The Most Important Discussions

 

Recently, a self-described Orthodox Rabbi wrote what has become a highly controversial article challenging the authorship of the Torah. His radical approach, which shares more in common with the conclusions of academic Biblical criticism than with traditional Rabbinic Judaism, garnered a harsh reaction and prompted a firestorm of articles, posts, and blog entries. Many immediately declared his views heresy and called into question his status as orthodox.

Even the Yeshiva from which he received Rabbinic ordination felt obligated to pen a statement. Its president wrote, “Rav Z. is thinking honestly and personally, but his ideas are different from, and in some ways contradictory to, what we teach and ask our students to believe… His beliefs on this matter are his own and far from the broad classical views of Torah Min Hashamayim that we at the Yeshiva believe in.”

I reference this article not because I want to discuss its contents, merits, or appropriateness. In fact, though an analysis of the article is important and a discussion of the limits and boundaries of orthodoxy are critical, I don’t want to talk about the article at all. It is the volume and intensity of the reaction to the article that I believe deserve to be addressed.

One prolific blogger, who has a propensity for providing his views on a topic before the proverbial ink has even dried, introduced his analysis of this particular piece by stating, “The most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Z…” To be honest, I didn’t read one more word of his blog entry because I was so startled by his opening sentence. Really? This is the most important discussion in Orthodox Judaism right now? Aside from the practical question of how many Orthodox Jews even know of the article or for that matter have heard of its author, how could it possibly be, I thought to myself, that this is the most important discussion in Orthodox Judaism?

To be clear, I am not minimizing a discussion of the authorship of the Torah and I understand that our religion comes with theological principles, boundaries, and challenges. In contemporary times, with children and adults having easy access to the compelling – at times, even seductive – arguments of Biblical criticism, we must introduce courses on our beliefs to the Jewish Day School and Adult Education curriculums. My question is not with the importance of the conversation; it is with the disproportionate assessment, in my opinion, of how important this discussion is in Orthodox Judaism right now.

In the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey made famous the time management matrix that contains four quadrants – Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important and Not Urgent/Not Important. He argues that we spend way too much time on that which presents itself as urgent even if it is unimportant, but neglect and fail to address the non-urgent, yet very important work that will truly yield the greatest productivity and success.

It seems to me that Covey’s prescription for time management is highly appropriate and profoundly needed for the agenda-setting of the Jewish community. We seem to react to everything that presents itself as urgent even when it is not, in the greater scale of things, critically important, while we neglect issues that are of critical importance even if they don’t present themselves as urgent. Our attention, resources, and energy get focused on a controversial position taken in an article, or to provide tehillim rallies or funds to those that scream the loudest, take out the most colorful ads in Jewish media or acquire an endorsement from a “Gadol” who likely didn’t fully understand the issue to which he has attached his name.

A few years ago, two Jews were in prison simultaneously. One, an orthodox Jew who admittedly performed a crime and broke the law, received a particularly harsh and punitive sentence. The other, a secular Israeli who was risking his life serving in the IDF, was kidnapped by terrorists and held in unknown conditions. I remember my disbelief as I would receive emails and read full-page ads raising money for and holding tehillim rallies on behalf of the confessed criminal with a harsh sentence, with relative silence on behalf of our soldier who remained in captivity.

Who sets the agenda of the Jewish community? How should we dedicate our resources, energies, talents, time, and focus? How do we prioritize our collective to-do list? It seems to me that our agenda is being set for us by the media, zealots, and what topics attract the most attention on social media. If we are going to make a dent in fixing the problems in the orthodox Jewish community, we cannot simply have a reactive agenda, but we must articulate a proactive one that includes areas that may not seem urgent, but yet are critically important.

One might say authorship of the Torah and Biblical criticism is vitally important as we are losing observant Jews to those beliefs and they are abandoning an observant lifestyle. Surely there are thoughtful Jews grappling with these issues and an articulate and persuasive response by us may keep them in the fold. Yes, communicating the capacity to engage scientific thinking and traditional Judaism without compromise is a worthwhile exercise.

But let’s be honest. How many Jews do you know who stopped keeping Shabbos, began eating non-kosher, or entered a relationship with a non-Jewish woman because they couldn’t reconcile the authorship of Exodus and Deuteronomy? It seems to me many more are walking away because of the issues that we are not discussing broadly. Here is a short list of topics just off the top of my head that seem more “important discussions for the Orthodox community” right now than Biblical criticism:

  • Torah learning leading to ethical living: Are Orthodox communities measurably more ethical, honest, caring, compassionate, and moral than those that are not guided by Torah and mitzvos? Are they measurably less moral and courteous, and if so, how could that possibly be given that Torah is designed to shape us into better people?
  • Are Torah and mitzvos relevant to a modern Jew? Why should I observe if observance doesn’t “do anything for me?”
  • What are we doing to empathize and support victims of abuse who have been failed by the Orthodox community that neglected to protect them? What are our policies and protocols to properly deal with allegations going forward?
  • How do we reconcile traditional Jewish values with modern, Western philosophy and ideals? Isn’t the Torah’s view on homosexual marriage a violation of civil rights and if not, how?
  • What are we doing about the growing divorce rate in the Orthodox Jewish community? How can we improve family values and shalom bayis?
  • What is our relationship with the 90% of Jews who are not orthodox? And do we see value in the non-Jewish world and how are we to relate to it?
  • What are we doing to stem the tide of assimilation and intermarriage? Do we genuinely respect and care about non-Orthodox Jews and how do we show it?
  • How can we improve the health and wellness of the Orthodox community given the culture of eating and emphasis on food?
  • What can we do to be better advocates for Israel and keep the threat of Iran on the forefront of the minds of our elected officials?

The list could go on and on, but we, the organized community, must pause to actually create it, prioritize it, and then pursue it rigorously in order to make meaningful contributions to our future.

I look forward to studying the topic of the authorship of the Torah and a response to Biblical criticism with you later this year. In the meantime, let’s dedicate our focus to finding solutions to the truly most important discussions facing the Orthodox community. I welcome your input and partnership in addressing these questions and in stimulating discussion on these important areas.

 

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About the author

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue and a Vice President of the RCA.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

116 Responses

  1. efink says:

    If you had actually read the article you are referring to maybe you would have a better idea of what the discussion was about. You read it narrowly as Biblical Criticism. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

    The greater issues are whether our version of orthodox Judaism stands up to scrutiny in light of modernity. If the answer is no then every single one of your very important issues can be discarded. Why should we care about any of them if our Torah is not true.

    So while people may not be attacking the veracity of Torah in your milieu, I think that the most basic question an orthodox Jew must be able to answer is quite simply “is this true?”

    THAT is the most important discussion in orthodox Judaism every day. In particular it was important last weekend because the answers to that question were muddled and one set of answers was deemed heretical. That means that one set of answers to the question of “is this true?” was deemed out of bounds.

    That means that people who might have held that way are being told that if you don’t see it our way, you are out. That is a more basic and important question that anything else.

    Who is a Jew? Who is an orthodox Jew? And is this true?

  2. Joseph Kaplan says:

    The argument “how can we do X when we have Y to worry about” is a common one. With respect to financial issues we often hear “how can people spend so much on a bar mitzvah when Jewish kids go to public schools because their parents can’t afford the high tuition? or how can a congregation build such a large and beautiful shul when there are people going hungry?” And on and on. The problem with these arguments is that we end up with we a world in which should should spend no money except on basic necessities until everyone has those necessities. No art, culture, automobiles, meat, hiddur mitzvah, camp etc. etc. etc. Now, that which may, indeed, be a valid argument for malachim, but it’s not one that works for humans.

    The same is true in the world of ideas. R. Goldberg is, of course, correct, that there are more important issues confronting us that biblical criticism. And he is undoubtedly correct that the statement that “the most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Zee Farber” (I use the name because everyone on this blog knows who we’re talking about) is a gross overstatement. But that was only one blogger who was speaking only for himself. I don’t think discussing R. Farber’s articles, even with the intensity that was present in the past weeks, is stopping our community from dealing with all the other, perhaps more important, issues that R. Goldberg mentions. A good article on any of those issues, especially if presenting a controversial point of view, would undoubtedly result in a flurry of on-line discussion. So if, in fact, R. Goldberg truly believes that “my question is not with the importance of the conversation; it is with the disproportionate assessment, in my opinion, of how important this discussion is in Orthodox Judaism right now,” I really don’t think he has that much to worry about.

  3. RJM says:

    Wow, I have to agree fully with Rabbi Fink here. That’s a first! I don’t condone Rabbi Fink’s attempts to minimize the significance of R’ Farber’s heterodox beliefs, but he is correct in stating that the basis for all religious observance is one’s conviction in the truth of the Torah, and that this issue must be settled before those that R’ Goldberg enumerates.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    If one posits and believes that a life dedicated to Torah and Mitzvos has profundity and relevance to any society, and is not rooted just in a set of sociologically and anthopologically different rituals, then a Torah committed Jew should be able to confront the questions raised , and set forth proud and unapologetic answers-even if they go against the contemporary Zeitgeist.One must never mistake and confuse Judaism with its practitioners when one sees its practitioners who don’t live up to its demands-whether in the Ben Adam LaMakom or Bein Adam LChavero realm.

  5. User Name says:

    Clearly both discussions are important, and I’m sure both Rabbis Fink and Farber would agree that Rabbi Goldbergs list of real life issues needs to be addressed asap. The two are not mutually exclusive. But its hard to tell if R Goldberg is trying to avoid a needed discussion or if he is saying that there are more important things for the heresy hunters to be worried about.

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    “The most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Z…”

    Thank you, R. Goldberg, for your perspective on this issue which I have been thinking of as well.

    My reaction, “before the ink is dry”, is that the nature of electronic media, in general, allows a swift reaction, which can have it’s strengths and drawbacks.

    R. Goldberg and R. Fink may be discussing different people for whom different issues are important.

    The issue has also been driven by the postings of Cross Currents, and before that, the Yated. I don’t know if is the “most important issue for Orthodoxy”– many people I know have been blissfully unaware of the entire Science and Torah controversy–but if its not a game-changer in the YCT debate, it’s like a new chess move forcing responses. Also, it brought out to the open the issue of Bible Criticism.

    R. Fink’s blog, like others, gives people a chance to discuss issues not discussed elsewhere(though it’s not as powerful as face to face discussion), so I see nothing wrong in interested people mulling over this like any issue. For Orthodoxy as a whole, however, there are certainly practical issues which are more pressing.

    As far as “People Are Looking For Answers”(R. Fink’s other post), American Orthodoxy can not respond as fast as the news cycle, and condemnations on Cross Currents are ahead of an in depth substantive response, like creating an alternative website to TABS.

    There is also a fundamental issue in faith matters as far as the balance between experiential and intellect orientation. Anyone who wishes to survive as an Orthodox Jew with questions–to me the Seredei Aish is a paradigm–needs to have a balance in the above orientation, and also be grounded in traditional sources, as was R. YY Weinberg. Therefore, “People Are Looking For Answers”(R. Fink’s other post) in light of condemnations, however large or small the group, are entitled to feel like that, but I recommend learning from history and being patient until the Center/Right of American Orthodoxy develops the equivalent of its TABS website, which I hope it does develop.

  7. Sharon Fischman says:

    With regard to your important reference to intermarriage – the sentence “How many Jews do you know …entered a relationship with a non-Jewish woman…?” – excludes women from your assumed audience and from the definition of “Jews” – you could have articulated your point on intermarriage either by changing the wording to “how many Jewish men” and “relationship with a non-Jewish woman” or “how many Jews” and “relationship with a non-Jew”.

  8. Ben Waxman says:

    Without getting into the issue of “what is THE most important issue” I would like to point out that people who blog, tweet, facebook, tend to get wrapped up in things that much of the world (or in this case the Orthodox Jewish world) is clueless about.

    Of course social media affects our community. But that doesn’t mean that every article or subject that we find interesting is something that concerns the rest of the world.

  9. Nachum says:

    I like this article very much.

    I have to disagree with R’ Fink somewhat. It is, of course, important- very important- to know that things are true. (Or, God forbid, not.) But as R’ Goldberg very rightly points out, that does *not* have a practical effect on people’s lifestyle. Very, very few people “drop out” of observance because of philosophical or theological arguments. (Leaving aside more political questions, of course, but even those.) Again: Some do, and it’s important not to minimize their issues and convictions. But most don’t.

  10. Nachum says:

    Also, Ben Waxman really sums it up. To give one example: Every now and then I come across something in conversation with informed, educated Orthodox Jews that goes something like:

    “Natan Slifkin.”

    “Who?”

  11. Nachum says:

    (No insult intended to Natan Slifkin, who I admire very much. But facts are facts.)

  12. mohoshiv says:

    Perhaps people do not drop out of observance because of theological doubts, however, these people lose the ability to inspire others, whether their children or students, to be observant Jews. The damage of false beliefs is toxic, but it is insidious and takes time till it makes itself manifest. All the issues Rabbi Goldberg mentioned stand upon the foundation of the Divine origin of the Torah; if God did not hand down a code of law to his people, then it really makes no difference whether we behave like Jews, Christians, Shiites or Kamikaze pilots. Questioning the foundation thus is really the most fundamental question that Jews have to deal with today.

  13. micha says:

    I was going to comment, but I see “mohoshiv” pretty much has my bases covered.

    I was surprised by the number of people who responded in various fora betraying the feeling that “frum” responses to these issues are weak, after-the-fact, apologetics. I think it’s a symptom of a general malais, rather than a cause. After all, if you really believe that the Oral Torah and halachic process were co-created with the text, then there is nothing after-the-fact about why Hashem wrote that a slave is freed in the 7th year in two places, and at Jubilee in a third. The questions only arise if one is already feeling disconnected from the reality of the halachic experience.

  14. emma says:

    I had the same reaction to the casua exclusion of women fromt he category “jew” as sharon fischman. Perhaps R Goldberg has unintentionally pointed out another important issue that deserves more attention/solution…

  15. emma says:

    *that’s “casual exclusion of women from the category jew’”

  16. emma says:

    i met r zev once, several years ago, briefly. i remember him stating his view that the historicity of the torah was the most important issue facing orthodoxy (though he did not explain his preferred approach). At the time I had a reaction like R Goldberg’s – really? But now I am less sure. For starters, if you were an orthodox musmach known to have a degree in bible studies, you might just find yourself as the natural address for lots of people with issues about biblical criticism/historicity who are not speaking to other orthodox rabbis, so might have a different perspective. (ie, this may matter to more people than you realize and while it doesn’t directly lead to intermarriage, it definitely leads to sleeping in on shabbos, skipping shul, and not learning as much, say…)
    Similar things can be said about other issues on r goldberg’s list – they may seem exigent to a communit rabbi in a certain situation given the dynamics and/or recent events in that community, but may not be exigent to everyone else.

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    Wow R. Goldberg. 3 things, all of which several commentators here discuss very well.
    1) You need to get out more among Orthodox Jews (especially MO) because this question of TMS in the face of large amounts of presented evidence against it is something that large numbers of Jews are concerned about as they question modern Judaism. And the lack of attempts to honestly, intellectually grapple with it by Orthodox rabbis (unlike R. Farber, and in his own way R. Fink) undermines the view of those rabbis and their orthodox institutions.
    2) In your own list you write of: relevance, intermarriage, reconciling, relationships with non-Orthodox, assimilation. All these are bound up in this very question of the legitimacy of TMS and the lack of confronting it in the face of modern academic scholarship. So you own list argues against your conclusion.
    3) You complain about the tone then admit you didn’t even read the thoughtful blog posting? Really? That’s how you as a prominent pulpit rabbi approach this topic and you’re proud to admit it?

  18. Jonathan Berger says:

    Mohoshiv writes:
    “if God did not hand down a code of law to his people, then it really makes no difference whether we behave like Jews, Christians, Shiites or Kamikaze pilots.”

    Really? Besides the sloppiness of this claim, it is pretty insulting. You think false beliefs are toxic? I think statements like yours are far more toxic, and not just because of משום איבה!

    The following claim is less sloppy and less insulting (a la חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני): “if [one has built his entire system of belief and practice on the belief that God gave a code of law to His people, but then comes to believe that] God did not hand down a code of law to his people, then it really makes no difference [to that person] whether we behave like Jews, Christians, Shiites or Kamikaze pilots [unless that person finds another basis for his belief].”

    On another note, I would love to hear a treatment of the קימו וקבלו sugya in this context (Shabbat 88a). Doesn’t it seem to argue that while the Torah may come from Sinai, our obligations towards God do not, but that they instead come from the time of Purim (and, perhaps, in every generation)? To me, this source also makes the question of the Torah’s origins less critical than mohoshiv would have it.

  19. Gil Student says:

    I think R. Goldberg’s view is simply that we need to get out of the news cycle/echo chamber and gain some perspective on what is important. I don’t think he disagrees with R. Fink except on the issue of “most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now” which, frankly, I don’t think R. Fink really meant anyway.

    I’d prefer if we did not start discussing non-Orthodox theology here, although I agree with Jonathan Berger’s point that there is a coherent reason to follow halakhah even if you do not believe in Matan Torah. There are multiple ways of looking at it but the term “continuous revelation” is usually a codeword for something like that.

  20. Glatt some questions says:

    Ironically, this came out yesterday

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4406721,00.html

    I think the difference is that most of these Orthodox rabbis are not public about their lack of belief in God. I wonder how Rabbi Farber’s students feel about learning Torah from him now that he has made his beliefs public…and should that take away from his obvious scholarship, talent, and abilities when it comes to teaching others.

    In terms of Rabbi Goldberg’s article, I think he is dead on when he says that bthe main reason why the large majority of people leave Orthodoxy has nothing to do with theological issues.

  21. Shades of Gray says:

    “I was surprised by the number of people who responded in various fora betraying the feeling that “frum” responses to these issues are weak, after-the-fact, apologetics… The questions only arise if one is already feeling disconnected from the reality of the halachic experience.”

    Micha,

    –What’s wrong with thinking that Orthodoxy’s responses are a work in progress ?

    –As far as what causes questions, this is an old and classic question itself(spiritual, intellectual, emotional dimensions). As I’ve said, there is a balance between experiential and intellectual orientation in emunah.

    –There are different types of people as Rabbi David Sapirman, for example, of the Ani Maamin Foundation has spoken about.

    –I think at least some people don’t have proper grounding in traditional or secular sources.

    –See R. Carmy’s and Blau’s quotes below re education and the various other discussions of issues:

    Heshey Zelcer in Modern Scholarship and Yirat Shamayim(2009):

    “Some may point to this near-silence of American Orthodoxy as a self-confidence that is dismissive of Biblical scholarship, but I am
    afraid that beneath this dismissive attitude is a deep insecurity…We need our best Orthodox minds to address these issues or we may one day pay the price in lost Jewish souls(pg 154-155).”

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%208%20Zelcer.pdf

    =======

    “Modern Orthodox Response to Orthopraxy”(2009)

    “To combat Orthopraxy on the communal plane, the only possible measure true to our ideology is for Modern Orthodoxy to educate its members about contemporary challenges to Orthodox beliefs and the Modern Orthodox response to those problems. Whether or not to actually do so is a key question in Modern Orthodox Jewish education; the obvious problem is that some of those who otherwise would never have been exposed to the issues will find the questions more convincing than the answers. I am of the opinion, however, that exposure to the problems, especially in an Internet age, will very likely happen in any case, and it is preferable that the first exposure be in an environment where serious consideration is paid to the Orthodox response. Perhaps the dilemma can be resolved once the first generation to be raised on the Internet reaches adulthood.

    In any case, while such education may be granted to students in Modern Orthodox high schools, it is more difficult to reach great numbers of the adult Modern Orthodox population. In addition, having rooted themselves in the traditional community, they are less likely to be convinced by the arguments of academia; even those who are convinced of these arguments will mostly remain Orthoprax, which is less serious than the complete defection from Orthodoxy of which youth are at risk. Thus, there is little reason, in my opinion, to call for an explosion of community shi’urim on this topic.”

    http://admin2.collegepublisher.com/preview/mobile/2.2469/2.2486/1.863560

    ===

    R. Yitzchak Adlerstein, Cross Currents(2006)

    ” So much confusion abounds because for the first time in hundreds of years – perhaps ever? – we do not have Torah luminaries who have devoted themselves to taking on the challenge posed by general culture. (I do not fault them in any manner or form for this. They have enough on their plates. I can still feel sorry for us, and for the honor of Torah.) …If evolution is incorrect, these phenomena need explanations – not appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures. The same holds true in other areas, such as archeology and Biblical criticism. The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them. People who have studied too much to just ignore these phenomena then often find it more satisfying to go far outside Torah circles for enlightenment.”

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/11/24/why-we-are-all-id-dummies/

    ====

    R. Yitzchak Blau, Contemporary Challenges for Modern Orthodoxy, pgs 308-309(2012)

    “Though these broader trends strike me as the most pressing
    problem, we also need to confront the challenges to our historical and literary assumptions regarding Tanakh. I am in sympathy with Shalom Carmy’s argument that successful study of Torah while working with our own methodological assumptions is a far more powerful argument for Orthodox Judaism than fighting our opponents to a draw regarding biblical criticism or archaeology. In addition, constantly responding to critics distracts us from creative and productive tasks at hand. At the same time, some Orthodox scholars need to show that these battles can be fought to a draw, or perhaps even won. Otherwise, we give our students the impression that we have no effective response to these challenges.”

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/777853/Rabbi_Yitzchak_Blau/Contemporary_Challenges_for_Modern_Orthodoxy

    ==========

    Steve Savitsky interviewed Rabbi Moshe Benovitz( Savitsky Talks, “Technology and Social Media: How Are They Affecting the Post-High School Year in Israel?”, 8/1/12, 13:00 in mp3, some of which I transcribed below):

    R. Benovitz:

    …In the kiruv community, for example, they are coming to grips with the fact that some of the arguments– historical arguments, philosophical arguments– that like I said a charismatic educator could tell a person off the street and who would know better, is checked instantly on a hand held device that’s pulled out of a pocket. If those arguments do not hold water, then we’ve done more damage than good. We need to adjust to that, and we should adjust to that.

    Steve Savitsky: Do you have an example of that?

    R. Benovitz: …This is probably beyond the scope of this limited discussion because there are obviously complexities and layers here. But examples like mass revelation at Sinai being the only way possible, when you have challenges from other sources, the fact that Torah seems to have been forgotten in certain periods explicitly in the Navi and the like. The chain of the Mesorah– there is certain reason to believe that there were times where it was if not broken, but then it was down to a precious few; that’s a challenge, just to use one example, [to that] mass revelation argument of sorts. [Similarly there are challenges] in the scientific realm, and in the archaeological realm.

    We need to be able to know that there is information at the fingertips of our students that of course we have answers to, and of course we have ways of responding to, but to just throw arguments out there, they’re not going to, nor should they simply accept at face value.”

    http://www.ou.org/life/parenting/technology-social-media-affecting-year-israel-stephen-savitsky/#.UfZxRo21HmU

  22. ruvie says:

    “How many Jews do you know who stopped keeping Shabbos, began eating non-kosher, or entered a relationship with a non-Jewish woman because they couldn’t reconcile the authorship of Exodus and Deuteronomy? It seems to me many more are walking away because of the issues that we are not discussing broadly.”

    The first part is for sure true. Nobody wakes up one day reads Spinoza and Welhausen and then runs to eat a cheeseburger and marries a non-jew. But it sad that a Rabbi is blind to the interplay between items on his list and TMS.
    When a community no longer acts on a moral and ethical basis but is more identified by their clothes – you are in more trouble than you Rabbi Goldberg can imagine. If keeping mitzvot does not lead to kiddush hashem but rabbis and orthodox leaders (as well as other orthodox believers) committing on a frequent basis various chilul hahshems (whether its jail time, fraud, ignoring child abuse, protecting molesters, treating others as amalek….) one should not wonder why a life of mitzvot looses its meaning- it leads to questioning one’s beliefs – at least examining it more- which just become a possibility or probability.
    When modern man can live an ethical and moral life without orthodoxy and that orthodoxy – one can claim – has an equal or lesser value and this leads to more critical scrutiny over time. If the form of life sops speaking to us the foundational beliefs looses its power and becomes subject to critical inquiry. Orthodoxy can no longer rely on the belief that TMS is THE reason to keep the mitzvot – because unlike the middle ages less and less believe in that as an historical or indisputable fact to ground their actions. Even if you do believe it still leaves open the question why i have to do this – especially in age of freedom and individuality.

  23. Gil Student says:

    ruvie: When a community no longer acts on a moral and ethical basis but is more identified by their clothes – you are in more trouble than you Rabbi Goldberg can imagine

    Do you really think he doesn’t know this? And why is he in trouble but not you?

  24. Gil – thank you for posting my article, I appreciate it. Secondly, you are absolutely correct in your comment. My point is not that TMS is an unimportant or insignificant conversation. My question is how we prioritize our conversations and what we should be talking about and should this be getting the attention it is getting. TMS is not a new conversation and no new arguments have been advanced. Furthermore, we have no empirical evidence it is causing people to walk away from orthodoxy more now than ever. Someone wrote a controversial article so the online world has to react. I don’t think that’s how we should prioritize our conversations.

    Rabbi Fink – you write that the question of TMS is most important because it is the foundation of everything else. Of course you are right, but there is something even more foundational that neither you nor others have addressed and that is God’s existence and providence. Why haven’t you addressed it? Because as fundamental as it is, it isn’t in the news cycle so you don’t need to react to it. Why are we always reacting to the agenda of others instead of setting our own agenda? If TMS is on the agenda that is fine with me, but it should be there because we collectively put it there, not the media or someone who wrote an article.

    Regarding the insensitivity towards female readership when I said non Jewish woman, I apologize it should have said person. My bad.

    Lastly, for all those who think right now there is a TMS crisis in the broader orthodox community, I suggest you are too heavily invested in the small (but growing) online world and don’t have your finger on the pulse of Orthodox communities across the country. I speak to my colleagues regularly and the topics I listed are forefront on most of their minds while TMS has never been brought up once as a cause for the challenges they are seeing.

  25. emma says:

    With respect, it’s not simply “insensitivity towards female readership.” Even if there were no women here one should not talk, or think, that way (as if “jew” = “jewish man”). I hesitate to pick on this point, which may seem petty, or on this author, who is no more at fault than most, but I think the point is an important one at least to note as an aside.

    As for the news cycle, etc, the best way to step outside the news cycle is not to write articles about it, no?
    Also, as I think others have pointed out, the hoopla over this article is (as R gil noted when he posted an earlier link) as much about institutional boundaries as it is about the idea per se. If this were a YU musmach (or even better, a former mir student with aish hatorah affiliations, like another rabbi working on the same website) I doubt we would be hearing nearly as much. And the drivers of the YCT wars are not limited to the blogospheric echo-chamber. In fact, i would suggest it is rabbis themselves who often seem to focus on internecine struggles and rabbinic politics instead of many of the issues r goldberg lists…

  26. ruvie says:

    Gil – As a leader he fails to see the connection between the two. Because he IS part of the leadership that has failed the community in other matters. It seems RABBIS care more about R. Farber and whether he is “orthodox” or not than the other issues- not the media or blogsphere. Rabbis have not built a better edifice for modernity of the last 50 years which is eroding by what everyone sees. Maybe he is a shinning light in his community but the rabbinate has failed as group imho – we are bereft of leadership.

    I believe R. Goldberg fails to see the issue is intertwined. It is just one piece of the whole ball of wax. What he and other rabbis see is what they tell each other – their perspectives of the situation. There are hundreds of reason why any individual leaves orthodoxy – Rabbi G.how much data do you have for any reasons one leaves? Perhaps R. Farber offers a solution to those bother by one. So what if for 10 days the focus in the blogsphere is on R. Farber (or is it the focus on the other rabbis reaction to the monograph) – i would bet that 50% of the community have no clue about it. Perhaps R. Goldberg is objecting on how the internet focuses the conversation on the latest news- its true for the whole internet not the jewish community. People are concern about many issues just because one has caught everyone’s attention for the last 10 days does not negate the importance or the priority of others.

  27. Gil Student says:

    So if I understand correctly, because rabbis as a group haven’t solved all the problems in the community, each individual rabbi is to be blamed. Even if an individual rabbi has made great progress, he is still to blame if other communal leaders haven’t. And even if a rabbi has tried but cannot make important changes because the community does not give him the power to enact those changes, rabbis are still to blame. And even if the community is actually in pretty good shape, albeit flawed, rabbis are to be blamed for whatever bad exists.

    Got it.

  28. ruvie says:

    oy, you just don’t get it.

    עֵינַיִם לָהֶם, וְלֹא יִרְאוּ.
    אָזְנַיִם לָהֶם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָעוּ

  29. efink says:

    Rabbi Goldberg:

    Belief in God is not an issue compared to TMS. Almost everyone alive believes in God. There is no science or study that can prove or disprove God.

    However, there are a tiny minority of people who believe in Torah and even fewer who believe every word is from Sinai. Further there is science that can analyze the Torah and academics have been discussing the veracity of the Torah for several centuries.

    Thus, the discussion about God is far less important than the discussion about what God wants and what God said.

  30. Jonathan Berger says:

    R. Gil: I understand, and did not intend to start a discussion of non-Orthodox theology. I was mainly responding to a claim that—to me, at least—was formulated in an unnecessarily insulting manner.

    I do think it is worth distinguishing “continuous revelation” from “continuous acceptance.” The former may easily lead away from this blog’s hashkafah; I didn’t mean to bring it up. The latter, though, would seem to be a core belief of any halakhic Jew, based on the קימו וקבלו sugya.

  31. Rabbi Fink -
    “Almost everyone alive believes in God” is that accurate? You think there is more science to analyze Torah than God and creation?

    Again, you are fighting with a straw man. I don’t deny that TMS is an important conversation. I am calling on all of us to prioritize our conversations.

    Here is a challenge R. Fink – tell us now what you think are the 5 most important issues in Orthodoxy or Judaism and write about them as blogs posts over the next month. Don’t respond to whatever is the latest craze or controversy, simply tell us now what you think we should be talking about and then get us talking about it.

    I listed what some of mine would be, what are your 5 things?

    Respectfully,
    Efrem

  32. efink says:

    I believe the most recent data (from 2006) was that 95% of Americans believe in God.

  33. efink says:

    I think that I would be certain to include TMS / science vs chazal / emunas chachamim / Daas Torah (as one broad topic) in my top 5.

    The others would social issues that depend on the community.

  34. I agree that would be a good choice for one of the five. What would YOUR other 4 be based on your experiences, your community and your perception of what is needed to repair the Orthodox world?

    You are a prolific blogger with a following and have the capacity to generate important conversations proactively on critical topics facing our communities. Please tell us what you think they should be? I would love to read about them on your blog and share with others.

  35. S. says:

    Rabbi Goldberg: “I speak to my colleagues regularly and the topics I listed are forefront on most of their minds while TMS has never been brought up once as a cause for the challenges they are seeing.”

    May I suggest that part of the reason for this might be precisely because people with such challenges and questions tend to explore them online (or on their own, with books and articles), they do not go to their rabbi. Both because in many frum communities it is not a good idea to point an arrow at yourself as too much of a skeptic, heretic or questioner, and because of the sense that people with such questions have that our rabbis can’t even begin to address the challenge beyond some canned responses.

  36. Shlomo says:

    then it really makes no difference [to that person] whether we behave like Jews, Christians, Shiites or Kamikaze pilots [unless that person finds another basis for his belief].”

    So what is the alternative basis?

    I’m not saying than an individual cannot find an alternative basis that works for them; obviously many have. But many others have not, and those who have have not been able to consistently convince those who have not, including their own communities and children.

    The closest I’ve seen to an communicable alternative basis is in R’ Jonathan Sacks’ books and speeches, but obviously, it hasn’t convinced everyone.

  37. ephraimmeir says:

    Rabbi Goldberg,
    I respectfully disagree with your premise. As a Rebbe here in Beverly Hills at the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy as well as a father of 6 I am well aware of the gamut of issues that face the Jewish people today. While it is fair to argue that for example “Cost of Day School Education” is the #1 issue facing our community today (and as someone who worked for/with Rabbi Weil in the past I do believe he feels this way),it really depends on whom one is speaking to. My friends who are newly married and won’t have kids for a few years are not beyond worrying about this issue. I’ve already begun to have discussions with them regarding how we can prioritize our expenses. On the other hand the intellectual challenges that many of our young people (and this ranges from adolescence to the same newly married crowd) face today regarding how to meld their secular knowledge along with their allegiance to the Torah can not be understated. For the young middle and high school student it can be a question whose answer will determine whether they remain committed to the Torah lifestyle. Our youth must feel that we are thinking about contemporary issues with fresh and relevant perspectives. For the “Young Professional” demographic, many times their commitment comes on a communal or family level without fully working out answers to some of these challenges. When they encounter them we do not want them to feel as if 1)Their doubts/ ideas put them outside of the communal norm or 2) That dogma is irrelevant and that any belief is acceptable within the spectrum of normative. This will lead to them transferring the same mistaken beliefs to the next generation.
    There are no simple answers to these questions. Granted some may say ” It doesn’t really bother,interest, or affect my observance. For many more in an increasingly thinking and intellectual society we don’t want to sell short the thoughts and questions of the masses. A few of the academics involved in such debates (Shapiro, Kellner) believe that the Rambam fashioned his Ikkarim in an absolute fashion tailored to the uneducated masses. In my opinion it would be a mistake to do that today. When young people hear that the Rambam’s Ikkarim must be accepted in an absolutely literal fashion with no further thought or discussion, we run the great risk of disenfranchisement.

  38. MeirB says:

    While it may be true that people don’t immediately leave Orthodoxy over Torah MiSinai, it certainly does have an effect over time as other commenters have mentioned.

    It’s hard to be as energetic about certain halachos or drashos of the Torah if one believes that halacha developed much later and 25 authors put together the text of Torah. It makes one a little less enthusiastic about certain things. It might not make one unOrthodox but I think it’s a generally weakening factor that may contribute to less frumkeit.

    I personally have finally (after many years) come to terms with Torah MiSinai. It no longer bothers me as much as it once did. But I know it effected me. And I know that it is a bit depressing that no mainstream Orthodox rabbi has ever really written a proper treatment of this subject.

  39. joel rich says:

    I keep coming back to the same question – in a postmodern age is there anything in the area of belief that can be required to be accepted axiomatically?
    KT

  40. william gewirtz says:

    two points:

    first, r. goldberg, in a opening lecture on maadei yahadut and emunat yisroel, at a ben-gurion univ. conf 2 summers ago, one that is well worth listening to, prof. halbertal makes your point about these issues (normally) not leading one to faith or from faith, rather humorously. those who claim otherwise, are often misled by those who use these issues as an excuse for non-observance.

    second, the point often repeated that practice cannot be viewed as obligatory by one who believes as i assume r. farber does, is false and dangerously so. imho, this issue, is complex with ill-defined boundaries and is best discussed in conversation/dialogue.

  41. Gil Student says:

    Jonathan: Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you did anything wrong. I was just trying to prevent my comment from driving the conversation in that direction. Your point about “continuous acceptance” is interesting.

  42. GPickholz says:

    Well said, indeed, R Goldberg.
    Observing the dialogue on multiple sites, I am appalled that a significant plurality of the Rabbinate —pro or con— truly think this topic important to their constituents needs and beliefs.

  43. Gidon Rothstein says:

    I apologize for being self-serving and mentioning my own book, but here goes anyway. I agree that the question of which topic is “the most” important to Orthodoxy is one we’re never going to answer, but I did write a book (It’s called “We’re Missing the Point: What’s Wrong with the Orthodox Jewish Community and How to Fix It”) that pointed out that many, many Jews have lost any basic sense of what Orthodoxy is about. This is more than Torah mi-Sinai, yes or no, God, yes or no, etc. There are many, many Jews– ordinary ones, whom I meet all the time– who don’t really have a sense of Judaism as a practice of worship of Hashem, or what the basic, fundamental requirements of that practice are (theological, ideological, and in specific actions and prohibitions).

    R. Gil was instrumental in getting it published, and reviewed it in these pages, at http://torahmusings.com/2012/03/the-point-were-missing/. I don’t know if it’s “the most” important topic, but these questions, in total, do in fact affect how we approach all these other questions. On many of the questions on R. Efrem Goldberg’s list, the lack of a basic understanding of why we do what we do (and Who commanded us to do it) means those conversations have less of a chance of being productive.

    Knowing where to spend our time and energy is always difficult, but if we get caught up in treating only symptoms, we sometimes can’t make progress on the underlying problem.

  44. noam stadlan says:

    R. Joel- Speaking practically(and specifically not based on sources), you have to believe ( or accept) that you have an obligation to believe in the Divinity of the Torah. On other words, no matter how you get there, you have to believe in the Divine command to do mitzvot. Obviously there are higher levels of belief, but this would be the minimum to ensure kabbalat ol malchut Shamayim and a reasonable likelihood of Mitzvah observance, even those that ‘dont make sense’

  45. Joseph Kaplan says:

    I don’t really get the “priority” issue. Gil has hundreds of posts a year with thousands of comments on all types of issues; so does Harry Maryles on his blog. Lots of different issues are discussed on Areivim/Avodah and MailJewish. And, of course, in Tradition, Jewish Action, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, that new Kehillah publication (whose name I don’t remember), the comments sections of The Jewish Week and the Forward and many others that I know about and don’t know about. So do a few articles, or even more than a few, on this topic really say anything about the priorities of our community?

    All the issues R. Goldberg mentions are, of course, important as is the issue raised by R. Farber’s articles which R. Goldberg agrees is also important. So I really don’t see what R. Goldberg has added to the conversation. Respecting him as an important leader in the MO community as I do, I would much rather read a guest post from him on one of the important issues he lists in his post. Whichever one he would choose, I’m such Gil’s readership would have a thought or two (or two hundred) about it.

  46. Mr. Kaplan -

    From the feedback I have received online and offline, my point is clearly resonating with some. I will try it this way:

    What are the 5 most important issues you think face the Orthodox community at this time? What are the 5 biggest challenges and reasons we are losing particularly our children?

    Whatever they are, do you think they are being discussed adequately? Does the Orthodox community have an agenda it is seeking to pursue and if you think it does, do you agree with it, does it make sense to you, is it prioritized?

    My feeling is that we don’t have an agenda, that the important conversations we should be having are not happening (for the most part) and instead we are greatly distracted by whatever garners the greatest attention and reaction.

  47. emma says:

    the best way to start the important conversation that is not happening is …to start that conversation. Not to criticize others for getting too involved in different conversations. R goldberg, you give a list of 9 issues, which I imagine you are frustrated that ppl are not discussing in substance (though some commenters here are trying to find underlying themes or commonalities, which i believe is useful). What is your list of 5, and more importantly than identifying “issues,” what are your proposed action items?

  48. shaul shapira says:

    S.-
    “May I suggest that part of the reason for this might be precisely because people with such challenges and questions tend to explore them online (or on their own, with books and articles), they do not go to their rabbi.”

    Speaking for myself, they do both.

    “Both because in many frum communities it is not a good idea to point an arrow at yourself as too much of a skeptic, heretic or questioner,”

    You’re overgeneralizing. I’ve been Chareidi my whole life and have had questions about hashkafah since I can remember. (In 5th grade I was turned off by the nahama de’kisufah answer to why we can’t go straight to olam haba. I remember thinking, and asking ‘Why did G-d create our psychology like that in the first place’?) I didn’t get into any trouble for asking that.

    In Beis Medrash, I once asked my mashgiach about the story of R Eliezer causing the be’is hamikdash to be destroyed by his bad advice. It went something like this

    Me: Was R Eliezer the/a Gadol Hador?
    Him: Yes
    Me: Was his advice good?
    Him:No
    Me:Well, then who should they have asked?
    Him: I don’t know.

    I started to walk away, but then he asked me (obviously based on his previous experience with me) “I thought you were going to ask me how we *ever* listen to Da’as Torah?” I said something to the effect of: ‘So, nu?’; at which point he shrugged as if to say ‘I have no idea. Good Kashe’.
    I also once complained to him that I just as easily could be a Christian with a ‘Mashgiach’ trying to save his soul, so why should I listen davka to the one I have- simply because I’m Jewish?
    A different guy (my chavrusah actually) complained to him that his parents gave him a Bris without his consent. The Mashgiach didn’t blow a stack or anything. This all hasppened in a very Chareidi environment.

    That said, you have be selective. In the same Yeshiva, I had a rebbi who told me to ‘get that off the table!’ when I innocently brought a R Aryeh Kaplan book (!) to shiur and put it down on the table. I went running to the Mashgiach and asked him what he thought about RAK and he replied ‘I haven’t read his books, but I heard he writes great things!’

    “and because of the sense that people with such questions have that our rabbis can’t even begin to address the challenge beyond some canned responses.”

    Ditto. You may have to shop around, but in my case someone referred to me R Meyer Shiller’s book
    http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0873061640 for starters.

    [Since I blog pseudonymously, I'll be happy to give R Gil my name and the names of the people involved, offline, if that adds any validity to my story.]

  49. Elliot Pasik says:

    Here’s a list of the most important issues for the orthodox community, in the style of Hillel:

    1. Good, affordable, safe yeshivas. Everything else is commentary.

    The end.

  50. Shalom Spira says:

    R’ Shaul Shapira,
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha for your insights. However, pursuant to Iggerot Mosheh, YD 3:43, the beliefs of the church are forbidden to us Jews. That is the answer your Mashgi’ach should have given. [To judge the Mashgi'ach favourably, however, the event probably occurred before http://www.hebrewbooks.org was established, such that access to Iggerot Mosheh may have been difficult.]

    Essentially, I agree with R’ Joseph Kaplan (with all due reverence manifest before R. Goldberg, shlit”a, who is a tzaddik gammur). Since Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:114 considered responding to biblical criticism a high priority, so can we. On the other hand, I did mention in the News and Links forum that I also consider Yeshivat Chovevei Torah to be righteous and Orthodox, which essentially supports R. Goldberg’s approach not to condemn any institution. So I’m on everyone’s side… as usual…

  51. Steve Brizel says:

    R Benowitz-just curious as an NCSY and JSS alumnus-why present “arguments” of a philosophical and historical nature, many of which have their own seeds for being refuted? Why not work from the basics of Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, and emphasize that the more that one invests in his or her exploration of the above, the more that one realizes that Emunah in Torah Min HaShamayim is inevitable, regardless of the negatives in the MO and Charedi street?

  52. Steve Brizel says:

    R Goldberg-I reread your list of issues. I think that this blog and others have discussed the issues raised for a number of years. Like it or not, cynicism, marital breakups of marriages that should never have occurred in the first place, the development of various models of Kiruv in the MO and Charedi worlds , a well documented sense of Mitzvos Anashim Mlumadah, as well as thinking that modernity trumps Halacha , and a failure to internalize the Torah we learn and the hashkafic fundamentals that we recite every day in our Tefilos strike me IMO as the issues facing us as a community.

    I would suggest that pro-Israel advocacy is one area that where the MO and Charedi communities excell at , and need little, if any improvement.

  53. Nachum says:

    1. To all who think this is all-absorbing to even a significant number of Jews: I think you should get out more. But I’ll grant I don’t have anything more solid than that. :-)

    2. Same for my conviction that people generally don’t lose frumkeit over this.

    3. It doesn’t have to be a continuous revelation: It can be a one-time post-prophecy, post open miracles (i.e., Purim/Ezra time) acceptance.

  54. David F says:

    Rabbi Goldberg,

    I find your points to be self-contradictory.

    Rabbi Gordimer has spent an enormous amount of time and placed his reputation on the line to fight and important battle but you dismiss his efforts out of hand and make it sound trivial. “Many immediately declared his views heresy and called into question his status as orthodox.” If you’d read his responses to R’ Farber, you’d see that he didn’t “immediately declare his views heresy,” but actually spent a good deal of time making his case and proving his point.

    What you find important enough to write an entire article about is a short opening sentence from a 30-year old part-time rabbi/law student! Now THAT is important. Definitely worth a long article about communal priorities.

    With apologies to Rabbi Fink whom I’ve heard about but never read, nothing he says is all that important or indicative of what’s wrong with our priorities. He has opinions [I'm sure they're all very worthwhile] like we all do but he takes the time to express them to the public. That hardly makes them representative of mainstream Orthodox thought. They’re his personal thoughts on matters that the blogosphere is currently discussing. Nothing more or less. If he uses some hyperbole in expressing them, that’s his prerogative.

    I’d also add that your list has been discussed in hundreds of forums, articles, and conventions for the past 10 years. Perhaps we haven’t arrived at great conclusions yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the radar.

  55. shaul shapira says:

    I think this issue is so hot-button for reasons that have been given. In addition,:

    1) This is an issue that people are in denaial about. I don’t mean people who deny that child-molestation occurs in the frum community (a separate topic), but people who acknowledge what Dr Farber has written but claim it’s not an issue at all because ‘eilu v’eilu’, ‘it’s none of your business what someone else believes’ etc. Those claims are deeply troubling to me and obviously lots of other bloggers.

    2) You have here two blogs with (presumably) different followers cross linking at each other. That means that people are brought into direct e-conact with peolple who strongly differ with their basic views. I think the fact that both are blog postings by real and somewhat relatively known people- as opposed to comment number 154 on a thread on a single blog that probably has more readers employed by the NSA than bloggers themselves, brings the point home much more starkly.

    3) Some (not all) of the issues R Goldberg mentioned e.g. “What are we doing to stem the tide of assimilation and intermarriage?” aren’t things we can really do all that much online about. Truthfully, are we we going to stop someone from marrying a non-Jew/JEWESS (you’re welcome, emma) by posting links to other blogs? I doubt it. The internet and blogs (at least the ones I read) are primarily places where people throw ideas at each other, debate, etc. You’d probably need face to face contact with someone to bring the price of tuition down, also.
    ======
    R Spira- Ah, but what if someone isn’t sure that G-d even exists or that Moshe Rabbeinu is more real than R Hershel Goldwasser? Why would he listen to you or R Moshe Feinstein zatzal or his/HER rebbi/rabbah/maharat/rabbanit? (I don’t think I was ever at that point; I’m just saying.)

  56. emma says:

    thanks, man.

  57. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that R Goldberg’s points are well taken, but if one strives to undertake then without being sure in one’s own sense of Ikarei Emunah, his or her efforts in the very important issues that he discussed may all be for naught. Look at it this way-if one lacks confidence in his or belief of Klal Yisrael having been redeemed for a unique mission in this world by HaShem Yisborach, how can one look at oneself in the mirror and suggest either to adolescents and /or adults that they live a life of Torah and Mitzvos?IOW, unless one accepts the fact that Klal Yisrael entered into a covenental relationship with HaShem Yisborach that will last forever, and that Klal Yisrael accepted ( and reaccepted willingly) the Torah, then merely acting like a mentsch cannot be the core element of a person who is part of a covenental relationship which is binding on every generation since Maamad Har Sinai.Mitzvos can only be defined as those actions which demonstrate the unique covenental relationship between HaShem Yisborach and His People.

  58. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “What are the 5 most important issues you think face the Orthodox community at this time?

    I’ll take your issues 1, 3, 4, 6 but add, before all of them, the role of women (participation, learning, leadership etc.). And also add yeshiva tuition. But that doesn’t mean that the issues raised in R. Farber’s articles and the responses are not important and that our community hasn’t benefitted from the discussion.

    “What are the 5 biggest challenges and reasons we are losing particularly our children?”

    I really don’t know. But as has been kicked around here a bit, what the community needs on this question is data rather than anecdotes. So you can add that to the important issues list.

    (And please call me Joseph.)

  59. Joseph – thanks for taking the time to respond, I appreciate your perspective on what topics we should be talking about.

    David F – My post is neither about R. Gordimer nor R. Fink. I was making an independent point and using one sentence of hyperbole (that R. Fink continues to defend) as a springboard. I believe the Biblical criticism discussion is an institutional question regarding the boundaries of orthodoxy and which side of it certain organizations are on. That is a critically important conversation and in my personal opinion the views expressed are outside the boundary. My whole point, however, is to leave that for the institutional level. On the amcha level, it isn’t a compelling issue

  60. David F says:

    Rabbi Goldberg,

    Two points:

    1 – Bible Criticism may not be all that compelling on the amcha level, but identifying where YCT stands, most certainly is. Perhaps they don’t take up much space in the yeshiva world or right-wing MO world, but they attract an enormous amount of attention in the left-wing and centrist MO communities and can do a lot of damage if left unchecked. What Rabbi Gordimer is doing is exposing them for what they truly are – a non-Orthodox institution that falsely claims fealty to Halachah and Mesorah.
    You’re free to disagree, but methinks that’s a very important conversation to have on the amcha level.

    2 – I, and I suspect many others, would have had no problem had you begun your article by praising the efforts of people like Rabbi Gordimer, but reminding us of the importance of staying focused on truly critical issues such as cost of Jewish living etc.
    That way, you’ve acknowledged the good work done by selfless individuals and also helped refocus the conversation. By dismissing their efforts and insisting that we focus on what you believe are the truly important issues, you’ve accomplished little.
    Since these issues are indeed important, why not write about them and try to raise awareness of their importance? That would be an endeavor worthy of praise.

  61. Ben Waxman says:

    The following is a Zionist rant.

    Your whole “Israel issue” is how you can better advocate? That’s it???? If somehow the Iranian issue is solved in the next couple of months, you’ll put a big check mark on that issue and that’s it for Israel?

    And since I’m on a roll: teaching people to eat more vegetables and less kishka is more of priority than teaching them about living in Eretz Yisrael?

    Rant over.

  62. micha says:

    R’ David F: It was R’ Eliyahu Fink, not R’ Gordimer, who wrote, “The most important discussion in orthodox Judaism right now is the pair of articles written by R’ Zev Farber. The articles have been deemed heresy by R’ Gordimer on Cross-Currents….” See http://finkorswim.com/2013/07/21/what-is-r-zev-farber-trying-to-do-and-what-should-be-our-response

    REF is the Rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center, a/k/a “the Shul on the Beach”, in Venice California. He is a product of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway and Ner Israel. (Although personally I find him to the left of their typical alumnus. And a great guy to chat with.)

    Anyway, there was no objection to R’ Gordimer’s CC post in the blog entry you’re responding to. Rather, REF’s post is being held up as an example of the Internet Orthodox (meaning: those who discuss their O Judaism on-line) echo chamber, and how we think that topics that are “hot” for a few weeks among our small community are important, or going to shape the flow of the Jewish community.

    Instead, the normal reaction is “Slifkin who?” And life went on despite some people’s forcasts.

  63. noam stadlan says:

    R. Gordimer’s first article, with all the references to various positions and activities by YCT grads( many of which labelled misleadingly out of context) shows that his purpose is to delegitimize YCT and is using R. Farber’s position as a tool in the fight. They are polemical articles with a purpose well beyond a discussion of Biblical Criticism.

  64. sass says:

    Nachum wrote:
    “1. To all who think this is all-absorbing to even a significant number of Jews: I think you should get out more. But I’ll grant I don’t have anything more solid than that. :-)

    Taking a look at the site stats below Gil’s counter, it appears that (excluding Shabbos) this site gets somewhere around 14-1500 unique visitors on average per day. (I may suggest that the true number is likely somewhat smaller, because some people, like myself, will check in both at work and at home, which is probably counted as two unique visitors.)

    Yes, we all need to get out more :)

    Noam Stadlan keeps harping on Rabbi Gordimer’s collection of YCT’s infractions which shows that his purpose is to delegitimize YCT. I’m not sure why he thinks this is a problem. Obviously Biblical Criticism is but one problematic result of this misguided movement. A school whose goals are clearly to change orthodoxy (as eloquently laid out by Rabbi Gordimer), and has set up an anything-goes milieu (that has resulted in outright kfira/apikorsus from one of its graduates) should be delegitimized.

  65. David F says:

    Micha,

    I understood all that. My point was that Rabbi Goldberg’s point could have been made without dismissing the efforts of Rabbi Gordimer to set the record on YCT straight.

    Noam,

    No question that Rabbi Gordimer’s articles and YCT’s refusal to repudiate R’ Farbers positions demonstrate that the problem lies not only with RZF but with YCT as a whole. Whatever Rabbi Gordimer had in mind, I cannot know, but I do know what the effect of his efforts has been. YCT has been laid bare for all to see.

  66. Steve Brizel says:

    Jonathan Berger wrote in part:

    “On another note, I would love to hear a treatment of the קימו וקבלו sugya in this context (Shabbat 88a). Doesn’t it seem to argue that while the Torah may come from Sinai, our obligations towards God do not, but that they instead come from the time of Purim (and, perhaps, in every generation)? To me, this source also makes the question of the Torah’s origins less critical than mohoshiv would have it.”

    Look at the Ramban on Parshas Ki Sisa where Ranban writes that a new covenant between HaShem and Klal Yisrael predicated on their voluntary acceptance of the Luchos Shniyos and TSBP was entered into after the Chet HaEgel. The Talmud in Shabbos 88a refers to yet another voluntary acceptance of the Torah in light of the mass teshuvah of Klal Yisrael after the events described in Megilas Esther.

  67. Shalom Spira says:

    R’ Shaul Shapira,
    Okay, thank you for the response and insight. I would answer such a student with the Rashi on Exodus 13:18, viz. that only 1 in 5 Jews believed Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy at the time of the Exodus, and this was sufficient to merit redemption. So too must we recognize the truth of Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy. [By the way, I thought R. Hershel Goldwasser had an excellent letter to the editor in Tradition 39:2 (Summer 2005), and I thought R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel provided R. Goldwasser with an illuminating answer, as well. So although R. Goldwasser was fictitious (as you correctly indicate), he did contribute something of interest.]

    In any event, I should add ye’yasher kochakha to R. Goldberg for the nice insight from Steven Covey regarding the four quadrants and the importance of judicious time management. Indeed, Shu”t Noda bi-Yehudah I, YD 55 (s.v. va-ani) seems to write similarly (though not as eloquently as presented by R. Goldberg) that:

    “As for me, it is not my way to pay attention to responsa of the Acharonim, the Sages of our time, and not even on those that preceded us by one or two generations, and it is sufficient for us to focus our attention on the words of the Talmud and decisors of the Rishonim, and those who are juxtaposed to them until we reach the authors of the Shulchan Arukh who arranged for us a table full of the blessing of Ha-Shem, and nothing else in the responsa after them – for we need not rely on their decision more so than on our decision. And if so – why should we spend time at length on their words?”
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1497&st=&pgnum=106

    [In a lecture, R. Bleich discusses the implications of this soliloquy (albeit with some misquotation of the original Hebrew):
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/725507/Rabbi_Dr_J_David_Bleich/Resources_in_Halachic_Literature
    9:45-11:15 into the recording]

    R’ Ben Waxman: Well said, as per the gemara in Sotah 14a. [Viz. "Did Mosheh Rabbeinu wish to enter Eretz Yisrael simply to eat its fruit..."]

  68. shaul shapira says:

    Dr Stadlan:

    “R. Gordimer’s first article, with all the references to various positions and activities by YCT grads( many of which labelled misleadingly out of context)”

    What was out of context? Can you elaborate i.e. provide said missing context?

    “shows that his purpose is to delegitimize YCT and is using R. Farber’s position as a tool in the fight. They are polemical articles with a purpose well beyond a discussion of Biblical Criticism”

    I’m not sure if it is or isn’t. His last paragraph of his latest post reads:

    “I would love if R. Avi Weiss and his followers would use their skills for activism and kiruv – R. Weiss is such a master at this and can offer so much. It is tragic that the great creativity of R. Weiss and his following is instead being channeled into modifying Orthodoxy rather than into helping the Klal and bringing it closer to Judaism without innovations or departures from Tradition – especially if those departures, left unchecked, can be eternally destructive for large masses of the Jewish People and their progeny.”

    2) On the tzad that he *is* trying to deligitamize the whole YCT enterprise, he may well see all their other innovations of symptoms of an underlying problem- dangerous moves leading right of Orthodoxy- with Biblical Criticism as the starkest example.
    Whether you agree with R Gordimer or not, can’t you at least acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, he sees this issue as being so important that it requires responses like his?
    Is it beyond the pale to declare someone beyond the pale?

  69. shaul shapira says:

    2) should read:

    2)On the tzad that he *is* trying to delegitimize the whole YCT enterprise, he may well see all their other innovations as symptoms of an underlying problem- dangerous moves leading right of Orthodoxy- with Biblical Criticism as the starkest example.

    Whether you agree with R Gordimer or not, can’t you at least acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, he sees this issue as being so important that it requires responses like his?

    Is it beyond the pale to declare someone beyond the pale?

  70. shaul shapira says:

    Rav Spira Shlita

    “R’ Shaul Shapira,
    Okay, thank you for the response and insight.”

    Oh, you’re welcome; you’re welcome!

    “I would answer such a student with the Rashi on Exodus 13:18, viz. that only 1 in 5 Jews believed Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy at the time of the Exodus,”

    And if the student were to reply ‘what Exodus?’, what would you reply to that?

    “and this was sufficient to merit redemption. So too must we recognize the truth of Mosheh Rabbeinu’s prophecy.”

    I think the fictitious student has lost you.

    “[By the way, I thought R. Hershel Goldwasser had an excellent letter to the editor in Tradition 39:2 (Summer 2005), and I thought R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel provided R. Goldwasser with an illuminating answer, as well. So although R. Goldwasser was fictitious (as you correctly indicate), he did contribute something of interest.]”

    I agree. I’m with Rav Tzair.

    http://ravtzair.blogspot.com/2013/04/blog-post_17.html

    Oh dear, I do believe we have wandered way off topic.

  71. noam stadlan says:

    As one example, the article by R. Farber suggested that that homosexuality could be classified as oness. This is far from saying it is halachically ok or encouraging those relationships which is how R Gordimer characterizes it. In fact R Farber specifically writes that he is not saying it is ok.

    R. Gordimer listed a lot of things that he doesn’t like about YCT. He also accuses R Farber of heresy. He then is essentially saying or implying that YCT is heretical or non-orthodox, but the only point he actually tried to prove is the heresy part. He piggy backs all his other charges on that one. I think this is what I object to. It is a polemic against YCT disguised as a discussion of heresy.
    We should certainly have discussions of what is beyond the pale. And if something is, tjen it shouldnbe labelled as such. But I would hope that they would be based on facts not a combination of facts and polemics

    R. Gordimer began this with a discussion of women’s ordination. He leans entirely on R Schachter’s article in Hakirah(which references another article) for Halahic basis. I suggest that the Gemara specifically rejects R Schachter’s idea of tzniut as the basis for disqualifying women as witnesses(shevuot 30A). R. Schachter’s then uses this rationale to extend restrictions to other categories. I suggest this use of applying an unstated underlying rationale to other situations is very similar to what R Joel Roth did in his teshuva allowing women to be rabbis. The discussion of what is orthodox and what isn’t can go in many directions.

  72. shaul shapira says:

    Dr Stadlan:

    “As one example, the article by R. Farber suggested that that homosexuality could be classified as oness. This is far from saying it is halachically ok or encouraging those relationships which is how R Gordimer characterizes it. In fact R Farber specifically writes that he is not saying it is ok. ”

    You didn’t provide links so I’m having to guess them.

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/18/from-openness-to-heresy/

    We have witnessed Open Orthodoxy break ground by … halachically rationalizing the homosexual act and encouraging gay relationships…

    http://morethodoxy.org/2012/01/11/homosexuals-in-the-orthodox-community-by-rabbi-zev-farber/

    “Caveat

    To be sure, calling something oness does not make the action halakhically permitted; it is not. Moreover, adopting the oness principle does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin (Jewish marriage) – it does not. Finally, the concept of oness does not cover people with a more fluid sexuality; those who are capable of forming a satisfying intimate bond with members of the opposite sex and choose to do so with a member of their own sex cannot reasonably be called “compelled.”

    However, the concept of oness does apply to that percentage of the population for whom homosexual love is the only expression of emotional intimacy and sexuality available. Consequently, it is my firm belief that the Orthodox community should accept the fact that there will be non-celibate homosexuals in our midst and we should welcome them.

    Sociology and Policy Considerations

    I would further suggest, if only for considerations of social policy and community health, that we encourage exclusivity and the forming of a loving and lasting relationship-bond as the optimal lifestyle for gay Orthodox Jews who feel they are oness and cannot be celibate (and this is the vast majority). This type of relationship is the closest in character to the choice made by married heterosexual couples in our community. Gay Orthodox couples should not be penalized for forming a committed relationship; certainly their children, natural or adopted, must not be. It is the obligation of the synagogue to think creatively and open-mindedly about how to accommodate these families, especially when it comes to celebrating the children’s semahot.

    Certainly, if any homosexual Jewish man or woman feels that he or she wishes to follow the halakha and be celibate and looks to the rabbi for encouragement, the rabbi should give this person all the encouragement he or she needs. However, no Orthodox rabbi should feel duty-bound to urge homosexual Jews to be celibate. This is not a practical option for most people, and advocating this will only cause that person intense pain and guilt.”

    Sounds like he’s saying it’s halachically assur but too bad. In other words, they should be encouraged to continue having Gay sex.

    Again, I think it would be much more productive if you provide links and exact quotes.

  73. shaul shapira says:

    “R. Gordimer listed a lot of things that he doesn’t like about YCT.”

    More precisely- that he thinks are problematic halachically/hashkafikally- even if you don’t.

    “He also accuses R Farber of heresy.”
    Correct

    “He then is essentially saying or implying that YCT is heretical or non-orthodox, but the only point he actually tried to prove is the heresy part. He piggy backs all his other charges on that one. I think this is what I object to. It is a polemic against YCT disguised as a discussion of heresy.”

    Quotes please.

  74. noam stadlan says:

    I am sorry but I am not able to put in links from my phone and don’t have access to my computer. Your reference is correct.
    I think we understand R Farber differently. I think there is a difference between not telling people not to perform an act, and telling them it is ok. I don’t think sh’tika k’hodaya is the proper understsnding.

  75. shaul shapira says:

    “I think we understand R Farber differently. I think there is a difference between not telling people not to perform an act, and telling them it is ok. I don’t think sh’tika k’hodaya is the proper understsnding.”

    I don’t think sh’tika k’hodaya is the proper understsnding either. He’s not being shosek in any way. He’s claiming a bizarre application of o’ness and TELLING rabbis not to try to convince gay people not to have gay sex.

    “We should certainly have discussions of what is beyond the pale”

    Glad we agree again. ;)

    “And if something is, tjen it shouldnbe labelled as such. But I would hope that they would be based on facts not a combination of facts and polemics”

    I think R Gordimer uses very many facts to write his polemical [1] pieces.

    [1] as in
    http://www.google.com/#output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=define+polemics&oq=define+polemics&gs_l=hp.3..0l4.1249.5768.0.6087.16.13.0.1.1.1.1898.3844.2-4j0j2j8-1.7.0….0…1c.1.23.psy-ab..9.7.1921.FtKlhM3JLP8&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.49967636,d.dmg&fp=6dfa890c6eac306a&biw=1280&bih=878

    “polemics plural of po·lem·ic (Noun)

    Noun


    2.The art or practice of engaging in controversial debate or dispute.”

  76. shaul shapira says:

    “R. Gordimer began this with a discussion of women’s ordination. He leans entirely on R Schachter’s article in Hakirah(which references another article) for Halahic basis. I suggest that the Gemara specifically rejects R Schachter’s idea of tzniut as the basis for disqualifying women as witnesses(shevuot 30A). R. Schachter’s then uses this rationale to extend restrictions to other categories. ”

    Are we reading the same article?
    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2011%20Schachter.pdf

    Where on earth does RHS claim “tzniut as the basis for disqualifying women as witnesses”??!

  77. joel rich says:

    r’ noam,
    Based on the analysis (annus) wouldn’t the conclusion more properly be:
    Certainly, if any homosexual Jewish man or woman feels that he or she wishes to follow the halakha and be celibate and looks to the rabbi for encouragement, the rabbi should give this person all the encouragement he or she needs. However, no Orthodox rabbi should feel duty-bound to urge homosexual Jews to be celibate. This is not a practical option for most people, and advocating this will only cause that person intense pain and guilt. Thus he should tell the individual that if HKB”H determines that he was an annus, he will not be punished for his actions (some debate whether “it’s permitted” so I wouldn’t get into that). If HKB”H determines that he could have remained celibate, then normal rules will apply?

    KT

  78. noam stadlan says:

    I am again sorry that I can’t link and am typing with my thumbs. You also have to read the article he referenced to regarding reading the ketubbah. It is one of the footnotes. The limitations on women are a result if their restriction from the public sphere because of tzniut. They are not supposed to be in public. The Gemara considers women not being in public as a reason for not having women witnesses and goes for the gezara shava instead.

  79. Gil Student says:

    I don’t recall any such article by Rav Schachter. It sounds to me like an at best irrelevant, at worst libelous, tangent.

  80. Shalom Spira says:

    Barukh Ha-Shem, a resolution has been achieved that resounds to the credit of all those who have participated in this discussion (and indeed to all Jews). The International Rabbinic Fellowship publicized a Kol Korei today championing the truth of Torah min ha-Shamayim, as transmitted to us by the Rishonim and Acharonim. Siman tov u-mazal tov yehei lanu u-le-khol Yisrael.

  81. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, I think that Noam Stadlan was hinting at and mischaracterized the views expressed in the following linked article.http://www.torahweb.org/torah/2004/parsha/rsch_dvorim2.html

  82. Nachum says:

    “does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin”

    Which is a clever way of saying that government recognition of the same is OK and to be celebrated. And if you want a rabbi blessing the event, well, OK, it’s not “qiddushin.” And if there’s a lawsuit to compel you to perform actual kiddushin, well, what can you do? They love each other, after all.

  83. Shlomo says:

    From what I read, it is almost as hard for a homosexual male to be monogamous as to be celibate. If one is oness, then perhaps the other too?

  84. Shalom Spira says:

    Thank you, as well, R’ Shaul Shapira, for your kind response and the fascinating link regarding R. Goldwasser. Vis-a-vis your question how I would educate a student regarding the Exodus, R. Lau has a discussion on pp. 223-224 of Maskil le-David whether quinoa can be eaten by Ashkenazic Jews on Pesach.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41222&st=&pgnum=223
    This is surely the greatest proof as to the truth of the Exodus.

  85. sass says:

    I suggest that anyone who reads the gemara in Shevuos 30a will see that Dr. Stadlan misunderstood the gemara entirely. Furthermore, the Tosfos there (d.h. kol) in fact supports Rav Schachter’s entire argument.

    “the Gemara specifically rejects R Schachter’s idea of tzniut as the basis for disqualifying women as witnesses(shevuot 30A).”

    Lo hayu dvarim meolam. The simple reading of the gemara is that when the gemara asks about Kol Kvoda, it is asking “maybe the pasuk is talking about baalei din, not eidim, and the reason that it uses the word anashim is because it is not kvoda bas melech to go to beis din as a baal din” The gemara at no point suggests or rejects the possibility of kol kvoda as a rationale for disqualifying women.

    Tosfos (d.h. Kol) says that kol kvoda can not be a reason to assume that the pasuk is referring to eidim, because eidus can not be handled by anyone else (eid mipi eid is pasul) while a baal din can send another to present his taanos. IOW, Tosfos says EXACTLY what Rav Schachter has been arguing – that sometimes Kol Kvoda is compromised when there is no other choice, but when there is another choice (such as to send someone to present the taanos, or to adjudicate the din for example) then kol kvoda is a consideration.

  86. sass says:

    First sentence of last paragraph should read “kol kvoda can not be a reason to assume that the pasuk is NOT referring to eidim…”

  87. sass says:

    Dr. Stadlan continues “R. Schachter’s then uses this rationale to extend restrictions to other categories.”

    This is a gross misrepresentation of Rav Schachter’s article. He used the principle of tznius to explain the hashkafic basis of the existing halachic prohibition of women’s srara. He did not use tznius as a rationale to extend any restrictions.

    I believe that these misreprsentations were honest mistakes, probably the result of a preconceived biased view of the issue at hand. I will leave it to the readers to decide whether these repeated misrepresentations cast aspersion on your ability to comment on this issue in an accurate and unbiased manner.

  88. Gil Student says:

    Sass: R. Moshe Meiselman, in his book on Women in Jewish Law from the 1970s that was fully reviewed by Rav Soloveitchik, offers the same rationale that R. Schachter did.

    But this is all a distraction from the issue under discussion. Divert conversation to something or someone else so we can move away from the painful topic at hand.

  89. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “R. Moshe Meiselman, in his book on Women in Jewish Law from the 1970s that was fully reviewed by Rav Soloveitchik”

    How do you know that?

  90. Gil Student says:

    R. Meiselman wrote that in Tradition. And he specified what Rav Soloveitchik asked him to change.

  91. Shalom Spira says:

    The RCA has issued a statement on Torah min ha-Shamayim, available at http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105768. This is a sparkling Kiddush Ha-Shem, worthy of commendation. At the same time, the RCA statement mentions “a small number of remarks by medieval figures regarding the later addition of a few scattered phrases,” a reference which is supported by R. Marc Shapiro’s tour de force book, but which [with all due reverence to the leadership of RCA, as well as R. Marc Shapiro, who are tzaddikim gemurim] would be challenged by Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:114-115. Perhaps a follow-up statement by the RCA could further clarify how to address this important debate, so that the validity of all conversions can be ensured.

  92. Shalom Spira says:

    With the kind permission of our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student, and in defense of Dr. Stadlan, Dr. Stadlan’s position (to challenge R. Schachter’s understanding of the serarah question) is shared by R. Broyde and R. Brody’s article published in the same edition of Hakirah as R. Schachter’s. [This does not mean that I endorse R. Broyde and R. Brody's article over R. Schachter's article. As R' Steve Brizel indicates, R. Schachter is quite persuasive. Furthermore, there may be other reasons to prefer training ladies as Beth Jacob teachers (rather than ordaining ladies as rabbinic clergy), as excellently discussed by R. Student in Posts Along the Way (Yashar Books, 2009), pp. 95-105. Still, le-hagdil Torah u-le-ha'adirah, I am simply observing the existence of an article that supports Dr. Stadlan.]

    Parenthetically, I enjoyed R’ Elli Fischer’s article (re: ladies’ ordination) linked today. However (-and this relates to my previous comment to R’ Shaul Shapira) it seems to me that it is halakhically forbidden for a Jew to claim to the government (even for tax purposes) that he/she is a “minister of the gospel”, pursuant to Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:43. Indeed, I think R’ Elli Fischer himself agrees with me on this, which is why he wants to find the appropriate title for ladies. R. Ovadiah Yosef, Shu”t Yechaveh Da’at 3:72, indicates that a Beth Jacob student should address her teacher by the title “Morah”. Perhaps this is a useful precedent to address the important challenge raised by R’ Elli Fischer.

  93. Shalom Spira says:

    That said, ye’yasher kochakha to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student for the marvelous insight from R. Meiselman, which adds a new element that was not discussed in the aforementioned excellent article of R. Broyde and R. Brody.

  94. Nachum says:

    I like how the RCA cleverly rephrases certain things without really admitting that that’s what they’re doing. For example, the first thought I had when I saw R’ Gordimer’s line about belief “that God did not give the Torah at Sinai” was that it’s long been a staple of Jewish thought that, of course, the Torah was given at Sinai *and* the Midbar *and* Arvot Moav. According to R’ Chaim Brisker, these were then mixed together seemingly (to our mortal eyes) randomly, thus producing the effect noted by Bible critics. (I heard this from R’ Schachter.) The RCA writes “during the sojourn in the wilderness, the critical moment being the dramatic revelation at Sinai” without actually noting that this is a “concession” of sorts, and they do this later in the statement as well.

    Shalom Spira, I really don’t understand your insistence on reconciling every single statement made by Rishonim and Acharonim, particularly R’ Moshe. Surely you know that machloket is part and parcel of Torah Shebe’al Peh, and elu v’eu. (Within limits, of course.) So the Ibn Ezra doesn’t agree with R’ Moshe, and the RCA and Dr. Shapiro cite him and others. The Ibn Ezra is allowed to disagree with R’ Moshe; so too is (for example) R’ Bleich; so too are R’ Yehuda HaChassid and R’ Menashe Klein (and you know why I mention those two together- clearly R’ Moshe felt that way or he wouldn’t have felt compelled to say what he did); so too are any Acharon and certainly any Rishon. It doesn’t make R’ Moshe wrong per se, but it also doesn’t prove he’s right.

    And mentioning the Ibn Ezra does *not* allow you to imply that all RCA members are now pasul to convert gerim. I’m sorry; that’s uncalled for, and using over-effusive praise in the same post does not make up for it.

    As long as I’m on manners, may I point out that “ladies” is no longer really used to refer to women in refined English?

    Finally, I don’t see how a discussion of quinoa proves anything about the Exodus. Some would say, rachmana litzlan, the opposite.

  95. Shalom Spira says:

    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, Rabbeinu Nachum, for the privilege of your detailed response. Nice chiddush there from R. Chaim Brisker, too. Ve-difrei fi chakham chen, u-sefatayim yishak.
    Regarding quinoa and terminology for women, I fully concede to you. Allow me to manifest both these concessions to you by my openly admitting that that the woman of my house actually does serve quinoa on Pesach, following the Star-K.
    At the same time, it seems to me that a follow-up to the RCA’s statement today is merited, since today’s statement could be misconstrued as justifying belief in Islam. After all, Islam also believes in Torah min ha-Shamayim, just a few verses and concepts need to be changed here and there, in accordance with Mohammed’s prophecy which superceded (sic; according to Islam’s erroneous belief) the prophecy of Mosheh Rabbeinu. Once today’s RCA statement is willing to tolerate changing a few scattered verses in the Torah, what’s wrong with accepting Mohammed’s prophecy? Indeed, according to today’s statement, we could justify same-gender marriage by doing some minor editing on the verses in the Torah that talk about this, thereby bringing the Torah up-to-speed with modern sensibilities. Therefore, I feel the RCA should explain itself more fully.

  96. Shalom Spira says:

    [N.B. The pursuit of Islam and/or same-gender marriage were merely reductio ad absurdum examples I was given. In no way, chas ve-chalilah, was I actually encouraging such paths of action for Jews. Thank you.]

  97. Steve Brizel says:

    IIRC, one concept that my very limited exposure to Chasidus and Kabalah deal with is that of Tzimtzun. We all know or should be aware that many Gdolei Talmidei Chachamim spend their Bein Hazmanim in venues where they can spend their time learning or visiting adolescents in camps that combine both learning , sports and other activities. I think that when a great Talmid Chacham spends his time learning with talmidim who know a fraction of the Torah that any Talmid Chacham knows then one can say that such a Talmid Chacham is engaging in an act of Tzimtzum to teach Torah to such students. Here is how RHS spent part of his summer. http://kollel.ncsy.org/gallery/408579249263531/dancing-out-rav-hershel-schachter/

  98. [...] that this post is a response to a previous post by R. Efrem Goldberg (link). At the end of this post, R. Goldberg [...]

  99. Nachum says:

    R’ Spira, it’s interesting you should mention Islam- according to some, it was the challenge of Islam that caused the Rambam to write the Ikkarim, and to phrase them the way he did. I’m not, chas v’shalom, saying that he made things up, but perhaps he stressed certain things in certain ways (notably for this discussion, the word or letter perfection of the Torah) in response to Islamic claims.

    That said, Islam claims far more than a word here or there- they hold the Koran sacred, and the Bible not at all, and the two books are very, very different. So maybe it’s a question of degree.

    I can give a different response: We have a Torah Shebeal Peh to guide us. It even guides us in what the proper Biblical text should be! I remember once suggesting in Prof. Ellman’s class that perhaps Hashem “supervised,” so to speak, all the mistakes and/or additions that crept into Tanach over the years right up until the ba’alei mesorah or even the printing press. I think he said it was an interesting point of view. :-)

    Similarly, I was once at an NCSY Shabbaton where a prominent Israeli Rosh Yeshiva gave a whole drasha on the missing “nun” pasuk in Ashrei. A few of us present had just taken a course in the Dead Sea Scrolls at YU with Prof. Bernstein, and knew that there, there is a nun. We asked the Rosh Yeshiva about it, and he simply told us that, who knows, maybe David HaMelech wrote it with a nun. But Chazal set the text of Tanach, and so now it doesn’t matter.

    Of course, you can debate at what point it was set, by who, and what variants are permissible, but that’s certainly a legitimate point.

    As to homosexuality, here you need a smell test. Is the change being suggested because of contemporary vagaries or styles, or something more lasting? Regardless, you can take it a step further: Once you start suggesting that an actual halakha change based on a changed word, I think almost everyone would agree you’ve gone too far.

  100. Shalom Spira says:

    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, Rabbeinu Nachum. Well said. Accordingly, I would like to propose the following possible hypothetical follow-up statement for the RCA:

    “On July 31, 2013, the RCA issued a statement affirming the centrality of Torah min ha-Shamayim to Jewish belief and practice. In light of the remarks of our mentor, the Rav zatza”l, at the beginning of his essay The Lonely Man of Faith, which unreservedly affirm the unity of authorship of the Torah, the RCA wishes to further clarify the precise parameters of this principle.

    All the commandments of the Torah were given by the Holy One blessed be He to Moses at Mount Sinai. [For a detailed description of how this process occurred, see Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim no. 125.] Moreover, no prophet after Moses can change any of these commandments. One of the 613 commandments of the Torah is the obligation to write a Sefer Torah. Accordingly, the specific text of the Sefer Torah was dictated word-for-word by the Holy One blessed be He to Moses during the forty years that the Jewish People were in the desert. No prophet after Moses can change this text, for to change this text would be to change one of the Torah’s commandments.

    At the same time, the Sages of our Talmud recognized that “the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He is truth” (Shabbat 55a). In light of this principle, some of the Sages of the Talmud (Bava Batra 15a, Menachot 30a) felt it is impossible that the Holy One blessed be He would dictate the final eight verses of our Sefer Torah through His usual secretary Moses, since to do so would create a perception of falsehood (mitchazei ke-shikra; to borrow the expression from Ketubot 21b). After all, the final eight verses describe the death of Moses, and a dead person cannot write. [This is true according to all opinions of how one defines death; see RCA statement on the definition of death of Jan. 7, 2011, for further guidance.] Therefore, according to this Talmudic opinion, the final eight verses of the Sefer Torah were dictated by the Holy One blessed be He to Joshua. The other opinion in the Talmud (ibid.) is that the final eight verses were written by Moses (just like the balance of the Sefer Torah), but this time in a special manner, to indicate that Moses was writing them in advance, before the actual events they described occurred. An Orthodox Jew enjoys the freedom to believe either of these positions, as indicated by Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 428, se’if katan 21.[R. Moshe Sofer, Torah Mosheh, third edition, Deut. 34:5, even claims that both opinions are historically concurrent.]

    It must be emphasized that even according to the opinion that the final eight verses were dictated to Joshua, still Moses was told in advance (during his lifetime, on Mount Sinai) by the Holy One blessed be He that these eight verses will be added in order to render the Sefer Torah complete. A Sefer Torah missing a word or with an artificially added superfluous word is disqualified.

    As carefully documented by Dr. Marc Shapiro in his scholarly treatise The Limits of Orthodox Theology, there were some distinguished Rishonim (e.g. Ibn Ezra to Deut. 34:1, Tosafot to Megillah 21b, s.v. tana) who understood the aforementioned passage in Bava Batra 15a/Menachot 30a to include not only the final eight verses, but actually the final twelve verses of the Torah. The reason for this is that it is difficult to understand how Moses could have written Deut. 34:1-4 when he was already standing on the mountain top (unless, as suggested by R. Moshe Sofer, Torat Mosheh, first edition, Deut. 34:1, Moses left a copy of the Sefer Torah on the mountain peak, and the Jewish People retrieved it after Moses’ death.) Nevertheless, the RCA notes that this twelve-verse position is implicitly rejected by Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 428:7, and is explicitly rejected by R. Chaim Ben Atar in his Or ha-Chaim commentary to Deut. 34:5.

    It is also the case that – according to many legitimate Orthodox opinions – there have been inadvertent errors of scribal transmission throughout the millennia of Jewish history, a fact recognized by the Talmud in Kiddushin 30a and other sources. These errors generally (and according to some, exclusively) affect the plenary vs. defective spellings of words, but never change the meaning of any words in the Sefer Torah, and certainly never affect any halakhic expositions of the Oral Torah. In any event and under all circumstances, the universal consensus of current Orthodox opinion is that no prophet after Mosheh Rabbeinu can deliberately change the text of the Sefer Torah. The final eight verses are the exception that prove the rule.”

  101. Shalom Spira says:

    Correction to my previous proposed hypothetical follow-up statement for the RCA: I would delete the reference to Or ha-Chaim on Deut. 34:5. I now realize, after re-examining Or ha-Chaim, that he is contradicted by Mishnah Berurah. For while Or ha-Chaim does challenge Ibn Ezra (as I reported), he further claims that it is forbidden to attribute even the final *eight* verses to Joshua.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=49292&st=&pgnum=94

    Yet, we see Mishnah Berurah (OC 428, se’if katan 21) did not believe it was necessary to be so stringent as Or ha-Chaim. Thus, to avoid creating an internal contradiction within the proposed statement, it would be prudent to delete the reference to Or ha-Chaim. My apologies for this oversight on my part.

  102. Shalom Spira says:

    And, if the RCA wishes to address the position of R. Bonfils and R. Yehudah ha-Chassid, it can add the following two paragraphs to its statement:

    “The RCA also takes cognizance of the two major developments in biblical scholarship that occurred in 1975-1976 that interface with the concept of Torah min ha-Shamayim. Namely, in 1975, Nechamah Leibowitz publicized the medieval opinion of R. Joseph Ben Eliezer Bonfils (which had heretofore been largely suppressed due to censorship) that Ibn Ezra believed in several post-Mosaic additions to the Sefer Torah (beyond the final twelve verses). And in 1976, a medieval manuscript attributed to Rabbi Yehudah ha-Chassid was discovered which similarly spoke of post-Mosaic changes to the Sefer Torah. These two major developments have elicited conflicting reactions. On the one hand, some scholars (including R. Moshe Feinstein) vehemently deny the possibility of post-Mosaic changes to the Sefer Torah (other than the final eight verses), declaring any medieval manuscript that claims otherwise to represent the handiwork of medieval heretics. Others scholars (including Dr. Marc Shapiro) accept the possibility of small changes to the Sefer Torah by a prophet after Moses, provided that the quantity of words changed is small, and provided that it deals only with narrative, not halakhic material.

    The RCA notes that R. Moshe Feinstein’s position is more traditional, since the Talmud in Megillah 2b clearly states that none of the contents of the Sefer Torah may be changed by any prophet after Moses. While one may perhaps argue that the Talmud in Sanhedrin 22a – in recording one opinion (out of two conflicting opinions) – expounds upon Deut. 17:18 to mean that Ezra was authorized to change the calligraphy of the Sefer Torah from ketav ivri to ketav ashuri, the RCA finds it difficult to interpret this talmudic passage to mean that any prophet after Moses would also be allowed to change the number of words in the Torah scroll. Indeed, most poskim follow R. Feinstein’s understanding on this matter, such that – irrespective of what Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah ha-Chassid actually personally believed – the RCA insists that its members (and those who convert to Judaism under its auspices) accept the entirety of the Sefer Torah as being authored by Moses, with the possible exception of the final eight verses, as already explained.

  103. shaul shapira says:

    Rabbi Spira-

    The RCA requests that you inform them when you have finalized their statement.
    They would also appreciate a definitive ruling on quinoa.

  104. Shalom Spira says:

    LOL (as per the Gemara in Pesachim 117a that a touch of humour enhances serious Torah discussions). Thank you, R’ Shaul Shapira, for your kind divrei chizuk, and for providing a nice dose of witticism. Incidentally, R. Shnayer Z. Leiman’s lecture on this topic (recorded on yutorah.org and dated 1997, though a careful study of its contents reveals that the lecture was actually originally delivered in 1994), also concludes with a dose of humour, by citing Shu”t Mishneh Halakhot 12:214 (to which Rabbeinu Nachum correctly alluded earlier) which claims that R. Feinstein’s responsum on this topic was never written by him, a whimsical Chad Gadya scenario, indeed. However, subsequent to R. Leiman’s lecture, Shu”t Mishneh Halakhot 16:102 would be authored, which essentially retracts the contents of 12:214 and which acknowledges that R. Feinstein’s responsum is authentic, Barukh Ha-Shem.

  105. Nachum says:

    Of course, that in and of itself doesn’t make R’ Moshe correct, as R’ Klein was no more an authority on these matters than R’ Moshe was. (Surprise: R’ Moshe was wrong. R’ Leiman is, of course, an authority on these matters. That shiur of his was one of the more disturbing I’ve ever heard.)

  106. Shalom Spira says:

    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, Rabbeinu Nachum. Still, it seems to me that there are four interfacing but technically separate issues here:

    (a) How to interpret the Tziyuni regarding Shirat ha-Be’er. R. Klein explains that Tziyuni simply means that Moses wrote Psalm 136 in a separate book (distinct from the Sefer Torah), and that it was this material which David incorporated into Psalms. See here:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1888&st=&pgnum=299

    R. Klein’s explanations seems reasonable to me. Unfortunately (or otherwise), R. Feinstein – who was a little more hysterical (and a little less nuanced) than usual when he wrote IM YD 3:114-115 – did not realize this key distinction, a distinction which neutralizes R. Feinstein’s objection that “ein ha-navi rasha’i le-chadesh davar me-atah” (Megillah 2b).

    (b) R. Feinstein clearly erred to at least some extent in IM YD 3:114-115. His blunders include: (a) Failing to realize that Ibn Ezra is a surprising ally to quote, in light of Ibn Ezra’s expansion of the final eight verses to twelve verses [not to mention the contention of R. Bonfils and - le-havdil - Spinoza that Ibn Ezra was a full-fledged Pentateuch critic (to a small extent according to R. Bonfils; to a large extent according to Spinoza) (b) Using the expressing "din pasuk" instead of "din nifsak" when describing Ibn Ezra's directive to burn the commentary of Yitzchaki. R. Leiman notes this anomaly of R. Feinstein in his lecture. (c) The unnecessary attack on Avot de-Rabbi Natan as well as the Binyan Yehoshua commentary thereupon, due to a perceived problem which could be easily resolved otherwise. (d) Needlessly dismissing Tziyuni, as already mentioned.

    (c) Whether a prophet after Moses is allowed to change the text of the Sefer Torah [aside from the final eight verses, where - according to one of two equally legitimate opinions embraced by Mishnah Berurah - it would be fraudulent for Moses to write about his own death; and adding the further complication that according to Ibn Ezra, it is not merely the final eight verses but the final twelve verses]. Here it seems to me that – despite all the blunders that R. Feinstein otherwise rendered – R. Feinstein has a credible case that a prophet who would tell Klal Yisrael “I just received a prophecy last night that we should add the phrase ‘ve-ha-kena’ani az ba’aretz’ somewhere in the Sefer Torah” would indeed be considered a false prophet.

    (d) R. Leiman himself acknowledges in his lecture that R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach orally said that he does not know whether R. Feinstein is correct or whether R. Leiman is correct. However, what R. Auerbach does know for certain is that even if R. Leiman is correct (that it is legitimate according to some Rishonim for a prophet after Moses to change the content of the Sefer Torah), people will be misled if this information is publicized.

    Taking these four considerations together, it seems to me that Klal Yisrael will benefit from a follow-up statement by the RCA. Parenthetically, I commend the IRF’s July 30 statement for not explicitly speaking of any post-Mosaic changes altogether to the Sefer Torah. Perhaps the RCA and IRF, working together, can produce the optimal follow-up statement. Hineh mah tov u-mah na’im shevet achim gam yachad.

  107. Shalom Spira says:

    That said, R. Feinstein may theoretically be correct to quote Ibn Ezra as his ally, provided that one accepts the confluence of the following three hypotheses: (a) Spinoza is wrong; (b) R. Bonfils’ manuscript is either a forgery or R. Bonfils is wrong; and (c) Ibn Ezra saw a different version of the Sifrei (quoted by Bava Batra 15a), according to which there is an opinion that the final twelve verses were written by Joshua.

  108. Shalom Spira says:

    Okay, everyone agrees that Spinoza is wrong (as one may discern from the RCA statement of July 31). That’s not a mere “hypothesis”; that’s a din de-Oraita of “ein ha-navi rasha’i le-chadesh davar me-atah” according to the universal consensus of poskim. May Spinoza’s soul repent and receive an ascent to the Garden of Eden.

  109. Shalom Spira says:

    …and since “ein ha-navi rasha’i le-chadesh davar me-atah”, therefore one who claims that a prophet after Moses changed a verse of the Sefer Torah is – by definition – simultaneously claiming that the verse was not dictated by HKB”H (-seeing as HKB”H has informed us that it is not His wont to change the parameters of mitzvot de-oraita after Moses’ death). Ergo, such a claim is proscribed by Sanhedrin 99a.

  110. Shalom Spira says:

    One may note the following absurdity in the manuscript of R. Bonfils which elucidates Ibn Ezra as claiming that a prophet after Moses inserted a few scattered phrases into the Sefer Torah. R. Bonfils states that it was impossible for Moses to write “halo hi be-Rabbat Bnei Amon” (Deut. 3:11), since how could Moses have known that Og’s bed was located there, if Moses never visited there? Apparently, R. Bonfils believes that Moses’ knowledge was limited (Heaven forbid) to that which his eyes could see.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=6372&st=&pgnum=368

    Yet, in explaining why Ibn Ezra directed that the Yitzchaki commentary be liquidated (re: the eight Edomite kings who ruled before any Israelite king ruled), R. Bonfils has no problem accepting that Ibn Ezra recognized that Moses’ knowledge was informed by the Omniscient HKB”H.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=6372&st=&pgnum=148

    This inconsistency within R. Bonfils’ own words underscores why – as chock-full of errors R. Feinstein’s responsa on this topic are – I believe R. Feinstein’s approach is correct.

  111. Shalom Spira says:

    And see R. Amnon Bazak’s noble effort to address this problem at:

    http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tanakh/03a-tanakh.htm

    In this excellent article, R. Bazak (who is a tzaddik gammur) errs in footnote 2 where he claims that the Talmud in Makkot 11a could be interpreted as meaning that Joshua wrote the section of the Cities of Refuge in the Sefer Torah. This is the opposite of what the Gemara states. The Gemara is clear that all opinions agree that there is no way Joshua wrote anything about the Cities of Refuge in the Sefer Torah. (In fairness to R. Bazak, the same error is rendered by R’ Marc Shapiro – himself a tzaddik gammur – on p. 104 of The Limits of Orthodox Theology.) This contributes to my intuition that Klal Yisrael would benefit from a follow-up statement by the RCA.

    Again, I am not whitewashing R. Feinstein. He erred plenty, and we must correct him (as he himself writes in Iggerot Mosheh YD 3:88 regarding posthumously challenging Chazon Ish). But we must not swallow the claims of bible criticism hook, line and sinker, either.

  112. lawrence kaplan says:

    Rabbi Spira: R. Bonfils may not have been as absurd as you imagine. True, he explains that the parshah about the eight Edomite kings was written be-derekh nevuah; however in Devarim Moshe is speaking in his his own name, and there is no indication he is speaking be-derekh nevuah.

  113. ruvie says:

    R. Spira – The statement by many that Makkot 11a COULD BE understood that way – its actually the pshat of the gemera. That the gemera’s editors reject what tanna literally meant does not negate the understanding {the gemera’s explanation is hard to understand – what did yehoshua write in torat elokim if not something: whether last 8 sentences or the arei miklat] – where do you see all others agree? in the end you need to explain the pasuk in joshua 24:26.

    On R’ Goldberg’s point on priorities – child abuse and tuition crisis can be put on a communal agenda — but biblical criticism fails to be answered via a communal response rather individually. Unless, rabbis in a communal way want to be in herem believers of it or maybe just rabbis who write in favor of it: interesting to note that
    “The editors of the Jewish Study Bible specifically sought out contributors who ascribed to critical Bible study in general, and source criticism in particular. The entire commentary on the Torah is littered with references to J, E, P and D, and the entire commentary assumes that the text of the Bible has undergone a great evolution since the time of its writing. What is fascinating is that over a quarter of the contributors to the Jewish Study Bible identify themselves as Orthodox.2 This level of public participation by Torah observant Jews in a project dedicated to Bible criticism represents a seismic shift in the place of such scholarship in Orthodox circles.”

    Before orthodoxy decides what to do about this shift of acceptance it needs to understand why and how the shift occurred. see http://thetorah.com/bible-scholarship-in-orthodoxy/ for some interesting thoughts on this topic. many paragraphs resonate to me on the topic.

  114. Nachum says:

    Ruvie: A few comments on that page:

    “no Orthodox publication has ever used the new JPS translation.”

    Except, ironically, Artscroll, at least at the beginning. See the Tradition review of their Ruth.

    (And, of course, lots of Orthodox Jews use it. There was one sitting at the head table of the old YU Beit Midrash for years- it was R’ Blau’s, I think. For all I know, it’s still there. When R’ Leiman quotes a pasuk, he says, seriously, “Let’s see what King James says” and opens a Koren; he then says, half-jokingly in comparison, “Let’s see what it really means” and opens a New JPS. Of course, he learned under Moshe Greenberg, one of the editors.)

    “Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, a prominent member of the Orthodox Union”

    I think they mean Union of Orthodox *Rabbis.* Also, of course, with numerous Orthodox English translations, his claim is moot.

    “adopt the more traditional Soncino Chumash by Dr. Abraham Cohen”

    Which also uses the Old JPS translation.

  115. Nachum says:

    I should point out that when the Torah of the New JPS came out, Sidney Hoenig wrote a detailed critique in Tradition which was nonetheless more nuanced than what was quoted in your link.

    Interestingly, R’ Teitz’ inclusion of the Septuagint is a contrast to the views of the Agudat Harabbanim when the first JPS came out, as quotes by Hoenig.

  116. ruvie says:

    a critique of r. farber from r. yitzhak blau in

    http://morethodoxy.org/2013/08/05/guest-post-by-rav-yitzhak-blau-the-documentary-hypothesis-and-orthodox-judaism/

    “…there are voices in our community obsessed with kicking left wing Modern Orthodox rabbis out of Orthodoxy. I view this as an unhealthy and problematic obsession and I want no part of it. However, this does not mean that those criticizing are always wrong. In this case, I think the traditional critics of R. Farber are correct.”

 
 

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