Saturday, January 19, 2019

I Was Wrong, And I'm Sorry

Like many people, I hate having to admit that I was wrong. It's particularly unpleasant for me because there is a whole crowd of people who hate me and who leap on such a thing gleefully. And these are probably people who have never, ever honestly examined issues which conflict with their worldview and concluded that they are wrong. Still, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't publicly admit to mistakes that I made. So, in this post, I want to admit to being wrong in not just one, but two of my posts from last week.

First was in my post about whether people in kollel can be considered as quasi-Levites. I wrote that according to Rambam, somebody in kollel is in no way an honorary Levite, for two reasons. One is that according to Rambam, it is forbidden take money for learning Torah. Second is that according to Rambam, the Levites were not learning Torah, they were teaching Torah.

Now, these last two sentences are indeed true. However, I went too far in claiming that this means that according to Rambam, somebody in kollel is "in no way" an honorary Levite. According to Rambam, such a person is indeed somewhat of an honorary Levite.

There are two pieces of evidence for this. One is that at the end of Hilchos Shemittah, where Rambam waxes lyrical about how anyone can be like a Levite in devoting themselves to God, he does not mention teaching, and he is including even non-Jews. Second is that Rambam elsewhere speaks about how Torah scholars (and there is no indication that he means specifically teachers) are allowed to receive certain financial benefits "just like Levites." (It should be noted, though, that he is specifically referring to the investment of funds, and assistance in business, rather than financial grants, which he expressly prohibits.)

And so, although according to Rambam somebody in kollel is not truly like a Levite - because he is not teaching - he is still somewhat like one, and is thus entitled to certain types of business assistance.

My second mistake was in my post critiquing telling the heir to give his father's charity funds to a yeshivah, instead of to conservation, as the father had requested. I wrote that it was extremely upsetting and unethical. After reading and digesting the comments, I still think that it was probably wrong, but I don't think that it reflect a lack of ethics, and it was wrong of me to condemn it so harshly.

The reason is that the answer was given from within the worldview that the father's soul in Heaven will receive no benefit at all from having left money for conservation, but will receive enormous benefit for the money being directed to yeshivos, and thus the soul is surely hoping that the money will be redirected. Now, one may disagree with that premise, but from the perspective of one who has that premise, it's not unethical.

But the reason why I still think it's wrong, even if not unethical, is twofold. First is that even from within a chareidi/mystical worldview, conservation is a cause with merit. There are numerous sources in my book Man & Beast from classical rabbinic works speaking about the importance of respecting and looking after the natural world. True, you won't find any explicit sources speaking about saving animals from extinction, but that's because, as discussed at length in The Challenge Of Creation, nobody believed that it was possible for species to become extinct! But you do find Rishonim speaking about how the prohibition of taking mother bird and young is because it is conceptually like not caring about the perpetuation of the species. Kal v'chomer one should care about the actual perpetuation of species!

Second is that the whole idea of changing from one's agreement with a person in order to do what the person "would surely want if he really understood things" is fraught with problems. It lends itself to abuse in all kinds of ways. And would we ever want people to do that with us? Imagine the following scenario: You gave money to a non-Jew (or a secular Jew) for kosher food, and they deceive you and give you cheaper but non-kosher food, and use the difference for a good cause, based on their sincere belief that if you really knew that kashrus didn't matter, you would want the money to be used more productively. Would you think that they acted ethically?

True, there are times when we are in a bind, because we have a halachic mandate - for example, if a relative asks to be cremated. But when there is no such mandate, and the person has not asked for the money to go to an evil or pointless cause, I think it would be very appropriate to honor their request, even if you consider that there is a better cause. But it is a difficult question.

So, apologies for my mistakes. And I hope that this post serves as further proof that I am open to changing my mind and admitting errors.


  1. I appreciate your admission, but you're still wrong (or confused). If Kollel people are only "somewhat" like Levi in Rambam's book because they take money, then Torah teachers are EQUALLY "somewhat" like Levi because Rambam holds that you're not allowed to take money for teaching either! There is no difference whatsoever between Kollel and Torah teachers in terms of honorary Levite status.

    1. Right, but (A) at least that is closer to Levi in terms of what they are doing, and (B) Rambam does not oppose taking money for teaching with the same vehemence that he opposes taking money for studying, and (C) at least someone who takes money for teaching is acting in according with most of the Rishonim, unlike someone in kollel.

    2. Someone knowledgeable who gets asked questions in halachah, or who shares meaningful Mussar thoughts, or in any other way guides the people in Hashem's straight ways, fulfills Shevet Levi's role just the same. Anyhow, frankly, to say that a person who toils for two decades mastering Shas and Shulchan Aruch and thus prepares himself for Torah greatness should not get supported until he actively paskens or teaches, but a second-grade Rebbe should, is patently ludicrous.

      Find me any normative halachic authority or commentary who says that supporting Torah teachers is better than supporting Torah scholars.

    3. @stop the ignorance

      "Someone knowledgeable who gets asked questions in halachah, or who shares meaningful Mussar thoughts, or in any other way guides the people in Hashem's straight ways"

      Hey, I'm not challenging here, just curious.
      Is it possible that there are individuals in kollel who are not full-time sitting and learning (or possibly bumming around and not even learning) and not really "guiding the people in Hashem's straight ways"? Is it possible that numerous kollel guys are not actually "toiling for two decades mastering Shas and Shulchan Aruch" during their time in kollel?

      The reason I'm asking this is that perhaps there is a major difference between supporting one individual's genuine Torah learning and supporting an entire yeshivah that will possibly (or probably? I honestly don't know) harbor kollel guys who are either not actually contributing to aiding the nation or not really engaged in "mastering shas"?

      Furthermore, what if all they're doing is "sharing meaningful Mussar thoughts" but they mamesh don't have what it takes to answer halachic questions? Is that enough to support them? And what exactly is meant by "meaningful" mussar? Is there a clear definition of what that means?

  2. I am impressed you have admitted you are wrong. Usually in these online fights no one ever does, so kudos to you. Takes some guts for that, yasher koach. That said, I do agree with "stop the ignorance"'s comment that the "somewhat" like Levi qualifier is unwarranted.

    1. Rambam says that Shevet Levi were teaching. Hence, someone who teaches is more like Levi than someone who learns. Albeit still not fully like Levi, if he is receiving money.

    2. Oy Nosson, what are we going to do with you? We're learning the Rambam here and the Rambam doesn't offer any midling category of "somewhat" like a Levi. If you meet the Rambam's criteria, you're like a Levi. If not, you're not. Please don't make up your own nonsense and attribute it to the Rambam.

    3. What Rambam actually says is not that someone is like a Levi (either partially or fully). What he says is that not only Levi, but anyone can dedicate themselves to Divine service.

    4. Oy nosson,
      being totally disingenuous again. Of course when Rosenblum (and you) and anyone else talks about this topic, "being like a levi" is shorthand for fulfilling the criteria set out by the Rambam in halacha 13. so again, there is no midling category of "somewhat like a levi", because you just made that up.

      So even when you admit you're wrong, you don't really admit you're wrong. (shaking head)

  3. "...there is a whole crowd of people who hate me and who leap on such a thing gleefully."

    You are speculating. Most Chareidim were not even supportive of your ban. Many also haven't heard of you.

    1. I'm talking about people who comment here!

    2. Well I would have to read more comments to see if I agree with your perception.

  4. Your being “modeh al ha-emet” speaks well of you and is a good model for others. My esteem has only gone up.

  5. Tanna DeBei Eliyahu Zuta, chapter 18, paragraph 1:

    Rabbi Yochanan taught:

    "I testify that any Torah Scholar, who studies with sincere motives and works to support himself, will be fortunate in this life and the afterlife.

    He will be revered by: his wife, his children and Gentiles.
    Angels will help him, and G*D will love him completely...”

    Rambam Rejected Childless Messiah:

  6. Your admission of your mistake is exemplary and we should all follow in your shoes. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zaikai says:
    אשרי הדור שהנשיא שלו מביא קרבן על שגגתו [Horayot 10b]
    Thank you for inspiring the masses to do so. We could all learn from you and it would be a wonderful world if our other religious leaders came out with statements like yours (at least according to sensible people who believe that the religious leaders are humans and not angelic beings).

    I think the Kollel/Levi article was great, but my main issue with it was that Rosenblum was not afraid to put forth such an article in a charade platform and its a brave step in the right direction, as you mentioned, and I think it should have been left at that. No need to nitpick! Baby steps! Look at the good, leave the bad behind.

    In relation to the second story of the man on his deathbed I'd have to say I'm opposed to you saying sorry, and you should stick to your guns. You took back your comment and said "from the perspective of one who has that premise (the father's soul in Heaven will receive enormous benefit for the money being directed to yeshivos), it's not unethical".
    This is the father's money and he clearly said where he wanted it to go. If we are considering the ethics of the issue, the view of what's ethical or not should apply to the person who the $1,000,00 belonged to. You and I and everyone here are having this conversation here on this earth, not "ba'shamayim" and therefore the code of ethics we should be employing is one that relates to the one here on earth. Can anyone prove that the father's neshama in the next world is regretting his decision of where to give the money to? The answer is no. The only thing that can be proven is that he stated exactly where he wanted it to go to, and for anyone to apply their belief system on someone else's is not just "wrong", but unethical. The son should be ashamed of himself, and the father's neshama is likely not being elevated by something that was done against his wishes. Let the son organize a siyum shas in his memory if he is sincere about his father's soul, not go against his dying wish and put his money where he (the son) thinks it should go.

    The source quoted from the Mishnah Berurah (621:19) says that "if they [the deceased] were still alive they would have wanted to give tzedakah", it does not say "the neshama of the deceased surely has regretted its decisions in life and if it would return to the world it would have wanted to give tzedaka". If this man's father were alive, he indeed would want to give the money to where he originally intended. Furthermore, that mishnah berurah is speaking about us giving of our own money on behalf of the deceased, not taking the money of the deceased against their wishes and giving it to where we believe is right.
    (If anyone has the "shut takanat ha'shavim" that is also referenced, please care to share.)
    Again, if the son really cares about his father's soul and keeping halacha, let him wait until Yom Kippur (which the mishnah berurah is discussing) and pledge tzedaka on behalf of his father and donate it to a yeshivah. Better yet, let him pledge $1,000,000 and have emunah that Hashem will send him back the money.

    On a more positive note! You mentioned "you won't find any explicit sources speaking about saving animals from extinction" and that "taking mother bird and young is conceptually like not caring about the perpetuation of the species". Rabbeinu Bechayeh on Dvarim 22:7 seems to view it not just as conceptual, and he says it himself that it's the pshat:
    ע"ד הפשט יצוה הכתוב בקיום המין ושלא לעקרו, שאע"פ שהתירה תורה שחיטת בעלי חיים לתועלת האדם לא תתיר ההשחתה והעקירה בהם

    Looking forward to hearing your, and others', response !

  7. Kol Hakavod for this post!

    Allow me to elaborate further (while agreeing fully) on your second point, that the approach of R' Goldberg leading him to tell the son to give the money to a yeshiva is fraught with danger and lends itself to abuse, and we would not want people doing it to us, but yet is not ethically reprehensible from his point of view.

    Surely it is obvious that the modern attitude of tolerance and acceptance to all beliefs and faiths actually has no basis in absolute truth. Only one religion can be true, and if you are convinced it is yours, then you are equally convinced that the others are false. Of course they are equally convinced the other way around, so it behooves you to tolerate other religions and act with integrity towards them so that they will reciprocate towards you and your true religion.

    Imagine a devout follower of Islam stuck in a windowless clockless room on Ramadan asking you, a Jew, if it is nightfall yet so that he can start eating. I seriously contend that if you have any absolute ethical qualms about telling him it is night when it is really still day, then deep down you must have a lack of conviction in the truth of your own faith versus his. (Of course as a practical matter lying to him is not the correct course of action, because we would want him to be truthful if we ever needed to rely on him for some aspect of our true religion, aside from the negative effects on our own character from being deceitful for no reason. I also believe there is an issur of geneivas daas here.)

    Therefore in your example of giving a non-Jew money to buy you kosher food, if he is sincere in his belief that Jewish dietary requirements are nonsense, then while he is being foolish for not acting with integrity (and you are being foolish for trusting him), I would not say that ethically he has done wrong for causing you to transgress your (in his eyes false) religion.

    The reason why your example correctly engenders outrage is for a different reason entirely. It is STEALING. You are still alive, the money is yours, and he has no right to spend it otherwise than in accordance with your wishes, however deluded he thinks you are for wanting kosher food.

    But this is precisely the point of R' Goldberg's answer, that in this case the money now belongs to the son, and the father's wishes lack a kinyan and are not legally binding from the point of view of monetary law. What is left is just the ethical aspect, and while as a practical matter perhaps it would have been better to instruct the son to follow his fathers wishes (as you say the father's cause is neither evil nor pointless), yet R' Goldberg acted ethically according to his premise.

  8. Lower hanging fruit?
    "First was in my post about "
    "My second.."


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