Saturday, November 30, 2019

Why I Didn't Listen To The Gedolim

In my article about Rav Chaim Malinowitz z"l, I mentioned that he had explained to me why I was not obligated to obey the Gedolim that banned my books. A number of people asked me what he told me. Here is my official statement from fourteen years ago, taken from, about why I did not follow the ban; it is based on what I was told by Rav Malinowitz as well as others.

Why I am not following the ban

Some people have raised the question that, regardless of who is right or wrong in the central issues of Torah and science, the books must be withdrawn. The reason is that since leading rabbinical figures have banned the books, they must be obeyed even if one believes them to be mistaken. A verse cited as a basis for this is, "Do not stray right or left from all that they tell you" (Deut. 17:11) upon which Rashi cites the Midrash, "Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you must listen." I would like to explain why I am not doing so.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, there is no halachic obligation whatsoever for me to obey the distinguished rabbis that banned my works. The above mentioned verse is referring to the Beis Din HaGadol, a body of rabbinic authority that is no longer in existence. Nowadays, Judaism only obligates a person to follow his own rabbinic authority (in a case where he cannot determine the correct course of action himself). Furthermore, one is not obligated to follow other rabbis even if they are in the majority. The Chazon Ish points out that one need not follow the majority of rabbinic opinion, past or present, in determining a ruling. Only with the Sanhedrin was the ruling determined by majority vote. My own rabbinic authorities, who are certainly of adequate stature to render their own decisions in these matters, have ruled that my books are perfectly acceptable.

(It is sometimes pointed out that the Sefer HaChinnuch extends the above verse to include not just the Sanhedrin, but also the leading rabbinic authorities of every generation. In response to this, it should first be noted that the Sefer HaChinnuch is a minority view in this regard and is not binding. Second, even within the Sefer HaChinnuch's view, there are various criteria required that are not fulfilled in this case.)

Still, even though I am not obligated to follow any rabbinic authorities other than my own, it nevertheless is appropriate to take the opinions of others very seriously. In light of the extremely great stature of the Talmudists and Halachists opposing my works, one may wonder why I am not playing it safe and withdrawing my books. The answer is that I believe that in this particular case, my own rabbinic mentors have several significant qualitative advantages.

One: My own rabbinic authorities possess greater expertise in science.

It is easy to dismiss views as heretical if one does not appreciate the reasons why they are being presented. History has proven that unfortunately sometimes even great rabbinic authorities have rejected views that turned out to be scientifically proven. For example, Rabbi Yaakov Rischer (1670-1733), author of the Shevus Yaakov and one of the greatest halachic authorities of his era, rejected science due to its position that the world is round, which, he claimed, ran contrary to the Talmud's position that the world is flat. This clearly demonstrates that knowledge of science is important in determining which beliefs are acceptable.

Two: My own rabbinic authorities possess particular expertise in Torah scholarship on these issues.

The field of Torah and science is relatively obscure. The teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and even Rambam, are not widely known, even by great Talmudists and halachists. For example, few people are aware that Rambam held the view that the six days of creation were not actually time-periods. Another example is that it is widely believed that the position that the Sages were not infallible in science was the solitary view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam. I know for a fact that some of the signatories to the ban were under the impression that there is not even a single authentic source to this effect. My own rabbinic mentors have a particular interest in these topics and therefore possess particular expertise in this esoteric area. They are, for example, aware of numerous Torah authorities of previous eras who subscribed to these views.

Three: My own rabbinic authorities are much more familiar with my books.

In evaluating a book, it is important to be familiar with it in its entirety, not just with a few extracts. For example, many people are under the impression that my book Mysterious Creatures (since republished in an expanded edition under the title Sacred Monsters) sets out to show that Chazal were mistaken about science, whereas in fact the majority of the book explains why in many cases there is no conflict. The introductions place the books in context, explaining what they are for and why they were written. The impression gotten from seeing the most extreme extracts of the books cannot be compared to that received from reading the books in their entirety. (Of course, those who believe that is is genuinely heretical to state that the Sages erred in science would not have this opinion changed even if they read the entire book. However, many of those who opposed my works did not subscribe to this extreme view.)

Four: My own rabbinic authorities are more familiar with my target audience

My rabbinic authorities, rather than being from the insular sections of the yeshivah world, have dealt for many years with people who have been grappling with these issues. (Rabbi Moshe Shapiro was quoted as saying that in his experience, these questions rarely arise; the experience of my rabbinic mentors is vastly different.) They are more aware of which sort of people are reading my books, of the necessity of my books for these sorts of people, and of how the style of my books and their tone is uniquely suited to this audience.

Five: My own rabbinic authorities know me as a person

Knowing the people involved in engineering the ban and approaching the signatories, there is little doubt that they did not describe me in glowing or even objective terms. The signatories probably saw me as someone out to destroy Torah under the guise of explaining it. Had they met me, I believe that they would not have been so quick to condemn me. (One of the signatories, Rav Moshe Shapiro, does indeed know me personally, but he is not typical of the signatories.) I further believe that this is one of the reasons why the zealots who engineered the ban were so determined to prevent me from meeting with any of the signatories.

Six: My own rabbinic authorities discussed the issues with me

My rabbis discussed whatever reservations they had with me, until everything was ironed out. The signatories of the ban did not meet with either me or my rabbinic mentors and were not able to discuss their concerns, which, in some cases, I may have been able to allay. The Minchas Chinnuch, commenting on the Sefer HaChinnuch's unusual view that the consensus of rabbinic authorities of each generation must be followed whether right or wrong, notes that this is only the case if the rabbinic authorities actually discussed the issue with each other; failing that, one can never know if the minority might have actually been able to convince the others of the correctness of their position.

For example, I know that one of the signatories told several people that the particular issue which made him sign was my statement that "it is only Rabbi Akiva's statement about salamanders that is problematic." He felt that this was terribly disrespectful to Rabbi Akiva, implying that he is not a significant authority. Had he met with me, I would have explained that he misunderstood my intent. The chapter began with three challenging statements; I successfully resolved two of them, and then concluded that there was only one difficulty left. The word "only" was referring to the number of remaining difficulties, not the stature of the authority. (I subsequently sent word of this to him - he refused to meet with me - and his response was that if he misunderstood it in this way, then other people are also likely to misunderstand it. My response is that if such is indeed the case, which seems unlikely, then it calls for a clarification, not a condemnation.)

Seven: My own rabbinic authorities follow a different school of thought

There have long been two distinct streams of thought within Jewish philosophy, commonly termed the rationalistic and the mystic. The rabbis who condemned my works are aligned with the latter, whereas my rabbinic mentors are aligned with the former.

For example, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch wrote that those who seek to explain phenomena in terms of mechanical natural processes and to minimize the miraculous do so in order to minimize the greatness of God. Rambam, on the other hand, wrote that "we shall endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, leading events according to the natural order wherever possible." Rabbi Sternbuch apparently follows those who criticized Rambam's approach, whereas my rabbinic mentors follow Rambam.

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  1. Pro Slifkin, pro Rambam, anti book-banningDecember 1, 2019 at 4:52 AM

    "why I did not follow the ban; it is based on what I was told by Rav Malinowitz as well as others."

    While it's certainly a knockout punch against the haredim who argue that you should OBEY the haredi Gedolim who "banned" you (ie "No, this haredi Gadol Rabbi Malinowitz ZTL explained to me his halachic opinion that I don't have to obey them"), it still presents the haredi gedolim as the ultimate arbiters of what conduct is acceptable or not in the Jewish world.
    You didn't need Rabbi Malinowitz's instruction as an official Haredi* seal of approval permission to do what was right. The haredim seem to need reminders that there are capable poskim beyond their world too.

  2. Perplexed by your mentorsDecember 1, 2019 at 1:38 PM

    "whereas my rabbinic mentors follow Rambam."

    Isn't it true that your rabbinic mentors follow Rav Dessler as well?
    Isn't Rav Dessler one of the most mystic, anti-scientific authors of 20th century Jewish thought?

    The following is what he says at the very beginning of his essay on "Miracles and Nature: (Translation is from "Strive For Truth" Vol. 2 page 240 by Rav Aryeh Carmel--one of your key mentors!)

    "The world has no other cause but the will of Hashem. His deeds and His conduct of the world are the immediate consequence of His will. What He wills comes into being without the need of any intermediary. We call God's act a "miracle" when we wills an occurrence which is novel and unfamiliar to us... We call God's acts "nature" when He wills that certain events should occur in a recognizable pattern with which we become familiar.

    This familiarity presents us with a challenge. We can choose to recognize that these events too have their sole and immediate cause the unfettered will of Hashem. Or we can imagine that Hashem has delegated certain powers to "Nature", and that within the realm of Nature man too has the ability to influence events by the process of cause and effect. THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF "NATURE" IS THUS NOTHING BUT A TEST FOR THE HUMAN BEING. NATURE HAS NO OBJECTIVE EXISTENCE; IT IS MERELY AN ILLUSION WHICH GIVES MAN A CHOICE TO EXERCISE HIS FREE WILL: TO ERR, OR TO CHOOSE TRUTH."
    (emphasis mine)

    So you (and your mentors) can't have it both ways, Rabbi Slifkin. Either they follow the Rambam or they follow Rav Dessler. They can't follow both, and picking and choosing from both when it fits your preconceived view is not intellectually honest.

    1. Are we supposed to choose one rabbi and be their chassidim on every single item they ever uttered? Sounds brainless.

    2. Either they follow the Rambam or they follow Rav Dessler. They can't follow both, and picking and choosing from both when it fits your preconceived view is not intellectually honest.

      That's rubbish. Pick up a Gemara or a Mishna Brurah... sometimes we pasken like this מן דאמר, sometimes we pasken like that one... How can we have it both ways? Because we aren't slaves to one particular personality or vision. We can synthesize a worldview from different sources, even if those sources disagree on some particulars. It's not at all intellectually dishonest. I guess if you're the type who has to be told what to think, this notion is too foreign to be understood.

    3. perplexed by your mentorsDecember 2, 2019 at 9:46 AM

      You can't pasken a stirah--so no, you can't have it both ways. Either nature is real and its laws are God's Divine tools in how He runs the physical world, or its a Divine illusion made to test our faith.

    4. disingenuous, predictable and expected

      The term is internal consistency which you [plural] don't have
      how are you different from an anti-semite who cherry-picks Jewish text for further their agenda?!
      Or Reformers who cherry-pick the Orthodox??

      That wouldn't mean that one has to follow every last jot and Tittle-one must try and struggle with every option possible in his attempt though first off
      but one has to go in the general direction,goal,and agenda
      or show some integrity and cease using them whatsoever as a source
      not cherry-pick in order essentially to subvert it

      Here's an opportunity to call your bluff
      Go over to any living authority today and tell them you're going to cherry pick what they have published in order to use it to subvert their goal
      Dare tell that to their face

    5. You can't pasken a stirah

      You are the only one claiming anyone is doing so. Can you find me even a single person who believes both that nature is real and that it isn't?

      And that's before we even talk about what reality is to begin with. Who says that a divine illusion is not reality from our perspective? Why do you assume there's a contradiction?

  3. The gedoilim, all gedoilim, are hopelessly locked in their respective dogmas.

    When you are hurt, I beleive you should let it hurt, but then let it go. You weren't able to do so yet. Your obsession with your ban is a complete waste. The sooner you stop wasting yours and everyone's time on it, the better.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Look how liberal R' Slifkin is! He allowed someone to post as "Anonymous" even though he has said no one should do so on his site.
      You should be grateful, Mr. Anonymous.

  4. I wonder: Since the banning I am under the impression that a number of the authorities that banned your books did not actually read your works, or themselves evaluate the heretical nature of your work, rather signed because another person had already signed the document.

    Is this accurate?

    If this is so, how does it effect the argument (which I note you are rejecting here) that you are required to follow the halachic authority (or those that self appoint themselves to claim that authority) of the day: "Do not stray right or left from all that they tell you" (Deut. 17:11) upon which Rashi cites the Midrash, "Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you must listen."

    Further to that point, if the people who banned your books are of the opinion that they must be obeyed "Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you must listen., how could they then sign such a document without themselves doing their due diligence? Can a member of the Sanhedrin adjudicate without being present to hear the evidence themselves?

    Finally, in the case of a Sanhedrin, isn't it the case that the most junior members vote first and the most senior member vote last, specifically to prevent the junior members being influenced by the senior? If my understanding of the process in your situation is correct, hasn't this happened in reverse, since many of the signatories are relying on the fact that someone else has already signed?

    If the process is unjust and ahalichic, how can anyone be required to adhere to it.

    1. You're obviously new on the block. With the exception of one lone authority, all limit that mitzvah to Sanhedrin Hagadol.

    2. Just wondering: Could the Torah mean that only by disobeying the Sanhedrin Hagadol one is Chayiv Misa (meaning you need to meet more requirements to kill/punish someone as we find by any Aveirah); however it remains a Mitzvas Aseh to listen to any "Torah Authority" (ok, granted needs explanation) OR is there no requirement to even follow anyone except the Sanhedrin, which is puzzling because why would the Torah would want that.

    3. Ultimately I think this is the essence of the problem - a fetish for the minutia of the halacha without consideration of the hshgafa or principles behind the halacha.

      We are agreed that in certain cases the presiding judges must hear and see all the evidence before ruling. We are also agreed that in these circumstances judges render their verdict in reverse seniority. The rationale behind both of these procedures is to ensure fairness in justice and that no judge is unduly influenced by the decision of a previous judge.

      Knowing these procedures are about ensuring justice - that is despite the halachic obligation we understand the underlying rationale - this should server as a precedent for ALL subsequent judicial processes. To argue that it is only halachically required for a Sanhedrin Gadol adjudicating capitol cases, and therefor unrequired for any other circumstance is asinine. Fairness in process does not apply in any other circumstance?

      Based on what I am reading here -My impression that many of the people who signed the ban did not read the book. A portion of them were presented with section out of context with markup and commentary from a hostile accuser. To understand any text it must first be read in context (as Rav Slifkin observes below). Signing the ban after being influenced by a hostile commentary is not fairly judging the evidence.

      Again I ask, how can anyone seriously believe that we are required to follow a set of self-appointed "Rabbis" Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you must listen if the procedure is obviously flawed and unfair?

    4. @Yossi

      ok. But isn't it true that even in 'small' matters (not all) the losing party generally feels that justice wasn't served and the process is flawed? where do you draw the line?

    5. You need to have a process that is transparent, objectively fair (to the impartial viewer) that is fairly and consistently applied.

      The absence of a formal process, the "behind closed doors" nature of the shenanigans and the absence of a pathway for appeal all suggest corruption. The perception of corruption is what causes the loss of faith.

  5. Having just landed recently
    Rabbi malinowitz was discussing all the above in a vacuum

    as you yourself admitted he moved in the other
    direction afterwards
    This was because he became cognizant
    this was all part of a bigger Kulturkapmf
    and it wasn't positive

    1. Was it a kulturkampf or a weltanschanng?

  6. How come no one quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi that says "left or right" means only if they say that "left is left and right is right"? In this reading, you only follow opinions if they are factually correct and if not, you shouldn't follow them. The Yerushalmi goes against the Midrash, but it seems halachik authorities really like quoting the Midrash and ignoring the Yerushalmi. Convenient for some who want to give themselves impunity.

    1. The Midrash is cited in Rashi on the passuk in Parshat Shofetim; the Yerushalmi is not, and hence less well known

  7. This is a false narrative, I saw a marked up copy of the banned books annotated and marked up by the committee. Every signator on the ban knew exactly what the problematic parts of the books were.

    One note on the side of the page remains etched in my memory very clearly. The comment was in reference to a statement that read "if chazal were correct, then..."
    The note read in Hebrew "R'aye zeh mechareif u'megadef"
    Loosely translated as "behold see how this one has blasphemed and degraded [chazal]".

    1. Natan, did you ever see a copy of the marked up book by the committee?

    2. How is it some anonymous poster saw this marked-up copy, but the author of the book never did? Might it be because the Rabbanim had no interest in pursuing justice when they decided to diminish someone's Parnassah?

      Sure, that's a violation of a Mitzvas Aseh, but since when did Torah matter to Charedim?

    3. Yes, I have the marked-up pages. They were not officially sent to me; they were leaked to me. The sentences referred to with the comment "behold see how this one has blasphemed and degraded [chazal]" said as follows:
      "1) Is the Talmud’s statement, that lice do not reproduce via eggs, true? 2) If it is not true, what are the ramifications for the halachah?"
      Of course, if he is calling me "blasphemous" for this, then he likewise describing numerous Rishonim and Acharonim as blasphemous.

    4. But, of course, the signatories to the ban had no idea that this was also the position of numerous Rishonim and Acharonim. And they didn't see those pages of my books which pointed this out!

    5. Could you post a PDF of the marked up copy for everyone here to see?

    6. The Talmud never says lice don't reproduce from eggs. It says that a certain species of lice called "beytzei kinim" don't reproduce from male and female. Which simply can be referring to a species that is both male and female in one body.

    7. No, it can't mean that. For reasons that I discuss in the book.

    8. Avi, your denigration of all chareidim is not only beneath you, it's a losing tactic.

  8. Source please!!!!

  9. EngPhys,

    Although you are correct and they ought to bring
    both sources there nevertheless is a general thrust of כלל ישראל בכל הדורות
    so much so that we completely ignore the other
    and you all do as well
    for example:
    a tradition we follow the 10 tribes are coming back even though it's a matter of dispute and the other side is ignored
    there are even greater examples
    if you don't
    half your prayers would have to be scrapped

  10. תוספות רי''ד תשובה סב
    שאף במקום שנראה לי שאני אומר יפה על כל אחד מדברי רבותינו הראשונים חלילה שיזהיהני לבי לומר אף חכמתי עמדה לי אלא אני דן בעצמי....וגדולה החכמה מן החכם ואין חכם שינקה מן השגיאות שאין החכמה תמימה בלתי להשם לבדו.

    תשובות הרא''ש
    כלל נה
    מי לנו גדול כרש''י זצ''ל שהאיר עיני הגולה בפירושיו ונחלק עליו בהרבה מקומות יוצאי יריכו ר''ת ור''י ז''ל וסתרו דבריו כי תורת אמת היא ואין מחניפין לשום אדם.


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