Monday, January 31, 2005

More on the ban

Gil Student posted a letter circulating via email about the ban. Ill repost it, and then explain why I think it is rather silly.
I received from a friend this e-mail that seems to be circulating. Even though I am hesitant to put it up, particularly given my business considerations, I have decided to do so with a slightly edited version. I am also concerned about giving out personal information over the web, but since it only directs readers to the phone book I figure there is no harm in that.
The recent ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books has far-reaching repercussions that need to be expressed. When a matter of this nature is brought to the attention of a rosh yeshiva, the voices he hears most loudly and frequently are those of the people who have the time and desire (and sometimes chutzpah) to place themselves directly in his path. They call him at all hours and show up at his yeshiva and other functions he attends, all to press the issue and the viewpoint that they advocate.

The antagonists of Rabbi Slifkin have the time, ability and chutzpah to make their voices heard. All of the others who are affected by this ban must now make their voices heard.

The ban has caused immense pain among many. You, the reader, might be a rebbe or teacher who has been instructing students for years and trying to strengthen their faith in traditional Judaism. You have just been told that the views you were taught and are teaching is heresy. The hundreds of students who have passed through your classrom were taught kefirah by you. I can only imagine the distress you must be feeling. Were you and your rebbeim spreading lies? Have you, instead of increasing belief, been distancing students from Jewish belief? Is this not causing you to question the sacrifices you have made to teach students and whether you are fit to teach? I can only imagine the pain you must be going through.

Kiruv workers, NCSY advisors, friendly professionals who speak with non-observant colleagues, etc. Have you been spreading heretical beliefs? Have you, in your attempts to bring others closer to Judaism, actually been feeding them views that are counter to our tradition? In this group, I include myself and I feel the pain. Those who banned these books have just declared that I have been spreading heresy, and that hurts. They have just declared that I, and everyone I have influenced, are outside the pale of Orthodox Judaism. If they are right, then I am guilty of very serious offenses that make me shudder. If they are wrong, or never intended it this way, then I am even more hurt.

They have effectively announced that Rav Aryeh Kaplan and all of the many Jews who were influenced by him are heretics. Everyone who had some contact with him surely feels pain over this. Was Rav Kaplan really a heretic? All those college students who became frum because of him, are they really closet heretics? Is the frum community really so infected by this heresy? Baalei tshuvah, in particular, must be extremely hurt by this declaration that, in truth, they have never become truly frum.

They have disqualified just about every member of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. Should the group be disbanded? Every member of AOJS, and every Jew who respects the doctors and scientists who dedicate their lives to Torah and science, should be hurt by this.

Every shul rabbi who has discussed this topic has infected his congregants with heresy. Can that damage ever be undone? Has the rabbi unwittingly harmed the souls of the people who were placed in his charge? The distress many are going through is unimaginable.

It is likely that the roshei yeshiva have not yet heard from people who have been hurt by the ban. Shouldn't they hear from us how much pain and confusion people are suffering? If we want to balance out the personal influence that those with louder voices have on the roshei yeshiva, we need to voice our pain. Let the roshei yeshiva know that we have been hurt. With one fell swoop, thousands of Bnei Torah who have dedicated their lives to Yahadus have been written off. We, our rabbeim and our students have been pushed michutz lamachaneh. Let us call up Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Malkiel Kotler, Rav Matisyahu Salomon and the others, and, with all the tremendous respect that they deserve, express from our hearts how much we have been hurt. Let us pour out our souls, cry over the phone, share our grief over the position in which we have suddenly been placed. Let us express the enormous pain that this ban has caused and beg either for clarifications or at least sympathy.

I ask every reader to forward this message along to anyone to whom you think this may be relevant. Each one who signed the ban against Rav Slifkin should be called until you personally get through to him and express your personal pain. Be respectful. Be humble. Be honest. And be persistent. Keep calling until you get through to him. Leave specific messages and keep calling until you speak directly with the rosh yeshiva and relay to him your personal pain. He needs to hear it from each and every one of us.

I do not think it is appropriate to post phone numbers in this venue. However, try the phone book

Rav Malkiel Kotler is listed in Lakewood, NJ under the name A M Kotler
Rav Matisyahu Salomon is listed in Lakewood, NJ under the name M Salomon
Rav Elyah Wachtfogel is listed in Fallsburg, NY under the name Eli Wachtfogel
Rav Chaim Stein is listed in Wickliffe, OH under the name Chaim Stein
Rav Dovid Feinstein can be reached at his yeshiva, listed in NY, NY as Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem
Rav Meyer Hershkowitz is listed in Stamford, CT as Meyer Hershkowitz
Rav Raphael Schorr is listed in Monsey, NY as Raphael Schorr
UPDATE: To clarify, this is not a call to harrass these eminent scholars. If you want to speak with them and express your thoughts and questions, call them on the phone. But do not harrass them or treat them disrespectfully.
What do I find odd about it? The part where the fact that many are hurt by it, and are effected by it.

Assume for a moment that these famous rabbis actually believe that there is kefirah, heresy, in these books, and in these ideas. (I personally do not think there is, but that is well beside the point, which is that in their world view, it is.) I would guess that they do in fact believe this, or would not have signed the ban. (This is so even if they are in fact wrong - they would still believe that they are right.)

If so, would the fact that many have been affected and are hurt matter? Should it?

Imagine for a moment it were a more concrete, non-halachic matter.

Forgive me for making this comparison - no insult is intended - but imagine that rather than a group of roshei yeshiva, it were a group of doctors at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and rather than diagnosing heresy, they diagnosed syphilis, in a very popular prostitute. Let us say that many people will be affected - they will now know they contracted the disease, and passed it on to others. They will feel terrible, and terribly guilty. As a result, a letter goes out for the people showing the symptoms in question to phone up the doctors to let them know how much their diagnosis hurt them. If the doctors understood how much these people were being emotionally hurt, perhaps they would retract their diagnosis.

Would they? Should they?

Of course not. Knowing how many people were affected would encourage them more to let these people know that they have contracted a disease, so that they could receive treatment. Since the disease is spreading so much, and if not counteracted, will continue to spread, the doctors would make it even more widely known. If they silenced themselves, people would think there was no problem and still more would contract the disease.

Because we do not really give much care nowadays to theology, and especially because of an modern pluralistic ethic, we do not consider heresy as concrete and awful as syphilis, claims in that email to the contrary.

What if it were a halachic issue that did not have to do with theology. A slaughterhouse was found to be using shechita practices which were non-acceptable even bidi'eved, and a group of rabbis found out about it. Further, the slaughterhouse insisted that they would continue using the same process. The rabbis announce that meat from this slaughterhouse in not kosher, and will not be kosher in the future. In response, a group of people call them up to say how much they have been emotionally hurt by the ruling. They ate this meat in their chulent! They served the masses this meat at their kiddush! Further, a large group of meat-eaters who will exclusively eat this brand intends to continue to eat this brand, feeling that there is nothing wrong with it, and they are writing them out of the kosher-meat-eating community!

Would the rabbis change their psak? Should they.

Finally, imagine instead of the current issues and rabbis, the issue was the corporeality of God and the rabbi was the Rambam.

Would he be persuaded by the argument of: hurt feelings, and that many (including rabbis) hold this belief? He wasn't.

Now, I think that these rabbis who signed the ban are incorrect in labelling this heresy, and there are many rabbis who would feel the same. But they would probably be in the Modern Orthodox rather than yeshivish world, for there is a big distinction in how people in each group relate to science and modernity. This has not been the first time in our history that this type of dispute has played out. It should prove interesting.

Note that a major assumption in the email is that these rabbis are being played, and swayed, by people with more chutzpah than we, and that they have been misled into labelling this kefirah. It suggests letting them know of the pain and the extent of the issue regardless, and stresses the pain whether or not they are correct. I doubt they would sign a ban if they did not actually believe it to be kefirah, but I could always be wrong. But it strikes me as misguided. This petition is a bit better, but I have other issues with it...

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