"Tone" or Approach?
When the first cherem on some of my books came out (signed by just four rabbonim), and the reasons for it were initially very unclear, there were all kinds of guesses as to what the problem was. At the time I had a meeting with about a dozen rabbonim in a certain city in the U.S. who were very disturbed by the situation. We all sat around the table and they attempted to guess what was going on and how to resolve it. The conclusion that they came to was that the problem was with the "tone" of my books and that it could be resolved by rewriting them in such a way as to fix the "tone."
As the fiasco grew ever larger, and Rav Elyashiv became involved, it became very clear that the objection to my books was primarily due to my quoting the position of Rambam and numerous others that in some cases Chazal made statements about the natural world that were incorrect. Most of the rabbonim to ban my books did not read them and many cannot even read English; they were not in a position to have been judging the tone. In any case, they made it clear, in their written statements and oral communications, that they were objecting to the shittah itself.
And yet, despite the completely unambiguous explanation of their position given by these rabbonim, many people continued to insist that the problem was not the essential content but rather the "tone." I was very puzzled by this, but I gradually figured out what was going on.
I started asking people, "Could you give me an example? Point to a specific sentence which has a problematic 'tone,' and suggest how it could be changed in such a way that the essential position remains the same."
Nobody ever gave a single example.
It seems to me that what was happening was as follows. All these people were subconsciously deeply uncomfortable with most or all of the following:
1) The idea that Chazal could be mistaken;
2) The idea that some of the phenomena described by Chazal, such as mud-mice, could be real;
3) The statement of the Rishonim that Chazal could be mistaken;
4) The idea that the Rishonim/ Acharonim could have been saying something heretical;
5) The idea that the Gedolim could be saying that the Rishonim/ Acharonim were wrong.
How could someone reconcile all these uncomfortable ideas? The solution was that instead of engaging with the sugyas, or the views of the Rishonim, or saying that the Gedolim were disputing the Rishonim, instead one could claim ambiguously that the problem was with the "tone." The Gedolim weren't disputing the Rishonim (despite their repeated insistence that they were!) - they were only disputing Slifkin's presentation.
All this is very clear in the comments made by Rabbi Seinfeld to the previous post. He repeatedly insists that the problem with my books is the "tone." However, it is also clear that he refuses to say that Chazal erred in science. Faced with Chazal's statement about mice growing from dirt, he would insist on saying "that we either don't understand Chazal, we don't know the science, or there has been an error in the transmission of Chazal's statement." He would refuse to adopt Rav Hirsch's conclusion, itself based on the position of countless Rishonim and Acharonim, that they were mistaken.
This is not an objection to "tone." It is an objection to the essential approach.
(In truth, anyone who considers the notion of Chazal’s scientific fallibility to be a genuinely problematic belief is obviously going to find the tone of such statements unacceptable; whereas someone who considers this belief perfectly legitimate, and certainly someone who maintains it himself, will have a very different opinion of the “tone.”)
An alternate solution to the cognitive dissonance engendered by the five factors listed above is to claim (as does Rabbi Seinfeld in the previous post, as an alternative theory) that the Gedolim's stance was "for the sake of a greater exigency, nothing to do with the truth of your claims" - despite the repeated insistence of the Gedolim that they do indeed dispute the truth of my claims! (note: his theory may well be true, in part, of some of them, but not of all of them.)
All this relates to an earlier post of mine about respecting people. I think that it demonstrates a lack of respect to misrepresent people's positions in order to make them more palatable. One should, at the very least, respect the Gedolim enough to accurately convey their position. The Gedolim object to my approach. Which is not my approach at all, but rather that of the rationalist-leaning Rishonim and Acharonim.