Monday, December 10, 2018

Is This Book In Cherem?

Is my new Hebrew book, Yitzurei HaPele B'Midrash UveMada, in cherem?

It might seem clear that it is. After all, it's a direct Hebrew translation of Sacred Monsters. And that book was an expanded edition of Mysterious Creatures. And Mysterious Creatures was most definitely put in cherem, declared to be utter heresy by around three dozen leading charedi Gedolim.

But in fact, matters are not so straightforward.

The original "problem" with Mysterious Creatures was that it took a rationalist approach, which allowed for science proving certain things, and for the Sages having held beliefs about the natural world that were based upon the standard and sometimes errant beliefs of their era, rather than divine sources of knowledge. This was, of course, also the approach of Rambam, Rav Hirsch, and many dozens of other prominent Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim, right up to our generation.

Of the charedi rabbinic authorities who declared the book to be heretical, some of them (such as the late Rav Moshe Shapiro and Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel) genuinely believe this approach to be absolutely heretical. As for the dozens of great rabbinic authorities who held this view - they are unaware of many of these sources and in denial of the others, claiming them to be forgeries and so on. According to these rabbis, my new Hebrew book is likewise absolutely heretical and must be burned.

On the other hand, some of the others who signed on the ban against my book, such as Rav Elyashiv, were aware that there were great Torah authorities of the past who took this approach. And when they signed that my book was heretical, they didn't actually mean that it was heretical. As Rav Elyashiv stated, "כוונתי כשהצטרפתי לקול קורא היתה רק בנוגע שהספרים אסורים לבא בקהל""  ("My intention when I added my name to the public announcement [regarding the issur] was only regarding that the books should not enter the community.") He was against this approach being taught in the charedi community, partly because charedim innately do not agree with that approach (which they are entitled to do, notwithstanding its illustrious heritage), and partly because they believe it to be educationally dangerous (which may well be true for many people in that community). Indeed, that book was written by a charedi author and published by a charedi publisher with charedi haskamos in a way that would target it to a charedi audience.

Yitzurei HaPele, on the other hand, is packaged very differently. It's softcover (which is almost never the case with "real" sifrei kodesh). It has no rabbinic endorsements printed in it. It's published by Maggid/Koren. It's written by someone with a doctorate from Bar-Ilan. It's clearly not a charedi book, and no threat to the charedi community.

So is it a heretical book in cherem? I think it's a machlokes charedi Gedolim.

34 comments:

  1. It's not a machlokes by them untill it is. You can ask them. If they want to punish you they can advertise you as a devoutly religious author whose book can be read. If they want to make your day they can put it in cherem.

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  2. Hi Natan. I decided to post this here, since I couldn't find a way to email you.

    I'm a former Ultra-Orthodox Jew turned-atheist. I've been perusing your blog, and I'm very impressed at the things you're willing to speak about regarding topics in the Orthodox community that are generally ignored at best, or censored at worst.

    However, given your confidence, your emphasis on rationality, and your irreverence for "Tzadikim" (all of which I heartily share with you), why exactly do you believe a god exists at all? What is the reason you believe Hashem is actually real? You seem to follow science, a big bang, evolution, etc. So I'm just a little confused about why you seem to be a theist, or a deist, at all.

    Arguing about biological evolution with Haredim is fine, but I'd much rather get down to the absolute foundation of Judaism and have a friendly debate about whether a god exists or not. Would you be interested in setting up such an event, perhaps between us, with an audience? I know that the Haredi rabbis would never entertain such a thing, but you seem open-minded.

    Anyway, I do appreciate your voice in the Jewish world, since, no matter what you believe, I think the voice of rationality and skepticism can only help no matter how messed up the community it finds itself in, so thank you for making this blog.

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    1. If you're an agnostic there is nothing to debate. If you doubt life exists on Mars and it turns out there is it means you had something wrong in your logic or else don't talk about science. Science is looking to come up with ideas beyond the data. Anyone can see the data. Thats not science. We all see gravity even if the scientists would refuse to acknowledge it or say it can't be tested. Some physical questions exist and may have no scientific answer. But there is an answer. You previously believed absolutely in one group and now another. Science is science and atheism and agnosticism are belief systems. Science exists with or without scientists. In science you constantly can challenge and test every case you see. The naive beliefs of the modern atheist movement is so behind the times.

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    2. Having followed the blog for a number of years, I have followed a similar path (though I was never Ultra-Orthodox). I admire R. Slifkin, because in the end I see he has followed through and stepped up in defending not only his position but the rights of all observant Jews on some level. While initially showing reticence, he bravely has addressed many issues - and to be fair we cannot expect more from him. We cannot expect or desire R. Slifkin to go 'apikores'. For me personally though, there has been a reckoning. If you can tackle certain beliefs and deconstruct them, how about tackling say the issue of 'Moshiach'? Deep deep down, if a Jew is to look in his or her heart at the history and notion of Messianism (within Judaism), does any Jew really believe a Messiah will come? Is it not just a proverbial 'carrot' of faith with zero basis in reality? Will Hashem send an emissary to 'fix' it all? These questions and so much more remain unanswered.

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    3. Meir, your question seems to be predicated upon a preconception that messianism is central to Judaism. While it's at the heart and center of christianity, that is not the case for Judaism. "Mashiach" means "anointed" and all it points to is someone who will be chosen as leader (king or priest) in future times. This term even applied to Cyrus, a gentile king (Yeshayah 45:1) and it's not a simple "mr. fix it" phenomenon that you described.

      People often point to the Rambam's 13 principles of faith as the core foundation of all of Judaism when they fail to recognize that many commentaries, before and after, did not hold of the same principles. While I myself do believe in a future anointed leader, I don't see why I have to believe he will be an angelic figure who cures the world in one fell swoop. That will be up to God and up to us as a people. But more importantly, I do not place it within the centrepiece of my Judaism. Those who do are often those who grew up in an environment that never gave them the proper tools or role models to properly question/analyze their Judaism, and often allow the "messiah question", among others, to justify leaving the fold, when they are simply not looking hard enough for the answers.

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    4. Dr Slifkin cannot believe the amazing hashgachah peratis of kelal yisroel's existance and survival is just by chance.

      Is that rational. ?well that is the way he feels. He cannot help it.

      So what are you going to debate. The kuzari principle. ?
      chovos halevovos proofs. ? The anthtropic principle impressed hitchens. not slifkin.

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    5. @YA

      Your points are so muddled and confused here that I'm going to have to ask you to repost and actually make a point before I answer you. Suffice it to say, you seem to be defining "atheist" as someone making a claim that there IS NO god. Which is not the general definition. The normal definition of an atheist is someone who is unconvinced of the theist's claim that a god exists, simply because it has not met its burden of proof. That's all.

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    6. @Meir Moses

      I don't "expect" R' Slifkin to do anything - he's free to do what he wants with his life, and I don't force anyone to do anything.

      However, I can "desire" it. And I desire it for good reasons - if someone is so focused on rationality, why not bring it to its absolute foundation, to its essence - to question a god?

      Why exactly do you believe Hashem exists?

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    7. "The naive beliefs of the modern atheist movement is so behind the times."

      I thought science was the bedrock of atheism. That's why evolution is so important.

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    8. @Meir Moses: The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva doesn't seem to require any supernatural intervention for a Messiah to come.
      Also, restoring סמיכה and assembling a Sanhedrin doesn't require any supernatural intervention to the Rambam as well (Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:12):
      ד,יב נראין לי הדברים, שאם הסכימו כל החכמים שבארץ ישראל למנות דיינין ולסמוך אותן--הרי אלו סמוכין, ויש להן לדון דיני קנסות, ויש להן לסמוך לאחרים. אם כן, למה היו החכמים מצטערין על הסמיכה, כדי שלא ייבטלו דיני קנסות מישראל: לפי שישראל מפוזרין, ואי אפשר שיסכימו כולן; ואם היה שם סמוך מפי סמוך, אינו צריך דעת כולן, אלא דן דיני קנסות לכול, שהרי נסמך מפי בית דין. והדבר צריך הכרע.

      If we would succeed in restoring a Sanhedrin, wouldn't the Nasi be de facto the role of Moshaich? (Well, probably not, since the נשיאות continued for centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple.)

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    9. @Apikores Jew

      Hey, I'm looking forward to your response on your blog. I posted a comment on your "Best Religious Questions Part 1". Over there it seems that your final conclusions on the veracity of stories in Tanach are simply based on a failure to recognize pshat vs. drash in Torah. When someone grows up in an environment that every midrash is taken literally, then indeed the questions your raised there will never find an answer. I am sorry that your upbringing was such, but I don't see how a friendly debate can be had with Rabbi Slifkin if the very foundation of Judaism that your comments are based upon seem quite faulty from the get-go. Looking forward!

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    10. "Why exactly do you believe Hashem exists?"

      Cause it's written down in many places.

      How you know that God exists is more difficult :)

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    11. “However, given your confidence, your emphasis on rationality, and your irreverence for "Tzadikim" (all of which I heartily share with you), why exactly do you believe a god exists at all?

      Rav Slifkin discusses Rationalistic Judaism, but there are lines that can not be crossed, which I am pretty sure he spelled out someplace. I have not found Rav Slifkin having irreverence for "Tzadikim. Maybe I missed it. I do not want to hear about it.

      “What is the reason you believe Hashem is actually real? You seem to follow science, a big ban
      evolution, etc. So I'm just a little confused about why you seem to be a theist, or a deist, at all.”

      Rav Slifkin wrote a book The Challenge of Creation where he seems to provide ‘rational’ for belief in Deity. I wrote a review of the book if you care to read it. The Rabbi also seems to like the argument from Jewish History - I also wrote a critique of this sort of argument..

      “Arguing about biological evolution with Haredim is fine, but I'd much rather get down to the absolute foundation of Judaism and have a friendly debate about whether a god exists or not. Would you be interested in setting up such an event, perhaps between us, with an audience? I know that the Haredi rabbis would never entertain such a thing, but you seem open-minded.”

      Although I disagree with Orthodox Judaism, Rav Slifkin does not seem to be off the deep end. I feel somewhat remorseful for some of my comments on his blog. I have devoted much time studying and sometimes debating ‘proofs’ for Orthodox Judaism and Supernatural. I have written some material about them and I do not find the proofs valid, but that is me. Others may find the ‘proofs’ convincing. I also have written about some arguments against Orthodox Judaism, Hashem and supernatural.

      “Anyway, I do appreciate your voice in the Jewish world, since, no matter what you believe, I think the voice of rationality and skepticism can only help no matter how messed up the community it finds itself in, so thank you for making this blog.”

      In the past 60 years USA Orthodox Judaism has taken a turn to extremism + “Hero” or “Idol” worship.. I mean no disrespect for Rav Slifkin’s rationalistic Judaism, but there strong precedent for it within traditional Judaism. His mistreatment is just evidence of the turn. Rationalistic Judaism should not be confused with real rationalism or real skepticism.

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    12. @N8LIGHT

      Hi, I replied to your comment. It's here:

      https://ultraorthodoxatheism.blogspot.com/

      Thanks for your input!

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  3. I don't think you tried that hard to find R. Slifkin's email address. http://bfy.tw/LIHu

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  4. Let's do Natan a favor and officially get the book in cherem. I'm sure that he could use the free publicity.

    Does anyone have a connection with Yanky Kanivesky?

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  5. ...It has no rabbinic endorsements printed in it.

    Does not it tell something?

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    1. Yes, that the author trusts his readers to judge the contents by the contents and not by what some 'authority' says (whether or not the authority has read the book or not ).

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    2. Most printed books, even those intended for a religious, Jewish audience, have no Rabbinic approbations or endorsements.

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  6. Apikorus Jew if you want to debate him go ahead but I think you will find him busy and not interested in debating anyhow.

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  7. Rabbi Dr Slifkin what is going on in your personal life?

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    1. Are you trying to tell us something?

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    2. @Just Saying, what is going on in your personal life?

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  8. MO don't care about endorsements at all. Charedim won't read a book without 10 of them. This book needs no Rabbinic endorsement.

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  9. THEY should ban it just to be on the safe side

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  10. Apikorus Jew your definition of an atheist is your own convenient one in which you hedge your bets and claim to know nothing and urge others to feel the same. The dictionary definition would say you are an agnostic. Second you claim to not know so fine. If there is a G-d it would be that your logic is off unless you feel the universe is not run by logic in which case anything can be true or not. Third your ad hominem is a cop out. You spell out your supposed counter claims if you really are interrested in the truth.

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    1. @YA

      I'll make this simple:

      "Theism" refers to your "beliefs" about a god existing.
      "Gnosticism" refers to what you "know" about a certain topic.

      So for example, you can be a
      1) Agnostic Theist (someone who believes a god exists, but admits they don't KNOW whether god exists)
      2) Gnostic Theist (someone who believes a god exists, but thinks they KNOW that a god exists)
      3) Agnostic Atheist (someone who believes no god exists, but admits they don't KNOW whether god exists), and
      4) Gnostic Atheist (someone who believes no god exists, but thinks they KNOW that no god exists)

      Most atheists you meet will probably be a 3, meaning that even if they are agnostic, they are STILL, by definition, an atheist.

      Lastly, don't commit a fallacy by appealing to a dictionary. Dictionaries are made by fallible humans and don't always reflect the accurate definition of a word. The best way to avoid this is, instead of "dictating" to a person that they're wrong based on your own definition, rather, ask them how THEY'RE using the word. Dispense with labels and discuss concepts - it makes for a much smoother conversation.

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    2. Okay making this simple again, dispensing with labels, you say you don't know if G-d exists. You think he probably doesn't. If he does it means you made an error in logic or else you don't see rationality as governing the universe.

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    3. @YA - you may read my blog posts for 'counterclaims' - warning my blog probably has heresy. If you or any RS blogreader are open to exploring these issue with me, we can do it at https://ultraorthodoxatheism.blogspot.com/ with AJ's permission. Or Kefirahoftheweek blogspot. I do not think RS blog is the appropriate blog for this. But if you already think you have the truth I am not sure it would be worth our time.

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    4. You already think you have the truth. It's not worth my time either and not because you think you have the truth but because I doubt you do anuthing more than present the by now old New Atheist movement's positions.

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  11. Apikirus Jew you are not describing the definition of an atheist. You are describing someone unsure if there is a G-d. If someone doesn't believe there is life on Mars that's not the same as someone feeling there is not yet good arguments presented for it. Second if you are not making a claim then you are being open to new evidence and its possibility and still searching for new evidence. You Apikorus Jew want someone to debate you on a possibility you affirm but want to debate if any evidence has yet been presented. Second your definition seems to require a theist existing and presenting a claim. G-d and evidence for Him doesn't depend on who is making the argument or if anyone is or did. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheist
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agnostic

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