Monday, March 02, 2009

"What's NOT Going To Work Is..."

Akiva commenting on What Do You Think? Are The Comments Poison? :

One of the early complaints about Chassidut was the revealing of secrets. There's a story (if I remember correctly, writing this quickly at the end of my workday) of the Maggid of Mezrich, Rebbe Menachem Mendel his talmid, and the Baal HaTanya his talmid. They were walking down the road when a piece of paper with Chassidut was blown down the street by the wind. The (future) Rebbe Menachem Mendel picked it up and started to become very upset that such holy secrets were blowing down the street like garbage. The (future) Baal HaTanya comforted him saying with a story of the king being willing to sacrifice his most precious jewels to save the life of his child.

Judaism has been a religion of thinking, analysis, delving deep into G-d's words, teachings, direction, and secrets. Nor did Judaism shy away from questions of creation, the world and nature. Judaism did not debate how many angels could stand on the head of a pin, nor demand that man's interpretation of the words of Genesis mean that the Earth could not be moving in space (though relatively speaking what's moving can be debated).

Further, it deals remarkably with human nature. Business rules take into account how people feel and react to money, men-women rules take into account how adults can react to each other and human desires, community rules their people context. (Note a halacha of Purim allowed the reading of the Megillah to be moved to the nearest town market day - so people would MOVE the holiday to meet their business-life needs.)

Judaism has not been afraid of questions, of challenges, for the TRUTH does not fear lies. The Jewish people have been challenged BY FORCE throughout the ages, crushed by those who would shove their lies down our throats. But never have any foreign ideas been able to stand against the LIGHT of Torah.

Suddenly, in an age when our youth are QUESTIONING - a holy tradition of Judaism - a portion of our religious society has become fundamentalists in the nature of other religions. They would insist on learning only PSHAT, and anyone who varies one iota from the words of pshat is a heretic. In the nature of the Amish, they run from the tools rather than learning - and more important teaching the generation - how to use them to strengthen themselves and share the light of Torah. In the words of Rabbi Horowitz, they would raise the whole generation to be gedolim and tzaddikim, rather than mench'im and "just" good Jews.

There are those Jews who are questioning and even challenging Judaism. We have literally thousands of years of such challenges and the wisest and holies of men's answers to give them. What's NOT going to work is to say "SHUT UP", "SIT DOWN", "GO AWAY", or to stick our fingers in our ears and go "NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA".

So 'A Simple Jew' can shut down comments and just lecture to us. Of course, the EFFECTIVE teachers are those who interact with their students. He can tell those who question and challenge to JUST SHUT UP. It won't work, it won't help that person and it won't help Judaism - but it will make us feel better being able to pretend that there aren't such challenges. (And sometimes, if it's just pure vitriol, that may be appropriate.) Or he can give us a place to carry on a conversation, even occasionally an uncomfortable one.

I, for one, do not believe that Judaism is only for monks in a monastery. No, I don't ask him to tolerate someone who's only vomiting insults. But I am not afraid of the CONVERSATION - nor do I believe anyone with a solid grasp on Torah and Judaism should be.


At March 2, 2009 at 12:22:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At March 2, 2009 at 12:39:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Well said!

At March 2, 2009 at 12:43:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Questioning is always accepted. The problem is hearing someone preach denigrating comments against tzadikim. That cools of the respect others may have and put some "doubt" in their heads as to the legitimacy of our greatest leaders.

At March 2, 2009 at 2:08:00 PM EST, Blogger Devorah said...

I agree with A Talmid.

At March 2, 2009 at 2:13:00 PM EST, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

Talmid, there is something to what you say, although I am the last person to be attracted to moderation (either in life or in blogs :) and suppression of questions.

The problem is that simple sometimes there isn’t time or even desire to go into a long battle with such a person, discussing every point, the same way a scientist doesn’t go into a long discussion with a student who raised his hand and started questioning the validity of scientific process — it’s not that the scientist doesn’t have an answer, it’s that there is time and place. But the questions remains asked, “in the air”, so to speak, and it creates doubt (sometimes unhealthy one, i.e., one that leads on thinking wistfully about the “other side”, rather than the doubt that stimulates discovery).

I do, however, think that benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

At March 2, 2009 at 2:32:00 PM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Pirke Avos teaches us respect is not chased after, it is to be run from. If the gedolim need a crowd to be beating people to maintain their kovod, then the kovod is not real.

Further, people who feel they need to beat up a questioner or even an insulter to maintain the kovod of their gadol, are being tricked by the yetzer hara.

WHERE IN THE SHULCHAN ARUCH IS THERE A MITZVAH TO "MAINTAIN THE LEGITIMACY OF OUR GREATEST LEADERS"??? Their legitimacy maintains itself from the truth and from the Torah. (I'm not saying there is no mitzvah of kovod to rabbaim or zakkainim. I'm asking about the mitzvah of "maintaining", the assumption we are required to _defend_ their kavod.)

Let me give you the words of a kannoi (a zealot) of the previous generation: "When we got for kannus, zealotry to defend the Torah, we cried as we exited our houses for what we would have to do. [Which was often violence or vandalism against their fellow Jew.] Today when they get up for kannus, they laugh and speak with pleasure about what they are to do."

Finally, yes in a perfect world we would not tolerate those who would spread doubt. But would you rather take a tiny risk to perhaps have the opening of a Torah conversation with your lost brother, or lock yourself away? Even the Beis HaMikdash had windows to let the light out, and a 13th gate to let the lost in. Would you wall them off in case something inappropriate might draft in?

At March 2, 2009 at 4:01:00 PM EST, Blogger Menashe said...

I hear what you're saying R' Akiva, but it all depends upon audience. Some people are not prepared to have such a conversation that questions the very yesod of their emunah. There can be an innumerable amount of reasons for this. As an example, I give you the Rebbe's forbidding his chasidim to have debates with missionaries with very few exceptions.

The problem of this format is that this is a public forum, albeit run by a yiras shomayim. He can and probably is capable of having such a conversation without any negative repercussions. But because it's by nature open to all, and not all are ready to be exposed to open kefira, it seems to me that it would be wiser to at the very least use some censorship and great care in deciding what to permit and what not to permit to be veiwed by all.

CA makes a valid point as well.

At March 2, 2009 at 9:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Leora said...

I like this, the post and the discussion.

At March 2, 2009 at 11:21:00 PM EST, Blogger Yehoishophot Oliver said...

1. This is not a matter of questioning, but of a technically learned person espousing denigration of the words of gedolei Yisroel such as the Arizal, etc. who are holy of holies.

2. No one is pretending that heretical claims such as his don't exist--we are bombarded by heresy in various forms from all sides, R"l. We come to nice blogs like this one to get away from all that, to be inspired to refinement, purity, and holiness.

3. The issue is whether the admin of this blog, a blog that seems to have been created to inspire people to greater fear of Hashem and respect for Torah in general and of pnimiyus haTorah in particular, should say "this is crossing the line," or he should permissively allow denigration of the words of all our great Tzaddikim as "superstition", because "the arguments of the maskilim make sense and of the gedolei Yisroel don't"--all in the name of the secular value of free speech.

4. As for the harsh approach towards such heresy: This has quite a rich tradition in the words of gedolei Yisroel who fought against the heretics of their respective times, and in this case of shadal and his cohorts. Anything I have written is peanuts compared to their leshonos. And their approach is based on the example found in Gemoro Avoda Zara, which repeatedly refers to idolatry in derogatory terms.

5. It should be obvious that we're not dealing with a "tinok shenishba" type of person here, because he is clearly very learned.

6. Someone should help him, definitely, but a forum like this is not the place for it. Like a shul isn't the place for a religious debate--it's a place to learn and davven.

At March 3, 2009 at 12:34:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your summary of my position in item (3) does not do my words justice. Indeed, in general, I think you misunderstand me.

If you are indeed against my posting a comment, then why when I tried to stop posting (in the other thread) did you turn around and try to claim victory, and that I was being evasive by not answering?? It seems more to me that you do not like being challenged, and this is a bullying tactic to silence those who disagree with you.


At March 3, 2009 at 12:44:00 AM EST, Blogger Yehoishophot Oliver said...

I don't recall "claiming victory." You refused to answer a question, and I insinuated that your silence was consent. That's all.

This has nothing to do with me. You can disagree with me, that's fine. The issue is that you publicly denigrate the universally accepted (oh, "sorry," the maskilim didn't accept them) words of great Tzaddikim as "superstition", ch"v.

At March 3, 2009 at 1:15:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I said that I would answer that question on my own blog or by email for anyone who chose to ask, explicitly because of courtesy to the blogmaster and the various requests that this not appear on this blog.

then, despite my continued straightforward straight answers up to that point, you snidely declared that I was refusing to answer because I was somehow ashamed of giving a straight answer. You wrote "I find it quite telling that Josh refuses to answer the core question."

As if this was suddenly the core question and every question up to that point was not a core question. Had I stopped at any point, you would have said the same.

This was a tactic, and not an honorable one, IMHO. And your "insinuations" were not welcome. They were cheap, especially if you turn around and request that I not comment.

BTW, I do not consider my position on this to be heresy, and I also think that if people read what I actually wrote instead of your crude summaries, they will see that I am not *denigrating* the rishonim and acharonim. I am respectfully disagreeing with many of them on a very far-reaching matter (while still stating that they are tzaddikim and Torah giants, and whom I have defended and cited in more than one post on my own blog), and stating that there may well be theological and halachic problems with maintaining certain positions they held, for a frum Jew nowadays. But I am not telling you to shut up because I think you are a heretic, and I would not tell you this on my own blog either.

Kol Tuv,

At March 3, 2009 at 1:43:00 AM EST, Blogger Devorah said...

And this, Josh, with all due respect, is why I blocked you from commenting on my blog.... you feel misunderstood, but believe me you are the one causing the mis-understandings.
if you want to learn chassidus, just learn, don't argue the point.
You're arguing with tzaddikim's words and whilst you may find this an appropriate way to spend your time, it confuses and turns a lot of people OFF, esp as you have the title "rabbi" (which these days is not necessarily a bonus)

At March 3, 2009 at 2:02:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad that you made it clear that you not only felt that way, as above, but that you have acted on it.

With all due respect, you did not block me because I was arguing on tzaddikim. You blocked me because I was commenting on your promotion of kooky conspiracy theories about the end of the world and promotions of misinterpretations of the words of tzaddikim. BTW, I don't just oppose ketzism for the reason Chazal give in the gemara, which you dismiss. I also oppose it because it makes Jews act foolishly, believing any and every kvetch of some am haAretz in a Zohar, believing every freemason, and setting as leaders not tzaddikim, rabbonim and rebbes, but am aratzim who can put together gematrias to promote conspiracy theories and people who exploit disabled children.

But yes, I do think that you convinced yourself that I am working against inspiring people.


At March 3, 2009 at 2:14:00 AM EST, Blogger Devorah said...

Josh: I blocked you because you are consistently negative and dismiss the words of tzaddikim. If you do not intend to be understood this way, why continue down the same path?

To my knowledge I have never blogged about the end of the world. I think you mean the end of Galus.

At March 3, 2009 at 2:25:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry that that is how you interpret it. But if you examine what I have commented on, you may see a different story. Unfortunately, people conflate the interpretations given to the words of tzaddikim with the position of the tzaddikim themselves.

I think e.g. people misinterpreted the words of the Zohar to refer to Mumbai, misinterpreted the words of Rav Kanievsky to predict a war during Chanukka, misinterpreted the words of the Klausenberger rebbe, all in pursuit of justification of their own apocalyptic dreams. (I also comment when mainstream figures are unwittingly sucked into this craziness...)

The destruction of the statue of liberty in an earthquake, or a global financial collapse, the onset of the war of Gog uMagog, I would classify as end of the world as we know it. Potato, potahto.

At March 3, 2009 at 9:15:00 AM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Menashe - I don't think missionaries is a good example, clearly there is no debate or discussion there - nor are we dealing with lost brothers.

I also agree that a blog admin is responsible to monitor and manage comments - though as a blog admin of a pretty active blog I must say this can be challenging and time consuming.

However, it's a bit unrealistic to assume a blog admin can filter everything and create a perfectly kosher environment - if we could even agree on what that would be.

Rabbi Oliver -

I haven't been following the original discussion. However, as I said in my post I think theres a level of literalism gone amok. Not only on words of the Gemora and even Midrash (which was NEVER meant to be considered literal), but on the merest small comments of gedolim (of current and past) generations as well.

As Pirke Avos teaches, we can learn much from even the actions of the gedolim and tzaddikim. But there's a reason it also teaches they have to be extremely careful with their words (or people can be led to "bad places").

We can learn so much from their holy words, but we've also entered a time when we tend to ignore their context, situation, local customs and culture, and intended audience.

The holy words of the Rambam were appropriate for his community and/or the one he was addressing with Moreh Nevuchim. But those same words were assur'd in France, where they were considered confusing of the public's emunah by the gedolim of that community.

So which is it? Are they holy and appropriate - or assur and damaging?

Is challenging the words of a gadol as out of context, misunderstood, or targeted at one audience or community and being applied too wide an action of kefirah?

In the recent past, Josh challenged a statement posted on other blogs about Rav Kanviesky, shlita and war during Chanukah. He challenged it's context - was it a personal answer to an individual or a communal answer and we should all be urgently stocking up on food and water? In a very unusual instance, that blog author took the question to heart and arranged for the question to be taken back to the Rav!

The answer was ASTOUNDING! It was, if I remember correctly, "the answer was for the questioner (who had asked about where to hold a wedding, in Israel or not, and when), and things said 'in my name' cannot be relied upon."

Not only was the challenge not kefirah, it turned out to be common sense versus a time of "telephone tag" where messages and stories get passed around, distorted and meanings misinterpreted.

I, for one, am FRIGHTENED by the tendency of modern charedi Judaism to slide into fundamentalism. The words of the holy ones can't even be discussed for it might lead to charges of heresy - even rumors of their words!

At March 3, 2009 at 10:04:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Akiva: You commented, "It is a bit unrealistic to assume a blog admin can filter everything and create a perfectly kosher environment - if we could even agree on what that would be."

I agree with this 1000%

At March 3, 2009 at 10:37:00 AM EST, Blogger Yehoishophot Oliver said...

Josh, I found your responses anything but straightforward. That's why I questioned you further, to expose your true opinion for all to see. But now that it's been made clear, yes, I'd be happy for you to stop posting and contaminating the minds of the visitors to this site with your Amalek-type doubts.

Oh, and dismissing the words of great Rishonim and Acharonim as "superstition" (ch"v) in classic haskala style does not qualify as "respectfully disagreeing."

Akiva, don't you think you should have read through Josh's original comments that led to my protest before writing on the matter?

ASJ: You may not succeed at creating a perfectly kosher environment, but it behooves you to do your best. One way to accomplish this is to tell those who express derision for the teachings of universally accepted gedolei Yisroel that they are not welcome.

At March 3, 2009 at 7:47:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A teaching from the Besh't:

"You should not seek to dominate others and make them submit to you. The exception is when it is the will of blessed God to overcome the wicked, until they acknowledge the truth. This will break the Netzach and Hod of the Sitra Achra (“Other Side,” i.e., the system of evil) and give strength to the Netzach and Hod of Holiness." --From Zot Zicharon, Parashat Shalach 25:4.

A natzchan is an argumentative person—their Netzach has fallen. Such a person tries to defeat others in order to inflate his own ego.

The actual content of the natzchan's arguments is really secondary to their desire to engage you in dispute. Thus, the best answer is to ignore the content, and not engage them in dispute (unless you are actually threatened or if the Name of Hashem is being desecrated). If you do not allow yourselves to be drawn into their argument, this defeats their desire and they usually will go elsewhere.

Fallen netzach is an evil klipah and very damaging. Because natzchanim seek to fight with people, even those who want to help them, they often cannot be helped by others. However one can daven for them, praying that they do teshuvah.

At March 3, 2009 at 7:55:00 PM EST, Blogger yaak said...

I believe that there is a line, but it has not been crossed.

On my blog, I have deleted postings from obvious and not-so-obvious missionaries.
If someone would post something that the Rambam holds as Kefira, Apikorsut, Minut, etc., I'd imagine I'd delete that too.
The statements by Josh do not cross that line, and I allow them - nay - welcome them - on my blog, despite the fact that I vehemently disagree with some of his views.

At March 4, 2009 at 5:17:00 AM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

I have come to this thread late, but I have a few things to add. One has to be careful with Emuna. Just because someone has "semicha" from YU does not make them or give them the shikul daat to understand everything they find in the words of the sages. Josh you seem like an intelligent person and although I don't disagree with all the things you say, I believe the issue you have is one of tone. What you do is decide that people like Devorah are a little off and then pull in sources that you surmise are strong enough to destroy them. Your tone is one of cynicism and it is clear in your writing style. I believe you mean well, because you think you are clear on many of these views, but there is a great many opinions that disagree with yours, especially when it comes to redemption. I am not going to list them here, but there are many of them.
What I will say to your defense is that the over emphasis on a specific time line for the end of days is problematic, but somehow I don't believe that is your argument.
As for Akiva, I have read many of your posts and I like much of what you have to say here, but if someone is professing to have a rabbinical ordination and uses the knowledge he has collected to twist hashkafa to his liking, this is problematic and there is no need nor obligation for Simple Jew to keep the comments up.
Kol HaKavod to Simple Jew and Devorah.


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