Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Missiles, Measles, and Missives

At this time, the Jewish People are being bombarded with three very different, yet perhaps related, things. Hundreds of missiles have been fired from Gaza on towns throughout the southern region of Israel. An outbreak of measles in Israel and New York has already claimed the life of a baby and threatens many more. And there are missives throughout Jerusalem relating to the municipal elections today, with Daas Torah telling everyone who to vote for.

The common factor with all these three phenomena is that they relate to, and give rise to questions about, the role of experts and authority.

Let's begin with measles. The overwhelming consensus of expert medical opinion is that vaccination should be done and would have prevented the current tragic situation. Unfortunately, there is a significant body of people who are skeptical of "expert consensuses" (for reasons discussed in my post on the Lakewood Suicide Squad). They aren't evil, even though their actions have terrible consequences. They sincerely believe that the so-called experts cannot be trusted and are wrong, and they will give you all kinds of reasons for this.

Now let's turn to the missile barrage from Gaza. According to a large body of military experts who spoke up in favor of the Disengagement in 2004 (see the list of experts in the advertisement pictured here, as well as the citations at this link), this wasn't going to happen. The Disengagement was going to enhance the security situation. General and Prime Minister Sharon claimed that disengaging would give the IDF a free hand to respond with full military force if Gaza attacked us. Ha! (It reminded me of the Oslo days, when Peres insisted that giving guns to the PA was safe, because the first time that one of those guns would be used against an Israeli, Israel would swoop down in force and end everything.) To many of us ordinary folks, on the other hand, it was obvious that the Gazans would attack Israel, and Israel would not have a free hand to respond, because of international condemnation. Clearly, these experts were all wrong.

Then you have today's municipal elections in Jerusalem, where the alleged experts are completely divided, yet utterly sure of themselves. The Lithuanian and Sefardic Gedolim insist that Daas Torah mandates that one must vote for Moshe Leon. The Chassidic Gedolim and the Peleg faction, on the other hand, state that Daas Torah requires one not to vote for him. (I'm not sure if the Religious Zionist community has voiced Daas Torah on this topic.) So what actually is Daas Torah on this topic? And if there isn't any, why are these Gedolim all so sure that there is?

These three situations present us with the following question: When do you trust the experts, and when do you not trust the experts?

The answer is that things are complex, and it depends on the situation.

In matters relating to hard science, expertise is of great significance. Yes, it's always possible that there is some kind of fundamental epistemological error, or some kind of bias. However, given the huge amount of hard data available with regard to vaccinations, and the broad spectrum of people who possess expertise in this topic and all share the same conclusion, it is reasonable to be sure that the experts know what they are talking about.

Matters relating to war, peace and politics are more complicated. Yes, military expertise certainly helps. And it's frustrating to see the well-meaning but not well-thought-out armchair generals on Facebook talking about how the IDF should carpet-bomb Gaza, without thinking through the moral, tactical or political implications of such an act. Still, the fact is that projections as to what will bring security are heavily shaded by one's political outlook, as well as a host of psychological and sociological factors. For example, secular Israelis tend to be more desperate for acceptance by other countries and thus inclined to believe that this can be achieved, whereas religious Israelis tend to be more resigned to being globally despised.

As for the expertise of Daas Torah regarding who to vote for, it's simply a myth. Torah does not give any special insight into which mayor to vote for. Torah is an immensely rich body of wisdom accumulated over a long period in many places by many people, and it certainly does not have a single viewpoint that can be mapped on to the simultaneously immensely complicated question of how to govern a city. Furthermore, there's no reason to think that great Talmudists, or descendants of Chassidic Rebbes, possess any particular wisdom - in fact, Chazal state explicitly that there is the possibility of a Talmid Chacham completely lacking wisdom. Thus, there is no reason to think that the Lithuanian, Sefardic, Peleg or Chassidic voices of Daas Torah have any particular insight as to which mayoral candidate to vote for.

As to why they seem to think otherwise - well, that's because they have a different, non-rationalist view of the nature of Torah, according to which it grants supernatural forms of insight. But this has no basis in classical Judaism.


  1. Except that it is easy to argue that despite it all, the retreat from Azzah DID improve the security situation.

    Recall what came before the wall, and the Hitnatqut. And then, Arik Sharon a"h created borders between us and them. And the Second Intifadeh ended. It is safer living in Sderot today than it was visiting Sbarro's or the Dolphinarium then. Or a bus #5 on Rechov Dingoff, or bus #18 -- bombed twice on Rechov Yaffo.

    Perhaps "therefore" we saw the end of the end of bombings across Israel, perhaps "post hoc ergo propter hoc". Given that we're talking about the mindset of a general with a long history of being a "hawk", I am inclined to believe it was his intent. And thus the more military term chosen to name the Hitkatnut -- to retreat from a battlefront. ("The Disengagement" only if one is talking about disengaging from the enemy.)

    For all of the terror the rockets cause, and those killed by kitchen utensils and drivers intentionally plowing into bus stops, can you say this is comparable to the number of deaths of Israelis in the era of the intifadehs?

    1. Nebach .... a weak retort.

    2. In what way? You voice an opinion, but give no basis.

      We have lost 10% as many people in twice the time since putting up the Security Fence on one side and the Hitnatqut on the other. (And if we could fence off Shuafat, the stats would likely be even lower.)

      Seems to me that you carry the burden of proof to show that it was not a security success.

      You also would need to explain why the man suddenly went from being "Arik, Melekh Yisrael" in the rhetoric of Israel's Right Wing to a peacenik. Makes more sense this lower level of violence was his goal than to think he had some hidden motive for switching sides.

      And again, it is the implication of the label he chose.

      So, what's your counterargument?

    3. You actually have a rational point. Furthermore, it is clearer than ever that since the restrictions on all Palestinians where implemented, the risks are even lower. The Palestinian leadership is not interested in 'Peace'. However, neither is the current IL government. Both live in their own worlds of rhetoric and tit for tat violence, with IL being the unassailable master from the perspective of military strength.

    4. "Both live in their own worlds of rhetoric and tit for tat violence, with IL being the unassailable master from the perspective of military strength."

      Hardly unassailable--Hamas terrorizes Israel with hundreds, or even thousands of rockets, just in the past two days. Deploying the Iron Dome system costs way more than the crappy Hamas rockets, and many rockets get through the Iron Dome defense anyway. And Israel should let the Palestinians create another Gaza debacle on the West Bank?! No way!

      Why does the entire world tolerate Hamas having rockets, and firing them every so often when they want to ramp up the violence, or just get attention?

      If you'll answer that their rocket fire is due to Israeli aggression, so why don't we see any rocket fire from the West Bank? There's settlement construction going on there, don't you know? And that seriously destroys any chances of peace, and steals land from that the Palestinians need for their much-desired state (that they have been offered on numerous occasions, but manage to refuse every time anyway)?

    5. To Yehuda P - What does "the world" mean? "The world" is not as fixated on Israel as some of us think. Not only is "the world" not particularly concerned with Israel, but there is no way of gauging "the world" opinion to begin with. There is no such thing as public opinion even in the US and Israel (to name the two most relevant countries) so how can anyone say what "the world" thinks?

  2. "I'm not sure if the Religious Zionist community has voiced Daas Torah on this topic."

    I once heard a joke about that: We modern orthodox don't believe in daas Torah because Rav Soloveitchik told us not to believe in it.

    1. as in magic disappeared because the Rambam paskined against it?

    2. RJR, I have mentioned more than once on A/A that I find it funny how the same YU-nikim who poo-poo daas Torah will spend hours arguing the Rav's position on Zionism, Yom haAtzma'ut, land for peace, etc...

    3. Since when do religious Zionists adhere to Daas Torah (or, "Daat Torah)?? That's why they're RZ and not Haredi! And the RZ rabbis' positions on nearly everything are much, much nearer those of the Haredi rabbis than an RZ would like to admit - and this is why they don't adhere to their rabbis' psakim (for example, army service for girls, etc. etc.)

  3. "huge amount of hard data"

    That is actually the difference.

  4. Just a reminder for the record -- Netanyahu was one of those who voted FOR the hitnatkut.

  5. Actually, this post is one of your most unintelligent ones yet. Please stick to what you know something about, this is getting really painful to watch....why do you insist on talking about things that showcase your lack of depth of knowledge? Can't you just stick with the cool animal stuff?

  6. "and it certainly does not have a single viewpoint that can be mapped on to the simultaneously immensely complicated question of how to govern a city."

    This is disingenuous. The question at hand is not "how to govern a city". The issue at at hand is not how to effectively arrange trash collection for the city. The question is how will the cause of Torah and Mitzvos be better advanced. And I think it is entirely rational to assume that the people who have, to the greatest degree, devoted their lives to the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvos are the most qualified to answer this question.

    1. And yet they have diametrically opposed views!

    2. That doesn't really prove anything. In matters of halacha there are also very often diametrically opposing views between Gedolei Torah, and everybody agrees that they are the most qualified to render halachic decisions. Gedolei Torah can have opposing views about what is best for the cause of Torah - that doesn't mean that they are not much more qualified than others to have a view on the subject.

      A person has the prerogative of following the gadol who he believes is the most qualified to answer such questions.

    3. Yes, but such a person is hardly a person any more. They are just a robot.

    4. Nonsense. Are you just a robot for having to daven 3 times a day, every single day of your life, whether you feel like it or not? For having to follow the directives of the Kashrus organizations regarding every single morsel of food that enters your mouth? For being obligated to study Torah whenever you can, whether you feel like it or not?

      The fact that once in a while a public issue comes up, and we choose to follow what the Gedolim say, doesn't turn us into a robot.

    5. Is there a great rabbi who has had experience in running a trash collection operation?

    6. Either I'm not getting the joke, or you didn't follow the conversation.

    7. Anonymous, you repeatedly conflate issues of halakha (such as tefillah, kashrut) and issues of daily living or philosophy of life in your comments. Why would you think that a rabbi's skill in theoretical and occasionally practical Talmudic academia can inform his views (except in irrelevant and detrimental ways) on municipal management? What illogical dreamland do you live in?

    8. The question at hand is not "how to govern a city".

      Yes, that is the question. The Melech and the Kohen Gadol were not (supposed to be) the same person. Even according to the Torah, religion and politics are not to be mixed.

      (The Melech is subject to Halachah as much as any other Jew, but he is not its determinant.)

    9. Israel Coleman:

      Apparently you didn't follow the conversation. I never said that a Rabbi's skill in Talmud inform his views about municipal management. I said that municipal management was not the question the Rabbi's were giving their views on here.

      Read my first post that R' Slifkin replied to.

    10. Avi:

      So the Melech's positions on religious values don't matter?


    11. Anonymous, forgive my lack of clarity. I meant to say: ultimately, cities need to be run by people who know how to cater to the varied needs of their residents, and not one particular group's conception of what is spiritually correct for others.

  7. "Let's begin with measles. The overwhelming consensus of expert medical opinion is that vaccination should be done and would have prevented the current tragic situation. Unfortunately, there is a significant body of people who are skeptical of "expert consensuses"
    Science is not settled by "consensus". You have to actually test a theory empirically and do the physical experiment.No long term, large scale, comprehensive study, comparing ALL health outcomes including ALL cause mortality, between a fully unvaccinated population and a vaccinated population has ever been done.In the absence of this science, a public policy paradigm has emerged that has the illusion of scientific consensus.This false picture is bolstered by people like you repeating meaningless statements over and over again about "expert medical consensus". What has really happened, is you have fallen victim to a brilliant strategic marketing plan to push a faulty consumer product. In effect, you Rabbi Slifkin are an unpaid advertiser for the pharmaceutical industry.I hope you did not forget do "get your flu shot". There is a special one just for you and you can get it in any drug store in the US for free. And while you are at it remind everyone you know to "get their flu shot". I have to hand it to the marketing teams they did a great job.

    1. Let's see... unvaccinated population = rampant measles, polio, mumps, rubella, etc.
      vaccinated population = fatal diseases so eradicated that people think it's safe to not get vaccinated.
      If you cut your hand on a rusty nail, are you going to forego the tetanus shot?

    2. You are right. Here are the instructions,

      A. Create two parallel universes, with equal resources and abilities.

      B. Decorate your space ship with colorful slogans

      C. Vaccinate the population of one universe but not the other

      D. Have a deep draught of Guiness beer.

      E. Make sure neither universe knows about the other.

      F. Wait around a hundred years, playing Game of Thrones in your space ship.

      G. Go back and check the two populations, which one has more zits on their skin.

      H. Trim your hair and beard.

      I. Publish your results on a blog.

      Meanwhile, the rest of us will take a comfortable seat and wait

    3. This is an example of scientific nihilism and shows a lack of scientific literacy. Just to give one example, the polio clinical trials in the 1950s were the largest clinical trials ever done. Over 1.6 million children participated in the Salk vaccine trial in 1954. Incidence of polio dropped by a factor of seventeen. This was revolutionary as the very fist randomized clinical trial ever done in humans had only been in 1947 (streptomycin for tuberculosis) and it had only 107 participants. Later, the Sabin vaccine was tested in an even larger number of children. We now know that we do not need to go through the massive expense of such large studies, and research continues to this day to improve vaccines.

      Meanwhile, though, both polio and measles could be completely eradicated as smallpox was, were it not for people like you. Sadly, some of the major concentrations of resistance to vaccinations has been in extremist Muslim and Jewish communities. The current outbreaks of measles are completely unnecessary.

    4. I'm sympathetic to Anti Vaxxer's viewpoint, though I think he's mistaken in its application to medicine. The problem is that so much nonsense is peddled today as *science*, that it gets easy to dismiss anything claimed as *science*, throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the process. Risible notions like "feminist theory" or "race theory" is referred to as social science. All forms of deviancy, provided they are politically popular enough, have now been reduced to "chemical reactions", or in the alternative, they are called "addictions", such that they cannot be helped. And of course, how can we forget, the greatest con game of them all, global warming, where we are still awaiting the melting icecaps or frozen ice-ages (take your pick) we were promised more than 100 years ago. All of this, we are told, is science. As though we were supposed to ignore the politics and agendas underlying all of this.

      Once upon a time, a million years ago, to be a scientist was a calling, not a profession. They weren't hired by wealthy private citizens to produce "studies" on demand to support political projects. To argue one way or the other on any of the above items is to miss the point - the point is that more and more doubtful and clearly contestable claims are being passed off, and all in the name of science. As Chesterton said so brilliantly: When men cease to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing; rather, they become capable of believing in anything.

      In any event, I happen to think the anti vaxxers are wrong in this case, because I believe the evidence is very strong that vaccinations do help. But the general skepticism behind claims of *science* is healthy and very well-warranted. Is it any wonder there is so much skepticism behind the marketing of vaccinations too??

    5. This should interest you: https://jonnybowden.com/healthy-living/inflammation-and-pain-relief/autism-politics-vaccinations-and-cytochrome-p450/

    6. @Skeptical Rationalist

      That really is not a well thought out article at all, and belies a very poor understanding of statistics.

      If you have a (significant) subset of a population that present differently (say show symptom A) to a particular stimulus (say X), then this *will* be picked up by a large study, provided that the sample is well picked. The size of the study needed to show it will have a clear mathematical relationship to the size of the group, the rate of incidence (of A to X) within the group, the rate of incidence (A to X) within the population, the background rate of incidence of (A without X) each, and the level of confidence required.

      To be clear, I am not saying anything specific about any study on vaxinations, I am saying that the entire premise that sub-populations can get entirely hidden within a large trial, no matter the size of the sample, is nonsense.

  8. Orthodox Judaism as a wider political or social 'force' - not just in IL but also in the Diaspora - has lost all objective pretense at being a 'force for good' but has regressed to banal insularity on wider social and economic issues (think of the destruction of the world's animal species and the undeniable path to climate implosion). The 'gedolim' mean nothing to me. They are only 'gadol' in the sectarian world's they inhabit. Their behaviours and the bizarre self-interested behaviours of orthodox Jewry in general have opened my eyes in the past decade that have led me to a path of secularism.

    1. When you come to a place of darkness,
      you don't chase out the darkness with a broom.
      You light a candle.
      - R' Yekusiel Halberstam of Klausenberg zt"l

      And that's from a Holocaust survivor!

      In this case, don't simply voice frustration with Orthodox Judaism's loss of contact with the ideas that our tannaim said is its fundamantals.

      That which you loathe, do not do to others. That's the whole Torah. Go study!

      "Love your peer as yourself" -- that is a great principle of Torah.
      - Rabbi Aqiva

      A greater principle that that -- "These are the generations of Adam."
      - Ben Azzai

      Or of Lithuanian Rabbis, the ones the Yeshiva Movement had set out to emulate:

      [My father, Rav Chaim Volozhoner,] would routinely rebuke me because he was that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.
      - Rav Yitzchaq Volozhiner

      Reb Chaim Bisker ordered that only two words be written on his Matzeiva-Rav Chessed. Somehow, a mistake was made and written on his Matzeiva is Rav HaChassid.
      - Sefer Meged Givos Olam

      Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His image and in the likeness of His structure and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were). For everything He created and formed was according to His Will, Blessed be He, [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways, as it says “And you will follow His ways.” This means that we, the select of what He made, must constantly hold as our purpose the sanctification of our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities. In my opinion, this whole concept is included in God’s mitzva “Be holy, [for I am Holy].”
      - Rav Shimon Shkop

      As I said, the choice is ours... We can sit around on-line and whine about it, or we could be voices for authentic Yahadus.

      And I bet there is still a gadol or two to look up to. In the comparative sense; we all have people greater than ourselves capable of being viewed as role models. As long as you don't forget they're people. Even if it's not someone who belong to some organization's Moetzes or even that you heard of yet.

    2. The Golden Rule is a brilliant, universalist rule. The insights you list likewise. Unfortunately, while revolutionary and applicable to this day, its (practical) application within Judaism leaves a lot to be desired. I am not whining, it has taken a long, drawn-out process for me to seek enlightenment - mostly rational and intellectual - and find it mostly outside of the parameters of Orthodoxy.

    3. Its practical application within Judaism was what Judaism was all about. Not that long ago, from the perspective of Jewish History. What we have now, an Orthodoxy that is concerned with frumkeit rather than ehrlachkeit, is an abberation. It is up to us to make it a temporary one.

      You can be part of a trend to recapture it. You needn't say "Orthodoxy stinks" when you could be saying "Orthodoxy could be so beautiful".

    4. Micha,
      What you say is every reasonable moral orthodox jew's dream. But Meir is, sadly, accurate in his observation.
      Torah is moral, Orthodoxy isn't. As Rabbi Slifkin, Harry Maryles and the late Failed Messiah have proven and documented in great detail over the last 5 or so years.

      Can you suggest a reason why Meir should pick himself up off the floor to join a losing battle that will not be won, when he can find better morality elsewhere quite easily?

    5. I didn't say his observation was inaccurate.

      I more said that the solution is in our hands. Those of us who realize there is a problem are -- or should be -- adherents of a Judaism that doesn't forget to put ethics front-and-center.

      Complaining about it and simply dismissing the community, or perhaps dismissing current communities, won't solve the problem.

      To repeat: "As I said, the choice is ours... We can sit around on-line and whine about it, or we could be voices for authentic Yahadus."


      On a totally different note, it's Rabbi Harry Maryles. He not only has semichah, he lives where he does because he chose to buy the home next-door to his rebbe, R' Aharon Soloveitchik zt"l.

      But his blog is more of what I am talking about. Rather than teaching R' Aharon's Torah, his blog is primarily attacking those to his right or his left who disagree. Nothing will ever get solved that way. (Although it does increase readership; people enjoy seeing their complaints vindicated by others.)

      You want a better Judaism? Start a class in ethics in your local shul. Or a vaad that works on middos. (You could learn Alei Shur vol II and actually try doing the exercises.)

      But bemoaning the fact on the blog is just settling for being part of the problem.

  9. As to why they seem to think otherwise - well, that's because they have a different, non-rationalist view of the nature of Torah, according to which it grants supernatural forms of insight. But this has no basis in classical Judaism.

    You have the right to express your own opinion, but not to speak for others. The classic Yeshivishe position on daas Torah is not based on siyata dishmaya or any other illogical position. It is the idea that a person who truly feels the gravity of the issue, as well as someone with a daas zkeinim, is more likely to make a responsible choice than a knee jerk rabble rouser. That is why the opinion of chassidic rebbes is worth diddly squat in those circles.

    1. You have the right to express your own opinion, but not to speak for others. The classic Yeshivishe position on daas Torah is not based on siyata dishmaya ...

      But you speak for others.

    2. Do those others have names or any other identifying features other than the fact that mr/ms anonymous claims I speak for them?

    3. Actually, saying that "Torah grants supernatural forms of insight" is an oversimplification and a drop over the top in this context. But neither do you speak correctly in the name of classic Yeshivishe position.
      1. Of course Daas Torah entails siyata dishmaya according to classic Yeshivishe position.
      2. Since when is siyata dishmaya one among "other illogical position"s according to classic Yeshivishe position?
      Your view is your own, not a reflection of classic Yeshivishe position that you claim to offer, unless and until you modify your comments.

  10. Expert comment as usual... :-)

  11. When you get to know an anti-vaxxer, you realize that the attribute least applicable is a follower of some daas torah. I would wager that the anti-vaxxers amongst Charedim are the smallest believers in daas torah. They do follow a psychological pattern, to be sure. But they are not sheeple.

    To make it clear, my children are vaccinated and I think they are wrong. But this post is just some convenient analogy, not based on actual facts on the ground

    1. Completely false. I know plenty of anti vaxxers and they are ardent believers in daas torah.

  12. Roughly, "Daas Torah" considers itself superior to, and very very likely more correct than, its nemesis, "Daas Baalei Battim", in three ways-- it has more knowledge and comprehension, it is pure of 'Negius', and it merits Siyata Dishmaya--while "Daas Baalei Battim" is relatively deficient in all three.

    Hence when there is a split within Daas Torah, all factions have these advantages and each one remains Daas Torah, although in a diminished form. But "Daas Baalei Battim" is nothing compared to any faction within Daas Torah.

    ("Daas Baalei Battim" includes instances if/when Chareidi politicians act on their own volition without consulting the Gedolim.)

    I think that with all the various challenges to the institution of Daas Torah, internal strife doesn't rate as one of them.

    1. You made a claim, but did not provide evidence. Can you prove that Torah scholars a) have "more knowledge and comprehension" of subjects OUTSIDE TORAH than experts in those subjects? B) that Torah scholars do not have negius (an idea that most Torah scholars would find flattering, but amusing in its naivety) and c) Torah scholars have more siyata dishmaya in such decisions than others? Wouldn't the current state of the Israeli haredi political scene indicate the exact opposite?

    2. I didn't make any claim. I reported what Daas Torah considers itself.

    3. I concluded my comment, I think that with all the various challenges to the institution of Daas Torah, internal strife doesn't rate as one of them.

      Your comment is among those various challenges. My point was not to add 'internal strife' to the list.

  13. R' Slifkin,

    An incisive post, as usual, but I would seek to clarify one point. I know you already know this, but I'm not sure it comes across clearly in your post.

    You make reference to "expert medical opinion" and "expert consensuses", but the crux of the matter when it comes to scientific decision-making is that the role of "experts" and their "authority" pales before the weight of empirical evidence.

    That is to say, if a "so-called expert" makes claims that run contrary to the observable, testable data, one can be fairly certain said expert is a quack. In fact, the fallacy of "argument from authority" is a favorite refuge of conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience believers everywhere (see, for example, the odious Andrew Wakefield of the anti-vax movement).

    The problem is that people in general are woefully ill-equipped to understand the scientific evidence, so I suppose it falls to experts to "filter" the conclusions of the evidence down to the masses. This is why it is so hard to argue with/convince with anti-vaxxers and believers in other quackery: people's general gross innumeracy and lack of understanding of statistics and scientific methodology (probably even more prevalent among pseudoscience believers) makes it impossible for them to understand why their arguments are wrong and renders them immune (pun intended) to learning good sense.

  14. Science is indeed not determined by concensus.That being said vaccinations havs empirically worked to wipe out disease. We empirically see it.


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