Friday, July 02, 2010

Why I was so blunt with Mr. Lazar at RationalistJudaism

In a recent comment thread on Rationalist Judaism, I wrote a rather blunt statement to a particular commenter:
this reply of yours unfortunately reveals you to be amoron with almost zero skills in reading comprehension. not exactly the best person to take a view on how to comprehend the words of Chazal.

indeed, your entire first comment was misunderstanding my "second reason", expanding my terse "first reason" into what you thought it would be, and attacking it. (hint: it was not what you said.) perhaps if you first had asked for clarification of my first point, this could have progressed better.

my advice is to work on you reading comprehension skills, and come back in a few years when you are capable of engaging in an intelligent conversation in which you understand what the other party is saying.

i am sorry if this is insulting, but i believe it to be true. which is why i likely won't continue wasting my time conversing, and why you will continue to think you understand my position, but will not.
I am not usually so rude to people I disagree with, be they rationalists or non-rationalists. Snarky, yes. So what put me over the edge? I don't think it was anger on my part that prompted this. Rather, there is a qualitative difference between what this particular poster and general intellectual opponents.

Basically, of course you can argue with me. And the likelihood is that many of the times someone will argue with me, they will be correct and I will be incorrect. I am not infallible, and also different perspectives and/or knowledge will yield a different analysis, which may well be the correct one. And it is sometimes then productive to argue it out, bringing proofs one way or the other. This is a machlokes which is lesheim Shamayim, even if sometimes it can get frustrating, and even if the participants can sometimes be rude. And even some of the arguments in that post, even though I disagreed with them, were of such a caliber.

As Midwood Mentsch wrote there:
I'm just writing to say that I am very disappointed with the tone that some of your critics take when arguing. At the same time, I think that there is a to'elet from the give and take. For example, I was not aware that you maintain that you can sometimes learn a piece of gemara better than a rishon can. Now, I admit to being shocked by that statement; I need to think about it, though. Without all the give and take, I never would have known your position on this (or on other important issues), so I think that the discussion, even if it comes from a less than positive place, is beneficial to us readers. Thanks so much for being open regarding all these issues.
Such an argument lesheim Shamayim, which contributes to reconsidering one's ideas and fleshing them out, is only possible if the other person understands the words coming out of your mouth, or keyboard.

If I say "Ducks are Good" and someone replies, "You said Cows are Green -- and you are wrong for reason X, Y, and Z," then that is not a productive discussion. Not only that, but people might end up thinking that I think cows are green, because that is what has been attributed to me. Now it might be possible to clarify to the individual, and say "No, I said Ducks are Good, not Cows are Green." And then to demonstrate how this is that I meant, and how the words I used indeed meant "Ducks are Good". If the reply to that is not only a refusal to acknowledge that the original words meant "Ducks are Good," but a further misinterpretation of the second statement, that I now added that Pigs Fly, then there is no purpose to future communication with that individual.

But not communicating with that individual might give the impression that it is because I have no good answers to tangential points he made, or that he has somehow "debunked" me. Since not everyone is a careful reader, I spell out carefully the reason it makes no sense to pursue further conversation with that person, while still leaving the door open to rationalists and non-rationalists alike to continue discussing it with me, maybe asking some of the same tangential or essential points in argument. (Indeed, I might clarify my thoughts on the matter in a post or two here on parshablog, and I welcome thoughtful discussion, even that which disagrees with me. ) Though alas, my tone, or else the tone of those who attempted to reply to me, induced the closing of that thread.

On to the particulars. In reply to a different commenter, I gave two reasons why, even if hypothetically a Rishon would give an allegorical interpretation into the gemara in Eruvin, if I thought it was a kvetch, I would indeed consider it a kvetch. Though other Rishonim might label it a daas Yachid or else maintain that indeed demons are real, what right do I have to second-guess the explanation of this hypothetical Rishon and say that the gemara was much more likely intended literally? And so I gave two reasons.

The first reason I wrote in short -- standing on the shoulders of giants. If asked to clarify, I would have, and I have a post planned detailing just what I meant.  The second reason I wrote at greater length -- that since I maintain that Chazal can be wrong in matters of science and related matters, without this denigrating them; and since I maintain that it is not heretical to have a different belief than Chazal, this leads to less of a need to teitch up Chazal's words. (I wasn't trying to impute what I would term bias, per se; more along the lines that there are number of possible ways of resolving this contradiction between our possible beliefs and Chazal's statement, and that this path was not as obvious and compelling to religious Jews back then [for otherwise they would not be Rishonim, but Karaim and kofrim], such that out of the available options, they chose the most likely to them. Change the structure, and a different path would become more likely. Some might call this bias, but I think it is more nuanced. But the precise definition of this is beside the point.)

This poster I blasted responded to my comment. He pointed out that reason #2 wasn't a reason, but rather a defense mechanism; and that it was not intended as a reason. He also expanded on my behalf my terse reason #1, and attacked the position he imputed to me.

Rabbi Slifkin responded by clarifying that my reason #2 was indeed written, and intended, as a reason. Because words words words, HENCE, words words words. Or precisely:
He does not have a need to make Chazal agree with his own view. Hence he is not biased.
Mr. Lazar then attacked Rabbi Slifkin for reading into my words something I did not say (according to him). Thus:
Please read again what he wrote. He wrote 2 points: disagreeing with Chazal doesn't diminish them, and that he has a right to disagree with them. Your "hence" is contained NOWHERE in anything that he wrote. You are reading into what he wrote something that isn't there. Is this your method in general?
I clarified that indeed that was precisely was I intended, and that it was present in my words "this leads to". In other words, that I wrote words words words, THIS LEADS TO words words words.

I wrote one post clarifying that this was what I meant, and also wrote as follows:

besides my clarifying that that was exactly what i meant, it was there in my original statement, when i said "this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities." that was my HENCE.
Since reason #2 was given as a reason, a normal reaction would be "Ah, yes, this was introduced as a reason, and there are words there which indicate causality, and the logic flows, even though I may disagree with the conclusion. Oops! My bad. This has been clarified, and now we can proceed with discussing the actual points of disagreement."

Had he responded in such a matter, I might have continued the discussion. Instead, he cut off my quote. I began with the words THIS LEADS TO. He left this out and cited me as saying:
"it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities." that was my HENCE."

With the emended quote, yes, there is no word parallel to HENCE. But that was because he did not read what I wrote! He left out THIS LEADS TO.

And in response to this edited quote, he wrote:
I am confused. The "hence" statement was one that Natan made, not you. My challenge regarding the "hence" statement was to him, not you. Yet now you respond to me by saying, "that was my HENCE." But YOU never said the "hence" in the first place. Unless you and Natan are one and the same.
But I never meant that I said the word "hence", such that I was Rabbi Slifkin. "that was my HENCE" meant "that was my equivalent statement to Rabbi Slifkin's HENCE, and so HENCE is indeed in my words." Where, in THIS LEADS TO.

He then continued with:
"i would like to see an explicit retraction or admission on your part on this count"

Sorry - it is not warranted. The statement ""it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities" does not in and of itself contain the issue of bias whatsoever. 
Again, he cited one part of my statement, and completely omitted the beginning, which was the relevant part. I has said "this leads to less of a need to teitch up Chazal." That statement does in and of itself contain the issue of bias, for it implies that certain Rishonim did have such a need.

But what am I to do? Continue arguing with a moron, who repeatedly does not read the actual words I wrote? This either makes him a moron or a manipulative jerk. And I explained this to him, as above.

He replied with:
I don't find it insulting. I find it somewhat amusing. You have revealed your true colors in the comments, and I appreciate that. Good luck with your continued mission to educate poor unfortunate morons like me!
which is either manipulation, or further misreading. I do not consider everyone who disagrees with me to be an unfortunate moron. And I have no mission to educate morons such as this fellow, as I just said it was pointless. I do welcome discussion with non-rationalist and rationalist non-morons, who don't misunderstand every word I write.

One further point. Waxman Fan wrote, in part:
I also wish to point out, and please be patient with me here - remember I am an admirer - that the point you made leading to calling your antagonist a moron, to my mind was not really convincing. You equated your statement of "...with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic" with the conclusion that "the rishonim could be biased but you are not." (Not a quote, but a summary of what Rabbi Slifkin attributed to you). I don't see how these two "statements" are equal. A person can certainly be open to possibilities that are in disagreement with the rishonim (your first "quote") without ipso facto considering them (the rishonim) to be biased (the opposite of your second quote).

I understand that you may have meant these statements differently from what I portrayed above, but I think that what I portrayed above is certainly a *reasonable* understanding of the two statements as they appear in this thread. And so to call someone a "moron" for understanding them in this way is, as I said before, rather unbecoming.
But that was not what Mr. Lazar was doing, or what made him a "moron". Besides misunderstanding my original statements, he didn't realize that I was saying that THIS LEADS TO was a "therefore" or a hence. And so he omitted it in his two responses to my words and started the quote later. And he didn't understand (or pretended not to, at least) that I was saying by "this is my HENCE" that this was my equivalent of the word HENCE used by Rabbi Slifkin. In other words, he still didn't realize or admit that in reason #2, I was giving a reason. And that was all I was asking for him to concede.

In other words, I was not upset about the argument in terms of SUBSTANCE -- whether the contents of my statement were the same as that of Rabbi Slifkin. I was perturbed by the more superficial misunderstanding of my words -- that is, FORM -- such that he omitted to most relevant words of the quote, responded to that, and implied that I had claimed to use the literal word HENCE. (And apparently wondered whether I am really Rabbi Slifkin in disguise, who now slipped up.)

That is what takes a moron, and what makes conversation nearly impossible.


E-Man said...

I understand where you are coming from completely. Someone refuses to acknowledge basic statements. It is very frustrating. You definitely did not need to speak harshly with him, but I do not think anyone could blame you since you had clarified yourself continuously. Also, this is Rabbi Slifkin's website and this poster could have just been one of those people that are Anti-Slifkinites. Those people are just impossible to deal with.

Anyway, keep up the great Divrei Torah. Your blog is GREAT and so are you.

yaak said...

Basically, of course you can argue with me. And the likelihood is that many of the times someone will argue with me, they will be correct and I will be incorrect.

Thanks for this admission. I will now use this quote often in future arguments with you. :-)

And by the way, I can't believe that you believe that cows are green! Such Apikorsut! :-)

Shabbat Shalom.

משה רפאל said...

The hot discussion betrays a hot issue. The fear of the infallibility camp is that if "Chazal can be wrong in matters of science and related matters", Chazal can be wrong in anything. Thus, because "we" cannot allow the conclusion, we cannot allow the premise. It is a dogmatic position, and the conclusion is untrue, but the logic is quite rational. Rationally, can one limit the area of infallibilty to "science and related matters"? If not, why not state that Chazal can be wrong, in anything? For fear of the consequences?

The honest position, I feel, is to say that Chazal were fallible, in anything. We follow them in Halacha, because we are loyal. We can do this, because Halacha is rarely a matter of truth. Our loyalty to the system derives from our loyalty Am Yisrael, and not from our loyalty to the truth. However, whenever Chazal are objectively wrong, our loyalty to the truth must prevail.

Anonymous said...

meir says
I have not understood exactly what is going on here considering it is coming from another blog.
It would be helpful to sum up what the argument is all about.
i cannot agree to tha last post as i have previously mentioned.
Science is a matter of knowledge. Logic isnt.
One can be fallible by not having knowledge. For not knowing what goes in the moon for instance. But logic read a svoro, chazal and for that matter all rishonim and most achronim cannot be wrong in the sense that it is non-sense.
When the gemoro says an amoro is wrong because a tanna says differently it only means he is wrong but not that he was speaking illogically or nonsense. and one also has to do ones best to understand him. that means understanding a hava mina.
We follow halacha because we believe they had better heads than us and if our small minds cannot understand them today that is a reflection on us not on them.
Your comment is a case in point. you cannot make a simple distinction like i have done and yet you claim they can be objectively wrong.
why is it that only today we have this critisism of chazal which was unheard of before, by so many blogs. were people all blind till
now. All meforshim do their best to understand chazal however difficult it may be. but no one comes up with a blanket saying they were wrong as an answer. 'Halacha is rarely a matter of truth'.
i agree that some halachos are difficult to understand and you may term them untrue. but to say they are rarely a matter of truth is a statement which is totally untrue.
anyone who has opened a mishne brura will find that most halachos are easily understood.
perhaps your defintion of truth means that you 'like' them.
that is bordering on reform that you pick and choose what you like and you end up with a new religion that is how christianity started.
perhaps you would feel more at home there. i just wonder why you call yourself in hebrew letters. is it that you 'like' their shape better. i expect a strong reaction from you to this post and i hope others will also comment. i may sound extreme but that is the outcome of only following chazal out of loyalty and not believing them to be right at least most of the time. Reading your post again you seem to contradict yourself. we follow them because we are loyal even though they are rarely right or read truth. and then when they are wrong (objectively whatever that means) we shouldnt or dont. if our loyalty to the truth must prevail we should rarely follow them. i seem to have missed something here. you must forgive me i am a simple person not a rabbi and things have to be explained that bit more clearly to me and in simple plain English.

Anonymous said...

meir says
i must add 'these and these are the words of the living (for greater emphasis) god.
that means everything that one says which makes sense and does not go against the tora are the words of the living god.
but of course the halacha can only follow one path. you either are allowed or not allowed. so one path has to be chosen and the gemoro says not by god but here in this world by making a vote.
Halacha is nothing to do with truth as you imply both are true halacha means winning the vote and acting accordingly.

משה רפאל said...

"Halacha is nothing to do with truth as you imply both are true halacha means winning the vote and acting accordingly."

Right, that is the point. We follow Chazal' psak, which is a matter of decision, not a matter of truth. But when we find that our understanding of a position of Chazal is not true in an objective sense, we should not claim that this position, as we understand it, is the truth. For instance, if you understand from Chazal that the Earth was created less than 6000 years ago, your understanding is objectively not true. This means that you should not claim that the world is younger than 6000 years. Rather, you should learn more. Perhaps you will find that you understood Chazal wrong. Alternatively, perhaps the understanding of Chazal was wanting, and you will rise above them.

משה רפאל said...

"Reading your post again you seem to contradict yourself. we follow them because we are loyal even though they are rarely right or read truth. and then when they are wrong (objectively whatever that means) we shouldnt or dont.... i seem to have missed something here."

Yes, you missed something. I said Chazal are fallible. That means that they CAN be wrong, not that they are "rarely right," Chas V'Shalom. Chazal CAN be wrong also in Sevara that leads to Halacha, or in an assumption underlying a Sevara. However, even a compromised Sevara should not compromise the associated Psak. Our following Chazal in Halacha does not depend on their being always right, and thus there is no reason to limit their fallibility in any way, e.g. to matters of science and related matters.

Anonymous said...

meir says
As seems to be usual in these comments instead of answering, one drifts off to a new subject.
When the earth was created is not a matter of svoro or logic but a matter of fact. How one can prove or disprove this i have no idea. No was alive then to remember. If you find archelogical proof that it takes millions of years for the earth to come about. Then that can mean that when it was made it was already partly formed. Like we say water was already there before the creation. This is all simplistic and most likely far from the truth. maasai breishis was considered the hardest thing by yonasan ben uziel. i wonder if you have already understood abaye vrovo considered easy that you already delve into this and already trying to imply that chazal may be wrong. Do birds that fly over your head melt from the heat.
we have the bible accepted by all religions which comes up with this count.
its not part of chazal as you put it. its specific in the torah.
but maybe you question that as well.

משה רפאל said...

From where come your need to denigrate me?

Anonymous said...

meir says
i apologise unreservedly.
I have no idea who you are and this was not my intention. Although insults do seem to fly around this blog i am not one to trade them. i come here looking for the truth and will be the first to acknowledge if i am wrong. If you think i meant anything at all personal i ask your forgiveness. If you look at my previous posts and i seem to be the main poster here you will see this to be true. This is new to me and i have not yet got the hang of it. there most likely are other ways to answer your posts and i hope in time to do it correctly. again i am sorry if any offence is caused.
i would delete it if i could and perhaps the owner of the blog will

משה רפאל said...

Your attitude impresses me, and your apologies are accepted. I estimate that my use of the word "loyalty" may have ignited you. It is not a perfect term, but I could not think of another. When there is a Sanhedrin, may it be soon, we must listen to their Psak. The sin of a Zaken Mamre is not that he does not follow the truth. His sin is that he is not loyal, that he breaks the unity of the Am. By that, he goes against Tzivui HaShem, which says that we must follow the Psak of Sanhedrin. We do not follow Sanhedrin's Psakim because Sanhedrin is infallible. The reason is different. Similarly, the reason that we follow Chazal is different. The background is that HaShem has chose a Nation to reveal Himself. We humble ourselves in view of Jewish destiny. That was the point in my original comment.


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