Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A Bold Leader in Torah and Science

The Jewish People lost a bold rabbinic leader over chag with the passing of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, ztz"l. He was a rare individual with connections to both the yeshiva world and the scientific enterprise. In addition, he possessed a truly rare attribute of courageously speaking his mind, and not being intimidated into having to conform with the yeshivishe velt

I certainly had my share of disagreements with Rav Tendler over the years, whether with regard to his rejection of the common ancestry of animals, his campaign against the kashrut of swordfish or his identifying the Biblical shafan as the llama. Still, we had a warm personal relationship, and his contribution to the basic notion of bridging Torah with the modern world is immense. 

Over the years I had several conversations with him, but one in particular was so significant that I took notes at the time. It was on January 15th, 2005 - right in the heat of the great Torah-Science controversy. Rabbi Tendler told me that “my shver (father-in-law, i.e. Rav Moshe Feinstein) always said that Daas Torah is meaningless unless its backed up with a Shach and a Taz (i.e. that a rav’s pronouncement means nothing unless it's backed up by sources)." He also had some even stronger words to say about the popular approach to Daas Torah, but I'm not sure if it's appropriate to share them. 

 At that time, he also made an exceptionally generous offer. He said that I should collect a list of a hundred signatures of rabbanim who endorse my approach to Torah and science, and that he would be happy to be the first signatory. Those who remember the mass hysteria and witch-hunt of 2005 can appreciate just how brave this was! (I decided not to proceed with this approach, for reasons that I do not exactly remember now.) 

Rav Tendler has a particularly special zechus. He shares responsibility for dramatically improving (and in many cases saving) the lives of literally hundreds of people, by ruling that brain death is death and thus enabling organ transplantation. How many people can claim such a zechus? May his memory be blessed. 

 

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54 comments:

  1. I hope those "stronger words to say about the popular approach to Daas Torah" were that the popular approach to Daas Torah is avodah zarah, a.k.a. godolatry.

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    1. No point labelling every sociological tend idolatry - entrenches the problem and is essentially schismatic. I agree with critique but would prefer a more rational response.

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  2. Of course, those who disagreed about brain death would say this was not a zechus. Eilu v'eilu....

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    1. They would and did say a great deal more than that. R. Aharon Soloveichik said, "They are mattir retzichah." R. Tendler was very much in the minority on that one.

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    2. Even if you believe it's not really death, it doesn't mean doing it is ''retzichah''. There is serious precedent for allowing suicide for good reasons.

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  3. When the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society put on Inherit the Wind, he gave a speech on evolution after one performance. One point I remember him making was that modern medical research would be impossible without the fact of evolution, as without it there'd be no reason to believe that a medicine that worked (or harmed), say, a rat would have a similar effect on humans.

    I'm not sure how that can be squared with non-belief in common ancestry- isn't it dependent on that? But I'm not an expert...

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    1. I don't understand this proof. The alternative to common ancestry is common design. Why shouldn't the Creator use the same or similar design over and over in distinct creations? Why should He "bother" as it were, coming up with new designs? Commonality is also a plus against polytheists.

      Also, on the belief of a caring Creator, he would design rats in a way that would eventually benefit human medicine. Take also for example essential amino acids. They come from our plant and animal food. What would creatures eat and what would the food chain looks like, if all creatures are incompatible to each other?

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    2. Again, I'm not an expert, sorry.

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  4. I'm curious: Did anyone else close to R. Moshe report this alleged approach to "Da'as Torah?" Or was it unique to Rabbi Tendler?
    The reason I ask is that there are many things that R. Moshe Feinstein himself wrote which seem to contradict this.

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    1. I think RNS means Rabbi Tendler had more colorful things to say about Daas Torah not Reb Moshe.

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    2. I am referring even to what he brings in the name of RMF.

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  5. To avoid swordfish completely is only from the aideh haradis... the only use skipjack tuna which can never be mistaken for swordfish...it also has the least amount of mercury..

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  6. See https://web.archive.org/web/20080511145235/http://www.borhatorah.org/home/conference/paneldiscussion.html
    in which R' Tendler gives a negative view of Darwinian evolution.

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    1. Your links don't work, but of course he meant "Darwinian evolution" in the way a psychologist might speak of Freud, or a physicist of Newton, or an American of Columbus: They got the details wrong, but were the first to grasp the big picture.

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  7. Something else that Rav Tendler was very courageous about (against the mainstream charedi attitude) was his regular visits on to Har Habayis. There is a video on YouTube in which he discusses the issue while walking around the makom Hamikdash.

    Yehi Zichro Baruch.

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    1. How did he go up with shoes, isn't that forbidden?

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    2. You wear non-leather shoes. I went with him many times

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    3. That's not what the Mishna says. It says any shoe any stick and any pouch.

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    4. The Mishna also says no shoes on Yom Kippur.

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    5. Nachum is correct that the halacha equates the definition of shoe for these 2 mitzvot. See note #5:
      https://www.halachipedia.com/index.php?title=Going_on_Har_Habayit#cite_note-5

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    6. Otherwise, that site is quite dishonest in its presentation.

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  8. Actually, I'm not sure there was anything particularly courageous about his willingness to openly support you. Rabbi Tendler has been persona non grata in the Yeshiva world for many decades and his support of you would not have engendered any new condemnation. The Yeshiva world simply did not care about his opinions.

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    1. I don't understand the question - the fact which Mordy stated is absolutely correct. That doesn't mean that he himself holds that way.

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    2. Because asserting objective truth is important.

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    3. Mordy's comment is true, but also irrelevant. So what that the Yeshivah world didn't care about his opinions? Other people don't care about the yeshivah world's opinions. Doesn't take anything away from RMD's brilliance, courage, or tenacity.

      Re what the blog host calls "the great Torah science controversy" - its equal parts amusing/unbecoming for someone to grandiloquently refer to his own personal issue as "the great" anything. For YOU personally, it was "the great"; for everyone else; it was just another blip on the radar. That you have chosen to make it the defining moment of your life, or even that we comment here, doesn't change that in the slightest.

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    4. Rationalism posits that value judgements are best made after gathering the plain facts, without an agenda, and without hagiography.

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    5. Schreiber, you're ignorant of the feeling of hundreds or thousands of people for whom the (great or not, call it what you want) Torah science controversy was in fact a turning point in their lives. Such as Rav Feldman who said that it literally made him physically sick ... and countless countless others. Take time to read up on this. There's plenty available.

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    6. Thank you, anonymous, for that brilliant analysis. And you are quite right too - I am indeed unaware of "hundreds or thousands of people" for whom Nosson Slifkin's (as he called himself at the time) personal issue was a turning point in their own lives. I don't believe such pathetic characters exist in such numbers.

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    7. Schreiber, there was no analysis, only a statement of historical fact.

      If you choose not to read up on this, enjoy your innocence and the bliss of ignorance.

      You seem so sure of yourself that it's virtually a waste of time to continue.

      I will however leave you (probably useless on you, but there are other readers) one of so many sources that Nosson Slifkin's views were to a legitimate degree mainstream.

      http://articles.aish.com/graphics/articles/NextYearinJerusalem.pdf particularly page ten.

      But this is because you refuse to look in the obvious place, where you'll find much more.

      And then you might possibly maybe start to begin to first realize where your Nosson Slifkin is coming from.


      You certainly don't believe what I said about Rav Feldman, unless you have the presumption to criticize one of the Ziknei Hador CV. But I know this directly from someone to whom Rav Feldman himself said it to and can get him to tell it to you if you are m'vakeish. Be careful or certainly be selective of what you say. You criticize with a broad brush. Do you consider yourself nizhar b'gachaltam shel chachamim??

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    8. You're right Anon, I am quite sure of myself. If you're not, you shouldn't comment. ברי ושמא ברי עדיף

      And you ought to calm your liver a bit. What I said was that NS should not describe his personal fight with censorship as "The Great" anything. I said nothing at all as to whether or not I thought he was right or wrong, whether his views were mainstream or minority, or something in between.

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    9. I said nothing at all as to whether or not I thought he was right or wrong, whether his views were mainstream or minority, or something in between.

      Oh, so we agree more than I realized. That's great. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

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    10. If you want to save yourself time don't assume that people can read your mind. When Rabbi S said that he spoke to Rabbi T during the heat of the great Torah-Science controversy and you corrected him that for everyone else it was just another blip on the radar, not everyone will like you realize that Rabbi S was really talking about that for him it was so great that he didn't let go afterwards, (and you corrected that for that it was really a blip). Then they will make silly comparisons to R Feldman and hundreds/thousands for whom it was great at the time. Spelling this out right away would have made things simpler for you, subjecting you to less argument.

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    11. Mefarshim tell us that there is more than one type of ברי. There is ברי טוב which is better than שמא and there is ברי גרוע which is worse than שמא. Chazal say למד לשונך לומר איני יודע שמא תתבדה ותאחז. This is even when asked and certainly when he is volunteering his opinion. And it's for a ברי that he is advised in those circumstances not to express himself with too much ברירות and confidence even if he has them.

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  9. I was under the impression that Rabbi Tendler was of the opinion that all statements in the Gemara are scientifically accurate. Was this not his opinion?

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    1. You're probably thinking of R. Meiselman.

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    2. Nope, not R. Meiselman either.
      You're probably thinking of R. Reuven Schmeltzer

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    3. I heard this from Rav Aryeh Lebowitz. I contacted Rabbi Lebowitz to ask if I am correct that he had said that this was Rav Tendler's opinion. He told me that I am correct that he had said that.

      I asked "Is that in writing somewhere? Or something you heard from him?" Rabbi Lebowitz replied, "I heard it 30 years ago"

      So it's certainly possible that Rabbi Tendler originally said this but changed his mind at some point after that.

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    4. Rabbi Adlerstein writes about Rabbi Tendler's views on Torah and science in Cross-Currents - take a look there.

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    5. Shai: thanks, here's the link:
      https://cross-currents.com/2021/10/03/rabbi-moshe-tendler-zl-a-personal-appreciation/

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  10. "but I'm not sure if it's appropriate to share them. "

    Why?

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  11. Baruch Dayan Ha'emet. A true loss to the entire world.

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  12. Someone who rules that brain death is not death also saves many lives — all the brain dead people are now alive instead of dead.

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    1. except that they're not living any kind of life, no response to stimulus, no brain activity, no chance of waking up from a coma; just a machine artificially beating a heart, and a ventilator blowing air

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    2. They also don’t typically live very long.

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    3. Reb Gili - As long as the neshama resides in the body, one is alive, even if he/she can't "do" anything. Could even be there is consciousness without brain activity - see R' Soloveitchik cited in "the Rav Thinking Aloud".
      Davis Ohsie - we are not permitted to kill one person, whose days are numbered, to save another who can expect to live many years. In halachah, this is murder.

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    4. Shai: how are you measuring whether the neshama is residing in the body? The answer is a halachic/scientific definition of death, not wondering whether there is a little consciousness. Obviously this is a very complex and fraught issue, with strong opinions on both sides. But there is a lot of confusion about the terms, especially among non-experts. Brain death is irreversible and complete loss of all brain function, not the same as a coma or vegetative state.

      Brain death as absolute death is treated already in the ancient Jewish sources: a very common phrase applied to hilchot Shabbat and other areas of halacha. You can't live without a head, as the gamara asks rhetorically, p'sik reisha ve'lo yamut?

      This is not killing a person to save another. We're talking about a dead person whose organs can be used to save another (actually up to 8 people). Another less important but still significant issue is kavod hameit, that it's dishonorable to the dead to keep him hooked up to machines in a hospital room instead of bringing the body to a burial quickly.

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  13. So in the un-self-censured version of this post, we have a prominent authority categorizing daas torah as avoda zara.

    2 points:

    1. This goes hand in hand with categorizing dismissing daas tora as kfira. Since you do not join us in our avoda, you are a kofer.

    2. equating daas tora with avoda zara has been going on a long time among us shmoe & tuna bagels and was never worthy of analysis. But now that R Tendler said it, let's consider whether he meant it halachically/literally or hyperbolically. (Also whether denying daas tora is kfira halachically/literally or hyperbolically.)

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  14. At that time, he also made an exceptionally generous offer. ... and that he would be happy to be the first signatory.... (I decided not to proceed with this approach, for reasons that I do not exactly remember now.)

    I don't know what you thought, but a good reason not to proceed was that it just would have expressed the (roughly) UO-MO dispute on the subject which everyone knew already. His opinion would have simply been ignored by RYSE etc.'s followers. Or, they would just tar him right there with you.

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