time (Rav Aharon Soloveichik said that if he had lived in Vilna during the time of the Gra he would have been considered a frum baal bayit). Secondly, when a person dies is decreed at birth (Moed Katan 28a) so the protection might be in Olam HaBa. Someone dies for kidddush Hashem instead of from a heart attack which would have been at the same moment.


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  20. So the alternative is play video games on the bus?! Of course the Torah protects - the Angel of Death was not able to take away the life of King David while he was studying Torah. There are many factors though in dying. Say if a person was slated for death and needed extra zchusim to keep him alive - perhaps the Torah would protect him. On the other hand if he is meant to die he will perish regardless. Not that we can compare the level of learning of King David or his stature to anyone else. But we clearly see that to some extent the Torah does provide protection in this world in a practical sense. In fact we see the Gemorah in Makos says that the soldiers were successful in battle do to the Torah learning going on in Yerushalyim! Not everything in Judaism can be explained rationally……The statement that Torah protects is clearly not rational, why try to explain it in a rational way?

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    1. The alternative is to keep your head on a swivel, be the best person you can (including learning and other mitzvos), have faith in God, and what happens, happens.

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  21. I find that many people on this site assume an ideological battle. Charedim do not have an ideological opposition to the army. The average Chaedi doesn't have an ideological stance period. The problem with the army for them is that they fear that it will challenge their way of life. Their problem with work is that they think it will challenge their way of life. Their problem with education is that they fear that it will challenge their way of life. R' Osner felt that women working was a bigger challenge than men working and was thus mattir men to leave kollel. That is the core, if charedim feel challenged they will respond in a way to avoid the challenge. Anything that they tell the outside world in response is a sham. They don't avoid the army because they think that they protect Israel. Any charedi that says that is simply not saying the truth or not smart enough to understand his own movement and is buying the PR work that they are selling to the outsiders.

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    1. They have an ideological opposition to anything that doesn't come from them, or that they can't claim came from them. Israel and anything connected to it is at the top of that list. So not serving in the IDF is basically a natural assumption.

      Obviously, fear of impact on their lifestyle is a major issue, but not the original one.

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  22. Nathan,

    See targum yonason on aisav waiting for yitzchak to die before going after yakov. He says that because yakov will be busy with the aivel of yitzchak, he will not have torah to protect him.

    No way around it.

    The problem with you and your ilk is that when you see meforshim or gemaras who say that torah does protect, you will not accept it and instead you will force your peshatim into the text to show how the gemara does not really mean what it appears to say. this does not sound very rational to me.

    You have become so blinded by your agenda and bias against the chareidi worldview that you have lost any sense of balance.

    it is a shame. I used to support you as a breath of fresh air open to science, etc. Sadly I have watched your decline. At this point, I would say you have morphed into an apikoras or very close to one.

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    1. See targum yonason on aisav waiting for yitzchak to die before going after yakov. He says that because yakov will be busy with the aivel of yitzchak, he will not have torah to protect him.

      No way around it.


      You understand that this is derash and not the plain meaning of the pesukim. The plain meaning is that Eisav waited for his father to die because he loved his father and didn't want cause him pain. The d'rash often exaggerates the evil of the evil characters of Tanach.

      In addition, not all Rishonim accept the literal notion that the Avos received the Torah.

      In addition, the meaning as you described it is difficult. If he was required to mourn and was therefore prohibited from learning, they why would God remove protection from him.

      A likely interpretation of the derash: Eisav believe in his fathers blessings. He saw that the death of Yaakov would likely depress Yaakov and might throw him off the path of continuing in the tradition of Avraham and Yitzchak. This would be the opening for Eisav according to his berachah.

      You are committing the same fallacy as so many others here. Divine providence is in some way related to commitment of either individuals or the group to proper action (Torah and Mitzvos). That doesn't mean doing A always results in B.

      To be frank, your position demonstrates a lack of bitachon. If really have trust then you will not be worried by the fact that the righteous can be harmed even while pursuing righteousness. This was what Acher could not accept.

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    2. @jack marnlstein – Excellent point you make! In an earlier post I mention the instance of the Angel of Death not being able to take the life of King David since he was studying Torah. Which is clearly an instance of being saved from bodily harm while studying Torah!

      Torah is not like science; even though you are studying the wonders of Hashem you won’t be protected! That’s perhaps the “chiddush” of the Gemarah – that only Torah posses this unique quality!

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    3. jack marnlstein (or is it Marmelstein?), greetings from the "ilk". Your objection to R' Natan's critique of certain statements of the sages is inconsistent. If, as you write, he (Slifkin) brought a "breath of fresh air open to science", presumably, in his banned books - despite the contradiction to various statements by the sages, why are further such arguments in articles and in this blog so different? The fact is that in a large composite work like the Talmud, there are many conflicting statements. We are free to choose or reinterpret such statements as long as established halacha is not violated. Furthermore, you may not be aware that the Targum attributed to Yonatan ben Uziel, a senior student of the elder Hillel could not have been written in its present form by him since the Aramaic is from a later era - as attested to by Aramaic scholars. Hence, the authority of this Targum is questionable and should not be considered Tana'itic.

      Y. Aharon

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  23. David,

    Wow! Exactly what I anticipated. Obiously, it is derash...but derash is as true as peshat. different levels. I show you a clear peirush that says what you do not want to hear and because your bias does not allow you to accept it you twist it into a pretzel to conform with your view. that is not torah. are you seeking truth or seeking to back up your posiiton?

    Now you lecture about the avos not receiving the torah. great...but that has nothing to do with the targum yonason...all he says is that Yakov would stop learning....perhaps he held that the avos received the torah perhaps he was "learning" whatever they learned in yeshiva of shem vever whether it was the torah we received or some other type of learning. it is really irrelevant to the discussion. Whatever he held on that topic, he clearly says that Torah protects

    Next you claim that it is a difficult interpretation.....So you reject this interpretation because you have a question? Bottom line is even though he did not have to learn, he did not have the zechus of the torah....even though he was patur. you may not like that because it seems too irrational for you but realize that you are inserting your bias into the way you are learning the torah. My friend, what a shame - this is not toras emes.

    Then you give a forced interpretation. It is such a ridiculous interpretation that it is hard to believe you would offer it and at the same time call yourself rational. This is not what targum yonason said or implied. If you want to live in a fantasy world and imagine that he must have meant that, that is your choice, but it is certainly not torah nor rational thinking

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    1. Wow! Exactly what I anticipated. Obiously, it is derash...but derash is as true as peshat.

      Drash if often not literal. That is a core principle of Rationalist Judaism.

      Now you lecture about the avos not receiving the torah.

      I'm not lecturing. I'm just saying that Rationalists like R Avraham B HaRambam treated is as obviously non-literal.

      Next you claim that it is a difficult interpretation.....So you reject this interpretation because you have a question?

      There are two difficulties. One is that your point is actually contradicted. It is a mitzvah to mourn for one's parent. Therefore protection should not go away.

      The second is basic logic. Why should he be less protected when doing the right thing?

      So I gave a simple interpretation. You can consider it forced and reject it. Your literalist interpretation is not sensible as I showed above.

      Finally, and most importantly, the Talmud in various places endorses superstitions such as astrology. Rambam rejects them and non-sensible despite what the Talmud says. And he is correct because there are other anti-superstition statements. So no single statement (especially post-talmudic) is enough to prove your point, if you are trying to prove that all "Shitos" agree with your proposition.

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  24. Sometimes a thought or idea can be wrong - even though it can’t be proved conclusively incorrect. It's always possible for falsehood to hide behind some speck of truth and formulate an irrefutable thought!

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