Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Anti-Rationalist Manifesto

This is truly a landmark in Jewish history. A manifesto for anti-rationalism has been published. Not a book based on anti-rationalism, like "Torah, Chazal & Science," but an actual list of anti-rationalist principles!

It was printed in Lehovin, a newspaper put out by the American supports of the Rav Shmuel Auerbach faction, and apparently associated with Rav Aharon Schechter of Chaim Berlin. The manifesto is presented as a response to the secular education taught in American elementary schools. Its contents are reminiscent of Rav Moshe Sternbuch's letter about my books, or Rav Uren Reich's famous speech at the Agudah convention.

Since the photo of the article that was sent to me is slightly difficult to read, I took the liberty of scanning and OCRing it. WARNING: Reading this may cause severe stress. Here it is, in its entirety, following which I will critique it:



SAMPLE FROM THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STANDARDSHOW IT UNDERMINES TORAH VALUES
The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena... Hashem is running the world. Developing explanations for all the natural phenomena undermines basic Emunah be'Hashem
Question the explanations they hear from others and read about, seeking clarification and comparing them with their own observations and understandings. We are teaching our children to question the explanations they hear from their parents, Rebbeim and gedolim?! And to measure up that which they have learned in sefarim with their own opinions?! Can there be something worse to undermine the mesorah we hold so dear?
Use simple logical reasoning to develop conclusions Torah does not accept children as b'nei daas to develop conclusions. Children should be taught to listen to the conclusions which others far greater than them have determined.
Seek to clarify, to assess critically, and to reconcile with their own thinking the ideas presented by others, including peers, teachers, authors, and scientists. Torah observant Jews capitulate to the ideas of those wiser than them. They do not attempt to assess or reconcile the ideas of those wiser than them with their own ideas. Further­more, in Yiddishkeit the ideas of peers and teachers are not equal.
Beyond the use of reasoning and consensus, scientific inquiry involves the testing of proposed explanations involving the use of conventional techniques and procedures... The focus on reasoning and consensus undermines the Torah value of acceptance and obedience. We follow Torah neither because it conforms to our reasoning, nor because of a consensus among our peers. The more we focus on reasoning and consensus, the more our Torah values become compromised.
Natural Hazards - Some kinds of severe weather are more likely than others in a given region. Weather scientists forecast severe weather to that the communities can prepare for and respond to these events. Children are taught not to see Hashem's mighty hand upon this world. Children are taught to give a scientific explanation for every occurrence and then taught to prepare and respond to them leaving Hashem, reward and punishment and the perspective of the Torah out of it entirely
Patterns in the natural world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence Children are trained not to think in terms of Hashgacha pratis but rather in terms of patterns to explain every phenomena.
Cause and Effect - Simple tests can be designed to gather evidence to support or refute student ideas about causes. Again and again, children are taught to attribute natural causes and natural effects to everything that happens in the world, leaving Hashem out of it entirely. R"L.
Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive We know that we are not a type of animal. We have a Tzelem Elokim which distinguishes us from every other living being and gives us our unique mission in this world. Again and again in the curriculum, humans are viewed as another type of animal, and in literature, the animals are portrayed as humans. Furthermore, we believe that Hashem determines our survival. Not patterns.
Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World - People depend on various technologies in their lives "Kochi v'otzem yodi" is idolized in the curriculum.
Inheritance of Traits - (NYSED) Some young animals are sim­ilar to, but not exactly, like their parents. Some young plants are also similar to, but not exactly, like their parents. Individuals of the same kind of plant or animal are recogniz­able as similar but can also vary in many ways These theme, reviewed again and again, normalize children's deviation from their parents.
Stability and Change - Things may change slowly or rapidly This crosscutting concept lays the groundwork for kefira. The word evolution may not be used, but evolutionary concepts are woven into many themes in the curriculum.
Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular hab­itat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. Hashem is "zon u'mefarnes hakol." The survival of every living creature is based on His will. Not the environment, not other animals, only on Hashem alone. But the children learn to think differently.
Over time, people's needs and wants change, as do their de­mands for new and improved technologies. What was good for our grandparents, our children are taught, is not good enough for us. And technology helps address the new needs and wants. Is this what we want our children to learn in school, even subliminally?
Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the im­pacts of natural Earth processes on humans. Was this not the idea of the Dor Haflagah? Figure out solutions - never teshuva - to reduce the impact of Hashem's wrath.



Ain't that something?! Now, while some people will doubtless furiously respond that "it isn't Judaism!!!," that's not a fair critique. There is no such thing as a homogeneous entity titled "Judaism." Historically, there are many different schools of thought within Judaism, including the anti-rationalist tradition.

Having said that, it is equally true that this manifesto does not present the sole normative classical Torah perspective. Certainly all the Rishonim of Sefard would view it as nothing less than outrageous. And it's even absurdly hypocritical by any standard.

"Developing explanations for all the natural phenomena undermines basic Emunah be'Hashem"?! So we shouldn't study medicine or astronomy?! Studying the workings of the universe was seen by most Rishonim as a way of comprehending God's ways.

"Torah observant Jews capitulate to the ideas of those wiser than them. They do not attempt to assess or reconcile the ideas of those wiser than them with their own ideas." I will respond with the words of Rav Chaim of Volozhin: It is forbidden for a student to accept the words of his teacher when he has difficulties with them. And sometimes, the truth will lie with the student. This is just as a small branch can ignite a larger one. (Ruach Chaim to Avot 1:4) 

"The focus on reasoning and consensus undermines the Torah value of acceptance and obedience." Actually, the entire Talmud is about reasoning and consensus.

"Children are taught to give a scientific explanation for every occurrence and then taught to prepare and respond to them leaving Hashem, reward and punishment and the perspective of the Torah out of it entirely." Like it or not, there are scientific explanations for weather occurrences. The question of how to resolve this with providence is certainly worthy of discussion; denying the effectiveness of science is silly.

"We know that we are not a type of animal. We have a Tzelem Elokim which distinguishes us from every other living being and gives us our unique mission in this world." Actually, Chazal and the Rishonim describe man as possessing the physical nature of an animal along with the addition of soul. The physical laws of survival which apply to animals also apply equally to us. 

"Kochi v'otzem yodi" is idolized in the curriculum." Read the continuation of the passuk. There's no denying that human endeavor accomplishes things; the problem is only in not expressing gratitude to God. 

"This theme, reviewed again and again, normalize children's deviation from their parents." I must say that this one threw me through a loop. So teaching the fact of slight genetic variation from parents (which is visible to all) is going to teach children to discard their parents' Jewish tradition?!

"Hashem is "zon u'mefarnes hakol." The survival of every living
creature is based on His will. Not the environment, not other animals, only on Hashem alone.
" Well, Hashem created a world which shows that He evidently thinks differently.


"What was good for our grandparents, our children are taught, is not good enough for us. And technology helps address the new needs and wants. Is this what we want our children to learn in school, even subliminally?" Are they trying to prevent scientific progress? Would they prefer to go back to the golden age of the shtetl, when a third of children would not survive to adulthood?

"Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the im­pacts of natural Earth processes on humans. - Was this not the idea of the Dor Haflagah? Figure out solutions - never teshuva - to reduce the impact of Hashem's wrath." Well, if they don't want to figure out and implement ways to save themselves from flooding and over-exposure to harmful sunlight and hurricanes, maybe they can win the Darwin Award for improving the gene pool by removing themselves from it.

It's a good thing that my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism hasn't gone to press yet - I think I should include this manifesto in it! 

62 comments:

  1. You wrote: "Certainly all the Rishonim of Sefard would view it as nothing less than outrageous."

    You seem to think that all Rishonim of Sefard were rationalists. This is not the first time you've said so. Have you seen Rabeinu Bachaye's introduction to parashat Miketz? He is no rationalist. There are other famous and prominent Rishonim from Spain who are also not rationalists, but you seem to ignore their non-rationalist comments.

    Why.

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  2. "So we shouldn't study medicine or astronomy?" Perhaps anecdotal, but if you listen closely to what passes for Kiruv these days and normative behaviour in Haredi sectors, it seems that medicine, science etc. is indeed best left to the "Goyim". Jews study Torah, Goyim study dentistry.

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    1. To think that it was almost 40 years ago! I remember two young brothers at the 1980 Aish HaTorah Purim shpiel (it was a cold and snowy day), drunkenly dancing, singing "Clarity or knowledge, forget about your college." I guess kiruv hasn't changed that much.

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  3. "Rav Uren Reich".

    Respectfully, what kind of name is "Uren"? Is that supposed to be "yeshivish" for Aharon?

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    Replies
    1. I've always wondered the same, and I've only ever really heard him mentioned in the context of the furore over R' Slifkin's books.

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    2. https://www.sefaria.org/Shoel_uMeshiv_Mahadura_I.1.104?lang=bi
      He is called after his grandfather who said t'hillim all day.

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    3. Sorry great grandfather. His older brother went to Manchester Grammar one of the top English schools. Altogether five of his family went, all on free scholarships. I dont know for sure if he went but very likely. I dont think R Slifkin went. One wonders what he was learning there, if one is not allowed to know anything.

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    4. I went to MGS and this Reich, if he did go to my alma mater, didn't learn such narishkeit there. R. Slifkin went to Manchester Jewish Grammar which is not the same school at all.

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  4. I think they are correct that all things being equal, a child exposed to science and rationalism has more chance of leaving the derech.

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    1. Depends on the child. Many have left because science and rationalism was suppressed.

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    2. Trying to be fair-mindedJanuary 23, 2020 at 1:59 PM

      I think Avraham may have a point.
      This "manifesto" is clearly laying out principles for the education of very young children who are particularly impressionable and not capable of thinking through issues of nature and emunah with any level of sophistication.

      It is quite unfair for Rabbi SLifkin to paint this list of educational hashkafic guidelines as some kind of Anti-rationalist manifesto for the adults in this community when it clearly isn't.
      I hope it's not too late to keep this "manifesto" OUT of his upcoming book and avoid attacking a straw-man!

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    3. Here's a rational question for you. Where's the evidence for your statement? And if a person's faith is so weak that statements of rational science causes them to leave religion then maybe their faith wasn't that strong to begin with.

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    4. @Avraham

      Maybe the kids and rabbis in these institutions are already "off the derech", just not according to your subjective definition of "derech"

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    5. While it is clear that throughout the recent centuries, the scientifically minded have used secular knowledge as a weapon against religion, there is so much written today describing the differences, and more importantly, the manifesto itself is so... simplistic! Basically "all science is bad! All use of human intellect is going to make one leave the mesorah!"

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  5. In America, Lehovin is considered an anti-zionist radical far right paper. Not sure why you'd give a platform to such radicals. (Those in loop know it's a paper full of "haak"-ranting)

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    1. it's usually delivered for free (in Lakewood at least). mine goes right in the trash.

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    2. I use it to ship on Ebay!

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  6. The manifesto writes that "Hashem is running the world." While G-d did create or formed the world out of pre-existing matter, G-d is not a plumber in need to return from time to time to repair or fix the world. Which leads us to our next question, is G-d involved in the world?

    The great sage and mystic Nachmanides certainly felt so. He felt that nothing happens in this world unless G-d wills it to do so. Thus, according to Nachmanides, the world does not function through the laws of nature. He explains, “From [belief in] large perceptible miracles one [comes to believe] in hidden miracles, which are the very foundation of the entire Torah. A person has no share in the Torah of Moses our teacher until he believes that all that occurs is the result of miracles, not the laws of nature. … Everything happens by divine decree.”

    Thus, Nachmanides did not only emphasize a belief in miracles; he also stressed the notion that there are “hidden miracles.” For example, a falling leaf. The great sage felt that no leaf fell from a tree unless G-d ordered it to: “fall, keep falling, keep falling, keep falling, stop, now lay still.”

    He also felt that doctors were unnecessary and that G-d determines the outcome of all wars.

    Maimonides disagreed. He felt that G-d is transcendental, meaning that G-d is not involved in worldly affairs. Maimonides wrote in his Guide of the Perplexed 3:17 and 18 that it is not ”through the interference of divine providence that a certain leaf falls [from a tree], nor do I hold that when a certain spider catches a certain fly, that this is the direct result of a special decree and will of G-d in that moment… In all these cases the action is, according to my opinion, entirely due to chance, as taught by Aristotle…"

    Thus, G-d is not involved. What happens is the result of natural law or pure chance. The world functions according to the laws of nature.

    "Developing explanations for all the natural phenomena undermines basic Emunah be'Hashem"?!

    This is not so. According to Maimonides, as is discussed in Mishnah Torah, Sefer HaMada, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, chapter 2, it is essential to study science in order to have a place in the world to come. Furthermore, the intellect "the image of G-d" is what distinguishes us from animals. Interestingly, Maimonides, considered it a mitzvah to study science and that people should study the laws of nature to learn how to act intelligently. Furthermore, in his medical writings and commentary to Hypocrites, Maimonides wrote, that people should look forward not backward, for we have eyes in front of our faces and not behind our ears. In short, Maimonides felt that people have a duty, a religious duty to develop their minds to improve themselves and society.

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  7. The Zelem is probably the ability to think logically. This is simply basic fundamentalist ignorance. Sad but widespread

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  8. This guy's writings do not represent the mystical belief any more than the rationalist. They represent the beliefs of one person, whose opinion carries little weight outside of Neturei Karta. Establishment Charedi belief is not with this person, even Satmar wants to use the education system that this person is fighting. This is a straw argument.
    The latin term, I believe, is reductio ad absurdum.
    Jason from Jersey

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  9. Replies
    1. I'll take 2 a chase it with some vodka.

      Jeez.

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  10. As Mitchell Mamarosh Z"L (I'm not sure I got the last name spelled correctly) responded to Rabbi Dulitz concerning his yearming for days of yore- "right rebbi, back to the good old days, like bubonic plague"
    KT
    Joel rich

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  11. I agree with everything you wrote except for one thing
    you misspell the world isn’t
    You wrote ain’t
    ;-)

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  12. I'm a pretty mystical type (within Judaism) despite being a PhD in statistics. I can assure you that I find this list as depressing as you. I don't see in what sense it reflects the mystical view. It's simply anti-reason. I don't think you should include it in your book (which I'm eager to read).

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  13. Ain't is a perfectly fine word. Not standard, but with a good long pedigree. It's a contraction of "am not" and was considered good English for a century or so.

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  14. Here's the thing: I can't really disagree with any statement in the left hand column. Where they go wrong, I think, is thinking that any of that has anything to do with how we study science.

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    1. Exactly what I was thinking (allowing for your correction in the next post = right hand column)! We DON'T disagree that one should have an awareness of Providence and Hashem's Presence and influence, that turning away from the traditions of our ancestors is wrong, and Tzelem Elokim means something special. But so what?

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  15. Without technology, this manifesto would have to be copied over and over by hand and delivered on foot or horseback.

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    1. I understand what you're getting at. But is that supposed to prove that it's wrong?

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    2. Just that the writer(s?) of the manifesto are benefiting from the science and technology that they decry, so at least hypocrisy if not complete wrongness.

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  16. This article is of course rubbish. Except one thing. The gemoro does say 'gonz sefer refuous' meaning I suppose it is possible to get better by for instance 'praying'. I havent succeeded and am being kept alive by doctors. I dont believe these people have succeeded either. There is something called 'hateva', which is also the gematria of 'elokim'. Which means that if you are in 'din' you have to live the the teva. If you are very great even vinegar will burn. Newcomer

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    1. Ober Rebbe, di kuf aleyn is shoyn a hundert.

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    2. I dont know if I should reply or rather leave it to someone else to teach him how one spells G-d's name and that it does not contain a 'kuf' and why I still put a 'kuf' in. I suppose you have BTs and the like on here who dont even know elementary things and still know a bit of yiddish. Or perhaps it is a woman.

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    3. Uh, Newcomer, this is an old Yiddish joke meant to poke fun at the perceived ignorance of Hasidim. Lighten up.

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  17. R' Slifkin: You have become the very thing you swore to destroy

    Rationalism is a belief or theory that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response.

    Yet here you've presented a letter without context and instructed your readers to interpret it based on your authoritative stance and evict an emotional response.

    There are some chareidi-type sects that are of the opinion that secular subjects should not be taught to schoolchildren. Most religious jews in America do not share that opinion. Now that the NYSED Guidelines exist, people of those sects are taking the opportunity to point out how those guidelines show support for their fringe beliefs and demonstrate that their position has been right all along.

    No one outside of those groups will take this letter seriously. This was no attack on rationalism as you make it out to be. And if you provided context your readers would have been able to reason for themselves that this is a non-issue

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    1. So your argument is essentially, "This attack on rational thought is not really an attack on rationalist thought because it's an extreme position and most people don't agree with it" -? Really?

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  18. Sefer Refuos could very well have been a book of naturally-derived medicinal remedies! Shlomo HaMelech was known for his vast knowledge of plants and animals. Such a rational medical compendium would have been immediately put to use by Babylonian conquerers, which is perhaps why the book was hidden. Rational "technologies" have more universal purchase, because they "work" according to the laws of nature that Hashem has established. Aderaba, see Sanhedrin Mishnah 10:1 where halocheish al hamakeh (one who whispers over a wound) comes in for rabbinical wrath.

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    1. 1) Sefer Refuos was hidden because when people would get sick they'd just use the Sefer Refuos instead of doing teshuvah and praying. See Brachot 10b. Rashi cleary says "k'day sh'y'vakshu rachamim".

      2) What you said about halochesh al hamakah is true only about a halochesh but not about one who prays to HaShem. Also, see the end of Brachot 60a where the gemara says "*premission* was given to heal". It does not say obligation.

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    2. Rashi is a great problem here. He is considered 'mendacious'. See previous post. I wrote a posuk without mentioning that I meant rashi's pshat, not realising that on here.
      Here again although he didnt reply directly to me (I dont know why) I was the one who mentioned 'sefer refuous' first and didnt say I mentioned rashi's pshat so he gave his own.
      I believe rashi was not a rationalist so he has no place here.

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  19. This whole issue makes me think of the Star Trek episode where Spock and Captain Kirk (both irrelevantly in this case, members of the tribe) are swapped with their doppelgangers in an alternate universe. At the end, when this issue is being corrected, our good Kirk challenges the bad Spock with the observation that his society is not sustainable. Were all people to be holding the attitudes presented in this manifesto, our universe would be significantly different. Perhaps in some ways better, but IMHO in most ways worse.

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  20. I liked the darwin award joke, Nice one.

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    1. Take my advice, though: leave it out of the book. :,-)

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  21. So the authors of that manifesto believe that Jews should be fat, blind and stupid. Believe what you're told. Ignore all of your senses. Don't think about anything. If something wasn't said by an ancient sage (and not just any ancient sage, but only certain specific ones), then you aren't allowed to even think it, let alone speak of it.

    This is the belief system of a radical cult, not of a culture with a rich tradition of intellectual pursuit like Judaism.

    If God wanted this from us, then we would still be living in caves eating nothing but raw food, with most of us probably dying before age 20.

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    1. It might be worth responding to your comment, but your last paragraph is simply derogatory rhetoric as you make it sound as if the sages in the gemara lived in caves, ate only raw food, and generally died before the age of 20 - none of which is true.

      Oh. I forgot, your first paragraph is also full of derogatory non-sequiturs.

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    2. I believe you meant fat, drunk and stupid.
      RM

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    3. Shimon Bar Yochai lived in a cave and destroyed people who actually worked and engaged in mundane activities instead of learning Torah, God was not amused and sent him back to his cave for a time out...

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  22. I don't think this "newspaper" represents the thinking of anyone more than the guy (probably BT) in his basement printing it out. Not that they're all wrong or that the standards are all right. Just normal people don't speak or think in such rigid dogmatic terms.

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  23. Your rational understanding, which is intended only for the comprehension of the creature-world, knows only what can be seen or touched; that is all that exists for it. And when, guided by it alone, you look it up on the world, and the interplay of things gives you the idea that phenomena when linked together constitute a world. You try ceaselessly you turn the chain into a closed and self-contained circle. And even if you suspect the existence of other forces, and you do not succeed in closing Circle, if your chain of reasoning leads irrefutably to one force which you regard as the first and which you posit as the original motive of phenomena, and you call this force ‘God’, then you must regard this original force as being only the primary force, the first link in the chain; but this is not the personal, holy G-d of the Torah Who existed before all existing things, Who is above all beings and yet penetrates all with His omnipotence and universal love, the G-d Who by His will and with His power and for the purpose set by His wisdom called all that is into being, the living G-d Who dominates the whole passage of time, and Who is also your G-d Who sanctifies you, Him you will not have, Him the All-powerful, All-sustaining, All-righteous, All-loving, high above all yet near to all. What you attain too is the denial or misrepresentation of G-d - i.e., minus.
    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ‘Horeb’ The World Around 4:14

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    1. This is a beautiful quote from Rav Hirsch. If translated correctly, it shows a side of R' Hirsch that people try to hide.

      The beginning "Your rational understanding, which is intended only for the comprehension of the creature-world, knows only what can be seen or touched; that is all that exists for it," shows that the rational is for the physical world while the Torah, which also addresses a person's soul is not bound by rational thought, implying that Torah knowledge requires more than just rational thought.

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  24. "We follow Torah neither because it conforms to our reasoning, nor because of a consensus among our peers. The more we focus on reasoning and consensus, the more our Torah values become compromised."

    What consensus? Scientists? No, this manifesto is dealing with the charedi consensus of pragmatic politics- rationalist in its own way. The pelegistim would have none of that. Even if it would mean torpedoing the "scientifically" engineered compromise that resulted in no significant army enlistment among charedim.

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  25. First, you neglect to mention that this is very far from what could ever be considered mainstream Chareidi ideology. Not uncommon around these parts.
    2nd, you suggest that the world would be a better place if the purveyors of this nonsense would kill themselves off the old Darwinian way. To paraphrase Bruria: pray that they repent. Don't pray for their demise

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  26. hey there don't take science too seriously, it's task really is just to cover up any trace of the Ribono shel olam.
    Here's a science you never heard of: "Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years." (Prince Philip) so you see it's not that serious.

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  27. It seems almost like a parody but they do have a point. Being trained in scientific thinking could eventually lead one to question their faith. The more closed right-wing orthodox have a higher retention rate than the modern orthodox..

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    1. higher retention rate of what exactly?

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    2. "Higher retention rate" in that fewer right-wing Orthodox leave right-wing Orthodoxy.

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  28. This is a giant straw man. This newspaper is well-known in Brooklyn as one big joke. There are very few people who take it seriously and this is obviously rubbish. It is silly to hold this up as an example of how extreme the anti-rationalists are.

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  29. This hashkafa simply comes from a misconception that scientific explanations and Hashem must be mutually exclusive

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  30. Let also all remember that the midrash understands that Hashem put Order into nature. "Erev" (mix-up) became "Boker" (awareness/clarity) six times in a row. Therefore, to understand certain scientific realities, like animals living in certain habitats, is simply understanding how Hashem set it all into motion. We do not live in a universe staffed by a capricious, whimsical deity, but rather a G-d Who programmed Nature to function in a certain way.

    As was said in "For the Glory of God" (which I believe, Rabbi Slifkin, you have read, after it was recommended to you 10 years ago), the pattern of capriciousness is more akin to Muslim theology. Allah might do something weird today, so don't bother trying to understand if there is an underlying scientific principle behind a given phenomenon.

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  31. An anonymous (?) writing in a fringe newspaper with no subscribers (it is distributed for free) can not be thought as representing anyone.It is misleading to present it as such.

    I suspect the person who wrote this did so with straw man trojan horse intents because he seems much more capable of articulating the view he ostensibly opposes than the viewpoint he ostensibly supports.

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