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Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom
Part 14: Summary
Historically, there have been several approaches to various statements of Chazal that are apparently scientifically incorrect. Some have asserted that such statements are all nevertheless literally, physically true (aside from there being deeper layers of meaning). Some have interpreted them allegorically. Many have stated that they are indeed simply incorrect. And Maharal innovated the approach that such statements are literally true, but at a metaphysical level. R. Schmeltzer makes the staggering assertion that the last approach is the only legitimate approach and is historically the only one to have existed!
The fundamental message of Chaim B’Emunasam, repeated again and again and again, is that it is obligatory to accept the truth of all the words of Chazal, whether in halachah, aggadah or science, and that this is historically the only legitimate mesorah. Yet while Chaim B’Emunasam includes countless citations from Maharal and Ramchal, there are virtually no citations from the Geonim and few from the Rishonim. Critical sources from prominent authorities that refute R. Schmeltzer’s perspective are either ignored or selectively quoted in such a way as to pervert their meaning. The implicit bizayon towards many of the most prominent Rishonim and Acharonim, categorizing their approach as being heretical, is shockingly offensive.
In the introduction, on p. 17, R. Schmeltzer claims that “the book is nothing other than a compilation of sources which represent the mesorah.” This is false on two counts. First is that he adds in plenty of his own material and editorial comments on the sources that he brings. Second, and more egregiously, is that he is not providing quotes which represent the mesorah, but rather engaging in selective quoting, suppression, distortion, and manipulation of the numerous sources which do not fit with his view.
If the mesorah is defined as the acceptable view regarding these issues in the Charedi yeshivah world today, then it is perhaps correct to state that this book is a presentation of the mesorah. But if the mesorah is defined as the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages – which is how this book claims to present it – then it is not a presentation of the mesorah; it is a gross perversion of it. The fact that this book contains glowing endorsements from several prominent rabbanim, who describe it as presenting a “fundamental principle of faith” from “virtually every possible perspective” and insist that there is no other mesorah, is exceedingly disturbing.
(After Shabbos I will post a PDF with the complete critique.)