Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Why Rationalism Vs. Mysticism (Probably) Won't Be Banned

In the previous post, I gave all the reasons why if my new book Rationalism vs. Mysticism is banned, as notoriously happened with three of my other books, it won't upset me. In this post, I will give the reasons why I don't think that this will happen. In the next post, I will give the reasons why it might still happen anyway.

So, why don't I think that Rationalism vs. Mysticism will be banned? Simple: All the ideas presented in it are backed up with powerful arguments and sources from respected traditional rabbinic authorities.

Just kidding! Obviously that doesn't make the slightest difference. Here are the real reasons:

1. I am no longer on the radar

The problematic books were written by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, a charedi graduate of the Mir yeshiva. They had prestigious haskamos from charedi rabbonim and Gedolim. They were published by Targum Press and distributed by Feldheim Publishers. As such, they were read and taken seriously by people in the charedi world. 

In contrast, this book was written by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin, whose very name and title gives him away as a treif non-yeshivish academic Zionist (aside from being a person who has already been cast out anyway). It bears no haskamos, just blurbs from academic scholars of Jewish thought. It's privately published and is distributed online and in stores by Gefen Books. It's just not something that appear on the radar as a threat.

2. There is no "political" objective

Some of the key figures involved in the original ban didn't really care about the books at all. They had their sights on a greater trophy. As Rabbi Berel Wein told me, my mistake in getting haskamos was compounded by the much greater mistake of one particular haskamah that I received - that of Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky. Originally, I made the foolish mistake of thinking that such a prestigious haskamah would render the book immune to attack. Little did I realize that it had the exact opposite effect. Rav Shmuel has long been by far the most moderate and broad-minded of the charedi Gedolei Torah (a reputation sadly since tarnished by his opposition to vaccines), and hails from a family of similarly broad-minded Gedolei Torah; consequently, he has long been a target for extremist zealots. Having his haskamah in my books gave them a golden opportunity to delegitimize him. But no such political targets exist with my new book.

3. Most of the original zealots are no longer operational

The Gedolei Torah, rabbis and askanim involved in engineering the original ban are, for the most part, no longer operational. Rabbi Leib Pinter, after having been sentenced to (another) long stint in prison for fraud, has since been released, but is unlikely to wield the same influence. Rabbi Leib Tropper lost his Machiavellian power after he was secretly filmed taking advantage of women. Rav Yitzchak Shiner and Rav Elya Weintraub have passed away. Rav Moshe Shapiro has also passed away, and his zealotry was anyway discredited by his arrest for instructing one of his followers to break into the home of an old woman (that he mistakenly believed to be running a ritual abuse cult) and beat her to death. And I am told that some of the Bnei Brak zealots that were involved in the ban of my books had to flee after being involved in taking advantage of people with a financial scam. There just isn't the same team that there was originally.

4. The previous backlash and consequences shocked them

When the dozens of charedi Gedolei Torah signed on the ban of my books back in 2004, I doubt that they gave a second's thought to what the consequences could be (and they certainly didn't do any investigation!). Had they done so, they might still have decided that there wouldn't be any. All authors to have previously been banned simply folded. Nobody dared question the authority of the Gedolim. Even if there had been one or two previously banned figures that did not submit, they had no real way of defending their work, and nobody in the frum community rallied around them.

What happened with the ban on my books, on the other hand, was very different. First of all, I didn't fold. This was not merely because I knew that my books were not actually heretical, and I had the strength to maintain my convictions; it was because as a young person whose kids were not yet in the "system," I had the option of simply leaving that world. But not only did I hold my ground; I had a miraculous way of making my position known. The internet had arrived! I had a website, with a dedicated section for the controversy, which became the central information resource for everyone, since I presented all my opponent's statements - along with respectful rejoinders by myself and many other people. Countless thousands of people were looking at it! Never before had the target of a ban had such a way to influentially and powerfully present his position. And, of course, the calm, source-based responses by myself and my supporters were much more impressive than the hysterical condemnations by my opponents which lacked any real arguments. As Rav Aharon Feldman bitterly said to me: "You've successfully made fools of the Gedolim." (To which I countered that I hadn't done anything - they themselves were entirely responsible.) 

But that wasn't all. I wasn't the only person with a website. It was the Golden Age of the Jewish blogosphere. There were many blogs that sprang up, and responses to the ban that circulated online. Some respectfully defended the approaches in my book with countless sources. Others challenged the authority and wisdom of the charedi Gedolim, some with sharp satire and great disrespect. Never before had the Gedolim had their authority challenged in such a way. They were used to delegitimizing others, not being delegitimized themselves. It was shocking for them.

And the blogs were just one manifestation of a larger phenomenon. When "Making of a Godol" was banned, it was just an attack on one person, Rav Nosson Kamenetzky. But when my books were banned, it was an attack on pretty much everyone who had ever adopted such approaches to reconciling Torah and science - which was many, many thousands of people. Suddenly the Gedolim were confronted with a backlash from countless people who were upset and infuriated, which they hadn't expected at all. It wasn't just Nosson Slifkin who believed in an age of dinosaurs and who used an approach from Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam - it was many, many people. It was probably the biggest blow to charedi rabbinic authority ever - alas, recently eclipsed by the Covid fiasco.

Nor did it end with the frum community. The ban received widespread attention from the wider Jewish community and ultimately the non-Jewish world. It made all the Jewish newspapers worldwide, along with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times - and none of the coverage was complimentary. The charedi world does not like this kind of attention.

But there were consequences beyond a backlash. Whereas some people challenged the Gedolim, others simply chose to leave the charedi world. Hundreds (possibly thousands?) of people realized that the charedi world simply was not for them. They chose to align themselves with the Yeshiva University community, with centrist or Modern Orthodoxy, and in some sad cases they left religious Judaism altogether. Whatever harm the Gedolim believed that my books were causing was vastly eclipsed by the harm caused by the ban.

Finally, the backlash had serious financial consequences. To the dismay of the Gedolim and askanim, they discovered that among those horrified by the ban were some very wealthy and prominent philanthropists. These people pulled their support of the yeshivos whose roshei yeshivah had signed on the ban; some of them reduced their support for charedi causes altogether. One of them told me that he kept a copy of the ban on his desk, so he could check the names when collectors came. And since that time, I've forged personal connections with some of the biggest names in Jewish philanthropy. 


For all these reasons, even though my new book is far more "controversial" than my previously banned books, it seems very unlikely that it will be banned. But in the next post in this series, I will give reasons why it might be banned anyway. Of course, if that does happen, it will sell out very quickly - so buy your copy now! (And remember, please do not buy it from Amazon!) 


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  1. This book and your new title and name just proves their point that you’re not from their camp and should not be considered a reliable Torah true source.

    1. That is silly. The book does not contain his novel ideas. There are sources in the book. If you think he misinterprets them, explain why. And if he is not misinterpreting them you have no point.

    2. I think you misinterpreted a simple post. I’m not agreeing or arguing. All I’m saying is that when you change from Nosson in the Mir to Dr Natan it shows them that you’re not from their camp anyways.

  2. Oy vey. What a profoundly ignorant statement. So happy I walked away from these guys.

  3. "Just kidding! Obviously that doesn't make the slightest difference."

    I laughed out loud. Good one.

  4. Where will the book be sold? If it's only being sold in your museum, amazon and other "neutral" outlets then it's highly doubtful that anyone in that world will pay it enough attention to ban it. If it's being sold in mea shearim bookshops on the other hand (I remember seeing your books there back when I was in Mir) then I think they would ban it despite all your points above.

  5. The reason is:
    כי מתו כל האנשים המבקשים את נפשך

    Why not buy it on Amazon? Where in the UK should I buy it from? Will your Museum ship it to the UK?

    1. If you buy it on Amazon, you are giving money to Jeff Bezos. If you buy it on the museum website, you are giving money to the museum. Yes, we ship internationally.

    2. Isn't it funny that Jeff Bezos sided with the BLM people, the same people who placed a guillotine in front of his house? Yes, I sold my shares of Amazon. Exhibit A is that Amazon canceled Parler. It's disgusting, that's like AT&T blocking your phone because you disagree with them. Similarly, the Gedolim corrupted like Bezos and CNN (who wants to take Fox off the air), banned your books, not because they're heretical, rather they are trying to censor information or hide something that they don't what you to know, because its the truth and it exposes them of their lies.

    3. Turk, CNN does not "want" to take Fox off the air. That is yet another projection of unified ill intent on to others, which is pretty much Fox's main game. But if only this imaginary persecutor had success in booting Fox News, it would certainly be a salutary development for you. You hit on their talking points every time, like a trained monkey. But there is nothing behind the points, they are just flimsy falsehoods and projections held with fierce certitude and persecution complex faith. Like so many topics you post on, you clearly know nothing of Bezos, despite your strong conviction. And if you keep making outlandish and droning claims like touting Trump's closing of travel to China as synonymous with his prescient and skilled handling of covid, then you cannot straight-facedly lay claim to the title "rationalist" because you are essentially acting as a bot for Hannity and Tucker and others who believe, fervently and apparently correctly, that any lie given over repeatedly and with conviction will be accepted by the mystically faithful like yourself, even to the point of reality disjuncture, extreme whataboutism and persecution paranoia, and the apparent adoption of rage as sole mode of political discourse. It is so sad to see in the frum world in particular, which I had mistakenly held to a higher level of critical capacity. But it is even more disturbing to see in one who proclaims allegiance to rationalism and concurrence with RNS, while reveling in the abandonment of any readerly or thoughtful or just plain discursive approach to ANY political topic, that Fox and its allies have turned into farcical fascist footballs.

    4. Why do you sell on Amazon then?

  6. On point 3, I'm sure the Charedi world can produce more Arsekonim of the calibre of Leib Tropper, so don't feel too safe!

  7. "But there were consequences beyond a backlash. Whereas some people challenged the Gedolim, others simply chose to leave the charedi world. Hundreds (possibly thousands?) of people realized that the charedi world simply was not for them. They chose to align themselves with the Yeshiva University community, with centrist or Modern Orthodoxy, and in some sad cases they left religious Judaism altogether."

    This is an astounding claim to make. There has been a general realignment in past decade. The center has narrowed and many have moved to the "right" and left the modern Orthodox community. What is the net gain or loss I have no clue.

  8. You once wrote that when a person gives a few reasons for something, the second one is usually the main one (I’m not sure if this works when 4 reasons were given), accordingly, I believe your first reason should really be the second one, because your first one is the main one.

    Moshe from BP

    1. Moshe, that's only in certain contexts where the person isn't especially comfortable with the main reason that he's giving because, for example, it's easily refuted. So he adds an earlier reason which isn't really his reason. It's only a defense that will deflect anyone challenging the thing that needs a reason. Once he feels reassured that that thing is protected, he can confess the real reason.

      There's a similar phenomenon that the Chazon Ish observed among his petitioners. Some of them would consult with him on multiple issues. Sometimes, he said, the first were a cover for the last issue. Only after they got comfortable discussing the first things, not their real issue(s), would they discuss the last one, the real one.

      So basically the whole thing is a defense mechanism. I assume people trying to convince their spouse, child, customer or anyone else to do something, will first (subconciously?) cook up a benefit that the other person will accept, and only later, (if ever), divulge the real reason.

      But listing reasons that you have no hesitations about doesn't go by that rule.

  9. I agree that we should not buy it on amazon. Amazon is full of Leftist billionaires. Don't give them your money.

    I think the book will not be banned, especially in relation to the last paragraph. It's shocking to see how corrupt the Gedolim is. Some went to jail for fraud, other stool money, and yet one incited the death of a woman who was beaten to death. It's insane. They're so corrupt. It's disgusting. Why would anyone listen to them?

    1. Gedolim means great people. In order to be great you also almost always be controversial and take unpopular stands. Does this diminish greatness?

      Greatness can be be in one area and not another. It needn't necessarily be all or nothing. It's the rare Gadol that across the board they're both great and not controversial. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach comes to mind as an example of a unanimous Gadol.

      The problem lays more in the usage of the term Gedolim than in the Gedolim themselves.

    2. No TH, she was "ALMOST" beaten to death (AFAIK). And "almost" is a very general term.

  10. Just a thought - it;s a bit ironic but the ones that criticized RNsS were also from the rationalist Litvishe school. Ultimately I wonder if they were challenged by a presentation that went to the logical conclusion of the rational argument which in a sense exposed the weakness of their position. Religion ultimately cannot be rational in the sense of logic and reason, because it deals with the Divine that is beyond our logic and intellectual reason.

    1. Which is why we await Rabbi Slifkins reason for remaining religious

  11. "All the ideas presented in it are backed up with powerful arguments and sources from respected traditional rabbinic authorities."

    Like AJ Heschel?

  12. "Rav Shmuel has long been by far the most moderate and broad-minded of the charedi Gedolei Torah (a reputation sadly since tarnished by his opposition to vaccines), and hails from a family of similarly broad-minded Gedolei Torah; consequently, he has long been a target for extremist zealots."

    A post on this opposition to R Shmuel would be fascinating. It being the cause of the ban was something I long suspected. The zealots - R Malkiel R Shechter and R Wachtfogel - are still ganging up on him to this day, with the WZO controversy.

    The original Zooshoteh blog was also highly against R Shmuel and R Sholom (who still endorses your books, BTW).

    Any other info on this controversy in chareidi gedolim would be fascinating. Maybe there's a sociologist who is interested?

  13. Any possibility of getting a digital version? Not every one has the option of displaying a book from he who must not be named in their house.

  14. About the opposition to RSK, we learn that not only were the banners clueless about your expertise, certitude and tenacity, and how widely your ideas were supported and accepted by so many, which is perhaps excusable, being that no one knew much about you then, but they were equally clueless of the same about the highly public RSK. In part, this must be because of his decades of hiding low-key behind Harav Svei z"l, and in part due to the banners' own tunnel vision. And since the ban he has been, to use the words of MT, "exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind" despite an additional storm or two against him. But the banners knew nothing. I wish him & everyone the best.

  15. "First of all, I didn't fold ... because as a young person whose kids were not yet in the "system," I had the option of simply leaving that world."

    True but incomplete. In your case, (& correct me if I'm wrong), your parents, in laws & siblings weren't in the system either (and not even in the camp), you were the one who 'flipped out'. You had family to return to. You also didn't live in a monolithic neighborhood. You had neighbors to return to. You had some Chareidim staying with you. You had friends in the blogospere. The move out (back?) had smoothness between the bumps.

    Thus, someone with your convictions but not all those other factors, likely stayed in the Chareidi world, even if there were no children in the system.

    Then of course you were effectively being expelled from the Chareidi camp.


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