Interfaith Dialogue Again

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Changing circumstances often, but not always, demand a different application of the law. But they do not allow incorrect reinterpretations. Dr. David Berger recently published, in Makor Rishon, a lengthy rebuttal of R. Shlomo Riskin’s defense of his radical position (at least within Orthodox Judaism) toward interfaith theological dialogue. We discussed this recently here: link. Here is Dr. Berger’s recent Hebrew article: link. Below are my highlights of his points and translation of his conclusion:

  1. R. Riskin’s reliance on the Rambam’s responsum permitting teaching Torah to Christians is dangerous. The Rambam’s rationale amounts to teaching Torah as a mission to convert Christians either to Judaism or at least to a Jewish viewpoint (i.e. Noahide). Espousing such a position justifies Christian missionizing to Jews.
  2. Christians still want to missionize to Jews, as can be seen in even very recent developments.
  3. R. Soloveitchik opposed interfaith theological dialogue because, among other things, it encourages horse-trading of religious beliefs. In this respect, dialogue is more dangerous than disputation.
  4. R. Soloveitchik explicitly guided the RCA in its interfaith dialogue, composing specific guidelines that contradict R. Riskin’s interpretation of R. Soloveitchik’s essay, “Confrontation.” Additionally, R. Fabian Schonfeld testifies about R. Soloveitchik’s specific instructions on this subject, which were certainly nuanced but nevertheless unquestionably contrary to R. Riskin’s position.

Dr. Berger concludes his essay (my translation):

In summary, there is room to argue that Rav Riskin’s efforts are appropriate in the emergency situation which we currently face, although I don’t think so. However, the attempt to justify teaching Torah to Christians based on the Rambam’s responsum poses an existential threat to Jewish-Christian dialogue, and the argument that Rav Soloveitchik did not oppose interfaith theological discussion at all, and certainly not in current circumstances, is entirely untenable.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

33 comments

  1. I believe that the money being spent on interfaith dialogues would be better spent helping Jewish children attend yeshivot.

    I believe that the time being spent on interfaith dialogues would be better spent tutoring Jewish children, so they can remain in yeshivot, instead of being forced out into public schools.

  2. Furthermore, so-called “Interfaith Dialogues” are unfair to the Gentile participants, because they often pair real Gentiles who really believe in their ancestral religions, with fake Jews who do not practice authentic Judaism, or even believe in authentic Judaism.

  3. Gil,
    When I wrote to you to tell you about Dr. Berger’s piece, I noted two points of importance, 1)his rebuttal of R. Riskin. 2)his rebuttal of those who take simplistic reading of Confrontation as blanket prohibition against all substantive encounters with non-Jews.

    You only tell your readers about the attack on R. Riskin, not his his critique of those on the right. why is that?

  4. Unfortunately there are Rabbis “asher lo yada et Yosef,” along with more senior colleagues who did have the privilege, who choose to re-make him in their own image. They are “toleh b’ilan gadol” positions that the Rav would have never entertained.

  5. “The Rambam’s rationale amounts to teaching Torah as a mission to convert Christians either to Judaism or at least to a Jewish viewpoint (i.e. Noahide). Espousing such a position justifies Christian missionizing to Jews.”

    No it doesn’t.

  6. “2)his rebuttal of those who take simplistic reading of Confrontation as blanket prohibition against all substantive encounters with non-Jews.”
    See the following from http://www.bc.edu/dam/files/research_sites/cjl/texts/center/conferences/soloveitchik/Berger_23Nov03.htm
    “I have already emphasized my understanding that Rabbi Soloveitchik was not asserting the categorical impossibility of all theological communication. Persuasive anecdotal evidence indicates that he worried about the lack of qualifications for such dialogue among most Orthodox rabbis,..,”
    Note the Rav’s pragmatic worry “he worried about the lack of qualifications for such dialogue among most Orthodox rabbis,” not necessarily the absolute theoretical prohibition implied by many today.

  7. “Dude on November 21, 2012 at 12:37 am
    Unfortunately there are Rabbis “asher lo yada et Yosef,” along with more senior colleagues who did have the privilege, who choose to re-make him in their own image. They are “toleh b’ilan gadol” positions that the Rav would have never entertained”

    The question is which Rabbis are remaking the Rav in their own image-Prof Kaplan has written on Revisionism and the Rav-worth reading.

  8. Kaplan is responding to those who have turned the Rav into a Haredi Rosh Yeshivah. In recent years, it’s the Left – you would think the Rav graduated Chovevei Torah to go on and ordain women.

  9. Moshe Shoshan

    “The Rambam’s rationale amounts to teaching Torah as a mission to convert Christians either to Judaism or at least to a Jewish viewpoint (i.e. Noahide). Espousing such a position justifies Christian missionizing to Jews.”

    “No it doesn’t.”

    See the original article before rejecting the argument out of hand

  10. “Dude on November 21, 2012 at 4:39 am
    Kaplan is responding to those who have turned the Rav into a Haredi Rosh Yeshivah.”
    If I recall correctly Prof Kaplan also refers to Rabbis Greenberg and Hartman-neither by any imagination is a Chareidi Rosh Yeshiva.
    ” In recent years, it’s the Left –” I haven’t seen any letup by the right trying to reinvent the Rav either-agree the left is also doing it.

  11. “Additionally, R. Fabian Schonfeld testifies about R. Soloveitchik’s specific instructions on this subject, which were certainly nuanced”
    A very good source-also from a scholarly viewpoint the best source is what the Rav permitted to be done in this area in the roughly quarter of a century in which he actively was Chairman of the Halacha Commission of the RCA and when it is clear that students of his were acting on his guidelines-why that record is being ignored in present discussions is an interesting question.

  12. It seems to me that on so many of these topics, the modern orthodox world spends an inordinate amount of time debating what the Rav said, rather than tackling the issue head on.

  13. Joseph Kaplan

    “Kaplan is responding to those who have turned the Rav into a Haredi Rosh Yeshivah. In recent years, it’s the Left”

    If you read my brother’s article you’ll see that he criticized revisionists from the left as well.

  14. Moshe Shoshan: Dr. Berger’s critique of the right is really just implicit and can be found implicitly in my highlights (nuance & R. Schonfeld). The critique of R. Riskin is front and center in the article.

  15. It seems to me that on so many of these topics, the modern orthodox world spends an inordinate amount of time debating what the Rav said, rather than tackling the issue head on.
    ===========================

    R’Ralph,
    I tend to agree, although I don’t see it as an either/or. IMHO understanding the Rav’s approach (not an easy thing for many reasons) on a particular issue is important because it can help guide us in tackling the issue head on. While one never steps in the same river twice, learning from an experienced river guide how to read a river can be very helpful (apologies for the mixed metaphor). Some might find R’HS’s quick thought here of interest regarding following in footsteps:
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/784054/Rabbi_Hershel_Schachter/Following_in_the_Steps_of_Our_Forefathers

    KT

  16. Lawrence Kaplan

    Joel Rich: Thanks for linking to RHS’s brief talk. It seems to me to be very important, and I hope it gets more publicity. I am impressed by Rav Schachter’s forthright criticism of MBP (through direct suction) and his urging rabbis to take a strong stand and not to allow it in their shuls.

    Gil: Why don’t you link to it directly?

  17. “It seems to me that on so many of these topics, the modern orthodox world spends an inordinate amount of time debating what the Rav said, rather than tackling the issue head on”

    Am I incorrect to say that what you wrote = MO should engage in substantive interfaith dialogue?

  18. Rafael, I think you are wrong, though can’t speak for Ralph. On a straight reading, “engage the issue head on” meant “engage the question of ‘what is the correct position on interfaith dialogue’ directly rather than spending more energy on ‘what did the rav say about interfaith dialogue.'” same could be said of many other issues.

  19. emma – I believe that you are right :)

  20. Nu. so, the Rav’s disciples can’t agree on what their teacher wanted. What’s new here?

  21. I agree with R Gil’s and Mycroft’s assessment of the articles by R D D Berger. If one reads the piece in Makor Rishon as well as R D Berger’s views at the Boston College confab, the same are identical in nature.

  22. Moshe Shoshan

    fair enough

  23. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: Your 1:28 pm comment is unfair.The fact that these two eminent disciples of the Rav disagree does not mean that hs view is up for grabs. I think it is clear that in this case Prof. Berger’s reading of the Rav’s view is the correct one.

  24. Prof. Kaplan — I have no view on which of these eminent disciples has the more correct reading of the Rav. What is unclear to me is what the Rav would have wanted in today’s context (in which the context, protaganists and lines of demarcation are quite a bit different).

  25. Joseph Kaplan

    “What is unclear to me is what the Rav would have wanted in today’s context (in which the context, protaganists and lines of demarcation are quite a bit different).”

    It is perfectly legitimate for students and other to try to understand from the Rav’s words what he meant. It is completely illegitimate for ANYONE to say what the Rav would have wanted today. So it’s perfectly alright and understandable if it’s unclear. One can say that this is what he said when he was alive and I will follow it or one can say even though this is what he said then, my conclusion for today’s world is different.

  26. Joseph Kaplan wrote in part:

    “It is completely illegitimate for ANYONE to say what the Rav would have wanted today.”

    Why is understanding RYBS’s views on this issue today via RYBS’s talmidim neemanim different in any manner from undertanding RYBS’s view on any halachic or hashkafic POV? To assume the contrary means that RYBS’s views were frozen in time with no basis for being transmitted to future generations.

  27. “Lawrence Kaplan on November 22, 2012 at 7:48 am
    IH: Your 1:28 pm comment is unfair.The fact that these two eminent disciples of the Rav disagree does not mean that hs view is up for grabs. I think it is clear that in this case Prof. Berger’s reading of the Rav’s view is the correct one.”

    My personal opinion is that Prof Berger’s analysis of Rav’s views are much more accurate than R Riskin’s viewpoint. But it is personlaaly legitimate for anyone to argue based on the Ravs record what the Rav would have thought today.

    “t is perfectly legitimate for students and other to try to understand from the Rav’s words what he meant.”
    Agreed
    ” It is completely illegitimate for ANYONE to say what the Rav would have wanted today.” One has the right to argue what the Rav would have said today based on his record on the past.
    . “One can say that this is what he said when he was alive and I will follow it or one can say even though this is what he said then, my conclusion for today’s world is different.”
    One need not follow the Rav but what is illegitimate is to state one is following the Rav but not follow what he intended=both the Right and Left do that-see eg Prof Kaplans seminal article about how that was done in the first few years after the Rav passed away-IMO it has continued since then.

  28. Lawrence Kaplan

    Ih: You changed tenses. You originally wrote “what their teacher wanted.” You then wrote “what their teacher would have wanted in today’s context.” Not quite the same thing.

  29. Prof. Kaplan — sloppyness on my part so fair cop.

  30. shachar haamim

    “Hirhurim on November 21, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Moshe Shoshan: Dr. Berger’s critique of the right is really just implicit and can be found implicitly in my highlights (nuance & R. Schonfeld). The critique of R. Riskin is front and center in the article.”

    I agree – the critique (if one can call it that) of the simplistic reading was obiter dicta. The critique of R. Riskin was the ratio decidendi here.

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