Sunday, April 3, 2022

About That Brazilian Strawberry Salamander...

Gosh, I didn't realize that it would get that much attention. The Biblical Museum of Natural History's Facebook post about the "Brazilian Strawberry Salamander" received over a hundred thousand views! The majority of people realized that it was an April Fool's Day prank, but a very large number of people thought that it was real. It was even shared to a Facebook group called "God's Wonders - No Photoshop"!

Aside from the very cute image, it seems that this was a perfect fake hybrid creature, much better than the "crocoparrot" or other Photoshop creations on the internet. The Brazilian strawberry salamander struck the perfect balance between the plausible and the outrageous. In fact, had it not been April 1, many more people would have fallen for it. I think that there is a valuable Torah lesson to be learned here.

The longstanding conflict between rationalism and mysticism, which received notable expression in the controversy over my books, had a major focus on Chazal's knowledge of science (or lack thereof). The notion that the Sages of Talmud were mistaken in accepting the existence of mice that grow from dirt, lice that grow from sweat and salamanders that grow from fire was deemed unthinkable and heretical. My opponents variously insisted that these creatures really do exist, or that the Sages never actually believed that they exist and all the rabbinic commentaries misunderstood them.

What lies behind this position? It's the fear that if the Sages mistakenly believed in creatures that do not really exist, this reflects badly upon them. Some people are afraid that it would make them look foolish or gullible.

Yet the Brazilian strawberry salamander demonstrates otherwise. Nowadays, even the least educated person has an incredible knowledge of the animal kingdom, having seen countless animals in photos or on TV. And yet there were still many people who thought that the Brazilian strawberry salamander was real. And why not? The information was shared by a respectable source. And, as several people pointed out, there are plenty of real creatures that are only slightly less incredible. Why shouldn't there be a salamander that grows from strawberries?

Kal v'chomer, how much more so, was it perfectly reasonable for the Sages of the Talmud to accept the existence of mice that grow from dirt and salamanders that grow from fire, the existence of which was attested to by the leading naturalists of the day. In fact, it would have been downright bizarre had the Sages not believed in such creatures! The fact that we now know that such creatures do not exist is not the slightest reason to lessen our respect for the Sages of the Talmud. There is no reason to try to convince ourselves that either such creatures do exist or that the Sages never believed in them.


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117 comments:

  1. What a relief. To properly bodek strawberries for these salamanders is very time consuming!

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  2. It's just as plausible that the creatures referenced went extinct. Or that it was a parable.

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  3. I was trying to find some credit for the pic, very well done. Source?

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  4. Typical secularist attitude.

    Here is the "logic": Because some random morons on the internet believed some idiocy that some clown posted on April fool's day, therefore we can say that the Sages of the Talmud also believed whatever nonsense they heard. Treating our holy Sages like some random morons on the internet.

    Is it any surprise that this completely corrupted secularist attitude poisons whatever they touch? Is it any surprise that they think improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality isn't so bad, as long as it's good for mental health?

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    Replies
    1. EVERY SINGLE PERSON in antiquity believed in spontaneous generation. Including such geniuses as Rambam. The only moron here is you.

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    2. If that was what you meant, you could have just said it, and it wouldn't be nearly as bad. By comparing our holy Sages to fools and clowns on the internet, כי האי גוונא מחזי כאפקרותא, וגדול עונך מנשוא. This is a reflection of the entire secularist attitude.

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    3. Why wouldn’t our sages believe in whatever nonsense they heard? After all if they believed in witches who could resurrect the dead, Why wouldn’t they believe in spontaneous generation. TaNaCh, Mishnah, Gemara etc. is loaded with shtooyot. So why not this shtooyot also.

      https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/103561

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    4. When the Rabbi get insulted, one knows truth has been spoken.....

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    5. @happy
      Noone is treating the Talmud Scholars as morons. But treating them as semi-divine beings is making the same mistake in the other direction.

      Torah Scholars have a certain set of skills. We greatly respect that skill. We venerate it. But we don't mistake it for anything it isn't.

      (Has any Rabbi made, for example, any meaningful suggestion as to how to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict? If they have such divine wisdom wouldn't you expect some good solid advice? But no, nothing. Because it's not their field. They dont have knowledge of that. So we dont listen to them on these issues.

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    6. "Noone is treating the Talmud Scholars as morons."

      Yes, this post does exactly that, comparing them to a handful of random people fooled by an obvious joke.

      "But treating them as semi-divine beings is making the same mistake in the other direction."

      Yes yes, I already knew that in your secular "yeshiva", you learned to argue on the Gemara whenever it pleases you. You don't have to keep telling me. If you are trying to get me to donate to that "yeshiva", sorry, nothing doing.

      "Has any Rabbi made, for example, any meaningful suggestion as to how to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict?"

      What a terrible example. Has ANYBODY made any meaningful suggestion as to how to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict??? Nobody has a clue. You could have come up with a good example, like that the Rabbi doesn't know how to fix an air conditioner, but you had to come up with the worst possible example!

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    7. "a handful of random people" is not exactly a hundred thousand views, most of whom are educated and very much not moronic. I'm pretty sure that RNS was not saying that Chazal are exactly like the sovereign citizens in their bunkers or sexual identity politickers in their coffee shops.

      You are looking for ways to be offended.

      Delete
    8. "...some random morons on the internet believed some idiocy that some clown posted on April fool's day..."

      Clown. Idiocy. Morons. Some random morons on the internet. One thing at a time

      Clown. Yes, he was clowning around.

      Idiocy. No, it's a plausible falsehood. In a comment below yet to be moderated, I say that there are actual creatures equally or more incredible than this falsehood, so theoretically why not this one too?

      Morons. Morons believe idiocy. This is something else, plausible falsehood. As in בשלמא מילתא דתליא בסברה, הא לא שמיע ליה.

      Some random morons on the internet. True. No shortage of those. But let's assume one in a thousand aren't morons and are even thoughtful. And half of them fell for this plausible falsehood. So you're left with a nice group of intelligent people whose opinions you would search out for things of סברה and of things they're familiar about.

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    9. Yosef, he compared Chazal to gullible people who were fooled by an obvious joke.

      Imagine if somebody said your mother was unfaithful, because after all, there are many women who are unfaithful, it's a common issue. Would you be deeply offended on her behalf? Or would you say, "Gosh, he has a point". As somebody who has learned a lot of Torah and B"H continues to do so, Chazal is my Rebbi, and I have the right to be offended on their behalf.

      If the Rabbi would have just said Chazal believed in spontaneous generation because they had good reason to, and not because they gullibly believed whatever they heard, I wouldn't protest. In fact I would agree. But he CANNOT say that because that would not accomplish his very transparent goals, see the comments below.

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    10. Happy, you are so strange. My point was that you DON'T have to be foolish to believe such things.

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    11. "My point was that you DON'T have to be foolish to believe such things."

      No. You compared Chazal to people who believe whatever silly things they read online without bothering to check. If I said Rabbi Slifkin just believes whatever silly things he reads online, without even bothering to check, would that not be very offensive? This is what you said about our holy Sages! You should repent with bitter tears if you could ever, ever have the "intellectual honesty" to admit that you did wrong (which is something I have yet to see).

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    12. Hmmm, who said the following?:

      "Well, yes, it is true that we cannot categorically disprove the existence of spontaneously generating creatures. But how someone can raise this as a serious argument is beyond me. After all, we also cannot categorically disprove the existence of werewolves, vampires, leprechauns, or Santa Claus. But no reasonable person will believe in their existence, for reasons that I explain at length in Sacred Monsters."

      And now you are comparing our holy Sages to people who believe in that in 2022! You are comparing them to people who in 2022 would believe in Santa Claus and leprechauns!
      הלא זה הדבר אשר דברנו אליך. ודי בהערה זו

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    13. "You compared Chazal to people who believe whatever silly things they read online without bothering to check."
      No, I didn't.

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    14. "No, I didn't."

      Excuse me??? Was it somebody else who wrote this post? You know, for a guy who blathers on and on about "intellectual honesty", you never display that trait yourself. Here is an opportunity. What is wrong with recognizing and owning up to your sin? When Yehuda sinned he admitted. When King David sinned he admitted. Why can't you?

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    15. I wrote about people who believe detailed information, accompanied by a convincing photo, from a very respectable source. Not "people who believe whatever silly things they read online." There were PhD scientists who believed it.

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    16. Y'know, I don't understand you. You keep describing people who believe in such things as morons etc. But surely, even if you deny that Chazal believed in such things, you must acknowledge that Rishonim and Acharonim believed in them. So were they also "morons"?

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    17. You understand me perfectly well, עוד תוסיפו סרה. Now you are saying that there were PHD scientists who believed in spontaneous generation in 2022, when they had Google at their fingertips? I have no way to know if you are telling the truth, and very little reason to trust you. Everything about it seems implausible.

      But even if it is true, it doesn't help at all. What do you call a guy with a PHD who hears about spontaneous generation in 2022 and doesn't bother to check, even with Google at his fingertips? You call him an idiot! In your own words "After all, we also cannot categorically disprove the existence of werewolves, vampires, leprechauns, or Santa Claus. But no reasonable person will believe in their existence". This is what you compared Chazal to! Where is the "intellectual honesty" when you need it?

      As for Chazal, it is possible they believed it, but not because they were like the idiot PHD who couldn't take half a second to check. Which is exactly what you compared them to. If they believed it, they investigated to the extent they could and had good reason to believe it, just like the other wise people of those times. And מסתמא they were not wrong from the halacha perspective.

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  5. "God's Wonders - No Photoshop"

    Havent been able to find such a group.

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  6. Thanks for the April Fools joke. But nature offers us evidence of evolution’s amazing creation of creatures camouflaged to their habitats. Have a look: ( The link in my comment from your previous post was broken.) this one works.

    https://www.keepinginsects.com/praying-mantis/species/orchid-mantis/

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  7. Well, I was thoroughly fooled.

    After all, some animals (wasps) lay eggs in other animals (caterpillars), and the eggs develop there:

    . . . So why can't an animal use a berry as "host" ?

    Thanks for the reminder that what's plausible, isn't necessarily true.

    . Charles

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  8. This post is very funny. The past two years have proven, once and for all, that some people - including this blog host - will believe absolutely anything. (This has been obvious for decades to any thinking observer - still waiting for that long promised global ice age - but the past two years brought it home to one and all.) And Rabbi Professor Slifkin is worried about what people 1800 years ago believed???!

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    1. "The past two years have proven, once and for all, that some people ... will believe absolutely anything."

      Gershon, you're aware that both sides of the debate say this about the other side?

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    2. "And Rabbi Professor Slifkin is worried about what people 1800 years ago believed???!"

      I didn't notice any worry. But anyway,
      1. תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך.
      2. These ideas have helped the clientele of the Kiruv movement.

      Or you don't like Rabbi Professor Slifkin's answers.

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    3. Straw man much?

      The global imminent ice age idea has been replaced by newer evidence, or have you not been paying attention for the past 30 years?

      As far as who is worried about what people believed 1800 years ago, um, don't we all behave based on how Rabbis ruled and argued and discussed and decided 1800 years ago? That's kinda an important element to the Orthodox lifestyle.

      If you are not Orthodox, then maybe this blog isn't for you.

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    4. "Gershon, you're aware that both sides of the debate say this about the other side?"

      Actually, that's not true. A great many regular people who at first believed the nonsense have come to realize how they were misled. And the politicians and media execs who conspired to foist this on the eve of the election don't bother maintaining they were right - they brazenly lied, and don't really care if people know it.

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  9. "What lies behind this position? It's the fear that if the Sages mistakenly believed in creatures that do not really exist, this reflects badly upon them. Some people are afraid that it would make them look foolish or gullible."

    That may be one reason behind this position, but it certainly isn't the only one.
    Here's another reason: It is one thing to maintain that the Sages would have believed things that were false, but it is quite another to assert that these false beliefs would be canonized in the definitive version of Torah shebaal peh. And it is quite another thing if these false beliefs (according to you) actually cause millions of G-d fearing Torah Jews to violate Shabbos when killing lice because Chazal mistakenly believed in SG.

    And here's another reason: Once you are allowed to acknowledge that Chazal could be influenced by the intellectual trends of their times and were even willing to enshrine these trends in halacha, then it opens the door for modern-minded Jews to legitimately claim there are all kinds of halachos in Shas which are simply reflecting the pre-modern attitudes and social norms of Chazal's time and can be deeply flawed as well.

    In short, acknowledging Chazal put their many false beliefs in the Talmud as you do, not only reflects badly on Chazal (I know you argue it doesn't), it certainly reflects badly on rabbinic Judaism. It means your religion is riddled with, and partially based on, many demonstrable falsehoods.
    Not such a good thing if you ask me.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that is indeed another reason. You take an intellectually dishonest approach to the Gemara because you are afraid of the consequences of an intellectually honest approach.

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    2. See, this is exactly what I keep saying, and he keeps on reinforcing it. The Rabbi admits בפה מלא that the consequence of his secular so-called "intellectually honest" approach (in reality it is anything but) is the idea that "there are all kinds of halachos in Shas which are simply reflecting the pre-modern attitudes and social norms of Chazal's time and can be deeply flawed as well." And he's perfectly ok with that, in fact he embraces it, as can be seen in numerous blog posts.

      This attitude has NOTHING to do with Torah and science! And everything to to with the secular academic approach to Torah espoused by the Maskilim. OF COURSE such an attitude won't be confined to a handful of narrowly defined "science" issues, but will corrupt the entire Torah. And of course one shouldn't be surprised when such a person states that improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality really isn't so bad.

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    3. I understand why you think it is reasonable for Chazal to have enshrined numerous, important, yet completely mistaken beliefs in rabbinic Judaism.
      But what I don't understand is why you you can't imagine that other people honestly think your position is UNreasonable. Not merely that it's "uncomfortable" or even "dangerous", but actually unreasonable knowing what we know about Chazal from our tradition.

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    4. DK, "what we know about Chazal from our tradition."

      "Our" tradition has achieved some acceptance only relatively recently. From that we recast the words of the authorities from the times when there was no such a thing.

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    5. None of this is any worse than Chazal themselves legislating/limiting parts of of the Torah that were more relevant to pre-modern times (concubines, polygamy, slavery, Yibum, eruv, yefes toar, etc., etc.), which of course they had the power to do.
      Getting a species of animal wrong doesn't take away from their spiritual greatness.

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    6. "But what I don't understand is why you you can't imagine that other people honestly think your position is UNreasonable. Not merely that it's "uncomfortable" or even "dangerous", but actually unreasonable knowing what we know about Chazal from our tradition."

      Oh, I can certainly appreciate that some people will consider my position unreasonable, if they dogmatically subscribe to a non-rationalist perspective which ignores all the statements of Chazal which indicate that Chazal themselves did NOT believe themselves to possess supernatural knowledge of the natural world!

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    7. To Weaver:
      I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say.

      To Rabbi Slifkin:
      You know you're losing an argument when the best you can do is consistently mischaracterize your opponent's position.

      Delete
    8. Hi R’ Nosson,

      Shalom aleichem! Long time no speak. The past ten years have been…challenging. I dropped out of our interchanges due to necessity, not disinterest. Baruch Hashem I am ok and just so you know, my kids are enamored with your books, and your museum is on our list of “must visit” attractions in Israel the next time we go (if we do come, it will be the second museum you and I meet in person). “Sacred Monsters” holds a special place in the hearts of my three boys who are all blessed with overactive imaginations. I tried to explain to them that they are siding with the enemy and even held a public book burning of your books all to no avail. So it looks like you got the last word…

      Kidding aside, I would like to leave a comment here if you allow me to, and if you choose to engage, I promise to attempt to respond in kind.

      RDK left (in my opinion) a very powerful observation in the comments section of your post, one that I believe lies at the heart of the debate between the “Slifkinites” and the anti Slifkinites. Unfortunately, I feel you avoided responding to it here in the comments section. Of course, you are not obligated to respond to anyone but nonetheless I would like to take up his argument, his line of reasoning, and request that you provide a clear and comprehensive response to the issues he raised.

      Here is a synopsis of his argument and your response.

      You (correctly) brought up one of the issues that your opponents have with your approaches. You explained that pointing out that Chazal were mistaken about non-existent creatures could reflect negatively on their overall reliability regarding other statements or positions they took.

      In response, RDK agreed that this indeed was an issue and then went on to point out a couple more issues as follows.

      1) It is one thing to point out that Chazal may have adopted certain beliefs about nature that today bear no relevancy. It is entirely another thing to consistently assert that they believed in certain “facts of nature” that are categorically mistaken and yet made it into the traditionally accepted record of our Torah beliefs. Furthermore, such an assertion necessarily results in the conclusion that Chazal misled millions of Jews over the ages into violating the parameters of halacha due to their mistaken beliefs (e.g. killing lice on Shabbos).

      2) RDK points out another problem. Once we as a nation are allowed to maintain that Chazal were not only influenced by the false beliefs of their times but even went on to incorporate their mistaken beliefs into the corpus of our received traditions – even to the point that halacha is affected by those beliefs – what is to stop the “intellectually honest”, modern minded Jew to maintain that a whole plethora of halachos are equally flawed, are equally a result of erroneous attitudes and beliefs?

      In summary, RDK states that acknowledging Chazal incorporated many false beliefs in the Talmud not only reflects badly on Chazal, it (in his words) “means your religion is riddled with, and partially based on, many demonstrable falsehoods”.

      Now, if RDK would have stopped there, you probably wouldn’t have responded. Rightfully so. After all, this is the comment section and a Blogger doesn’t have to respond to every comment made on his blog. However, RDK went on to make one final comment and as the British bard would say, “therein lies the rub”. He said:

      “Not such a good thing if you ask me”.

      Whoops… that could be construed as a direct criticism. You then responded to his overall comment with your own zinger as follows:

      “Yes, that is indeed another reason. You take an intellectually dishonest approach to the Gemara because you are afraid of the consequences of an intellectually honest approach."

      Continued in the next comment...

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    9. Continued from the previous comment

      Now, although both you and I know that both you and I enjoy a good fight, and personally I enjoyed your comeback (although I entirely disagree with its connotations), it left a hollow feeling in my heart. Why? For two reasons.

      1) RDK itemized several serious issues with your approaches. He was sincere. He wore his heart on his sleeve and basically asked you how to deal with the very real problem (as can be witnessed on myriad internet blogs) of people who adopt your approaches and end up marginalizing the opinions of Chazal even in the area of halacha.

      2) Although I know you better than that (or at least think I know you better than that), your response could be construed as tacit approval to marginalize Chazal’s opinions even in Halacha wherever personal “rationalism” wins the day. Now, if this is indeed the case, please let me know and I will cease and desist from this interchange. However, if what I “know” about you is indeed true, then I feel justified in insisting that you respond to the substance of RDK’s objections rather than his criticism.

      Remember, my boys are watching…

      Simcha Coffer

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    10. " Furthermore, such an assertion necessarily results in the conclusion that Chazal misled millions of Jews over the ages into violating the parameters of halacha due to their mistaken beliefs (e.g. killing lice on Shabbos)."

      No, it doesn't. As I have argued many times, based on the position of Rav Herzog and others, in turn based on R. Yosef Caro, there have been no violations of halacha. The halachos of the Gemara are canonized.

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    11. "...canonized in the definitive version of Torah shebaal peh"

      What does this actually mean? Is the statement concerning the עטלף definitive? RMM seems to think so. That's why he felt compelled to innovate a far-fetched definition unknown to centuries of בעלי מסורה. Has the definition of עטלף been canonized? RMM seems to think not. That's why he permitted himself to innovate a far-fetched definition unknown to centuries of בעלי מסורה.

      "...millions of G-d fearing Torah Jews to violate Shabbos when killing lice..."
      Given that the lice issue remains controversial, has it been canonized? What about Rav Elyashiv's stringent (?) psak? Doesn't that imply that there have been widespread שבת violations?

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    12. I am confused about what is so dangerous with RNS's approach. Chazal are authoritative on halacha, even when the basis of the halacha appears to be based on a flawed understanding of reality.

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    13. Simcha Coffer and DS,

      You are missing the point. The issue is not simply one of "did there happen to be halachic violations if Chazal were mistaken?" It's the entire secularist approach, which is direct attack on our Mesorah. According to the Rabbi's approach, a huge percentage of halacha is based on Chazal's outdated, mistaken perspectives (the more halacha you learn, the more you see how much of it was based on their understanding of the מציאות). Yet he responds in the comment that we are still obligated to follow Chazal because the halacha was "canonized".

      פטומי מילי בעלמא. Somebody who thinks a large percentage of Shas is based on Chazal's outdated, mistaken perspective will NOT respect their canonization! There is no way. And you can easily see it in so many of his blog posts. When the Rabbi indicates that improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality really isn't so bad, or that it's not so problematic if your mezuza is missing a letter, or that he is qualified to change the halacha on brain death because of Chazal's "mistakes", this is NOT the product of somebody who respects Chazal or their canonization!

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    14. Ephraim:
      Read the chapter about the עטלף. After you read it, please explain what kind of ideological inconsistency there is in trying to reconcile a definitive statement of Chazal about reality with the reality we see. This is exactly what the בעלי מסןרה do when confronted with such a challenge.

      Delete
    15. "Somebody who thinks a large percentage of Shas is based on Chazal's outdated, mistaken [*]perspective[*] will NOT respect their canonization! There is no way. And you can easily see it in so many of his blog posts ...."

      Change perspective to information, and since when do his blog posts represent everyone? We know others doing well by your standards.

      Delete
    16. R' Simcha, to be honest, & WADR, that's disappointing. Halacha is based on היגיעה האנושית, not empiricism. As you are a spokesman for the anti RNS team, surely you were familiar with the source of what I just said but you forgot it over the years.

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    17. RDK, I agree with you in general, but I agree with Ephraim in the case of עטלף. It is better to say צ"ע in this case rather than to be נכנס בדחוקים to say it is a platypus. That would also be an approach of the בעלי מסורה, and probably a more common one.

      לדידי מפרשה לי מיניה א' דלא אדכר מאן הוא, שהפירוש "מטיל ביצים" לאו דוקא, אלא ר"ל "עוף", והכל יבוא על מקמו בשלום. וגם זה דחוק. אבל לא כל כך דחוק כמו הפשט של הראש הישיבה שליט"א.

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    18. HaRav HaGaon Anonymous (if I am guessing correctly who you are), I am not sure what changing "perspective" to "information" does. It's just as bad. Anybody who thinks a large percentage of Shas is based on Chazal's mistaken information will NOT respect their canonization. It is impossible. You know this. And Rabbi Slifkin knows this as well, despite his pretending.

      As we have discussed, there is a huge difference between saying that Chazal were fallible, and saying that they didn't have the proper tools to determine the correct halacha in a vast number of cases. And there is a huge difference between saying Chazal erred in a limited number of places, and saying that they erred in countless places because of their inability to properly ascertain the מציאות, and because of their biases.

      And finally, anybody who thinks it's "intellectually dishonest" to try to explain Chazal in order to be מקיים דברי חכמים will not be able to properly learn, respect, or follow Shas/Poskim. This is so obvious, it shouldn't need to be said.

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    19. RNS WROTE: “No, it doesn't. As I have argued many times, based on the position of Rav Herzog and others, in turn based on R. Yosef Caro, there have been no violations of halacha. The halachos of the Gemara are canonized.”

      Agreed! The question is, why? The Gemara states that those who maintain that a lice may be killed on Shabbos do so because they maintain that Lice do not arise from sexual breeding which, to you, means SG. And from the pashtus of the Gemara, you certainly seem to be correct. You maintain that people like RDK are intellectually dishonest but on the contrary, it is intellectual honesty which leads to the obvious question: “If Chazal were seemingly mistaken about the process by which lice arise, and Chazal seemed to rely on this notion to allow the killing of lice on Shabbos, why do we continue to pasken like Beis Hillel and his followers (e.g. Rabah on daf 13a in maseches Shabbos – see Rashi ad loc.) Why do we not choose to pasken like Bais Shammai and his followers (e.g. Rabbi Eliezer who was known to be a Shamuti, a follower of Shammai) who are aligned with the scientific reality?

      Questions like this have been troubling people like RDK all through the ages. In fact, it forced many Rishonim to conclude that in certain circumstances, the principle of nishtanu ha’tivim must be employed. Others found different approaches. But the common denominator amongst all of them was the careful and respectful treatment of these questions. In the end, no one, and I mean no one, ever made statements that ended up disparaging Chazal in any way. In every known case, individuals sought a resolution that reconciled Chazal’s statements in halacha with the scientific reality. In the case of lice, several resolutions are given. Some say nistanu ha’tivim. Some reinterpret the meaning of pirya v’rivya to mean that since lice are parasitic creatures and without a host they could not exist, they fall out of the category of beings that come into existence solely by sexual procreation. Some say that Chazal had a mesorah regarding this halacha and merely demonstrated (not “based”) their halacha on contemporary scientific attitudes. If it turns out that the science is wrong, fine. We need to find another scientific reason. And if we can’t, too bad. The halacha is a mesora and we have to wait until Eliyahu comes and we can ask him to explain the science behind the halacha (the preceding is Rav Desller’s approach with my addition about the Eliyahu haNavi bit). I’m sure RDK has his own approach. Personally, I favor Rav Dessler’s approach over all the others but that is only in public. In private (I hope none of my colleagues are reading this), I think Rabbi Slifkin’s issue is not satisfactorily addressed by any of the answers and thus I personally choose to say “tzarich iyun”).

      Comment continued…

      Delete
    20. Continued from previous comment

      You’re the first person I know of (frum, charedi-like person) who openly writes that not only did Chazal err in the science, but the very definition of a Scientific-Halachic Issue is that any halachic statement utilized in resolving a scientific-halachic issue which is based upon a relevant misunderstanding of the physical reality undermines the innate validity of the halachic conclusions. When it comes to lice, Chazal got away by the skin of their teeth only because Rav Herzog saved the day and, when it comes to lice, somehow found “other reasons to uphold Chazal's ruling about lice, despite it being based upon mistaken science” the inference being that had he not, even Chazal’s halachic conclusions would be invalid (for those reading this comment, all this can be gleaned from Rabbi Slifkin’s blog entry 11 years ago titled Scientific, Halachic, and Scientific-Halachic Issues)

      Here's the problem. In your general treatment of these issues in your book Sacred Monsters pg. 356-367 (my kids’ favorite book), you graciously provide a comprehensive list of contemporary halachic decisors all scientifically enlightened, such as The Chazon Ish, Rav Dessler, Rav Moshe and even Rabbi Carmel, who all adhere to the piskey chazal based on science unreservedly. Not a single one feels the need to claim that Chazal erred in the science. You then mention Rav Herzog (page 367) and in your blog entry claim that Rav Herzog found “other reasons” to save Chazal’s psak on lice but this is not so. Rav Herzog says no such thing. He simply writes that despite any scientific issues, halacha remains halacha, period. If you don’t believe me, check out Sacred Monsters page 367.

      So, along comes the intellectually honest RDK, and asks a simple question, one predicated on the following three premisses.

      a) Rabbi Slifkin maintains that in Scientific-Halachic issues, “To the extent that a statement utilized in resolving a scientific-halachic issue is based upon a relevant misunderstanding of the physical reality, this undermines the innate validity of the halachic conclusions” (a direct quote from the above-noted blog entry on this venue dated January 9, 2011),
      b) Rabbi Slifkin maintains that in principle this applies even to Chazal.
      c) In the case of lice, Rabbi Slifkin still paskens like Chazal because he follows Rav Herzog’s approach which is that in the case of lice, Rav Herzog found external reasons not related to science to uphold the halacha regardless. (see above noted blog entry).

      Comment continued…

      Delete
    21. Continued from previous comment

      “Well”, says RDK “what’s to stop a modern-minded, scientifically enlightened, intellectually honest Jew (many who no doubt populate this very venue) to carry Rabbi Slifkin’s line of reasoning to its natural, logical conclusion”?

      “What happens when said intellectually honest Jew investigates Rabbi Slifkin’s claim re Rav Herzog and discovers that in point of fact, Rav Herzog doesn’t offer several external reasons for upholding the halacha re lice? That Rav Herzog just states that when it comes to Halacha, we follow Chazal’s conclusions regardless of their fallibility in the fields of science? What happens then?”

      What’s to stop our modern-minded Jew from saying something like this:

      “Thank G-d for Rabbi Slifkin. Somebody finally had the guts to publicly announce that it is not only permissible, it is intellectually honest to maintain that Chazal erred in the fields of science. He also explains that in the field of Halacha-Science, erroneous scientific views impact the validity of the halacha, even those espoused in the Talmud. And since Rav Herzog provides no ”rational” reasons for upholding the halacha in the case of lice (or any case for that matter), I reject Rabbi Slifkin’s personal choice to uphold the halacha on the grounds that said choice is intellectually dishonest. Despite the fact that Rabbi Slifkin has done us a great service in revealing the truth and finally providing us intellectually honest,, modern minded Jews with a rational approach to viewing Chazal, unfortunately he seems to be a conflicted soul whose irrational, mystical, charedi upbringing has clearly compromised his ability to follow his own approaches to their logical conclusion which only goes to show, once a charedi, always a charedi”

      Comment continued…

      Delete
    22. Continued from previous comment

      “In fact”, says RDK, “I can see a more liberally inclined modern-minded Jew going one step further and saying something like this”:

      “Since Rabbi Slifkin has cleared the path for asserting that Chazal are prone to error like any other human being, clearly there is no real distinction between erring in science and erring in halacha. Humans are humans and errors are errors. In fact, Chazal themselves clearly understood that they erred in halacha. When Rava and Abaye argue with each other about the Talmudic logic behind a drasha, each one clearly believes that the other one is erring and each one tries to refute the other one’s position. And although Rav Ashi chooses to side with one of the protagonists over the other, say, Rava, if I, with my mind, discover that the methodological reasoning employed by Rava to support his version of the drasha is fundamentally flawed, then armed with the knowledge that Chazal can and do err, I must conclude that Rav Ashi erred by siding with Rava and “intellectual honesty” behooves me to adopt Abaye’s position in this matter”.

      Well, there you have it. I’ve tried my best to explain RDK’s objections to your approaches. I don’t know if I succeeded but I still believe what I said in my last comment. His questions are sincere. And even if I’m wrong about that, now that I’ve allowed myself to be dragged back into these sugyos again, I have the same questions and I am definitely sincere. I really want to know how you defend your approaches to the issues of Chazal erring with the objections raised here by RDK and subsequently by me. Of course, you are probably way too busy to get into another knock-down drag-out with me and I understand if you choose to ignore my remarks.

      Thank you for posting my comments here and if you choose to engage, I will do my utmost to respond in a timely fashion.

      Simcha

      Delete
    23. "So, along comes the intellectually honest RDK"

      Possibly the funniest line ever written here.

      Delete
    24. To DS, Happy, and Anonymous amv”sh,

      Dear Chevra,

      I have long ago dropped out of the game and only posted a comment here because as I was on the Internet with my kids looking for examples of weird and fascinating animals and came across this post. After they left, I reviewed the post and after seeing animals online like the axolotl (an incredibly wonderous looking fish that actually seems like it is smiling), I am embarrassed to say that I was temporarily fooled by Rabbi Slifkin’s salamander. The first thing that came to my mind is something that Isaac (Betech) told me 15 years ago. We were discussing Rabbi Slifkin’s mud-mouse and how to deal with it and Isaac came up with a novel approach (he has a very creative mind). He speculated that the mud-mouse may be a creature that indeed comes from normal ways of biological generation but a part of it is not yet fully formed and the part that is transfers its DNA to the part that isn’t (the half “mud” part) and eventually it becomes fully formed just as a seed is implanted in the ground, transfers its DNA to the receiving soil, and the soil (read: mud) eventually transforms into a living entity like an apple tree. When I saw the picture of the half salamander half strawberry on RNS’S site, this idea immediately came to mind and for a minute or two, I actually considered the possibility of such a creature (If Rabbi Slifkin is reading this, he is smiling from ear to ear).

      Once I was on the site, I decided to skim through the comments and when I saw RDK’s comment, I chose to read it (he’s an old associate of mine) and a whole flood of debates that I had long ago with RNS came pouring into my mind so I decided to drop a comment in RDK’s defense. But please understand: I no longer have the time to take up the good fight. I leave that to others and encourage them to read the responses I provided over the years to RNS’s approaches and hope it helps.

      Having said that, since you chose to address me directly here in this comment section, I will respond but only this once (or twice or three times if you guys come up with a response that puts me in my place 😊). Otherwise, the only person I am committed to responding to is RNS.

      DS wrote: “I am confused about what is so dangerous with RNS's approach. Chazal are authoritative on halacha, even when the basis of the halacha appears to be based on a flawed understanding of reality”.

      Says who? Not Rabbi Slifkin. That’s RDK’s point. If you follow RNS’s approach to Chazal to its logical (read: rational) conclusion, even halacha is compromised. See my latest comment for a full treatment of RDK’s objection.

      Continued…

      Delete
    25. Continued from previous.

      Happy wrote: “Simcha Coffer and DS,

      You are missing the point. The issue is not simply one of "did there happen to be halachic violations if Chazal were mistaken?" It's the entire secularist approach, which is direct attack on our Mesorah.”

      While I may agree with your sentiment, I am not “missing the point”. My objective was to reinforce RDK’s issue in his comment and as such, I stuck to the issues he raised exclusively. Here’s some advice from a guy who has been in the game for almost 40 years now. Stick to the point and resist making sweeping condemnations. While I definitely understand the impetus to lash out at ostensibly obvious violations of our mesora (I did it for years), experience has taught me that sticking to the point ends up being more effective. RDK’s point was focused on halacha so I stuck to halacha.

      Anonymous wrote: “R' Simcha, to be honest, & WADR, that's disappointing. Halacha is based on היגיעה האנושית, not empiricism. As you are a spokesman for the anti RNS team, surely you were familiar with the source of what I just said but you forgot it over the years.”

      Sorry A, I am totally lost. What do you mean ”that’s” disappointing? What’s disappointing?

      Just so you know, the only comment I read before writing my own was RDK’s. After you left your comment, I reviewed the past few comments you wrote and didn’t see anything there regarding the parameters of halacha and what it is based on not did I see anything that hints to a “source” about what halacha is based on. Furthermore, I was simply quoting RDK and dilating on his objection. I don’t see anything disappointing in my treatment of his issues with Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches.

      Chevra, I wish you all Hatzlacha raba u’muflaga b’chol ma’aseh yideichem AVY”R!

      Simcha Coffer

      Delete
    26. @happy

      I take issue with two of your statements. The first:
      " Anybody who thinks a large percentage of Shas is based on Chazal's mistaken information will NOT respect their canonization."
      And the second:
      "And there is a huge difference between saying Chazal erred in a limited number of places, and saying that they erred in countless places because of their inability to properly ascertain the מציאות, and because of their biases."

      Happy, the issue is how you view knowledge. Today, most modern, well educated people recognize that all human knowledge reflects both the time in which the humans lived and a variety of human biases. A modern person wouldn't necessarily call it 'erring' but they would say that in 'all cases and in all of their statements, The Talmud and the Mefarshim reflect those times and biases - and it's not that this makes them either 'right' or 'wrong'. It just means that the statements are what they are and should be evaluated accordingly by us, who lives hundreds of years later.
      And this brings us back to your first statement. Modern people would not lose an iota of respect for Chazal from this perspective. On the contrary, we can have proper and accurate respect for them. They do exactly what Hashem wants them to do - to use their G-d-given brains to try and make sense of what the Torah wants from us.
      Modern people do not lose respect for Chazal as a result of recognizing their humanity. Modern people do lose respect for chazal when it turns out that the claims to infallibility made of them by frum rabbis (which by the way are claims that they never made of themselves) turn out to be false.

      Effectively, your view turns Chazal into fakes and phonies. The modern secular view turns them into great religious leaders.
      Take your pick.

      Delete
    27. @Kornreich

      You are plainly incorrect when you write that "Once you are allowed to acknowledge that Chazal could be influenced by the intellectual trends of their times and were even willing to enshrine these trends in halacha, then it opens the door for modern-minded Jews to legitimately claim there are all kinds of halachos in Shas which are simply reflecting the pre-modern attitudes and social norms of Chazal's time and can be deeply flawed as well."

      It's obvious and clear that Chazal did enshrine the attitudes of their time in the Torah. That's just what people (all people, including rabbis) do.
      I agree willingly that doing so does open the door for the possibility of halachic flexibility and I mourn the (well documented) loss of that flexibility in 21st century Orthodoxy. It is a change away (some may say a corruption or an abberation) from earlier Judaism - and it is not a change for the good.
      Respectful modern Orthodox Jews don't call Chazal deeply flawed. They call them human. And that is a compliment. After all, to be human is to have צלם אלוקים.

      Delete
    28. Simcha Coffer, I am curious, what do you mean by "more effective"? I have no idea about your history on this blog, have you ever gotten Rabbi Slifkin to budge on even the smallest detail? Look in the comments above, I have him furiously backtracking like a kid lost in the forest, even to the point of denying his obvious crime. I have fulfilled בְּרֹ֥ב עֻ֝זְּךָ֗ יְֽכַחֲשׁ֖וּ לְךָ֣ אֹיְבֶֽיךָ. In your opinion, what does "more effective" look like?

      Also, I think Rabbi Kornreich was making my point, as he said

      "Once you are allowed to acknowledge that Chazal could be influenced by the intellectual trends of their times and were even willing to enshrine these trends in halacha, then it opens the door for modern-minded Jews to legitimately claim there are all kinds of halachos in Shas which are simply reflecting the pre-modern attitudes and social norms of Chazal's time and can be deeply flawed as well."

      Delete
    29. @not a fan

      As I said to you so many times before, it is in fact a staple of Torah sheBaal Peh to ASSUME that the חכמים who were much, much greater than us were correct. And to ASSUME that they had the proper tools to decide halacha, and used them properly. This doesn't mean that they couldn't be wrong. But it means we ASSUME they were not. I know that you didn't learn that in the secular institution you attended, so I am teaching you now.

      "Modern people would not lose an iota of respect for Chazal from this perspective."

      Everything on this blog and in other secularist sources shows the opposite. As I said above "when the Rabbi indicates that improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality really isn't so bad, or that it's not so problematic if your mezuza is missing a letter, or that he is qualified to change the halacha on brain death because of Chazal's "mistakes", this is NOT the product of somebody who respects Chazal or their canonization!"

      Delete
    30. @Happy

      It isn't a staple at all.
      What is a staple is the convention that we don't argue with them (an Amora on a Tanna, for example).
      But the staple is not that they were somehow exempt from human frailties.
      We do have a staple that their interpretations are usually treated as the binding interpretations.
      We don't have a staple that this is based on them being correct.

      Legislators know their laws might not be perfect, but they are the law.
      Same thing here.

      Delete
    31. not a fan,

      I know this is what they taught you in the secular institution. But that is not the Mesorah at all. Maybe the mesorah of the maskilim. We, the followers of the true Mesorah, in fact have a staple based in them being correct. And when we have difficulties, we move mountains to try to understand what they meant.

      Delete
    32. @not a fan:

      It's amusing that you open your comment with "you are plainly incorrect when you write..." and then continue the rest of your comment confirming everything I wrote.
      You seem to have lost an important nuance in my comment. I never said modern-minded people will think Chazal as people were deeply flawed.
      I said Rabbi Slifkin's approach will cause them look at the many halachos in Shas as deeply flawed because they are obviously not "up to date" with what is generally accepted in the modern era to be true and morally just.

      Because of Rabbi Slifkin's approach, these modern-minded Orthodox Jews are faced with the very frightening prospect of having to live in the 21st century with Chazal's pre-modern notions of truth and morality simply because they are canonized in Shas.
      Not to mention their utter humiliation and embarrassment when confronted by secular relatives, friends, co-workers about all these backward notions of modesty, inequality, superstitious practices and rituals etc.
      According to Rabbi Slifkin's approach, all they can say is: Yup, it's actually based on false, backward, superstitious beliefs--not divine wisdom-- but I have keep it all anyway! That's Jewish law! See how rational I am? Doesn't that earn your deep respect for rabbinic Judaism?

      And as you correctly pointed out--this approach is exactly what drives people to look for what you diplomatically called "flexibility in halacha"--because this approach claims it doesn't necessarily reflect any divine wisdom at all but rather Chazal's attitudes from their times.

      (BTW, it may be "obvious and clear" to you that they did, but you should be aware that this is a major point of contention. Please don't assume you are correct just because it's obvious to you.
      And it is actually quite theologically problematic to hold such a view. Do you really believe Chazal corrupted G-d's Torah and inserted the attitudes of their times which don't really belong in Torah Judaism? And we are stuck with them because those Orthodox rabbis are just too obscurantist to get with it?
      I think your view casts serious doubts in an All-knowing Creator who made a religion with such vulnerability to serious corruption by human beings and no self-correcting mechanism.)

      Delete
    33. It's confusing that there are multiple conversations going on around the massive well-thought out and well spoken comments by someone who appears to be RNS's old friend (frenemy?).

      Nut this thread has the comments I am picking on:
      Happy, you are basically saying that the fact that RNS himself says that halacha is halacha regardless of the science is irrelevant. What matters is that he puts the ideas out there, and then there will be throngs of people grabbing that idea (that Chazal's science was lacking) and running with it, leading to upending halacha.

      To that I give two answers:
      1) For better or for worse, there are ideas whose Time Has Come. Whatever we wish, the ideas will be suggested and discussed and published. It is better to have this idea coming from a frum source, who can put it in proper context than from a nonfrum source who will use it as a weapon.

      2) What about the throngs of people who go the other way? How numerous people have written to R' Slifkin to say that they were having a crisis of faith until they read his books and realized that their knowledge of science does not have destroy their religiosity? Or do you not care about those people as much? Or is it a numbers game - if we can prove that this group is bigger, and therefore Rationalist Judaism actually saves more neshamos than it leads astray, will you back it?

      Delete
    34. "I know this is what they taught you in the secular institution. But that is not the Mesorah at all. Maybe the mesorah of the maskilim. We, the followers of the true Mesorah, in fact have a staple based in them being correct."

      As usual, what you call "the true Mesorah" is actually only one viewpoint within the Mesorah. There are other, different views in the Mesorah. See Rav Shlomo Fisher, Derashos Beis Yishai 15.

      Delete
    35. "According to the Rabbi's approach, a huge percentage of halacha is based on Chazal's outdated, mistaken perspectives"
      No, only a teeny-tiny percentage, actually.

      Delete
    36. Yosef,

      My main point wasn't about the throngs of people, even though that is also a good point. It was the idea itself. The idea that most of our Halacha comes from people who couldn't possibly decide the correct halacha, because they lacked modern scientific tools. Who couldn't possibly have the correct values, because they lacked modern values. Yet we are bound by everything they say. אלו דברים בטלים ממש. There is nobody who could possibly take such an idea seriously, certainly nobody who is "intellectually honest". And it shows. It SHOWS!

      "How numerous people have written to R' Slifkin to say that they were having a crisis of faith until they read his books and realized that their knowledge of science does not have destroy their religiosity?"

      You believe this? 🤣🤣🤣 Maybe I was wrong about the strawberry salamander! Even if there is some truth to it, it is doubtless a huge exaggeration. The Rabbi is not known for unyielding, unbiased accuracy. See here:

      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2022/03/happy-daf-salamander-day.html?showComment=1647272111078#c7580597977565283474

      Delete
    37. "See Rav Shlomo Fisher, Derashos Beis Yishai 15."

      You will need to paste images/quotes, It is extremely implausible that אותו צדיק goes like your secularist approach, and I have very little reason to just take your word for it.

      "No, only a teeny-tiny percentage, actually."

      An unbelievably ignorant statement. A HUGE percentage of halacha is based on Chazal's understanding of the מציאות. If their ancient knowledge was not usually sufficient to decide the halacha, the Torah sheBal Peh is in deep, deep trouble. And once you admit it WAS usually sufficient, this changes everything.

      Delete
    38. Thank you for the citation.

      As I guessed, the Beis Yishai is not like your secularist approach at all. Was there ever any doubt? חס ליה להאי גברא רבה למעבד כעבדין בישין הדין. He brings many examples of Acharonim arguing with Rishonim, Rishonim arguing with Gemara, Amoraim arguing with Tannaim. You think I didn't know that? 🤣 The main thing that you weren't aware of is that these are EXCEPTIONS.

      You read Derashos Beis Yishai because you thought it would support your שיטה המקולקלת. What you didn't read was countless pages of Gemara, Rishonim, Tur/Bais Yosef where they move MOUNTAINS to be מקיים דברי חכמים of the earlier Rabbis. And he in fact mentions this on page 143 ובזה תבין הענין הדחוקים והאוקימתאות וכו. Do the secularists/maskilim act like that? Of course not, they do the opposite!

      Delete
    39. RABBI Simcha Coffer (Now that I found out who you are),

      I found your website, and it looks like we pretty much share the same opinions about secularism. If anything, you are more of a kanoi than me. Going to a conference on evolution is worse than visiting a house of ill repute! Wow, amazing stuff!

      http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2011/05/books-of-heresy.html

      Also, I am amazed that you made a whole website just to oppose the Rabbi, just like RDK! That's quite something!

      Delete
    40. @korenreich -
      it's even more amusing that in your comment telling me i had misread your comment you had actually misread my comment....

      I didnt think you said that modern people will see chazal as flawed. I was responding to exactly your main point. You think that as a result of a Rabbi Slifkin's perspective that modern people will see various halachot as flawed because, according to Rabbi Slifkin's approach, they will see that chazal did in fact incorporate the wisdom and values of their time into halacha. This worries you because you see halacha as representing G-d's timeless values and divine wisdom.

      The problem is that you see the issue as binary. Either divine eternal wisdom or flawed human changing perspectives. Right vs wrong. Perfect vs Flawed.

      The problem is that clearly this isn't the case. Hashem's wisdom is eternal, but applying it to reality has been entrusted to us humans and we all (including chazal) can do no better than is humanly possible. You see this introduction of human perspective as worrying and problematic. I see it as part of the divinely mandated process. And, to be honest, even if wasn't part of the divinely mandated process, it is actually part of the historical process that did happen.

      Why do you think that the Creator wouldn't trust His creations to take on the tradition he built exactly for them?

      Why do you think that human input is a 'corruption'? Seems very harsh and unwarranted.
      Halacha is not purely human or purely divine. It is divine revelation refracted through human interpretation. That's what distinguishes it from other human endeavours (which also have value, by the way, 'despite' their human origin).

      Delete
    41. @RNS

      I'm sure you know this already, but regarding happy's last comment...

      it seems to me that if people feel the need to create a website to argue against you then you must be doing something right.
      Clearly some people are worried that you might be undermining their authority. Terrible!

      Keep up the good work.

      Delete
    42. @not a fan:
      Instead of confronting my comment head-on, you decided to dodge and evade. You try to pretend many modern Jews don't regard many halachos in Shas as flawed and outdated when in fact they do find it very difficult to accept what they clearly regard as pre-modern beliefs, superstitions and morals which Chazal incorporated into Judaism from their time. This is simply the reality on the ground in the modern Orthodox world.

      Seems like you don't have an adequate response other than to say--well that's just what Judaism is.
      I call it a corruption by non-Jewish cultural influences, you call it human. Not sure why. You imply assert these non-Torah influences can't be avoided without giving any kind of argument for why G-d couldn't design a religion that could avoid this kind of corruption.

      So enjoy your 7th Century Babylonian flavored Judaism.
      I'm certainly not a fan and I can't fathom why any secular Jew would want any part of it either.

      Delete
    43. A month ago on another post regarding intellectual dishonesty, I made a comment that included:

      "It seems to me that R' Kornreich and and R' Meiselman and many others are just doing what the Gemara itself does in many places. Throughout it there are many examples where the gemara just changes the rules of the game, mid-game, on a whim:

      sometimes when a particular braita doesn't seem to agree with a mishna, the gemara will claim "ooops, we mixed up the braita and it should be read the exact opposite." other times, the gemara will say "ooops, there are really words missing from the mishna, and should should be read differently."

      sometimes, the gemara says the the rabbis don't make rulings for rare situations, and other times that's exactly what we see, rulings for extremely rare situations.

      sometimes every word in a mishna is precious, other times, "oh, they just said that in the "siefa" because they also said it in the "reisha" "it's really a meaningless limitation"

      sometimes that's said with regard to torah as well - "every word is important and necessary to teach us lessons," but in other situations the gemara says XYZ is just recorded in the torah, well... just because, not to teach us anything."

      I used terms like "fraudulently" and "misrepresents" etc. which @Happy took great offense to and lead to an exchange related to that. However on the same day, Happy appeared to agree with the context, if not the tone of what I had written and commented: "As Jeffrey noted above (with great chutzpah and azus panim towards our Sages z"l, עפרא לפומיה), this is what the Gemara, Rishonim, Poskim do all the time. Anybody who has stepped within 4 amos of a Bais Medrash knows this. Only according to the secular academic perspective is the entire derech halimud for millenia suddenly problematic."

      And above (on April 6), Happy responds to NotaFan by saying "We, the followers of the true Mesorah, in fact have a staple based in them being correct. And when we have difficulties, we move mountains to try to understand what they meant." (and I'll just add the unspoken point, that often moving those mountains involves the same type of activity I noted, reinterpreting statements: "A" means "B", when he said "No" he meant it in a very specific situation, but in most cases he would say "Yes" etc. It's not saying they were wrong, it's saying they were misunderstood the whole time. and R' Kornreich said essentially the same in his explanation of R' Meiselman.

      So everyone seems to agree about the facts of how the Masoretic system works; but suddenly Simcha coffer is scared that it is RNS's new fangled attempt to permit questions about EMET and the truth of the universe which is somehow going to create a slippery slope. Why??? for centuries, millenia, Jews have been using their Gemara Kupps to find and even create miniscule nuances (sometimes in order to rationalize breaking laws) but our passion and respect for Chazal and our Torah has continued strong; why is allowing questions about Emet more dangerous than using all the mechanisms that jews have been using all along?

      Delete
    44. Hi Jeffrey, long time no speak! I'm not sure why you addressed Rabbi Coffer since the question was mostly about me, but please permit me to respond.

      There is nothing wrong with *questions* about emes, indeed Rabbis throughout the generations asked such questions. But to reject the Mesorah approach in the name of "intellectual honesty" inevitably leads to destruction of the Torah. "Intellectual honesty" is nothing new, it was and still is the approach of the maskilim, the חוקרי תלמוד, and the חוקרי מקרא. Of course, the Rabbi would say you can be all of those and be a perfectly good Jew. Meanwhile, we already know what he means by a perfectly good Jew. He means "Tikkun Olam".

      As I mentioned above "when the Rabbi indicates that improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality really isn't so bad, or that it's not so problematic if your mezuza is missing a letter, or that he is qualified to change the halacha on brain death because of Chazal's "mistakes", this is NOT the product of somebody who respects Chazal or their canonization!"

      Delete
    45. Happy; I included the reference to R' Coffer because of the clarity of his articulation of what appears to me to be the primary concern which as I mentioned above is a "slippery slope" specifically R. Coffer wrote:

      “In fact”, says RDK, “I can see a more liberally inclined modern-minded Jew going one step further and saying something like this”:

      “Since Rabbi Slifkin has cleared the path for asserting that Chazal are prone to error like any other human being, clearly there is no real distinction between erring in science and erring in halacha. Humans are humans and errors are errors. In fact, Chazal themselves clearly understood that they erred in halacha. When Rava and Abaye argue with each other about the Talmudic logic behind a drasha, each one clearly believes that the other one is erring and each one tries to refute the other one’s position. And although Rav Ashi chooses to side with one of the protagonists over the other, say, Rava, if I, with my mind, discover that the methodological reasoning employed by Rava to support his version of the drasha is fundamentally flawed, then armed with the knowledge that Chazal can and do err, I must conclude that Rav Ashi erred by siding with Rava and “intellectual honesty” behooves me to adopt Abaye’s position in this matter”.

      But R' Coffer also pointed out (as did yourself, Happy, as did I) that in order to avoid saying Chazal were wrong, we (the greater we of the Jewish Mesora for millenia) "move mountains", or "Some say nistanu ha’tivim. Some reinterpret the meaning of pirya v’rivya" or as the Amoraim themselves did "sometimes every word in a mishna is precious, other times, "oh, they just said that in the 'siefa' because they also said it in the 'reisha'"

      And I still come back to my question above, which what difference does it make, practically speaking, whether those "modern-minded, scientifically enlightened, intellectually honest Jews" question the mesorah because it doesn't appear to allign with scietific facts as we understand them, or alternatively they question the mesorah because we are "intellectually dishonest" in answering those questions? why all the uproar about RNS taking one path, when really both paths seem equally as dangerous (at least in my appraisal) to the "modern-minded, scientifically enlightened, intellectually honest Jew" who doesn't value our Torah??

      If the questioner is faithful to our Torah, then neither the difficulty with Chazal's faulty understanding of nature nor the "intellectually dishonest" methods of of reconciliation will bother him. Conversely if the questioner is not faithful to our Torah, both issues could be equally devastating.

      Delete
    46. One separate question, Happy, you've mentioned quite a few times in this thread:

      "when the Rabbi indicates that improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos, or that homosexuality really isn't so bad, or that it's not so problematic if your mezuza is missing a letter, or that he is qualified to change the halacha on brain death because of Chazal's "mistakes", this is NOT the product of somebody who respects Chazal or their canonization!"

      what are the sources for these? I am unfamiliar with those statements by RNS.

      I am even more unfamiliar with a particular "Halacha of brain death" that "he is qualified to change" "because of Chazal's 'mistakes'". Clearly the entire concept of brain death, which is less than 100 years old cannot at all be related to any mistakes by Chazal; what am I missing?

      R' Kornreich writes: " Do you really believe Chazal corrupted G-d's Torah and inserted the attitudes of their times which don't really belong in Torah Judaism? And we are stuck with them because those Orthodox rabbis are just too obscurantist to get with it?
      I think your view casts serious doubts in an All-knowing Creator who made a religion with such vulnerability to serious corruption by human beings and no self-correcting mechanism."

      But doesn't does not Rabbinic Judaism pride itself on the fact that it is not always in sync with the expressed will of the all knowing creator? isn't that one of the primary results of the Tanur Shel Akhnai and Lo Bashamayim He? that the Rabbis hear the Bat Kol say "A" and the rabbis say, "We don't care, we say "B" and ultimately it is the all knowing creator who concedes to the Rabbis, not the other way around. IT's not a corruption, its the design for people to put their imprint on the divine will and force the divine hand.


      Delete
    47. @Jeffrey:

      1) Early in Rabbi Slifkin's long blogging career (Jan-Feb 2011), he boldly claimed that all questions about the definition of death cannot be resolved by analyzing traditional sources in Shas and Poskim but must be resolved by modern medical science. This is because the fundamental understanding of physiology --respiration, blood circulation, organ functions etc. of Chazal and Rishonim were a product of their times and deeply flawed in light of what we know today.
      Thus, Rabbi Slifkin advocated strenuously for a lenient position of brain-stem death because this is what the medical community has determined to be death.
      Sample post on the subject:
      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/02/who-are-experts.html

      2) I'm not worried about a slippery slope. That ship has sailed a long time ago. Whether "Not a fan" is willing to admit it or not, the fact is that a large section of the Modern Orthodox laity (usually those exposed to academic Jewish scholarship) and now Open Orthodox clergy believe much of halacha regarding women and sexuality are products of the culture which Chazal lived in. Therefore, halacha should be "flexible" and be updated to be consistent with our more enlightened views of equality and morality.

      3) The issue here is one of theological legitimacy and rationalism. Is it legitimate to say some halachos canonized in the Talmud were a product of the non-Jewish intellectual climate of Chazal's time and can be fundamentally flawed? Rabbi Slifkin says it is legitimate.
      If so, there are two logical choices: Option #1 Correct the flaws we discover in halacha as we go through the Shulchan Aruch and lose continuity with Orthodox Judaism, or Option #2--preserve continuity and insist there is a halachic canon of the Talmud which cannot be corrected by anyone even if there are later discoveries of undeniable mistakes.
      Rabbi Slifkin doesn't want to reward his opponents by being intellectually honest and going with option #1 which will effectively be making a clean ideological break from Orthodox Judaism. He prefers option #2 which he apparently sees as more legitimate in religious terms and can claim he is still devoutly Orthodox in everything he says and does.

      But option #2 has a major drawback which no-one here has to guts to address head on. It means he is stuck with a religion riddled with pre-modern beliefs, morals and superstitions. Isn't it irrational to follow such a flawed religion? How can he look at himself in the mirror and call himself rational, and at the same time look down on all those traditional Jews who accept Chazal's beliefs and morals (the ones that are definitive) only because they believe they are based on divine truths of Torah shebaal peh?

      4) I don't deny there is a fallible, human element in the process of discovering the truth about Torah. The halacha must follow human understanding and it cannot be corrected by divine interference. That is the lesson of Tanur shel Achnai and Lo Bashomayim Hi.
      But if something in halacha is indeed mistaken and the mistake was revealed *by human means*, it must be corrected by humans! Once we discovered our own mistakes, it has nothing to do with Lo Bashomiyim Hi, does it?
      It doesn't matter which authoritative body was mistaken. This is called פר של העלם זבר and טעות בדבר משנה. A clearly demonstrable mistake in halacha must be corrected.
      So for example, if a given halacha in Shas is clearly and demonstrably unfair to women AND WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN it came from 7th Century Babylonian social norms and not directly from pure, honest Torah analysis, then it is obviously a corruption of Torah and must be corrected. The Judaism I observe has to be pure, authentic Torah and not Babylonian flavored Torah or Greco-Roman flavored Torah etc.

      Delete
    48. R'Kornreich, I'm assuming that you would be mechalel Shabbos to save the life of a baby born after 8 months, even though Chazal say that such a pregnancy (unlike a baby born after 7 months) is not viable. I'm also assuming that you would clear away rubble on Shabbos from someone who is not breathing, so that you could do CPR, even though Chazal say that this may not be done because such a person cannot be alive. Are you not undermining Chazal?

      Delete
    49. "But if something in halacha is indeed mistaken and the mistake was revealed *by human means*, it must be corrected by humans!"

      You made that up. Scoffers can make fun of us for using a system in which we go against Hashem Himself. Hashem Himself!! Hashem Himself!! And we ignore them. We can more so ignore them if they make fun of us for using a system in which we go lehavdil against humans.

      Delete
    50. To Anonymous:
      The way halacha is understood is by identifying what is being canonized. Is it the specific rule? Or the underlying halachic principle that the rule is merely expressing? Questions like these come up all over Shas.
      Rav Meiselman explains this thoroughly in his chapter on Chazal's medicine and contemporary medical knowledge.

      I'll give an illustrative example.
      Chazal say that one should not drink liquids left uncovered overnight.
      Tosfos says this halacha only applies in locations where we know poisonous snakes might enter to deposit venom in our liquids and does not apply where we know they don't.
      Tosfos isn't undermining Chazal.
      Tosfos simply maintains the halacha in Shas is not the specific rule of not drinking exposed liquids. Tosfos maintains the halacha in Shas is just an application of a more fundamental the principle of distancing one's self from danger where it exists. That principle says, where it doesn't exist, you may drink exposed liquids.

      So in those cases you mentioned, and many like them, the halachic principle of saving a viable life is the only operating factor. Chazal are simply telling us who was practically viable in their time and who therefore could be mechallel Shabbos for in their time with their capabilities. It was very true and practical for their time.
      But they weren't canonizing that specific application in a way which would possibly go against the more underlying halachic principle which is to save every viable life!

      Chazal's canonized halachic principles weren't being updated by later discoveries. The principle still holds 100%

      Delete
    51. R’ Kornreich

      I am a bit confused; it seems to me based on reading your point #4 (that “I don't deny there is a fallible, human element in the process of discovering the truth about Torah. The halacha must follow human understanding and it cannot be corrected by divine interference….It doesn't matter which authoritative body was mistaken….A clearly demonstrable mistake in halacha must be corrected…So for example, if a given halacha in Shas is clearly and demonstrably unfair to women AND WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN it came from 7th Century Babylonian social norms and not directly from pure, honest Torah analysis, then it is obviously a corruption of Torah and must be corrected”)

      together with your point #3 (that “ The issue here is one of theological legitimacy and rationalism. Is it legitimate to say some halachos canonized in the Talmud were a product of the non-Jewish intellectual climate of Chazal's time and can be fundamentally flawed? Rabbi Slifkin says it is legitimate”). Which suggests to me that you do not agree with him that it is legitimate - your position is that such a statement would be illegitimate.

      But if that is so, It seems to me you are saying two opposite things at the same time; am I wrong? How can the circumstance in your point #4 (a halacha in Shas being demonstrably unfair to women and certainly derived from external norms and not fro pure honest Torah analysis) ever exist according to your position if it is illegitimate to say that “ some halachos canonized in the Talmud were a product of the non-Jewish intellectual climate of Chazal's time”?

      Your position expressed in this comment is very confusing to me.

      Delete
    52. Regarding your point #1 ( that “ Early in Rabbi Slifkin's long blogging career (Jan-Feb 2011), he boldly claimed that all questions about the definition of death cannot be resolved by analyzing traditional sources in Shas and Poskim but must be resolved by modern medical science. This is because the fundamental understanding of physiology --respiration, blood circulation, organ functions etc. of Chazal and Rishonim were a product of their times and deeply flawed in light of what we know today.
      Thus, Rabbi Slifkin advocated strenuously for a lenient position of brain-stem death because this is what the medical community has determined to be death. Sample post on the subject:
      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/02/who-are-experts.html“)

      I must admit, I don’t think I ever read that post by RNS previously, but having read it now, I do not believe that you accurately characterized his argument.


      In the cited post RNS wrote “there are a few problems with a conventional reliance on Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim in tackling the topic of brain death. One is that these sources just don't address it…. Another problem with a conventional reliance on Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim in tackling the topic of brain death is that one has to be familiar with the scientific worldview of these sources. It's not just a matter of being aware of modern science (the importance of which is acknowledged by many Poskim) - it's also a matter of being aware of ancient science, and being able and willing to understand the statements of Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim in light of that…Of no less importance is that they are knowledgeable not just in modern medicine, but also in the history of medicine, which means that they have a better understanding of Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. (For example, they understand that when Rashi says to check the heart, his intent is to check for respiration, not pulse.”

      I don’t know if RNS is right or wrong in his ultimate conclusions about the halachik validity of brain death , but it seems that the basic arguments are sound: 1. There isn’t an issue of whether “the fundamental understanding of physiology --respiration, blood circulation, organ functions etc. of Chazal and Rishonim were a product of their times and deeply flawed in light of what we know today”, rather it’s because “these sources just don’t address it”. As I had also pointed out above, the whole concept of brain death is brand new it didn’t exist even 100 years ago. It’s not even simply a matter of “knowledge of human anatomy” whether faulty or accurate, it is also critically about having technological advancements such as machines that can artificially breath and artificially circulate blood for a human body. Things that just didn’t exist previously.

      I am not implying that a the tools that Chazal used and precedents in situations (like in yoma) are completely irrelevant to the question, I am saying that those were perhaps limited to circumstances that were greatly dissimilar. And moreover, RNS even seems to suggest that our very modern day understanding of the sources (like his parenthetical reference to understanding Rashi) might have been errant (which to me seems similar to what you had said about lice, salamanders, and location of the sun at night). Further, From my reading of other sources (beyond the blog post you cited) it’s my understanding that there are venerated poskim on both sides of the issue of brain death. So why the complaints about that cited blog post?

      Delete
    53. @kornreich

      also, jeffrey is right. Your point #4 totally undermines your whole argument.
      You now concede that human flaws can creep into the process, but you try to get out of that by saying that sometimes we know it was because of outside influence and sometimes it was 'pure Torah'.
      How deep an analysis do you do to make sure it's pure Torah?
      Can you make me a list of, say, 10 statements from the Talmud regarding women which were and 10 statements which were not influenced by 'impure' non-Torah sources? And also explain how you reached the determination for each statement as to which list it belongs to?

      Delete
    54. Happy wrote:

      "I found your website, and it looks like we pretty much share the same opinions about secularism. If anything, you are more of a kanoi than me."

      You don't know the half of it. Later down in the comments section I remonstrated with you about your kanoisdic style but I was really talking to myself. I was much worse than you. I used to post to Avodah but there were so many complaints Micha (Berger) had to kick me off. At the time I was proud of that. But now, I have tempered my style. We need people like you to keep up the good fight so read through what i wrote to you and try and adopt some of the rules I laid out. I promise they will only make you more effective!

      Hatzlacha rabah u'muflaga b'chol maaseh yideichem!

      (just plain) Simcha

      Delete
    55. @ Jeffrey and "not a fan":
      Jeffrey asked:
      "How can the circumstance in your point #4 (a halacha in Shas being demonstrably unfair to women and certainly derived from external norms and not from pure honest Torah analysis) ever exist according to your position if it is illegitimate to say that “ some halachos canonized in the Talmud were a product of the non-Jewish intellectual climate of Chazal's time”?

      Sorry for the confusion. I thought it was clear that it was a hypothetical.
      I was saying that IF one were in Rabbi Slifkin's position regarding the existence of clear mistakes in the halachic canon of the Talmud, it shouldn't stop a strictly halachic and rational person who believes in the value of truth from correcting it.
      The fact that Rabbi Slifkin found some obscure opinion to follow which says halacha is all about authority and has nothing to do with even attempting to arrive at the truth, shows me just how far he will go in his intellectual dishonesty and irrationality to try to retain the façade of Orthodox legitimacy. Don't let him fool you. He is a fraud and a hypocrite.

      And to "not a fan" specifically:
      You can try to evade my challenges by hiding behind Jeffrey's posts, but I can see through it.

      Delete
    56. R’ Kornreich,

      “ Sorry for the confusion. I thought it was clear that it was a hypothetical. I was saying that IF one were in Rabbi Slifkin's position regarding the existence of clear mistakes in the halachic canon of the Talmud, it shouldn't stop a strictly halachic and rational person who believes in the value of truth from correcting it.”

      “ I don't deny there is a fallible, human element in the process of discovering the truth about Torah.”

      Am I correct in concluding based on these two statements that you agree with RNS that there ARE errors in our mesorah, but you disagree with RNS with regard to how far back those errors go? More specifically, while RNS maintains those errors can be found within Chazal, you maintain that the errors can only be of more recent origin - such as in the Gaonim, Rishonim, Achronim, and into our very day? Or am I still missing your point?

      Delete
    57. Jeffery:
      More or less correct. But I would add that Rav Meiselman even includes individual members of Chazal whose opinions were not accepted in the final canon on that list.
      As we have seen in his latest post, Rabbi Slifkin consistently misleads his readers and claims his opponents believe Chazal were always correct in every statement about science.
      I have corrected him numerous times on the matter. Still, he persists on mischaracterizing his opponents in order appear to have a superior position. So much for having an honest debate of ideas and positions. Good day.

      Delete
    58. @kornreich

      (I did respond directly to your comment, but apparently I didn't press 'publish' properly so it disappeared. I'll try to recreate my response here...)

      You contend that I avoid your main point that modern orthodox religious jews see chazal's psak as 'flawed'. I agree, we do it as flawed, but we use the term 'flawed' in a different sense.

      You see it as perjorative, as a negative, as a corruption. You think that only something pure and divine can be of value.
      I see this 'flaw' as something good, and ultimately as something inevitable, unavoidable. (On a theological level, I see it as part of Hashem's plan: לא בשמים היא, etc)

      But let's be concrete...
      A week before Pesach you deny that there was human input into 'proper' halacha. And yet, our seder night reflects how Dor Yavne recreated Pesach for a post-Temple era. Rabbi Akiva's nationalist narrative found it's way into the hagadda, despite it being largely a new initiative. Chazal built the seder on the basis of a Roman meal.

      Let's be honest. Everyone is 'of their time'. Chazal as much as us. The types of issues we address, the way we handle our discussions, the way the discussions are recorded, the types of responses we give etc. All we do gives us away as being 'of our time'. Chazal could not help being 'of their time' any more than we can.

      And I repeat my challenge to your response to Jeffrey - which statements of chazal about women were 'certainly pure' and which were 'certainly influenced by their time'? What are your criteria for the distinction. I think you added this in because you have to, if you are being honest, admit that halacha is not pure in the way you wish it to be. So you build in a back-door so you can excuse cases here and there, rather than just admitting what becomes more and more clear each day.
      Chazal were experts in halacha who did the best they could in their time. For this we respect them immensely and hold them in the highest regard. They transformed Judaism from worship centered around the Temple in the period of the Mikdash into the halacha that we know today. How could anyone secular not respect that?
      And why would religious Jews feel the need to embellish (and thereby cheapen) their attainments?

      Delete
    59. Jeffrey, I responded to your question about the source in the most recent post, see there.

      Delete
    60. @not a fan
      "A week before Pesach you deny that there was human input into 'proper' halacha."

      It's been a while since I've seen a straw man as bad as this one. Not sure why you are conflating non-Jewish influences on Chazal with Chazal's "human input". They are distinctly NOT the same thing. Human input can certainly be genuine, pure Torah when operating under Torah principles and values. Non-Jewish influences are usually not.

      "which statements of chazal about women were 'certainly pure' and which were 'certainly influenced by their time'?"

      Please re-read my response to you and Jeffrey at 3:21 pm. I thought I clarified that I was making a hypothetical.
      And "influenced by their time" obviously means influenced by the non-Jewish intellectual/cultural/social environment of their time. That is what adulterates the Torah.

      Delete
    61. "Rabbi Slifkin found some obscure opinion ...."

      Essentially that opinion has the same end point as and the good company of the others, that the Halacha is maintained.

      And more importantly, the same objective.

      Delete
    62. Rabbi Coffer,

      Thanks for the extremely detailed response. It must have taken a lot of time to write. I certainly have a lot to learn from you! And everything you say make a lot of sense. Just one little point I don't understand. You suggest "sticking to the point". I think in these science/Torah discussion the point is not really the point. The point is not lice, or bats, or even science. And Rabbi Slifkin reinforces this with every post. This is why he invented this new derech, "Rationalism" which is neither Jewish nor rational, and usually has nothing to do with science. The proper term is "secularism".

      Example: if I stuck to the narrow point when he discusses lice, I would end up agreeing with him. Yes, maybe Chazal erred in the case of lice. Or bats. It's not impossible IMO, just unlikely. My quarrel with him is the entire secularist approach, which envisions a Chazal that was severely hampered by a primitive worldview. And is a rejection of the entire Mesorah. This is his "Rationalism". So should I keep silent in the face of this obvious and brazen assault on the Mesorah, just because it's not the point? תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך.

      Delete
    63. @Kornreich

      I'm starting to find this exchange exasperating. Mainly because I think we have different approaches to how social processes work. I find that you adhere to very simple, somewhat binary structures. Processes can be pure or contaminated. You believe that you can have human input that isn't imbued with influence, knowledge, perspective or attitudes from the world around - which inevitably include the non-Jewish world. (You also see non-Jewish influence as largely negative, but that's another discussion.)

      For me that sort of thinking is both way too simple and, more importantly, it is a poor description of actual social processes. You cannot have, as you wrote 'geniune, pure' human input that is only influenced by the Torah and that isn't influence by outside factors. We all reflect the knowledge structures, values and attitudes of our times. Chazal included.

      And so the examples I gave are not straw men. Because by (my) definition, you can't keep non-Jewish influences on Chazal separate from Chazal's "human input".

      I dont think I am going to convince you.
      For me, this is an example of Orthodox study not being as sophisticated as, say, a masters degree in social science. It's a shame that rabbis who spend all day learning Torah do not have the skills and sophistication to think about the implications of what they are learning. (Obviously, there are some who do, but typically they are the ones who have combined academic learning with Torah learning.)

      I fervently wish that Torah study as it is frequently found at adult levels be more at the level of non-Jewish study. In other words, it should be more critical and more robust.

      I dont think your commment to Jeffrey at 3.21 answered my comment at all. If you can't clearly distinguish which statements (that according to you) are pure from those which aren't then I am not sure that you can back up your own claims.

      I also think that sometimes your stance changes when you are cornered. But again, that's a different discussion.

      Thank you for the time. Chag Kasher ve'Sameach.

      Delete
    64. @kornreich

      and if you want a really interesting book that demonstrates how impossible it is to separate a person from their times, try reading this Kabbalah and Jewish Modernity by Roni Weinstein. The original hebrew version is better, but still..
      https://www.magnespress.co.il/en/book/Kabbalah_and_Jewish_Modernity-3953

      Delete
    65. Again, you are straw-maning me.
      I never claimed people aren't affected by their times. Of course Chazal, Rishonim, Achronim all reacted and responded to things that were going on around them in their time. But the difference between you and me seems to be what the nature of that reaction has been. Must the reaction be one of partial adoption and assimilation of a dominant culture? Or can it be a catalyst to developing something latent in Torah that is brought to the fore?
      I believe it is possible for someone to be so saturated with the spiritual values, moral codes and social norms of their own original, "native" Torah culture, that they become impervious to assimilating values, morals and social norms that are not compatible with Torah if they are exposed to them. Especially when that saturation is achieved early in life and exposure to non-Jewish ideas comes after one's Torah personality has been fully developed. (This was much easier to do in times and places where Jews lived in ghettos. And it is still possible now, though much harder and much rarer.)

      Of course I agree Judaism has been enriched by our confrontation with other religions, cultures, and philosophies. This is certainly part of the Divine plan of being in Golus. But where we disagree is that you think the enrichment comes from assimilating elements of those foreign religions and philosophies. I think the enrichment comes from forcing us to look more deeply into our own tradition to develop the appropriate, perhaps completely novel, Torah response.

      I suspect you may not even believe there is even enough content in the original Torah received at Sinai to truly saturate the full range of a human being's personality on every level. I suppose you can't even imagine that someone can be--or could ever be-- completely immersed in a pure and holy Torah culture and environment.
      If I'm correct in my assumptions, yours is a very impoverished Judaism indeed-- so lacking that it cannot be truly complete without some assimilation of non-Torah input.

      Delete
    66. @kornreich

      (Just as I got out they pulled me back in...)

      I think what you are saying is just bogus.
      If a later rabbi 'discovers' something 'latent' or 'hidden' in the Torah then let's be honest, it's not a rediscovering of something that was always there, it's a new creative act.
      The trigger to the 'discovery' is the exposure to something new that is assimilated into the Sage's perspective which enables them to re-read the original text in a new way.
      It's not discovering something that was always there that they were able to extract due to their spiritual loftiness.
      I think you might like that to be the case, but it isn't.

      The idea of Torah being 'better or purer' if it is isolated from the world around them is a wine of very new vintage. The Sages of the Talmud were clearly engaged in the world around them and not isolated from it. Another example of how your Judaism is a new, corrupted, version that differs significantly from the 'Pharisaic' tradition that Jews adhered to from the time of the Talmud until the last hundred years or so.

      On a separate point:
      Of course a person can't be completely immersed in pure Torah. Even if you take saintly Rabbinic Haredi leaders of today that are fairly isolated, they inevitably have views that are a function of their time which in of itself is a function of the world around (and not just the Jewish world.)
      For example, do you think the 'slide to the right' and increased polarisation, plus the fact that suddenly ultra orthodox society is becoming radically conservative is a result of Torah or a result of broader trends in society?

      Delete
    67. Happy wrote:

      “Thanks for the extremely detailed response…taken a lot of time…a lot to learn…a lot of sense.”

      Thank you for your kind words. I am relieved that you were not put off by my initial “shalom aleichem” to you with all my highfalutin advice about how to debate. After I sent the comments, I re-read them and told myself that you’re probably saying to yourself “who is this Coffer guy…he doesn’t even know me and he’s giving me advice…

      Happy wrote:

      “You suggest "sticking to the point". I think in these science/Torah discussion the point is not really the point. The point is not lice, or bats, or even science. And Rabbi Slifkin reinforces this with every post. This is why he invented this new derech, "Rationalism" which is neither Jewish nor rational, and usually has nothing to do with science. The proper term is "secularism".”

      You are, of course, correct. The problem is the, lets call it “science – Torah Loggerhead” is far more complex, far more nuanced than that. There are a lot more things than lice that bother people. Say a person has an issue with the age of the Universe and broaches the topic of tidal locking with you. You can’t just scream “secularism” and than go home and eat dinner. Now allow me to defend you. You would say “Look Simcha no one is saying that we shouldn’t respond to a sincere question with a scientifically informed response. But in this case, Rabbi Slifkin was explaining what he thought people like us didn’t like about his approaches so all I’m saying is that I would like to protest the secularist nature of his approaches”.

      So here’s what I say to you. Fine! Go right ahead. But your protest won’t be as effective. RDK is an old hand at this. He knows exactly what Rabbi Slifkin will do if he marginalizes his approaches with blanket condemnations. First of all, he will ignore him entirely (and if I was Rabbi Slifkin, I would probably do the same). Second of all, if he doesn’t ignore him, he will inundate him with a whole plethora of mareh mikomos like Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam justifying his approaches and although you and I both know that each mareh makom can easily be responded to, the end will be that RDK will find himself chasing down each one of his sources, leaving lengthy responses that no one has time to read, and meanwhile, Rabbi Slifkin is already 6 posts later talking about how terrible the charedim are for not joining the army or how foolish they are for believing that Rav Chaim enjoyed a moment of siyata di’shmaya when a grasshopper fell on his gemara.

      Delete
    68. Now just so you know, I actually did this. Where I found the time I don’t know. But for 2 years Rabbi Slifkin and I debated online (he initiated by sending a letter to us here in Toronto requesting that we explain our issues – I was appointed to respond) and I actually responded to each and every issue that he raised, and I responded in detail! In fact, about ten years ago, at the height of all the brouhaha, there was a group of professors and modern orthodox rabbis that challenged us to a debate. Dr. Ostroff and I were on one side and 16 professors and “rabbis” on the other. Unfortunately, Dr. Ostroff was stuck on a flight back from eretz Yisrael and couldn’t make it so I was stuck holding the bag. The debate lasted 4 hours and then several listeners requested that I stay longer to continue discussing things with me. I stayed another two hours. All of it is recorded. Rabbi Slifkin asked me for a copy of the debate but I told him that I was choosing not to disseminate the recording to anyone including him. I’m sure he was upset but I had my reasons (Nosson, if you’re reading this, I would give it to you now but I promise you I don’t know where it is and I promise I never gave it to anyone).

      Now, if you are actually prepared to do all this, to chase down every marah makom and respond at length with your own mareh mikomos, then all the strength to you. But RDK knows that it’s a bracha livatala. So, here (I think) was his approach in the comments he left. The one thing that Rabbi Slifkin refuses to compromise on is halacha. He maintains that regardless of his approaches to hashkafa, halacha remains sacrosanct. So RDK attacked him precisely on that point. In both of his objections, he was careful to conclude that Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches could lead to a weakening of halacha in our nation. All I did was explain his position in a little more detail. And if this wasn’t his intention, well, it is mine. And as soon as I left my initial comment, Rabbi Slifkin immediately responded that his position vis-à-vis halacha is protected by Rabbi Herzog. That shows you that this issue bothers him and if you want to demonstrate to him that his approaches are faulty, you need to do it on his terms.

      Delete
    69. Happy wrote:

      “Example: if I stuck to the narrow point when he discusses lice, I would end up agreeing with him.”

      Eeruv parshios kasuv kan… The point is not (and never was) lice alone. Lice was just an example. Here are RDK’s actual two arguments in his own words.

      1) That may be one reason behind this position, but it certainly isn't the only one… It is one thing to maintain that the Sages would have believed… it is quite another to assert that these false beliefs would be canonized in the definitive version of Torah shebaal peh. And it is quite another thing if these false beliefs (according to you) actually cause millions of G-d fearing Torah Jews to violate Shabbos when killing lice because Chazal mistakenly believed in SG.

      2) And here's another reason: Once you are allowed to acknowledge that Chazal could be influenced by the intellectual trends of their times and were even willing to enshrine these trends in halacha, then it opens the door for modern-minded Jews to legitimately claim there are all kinds of halachos in Shas which are simply reflecting the pre-modern attitudes and social norms of Chazal's time and can be deeply flawed as well.

      As you can see, RDK was very careful – in both of his objections – to make sure that his argument culminated with the issue of halacha and how it was being compromised. The Lice thingy was only an example he gave in order to illustrate his main argument, to wit, RNS’s approaches have the potential to lead to serious compromises in the way halacha is viewed by our nation.

      After reading the various comments left there, I realized that for the most part, the main thrust of his argument had flown over people’s heads so I chose to jump on and clarify his objections. As soon as I did that, Rabbi Slifkin immediately jumped on, defended his position from attacks that it compromised halacha, claimed that he was 100% behind halacha, and even supported (improperly IMO) his approach by appeal to authority (i.e. Rav Isaac Herzog).

      Happy, this is an effective way to attack him. To hit him on elements that are mutually agreed upon between you and him. Secularism, although a valid criticism, will either be ignored or be reinterpreted to mean something else, something new, a new approach, like you yourself mentioned about Rabbi Slifkin’s usage of the term “Rationalism”.

      I have a lot more to say on this topic but I have been sitting here for almost 2 hours now (it takes a long time for me to type out all this stuff. I’m a two finger typist) and my wife is shouting at me from the kitchen to come upstairs for dinner already. One final comment.

      Delete
    70. Happy wrote:

      “My quarrel with him is the entire secularist approach, which envisions a Chazal that was severely hampered by a primitive worldview. And is a rejection of the entire Mesorah. This is his "Rationalism". So should I keep silent in the face of this obvious and brazen assault on the Mesorah, just because it's not the point? תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך.”

      Wow. A thoroughly considered, impassioned plea made by a fellow who is sincerely taking up for kavod haTorah and its torch bearers.

      Happy, I am with you. If you want to protest Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches with yet another problem (actually, a lot more than just a “problem”) besides the two RDK brought up I say go for it! Hopefully he won’t give you the run around with quotations from Rav Gidalya Nadel, Rav Herzog, R’ Avraham ben HaRambam, R’ Aryeh Carmel etc., all quotations that – if you want people to accept your criticisms of him – need to be addressed in your responses to him. It is a very time consuming enterprise and can potentially absorb all your time, attention and energy. Rabbi Slifkin has all the time in the world. This is what he does. He writes blogs and gives museum tours. But you; you’re either a bachur or a yungerman, (and from the looks of it, a bright one to boot) whose time would much better be spent figuring out the Rashba and Kitzos on the sugya of ho’da’as baal din ki’meya eidim dahmee than spending precious time arguing with someone who will NEVER GIVE UP. I’ve already spent years of time and responded to every substantial issue he brings up. There are over a 150 blog entries on my blog site alone dealing with every conceivable problem in hashkafa that pertains to the Torah Science Loggerhead. At least half of them were contributed by me and I did extensive research in each one. Furthermore, there is a wealth of information in the comments section because as I told you, I never ignore a person’s tai’nos on my shittos and go out of my way to explain, at length, every detail possible to support my initial submission. Rabbi Slifkin is a driven man. He’s on a mission. He’s out to educate the world and he has all the right answers to the great problems of hashkafa that plague our nation. In addition, he is doing the holy work of exposing the charedim (i.e. the vast majority of frum Jews in Israel) for the terrible people they all are. Nothing that you say will dissuade him from that mission.

      Remember what I told you Happy. Your objective is not to schlog up Slifkin in a great big public demonstration. That will never happen. Your objective is to get the listeners to see the egregiousness of Nosson’s approaches. There are three types of people that populate this venue. The first are people who are die hard Slifkin chasidim. The second, like yourself, are die hard misnagdim. The third are the people sitting on the fence. That’s your target market! Those are the ones you are reaching out to. They’re looking for substantial answers to the issues that RNS brings up and crying “secularist” will probably not work. But sticking to the substance (in this case, the substance was established by RNS when he posited that the problem with his approach was how people might feel about Chazal if they knew they were wrong) as RDK did (not only would Chazal’s honor be diminished but even the halachos they tell us stand to be compromised in our eyes) is more likely to win them over to our side.

      Delete
    71. Bottom line, I am not mitigating the importance of your “problem” with Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches nor am I telling you not to do it. I was simply responding to your initial comment to me. You mentioned there that I (and DS) was missing the point. All I am saying here is that in the short time you have to make a point in the comments section, choosing to attack Rabbi Slifkin on specific details he already agrees to in principle ends up being more effective than broaching general condemnations which either result in a he said she said back and forth (like what happened with you where he said “I didn’t do it” and you said “yes you did” etc.) or worse, he will drown you with sources as to why his approach is valid and not secularist. But again, I encourage you to do what you feel is right and I’m proud of you when you stand up and defend the honor of our Chachomim.

      Be well and have a chag kasher v’sameach

      P.S. You may email me any time to ronnycoffer@gmail.com I don’t know where you live but I will be in Brooklyn for Pesach. Your identity will remain safe with me.

      Delete
    72. @kornreich


      Perhaps I could put it a different way: When you wrote this sentence, you were engaging in wיhitewashing. Effectively, putting a false veneer that is more palatable to you (and perhaps to the mainstream frum community) on top of what is actually going on. You just don't want to say it out loud because you think non-Jewish is treif. If you didn't think it was treif then what's the problem to give it a role in enriching Judaism?

      "I think the enrichment comes from forcing us to look more deeply into our own tradition to develop the appropriate, perhaps completely novel, Torah response."

      Delete
  10. "And, as several people pointed out, there are plenty of real creatures that are only slightly less incredible."

    The inference is that there aren't plenty of real creatures that are equally or more incredible. That is false. There *are* plenty of real creatures that *are* "equally or more" incredible.

    By the way, I only now noticed another falsehood that's been hanging around on the template of this blog for a long time. The review from Tablet magazines on the right side tells us that, "Slifkin ... has almost single-handedly brought an entire new worldview to the fore." No sir. That's to miss a central point of the whole blog. If anything, Slifkin has almost single-handedly brought an entire *old* worldview to the fore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More incredible than an amphibian / plant hybrid? I'd be interested in hearing some examples.

      Delete
    2. "More incredible than an amphibian / plant hybrid? I'd be interested in hearing some examples."

      Have you ever seen the Knesset in session?

      Delete
    3. Yoni2, my bad on that. Thank you!

      Here's something interesting anyway, you could say a lesser convergence of plant-animal.
      AJUGA PLANT— When the locusts move across North Africa, eating everything in their path, they never touch the Ajuga plant. This is because there is a hormone in the Ajuga which is identical to an insect hormone in locusts and most other insects. That particular hormone induces molting,—the shedding of the outer coat of skin as the insect grows. If the locust eats the Ajuga, it will cause him to molt and shed his skin. But, because the Ajuga hormone is five times stronger than that found in locusts, it would pop his skin too fast. So locusts that eat the Ajuga quickly lose the skin around their mouths and they starve to death. Most leave it alone.

      Delete
  11. Happy wrote:

    “Simcha Coffer, I am curious, what do you mean by "more effective"?”

    In my initial comment in this thread, I mentioned that I am working under severe time constraints and other than RNS, could not commit to respond to any other comments directed at me. However, after reviewing some of your comments here and observing your general modus operandi, I decided to respond to your comment here for your edification. Clearly you are a passionate individual who cares deeply about his positions in hashkafa and for the most part I agree with the substance of your arguments. So, in order to help you in making your arguments more cogent, more “effective”, I will take some time and give you the benefit of my experience in these matters.

    In order for one to make his or her arguments more effective in a debate, I personally feel that the following 4 rules should be followed.

    a) One should stick exclusively to the substantial issue at hand
    b) One should resist the insinuation of other topics which, although related, are not “the” substantial issue at hand
    c) One should resist the temptation to indulge in ad hominem attacks, gloating, and self-aggrandizement.
    d) One should avoid, wherever possible, the reinforcement of one’s position by claiming that his opponent’s position is the result of bias.

    Note: (b) follows directly from (a) so (a) and (b) are essentially two sides of one coin.

    Continued in next comment…

    ReplyDelete
  12. Continued from previous comment

    In order for one’s argument to be more “effective”,

    (a/b) need to be adhered to because otherwise it will lead to the making of sweeping, overall condemnations of your opponent’s position in a more general sense and that is always more difficult to prove, and more often than not, ends up detracting from the strength of your position.

    (c) needs to be maintained because such behaviour is unprofessional and detracts from the ability of those following the debate to recognize the strength of your position on its merits alone.

    (d) is correct for two reasons.
    First of all, it is a weak argument to make. Just because a person is biased, doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
    Second of all, to some extent everyone is biased albeit some more than others. It is the nature of human beings to formulate their opinions based at least partially on their personal experiences and feelings (i.e. emotions). For instance, there are a lot of highly intelligent Christians who, despite their rationality choose to believe that their “god” was begotten via a virgin birth whereas non-Christians choose the more rational scenario, to wit, Mary had an affair while her husband Joseph was away and Jesus was a product of an illegitimate union making him a bastard child. The truth is, Jesus was operating under a severe handicap and only after he died did the newly minted Hebrew Christian sect come up with the fable of a virgin birth.

    Note: There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes the bias is so powerful, so obvious, that bringing it up during the course of debate does indeed have a place. But even in such a case, you bring it up once in order to get it on the record. But that’s it. Bringing it up over and over is already too much and “violates” the fourth imperative of debate, the (d) rule.

    As it happens, I “violated” the (d) rule once in my debates with Rabbi Slifkin when I 9and others) pointed out that he was exceedingly biased in the formulation of his approaches due to the bad rap he got from the banning of his books. Initially he was a charedi science writer whose column appeared in the Yated and all of a sudden, he is being ostracized by all the charedi rabbis in Israel so naturally he is upset and therefore his opinions are necessarily biased. Rabbi Slifkin took this accusation to heart, publicly acknowledged his bias, discussed it in a blog entry, and even wrote an essay wherein he acknowledged his bias but asserted that nevertheless his opinions were the product of reasoned argumentation, not bias.

    Well, as soon as a person does that, its over. I never accused him of bias again. In general, the enterprise of “debating” assumes certain ideas as a given. One of them is that although your opponent is biased, he is doing everything in his power to overcome his bias and present his position solely on the merits of his arguments. The more detailed a person is in his argumentation, the less the claim of bias is relevant. We can see his arguments and judge their strength on our own. This assumption is a necessary component of every debate because as I mentioned before, everyone is biased to a certain extent. If one doesn’t believe that his opponent is capable of rising above his biases, he shouldn’t be debating with him in the first place. The very existence of debate automatically assumes the idea that both protagonists accept each other as worthy of debate. I have more to say on this and if someone challenges me I will clarify further. But for now, this is what I am willing to say about this “rule”. If you follow these rules, I believe you will be more successful in formulating your arguments against Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches. In short, your arguments will be more “effective”. More on this shortly.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Happy wrote:

    “I have no idea about your history on this blog”.

    It shouldn’t make a difference. I was detailed in my arguments and I would expect that you would consider the strength of my arguments on their merit alone. However, to answer your question, I don’t really have a history on this blog per se. However, I do have a very long history of debate with Rabbi Slfkin. Just google my name and you will find my website and my blog.

    Note: My blog has four contributors so when reading the blog entries, look for the contributor’s name at the end of the entry. I take responsibility solely for my own entries. Rabbi Slifkin has occasionally commented on my blog, sometimes extensively.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Happy wrote:

    “I have no idea about your history on this blog, have you ever gotten Rabbi Slifkin to budge on even the smallest detail?”

    I have no idea although I would like to think that Rabbi Slifkin has at least modified some of his approaches over the years due to various issues I have brought up in the course of our discussions. But here’s the thing. Polemical discourse is not the same as, say, arguing with your chavrusa. When two individuals decide to engage in public debate, the objective is not to make the other “budge” on his position. This almost never happens. The objective is to lay out your arguments and allow the public to weigh the veracity of your positions. The objective is to convince the listeners that you are right, not your opponent. For instance, in presidential debates, the potentially incoming president debates with the incumbent president but neither one is trying to convince the other of his arguments or even hopes to make them “budge” one iota. The objective is to convince the listeners so they can get elected (or re-elected). And in my debates with Rabbi Slifkin, my objective was to provide people with solid arguments defending the mainstream massoretic approach while showing the erroneousness of Rabbi Slifkin’s “rationalistic” approaches.

    Note: I believe that our messora IS rational and Rabbi Slifkin’s self-professed rationalism is actually irrational.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Happy wrote:

    "Look in the comments above, I have him furiously backtracking like a kid lost in the forest, even to the point of denying his obvious crime. I have fulfilled בְּרֹ֥ב עֻ֝זְּךָ֗ יְֽכַחֲשׁ֖וּ לְךָ֣ אֹיְבֶֽיךָ.”

    Oh boy…

    Isn’t that claim a bit presumptuous? That pasuk is referring to Hashem. In his great Might and Ability, even powerful enemies such as Pharoah and Nebuchadnezzar who made a career of denying Hashem and His Power, had to eventually admit that Hashem was right, He was powerful, and they were wrong, they were weak etc. Surely Rabbi Slifkin is not cowering in fear before you, no? Perhaps you overstepped a bit with that claim? Maybe I’m wrong…

    Whatever the case, don’t convince yourself that you made Rabbi Slifkin back down one iota. You didn’t. But that shouldn’t bother you because your objective should be to try and convince the people following the debate of the strength of your position, not Rabbi Slifkin. I for one am convinced! So that’s one down…😊

    ReplyDelete
  16. Happy wrote:

    “In your opinion, what does "more effective" look like?”

    Well, you are fond of quoting pesukim so here’s one for you.
    “ברצות יהוה דרכי איש גם אויביו ישלם אתו”

    You were wondering about my history on this blog. Just run a search on this blog for my name. Rabbi Slifkin wrote an entry dedicated to me and I freely admit that when I read it, I felt very relieved (dare I say even proud) that despite all the bans, all the accusations of apikorsus that so many people had leveled against him and his books, despite my strident and protracted protests against his approaches (which he could have easily lumped together with the rest of his detractors), he publicly professed that he did not hold any personal animosity towards me. That showed me that those four “rules of debate” I was preaching to you earlier was me not just preaching. I actually practiced what I preached. IMHO, I call that “effective”.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @RNS
    I sent a repsonse to @Kornreich earlier today which seems to have disappeared - even though a later post did make it through. Can you please look for it? and then delete this comment?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, I don't know how that happened and it's not in spam.

      Delete
    2. Thanks -sorry almost definitely my fault. Will try to recreate it

      Delete

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