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Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: 1
Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History:
A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom
Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom: HaEmunah BeChazal UveDivrehem HaKedoshim is a newly published book by Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer of Monsey. Its subtitle is: “A selection from the great ones throughout the generations in the matter of the tradition of faith, and the sanctity and truth of all the words of the Sages, and the methods of approach to studying concealed topics in Aggadah and matters relating to science.” Rabbi Schmeltzer was one of the primary figures involved in arranging the ban on my books in 2004/5, and this book is his attempt at providing what he considers to be the Torah-true perspective on these matters.
The book features glowing rabbinic approbations from Rav Michel Lefkowitz (Bnei Brak), Rav Moshe Shapiro (Jerusalem), Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel (South Fallsburg), Rav Elya Weintraub (Bnei Brak), Rav Yaakov Hillel (Jerusalem), Rav Yitzchak Scheiner (Jerusalem), Rav Avraham Levin (Chicago), and Rav Malkiel Kotler (Lakewood), all of whom were signatories to the ban on my works and some of whom were extensively involved in it. In these approbations, Rav Scheiner writes that R. Schmeltzer’s book presents “virtually every possible perspective,” Rav Kotler refers to the “great breadth” (hekef rav) of the discussion, and Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel laments that there are those who claim that there are alternate strains of the mesorah to that described in the book. Rav Moshe Shapiro, who describes the topic of this book as one of the “fundamental principles of faith,” is R. Schmeltzer’s principal rebbe and he is quoted at length throughout the book; from my knowledge of numerous people’s conversations with him, it accurately represents his approach.
There are many, many positions in this book that I dispute on theological or empirical grounds. For example, this book takes the position that Chazal’s statements about science all come from Sinai, and are thus all correct; I believe otherwise, based on both theological and empirical grounds. However in this essay, I am not raising such theological and empirical disputes. Instead, I am restricting the critique to something much more basic, fundamental and indisputable: the misquotations of the positions of the Rishonim themselves, which in some cases involves literally distorting their words (i.e. editing them to give them a different meaning), and in other cases involves unacceptable selectivity. In the introduction, on p. 17, R. Schmeltzer claims that “the book is nothing other than a compilation of sources which represent the mesorah.” In a series of posts, I will be investigating that claim.
As usual, people are welcome to respond in the comments section. Comments should be polite and should actually contribute a point. Please use a name, preferably yours. When I have finished with all the posts, I will make the series available for download as a single PDF document.