Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Curious Cholent

Books about Judaism typically fall into two categories. Charedi books feature rabbinic approbations, generally quote only from sources that are charedi-approved, stay far away from academic scholarship (especially in Jewish studies), and anachronistically read contemporary approaches into ancient writings. Non-charedi books do not feature rabbinic approbations, freely quote from any source, respect academic scholarship, and feel no need to make ancient writings conform with contemporary values.

A new book by Rabbi Shmuel Phillips, Judaism Reclaimed (Mosaica Press 2019) left me confused. It is a curious mixture of a charedi and a non-charedi work. The book presents itself as a work of theology and philosophy, primarily based on Rambam and Rav Hirsch, and loosely tied in to the weekly parashah. It features rabbinic approbations, though they are a little diverse - one is from Rav Leff, who has bona fide charedi credentials, and another is from Lord Rabbi Sacks, who despite being probably the most important rabbi living today, most certainly does not have charedi credentials. The book quotes from a wide range of sources, including plenty of academic Jewish works (sometimes positively, sometimes to criticize). It anachronistically reads contemporary approaches into ancient writings, but it also presents an openness to ideas that is not found in charedi works. It observes that the rationalist and mystical approaches are two long-standing streams of thought, both legitimate - which, while obviously true, is not something that the charedi world generally acknowledges - and yet its stated presentation of the rationalist approach is sometimes accurate and sometimes falls well short.

Let me give some examples. A sub-text of the book is challenging the works of various contemporary Jewish academics, in particular Prof. Marc Shapiro and Prof. Menachem Kellner. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 seek to critique Shapiro's The Limits Of Orthodox Theology, which famously shows how many of Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith were disputed by prestigious rabbinic authorities. Phillips makes the not-uncommon mistake of misinterpreting the book to be saying that anyone is entitled to believe anything. He also challenges some of Shapiro's readings of his sources, but in a book that presents as many sources as Shapiro's does, that hardly suffices to negate the broader point. Anyway, Phillips concludes that there is widespread acceptance of at least eleven of Rambam's Thirteen Principles, and these are therefore halachically binding. "At least eleven"?! Surely there is no charedi rabbinic authority who would say that you can settle for eleven!

Chapter 22 (and 25) presents Rambam's approach to Lashon HaKodesh. Phillips accurately presents Rambam's view that Hebrew is described as "the Holy Tongue" not because its letters have mystical powers that were used to create the universe, but rather simply because it contains no obscene words. Phillips further expounds on this approach in order to make it more palatable. Still, as he records in a footnote, even some of Rambam's defenders were fiercely critical of this. And I'm not sure if everyone realizes this, but it's an approach which pretty much negates the entirety of kabbalah, and dismisses all the great rabbinic authorities who produced extensive works based on mysticism. In a work that claims that various medieval beliefs have been "paskened away," it's astonishing to see one of Rambam's most radical views being presented as a legitimate approach.

Yet in other areas, the book is more conventionally charedi/ naive. In addressing the issue of classical and medieval authorities holding views that are anathema by contemporary standards, in particular regarding the corporeality of God, Phillips clearly regards this as an religiously unacceptable historic possibility, and marshals various arguments to that effect. But he neglects to address, or unconvincingly downplays, certain important evidence to the contrary. For example, there is the testimony of R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles, who wrote that “the majority of the scholars in France were magshimim”; there is the letter of Ramban, who expresses dismay at reports that various French Torah scholars opposed Rambam for his belief that God is incorporeal; and there is the testimony of Riaz that there were various scholars who believed that God is made of an ethereal substance in gigantic human form and that they should not be condemned for it since, he says, some of Chazal were of the same view!

Phillip's defense of the Kuzari Argument, and rebuttals of contemporary academic Bible scholarship, are likewise weak apologetics. They will no doubt sound very comforting for yeshivah graduates who have little capacity for critical thought or exposure to contemporary works, but for those who are better read and more intellectually honest, his arguments will come across as naive. It should be noted that in the first chapter, Phillips says that "it would be arrogant to imagine that I have fully resolved any of the profound and complex questions which will be discussed in the upcoming pages, many of which are deserving of a whole book in their own right." Indeed.

When it comes to Torah/science topics, Phillips again presents a curious blend of theological openness with traditionalist irrationality. He gives full voice to the idea that "the Torah's accounts of early history use prevalent ancient myths as a medium through which to impart Divine truths and values" (p. 256), which in a footnote he observes would apply "in particular" to "the first eleven chapters of the Torah." He references Umberto Cassuto, R. Chaim Navon, my own book, and especially Rabbi Sacks' The Great Partnership (which essentially presents the same approach as my own book, albeit with less resultant charedi fanfare). Amazing!

Yet Phillips proceeds to state that "even if one were to accept the theological legitimacy of such a detached, non-literal approach to the Torah's early narrative" (which he surely does, based on his presentation of it), it is "nevertheless unnecessary." And why is that? Because, as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman says, modern science is completely unreliable about such things! Phillips refers us to chapter 66, where he approvingly cites Meiselman's claim that historical science projects untestable hypotheses to the distant past, when the constants of nature may have been different. Alas, he seems completely unaware that this utterly ridiculous idea does not disprove the existence of an age of dinosaurs, and nor does it challenge the evidence against a global flood. And in general, his copious references to Meiselman's Torah, Chazal and Science - surely one of the most intellectually dishonest, anti-scientific works ever published - does not reflect well on him.

In conclusion, it's difficult to pass an absolute verdict on Judaism Reclaimed, because it depends on who's reading it. People who are already well-read and intellectually open will be turned off by many aspects of it, and it contains a lot of specious arguments. On the other hand, for yeshivish people who are not used to reading books without haskamos, this book will open their minds in valuable ways.


  1. It's important to point out that we do not have a single named person who hold Hashem has some sort of guf.

    And even if somebody is found, it's important to note that not everybody who wrote torah in the time of the Rishonim is in fact a Rishon. Then, like now, anybody could call themselves Rabbi, and anybody could write what they liked. Just because some impressive looking manuscript is found in some impressive genizah writes XYZ it doesn't mean we can proclaim 'We have a Rishon that holds XYZ'. Like now, there were plenty of am haratzim back then to.

    1. False. R' Moshe Taku.

    2. Moshe Taku said that God has the capability of having a guf. That's possibly different.

      Regardless, Rashi says Yad Mamash in reference to God's hand. R. Slifkin has written an article about Rashi's view here.

      I like how Shimon uses some weasel-words like "named person" so that when someone responds with the Raavad's critique of the Rambam that "there are people bigger and better than you" who believe that God has a body, he can claim it doesn't fit into his request. Why? Apparently the Raavad didn't think these were just people "calling themselves rabbis writing whatever they want," to paraphrase.

    3. Shlomo. No. It's a vague quote from somebody else quoting a vague quote that he holds that.

    4. That is debatable. According to academic scholar Joseph Dan, "It is not that Rabbi Moses Taku believed in an anthropomorphic God; most probably, he did not."

    5. Aryeh

      The ra'aved uses hyperbole consistently against the ramvam.

      The ra'aved's point is of course that he holds that believing God has a guf is not as terrible as the rambam makes out.

      The ra'ved himself clearly doesn't hold that (otherwise he would say so). Who does hold it? Nobody really knows.

    6. Shimon - I don't know what you're talking about. He wrote Kesav Tamim himself, and it isn't particularly vague.

      Eric - Yes, of course there are revisionists. Read it for yourself.

    7. Shimon B, who cares who the Raavad was talking about. Why does it matter? He endorsed their authority (even if he did not believe it himself), such that they can't possibly be called heretics for their view in this matter. That means they existed.

    8. Aryeh.

      He doesn't endorse them at all. Read carefully.

      He merely states that they are not heritcal. It doesn't mean that they are correct.

    9. Shimon B. Do you have any explanation for your comment regarding R' Moshe Taku's view that "a vague quote from somebody else quoting a vague quote that he holds that." I'm honestly interested to know what you're referring to.

    10. So...should I assume from your silence that you were just making it up?

  2. On what basis do you write Rabbi Sacks is the most important Rabbi alive today? Not for Jews certainly. On average he quites five non Jewish (often Christian based) sources to one Jewish one, in each and every d'var torah of his. I don't know any other Jewish rabbi that comes close to that.

    1. So one of your criteria for being an important rabbi is that they are narrowly educated and largely ignorant?

    2. Ex Chareidim and Charedim who want to prove how with it they are are obsessed with Sacks' shtick of squinting while randomly name dropping and rattling off something from the Dummies Guide to Philosophy. It's a quirk you have to learn to overlook.

    3. Fozzibear,

      No. Only that they quote from our own sources at least as much as secular sources. But he can't quote from our own sources on concepts such as 'leadership" because he is simply unlearned in them. That's why he needs to quote non jewish sources.

      He quotes a few pesukim stressing a concept from the sidrah and launches into secular sources as expansion. He could just as well quote from Christian scripture, the quran, or hindu scriptures and give the same 'd'var torah.'

    4. I imagine R Slifkin put that in simply to be sensational, because it really is a preposterous statement even by his standard.

      Sacks is very articulate and academically scholarly, but surely anyone impartial would concede he is hardly a national standard Talmid Chochom let alone an international standard "most important" Rabbi alive today.

    5. @Baal HaBoss
      "he is hardly a national standard Talmid Chochom let alone an international standard "most important" Rabbi alive today."

      I don't think anyone here has the credentials to define what a "talmid chochom" is (oh woops, I forgot to capitalize it: Talmid Chochom. ridiculous)
      Furthermore, when RNS said he is "probably the most important" how on earth does that translate into being a talmid chacham? Oh I know. Because the only way to be "the most important" Rabbi in the world is if you sit and learn all day and know Shas off by heart and that you write sefarim that impact a small margin of the world's society!? Please.
      While the very rabbis you do consider talmidei chachamim (which they are) focus their attention in shas and poskim, R Sacks differs from them in his greater comprehension of Tanach, Midrash, and (let's not forget) authentic Jewish history. Each one can be a talmid chacham in his own right. Each one has their impact on society. The chareidi gedolim have their greatest influence on chareidim, while R Sacks influences the rest of Judaism and the world at large. That's just what it is. Each one is "most important" within the audience that respects them. Each one can be a talmid chacham. I don't see why there has to be some type of competition here.

      Shimon B
      "he can't quote from our own sources on concepts such as 'leadership" because he is simply unlearned in them. That's why he needs to quote non jewish sources."

      So basically you have learned all of R Sacks' writings to know that he "can't quote" from Jewish sources on topics like leadership!? Judging from your biased remarks, you have likely not read anything longer than his parsha divrei Torah (indeed, you said he "stresses a concept from the sidrah"). Have you read any of his books? Have you watched/listened to any of his longer 1-hour shiurim that dive deep into Jewish practice? Or do you just focus on the secular sources he quotes, those that you feel abhorrent towards because of your ignorant worldview, and then make your ridiculous claims on his overall knowledge of Torah ? Do yourself a favor: before making a statement about somebody's writings, actually read them, or just keep your shallow remarks to yourself

    6. N8ZL,

      I have read his books, heard his lectures. Again, typically secular sources outnumber our own Jewish sources a ratio 4 to 1.

      I have never heard him delve deeply into Jewish practice. Not any deeper then a good yeshivah bochur. Certainly nowhere near the standard of any real shul rabbi around here.

      I am not entirely sure why you are arguing with the facts. Everybody knows it.

    7. N8zl

      His knowledge of history, tanach and midrash is no greater than the one or two excellent girl's high school teachers we have around here.

      He's good with words, granted. But that doesn't make one the most important talmid chochom alive today.

      That accolade would go to somebody more familiar with traditional Jewish sources than he is. Again, why does he quote so few Jewish sources in his writings?

    8. I knew that line would trigger some people. R'Slifkin is correct though, in terms of reach and influence more people will know of, listen and respect Rabbi Sacks than any other rabbi. Sure the yeshivish/charedi communities listen to their rabbis in Israel and Lakewood but these communities aren't the majority in terms of numbers. Rabbi Sacks has an elul whatsapp list which is upto 63 groups, so lets say only 2/3rds of that listen every day, 10,000 people are learning torah from him daily, from all walks of life. you guys are hilarious. 1st from oxford, "dummies guide to philosophy"

    9. @shimon B

      The fact that Rabbi Sacks quotes from multiple secular sources to corroborate with ancient Jewish teachings in of itself demonstrates that there are value systems in the world we live in and there are "chiddushim" of secular scholars that are in line with those of our ancient tradition. For Jews that shut themselves off from the world, I could see why (but totally disagree with how) they'd find it problematic. For the Orthodox Jews who live realistically and recognize that we are meant to live amongst secular society, Rabbi Sacks is indeed doing what very few rabbis are doing, thereby explaining why RNS called him "most important".

      You said "I have never heard him delve deeply into Jewish practice"
      In honor of Rosh Hashannah I strongly advise you to listen to his lecture on "Confusing Satan". It is a prime example of analyzing the texts we are all used to, and excavating the deeper symbolism behind what we do. I warn you, it's not a cute fluffy vort so you will need to use some seichel while listening.
      When you're done with that one, you can then look for his video lecture on Kohelet before Sukkot begins; it's also another fantastic example of his ability to extricate profound meaning behind the practices we keep on a regular basis, but that we never think about analytically if at all. Oh, but I warn you, Kohelet is part of Nach, so if you're from the yeshivah system you may have a tough time opening up to that.

      "arguing with the facts"
      I am waiting for your evidence that proves these "facts".

      You said:
      "His knowledge of history, tanach and midrash is no greater than the one or two excellent girl's high school teachers we have around here."

      From this comment I am beginning to see that I am dealing with a real ignoramus. Your words insinuate that either boys don't need to know history, or that girls have a crappier education than the boys.
      Furthermore, a high school teacher even in a secular school knows a very basic aspect of world history and/or Jewish history. Unlike the yeshivah systems that ignore the pertinent aspects of genuine Jewish history and even fabricate/skew Jewish history, Rabbi Sacks not only knows it, he understands it and, most importantly, uses it as a pivotal tool to inspire our way of life.

      "He's good with words, granted"
      Actually, he's average with words. But for someone who comes from a yeshivah system with a poor knowledge and education in English or literature, I can see how you'd say "he's good with words".

      "that doesn't make one the most important talmid chochom alive today"
      You are again proving my point. RNS did not say he's the most important "talmid chochom" today, he said that he's probably the most important "rabbi" today. You act as if the only way to be a rabbi that has any level of importance is that you're a "talmid chochom", which is a term that YOU are defining. Does he know Shas and Poskim like R Kanievsky? Probably not. Does he influence a greater percentage of the world's population and has more success in making this world a better place through the lens of Torah and Judaism? Probably yes. (and this is notwithstanding the fact that he is indeed a "talmid chochom", just not in the way that the narrow-minded yeshivah system would define it)

      "why does he quote so few Jewish sources in his writings?"
      Go read his most recent parshah point on Ki Teitzei. Tell me how many Jewish sources he quotes in comparison to secular ones and then explain to me how it's "so few"?
      Furthermore, the reason he quotes secular sources is because he is not a narrow-minded foolish Jew who lives in a Jewish-only world.

    10. @n8zl

      In Ki Tzeitzei parsha points he quotes Tom Reagan and Peter Singer (1), Frans de Walls (2), Kant (3), Descartes (4) and the Rambam (1). So its 4 secular sources v the Rambam. I am not sure why we are debating objective facts. That is what he does. Over and over again.

      I should have made clear I exclude nach and talmud in my weekly reckoning.

      And everybody that has learnt Ramban al Hatorah knows the Rambam.

      Great chiddush - the torah cares about animals. My kindergaten child knows that.

      His chidush is based on the Abarbanel.

      The rest of your post is pointless insults which mean you know you are on the back foot.

    11. Er...if I think he's good with words does that automatically taint me as one from a yeshiva system etc.? Cuz, you know, he actually is really "good with words."

    12. @shimon B

      rachmana litzlan. you left out some pretty pivotal quotes there:
      You left out "Proverbs 12:10" (in case you didn't know, Proverbs is English for Mishlei, which was written by Shlomo Hamelech)
      You left out all the quotes from Devarim and the one from Bamidbar, which was written by Moshe from God.
      You left out the one from Tehilim 23:1
      You left out the Mishnayot that were quoted (Brachot 5:3 and Megillah 4:9)

      I'd say the Jewish quotes match the non-Jewish ones, or are more than them.
      I mean, what are you expecting? That he quotes R Moshe and R Shteinman? Are David Hamelech and Shlomo Hamelech not good enough to be on your list or is it simply that anything that's not referencing the gedolim is not a real quote? You can't just brush it off and say "i exclude nach and talmud" without explaining why?

      The main chiddush he was putting forth was not that the Torah cares about animals. Sheesh. The chiddush was answering the contradictions in the Rambam. The other chiddush is that the primary leaders in the Torah learnt their role as leaders through their relationship with the animals as shepherds.
      Furthermore, saying the only chiddush is"the Torah cares about animals" is a very shallow extrapolation from the essay, as you ignored the whole reasoning he was explaining behind why that is so. Like I said, there is the "what", which any basic "good yeshivah boy" should know (duh), but when it comes to the "why" or the bigger picture, that's an entirely different message, one that you seem to be missing.

      You shrugged off all the other points by saying they were insults. Typical cop out. I'll take it as an "i don't know"

    13. @Shlomo

      he's good with words in comparison to the simple vocabulary used by most speakers that cater to the yeshiva system. but for people that know English and literature, it's a given that the person giving forth the lecture speaks in proper English and shows a wide vocabulary.

    14. As I wrote cleary, I exclude primary sources such as tanach and talmud from the reckoning.

      I refer to commentators only. He lacks knowledge of our own traditional commentators. That's quite clear from his writings.

      As I wrote he is good with words. That's what he does. Often (not always) Takes a simple concept and dress it up with long words. Give me a day with the internet I can easily do the same. He will be quicker of course as he has had practice.

      Bottom line, I expect any half decent rabbi not to gravitate to secular sources the way he does, or at least demonstrate comptence in both.

      He could be a Christian Reverend and write exactly the same d'var torah as he did on Ki Tzeiztei. No exeggeration.

    15. N8zl

      I don't care what jewish religious sources he quotes. Bottom line I would expect a rabbi worth his salt to bring jewish sources. Bottom like, he prefers secular sources. Obvious interpretation is that he is not all that familiar with jewish sources. They don't come up on Google I suppose. Even Every kiruv rosh yeshivah brings up the noda b'yehuda's teshuvoh on hunting in this context as fundemental to the topic. He omits it.

    16. @Shimon B

      I will accept that since you have left the previous points unanswered that you acquiesce.

      "I exclude primary sources such as tanach and talmud from the reckoning."
      I am aware that you exclude Tanach and Talmud. But I am failing to understand why. Are they not Jewish enough ? Please do explain.

      Just because he doesn't quote a large amount of Jewish commentators in no way demonstrates that "he lacks knowledge" of them, and anyone with a sense of logic wouldn't use words like "quite clear". You yourself said verbatim: "he prefers secular sources", You then then say that the "obvious interpretation" is "that he is not all that familiar with jewish sources". The kindergarten child and high school girls teacher that you cited earlier need not flex their intellect too much to know that if someone "prefers" one thing over the other that it doesn't insinuate an "obvious interpretation" that he isn't familiar with the Jewish sources. Your logic is flawed. Maybe you haven't learnt enough gemara.

      "Even Every kiruv rosh yeshivah brings up the noda b'yehuda"
      You're missing the point. R Sacks is not a "kiruv rosh yeshiva" type of rabbi. Those are the ones that are all smoke and mirrors and when you get to the meat of the matter, they don't have what it takes. They're good at the superficial layers, but it ends there. Stop comparing him to these charedi mindless authors/speakers. Once you recognize that he's teaching at a higher level (which seemingly you can't relate to), all your critiques are senseless.
      And if "every" kiruv rosh brings up the same source, it says alot about the system that they can never think of new material for the same topics within Torah.

    17. Don't assume anything from my silence.

      The reason why I exclude nach and talmud and consider only commentators is called 'comparing like with like'. Equal balance. It would be too much even for him to quote the New Testament although I am sure he could if he wanted to. He quotes the Church Fathers on occasion, mind you. More than pirkei avos.

      I have made my points. 'My' points is innacurate. Even members in the local MO shuls say Rabbi Sacks quotes too many secular sources to support his points and not enough traditional Jewish religious sources.

      Its 'd'var Hashem Bozoh' leaving out our authentic religious commentators. A bit like going to a non jewish court.

      You missed my point re the nodeh b'yehudah. My point is simply a fundemental traditional source that every rabbi worth his salt that bothers with these type of issues knows, omitted.

      And you still haven't explained why he does NOT use Jewish sources. You think the ba'alei mussar v'hashkofo have nothing to say on the topics he addresses? You think our commentators have nothing to say on values like 'leadership', 'bravery', 'humbleness'. 'Positivity', 'arrogance", etc. You would think that is the case listening to him.

    18. @Shimon B

      "The reason why I exclude nach and talmud and consider only commentators is called 'comparing like with like'. Equal balance."
      The point you are making does not apply to why you leave out mishna and gemara from your reckoning. Furthermore, your "comparing like with like" is completely unfounded. The "traditional commentators on Torah" does not "equally balance" with modern day scholars who are not even discussing religious masters, like the new testament you mentioned.
      The only "like with like" here is what you brought up: Jewish and non-Jewish. And for some reason, you dismiss Tanach and Talmud as not Jewish enough.

      "He quotes the Church Fathers on occasion, mind you. More than pirkei avos."
      Evidence, please. That's a rather bold and exaggerated statement. I have read him quote pirkei avot on numerous occasions and rarely "church fathers".
      And by the way, "Pirkei Avos" is part of Mishna in case you forgot, and you don't even consider it as part of your reckoning, so what's wrong with you.

      Oh golly, "Even members in the local MO shuls say Rabbi Sacks quotes too many secular sources". My world is shattered. Of course there can be imbeciles in the MO world. Unlike many charedim, I recognize that Jews within my own "hashkafa" can also be led astray, so I'm not sure what you're getting at when you bring it up.

      "Its 'd'var Hashem Bozoh' leaving out our authentic religious commentators. A bit like going to a non jewish court."
      I'm happy you can come up with these fanciful lines and create false parallels and accusations. But these are mere conjectures (go look up the word if you don't understand its definition)
      The bigger "d'var Hashem Bozoh" is found by shallow ultra orthodox bozos (or shall I say "bozohs") who pervert the words of chazal to align with their own biased worldview, or those who adopt different interpretations to them and create an imaginary universe, while at the same time ignoring all the other maamarei chazal or dismissing them as non-relevant or non-mainstream. Or wait, an even better example of "Dvar Hashem bazah" is someone who does not consider Tanach or Talmud as good enough Jewish quotes.

      "You missed my point re the nodeh b'yehudah"
      So basically if I ever read a DT about hunting animals and the nodeh byehudah is left out, then it must be that author is an ignoramus. Tell me, would that still apply to a rabbi who sports a beard and a black hat? Would you dare say the same?

      "And you still haven't explained why he does NOT use Jewish sources."
      No. He DOES use Jewish sources. You yourself have admitted that. Rather, you take issue with the ratio of Jewish vs Non-Jewish sources, and with which exact sources he "chooses" to ignore (like the nodeh).
      So the real issue that you raise "why he brings secular sources" which I have explained. I am happy to repeat it if you'd like.

    19. I have said all I have to say on the matter. Due to delays caused by moderation, this is not a good forum for debate. Nor is the fact you resorting to emotion and cheap put-you-downs. Referring to bozos, black hats and shallowness etc.

      Never the sign of a confident debator.

      I stand by what I said. Mishnah and gemmoroh are considered primary sources, not commentators. If you want me to spell it out, post around 500 ce, his quotes from secular sources far outweigh his quotes from traditional jewish sources. It's almost as if they don't exists in his world.

    20. 1st from oxford, "dummies guide to philosophy"

      Sacks' intelligence is not an issue. He's obviously smart, but he's just as obviously a middle class version of a televangelist.

      Sacks has made a lot of money by identifying values that 90% of people believe in and coming up with ways to make them think they are tapping into ancient wisdom, with loads of pointless name dropping and fuzzy logic. We know from the Padwa affair that he has zero integrity, but even if he was a man of great personal honesty, his essays would still be fell-good guff, expertly designed for people who want to feel smart without ever having their beliefs challenged.

    21. 98zl

      Just heard his shiur on koheles. His main chiddish is that succas mamash refers to the mishkan is unknown to judaism. Still I don't have a problem with that. It's a free world.

      More concerning, from the closing of the talmud to the present era, he quotes zero jewish sources. Plenty of kant, shakespere, tolstoy maybe blake (can't remember) plus a few others I can't recall. Zero. Zilch.

      I could understand if he was talking to a bunch of non Jews on the radio, but to a room full of (presumably) religious Jews?
      Seriously? He couldn't find a single Jewish religious quote on hevel and koheles? And simchah?

    22. @shimon B

      Very sneaky of you, putting "black hats" along with "bozos, and shallow". Indeed, "bozos" and "shallow" can be offensive, but I did not use those words when I mentioned "black hats", which is not an offensive term. You are misconstruing my words, making it seem as if I equated "black hats" with "bozo" or "shallow", which I did not. I did, however, mention "ultra-orthodox" along with "bozo" and "shallow", not as a generalization, but rather that when it comes to that aspect of dvar Hashem bozoh, it's primarily in the ultra orthodox camp.
      And by the way, "shallow" is not a put-you-down. if someone says something like "Great chiddush - the torah cares about animals. My kindergaten child knows that" while missing the entire point of the essay, then indeed they are expressing a shallow understanding of the essay and have not put much thought into it. It's not a put-you-down, it's an observation.

      "Never the sign of a confident debator."
      Big woop. It's never the sign of a confident debater to skew the other debater's words, nor continuously fail to answer question, quit the debate based on delays in moderation, or blaming the other to be too emotional. Furthermore, you too have used unkind and emotion-laden words in describing Rabbi Sacks.

      "post around 500 ce, his quotes from secular sources far outweigh his quotes from traditional jewish sources"
      Why does he need to quote "post 500CE" commentators? What is your fascination with this? Who are you to say what he should and shouldn't quote, and why do you then jump to conclusions that the reason he isn't quoting them is because he doesn't know them and they don't exist? Did it ever occur to you that a person like you is not his target audience? You are not recognizing that he is not speaking to the charedi or yeshivisheh community. The lectures you are bothered by are ones that are geared towards Jews that are both observant (whether it's MO, charedi, mizrachi) and very much assimilated Jews, all that likely have a higher level of education and familiarity with intellectual scholarship. Whether you belong to that group or not is not an issue. The issue is that Rabbi Sacks is catering to that group of Jews. If you're not part of that group then that's your life, but there is no reason to go on with your banter about him being unlearned or likened to a christian reverend.
      And do you honestly think that a rav who gets up and strictly quotes later Jewish sources and has no knowledge of modern-day secular sources will connect to a secular unaffiliated Jew?

    23. @shimon B

      "He couldn't find a single Jewish religious quote on hevel and koheles? "

      You're simply not getting it. Did you ever know that Tanach is in of itself an aspect of Torah that can be studied, without the need for commentaries?
      Would you say that Rabbi David Fohrman is an ignoramus who is unlearned because he doesn't quote later commentary in his AlephBeta videos? I think you're failing to understand that there are different levels of learning Torah, each with its own benefits and each necessary. Not all Rabbis and shiurim you listen to are going to be the ones you are used to. And if it's not your bag then so be it. But who are you to go ahead badmouthing and disrespecting Rabbis just because their shiruim don't fit your hashkafa or don't quote the "fundamental" commentaries (which is subjective, by the way) that you are used to?

    24. No, you are simply not getting it. One does not expect a rabbi to totally ignore Jewish sources, from the period he is peppering his talk with secular sources. Period.

      Every other rabbi I know, speaking to similar audiences manages a few jewish religious philosphical sources. Rabbi Gottleib manages plenty. I am not asking for hundreds. But quite literally, NONE! That is making a statement. Like it or not.

      You think no Jewish religous philospher had anything to say on "man's imminent fear of death"? Typying 'mefachad misah' into my otzar hachochmo brings up plenty. Yes, he may need to 'philosphise' them a little, but that's what he is good at. That the only source he could mention was a talmid of Freud who shmaded himself? The impression he gives, rightly or wrongly is that either our own sources have nothing to say in the matter as good as Freud's talmid, or he doesn't know them. Take your pick.

      Your long words fail to address the point. And no, Nach CANNOT be studied without commentaries. Otherwise you may as well read 'Game of Thrones' - similar isn't it, once you get to Shmuel Beis. All those rapes, murders, semi-incest, civil wasr battles, court intrigues and what-not.

      But at least he stated clearly he believes the story of Kayin and Hevel happened. Many of his type don't.

    25. @shimon B

      "One does not expect a rabbi to totally ignore Jewish sources"
      Again, he is not ignoring Jewish sources. He just isn't quoting (which does not equal "ignoring") the ones that YOU want him to, and for some reason the Tanach or Talmud itself aren't valid Jewish sources.
      You then go on to defend yourself by saying "Every other rabbi I know...". There you go again. Rabbi Sacks is not speaking to people like you or to "all the rabbis that you know".

      "The impression he gives... is that either our own sources have nothing to say in the matter"
      You completely ignored my above point, which is why you said this. He is reaching out to Jews of all backgrounds, not to the ones in your circle. Educated unaffiliated Jews will not connect to a rabbi who expresses a narrow-minded knowledge and complete ignorance of the secular world. Rather, they will better connect to someone who quotes modern secular sources, and then they connect to Judaism by Rabbi Sacks demonstrating that these secular thinkers are voicing opinions that relate to ancient Jewish teachings.

      "Nach CANNOT be studied without commentaries. Otherwise you may as well read 'Game of Thrones'"
      Hashem yerachem. I don't know how else to begin replying to that comment.
      Listen, I understand the charedi mindset. God forbid should you read the plain text of Tanach lest you become a heretic. It's an approach for the weak of faith and is the reason why charedi Jews are more likely to be ignorant of basic Tanach, but I get it (the whole "don't enter into a test" shpiel) and I even respect it to some degree. What I don't respect is that someone can claim that Nach CANNOT be studied any other way than the way they believe.

      There is a common thread in pretty much every point I just expressed:
      Charedi Judaism is not "the" authentic Judaism, nor is it the only approach to Orthodox Judaism in the world. I know it's a lot to wrap your head around, but once you accept it, you may start to get my points.

    26. I am not sure why you are making this into a chareidi/non chareidi issue. MO around here say the same thing about Rabbi Sacks. It's well known, and not

      Quoting traditional jewish sources does not make one narrow minded and you seem to have a low view of secular unifiliated Jews. Besides the koheles shiur was not given to secular unaffiliated jews, so your point is irrelevant. On the contrary only quoting secular sources is narrow minded, as it implies that religious sources have nothing to say on the matter. By all means let him quote both. But NONE?

    27. "I am not sure why you are making this into a chareidi/non chareidi issue"
      The proof is in the pudding here. You yourself made the comment that Tanach CANNOT be studied without commentary. That is a charedi phenomenon and is the reason why charedim are most likely to have a poor background of Tanach basics. For someone who doesn't believe that Tanach is a commentary unto itself (based on textual parallels, repetitive wording, chiasms) and belongs solely to the gedolim or existing meforshim, then you just simply can't fathom someone giving a class without "fundamental" commentaries. I never heard your approach to Rabbi David Fohrman? Would you put him into the same class of people like Rabbi Sacks, and compare him to a christian reverend.

      "Quoting traditional jewish sources does not make one narrow minded"
      You're right. And that's why I wouldn't say that. But if someone never ever quotes secular sources, for they believe it's heresy or whatnot, then they are indeed narrow-minded toward secular scholarship.

      " you seem to have a low view of secular unifiliated Jews"
      Not sure what you're getting at here, besides your spelling error. What exactly in my words gave off the impression that I view unaffiliated Jews lowly?

      "Besides the koheles shiur was not given to secular unaffiliated jews"
      In my above comment I said that Rabbi Sacks' audience is towards unaffiliated and unaffiliated Jews, but the common denominator is that both are coming from higher educational backgrounds and enjoy a more intellectual approach to Jewish thought, and aren't interested in fluff.

      "only quoting secular sources is narrow minded, as it implies that religious sources have nothing to say on the matter"
      Again. Tanach and Talmud are Jewish sources. If you can't understand that there is tremendous merit to going back and unearthing the original words of Tanach or of the tannaim/amoraim, then you will never see my point here.
      This is indeed a charedi mentality: that someone cannot come up with their own chiddushim if it has is not built on the shoulders on earlier meforshim. This is not a MO approach, nor is it normative Judaism to say that it's the only way to learn.

      Lastly, in the Kohelet shiur there were printed out sources for the crowd to read. Maybe I missed it, but every single printed source was either from Tanach or Talmud. Was there anything from secular sources printed on those sheets?

    28. I have nothing more to say on the matter.

      You continual refrain of pretending not to understand what I mean by 'comparing like with like' and failing to address that point (with your flimsy pretence of not understanding me) says it all, really.

      Who cares what was printed on the sheets? Another feeble defence.

      I wish you and Rabbi Sacks well. He certainly has made lots of money from his endless wordy waffle. Other rabbis can only hope.

    29. "I have nothing more to say on the matter"
      That is basically equivalent to saying you don't possess the capability to answer, hence your complete avoidance of addressing my point about methods of learning Tanach, which the most of my points rely upon

      "pretending not to understand what I mean by 'comparing like with like'"
      I never said I didn't understand. That was a point that was resolved, and once I understood what you meant I moved on to another point. The fact that you are rehashing this point is a demonstration that you can't answer the others.

      "Who cares what was printed on the sheets? Another feeble defence."
      No. It was a final remark after all the other ones. It was not one in defence. It was there to demonstrate that the focal point of the shiur was the mekorot from Tanach and Talmud. If the secular sources made up his main points then he would have printed them out on the sheet, which he didn't.

      "He certainly has made lots of money"
      BH may he have a long life, and may he use his hard-earned income to continue to uplift the world.

      Your avoidance of the core issues shows me that you are simply missing out on a critical method of learning Torah, which is too bad. I think you would absolutely love learning from Rabbi David Fohrman who goes into chumash/Tanach without commentaries and will help introduce you to that type of study. The website is

  3. "there is widespread acceptance of at least eleven of Rambam's Thirteen Principles"

    Which are the two he leaves out?

    "modern science is completely unreliable about such things"

    Wow. Just wow.

  4. Rabbinic approbations arose centuries ago. It's not a Chareidi invention. If a Mizrachist Rav writes a Sefer no Haskama is to be found?

  5. > Phillip's defense of the Kuzari Argument, and rebuttals of contemporary academic Bible scholarship, are likewise weak apologetics. … in the first chapter, Phillips says that "it would be arrogant to imagine that I have fully resolved any of the profound and complex questions which will be discussed in the upcoming pages, many of which are deserving of a whole book in their own right."

    I recently finished writing a book on the Kuzari Argument. Maybe he should read it.

  6. "Phillip's defense of the Kuzari Argument, and rebuttals of contemporary academic Bible scholarship, are likewise weak apologetics."

    R' Slifkin, do you have any alternative book recommendations for these subjects?

    1. I recommend this one!

  7. I have emailed a response to R' Slifkin. I hope that, in the interest of fairness, he posts it soon on the blog. Alternatively I will look to post it later on the book's website ( or on the Facebook discussion group of the book.

  8. there are 2 points that your readers ought to keep in mind while reading such a post.

    1. what you present as the difference between the charedi approach and the academic approach is actually the difference between the religious approach and the secular approach. in the secular world view, religion is a social/cultural phenomenon and therefore subject to the tools that are generally used to evaluate cultural phenomenon.
    on the other hand in the religious world view, judaism represents the expression of the divine will and is therefore not subject to evaluation or criticism by by the tools used to evaluate cultural phenomena. it has it's own set of rules, and it's own internal logic.

    the 2 authors that you mention (shapiro and kellner), although they practice some level of observance, are adherents of the secular world view, and their arguments are based on secular assumptions. they say nothing to someone who does not share their a priori assumptions.

    2. there is a profound disagreement between the philosophers represented by RMBM, and the mekubalim, represented by those that disagreed with him regarding the issue of hagshama. however, neither party believed that hashem had any type of physical representation. the basic philosophical arguments against hagshama (as expressed by RMBM in hilchot yesodey hatorah) are so obvious and self evident that even a grade school child can not fail to appreciate them. the kabalistic view (which RMBM condemned, and accused of hagshama) was not advocated by fools or ignorami, clearly they understood RMBM's point, and they have adequate answers. this is certainly not the forum for discussing kabala (or philosophy for that matter), but it behooves your readers to keep in mind that this was disagreement between highly intelligent scholars (such as rashi and some of the baalei tosafot) that were not in the habit of saying self evidently ridiculous things that any child can see through.

  9. Rabbi Slifkin, you don't find the kuzari arguements sound? Do you that it was used also by Saadia Goan?


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