Apparently, in the yeshiva was found the sefer of Rabbenu Ephraim, and one of the bachurim picked up the sefer and was flipping through it, and he discovered the passage about werewolves, that Binyamin was a werewolf:
Another explanation: Benjamin was a “predatory wolf,” sometimes preying upon people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf, as it says, “Benjamin is a predatory wolf,” as long as he was with his father, he could rely upon a physician, and in that merit he did not change into a wolf. For thus it says, “And he shall leave his father and die” (Gen. 44:22)—namely, that when he separates from his father, and turns into a wolf with travelers, whoever finds him will kill him. (Rabbeinu Ephraim, commentary to Genesis 44:29)The bachur showed it around, and eventually showed it to Rabbi X, who read it in disbelief, and then instructed the bachur to show it to Rabbi Y, and then to take it out of the beis medrash. The explanation by a talmid is that Rabbi X has no patience for things which he feels are not Torah. And clearly, it is ridiculous to say that Binyamin was a werewolf, and this is not Torah but nonsense. As such, it has no place in the beis medrash.
Thus, before he tossed Rabbi Slifkin's books out of the beis medrash, he tossed Rabbenu Ephraim out of the beis medrash. There is a consistency there.
My reaction to this was that this is a literal interpretation of the expression "he is not from our beis medrash." Said e.g. about the Abarbanel, of about any Rishon who holds a hashkafic position not currently in vogue. Rabbenu Ephraim was one of the Baalei haTosafos, but once he said something that a present-day rosh yeshiva thought was (foolishly) incorrect, he no longer had a physical place in the beis midrash.
Another example of such kicking out of the beis medrash is this, that I saw online, and so am not able to authenticate:
I recently learned that NIRC does not have any Abudrahams because the Abudraham says that Yesahaya/Yechezkel/Yirmiyahu (one of those) made a mistake.If Rabbenu Ephraim and the Avudraham don't stand a chance, then certainly Rabbi Slifkin didn't stand a chance, even though he was presenting Rishonim and Acharonim.
Apparently that was too much for NIRC,
Now, I think it is most probable that Rabbenu Ephraim meant this bit about werewolves literally, because they believed in the actual literal existence of werewolves in his days. Werewolves were not ridiculous fantasy, and so it made perfect sense to explain a pasuk based on this. And so it was not making Torah into a mockery. And if done carefully and properly, it is not mocking one of the baalei haTosafot to note that Rabbenu Ephraim said this, but that we disagree with him. It is also possible that he made the statement metaphorically, though we should conclude this from text-internal evidence rather than a conviction that there must be a deeper meaning because otherwise Rabbenu Ephraim would be ridiculous.
Apparently, Rabbenu Ephraim and werewolves are being discussed again. In the most recent Seforim blog post by Marc Shapiro, he writes:
And in a post titled Werewolf Redux, Rabbi Slifkin writes:I had been planning to offer one further example, but I was shown to be wrong. Let me explain: A little while ago R. Natan Slifkin had a post on werewolves, citing R. Efraim ben Shimshon’s strange comments in this regard. See here.
Slifkin earlier had written about this in his Sacred Monsters. None of this was a revelation to me since I had earlier seen the material from R. Efraim in R. Yosef Aryeh Lorincz’ Pelaot Edotekha, vol. 2, pp. 136-137. Not surprisingly, Lorincz takes this all very seriously. Readers might recall that I mentioned Lorincz’ book here. I called attention to his discussion of whether it is permitted to eat the flesh and drink the blood of demons. After this post I had a correspondence with someone who wanted to know what I thought about what Lorincz had written. I told him although I don’t know what the halakhah is in this matter, I nevertheless promise to eat the first demon that Lorincz is able to capture. I further told him that I would even volunteer to shecht it. My correspondent wasn’t seeing the comedy in this, as he thought that this was a very serious issue, that someone whom we are told to respect for his Torah knowledge could actually, in the twenty-first century, be discussing such a matter as a real halakhic problem. He was also adamant that if such a book was published by someone who taught at a Modern Orthodox school, the principal should immediately fire the author. Further correspondence revealed that he also didn’t think that anyone who believed in demons should be allowed to teach at Modern Orthodox schools.
My response to him was that I don’t think we need to get all out of shape about demons. To begin with, and readers can correct me if I am wrong, I don’t think that most people in the American haredi world really believe in demons. Yes, I know they study the talmudic passages that refer to demons, and will mention them as the reason for washing one’s hand three times in the morning, but based on conversations I have had with people in the haredi world (admittedly, most of them from the intellectual elite), I don’t think that they take it seriously. (When I say they don't "believe" in demons, I mean real belief in the role of demons and how they affect humanity, as expressed in the Talmud and elsewhere.) It is almost like the emperor has no clothes, in that they don’t believe it but continue acting as if they do, afraid of what will happen if they are “outed”. (I have found a similar phenomenon with regard to Daas Torah. I have discussed this issue with many people in the haredi world, and have yet to find even one who accepts the version of Daas Torah advocated by so-called Haredi spokesmen and Yated Neeman.) But even if I am wrong in this, there are lots more important things to keep out of Modern Orthodox schools than an occasional reference to demons. How about the negative comments about non-Jews and even racist statements (sometimes under the guise of Torah) that children are exposed to in Modern Orthodox schools? How about rebbes telling the students that there is such a thing as spontaneous generation, which is akin to telling the students to sign up with Flat Earth society?
Getting back to werewolves, there is someone much better known than R. Efraim who refers to them, namely, Rashi. In his commentary to Job 5:23, Rashi explains that חית השדה means werewolf. (He offers the Old French, for which see Moshe Catane, Otzar ha-Loazim, no. 4208, and Joseph Greenberg, Otzar Loazei Rashi be-Tanakh, p. 211) He further adds that this is also the meaning of אדני השדה (See Kilayim 8:5). I have to admit that I was all set in this post to mention that Artscroll, which always cites Rashi’s interpretation, in this example chose to omit it. Without even examining the commentary, I was sure that Artscroll would choose to avoid mentioning anything about werewolves. Yet when I actually opened up the commentary, prepared by R. Moshe Eisemann, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he indeed tells the truth, and the whole truth, i.e.,, that Rashi was referring to a werewolf. I found something else in this volume that I didn’t expect. In an appendix he discusses whether the commentary attributed to Rashi was actually written by him. Unfortunately, Eisemann did not feel that he should inform the reader which academic sources he used in preparing this appendix.
I received an e-mail recently from an educator who was extremely bothered by the fact that Rishonim believed in werewolves, asking this can be reconciled with our respecting them as authorities in halachah and theology. The answer is that it depends on how one is viewing them. It is true that learning of their beliefs in werewolves is incompatible with the non-rationalist view of their being superhuman characters with divinely-based knowledge. However, it is not at all incompatible with the rationalist view of their being great Torah scholars who lived at a pivotal time in history from the point of view of Judaism but were limited by the scientific knowledge of their era. I don't think that anyone loses respect for Thomas Jefferson's greatness as one of America's founding fathers, upon discovering that he believed that no species ever becomes extinct and therefore sent Lewis and Clark to find mammoths. As with his discussion of mermaids, Rashi's statement about werewolves reflects perfectly normative belief in medieval France.So people from all over the spectrum think that 'silly' beliefs by Rishonim would / should / could lead us to lose respect for them as authorities of halacha and theology. I disagree, and rationalists in general disagree. We can keep Rabbenu Ephraim in our beis medrash, even as we disagree with him. And we don't have to fire a rebbe, just because he is so chareidi that he believes in demons and wonders whether it is permitted to eat the flesh of / drink the blood of demons.
At the same time, this sort of belief, when found in modern poskim, might indicate something about the way that they view the world. As I wrote in a post a while back:
But psak arises not just from a great depth and breadth of Torah knowledge, but from a knowledge of the metzius as well. If a Torah great can be this misguided about the facts on the ground (and also be misguided as to believe that the geocentric model of the universe is correct), then are they the best to pasken on issues relating to Torah and science?There are some who are dedicated to Torah UMaddah, and their intersection. But what of those who consider Torah UMaddah to be an incorrect path, and as a result are woefully ignorant of maddah? As Chaim B. wrote in a comment about weighing the merit of different interpretations,
Agree with you 100% that the issue should be judged on its merits - but the judge should be gedolei yisrael who are experts in the field. Would you be the judge of the best method of performing brain surgery because you took a science class? Would you risk your life by saying that the conclusions of the majority of brain surgeons who lived in the past 200 years is wrong because they are all biased by modern science and you are in a better position to draw an "objective" conclusion?But how can they really judge this, when they likely would not recognize all the places that Chazal's statements diverge from science, and quite possibly are not familiar with all the relevant sources, not really caring that much about the intersection until it becomes a hot-button issue? And should someone who does care about the issue, and has studied the various shittos deeply, and does have a better sense of just where Chazal seem to contradict science, be mevatel his daas to those who don't consider science important and therefore are not necessarily in a better position to draw an objective conclusion?