Monday, January 18, 2010

Interesting Posts and Articles #248

  1. In a shocking development, it was revealed that maamid har Sinai and Keriat Yam Suf did not necessarily happen as described in chumash. Rather, some Israelite produced the story. This was presented to Shmuel Hanavi, who was asked whether to promulgate the story, given that they were not certain it was true. The response:

    “Can you say for certain it wasn’t genuine?” adding, “If some are encouraged (receive chizuk) by this, why not tell?”
    OK, that was not really a quote from Shmuel HaNavi. Rather, it was from Rav Elyashiv, about dybbuks:

    Kook speaks of the case of the dibuk in Dimona in 5759, Pinchas ben Sofia, when Maran was asked if one is permitted to tell the story to children since not everyone believes there was a dibuk in real life. The rav responded rhetorically, “can you say for certain it wasn’t genuine?” adding, “If some are encouraged (receives a chizuk) by this, why not tell?” This is the message this week regarding the dibuk of Brazil “whether we are dealing with a dibuk or not” the chareidi papers reported, quoting Maran R’ Elyashiv, echoing his words from 11 years ago – “if people receive a chizuk from this, why not?”
    But the idea that our leaders are willing to lie to us undermines the very concept of masorah! This, besides the fact that if it is false, then you are encouraging falsehood and letting the purveyors of falsehood achieve their ends. In the case of the dybbuk 11 years ago, this might well have affected the Israeli election, going on just then. And subsequently, the woman's confession:

    JERUSALEM (JTA) -- An Israeli woman who allegedly had a dybbuk, or evil spirit, exorcized from her eight months ago said the whole ceremony was a sham, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported Wednesday. Dimona resident Yehudit Sigauker claims that she was pressured into it by activists from the fervently religious Shas movement. She also asserts that she was forced to sign an agreement that would enable videotapes of the ceremony to be used for commercial and propaganda use. The son of kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri, who performed the exorcism, denied that the ceremony was a fake.
    Also, possibly, as an attempt to declare Deri innocent:

    Batzri also questioned the soul about Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who was recently convicted on corruption charges, but there are conflicting reports as to whether the soul indicated that Deri was innocent or guilty and that part of the videotape has been censored.
    That Rav Elyashiv is unaware of the outcome of the previous fiasco, and continues this line of argument, troubles me. This is totally aside from the fact that I think there are no such things as dybbuks (and think that Rambam and Saadia Gaon would agree with me in this, though this does not amount, IMHO, to a regular machlokes rishonim where each side has what to support, any more than a round-earther and a flat-earther arguing, each with supports in Chazal). Also, "why not"? Because as Rav Shternbuch points out, there are very real people in play here, with very real mental illnesses, who likely could benefit from treatment. (OK, that goes a bit further than what he said, though he did call it mental illness.) And why not? How about that it promotes a strain of superstitious Judaism, which is not necessarily a good thing. This is indeed chizzuk, but I am not sure it is chizzuk in the right direction. Of course, Rav Kanievsky might differ with me as to the better direction of Judaism. And why not? How about that when the various Gedolim support it, it is viewed as heretical to argue otherwise. "Do you think you know better than Rav Shteinberg and Rav Kanievsky in this?" Indeed I do think so, given their histories in determining this sort of metzius, but regardless, I didn't make up the question. And why not? Frankly, it undermines our trust in Gedolim, that they could fall for such obvious nonsense. Though at this point, I am not so sure this is such a bad thing.

  2. Meanwhile, at Cross-Currents, a discussion of whether this is a correct approach. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein suggests that it might be for the chareidim of Bnei Brak, who are unlikely to conclude that it was all fake.

    For the haredi community in Israel, tales of a dybbuk might indeed bring chizuk. When the possessed woman came around eight months later and complained that she was put up to the entire drama by people who wanted to milk it for its propaganda purposes, the purported confession appeared in Ha’aretz. (I say “purported” because I generally pay less attention to Ha’aretz’s treatment of anything religious than I do to a would-be dybbuk. Some of its journalists write as if possessed by multiple demons.) Now, Ha’aretz is not a paper generally read by haredim. Many, many people still believe that ten years ago, R. Batzri conversed with a dybbuk, recorded his voice, and then succeeded in obtaining a summary eviction. To them, both dybbuk stories are sources of chizuk. 
    To many others, however, both stories are the polar opposite. They are about supposedly discerning people preferring irrationality (or at least meta-rationality) above rational and commonsensical explanations. They create problems and doubts for people who struggle with criticism of their life style by people who see them as superstitious, anti-intellectual, narrow and primitive. They have answers for those people, but those answers are compromised by the behavior of their coreligionists, particularly when a dreaded dybbuk is unmasked as a foolish fraud. 
    Chizuk is good – as long as there is no strong probability that it will turn into the opposite under scrutiny. In more insular communities, that scrutiny is not very likely, and there is at least room to embrace the chizuk. For those of us in more open societies, every possibility of chizuk has to be weighed against the significant chance that it will be stood on its head. We must be far more prudent, as R. Simcha was.
    I don't know that I agree. Emes is emes, and whether or not people receive chizuk should be secondary to the likelihood of it being false. Though I don't know that I summarized his position sufficiently.

  3. Meanwhile, at Mystical Paths, another "inspirational" story, about a fellow who left his tefillin behind at the terminal and therefore missed his flight and delayed the takeoff of the plane for 18 minutes. It is "inspirational" because that was flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, and thus his life was saved by not being on the plane, and many in the second tower were able to escape in those 18 minutes. He prefaces this with a good preface:

    This story came without any means of conformation and was told by the Satmar Rebbe. As is said about stories and Midrashim, anyone who believes every such story and detail is a fool, anyone who doesn't believe is a heretic...
    Yet, it is not so neutral. If it is made up, then there was some pious idiot who thought it would be a good idea to exploit the tragedy in order to inspire others with falsehood. This is another reason the attitude put forth by Rav Elyashiv is not necessarily optimal -- it encourages these pious idiots. And there are good reasons to think this was made up. As I note in the comments there, regarding Flight 175,

    "The flight, which was scheduled to depart at 08:00, pushed back at 07:58 from Gate C19, and took off at 08:14 from runway 4R.[2][10], several minutes after Flight 11 departed from the same runway."
    such that the flight left the gate a bit earlier than its departure time, there was no 18 minutes, and no documentation of returning to the gate despite their being late. And if it was Bin Laden's devious plan that the two planes get into the air and thus hit simultaneously, well that makes no sense either, because regarding the first plane, flight 11,

    "The aircraft taxied away from Gate B32[17] and departed Logan International Airport at 07:59 from runway 4R after a 14-minute delay."
    Thus, it was originally scheduled to depart earlier than the other plane, against the assertion in the story. And the delay there brought it closer to the takeoff time of the other plane, something not in the original plans. The details of the story do not match the reality, and that is because it was made up by a pious idiot seeking to inspire via falsehood.

  4. At Daat Torah, a discussion of dybbuk, kabbalah, and masorah. The questioner asks,

    5) If the claims about dybukkim are false (which I take them to be), then how do we explain how such ideas have crept into our Mesora under the veil of true kabbalah? Why are such ideas endorsed by supposedly important and learned rabbis? And, more importantly, why don't more Rabbis and community leaders who are aware of the spurious nature of such claims publicize the fraud?

  5. A funny lawyer ad:
  6. At Blog In Dm, a roundup of posts about the new "music hechsher", which does not have gedolim signed on to it. He notes that it is Rabbi Luft, with his attempted music ban, at it again. And indeed, Life In Israel makes a good suggestion:

    I recommend that there be a consumer boycott against any disk, and the artist, that plays along with these guys and puts the shtemple on their disk. Don't buy the disk and don't use the artist for your weddings and affairs. By playing along with the new Vaad they give them power and help them increase their power. If people don't buy disks with the shtemple, artists will think twice before they agree to give this Vaad the power

  7. The one who molested Motty Borger is identified, it seems. This should perhaps serve a lesson to those who, in the immediate aftermath, were pointing the finger at his father.

  8. Mekubal clarifies his remarks about Rabbi Leib Tropper, who was both a "blogger" and a "doer".

  9. At Emes veEmunah, a guest post about Daas Torah being the opposite of Daas Baalei Batim.

  10. At, reactions to the particular meshichists who seemed to violate halacha by having a feast on Asara B'Teves. (I don't think the halachic violation is so strong, even if mashiach has not come.)

    And at Emes veEmunah, a guest post by Rabbi Dr. David Berger about the idea of resurrected messiah in Judaism. An excerpt:

    Since the Rebbe declared the Rambam’s discussion of the Messiah in the Mishneh Torah to be binding, every Lubavitch hasid should feel obligated to deny the possibility that the Rebbe will be the Messiah. (The arguments that belief in the Rebbe’s Messiahship is consistent with the Rambam are unworthy of any serious attention.) Setting this aside, and without going into detail, let me summarize my view of the sources:


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Did you happen to notice the reference to the Chofetz Chaim's dybbuk in Emes Le-ya'akov on Vaerah? Quite timely.

I think the issue for Rabbi Adlerstein at least is that there in yeshiva circles there is no accepted precedent for disputing something which is plainly taken as true by the roshei yeshiva. Although hisnagdus is not so alive any more, you can certainly hear skepticism and light ridicule of Chassidic stories in the yeshiva world. But once R. Elchonon Wasserman and the Chofetz Chaim (and subsequent endorsement by leading light roshei yeshiva, like R. Ya'akov) enter the picture, at most you can get "I won't say it's nonsense, but I admit that I can't imagine a scenario where I'll be persuaded that there's a dybbuk."

joshwaxman said...

true, that.

interesting. i'll try to check it out.

Lakewood Falling Down said...

To borrow from On the Main Line's comments: "at least is that there in yeshiva circles there is no accepted precedent for disputing something which is plainly taken as true by the roshei yeshiva."
The narrow views by many in the Yeshiva world are even whispred against by many of their own followers leading to people getting frustrated and going off of the derech all together. I'm seeing it too often on a personal level. Even if outher unusual stories are true, there needs to be a better public way to deal with it, without creating such a backlash against Daas Torah.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...


But I'll give an example of another creepy phenomenon related to total deference to the roshei yeshiva. While it is true that people used to formulate a hashkafah that they believed to be true, great people and seforim of the past were not taken to task for failing to conform with the current hashkafah. But recently I've heard comments from yeshivaleit to the effect as follows: R. Shabbesai Bass's Sifsei Chachomim is in countless editions of the Chumash. It has been a fixture for nearly 300 years. Yet someone recently told me that it contains some "wild" stuff, "wild" not being a good thing. I didn't receive any examples, but it appears that merely offering non-mainstream, speculative explanations is grounds for suspicion. The Torah Temimah, as everyone knows highly regarded a generation or two ago, is similarly viewed with a jaundiced eye, and not because of My Uncle the Netziv. Someone else deplored, in the name of two rabbis, one a lesser light and one a godol, that there was a translation of the Chida's Maagal Tov, and indeed that it was published in the first place. Another example, someone like R. Eliyah Bachur and his critical approach is viewed with suspicion, even though the Pri Megadim wrote of him "ha-tishbi ne'eman yoser me-meah edim." But his views and hashkafos are far afield from the one authorized hashkafah these days (see, eg, a newish post on my blog, where the Tishby basically calls the Vachtnacht a minhag pashut). Indeed, people --in these cases young people-- are reaching back and attacking great people of centuries past for their failure to conform to the hashkafah of the roshei yeshiva, which they have been taught to believe is the one true monochromatic emes; R. Adlerstein surely knows otherwise, but what can he do? The roshei yeshiva believe in dybbuks or at least say it's permitted to tell phony dybbuk stories. What is there to do besides privately think it's hooey? Certainly not to publicly say so, evidently.

Lakewood Falling Down said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lakewood Falling Down said...

Well, halacha can be weird in the first place. My wife put some A1 sauce on her plate, and I was looking at the ingredients. One is ingredient is raisin paste. I remmarked that grapes are ha'eitz, but the bracha achronah is Pri-haeitz, if it's raisins, some say the bracha achronah is borei nefashos. If it's squeezed into juice, the brachah changes to a Borei Prei Hagafen, and an al Hagafen. If even simple things like a brachah can be so confusing and seemingly nonsensical (imagine being a baal teshuva), than things like dibbuks and other ideas we don’t encounter in everyday life SHOULD be subject to interpretation. Another factor is the frum community as a whole is not half as well informed of Jewish history-even, and maybe especially of the last 300 years. How many kids in Chaim Berlin know who Dreyfus was?

Yosef Greenberg said...

"This is totally aside from the fact that I think there *are* no such things as dybbuks"

Do you think that there used to be?

"How about that it promotes a strain of superstitious Judaism, which is not necessarily a good thing."

not *necessarily*. Some think it to be great! :)

joshwaxman said...

"Do you think that there used to be?"

no. i think the idea did not really exist in Biblical times (Shaul and Navos being misunderstood); that the concept *might* have existed in the time of the Tannaim and Amoraim, in a slightly different form (see e.g. Tobit, and one or two gemaras); that kabbalistic concepts of dibbuk, ibbur and gilgul neshama gave it new life force; and that it apparently came back into play at about the same time it became popular among Catholics.

i don't think it makes sense to say that they were paskened out of existence, so if they don't exist now, then they never existed.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

See also the New Testament. It depends how you look at it. Spirit possession as a concept certainly didn't arise only a few hundred years ago, but probably the specific formulation here, dybbuk as a soul in need of tikkun, did.


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