Response to Bears, Avos and Mitzvos

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Guest post by “Krum As A Bagel” (creator of the video)

Gil has generously offered me the opportunity to post a response to his post (link). Much of what I say below reiterates comments I made to Gil’s post and echoes what others have written, but, as the producer of the “yeshiva guy” video, I thought it worthwhile to post a response in a public forum. I find the need to do this somewhat irritating, as I believe the video speaks for itself and I really don’t have the time or energy to engage in a lengthy debate about it (which is why I abandoned my blog years ago), but given the attention it has received and the accusations made about it and its producer, I feel obliged to respond.

The target of the video was not what Rabbi Hoffman calls the “maximalist” position, but rather a kind of uncritical acceptance of that position taken to an absurd extreme (e.g., Crocs on Tisha b’Av) and treating it as the only legitimate derech, an approach than I find quite common in yeshivish circles. The video portrays a yeshiva student who heard some cute “sholosh seudos torah” at his rebbe’s house. Rather than accepting the vort in the spirit in which it was given, when faced with a set of reductio ad absurdum arguments from his interlocutor, he proceeds to extrapolate from the vort an extreme position not only about the Avos’s mitzvah observance, but their omniscience as well, that I don’t believe has any support in traditional sources.

Some have argued (I think Gil makes this argument) that perhaps the tan bear should just live and let live. Perhaps. Of course, it’s a cartoon designed to make a point, so I believe this criticism misses the point. Moreover, while she is clearly frustrated with the yeshiva guy, her questions are fair and she is willing to hear him out. It should also be kept in mind that this is the same yeshiva guy who called her a kofer in the other video. So perhaps she sees him as yet again asserting his position as the only legitimate one (as he acknowledges in the last bit of dialogue).

Others have argued that even if I am correct, I should have nonetheless anticipated that people would misinterpret the video as an attack on the Torah or Torah sages. But I don’t think one should be held accountable for the misinterpretations of their audience. True, the video is irreverent, and perhaps for many the irreverence colored their perception of the video (a brown bear said R’ Elyashiv’s name!! He’s mocking our sages!), but I don’t think such a reaction is fair. (Although I will admit that I may have spelled things out a bit more clearly had I anticipated an audience of over 40,000).

The response that I found most distressing was not the attacks on the video itself or its producer. Instead, it was Rabbi Hoffman’s statement about the place of the minimalist position in our Torah institutions. As his article makes clear, Rabbi Hoffman is not only familiar with the minimalist position, he seems to respect it as a legitimate part of the mesorah. Yet he nonetheless concludes that the “maximalist” position should be “general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions.” So what is the place of the minimalist position? Well, in the kiruv context, Rabbi Hoffman says it should be presented as one of the alternatives. This suggests that outside that context, i.e., in our schools from pre-K through beis midrash and seminary, the maximalist position should be presented. One of the most negative religious experiences I had in high school (and I think I am speaking on the behalf of others as well) was being told that a particular statement of Chazal that seemed to defy logic had to be accepted literally and if I problems with that answer there was something wrong with my hashkafah. That fact that Rabbi Hoffman affirms this approach to teaching teenage boys and girls — even those growing up in acculturated Orthodox communities such as the Five Towns/Far Rockaway (as I understand it, Rabbi Hoffman teaches at a Beis Yaakov school in Far Rockaway with a large, diverse student body) — is saddening. While some of Rabbi Hoffman’s comments to Gil’s post suggested that his position is more nuanced that my presentation here, he has yet to clarify it.

One final point about the d’var torah that the yeshiva student repeats in the video. It can be found on the internet and is cited in the name of R’ Chaim Kanievsky. So doesn’t that mean my video is poking fun at R’ Chaim? No. As I mention above, it is my firm belief that this vort belongs to a certain genre of d’var torah referred to as “shalosh seudos torah.” Their main goal is to be playful and clever rather than to explain p’shat in the pasuk. What makes me confident that this is the case? The vort makes no sense as p’shat even if one accepted the maximalist position. As the tan bear herself asked, if Yaakov knew the whole Torah, how can he be uncertain about the bracha on lentils? Also, the vort isn’t even about Yaakov’s mitzvah observance. It is about Esav’s. So the d’var torah goes beyond even the maximalist position. In fact, a sefer of R’ Chaim’s divrei torah on Chumash was recently (?) published. It is filled with short questions and answers somewhat similar to the yeshiva guy’s dvar torah. I recently perused it quickly and noticed that one of the questions asked about some inconsistency between a certain story in Bereishis with halakha (I don’t recall the details) and his answer was simply “we don’t learn halacha from the stories in Bereishis,”

Gil pointed out that R’ Hershel Schachter and many other great figures produced a large body of divrei torah that invoke halachik categories in evaluating the actions of the Avos. However, I would bet that most of them deal with Choshen Mishpat-type questions regarding the business dealings of the Avos rather than halachic minutiae regarding sefek beracha or netilas yedayim. I think there is a qualitative difference between the two.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student recently served on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

63 comments

  1. This is one of those times where the like/dislike function helps – not much to comment on except to say “I approve.”

  2. It is quite sad that this was even necessary. Doesn’t speak well for our collective intellect. Personally, I found the video quite witty, while presenting an all too cogent criticism of small mindedness in learning. How do I get that ‘I approve’ thing to work?

  3. I thought that Rabbi Yitzchok Addlerstein’s response on cc really nailed the video – which I referrenced and link to my blog when I gave my own analyisis of it. I beleive this post pretty much corroborates what Rabbi Addlerstien said.

  4. One of the most negative religious experiences I had in high school (and I think I am speaking on the behalf of others as well) was being told that a particular statement of Chazal that seemed to defy logic had to be accepted literally and if I problems with that answer there was something wrong with my hashkafah. That fact that Rabbi Hoffman affirms this approach to teaching teenage boys and girls.. is saddening.

    Quite the contrary, never have I affirmed such an approach and have always counseled showing alternative approaches in Chazal to difficulties that students face. I have clarified this point in several places.

    I do believe that we should wait until high school (or if a younger student asks) to present the other positions and that at the younger level generally present the maximalist position. Others may disagree, and depending upon the time and place they may be correct.

    What is most saddening is once again creating the “strawman” to attack – deliberately characterizing my view as affirming the approach that it is “the maximalist way or the highway” – when the author knows full well that this is not the case.

    The argument presented here is also somewhat disingenuous. The video clearly attacked and ridiculed the maximalist position (as well as the brown bear’s take on it). Watch it again while asking yourself if the light bear is respectful at all of the maximalist position.

    People can agree or disagree about the correct approach to teaching. But subjecting the views of Torah authorities to ridicule is wrong – whether we ridicule minimalists, maximalists or the middle pshat.

  5. HKB”H himself gave the answer (at least according to the medrash :-)) on misinterpretation when asked about naaseh adam etc. – those who want to misinterpret will do so no matter how you say it.

    I always assumed the shalosh seudot torah was an intellectual tour de force but that no one really believd that pshat was that esav was a talmid chacham etc.

    KT

  6. It depends what the authorities say – according to your, essentially totalitarian vision, we must take the words of anyone regarded as a ‘Torah authority’ with utmost seriousness. What if that Torah authority says that Jews have less teeth than goyim (R. Chaim Kanievsky)? What if they justify racism and primitive attitudes towards everyone from ba’alei teshuva, gerim and women (R. Menashe Klein)? What if they tell their followers that we must hate goyim and loving goyim is a bigger aveira than hating Jews (Sanzer Rebbe Chumash Rashi Chiurim on Bereishis)? What if they demonstrate a total ignorance of the basics of astronomy (Rav Shach as quoted by Rav Lichtenstein)? What if they institute policies that drive tends of thousands into poverty (charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel) What if they say the moon landing never happened because ‘veha’aretz nosonn livnei odom’?
    Mockery is a powerful weapon – to deprive people of it is to deprive them of the means to counter retrogressive attitudes, ESPECIALLY when they have been articulated by Torah authorities.

  7. Rabbi Hoffman,

    You are not helping yourself in this forum. Either just retract your original article once and for all (which you appear to be doing piecemeal by saying that *everyone* misunderstood what you really meant) or stop posting. I don’t think the piecemeal approach is very convincing and it makes you appear dishonest in your approach (that you wrote one thing but meant something entirely different which you somehow expected us all to figure out despite your choice of words)

  8. Rabbi Hoffman,

    You wrote, “But subjecting the views of Torah authorities to ridicule is wrong.”

    Rishonim and acharonim often ridicule their opponents’ positions. Is one allowed to teach the Rambam which ridicules people who take midrashim lietrally? Anyone who teaches that Rambam honestly is already mocking Torah authorities (just like anyone who honestly teaches the Vilna Gaon’s statement about the Rambam essentially mocks a great deal of the Rambam’s beliefs).

  9. R. Hoffman:

    “subjecting the views of Torah authorities to ridicule is wrong ”

    true or false: is YU a bastion of Torah authorities?
    true of false: is respect and tolerance a two-way street?

  10. >I do believe that we should wait until high school (or if a younger student asks) to present the other positions and that at the younger level generally present the maximalist position.

    Do you not get that either you changed your mind since your article or you wrote it so ambiguously as to lead the reader to conclude differently? Could you address this?

  11. “Also, the vort isn’t even about Yaakov’s mitzvah observance. It is about Esav’s. So the d’var torah goes beyond even the maximalist position.”

    Yes, but from Yaakov’s perspective it was a matter of “lifnei iveir”, so it *is* about Yaakov’s mitzvah observance.

  12. Ironically, I was walking my son to school today and he asked me whether all the stories about Moshe were true.I asked him what he meant and he answered “you know dad, all of the crazy things”. He is 10. I told him that he should accept the bible as true but that it is not a history book…it is a religious text designed to instill lessons and so it is true on a deeper level than other books. Many of the experiences of the characters cannot be described accurately in words because an interaction with God is beyond human comprehension. I told him that rather than looking at each story as a historical fact, like learning about the revolutionary war, he should try and learn the lessons encoded in the stories. He is studying the the parting of the red sea. I asked him what he thought that the lesson was about that and he responded “to remember to always have faith in Hashem, even when things are scary”. I was satisfied with the interaction.

  13. The biggest revelation for me is that Krum considers the bears are female. I really had them as being male, or perhaps I’m just projecting.

  14. Joel – I always assumed the shalosh seudot torah was an intellectual tour de force but that no one really believd that pshat was that esav was a talmid chacham etc.

    Then please read the following dvar torah
    from http://www.thejewisheye.com/rev_ptoldos.html

    Rav Chaim Kanievsky & Meshech Chochma: Eisav and Lavan – Who Was The Big Lamdan?

    The pasuk says that Yaakov gave Eisav “Lechem U’Nizid Adoshim”; bread and lentil stew. Eisav only asked for the lentils why did Yaakov give him bread? Rav Chaim Kanievsky answers that since there is a machlokes in the gemara what bracha to make on beans that were cooked for a long time (either Shehakol or Ha’adama) the best way to avoid any problems is to wash on bread. Therefore Yaakov gave Eisav the bread so he would wash and not worry about which bracha to make

    Rav Elya Man then asked Rav Chaim about a comment he made about the Meshech Chochma that points out from the language in the pasuk in Chayei Sara (23:53-54) that Lavan and his mother did not partake in Rivka’s Seudas Eirusin since they were aveilim. To that Rav Chaim responded that Rav Meir Simcha (The Meshech Chochma) turned then into bigger “Lamdanim” than they were. So why did Rav Chaim make Eisav into such a big Lamdan? Rav Chaim answered that Eisav probably learned with his father Yitzchok and therefore was a big lamdan but who would Lavan have learned with?

    Rav Chaim was then asked how he could say that Eisav was so concerned about Brachos after coming in from Shefichas Domim, Giluy Aroyos, Kofer Ba’Ikar, etc? Rav Chaim answered that this is not a contradiction. There are many people like that today. (Derech Sicha)

  15. Willing suspension of disbelief is how I view these midrashim and then see what lesspn the midrash is trying to teach me

  16. Phil,
    One is male (the one saying over the vort) and the other one, with the high voice, is female.

  17. Re my post above – It can be argued that Rav Chaim was speaking tongue in cheek/saying pilpul (especially noting his concluding sentence). It certainly seems that the publisher of this dvar torah assumed it to be literally true, placing next to more serious divrei torah, and placing no indication that it was just pilpul/shalosh seuodos dvar torah. Its readers will likely understand it similarly, leading to their understanding resembling that of the the yeshiva bochur/bear of the video.

  18. Rabbi Hoffman made an important point above about the clear tone of ridicule of the maximalist position in the video.

    “The video clearly attacked and ridiculed the maximalist position (as well as the brown bear’s take on it). Watch it again while asking yourself if the light bear is respectful at all of the maximalist position.”

    I’d be interested in hearing the “producer’s” reaction to that charge.

    If the real agenda was open-mindendness to other opinions, the video would have done much better to stick to the facts about the opinions of dissenting rishonim. The tone of incredulous condescension leveled at the brown bear does not promote open-mindedness and tolerance.

  19. David, perhaps you should emphasize to your son the difference between Biblical text and Midrash (which is where most of the “crazy” stories are).

  20. (I apologize for my bad English, I am an Israeli guy)
    What was not discussed is WHY the Yeshivish response was so harsh, vigorous, and humourless.
    In my humble opinion there is a trend of keeping the fantastic parts and leaving out the realistic ones, because this kind of approach is the foundation of the Yeshiva circles today- living in a fantasy. No need to work, no need to face reality of economy, army, split nation etc. They build a bubble named fantivish and in that bubble there is no place for some rationalism. If you are rational on the Avos, than Chas Veshalom you might be rational about some other DERECH ERETZ things like work, army, and other things.

  21. Cohen, “watch it again” is not an “important point.”

  22. Rabbi Hoffman, allow me to quote you:

    “The overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. When one is involved in Kiruv or deals with people that have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented.”

    You clearly state here that the only place where the “minimalist” position ought to be taught is in a Kiruv context and to folks who have a secular background. In other words, never to folks in the general frum world.

    First, this position is shocking just from a Torah perspective. But what is more, you seem to be denying your own words in your post above.

    I dont think there is any other way to read your comments.

    It is this attitude that turns so many people off. The idea that one must hold of maximalist positions and downplay and even censor minimalist positions or reserve them for Kiruv. This makes a mockery of Torah and does a service to no-one.

    I suspect that it was this very corrosive attitude that was being mocked in the video.

  23. Yair Hoffman on November 27, 2010 at 11:51 pm
    Dear Reb K,

    The approach I advocate is clearly more nuanced and is grossly mis-characterized here and on other blogs. It was obvious to Rabbi Student and hundreds of others who have emailed me on it.

    He says “Hundreds of others.” Yet the comments here at this point, appears to have a majority who disagrees with R’ Hoffman. Meanwhile this post posted yesterday currently has 39 likes and 3 dislikes while Gil’s post on this subject of 5 days ago – which adopted a position with a large sympathy for R’ Hoffman – has 9 likes and 5 dislikes. I can’t speak for what is in R’ Hoffman’s inbox but everything in the public sphere indicates that the majority did not take from it what he now states he intended.

  24. While I don’t disagree with the premise the video producer is making, I feel he is somewhat disingenuous about the innocence of his production. There is definitely a tone of menace in his ridicule of the yeshiva bear. While there is ample place for such ridicule in our day and age, it belies a level of arrogance that we must be wary of in our dealings with Biblical characters.

    We are 21st century people who view things through a 21st century prism. However, our religion owes its very existence to an unbroken chain of Mesorah – that our ancestors witnessed the revelation at Sinai. Without that we are no better than any other religion and on no firmer ground.

    At our Shabbod table, we review parsha each week and often encounter conflicting midrashim. On the one hand, they can’t all be factually correct. On the other hand, each has a lesson or point of view to expound. It does not prove or disprove the veracity of any particular entry, but it does not detract from its value either.

    Our Rav has in the past described Eisav as a complex individual – an obvious sinner and enemy of Yaakov, but at the same time, very knowledgable of the traditions of Yitzchok and Avraham and perhaps someone who walked around in a bekeshe and streimel. (No jokes please – it’s too easy). Point is – he appeared to be something he clearly was not. Would he care what bracha to make? I doubt it but who knows. People who are always trying to hide something, living a double life as it were, always think they are putting up a successful facade. That’s not ancient thinking nor 21st century thinking – it is human nature always.

    We cannot fully understand the Biblical characters. They are not perfect and often portrayed as such, warts and all. But they are also not you or I, and there are certain things which will be difficult or impossible for us to comprehend. This should not lead directly to automatic loss of faith. One who bases his faith solely on his ability to understand or answer every question is bordering (to be charitable) on self-worship.

    One of the girls’ high schools in my city has a “ask any question” policy. (Yes, Virginia, it does exist.) Sometimes a 9th grader will ask a question that the menahel does not feel she is ready yet for an answer. He will tell her “That’s an excellent question – but you have to wait until 11th grade for the answer”. There is no one size fits all approach to chinuch. Our small children need to know that the Avos and Imahos were special. When they get older, they need to acquire more depth but not less respect for our ancestors.

    Unforunately, this video, in rightly ridiculing the “yeshivish” mindset, has also reduced our Avos to just plain guys. If that is what you believe, then why bother?

  25. Binyomin Eckstein

    The white dog’s fangs come out from the get go.

    The guy tells a vort – and he calls it a vort . The first words of substance out of the white dog’s mouth are “I must be hallucinating”. Does the guy’s vort fit fully with the Meshech Chochmah/Kli Chemdah/R’ Chaim Kanievsky/Netziv/Panim Yafos/Pardes Yosef/Beis Halevi etc. etc. genre of Torah thoughts? Of course! The conversation should have ended with a smile and a “shkoyach, shkoyach”.

    What kind of an attack dog is she?

  26. The real issue which neither the video , R Hoffman nor the response by the creator of the video really set forth was that there are a wide variety of Shitos among Mfarshim on this issue as well as on the status of the Avos and whether they were Mtzuveh VOseh and which Mitzvos they kept. R Asher Weiss sets forth many of the various positions in one of the shiurim in Minchas Asher in the chelek on Sefer Breishis,

  27. I think Jacob gave Esau bread because that is how Esau would eat the lentil stew, scooping it up with the bread.

    That’s how people ate in the middle east–they didn’t use cutlery.

  28. One is male (the one saying over the vort) and the other one, with the high voice, is female.

    That’s ridiculous! Who would tell a vort to a female??? 🙂

  29. Mark-if you have educated daughters who have a knowledge of Tanach and Mfarshim which exceeds your own and appreciate the same, you would certainly not hesitate in discussiing this issue with your daughters.

  30. Dani Schreiber

    R. Shalom Carmy wrote about the negative effects of the types of gratuitous cynicism and mockery which are the knee-jerk reactions of many right-wing teachers and leaders towards secular “frivolities” like sports, movies, and novels. He writes the following:
    What is still discernible in the adult sometimes is not the content of the Musar but the tone. You recognize the “yeshiva man,” not by his refined middot or by his perpetual consciousness of God, but by his cynical demeanor, a reflexive tendency to disparage and denigrate everything and everyone, not passing over the characteristic ideals of Torah, its leading personalities and the yeshiva culture itself. So familiar is this phenomenon to the yeshiva world that we have a distinctive, hard to translate term for it: bittul. To be mevattel a person or idea is not only to disparage him or her or it, or even to display a facile contempt. It is to mock out of habit, compulsively, formulaically, as if any other attitude were beneath the hard pretentious defensive dignity of the person who delivers himself of the derisive judgment.

    I quote this, not to pass judgment on the “yeshiva guy” in the video, but rather to point out the unfortunate irony that cynicism travels a two-way street. Modern/Centric/(Open?) Orthodox individuals all-too-often vent their religious frustration with their more right-wing counterparts by using derisive and “bittul”-type messages and end up falling into the same myopic, offensive, and close-minded trap they are trying to avoid.

  31. Binyomin Eckstein

    משך חכמה בראשית פרק כד
    (נג – נד) ומגדנות (נתן לאחיה ולאמה, ויאכלו וישתו) הוא והאנשים אשר עמו. אבל אמה ואחיה ורבקה לא היו אוכלים משום שאבלים היו מבתואל, ורק אירוסין מותר תוך שבעה אבל סעודת אירוסין אסור, כפסק הרמב”ם. לכן נתן להם “מגדנות”, היינו קליות ואגוזים, כמו שכתבו במדרש.

    I must be hallucinating…

    (סז) ויביאה יצחק האהלה (שרה אמו) ויקח את רבקה ותהי לו (לאשה). יתכן כי היה חושש כיון שראתה אותו חמדה אותו, ושמא ראתה מחמת חימוד. ולכך המתין עד שתטהר, ואחר זה לקחה. :

    I must be hallucinating…

    (שם שם) ותהי לו לאשה ויאהבה. וכפי הנראה יצחק היה כהן גדול שהיה בגדר “קודש הקדשים”, לכן אמרו במדרש רבה (סד, ג) שמפני זה זה לא היה רשאי לצאת מארץ ישראל. לכן נראה מהגמרא יבמות דף סא, ב דרבקה נערה הואי, ואם המתינו עשור וכו’ הלא ‘אין בין נערות לבגרות רק ששה חדשים לבד’ (כתובות לט, א), ואם הואי בעת נישואים בוגרת, היה אסור בה. לכן אמר (כד, נו) “אל תאחרו אותי וכו'”.

    I must be hallucinating…

  32. Why is everyone so caught up in the failings of the “yeshiva guy”? This is only a caricature conjured up by Mr. Bagel! His stereotype of a “yeshiva guy” as not being able to defend his mesorah is, I hope, just as inaccurate as his stereotype of “non-yeshivish” as mocking, cynical, and condescending.
    HAGTBG: The number of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” is more a product of the audience this blog attracts than any real indication of the popularity of the views expressed (and certainly not of their legitimacy)!

  33. >>”However, I would bet that most of them deal with Choshen Mishpat-type questions regarding the business dealings of the Avos rather than halachic minutiae regarding sefek beracha or netilas yedayim.”<<

    You lose the bet. There are issues of kashrus, Shabbos and Yom Tov and Taharas Hamishpacha all over this literature. Starting with Avrohom feeding malochim basar vechalav, Sara becoming a nidda at age 90 and contaminating the dough she was preparing, Yitzchok eating the korban Pesach and korban Chagiga and the shevatim eating "ever min hachai" after schechitah while it was still moving around.

  34. HAGTBG: The number of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” is more a product of the audience this blog attracts than any real indication of the popularity of the views expressed (and certainly not of their legitimacy)!

    I agree. I’ll take it further. Its a small sample to begin with. Also the thumbs up could be for any reason or no reason, one possibility being a thumbs up for Gil allowing in a voice he disagreed with, and therefore not to the issue.

    All these may be the case yet do you have access to a better benchmark of popularity to work with?

  35. Dear Krum,

    My friends and I all loved your video. I’m sorry you had to explain it to these guys; self-reflective humor is obviously not part of their mesorah.

    Chanukah Sameach.

  36. Dave, you seem not to be able to distinguish between the Torah until Har Sinai, the Torah after Har Sinai, and post-Tanach literature, even though you cite each separately. I’m afraid you’re missing the whole point: Brachot are a d’rabbanan. That’s why if you have a safek about one, you’re meikil.

  37. >I do believe that we should wait until high school (or if a younger student asks) to present the other positions and that at the younger level generally present the maximalist position.

    Good lord. Why????

    Why has the “other” position been made to be akin to teaching about the ‘birds and the bees?’
    Why is the maximalist position some sort of default position?
    Is a fourth grader all of a sudden going to discard Judaism when chaz veshalom he learns the avot did not light chanukah candles? Actually……..they might later on. But only because they have been infused only with the maximalist position. Why not simply teach them on a pashut level like the text reads and only when they get into high school, teach them the maximalist position which is far more complex and requires maturity to comprehend.

  38. “krumbagel on November 30, 2010 at 12:09 pm said:

    Cohen, “watch it again” is not an “important point.”

    You’re entitled to dismiss the question, but I don’t think that is especially responsive. An explanation would be helpful.

    True or false: Your white bear is not simply pleading for toleration of dissenting opinions, she is expressing barely disguised disdain for even the suggestion that Yaakov Avinu was concerned with Brochos.

    1) She exclaims “I must be halucinating” simply in response to the brown bear’s so much as having the “nerve” to say over a maximalist vort. The brown bear has not engaged in any right wing mud-slinging by the time the white bear comes down on him, and for all she knows he is not taking a hard-line maximalist position. He may just think it’s a cute vort. “I must be halucinating” is not an expression of dissent. It is one of condescending incredulity.

    2) She categorizes maximalist positions as “irrational and fantastical”, Fantastical? yes. Irrational?, only if you are a minimalist expressing intolerance.

    Now I know what claim to have meant. You summed it up well in this paragraph.

    “The target of the video was not what Rabbi Hoffman calls the “maximalist” position, but rather a kind of uncritical acceptance of that position taken to an absurd extreme (e.g., Crocs on Tisha b’Av) and treating it as the only legitimate derech, an approach than I find quite common in yeshivish circles. The video portrays a yeshiva student who heard some cute “sholosh seudos torah” at his rebbe’s house. Rather than accepting the vort in the spirit in which it was given, when faced with a set of reductio ad absurdum arguments from his interlocutor, he proceeds to extrapolate from the vort an extreme position not only about the Avos’s mitzvah observance, but their omniscience as well, that I don’t believe has any support in traditional sources. ”

    But if that is all you wanted, you would have been much more effective by having the white bear, politely “educate” the brown bear rather than lace into him before there was yet any evidence out that he was inclined to “extrapolate from the vort an extreme position”.

    “Watch it again” is indeed important.

  39. R’ Hoffman,
    I agree with Shlomo from Israel above. You’re outraged at the tone of ridicule implied in the video. As you present so rationally:

    “But subjecting the views of Torah authorities to ridicule is wrong – whether we ridicule minimalists, maximalists or the middle pshat.”

    Where is your outrage at the Yeshivish world’s not ridiculing, but outright demonizing any Hashkafic opinion other than the one they are trying to push?
    Maybe you aren’t affected by this, like those of us struggling to pay the costs of multiple tuitions, while being forced to work in a low-paying job because college was assurred in the Yeshiva based on a narrow-mindededness that refuses to deal with “modern” problems like making a living. Maybe, having secured a cushy job inside the system, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. I understand.
    But surely you can understand, and even possibly empathize with, the resentment.

  40. Baruch – “Rishonim and acharonim often ridicule their opponents’ positions.”

    The Rashbam comments in Vayechi that anyone who says that Ya’akov’s brocho to Dan is about Shimshon is a fool who doesn’t know how to learn.

    The commentator who makes that very claim is Rashi, the Rashbam’s grandfather.

  41. Dani Schreiber wrote:

    “I quote this, not to pass judgment on the “yeshiva guy” in the video, but rather to point out the unfortunate irony that cynicism travels a two-way street. Modern/Centric/(Open?) Orthodox individuals all-too-often vent their religious frustration with their more right-wing counterparts by using derisive and “bittul”-type messages and end up falling into the same myopic, offensive, and close-minded trap they are trying to avoid”

    Unfortunately, the attitudes cited herein and by R Carmy illustrate the observation of the Meshech Chachmah as to the enduring problem of Sinas Chinam and why it is a central theme of the Amidah of YK. OTOH, I think that R Carmy’s views towards secular culture ignore the coarness of today’s secular culture and the fact that the same presently cannot be seriously seen as a source of morality or role models. A society that as RAL pointed out knows more about secular culture and its icons than the Gdolei HaRishonim is a society that is at risk of not inculcating a sense of what is Ikar and Tafel, at the least, or reconsidering that which was permitted or harmless 20 or 30 years ago, may very well be prohibited or should be viewed as highly questionnable and problematic for any serious Ben or Bas Torah. One’s senses, while watching sports such as the World Series or similar sporting events, are bombarded by advertising that is premised on instanteous gratification of all kinds, whether in terms of sensual enjoyment for middle aged men, cars and clothing. A prolonged exposure to the same has the effect of lowering one’s appreciation for a sense of Kdoshim Tihiyu.

  42. Nachum – That’s a tree you see. Look out for a forest.

    Avromie – Though you addressed your post to someone else, I feel the need to offer some response. I agree that you and others may have been messed up by the yeshiva world’s “assurring” acquiring a college education so one is unable to get well-paying jobs. But do you not have any culpability here? What precisely did you think you were going to do to support a family? What hishtadlus did you try to prepare for rent/mortgage and diapers and food and tuition? Here we are arguing about pshat in a pasuk – about buying into everything they teach in yeshiva at face value – but you don’t need Rashi (who worked for a living by the way) to explain that you can’t raise a family on fumes. It’s time some of our holy(?) yungeleit get their heads out of their behinds and start arranging their lives as proper Jews (and other humans) have for millenia.
    You can resent all you want. But please – speak to your children every day and remind them that you are their parent, not the rosh yeshiva, and there is a whole other world outside the yeshiva walls. Maybe they won’t make the same mistake.

  43. I haven’t been following all the back and forth on this (but I enjoyed the videos). Regarding Krum’s comments above (paraphrasing R’ Hoffman’s critique), I was not familiar with the terms “maximalism” and “minimalism” in this context, but having them spelled out, I can certainly recognize where I and my children have come into contact with them.

    I have thought for a while that a real problem we are facing is a lack of Kiruv Krovim. If I am to understand R’ Hoffman’s position on this, not only are we not doing Kiruv Krovim, but it sounds like his policies are active Harchakas Krovim. This maximalist approach turns off many intelligent people, and the whole “bait and switch” approach to Kiruv Rechokim is equally distasteful.

    It will be interesting to see what the next generation will look like. I really hope we don’t lose our best and our brightest because of this mishugas.

  44. Michael Rogovin

    IMHO the video did not ridicule Torah or its sages, but rather the unthinking response that I have personally heard from many people to such divrei Torah and their derisive attitude toward any other approach as kfriah. And it is not mocking Torah when one challenges the illogic of a vort taken to an extreme. When we signed up to na’aseh v’nishma, we did not offer to give up our intelligence, reasoning or ability to think critically. I do not believe that emunah requires us to do so.

    My own real life example: I was discussing the meaning of Torah she-b’al peh being given at Har Sinai with a friend when a person nearby told me that I was mistaken, the entire text of the Talmud, PRECISELY AS WE HAVE IT TODAY, was given word for word (e.g. amar rav…) at HAr Sinai. I suppose this includes Masechet Megilla. The shear illogic of this – that the Rabbis knew what they said and the disagreements of what they said before they said it, before the events took place and Yehuda ha Nasi knew how to edit tannaitic sources before he did so, well you get my point. But he sincerely believed it.

    Like R. Gil when he confronted a similar situation, I withdrew from any discussion (what would be the point), but I do not feel it inappropriate to state here that such a position is, IMO, absurd, regardless of who believes it. But they can believe anything they like if it makes them happy. I do agree that MO types can be dismissive of yeshiva types and that is wrong (though it is rare if they ever use the word kfirah which is all to common among the yeshivish toward YU/MO types). I prefer to stick to rational and logical when appropriate and to agree to disagree respectfully.

  45. Nachum,

    To blame the bochurim of the institution shows ignorance of the Yeshiva system. If you’d been born into the Yeshiva system, you’d know the answers to your questions.

    “What precisely did you think you were going to do to support a family? What hishtadlus did you try to prepare for rent/mortgage and diapers and food and tuition?”
    I was told that with true bitachon, Hashem will provide. Worrying is a pgam in your emunah. (This is not a fringe view, this is the mainstream doctrine taught.)

    “Here we are arguing about pshat in a pasuk…”
    That is the argument, yes. But you missed the point. I was responding to R’ Hoffman’s question of the ridiculing tone. As I explained, there is ample cause for hostility among ex-Yeshivaleit towards close-mindedness. How many people really care if a Yeshiva guy wants to believe a “maximalist” or “miinimalist” view? Eilu v’eilu de”c. The point is the indoctrination of, and demonization of anything other than, a derech created 60 years ago, regardless of the lives it ruins. And yes, in the real world, many people’s lives are ruined by the Yeshiva’s dismissal of anything that “shmecks” of modernity.

  46. My response was meant to be directed at Dave, not Nachum.

  47. Binyamin Eckstein wrote:

    “Does the guy’s vort fit fully with the Meshech Chochmah/Kli Chemdah/R’ Chaim Kanievsky/Netziv/Panim Yafos/Pardes Yosef/Beis Halevi etc. etc. genre of Torah thoughts?”

    I would not lump the Beis HaLevi , Netziv,Panim Yafos and Meshech Chachmah together with Kli Chemdah and Pardes Yosef, the latter two are clearly Chasidishe in nature. If one has learned the Beis HaLevi and his drashos that are in ShuT Beis HaLevi as well as the Netziv and Meshech Chachmah in any depth, you will find many ideas that are extraordinarily compelling and one can only describe the same as Chiddushim in the truest sense of that term. RYK once stated that R Meir Simcha, wrote like a Rishon. One cannot learn the Meshech Chachmah without the assistance of R Kooperman’s notes.

  48. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    “When we signed up to na’aseh v’nishma, we did not offer to give up our intelligence, reasoning or ability to think critically. I do not believe that emunah requires us to do so. ”

    WADR, surrrenduring one’s will and accepting the Torah before we understood its contents, especially the TSBP, was the ultimate act in surrenduring one’s intelligence, reasoning or ability to think critically , but only as to the acceptance of the Torah and TSBP, as opposed to how one actually learns TSBP, which cannot be acquired in an uncritical, illogical and superficial manner.

  49. lawrence kaplan

    I think the critics of the video have a point. The enlightened bear does begin on too agressive a note. If the purpose of the video was to mock the unthinking fanatical maximalists –and I believe that was its purpose– it woud have been better had the enlightened bear
    responded to begin with “Cute vort. You don’t take it seriously, though, do you?” Then the Yeshva bochur bear could have said “Of course I take it seriously.” From that point on, the video could have continued exactly as it does now and served its goal much better.

  50. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    “I was discussing the meaning of Torah she-b’al peh being given at Har Sinai with a friend when a person nearby told me that I was mistaken, the entire text of the Talmud, PRECISELY AS WE HAVE IT TODAY, was given word for word (e.g. amar rav…) at HAr Sinai. I suppose this includes Masechet Megilla. The shear illogic of this – that the Rabbis knew what they said and the disagreements of what they said before they said it, before the events took place and Yehuda ha Nasi knew how to edit tannaitic sources before he did so, well you get my point. But he sincerely believed it.”

    RHS, in a shiur on the development of TSBP, clearly stated that such a thesis, which views Machlokes as the result of Halachos being “forgotten”, was advanced by RSRH in response to Graetz. However, RHS rejected that premise and described machlokes as the basis of all halachic development and was quite clear in stating that the transmission of TSBP in its most pristine oral form was from Rebbe to Talmid and that the Mishnah and Talmud were redacted to aid in the transmission of the sum and substance of the debates . RHS added that every day Talmidei Chachamim in yeshivos are discovering new Chiddushim LKula and LChumra and Nafkeh Minos LHalacha as they try to get closer to Sinai in their search for Toras Emes. That is why that which was mutar years ago may be assur today and lhefech. One must learn the Hakdamah of the Netziv to HaEmek Shealah for more on how TSBP has developed through the ages, as opposed to assuming either every rabbinic decree was given to Moshe Rabbein ala the KSA or that the rabbis of the Talmud R”L simply invented TSBP carte blanche.

  51. RHS always mentions the following story about R Velvele Brisker ( “The Brisker Rav ZL”). A talmid asked an excellent Kashe and R Velevele ZL thought so highly of it that it had to have been stated previously. Eventually, the kashe was discovered to have its premise in a Tosefta. RHS pointed out that was the test of how good a kashe was-its proximity to Har Sinai, as opposed to its having been recorded today in a sefer.

  52. “…subjecting the views of Torah authorities to ridicule is wrong – whether we ridicule minimalists, maximalists or the middle pshat.”

    Rabbi Hoffman, with respect, “satire” is not “ridicule”. Krum has created a work of satirical humor, meant to raise important questions regarding religious observance. It is usually the case that people who have a vested interest in the positions being satirized will see satire as merely “mockery”, but that does not illegitimate it, nor should it discourage people from creating satire to challenge any number of entrenched beliefs.

  53. Dovid Kornreich wrote:

    >>”You lose the bet. There are issues of kashrus, Shabbos and Yom Tov and Taharas Hamishpacha all over this literature. Starting with Avrohom feeding malochim basar vechalav, Sara becoming a nidda at age 90 and contaminating the dough she was preparing, Yitzchok eating the korban Pesach and korban Chagiga and the shevatim eating “ever min hachai” after schechitah while it was still moving around.”

    See Shabbos 135a, bottom of page and Rashi there which explicitly states that Tumah (contamination) was not practiced before Matan Torah. So it would seem that at least ”contaminating the dough” is allegorical.

  54. steve b. – “Machlokes as the result of Halachos being “forgotten”, was advanced by RSRH in response to Graetz.”

    actually it was abaraham ibn daud aka ravad I or rabad I – in sefer ha kabalah advances this idea – pre rambam time. its geonic idea articulated by ibn daub that coherently explains controversy and the halachik process. it also makes the early stages of transmission more authoritative.

    the issue of transmission and controversy (machlokets) is a complicated one with 3 major views all have their weaknesses – ibn daud, rambam, ranban and his students(ritva and the ran).

    this is really about the philosophy of halacha and its process not the actual history of what happened – ibn daud and the gaonim writings were a polemic against the karaites.

  55. “RHS pointed out that was the test of how good a kashe was-its proximity to Har Sinai, as opposed to its having been recorded today in a sefer.”

    Funny, one of my rebbeim would stress that we shouldn’t be ashamed if we think of a new chiddush and can’t find an earlier version of it anywhere.

  56. Whether or not Machlokes is the result of halachos being forgotten is a very old Machlokes. The famous letter of R’ Sherira Gaon and other geonim hold that machlokes is because things were forgotten. The Rambam vehemently disagrees. RHS does not deny the Geonim’s shita, he simply believes that the majority opinion is like the Rambam.

  57. This is an attention grabbing, thought provoking video, and should perhaps be used as an educational tool for older teens and young adults. Is it laytzonus? Yes. But can laytzonus be utilized l’shaym shamayim? The video speaks in the snappy, snarky American Jewish jargon we’re all accustomed to. Its said that Rav Avigdor Miller would occasionally utilize some level of nivel peh to drive home a point, even in public. I daresay there are others, at least in private, including unrecorded shiurim.

    There is also a prism of history that needs to be taken into account. Onas d’varim is prohibited, but when one Jew insults another, he’s allowed to insult back. A Jew is not a rock, poskim hold. The insults emanating from the yeshivish world against the modern orthodox have been unrelenting for at least a century. That’s the backdrop to the video.

    The video is funny, educational, and I enjoyed it. Yasher koach to Krum as a Bagel.

  58. Michael Rogovin

    Steve Brizel wrote:

    WADR, surrrenduring one’s will and accepting the Torah …was the ultimate act in surrenduring one’s intelligence, reasoning or ability to think critically … as opposed to how one actually learns TSBP, which cannot be acquired in an uncritical, illogical and superficial manner.

    Yes, we agree.

  59. This suggests that outside that context, i.e., in our schools from pre-K through beis midrash and seminary, the maximalist position should be presented.That fact that Rabbi Hoffman affirms this approach to teaching teenage boys and girls……
    I am a student of Rabbi Hoffman’s and can attest that this extrapolation about Rabbi Hoffman’s teaching approach is incorrect. A couple of days after posting his article, Rabbi Hoffman led a discussion is his Halacha class in which he presented both the ‘minimalist’ and the ‘maximalist’ positions. Krum as a Bagel is exaggerating Rabbi Hoffman’s statement and understanding it in a way in which he could not have meant it to be understood.

  60. >A couple of days after posting his article, Rabbi Hoffman led a discussion is his Halacha class in which he presented both the ‘minimalist’ and the ‘maximalist’ positions.

    A couple of days after posting his article Rabbi Hoffman got a chance to read a couple of days’ worth of critique of what he wrote. Then he began singing a different tune, which is great, except that he won’t admit that he originally wrote one thing and now he claims he meant an entirely different thing. Nu, nu, Baruch Hashem he is humble enough to rethink his position and even act on it even though he is not humble enough to admit that this is just what he did.

  61. Even if R. Hoffman did what his student said 2 day before he published the article, it wouldn’t matter. What is at issue is not what he does, but the policy he advocated in print.

  62. Alienating teenagers by being overly simplistic is a serious problem in yeshiva education and this video is a good jumping-off point for a discussion of it.

  63. I was informed at Shabbath that in the so-called “Ihr HaTorah” this issue is not a problem at all and completely irrelevant. Of course they still proceeded to lambaste the video anyway and its “ridiculing of sages.” (Not that he was using youtube, chas veshalom).

    You can imagine my reaction to this.

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