Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Cherem on Alternative Medicine

My, this is an interesting development. Rabbi Rephoel Szmerla's book Ki Ani Hashem Rofe'acha, which was published in English under the title Alternative Medicine In Halacha, has been banned. The letters of condemnation were written by a range of rabbonim, and are accompanied by letters of retraction from some of those who wrote approbations, along with general letters of condemnation of energy healing and Eastern medicine (note that this presumably not preclude the legitimacy of certain evidence-based non-Western medicine). You can download the collection of letters from some twenty rabbonim, at this link. I also received a critique of the book written by Niv Hadar, a colorful character who is sort of an Israeli frum version of James Randi, which you can download here. (UPDATE: It seems that these letters came out a few years ago; I'm not sure why they only just reached me.)

Now, in my post When Rabbis Quack, I criticized this book very harshly. And so you might think that I am thrilled with the cherem. But actually, while I think this cherem is overall a good thing, I can't personally be so happy about it. The reason is that by and large, the rabbonim banning it are not doing so for rationalist reasons.

The main reason why Alternative Medicine in Halacha is problematic is that it promotes an anti-scientific view that is literally dangerous to human life. It urges for the validity of anecdotal evidence over double-blind trials. It negates the significance of the placebo effect. It denounces modern Western medicine as standing in complete contradiction to Torah values. It comes as no surprise whatsoever to discover that the author is an anti-vaxxer.

The letters of condemnation, on the other hand, focus on a different charge: that the book promotes idolatry, darkei Emori (occult practices) and the usage of prohibited supernatural forces. I'm not convinced that the first charge is any more true of this book than of various kabbalistic works (interestingly, the book does condemn certain practices, especially shamanism, as outright idolatry). With regard to foreign practices which attempt to wield supernatural forces, on the other hand, the book is certainly guilty as charged - but what is the actual reason why these things are forbidden? As someone inclined towards rationalism, I would say that the problem is exactly as Rambam says: that these things are quackery and nonsense. But the rabbonim issuing the condemnation are more in line with Ramban's view, that they may indeed work but are prohibited. In fact, they take a specific anti-rationalist approach with regard to Szmerla's attempt to interpret Elisha's revival of the boy in terms of healing energies, which they denounce as trying to undermine the supernatural miraculous aspects.

The condemnation is nevertheless a well-deserved embarrassment to the rabbonim who originally endorsed the book, which include those that are part of the Lakewood Suicide Squad and who banned my own books, such as Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel and Rav Shlomo Miller. Unfortunately, this also includes Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, who despite being generally among the more enlightened of charedi gedolim, is nevertheless very much in the anti-rationalist camp on medical matters.

The bottom line is that the cherem is overall definitely a good thing. The condemnations are against Eastern, alternative, non-evidence-based medicines, and promote Western medicine. In fact, in a most significant statement, the Giluy Daas signed by a number of rabbonim (and co-signed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky) includes a "general rule: one must be concerned about any medical practice that does not function absolutely naturalistically, according to the opinions of the generation's scholars."

Yet the frum community is rife with superstitious and pseudoscientific practices that do not function naturalistically. As noted in another post, Rav Chaim Kanievsky himself endorsed a book of segulos which included such things as eating dried, pulverized and ground pig's testicles to conceive - the right testicle for a boy, the left testicle for a girl. No doubt many people will differentiate between Eastern superstitions and holy segulos. Still, naturalistic is naturalistic. Perhaps the cherem on Alternative Medicine will have the beneficial effect of encouraging people to think along more scientific lines. Lives will be saved as a result.


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50 comments:

  1. The letters are from a few years ago. Have they just been published?

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    Replies
    1. Yair Hoffmam published some in 2017

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  2. These are old letters. Look at the date

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  3. Also, these are not against alternative medicine in general, they are against the book.

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    Replies
    1. The statement from Rav Elyashiv pretty much covers all of alt-med.

      In any case, much of alt-med has already been forbidden by the SA:
      יוצאין בביצת החרגול ובשן של שועל ובמסמר הצלוב בין בחול בין בשבת ואין בו משום דרכי האמורי וכן בכל דבר שהוא משום רפואה אבל אם עושה מעשה ואין ניכר בו שהוא משום רפואה אסור משום דרכי האמורי אבל כל לחש מותר ולא אסרו אלא באותם שבדקן ואינם מועילים ויש מי שחשש בכל קמיע שאינו מומחה משום דרכי האמורי:

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  4. There was a colorful booklet distributed to shuls in huge numbers this weekend about all the benefits of "lighting a candle to Rashbi."

    Nice religion these people have. Actually, I'm not sure I can say that halakhically.

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  5. Disappointed with this position. I find it hypocritical.

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  6. It's like I said in the other post. A big nothingburger significant only to you and your ilk.

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  7. zichron devorimMay 8, 2022 at 2:02 PM

    One of the letters is actually a quote from a speech, in which the fellow says that kinesiology is from the klipah of קיני קניזי קדמוני, which are the nations whose territory will be added to Eretz Yisroel when Mashiach comes.

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    1. Huh?!?! Kinesiology is a perfectly normal part of sciences based medicine the study of the physical mechanics of human motion. Centers of rotation, mechanical efficiency, energy expenditures and all the rest. It didn't exist in any recognizable sense until.the early 1900s

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    2. For those of you who don't get Tellner's joke: Tellner is referring to is Applied Kinesiology which is sometimes incorrectly shortened to Kinesiology which is a real science.

      ZD: AK was "discovered" by chiropractor George Goodheart Jr. He was born into a chiropractic family at a time when chiropractic was still, for most of its practitioners, a spiritual movement. Chiropractic was originally based on pantheistic ideas and its founder actually considered chiropractic adjustments as a form of divine service. This was the milieu that Goodheart was raised in. Goodheart himself subtly acknowledged his reverence to the god of Chiropractic in the introduction to one of his textbooks on AK.
      It will thus come as no surprise that some of the most prominent proteges of Goodheart attach some spiritual component to their practice.

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    3. This (and things like it) are one of the big problems with chiropractics in general.

      While there is no doubt that various manipulations can benefit people for relieving (at least temporarily) muscle and joint pain, many practitioners believe that they can use these techniques to cure everything including diseases and cancers - which is flat out wrong and a dangerous belief.

      Unfortunately, the quacks end up ruining the reputation of those who apply their skills responsibly.

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  8. My take on the book:

    https://thelehrhaus.com/scholarship/the-not-so-orthodox-embrace-of-the-new-age-movement/

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  9. "Yet the frum community is rife with superstitious and pseudoscientific practices that do not function naturalistically. "

    I think there's a distinction between segulot that have never been tested scientifically, and alt-med modalities that have been tested and disproven and/or whose origins derive from idolatry & the occult.

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  10. Some alt medicine procedures (such as reiki) are avoda zara as stated by gedolei long time ago (which is not to say they don't work). That said, alt medicine does work. The problem with so-called "science medicine" is in order to get for example an FDA approval of a new drug, one needs to spend hundreds of thousands dollars. Which makes sense only if the drug is patented, which in turn means only an artificial chemical formula can be approved and only big Pharma can do it. You can't obviously patent natural remedies or off-label use of some inexpensive medicine used for decades for different causes. As the result we are "treated" by some chemicals while there are inexpensive remedies promoted by a handful of responsible doctors. Hundreds of thousands lives could've been saved for example if doctors were allowed to follow Dr.Zelenko or Paul Marik COVID protocols (not really natural remedies, but off the label use of safe inexpensive medications).

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    Replies
    1. You've got a logical fallacy here. You pointed out a true problem with big pharma and medicine. But that does nothing to support the notion that this or that "alternative medicine" works. You've put your finger on a problem in the capitalist system. But the scientific method still stands as the best way of nothing the nature of the universe.

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    2. This is a common argument. So common that one wonders why there has to date been no pro-alternative medicine billionaire or millionaire (or group) willing to call the bluff of the scientific method naysayers by funding a rigorous study to prove the efficacy of even one of the most favored “natural” remedies or protocols?

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    3. " why there has to date been no pro-alternative medicine billionaire or millionaire (or group) willing to call the bluff"

      I don't know about billionaires, but there are plenty of alt-med millionaires. I did an "off the envelope" calculation and found that while the alt-med/supplement industry is much smaller than Big Pharma, it's still Big too. Big Quack rakes in about one sixth the profits compared to Big Pharma.

      And there is funding for alt-med. Not as much, but the money is there. And the results: Ineffective.

      One may claim that the reason why rich quacks won't support such research is because they're afraid of getting ineffective results. I think that they simply believe that such research is unnecessary, redundant & thus wasteful. They are more likely deluded true believers than charlatans.

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    4. There have been studies about alternative therapies. They fail. Acupuncture is an exception, and even this has only a small number of applications.

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  11. If "the science" of "follow the science" had anything to do with actual science then there would be an open public debate about the validity of terrain theory vs virus theory

    But as it is, 99% of people have never even heard of terrain theory

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    1. No. There wouldn't. Because "Terrain theory" does not rise to the level of scientific theory, and your unsupported contention that it does shows you are either ignorant of what that means or maliciously dishonest. In neither case should what you have said be taken seriously

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    2. "But as it is, 99% of people have never even heard of terrain theory"

      That because 99% of terrain theorists are dead from an infection that was cheap and easy to treat. The other 1% are the hypocrites who swallowed the antibiotics in secret.

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    3. Bacterial infections are opportunistic and actually confirm terrain theory.

      An example is Staphylococcus aureus, which inhabits many parts of the body without incident. Unless and until it colonizes a part of the body it doesn't belong, it which case it can be deadly, very quickly. In my case, I had a keratitis. The cornea is highly resistant to infection, unless traumatized in some way, like a corneal scratch.

      Just a because a treatment works on some forms of sickness, doesn't confirm anything about something you know nothing about but superficialities. No one has to die because he has studied an issue and concludes that what illness in general is is not the narrative we are taught in kindergarten.

      Where germ theory particularly pertains is not bacteria, but viruses, and the story about what they are simply doesn't add up, including Covid.

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    4. Ahhh, terrain theory. That's the one that says that JFK wasn't killed by a single bullet shot by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald, but was done in by a kevlar deficiency.

      People who believe in terrain theory should display the sincerity of their faith by eating a mad-cow burger and inject themselves with a smallpox/ebola/HIV cocktail.

      "an open public debate"
      You missed it. It happened over a century ago and the terrainists lost.

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    5. It's interesting to hear from proponents of "science" who are opponents of terrain, why some people carried covid without even knowing about it or with mild symptoms, while other being vax'ed and boosted got into hospital or even die.

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    6. "It's interesting to hear from proponents of "science" who are opponents of terrain, why some people carried covid without even knowing about it or with mild symptoms, while other being vax'ed and boosted got into hospital or even die."

      It's very simple. Look at the data. The severe & fatal case rate of those who were fully vaccinated is far lower than those who weren't vaccinated. You have to look at the data by age range to see the effect.

      "some people"
      No. "Some people" is not a properly constructed sample.

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    7. "People who believe in terrain theory should display the sincerity of their faith by eating a mad-cow burger and inject themselves with a smallpox/ebola/HIV cocktail."

      Again with the false dichotomies. This is a seriously and literally stupid argument. And a complete misunderstanding of what terrain theory is and that germ theory as it pertains to viruses, along with the conventional wisdom of what they are, does not add up.

      I have no idea what you are talking about regarding JFK.

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    8. " And a complete misunderstanding of what terrain theory is and that germ theory as it pertains to viruses"

      That's a claim, not a response. Please explain how terrain theory deals with smallpox & the plague. Also tell us how long it's been since you've suffered from a cold or flu.

      "I have no idea what you are talking about regarding JFK."
      It's called an analogy. Reductio ad absurdum.

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    9. Seconding Ephraim's response to Lazar about vax'd folks getting sick:

      We live in a world of statistics. Sure, you can find a person, or a few people, who respond well to some nonsense, and other persons who don't get hurt in response to some negative stimulus. But the majority, the trend, the odds tell us that more people who have been vaccinated do not get sick, or if they do, they do not get AS sick. People can get side effects or weird effects from vaccines, but as that is a tiny fraction, the understanding is that such are outliers, not the rule. A given person who is in most ways healthy and normal absolutely should be vaccinated. A different person who is suggestive, anxious, and already has a few unexplainable conditions, or prior history of inflammatory or painful problems, such a person is more likely to develop side effects from a vaccine (real or somaticized, and it doesn't matter) and so should not get the shot. But MOST PEOPLE are not THAT PERSON.

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    10. Yosef R - 8 out of the 10 most vaccinated states are also in the top 8 out of 10 states with the most cases per capita, based on the most updated NYT data. One of those states, Vermont, has its hospitalizations currently exceeding its winter peak - in an off season - for its 70+ population who have a 100% vaccination rate. How is that for trend and statistics? Sounds like your human experimentation was a real success!

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    11. I don't have to understand something 100% to say it has credence. You are neither clever nor thoughtful. On my own, I have pondered chickenpox, and how that works. I do not know. I got it at the ripe old age of 17, and exposed several others my age or older who had never been infected before, who also then got sick.

      The story of viruses does not add up. Germ theory is just a theory. The story of AIDS as caused by a virus rather than the result of ongoing abuses in many forms to the body is something only an ivory tower academic would come up, or a rationalist believe.

      Germ theory, and its veracity or lack thereof, is, like that of evolution, irrelevant as to whether or not treatments work. And some of those treatments look debatable, at best.

      Based on actual evidence I have seen, and cited here, Western advances in hygiene and sanitation and diet are responsible for the great drop in both occurrence and virility of many, if not most, or even all, of the illnesses vaccinated for today. In fact, well before any such vaccines were even introduced.

      That would be actual confirmation that the improved TERRAIN has indeed made illness milder and less frequent. Why? Because illness and how it spreads is not what we are taught.

      It could even be that many of the interventions developed and marketed in the name of Germ Theory are the real quackery.

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    12. "Based on actual evidence I have seen, and cited here, Western advances in hygiene and sanitation and diet are responsible for the great drop in both occurrence and virility of many, if not most, or even all, of the illnesses vaccinated for today. In fact, well before any such vaccines were even introduced."

      "hygiene and sanitation": What does hygiene & sanitation do? They kill pathogens. According to terrain theorists pathogens aren't dangerous. So why the need for hygiene & sanitation? Indeed, doctrinaire terrain theorists don't bother to wash hands.

      "if not most"
      So there are pathogens that can infect & kill despite a pure terrain?

      "Based on actual evidence I have seen, and cited here, "
      You've cited diddly-squat. Indeed you've admitted that the improvements in diet & hygiene did nothing to prevent the spread of chicken pox for you and your buddies.

      The מהרש"א holds that maverick doctors who pride themselves on bucking the trend are bound to hell:
      טוב שברופאים לגיהנם והכשר כו'. יש לפרש טוב שברופאים דהיינו שמחזיק עצמו לטוב ולמומחה שברופאים שאין כמוהו וסומך ביותר על המחאתו מתוך גאוותו ולפעמים הוא טועה בטבע זה החולה וממית את החולה ברפואותיו בדבר שמזיק לחולה זה אבל יש לו לישא וליתן עם שאר הרופאים כיון שהוא סכנת נפשות:

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    13. Perhaps you can quote some terrain theorists who say such things? I even pointed out bacteria, aka "pathogens", can infect, but are entirely opportunistic. They do not confirm anything about germ theory.

      I said I could not explain chickenpox, and you were not so clever for coming up with something obvious.

      I said my problem was that Germ Theory is not satisfactory. There is certainly something to the idea that terrain affect illness, and contributes to its occurrence and virulence.

      Your problem is you think you are an expert on everything and think clever retorts accomplish anything.

      I pointed out, correctly, that measles deaths were down 95% from their peak in the early 1900s before the vaccine was introduced. There was also no discernible change in the trend after.

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    14. "I said my problem was that Germ Theory is not satisfactory. There is certainly something to the idea that terrain affect illness, and contributes to its occurrence and virulence."

      In other words, you actually don't believe in terrain theory which 100% denies that germs infect, hurt and kill and agree with germ theory which allows for differences in the pre-existing health of the patient to explain difference in infection outcomes.

      "There was also no discernible change in the trend after."
      99% vs. 95% is a discernible change. You also have failed to deal with other effects of measles. Now go and explain away the smallpox, rabies, mumps and flu (etc.. etc..) vaccines.

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    15. Ephraim, you are clearly an idiot. A change in trend is not merely a change in quantity. If you look at the slope of the decline in the incidence and mortality of measles, as recorded in annual government statistics, you literally cannot tell where in the graph the vaccine was introduced. No amount of statistical analysis will reveal anything unusual, like an increase in the rate of decline, as should be expected. Congratulations. Only idiots need things explained to them like they are lawyers who pedantically examine every word for fault. And then disqualify even the most carefully constructed statement for totally irrelevant reasons anyway.

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  12. South FallsbUrg

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  13. Over the years, I have noticed that many religious Jewish women are into this quackery. One wonders if this is similar to women and witchcraft as I remember somewhere in the Talmud, it is written that many women have a tendency to practice the craft. Anyway, there is many religious men into this...mostly as a money making racket. Selling snake oil, flim flam men and many other titles. In my opinion, much of this nonsense would go away if the govt would with gusto charge these people with practicing "medicine" without a license and put them into jail. But I think I am expecting too much.

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  14. Didn't R' Yisrael Belsky zt'l already write the definitive Torah book against alternative medicine? https://www.judaicapress.com/products/rav-belsky-on-alternative-medicine?pr_prod_strat=copurchase&pr_rec_id=7e1d6879e&pr_rec_pid=146482888728&pr_ref_pid=7362125463715&pr_seq=uniform

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    1. Note that the book was put together by his students. The problem I have is that Rav Belsky doesn't elaborate enough. Having studied the subject before reading his book, I can say I agree with what he writes. But I don't think there's enough material in the book to convince everybody.

      Incidentally, I got the book from an alt-med enthusiast who "proved" to me (using a particular alternative diagnostic modality) that the book was unhealthy. He was happy that I took the book with its bad vibes away from him.

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  15. Okay. I can't resist....

    And try as I like, a small crack appears in my diplomacy-dike.
    "By definition, " I begin,
    "Alternative medicine, " I continue,
    "Has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work.
    Do you know what they call
    Alternative medicine that's been proved to work?
    Medicine."

    "So you don't believe in any natural remedies?"

    "On the contrary Storm, actually
    Before we came to tea,
    I took a natural remedy derived from the bark of a willow tree
    A painkiller that's virtually side-effect free
    It's got a weird name, darling, what was it again?
    M-masprin? Basprin? Oh yeah! Asprin!
    Which I paid about a buck for down at the local drugstore.

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  16. Our insurer in the US, as well as our kupat cholim in Israel, covers acupuncture and chiropractic (not the quacks who say it's a cure-all, but the ones who try to fix back pain), so I figure they think there's enough scientific rigor there to be worth paying for.

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    1. That's because it good for business. People can chose their insurer, and they want these services.
      Plus for self-limiting conditions, it's cheaper to send patients to a quack than a real doctor. Also consider that back pain often resolves on its own (one study found that waiting and doing nothing was just as effective as any intervention!).
      So there are reasons other than effectiveness that explains why these organizations offer these services. Not that such corporate decisions are not without ethical questions.

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  17. I think I may have posted this story before, but here it is again:

    Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, about 10-20 years ago, gave a drasha at his shul in Teaneck, NJ (he retired a year ago-ish) on Shabbos Parshas Ki Savo. He said he saw in a newspaper the following comment (or the like): "Orthodox Jews, who tend to be superstitious..." This upset him since we are not supposed to be superstitious. He acknowledged that this sort of thing does arise in certain circles, and he decried it. He said the brachos and the klalos is Ki Savo do not say "Baruch atta ba'ir if you wrap a red 'bendel,' Baruch atta basadeh k'nayin hora, and Baruch atta b'vo'echa poo-poo-poo"!

    It was glorious.

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    Replies
    1. The Gemara is packed with superstitions

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  18. The rabbis who wrote the bans don't seem to coming from a perspective of Rationalist Judaism, they just seem to prefer one superstition over the other.

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  19. It is simply not true that Rabbi Kanievsky endorsed the vile book which suggests ( among other idiotic ideas) using pig testicles a cure for infertility. A quick look at the alleged Kanievsky "haskamas" at the end of the book clearly suggests that R' Kanievsky was just trying to get rid of a nudnik by saying things like" OK to publish" but not saying anything positive about the books content and if he even read it. Rabbi Slifkin, please just read the page with Rabbi Kanievsky's "Haskama". I think you will agree with me and apologize for defaming a Gadol B'yisroel.

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    1. The whole point is that a Gadol should not put himself in a position that he seems to be agreeing to nonsense

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    2. The point is that he didn't write a haskama, only a few phrases meaning nothing to any normal person who reads these "haskamas". A person reading Rabbi Sliflin's (without looking at the book) would think Rabbi K actually wrote a real haskama. He did not and a public apology is approriate

      Delete
  20. Recently Kedamine and other psycadelics - which would be considered alternative till recently - are becoming approved and showing fantastic results.

    ReplyDelete

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