Monday, January 17, 2005

On the Slifkin Controversy (or why you shouldn't read blogs when you have work to do)

So I read Mysterious Creatures. A long time ago. I didn't like the way he played around with the words of holy people from many many years ago that knew way more than him and how he made completely new arguments about established ideas.
Let me start with a famous story: They say that a great rav (I think I know who it is, but I don't want to get it wrong) was on a plane. Throughout the ride, his grandson, who was flying with him, constantly came over to him to check how he was doing-that he was comfortable, that he got the right meal, etc.
The man sitting next to him, shocked, turned to the rav.
"It's so amazing! My grandson couldn't care less! He would never have such respect for me! What's your secret?"
The rabbi answered, "Because my grandson realizes that I'm one generation closer than he is to Sinai. Your grandson thinks that you're one generation closer than he is to the apes."
What's the connection? Emunas Chachamim. There is a law in halacha that if a takana is made in a certain generation, it can't be changed unless people of equal number and stature come along and say that the takana is no longer necessary. An example would be Rabbenu Gershom's charem against one who reads letters that don't belong to him or marries more than one wife. Did you ever hear someone come along and say "I don't think this applies anymore. Let's get together and abolish this particular law."? No. It doesn't happen! Why? Becuase there is nobody in this generation that is greater than that generation.
The same goes with all the words of chazal. And this is the reason, from what I understand, after reading a paper signed by R' Elyashiv, R' Steinman, and many others, that a charem has been placed on Nosson Slifkin's books. He changes the meaning of chazal. He tries to interprete that those holy words in a non-literal sense, changing the meaning to fit his argument. This can have extremely dangerous ramifications, as it did when the Reform movement decided to "update" Judaism for "modern times."
Torah is eternal. The words of our Sages are eternal. That's why the Talmud is considered such a crucial book in the learning of the Torah. If one comes along and claims that the Sages are saying something different from what they've said for generations, then there's a problem.
Another thing: Gedolei Hador mean "The Great Ones of the Generation." I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Until you have reached their spiritual and brilliance level, until you completely understand where they're coming from, you have no right to judge them. You may try to understand them, but never criticize anyone until you know everything that they know.
We don't take science, accept it and fit Torah into it.
We take the Torah and accept it.


A modern Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivish Guy said...

I hope you don't fall off the world on your next flight.

Jockey said...

so why do we get moshiach? weren't some generations better than others? are we worse than those jeremiah rebuked?

TRW said...

Jocko-Quite possibly.
Ultra dude-me too! But then again, what was the necessity in that statement? Did you have something to add, or did you just want to be nasty?

Stx said...

So many layers of complaint have been tossed upon the Slifkin controversy that it takes quite a search to get the source of it all. Not to the source of "who's right" and "who's wrong", but the core of what these conversations should really be about: Emunas Chachamim.

I don't care whether bloggers agree or disagree with what the gedolim have said. It doesn't phase me that people are shouting and screaming and elbowing each other out of the way in an attempt to figure out if the books actually deserved the cherem that they got.

What I DO believe is that our faith as Jews is built upon the foundation that the Chachamim have set up for us. If bloggers want to attack that foundation, so be it. But realize what you're attacking, and don't sidestep the issue by fighting about this one specific incident. Emunas Chachamim is integral to Judaism. Period.

Incidentally, if you look, the Gedolim never disparaged Slifkin himself. They write, and you can check this in the Hebrew posters and article, that Slifkin was in fact writing these in order to bring people closer to Torah. They don't demean him, they don't attack him. They're attacking the words that he wrote. That is, in my opinion, a very important distinction to make.

Thank you, TRW, for finally standing up as the lone voice that has stayed adrift and logical in a sea of controversy.

TRW said...

Jocko-Thought about it for a sec-we CAN be better in some things. Knowledge, no. But in terms of ladder rungs climbed, yes. In terms of how much growth we do, because we start off at such a low level, we can climb much more than they did. It's not about how high you get, it's about how much effort you put into the climb. It's about how big the gap is from where you started to where you end up. And if our growth level is so tremendous, THAT will bring Moshiach. IMHO.

Shtark said...
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Devorah said...

Gevalt. The content of the cherem doesn’t matter? By all means, then we shouldn’t learn R’ Hai Gaon, R’ Shrira Gaon, Rambam, R’ Avraham ben HaRambam, R’ Eliyahu Dessler, R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch, R’ Aryeh Kaplan, to name a few. All subscribe to the very interpretations of chazal now (or rather again?) being declared heretical. And certainly the language in the first poster is far from kind, even for the most liberal definition thereof. “Emunas Chachamim” is not a panacea to all the disturbing issues raised by *Slifkingate.* Are the members of the moetzes gedolei hador who refused to hop on the bandwagon not really gedolim? Are the many talmidei chachamim who originally wrote haskamos for R’ Slifkin’s books and who now firmly stand behind R’ Slifkin dead wrong? And this latest keruffle brings to the fore the age old question of what actually qualifies an individual to be a gadol. In general, wrongfully condemning a righteous Jew is no small matter. Remember that Rabbeinu Yonah wrote Sha’arei Teshuva to rectify his denunciation of the Rambam. Moreover, are you really ready to declare that every Rav who is troubled by this event is lacking emunas chachamim?

TRW said...

All I'm trying to do is to present the other side of the coin.
So who are the Gedolei Hador today? Just out of there nobody? If someone accepts someone as their rabbi, and he says "that right is left and that left is right," what does Judaism say you should do, again?

defen said...

Does anyone know where I can find an exact copy of the text of this cherem?
And I think it's important to remember to differentiate between a cherem on a PERSON and a cherem on a BOOK. Two very different things.

TRW said...

Good point, defen.
The signs I saw were on Nosson Slifkin's own website: (or .org? don't remember). He has a whole section on "debate" or controversy or something and includes all the scans. I'd still like to find another source for it, but for now, that's all that I've seen

Devorah said...

What does Judaism say you should do? Something tells me your thinking of a Rashi in Parsha Shoftim that cites a Sifri which us to listen to the words of the our rabbanim even if they tell us “that left is right and right is left.” However, this explanation is overruled by the later and authoritative Talmud Bavli in Horayos 2b.

Halevi a cherem didn’t have far reaching affects! Halevi it didn’t completely decimate an individual’s reputation and livelihood! Halevi!

EN said...

Where did you hear this--"Rabbeinu Yonah wrote Sha’arei Teshuva to rectify his denunciation of the Rambam". It is a halacha sefer. And who said he put the Rambam in cherem?

Stx said...

Sorry EN, check your facts. Although Vora and I shared the same Historia teacher, so I verified it in the way that all modern-day issues are verified--I googled it.

Search for the second occurence of "burning" here:

And here:

I may disagree vehemently with many of the commenters here, but I'm not going to fight with fact. I'll just sit back and let y'all fight it out for now. I may step in if bones start breaking and blood starts spouting, but for now, I'll enjoy my place on the sidelines, posting unintelligible babble on the subject on my own blog.

MatzahNacho said...

This is one of the best things I've ever read!


"It's so amazing! My grandson couldn't care less! He would never have such respect for me! What's your secret?"

The rabbi answered, "Because my grandson realizes that I'm one generation closer than he is to Sinai. Your grandson thinks that you're one generation closer than he is to the apes."


This is my first time here. Love your blog!

Jen said...

Quite the interesting story, even if I can't really follow it.

EN said...

You can't bring Riyas from the internet. But thanks anyway.

Stx said...
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Stx said...

You're right, you can't. But the second link was written by Rabbi Wein, which I figured was pretty much the same as quoting one of his historia books.

And we learned it in HS. That may not be proof, but combining it with the plethora of people who agree with it on the internet makes it at least a very very widespread rumor.

Can anybody here verify this? Or make sense of it?