Thursday, February 08, 2007

"A Fundamental Problem" - Continuing The Conversation

(Picture courtesy of

Chabakuk Elisha commenting on "Pure And Simple Emunah Is Not A Jewish Concept":

There is a fundamental problem, which makes these conversations frustrating (and why I avoid them) - This is the conflict of yeridas hadoros vs halacha kibasroi:

The is a progression in Jewish History, and throughout it we have developed ideas differently. In each period there is a "zeitgeist" of sorts, often representing the thinking of the day - therefore, certain figures dominate the discussions of their era, and they represent the common view at the time.

Now, since Judaism is sort of inverted (the older the idea the higher its status) in it's structure, we often lose sight of the fact that there were different time periods with different ways of thinking, and we unconsciously place those older modes of thought ahead of the later.

So, if - let's say - the standard is "Rishonim," well, were going to get a very rationalist slant (which is very congenial to the modern thinker, as our current society and zeitgeist (post-enlightenment) follows this kind of thinking).

But this is terribly flawed, because although we look to Rishonim as higher up the chain of the transmission of Torah, that does not mean that everything they said covers everything that there is to say... If it was, then G-d would not have continued the progression of humanity.

There's too much to say about this, I'll have to leave it for another time.


At February 8, 2007 at 1:49:00 PM EST, Anonymous Michoel said...

What Chabakuk Elisha is saying is emes gamur. What I personally find more problematic is the assumption that we have a right to take the approach of certain kadmonim while disregarding their conclusions. We don't know at all if they would have asked the question or come up with the same answers our modern chakiraniks. And it is, I think, very arrogant to make assumptions about those figures that towered so high above us. Rambam states clearly that the world is literally 5767 (adjusted for us) years old. But the modern chakiraniks want to take license from his approach to argue all sorts of things that he didn't hold and like held that they were k'fira. Rambam held that we have a literal mesora from Adam to Noach to Avraham as stated in Chumash. But the Rabbi Maroof, based on his understanding of archaeology, wants to chep with that mesora and blame it on the Rambam. The great rationalist, the Kuzari, states clearly that "every Jew" knows the exact age of the Earth. And when the Kuzar king asked him how can he be so sure since there is a nation that claims they have a building that is many thousands of years old, he didn't answer, hm' maybe I better go get a Phd in Geology.

At February 8, 2007 at 2:29:00 PM EST, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

If someone with an agenda approaches the thought of a Rishon, he will pick and choose the elements he likes and ignore or distort the rest. He may even try to pass off his whole personal approach as that of the Rishon.
Today, there's way too little truth in labeling.

At February 8, 2007 at 3:50:00 PM EST, Anonymous Baruch Horowitz said...

“But this is terribly flawed, because although we look to Rishonim as higher up the chain of the transmission of Torah, that does not mean that everything they said covers everything that there is to say... If it was, then G-d would not have continued the progression of humanity”

Bloggers(including myself) should not think that they will solve this issue, but here are some points:

1)One should not abuse rational rishonim, nor the concept of emunah peshutah.

2)The challenges from haskalah are of a different nature than of those in the Rambam’s age.

3)Chakirah is, generally speaking, not the mesorah of the charedi world-- simple as that.

There may be an issue of a “collective mesorah”(to include statements of the Gra, RSRH and others disagreeing with the Rambam), even if people will disagree upon what it is. On the other hand “it’s not our Mesorah” should not be used as a tool(or a stick) to write other people out of klal Yisrael.

4)Much has been written on putting the Moreh in perspective. My favorite quote is from R Dessler:

"mekivan s'hanevuchim tzrichim l'hadracha meyuchedes, asa lmaanam, kol shenan neged hahalacha:"(MM Vol. IV pages153-154). What is the “hardrach *meyuchedes*”, if any, for today’s nevuchim?

5) Often the issue is one of choshen mishpat and pesharah; who is starting up with whom?

Also in this regard, if you sell a book in a seforim store, that’s different that having a situation of countries which have a geographic divide.

6)How about the following scenario, hamevin yavin:

Part A sends material to charedim in Bnei Brak(Part C) challenging their faith. Party B writes a book, l’sheim shomayim, to counter Part A, but perhaps he has some “YU hashkafos”. Part C is negatively affected by Party B’s writings and responds forcefully. Some of party C’s responses go beyond the excesses of party B's writings, at least in perception.

Part D(consists of more than one group) has a monkey wrench thrown in their sytem, and is now exposed to all sorts of issues, many more fundamental than the original questions.

If you were G-d what would you do? If you were leaders of parties D and C what would you do?

At February 8, 2007 at 4:01:00 PM EST, Anonymous Baruch Horowitz said...

Oh, I forgot the rest of the story(honest)...

Party B responds, and some feel he is intransigent. Party D responds as well, some excessively.

Meanwhile party A(various groups) continues his work in different forms and forums. There are more responses from Party C, and more reactions and counter-reactions all around?

Anybody willing to venture a prediction, or a solution, even a partial one(while attempting to be impartial)?

At February 8, 2007 at 4:16:00 PM EST, Anonymous Michoel said...

I'm glad you asked. First to clarify the facts:
Party B wrote more than one book and the books that were most strongly objected to by Party C was NOT the book the B wrote to defend their beliefs. In the other (more stongly condenmed) books, Party B used a tone of great certainty that his questions were really irrefutable and explicitly expressed frustration with Party C for being stubborn or overly rigid.

One cannot abrogate to themselves the responsibility to speak for klal Yisrael and then say things that they know full well most g'dolim object to.

To answer you question in the 2nd post that I just saw, the resolution is going to be that Pary A will be nifter is a gruesom way that will be a collosal kiddush shem shamaying (hopefully he'll do t'shvah first). Party B and Party D will recognize that all the kashes from science that they found so overwhelming, are not so great. H' will bring it about that their theories will collapse on their own and they will regain a respect for historic klal yisrael, Chazal and G'dolei Hadoros. And Party C will continue as they have.

At February 8, 2007 at 4:31:00 PM EST, Anonymous Baruch Horowitz said...

I hope that party A will indeed do teshvah, as this will be a kiddush Hashem. However, bear in mind that party A is more than one group or person, with most of them not as militant as the one in question.

I do not agree with everything R .Cardozo says, but this is his point regarding the situation in question:

"..., but they should know that books can get burned but the ideas expressed in them do not die. No man and no force can put a thought in a concentration camp. Trying to do so is similar to the act of somebody who is so afraid of being murdered and therefore decides to commit suicide so as to avoid assassination"

Rabbi Cardozo is correct that "no man and no force can put a thought in a concentration camp". But one can insulate himself, or better yet innoculate himself. Regarding innoculations, see some of R Yaakov Horowitz's writings, R A. H. Fried's new essay online in Hakirah("Are our Children too wordly"), and note the work of Project Chazon(see also the text of haskamos on their website).

At February 8, 2007 at 4:53:00 PM EST, Blogger avakesh said...

Clearly the Slifkin controversy has been on many people's mind. I have been running a multi-part analysis of this unfortunate controversyon on

At February 8, 2007 at 8:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People and ideas are hard enough to put in context when they're called by their actual names!

In my opinion, discussions about R. Slifkin, his ideas, and his books have centered on questions like these (in no particular order):

1. Did R. Slifkin correctly represent Chazal or at least some opinions in Chazal?

2. Was he afforded halachic due process by his opponents? And has due process really been well defined for such a situation today?

3. Were the positions he actually holds distorted by opponents, supporters, or himself? If so, how?

4. To what degree, if any, should a Jewish community regulate what its members read? If this should be done in principle, but can't be done in practice, then what?

5. Is the current scientific understanding of the world and/or its history the yardstick against which the Torah interpretations of Chazal should be measured, or should this be the other way around, or somewhere in between?

6. Is it ever justified to ridicule rabbonim on either side of a heated discussion?

7. Should all parties with names listed on a wall poster or broadside have to personally authenticate for the public that they really meant their names to be there? If so, how?

8. Is there a secure flow of information between the highest level Halachic decisors and the public? If not, how should this be fixed?

At February 8, 2007 at 8:51:00 PM EST, Anonymous Baruch Horowitz said...


I appereciate your analysis and attempts to be impartial.

I would add that question: has there been a reversal of positions held *before* Rabbi Slifkin, eg, throwing out the baby with the "bath water"(eg., any excesses of RNS)? Possibly yes, but these will not be widely accepted, and things will quitely die down. I don't know, but I am honest about this issue(and everyone has a different view).

BTW, most of my comments have been regarding the nature of Emunah, and not about R. Slifkin.

I used letters to inject a little humor, and to try to emphasize the "choshen mishpat" issue:

Side A writes an article in the JO defending itself, but at the same time Side B feels attacked, although side A didn't intend that(it is a psik risha). The same in the reverse. How do you satisfy conflicting needs?

It's similar regarding this post regarding emunah al pi chakirah. Side A(whoever that is) makes the case what "our mesorah" is, and that the Rambam is now, slightly out of it in some aspects. There are strong mereits for it, and this is not the first place where the case has been made.

Side A is trying to defend it's own views, but in the process has stepped on side B's "rights". After all, if it's not "our mesorah", where does that leave B? And it's one thing on an anonymous blog, but what if this is said publicly by a Gadol, where does that leave B? So B fights back, v'chozar hadin...

At February 8, 2007 at 9:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

Can't people just write what they feel is true in their favorite magazine or blog, etc.? Why all these involved calculations about which groups' interests are helped or harmed? Sometimes, the naive un-nuanced position might be the best thing! Everything will upset somebody somewhere.

At February 8, 2007 at 9:37:00 PM EST, Blogger Baruch Horowitz said...

"Can't people just write what they feel is true in their favorite magazine or blog, etc.? "

On blogs, yes. If someone has something they would like me to post,for example, they can feel free to e-mail me, and I don't mind posting it even if it disagrees with me(assuming it's not completely inappropriate for the blog).

Magazines and books are more tricky. An organization like Agudah, for example, represents itself as speaking for Torah Jewry in it's publications and conventions. No one likes to be left out...

As I have written in the past, an alternative press would reduce some of the need to attack the latest charedi "outrage" in a particular biography, although some still have a penchant for the sport of attacking no matter what.

But again, the situation is different than if you don't like the Times, then read the Post.

It's also about a community, and belonging. Organizing a press might be part of organizing a community. Or perhaps not.

When a Gadol says "XYZ" with only 80% nuance, and this is written up in the community's papers as the one and only Torah hashkafa( because that is what most of the community needs), others will feel pushed away. It's a conflict of needs.

At February 9, 2007 at 11:00:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I'm not sure how Rabbi Slifkin became the issue here... I'd just like to say that I am a fan of Rabbi Slifkin - I subscribe to his emails, I have a few of his books, and I always find what he says to be very interesting. And while I don’t always agree with R' Slifkin, I think that the treatment he received from the main-stream chareidi establishment was horrific, disgusting and disturbing.

I do think that R' Slifkin often tells only half the story (in his later books anyway) and I wish he would be more tolerant of non-rationalist ideas, or at least include them as other valid approaches. His virtually complete dismissal of Hashgocha Protis or reincarnation - to name a couple issues - can be intellectually dishonest. Nevertheless, I support him and defend him completely; and I hope that there will be more frum voices dealing with these issues!

At February 9, 2007 at 3:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Baruch Horowitz said...


Regarding my comment above, 9:37 PM, I am not saying that a community member should not follow statements of a particular Gadol of their community.

My point is that in the theoretical case(I am thinking beyond the Slifkin issue) that a public position is good for the community on a whole but not for individuals, and such positions are disseminated in publications( as would be expected), some will feel "pushed away" even if they ignore such publications, so long as they have an affiliation with the community.

Those, I think, are the facts which make such situations(there are more than one) different from "reading the Times if you dislike the News". What such people should in fact do, if anything, is a different question entirely.


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