Deference

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Your relation to higher rabbinic authority — those rabbis with greater experience and expertise — largely defines your place in today’s Orthodox community. The far right defers at all times and on all issues to leading rabbis and the far left never defers. In between these two extremes, which exist mainly in caricature, are varying levels of often unself-conscious rules of deference.

I found the following statement by R. Aharon Lichtenstein to accurately reflect my position. While his comments refer to the Sanhedrin, I take them to apply equally to leading rabbis of our day. In a nutshell: Rabbis are fallible and, if they lack adequate information, may rule incorrectly. If after discussion and investigation I honestly believe they have ruled based on wrong information, I will ignore their conclusions.

But if it is an issue of interpretation or judgment, I defer to those with greater experience and expertise, those who have devoted more hours to diligently plumbing the depths of Torah than I have or ever will, those more brilliant and wise than I am or ever will be.

Here is the relevant excerpt from a lecture titled “Individual Rights In Halakha” (link):

The situation is quite different when Halakhic institutions and/or values are involved; and this brings us to the heart of our problem: the individual’s rights vis-à-vis Halakha itself. This question, in turn, resolves itself into two: the right of rejection and the right of interpretation. With respect to the latter, we encounter a seemingly paradoxical situation. When one’s rejection of jurist authority is sharpest, his right to reject it is strongest. If a person regards a given decision as being totally in error – say, because the Sanhedrin has wholly ignored a salient text of lacks proper information – he is empowered and indeed obligated to act in accordance with his own convictions. If however, he challenges its members on a fine point of analysis or interpretation, he is bound to accept their view.

The distinction is not, in reality, paradoxical at all. In the first case, the conflict is over clear right and wrong and its context monistic; hence, the right to act in accordance with one’s own view. The right may be limited to personal behavior; i.e., it exists in God’s eyes and the court, from its perspective, can possibly be empowered to judge the person on the basis of its own position. But it exists. In the latter case, however, the issue is one of honest differences of opinion, with both sides agreeing that rational and fully informed scholars could conceivably arrive at either conclusion. In this pluralistic context, the question is not of error but of interpretation, and the Torah has designated one as definitive: “Thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left” (Devarim 17:11).

In theory, since today we lack a definitive method of concluding legitimate differences of opinion, perhaps I should follow my own view despite the disagreement of those greater than I. However, that presupposes that I am equally entitled to a view, that I am a “bar plugta,” a sparring partner. I know my place and recognize that I am not a major league player. If a top notch Torah scholar issues an opinion, I may ask questions about it but I will not dispute it.

See also this quote from R. Lichtenstein on “Da’as Torah”: link

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 serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and 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.

269 comments

  1. This is not normative. It is Yeshivish or Charedi-lite or perhaps R. Brill’s definition of Centrist Orthodoxy; but, it is not Modern Orthodox.

  2. Shalom Rosenfeld

    R’ Elchanan Wasserman writes something very similar — you don’t need b’chochmah uv’minyan if the previous psak was missing information, or was mistaken about something. You do need it if it’s just how you judge all the same facts.

  3. IH: No, this is Modern Orthodox. MO always respected poskim.

  4. Gil: Respect, yes; but your commentary goes far further than respect: “I may ask questions about it but I will not dispute it.” That is not normative MO (using R. Brill’s definition of MO vs. Centrist).

  5. And Shalom Rosenfeld’s comment corroborates my point.

  6. For non halachik issues-even if a moral issue- the opinion of the Rav should be noted:

    “Apparently, there is a subjective element in making moral decisions…I never give a yes or no answer…I will explain the options but tell him the final choice is his…
    I resent very much when certain roshei yeshiva and certain teachers want to impose their will upon the boys. It is against the law. Both ways are correct…and it is up to the individual to make the decision.”

  7. “If after discussion and investigation I honestly believe they have ruled based on wrong information, I will ignore their conclusions.”

    What happens when on numerous occasions you have determined that they have ruled based on wrong information and show no inclination to feel a need to correct it, doesn’t that belie your claim of ‘greater experience or judgement”. It’s one thing to be wrong, its another thing to live in a world where you can’t acknowledge that you are wrong.

  8. The Rav: the world of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik: Volume 2 – Page 237
    Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, Joseph Epstein – 1999 –

    Source of my previous quote-

  9. IH: Really, you see no difference between the views of R. Wasserman and R. Lichtenstein?
    I can’t speak to what is or is not normative MO. If normative MO is the mixed swimming, eat dairy out crowd, then you may be right but I don’t know. I don’t look to that demographic for hashkafic definitions.

    Muddier: True, important, but not the topic of this post.

  10. “MO always respected poskim.”
    True but that doesn’t mean that one automatically accepts the psak of a posek if you were not the one who asked the sheila of the posek. One can then reach the tshuva and if one finds an error-one could theoretically not follow the psak. What usually happens in such very rare cases the MO person would ask his Rebbe etc and see if his Rebbe agrees with the psak. But it is our responsibility to follow what we believe is correct.

  11. sp: I’m not sure what you mean.

  12. “R. Lichtenstein’s essays reflect the shift from
    Modern Orthodoxy to Centrist Orthodoxy that has
    occurred over the last thirty years. This
    transformation involved the transfer of authority
    to roshei yeshivah from pulpit rabbis […]”.

    http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/5_1_Brill.pdf

  13. Gil writes “If normative MO is the mixed swimming, eat dairy out crowd, then you may be right but I don’t know”

    How to win friends and influence people? Not.

  14. I think that you are taking Rav Lichtenstein’s words far further than he intended them.

    First of all, the passuk of Lo Sasur is talking about the Beis Din HaGadol, not any Rav that one considers to be greater than oneself.

    Second, even with Lo Sasur, that is referring to being bound to follow them l’halachah. It doesn’t mean that you can’t dispute them, it means that you have to follow what they say.

    See the teshuvah from Rav Moshe Feinstein to the rabbi who wants to move to Bnei Brak and is uncomfortable with the possibility that he may end up disagreeing with the Chazon Ish. Rav Moshe says that, provided he is respectful, there is absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t dispute the Chazon Ish. Just because the Chazon Ish was the gadol hador, does not mean that he is correct on everything; and even if he is, people are still entitled to disagree. The implication of Rav Moshe’s response is that matters of interpretation are very much based on personality and personal experience, as well as hashkafah; it’s just not the case that the greater Torah scholar is necessarily or even automatically more likely to be correct.

  15. ““Thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left” (Devarim 17:11).”

    LO tasur..imin usmol has 3 basic approaches-the classic one taught in most elementary schools what Rashi teaches-you must listen even if they tell you right is left and left is right.
    An in between opinion that one must listen if it appearsto you thattheyare wrong but if you arepositive they are woron one shouldn’t listen to them. Then there is the complete reverse of Rashi-I might have thought that I must listen to Chazal if they are wrong talmud lomar one must listen to them when they tell you right is rightand left is left.
    Note the debate about deference precedes the right/left divisions by almost 2000 years.

  16. Whoops, I overlooked the part where you conceded that you are taking Rav Lichtenstein’s words much farther than he intended them:

    “While his comments refer to the Sanhedrin, I take them to apply equally to leading rabbis of our day.”

    I don’t think that he would say that leading rabbis of today are in the same category as the Sanhedrin. Nor that the idea of following the piskei halachah of one’s halachic authority means that one cannot dispute them.

  17. “no reason why he shouldn’t dispute the Chazon Ish. Just because the Chazon Ish was the gadol hador, does not mean that he is correct on everything; and even if he is, people are still entitled to disagree.”
    Re Chazon Ish-the Ravs distinction of authority between the Chazon Ish and R Chaim Ozer is interesting. He felt that one would have had to listen to R Chaim Ozer because the community appointed him as their authority. The Chazon Ish had no formal authority and thus one was not required to listen to the CI. One may be a fool in general if one doesn’t listen to a person of the level of the CI. There is no requirement to listen to a gadol that one either did not ask the sheila to or was not a member of the community that appointed that person to be their manhig.

  18. By the way, even in the case of a student with a teacher, where there is vastly more reason for deference, most authorities say that the student is permitted to dispute his teacher, as long as he doesn’t undermine his halachic authority. As R. Chaim of Volozhin said: “It is forbidden for a student to accept the words of his teacher when he has difficulties with them. And sometimes, the truth will lie with the student. This is just as a small branch can ignite a larger one.”

    Kal v’chomer when it is not one’s personal teacher!

  19. Gil, I don’t have a problem with your adopting a Charedi hashkafa for yourself, just don’t pretend that it is normative Modern Orthodox.

    And in response to your emotive “mixed swimming, eat dairy out crowd” I would say that perhaps there would be fewer sex crime issues in the Charedi world, if they were not so obsessive about seperation of genders. Mixed swimming may be part of the prescription.

  20. Gil, you basically say you trust their judgement except where you know them to be wrong. That’s a weird statement, and I’ll explain why.

    The problem I have, I have issues trusting someone’s judgement who knows more than me, but can’t admit that they were wrong or based their judgements on incorrect information. All too often we see that “yea, the information might have been wrong, but we still agree with the intent, so can’t take it back”. This is further magnified b the amount of bans from the chareidi world. It’s hard to trust their halachik judgement even in a general sense when one sees falsehoods manipulating them on specific relatively tiny issues (except to those who get banned themselves).

    At the end of the day, I can place trust in people who will be wrong, but only if they have the ability to admit to faults, we hardly ever see that in practice (and even when we do, sometimes its seems that its forced out of them).

  21. From the link:

    “These considerations aside, however, even if it were wholly licit to sever all links with contemporary gedolim… such a course would be grossly mistaken… A person, and not only the ordinary layman, needs a gavra rabba [great person], to serve in part as a role-model if possible, and in part as a realization of what Whitehead called “the vision of greatness”; to lift one’s sights and aspirations — extending the bounds of what he strives to achieve, and suffusing him with appreciation and admiration for what he senses he cannot achieve; to guide, on the one hand, and inhibit, on the other.”

    I wholehartedly agree … the problem is, that when I search for a living person who is to fill this function, I consistently come up empty. So while R’ Lichtenstein’s attitude is theoretically valid – I am not sure how one would apply it in this orphaned generation.

    The crisis of leadership is great – and is increased tenfold by an information age where the statements of men are subject to immediate and effective scrutiny within minutes of the time they are made. חכמים – היזהרו בדבריכם is a concept that is so challenging in the contemporary world that I am not sure that any contemporary rabbi fully appreciates the impact and ramifications of even the simplest of statments – and therefore, we who are immersed in the information revolution turn left and right only to find no-one who understands our new reality.

  22. I just posted a response to this post at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/02/disputes-vs-deference.html

    And I will reiterate: When Rav Lichtenstein says “In this pluralistic context, the question is not of error but of interpretation, and the Torah has designated one as definitive,” he is clearly ONLY referring to one’s obligation to follow a body that actually possesses halachic jurisdiction over others, i.e. the Sanhedrin, and furthermore ONLY to one’s obligation to follow their halachic rulings le-ma’aseh – not that one must assume that they are necessarily correct. One must defer to such bodies of authority in practice – but one need not, and indeed should not, defer in the sense of not considering oneself to be entitled to a different view.

  23. “Natan Slifkin on February 28, 2011 at 3:53 am
    I just posted a response to this post at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/02/disputes-vs-deference.html

    And I will reiterate: When Rav Lichtenstein says “In this pluralistic context, the question is not of error but of interpretation, and the Torah has designated one as definitive,” he is clearly ONLY referring to one’s obligation to follow a body that actually possesses halachic jurisdiction over others, i.e. the Sanhedrin, and furthermore ONLY to one’s obligation to follow their halachic rulings le-ma’aseh – not that one must assume that they are necessarily correct. One must defer to such bodies of authority in practice – but one need not, and indeed should not, defer in the sense of not considering oneself to be entitled to a different view.”

    Read his link for a well reasoned argument.

  24. R. Gil,

    Your post runs into a number of problems:

    1) Gedolim, and certainly recognized authorities, are not given their power solely based on their intellectual breadth. There is no small amount of politics involved; there are many who by rights should have been recognized as authorities (Rav Goren, for instance) who were rejected because they caused the wrong kind of controversy (as opposed to say, Rav Elyashiv who caused the right kind) or didn’t garner sufficient public recognition.

    2) It is difficult, if not impossible for myself and many others to believe in the noble concept of the disinterested authority merely searching for truth exists today among poskim. Public pressure, especially from Kono’im and others, is rampant and highly influential regarding decisions. The “ma yagidu” syndrome or “Reb Nahum” syndrome has won the day by the overwhelming majority of authorities.

    Under such conditions, how can I assume a priori that their “judgement” is better than mine when in too many cases it’s really just cowardice?

    3) While there are certainly limits to halacha and clear red lines, most controversial issues of which I am aware always have “big guns” on both sides of the matter; if this is the case, then what does deference really mean?

    PS Reb Nahum syndrome. This term is based on the old joke in Israel, which comes in different variations and goes thus:

    The Chief Rabbinate is afraid of
    The Charedi Leadership who is afraid of
    The Eda Charedit who is afraid of
    Reb Nahum the lunatic kono’i screaming from the
    rooftops about the evil Mizrochnikim.

    Thus, all public psak halacha is determined by Reb Nahum.

  25. Shalom Rosenfeld

    I can’t tell if the Rabbi Bush comment is legitimate or an attempt to discredit him; if the latter, that’s illegal.

    Chas v’shalom that today’s poskim have the exact halacha of a Sanhedrin. I was simply drawing an analogy from R’ Elchanan. But occasionally we can learn things from the spirit of the Sanhedrin, e.g. if the entire Johannesburg rabbinic establishment has ruled that the kingklip is kosher, then if you live in Johannesburg, you’re free to choose not to eat it in your own house, or even lecture about the theory behind it but say “I’m not paskening”; but don’t get up in Johannesburg and rule otherwise to the lay population. Would I swear that doing so is absolutely “Lo Sasur” medeoraysa 100%? No. But I would say it’s generally the right thing to do.

    Major caveat — we’re talking about *poskim* here (Rabbi Willig asked the dangerous question of which of the Moetzes members have published on halacha l’maaseh).

    Re: RYBS. My understanding is that on a given issue, he could feel that a range of halachic positions would all be within the acceptable zone, depending on the individual’s circumstances (or if it was a chacham she’higia l’hora’ah, the way he read the sugya). But there were certainly things he felt were beyond the pale, and “I’m okay you’re okay” was not the reaction.

  26. “Re: RYBS. My understanding is that on a given issue, he could feel that a range of halachic positions would all be within the acceptable zone, depending on the individual’s circumstances (or if it was a chacham she’higia l’hora’ah, the way he read the sugya). But there were certainly things he felt were beyond the pale, and “I’m okay you’re okay” was not the reaction”

    Al regel achat tend to agree-but most important the Rav believed when it came to factual matters the local Rav who was there had to pasken. If it were not a factual issue-the Rav certainly did not take the position that everything is OK-an analogy in general if the issue were a jury question the local Rav should pasken-if it were a appellate court issue the Rav would pasken -or give the principles to which the local Rav should pasken not inconsistent with the Ravs principles.

  27. Natan: Your point about the Sanhedrin is already mentioned in this post.

    Your statement “but one need not, and indeed should not, defer in the sense of not considering oneself to be entitled to a different view” is hard for me to locate within R. Lichtenstein’s words. Where does he say that?

    I think we can all agree with the first sentence of this post.

  28. Rabbi Slifkin

    I believe you are confusing two very different issues. One has to do with the prohibition of לא תסור– that is what R. Student’s post is about– and the other has to do with a תלמיד בכבוד רבו.

    These two are vastly different topics. It may be true that כבוד רבו would not preclude someone from arguing on his Rebbe. However, that says nothing of whether he might be prohibited because of לא תסור. If the Sanhedrin were to rule a certain way, then barring unusual circumstances almost everyone would be required to adhere to the psak. In such a case, a talmid of one of the דיינים might not be prohibited to argue on his Rebbe מצד הלכות כבוד רבו, but he would be prohibited מצד לא תסור.

    Keep in mind, the ספר החינוך states that the איסור of לא תסור formally applies to the collective חכמי הדור in every generation.

  29. Dfdf,

    Does everyone accept the verdict of the Hinuch? Also, how does one define חכמי הדור?

  30. R. Student

    You should note that Rav Lichtenstein has a much fuller treatment of this topic in his essay “Legitimization of Modernity”. (A portion of that is cited in one of your links, but that citation only captures a very small part of his analysis.)

  31. Aiwac: I agree with your three points. I’m not saying we have to blindly follow whatever the Rav Elyashiv says and especially not what the newspapers claim he says. The Slifkin Affair was about our following our Gedolim, not about following no Gedolim.

  32. aiwac

    2 good questions.

    Regarding the first, the מנחת חינוך was somewhat puzzled by this, but he notes that the both the Rambam and the Ramban clearly imply similarly. I know of no ראשון who says explicitly otherwise– or even implies otherwise, for that matter.

    Moreover, Rav Lichtenstein has pointed out (in his article on “Legitimization of Modernity”) that even if technically the לאו of לא תסור is limited to בית דין הגדול, the notion that one is generally bound by the גדולי הדור is uncontroversial. I later came across this exact point in the תורה תמימה as well:
    , ואע”פ דפשוט הוא דמצוה וגם חובה יש לשמוע לדברי חכמים שבכל דור וכמבואר בדרשה דלעיל (פ’ ט’) אל השופט אשר יהיה בימים ההם הא אין לך לילך אלא אצל שופט שבימיך, אבל בודאי לא שייך לומר דיש בזה משום לאו גמור.

    As far as the second question, I know of no easy, objective formula to determine who is and who isn’t in that group. But I think generally we can identify our גדולי הדור even if we can’t define what makes one a גדול הדור.

  33. But Gil, the point is that using your approach one can never challenge the practises of another community, if they are sanctioned by ‘gedolim’. For example you have written in the past that you are opposed to charedim in Israel not working and not gaining any secular education, which is certainly approved by gedolim. Or one can never say that Reb Chaim Kanievski’s statement that we have a different number of teeth than goyim is ridiculous. Basically, your policy is a way of telling the masses to keep quiet, not argue against the ‘dear leaders’ and continue bearing the burden of the status quo.

  34. If the Sanhedrin were to rule a certain way, then barring unusual circumstances almost everyone would be required to adhere to the psak. In such a case, a talmid of one of the דיינים might not be prohibited to argue on his Rebbe מצד הלכות כבוד רבו, but he would be prohibited מצד לא תסור.

    Of course! I never said anything different!

    Keep in mind, the ספר החינוך states that the איסור of לא תסור formally applies to the collective חכמי הדור in every generation.

    That is VERY much a minority view. And, again, it would refer to the same circumstance, i.e. obeying a halachic ruling that they all agree upon – it would not mean that you can’t disagree with them.

  35. And what if all gedolim did maintain that lice used to spontaneously generate (but then mysteriously stopped doing so) or that the records of all the societies that existed at the time of the mabul are false or that the history of Greece and Persia is really all wrong and Seder Olam wipes out 165 years of documented history or that the world was created after the domestication of the dog? It wouldn’t make any of these things more true or any less worthy of ridicule. The position Gil is advocating basically means that there cannot be any external challenges to authority, and that the only things anybody is allowed to think are those that have been given an official hechsher.

  36. The Slifkin Affair was about our following our Gedolim, not about following no Gedolim.

    Maybe for you, but not for me! Are you saying that without Rav Hershel Schecter etc. saying anything, it would not have been acceptable to say that the world is millions of years old or that Chazal were fallible in science?

  37. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the Chinuch had said it doesn’t apply to the chachmei hador and everyone else disagreed, would the “not applying” position get the credence today that the “applying” actually does?

    In the real world, if leadership gets it wrong too many times, people just filter their words (e.g. I’m with the gedolim until I’m not – remember the wedding limitation rules?)

    KT

  38. Dfdf:

    1) The Rambam does not agree with the Chinuch. Thus he explicitly distinguishes between the authority of the talmud which binds everyone, and the rulings of subsequent Rabbonim that bind their local communities but do not automatically bind everyone. We cannot know how he might have ruled in our world of instant world-wide communication.

    2) According to Rambam, and I know of no rishon who argues, to be eligible for appointment to the Sanhedrin a dayan had to (among other things) be learned in both Torah wisdom and other types of wisdom. One of the key disputes about who is a gadol in our times is that there are those who still expect their gedolim to have broad knowledge, and those who consider knowledge of things other than Torah to be corrupting. I am not sure I can agree with you that there we can generally tell who is a gadol.

  39. Incidentally, even within the Chinnuch’s view that Lo Sasur applies to all generations, the Minchas Chinnuch clarifies that it only applies if they meet together to discuss their ruling and follow proper Sanhedrin-style procedure.

  40. Natan: I don’t think that he would say that leading rabbis of today are in the same category as the Sanhedrin.

    I also do not put them in the same category as the Sanhedrin. They are in an intermediate category.

    IH: Gil, I don’t have a problem with your adopting a Charedi hashkafa for yourself, just don’t pretend that it is normative Modern Orthodox.

    Would Dr. Brill agree with your equating Centrist Orthodoxy with Engaged Charedi?

    And in response to your emotive “mixed swimming, eat dairy out crowd” I would say that perhaps there would be fewer sex crime issues in the Charedi world, if they were not so obsessive about seperation of genders. Mixed swimming may be part of the prescription.

    Should I take that as a “yes”?

    J: But Gil, the point is that using your approach one can never challenge the practises of another community, if they are sanctioned by ‘gedolim’. For example you have written in the past that you are opposed to charedim in Israel not working and not gaining any secular education, which is certainly approved by gedolim. Or one can never say that Reb Chaim Kanievski’s statement that we have a different number of teeth than goyim is ridiculous. Basically, your policy is a way of telling the masses to keep quiet, not argue against the ‘dear leaders’ and continue bearing the burden of the status quo.

    1. Why should you challenge the practices of another community?
    2. R. Chaim Kanievski’s statement about teeth (with which I am not familiar) would fall under the first category discussed in this post. But either way, I would be respectful and not use words like “ridiculous”.
    3. No, the masses can and should get involved. But within the system, not trying to undermine it.

    J: And what if all gedolim did maintain that lice used to spontaneously generate (but then mysteriously stopped doing so)…

    Please reread the post. You clearly missed an important part of it.

    Natan: Are you saying that without Rav Hershel Schecter etc. saying anything, it would not have been acceptable to say that the world is millions of years old or that Chazal were fallible in science?

    Are you saying that you are willing to cook up your own hashkafos and halakhos without deference to any greater authority than your own intellect? See R. Hershel Schachter’s recent article on Mesorah in Jewish Action. Even Gedolim have to answer to their mentors. Are you suggesting that you are an island?

  41. Gil, you can call yourself whatever you want — just don’t pretend it’s normative Modern Orthodox.

  42. I thought you said that it is normative Centrist Orthodox, which to most people means Modern Orthodox.

  43. You know the Odd Couple routine about “assume” 🙂

  44. “I don’t think that he would say that leading rabbis of today are in the same category as the Sanhedrin.”

    I also do not put them in the same category as the Sanhedrin. They are in an intermediate category.

    If you want to believe that, fine, but don’t claim that Rav Lichtenstein is saying that – or that it is a traditional Jewish view.

    Are you saying that you are willing to cook up your own hashkafos and halakhos without deference to any greater authority than your own intellect?

    Is the topic about how one develops one’s general approach, or about the ability to disagree with others? Until now, you were talking about the latter. My own mentors taught me that one is certainly allowed to disagree on non-halachic matters, and that if one is suitably qualified, one may determine halachos oneself and one does not need to follow others, just as Rav Moshe Feinsten said.

  45. I should challenge the ‘practises’ of another community if I am concerned that those practises pose a threat to, say, the Israeli economy (which they clearly do) or if they oppress the people within that system, or if that system has an effect on my life (say increasing humra’isation) or, simply because I like to promote the truth. As an example, in the link to the article you linked to last week on the Haredi community on North London, I saw the following comment:

    “As someone who has grown up within this community and is familiar with all the poeple and streets and beliefs cited in the article, reading this article infuriated me. I would like to say to Mick that he needs to be aware he has only conversed and gathered the views from selected people in the community. This is by no means the views of all the poeple and neither is everyone happy with this way of life. Many like me are trapped into forced not ‘arranged’ marriages as is believed. A lot of the children that result from this belief in ‘multiply and be fruitful’ are miserable and unhappy and feel very trapped. Leaving the community is very difficult as we are not given the tools or knowledge to become independant. It is a way of life which suit some becuase it feels safe and protected and comfortable in some ways however it leave no room for individuality and growth and especially for women very suffocating.
    Domestic abuse DOES happen but doesnt get reported or spoken about because of the fear of being exposed and then shunned. It is a society that is successful in that it is easier to conform and keep quiet for fear of ‘what will the neighbours say?’ and then become ostracised.
    It is a lifestyle which is being imposed upon the next generation not one where knowledge is widespread and people are given choice about how they want to live their lives.
    It is a lifestyle which suits some but is at the sacrifice of the large percentage of those who are unhappy and are not given the choice or resources or support to do otherwise.”

    According to you, there is nothing we can do on an ideological level to help such people or challenge the power structures which cause such people to be oppressed.

  46. “Centrist Orthodoxy is a clearly defined separate
    philosophy from Modern Orthodoxy, with clear lines
    of demarcation delineating who is in the mesorah.”

    http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/5_1_Brill.pdf

  47. Gil, you can call yourself whatever you want — just don’t pretend it’s normative Modern Orthodox.

    It’s not even normative Orthodox, period, until the last twenty years. The implication of R. Gil’s post (unless he is going to add some qualifications) is that nobody should argue with the Gedolim even on non-halachic matters, and that even a rabbi may never argue with them in halachah. This is a very recent charedi approach, and even in charedi circles there are many would disagree with this.

  48. Natan: If you want to believe that, fine, but don’t claim that Rav Lichtenstein is saying that – or that it is a traditional Jewish view.

    Where in the post did I make that claim?

    IH: Where does Dr. Brill make the claim the Centrist Orthodoxy is Charedi?

    Again, your claiming that Centrist Orthodoxy is not normative Modern Orthodoxy is almost entirely semantics. To everyone speaking outside of Dr. Brill’s sociological framework, it *is* normative Modern Orthodoxy because the term Centrist Orthodoxy is not used. Even Rabbi Lamm gave up on the term.

  49. Natan: It’s not even normative Orthodox, period, until the last twenty years. The implication of R. Gil’s post (unless he is going to add some qualifications) is that nobody should argue with the Gedolim even on non-halachic matters, and that even a rabbi may never argue with them in halachah. This is a very recent charedi approach, and even in charedi circles there are many would disagree with this.

    This represents a very sloppy and inaccurate reading of the post.

  50. re Your relation to higher rabbinic authority — those rabbis with greater experience and expertise — largely defines your place in today’s Orthodox community

    I thought one’s relationship to God and fellow man defined one’s place

    re The far right defers at all times and on all issues to leading rabbis
    No, like other halachik Jews they accept their Gadol

  51. YC: I thought one’s relationship to God and fellow man defined one’s place

    Does that define your place on every single issue?

  52. Natan: If you want to believe that, fine, but don’t claim that Rav Lichtenstein is saying that – or that it is a traditional Jewish view.

    >Where in the post did I make that claim?

    “I found the following statement by R. Aharon Lichtenstein to accurately reflect my position. While his comments refer to the Sanhedrin, I take them to apply equally to leading rabbis of our day.”

    If you did not mean that R. Lichtenstein would agree with you, then you didn’t make yourself very clear. His statement does not accurately reflect your position at all!

    Natan: It’s not even normative Orthodox, period, until the last twenty years. The implication of R. Gil’s post (unless he is going to add some qualifications) is that nobody should argue with the Gedolim even on non-halachic matters, and that even a rabbi may never argue with them in halachah. This is a very recent charedi approach, and even in charedi circles there are many would disagree with this.

    >This represents a very sloppy and inaccurate reading of the post.

    So perhaps you could clarify exactly what your claim is? What did you mean by, “If a top notch Torah scholar issues an opinion, I may ask questions about it but I will not dispute it”?

  53. “To everyone speaking outside of Dr. Brill’s sociological framework, it *is* normative Modern Orthodoxy because the term Centrist Orthodoxy is not used. Even Rabbi Lamm gave up on the term.”

    Gil, sure, by redefining the boundaries you can get the result you want, only it will have fewer and fewer committed adherents. The game that is being played — rather successfully from a leadership perspective — is to incrementally slide to the right while snipping away the left-most edge as “beyond the pale of Orthodoxy”. But, is it working at the people level ? For example, do you really believe the synagogue members of Rabbi Lamm’s former pulpit buy into your hashkafa? [Not that it seems you care, given your continual drip of snarkyness regarding the masses].

    My educated guess is that, like the NCYI, there is a huge distance between the “leadership” and the members. That MO allowed the replacement of its philosophy with Centrist Orthodoxy is probably more akin to the frog slowly being boiled in water, than any wilful expression of haskhafic acceptance lechatchila. An interesting benchmark would be the OU membership numbers for 2000 vs. 2010 like the USCJ statistics in a recent link you posted.

    That said, I am glad you are being honest about this issue of deference so those people engaged enough to read your blog can see more precisely what they are supporting with the current America Centrist Orthodox establishment — which is alien to the hashkafa of authentic Modern Orthodoxy. The increasing popularity of post-denominational halachic shuls is the most compelling antidote – their effectiveness can be seen by the increasing levels of animosity to them by the Centrist Orthodox establishment.

    One wonders if we will see the final far swing to the right at YU after the elder statesmen of traditional MO retire, in the polar opposite of what happened at JTS in the mid-80s. It seems par for the course.

  54. IH: Gil, sure, by redefining the boundaries you can get the result you want, only it will have fewer and fewer committed adherents.

    You are the one writing R. Aharon Lichtenstein outside of Modern Orthodoxy! I call that an intentional slide to the left, all while complaining about people sliding to the right.

    For example, do you really believe the synagogue members of Rabbi Lamm’s former pulpit buy into your hashkafa?

    There was always a spectrum within MO. You are saying that because I am not left wing, I am not MO. In other words, you are redefining the boundaries and writing out the right wing of MO.

    That said, I am glad you are being honest about this issue of deference so those people engaged enough to read your blog can see more precisely what they are supporting with the current America Centrist Orthodox establishment — which is alien to the hashkafa of authentic Modern Orthodoxy.

    I’ve been saying this sort of thing since the beginning of the blog. I have been vocal against feminist innovations for years. I’m not hiding anything.

    You just can’t deal with a spectrum so you are writing out the right wing. That’s fair enough, because I write egalitarians out of MO. Evidently, though, my tent is bigger than yours.

  55. You are the one writing R. Aharon Lichtenstein outside of Modern Orthodoxy!

    How on earth is he doing that? I thought that you agreed that R. Lichtenstein is talking about piskei halachah of the Sanhedrin?

  56. I think R. Menashe Klein is a top notch Torah scholar. He holds positions that I think we must dispute. He holds for example that there were BILLIONS of people in EY at certain times during the period of Tanach. Would you not dispute this Gil? Would you not dispute the Sanzer Rebbe’s claim that it is a terrible aveira to have positive feelings towards someone who is not a ben-bris and that we should hope than when thye are ill, their illness should have a kiyyum? Is there nothing that a top-notch Torah scholar has ever said that you would condemn? If so, as I have pointed out before, you have no moral positions at all. It really doesn’t take very long to find positions of great Torah scholars that either completely defy common sense or are simply morally outrageous. Is it really your positions that once a positions has been taken by a great Torah scholar it it de-facto legitimate forover more?

  57. IH,
    I find that I usually basically agree with you, but you state things too strongly. Sure, Rabbi Brill’s observation about centrism taking over MO may be right, but so what? Is chadash assur min hatorah?

    Asserting that something is “authentic MO” does not automatically justify that thing. There is an additional step: “and authentic MO was more correct than centrism because _______.” That step seems missing from your comments here. I realize you probably don’t want to keep repeating yourself, but I think you could find a way to state your opinions without assuming that labeling something “authentic MO” makes it self-justifying.

  58. Natan: That’s why I wrote the second sentence, which clarifies my claim.

    The entire post is about ruling on halakhic matters. It is both implicit and explicit in the language.

    And the idea that “a rabbi may never argue with them…” is incorrect because only an unqualified rabbi may not argue with them.

  59. Natan: How on earth is he doing that? I thought that you agreed that R. Lichtenstein is talking about piskei halachah of the Sanhedrin?

    Because Dr. Brill defines R. Lichtenstein as Centrist Orthodox, as opposed to Modern Orthodox.

  60. Just to be clear, I am not writing anyone out. On RAL, your argument is with the author of the essay I quoted. On the RW, I am not writing them out of the spectrum at all — just noting they have no exclusivity.

    For me, the sine qua non is an authentic commitment to Halacha. That is what defines whether you are in the tent, or not. Within that tent there is abroad spectrum of Hashkafa.

  61. IH: I argued on this blog with Dr. Brill’s article when it was published.

    But the real issue is with your incorrect conclusion drawn from his article that anyone who is not MO (as he defines it) is Charedi.

  62. The entire post is about ruling on halakhic matters. It is both implicit and explicit in the language. And the idea that “a rabbi may never argue with them…” is incorrect because only an unqualified rabbi may not argue with them.

    So if someone “only” has yoreh yoreh semichah, he cannot argue on something in hilchos Shabbos with a “Gadol”? He is only allowed to question, but not to argue that the “Gadol” is wrong?
    What about Rav Moshe’s responsum?

    Besides, why would your reasoning not apply to hashkafic matters? If it is an issue of interpretation or judgment in hashkafic matters, why would you not “defer to those with greater experience and expertise, those who have devoted more hours to diligently plumbing the depths of Torah than you have or ever will, those more brilliant and wise than you are or ever will be?”

  63. Does Public Choice Theory have anything to teach us about the choices of the gedolim, or are they presumed immune from the temptations of lesser folk?

    For example, does public choice theory cast any light on the law that a man is obligated to save the life of the rabbi who has principally taught him Torah before saving the life of his parents?

  64. “conclusion drawn from his article that anyone who is not MO (as he defines it) is Charedi.”

    Gil, I did not say that as far as I am aware. I did say that in this piece you adopted a Charedi hashkafa for yourself. Whether that represents the norm in Centrist Orthodoxy is not clear which is why I commended you for being transparent about your views on this subject.

  65. Emma: thanks. I do not think “authentic MO” — which I probably should have called “legacy MO” — is better, just that its voice is important and just as valid as the position that Gil stakes out.

    Gil’s position is indeed chadash (albeit cloaked as mesorah) and is a welcome voice within the tent — as long as it does not claim to be the exclusive voice that defines a red line for Orthodoxy.

  66. IH,

    Instead of just criticizing (and frankly being somewhat vague on what MO IS), why not lay out your positions and whether or not you think they can be reconciled with Orthodoxy (of any stripe?

  67. Reworded to remove the unintended value judgement:

    That said, I am glad you are being honest about this issue of deference so those people engaged enough to read your blog can see more precisely what they are supporting with the current America Centrist Orthodox establishment — which is alien to the hashkafa of legacy (pre-80’s) Modern Orthodoxy. The increasing popularity of post-denominational halachic shuls is the most compelling antidote – their effectiveness can be seen by the increasing levels of animosity to them by the Centrist Orthodox establishment.

    One wonders if we will see the final far swing to the right at YU after the elder statesmen of traditional MO retire, in the polar opposite of what happened at JTS in the mid-80s. It seems par for the course.

  68. For me, the sine qua non is an authentic commitment to Halacha. That is what defines whether you are in the tent, or not. Within that tent there is abroad spectrum of Hashkafa.

    And to be clear, this would include: R. Tucker, R. Sperber as well as (obviously) R. Weiss and YCT — as I have argued on other threads.

  69. “3. No, the masses can and should get involved. But within the system, not trying to undermine it.”

    I don’t know why rabbis allow their pride to get in the way of understanding the masses. If the masses undermine the system, it’s not because they weren’t taught not to. It’s a symptom. As a blogger you should know this.

  70. Irrespective of the disdain for the masses among some of the leadership, the fact remains that buildings, clergy, schools and programs require money.

    As a reality check: with the broadest possible tent, we’re talking about no more than 400,000 adults. Probably fewer.

    What, actually, is the benefit to Judaism of reducing this number to be smaller and smaller in the name of hashkafic purity?

  71. IH,

    Please define “authentic commitment to halacha” and it what way that is different from the Conservative movement, for instance?

    I am not asking this out of malice or deligitamizing (not that anyone needs my seal of approval), but I want to know what we’re talking about here?

  72. R Natan Slifkin wrote:

    “First of all, the passuk of Lo Sasur is talking about the Beis Din HaGadol, not any Rav that one considers to be greater than oneself.

    Second, even with Lo Sasur, that is referring to being bound to follow them l’halachah. It doesn’t mean that you can’t dispute them, it means that you have to follow what they say.”

    There are many Shitos in Rishonim that state that Lo Sasur apply to the Chachmei HaDor of every generation, and that Lo Sasur is by no means limited to the Beis Din HaGadol.

  73. aiwac: that is beyond my paygrade, I’m afraid; but, I think most of us know it when we see it. Certainly, someone who has Orthodox smicha and is not affiliated with any non-Orthodox movements should be in the tent.

  74. How ironic-by R Gil insisting that MO have to rely and depend on their Gdolim, as opposed to the Gdolim who serve as Baalei Horaah and Mesorah for their communities, that magically renders such a view as Charedi.

    R Gil is correct-everyone must have a rebbe to serve as a link to the Mesorah and Sinai. That does not mean that you call your rebbe on every minor issue,or you simply ask Eitzos and for Brachos, but you at least have someone who you would look in the mirror and ask yourself , how would my rebbe respond or act in such a situation?

    I think that R Y Sacks in his Perush on Avos, quotes R Asher Weiss on the concept of Ratzon HaTorah, who certainly maintains that at least according to the Chinuch and RaN, that Lo Sasur is by no means limited to the Beis HaDin HaGadol.

  75. aiwac: further food for thought in Prof. Shapiro’s http://seforim.blogspot.com/2009/09/marc-b-shapiro-thoughts-on.html:

    “Some people are so set on showing the differences between Christianity and Judaism that in the process they end up distorting Judaism. Let me start with an example that for the last fifteen years must be considered a Jewish teaching. By Jewish teaching I mean a view that is taught in the observant community. This doesn’t mean that all or even most people will agree with it, anymore than they agree with the ideas of Daas Torah, religious Zionism, religious anti-Zionism, or that the shirayim of the Rebbe has mystical significance. But agree or not, these are clearly Jewish teachings.

    Today it must be admitted that Judaism and Christianity share a belief in the Second Coming of the Messiah. While this is an obligatory belief for Christians, for Jews it is, like so many other notions, simply an option. The truth of my statement is seen in the fact that messianist Habad is part and parcel of traditional Judaism, and, scandal or not, most of the leading Torah authorities have been indifferent to this. That is, they see it as a mistaken belief, but not one that pushes its adherent out of the fold. In other words, it is like so many other false ideas in Judaism, all of which fall under the rubric “Jewish beliefs.” As long as these beliefs don’t cross any red lines, the adherents are regarded as part of the traditional Jewish community.”

    So, what are the red lines in an age where Orthodoxy does not consider the 2nd Coming of the Messiah? Finding halachic means to permit that which can be permitted for women?

  76. typo: the 2nd Coming of the Messiah on the outside (of the red line).

  77. I think it is somewhat clear from Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s comments here why he is gradually losing support from his fans in the MO/CO camp. I myself was an ardent fan and supporter, for years, because I thought his hashkafa made so much sense. I *still* think that a lot of what he says has great merit. But after his foray into areas such as Rashi believing in a physical God, the Torah stating false information just because that false information is what the ancients mistakenly believed, piskei halacha being subject to revision because of our modern superior knowledge, etc., I think he is losing support among many who liked what he originally had to say. I have heard this from literally tens of people who feel the same way – and that’s only within the mid-size community in which I live. Where is the next MO/CO thinker who can stay *within* the bounds of our mesorah? Reb Gil, do you have any thoughts on this?

  78. “There are many Shitos in Rishonim that state that Lo Sasur apply to the Chachmei HaDor of every generation.”

    Really? Name them.

    And, as noted, the Minchas Chinnuch says that the Chinnuch is only referring to a case where the Chachmei Dor are following a Sanhedrin-based model in issuing their pesak, i.e. meeting and discussing it as per the protocol of the Sanhedrin.

    R Gil is correct-everyone must have a rebbe to serve as a link to the Mesorah and Sinai.

    If that was all he was saying, nobody would be arguing with him.

  79. But after his foray into areas such as Rashi believing in a physical God

    You have a problem with the inherent idea of a great Rishon being a corporealist? What about the Raavad’s statement that greater and better people than Rambam were corporealists?

    the Torah stating false information just because that false information is what the ancients mistakenly believed

    Which is the view of Rambam, Ibn Caspi, and other Rishonim, as well as Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook.

    piskei halacha being subject to revision because of our modern superior knowledge

    Which is the position of Pachad Yitzchok, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and in fact every posek who says that you are mechallel Shabbos for an eight-month fetus, and that you clear rubble away from someone under a collapsed building to do CPR on Shabbos. And the Charedi Gedolim who prohibit anisakis worms.

    I think he is losing support among many who liked what he originally had to say.

    You mean, people who believe in dinosaurs, but not people who are genuinely interested in truth, intellectual honesty, and the views of the Rishonim and Acharonim. You are correct, I am losing support among many of those people.

  80. IH wrote in part:

    “I am glad you are being honest about this issue of deference so those people engaged enough to read your blog can see more precisely what they are supporting with the current America Centrist Orthodox establishment — which is alien to the hashkafa of legacy (pre-80′s) Modern Orthodoxy. The increasing popularity of post-denominational halachic shuls is the most compelling antidote – their effectiveness can be seen by the increasing levels of animosity to them by the Centrist Orthodox establishment”

    I see no angst among YU, RIETS or the OU with regards to the so called “post denominational halachic” movement which was recently reviewed and dismissed as CJ warmed over, IIRC, in the Forward. Like it or not, times have changed, and what passed for pre 80s MO, cut a lot of Halachic corners. MO needed to adapt and respond to the fact that without committment to Halacha, Talmud Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim on an individual and communal level that was engendered in no small part by a critical year of study in a yeshiva or seminary, the wonderful Hashkafic concepts that underpin MO would have been seen as not entailing any real 24/7 commitment at all. Unfortunately, instead of applauding the increased committment among many MO, and MO being willing to sell its message, MO continues to obsess about making its communities safe from the gruesome twosome of OTD and flipping out, without being able to differentiate between the two phenomena in any reasonable manner.

  81. R Slifkin wrote:

    ““There are many Shitos in Rishonim that state that Lo Sasur apply to the Chachmei HaDor of every generation.

    Really? Name them”

    For a starter, see the Chinuch and RaN as elucidated by R Asher Weiss in his discussion on Ratzon HaTorah.

  82. R Slifkin-Lo Sasur is understood not just as the source of Rabbinic enactments, but as the elastic clause that gives the Chachamim in every generation the right and obligation to render Piskei Halacha, to decipher the Ratzon HaTorah and the obligation of the Jewish People to obey the same. That means the means of how we observe any Mitzvah is wholly dependent on the Psak of the Baalei Mesorah of any generation.

  83. The Chinuch and RaN is “many”?

    Besides, Rav Asher Weiss explicitly disagrees with R. Gil’s position that the lesser person is not a bar plugta and is not entitled to a dissenting view due to his lesser wisdom. R. Weiss says that it’s only due to authority that one must follow greater scholars – even those of earlier eras – not due to their necessarily being correct.

  84. That means the means of how we observe any Mitzvah is wholly dependent on the Psak of the Baalei Mesorah of any generation.

    Where do you get the idea that it is normative Judaism that nobody may dispute the “Baalei Mesorah” (and how on earth do you define those?) Please see the Igros Moshe that I mentioned. Which is based on numerous Rishonim and Acharonim. If talmidim are allowed to dispute their rebbeim, kal v’chomer one is allowed to dispute someone who is not one’s rebbe!

  85. R Slifkin-I will elaborate on other Rishonim who subscribe to the views of the Chinuch and RaN B’Ezras HaShem, tonight, when I have more Mareh Mkomos at my fingertips. I think that at the very least, the definition of Lo Sasur is at least a Machlokes Rishonim and that the Birkas HaMitzvah that we recite on any Mitzvas Drabbanon is indicative that the same is rooted in Lo Sasur.

  86. You are correct, it is a machlokes Rishonim – which means that we are not obligated to follow the view of the Chinnuch and co.! Furthermore, as I pointed out, the Minchas Chinnuch qualifies the Chinnuch as being limited to cases where the Chachmei HaDor are issuing rulings in a Sanhedrin-style manner, which is rarely, if ever, the case.

    The birkas hamitzvah on Mitzvos deRabbonon has nothing to do with Lo Sasur, and certainly nothing to do with it applying in our times.

  87. R SZlifkin wrote:

    “Where do you get the idea that it is normative Judaism that nobody may dispute the “Baalei Mesorah” (and how on earth do you define those?) Please see the Igros Moshe that I mentioned. Which is based on numerous Rishonim and Acharonim. If talmidim are allowed to dispute their rebbeim, kal v’chomer one is allowed to dispute someone who is not one’s rebbe”

    See RHS’s recent article in JA. There are many instances in Shas where the Tanaaim absolutely define how to perform a mitzvah and maintain that not only has one not performed the Mitzvah on a Rabbinic level, they have failed to accomplish the same on a Torah level. When you read RMF’s Hakdamah to IM, RMF is merely stating that based on his knowledge, if he has reached a conclusion that is rooted in the Mesorah but contradicts prior accepted Psak, then he is obligated to discuss and defend the same. Yes, Tanaim can argue with each other, and Amoraim can even argue with Tanaim,but did not do so as a matter of rule, but where do we see that a Rishon or Acharon can argue either with a Tanna or Amora?

  88. You see, Rabbi Slifkin, your tone of voice and the substance of what you say is such a “turn off” to people like me who were ardent supporters of yours. And yes, I believe – and always have – that the universe is billions of years old, that evolution is correct, and that Chazal are not infallible when it comes to knowledge of science. In fact, these beliefs of mine are what attracted me to your writings in the first place. But I think you are way, way off base when it comes to Rashi (the Raavad’s comments have little bearing on this issue regarding Rashi, as some of your disputants have shown). The Rambam, ibn Caspi, etc. do NOT say what you claim they did, as some of your disputants have shown. And your claim about the recent poskim *revising* piskei halacha due to our knowledge is an *interpretation* – some of your disputants have shown that one can say that there is no “revision” but rather new applications of the original piskei halacha.

    Be all that as it may, your response to my comment itself is very revealing as to your current attitude. I wish the “old” Rabbi Slifkin were back.

  89. I ask R. Gil, or R. Steve, to justify the claim that it is normative Orthodoxy to say that an “unqualified” rabbi such as R. Student may not disagree with the “Gedolim” on a halachic matter due to his being less learned or less intelligent. Which goes against Rav Moshe’s teshuvah and all the Rishonim and Acharonim on which it is built.

  90. but where do we see that a Rishon or Acharon can argue either with a Tanna or Amora?

    First of all, that is not what is being discussed. What is being discussed is whether someone such as R. Student can argue with the Gedolim.

    Second, even though a Rishon or Acharon may not halachically overrule a Tanna or Amora, according to R. Weiss and others this is NOT because he is necessarily mistaken due to his lesser wisdom and learning.

  91. R Slifkin-Psak, unlike Parshanut/Hashkafa is a vertical phenomenon which depends on a rebbe-talmid transmission and realizing that one can trace any Psak either from the Talmud to the present or from a contemporary Halachic digest backwards. OTOH, Parshanut and Hashkafa operate on a horizontal plain, which allow for many divergent views within the Mesorah, and which have always been the source of controversy.

  92. You see, Rabbi Slifkin, your tone of voice and the substance of what you say is such a “turn off” to people like me who were ardent supporters of yours.

    Ah, it’s the “tone!” You are correct, the tone of honest discourse which goes against treasured beliefs is indeed a turn off to people like you.

    (the Raavad’s comments have little bearing on this issue regarding Rashi, as some of your disputants have shown)

    Aside from the fact that these disputants are wrong (and see my post “Modern Orthodox Charedim”), your claim was that it is outside the mesorah/Orthodoxy to claim that Rashi was a corporealist. Why, if Raavad claimed that greater Rishonim than Rashi were corporealists?

    The Rambam, ibn Caspi, etc. do NOT say what you claim they did, as some of your disputants have shown.

    Nobody has shown any such thing. Some have attempted to argue that they didn’t specifically speak about scientific inaccuracies in the Torah – but they certainly spoke about theological inaccuracies, which are even worse! Besides, Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook clearly spoke about scientific inaccuracies. Are they “outside of the mesorah”?

    And your claim about the recent poskim *revising* piskei halacha due to our knowledge is an *interpretation* – some of your disputants have shown that one can say that there is no “revision” but rather new applications of the original piskei halacha.

    Nonsense. Rav Lampronti is explicit that he is revising it, as is Rav Shlomo Zalman. Besides, the idea that it’s just “new applications” is a dishonest description of what’s going on. Chazal say that you may not be mechallel Shabbos for an 8-month fetus, period. Everyone today says that you can. The only excuse being offered is that Chazal would have said differently had they known current medical realities, or that Chazal’s fundamental principle was that someone who can be alive should be treated as such – which is exactly what I say. (Unless you subscribe to nishtaneh hateva and believe that 8-month fetuses really were less viable than 7-month fetuses back then…)

  93. R Slifkin-Psak, unlike Parshanut/Hashkafa is a vertical phenomenon which depends on a rebbe-talmid transmission and realizing that one can trace any Psak either from the Talmud to the present or from a contemporary Halachic digest backwards. OTOH, Parshanut and Hashkafa operate on a horizontal plain, which allow for many divergent views within the Mesorah, and which have always been the source of controversy.

    Beautifully put. But what does this have to do with the topic being discussed?

  94. By the way, with regard to Larry Anonymous’ claim that it is outside of the mesorah/Orthodoxy to say that the Torah stated false information just because that false information is what the ancients mistakenly believed, see Marc Shapiro’s post where he lists a number of Rishonim and Acharonim who held this view: http://seforim.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-writings-from-r-kook-and-assorted.html. Although his list is not comprehensive; he omitted Rav Hirsch.

  95. Shades of Gray

    (1) Below is the Ruach Chaim, mentioned above(translated in an article by Noam Zion, ” Torah Not Contradicted by Multiple Applications”). The Ruach Chaim mentions both intellectual humility, as well as intellectual honesty(arguably, different people have trouble with either parts of the balance).

    (2) On a related note, RHS and RMW will be discussing the topic of “What is Orthodoxy? What is Not”; see attached flyer, which sounds like an interesting topic.

    http://www.torahweb.org/pdf/orthodox.pdf

    Ruach Chaim:

    “Pirkei Avot 1:4: “Yosi ben Yoezer says: May your home be a place for scholars to meet and one should be mitaveik in the dust at their feet and drink thirstily their words.”

    Reb Haim explains this excerpt in a surprisingly paradoxical manner. The term mitaveik gains a double meaning in his Ruach HaHaim – it is both to sit in the dust at their feet in humility and to wrestle with them in the dust like Jacob with the angel:
    “It is forbidden for student to accept the words of his master if he has critical questions about them (kushiot). For sometimes the student has the truth and the student can be like a twig that ignites a log. [The student can, by challenging the teacher, push him to great enlightenment]…In ‘May your home be a place for scholars to meet and one should be mitaveik in the dust at their feet,’ mitaveik should be understood in the context of Jacob wrestling with the angel, for wrestling is a form of making war and there is a war of mitzvah [in the metaphoric sense of milchamta shel Torah, the war of Torah study].

    Thus we [are] to wrestle the great holy rabbis who live on earth as well as those whose souls are in Heaven, the great authors whose books we have. For we have permission to wrestle with them and make war with their words and to resolve the difficulties in their views. We shall not give deference to personages, but we shall only love truth.

    However, we as students must be careful not to speak in arrogance when one finds something to dispute. Do not imagine yourself as great as your master/teacher or as the author of the book against which you are raising objections. Know that sometimes you have not understood the teacher or author’s intent, so maintain great humility. Say to yourself that even though I am unworthy, this is a matter of Torah and I ‘must wrestle’ but only under condition that remain ‘in the dust of their feet,’ i.e., with an attitude of humility and deference arguing before them from my position on the ground.”

  96. This all sounds very nice on paper, hearing from Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Student, Rabbi Slifkin, and so on. The view from the trenches, however, is that hierarchy is often the greatest obstacle to progress, and that is true not only in religion, but in other institutions, be it, medicine, science, the military, government, large corporations. I don’t find hierarchy to be a particularly Jewish concept. It is not an absolute. Democracy and meritocracy are, far more, Jewish ideals. It is the latter that brought us Zionism and Medinas Yisroel, the greatest innovations we Jews have seen in 2,000 years. It is hierarchy that caused so much paralysis and heartache in the years preceding, during and after the Holocaust.

  97. There is an excellent article from Tradition, way back, by Eli Turkel, entitled “The Nature and Limitations of Rabbinic Authority.” Here are two particularly relevant insights from that article:

    – Even the Sanhedrin HaGadol could not overrule the decision of a minor court of three judges.

    – Chasam Sofer would refuse to pasken shailos from people who lived in a town with a local rabbi. In other words, despite his being a league above the local rabbi, the people were obligated to follow their own rabbi – who in turn had a right to disagree with Chasam Sofer.

  98. Doron Beckerman

    שו”ת שרידי אש חלק א סימן קיג עמוד שלז

    מה שכתב להקשות על סברתי ברוב וחזקה מדברי גדולי האחרונים הפנ”י והגרע”א – לא נעלם ממני שגדולי האחרונים תפסו בפשיטות שרוב עדיף מחזקה, אבל מה בכך, הלא כן היא דרכה של תורה, לפלפל ולחדש גם נגד גדולי האחרונים ורק בנוגע להלכה למעשה אסור לנו להעלים עין מדברי הגאונים ז”ל, שדעתם רחבה מדעתנו והננו כולנו כקליפת השום נגדם, אבל בנוגע לסברא ולהסברת המושגים יש לנו רשות לחדש ולאמר דברים שלא עמדו עליהם, כי כל איש מישראל שנשמתו היתה במעמד הר סיני קבל חלקו בתורה ובחידושי התורה ואין לערער נגד זה.

    ורגיל אני לפרש מה שמנו חז”ל בפרקי אבות פ”ו מ”ה בין מ”ח דברים שהתורה נקנית בהם: פלפול התלמידים ואמונת חכמים. ולכאורה הם סותרים זא”ז. ובכלל מה שייך אמונת חכמים לקנין התורה? אבל זהו הדבר: אם אינם מאמינים בחכמים, אז עוברים על דבריהם בקלות דעת וביהירות של שטות, לומר בזחיחות הדעת: הם לא הבינו, ונמצא שאין אדם יגע כלל להתעמק ולהעמיד דבריהם ז”ל, וסוף הדבר מתברר שאנחנו טעינו ולא הם. ולכן מדרכי החכמה הוא להאמין שהם לא טעו, ח”ו, ורק אנחנו קצרי ראות ומעוטי דעת. אבל להאמין סתם ולא להוגיע את המוח בעיון ובמחשבה, אלא לומר סתם: הם ידעו ויכולים אנחנו לסמוך עליהם בלא מחשבה – ג”כ לא נכון, אלא צריך לפלפל בסתירה ובספיקות כאלו היו אנשים משלנו, ועי”ז באים להעמקה יתירה ולחדירה עיונית. נמצא ששתי המידות יחד, אמונת חכמים ופלפול עד קצה האחרון, מביאים לקנין התורה.

  99. Rabbi Slifkin –

    There are many challenges to your ideology, contained within the comments on your very own website, as well as on the websites listed here:

    I do not agree with all of what they write (nor do I disagree with all, or even with most, of what you write). But when your response to criticism is “you must be biased;” “you must be a charedi;” “you must be ignorant of …” then you have left the arena of a teacher of Israel, and have entered a different place. I am suggesting that the “take-away” lesson for you out of this exchange should be – “if indeed there are tens of people (from one community) who used to be supporters, but who are now “turned off” to a number of things I have written, maybe I need to look into what I have said, or how I have said it.” I think that a humble scholar would take that approach. Just a suggestion.

  100. R Natan Slifkin responded:

    “Beautifully put. But what does this have to do with the topic being discussed”

    Everything! Hashkafa, which R Slifkin’s works address, is a far more diverse field where differing and even contradictory views within Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim, Baalei Machshavah, Musar and Chasidus all have a right to a POV, so long as they are valid voices within the Mesorah, unless one posits incorrectly that Judaism either is inherently rational or mystical, which IMO, cannot be sustained from a historical perspective.

    The transmission of TSBP, and especially Psak Halacha does not operate from such premises. One begins with Piskei Halacha of the Chachamim in our generation and works backward or with the Talmud and works forward, and depends on the Chachamim in every generation for the proper transmission of the same.

  101. Surprise, surprise, there are die-hard charedim who disagree with what I write!

    My response to serious objections to my work is to seriously respond. However you seem to be arguing that the very fact of people disagreeing with me is reason to think that I am incorrect, since these people formerly supported my views. But there is no more reason to take them seriously than to take seriously the charedim who insist that no Rishon could have said that Chazal is mistaken about science or that the Six Days of creation need not be six regular days. In both cases it’s just a matter of people being intellectually closed to well-supported views – even those of Rishonim and Acharonim – which run counter to their treasured religious beliefs. See my post Modern Orthodox Charedim. I am sympathetic to their discomfort – it’s painful when there are arguments against beliefs that you hold dear – but this is not reason to grant them credibility, especially when the bias is so transparent.

  102. The transmission of TSBP, and especially Psak Halacha does not operate from such premises. One begins with Piskei Halacha of the Chachamim in our generation and works backward or with the Talmud and works forward, and depends on the Chachamim in every generation for the proper transmission of the same.

    Steve, if you are claiming (as you apparently are) that nobody has a right to a POV in halachah which differs from their superiors or predecessors, then you are going against numerous Rishonim and Acharonim and Gedolim – which is exactly what you just said you are not allowed to do!

  103. Elliot: I don’t find hierarchy to be a particularly Jewish concept.

    It wasn’t originally a Jewish concept because it came from Yisro. But the Torah adopted it.

    Listen to R. Michael Rosensweig — no Charedi! — about the necessary hierarchy in the halachic process: link

  104. Natan: It isn’t just Charedim who disagree. Listen to the shiur by R. Michael Rosensweib (whose link I just posted) about this.

    I am not claiming that rabbis lack authority. I’m saying that they need to defer to their own mesorah and know their own limits.

  105. R N Slikfin wrote :

    “Second, even though a Rishon or Acharon may not halachically overrule a Tanna or Amora, according to R. Weiss and others this is NOT because he is necessarily mistaken due to his lesser wisdom and learning”

    That was exactly my point. REW quoted RCS as such with respect to the often quoted statement that Rav Tana UPalig, since both Amoraim and Tanaim learned TSBP in its most pristine oral form prior to the Chasimas HaTalmud, then an Amora could, but did not often expressly contradict a Tanna.

  106. “Surprise, surprise, there are die-hard charedim who disagree with what I write!”

    And there you go again. I am not, nor was I ever a charedi, much less a “die-hard” one. To be labeled such is kind of a joke. But that’s your reaction to disagreement here. What a shame! I don’t think you are wrong about Rashi because of “charedism” – I think you’re wrong because your facts and interpretations are wrong. I don’t think you’re wrong about the Torah containing falsehood because of “charedism” – I think you’re wrong because your facts and interpretations are wrong…etc., etc.

  107. R N Slifkin wrote:

    “Steve, if you are claiming (as you apparently are) that nobody has a right to a POV in halachah which differs from their superiors or predecessors, then you are going against numerous Rishonim and Acharonim and Gedolim – which is exactly what you just said you are not allowed to do!”

    If you are a person who in terms of learning has reached a level that he is entitled to offer his opinion and insights-then you can contribute to the ongoing development of TSBP, whether Lchumra or Lkula, and see whether your contribution explains, contributes or offers a Chidush, but not a Shinui. Assuming that anyone can render such opinions is IMO wrong.

  108. Doron Beckerman

    People have a right to an opinion in Halachah. They can raise questions and klehr and be mefalpel to their hearts’ content, and write deep, scholarly articles that end with a respectful Tzarich Iyyun Gadol on the Tosfos, Rambam, Rashba, Rif, Ran and Rosh all together.

    They do not have a right to an opinion in determining practical Halachah, overturning Psak of those in a different league, (although the scholarly article writer may be right!) unless they are חכמים שהגיעו להוראה. RHS holds that a חכם שהגיע להוראה is one who is proficient B’chol HaTorah Kulah – which means he has a decent orientation in all areas of Torah.

    Even one who has סמיכה, while technically given the right to decide Halachah, shouldn’t take himself too seriously without reaching that level of proficiency. The requirements for Semicha today transparently don’t reach the standard necessary to satisfactorily acquit oneself of רבים חללים הפילה זה ת”ח שלא הגיע להוראה ומורה. RMF’s preface to Igros Moshe allows one to assess oneself as to whether he is הגיע להוראה by how he measures up to that generation’s standards of Torah greatness, but one who is far below even his own generation’s standards of greatness in Torah should be more than concerned that he is not הגיע להוראה.

  109. R Gil-Is there not a view expressed by Tosfos in BK41b that all of us are talmidim of the Chachmei HaDor, even if we have not learned anything formally from them?

  110. And there you go again. I am not, nor was I ever a charedi, much less a “die-hard” one.

    My statement was in regard to the links that you posted. But you don’t have to wear a black hat, or identify remotely as charedi, in order to have cherished religious beliefs which preclude one from evaluating evidence objectively. Hence my post about “Modern Orthodox Charedim.” It is obvious that you dispute my views because they differ from your cherished religious beliefs.

    And of course YOU believe that you arrived at your conclusion based on an objective assessment of the evidence, not because of religious bias. Charedim themselves also think that I am wrong about dinosaurs and Chazal’s science because of their objective assessment of the evidence – they don’t think that it’s because they’re charedi that they are disagreeing with me!

    One way to find out if it is bias that is leading to your conclusions is to see if people without that bias also reach the same conclusions as you. And surprise, surprise – they don’t.

  111. If you are a person who in terms of learning has reached a level that he is entitled to offer his opinion and insights-then you can contribute to the ongoing development of TSBP, whether Lchumra or Lkula, and see whether your contribution explains, contributes or offers a Chidush, but not a Shinui. Assuming that anyone can render such opinions is IMO wrong.

    What do you mean by Shinui? If you mean that you are not allowed to have a halachic disagreement with your predecessors, then you are going against many of your predecessors in presenting such a view!

  112. R Gil-Is there not a view expressed by Tosfos in BK41b that all of us are talmidim of the Chachmei HaDor, even if we have not learned anything formally from them?

    No. What Tosafos says is that one should show the same respect to a Talmid Chacham Muflag (i.e. with regard to standing up for them etc.) that one shows to one’s own rebbi.

  113. >And there you go again. I am not, nor was I ever a charedi, much less a “die-hard” one.

    The Slifkin hasagos web sites you linked to are, and that’s what he was referring to. Reread the exchange.

    In all what it comes down to is comfort level. You say his views used to make you comfortable. Well, they used to make loads of people uncomfortable. What about them? It’s all about you? Now he makes you uncomfortable, but doubtlessly others are very comfortable with his present views. Again, it’s all about you?

  114. “It is obvious that you dispute my views because they differ from your cherished religious beliefs. And of course YOU believe that you arrived at your conclusion based on an objective assessment of the evidence, not because of religious bias.”

    Of course…disagreeing with you about these issues must mean that I am not being objective in my thought. And, of course…when I agree with you about the age of the universe, evolution, and Chazal’s fallibility with regard to scientific knowledge, it is because in those areas, I am being objective in my thought. Seriously, you don’t see how this position of yours comes off to the reader?

  115. Anon 3:11 – this whole issue began because I noted that tens of people in my MO/CO community who used to be big fans of Rabbi Slifkin are now turned off by his forays into the areas I mentioned. I have no doubt that many people are comfortable by what these forays. I was just commenting about the *changes* in a small yet significant number of his fans.

  116. I would wager that this is more a question of nuance than a black or white issue. I think even Gil wouldn’t really have a problem with someone deciding a shaala in hilchos tachanun based on his own reading of the acharonim as opposed to consulting R. Shachter (and even opposing R. Shachter). But even R. Slifkin (I’m guessing here) would not want a question in say, hilchos agunos to be decided by a 24 year old recent recipient of semicha.

    When it comes to hashkafa, all bets are off. As far as I’m concerned, if a rov isn’t holding in contemporary evolutionary biology, and cosmology then he has no business making pronouncements on Rabbi Slifkin’s views (unless he is prepared to accept the expertise of the global community of scientists which would be the logical choice).

  117. Of course…disagreeing with you about these issues must mean that I am not being objective in my thought. And, of course…when I agree with you about the age of the universe, evolution, and Chazal’s fallibility with regard to scientific knowledge, it is because in those areas, I am being objective in my thought. Seriously, you don’t see how this position of yours comes off to the reader?

    It’s very simple. Age of the universe, evolution, and Chazal’s fallibility in science are not religiously threatening issues for you, as they are for many charedim. Hence, you are able to be comfortable with what I write. But these other issues are religiously very uncomfortable for you – the idea that the great Rashi held a belief which you see as silly and/or heretical, or that the Torah has what you consider “falsehoods,” or that Chazal’s halachos are every changed. So you convince yourself that my arguments lack merit, just as the charedim do with my arguments about dinosaurs etc.

    How do I know that it’s bias rather than an objective assessment of the evidence that motivates you? Three ways. First is that your bias is rather obvious. Second is that nobody has presented remotely convincing refutations of my sources and positions in these areas. Third is that all people without religious biases (as well as many of those with them) agree with me! Can you find anyone without a religious bias who agrees with you? I don’t think so…

  118. IMHO much of the debate revolves aroung how comfortable one is with saying, “what X says is not convincing (or not explained at all) but I will rely on X due to his greater intellect or greater learning or greater intuition because this is what HKB”H wants of me” [or for some – even though I can’t get a good explanation of how the system works in case a vs. case b other than halachic intuition)
    KT

  119. By the way, in the latest Hakirah, there was a revealing letter by a die-hard Modern Orthodox Jew, who began by ranting against the “narrow-minded” Charedim who deny the proven facts of science due to their religious beliefs, but continued in his letter to insist that NO Rishon could ever possibly have been a corporealist, due to the religious problems involved! This despite numerous explicit accounts of corporealist Rishonim, and writings by them! It was incredible to see someone so blissfully unaware that his criticism of Charedim was so true about himself.

  120. >Anon 3:11 – this whole issue began because I noted that tens of people in my MO/CO community who used to be big fans of Rabbi Slifkin are now turned off by his forays into the areas I mentioned. I have no doubt that many people are comfortable by what these forays. I was just commenting about the *changes* in a small yet significant number of his fans.

    It’s like Goldilocks. Too hot, too cold and just right.

  121. I am somewhat baffled by your response here. Your first response is that my “bias is rather obvious.” Really? How so? Your second response is that “nobody has presented remotely convincing refutations of my sources and positions…” Of course you feel that way. Many others feel that the authors of the 3 websites I cited earlier indeed DID provide very convincing refutations. (That is not to say that everything single point that they said is convincing – but there are numerous challenges that quite a number of people find very, very convincing). Your third response is that people without religious biases will not agree with your disputants. I don’t know if that’s true or not, because to my knowledge, no one has done such a survey. If one non-religious person agrees with your disputants on the issues that I mentioned earlier, your claim would be in error. If I do come across a person like that I’ll let you know.

    But in the meantime, I think if this conversation has degenerated to the point where you can say “your bias is obvious,” that it should be clear to the readers here what I am talking about. As I wrote earlier, I long for the Rabbi Slifkin of old. Oh well.

  122. Rabbi Slifkin – don’t even ‘Rationalist Jews’ suffer from the same problem? Even if you admit that your opinion on say, TMS may be informed by your biases, you still act as if your knowledge of TMS is reliable, by living as a frum Jew.
    What does the fact that you are ‘aware of your biases’ help unless it makes any nafka minas le’maaseh?

  123. “This despite numerous explicit accounts of corporealist Rishonim, and writings by them!”

    Just to set the record straight, there are explicit accounts of a grand total of 4 corporealist rishonim, as Rabbi Zucker’s article at http://www.corporealismdiscussion.com/slifkin.pdf shows rather clearly. The assumption of the existence of any more than the 4 is just that – an assumption. Or, in other words, it is speculation.

  124. Larry,
    In math if you can find one counterexample, that disproves the assertion
    KT

  125. Wow – I just started reading the websites that Larry linked earlier. They are enlightening! Thanks for the link, Larry.

  126. Joel – not sure what point you were addressing. If it was about finding one non-religious person who agrees with Rabbi Slifkin’s disputants, that was the very point I was making earlier. If it was about the corporealist rishonim, I raised the fact that the total was 4 to address Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that there were “numerous” rishonim who were corporealists.

  127. I am somewhat baffled by your response here. Your first response is that my “bias is rather obvious.” Really? How so?

    You had a yeshivah education, right? So Rashi is a beloved great Torah scholar, and corporealism is a silly heresy, right? And the Torah is divine and kulo emes, right?

    Your second response is that “nobody has presented remotely convincing refutations of my sources and positions…” Of course you feel that way. Many others feel that the authors of the 3 websites I cited earlier indeed DID provide very convincing refutations.

    And guess what all those others have in common? They all have the exact same religious biases as you!

    Your third response is that people without religious biases will not agree with your disputants. I don’t know if that’s true or not, because to my knowledge, no one has done such a survey.

    Belief that Rashi was, or could well have been, a corporealist, is absolutely standard amongst non-fundamentalist scholars in medieval Jewish history as well as many frum scholars. Belief that the Torah describes the sky/heavens as a solid firmament is absolutely universal amongst all non-fundamentalist Bible scholars as well as many frum Bible scholars. To my knowledge, nobody at all has even attempted to refute the view that Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook believed the Torah to contain scientific inaccuracies.

    Just to set the record straight, there are explicit accounts of a grand total of 4 corporealist rishonim, as Rabbi Zucker’s article at http://www.corporealismdiscussion.com/slifkin.pdf shows rather clearly.

    And yet, the letter-writer to Hakirah insisted that there couldn’t possibly be any! Why do you think he said that? Of course he would insist that he is not charedi, and that he is objectively assessing the evidence!

    The assumption of the existence of any more than the 4 is just that – an assumption. Or, in other words, it is speculation.

    No, it is a conclusion based on numerous lines of evidence. But, like the letter-writer in Hakirah, it is hard for you to accept it – because Rashi is someone with whom you feel connected and whom you respect as a great Torah scholar, and corporealism is something that you see as silly, heretical, and obviously false.

    If your positions had merits, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, as well as many frum scholars, share my views? Don’t you think that it’s just a teensy-weensy bit possible that in the same way as charedi fundamentalists convince themselves that there is no evidence for dinosaurs or evolution, you convince yourself that there is no evidence for views that go against your own cherished beliefs?

  128. Rabbi Slifkin – don’t even ‘Rationalist Jews’ suffer from the same problem?

    Of course! But at least I admit it!

    Even if you admit that your opinion on say, TMS may be informed by your biases, you still act as if your knowledge of TMS is reliable, by living as a frum Jew.

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that I am biased. But what can I do? I am also aware that I am hopelessly biased in favor of thinking that Israel is the good guy in the Israelis vs. Arabs battle – I was brought up that way, I’ve been exposed to Jewish education, etc. But I still am convinced that Israel is the good guy!

  129. Well, if I thought it was likely to be very biased about a question, then I would try and seek the opinions of someone who is not likely to be biased. The Torah itself asks us to do this – a dayyan who takes shochad is passul. If you trying to ascertain the skill of a doctor, you would not rely on his mother’s opinion – so why do you rely on your own opinions when it comes to things that you admit you are biased about?

  130. Rabbi Slifkin – Just to paraphrase your response: don’t you think it’s just a teensy-weensy bit possible that you may be wrong about the issues we are discussing? Or, let me phrase it another way: don’t you think it’s just a teensy-weensy bit possible that despite the fact that your disputants are religious, that they just might be correct in their presentation of facts and analysis? Or is it the case that anyone who disagrees with you and is religious is most likely wrong automatically? Why not focus (I don’t mean here; I mean in an appropriate forum) on responding to the substantive points that your disputants make, instead of just yelling “Bias, Bias!” as seems to be your response of choice?

  131. Well, if I thought it was likely to be very biased about a question, then I would try and seek the opinions of someone who is not likely to be biased.

    The problem is that with issues such as Israel and religion, there is no such thing as a person who is not biased (or whose views are not based on information coming from someone who is biased). Plus, I am happy with my love for Israel and Judaism, I don’t have any motivation to investigate them.

  132. Rabbi Slifkin – Just to paraphrase your response: don’t you think it’s just a teensy-weensy bit possible that you may be wrong about the issues we are discussing?

    Sure, that’s always theoretically possible. But when the objections are only raised by people with overwhelming religious bias, whereas people with no bias as well as some frum scholars agree with me, then I know who I am going to take more seriously.

    Or is it the case that anyone who disagrees with you and is religious is most likely wrong automatically?

    I attempt to assess objections on their own merits, but the fact remains that when there are both religious and secular people who agree with me, whereas only devoutly religious people disagree, it’s overwhelmingly likely that this is due to bias, no?

    Why not focus (I don’t mean here; I mean in an appropriate forum) on responding to the substantive points that your disputants make, instead of just yelling “Bias, Bias!” as seems to be your response of choice?

    I do! When Zucker wrote an article in Hakirah, I wrote a substantive response. But if I were to respond to every objection raised by my ideological opponents, I wouldn’t have time to get any work done. And it would in any case be futile; the problem with people who are fundamentally driven by religious bias is that no arguments or evidence will ever convinced them that they are wrong. That’s why arguing about evolution with young-earthers is a waste of time, and that’s why arguing with the lunatics at slifin-opinions and slifkin-challenge is a waste of time.

    I ask you again (though I am doubtless wasting my time) – If your positions had merit, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, as well as many frum scholars, share my views? Don’t you think that it is overwhelmingly likely that your conclusions are heavily influenced by your biases, just like charedim who are convinced that there is no evidence for the world being millions of years old? What do you think makes you different from them?

  133. “Why not focus (I don’t mean here; I mean in an appropriate forum) on responding to the substantive points that your disputants make, instead of just yelling “Bias, Bias!” as seems to be your response of choice?”

    This is exactly what alienated me from RNS’s blog. The man has a good point, rabbi. Stop yelling “bias” and address the issues! And if you don’t want to address the issues beyond a certain point, just say, “I do not choose to discuss this further” and let the audience come to whatever conclusion they come to. Why do you seem to have the need to discredit your opponents? Is it because you have been (wrongly) discredited by others? (and I don’t mean to compare the types of “discredit” – calling someone biased is not at all the same as branding someone a heretic). Stop the cycle!!!

  134. “why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views”

    Do you know this to be the case? Not a single person in the world without my biases shares the same view? Can you back up that statement?

    Why do you feel the need to call Rabbi Coffer and Rabbi Lampel “lunatics”? Do you not see how damaging that is to your “cause”? Can’t we disagree in a civilized way?

  135. And if you don’t want to address the issues beyond a certain point, just say, “I do not choose to discuss this further” and let the audience come to whatever conclusion they come to. Why do you seem to have the need to discredit your opponents?

    I’m just trying to explain to people why it is that certain people reach certain conclusions, and why it is pointless for me to respond. It especially irks me when it is Modern Orthodox people who look down on Charedim for being intellectually dishonest fundamentalists, and do not realize that they are no different.

    Do you know this to be the case? Not a single person in the world without my biases shares the same view? Can you back up that statement?

    I invite you to do the research yourself, and you will see it to be the case.

    Why do you feel the need to call Rabbi Coffer and Rabbi Lampel “lunatics”?

    Sorry, I was thinking of Betech, Ostroff and Kornreich. I wouldn’t describe Rabbis Coffer and Lampel that way. But I do think that they are hardcore Charedim who are inevitably going to fight tooth and nail against the idea that the world is more than 5771 years old and anything else that goes against their religous beliefs.

  136. By the way, I recommend that you read my post, The Seven Principles of Bias. It clears up a lot of misconceptions about this topic and about my views on it.

  137. It seems pointless to me to argue about who is or isn’t biased. The simplest and, I believe, most realistic assumption is that everyone has some bias on strongly felt issues. It is particularly galling to me when people are labeled as biased “fundamentalists” if they disagree in some points with people who consider themselves supposedly unbiased “rationalists”. A case in point is R’ Natan’s offhand statement that “Belief that the Torah describes the sky/heavens as a solid firmament is absolutely universal amongst all non-fundamentalist Bible scholars as well as many frum Bible scholars.” Well, that is a question of how to define ‘rakia’. While some biblical references for the root word ‘roka’ refer to a normally rigid (albeit plastic) material, others refer to something spread out. My own preference is to treat the root meaning as ‘layered’ and independent of the physical properties of the layer, i.e. whether gaseous, flexible solid, or rigid. Those who insist that ‘rakia’ implies a rigid solid conclude that the torah is reflecting and propagating a false understanding of the nature of the sky. In my understanding, the torah does no such thing. If people in the ancient past understood rakia as solid, that is their understandable error. It is not the error of the author of the torah. Am I biased on this issue – of course, since I believe the torah to be divinely authored or authorized. On the other hand, those who accept error in the torah may well be inclined to skepticism, if not, intellectual arrogance. I find such a view in conflict with traditional notions of authorship.

  138. “I invite you to do the research yourself, and you will see it to be the case.”

    That’s not the point. The point is that you made a claim. A claim that was not based on research that you’ve done. Yet you present it as a fact. In reality, it is your assumption, not a demonstrated fact. You should have said, “No one with whom I, Rabbi Slifkin, has had contact with agrees with your position, if they have the biases that I think you have.”

    Your apology about Rabbi Coffer and Lampel doesn’t take away from the fact that you stand behind the label of “lunatic” as you applied it to Dr. Betech, Dr. Ostroff, and Rabbi Kornreich. I’m sorry, but that’s beyond the pale of acceptability. Again, why can’t you just say – “we disagree; I think you are in error.” Why do you feel the need to call them lunatics? This is not in the spirit of a machloket lesheim shamayim, nor in the spirit of an academic dispute.

  139. I want to respond to this comment further:

    Stop yelling “bias” and address the issues! And if you don’t want to address the issues beyond a certain point, just say, “I do not choose to discuss this further” and let the audience come to whatever conclusion they come to.

    I understand why this bothers you. But please understand that I am in somewhat of an unusual position. I am a public and accessible figure, who is constantly being critiqued by people coming from a very different worldview and epistemology. To debate them all would drain all my time and is pointless; but I feel that I do owe people an explanation as to why I believe it is pointless. And the explanation is itself educational.

  140. It is particularly galling to me when people are labeled as biased “fundamentalists” if they disagree in some points with people who consider themselves supposedly unbiased “rationalists”.

    Y. Aharon, I know that it offended you when I described you in that way, and I am sorry!

    A case in point is R’ Natan’s offhand statement that “Belief that the Torah describes the sky/heavens as a solid firmament is absolutely universal amongst all non-fundamentalist Bible scholars as well as many frum Bible scholars.”

    Which you have not been able to refute.

    While some biblical references for the root word ‘roka’ refer to a normally rigid (albeit plastic) material, others refer to something spread out.

    And on my blog I provided numerous arguments and links to various articles which show why based both on etymology AND other descriptions of the rakia and Shamayim, it refers to a solid object. Such as Iyov: Can you help Him tarkia the heavens, firm as a mirror of cast metal?” (Iyov 37:18).

    Am I biased on this issue – of course, since I believe the torah to be divinely authored or authorized.

    In other words, no argument will ever make you admit that your view is incorrect.

    On the other hand, those who accept error in the torah may well be inclined to skepticism, if not, intellectual arrogance.

    I don’t know your basis for that. The leading article about rakia was written by a very devout Christian.

  141. That’s not the point. The point is that you made a claim. A claim that was not based on research that you’ve done. Yet you present it as a fact. In reality, it is your assumption, not a demonstrated fact.

    It was based on considerable research! Studies of numerous articles and books, and discussions with numerous people! I think that I’ve read almost everything on these subjects.

    Your apology about Rabbi Coffer and Lampel doesn’t take away from the fact that you stand behind the label of “lunatic” as you applied it to Dr. Betech, Dr. Ostroff, and Rabbi Kornreich. I’m sorry, but that’s beyond the pale of acceptability… This is not in the spirit of a machloket lesheim shamayim

    You’ll find much, MUCH stronger leshonos in many traditional seforim, in cases where the leshonos are nowhere near as well deserved. If you want to know why I described them in this way, see http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/01/seriously-and-literally.html.
    But it wasn’t my usual way of writing about them.

  142. Y. Aharon –
    On the other hand, those who accept error in the torah may well be inclined to skepticism, if not, intellectual arrogance.

    I hardly think that Rav Hirsch can be described in that way.

  143. Well, I guess we’ll just need to agree to disagree. I think you are mistaken about Rashi, the Torah’s “falsehoods,” etc., and I think that is the case because your facts and interpretations are in error. I find that whatever biases, psychological make-up, etc. you have are irrelevant to what I perceive your error to be. You think I am wrong about Rashi, etc., and when you don’t wish to discuss the substantive points any more, my error must lie in my bias. Oh, and if I happen to share the views of Rabbi Kornreich et al, I am also a lunatic. I weep for the state of “rationalist” discussions.

  144. Rabbi Slifkin, I don’t know why you equate bias with an inability to be convinced that one’s view is incorrect. It just isn’t so. Bias just means that you’ll have to provide a much higher standard of evidence than something I have no strong feelings about one way or the other.

    The question is whether you are accepting of a lower standard of evidence, accepting something with some speculative elements of proof, as fact, when the Mesorah should in fact bias you into demanding irrefutable proof.

  145. Larry, all I can do is ask you again – If your positions had merit, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, as well as many frum scholars, share my views? Don’t you think it likely that the reason for this is that your conclusions are heavily influenced by your biases, just like charedim who are convinced that there is no evidence for the world being millions of years old? What do you think makes you different from them? They also think that their beliefs are based on an analysis of the facts and interpretations!

    And if you’re distressed at all this, then don’t ever enter Jewish academia, even with frum professors. You’ll find that my views are completely normative.

  146. Rabbi Slifkin, I don’t know why you equate bias with an inability to be convinced that one’s view is incorrect. It just isn’t so. Bias just means that you’ll have to provide a much higher standard of evidence than something I have no strong feelings about one way or the other.

    As I wrote in my post, The Seven Principles of Bias, there are many different levels of bias. Some just make it more difficult to be convinced. Others make it impossible. Religious biases are amongst the most powerful.

    The question is whether you are accepting of a lower standard of evidence, accepting something with some speculative elements of proof, as fact, when the Mesorah should in fact bias you into demanding irrefutable proof.

    Ay, there’s the rub. First of all, there’s a huge gap between speculative and irrefutable. What about “overwhelming”? Second, there is no such thing as an “irrefutable” proof. That’s a term that anti-evolutionists like to use when they demand irrefutable proof for evolution. Of course, there’s also no irrefutable proof that man went to the moon, but most (albeit not all) of us accept it – even though it’s against the mesorah.

  147. If it was about the corporealist rishonim, I raised the fact that the total was 4 to address Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that there were “numerous” rishonim who were corporealists
    ====================
    Yes, I understood that, but doesn’t the existence of 4 rishonim who held that opinion, compared to whom we are like mules, mean that it can’t be kfirah (unless you believe that fundamentals of faith evolve)
    KT

  148. You keep redirecting the issue to that of bias, away from that of the substantive points. Why? BTW, could it possibly be that non-religious people have a bias to believe that Rashi would believe in a physical God, and that the Torah can contain falsehoods? For every bias you can name, one can name a counter-bias. That’s why this whole issue has an element of futility to it. Again, if you don’t want to discuss the substantive points, just say “I do not have time to discuss this further.” Your yelling “Bias!” and your labeling of others as “lunatics” come across as distasteful and inappropriate, to say the least. From all of these interchanges, you don’t seem to “get it” and that’s a shame.

  149. Actually, Alan, what you wrote is a perfect rejoinder to Larry. Larry insists that he is not biased, or that it is irrelevant; you insist that we SHOULD be biased and not accept ordinary standards of proof!

  150. Joel – the issue of kefira, it seems to me, is not relevant to the point that there were 4 corporealist rishonim. The Raavad, and most other rishonim, would say that these 4 people erred in regard to corporealism, but that that error does not make them heretics. The Rambam would consider the 4 rishonim as heretics, in which case in the Rambam’s view, they weren’t really “rishonim” at all. How we today should view the 4 depends upon how one holds in terms of the machlokes between the Raavad and the Rambam. But again, this is not relevant to the issue that Rabbi Slifkin claimed that it is a fact that there were “numerous” corporealist rishonim, when all we can say with certainty is that there were 4.

  151. You keep redirecting the issue to that of bias, away from that of the substantive points. Why?

    You keep refusing to answer my question, which I have argued to be THE substantive point. Why?

    BTW, could it possibly be that non-religious people have a bias to believe that Rashi would believe in a physical God, and that the Torah can contain falsehoods?

    Unlikely, and this would pale in comparison to the bias that frum people have to reject the idea that Rashi subscribed to a belief that they consider foolish, false and heretical.
    Also, it’s two-pronged. It’s not just that there are no non-biased people with you view; it’s also that there are people with a religious bias who nevertheless agree with me. There are plenty of frum scholars and rabbonim who believe that Rashi was, or could well have been, a corporealist, and that the Torah describes a solid firmament.

    For every bias you can name, one can name a counter-bias. That’s why this whole issue has an element of futility to it.

    Like I said, there are levels of bias, and that of a religious person is obviously far greater than some supposed unnamed bias which affects both secular people AND religous people!

    Again, if you don’t want to discuss the substantive points, just say “I do not have time to discuss this further.”

    As said, I want to explain WHY there is no point discussing it. Who knows, maybe one day you will acknowledge that you are not in a position to trust your objectivity in this matter.

    Your yelling “Bias!” and your labeling of others as “lunatics” come across as distasteful and inappropriate, to say the least.

    I didn’t yell. And my one-time labeling of others – especially considering how they, and others, have described me – is truly trivial.

    I will again ask you the questions that you keep avoiding answering: If your positions had merit, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, AS WELL AS many frum scholars, share my views? (In other words, you can ONLY claim very frum people in support of your conclusions, whereas I can claim BOTH frum and non-frum scholars in support of mine.) Don’t you think it likely that the reason for this is that your conclusions are heavily influenced by your biases, just like charedim who are convinced that there is no evidence for the world being millions of years old? What do you think makes you different from them? They also think that their beliefs are based on an analysis of the facts and interpretations!

  152. By the way, Larry, what do you think of Alan’s claim that we SHOULD be biased in such issues and demand standards of proof that are way above normal, and that are irrefutable? Isn’t it interesting that he thinks that way?

  153. “Larry insists that he is not biased, or that it is irrelevant;”

    I never insisted that I am not biased. I have many, many biases. I insisted that when evaluating the merit of an argument, the only consideration ought to be the merit of the argument itself, not the psychology of the proponent of that argument. You keep returning to the psychology of the proponent rather than to the argument itself. I think that is a misguided way to argue.

  154. “There are plenty of frum scholars and rabbonim who believe that Rashi was, or could well have been, a corporealist, and that the Torah describes a solid firmament.”

    I assume that “plenty” describes a number far greater than, let’s say, ten. Can you therefore please name five frum “scholars and rabbonim” who believe that Rashi was a corporealist (we are not discussing whether he “could have been one;” we are discussing whether he *was* one) and that the Torah contains falsehoods (we are not discussing whether the sages thought that “rakia” means “solid firmament;” we are discussing whether God thinks that “rakia” means “solid firmament” and is wrong in that description).

  155. I insisted that when evaluating the merit of an argument, the only consideration ought to be the merit of the argument itself, not the psychology of the proponent of that argument.

    I absolutely agree! But when giving an explanation for why certain people are of a certain view, or an explanation for why there is no point in debating such people, it is useful and educational and true to explain the concept of bias. And it’s also useful for a person to understand their own biases and how it affects their judgment – if they can only be open to hearing about it. The first step to countering bias is to acknowledge its existence and its potency. I wish you success with that.

  156. “The first step to countering bias is to acknowledge its existence and its potency. I wish you success with that.”

    Thanks for your kind wishes. I wish you success in reading my comment of 5:29 above. 🙂

  157. Can you therefore please name five frum “scholars and rabbonim”

    Sorry, not playing that game, for many reasons. But you can do the research yourself quite easily. With regard to the scientific accuracy of the Torah, you can start with the Seforim blog, as well as internet research on the firmament. With regard to Rashi, you can look up articles and books on corporealism (many are referenced in my articles). And for both, you can simply speak to Orthodox academics in the relevant fields.

  158. Larry, one last thing before I go to sleep – I saw that you described my view as being that we are discussing whether God thinks that “rakia” means “solid firmament” and is wrong in that description.

    Chas v’sholom! Obviously God is not mistaken about anything! It’s no wonder that you reject my position if that’s what you think it is!

  159. I don’t know why responding to a request for the names of 5 religious academicians and rabbonim who agree with your view is a “game.” If you have access to these names easily, which apparently I don’t, and if they are public information, why hesitate to answer the question? Also – I did ask a some frum academicians (4 professors, assistant professors, whom I know, at 3 universities) about Rashi and about the firmament, heart, kidneys, etc. when you raised them on your website, and they each said they could not honestly commit to either side with certainty. So again, I ask, please back up your claim that “plenty” and “many” religious scholars and rabbonim agree with you.

  160. “Chas v’sholom! Obviously God is not mistaken about anything! It’s no wonder that you reject my position if that’s what you think it is!”

    I don’t think that you maintain that God is mistaken. I think that you maintain that God purposely presented a mistaken view in the Torah.

  161. “Gedolim, and certainly recognized authorities, are not given their power solely based on their intellectual breadth.”

    Personality etc is crucial-nothing nefarious-we don’t make a computer our Gdolim.

  162. R’Larry,
    Yes, I understand that this is not the issue you were pressing with R’ Slifkin, but I want to understand how others understand that someone as great as a rishon could have been wrong (even if not a kofer)on something so basic as whether HKB”H has a body.
    KT

  163. how others understand that someone as great as a rishon could have been wrong (even if not a kofer)on something so basic as whether HKB”H has a body.

    Someone as great as Miriam the prophetess was mistaken about the Rambam’s 7th ikkar.
    She made a grave theological error. G-d Himself corrected her and punished her.
    We learn the lesson and move on.

    That’s how I understand these rishonim.

  164. R’DK,
    So you understand that Moshe Rabbeinu taught this ikkar and Miriam erred on it? That these rishonim should have been privy to a mesorah that denied corporealism but they erred on it? I suppose it’s possible but hard for me to reconcile that ikkarim could be subject to debate amongst the chachmei hamesora.
    KT

  165. So you understand that Moshe Rabbeinu taught this ikkar and Miriam erred on it? That these rishonim should have been privy to a mesorah that denied corporealism but they erred on it?

    No. Where did I imply this?
    We see that sometimes an ikkar has to be learned the long/hard way.
    That’s life.
    The Rambam says in Iggeres Techiyas Hameisim that the Jewish People en-masse were not ready to accept the 13th ikkar of the final Resurrection until a later point in history.

    hard for me to reconcile that ikkarim could be subject to debate amongst the chachmei hamesora.

    Well, the concept of a future Moshiach was explicitly subject to such a debate amongst Chazal. (Quite heavily one-sided actually, kind of like the corporealism “debate”.)

    I suspect that any difficulty to accept such a notion comes from the imposed philosophic/academic view of the Rambam’s ikkarim.

    To think that the Rambam believed that Miriam had no afterlife until she was informed of Moshe’s stature, or that the Jewish People en-masse had no afterlife at all until a generation finally reached the level of acceptance of the 13th ikkar is beyond absurd.

    But that is what these academics are telling you.

  166. >To think that the Rambam believed that Miriam had no afterlife until she was informed of Moshe’s stature, or that the Jewish People en-masse had no afterlife at all until a generation finally reached the level of acceptance of the 13th ikkar is beyond absurd

    Why is it absurd?

  167. Put another way, why is it more absurd than Ikkarim altogether? you have to believe 13 things with perfect faith of you’re a heretic? That’s not absurd?

  168. Someone as great as Miriam the prophetess was mistaken about the Rambam’s 7th ikkar.She made a grave theological error. G-d Himself corrected her and punished her.

    That is incorrect. The Rambam’s 7th ikkar is based on the possuk “V’lo kom navei b’Yisrael k’Moshe” (see Sforno ). This possuk was not yet revealed at the time of Miriam’s error.

  169. We see that sometimes an ikkar has to be learned the long/hard way
    ======================================
    OK, I would’ve thought that everyone from Avraham Avinu (or Moshe if you prefer) would’ve known what an ikkar was and these would’ve been high on the list of what was taught to the next generation. I suppose one could imagine a system where HKB”H did not tell Moshe what the ikkarim were and left it to him and future generations of chachamim to figure out but it would’ve seemed to me that even the minimalist school (e.g. Moshe got the torah and some rules, not everything that every future student woiuld learn) would assume that the very basics (ikkarim) would’ve been clearly part of the minimal information transmitted.
    KT

  170. sorry to divert away from the larry/slifkin give and take but i just read the post for the first time (being out of time and in a different time zone) but i notice gil trying to use rav aaharon l. as an hashkoma to to his viewpoint. yes you qualify that he is referring only to a sandehdrein in a time of legislative powers but you make the reader think that he may agree with you in extending to other areas and eras. nothing could be further from the truth.

    “R. Aharon Lichtenstein to accurately reflect my position” the next sentence does not qualify that he would reject the extension into the the area you have taken it into.

    ral – is viewed asTHE heir to the rav – to my knowledge there is no equal in learning, brillance and sheer broad knowledge – and is respected by everyone int the mo/centrist or however one defines it community. the basic assumption in using his name is to add some validity to your post which it should not.

  171. R N Slifkin-please take a look at Minchas Asher Devarim Parshas Shoftim #26:2. WADR, I do not see how you can claim that Rambam limits the application of Lo Sasur to the Beis Din HaGadol, especially since many Rabbinic ordinances that we take for granted were enacted long after the Beis Din HaGadol ceased sitting in Yerushalayim. R Asher Weiss cites the Hakdamah of Rambam to Mishneh Torah, Hilcos Sanhedrin 4:11, the previously cited Sefer HaChinuch, and the Chidusshei HaRan to Sanhedrin. Yes, the exact nature of what is a rabbinic ordinances are within Lo Sasur is discussed byb both Ramban in his Hasagos to the Shiresh HaSheni and the Pri Megadim in the Psicha HaKolleles. Yet, R Asher Weiss asserts based upon Yevamos 20a and Eruvin 21b as well as the actions of R Akiva who was Moser Nefesh for a Rabbinic enactment , that Lo Sasur entails a Mitzvah to listen to the Chachamim and all of their words, and not just Beis Din HaGadol. R Weiss cites Ramban to Devarim 4:1 and REW in the name of RCS that acording to Ramban , Lo Sasur means that every rabbinic enactment carries with it the force of Lo Sasur Min HaTorah and that one who fails to observe a Rabbinic enactment transgresses a Mitzvah Min HaTorah of Lo Sasur. R Asher Weiss thus concludes that it is Pashut that all of the Rishonim agree that there is a Mitzvah Min HaTorah to listen to all of the Chachmei HaTorah and not just what was decreed by the Beis Din Gadol as a Siyag or Mishmeres, and that all of the Rishonim agree that one must follow the Chachmei HaTorah in all times and places.

  172. Ruvie wrote in part:

    “ral – is viewed asTHE heir to the rav – to my knowledge there is no equal in learning, brillance and sheer broad knowledge – and is respected by everyone int the mo/centrist or however one defines it community. the basic assumption in using his name is to add some validity to your post which it should not”

    Yet, on the issue of the Mesorah of TSBP and how a Ben or Bas Torah should view Gdolei Talmidei Chachamim, there is no differene between either RAL or RHS.

  173. Ruvie wrote in part:

    “ral – is viewed asTHE heir to the rav – to my knowledge there is no equal in learning, brillance and sheer broad knowledge – and is respected by everyone int the mo/centrist or however one defines it community. the basic assumption in using his name is to add some validity to your post which it should not”

    Yet, on the issue of the Mesorah of TSBP and how a Ben or Bas Torah should view Gdolei Talmidei Chachamim, there is no differene between either RAL or RHS.

  174. steve b. – you sure about that? ral has written that its ok to follow a lesser (knowledgable) rabbi whose hashkafa is similar than a greater gadol whose hashkafa is different. and even if they had a similar view – so what. what does that have to do with the discussion or my post.

  175. I just found this concise comment by “Charlie Hall” at Rabbi Slifkin’s blog:

    “My rav thinks the world of Rav Schachter, but sometimes disagrees with him. In the Modern Orthodox world disagreement is indeed permitted.”

    That is a very simple truth, and a down-to-earth example of self-respect combined with honesty and derekh eretz. The halakhot regarding teachers and Torah scholars require, to my understanding, no more or less than exactly this. Is Rav Gil saying that such an attitude is no longer “permitted” or no longer “Orthodox”? Or no longer “within the mesorah”?

    How many of us are willing to continue living in a Torah world where intelligent rabbis are not allowed to disagree with Rav Herschel Schachter (whom all of us greatly admire)? Perhaps honest and sincere avodat Hashem requires us to fight against such dishonest strictures?

  176. “I just found this concise comment by “Charlie Hall” at Rabbi Slifkin’s blog”

    That was indeed by me.

  177. Interesting, if somewhat repetitious debate between Larry and RNS. My (biased) attempt to helicopter up:

    1. We live in a time of unparalleled access to Rabbinic source material; at a time when there is unparalleled learning across a broad spectrum of halachic/traditional Jews; and, at a time when one’s iterative thinking/struggling/learning can be shared on a global basis at negligible financial cost.

    2. The role of the pulpit Rabbi in setting hashkafa and halacha for any given Orthodox community has been effectively eliminated — both by design, cf. R. Brill’s Edah paper; as a consequence of (1); and, arguably also due to lack of pulpit Rabbis who want to play that role.

    This leads to three different types of response:

    a. Some Jews just want to be pointed to a Rabbi who will tell them what to do (and in some cases, think).
    b. Some Jews want some discretion, but ultimately will tend to follow a chosen Rabbi.
    c. Some Jews revel in the learning and will determine “the right thing to do” for themselves, within a set of boundaries.

    Le’havdil, this is similar to the way people react to food – think variety and spicing.

    Gil advocates (a) for the masses, but sees the elite (himself) as (b);
    Larry has hit his (b) boundaries and is conflicted by the discovery; and,
    RNS is (c).

    Where this ties back to Gil’s post and the earlier debate is that both Gil and Larry are threatened by the fact that given the benefits of the age in which we live, that iconoclasts like RNS (as well as the aforementioned Rabbis Tucker, Sperber, A. Weiss and YCT) force them to confront the limits of their comfort zones in ways they would prefer to not. And, even more threatened these iconoclasts may be effective in effecting change they oppose by swaying enough others. This, of course, is the way of the world in all endeavors….

  178. This, of course, is the way of the world in all endeavors….

    The general term for it is: politics.

  179. Rabbi Slifkin

    I thought that much of your writing regarding the Chazal and science issue was cogently argued and on the mark. Moreover, I thought you were treated terribly and unfairly throughout that saga, and so I am naturally sympathetic to you.

    However, as I read much of your recent writings — starting with Rashi and corporealism, but much more starkly, your pieces on brain death and the current discussion regarding deference to authority in Halakha– I cannot escape the feeling that you are out of your depth. With all due respect, you are wading into areas that are probably not your strong points.

    Your statement that “lo tasur” has nothing to do with why we recite brachos on mitzvos derabbanan is only a small example. Please see סוכה מו ע”א, שבת כג ע”א, and the רמב”ם in ספר המצוות, שורש א.

    Again, this is from someone who is sympathetic to you.

  180. Ruvie

    “steve b. – you sure about that? ral has written that its ok to follow a lesser (knowledgable) rabbi whose hashkafa is similar than a greater gadol whose hashkafa is different. and even if they had a similar view – so what. what does that have to do with the discussion or my post.”

    But you missed a critical caveat that RAL adds — as long as the two are in the same league.

  181. Rabbi Slifkin

    I do not consider your Rashi and corporealism discussions to be among your truly weak writings. But allow me to make a (somewhat) brief point.

    I am predisposed to believe that Rashi was not a corporealist. This predisposition — term it “bias” if you wish — is, in turn, rooted in two other beliefs of mine:
    1. Rashi truly was an incredibly great Jew, and one of the primary medieval architects of the rabbinic tradition.
    2. It would be extremely difficult — though perhaps not impossible — for someone to truly be an incredibly great Jew and a primary medieval architect of the rabbinic tradition, if he were to believe that God was corporeal.

    I have a high degree of confidence in propositions 1 and 2. And it follows from those propositions (though in terms of formal logic, one would need to add a further uncontroversial premise) that:
    3. It is extremely unlikely that Rashi believed God was corporeal.

    So unless I see truly convincing evidence that either:
    a. propositions 1 or 2 are incorrect (and thus proposition 3 is incorrect),
    b. or, despite the truth of 3, Rashi did indeed believe God was corporeal (after all not everything extremely unlikely is also false),

    I will continue to adopt the position (rather rationally) that:
    4. Rashi did not believe God was corporeal.

    Even after reading your paper, I have not seen truly convincing evidence for either a or b.

    Now, you seem to think that the fact that many people who do not share beliefs 1 and 2 — and even, perhaps, some who do — assert that Rashi was a corporealist, is somehow reason enough, in and of itself, to relinquish my view that he was not. I humbly disagree.

    As an aside, you might contend that belief in proposition 2 should be undermined by the Raavad’s comments in הלכות יסודי התורה. I don’t think that is quite right at all, for two reasons:
    i. Even if it were the case that there were SOME incredibly great architects of rabbinic tradition who believed that God was corporeal, it does not at all follow that 2 is incorrect. (What would follow is that it is not absolutely impossible to be an incredibly great architect of rabbinic tradition and believe that God is corporeal.)
    ii. As a matter of fact — or at least, in my opinion — unless the Raavad was referring to Rashi, the Ramban, or Rabbenu Tam, the people he had in mind were not greater than the Rambam, and were probably not primary medieval architects of the rabinnic tradition. If the Raavad’s comment was not just an example of his famously caustic polemical rhetoric, then he was just wrong.

    none of the people that the Raavad was referring to were even arguably greater than the Rambam (unless you think the Raavad meant Rashi,the Ramban, or Rabbenu Tam).

  182. I meant הלכות תשובה, not הלכות יסודי התורה.

  183. IH 12:08 Feb 28
    Not correct.

  184. Steve
    N.Slifkin may not appreciate the significance of “elastic clause” as he is not an american.

  185. c y: “IH 12:08 Feb 28 Not correct.”

    Prof Shapiro’s quoted commentary, or my question to aiwac?

  186. OK, I’ll back off irrefutable. I’ll phrase it as “beyond any reasonable doubt”. Putting the Mesorah in the electric chair should require that level of certainty.

  187. dfdf – i question the truism of point 1 and 2 taken together. you are looking at this with 20/20 hindsight. were not many of chazal in the talmud corporealist? wasn’t the rambam the trailblazer? is it so bad that we must reread statements and make them mean other things because we can’t fathom them otherwise? let the evidence lead wherever it does – people can handle it.

  188. R’ Natan, I was not swayed by the arguments presented in that long article on ‘rakia’ by a Christian scholar. While the author may be devout, he has a different theological view of the torah than Orthodox Jews. In Christian thinking, the torah was allegedly superceded so that it doesn’t have the same status that we attribute to it. His key citation that you reference from Iyov (37:18) only testifies that the author of the book considered or expressed the idea of ‘shechakim’ as comparable to a cast mirror. I never argued against the idea that the sky was believed to be bounded by a solid hemispherical vault in ancient times. The author of Iyov may well have believed that, or, at least, used conventional imagery in his poetry. The issue is what the torah intended with its use of the term ‘rakia’. I contend that its root meaning is ‘layer’ with no necessary connotation of something solid. It would not matter to me if your exaggerated expression (“absolutely universal”) about the contrary opinion held by biblical scholars was largely correct. They also consider the torah to be a composite work of various authors and editors over many centuries. We have a completely different concept of the torah, nor can they prove their contentions any more than I.

    You presume that my views aren’t subject to change – regardless of evidence. Yet,I harbored a traditional view that new scientific knowledge would ultimately justify the literal biblical creation story until the late ’80s. At that point, I became aware of the new findings about a cataclysmic impact that destroyed the world of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. I then abandoned my prior assumption and began to reinterpret the creation story in the light of the scientific evidence. So, you’re not the only one who has undergone hashkafic change over time.

    The key issue, it seems to me is the question of whether the torah can contain error. If the torah is the dictated divine word or, at least, divinely authorized, then admission of error becomes problematic. If your understanding of ‘rakia’ as necessarily something solid is correct, then the torah’s use of such a term – as opposed to simply referring to ‘shamayim’, bespeaks either a mistaken understanding of the nature of the sky or a deliberate propagation of a false notion. Neither is acceptable in my view. Nor is the idea that the creation stories come from different traditions cobbled together by some editor. You claim that Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch accepted the idea of error in the torah (not just in Nach). That doesn’t jibe with my understanding of his hashkafa. Kindly provide a citation of his view in some context.

  189. Dfdf and Ruvie – I urge you to read the following critique of RNS’s thesis on Rashi. It contains, I believe, the evidence and logical arguments that you are looking for, and shows that Rashi was not a corporealist whatsoever. Enjoy!

    http://www.corporealismdiscussion.com/slifkin.pdf

  190. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Rashi was a Corporealist. I find it hard to believe for 2 reasons.

    1. From what I can see, I believe Rashi has had a greater influence on Orthodox Jews today than Rambam or the Ramban.
    2. Nobody today, not even those who belief in folk fortune telling, believe in a corporeal nature of G-d.

    3. Thus, you would have to argue, that somehow Rambam’s trailblazing non-corporeal beliefs influenced even those Jews who according to the Rambam are complete Heretics. You would also have to explain how this one philosophical idea was adopted, while all the others were rejected. And, in addition, how this one idea was adopted at the expense of the influence of Rashi.

    So I would conclude the following. Either, Rashi was not a corporealist, or he was a closest Corporealist and did not teach these ideas to anybody.

    RE The Ikkarim:
    I would imagine that the Ikkarim would never have to be taught to a person until much later in History (say after the destruction of the Temple or after the loss of prophesy) The point of the ikkarim is that they would be obvious things to a person who had access to prophets, but we who do not have access to prophets need to derive the axioms that were sub-conscious truths before.

  191. ii. As a matter of fact — or at least, in my opinion — unless the Raavad was referring to Rashi, the Ramban, or Rabbenu Tam, the people he had in mind were not greater than the Rambam…

    since ramban would have still been in whatever passed for diapers when raavad passed on, you may safely eliminate him from your short list. but i would object in any event to this sort of long distance armchair scoring. who knows these days the relative quality of these people or many others that we through the vagaries of historical circumstance, unlike the raavad, have never heard of? since raavad was there and we weren’t i’ll give him the nod in these matters.

    it also recalls for me the (idiosyncratic to be sure) views of the late prof agus z’l who argued in class, very colorfully and occasionally cogently, for a sort of ashkenazic golden age of learning prior to the first crudade era when the real g’dolim walked the earth. rashi, who learnt from his betters, was in this perspective merely the lucky surviving student who had the good luck to be out of town when the crusaders destroyed that world and then spent the rest of his life polishing his student notes and parroting the work of the real masters. or something like that. he was also fond of pointing out that honorifics bestowed by contemporaries – such as r. eliezer “haggodol” – were worth more than retrospectively elevated honorifics accorded to say, r. gershom “meor haggoloh”. bottom line is that a lot was lost twixt then and now so evaluating relative worth from such a distance is a fruitless exercise. better to argue the relative virtues of people we’ve seen perform, such as willie mays and mickey mantle (ashrei ayin ro’asoh zos) but then remember the bottom line is they’re both in the hall of fame.

  192. Ruvie, you have an entirely different world view. For people espousing that position, the Rambam’s only innovation was in compiling a list, not the contents itself. Furthermore, the Rambam himself believed that the anti-corporealist view was authentic, ancient Jewish doctrine. He did not only offer his own interpretations of the anthropomorphisms in the Bible, but also hung the view onto Onqelos.

  193. Just reading back over the comments and I wanted to respond to one in particular.

    “You had a yeshivah education, right? So Rashi is a beloved great Torah scholar, and corporealism is a silly heresy, right? And the Torah is divine and kulo emes, right?”

    I laughed at this. I have a yeshiva education. What I learned in Yeshivah is that Rashi is mostly wrong and tosefot or Ramban or Rambam was mostly correct. To me, anyone who quotes Rashi is a populist, not a scholar. That is what I learned in Yeshivah. Point being, not everyone learns the same thing, or gets the same impressions one one’s bias assumes.

  194. While I agree that people receive different messages, I have a feeling your rabbeim would want to tear keriah if they realized that this is what they had conveyed.

  195. Joseph Kaplan

    “such as willie mays and mickey mantle”

    After reading the Duke’s obits this week, ISTM he should be added to this gedolim list. As for “cogently” re Prof. Agus, I’d stick with “colorfully.”

  196. I AGREE ABOUT Duke Snider especially this week..As a Dodger fan till they left Brooklyn,he also is in the Hall of Fame.-)

  197. “let the evidence lead wherever it does – people can handle it”

    I wonder if this is so, given the tone and tenor of some comments in this thread. It would seem that some people can’t handle it.

    [There is a difference between, I don’t think XYZ believed ABC; and, I refuse to consider that XYZ believed ABC and I wish you would stop saying that he did (because it makes me uncomfortable)].

  198. I don’t have time today for more than one comment, so I will just briefly respond to a few points above:

    1- The claim that I am “out of my depth” with regard to Rashi is amusing. Why don’t you ask any of the scholars in medieval Jewish intellectual history, Rashi, and corporealism, if they think that my essay reflects that.

    2 – “It would be extremely difficult — though perhaps not impossible — for someone to truly be an incredibly great Jew and a primary medieval architect of the rabbinic tradition, if he were to believe that God was corporeal.” I don’t remotely see why this would be the case, unless he were to have polemicized in favor of corporealism, which Rashi had no reason to do.

    3. In light of the extensive discussion yesterday, it’s odd that people make proclamations about how they are not convinced by articles on the rakia, my arguments, etc. How on earth do such proclamations shed any light on whether these things are inherently lacking, when the people making these proclamations are people who will never be convinced by any evidence?

    4. Y. Aharon claims that the article on the rakia has less credibility, because the author is a Christian and therefore does not have the same respect for Torah that we do! In other words, Y. Aharon sees his own religious perspective on the Torah as giving MORE credibility to his assessment of the meaning of rakia! If you want to stake it out as a religious position, fine, but don’t claim that you are in a position to make judgments about whether the evidence supports it!

    5. R. Moshe Taku polemicizes his corporealist beliefs because he lived in a time where the Maimonidean influence was being acutely felt. Rashi lived much earlier. Incidentally, Zucker argues that the fact of R. Moshe Taku not pointing to Rashi to prove his case indicates that he didn’t think Rashi was a corporealist. I am just finishing a translation of R. Taku’s work, and I can confidently say that this is completely false. R. Taku didn’t have to cite Rashi – he presents the Chumash and Chazal as showing clear evidence of corporealism. He takes it for granted that the Ashkenaz tradition agreed with him, and is only battling against the new influence from “the philosophers.”

    6. Rashi’s tremendous influence was in his parshanut. Not in his theology or philosophy (in which he did not engage).

    7. I don’t believe that someone who does not think that Rashi was a corporealist is necessarily biased. It’s not a slam dunk (if that is the correct Americanism) and there are arguments in both directions, as I noted in my essay. Personally I think that the overwhelming balance is in favor of it, but others may reasonably disagree. HOWEVER, someone who thinks that there are NO good arguments in favor of it, is clearly fundamentally motivated by religious bias.

    8. Amidst all the forced and convoluted apologetics in Zucker’s article, one in particular stands out. Zucker, forced to admit that Rashi’s commentary certainly appears to reflect a corporealist stance, makes the astonishing argument that Rashi deliberately went along with the widespread belief of the masses in France who were corporealists, in order not to shake their faith, and concealed his anti-corporealist teachings in an esoteric manner! It is utterly bizarre to claim that, whereas all the other non-corporealist Rishonim went out of their way to explain how Pesukim and maamarei Chazal have to be explained appropriately, Rashi somehow could not. It is likewise bizarre to claim that Rashi’s commentary functions in an exoteric/esoteric manner like that of the Moreh Nevuchim.

    But I am under no illusions that this will convince the devout readers of this blog, just as I am under no illusions that the scientific evidence for an ancient universe and evolution will ever be deemed convincing by my charedi opponents, or that Rav Moshe Shapiro will ever agree that there is an authentic view in Jewish tradition that Chazal made scientific errors. True believers are always able to come up with some sort of counter-argument, which they believe to be convincing.

    Good night!

  199. Mechy Frankel

    Joseph Kaplan on March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm
    “such as willie mays and mickey mantle”
    After reading the Duke’s obits this week, ISTM he should be added to this gedolim list.

    sic transit gloria mundi

  200. Ruvie wrote in response to my comment:

    “steve b. – you sure about that? ral has written that its ok to follow a lesser (knowledgable) rabbi whose hashkafa is similar than a greater gadol whose hashkafa is different. and even if they had a similar view – so what. what does that have to do with the discussion or my post”

    RAL’s published views on the tranmission of TSBP and Mesorah are very similar to RHS. On the issue of Hashkafa, I disagree with your reading of RAL’s essay that you previously referred to. FWIW, one need not agree with R D Brill to see that RAL has noted the pluses and minuses of both the Charedi and MO worlds, while especially noting the difficulties within MO of raising a generation that views being a Talmid Chacham, let alone a Gadol BaTorah, on the same plane as one’s expertise in secular knowledge and culture.

  201. To R’ JR:

    OK, I would’ve thought that everyone from Avraham Avinu (or Moshe if you prefer) would’ve known what an ikkar was and these would’ve been high on the list of what was taught to the next generation.

    It would be illogical for Avraham Avinu to know about the 7th and 8th ikkarim and more illogical for him to have passed these on to his descendants.

    but it would’ve seemed to me that even the minimalist school (e.g. Moshe got the torah and some rules, not everything that every future student would learn) would assume that the very basics (ikkarim) would’ve been clearly part of the minimal information transmitted.
    KT

    I didn’t mean to imply that NONE of the ikkarim were taught at Sinai (or to the Avos if you prefer). I envision that they received a rudimentary list of ikkarim along the lines of Rav Yosef Albo’s Major Three: Hashem-Torah-Reward and Punishment
    http://www.daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=3300

    I propose that it was left to later generations to hammer out the specific breakdown of those major three into the 13 we have today from the Rambam onward. There could be plenty of room for rigorous debate about the makeup of this breakdown along the way.

    For instance, corporealism vs. incorporealism among Torah Jews is really nothing more than a dispute over what constitutes a perfect being. Incorporealists assert that having a physical body is by definition a severe limitation and constitutes an imperfection in G-d.
    Corporealists will say that if this body is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent (somehow) and without any real limitations, what’s the nafka mina?
    They both agree that G-d must be perfect and they only argue on what constitutes (im)perfection.
    On this machlokes, we happen to pasken like the Rambam that having a physical body is an inherent imperfection.

    But this debate takes the form of classic halachic dialectics. Once you manage to ignore what the academics impose on the Rambam, there is no problem in saying we can ultimately pasken what the details of the ikkarim are, and we can establish what is considered heresy once that psak is widely accepted.

    All this leaves room for corporealists (before the psak of the Rambam) to be included in Klal Yisroel for their time and place.
    I have no problem accepting the theoretical possibility that Rashi may have been a corporealist– provided that his version of it did not imply any imperfection in G-d as he saw it.

  202. Rabbi Slifkin – regarding your point #5 above: you stated that R. Moshe Taku didn’t have to point to Rashi as a corporealist, because it was enough for him to point to the Torah as corporealist. This argument doesn’t follow at all. If you were correct, please explain why R. Moshe Taku *did* feel the need to point to Rashi’s student as a corporealist? Why didn’t he just point to the Torah as being corporealist alone, as you suggest he was doing? Apparently, he was looking for support among respected people, and could only cite Rashi’s disciple, not Rashi himself, despite the fact that he knew Rashi’s works. (BTW, for those who didn’t read Rabbi Zucker’s essay, which I linked above, please note that RZ demonstrated clearly from the latest critical edition of Rashi’s disciple’s work, that R. Moshe Taku was in fact not citing Rashi’s disciple’s words, rather he was *interpreting* them – just as R. Moshe Taku interpreted the fact that R. Saadya Gaon didn’t write Emunot Vedeot and that the book was falsely attribute to RSG (since R. Moshe Taku disagreed with its philosophy); the words themselves in the correct edition do not point to corporealism. See the essay).

    Regarding your point #8: you wrote “Zucker, forced to admit that Rashi’s commentary certainly appears to reflect a corporealist stance…”

    This is either a mistake on your part in understanding what RZ wrote, or a deliberate distortion. I have read the essay a few times, and NOWHERE does RZ even remotely suggest that Rashi’s commentary appears to reflect a corporealist stance. Can you please provide a specific reference to back up your statement?

    Further you wrote that it is “bizarre to claim that Rashi’s commentary functions in an exoteric/esoteric manner like that of the Moreh Nevuchim.” The bizarreness would immediately be gone had you not failed to note RZ’s citation of Riaz who pointed out that this is the way that Chazal operated in general.

    BTW, I heard a rumor that since writing your essays you had uncovered another piece of evidence that Rashi was NOT a corporealist, but that you did not want to make it public since you were convinced that anyway the overall evidence shows that Rashi was a corporealist. Can you confirm or deny this rumor? If it is indeed true, would you like to share the new evidence anyway, just for curiosity’s sake?

    Finally, my favorite part of your last comment is “But I am under no illusions that this will convince the devout readers of this blog, just as I am under no illusions that the scientific evidence for an ancient universe and evolution will ever be deemed convincing by my charedi opponents…”

    That says it all!

  203. R’DK,
    Thanks for the clarification. In my mind in that construction there are 3 “avot” ikkarim with “toldot” – I’d be fine with that as a logically consistent structure; but I would put the toldot in a somewhat different category.
    KT

  204. Larry, your penultimate paragraph is a variant of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

    If RNS makes you uncomfortable, don’t read him and don’t engage him. Some of your earlier comments reminded me of the aphorism attributed to Barbra Streisand in “Peter’s Quotations”:

    “Why does a woman work ten years to change a man’s habits and then complain that he’s not the man she married?”

  205. This is getting old. I didn’t intimate that I have greater credibility than the Christian scholar on how to translate ‘rakia’. I only suggested that he is more apt to accept the idea of errors in the torah because of his theological stance on a ‘superceded’ “Old Testament”. It’s not a question of credibility but of theology. Is the torah a divinely authored or authorized document or not? R’ Natan accepts and advocates the notion of erroneous statements in the torah. He has not responded to repeated promptings on my part – both here and on his blog, as to how to reconcile such a view with TMS.

  206. IH – My question was not an empty one. I did in fact hear yesterday – from someone who pays far greater attention than I do to RNS’s writings and statements – that RNS had written to someone that RNS had uncovered some new line of reasoning that Rashi was not a corporealist, but that he would not make it public. I thought that this would be an appropriate opportunity to ask about it. If what is being said is not true, then RNS would, of course, clarify that. If it is true, then he can explain it or ignore it.

    BTW, RNS doesn’t make me “uncomfortable” – as I have said earlier, I used to be a great fan of his all around. I am still a fan of his earlier works, which I think are masterful. But his latest forays, starting with the Rashi article and moving forward, are in my opinion almost entirely speculative, with weak or little evidence to back them up, other than RNS’s own interpretations. His comment above is a good example of this. Nowhere did RZ suggest that “Rashi’s works appear to reflect a corporealist stance.” Yet RNS put this notion in RZ’s mouth. If this is RNS’s method of accruing evidence, then I think it may speak loudly about his method of understanding Rashi.

    At any event, I have no wish to work hard (or at all) on “changing” RNS, as you seem to have suggested. On the contrary, I am lamenting the changes in the direction and quality of his works from what they used to be.

  207. Larry – Nu? So you disagree. Why do you feel the need to “prove” he is wrong with a bunch of second-hand (i.e. not your own) research? What value is this adding to the intellectual debate?

  208. Just to be clear: I have no issue with a factual response or two stating that XYZ has reached a different conclusion and provide a summary and a link.

    My reading of your long thread was that you fell out of love and feel the need to “yeah, me too” stick it at your lapsed hero. But, perhaps that is just me (and I’ll leave it there).

  209. dfdf – sorry for this late response – out of town and only internet at night – can’t reread the article but how can they be in the same league if one is much more knowledgeable than the other (i assume he is not referring to a recently smicha bochur vs a sage). can you give examples in today’s world? rav eliyashav vs r’ jonathan sacks?

  210. larry – sorry. i find r’ zucker’s arguments so so at best. but i also do not consider r’ slifkin the baki on this subject either. i go with the academic and scholarly research that i read years ago. rashi didn’t have to have a sticker on his back saying – i am a corporealist – to be one. to me its a non issue. it doesn’t degrade him to a lesser giant than he was.
    i wonder from some of the comments if people understand what corporealism is all about.

  211. s. – no doubt the rambam believe it was an authentic view going back to sinai. but judaism has a very large attic with many different and sometimes opposing views. but i think the rambam elevated it to a higher status than people before him. lets not forget the rambam viewed some major parts of the torah as allegorical for good reason.

  212. ih – “let the evidence lead wherever it does – people can handle it”

    “I wonder if this is so, given the tone and tenor of some comments in this thread. It would seem that some people can’t handle it.”

    maybe i am to optimistic about people that have a modicum or more of education and some common sense. but in some areas you may be right. i doubt if people read kugel, brettler, fischbane et al and it was shown it was true – which i would say it has not at this time – that they can handle it

  213. steve b. – i am sure that ral and rhs agree on many things. but on haskafa – you surely are joking or delusional.

  214. Layman wrote:

    ” I have a yeshiva education. What I learned in Yeshivah is that Rashi is mostly wrong and tosefot or Ramban or Rambam was mostly correct. To me, anyone who quotes Rashi is a populist, not a scholar. That is what I learned in Yeshivah”

    I would not go so far. One does not begin to navigate one’s way either Chumash ( and much of Tanach) (as well as Shas , especially when compares Rashi with Rashbam , RaN and other Mfarshim that purport to serve the same purpose) without considering how and why Rashi interprets a verse or passage in the Talmud, whether in terms of a Pshat based interpretation or in the Medrashim and Maamaerei Chazal quoted by Rashi. In Chumash and Tanach, Parshanut allows for different interpretations of events by Mfarshim in a way that one necessarily sees a wealth of opinions without any such view being viewed as more correct than the other. That is precisely why Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra and other classical Mfarshim will offer vastly different interpretations on almost any verse, without any being viewed as necessarily right or wrong.

    When one comprehends what Rashi is saying on any Talmudic passage , especially when compares Rashi with Rashbam , RaN and other Mfarshim that purport to serve the same purpose, I think that the keys are what is Rashi striving for in his comments, and not whether Rashi is “right or wrong” , but rather how do the Rov Rishonim and Acharonim understand the Sugya. I think that there is a famous essay of Rabbeinu Tam that severely criticizes the commentary of Rashbam when compared to Rashi in terms of Rashbam being unduly prolix.

    That being said, viewing someone who quotes Rashi as a populist underestimates the role and importance of Rashi in understanding either Chumash or Talmud.

  215. ruvie

    >s. – no doubt the rambam believe it was an authentic view going back to sinai. but judaism has a very large attic with many different and sometimes opposing views. but i think the rambam elevated it to a higher status than people before him. lets not forget the rambam viewed some major parts of the torah as allegorical for good reason.

    I’m not disagreeing. I’m just trying to point out that telling people that many chachamim in the Talmud were corporealists is not going to do the trick when their views are so wide apart from yours. You can’t really prove that they were, unless you are pretty sure that the Rambam was being novel. If your conviction is that he was not being novel, then clearly (it would seem to them) they were not corporealists.

  216. IH 12:08
    your assertion

  217. If you were correct, please explain why R. Moshe Taku *did* feel the need to point to Rashi’s student as a corporealist?

    He didn’t (which is obvious, since he spends pages and pages citing Chazal for that; I take it that you haven’t learned Kesav Tamim). That’s not what he was citing Rashi’s student for. He was citing him because he takes the much stronger position that to DENY corporealism is heretical.

    I heard a rumor that since writing your essays you had uncovered another piece of evidence that Rashi was NOT a corporealist, but that you did not want to make it public since you were convinced that anyway the overall evidence shows that Rashi was a corporealist. Can you confirm or deny this rumor?

    False. As you can see in my articles, I am perfectly ready to acknowledge the existence of legitimate counter-arguments (can you say the same about Zucker, or yourself?). I just didn’t want to tell it to the particular person who asked me, since he was clearly not someone who was interested in truth, just in scoring points and confirming his beliefs. The additional argument was just that there were certain scholars who were bent on discrediting Rashi, and yet they did not use corporealism to do so. There is a counter-argument to that, in turn; I wonder if you are equally interested in hearing it?

    my favorite part of your last comment is “But I am under no illusions that this will convince the devout readers of this blog, just as I am under no illusions that the scientific evidence for an ancient universe and evolution will ever be deemed convincing by my charedi opponents…” That says it all!

    Really? So you think that scientific evidence for an ancient universe and evolution actually would be accepted as convincing by charedi young-earth anti-evolutionists? Or do you think that you are somehow different from them? And if so, what makes you different? Are you just going to ignore this question again? Does it make you uncomfortable?

    In this thread, we have had you and others saying that to claim Rashi was a corporealist is outside of the mesorah, outside of Orthodoxy, incompatible with the notion of his being a great Torah scholar, something that requires a vastly higher degree of evidence than any normal proposition, etc. And you are wondering why I point out that no argument will ever convince you?

    Also, I was fascinated by your stressing that we can only positively identify four corporealists, with the implication that there is therefore no reason to think that there were any more. Tell me, how many non-corporealists among Tannaim and Amoraim can you positively identify?

  218. Do we know of any single person from medieval times whose stature is comparable to that of Rashi’s — who had a comparable lasting impact on Rabbinic Judaism — who believed in corporealism?

    I believe the answer is no. (Anyone is welcome to correct me if I am wrong.) The question is: what are the implications of this fact?

    The answer is “there are none”– unless you think it sensible, as I do, that there might be a very good reason why people of such stature and impact would be less likely to adopt such a belief. (That reason, of course, is that such a belief is in fact catastrophically wrong– religiously, spiritually, and intellectually.)

  219. Dfdf: I don’t understand the logic you are articulating. It sounds to me like an argument wholly constructed in anachronism.

    Perhaps incorrectly, I am reading it as:

    a) given today’s normative beliefs, the set of medieval Rabbis we venerate today and the extant medieval books; then,

    b) there is no corporealist of Rashi’s stature; and, therefore,

    c) Rashi could not have been a corporealist.

    As I have probably misunderstood, would you be so kind as to express your argument again?

  220. His position is very simple. Let me rephrase it:

    1) Corporealism is catastrophically wrong – religiously, spiritually, and intellectually.

    2) Rashi was a tremendous Torah scholar – religiously, spiritually, and intellectually.

    3) Hence Rashi could not have been a corporealist!

  221. Rabbi Slifkin – you wrote: “He didn’t (which is obvious, since he spends pages and pages citing Chazal for that; I take it that you haven’t learned Kesav Tamim). That’s not what he was citing Rashi’s student for. He was citing him because he takes the much stronger position that to DENY corporealism is heretical.”

    I actually *have* gone through the Kesav Tamim, (and not just in the Otzar Nechmad version, but in the original manuscript version, which has some interesting differences). Your comment above is misleading. RMT presents R. Yaakov b. Shimshon in the following context: RMT says that corporealism is expressed in the Torah, the Nevi’im, the Kesuvim, the Mishna and the Talmud. Then he cites examples for each of these. For the Torah example, he cites the pasuk of “betzalmenu” and to clarify its meaning, he cites R. Yaakov. His explicitly stated purpose in introducing R. Yaakov is to show that the meaning of the Torah verse is corporealistic. RMT recognized that many would not know R. Yaakov b. Shimshon, so he identifies him as the student of Rashi and teacher of Rabenu Tam. If RMT’s purpose was to clarify the meaning of the pasuk as being corporealistic, and he knew that R. Yaakov would not be well known, and if you are correct that Rashi’s explanation on that very pasuk *is* corporealistic, then he should have quoted the famous Rashi, not his unknown student. RMT’s stated agenda here was the meaning of the verse, not the idea that incorporealism is heresy.

    “The additional argument was just that there were certain scholars who were bent on discrediting Rashi, and yet they did not use corporealism to do so. There is a counter-argument to that, in turn; I wonder if you are equally interested in hearing it?”

    Your presentation of the counter-argument here is a little empty. Who exactly were these scholars who wished to discredit Rashi? And when you share who they were, yes – I would be very interested in hearing the response to the counter-argument.

    “In this thread, we have had you … saying that to claim Rashi was a corporealist is outside of the mesorah, outside of Orthodoxy, incompatible with the notion of his being a great Torah scholar…”

    Please show me where I said anything like that at all. I think you are incorrect about Rashi because your “evidence” is based almost entirely on speculation and subjective interpretation, not because of “religious considerations.” BTW, I think the same is true of RZ’s presentation of his arguments. He did not, to the best of my recollection, ever argue that Rashi couldn’t be a corporealist because of religious considerations. Please back up your claim here with just one source.

    “Tell me, how many non-corporealists among Tannaim and Amoraim can you positively identify?”

    I have not looked into the area directly. By that I mean, through the lens of the Rambam, the Ramban, the Raavad, the Rokeach, the Riaz, the Rid, Rabenu Bachya, RSG, etc., etc., all of the tanaim and amoraim were incorporealists. Without the lens of those rishonim, I cannot say because I haven’t looked into it. Of course through the lens of the 4 corporealist rishonim, all of the tanaim and amoraim were corporealists. That’s what makes the whole thing a machlokes.

  222. RNS: Thank you for the helpful clarification.

  223. The corporealist debate, in itself, has not been of much interest to me. But, since it is taking up so much airtime, I have an am-ha’aretz question:

    Two Friday nights ago I was reading Parshat ha’Shavua as is my wont, and re-read the famous Rashi on:

    וְרָאִיתָ, אֶת-אֲחֹרָי; וּפָנַי, לֹא יֵרָאוּ in which he comments: הראהו קשר של תפילין

    Leaving aside the deeper meanings of corporealism, is there at least agreement that Rashi valued anthropomorphic depictions of God, Larry?

  224. IH – Good question! The source for the “kesher shel t’fillin” that Rashi brings is a gemara in Brachos. That being said, the Torah itself values anthropomorphisms as a means of teaching people about God. The issue is, for an incorporealist, that once these anthropomorphisms are presented, people can mistakenly think that they are literal depictions instead of pedagogic techniques. This, I think, is what the Raavad referred to when he said that the pesukim and aggados are “meshabshos es hadeos.”

  225. Yet, within a century and a half, Rambam would emphatically reject anthropomorphism (especially as a means of teaching people about God); right?

  226. I don’t think so – meaning, I don’t think that the Rambam rejected the anthropomorphic peskuim or aggados – he simply interpreted their meaning for his readers to teach the meaning behind the anthropomorphisms.

  227. Hmm. Leaving aside scholarship of Rambam, should we not just assume that Ikar #3 which Rambam asserts we must believe:

    שהבורא יתברך שמו אינו גוף, ולא ישיגוהו משיגי הגוף, ואין לו שום דמיון כלל

    is an emphastic rejection of anthropomorphism as a means of teaching people about God?

  228. It seems to me this is compelling pshat evidence there was a paradigm shift in regards to anthropomorphism that occurred between Rashi and Rambam.

    That said, our process is one of re-interpretation rather than revolution; so, it seems entirely reasonable that subsequent commentators would explain this wasn’t a theological paradigm shift at all (when plausibly, it was historically).

    Now, again, this is anthropomorphism as distinct from corporealism.

  229. Ah…I think I see where the issue lies. The Rambam’s 3rd ikar is a statement about God – that He is not physical, nor does He have any physical characteristics. Human beings cannot, at least initially – and for many people, altogether – relate to a being that is in no way physical. So, the Rambam maintains, the Torah uses language that people can relate to in order to convey certain ideas. For example, the Torah often states “And God spoke to Moses saying.” The idea of “spoke” as it relates to God is a way of teaching that God communicated with Moshe. Since most people identify communication with speech, the Torah uses this anthropomorphism. And many others. IIRC, the Rambam says that since people attribute “reality” to that with which they are familiar, the Torah uses these familiar concepts to stress that certain ideas are a reality with regard to God. But then, maintains the Rambam, people need to be taught that these are only pedagogic devices, and are not descriptors of the true state of God. I guess that according to the Rambam, man *needs* these devices because without them, he wouldn’t learn anything about God, and at the same time man needs to transcend them in order to have a proper understanding. Does that make sense?

  230. So, put another way, Rambam is an elitist who views that lesser intellects needed the anthropomorphism; but, that this is not correct belief for the person truly seeking God? Whereas Rashi makes no such distinction?

    That leads to the same road: that somewhere between Rashi and Rambam the theology changed. And normative Judaism subsequently adopted Rambam’s shita. No?

  231. That the Rambam is elitist in its strict definition is, I think, certain. But – it’s not that only “lesser intellects” need anthropomorphisms; we ALL start off as “lesser intellects” so we all need anthropomorphisms. I think that it’s hard to say whether Rashi would agree or disagree with the Rambam here. Whereas the Rambam wrote treatises that dealt openly with these issues, Rashi wrote only biblical commentaries (and halachic works and poetry, but no “philosophical” treatises), so we need to interpret his views about these issues from his commentaries.

  232. Larry: Many thanks. I think I now understand the debate…

    One side is interested in highlighting discontinuities in our evolution; whereas the other is vested in highlighting the continuity of today’s mesorah. Without a smoking gun, both sides use the same texts but read them differently. Eilu v’eilu.

  233. Rabbi Slifkin – Just a reminder that among the questions that I asked to which you have not yet responded, there were two issues centering around what I thought were significant misrepresentations on your part:

    1) You stated that R. Zucker had admitted in his essay that “Rashi’s works appear to reflect a corporealist stance.” I claimed that this is utterly false, and asked you to provide a source for your claim.

    2) You stated that in my comments here I had argued for Rashi’s incorporealism because “to claim Rashi was a corporealist is outside of the mesorah, outside of Orthodoxy, incompatible with the notion of his being a great Torah scholar…” I claimed that your statement is utterly false (i.e., I never argued using the line of reasoning you attributed to me), and asked you to provide a source for your claim.

    I again ask you to please back up your statements, or please admit that they are false.

    Of course, if there are any issues that you challenged me with and I haven’t yet responded to them, I will be glad to try to do so – just please remind me. Thanks.

  234. IH and Rabbi Slifkin

    You both misstated my argument and conclusion.

    Read it again, if you’re interested. My conclusion was not “Rashi could not have believed in corporealism”. It was: it is quite reasonable to presume that he was not a corporealist in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary (evidence equivalent, say, to the evidence we have that there were some Jews held in high regard by some Rishonim who believed in corporealism).

  235. Dfdf: Thanks, but I’m still not confident I am parsing your words correctly (in either note).

    If I’m not misunderstanding you again — your position is congruent with my comment of 1:38pm.

  236. R’ Slifkin:
    Your silence is coming through loud and clear. Larry called you out on two blatant misrepresentations (mistakes? fabrications?) – you claimed that R’ Zucker admitted that Rashi’s works reflect corporealism, and he never said any such thing; and you claimed that Larry holds that Rashi couldn’t be a corporealist because that would go against the mesorah etc., and he never said any such thing. Why haven’t you responded to Larry about this? Given these blatant misrepresentations on your part in order to bolster your own views, can you not see why readers could easily come to the conclusion that you did the exact same thing with Rashi himself – misrepresenting and twisting “facts” to bolster your own views?

  237. For those not bored with this topic, in a comment on his blog RNS points to a previous round of parts of this discussion can be seen at:
    http://seforim.blogspot.com/2007/07/marc-b-shapiro-response-to-rabbi-zev.html

    While reading it, I found this prescient commment:

    ” Y
    I assume the average yeshiva bochur will say its kefirah to believe that one of the tannaim, amoraim or even rishonim thought of God in a physical way. This would create problems for their notion of mesorah.
    11 July 2007, 17:30:37″

  238. Benedictus — on your second point, let’s be honest. Without personalizing it, the broader debate is about the nature of mesorah — i.e. whether it is a linear, continuous, internally consistent line.

    RNS is merely the latest in a line of people who have challenged this view.

  239. Benedictus – give Rabbi Slifkin a little slack here. Can’t it be that he’s been busy and hasn’t had a chance to respond yet?

  240. Larry:

    You’re being too generous here. R’ Slifkin was caught in a misrepresentation, and now he apparently has nothing to say.

  241. So I just came back to this thread after being busy for a day, and I see that some anonymous person has already concluded that my silence is due to my having nothing to say. Well, I conclude that his anonymity is because he is embarrassed by what he does say!

    When I write comments on blogs, I do not do so with anywhere near the degree of care and precision as when I publish articles. That should be obvious. What I meant when I wrote that Zucker was forced to admit that Rashi’s commentary certainly appears to reflect a corporealist stance is that there are numerous places where Rashi comments on, or directly quotes, corporealist pesukim, and in stark contrast to other Rishonim, he makes no attempt to indicate that he means them to be understood in any way other than their literal meaning. According to Zucker, it is because he saw it as being important for the masses to thereby think that Rashi was not saying any different from their corporealist views (!).

    With regard to my statement that between “Larry” (who may well be Saul Zucker, for all I know) and others, the claim has been expressed that it is outside the mesorah to say that Rashi was a corporealist, I quote from Larry’s first comment:

    “Where is the next MO/CO thinker who can stay *within* the bounds of our mesorah?”

    I did not say that you consciously present this as the reason for thinking that Rashi was not a corporealist. Rather, I pointed out that because this idea offends you religiously, you find the arguments against it to be convincing.

    Also, I did not claim that Zucker *consciously* rejected the idea of Rashi being a corporealist for religious reasons. Rather, it was clear that this was what was fundamentally driving him, especially since he is an alumnus of YBT. Note that he says clearly that a corporealist Torah scholar would not be worthy of respect!

    Do you think that corporealism is a false belief? A foolish belief? A heretical belief?
    Do you revere Rashi as a tremendous Torah scholar?
    Do you believe that a “tremendous Torah scholar” would be extremely unlikely to hold beliefs that are false, foolish and heretical?
    Please answer these questions.

    And while you claim that you haven’t looked into whether any of Chazal could be named as corporealists, what would you ordinarily say? Would you say that Chazal were not corporealists? On what basis? What would you think if someone said that Chazal were not corporealists, and somebody else dismissed it as “mere speculation”?

    By the way, Larry, it’s strange that you don’t recall if there were any questions that I posed to you to which you did not respond, since I posed some of the questions repeatedly and already pointed out that you had avoided responding. Here they are yet again:

    If your positions had merit, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, AS WELL AS many frum scholars, share my views? (In other words, you can ONLY claim very frum people in support of your conclusions, whereas I can claim BOTH frum and non-frum scholars in support of mine.) Don’t you think it likely that the reason for this is that your conclusions are heavily influenced by your biases, just like charedim who are convinced that there is no evidence for the world being millions of years old? They also think that their beliefs are based on an analysis of the facts and interpretations! Do you think that scientific evidence for an ancient universe and evolution actually would be accepted as convincing by charedi young-earth anti-evolutionists? Or do you think that you are somehow different from them? And if so, what makes you different?

    Please note that I do not intend on responding endlessly to comments here. The debate is pointless and truly endless, and I just don’t have the time. Plus, in general I have little patience for people who don’t even sign their full, real name.

  242. Rabbi Slifkin –

    You wrote: “What I meant when I wrote that Zucker was forced to admit that Rashi’s commentary certainly appears to reflect a corporealist stance is that there are numerous places where Rashi comments on, or directly quotes, corporealist pesukim, and in stark contrast to other Rishonim, he makes no attempt to indicate that he means them to be understood in any way other than their literal meaning. According to Zucker, it is because he saw it as being important for the masses to thereby think that Rashi was not saying any different from their corporealist views (!).”

    Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. If Rashi didn’t write explicitly about incorporealism so as not to shake the faith of corporealist readers, that does not mean that Rashi’s comments suggest corporealism. It just means he didn’t upset the corporealism of his readers. You have twisted and perverted what R. Zucker claimed for your own purpose. It reminds me of what you wrote in your article (apparently *with* a “degree of care and precision”) that “Zucker first claims that arguments from silence are fallacious, but then admits that this is not actually true…” What he actually wrote was “…’conspicuous absence’ is known in the academic world of pure reasoning as argumentum ex silentio, and is classified in that world as a fallacy. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances of applied reasoning it may be used as a valid form of abduction…” Your presentation of what he wrote was actually a misrepresentation!

    “With regard to my statement that between “Larry” (who may well be Saul Zucker, for all I know)…”

    Thanks for the compliment! I really enjoyed this diversionary tactic on your part – cast baseless suspicion on the person, rather than deal with the argument. (There seems to be a pattern here…) My full name (not that it matters any) is Lawrence Eisenman. Feel better now?

    You wrote: “I quote from Larry’s first comment: “Where is the next MO/CO thinker who can stay *within* the bounds of our mesorah?” That quote is not the basis of my dispute with you about Rashi. In fact the quote had to do with your claim that the Torah states false information just because that false information is what the ancients mistakenly believed (without any pressing reason for the Torah to do so, such as ibn Caspi’s cases). However, you said that the basis for my not agreeing with you about Rashi was due to the claim that this would be outside of the mesorah. I never made such a claim. Again, you twisted words for your own purpose.

    I will answer your questions in the next comment.

  243. This is the continuation from the previous comment:

    You asked: “Do you think that corporealism is a false belief? A foolish belief? A heretical belief?
    Do you revere Rashi as a tremendous Torah scholar?
    Do you believe that a “tremendous Torah scholar” would be extremely unlikely to hold beliefs that are false, foolish and heretical?

    I think that corporealism is false. I have great respect for Rashi. I do not think that the rishonim were infallible; I therefore think it unlikely but not impossible for them to have false beliefs.

    “And while you claim that you haven’t looked into whether any of Chazal could be named as corporealists, what would you ordinarily say?”

    I already answered this in an earlier comment about seeing Chazal through the lens of the rishonim.

    “If your positions had merit, why do you think that not a single person without your biases shares the same views, whereas all of them, AS WELL AS many frum scholars, share my views?”

    In order to answer this question, we must first establish that your assumptions and claims are true. “Not a SINGLE PERSON without your biases shares the same views” – really? please tell me how you know that of the 6 billion people that inhabit this planet, not a single one without my biases shares my view.” I am curious as to your research methods here. “as well as MANY frum scholars…” I have asked you for five names. You refuse to provide any. This part of the discussion is kind of meaningless without backing up your claim.

    But at any event, you keep returning to the bias issue and I think that the real issue is the merit of the claims themselves. I wonder why it seems difficult for you to stick to the issue of the merits, and instead you keep returning to the issue of bias.

  244. BTW, from what R. Zucker wrote it should be very clear that he doesn’t think that Rashi’s words suggest corporealism. Rashi’s words from Yeshaya, about the angels on the “left and right” of God, and about God’s walking, point very much to Rashi’s INcorporealism.

  245. Hey R’ Slifkin, so…there are many frum scholars who agree with you, but you don’t want to name them? Well, I know for a fact that there are hundreds of non-frum scholars who agree with your opponents. What? You want to know who they are? Sorry, I don’t choose to name them! 🙂

  246. I think that I accurately represented what Zucker was doing, on all occasions.

    Your question about why I want to discuss bias rather than the merits of the issues is one that I have answered many times. There is no point discussing the merits of the issues with someone who will never be convinced, no matter what the merits.

    And if Rashi’s words about angels and God’s walking point very much point to his INcorporealism, this messes up Zucker’s claim that Rashi did not want to interfere with the masses’ belief in corporealism!

    With regard to your stressing that we only know of four corporealists and indicating that there is no reason to believe that there were any more, I’ll leave you with this quote from Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres (Harvard University Press 1962), p. 285, in reference to Ra’avad’s account of greater and better people than Rambam who were corporealists: “Literalism of this sort was evidently widespread. Maimonides himself was acquainted with Jews of unshakeable literalist persuasion, whom he condemned unqualifiedly. He reports that he encountered many prominent Talmudists some of whom were uncertain whether God possessed eyes, hands, and feet while others concluded categorically that God had a body with organs and senses… Younger contemporaries and immediate successors such as Nahmanides, David Kimhi, and Maimonides’ son Abraham also inform us of the prevalence of these beliefs.” Bernard Septimus, David Berger and Yair Lorberbaum write similarly, as does Yisrael Ta-Shma, who states that Rashi himself was a corporealist.

    By the way, you STILL did not answer my questions – the ones about charedim and evolution, what differentiates you from them, nor all the questions about your beliefs vis-a-vis corporealism and Rashi.

  247. “I think that I accurately represented what Zucker was doing, on all occasions.”

    Of course you do. However, interpreting the statement “an argument from silence is a fallacy in the world of pure reasoning, but in the world of applied reasoning it is valid abduction” as “first he claims that an argument from silence is a fallacy and then he admits that that’s not really true” is nothing less than a deception.

    “And if Rashi’s words about angels and God’s walking point very much point to his INcorporealism, this messes up Zucker’s claim that Rashi did not want to interfere with the masses’ belief in corporealism!”

    Not at all. This is another manipulation on your part. There is a vast difference between Rashi saying something from which one can *deduce* incorporealism (the “Yeshaya” “angels” and “walking” comments) versus saying an outright explicit statement “God is not physical.” This distinction is precisely what R. Zucker explicitly explained in his essay, which I assume you read.

    Dr. Twersky’s quote is certainly interesting. Note, however, that he does not deal with the issue that the Raavad said all those caustic, negative things about the Rambam all throughout the Mishneh Torah, so who, precisely he means when he says “greater people than the Rambam” could easily be another of those caustic, negative statements, or it could be referring to people who in the Raavad’s eyes didn’t learn the Talmud with “silly interpretations” like the Rambam did (again, according to the Raavad). But they need not at all be the gedolai hador, or even on the caliber of what we commonly refer to as “rishonim.” Everything else in Dr. Twersky’s comments refer to the “common man” corporealists, not the elite as you would have us believe. At the end of the day, you still cannot point to more than 4 known corporealist elites, all of whom lived well *after* Rashi’s time.

    Your question about charedim and evolution is irrelevant, in my opinion, for the following reason. It assumes that the level of evidence for evolution and the level of evidence for Rashi’s corporealism are comparable. There is no evidence for Rashi’s corporealism, only your speculative theories. There is strong evidence for evolution.

    You STILL have not answered a number of my questions – especially, who were the people who tried to discredit Rashi but did not mention corporealism, and what is your counter-argument to that claim?

  248. Over Shabbat, I read a passage in Cohen’s “From the Maccabees to the Mishnah” that (ironically, perhaps) lends credence to Larry’s position:

    “The God of the Hebrew Bible is for the most part an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic being, that is a God who has the form and emotions of humans. He (it is a he) walks and talks, has arms and legs, becomes angry, happy, or sad, changes his mind, speaks to humans and is addressed by them, and closely supervises the affairs of the world. The God of the philosophers is a different sort of being altogether: abstract (the Prime Mover, the First Cause, the Mind or Soul of the Universe), immutable, and relatively unconcerned with the affairs of humanity. The tension between these rival conceptions of the Deity is evident in the work of Philo, who is able to find a philosophically respectable God in the Torah only through allegorical exegesis. Philo is particularly careful to sanitize the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic passages. In the land of Israel, the pressure to interpret the Bible in this fashion was less intense, but even here many of the Targumim, the Aramaic translations of scripture, reduce or eliminate scriptural anthropomorphisms.

    Perhaps some Jews were concerned about the very unphilosophic image of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, but mostsped were not. Apocalyptic visionaries and mystics persisted in seeing God sitting on his throne surrounded by his angelic attendants. The masses needed (and need!) a God who is accessible and understandable. […] Popular piety does not need or want an immutable and shapeless Prime Mover; it wants a God who reveals himself to people, listens to prayer, and can be grasped in human terms. This is the God of the Shema, the Bible, and the Liturgy. This is the God of practically all of the Hebrew and Aramaic, and some of the Greek, Jewish literature of antiquity. It is not, however, the God of the philosophers.”

    In other words, it is not necessarily that Rashi and other Rishonim are corporealists, rather their theological expression has less need for the philosophical purism Rambam felt the need to express and incorporates more of what we would now call “a common touch”.

    We all profess to Rambam’s philosophical catechism and yet we sing the blatantly anthropomorphic (and sublime) Anim Zemirot; we accept it as allegory, yet we still feel the need for its imagery.

  249. Your question about charedim and evolution is irrelevant, in my opinion, for the following reason. It assumes that the level of evidence for evolution and the level of evidence for Rashi’s corporealism are comparable. There is no evidence for Rashi’s corporealism, only your speculative theories. There is strong evidence for evolution.

    Even if this were true, it would not affect the question’s relevance. If there is strong evidence for evolution, why don’t charedim accept it? If your answer is that they are biased, then why do you think that a similar bias does not affect you?

    By the way, when I try to explain to charedim why I won’t debate evolution with them, I give the example of how it would have been futile to debate flat-earth advocates in the 19th century, who insisted that they had scientific reasons for their position yet were obviously Biblical fundamentalists. The charedim answer exactly as you did: “Your question about 19th century Biblical fundamentalists and the sphericity of the earth is irrelevant, in our opinion, for the following reason. It assumes that the level of evidence for the sphericity of the earth and the level of evidence for evolution are comparable. There is no evidence for evolution, only your speculative theories. There is strong evidence for the sphericity of the earth.”

  250. IH – great comment! Thanks for pointing to the quote.

    Rabbi Slifkin – your repeated return to the issue of “Bais! Bias!” sounds a little whiny. On that subject, please take a look at the following, part of an undergraduate senior course on logic:

    http://www.csus.edu/indiv/a/andersonc/ad%20hominem.doc

    The professor notes the following:

    “One of the most common types of faulty reasoning is called the ad hominem fallacy. It occurs when one attacks the person making a claim or argument rather than assessing the claim or argument itself on its merits. The fallacy may take any of several different forms.

    Bias Ad Hominem: By far the most common version of the fallacy. We often mistakenly dismiss a person’s claim outright just because we believe they have something to gain from the outcome. The mistake should be obvious: The mere fact that they have something to gain from the outcome doesn’t mean they cannot give a good argument for the position they hold. If that weren’t true, no one could make a credible claim about any issue that is of great importance to them.”

    If you don’t want to engage in discussion, fine. But stop derailing the discussions with an excuse that ultimately amounts to an ad hominem attack against your opponents.

    (Based on your past responses, I expect that instead of dealing with what I just posted, it is likely that you’ll again bring up charedim and evolution. Oh well).

  251. As I have said many times, it’s not an excuse or an ad hominem – there’s nothing wrong with being biased! It’s an explanation as to why it is pointless to engage in endless discussion, and it’s a very important to discuss in any academic discussion in which one participant has a strong religious position. It’s exactly what evolutionists discuss when explaining why they don’t debate the science of evolution with creationists. Are they also issuing unjustified ad hominem attacks? And what would you do if you were challenged by someone to debate a topic, in which you felt that he had a clear religious agenda, and your non-engagement would be cited as evidence of the weakness of your position?

    I only keep bringing this up because you keep avoiding answering my questions to you about it. If you don’t want to engage in discussion on this point, fine. Apparently you are uncomfortable with the analogy to charedim and evolution. But then say so from the outset; don’t give partial answers, and then ask if there are any questions of mine that you haven’t answered, if you don’t want to discuss this meta-topic at all.

  252. “And what would you do if you were challenged by someone to debate a topic, in which you felt that he had a clear religious agenda, and your non-engagement would be cited as evidence of the weakness of your position?”

    If I felt I had a correct position, I would probably engage in the discussion. I would have no illusions about convincing the opponent, but would do so to enlighten the audience. Charedim deny evolution, etc. probably because they see it as being contrary to Torah. I do not see the rishonim as infallible, so I don’t see the issue of maintaining that one of them was a corporealist as itself being contrary to Torah. Your analogy here falls apart.

    Now, back to the substance of the topic. I have asked at least 3 times who were the people who tried to discredit Rashi and yet didn’t raise corporealism, and what is your counter-argument to this line of reasoning? You have avoided this again and again. Care to respond?

  253. IH wrote in part:

    “We all profess to Rambam’s philosophical catechism and yet we sing the blatantly anthropomorphic (and sublime) Anim Zemirot; we accept it as allegory, yet we still feel the need for its imagery.”

    Actually, in many yeshivos and shuls, the recitation and/or singing of Anim Zmiros is reserved for the Yamim Noraim and/or dispensed with completely as a Tircha DTziburah.

  254. Rafael Araujo

    Steve:

    That’s correct. The more yeshivish minyanim I daven at do not recite it. Certainly, Nusach Sefard, which is the most widely used nusach here in Toronto, does not have it as part of Shabbos/Yom Tov davening.

  255. Twice a year anthropomorphists, eh 🙂

  256. If I felt I had a correct position, I would probably engage in the discussion.

    For how long? We’re talking about the internet here; there are no time constraints.

    I do not see the rishonim as infallible, so I don’t see the issue of maintaining that one of them was a corporealist as itself being contrary to Torah.

    Sure, you’re okay with them not knowing certain scientific facts, and you’re okay with the abstract knowledge of some unknown Rishonim being corporealists. But you are keen to argue that there were hardly any such people. And you do revere Rashi as a great Torah scholar (which to your mind means a great theologian), and you disdain corporealism as false, foolish, not authentic, and probably heretical.

  257. “For how long? We’re talking about the internet here; there are no time constraints.”

    I don’t know…’til I felt I exhausted the issue. And then I would say that I have nothing left to say on the matter and politely leave. I would NOT keep harping about how my opponents are biased. It is, as I have demonstrated above (the quote from the course on logic) an ad hominem form of attack.

    “Sure, you’re okay with them not knowing certain scientific facts, and you’re okay with the abstract knowledge of some unknown Rishonim being corporealists. But you are keen to argue that there were hardly any such people. And you do revere Rashi as a great Torah scholar (which to your mind means a great theologian), and you disdain corporealism as false, foolish, not authentic, and probably heretical.”

    First of all, I am “keen to argue that there were hardly any such people” because that’s what the evidence shows. Second, your entire paragraph above does nothing to impact the fact that your analogy to charedim and evolution is not the same as the issue with corporealism.

    Now, I have answered your question, yet you STILL persist in not answering mine. This is the FOURTH time I ask – who were the scholars who tried to discredit Rashi and yet failed to mention corporealism, and what is your counter-argument?

  258. Larry> Give it up, man! Rabbi Slifkin will probably never respond to your question because in all likelihood either [1] he doesn’t really have the sources he claims to have (meaning, he “made them up” only to show that he can seriously entertain contrary views because he’s “open-minded”), or [2] he really does have the sources he claims to have but he’s more interested in touting his position than in seeking what’s really true.

    I wrote my full name here because I am not afraid to stand behind my views. Also, for the record, I think that one could easily say that many of Chazal were corporealists, since the p’shat of their many statements of theirs suggests that. It doesn’t bother me a whit that they, or Rashi, could have been corporealists. There have always been major arguments about many topics throughout Jewish history, and the tent can be viewed as being very big. In the case of Rashi, Rabbi Slifkin made a claim, and as someone with a doctorate in history I am just bothered that one can continue to tout a claim based on fanciful speculation with virtually no real evidence, and then to attack any critics with claims of bias. As an aside – even if they are biased, I see a great deal of weight in the challenges that they raised. (I know, I know, Rabbi Slifkin has many academicians who support his view, and I would love to ask them about this, but alas he is unwilling to name them…) He is “playing” historian, without any real tools and without any real foundation or basis for what he claims. His conclusion doesn’t bother me – his “method” does.

    I know, somehow I’ll probably be labeled as biased by him, or as charedi (what a joke!) – but Larry, if you’re waiting for serious answers to what you posed, don’t hold your breath.

  259. Daniel Baum– I believe r. Slicking did name them. Be that as it may, you could look it up yourself being sn historian with some research skills. Most of the aeguments that since rash is Artie gadol he could not have been foolish enough to be a corporeslist does not pass water to even those amei ha’aretz without phds

  260. Apologize for the typos — r. Slifkin

  261. Ruvie – Rabbi Slifkin did NOT name them. I have no idea who he is referring to. I also don’t know who you are referring to when you say “most of the arguments…” Rabbi Slifkin’s main opponent on this issue has been Rabbi Zucker who wrote 2 essays based upon numerous sources and textual analysis, not “Rashi was great so he never could have said this.” Please get the facts straight.

  262. daniel – israel ta-shmah he quoted – also i happened to be reading one his books this past weekend on rashi and the tosafists. surely, you a scholar can do a quick search – i am just an am haareretz.

    btw, i was referring to larry’s reasoning – circular is a nice way to say it – above. r’ zucker – not a fan – not much of a scholar for my reading of some his work.

  263. Ruvie – Israel Ta-Shma does indeed think that Rashi was a corporealist. Rabbi Slifkin, however, said that “many” scholars maintain that view. One is not many. As a matter of fact, recently M. Kellner, M. Shapiro, and M. Halbertal have said that they are quite unsure about the whole matter (presumably due to lack of evidence). Where are the “many” scholars? By the way, my earlier email wasn’t even about this issue. It was about the claim that Rabbi Slifkin said that he knows of rishonim who tried to discredit Rashi but did not include the notion that he was a corporealist as part of their campaign. Rabbi Slifkin acknowledged that this would present a problem to his view, but that he had a response. Larry asked who these rishonim were and what Rabbi Slifkin’s response would be. Rabbi Slifkin’s answer to Larry’s question (4 times)? Silence.

    I looked through Larry’s arguments above, and I don’t see what you mean about “circular reasoning.” The only works of Rabbi Zucker that I know are his two essays on this subject, one in Hakirah and the other on a website. They are both rather impressive from a scholarly point of view. (In fact, I think Dr. Halbertal praised one of his essays as well, as did Dr. Shapiro).

  264. daniel baum – larry”:I think that corporealism is false. I have great respect for Rashi. I do not think that the rishonim were infallible; I therefore think it unlikely but not impossible for them to have false beliefs.”

    i though i remember it being stronger than this (maybe it was somewhere else or my memory is more faulty than i thought – early senility perhaps.

    the evidence point to wherever it points – my only objection is that many folks insist in looking at data with certain hashkafic blinders on…. both in the right wing world as well as left (especially 50 plus years ago). especially as we look (not in this case) pre second temple destruction history.

  265. Ruvie –

    Your citation above has nothing to do with Larry’s line of argument. Note the following:

    Rabbi Slifkin (addressing Larry): “Do you think that corporealism is a false belief? A foolish belief? A heretical belief?
    Do you revere Rashi as a tremendous Torah scholar?
    Do you believe that a “tremendous Torah scholar” would be extremely unlikely to hold beliefs that are false, foolish and heretical?
    Please answer these questions.

    Larry responded to those questions with the quote you provided above. He did not present those answers as the basis for his argument. For you to label his argument as circular, based upon something he wrote merely as a response to Rabbi Slifkin’s questions, and did not write as his line of reasoning, is a misrepresentation of views. As a historian, I am bothered by this type of sloppy presentation.

    Again, I have no problem with Rabbi Slifkin’s conclusion. But to say that his conclusion is based on any real evidence or well reasoned argument is simply false. And note – as I pointed out before – his utter silence about the details of some evidence that would be a challenge to his hypothesis. This is not scholarly work on his part – it’s an “op-ed” piece. Let’s call it what it really is.

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