Friday, April 29, 2005

April 2005

Friday, April 29, 2005

Achaceh lo bechol yom

No not Moshiach. But something else we have all been waiting for almost all our lives. The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy movie has finally been released !

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I hope it won't disapoint but it probably will. How depressing. (Channeling the spirit of Marvin there).

Also Mazeltov to Ford on his new baby !

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hotel Pesach Dinner Recipe: Serves 12, is eaten by 1

Pesach Hotels are evil, I have to admit. But its not because of the pool, the beach, or the swapping. Its because of the food.

Here is what was on offer tonite: Spicy Chicken. Beef. Chinese Stir fry. Corned Beef. Pesach Kugel. Roast Chicken. Two types of salads. Three types of desert cakes.

Being an MO, I suppose my attitude should be that its okay for all that food to be on display, we are mature adults and should be able to excercise self restraint and our own judgement. However, if some extremist Godol were to come in and ban all that extra food, I would not object.

Extremist Gedolim, where are you ? Isn' that just typical. Just when you want one suddenly there's none to be found.

Pritzusdick Yeshivah Bochrim


There may be a lot of things I do wrong on this blog. Maybe I go too far in bashing certain Rabbis. Maybe some of my posts are a little kefiradick. However one thing I have always been careful of is pritzus. This is for three reasons: Firstly, I am not, nor have I ever been a proste guy. Secondly, my parents read my blog. Thirdly, I don't think its appropriate.

Recently, a chareidi yeshivah bochur called Shiur Chodosh, has been posting all kinds of pritzus comments about biah, zerah levataoloh, hot sexy chicks, wife swapping, topless bathers etc etc etc. While he cloaks it all in a veneer of "holier than thou" crap, its obvious that Shiur has a one track mind.

I think its sad that the one person who has posted the most pritzus on this blog is a chareidi yeshivah bochur. He seems to think that because thats all he thinks about, thats what everyone else thinks about too.

Let me tell you something Shiur, when (if) you grow up and get married, and settle down to a more healthy lifstyle, you might realize that people think about other things.

NOTE: I do not mean to cast aspersions on yeshivah bochrim, chareidi or otherwise. The vast majority of yeshivah bochrim are decent fellows, who are probably learning bein hazmanim. That leaves only the batlonim to surf the blogs and make fools of themselves.

Goodbye, Meals on the Go !

Well, I'm off to my Pesach Hotel for the last days of Yom Tov. No more Osem Meals on the Go for me ! I'm looking forward to the the jelly fruit, the macaroons, the 6 course meals, the 5 people stuck in one room on the 10th floor, the 4 in-laws, and of course The Emergence of Ethical Man.

Chag Sameach !

Pesach Hotel Scandals

Wow, I only just noticed this comment from our favorite pervert, Shiur Chodosh:

It appears that GH really wants to be at the "beach" and going for pesach is the best heter. But, can there be a heter for a rayos or for mozi shichvas zera levatala? How can someone who claims to be a GH be oiver on such shtarke arayos. There have even been stories of "swapping" at these hotels, rachmana litzlon.

Wow. Which hotel was that ? Was it a charedi program ? Probably. The only swapping I have done is to swap my nice comfortable 4 bedroom house for one small hotel 'suite' with my wife and all the kids. (By the way, for would be hotel goers, a suite is a slightly larger room where the extra space is taken up with a sofa). Hard to imagine a wife swapping scenario there. Wouldn't the kids notice ?

Check out the links ------>

Following in the tradition of my blogging idols, DovBear & Gil Student, (oops, I mean DovBear), I now promote my own blog on the right, rather than other people's blogs.

(Yes, I know DovBear has a blogroll. But since it has everybody who is anybody on it, it really is just another thinly disguised exercise in self-promotion.)

So, now that my blogroll is gone, let me promote a few people here.

I do like DovBear. Darn it, I mean DovBear ! He's funny, intelligent and has his head screwed on right. (Was that okay DB ?)

I also like Gil Student. He might be a bit frum, but he sure knows his stuff.

Mis-nagid is a cool guy too. Lots of anger, but he does live with the chareidim so he has an excuse. And at least he is thinking about this stuff, and isn't just obsessed with shmutz like shiur chodosh seems to be.

I think I might have to limit my blog to married people only. The singles, especially the UO's ones, seem to have too much other stuff on their mind to be able to comment intelligently. Hamayvin Yovin.

Go Away Yeshivah Bochrim !

I don't know what I was thinking with the previous post, welcoming yeshivah bochrim. My blog has now been over run by a bunch of moronic, clueless yeshivah guys. Haven't you got anything better to do ? I know its Bein Hazmanim but isn't the internet ossur or something ? If you don't have anything intelligent and / or funny to say then go away. This blog is for adults. Not for boys who have never been out in the world, don't know their arse from their elbow, couldn't construct a logical argument if they were paid to, and in general the gap between their true havanah of anything and their own perceived havanah is only dwarfed by their degree of sexual frustration.

Go Away !

Welcome Yeshiva Bochrim !

Its Pesach Bein Hazmanim, and as everyone knows that’s the most hefker Bein Hazmanim of all. Summer break follows Tisha'a Be'av and is just before Ellul, so its relatively more serious. And of course Succos Break comes just after Ellul so that’s relatively more serious too. But Pesach break comes right after Purim, so the Bochrim are all revved up with nowhere to go. This explains the additional bochrim traffic I have seen on my blog the last couple of weeks. The guys are home from Lakewood and E"Y, and they have nothing to do, so they are checking out the blogs.

So here is a special post for all you Yeshiva bochrim out there. I will recap the last 3 months blogging on the Slifkin affair just for your benefit. I have had to leave out some details here, but you can read the rest of my blog for the full story.

Enjoy !

1. The Kannoim, (a group of Rabbi's with bad middos, some criminal records, questionable motives and poor judgement) convince the 'Gedolim', (a group of Rabbi's with better middos but even worse judgement), to sign some kind of ban on some of Nosson Slifkin's books.
2. The Gedolim, based on hearsy, prejudice, poor judgement and general cluelessness about Science sign a ban denouncing the books.This is followed by an article in the Israeli and European Yated.
3. Subsequent and thorough investigation reveal that the kannoim made up stories, misrepresented the books, presented a different text to some Gedolim than what was released, and also told some Gedolim that they were signing a private letter to Feldheim. Rav Aharon Feldman travelled to E"Y to meet with R Eliashiv, who agreed that the books were not kefirah, but are forbidden nonetheless. Rav Eliashiv gave no reasons.
4. Although the kannoim and the ban claimed that the maskimim had all retracted, in fact only one of the maskimim retracted, and that was only under extreme pressure from his Rebbe, Rav Moshe Shapiro. The Deah V'Dibbur article (online Yated) has subsequently been corrected.
5. Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, possibly the most choshuv of the maskimim, did not retract. However he has been quiet on the issue, as he does not want to get into a fight with the extremists. Some say that the kannoim were really after Rav Shmuel all along, and Slifkin was just a pawn.
6. The majority of mainstream Orthodox Rabbis opposed the ban. They felt that Slifkin had good sources and was following an accepted mehalech, and that in any case the ban was counterproductive, and the whole process was significantly flawed.
7. Subsequent articles and droshos from Rav Aryeh Carmell, Rav Zeff Leff, Rav Berel Wein, Rav Hershel Shachter and many others came out against the ban. Some of the Gedolim who signed have said they regretted signing, most of the others just dug their heels in and did not want to talk about it.
8. The net effect of the ban was indeed counterproductive, from the Gedolim's point of view. The number of people who might have read the books but now did not due to the ban was vastly outweighed by the number of people who had never heard of the books, and are now reading them. In addition, the ban caused a tremendous bittul zman for all the people who might otherwise have been doing more productive things, and a tremendous bizuy of these Gedolim. Of course from my point of view, this is all quite productive and a good outcome.
9. The ban also highlited for many people that the Gedolim are not really Gedolim at all. They are just Rabbis of various institutions, mostly clueless about Science and Torah issues, who are out of touch with the modern world. What might work in the enclaves of Bnei Brak doesn't really fly in New York or Los Angeles.
10. More seriously, the ban highlited how corrupt the whole process is. Dubious characters are able to gain access to the 'Gedolim', who appear to lack basic sechel and or yashrus, and who naively trust these kannoim and go sign bans based on their opinions.
11. The biggest impact of the ban was on kiruv workers, especially talmidim of Rav Moshe Shapiro. These talmidim had been teaching Slifkin's stuff for years, and were amazed to see that suddenly it was apparently all kefirah according to their beloved Rebbe. The talmidim split into three groups. The sensible ones, who just kept quiet. The foolish ones, who were 'mevatel daas' to their Rebbe and did an about turn. And the really retarded one, who gave shiurim and wrote nasty letters to try and defend his Rebbe and the Gedolim.
12. The ban also highlited the extremely poor judgement of Rav Elya Ber Wachtofgel. Other similar stories came to light, notably one about a wedding last year, where his judgement was also very poor.
13. Some say this ban has caused, exarcerbated or perhaps highlited a growing schism within the charedi world, between the extreme right wing Lakewood / Bnei Brak crowd, and the rest of the chareidim.
14. The ban, the lies, the Science and Torah topics, the Kannoim, the Gedolim and all the other related topics have provided endless fodder for the blogs, especially mine. The vast majority of the blogs on the subject contained highly accurate information, with only one or two minor exceptions. This has shown the power of the blogs. Roshei yeshivah and even some of the Gedolim who signed the ban have been reading the blogs.
15. Some good discussion emerged here, on Hirhurim and on Areivim/Avodah about Science and Torah. No one has any really good answers yet which solve everything, but were working on it, not just throwing up our hands and saying Taiku.

Take Aways

1. The Gedolim are not Gedolim. They are just Rabbis of various levels of sechel and lomdus.
2. Some of the people in kiruv are just clowns. They will say anything to be mekarev someone.
3. Science and Torah issues are significant. Those who are not bothered by them are simply clueless about the issues.
4. The blogs are quite influential.
5. I am not the Godol Hador, but no one else is either.

Pesach Dinner Recipe: Serves 1

Taking a lesson from DovBear, oops I mean DovBear, here is a nice, heimish, food post. This is a recipe I particularly enjoy on Pesach, in fact I had it for dinner this evening. Its an interesting mix, plus it doesn't require too much preparation, making it ideal for Chol Hamoed.

1 6.5 oz packet Golden Fluff Potato Stix (Kosher For Passover) Onion and Garlic flavor
1 Liter bottle Dr Browns Black Cherry (Kosher For Passover)

Open packet, eat stixs.
Open bottle, drink soda.

Forget Osem Meals on the go, Golden Fluff is all you need !

See you there !

8pm, Wednesday May 25th
Edmond J. Safra Synagogue,
11 East 63rd Street,
New York NY 10021

How Old Do We Believe the World is ? Non-Literal Interpretation of Scripture, the Story of Creation and the Controversy over the Works of Nosson Slifkin.

Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, RIETS Rosh Yeshiva and Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Professor of Talmud, and Instructor of Bible at Yeshiva College.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Shapiro, Somebody's Watching You

The Appearance of Ethical Man

The Rebbetzin found my book, I guess she does have her uses after all. It turns out that my son had it in his Nemo backpack all along. An RYBS fan at age 2. Such Nachas !

Try and beat that, Steve B ! He probably can. I bet he plays RYBS shiurim to his unborn kids using one of those special through the womb headphone (wombphone ?) gadgets.

While we are on the subject of my son, here are some of his clever remarks:

When asked 'What do monkeys eat ?', he replies 'monkey food !' You can't argue with that.
When told to go to bed, he says 'Thats not a good idea. I can't !'.

On the downside, when I asked him what he thought of the Science and Torah conflict he went with Nes-Nisayon. Oh well.

Chol Hamoed Seder Hayom

Unfortunately, I had to leave my luxury Pesach Hotel and go work for Chol Hamoed. Well, not exactly work, more like sit at my desk and blog. However as far as my timesheet is concerned, its basically the same thing, I get paid either way. We didn't kasher our kitchen for Pesach, so I have to be inventive.

So here is my seder hayom for Chol Hamoed:

9:15-9:16am Breakfast
Eat 2 Rakusens tea matzos in my cube, with some Winston Grape Jelly.

9:16-9:25am Clean Up
Spend 10 minutes trying to get the damn matza crumbs out of my keyboard. No success.

Do some actual work ! Wow, its been a while.

12:30-12:45pm Lunch
Have an Osem 'Meals on the Go' instant mashed potatoes and vegetables. Not too bad at all ! Wonder if I should really be using the hot water dispenser and plasticware in the break room on Pesach. Decide to be maykil. Have a Rakusen's tea matza with grape Jelly in my cube for desert.

12:45-5:00pm Blogging
No meetings scheduled, so ample time for blogging.

6:00-6:15pm Dinner
Have another Osem 'Meals on the Go' for dinner. Really these are not too bad at all, much better than the 'Kojels'. Desert is tea matzos again, but this time with Strawberry Jelly ! Feel just as satiated as I did in the hotel, with far less expense. And just as nauseas too. Have a great idea for an economical Pesach Hotel Program - All meals will consist entirely of Osem 'Meals on the Go' and Rakusens Tea Matzos ! Hey, it could work.

6:15pm-1:15am Blogging
With the Rebbetzin and the kids gone, ample time for some blogging. Also, in a rare fit of gashmius, decide to watch TV. See 'Stepmom' with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts. Can't decide if its believable or not, but if I had to have a stepmom, Julia wouldn't be too bad a choice.

After a hard day blogging, get some well deserved rest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pesach Hotel Seder Hayom

8:30-9:30am Buffet Breakfast
Stuff your face with a huge array of breakfast delicacies. Eat equivalent quantities of breakfast, brunch AND lunch.

9:30-11:0am Shacharis
Baalei tefiloh are always the guys who never get asked to daven in their own shuls, for very good reason.

11:00-12:30pm Buffet Kiddush
Stuff your face with a huge array of lunch items, including kugel, Pesach cholent and Cold Cuts. Eat equivalent quantities of kiddush and lunch.

12:30-2:30pm Lunch
Eat 6 course lunch. Order 2 mains, just in case the duck is better than the beef (or vice versa).

2:30-4:30pm Pool & Tea Room
Steal large quantities of nosh from the 24*7 tea room and take it to the poolside. Make disaproving 'tut-tut' sounds at all the supposedly frum people who are now in the pool, while consuming nosh.

4:30-6:00pm Eat & Shluf
Steal large quantities of nosh from the tea room and take it to your room. Eat and shluf.

6:00-7:00pm Childrens Dinner
Pretend your little ones are starving and go crash the childrens dinner. Eat large quantities of hot dogs and burgers, all the while commenting to your toddler 'Come on, just eat one little hot dog for daddy".

7:00-8:00pm Mincha-Tea Room-Maariv
Minchah followed by shiur. Skip the shiur and head to the tea room instead. Eat large quantities of nosh to 'tide you over' until dinner.

8:00-8:30pm Nothing to Do Hell
Maariv finished early and now there's a gap till dinner ! Not really hungry, not worth shlepping back to the bed room. No choice but to hang out with the in-laws and try make conversation.

8:30-10:00pm Dinner
Eat 6 course dinner, with 2 mains. Take additional 2 mains in doggy bags back to room just in case you're hungry during the night.

10:00-10:15pm Tea Room
Can't miss one last trip to the tea room. Eat large quantitites of jelly fruit and coconut macaroons.

1o:30pm-8:30am Shluf
Retire to bed after exhausting day.

The Disappearence of Ethical Man

I started to read The Emergence of Ethical Man over Yom Tov, but my book went missing somewhere in the Hotel. So, if you are in a Kosher Le'Pesach Hotel, and you find a copy, please return it at once !

Hashkafah Culture Club

(This post is a little rambling, you can blame it on the matzah)

A not insignificant part of what we think of as 'Orthodox Judaism' is in fact cultural, rather than religious. I am always reminded of this at Pesach, when I mix with many different types of Jews whom I don’t normally mix with. For example, (in order of increasing cultural divergence from my own perception of normality) :
  • Chareidim
  • Sephardim
  • Chabadnicks
  • My in-laws
  • French People

Of course I joke, I am much more comfortable with the French than with my in-laws. But all the above groups think, dress, daven, learn and practice Judaism in very different ways. Each group no doubt thinks their way is the most authentically 'Jewish' way, but in reality they are all just different cultural expressions and nuances, of which a significant part have been absorbed from the surrounding non-Jewish culture.

During an especially boring part of yom tov davening (probably the Chazan’s kvetching Tefilas Tal), this got me thinking. Clearly, there are many cultural differences between the MO and the UO's, in dress, thought patterns, attitudes towards women, state of Israel, etc etc. However, for now, lets just focus on attitudes towards skepticism, superstition, fantasy and science.

MO's for the most part have adopted the modern Western 'high' culture, with associated skepticism, trust in science and technology, etc. UO's tend to still have more Eastern European type attitudes towards all these things. UO kids are educated from a young age with a non stop diet of Rebbe tales, fantastical midrashim taken literally etc etc. Just look at all the 'little midrash says' type books.

So on the question of Science and Torah, how much of the UO vs MO difference of opinion is really based on halachah (or even true hashkafah), and how much of it is really a clash between modern (non-Jewish) western cultural notion's of truth and fact, versus medieval and Eastern European (non Jewish) cultural notions of superstition and fantasy ?

And, even if you could show that Chazal had similar notions to the current day UO's, what does that prove ? They were influenced by the surrounding Babylonian culture too ! In fact, is there really any authentic Jewish culture ? Even if you go back to early Israel, that was a mix of Cannaanite and other tribes, hardly what we could call a 'Jewish' culture by todays standards, and anyway, it would be quite difficult to try and determine what the Neviim and people of that era thought about talking Torah literally when conflicted with Science !

Ultimately, Jewish culture is profoundly shaped by the non Jewish world. Even at the most UO levels, it may take longer, but ultimately it penetrates. Its always harder to see it when you are in it, because these cultural artifacts just seem ‘normal’. Its only with the benefit of a few hundred years hindsight, or in stark contrast to an entirely different cultural group, are we able to discern which things were more ‘genuine’, and which were influenced by the prevailing culture.

So, bottom line, my question is this:

Which is more authentically Jewish, skepticism or fantasy-belief ?

How was your yom tov ?

Was your 3 day shabbos / yomtov marathon:

a) An incredible, uplifting, spiritual experience, full of divrei torah, special davening, reconnecting with family and an overall good time


b) An interminable sweaty, boring, non stop eating and long boring davening, fighting with relatives, overall miserable time


c) Somewhere in between ?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Great View

Here's the view from my window, isn't it great !

Sorry, I had to delete the original picture. Some smart alec figured out where I was from a crappy cell phone picture ! Amazing detective work.

Welcome to the Hotel Pesafornia

Its Pesach time (surprise !), and I'm one of the lucky few who gets to go away to a luxury hotel. Actually, it seems more and more people every year are doing it. Marvin Schick, as usual, is complaining. I think if you can afford it, then why not ? Of course I can't afford it, but my shverre can, so even more reason to go and take advantage. There's no mitzvah to Pesach clean you know.

I think that Pesach hotels can actually be quite a healthy experience. Obviously I am not talking about the food, but the fact that you get to leave your little corner of the world, and mix with people you don't normally mix with. Having said that, I really hope my hotel is not full of chareidim.

The other cool thing is the scholars in residence. You get to hear people you normally would not. Last year I heard quite a few interesting shiurim over Pesach, the scholars in residence were very good, and the topic was one of my favorites. Hameyvin Yovin.

I haven't fully decided which books I am going to bring along, but I'm thinking these:
  • Frum: The Emergence of Ethical Man by RYBS (That will make Steve happy)
  • Heresy: Torah Min Hashamayim (the English version) by AJ Heschel
  • Beach: Cultures of the Jews by David Biale
  • Plane: Maimonides on the Decline of the Generations by Menachem Kellner.

So if you are at a Pesach hotel, and see someone reading one of the above books, come over and say hi to the Godol ! I'll deny it completely of course.

OK, I'm off to enjoy the sun, the beach (a clue !), the food, the shiurim, the kids, and the family. I'll see you after Pesach, or maybe on Chol Hamoed if my room has high speed internet.

Chag Sameach !

I'm a Brisker after all !

Believe it or not, I once almost went to learn at Brisk in Yerushalayim, by Reb Dovids. One of my friends was there, and another chavrusoh had gone to R' Avrohom Yehoshua's (AJ). At the last minute though, I changed my mind, I wasn't sure I would fit in.

Well, according to those who claim to know, the Briskers are famous for not holding of Gedolim. Especially AJ who is often very critical, even of Rav Eliashiv.

There is a famous (and apparently true) story about AJ. An American Rosh Yeshiva came to him and said "Why are you constantly criticizing the Gedolim ? Shouldn't you teach the bochrim that when a Godol makes a mistake, he's still a Godol ?"

Replied AJ: "You can teach that when a Godol makes a mistake he's still a Godol. I however will teach that when a Godol makes a mistake it's still a mistake! "

Looks like I am a Brisker after all !

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Radical Skepticism vs Common Sense

Some people just don't get it. I have explained this so many times, and they still don't get it. Please, please, please try to understand, before one of us dies. (Bonus points: Who said that ?)

Nothing can ever be absolutely proven 100%. You can always be a radical skeptic. There might be a global conspiracy to lie to you. We might all be brains in a jar. The whole world might be an illusion. However, we have to live our lives according to what is extremely probable, not what might, in some bizarre way, be remotely possible. It might be possible that Science is all wrong, but that doesn't stop us from getting on a plane or taking medicine.

It might be possible that my spouse is really my sister. Does that mean I can't go home ? It might be possible, so surely I wouldn't want to be oyver on Giluy Arayos ! Clearly, this is ridicluous. Even when it comes to yehoreg ve'al yaavor, we hold by common sense and chazakah. Since there is no reason to assume otherwise, its not Giluy Arayos.

Similarly, if the global majority of experts hold of something, and there is no reason to assume any pre-conceived bias or incorrect assumptions, then its only secheldick to agree. Its not a case of having "too much faith in Science". Its not a case of having "Emunah Peshuta in Science". Its not "trusting the Scientists more than the Gedolim". Its basic, common sense. Its the only reasonable way to live life. If you jettison common sense, then nothing makes sense.

Thats what it boils down to. This basic and fundamental premise precedes everything else, it has to. If you can question reality, you get nowhere. Once you have this assumption, then you realize that parts of the Torah must be re-interpreted. Those people who come up with bizarre nonsensical Nes-Nisayon theories, or who say we can't believe the Scientists, are making a very fundamental mistake.

Of course some parts of Science are less proven. Some parts are based on assumptions that we discount. For example, some aspects of evolutionary theory are based on the assumption that there was no preconceived plan for life. If you hold G-d did plan life, you might argue on this.

However, those parts which are proven, which are not based on any faulty assumptions, but simply on honest experimentation and evaluation of the evidence, need to be accepted. Of course its always possible that in some bizarre event of extremely low probability, something might be disproven. Nu, if it happens, then it happens. But you can't live your life or construct your ideology based on what might possibly happen.

If you do, you might need to be committed to an asylum.

Is there any point arguing ?

Gil has another post where he starts up with Frumteens. The post drew out the usual crowd, including "Lawrence", who might possibly be Mr Frumteens himself, and a lively debate ensued. Lawrence and Mark's viewpoints were pretty much discredited. As usual, they left the debate without answering any of the key questions against them. Mark tried to debunk me based on some off-hand comments I made about the DH, and Lawrence just called me a moron apikores and refused to answer any questions.

But I have to ask, is there any point ?

The problem is that these people do not hold of 'proven' Science, as defined by the Scientists. As soon as something conflicts with their fundamentalist understanding of the Torah, they start to debunk the Science. Clearly, if they were to take the Science as Truth, their positions would be untenable. At worst, they could only revert to 'Taiku". There would be no argument.

So the issue becomes one of Science. Do you accept it or not ? Its as simple as that. The only way to accept Science and still continue with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Torah is to posit some bizzare version of a Nes-Nisayon Theory. At first I thought this is where things were heading, however I have been surprised to see that this is not so. No Godol to my knowledge is willing to say that this is peshat. They prefer to say Taiku, which I think is a slightly more sensible approach on their part.

If you don't accept the Science, there is really no point arguing about reinterpreting the Torah. From that perspective, of course Torah is Truth, and Science isn't, so chas vesholom we should re-interpret Torah based on Science ! Once you accept Science as Truth, then we can start debating, how, when why, what etc.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Lord Moves in Quantum Ways

There was much debate in the Rishonim about Hashgachah Prattis (HP). The Rambam seems to hold that HP only applies to individuals on an elevated level, and not to lowly individuals, animals or anything else. Meanwhile the Ramban Medrash said that not a blade of grass grows without an angel telling it to.

This article from Aish is a decent representation of the typical Orthodox thinking about Hashgacha Pratis. Basically, the theory goes, we need to do our hishtadlus, but we ultimately recognize that everything is in G-ds hands. Hirhurim also has a post on the subject, where the concensus amongst the commentators seems to be that this typical Orthodox view stems from the statement in the Gemarah, "Hacol Bidai Shamayim Chutz Miyiras Shamayim (or Chutz miTzinim uPachin)". That and the fact that the world might be random is rather disturbing to most people.

How does HP work exactly ? My commentators have pointed out that since we cannot determine where HP is in effect, it would therefore be logically impossible to determine how it works. Thats probably true. Also, the Rishonim's views are all very interesting, but ultimately they are just guessing like everyone else (though their guesses are more valuable).

Personally, I have very conflicted views on HP. Intellectually, I have a strong desire for a very rational world, which works according to cause and effect. The idea that G-d is mysteriously managing everything seems like the typical fundamentalist claptrap. Emotionally though, I see the hand of G-d working through history. Not only that, I see the hand of G-d everywhere, in the most minute details of my life.

There is a well known paradox about free will, that how can we have free will when G-d knows what we are going to do. That paradox has never bothered me too much. We have free will, but our choices are known by G-d since G-d is outside time.

A much bigger paradox for me is the fact that we have free will, and everything works according to cause and effect and rules of Science, and yet somehow G-d is managing everything too. I am sure that a complex analysis of the Shoah could show how it was all based on German experiences during the Great Depression, H's experiences on the front during WWI, the political situation in Europe etc etc. However to say that it wasn't also somehow ordained by G-d seems completely impossible to me. How can both be true ? This is the real paradox in my opinion.

Some Torah & Sciencenicks such as Schroeder and Aviezer have suggested that G-d works only at the Quantum level. An interesting idea, and though hard to imagine, I guess G-d could make it work if He wanted to.

I have heard that the Ralbag held that G-d puposely inhibits His own sense of the future, so that people can have free will. Prof Nathan Aviezer quotes this view in his book, Fossils & Faith. He says that G-d's promises of ultimate redemption of the Jews are not a contradiction to this view, because G-d can still directly intefere when He needs to.

If anyone has any recommendations for good books or articles on this topic please post a comment. Thanks.

Unlike some of the other Torah & Science questions, this one has everyday practical consequences. Is G-d running everything or not ? Does everything that happens come directly from G-d or not ? If Blogger crashes and I lose this post, is that a sign from G-d ? Or is it just a sign that Blogger needs to add more server capacity ?

I wish I knew for sure.

New, improved Nes Nissayon V2.0 !

Wow, I can't believe it. A Hirhurim commentator has just come up with a brand new version of the Nes-Nissayon (NN) Theory ! Amazing. For the sake of simplicity, I shall call it NN-V2. This new theory is way more sophisticated than NN-V1, as the author explains, NN V1 is 'childish, self-indulgent, solipsistic delusion' whereas NN-V2 is not.

In the words of the author, Euonymus Alatus :

We all know that time is subjective and does not apply to the creator. If so, creation ex nihilo clearly included the subjective future. It is equally true that the moment of creation included the past, which, nunc pro tunc, actually existed. The moment of creation, i.e., the moment that past and future came into existence, can be any point in the continuum. For all we know, we, and all of our pasts, were created a moment ago. It is only after that creation that the past exists. The Torah tells us that the moment of creation was 5765 years ago. Please don't dumb this down into "He created an old world." It is utterly different. Yeshivaleit call this "mikahn ulehabo lemafrei'a." Furthermore, see Meshech Chochmo in Breishis who brings R' Eliezer Shittah in Yoma 54b,Sotah 45b,and Rosh Hashanna 26a regarding creation of geographic, spiritual, and temporal structures from the center, not beginning or end.

If I understand this correctly, NN-V2 is not saying that G-d created a universe which simply looks old, as that would be childish. No, NN-V2 is saying that 5765 years ago, G-d created an actual 15 billion year old universe ! Not childish at all !

Unfortunately this theory doesn't explain the Mabul, or evolution, or anything else though. Still, it does preserve the notion of 5765 years, which as every man, woman and child knows, is one of the fundamental ikkarim of Yiddishkeit.

For some strange reason, the phrase 'childish, self-indulgent, solipsistic delusion' springs to mind. But I have no idea why, or what solipsistic means.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Quakers

I think it can be very instructive to study other religious groups and compare them to our own. Of course, this subject is never taught in Yeshivot, so I have had to research this on my own.

In future posts I will deal with Christianity and Islam. However for now let’s talk about the Quakers. Contrary to what you might think, the Quakers are actually still going strong. There are various Quaker ‘enclaves’ scattered throughout the world, with a particular concentration in the US.

The Quakers have a strange conception of religion. They believe in many super natural concepts, some completely at odds with common sense and reason. They are very into incantations and rituals, believing that merely mentioning a specific sequence of words or performing certain ritualistic activities can cause great benefit.

They are not quite like the Amish, as they do use modern technology. However this makes them somewhat hypocritical, because they condemn scientists as devils spawn, but are more than happy to benefit from the scientist’s hard work.

Although they profess extreme loyalty to the Old Testament, they have absorbed a surprising number of pagan rituals, practices, concepts and superstitions over the centuries An outside observer would be forgiven for thinking at times that he was observing some pagan cult, rather than a Judaeo-Christian monotheistic religion.

The Quakers believe that their strain of religion is the correct one, and are quite intolerant of other branches of religion. This is ironic, since their extreme and narrow-minded version of their religion is far from the ideal.

When Quakerism is taken to the extreme, and too much emphasis is placed in the super natural, religion turns from its true intent and becomes almost the opposite of what G-d intended, it becomes a kind of book of magic tricks to achieve health, wealth and happiness. Many Quaker activities have no logical reason behind them, but instead the Quakers are instructed to simply listen to their leaders and do as they are told.

The Quakers themselves are generally quite happy. Like the Amish, they do have a problem with their young people leaving the fold, however unlike the Amish, they do have a constant influx of new people coming in. They claim to value simplicity and Godliness, though you will be hard pressed to see any signs of this in many Quaker neighborhoods, with the magnificent housing and lifestyles that many adherents tend to have.

Believe it or not, I actually know some Quakers, and they are decent folk. But I try to avoid discussing religion with them, their views are just so extreme we invariably end up disagreeing.

So what do you think of the Quakers ?

Do I Worship the God of Science ?

Some people have criticized me saying that I worship the 'God of Science'. Well Science is certainly amazing, so lets think about this question for a few minutes.

Nothing in the field of human endeavor has had the same impact as Science, and it seems likely that nothing ever will. If you really stop to think about it, the level of success in the Scientific endeavor has been absolutely amazing. No other human endeavor has been so phenomenally successful in achieving its goals. We take so much of it for granted that we don't even realize just how incredible it all is.

Some people like to quote the saying "hafoch boh dkuloh boh" (everything is in the Torah) to show how Science is in the Torah. However, this phenomenal Scientific success did not come from the Gedolim learning Torah. It came from Scientists following their (non Torahdick) process.

Clearly, when "Hafoch boh" was said, Science in its current form did not exist. Nor did anything like it. Should we really take this phrase literally ? Of course not. In ancient times, Tenach was quite a good repository of 'wisdom', as the ancients defined it. Of course, some truths are eternal, and so the Torah's views on life, religion, morality etc are as good today as they ever were. However, when it comes to Science, there's nothing in there. Nothing. Hafoch Boh cannot possibly apply.

We should be incredibly grateful to the Scientists, and we should show the appropriate hakoras hatov. With all due respect, the Gedolim didn't find out the cures for cancer, the Scientists did. Slandering Scientists when they find something which appears to contradict some fundamentalists viewpoint is the height of ingratitude and bad middos. Would we prefer to live without modern technology ? Without modern medicine ? Without modern travel ? (Actually yes to the last one but that's different !)

The incredible chochmah of Science is not really due to the Scientists though. They are simply reporting what they see, and trying to figure it out, slowly and painfully, one step at a time. But we realize that the true chochmah comes from somewhere else. This was stated 2500 years ago, in another well known phrase, which I do take literally. That phrase is "Moh Rabu Maasechoh Hashem, Kulom Bechochmoh Asisa."

Rav Herzog had this to say about Science:

It is unfortunate that while science is progressively conquering worlds and discovering all sorts of secrets, although it too errs at times, we like ostriches bury our heads in sand. It is imperative that we encourage the ablest students of the yeshivot also to be educated as men of science in each discipline, so that we should not need to turn to others in matters of physiology, chemistry, electricity, etc. concerning things that relate to our sacred Torah. ...

So do I worship the God of Science ?

Absolutely. Three times a day, four times on the weekend.

Don't you ?

The Evolution of Hashkafah

It seems that Chazal did not approach hashkafah systematically. Various 'hashkafic' homilies and passages are interspersed throughout the Gemarah and various other works of that period. There is no equivalent of the Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim or R Saadye Gaon "Emonot veDeot" for example from the first millenium.

There are different theories for this:
T1: Chazal just didn't think in those terms. They were not exposed to Greek philosophy, were not systematic about philosophy, and were more focused on actions than beliefs.
T2: The hashkafah was obvious, everyone knew it, so there was nothing to talk about !
T3: Judaism is based on actions, not beliefs, so it was not important for Chazal to discuss these things. They had hashkafah, but paid more attention to halachah.
T4: Maybe they did have write some hashkafah books, however they got lost !

In any event, by the time the late Gaonim and early Rishonim came around, due to pressures from Christianity and Islam, the whole topic became quite important, and quite a few books were written on hashkafah. Clearly, the Rishonim had a very wide range of opinions on the matter. The Rambam and the Ralbag for example had some very 'way out' (by current standards) opinions.

Over the subsequent centuries, and especially in recent times, the more fundamentalist elements try to narrow down the range of acceptable hashkafas. Some people have said they are being dishonest, by ignoring the Rishonim and Acharonim who didn't hold like them. I have mixed feelings about using this argument. On the one hand, I think these fundamentalists are wrong, and its nice to bring Rishonim and Acharonim which prove it, and watch them squirm. On the other hand, its clear that Judaism has evolved and will continue to do so, so there is nothing inherently wrong about the fundamentalists redefining Judaism if they want to.

On the specific topic of Science vs. Torah though, I don't believe that any opinion from a Rishon or Acharon is relevant anyway, whether for or against. Until this last century, Science was called Philosophy, and for good reason (excuse the pun). With some exceptions, much of ancient Science was based on people reasoning about the world, rather than conducting empirical experiments. Obviously, this is a lousy way to do Science. Aristotelian meta-physics was not based on years of research in a laboratory, it was for the most part based on Aristotle sitting down and thinking creatively.

Therefore, the opinions of Rishonim and Acharonim regarding the Science of their day, peshat in Breishis, the science of Chazal etc etc, are for the most part not that relevant today. The whole 'mehus' of Science has changed so completely in the last century, that any 'pesak' or opinion about Science vs. Torah voiced in the past is completely irrelevant. So in truth, I would have to say that the current Gedolim's opinions about Science are much more relevant than the Rishonim, and they would be quite justified in forming their own opinions and ignoring the previous generation's ideas on these specific subjects.

But, that would only be if they knew modern day science, and understood how different it is from that of the past. However they clearly do not understand this, so basically, on these specific topics of Science and Torah, the current Gedolim's views have about as much credibility and relevance as those of the Rishonim and Acharonim.

In other words, none at all.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rav Loch Sheves Be'emek Habochoh

I don't like to go into Shabbos with a post about dead people, so here is a beautiful album of Shabbos Zemiros. I especially like the Lecha Dodi. Does anyone daven at Belz ? Do they do this nigun like on the album ?

Good Shabbos !

Systematic Hashkafah

I see dead people.

OK, to be honest, I don't. Except at management meetings, but thats different. Truth is, I don't think anyone has ever seen a dead person, or crossed over to the other side (except maybe Eliyahu Hanovi etc). I don't think anyone knows anything about what really happens after death.

A notion you read about a lot in literature about religion (as opposed to religious literature) is that one of the primary reasons for religion is fear of death. The theory is that mankind is so terrified of death that they made up religion to give them an afterlife.

I can't say whether thats true or not, however I am beginning to realize that our views of the afterlife are not exactly 100% either. There is plenty of machlokes about what actually happens. The Rambam had a very different view of things.

I remember all the immature questions we used to ask about techiyas hamesim. If you lose your legs in an accident, in techiyas hamesim do you get them back ? And if the answer is that you always get your original body back, then what about people who had abnormalities fixed or nose jobs ? Do they have to spend eternity with cleft palates, or worse, with great big honkers ? So maybe the answer is you get to choose your body for olam habah. But what if you lost your legs and then had a nose job ? Can you pick and mix ?

Okay, so maybe you get some kind of idealized spiritual body. But what happens if lets say chas vesholom you lost your spouse and remarried ? Then in Olam Habah your first spouse comes back and now you have a new one too. It will get very awkward. Especially for eternity. Maybe in olam habah you don't have a spouse. Hey, that might be heaven for some people !

Of course, the real answer to all these questions is we have no clue what really happens after you die. The Rishonim advance various ideas but they don't know for sure. And it seems to me that on many of the other big hashkafah questions there is plenty of machlokes too. Hasgachah Pratis is another good example. True, the current Gedolim / Chareidim have narrowed hashkafah down to one narrow set of 'acceptable' beliefs, but once you realize thats bogus, the whole field is wide open.

Perhaps thats why we don't get taught systematic Orthodox hashkafah in school or yeshivah. There isn't any.

The Artscroll Moreh Nevuchim

Sorry ! It doesn't exist, and it never will. Isn't that incredible ? The Rambam, arguably one of the greatest if not the greatest Rishon, and one of his most famous works, and Artscroll won't touch it with a 10 foot pole !

I wouldn't care so much, except that the Pines translation is awful, really awful. I could do a better job. Its so stilted. He translates everything so literally as to make it incomprehensible.

Doesn't it make you wonder though. Isn't something really messed up, when the premier Jewish publishing house won't touch a work by one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the last 2000 years ?

If you don't want Jonah, you can't have Jesus !

Have I lost my mind ? Blogging about Jesus ! Let me explain. I hadn't heard much from Orlofsky and Company recently and I was feeling deprived of some good fundamentalism, so I tuned into one of those Christian Radio Stations.

I heard two interesting features. First off was a guy called Zacharias who gave ten rules for evangelizing to New Agers. It all sounded very familiar, and I realized that evangelizing just means kiruv and it was exactly the same kind of thing that Kiruv 'workers' are taught. Maybe I should start calling Kiruv Clowns Evangelicals ?

Then came a preacher who was concerned that the skeptics didn't believe in the story of Jonah. He said that if you didn't want to believe in Jonah, then you couldn't have Jesus either. I didn't get to hear the whole shiur, but I guess his point was that if you are going to be skeptical, you might as well realize that the whole of Christianity is bogus. Only by suspending your skepticism does any of the religion 'make sense'.

I hope this isn't true for Judaism. I am not too keen on stories of big whales swallowing people alive either, but can I still have Jesus Sinai ?

FrumTeens Strikes Again

Allan, aka FumteenPredator, writes the following comment on Pravda Neeman:

On another blog, someone stated that the previous generation's gedolim (R' Moshe, R' Yaakov, R' Yoel ZT"L) never issued as many bans as our present day gedolei hador. That point is correct, but an important distinction must be made. R' Yoel ZT"L and R' Yaakov were never faced with any of the following problems:

a) The World Wide Web and all of its terrifying traps.
b) Off the derech youth and their drug, alcohol and sex problems.
c) Full color cellphones with cameras and Internet access.
d) Nosson Slifkin.

Add as many to the list as you'd like.

Thank you 'Allan', I would like to add the following problems to the list:

e) Extremist Gedolim who can only ban things foolishly
f) Disturbed outreach individuals who preach hate and intolerance
g) Kannoim with criminal records who stir up trouble
h) Yaakov Shapiro

Thursday, April 14, 2005

'Proven Science'

Many people have commented that science changes all the time. Some people have said that even Category 1 (C1) 'Proven' Science (as I have defined it) can change.

For now, there are only 3 major points of science that I am interested in. I find it very hard to believe that any of these will change. The science behind these facts is substantial.

F1. Age of the world is significantly older than 6000 years
F2. Many intelligent humans living all over the world 10,000 years ago.
F3. No global flood, or anything close to it.

These three facts by themselves, are enough to force large parts of the first 11 chapters of Breishis to be one of the following Theories:

T1. Nes / Nisayon
T2. Myth / Moshol
T3. Not literal / Imprecise / Darshen

Personally, I haven't seen anyone do a good job at T3 while still conforming to F1,2 & 3. I would be very intersted in someone doing that. 'Yom' meaning 'Period' is only one small piece.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Emunas Scientistim

We spoke about Emunas Chachomim (good but not in the extremists), Emunas Kanoim (always bad), and Emunah Peshuta (sometimes ok). Now its time to talk about Emunas Scientistim.

In a previous post, I divided the world of science into 3 broad categories:

1. Proven Science.
These are theories that the majority of the Scientific Community accept are ‘proven’, (to the extent that anything can be ‘proven’).

2. Debatable Science
These theories (or some significant aspects thereof) are the subject of much debate within the scientific community, as to wether they are proven, (or even correct).

3. Theoretical Science
These theories are held by the majority of the scientific community to be theoretical, unproven and conjecture at this point.

I stated that I will argue Science vs Torah from catgeory 1. I will occasionally debate category 2 but not usually. I don’t go near Catgeory 3 to the best of my knowledge.

This stimulated much debate. I discerned three major questions.

Q1. You just have Emunah Peshuta in Science !

A1.1 Yes for Good Reason.
Its true, I have EP in the scientific community and process. This is for a number of reasons. The scientists come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and religions. The scientists employ an open process. The scientists encourage new experimentation and discussion of opposing views. There are many textbooks and popular books on science, explaining in great detail all the theories. Few scientists insist that you must have emunah peshutah in their theories, but then refuses to explain their reasoning ! Do I have a science phd ? No. Have I read all of science ? Of course not. However I have read enough of it to see its convincing. Therefore I have emunah peshutah, as long as the majority of the scientific community are in agreement.

A1.2. No, its not Emunah Peshuta
EP implies a faith in something for no good reason, other than that one needs to have faith. However my faith in Science is for all the good reasons stated above. Am I ultimately trusting the scientists ? Yes, in exactly the same way that I am ultimately trusting that everyone I have ever had any contact with since the day I was born has not been lying to me as part of some great, global conspiracy. That’s not emunah peshutah. That’s common sense.

Q2. If you believe the scientists, then you should believe the Documentary Hypothesis too !

A2.1 The Premise of DH is Wrong
The DH assumes that the Bible was man written, and the question is how many men wrote it. G-d writing the Bible is not entertained as a credible alternative. Even though general science also has this assumption, its not directly relevant there, since even G-d believers understand that there is a scientific mechanism to how the world was created and subsequently operates.

A2.2 DH is not ‘Proven’
Alternatively, DH may be in category 2, or even 3, not category 1. I am finding it difficult to figure out. Some people claim that not a single serious (non fundamentalist) Bible scholar in the world disagrees with the multiple authorship theory. Others say the theory is outdated 19th century scholarship which has been debunked.

A2.3 DH is not Science
I could also say that DH ‘Science’ is not in the same category at all as the other sciences (physics, biology etc). Its more of a soft science, which relies on conjecture and theories, rather than provable or observable expirements. My emunah in science is only in the hard sciences.

Q3. What if Science disproved an ikkar like Sinai, then what would you do ?

A3.1 It could never happen
I have emunah that science could never disprove a real ikkar (e.g. Sinai) since Science is true and Sinai is true, so one could not ever disprove another. Therefore the question is theoretical, could never happen and is not worth thinking about. You might as well ask, what if all the Gedolim said Sinai didn’t happen !

A3.2 The Truth is the Truth
I could also answer that if a category 1 science theory did actually disprove Sinai (and I mean mamash disprove, no doubt at all whatsoever), then it would show Sinai never happened, and that would be a fact. Truth is truth, and is surely the highest value. It would be a great shame, but there’s no point in denying reality.

A3.3 I would have emunah
Alternatively, I could say that if it came to something really fundamental, like Sinai, then I would not listen to the scientists. However, I don’t like this approach as much, because then the whole debate with the extremists just becomes quantative. i.e. We all have our limits as to when we will ignore reality, they just reach theirs sooner. However I think its qualatitive, they are nuts and I am not.

The Mysterious HAGTBG

HAGTBG, a mysterious commentator who even finds himself hard to understand, left the following comment on my blog. He raises some interesting points:

Here are some ideas. Talk amongst yourselves:

* Lacking proof of G-d, we can only approach G-d or whomever one worships through faith. Therefore it would be the height of hypocrisy to inflict our leap of faith on another, i.e. cause another harm through it. That is why the idea of exterminating Amalek is, on first approach, extraordinarily troubling. The first rule: do no harm to others who are morally like yourself - worthy of the same respect.

Not sure I agree with your reasoning. Once you have the faith, then it makes logical sense to act according to what you believe in. Since we believe in mechiyas amalek, then the fact we have no 'proof' is irrelevant, we must kill them all anyway.

* Medieval thought is G-d is all good, all knowledgeable and all powerful. These can not all three be true. There are many ways to show this but here is one: There is a basic hypothetical in law: what if a man sees a baby drowning in a puddle. Under the laws of nearly every state he can let a baby who is a stranger drown even though it would be at no cost or risk to himself to save the baby. But he'd be scum. On the other hand, where the man had a relationship with the baby, such as being the father, he has an affirmative duty to save the child. But whether a stranger's child or his own, why do we all die and why do we suffer if G-d is all 3 of the above. Everyone talks about G-d like He is the life bringer and not also the death dealer. G-d has His own agenda. Are we means or each an ends?

This is a standard skeptic argument. If G-d is all good, how can there be evil. An immediate and obvious problem once you do away with polytheism and assume a single (good) G-d. The answer ? There is none. We can't understand, and that’s it. I think Job said it a while back, and RYBS repeated it in Kol Dodi Dofek. I will repeat a great line from the Hertz Chumash Notes - 'Any stray rabbinic utterances to the contrary are homiletical and should be disregarded'.

* The power of faith is consistently underplayed by people who want to consider themselves rationalists. There are very few rationalists today.

Not sure about that. I would agree that you cannot be a true religious rationalist, because by definition if you are a rationalist, religion doesn't start.

* Religion basically chooses which elements of the world they want to celebrate and see as the main focus of creation.

Maybe. What elements of the world does Judaism not celebrate ? Or do you mean people ?

* Our religion is based on covenant, i.e. contract, and not on G-d's Nature

Well, the binding status of the religion was via contract. However the content of the religion is a reflection of G-d's nature I would think.

* People, even very learned people, have a very poor understanding of halacha today. Psak is all important and very individual. People have a sense Gemarah is halacha lemaaseh but that rarely is the case. It is the beginning of the halachic conversation and not meant to be the end.

Are you saying psak is very individual is the correct understanding, or the poor understanding ? Do you mean individual vis-a-vis the posek or vis-a-vis the 'paskenee'. If the former, I would agree. If the latter, there is individual pesak and communal pesak.

* The power of the oral law is consistently underplayed today in Orthodoxy because of the enlightenment, Conservative and Reform.

Do you mean power to change the Oral law ?

* The power of the rabbinate is consistently underplayed on issues of reconciliation with general culture because of the Enlightenment.

You mean that they avoid general culture as much as possible because they fear it will lead to assimilation ?

* In a true oral law, over the course of time, the halacha would reflect the mores of society yet would connect them to Sinai itself, (which is sort of what we do with European minhagim anyway on an ad hoc level). Yes, over centuries (decades?) even the prohibited could be permitted. But the trick is to select rabbis who are intellectually honest about the past views and will fight for it, while accepting modern trends of right and wrong and fight for the right too, as they see it - and this conception of right can be based on the ideas of the day.

I think what you are saying is basically that where there is a Rabbinic Will there is a Halachik Way. So for example, even some things like homosexuality, which are completely forbidden, could perhaps be permitted one day. I think that’s true to some extent, though there are limits of course. Someone told me that Rav Moshe Feinstein said he could justify Conservatism on the basis of taking certain Rishonim and applying them a certain way.

As you can see, all very mysterious. Or maybe just confused, like me.

The Kanoim Strike Again

There are many more interesting stories of misplaced kanous that the public doesn't get to hear about. I don't intend this blog to become a JewishWhistleBlower kind of thing, as I said previously I would rather discuss hashkafah. So here is one last story and hopefully that’s it. (Unless something really juicy comes up of course !)

Last year there was an unpleasant story about a shidduch. I will omit all the details because I don't want to hurt anyone, I am sure this episode has some painful memories. A couple met and got engaged, however one set of parents were really against the shidduch for whatever reasons. The other party was a baal teshuvah, and so the parents focused part of their anti-wedding campaign on the fact that the other party might not have kosher yichus.

The local bes din investigated, and deemed that party was 100% kosher and fit to marry, there were no issues. However the parents were still against the wedding. They messed up the wedding plans, and recruited some Lakewood / Upper New York State Gedolim / Kannoim to intimidate the local rabbanim. These were some of the same Gedolim as in the Slifkin ban. The chosson and kalah were even physically attacked at one point.

The local rabbanim stood up to the Kanoim and Gedolim and did not give in. However one well known 'Godol' sent out a letter saying it was against Daas Torah to attend the wedding ! As a result many people stayed away.

Anyway, the wedding happened and the couple are now happily married. The parents will probably come around (if they haven't already) once the first grandchild is born, they usually do. Then they will probably fall out again when they realize that their grandchildren are not being brought up exactly the way they would like !

At the end of the day, the Kanoim and Gedolim who were involved made complete fools of themselves, and hurt a lot of people tremendously in the process.


UPDATE: They did have a baby ! But the parents still didn't come around. Shame. And also it was more than one Godol who signed the 'Wedding Ban'.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Kanoi Hador

It seems that the kanoim, amongst their other middos, are quite humble. They are content to stay in the background, and not take any credit for the great work that they do. Well, I think its time that these unsung heroes have the spotlight shone on them !

Many of my readers have also expressed an interest in the Kanoim. Who are they and how do they operate ? What motivates them ? Are they really all criminals ? (Of course not, only some of them are !) Well, here are some facts that I have pieced together so far. Most of it has been verified, I use the word 'apparently' where I am not so sure.

The Kanoim
One of the chief kanoim is Yaakov Kalmanowitz. He, together with Leib Pinter, were the brains behind the campaign to get the ban signed. Yaakov was recruited by his brother Osher in New York (from the Mir), who didn't want to be involved personally, for image reasons. They also roped in Michael Lyons and some other chevrah in Bnei Brak, its not clear how. Its also not clear who initially kicked the whole thing off.

Pinter, who lives in Brooklyn, is a well known kanoi who apparently really didn't like the banned books. He might be going away soon for a little trip, so we wish him well. This will not be his first trip, if you know what I mean. If you would like to support Pinter, he has a book published by Artscroll. He's also friendly with Leib Tropper, who has a yeshivah in Monsey, and was the source of the 'off bochrim' story.

Pinter and / or Kalmanowitz recruited Reuven Shmeltzer of Monsey to do the dirty work for them (faxes, phone calls etc), and spread all those stories. Reuven was overheard at a mechanech convention yelling into his cellphone 'I am being lochem milchemes hashem against Slifkin !' This was Shmeltzer's first kanoi job so I think he deserves a round of applause for being so effective. Great job Reuven ! Now you can graduate to breaking people's legs with baseball bats.

Their Motives
I think Shmeltzer is some kind of kanoi-in-training. Pinter just sounds rather messed up if you ask me. I heard conflicting reports about Tropper so I don't know what he's about. I did find out some more about Kalmanowitz though. In the words of one of my commentators (and I also verified this independently):

He's the one who is most responsible for this entire fiasco (the Slifkin ban). He is a full time kanoi, frustrated beyond words, who has killed many a Jew. His name is Yaakov Mordechai Kalmanowitz, more commonly known as Yankel or black-jack kalmanowitz. Unfortunately he is not gainfully employed and has zero scruples so he's tough to fight with. Nonetheless, the more he's exposed - as any good bully - he'll back off. He lives in Israel but comes to the States to stir trouble at any given opportunity.

I hear that he is trying to ban another book - the "Mishnas R' Aharon" vol IV. There's a letter there that does not give a positive picture of his grandfather - coming from the brisker rav. I heard that the book is being recalled to have his grandfather's name blotted out.

I found a couple of Black Jack's shiurim available on the web.They are called 'Secular Thinking' and 'Secular Thinking 2', about half way down the page. They sound like the titles of some awful 'B' movie and its even awfuller sequel. Well, they are more awful than that.

Warning: About half way through the first shiur he is jabbering on about gray market goods and squeals like a pig for about 5 seconds. Don't have the volume set too high, it will be painful !

In the first shiur, he divides the entire world of thinking into two categories: Toyrudick Thinking and Secular Thinking (chas vesholom). Secular thinking is of course entirely treif. He doesn't really explain what Secular thinking is, except to say that its based on visible facts, and nothing more. I guess anything he personally doesn't agree with would be termed Secular Thinking.

But wait, there's more ! If you have an ounce of 'minus' in you he says, then even your Toyruh thoughts are completely invalidated. He brings a nice moshol from a kallah. Everyone is praising the kallah, saying how beautiful she is, how perfect she is etc. However, there is just one minor problem, she is very, very, slightly pregnant ! (Laughter from the audience). Likewise, if someone has a drop of 'minus' in him, that invalidates his Toyruh too. So the world is clearly divided into two groups of people: Those with pure Toyrudick thoughts, and everyone else who is completely treif.

In his second 'shiur' he is all upset about some pamphlet from some school or yeshivah, hard to say what exactly. He keeps saying how he can't even bring himself to say over whats in the pamphlet, its so bad. He didn't seem to have much else to say. He also tells over a story about an Odom Godol who once read a secular book as a child and then spent the rest of his life trying to do teshuvah and fighting against Secular Thinking.

So it seems that Black-Jack has a particular vendetta against 'Secular Thinking'. I guess that would make him the ideal kanoi to fight against Slifkin. Who knows, maybe the Odom Godol he refers to is really himself ?

Ideally, it might be possible to have someone so pure, and so innocent, and so holy, that maybe they should not have contact with 'secular' culture or thinking. I can imagine that. Somehow, I really doubt that Black Jack is that person, or anywhere close. However, apparently, Rav Moshe Shapiro likes him a lot, so who am I to judge ?

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Point of This Blog Part III

Wow, I could go on all night with this baring the soul stuff. Am I turning into Renegade Rebbetzin or what ! Please also read parts 1 and 2 first, in the increasingly innacurately named 'The Point of This Blog" series of posts.

The other reason why I like this blog is because there is no one to talk to here. My chevrah is very limited. We have some amazing Rabbanim, but my access to them is limited too. The Rebbetzin is not into hashkafah and my kids are too young. My chavrusos are good, but mostly they prefer to stick to the texts. I have one chavrusoh in YU. He says that Judaism has completely failed to address modernity. I tend to agree with him, though I think MO is doing a better job than UO.

As I previously posted, I was never given a good hashkafah. So now I am embarking on a massive hashkafah cram. My Amazon and Judaica bills are enormous. My bookshelves are overflowing with partly read books. I still haven't even got through one complete work by RYBS* or Rav Kook. (* Note to new readers: For some reason its the rule in the jewish blogging world that Rav Soloveitchik must only be referred to as RYBS, nothing else. I think its to save disk space, or maybe because Soloveitchik is hard to spell).

I enjoy learning, the Rebbetzin does not. Conversely, she enjoys doing housework, and I do not. To me, it seems an efficient use of our overall time for me to spend the evenings learning whilst she does the housework. Sounds reasonable, kind of like a yissachar / zevulun relationship. However, trying to win that argument is harder than trying to convince a skeptic of Torah Min Hashamayim. Plus you get put in the doghouse for even trying.

So I have all these questions, so many books to read, and so little time to do it in. I don't watch TV or go to movies. Unless its for sholom bayis. That sounds like an excuse but once in a while I will watch a movie just to keep the Rebbetzin happy. Last week I saw I Love Huckabees, its very funny and offbeat but beware of one treif scene in the middle, right after the mud wrestling. I don't follow sports. I don't work crazy hours. I have chavrusos most nights of the week.

One thing that could save me some time I guess is giving up blogging, but I enjoy it. I can't help feeling a little guilty though. Shouldn't I be working, or learning, or helping the Rebbetzin, instead of blogging ? How about everyone else ? Shouldn't we all be doing other things ? Probably we should. But this is so much fun ! Go on admit it. Even the blogs and the commentators that tick you off are fun.

We have truly reached a new era, the age of the Blog ! All hail the mighty Blogspot ! All hail the mighty ......

Ladies & Gentleman, The Godol Hador has been asked to stop blogging for the night.
Thank You.
The Management.

The Point of This Blog Part II

The fundamentalist and UO readers of this blog just don't get it. They really don't have a clue. They think this blog is attacking Judaism, or Torah Min Hashamayim or Emunas Chachomim (in general), or some other Ikkar .

Don't you realize that our religion is completely under attack ? Don't you realize that its falling apart from a rational point of view ? The Rishonim were confident that they could reason with reason and emerge victorious. Todays Gedolim are scared stiff of reason. They reject it completely because they can't possibly win. Don't you realize this ?

I said I was confident that I could 'destroy' Rav Heshy in a debate. This was not because I think that I am an amazing debater. Its because I am arguing reason. Reason versus Religion wins every time. You can't win a debate by appealing to emunah peshutah !!!

Likewise, I have no doubt at all that if I were to debate one of the skeptics, he would destroy me too. My pathetic apologetics as to why our religion is still true in the face of all the evidence to the contrary would be ripped apart quite mercilessly. I am under no illusions.

The point of this blog was to see if I could get to some reasonable explanation of everything without having to resort to supression of the facts, ignorance of the evidence, or appeals to emunah peshutah. I other words, whats the least 'dochek' peshat that I can come up with which still allows me to believe in the ikkarim, so that when it comes time to teach my kids I can do so with sincerity.

The fundamentalists, UO's and even MO's who come and comment here are often so poorly prepared to debate that its truly pathetic. Here is one example, I have many: One guy said he always learnt that there were many previous worlds before this one. So 5765 is just the age of this world, but 15 billion is the age of the previous world(s). Does this in any way shtim with any science ? Of course not. Has this even been thought through ? Of course not ! Its just fluff.

The amount of waffle and fluff which passes for intelligent reasoning in the UO community is astounding. On Sunday Aish sent out a description of their latest mp3 shiurim. they said one shiur gave 'concrete' proofs of Har Sinai ! 'Concrete' proofs, are they serious ?! Thats total baloney.

I started out debating the skeptics. If you look at some old posts of theirs you will see that. I soon realized how woefully unprepared I was. All the 'concrete' hashkafah I had absorbed in 20 years of UO education turned out to be so much fluff. I say 'absorbed' because there was never any real systematic attempt to give a hashkafah, and certainly no attempt at dealing with any of the really tough issues.

Most UO people don't realize how pathetic their emunah is. Just seriously reading one book on the Documentary Hypothesis or Ancient Civilizations would be enough to give any normal UO person emunah issues. Some skeptics say this gleefully. I say this very sadly. I have seen it happen. A friend of mine told me recently that he read 'Who wrote the bible' and now he doesn't believe.

I now have to reconstruct a hashkafah which makes sense, and I'm hoping this blog can help. Of course the fundamentalists will just say that one shouldn't think about such things, and one shouldn't read such books, and just think about Torah and thats it. Or maybe there is some segulah that if you have intense kavanah during Shemah or whatever then those nasty questions will cease to be questions. What kind of silly attitude is that ? Is our religion based upon supression of information and ignorance ? What kind of religion is that ?

Ultimately, if I get no answers I won't give it up. Not just for for family or community reasons but because I was raised with a strong general emunah and I really do believe. I always say, put me on a plane at 30,000 feet and at the slightest sign of turbulence I start saying tehilim like an old bubbe on the kotel bus. (OK, so I have an irrational fear of flying. Next time you are on EL Al and you see an MO guy saying tehilim with intense kavanah you'll know whats going on !). But my point is not that. My point is that I would like to be able to give my kids a strong hashkafah which makes sense, and which doesn't depend on ignorance or avoidance of the facts.

The UO's who come on this blog and all they can say is your going to burn in hell, or insult and harass me, aren't achieving anything. Their comments are conspicuously absent when it comes to general hashkafah questions. If they do comment, they just trot out the old party lines without any thought. One UO guy I debated with recently said such baloney I made a whole post out of it. He then asked me to take it down !

Other people have said I think I know it all. What a joke. Putting out this blog has been very humbling. I realize how much I don't know. Its sad that so many other people don't realize this too.

The Point of This Blog

Most people reading this blog probably do not remember my first few posts. I deleted them all in a fit of teshuvah one day so unfortunately they are gone now. I saved them somewhere though so if there is high demand for my early work I can always resurrect them !

The original point of this blog was NOT Gedolim bashing, MO Kanous, defending Slifkin, spreading Heresy, or any one of the things I seem to continually post about and get criticized for.

In fact none of the above appeared in my first few posts at all ! (Well maybe some heresy). I posted on Chasidim and Atheists and Taamei Hamitzvos. The Slifkin thing hit a few days after I started so it become a focus. I kept getting lots of information sent to me from various sources so I was able to provide some details about the situation. Also, the ban hit on some areas I was interested in (see below) so it kind of snowballed from there.

The main goal of this blog was actually to explore the subjects that I am currently learning, with a touch of humor (thats just my style). These include:
  • Torah and science questions
  • Yeridas Hadoros & Rabbinic Authority
  • Theodicy and Hashgachah Prottis
  • Models of Torah Min Hashmayaim
  • Evolution of Judaism (yes it does evolve)
  • 'Proofs' of religion and G-ds existence
  • Taamei Hamitzvos
  • Differences between MO and UO Orthodoxy
  • Rav Kook, RYBS and other thinkers

My inspiration was Hirhurim and DovBear, and I envisaged something of a cross between them. A little more cutting edge (i.e. heretical) than Hirhurim (but less scholarly), a little funnier than DovBear (ooh DB's gonna hate that !) and no boring politics either. As my humor got to be very border line, I split it out onto a different blog, as I didn't want the silly stuff to intefere with the serious stuff.

At one point I considered running 3 blogs, one for silly stuff, one for serious stuff, and one for Kanous. However even your Godol is not that great. I have also been trying to get the Rebbetzin to blog, she be can be quite funny at times, but so far she refuses.

This is what I am currently learning:

  • Rambam Moreh Nevuchim
  • Chovos Halevovos
  • Rambam Mishneh Torah
  • Various books by Rav Kook, RYBS, AJ Heschel, Kugel, Cassutto and others

I am sorry for all the bizyonos about the Gedolim, but I feel someone had to say it.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Rav Heshy Gives Up ?

Sorry, to disapoint you folks, but it looks like Rav Heshy Grossman is not going to be debating anyone. He won't even release his 'explanation' of Rav Moshe Shapiro's views. Here is what he wrote:

I apologize, but I will not be able to send out anything in writing at this point. I have prepared a long essay, but I don't believe that it is fruitful to submit anything written via electronic media. I would be happy to present the position of Rav Moshe Shapira, as I understand it - and as expressed in his public letter - in an appropriate public forum. It is unfortunate that one cannot discuss these issues in a serious and forthright manner, for regardless where one stands on this controversy, understanding the depth of the perspective of Rav Moshe, which reflect in large part the words of the Maharal in Beer HaGolah, would be a learning experience.

With all due respect Rav Heshy, this is a copout. If you have a good explanation, then you should distribute it. Whats the problem ? If its really good, then people will be impressed, if its a load of nonsense then at least you know what people think of it. Have some courage man ! If everyone had your attitude, there would be no seforim in existence (and no blogs either) ! As long as you stay away from insulting people who don't agree with you, I'm sure no one will insult you back (well, at least I'll try not to).

Let me state this quite emphatically:

Rav Heshy Grossman, please explain Rav Moshe's viewpoint to us. We really, honestly would like to hear it !

Halacha Min Hashamayim

A while back I posted on Torah Min Hashamayim. In brief, my point was that even though everyone talks about the importance of Torah Min Hashamayim (TMH) in Orthodoxy, whats really important is actually Halachah Min Hashamayim (HMH), or Torah She Baal Peh (TSBP) if you prefer to think of it that way.

In other words, HMH / TSBP is the ikkar. TMH or Torah Shebiktav (TSBK) is a 'nice to have' (OK its a lot more than that, but its not a 'mandatory'). If you would have to give up on some aspect of TSBK, it would not neccessarily be the end of Orthodoxy. I then went on to list 10 possible areas where you could posit a non-orthodox peshat in TMH/TSBK, yet still maintain TMH and be Orthodox. For example, you could say that parts of TSBK were originally written before Har Sinai. Gil has a very mild article that talks about this.

Of course, I got slammed from both sides. The fundamentalists gleefully told me I had no clue, and was going to burn in hell. The atheists and skeptics told me that I was an intellectually dishonest modern orthodox apologetist. I don't care too much about the fundamentalists, they are a bunch of maniacs anyway. As for the atheists and skeptics, well, they are right, it is a bunch of apologetics. Nu, what can you do. Its better than being a reality-denying lunatic, or a non believing atheist.

What really bothered me was that some MO's seemed to think it was all a bunch of baloney too. These MO's are quite sheltered, and don't seem to know whats going on. So let me spell it out for you.

A large part of MO intelligensia, (and also a small part of chareidi intelligensia), are a lot more unorthodox in their views on these topics than is commonly known. I won't name names, but I have personally spoken to Rabbis both in right wing MO land and also left wing UO land and you will be surprised at what they really hold. Its not what you were taught in day school (and for good reason).

I asked my Rabbi about this, and he said some of these opinions were too dangerous to spread around. I'm not sure I agree with that. However I was surprised (but gratified) to see ADDeRabbi say pretty much the same thing. Will this become mainstream ? I think its too early to say at this point. However for DH inspired dropouts from UO & MO land, I think its important to point out that TMH / TSBK is not an all or nothing proposition.

Who are the real Gedolim ?

AddeRabbi has put together a list of Modern Orthodox or Moderate Gedolim, especially ones who had a university education. In truth, there are quite a good number of such Gedolim, both from times past and also contemporary. So why is it that Lawrence, one of my fundamentalist commentators, and Orlofsky, a well known kiruv clown, are convinced that the extremist Gedolim are the only mainstream Orthodox 'Gedolim' ?

The answer is that Modern Orthdoxy, by definition, does not indulge in the kind of mindless Godol worship and politicking that the Ultra Orthodox do. Therefore, the MO 'Gedolim', whilst being of equal intellectual capacity, and having a broader knowledge and probably more sechel, will never approach the UO Gedolim in terms of perceived 'Gadlus'.

In addition, the UO's systematically denigrate any Gedolim not in their own camp, further leading to an erosion of confidence in the MO Gedolim.

Is Rav Mattisyahu Solomon really such a giant, so much 'bigger' than Rav Hershel Shachter ? I doubt it. The problem is, we all buy into this UO Gedolim bit because the MO's don't do it. I cannot suggest that the MO's also indulge in Godol worship, because its really somewhat antithetical to the ideals of MO.

The best I can say is that we should realize that the UO Gedolim are no where near as great as the UO's make them out to be, and the MO Gedolim are no where near as minor as the UO's make them out to be. In fact, taken from an overall perspective, the two groups are probably equal in stature. And of course, the MO Gedolim have one big advantage.

They don't sign bans which make them appear to lack basic sechel and /or yashrus.

The Value of Learning ?

I have commented a number of times that my emunah is damaged by the extremist Gedolim and Kanoim. Why ? Its very simple. We have been taught that learning Torah perfects a person's middos. These extremist Gedolim and Kanoim certainly learn a lot, yet make basic mistakes such as signing bans without knowing the details. Would you or I sign a worldwide ban on someone without checking the facts or trying to speak to the person first ?! Of course not.

These extremists seem to lack basic yashrus and/or sechel. Even one of their defenders wrote to me and said there is a difference between lomdus and pikchus (learning and wisdom). But why ? I don't get it. Isn't learning supposed to make you into a better person ? Since this is clearly not the case, it casts doubts in my mind as to the value of Torah, one of the foundations of Orthodox Judaism. This bothers me as much as Science and Torah questions.

True, nobody is perfect, even great men make mistakes. But this one is so obvious that it causes me to wonder. I suppose you have to say that all the Torah in the world is not going to help you if you don't use your sechel. Still, its a bit shverre. Why didn't their Torah help them ?

Taking It Out of Context

Frequently, Gedolim say things, which when translated, and taken out of context, sound pretty bad. There have been so many cases of this in recent years I hardly even need to bring any examples. One example that springs to mind is when R Eliashiv apparently said that cancer is a punishment for being non religious. Full story here.

You all know the drill. The media immediately picks up on it, and it gets spread around the world. Then the Chareidi apologists swing into high gear. You don't understand, his words were taken out of context, they didn't translate well into English, he was speaking to a different audience, etc etc etc.

I will even be charitable and say thats all probably true some of the time.

But when it comes to some lying kanoim taking Rabbi Slifkin's words out of context and translating them (probably unfairly), then its a whole different story. He said it, so we must take it of context. Here is some crap from Orlofsky on the subject:

Do you really believe the claim that you need to read the entire book to pass judgment? If, for example, there was a book that had a few paragraphs encouraging Satan worship, does it matter that the rest of the book has many fine divrei Torah? If a section is kefira, then the other wonderful ideas are irrelevant.

Well, I think we should hold the Gedolim to the same standard. Next time one of them says something which sounds stupid when taken out of context (it won't be long), we should give em hell for it. No excuses about translation, intended audience, out of context, none of that.

If he says it, we'll bury him ! Its only fair. I mean a Godol saying stupid things taken out of context surely causes as many emunah problems as a book on Science and Torah ? Right ?

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Dawn of a New Age

It should be obvious to everyone that Judaism is on the cusp of a new era. The shoah wiped out the old Jewish world, and the last 50 years or so have seen the emergence of a new Jewish world centered primarily in the US and EY. This kind of cataclysmic change will clearly affect the Gedolim world too.

Many people have pointed out in various blogs that each time there was a major geographic upheaval the Gedolim world changed too. For example from Babylon (Tanoim & Amoraim) to Spain/France (Rishonim) to Eastern Europe (Acharonim).

So now we are at the end of the era of the Acharonim. There might be some debate whether the Chofetz Chaim, Chazon Ish or the Shteipler (or whoever) was the last actual Acharon, but its clear that its basically all over for the Acharonim.

The next stage will most likely be called the Gedolim or Gedolai Roshei Yeshivos or something like that. Only time will tell.

Its also interesting to note that those Gedolim who lived at the edge of the transformation, i.e. those who spent their formative years in Europe and their later years in the US or EY all had particularly interesting mehalechs, having been personally witness to the clash of civilizations and cultures. Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and Rav Hutner are obvious examples.

Being we are at the dawn of a new age, the standards set now are particularly important. They may define normative Orthodox Judaism for the next few hundred years, until the next major geographic upheaval (Orthodoxy on the Moon !). This is why it is crucial that we fight the extremists. If they win, they will drag Orthodoxy back down to the Dark Ages, and it may take 500 years to get out again.

This is in fact what happened in the last great upheaval, in the 14th / 15th Centuries. The centers of Judaism moved from the mainly rationalist Rishonim in Sepharad to the mostly supernaturalist Acharonim in Eastern Europe, and the trials and tribulations there set a course of 500 years worth of reversal to superstition, super-naturalism, and lack of common sense. Of course there were some exceptions, such as the Kabbalists in Spain and the rationalists in Western Europe, but the basic facts remain.

So, unfortunately the extremists won the last round, its true. That’s why in the science and torah debate we always have to go back to the Rishonim, trying to find rationalist statements from Acharonim is harder (though there are some very notable exceptions).

This time around, we must win !

Gaining Project Backing From Senior Management

To avoid being called a one issue blog, lets talk about a topic from the business world. In the business world, its often the case that you need to build consensus amongst senior management in order to get project approval. Its usually difficult to get all the senior managers together in one place, so you are forced to go to each one individually.

However senior managers are like sheep. They have spent many years working hard to get to where they are, and they are not about to rock the boat by going out on a limb to support some project on their own. The project may fail, and they they will be left looking stupid or worse, they may end up getting in trouble with the big boss.

However once they get the impression that everyone else is supporting the project, then they will all jump on the bandwagon without any hesitation, whether they know anything about the project or not. This is because no one wants to be the one manager who didn’t sign up for the project. They may also end up looking foolish or worse.

So, to get project approval, the trick becomes how to get every one to think that everyone else is on board. Each senior manager will only add his approval if he thinks the others are too. Conversely, once the impression has been given that everyone has signed on, its really easy to get the last few stragglers, as no one wants to be left out.

I tried this last year at my company. I sold a $2m project and gained good management support. The way I did this though was a little sneaky. I had to convince each senior manager separately that all the other senior managers were already signed on, even though they weren't. There was no other way. Every guy I went to asked me what the other guys thought, and was only interested in providing his support if everyone else was too. A real herd mentality. I didn't have to argue the real issues as much as I had to convince them that everyone else was behind the project.

As soon as I had the majority signed up, I sent round a project startup presentation, and of course the final few stragglers jumped on the bandwagon without any trouble at all.

This sneaky trick works well for kannoim too.

Challenge to Frumteens Moderator

Rabbi Slifkin makes a comparison between taking Breishis non literally in places where it makes no sense, and the accepted practice of taking anthropomorphic expressions non-literally, since otherwise they make no sense either. Here is what Frumteens says:

Those who oppose his interpretations of Maaseh Bereishis - whether those interpretations are literal or not - are not using some approach called "literalism" but simply reading peshuto shel mikrah. Those simpletons who believe that G-d's "hand" is literal are not reading peshuto shel mikrah at all - Peshuto shel mikrah does not mean the literal meaning of the text but rather the most straightforward understanding, and what is absurd and self-contradictory - such as Hashem having a physical hand - is not peshuto shel mikrah.
How stupid. In just the same way that Hashem having a real hand is absurd, and therefore peshuto shel mikrah, i.e. the most straightforward understanding, must be non-literal, likewise 6 days is equally absurd (assuming you 'hold' of science), and therefore peshuto shel mikrah means you have to take that non-literally too.

Bottom line, if you 'hold' of science, then 6 days is absurd, and therefore must be non literal, (in some sense). If you don't hold of science, then there's no kashye and nothing to discuss anyway. The fact that all these extremists constantly attack from both sides, one the one hand they try and debunk science and then on the other hand they revert to pathetic 'torah' arguments shows clearly that they don't have a good answer, and are desperately clinging to straws.

Frumteens moderator, your views are foolish. If science is bunk, then thats all you need to say on the subject. If science is true, then you have big problems with your views. Which is it ?

So, following on from Rav Heshy 'where the heck are you now' Grossman, I have a challenge of my own.

Frumteens Moderator, I think you are a fool. You spew drivel and foolishness from your site all day long. Admittedly, some people say that about me too, so I think we are well matched.

I challenge you to an online debate about Torah & Science. Do you have the guts to take up the challenge ?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The End of the Extremist Gedolim

I mean the end of my extremist Gedolim obsession on this blog. You are probably getting tired of all this stuff, so am I. Lets hope it all dies down soon, and please, no more letters from any Kiruv Clowns. I think we have all heard quite enough out of those guys.

I was reading up on some bio's in Wikipedia (amazing site) about recent Gedolim who were more well rounded and diverse. R YB Soloveitchik, R Kook, R Hutner, even R AJ Heschel and Saul Lieberman. Really an interesting group of people who all had connections to each other. Amazing.

My credibility in Gedolim biographies has been seriously damaged by Artscroll and the like, so its nice to be able to read this stuff on Wikipedia. I can't imagine who writes all their Jewish content on these Gedolim. Must be Steve Brizel I think, though there is a clear lack of roshei tevos there.

Its a shame that I never knew any of these people, and that nowadays there don't seem to be many equivalents. Of course we always tend to romanticize the past, but it does seem to me that these people were head and shoulders above anyone around today.

Am I wrong ? I hope so. Is there anyone (moderate) I should make it my business to meet or at least hear speak before its too late ? I can think of R Aryeh Carmell, but I don't think he really speaks in public. Anyone else ?

Gedolim & Lifnei Iver

I was doing some administration on my blog and just found this old draft from April which I never posted. I think it's quite apropo to post it now. I will add some comments at the end.

[April 2005]
I never previously appreciated the full depth of feeling that the extremists have in ensuring that Chazal are regarded as absolutely infallible supermen. Of course, we have all seen the recent histrionics from Rav Moshe Shapiro and friends about how Chazal could not possibly be wrong in anything, even 'secular' subjects. But this goes back a long way. Here is one story about R Aharon Kotler and R Hutner:

Another incident between him and Rabbi Kotler is most instructive. A publication house had printed a version of the Rambam's son Abraham's work on how it is possible for Rabbis in the Talmud to err in matters of science. Rabbi Kotler upon hearing the news immediately called Rabbi Hutner. When the person who answered the phone responded that Rabbi Hutner was not there, Rabbi Kotler demanded that Rabbi Hutner get on the phone immediately. Rabbi Hutner acquiesced, as he deemed Rabbi Kotler to be a greater Talmudic authority.

The story is rather garbled but it appears that R Hutner had initially approved of this sefer but was then modeh to R Kotler. And of course this was one of the reasons why Azaria Dei Rossi got banned too. It seems to me that the reason for this is fairly obvious, but very misguided. As our entire concept of Judaism, Torah Shebictav and Torah Shebaalpeh comes from Chazal, any apparent lessening of Chazal's greatness is seen as an attack on the foundations of Orthodox Judaism itself.

However, by dogmatically insisting that Chazal were infallible in the face of all reason, the fundamentalists achieve the opposite effect. Since its obvious that Chazal were fallible, they destroy any credibility that they have, and they also damage our emunah in Chazal too.

I think its wrong to teach kids that Chazal were infallible, because when they realize they aren't, they will lose more emunah than if they had been taught this in the first place. This happened to me and others I know.

The other concept that the fundamentalists must protect at all costs is Yeridas Hadoros. Since Chazal were virtual angels, the smallest of whom could revive the dead, there must be an explanation of why todays Gedolim are nowhere near that stature (even according to the Kanoim). So they magnify the concept of Yeridas Hadoros a hundred fold to explain this.

Yeridas Hadoros, in their conception, is nishtaneh hatevah applied to the Gedolim.

[August 2005]
Cute. But more importantly, it has since been verified that Chazal & Science was the driving force behind the Slifkin ban, not the Breishis stuff. According to very informed sources, the Gedolim were really not that bothered about explaining Breishis according to accepted Science. But if you 'attack' Chazal, then that really gets them crazy. The above story would also confirm this.

My problem with this is that although there is no strong Scientific evidence that Chazal couldn't have known Science, it really is an incredible belief that we really don't need. Insisting that we must believe this is 'Lifnei Iver Lo Titen Michshol'. Most normal educated people just can't accept that Chazal knew all Science, so insisting that they do is irresponsible.

Rav Moshe Shapiro Was Just Exaggerating !

In a suprising turn of events, multiple reliable sources tell me that Rav Moshe Shapiro doesn't really think that Rabbi Slifkin's books are kefirah at all, and has said so himself to a number of people. However he only says this to smart people. (I guess Orlofsky didn't qualify). Rav Moshe was just exaggerating for effect. He just didn't like the tone of the books, thats all.

Since Rav Moshe is a Godol, I therefore assume it must be okay to exaggerate, even when thousands of people hang on to your every single word. This being the case, every time I called the Gedolim fools or idiots, you should know I don't really think that, I was simply exaggerating, just like the Gedolim do. I just didn't like the tone of their ban, thats all.

The Chofetz Chayim didn't have anything to say about this, did he ?


Still other reliable sources tell me that Rav Moshe was NOT exaggerating, and really does hold its kefirah. The only reason he said it wasn't was to some talmidim who really hold of science. Or maybe those talmidim heard what they wanted to hear. I just don't know anymore.

One thing I find very strange:

If Rav Moshe feels so passionately that the world is 6000 years old, and that Chazal were infallible, how come so many of his own talmidim were teaching the opposite for so many years !

Were they all out the day Rav Moshe gave the Science and Torah shiur ???!!!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What Rav Moshe Shapiro Actually Said

Here is a translation of Rav Moshe's letter. I have bolded the same words that were bolded in the original. If there are any mistakes in translation please let me know :

Several extracts from Slifkin's books were read before me in a verbatim translation, and the words shake the heart of anyone who trembles at the word of God - words of absolute heresy regarding the truth of Torah, and renunciation of its sages. The matter is terrible, for the matter outwardly appears as though, Heaven forbid, this thing is permitted, and place has been given to allow these things to enter the community, Heaven forbid. This was certainly done completely by mistake; but it is a situation where there is desecration of God's Name, and these books are the books of heretics. It is just as our master the Maharal wrote about the book Me'or Einayim which was released in his generation; study his words in Be'er Shishi of the book Be'er HaGolah (and the books of the aforementioned are similar in their heresy to the book Me'or Einayim): "Cursed is the day on which these things were exposed and revealed. A person who does not know how to understand the words of the Sages, even one thing from their minor statements. how did he not fear to speak of the Sages, and he speaks of them as though they are people in his generation, his friends. And furthermore these words were put into print. they are worthy of being burned like the books of heretics, and they are even worse than them, and they were printed as though they are holy books. But our complaint is this - that one cannot find a person who is protesting that things such as this were put into print." - see there further for many things that emerge from a burning heart and were stated with holy fire, until the end of his words: "And may He save the seed of the remnant of Israel, that such a breach should no longer be found amongst us, giving honor and glory to strangers." Heaven forbid to bring these books into the homes of those of Israel that possess complete faith, and heaven forbid for Bnei Torah to look at them; they are muktzeh, and it is even forbidden to move them on Shabbos. It is clear that due to error, and utter oversight, and mistake, these things did not undergo proper review, and it was agreed to print them. Please, please, I beg of you to check the matter and see what is readily apparent, that this is an accidental ruling of idolatry.

Maybe I am too binary, but I only see 2 choices here. Either Rav Moshe is severely misguided, (either through his own mistakes or through being fooled by kanoim), or we belong to some kind of twisted, unhealthy cult. I really would much rather believe the former must be true.

If, however, you do feel the need to absolutely convince me that Rav Moshe is a genius, commands the respect of the entire Klal Yisrael, is infallible, and could never possibly be fooled by anyone, then I will have no choice but to believe the latter.

More Kofrim According to Rav Moshe Shapiro

Note that I am only focusing on Rav Moshe Shapiro because R Wachtfogel has very little credibility anyway, so I just ignore him. Also, I am focusing on contemporary Kofer Gedolim, not Rishonim and Acharonim.

Also, I assume that if you hold a kefiradick view, therefore you ARE a Kofer. There can be no two ways about it. Also I assume that if you support a kefiradick view of someone else, then you must by definition be a kofer too.

Also, if you are a certified Kofer, I assume that means you lose your chelek in olam haboh.

1. Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
OK, he's not that great, in fact he's a clown. However his kefiroh is particularly bad because it was directed at impresionable teenagers and is on the internet ( We warned him about this a few weeks ago but it is STILL up there ! Dovid, if my Rebbe paskened that I said Kefirah I would be on my knees crying ! How can you allow this web site to stay up !!!????

2. Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman
I pointed this out a few weeks ago. Rabbi Feldman allowed Shubert Spiro's article into Tradition, thereby endorsing it as non kefirah. Thus he is a kofer too.

3. Rabbi Ilan Feldman & His Kollel
I heard that none of Rabbi Feldman's kollel agree with the ban, and neither does he. They support Slifkin and his views, thus they are kofrim too.

4. Most of Teaneck, Englewood, 5 towns
Standard MO peshat is to believe the world is 15 billion years old. In one foul swoop, Rav Moshe has declared all of Modern Orthodox Judaism to be kofrim. Great work, Rav Moshe !

5. A good part of Brooklyn too
In fact, even a good sized segment of UO Jewry held like Slifkin, and continue to do so. So Rav Moshe has condemned them to hell too.

Is it really secheldick to declare half of worldwide Orthodox Jewry to be Kofrim ?

No you fool, its frikkin idiotic. No, its not very sensible in my opinion.

Dovid Orlofsky was asked about this, his reponse was:

Likewise, you have often put forward an argument that I have never understood: If this is kefira, then many frum Jews believe in kefira. So what? That's like saying you can't say that such and such a hashgacha is treif (even if it really is) because then people will be eating treif.

You dummy ! There is a mesorah that its not kefirah. At the very least have the sechel (like R Eliashiv) to say its forbbiden, but not that its Kefirah mamash.

The Godol Hador vs Rav Heshy Grossman

The great debate will hopefully start soon ! One small problem though, what the heck are we actually debating ?!

Is it:

1. Are the extremist Gedolim really the only Gedolim we should be listening to ?
2. Were some/all of the extremist Gedolim misled by the kannoim ?
3. Was the overall process of the ban fair ?
4. Was the overall content of the ban fair ?
5. What exactly is the content of the ban anyway ?
6. Can Torah be taken non literally if it conflicts with common sense or proven science ?
7. Did Chazal know ALL science ?
8. Was Chazal's science / medicine / similar stories accurate in their day, or in ours ?
9. Can we cut out established Rishonim / Acharonim from our mesorah ?
10. Is taking Torah / Talmud non-literally part of our mesorah ?
11. Does Rav Moshe Shapiro have an answer to the Science vs Torah conflict, and if so what is it and does it make any sense ?
12. Which parts of science are sufficiently proven to warrant changes in our understanding vis-a-vis certain religious concepts ?

I vote number 11, but I'm happy to debate any or all of the above.

20 Great Kofrim according to Rav Moshe Shapiro

This list was put together by various readers. It is not supposed to be all inclusive, please do not be insulted if your favorite Godol/Kofer was missed off this list (but please do write in). Not all of these Gedolim agree on everything. However they do all have ONE thing in common.

According to Rav Moshe Shapiro, they are ALL Kofrim !

1. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l
Wrote in Shemiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh that R. Avrohom ben HaRambam’s approach is legitimate, and there may not even be anyone of great enough stature to disagree.

2. Rav Yisroel Belsky
Gave a haskomoh to The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax.

3. Rav Nachman Bulman z”l
Personally told Rabbi Slifkin to take this approach.

4. Rav Dovid Cohen
Personally believes that Chazal were inerrant, but said at the AJOP convention that it’s legitimate to take the other view.

5. Rav Aharon Feldman
Thinks it’s legitimate to take R Avraham ben HaRambam’s approach.

6. Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg
Wrote a haskamah to Hishtanus haTeviim, which is basically a predecessor to Mysterious Creatures and quotes all the same views.

7. Rav Yosef Kafach z”l
Wrote that Chazal were mistaken on science.

8. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

9. Rav Gedalyah Nadel z”l
Said that the world is billions of years old and that guided evolution took place.

10. Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth
Wrote a haskamah to Leo Levi’s The Science In Torah, which, despite its title, actually basically presents the same views as Slifkin’s Mysterious Creatures.

11. Rav Yaakov Perlow (the Novominsker)
Also wrote a haskamah to Levi’s book.

12. Rav Hershel Shechter
Has defended Slifkin on several occasions.

13. Rav Shimon Schwab z”l
Accepted the scientific evidence for the world being billions of years old.

14. Rav Dov Schwartzman
Wrote a haskamah to Hishtanus haTeviim.

15. Rav Mendel Weinbach
Head of Ohr Somayach, which has been teaching this same mehalech for decades.

16. Rav Yaakov Weinberg z”l
Had no problem with the world being billions of years old , or with Adam having parents that lacked a neshamah.

17. Rav Mordechai Willig

18. Rav Ovadiah Yosef
Said that Rabbi Moshe Shamah – a Sefardi version of Slifkin – should not be condemned, because there are Rishonim who took that approach.

19. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky
Wrote a haskamah to Mysterious Creatures.

20. Rav J. David Bleich

Maybe I have misunderstood Rav Moshe's views ? Maybe one of his talmidim can explain it to me ! Please G-d anyone but Rabbi Orlofsky.

Rabbi Heshy Grossman !

I hereby challenge the Godol Hador to a public debate regarding the substantive issues raised by the ban against R. Nosson Slifkin's books. I can demonstrate that the positions Godol Hador has espoused on this site, and the positions he defends, reflect a serious misunderstanding of the nature of Torah SheBaal Peh and the role of Chazal. His stated positions are false, and present a distorted image of Torah to the world - hence, they are also a Chillul Hashem. I agree to any venue that you choose within the Boston-Washington corridor, at the time of your choice. I would recommend either Yeshiva University, Ner Yisrael or another Yeshiva location. I will be happy to make the arrangements.

Rabbi Heshy Grossman
73 Amsterdam Ave.
Pasaic, New Jersey
Tel.(973) 580-7055

Dear Rabbi Grossman,
I appreciate your challenge tremendously. Unfortunately, I will be unable to make that venue, as I don't live anywhere near the vicinity you mentioned. However, I would be more than happy to debate you online, and am extremely pleased that finally someone from 'the other side' has offerred to give some kind of explanation. Any reader of my blog knows that I have been begging for an explanation for months now. I promise to try and be extremely respectful of you, your rabbonim, and your extended family. I will also promise to ensure that all comments posted are respectful too. You will have a fair chance at stating your views, and I will in no way make the debate in any way unfair.

Let me state this quite emphatically:

There is absolutely nothing I would like more than to debate this issue with you. Please, lets have the debate online, I beg you !


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Lies of the Kanoim Exposed

Allright, I am feeling gutsy today so lets expose some kannoim, and the lies they used in their campaign to ban Rabbi Slifkin. These facts have been reconstructed from various emails that I have received. The same facts have been told by multiple different sources, at different times. All the sources are highly reliable. Of course some extremists will claim that these are all lies ! You can verify all of these facts with the Rabbonim who gave haskomos and are still sticking out their necks for Rabbi Slifkin.

1) The Haskamos Being Withdrawn Lie
A lie was spread around about the "maskimim" ALL having withdrawn their haskomos. In fact, only Rav Lopiansky had withdrawn his haskamah, and that was only after severe pressure from Rav Moshe Shapiro, who is his Rebbe. The Gedolim added their signatures to the ban months AFTER this key statement was demonstrably shown to NOT be true. The fact that it was not true did not apparently dissuade the kanoim from continuing to use this story and also indicates that the ban signers did not attempt to verify whether they were being told the truth. One phone call to Rav Kaminetzki, or any of the other maskimim, would have sufficed. This lie made it into the text of the ban and into the Yated article.

2) The Off the Derech Bochrim Lie
A fabricated story about two boys from Yeshivas Kol Yaakov in Monsey who had supposedly gone off the derech due to reading the books was spread around. This caused some of the signers to feel that the books were causing tremendous harm in the yeshivos. This story is STILL being repeated and some of the Rabbonim are still saying that this was one of the reasons they signed, for example, R Dovid Feinstein. Why hasn't the truth mattered, given that many of the Rabbonim speak of the "danger" of these books as being their major reason for signing? Shouldn't the fact that the "danger" was fabricated cause anyone to pause? The matter was investigated thoroughly months ago and found not to be true. One boy was ‘off the derech’ anyway, and the other simply moved to YU. The Rosh Yeshivah of Kol Yaakov, R Leib Tropper was a prime instigator of this false story, and has been harassing Rabbi Slifkin ever since.

3) The Letter to Feldheim Lie
There was a claim to some of the ban signers (Rav Refoel Schorr, for instance) that they were only signing a private letter to be sent to Feldheim Publishers, one that would not say anything about the books being kefira and apikorsus, and not any kind of public declaration. This seems to have been a clever trick, as Rav Schor's name wound up appearing on the posters and advertisements.

4) The Text of the Ban Lie
The kanoim presented one text to some of the signatories, but then another text was used in the actual ban. This was verified by Rav Aharon Feldman, who visited Rav Eliashiv personally. Rav Eliashiv said that he had not signed anything which called the books kefirah.

5) The Refusal To Meet Lie
Another lie was spread around that the Gedolim had agreed to meet with Slifkin, but he refused. This is entirely untrue, in fact, its just the opposite. Rabbi Slifkin received a call one day from a Rabbi Michael Lyons, who told him he had 4 hours to retract his books, or else face public humiliation. Rabbi Slifkin desperately tried to contact any of the Gedolim, and suceeded in arranging a meeting with one of them. However the Kanoim found out about this and called the Godol, forcing him to break off the meeting. None of the other Gedolim who Rabbi Slifkin called agreed to meet with him. Actually, he could not get past their gabbaim, so its not clear whether they would have met with him or not. Subsequently, a third party tried to arrange a meeting with Rabbi Slifkin and one of the Gedolim in the US, but the Godol refused, with the excuse that he knows nothing about Science & Torah anyway, so what would be the point !

6) The Undesirable Characters of the Kanoim

If the Torah case against Rabbi Slifkin’s books was so clear, why was it necessary to engage in such lies in order to elicit the prized signatures of the Gedolim ?

Emunas Kanoim

Some people have asked me to say some more about the kanoim.

Don't be silly ! I will defend my views on Science and Torah, but I'm not risking my life for it.

I will let the Koton do that, he's only a gilgul after all.

And let me again apologize for the rude post about Rabbi Orlofsky. It wasn't supposed to be posted, it was only a draft, and it wasn't written by me anyway ! Also, I removed all the 'You fool' comments.

I am working on a rude post about Orlofski, but that wasn't it.

This however is.

Monday, April 04, 2005

An Apology to Rabbi Orlofsky

Many people have pointed out that I was unfairly rude to Rabbi Orlofsky. Well he started with the personal attacks ! Anyway, maybe calling him a fool and a dummy was going too far. I apologize. I still hold he is a kiruv clown though.

The truth is, he is just a hapless, clueless player in this grand farce. The real villains here are the kannoim who created this whole mess. I am too scared to attack them, so I take it out on clowns like Orlofsky instead.

These kannoim really are scary. One of them has a criminal record, another has a very bad reputation. I do NOT want to start with these guys. They have resources, and will go to great lengths to get what they want.

Do you think the ban just happened ? All the Gedolim just got together and decided to ban the books ? Get real. There was a very, very concerted campaign which lasted many months, and is still going on. Only last week they distributed leaflets in Brooklyn.

Does anyone have the guts to stand up to these guys ?

Cos I'll be honest, I don't.

Attack of the Clowns: Summary

For those of you who cannot be bothered to read the previous post, here is a quick summary.

Rabbi David Orlofsky, kiruv clown extraordinaire, has for some strange reason taken it upon himself to defend the Slifkin ban, and to attack Rabbi Slifkin in the process. I am somewhat tired of dealing with these fools, but since I was involved in the writing of this letter, I feel it is my duty to respond.

Contrary to almost all other opinion, Orlofsky argues that the Gedolim were correct, both in the content of the ban and in the process that was used to produce it. All evidence to the contrary is dismissed, because these Gedolim are by definition THE only true Gedolim, and since they are Gedolim, by definition they MUST be right, and their processes must be right too.

The fact that in many cases these Gedolim don’t read English, didn’t read the books, don’t know anything about science, in some cases simply signed because they were told to, in some cases were misled as to what they were signing, etc etc etc, is all brushed away, because they are THE Gedolim, so everything they say and do MUST be correct.

He conveniently and completely ignores all the Gedolim, Talmedei Chachomim and Poskim, of this generation and of previous generations, who disagree.

He then tries to debunk science with some rather foolish arguments, quoting some 19th century scientists who were wrong, and showing how science changes. If the fact that science changes proves its all bunk, then how about the fact that halachah changes, does that prove its all bunk too ?

In another section, he claims creation was all miraculous, thereby seemingly agreeing with the science. It’s clear that he knows nothing about science, and doesn’t even know what kind of answer to give to the Science and Torah questions. Previously, he would recommend Rabbi Slifkin’s books! I wonder what he will do now. David, have you heard of Taiku ?

Continuing to make a fool of himself, he then goes on for a long and rambling section about how we are all hopelessly biased towards Slifkin’s mehalech, since that is what we have been taught for so many years by enlightened Rabbonim. He then proceeds to completely contradict himself by attacking Slifkin for inventing some new mehalech for which there was no mesorah for. What a clown !

He further compounds his foolishness by attacking Slifkin for selectively quoting from sources, and then proceeds himself to selectively quote from the Rambam and R Hirsch, both of whom can certainly be shown to endorse Slifkin’s mehalech.

My advice for Rabbi Orlofsky:

You should stick to comedy for teenage girls, they seem to appreciate it. Stay away from Science and Torah, a subject which you clearly know nothing about. Also stay away from Charedi Apologetics, a subject which you are really not very good at, and probably do more harm than good.

And finally, stay away from personally attacking other people, especially other Rabbis. Its not befitting for you, and it ruins the image most people have of you as a friendly, cuddly, jovial, kiruv clown.

You say, ‘I would rather be a fool than a sinner’. I say, ‘you are a fool AND a sinner’. You should ask mechilah from Rabbi Slifkin publicly, and please try to get some sechel.

Even Kiruv Clowns like yourself need to get a clue sometimes.

Gedolim Wars Episode 3: Attack of the Clowns


Rabbi David Orlofsky has finally released his now famous letter. This new release is substantially better than the last draft, thanks to yours truly, the Godol Hador ! I worked with Orlofsky for about a week on this letter, taking out all the really stupid stuff, and the insulting lies about Slifkin. Some well known apologist called this latest draft ‘bulletproof’. You fool ! Nothing is ever bulletproof. Do you really think I convinced Orlofsky to take out all the stupid stuff ?!

Although David is just a fundamentalist extremist, since I did spend a lot of time and effort helping him edit his letter, I feel somewhat responsible for the final outcome. Therefore, even though everything he says is so old, so tired and has been debunked so many times already, I feel I just have to go at it one more time. If this whole subject bores you beyond belief, feel free to skip this post. I hope this is the last stupid letter that comes out, for all our sakes.

I trust Rabbi Orlofsky won’t object to me calling him David. After all, he calls Rabbi Slifkin Nosson, so apparently its okay to do that. I assume it just implies familiarity, and is certainly not an attempt to denigrate the other, (chas vesholom). Also I worked with David quite a bit so I feel we are on first name terms. David, feel free to call me Godol !

Also, isn’t it strange that the only person to defend the Gedolim is a kiruv clown, whose main claim to fame is a comic routine about platonic relationships ?! How come the usual gang of semi-sophisticated Chareidi apologists aren’t saying anything? The eloquent spokespeople like Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, Jonathan Rosenblum, Yaakov Menken? Probably because they all know what this ban is all about, and it ain’t pretty. How come even many of Rav Moshe's own talimidim aren't saying anything ?!

Anyway, as they say, you fight fire with fire, so its one clown against another. Let the clown wars begin !

Note: The blue italic text is the entire text of the letter. I have not left anything out !

By Dovid Orlofsky

This is a painful letter to write, because it addresses a painful subject.

What happened to all that nonsense about the Charedi world being under attack ? You cut that out ? Have you perhaps realized that its was your charedim who started the attacks in the first place ?

We, the Torah world, are in the midst of a terrible turmoil. A statement signed by many of the leading Gedolei Torah condemning three of the works on science and Torah by Nosson Slifkin was published some weeks ago. The Gedolei Torah stated simply that the works contained divrei kefira and were not to be read. They were to be treated like all books that contain divrei minus. And that was all.

Actually, R Eliashiv, who all the others are pretty much mevatel daas to anyway, said that the books were not Kefira, and he had never signed on that, they were just forbidden. It must be embarrassing for Rav Moshe Shapiro and Rav Wachtfogel that Rav Elyashiv said that the books are absolutely not kefira (even though ossur), since they had strongly written that the books were kefira. Clearly, even these Gedolim don’t agree amongst themselves. And what about all the Gedolim who didn’t agree with the ban in the first place ?

In previous generations, that would have been enough for the Torah community. The Gedolim paskened something was kefira and that was that.

No, I don’t think so. Rabbonim in the past always explained their actions. Rav Moshe Feinstein for example always gave long, well thought-out responses. What’s the alternate answers to the questions that Slifkin addresses? Gosse Theory? Taiku? What? We have no idea. Even you David have no idea. On the one hand, you try and debunk the science, then you say it was all miraculous. You are as much in the dark as the rest of the Gedolim. And again, you talk about THE Gedolim. What about the rest of the Gedolim who did not sign and who do not agree ? Or are your Gedolim the only true Gedolim ?

We, however, are not our great-grandparents. We hear rumors and rumors of rumors and we think "perhaps the Gedolim have dropped the ball on this one". I have heard yeshiva bochurim, erlicha baalei batim, and hard working marbitzei Torah, struggling with the emunas chachamim that Klal Yisroel rests upon.

It’s a fact that many Roshei Yeshivos and other Gedolim have said the exact same thing, that this bunch of Gedolim are wrong. Why do you conveniently ignore R Shmuel Kaminetzky, R Aryeh Carmell and all the rest of the Gedolim who refused to sign ? What about the Roshei Yeshivah at YU? Are they not Gedolim ? What is your definition of a Godol ? Someone who signs bans !?

And in the process, we don't realize that the faith in the people we turn to with life and death shaylos, the people we ask to daven for us and our loved ones when we are in trouble, the people who decide our halachic status and the status of Klal Yisroel, is bit by bit being destroyed.

The one who are destroying the faith are the kanoim who manipulate the Gedolim, and the clowns like you who then rush to defend them. If they don’t clean up their act soon, it will only get worse.

Gedolei Torah don't have web sites; they don't have P.R. people to put a spin on the latest turn of events.

What? Are you serious ?! They have the Yated ! They have Deah VeDibur! They have the Jewish Observer! They have the Agudah! They have an army of Kanoim! They have an army of Godol-worshipping sheep like you!

They trust us to trust them.

Trust doesn’t come for free. It must be earned. Banning people with no process and no explanation does not earn our trust.

And so, although I represent nobody but myself, I have decided to write this letter to respond to those individuals who have been misled or ill-informed. I have no desire to engage in public debate, and my audience is not those who reject the concept of Da'as Torah. If you don't accept the concept of gedolei Torah giving direction to Klal Yisroel, then you should simply ignore the whole subject and do as you like.

Not true at all. There are plenty of people who like the idea of Daas Torah and still think you are full of it (and I don’t mean that you are full of Daas Torah). And anyway, if this is ultimately your defense, that the Gedolim have Daas Torah so no matter what we have to listen, and no matter what they are always right, so why a 7 page letter? All you need is one sentence: The Gedolim have Daas Torah, therefore they are always correct. That’s basically your argument anyway.

There are two issues to address. The first involves specific questions relating to the nature of the letter and the events surrounding it. And the second and more important issue is how we are meant to approach the issue of Torah and Science.



The first set of claims attack the methodology of the Gedolei Torah in issuing this psak:
1. They didn't actually sign
2. They didn't know what they were signing
3. They didn't read the books because they can't read English
4. They only read excerpts taken out of context
5. They were manipulated by "kannoim" and didn't get the true story.

Have you not been reading the blogs? Rav Eliashiv admitted to Rav Aharon Feldman that he did not know the text of the ban. Is RAF lying? (Yeah, we all know how Rav Vachtfogel tried to pretend that the meeting never happened) Do you not know anything? Another Godol thought he was signing a private letter to Feldheim. Another Godol is semi-senile and had no clue what he was signing. Another Godol has since said that he regretted signing (not Feinstein). Many of them cannot read English and those who can did NOT read the books.

Before I respond, take a minute to reread these claims. Do you realize the implications of these statements?

Yes, this bunch of Gedolim are extremists, they are naïve in that they allow themselves to be manipulated by less than desirable characters, and they need to clean up their act.

They say that the Gedolei Torah are naive, believing whatever they are told and being manipulated. They are irresponsible and pass judgments on issues as serious as kefira without knowing what they are talking about.

Yes, exactly what I just said !

If you buy in to any of these arguments, then that is the end of emunas chachamim.

No, you dummy, that’s the end of emunas chachomim in this bunch of characters. Why do you conveniently ignore all the other Gedolim? There are plenty of Gedolim in our generation who have endorsed the idea of the world being billions of years old and/or Chazal being mistaken and science. Here is a short list:

  • Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l
  • Rav Yisroel Belsky
  • Rav J. David Bleich
  • Rav Nachman Bulman z”l
  • Rav Dovid Cohen
  • Rav Aharon Feldman
  • Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg
  • Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky
  • Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth
  • Rav Yaakov Perlow (the Novominsker)
  • Rav Hershel Shechter
  • Rav Ovadiah Yosef
  • Rav Shimon Schwab z”l
  • Rav Dov Schwartzman
  • Rav Mendel Weinbach
  • Rav Yaakov Weinberg z”l
  • Rav Mordechai Willing
I might as well say, that if you buy into the idea that these Gedolim endorsed kefirah, then that is the end of emunas chachamim!

And understand, the over twenty names signed on that paper represent almost all the major Gedolei Torah of our time. If any of you have had the z'chus to know ANY of these giants, you realize how silly such an assertion is.

Nonsense. These names represent only the extreme element. There are plenty of great talmudai chachomim and poskim who did NOT sign, see the above list and more. In addition, quite a few of those who signed did so as to not cause a split, of for other reasons mentioned above. If you have had the z'chus to know ANY of THOSE giants, you would realize how silly YOUR assertion is.

Do you really believe Gedolei Torah can't see through a kanoi trying to get them to sign something for their own purposes?

Of course, they are not neviim, you know. Do you really believe R Eliashiv is infallible ? He is an elederly man who is completely sheltered by his gabbaoim, R Efrati runs the show over there as is well known. Other Gedolim have admitted that they really didn’t know much about the whole thing, but they were told to sign so they did. One signatory refused to subsequently meet with Rabbi Slifkin, (when a common aqauintance tried to set it up) because he said he didn’t know anything about the subject so he had nothing to discuss !

I have personally spoken to a number of the signatories and had people I know personally speak to several others. They not only aren't equivocating. Quite the opposite. I don't remember the last time I saw them this upset! Our approach to Chazal is a point that cuts to the heart of Torah hashkafa and they truly believe that many in the frum world have it wrong. That we have been believing in kefira!

Oh please. You spoke to Rav Moshe Shapiro. Maybe a couple of others but I doubt it. Rav Moshe’s motives have already been explained. Do you know any other Gedolim besides Rav Moshe ? I don’t think so. Rav Moshe is upset because a) He has a very different mehalech and he thinks he’s the expert b) The whole Yaron Yadon maaseh and c) That’s his personality.

There were among the Gedolim those who read it in the original English like HaRav Sheiner shlita the Rosh Yeshiva of Kaminetz, HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlita, and HaRav Yaakov Hillel shlita, one of the leading mekuballim of our generation. Others had people they trust translate excerpts.

Sheiner and Feinstein read excerpts by an unnamed kannoi. They didn’t read the whole book. They read well chosen excerpts. Many of the others, such as Rav Steinman and Rav Shmuel Auerbach don’t read English at all. What kind of translation do you think they read? Rav Michel Lefkowitz, who wrote the letter that everyone is signed on to, told Rabbi Slifkin himself that he really didn’t have any idea what the books were about and only wrote that they were kefirah because Rav Elya Weintraub told him to! This same pattern is repeated over and again. The whole process (if it could even be called that) stinks.

Do you really believe the claim that you need to read the entire book to pass judgment? If, for example, there was a book that had a few paragraphs encouraging Satan worship, does it matter that the rest of the book has many fine divrei Torah? If a section is kefira, then the other wonderful ideas are irrelevant.

If you saw the paragraph in a book about Satan worship and the book was published by Feldheim and had haskamos, then you ought to assume that you have indeed not read it in context.

And Nosson Slifkin is not claiming that he was misquoted rather that he is misunderstood. The excerpts correctly reflect his views, he just doesn't think they are kefira. The Gedolei Torah, however, disagree.

Bizarre logic. Quoting someone out of context is equivalent to misunderstanding them. And what do you mean, THE gedolei Torah? CERTAIN gedolei Torah disagree, and even those Gedolai Torah disagree between themselves. Your view of Daas Torah is so simplistic. Maybe that works for your usual audience of teenage girls, but not for mature adults.

You might add each of these points was clearly known by the gadol himself e.g. he knows he does not read English. So he must have taken it into account.

Here is where the true basis for your entire argument is revealed. Of course, by definition they are the Gedolim, so they cannot possibly be wrong ! This is the only real basis of your argument. Its axiomatic that these are THE Gedolim, and its likewise axiomatic that since they are Gedolim they cannot possibly be wrong. So its obvious that if they do not understand english, they must have taken that into account. And I assume its also obvious that if they do not understand science, they must have taken that into account too ! And likewise, its also obvious that if they did not understand what Slifkin was saying about Science, then they must have taken that into account too, becauser after all they are THE Gedolim, so they must be right ! Do you not realize how foolish this is ?

In another letter David, you said “I’ve got to believe the Gedolim are right”. This is the crux of the matter. Since you have to believe these Gedolim are right, no arguments or proofs to the contrary are of any value, because it’s a matter of faith that these particular Gedolim are the only true Gedolim, and by definition they must be correct. Foolish to the extreme.

How Nosson Slifkin Was Treated
The second set of claims relate to the treatment Nosson received during this process.
1. The Gedolim refused to meet with him
2. They called him a kofer
3. He was given a few hours to recant his views
4. They copied excerpts of his books in violation of the copyright laws
5. They have violated the laws of lashon hora

What has happened to Nosson is truly a tragedy, all the more so because it was avoidable. Almost three months passed from the first letters being written (they are dated during the aseres y'mei teshuva) and the posters going up. During that time Nosson was aware that many Gedolei Torah felt his works contained kefira.

You have your facts wrong. In those 3 months rumors were flying, the kanoim were doing their thing, no one knew how things would turn out. I knew someone who was involved and I remember how it went. One day there were rumors that they would sign, one day not. The advice of those in the know was that Slifkin should lie low and not do anything.

Now think for a moment. If you were selling a food product that had a hashgacha, and you found out that over twenty Gedolei Torah felt that what you were serving was treif, would you continue to serve it? And what if you found out that many Gedolei Torah felt what you were saying in your books was kefira (far more serious than treif). Would you continue to sell them even though you had haskamos? I wouldn't!

Oh please. He had haskamos. How many times do I have to repeat myself. HE HAD HASKAMOS. THEY DID NOT RETRACT. Why would he listen to people who hadn’t read the books and don’t know anything about Torah and science, above the Rabbonim who had read the book and know about this topic?

Nosson does not deny that what the Gedolim claim he said is accurate he just disagrees with them that it is kefira. On his website he writes that only one of the signatories agreed to meet with him and then cancelled saying "you'll just try to defend yourself". Of course, he explains, he would try to defend himself!

That's the point. The Gedolim didn't want to sit there while Nosson patiently tried to explain to them who Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Avraham ben HaRambam were. Nosson's approach is that they are mistaken and he will set them straight.

First of all, it’s a basic rule of halachah that a Dayan must hear the defendant’s side of things. Second of all, how do you know how the conversation would have gone ? You have spoken to Rav Moshe, and are extrapolating to the rest of them. Who knows ?

If only one of those Gedolim claimed that something I had said was kefira, I would go on my knees in tears asking how could I do teshuva, not how could I set these guys straight!

Well, the Gedolim have said (according to you) that all this science and Torah stuff is kefirah. We have it on record that you were preaching this too for years. You even recommended Slifkin’s books. So are you on your knees in tears, asking how to do teshuvah? No! You make an instant 180 degree turn and start attacking anyone who holds the same positions that you have held for years!

Furthermore, the last thing I would be worrying about would be whether my copyright was being violated!

I think that this was the last thing that Rabbi Slifkin was worried about, too, but it still made his list. It didn’t seem to make the Gedolim’s list of concerns at all (but then again, it is a very minor matter compared to destroying a person’s career out of ignorance).

And rest assured, they also know hilchos lashon hora, and it pains me to even have to write that.

Well, they signed a statement which said that the haskamos were revoked, which is easily demonstrated to be false. Maybe they know about lashon hara, but apparently not about moitzi sheim ra ! Or maybe the kannoim deceived them. But wait a minute, they could not have been deceived by the kannoim could they ?!

For the record, the Gedolei Torah came out against the book, not the individual.

Maybe you should learn a lesson from your great and holy Gedolim? You have been (and still are) attacking the individual.

They have not said he is a kofer; they gave him the benefit of the doubt that he is mistaken and hope he will change his views. But in the meantime they don't want him doing kiruv, for obvious reasons.

I think we don’t want you doing kiruv. For obvious reasons. The kiruv movement isn’t going to get very far if you tell people that it’s heretical to believe in dinosaurs, but obligatory to believe in half-earth-half-mouse creatures. Maybe you should stick to lecturing teenage girls on the importance of being being shomeret negiah. Leave the sophisticated stuff to the sophisticates.


The third claim relates to the qualifications of the Gedolim to discuss these matters.
1. They don't understand science
2. They aren't aware of the sources brought in the book
3. This is a hashkafic, not a halachic issue.

Gedolei Torah are called upon to answer problems in complicated medical cases, often involving life and death issues and new treatments. They answer questions on kashrus involving difficult chemical knowledge. They have to decide on the permissibility of emerging technologies. But they can't follow scientific theories that we learnt in high school?

But they never went to high school! They never studied science. When they need to pasken on something which requires this kind of knowledge, they get an expert. They even admit this themselves ! They don’t claim to have any knowledge of science. Except possibly Rav Moshe Shapiro, and we have seen no evidence that this claim is correct.

For that matter, Nosson Slifkin is also self-educated in the sciences; he holds no academic degrees. Can't the Gedolim figure out as much science as he can?

I assume they could, if they spent some time studying it like he did. But they haven’t, and neither have you.

We are not discussing your local synagogue Rabbi or maggid shiur. We are discussing people who the Gedolim of the last generation identified as having the sweeping intellect and depth of understanding to serve Klal Yisroel. You don't campaign for the position of gadol and you don't get elected. You are chosen by those greats who went before us. Do you believe they would decide an issue, again, an issue as serious as kefira, without understanding the sources and the issues involved?

We are discussing people who the godol-worshipping sheep of this generation have elected as leaders. No one elected Rav Mattisyahu for having a sweeping intellect. The only one who maybe was elected by the previous dor is R Eliashiv.These are the fundamentalist Gedolim who have been elected by the fundamentalist masses. There are plenty of more moderate Gedolim around. The only reason they are not more well known is that the non fundamentalists tend not to put as much stock in the whole concept of ‘Gedolim’ to begin with.You have constructed a self-defining system.

Since the Gedolim aren't speaking to defend themselves, people can pull out any quote they want and ask rhetorically "but did they ever see this Tosafos in Zevachim or this quote from the Rambam?" I have personally seen some of the Gedolim signed on the letter answering questions on obscure Rishonim and quoting verbatim from esoteric works on kabbala. They seemed quite at home with the material.

Yes, but then they came up with the ridiculous claim that some of it was forged! Probably most of them have never learned Moreh Nevuchim. And there’s no reason to think that they were familiar with Hirsh’s letters. They read selectively like everyone else.

To denigrate our Torah lifestyle by reducing Gedolei Torah to halachic handbooks called upon to answer only ritual questions like "is the chicken kosher?" is insulting to all of us.

I could equally say that to claim that its heretical to believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago is insulting to all of us. And again, what about the Gedolim who gave haskamos ? Is it not insulting to them ? Or do we not care about those Gedolim ?

Of course our hashkafos are decided by the Gedolei Torah how else could you ever have laws pertaining to kefira and apikorsus if you don't have Gedolim to decide these matters? The gemara will sometimes reject a practice or belief by simply stating "ain ruach chachamim noche hemenu", the chachamim don't like it, and that is enough for us.

True. However to decide these shailos, they need to follow a yashrusdick process, have some sechel and not be swayed by every kanoi who comes knocking at their door, and consult some experts for goodness sake ! And anyway, WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER GEDOLIM WHO DISAGREE ?

Many of the gedolim involved were not only concerned with the immediate problem of these books, but the implications for the next generation as well.

Another direct quote from Rav Moshe Shapiro. In fact, this whole letter is reflective of Rav Moshe’s views, which have already been analyzed. You don’t actually know any other Gedolim, do you David ? And what kind of strange logic is this anyway ? They were paskening for future doros too, so they must be right ? It makes no sense.


The First Problem Is Us

There are many ways to understand the terms chochma, bina and daas. One is that chochma is acquired knowledge that we receive from other sources. Bina is how we understand that information, the form it takes in our understanding. Daas defines the conclusions from that process that I then integrate into my very being.

When I say "ani yodea", "I know", I am not merely describing something I heard, as much as explaining the reality I live in. I know, not think, that my parents are my parents. I don't need a DNA test. Should I take one and discover that they are in fact not my parents, my whole sense of reality, my sense of self, will be destroyed and will have to be rebuilt. That is how strongly what we believe to be true becomes a part of ourselves. To change a belief that we hold is true, is like amputating a part of our body.

Many of us who grew up in America were taught that there is no contradiction between current scientific theory and Torah thought. The six days of creation don't have to mean actual days, and evolution could have been the means that Hashem used to create the world. Some people quoted possukim and Chazal to bolster their claims, others didn't even work that hard. Science said so and that is our starting point.

There were, to be fair, always those who rejected the apologetics and stated clearly the Torah position: the world was created in six days by HaKadosh Boruch Hu in a miraculous fashion. In the face of all the scientific data and sophisticated jargon they remained unimpressed. "Were you there, Charlie?" they would ask caustically, often with a heavy European accent.

It was clear who were the forces of light and who were the forces of darkness; since the American born, university educated Rabbis and mechanchim sounded so reasonable and the old school sounded so backwards. That, I believe, is the crux of the problem.

It appears that the Gedolei Torah have come out, chas vashalom, on the side of darkness; rejected modern scientific thought and evidence. Does that mean we need to acknowledge that those old backward rebbeim were really right all along? Can it really be true? So it is more comfortable to tell ourselves that the Gedolim didn't understand, didn't really mean it, etc. rather than to have to face the implications of this psak.

What a bunch of nonsense. I grew up with a UO education. I was always taught the fundamentalist peshat. I’m annoyed that I didn’t get to hear the emes. “Miraculous fashion” ! What the heck are you talking about ? Are you endorsing Gosse’s theory ? You have no clue what you are even on about!

So let us attempt to free ourselves of our preconceived notions, painful though that may be, and attempt to examine the issue honestly and rationally.

The pre-conceived notions that we have to free ourselves from is the ridiculously naïve fundamentalist ideology that you seem so enamored with.

Fallibility of Science
The zealousness with which many people embrace science is disturbing.

A theory is just that an idea. It is not a fact, regardless of the evidence that points in that direction. The theory of evolution is riddled with problems that science can't even begin to address and many of evolution's assertions rest on faith. For example, the famous drawing of the monkey slowly evolving into a human being is a fantasy most of the links from one end to the other have never been discovered. But we are presented with this picture as an accurate description of what took place.

Evolution actually says that man and monkeys SHARE A COMMON ANCESTOR they DO NOT say that man evolved from monkeys. Don't make this ridiculous mistake!

Oh please, please, please. Please don’t go debunking the science. You even admit you don’t know science. You have no idea what you are talking about. Please, I beg you, for your own sake, don’t do it ! Don’t make this ridiculous mistake !

Evidence that doesn't fit the theory is ignored, or at times, hidden. The director of the Smithsonian Institute Charles Wolcott, discovered in 1909 hundreds of fossils that disproved the so called "Tree of Life", that was in my biology textbook and is still being taught in high schools across America. The evidence he discovered was hidden away in the Smithsonian Institute for many decades. It is now on the display described by the Smithsonian as follows:
The exhibit explores current theories about the "Cambrian Explosion" (543 million-490 million years ago) a burst of evolutionary activity that generated a sudden increase in the complexity and variety of animal life and presents highlights from the story of early life on Earth.

Many of the fossils found in the Burgess shale are among the earliest representations of virtually all-modern, multi-cellular animals. Others appear unrelated to any living forms and their later disappearance presents an intriguing mystery to paleontologists.

Science is to this day trying to develop a Theory of Everything that will explain the current contradiction between relativity and Quantum Mechanics. To date there is no way to resolve the two.

Drugs are tested and declared to be safe, only to discover that there are side-effects that appear two generations later. The practice of scientists hiding negative test results has resulted in legislation forcing them to reveal their research.

Scientific belief is constantly changing. Lord Kelvin said in 1895 "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible".

You’re quoting from the NINETEENTH century to show that MODERN science is baseless???!!!
Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. patent office said in 1899 "Everything that can be invented has been invented". Lord Rutherford, Nobel laureate said in 1933 "Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of the atom is talking moonshine".
When I was young, doctors were constantly removing children's tonsils since they felt they weren't really necessary anyway. Now they realize that they serve an function in the immune system.

“Science is changing, so its all bunk” ! Is that your argument ? Halacha changes too, maybe that’s all bunk ! The rishonim thought that the Torah says that the earth stands still, and now that’s changed, so is Torah bunk?

This is not to say that there is no basis to scientific speculation; but a healthy amount of skepticism when speaking about events that supposedly took place millions of years ago is certainly in order.

But you are not positing a healthy amount of skepticism about events that supposedly took place millions of years ago. You are positing a complete denial that there was any such thing as millions of years ago, and fundamentally rejecting the entire scientific enterprise ! You are defending a complete ban on all investigation of Science vs Torah.

Scientific Bias

There are those who suggest that:

"As a system however, it is one of the most error free systems."

Scientists are people and as such have biases. Professor Gilligan from Harvard University describes that when she presented results from her research into the differences between men and women "it was like a shoot out at the OK Carrel", so strong were the bias against her ideas.

Medical practitioners and psychologists can be hired to testify for either side in litigation. Historians can be hired to argue Holocaust denial. Only evolutionists and cosmologists are free from bias?

So now you are comparing scientists to holocaust deniers ! Is there no end to this stupidity ?

Science begins with an assumption there is no G-d. That is the starting point. Why doesn't that bias affect their conclusions?

Science does not begin with that assumption. Science begins with the assumption that we can find scientific explanations for everything, without invoking the supernatural. In ancient times, people believed everything was supernatural. Illness, the weather, earthquakes etc all supernatural. The only thing to do was pray or offer sacrifices to the gods. With the assumptions of science, we were able to discover how things work, and thereby control them. We can now fight disease, and build tsunami early warning systems. None of this has anything to do with belief in G-d or not.

Sure, some scientists are motivated by atheism, however many are religious too. Originally, the scientific endevor was fueled in a significant way by religious scientists who were out to prove G-d by looking at the intelligence in the design of the world. Darwin started out religious. And don’t you think that the Rabbis who reject science are biased? They think that all scientists are resho’im. Don’t you think that this affects their conclusions?

Infallibility of Chazal

The Chazal, on the other hand, base their positions on a drash from a possuk or a mesora. When Rebbi Yehoshua was asked how long the gestation period of a snake was, he didn't know the answer. He was very bothered until he went to Rabban Gamliel who gave him the answer from a possuk. You see what bothered Rebbi Yehoshua was not an obscure scientific fact but rather that if he didn't know the answer to the question about the briah, it was because he was lacking a Torah insight. And it was the Torah insight that he wanted to know.

Are you serious ? Chazal base their science on drashos from pesukim ? So the laws of thermodynamics are in the Torah ? The laws of gravity ? All the laws of the briah are in the Torah, so science is all bunk ? How come the greatest Gedolim aren’t also the greatest scientists ? Or do you subscribe to the theory that they all really do know the cure for cancer, they are just not telling us ? Your extreme fundamentalist viewpoint is absurd, and certainly not the only view within Judaism, as you would have us believe.

Herein lies the kefira. The gemara in Sanhedrin 99b explains that anyone who insults and questions the words of Chazal is an apikores. The Rambam in chapter 3, halacha 8 of hilchos teshuva explains that a kofer is someone who doubts the words of Chazal. This is what the Rambam means in the eighth ani maamin "I believe in the truth of Torah". If you don't accept the Sages interpretation of the Torah you don't accept the Torah.

UNBELIEVABLE!!! This is the height of hypocrisy and absurdity. You are citing the Rambam that anyone who doubts Chazal is an apikores!? Obviously Rambam was not referring to Chazal’s scientific pronouncements, since he himself disputed them! Or was he calling himself an apikorus too ?! Scientific pronouncements are not part of Torah !

In his books and personal views, Nosson has it backwards. Science is always right and the burden of proof is on the Chazal to prove otherwise. His discussion on spontaneous generation is one example. The attitude expressed clearly is that Chazal are wrong if science says so. If you think Chazal are right, prove it.

On the contrary, he goes to great lengths to only question from proven theories, and he often gives silly apologetic answers too. But you haven’t actually read the books so you have no clue.

The gemara, however, takes a different approach. In Baba Basra 75a the story is told of Rav Yochanan, who was darshening about giant gems that adorned the entrance to the Bais HaMikdash. A student heard this and laughed. He knew that the existence of such gems was impossible! Later, he was traveling on a boat and saw them at sea.

He came back and told Rav Yochanan "It's true! I saw them!". To which Rav Yochanan responded "Empty one! And if you didn't see them then you wouldn't have believed?" He then looked at the student who was then reduced to a heap of bones.

HaRav Moshe Shapiro pointed out that when the student laughed when he first heard about it, Rav Yochanan wasn't so makpid that it resulted in the student's death. It was only when he changed his mind because "seeing is believing". If the Chazal say something we don't need visual evidence. So it would seem that the Chazal themselves disagreed with Nosson's position, and didn't need to produce visual evidence in support of their words.

Oh please. Maybe the problem was that he laughed. The Gemara says that Rebbi concluded that the Goyishe sages got the science right in one case and Chazal were wrong.You can’t prove your mehalech from one maaseh in a midrash.


Much has been made out of the Avraham ben HaRambam that Nosson is fond of quoting who states that Chazal can be wrong in regard to scientific matters.

We all know of shitos Tannaim, Amoraim and Rishonim that were rejected by the mesora of Klal Yisroel. In a teshuva, the Chasam Sofer explains (Chelek Bais Yoreh Deah Teshuva 356) that there were views that were offered by good people that were rejected and are now beyond the pale of Jewish belief and observance. For example, Rabbenu Hillel states that there won't be a mashiach, rather Hashem will redeem us himself. To believe this today, would be kefira.

Likewise Rebbe Eliezer says that one may cut wood to make charcoal, to fuel a fire, to melt the metal, to make a knife on Shabbos, in order to perform a bris milah. Today if anyone did that they would receive skila!

A number of the Gedolim I spoke to stated that Avraham ben HaRambam was left out of the mesora and his view was rejected. To believe that today, they paskened, would be kefira for us, based on the gemara and Rambam I quoted earlier.

Based on the Rambam? Rambam himself had the same view, you dummy! And since Rav Hirsch took the same approach in the 19th century, he obviously didn’t think it was left out of the mesorah! This is seriuously dishonest. Any opinion you don’t like, you just cut it out of the mesorah, then by defintion is not part of our mesorah so its wrong. Hirsh, Tiferes Yisrael etc, they are all not part of our mesorah. Why ? Because some fundamentalist extremist ‘Gedolim’ just said so. Ridiculous. I think we should take them out of our mesorah.

Intellectual Honesty
If it was left at Avraham ben HaRambam, that would be the end of it for most of us. But Nosson and his supporters go on to quote lines and paragraphs from various Rishonim, Achronim and modern day thinkers to support each individual claim made by science.

How awful, they actually quote from people who hold like them ! What dishonesty !

Firstly, that's intellectually dishonest. To state a position and then search for someone, anyone, who says something that sounds like it supports your position, is dishonest.

Nonsense. There is a consistent approach of rationalism and accepting that which science has proven. It’s no more intellectually dishonest than Rav Moshe Shapiro quoting from a Ramban here, a Rambam there, etc. This is possibly the stupidest argument you have made yet.

Therefore, many of the lines and paragraphs are taken out of context or twisted to fit in to the pre-conceived thesis.

For example, Nosson writes:

"I then state that I shall later refer to the view of Rav Hirsch that "Chazal were interested in clarifying laws and it was not important to them to investigate whether a reported creature actually existed." My antagonist writes that this "appears to be heresy."

Now, I must concede that I summarized Rav Hirsch's view incorrectly Nevertheless, I do not consider my statement to be at all heretical. In fact, the same concept is stated in a Tosafos that I cite at the end of the book, concerning a case in the Gemara of a coffin-cover made from an animal: But is it normal to make a cover for a coffin out of an animal?! The answer is that even though it is not normal to do so, we nevertheless find many unlikely cases that the Talmud discusses, in order to analyze them and be rewarded for this. (Tosafos to Kesuvos 4b). Thus, my antagonist seems to be effectively rating Tosafos' view as apparent heresy. "

Tosafos is not saying that such a thing couldn't happen, only that it is unlikely. To read that Tosafos as saying that the Chazal will discuss things that are untrue, is not correct.

But Tosafos reasoning holds equally true for something that doesn’t exist. Is that the best you can do? Probably, because I heard that you haven’t even read Slifkin’s books! I'm not arguing that everything Nosson said is 100% correct. I am sure he makes mistakes too. But to claim that this whole mehalech is only based on twisted readings of rishonim and acharonim is a lie and you know it.

Having a Rebbe

The gemara in Sanhedrin 11a tells a series of stories. Rebbe was about to begin giving shiur when he was disturbed by a strong smell of garlic. He asked that whoever ate the garlic should leave the room. Immediately the great Rebbi Chiya got up and left, followed by the entire assemblage who didn't want to hurt Rebbe Chiyas honor.

The next day Rebbe's son confronted Rebbe Chiya and asked him how he could be so inconsiderate as to come to shiur stinking of garlic and effectively destroying his fathers shiur. Rebbe Chiya explained that he hadn't really eaten the garlic; he left because he didn't want the person who had eaten it to be embarrassed.

The gemara asks "and who did Rebbe Chiya learn it from?" And the gemara brings a story with Rebbe Meir where he did a similar thing. "And who did Rebbe Meir learn it from?" From a story with Shmuel HaKattan, who learnt it from someone, who learnt it from someone, all the way back to Moshe Rabbenu.

Harav Chenoch Lebowitz, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim asked; why did the gemara have to bring so many stories? Just bring the story of Moshe Rabbeynu? The Rosh Yeshiva answered that gemara wanted to eliminate the position of those people who claim that their rebbe is the Rambam. You aren't in a position to establish someone who is no longer alive as your rebbe be it HaRav Moshe Feinstein, Shimshon Rephael Hirsch, The GRA, Rashi, Rav Yochanan, Rebbi Meir, or Moshe Rabbeynu. You need a living breathing person who can explain to you what the Torah position is so you don't get it all wrong.

And Slifkin, as the acknowledgements in his books shows, does have such people. R Aryeh Carmell. R Chaim Malinowitz. Living breathing people. However you don’t accept these people as real Rebbe’s because they don’t hold of your Gedolim.

And just who is your living breathing rebbe ? Rav Moshe Shapiro ? How much did you actually learn from him (that you understood) ? I have heard that you are not even a true talmid. Maybe you have got it all wrong ! No, your Rebbe is a true Rebbe, your Gedolim are the true Gedolim. But Slifkin’s Rebbe’s are fake, the other Gedolim are fake!

The well-known psychologist Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin wrote an article in the April 1996 issue of the Jewish Observer on the subject of psychotherapy, based on a hashkafic understanding of the issue of bechira. His article consisted of verbatim quotes from Rav Dessler in Michtav MeEliyahu and from Rav Wolbe in Alei Shur.

Never the less, a "clarification" was published in the March 1997 issue. Someone went to Rav Wolbe and to Rav Desslers cousin, considered an expert on Rav Desslers philosophy, and they told him that he got it all wrong! They asked the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Naftoli Elzas to set the record straight. Towards the end of the piece HaRav Elzas writes "In conclusion, there is a decided risk in analyzing the works of the Gedolei baalei machshava, that one might deduce from their words conclusions that are totally contrary to their intentions and to the whole purpose of their writings.

Oh please, R Elzas is well known extremist who was one of the engineers in the campaign against the Artscroll Gemaras, Making of a Godol and Slifkin’s books! Isn’t he biased ?

And also, what kind of strange argument is that – a decided risk in analyzing the works of the Gedolai baalei Machshava - ? So we shouldn’t learn machshavah ? What Elzas really means is that your interpretation is wrong, but mine is correct. And maybe Sorotzkin did get it wrong, so what ? Rabbi Slifkin spoke at length to R Aryeh Carmell, considered one of the closest talmidim to Rav Dessler. In fact Rav Carmell even wrote a recent letter supporting Slifkin.

Someone once went over to HaRav Moshe Shapiro and said "I'm a talmid from the tapes". Reb Moshe, in his own unique style replied, "A talmid from the tapes is like a nisabra bi-ambatya, a child that was conceived from bathing in a public bath". The message, as always with the words of a gadol b'Torah, was profound. If you picked up some tapes and listened to it, you don't have a rebbe, anymore than a child conceived without an act of biah has a father. You need personal interaction and instruction to be considered a talmid not just picking up a few books or taking a paragraph from here or there.

Nosson doesn't have a rebbe who gave him a mesora. He has developed it on his own.

He does have a Rebbe. I don’t think you do though. You grew up in Long Island and worked in NCSY for many years. Who was your Rebbe? Is Rav Moshe Shapiro your rebbe? How many times have you talked Torah with him? Did you show this letter to Gedolim for approval, the way that Slifkin did with his books? Also, the claim above is motzei shem rah. Who are you to claim Slifkin does not have a Rebbi ? You need to ask mechiloh for that one.

And Rav Moshe’s ‘unique style’ is strange to say the least. A talmid proudly tells Rav Moshe he listens to his tapes, and Rav Moshe responds that he is like an illegitemate child ! Bizarre. All these stories about Rav Moshe, told over by his enthusiastic talmidim, really don’t reflect on him very well. I guess you had to be there or something.

And to innovate a new approach to Torah without the benefit of a mesora and a rebbe, can lead one unintentionally to state ideas that are kefira.

How many times to I have to tell you David. ITS NOT NEW. It was in Challenge, printed thirty years ago. The sources from Rishonim and Acharonim have been around for hundreds of years. As YOU YOURSELF admitted at the beginning of your silly letter, everyone in America has been teaching this stuff for years. Why do you persist in making this patently false allegation? You even contradict yourself. No one believes that Slifkin’s stuff is new.This is just another personal attack, because you don’t have anything more intelligent to say.


I have known Nosson Slifkin for many years. He is a sincere individual who truly wants to help Klal Yisroel. When I pointed out to him that he was becoming the poster boy for all the anti-Torah forces, he was deeply pained.

Maybe pained, but hardly his fault. You and the kannoim are to blame for this bizzayon. I somehow think he was a little more pained at the ban in the first place. Don't you ? What exactly is your point ?

Never the less, the damage has been done. His defense in favor of his books has resulted in an open war against the majority of Gedolei Torah. I know this was not his intention, but that is the situation we are facing today.

Oh please. The kannoim manipulate the Gedolim into making fools of themselves. They started an open war against Kaminetzky and company, or do they not count ? Again, you conveniently ignore all the people on the other side! The open war is not Slifkin’s fault.

I am, however, an optimist; I believe good will come from this yet.

Yes, lots of good has come from this. Nobody has really supported these extremist Gedolim, everyone realizes this whole system of kannoim inspired bans is corrupt, and a large segment of people (even in UO land) are upset and dismayed with the current situation. More people than ever before have now thinking about these issues. Many people have been entirely turned off these Gedolim, and now refuse to support any institution connected to them.

For myself, I now realize that positions I held are considered illegitimate by the Gedolei Torah. This has allowed me to be m'yashar my da'as.

But what happened to making amends to all those seminary girls that you taught kefirah to? You’re so quick to attack Slifkin, but your kefira is still on JemSem’s website! ( and You must insist that JemSem take it down at once. You must also reach out to all the seminary girls and tell them it was all so terribly wrong !

If the Torah community comes out of this with a greater clarity on these very fundamental issues, then this terrible chapter will have served a positive purpose after all.

Greater clarity ?! Are you nuts ?! The torah community has never been more confused on this subject. Is saying the world is billions of years kefirah ? If so, whats with all the science ? Is the answer taiku, or does Rav Moshe have a peshat ? Did chazal know science ? How come R Eliashiv said its not kefirah but Rav Moshe said it was ? How come the only person defending the Gedolim and the ban process is a clown like Orlofsky ? How come this mehalech was preached for many years by many Rabbanim, even talmidim of Rav Moshe ? Were they all wrong ?

The Torah community may get greater clarity, but it certainly will not come from you or the fundamentalist Gedolim. The greater clarity will come from people like Slifkin who actually attempt to give some answers. What’s your answer ? Its all miraculous ? Its all taiku ? Science is all bunk ? Have you even thought this through ? Lsat time you gave a shiur on this you referred people to Slifkin ! I don't think you have a clue. Banning any discussion on the subject is not greater clarity.

Since so much has been bandied about concerning the position of Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, I would like to conclude with a quote from HaRav Shimon Schwab, ("Selected Writings pages 255-256:") considered the successor of HaRav Hirsch:

" It may sometimes occur that there apparently seems to be no way out of a dead-end in which our mind is trapped by a logical or factual contradiction. We must then have intellectual honesty to admit that at this moment we cannot think of any satisfying answer. We must be ready for if we may be permitted to call it , an act of intellectual "mesirath nefesh". I must be ready to sacrifice my intellect and to do violence to my power of reasoning, if I have no way out at all, rather than give up one iota of my Torah conviction. The Halacha requires the sacrifice of my life in order to avoid committing certain cardinal sins... What is requested of me is to stand ready, if it must be, to forgo the respect of educated men everywhere to relinquish my academic standing and well-earned scholastic recognition and to abolish in a given instant my sound logical reasoning. I must be will to obediently offer all this up on the altar of Emunoh and as Chazal say, I should rather be called a fool all my days than a sinner against G-d for even one moment...

Well, I think you will be called a fool and a sinner, so no luck there. You quote Rav Shwab, the same Rav Shimon Schwab who accepted the scientific evidence for the world being billions of years old ! You dummy. Let’s quote David Orlofsky: To state a position and then search for someone, anyone, who says something that sounds like it supports your position, is dishonest !

David, I listened to your tape on Platonic Relationships the other night. It was really funny ! The girls really seemed to enjoy it. I think you should stick to what you do best; Comedy for teenage girls. Take my advice, leave the Science and Torah stuff for the experts. And leave the charedi apologetics to the experts too.

And finally, leave the personal attacks to me. Its hardly befitting for a Rabbi to behave in this way.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Machshavah Candy Mix

I recently blogged about Machshavah Cholent, an unpleasant stew of quality philosophical meat, mixed with a bunch of rather inferior ingredients, such as pagan barley and superstitious beans. Well, even if you are careful to avoid the cholent, its hard to avoid the candy mix.

In Machshavah Candyland, there are lots of enticing, nicely presented machshavah candies, and we are welcome to pick-n-mix as we like. A bit of Rambam liquorice here, some Ramban jellybeans there, some Chassidut, some GRA, some Kabbalah, some RYBS (but only if you are okay with that hechsher), and eventually we fill up our little Candyland 'sackit' with an inviting mix of delicious goodies.

But have you ever left one of those bags out in the heat for too long ? All the candies start to ooooooooooze together, and eventually you are left with one great big mass of inedible goo. Not pleasant at all, and a waste of 50 shekel to boot. Even my 2 year old won't eat that mess.

Seriously, this is what Jewish thought is in danger of becoming. Open any Artscroll, or listen to any shiur. All those great Jewish thinkers must be spinning in their graves. Rambam quoted on one page, on the next page some completely antithetical idea from the Ramban. The GRA here, the Besht there. Its one big heap of goo.

I can think of 3 responses to this:

1. Its all good
Judaism has evolved for the better. We are able to take opposing schools of thought and philosophies, and pick the good from the bad, synthesize thesis and antithesis, and ultimately it will all lead to a truer understanding of G-d, religion, or whatever it was that we were trying to understand in the first place.

2. Its all bad
We are a bunch of intellectual losers. Unable to distinguish one school of thought from another, we mix all sorts of incompatible ideas together, creating one heck of a mess. We need to decide whether we are rationalist Rambamnicks, or mystical Beshtnicks. We can't be both.

3. It makes no difference
All this machshavah stuff is man made anyway, so it really makes no difference whether we pick-n-mix or not. As long as we are thinking about this stuff and not wasting our time on movies, tv and other bittul zman, thats the main thing.

I honestly can't decide which of the above is correct. I recently went from 1, to 2 to 3, and now I'm not sure again. Maybe its 1. Or 2. Or maybe 3.

Darn it, I wish I could decide ! My sackit is geting gooey.

Pope had more sechel than Gedolim ?

Isn't it a bizayon that the Pope appears to have more sechel than the Gedolim ? This last Pope seems to have said and done some relatively intelligent things in the realm of Science and the Bible. Maybe there are fewer kanoim in the Vatican or something.

In 1993 the Pope acquitted Galileo of heresy, and in 1996 he seemed to accept evolution as a viable theory, with certain provisos. In his 1996 Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said:
Today, more than a half century after this encyclical [Pius XII's 1950 encyclical Humani generis], new knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis....

It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say.
I think we need to take a lesson from the Vatican and form The Gedolimifical Academy of Sciences. The Academy would advise the Gedolim on matters of Science and Torah, and prevent them from making fools of themselves.

I nominate Dr's Schroeder, Aviezer, Levi and Klafter as inaugural members of the Academy. Unfortunately Slifkin doesn't have a science degree, Gottleib is a Kiruv Clown and Branover is a Chabadnick, so they don't make the cut. First order of business: Explain to the Gedolim how denying reality is never a good tactic.

On second thoughts, we don't really need a bunch of phd's to explain that. My cat could probably do it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Chareidi Ideology: Science Bad, Pagan Superstition Good

I said this in the comments to the previous post, but its something I have been wanting to say for a while. Chareidi ideology has become such a twisted cholent that they seem to have a problem in being able to distinguish the good from the bad.

Science is derided as being the treif product of 'atheist' reshoim, whereas all manner of pagan superstition has crept in via talmudic aggadatas read literally, kabbalah, mysticism, chasidut and the like and nobody says a word. Its unbelievable.

Dinosaurs are out, but devils, demons and dibbukim are in.

Is this really our religion ?