Outside the Pale – Responding to Readers

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72 Responses

  1. Zev T. says:

    “I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek.”

    I find it odd that all the things you mention are unique to the Litvishe yeshivishe curriculum. What about being aware of the basics of Rambam’s theology – say, regarding whether names of God possess special powers?
    You have a situation today where pretty much the entire charedi world is completely unaware of the rationalist Rishonim. Furthermore, MANY of their greatest figures say things that are completely outside the collective historical experience of Klal Yisrael – e.g., that Maase Bereishis must only be understood entirely literally and nobody ever said differently, or that Rishonim are infallible.

    “He branded as heretic someone who would deny that the content of the Zohar is part of Torah she-b’al-peh. That is a far more defensible position.”

    Rambam certainly denied it (or would have, had the Zohar been around in his time; he denied the legitimacy of the proto-kabbalah that existed in his day). Rambam wasn’t Orthodox in the modern sense, but is he to be branded as a heretic?

    Incidentally, Rav Leff’s questioner asked specifically about the Zohar being authored by RSBY, not whether it was TSBP. Your being dan lekaf zechus of Rav Leff ends up with him misleading his questioner.

  2. Gil says:

    “I personally heard Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l discuss a teshuva (Minchas Elazar?) that paskened that a shochet who denied that Rashi was written with ruach ha-kodesh was disqualified from shechita.”

    Divrei Chaim, Yoreh Deah vol. 2 #105 regarding whether the Or HaChaim was written with ruach ha-kodesh (but see Or Ha-Chaim on Bereishis 6:3).

  3. Shlomo says:

    What you say makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think anyone who read Rabbi Leff’s essay thaought this was his meaning. When he says that anyone who denies a principle of faith “is outside the pale of the faith community of Torah Judaism” it is clear to me, and to everyone I have asked, that he means that such a person is a heretic, for he has denied a fundamental principle of faith. As such, the contradiction stands..

  4. joel rich says:

    A few thoughts

    1. IMHO the distinction you see R’ Leff making is a subtlety lost in the public debate.

    2. Interesting definiton of a player – I note you did not include minimum requirements of understanding of human interactions, science etc. and also no mention of practical experience or advanced research in the particular question at hand

    3. Without names, I’d be interested in seeing an example of what might be considered a “outside the pale” to the right halachik position

    4.I can agree … without coming to the conclusion that no decisions can ever be reached in theological debates among traditional figures. The methodology may differ from halakhic decision making but that does not mean that no decision-making method exists altogether. Perhaps majority vote plays no role in the world of hashkafah, but a near unanimous vote does.

    So perhaps you can explain how this worked? One would assume something called “an ikkar” (basic principle of faith) was important enough that HKB”H gave them all to Moshe Rabbeinu (and the Avot as well) who faithfully transmitted them. There don’t seem to be an overwhelming number of them so one would imagine that there were no transmission errors.So how could anybody later be debating the issue unless it was something “important” but not a true ikkar.
    Or IIUC you are saying that something at some earlier point was not an ikkar but man later declares it to be? And some point later could it be declared not to be so (assumedly yes since it is in man’s province) Seems inconsistent with what I would have thought an “ikkar” would be (e.g. could Moshe Rabbeinu have believed in a corporeal God but we can’t?)

    KT

  5. Seth Gordon says:

    We could describe your hypothetical Williamsburg resident as “not Satmar, but still Orthodox”.

    A halakhically observant person who holds halakhically defensible but eccentric beliefs is “not Orthodox, but…” what?

    I completely understand that leaders of each community within the Orthodox world want to maintain their particular standards, and they are certainly within their rights to reject teachers, pulpit rabbis, etc., who do not meet those standards. And if some community (e.g., the meshichisten, Orthodox feminists, Neturei Karta, or followers of Rabbi Kahane) has beliefs and practices that might place itself beyond the halakhic bounds of Orthodoxy, then an argument about those halakhic issues is entirely appropriate. And there’s no harm pointing out when someone is espousing positions that are way out of the mainstream even if they are halakhically defensible; at the very least, it helps those of us who are new to frumkeit and aren’t entirely sure where the mainstream is.

    But I am very uncomfortable with attempts to place boundaries on the general term “Orthodox” based on “this is what we’ve always done”, rather than “this is what the Torah commands us to do”.

  6. zadok says:

    Without going into what is or isn’t behind the pale I will repeat what Rav Yaakov Kamenitsky once told us as, a group of bochrim from varied backgounds in camp Ohr Shraga.”If there is a difference in opinion between me(RYK) and the Satmer Rebbeh as to wheter someone is a Tzadik or a Rosho the difference probably stems from our different (longstanding)Mesohras so go with whomever your rebbi is.However if there is difference in opinion between me (RYK) and Rav Moshe Feinstein as to wheter someone is a Tzadik or a Rosho no matter who your rebbi is and what he tells you STAY AWAY FROM THAT PERSON!”

    I hope I’m repeating this accuratly and my memory isn’t playing games with me.

  7. G says:

    “I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek.”

    Very telling; any requirements that fall within the realm of, oh I don’t know, Bein Adam L’Chavero?

    “A talmid chacham should be able to do far more than that, but if he can’t, he is not a player.”

    Sad, but all to often very, very true.

  8. Micha says:

    The problem with the first snippet is that it’s no longer about who is “out” but who is halachically a heretic (if they reach said position through rebellion, etc…)

    I know of no definition of heretic (counting only those reached through Orthodox halachic process) that would not include someone who denies the origin of the Torah being through dictation in Sinai. (Again, assuming all other criteria for categorizing someone based on their beliefs are met.)

    -micha

  9. bb says:

    Um — Why not ask Rabbi Leff what he meant?

    If he agrees, then he said it. If not, then just reword to say that it’s my (meaning Rabbi Adlerstein’s) view.

  10. aj says:

    “a belief that is beyond the pale, even if it might be argued that it is not heretical. (The signatories to the cherem of the Rashba against the study of speculative philosophy by young students apparently felt the same way. They pointed with derision directly at those who claimed that Avraham and Soro represent form and substance, and were not historical figures.)”

    The Rashba uses the expression megale ponim batorah shelo kehalacha to describe allegorizing the avos. It seems that some people are interpreting that to mean that he intended to say the position is literally kefira (as opposed to his using the term as a figurative expression). Other rishonim say megale ponim means claiming that mitzvos are allegorical and not commands, and if rashba was not just using the term figuratively, he would be defining the term as unnecessary allegorization of any material in torah (not just mitzvos). This may be the explanation of R Ahron Feldman’s claim that by allegorizing bereishis, Slifkin is megale ponim batorah shelo kehalacha.

  11. Moishe Potemkin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is, as usual, eloquent and compelling, so I hope one minor quibble will not be seen as inappropriate. His contrasts of the scholarship levels on the Left and Right is very reasonable, but the envelope-pushing on the Left does not emerge in a vacuum. Whether it is the undeniable recognition that women are capable of more than Chazal seem to have suggested, or the understanding of archaeological evidence that is incongruent with a literal interpretation of Sefer Beraishis, there is a legitimate need, perhaps, for the development of machshava that may well not fit the traditional majority mold, when certain realities were not as well understood.

  12. Gershon Josephs says:

    “I agree with the reader who wrote about someone who maintains that all of Bereishis is allegorical, including the lives of the avos. Such a person maintains a belief that is beyond the pale, even if it might be argued that it is not heretical.”

    A very well respected and very well known maggid shiur at Gush told me personally that all of Breishis could very well be ‘mythology’ (his words) and that he had no problem with that.

  13. dr. william gewirtz says:

    I know of no definition of heretic (counting only those reached through Orthodox halachic process) that would not include someone who denies the origin of the Torah being through dictation in Sinai. (Again, assuming all other criteria for categorizing someone based on their beliefs are met.)

    -micha

    Comment by Micha — December 21, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

    OTOH one who believes in God literally dictating the Torah, is probably violating another Ikar of Rambam. Keep this up and we will have a hard time finding a Minyan. (BTW – this should help explain the Raavad’s rejection in current philosophical garb; Raavad was not writing for effect when he described those who disagreed. I suspect many are uncomfortable with the Raavad’s position. I did a quick poll in a MO/CO shul this morning and almost all who I asked believed either in God’s anger or dictation or both. The Raavad may be right!)

  14. perplexed says:

    “I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek.”

    Very telling; any requirements that fall within the realm of, oh I don’t know, Bein Adam L’Chavero?

    How can there be concrete guidelines for bein adam l’chaveiro? Are you able to judge anyone else’s Bein Adam L’Chaveiro? A Talmid chacham is just that, a talmid chacham – having to do with hisTorah knowledge. Good middos help, but one with only good middos who cant learn is a tzaddik, not a talmid chacham.

  15. perplexed says:

    “I agree with the reader who wrote about someone who maintains that all of Bereishis is allegorical, including the lives of the avos. Such a person maintains a belief that is beyond the pale, even if it might be argued that it is not heretical.”

    A very well respected and very well known maggid shiur at Gush told me personally that all of Breishis could very well be ‘mythology’ (his words) and that he had no problem with that.

    Would it surprise you, or anyone, if word got out that Gush (or that maggid shiur in particular) is beyond the pale? Would it surprise you if most of the aforementioned “talmidei chachamim” thought that this idea is beyond the pale?

  16. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    A very well respected and very well known maggid shiur at Gush told me personally that all of Breishis could very well be ‘mythology’ (his words) and that he had no problem with that.

    I stand by what I said.

  17. Daniel says:

    I hope this is not crass, but your comments re: what is the definition of a talmid chacham reminded me of Justice Potter Stewarts’s comments, made in 1964, about the definition of obscenity: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it.” Perhaps that is a better definition than knowing how to read a Shev Shmaitza.

  18. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Would it surprise you, or anyone, if word got out that Gush (or that maggid shiur in particular) is beyond the pale? Would it surprise you if most of the aforementioned “talmidei chachamim” thought that this idea is beyond the pale?

    Comment by perplexed — December 23, 2007 @ 2:21 am

    Very well said. I would not be suprised at all. That is exactly where this could be headed, aided and abetted by promoting ideas like “beyond the pale.” Pirkei Moadot by Rav Mordechai Breuer ztl should be at least as troubling as debating where to draw the line between history and mythology. (But reading the chapter on the sin of the meraglim and the sin of Moshe is harder than any perek of Shev Shema’atsa, at least for me.)

  19. S. says:

    >consider an operational definition of talmid chacham, and then compare left and right. I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek. A talmid chacham should be able to do far more than that, but if he can’t, he is not a player.

    Not fluency in Shas and Posekim? Because, yes, there are thousands of people who fit the above description, but there aren’t thousands of people who are fluent in Shas and Posekim.

    Isn’t the above definition putting the cart before the house, just a bit?

    And if not, why is intelligent familiarity with Shev Shema’atsa more valuable than intelligent familiarity with the Moreh, or other yardsticks from different branches of Torah, once we are not talking about people who really know Shas and Posekim? It seems the above definition is heavily slanted toward the curriculum of yeshivos, which just so happen to train people for the correct branches of Torah that make one minimally a talmid chochom. That’s a little fishy.

  20. Esther says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein – I appreciate that you have presented a response to the readers’ comments – I think this is an important part of maintaining a respectful discussion.

    I do not feel that your response really answers the question raised by myself and others. You provide an “explanation” of why something that is technically not assur but not historically authentic to Judaism is really not so much of a problem. But the people engaged in whatever beliefs or practices you choose to use as examples have equally valid explanations. You did not address why it will always be the case that someone on the left is “beyond the pale” while someone on the right is “really not doing anything wrong because….”

    When Orthodoxy became more out-reaching and accessible over the last 30 years or so, there was an unprecedented move towards many people getting more interested and involved in living a halachic lifestyle. What many of us are feeling today is that a small group on the right is more interested in figuring out who is a heretic, who is “beyond the pale”, etc. – in other words, they want to be the only “authentic” Judaism and label everyone else as not frum enough. The only possible result is that more and more halacha-observant people will be informed that they are not Orthodox, while in the meantime practices that were never mainstream will continue to be introduced unchecked on the right. Neither of us are neviim, but I am sure you can imagine as well as I can what the consequences for the future of Torah observance will be.

  21. mycroft says:

    I agree with the reader who wrote about someone who maintains that all of Bereishis is allegorical, including the lives of the avos. Such a person maintains a belief that is beyond the pale, even if it might be argued that it is not heretical.”

    A very well respected and very well known maggid shiur at Gush told me personally that all of Breishis could very well be ‘mythology’ (his words) and that he had no problem with that.

    Rabbi S. Spero wrote an article about 25 years ago maintaining essentially just that position.
    Rabbi Jeremy Weider a RY at RIETS discusses the basis of the permissibility of such beliefs -essentially following hashkafa of The Rambam and Saadiah Gaon who state that Bilaams donkey story is a dream.
    To hear Rabbi Weider I believe his shiur is on http://www.yutorah.org

    Concerning the issue of beliefs-in general there is a difference between those who were trained at RIETS and elsewhere. In general many of those who were trained at RIETS-with obvious frequent exceptions like Rabbi Parness- maintain that in general we only pasken matters that require a psak-thus we know what is in Tanach because of the Halachik issue of what is mtamei et hayadayim. Thus, we don’t really have any idea what the olam haemet is like-the Rambam has one viewpoint Crescas another etc. It is really pointless to argue about issues which have no difference halacha lemaaseh. We haven’t paskened and even if there were a psak-no proof that God follows the psak.

  22. Ori says:

    As an outsider, may I ask what would be the effects of being “beyond the pale”? Obviously such a person would not be hired to teach Torah or trusted to decide matters of Halacha – but would there be negative consequences beyond that?

  23. David Berger says:

    I wrote to Rabbi Adlerstein privately about some of these issues, and he asked me to post a brief, relevant selection from the new Introduction to the forthcoming paperback edition of my book on Lubavitch messianism. The selection in question has already appeared in the updated Hebrew version of the book.
    I argue that Lubavitch messianism undermines the defining parameters (gedarim, in the language of the yeshivas) of one of the fundamental principles of Judaism, and I ask whether one who does this while affirming the principle itself is considered a heretic. I argue that it is not unreasonable to define the confident identification of a Messiah whom Judaism properly understood rules out as the Messiah as heresy, but in the final analysis I leave the question open. I continue as follows:
    “Even if we assume that we are not dealing with full fledged heresy, the recognition of spokespersons for Lubavitch messianism as Orthodox Jews in good standing shatters the defining boundaries of the messianic faith of Judaism. The crucial point that even a belief that falls short of technical heresy may sometimes disqualify its adherents from positions of religious authority or sensitivity can be brought into bold relief by consideration of a famous Talmudic passage and its afterlife. In addressing the issue of Lubavitch messianism, two rabbis have pointed to the statement of a Rabbi Hillel (a later figure than the famous founder of “the House of Hillel”) that “Israel has no Messiah because he was already consumed in the days of Hezekiah.” These rabbis argue that despite the Talmud’s strongly worded rejection of this position , Rabbi Hillel is not considered a heretic; surely, then, Chabad hasidim, who in the final analysis believe in the coming of the Messiah, are excluded from this category.
    In both instances, the point was raised almost in passing, and it does not address a substantial literature on this question from the late Middle Ages through the modern period. It is difficult to say what the majority opinion has been, although the greatest modern authority to address the question maintained that a contemporary Jew who denies the coming of a personal Messiah on the basis of the plain meaning of Rabbi Hillel’s statement would indeed be classified as a heretic. Nonetheless, the view that such a position does not constitute heresy is of great value for our discussion. Let us assume that these rabbis are correct, and the Jew in question is not a heretic. His ritual slaughter, wine, and testimony are acceptable, and he has a portion in the world to come. Does it follow from this that he qualifies as a serious candidate for the Orthodox rabbinate, for a judgeship in a rabbinic court, and for a teaching position in the religious studies division of a yeshiva? Would the educational institution that he heads, where students are taught that there will never be a Messiah, be considered an appropriate recipient of financial support and full recognition from the Orthodox community? Would the Chief Rabbis of Israel speak at an event dedicated to the dissemination of this belief in front of a massive poster saying, “Israel has no Messiah because he was already consumed in the days of Hezekiah” [as they did in the presence of a Yechi poster]? This instructive example underscores a key point in the affair confronting us. A position that undermines the foundations of the faith, even if it does not rise—or sink—to the level of absolute heresy, is capable of subjecting Judaism to existential danger.”

  24. G says:

    “I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek.”

    Very telling; any requirements that fall within the realm of, oh I don’t know, Bein Adam L’Chavero?

    How can there be concrete guidelines for bein adam l’chaveiro? Are you able to judge anyone else’s Bein Adam L’Chaveiro? A Talmid chacham is just that, a talmid chacham – having to do with hisTorah knowledge. Good middos help, but one with only good middos who cant learn is a tzaddik, not a talmid chacham.
    ———–
    Fair enough, but then should such a person be the one to make decisions for the klal that may have far reaching implications/consequences? He may know much Torah and be a Talmid Chacham but does that qualify him to be a Manhig Yisroel?

  25. Bob Miller says:

    What is to prevent the formulation of a counter-halacha by cherry-picking opinions and rulings by Jewish authorities to produce a pre-planned result in line with individual or group bias? Large groups are still groups.

    I’m reminded of the project approval process at a former employer of mine. A detailed form had to be filled out with inputs based on good-faith estimates, covering a wide range of relevant factors. However, at least one manager was able to game the system successfully. He was skilled enough with help from his desk computer to adjust all his inputs to be both plausible and to get him where he wanted to go.

    The efforts of commenters in this and other Torah-oriented forums to nibble at the edges of acceptability strike me as clever but specious. Everyone is right in his own eyes. Who will bow to any authority now unless the authority can be made out to agree with him?

    I’m also noticing that the concept of a fuzzy line, really a band, between truth and falsehood can give rise to the same challenges as a thin line, so much less is gained than was hoped for.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “You have a situation today where pretty much the entire charedi world is completely unaware of the rationalist Rishonim”

    I think that the average yeshivah bachur may be aware in a general sense of the existence of the rationalistic Rishonim’s school of thought if he’s studied the preface to Lev Tov edition of Chovos Halevavos(ie, the sources cautioning against the study of Shaar Hayichud); Kovetz Mamaorim, or the preface to Chayie Olam. Also, many rabbonim are probably aware of the rationalistic rishonim in more detail; as a teenager, I asked a well-known Charedi rosh yeshivah a question, and from his answer, it was obvious that he was very familiar with the Moreh Nevuchim and could easily quote from it(he also had no problem telling me that my question was discussed there at length, although he would probably not recommend it for public study). Despite the above, I still recognize Rabbi Daniel Korobkin’s point in the current Jewish Action letter section regarding mussar/hashkafa versus theology/philosophy.

    What I found fascinating, was despite the fact that the Stiepler zt’l, obviously follows the mesorah of the Yeshivah world cautioning against emunah al pi chakirah for the multitudes of people, for someone needing it, he permits them to study the Moreh and similar seforim, and even recommends that such a person get a teacher because of the difficult language !(Read the preface to Chayie Olam yourself to see exactly what he says, as I’m quoting from my memory).

    If I may append a final point, I wish to clarify that I do not support any position whittling away at the Rambam’s ikkarim, despite the fact that I am concerned about “adding is subtracting” when considering whether to, today, disqualify positions held by previous gedolie olam.

  27. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    “You have a situation today where pretty much the entire charedi world is completely unaware of the rationalist Rishonim”

    That isn’t the half of it. A respected American Chabad rav in Israel who has written an English guide to hilchos niddah hadn’t heard of Machon Puah, for crying out loud, until he had a conversation with the rav of our community who is a shoel umeishiv there. My wife was in Florida a few years ago and spent Shabbos with a baal teshuva family who had never heard the name of Rav Kook. A chareidi rav whom I spoke to was not aware of the five-star Eretz Hemda kollel for dayanut. There is a dangerous compartmentalization in the frum world of which this “beyond the pale” discussion is only one part. The insularity which leads to gross ignorance of the other segments of the frum world causes people to fail to take each other seriously and thus be willing to slap the pashkevilim on the wall or at least condone those who do. It’s no joke.

  28. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Zev, and many others

    Please read the comment again, in the context of the discussion. The specific question raised concerned the criticism of innovations on the left relative to what seem like equally foreign innovations on the right. My response, in part, is that innovators on the left are sitting ducks for criticism, since there are very few talmidei chachamim in their ranks. We were not talking about parshanut or academic papers about history, but about changes that have to stand up to the scrutiny of halachic discourse. I was offering not a description of what a talmid chacham should be, but how the layman can recognize someone who can and cannot even hope to voice an opinion in a serious halachic debate.

    I was not offering the Gemara’s definition of a talmid chacham.

    I did not imply in any manner or form that a talmid chacham should not be an exemplar of midos tovos.

    I did not imply that he should not know Shas and Poskim. Of course he should.

    I did not imply that the meager requirements are enough for a leader/manhig. I wasn’t writing about manhigim.

    I did not imply that a talmid chacham can pasken on a specialty area without access to specialists. I did imply that a talmid chacham need not be familiar with these specialty areas himself. He need not, and our greatest poskim for hundreds of years were often unfamiliar with vast amounts of secular knowledge available to others. What they do need to know is that they lack the knowledge, and need to get it from people who have it.

    Five decades ago, Alan Turing proposed a simple litmus test to describe whether or not a machine could be said to demonstrate intelligence. Turing did not say everything that needed to be said about artificial intelligence. What I proposed was a similar, simple test for minimum competence in Torah discussion. (Of course the it sounds like the litvish yeshiva curriculum. Nothing fishy about that at all. That is what they aim to produce, which is far more than some other institutions of late.) Anyone who can’t match my criteria is up the halachic stream without a paddle. People are not going to be happy with my proposal not because of any inaccuracy, but because some communal figures they know fall hopelessly short of these minima.

    Why is ”Shev Shema’atsa more valuable than intelligent familiarity with the Moreh?” Because I am looking for a yardstick of competence on a page of Gemara. Last time I looked, Shas Bavli was still the most important source of halacha. If I wrote competence in Shas, there would be a hundred commenters telling me that their sister-in-law learned five mesechtos at a yeshiva in Manhattan, and therefore can hold forth on halacha. It would be hard to show that they don’t really know those mesechtos, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, if one of those sisters-in-law could pass my test, then despite my own considerable reservations about such learning programs, I would have to admit that she can participate competently in the discussion.

    I don’t care who said it. Anyone who can argue that ALL of Bereishis is mythological (as opposed to certain individual episodes in the first perakim where lots of Rishonim held allegorical explanations) is beyond the pale.

  29. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Esther –

    What I detect in your comments, far more than dissatisfaction with my response, is frustration with what you see as the pirating away of a kind of Yiddishkeit that once thrived, and is increasingly on the ropes because of a kind of hostile takeover by elements on the right.

    The old saw never sounded so good: There is nothing to fear but fear itself. You, Esther, and so many like you are creating the problem! Stop looking over your shoulder for every new directive in Yated. If you are genuinely secure in your Torah weltanschauung, then it doesn’t matter what signals are coming from other circles. Those circles have their Torah voices – who deserve untold respect – BUT SO DO YOURS! Some of the innovations – no matter how strongly and absolutely they are couched – are aimed at particular communities within Israel. The rhetoric follows an old rabbinic style that is unnerving to us Westerners, and employs much hyperbole. When you speak to the people involved directly, you very often hear much more openness, and less absolutism. It is tragic that more people do not understand this, and believe that they are the only voices that count. It is also tragic that some in America made a decision to take all their questions to those very different communities, and hope that they could transplant the answers without accounting for local conditions.

    They are not the only ones out there. Don’t lose your legitimacy to the most public of voices.

    The only people who should be insecure are those who do not have genuine and comparable talmidei chachamim, but I sense that you do not travel in those circles. Every innovation that your are appalled by has strong resistance in Torah circles of the highest caliber. They just don’t get to write in Yated.

    There is a sustained rejection of the kind of Yiddishkeit presided over by R Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l. It is perceived by some as haredi-lite, and therefore detested. I don’t believe that they will succeed in wiping it out, Esther. There are now tens of thousands in the US who are too secure in what they received from their rabbeim. There are two possiblities, Esther. If your teachers and mentors were not talmidei chachamim, then you do indeed have to reexamine every presumption you have lived with. But if they were, stop worrying about everything you read! Concentrate on getting your children, grandchildren, talmidim to love the Yiddishkeit you love, and understand why there is room for disagreement. If you don’t have one, find yourself a Rov who is a “player,” but whose judgment and teaching you respect. They are available. If your stance is correct, why must you be irritated by what you regard as the mistakes of the other?

    I’ve written more than I wanted. None of this has anything to do with my post, which concerns NOT what a small group on the right (or any other position) decides is beyond the pale, but what almost everyone under the halachic umbrella decides is beyond the pale. There is a huge difference between them. There are going to be far fewer things (and people) placed beyond the margins when the touchstone is near unanimity. There will, however be some. When that happens, we all must be prepared to acknowledge it.

  30. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein said above, to Esther, “Every innovation that you are appalled by has strong resistance in Torah circles of the highest caliber. They just don’t get to write in Yated.”

    What is preventing these particular “Torah circles of the highest caliber” from publishing their own weekly newspapers? To me, the frequent criticism of the Yated and that of ArtScroll both seem to emanate from people who would rather react to someone else’s words and approach than put out their own, publically and straightforwardly. Do they or do they not have the courage of their convictions?

  31. dr. william gewirtz says:

    For many, cetainly on the right, Lubavitch gets a pass, the maggid shiur at Gush does not. Is that halakhic, practical, political, etc.?? I have a hunch. Lubavitch grows primarily from the “outside;” I know there must be one somewhere, but have any FFB’s converted to Lubavitch recently? Gush is viewed as either Mendelsohn or Hirsch (before his re-creation) by its detractors and supporters, repectively. In any case, a threat from “within.”

    And finally R. Alderstein writes and I strongly agree: “There are going to be far fewer things (and people) placed beyond the margins when the touchstone is near unanimity.” Now define 2 things: 1) who votes – I say all who self-label as orthodox, and 2) near unanimity – i say at least the definition of the MY with the sampling method used by the OU for bugs.

  32. G says:

    There are going to be far fewer things (and people) placed beyond the margins when the touchstone is near unanimity.

    –So this, I think, is the point. Unanimity of whom?

  33. zadok says:

    What do the Netruy Kartah,Chabad Messienists,Charedei militants and those who express an overwillness to interpet Torah as (e.g.)’Mytholgy’ have in common?They all have the attitude that we can do and feel whatever we like and as we see fit and totaly ignore the vehement opposition of others important factions of Yiddishkeit.

    Wheter you feel you are right or not it is very unwise and dangerous to ignore the feelings of other mainstream groups if they feel that you are beyond the pale.

    It’s said over from Rav Shlomo Volbe that in the 1950’s when Rav Hutner predicited to him that Chabad would one day end up an open Messinic group (unthinkable even to Chabad adherants back then)that the reason why Chabad will end that way is because they feel the can ignore the vehemant oppsition of other groups.

  34. mycroft says:

    The rhetoric follows an old rabbinic style that is unnerving to us Westerners, and employs much hyperbole

    I believe Jonathan Rosenblum has written on the dangers in todays Internet age of publicizing words of Gdolim that follow the rhetoric and hyperbole of Rabbinic sfarim. It probably comes form language that chavrusas use when learning with each other to try and prove a point-but remain the best of friends-it simply if for no other reason than PR reasons must be avoided in 5768.

    Your Turing test is intriguing-BTW-we really don’t know much about the actual knowledge of Gdolim-when was the last time any of us gave them a bchina. Torah extends well beyond Talmud Bavli-a knwledge of Bavli and commentaries and halachik works is necessary BUT NOT SUFFICIENT.
    One must be aware of hashmatot-and certainly concerning halachot of nonOrtho Jews and non Jews one must be very careful and note how our texts have been censored and corrupted. One must also be aware of the various hashkafot that Chazal have had throughout the generations.

  35. mycroft says:

    It’s said over from Rav Shlomo Volbe that in the 1950’s when Rav Hutner predicited to him that Chabad would one day end up an open Messinic group (unthinkable even to Chabad adherants back then)that the reason why Chabad will end that way is because they feel the can ignore the vehemant oppsition of other groups.

    It was not so unthinkable back then-even Rabbis who would not be in the league of Rav Hutner were worried about Habad Messianism-30-40 years ago. BTW some of those disagreed with Dr. Berger’s mission to pasul their schitah etc. Simply believing that there is a much bigger tent for acceptable belief wo being labelled a heretic. I thinlk that even some of those might have had more sympathy for the idea that Chabad messianics do not belong being head of schools etc.

    Sadly to give Habad a reason for a lot of its power-they will deal with people who standard Orthodox won’t. Query-if there were in a community 2 Ortho Rabbis-a Habad one and a YU or Lakewood one which one would be more likely to deal with Jews in prison, rehab centers etc-those who will not sadly be learning Shas and don’t have a lot of money and are unlikely ever to have much. I think sadly in general the answer is obvious.

  36. cvmay says:

    “What is preventing these particular “Torah circles of the highest caliber” from publishing their own weekly newspapers? To me, the frequent criticism of the Yated and that of ArtScroll both seem to emanate from people who would rather react to someone else’s words and approach than put out their own, publically and straightforwardly. Do they or do they not have the courage of their convictions?” — COURAGE, for sure, FUNDS absolutely not, and they also are suffering from the ‘ain le koach’ syndrome.
    Dr. Gewirtz writes: “In any case, a threat from “within.”- his hunch is correct. “Within” is seen as more dangerous since emes vibrates thruout the hashkafa & halacha, eg. Toras Eretz Yisrael of Rav AY & TzY Kook, is that considered by our writer (or R’ Z Leff) as beyond the PALE?

  37. Dr. E says:

    I think that the entire discussion is predicated on the natural Psychological tendency to place people into “boxes”. That way, we can conveniently categorize, describe, and deal with people accordingly without overloading our cognitive filing system. But while there is a natural tendency to employ stereotypes, in the frum world today the ramifications are troubling when people and groups act on those stereotypes. This entire notion of “boxes” is what educational institutions, the (increasingly problematic) shidduch situation, and interpersonal relationshsips are predicated upon. With limited information and for the most part with no first-hand contact, a person is put into such a box. In the context of this discussion, Dr. Marc Shapiro has to go into a box, as do Rabbis Adlerstein, Leff, Blau, etc.

    In today’s scene, despite our relatively miniscule numbers, we are far from being in a single box called “Orthodox” or even “Torah observant”. Things have gotten so fragmented that “box” membership can no longer even be defined by the Yeshiva that one attended–which would be bad enough. You have to have attended that during a certain era, had the same derech halimud, and been in the same shiur at a similar time period to make it into the same box. This exclusionist and often elitist reality has no doubt contributed to some of the disunity that exists.

    What is particularly troubling is that in today’s era of Daas Torah/Kol Korehs, talk radio, and blogs terms like “krum”, “apikores”, “kofer”, “cherem”, and “treif” are thrown around so cavalierly to describe those with different views on one or more issues. I think that Rabbi Adlerstein does a valiant job in trying to employ a softer version of the aforementioned construct (e.g., “Beyond the Pale”). But, in this collective game of telephone and subjectivity, even that message gets lost. Today, things have become black/white along with, in-groups and out-groups. When someone has a viewpoint or does something that is deemed “beyond the pale” (BTP), the kashrut in this person’s house is now unreliable, we cannot give him a kibbud in shul (much less be invited to speak), and certainly his kids won’t get the “right” shidduchim.

    However, the truth is that life and certainly Torah Judaism is made up of shades of gray. Halachic shades of gray, as well as Hashkafic shades of gray. So, while the fictitious person that Rabbi Adlerstein describes is highly unlikely, more subtle versions of the individual do exist in our communities. And this does not make him hypocritical, inconsistent, or weird; it just means that he may be more complex (in a good way). In fact, if one can juggle multiple personas, this may give him access to a greater diversity of intellectual influences than someone who is stuck in a particular box. I think that as a community we need to have less cognitive dissonance when we encounter someone who fits into those multiple boxes not always associated with one another.

    The sad part is when contemporary Talmidei Chachamim themselves feel that they must do and say things that will fit them into the right box, for fear of being considered BTP. They fear for their livelihood, their standing in the community, and shidduchim for their kids. Consequently, individuality and creativity are lost from our Mesorah and from the fabric of the Orthodox community.

    [edited for length]
    This is not to say that we must stipulate that “everything goes”. A rejected opinion in the Gemara, a “yesh omrim” in Shulchan Aruch, or a Daas Yachid in Rishonim and Acharonim should not be taken as a Halachically viable “alternative”. But here, I do see a difference between matters of belief (Hashkafa) and Halacha. For the most part, Halacha, which guides our practical Torah lives, is far less accommodating than matters of Hashkafa. While some think of these matters as a litmus test for defining one as a Torah Jew or not, the absence of a practical nafka mina of believing the age of the Universe as being X number of years or Y does not cause me to get bent out of shape one way or the other.

    What are the litmus tests or one being considered “within the pale”? I’m not sure. Maybe some combination of Halachic and Hashkafic baselines. This could include (among others) Torah miSinai, belief in a single Almighty, belief in the World to Come, Shmiras Shabbos, Keeping Kashrus would be a start. But, I think that we get into trouble when we start to draw conclusions employing ad hoc criteria du jour based on “box membership” rather than employing long standing standards. In my scheme of things, I use a “l’mai nafka mina?” rule and if there is a reasonable, practical nafka mina, that’s a concern for me.

  38. Bob Miller says:

    cvmay said “COURAGE, for sure, FUNDS absolutely not, and they also are suffering from the ‘ain le koach’ syndrome.’

    1. How do we know they have no way to get the funding from their wealthier supporters, or are there none?

    2. If they feel powerless, how do we/they expect their views to last?

  39. ka says:

    “On the other hand, if one of those sisters-in-law could pass my test, then despite my own considerable reservations about such learning programs, I would have to admit that she can participate competently in the discussion.”

    Do you have reservations about such learning programs in principle, or only to the perceived agendas of these particular learning programs?

  40. LOberstein says:

    I loved Rabbi Adlerstein’s answer to Esther. I don’t know much about Bnai Brak but [edited] is here and some of the rabbis who decided that Slifkin is worse than Spinoza and who are the anti- Kamenetzky instigators are respected members of that community. They even get invited to speak at Agudah Mid west Conventions on the same platform as more mainstream speakers like Rabbi Frand. No one has the courage to say out loud what Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, they may say it to one another but there is still a lot of intimidation.
    Since [edited] seems to grow ever bigger and impose ever more stringent rules on its community members, will it be normative and the rest of us be the remnants of anold style orthodoxy that is passe? I wonder.

  41. Noam says:

    One of the principles of the UTJ(Union for Traditional Judaism) is that the persuasiveness of a halachic arguement should be based on it’s merit, rather than on who said it. Obviously ‘merit’ is going to be somewhat subjective, but in the end we are Jews committed to halacha, not to hagiography. We have a large mesorah, Torah, Nach, Talmud, geonim, rishonim, achronim which we can use to decide the merits of an arguement. We don’t have to automatically throw out an opinion just because the person doesn’t meet the requirements of Rav Adlerstein. If people disagree with an opinion, make a(n) halachic arguement. Show why it is wrong, refute the points, bring sources. Drawing a line and saying that you wont consider the opinion of a believing and practicing Jew simply because they haven’t learned a certain sefer just isn’t right. It basically is a way to discredit an opponent without addressing their points. That is not an appropriate way to treat dedicated co-religionists.

  42. Yoel B says:

    This discussion is extremely interesting, but it seems to me that everyone has been begging the question that Dr. Shapiro raised, which is Rabbi Leff’s apparent misreading or worse of his arguments. As Dr. Shapiro wrote in Jewish Action: “The fact that Rabbi Leff could include such a sentence in his review, even though I showed it to be incorrect, leaves me with some doubt as to how closely he read my book.” That’s a pretty strong statement in an academic context.

    I am going through Dr. Shapiro’s book and the numbered points in Dr. Shapiro’s letter, and so far find what he writes concerning Rabbi Leff’s understanding of the book persuasive. I must emphasize that I am not questioning Rabbi Leff’s lomdus, nor do I have the standing to do so, but it seems to me that Dr. Shapiro raised questions regarding Rabbi Leff’s understanding of his argument that WADR to Rabbi Adlerstein’s attempt, nobody has answered.

  43. Michoel says:

    RE R. Oberstein’s comment:
    “Since [edited] seems to grow ever bigger…”

    What really is the point of “[edited}”? Isn’t it a bit silly when everyone knows what belongs in the brackets? If the intent is to now be fastidious about the issur of lashon harah,

    Is there anyone who says of themself that they are NOT a “centrist”? It is all just semantic word games. What center or mainstream is there other than emes? People in Kiryas Yoel hold their derech is the center. They see Neturei Kartah as off the map to the right, and most everyone else is off to the left. And why are they not entitled to that view? As is YU and as is Lakewood.

    Banning internet is not a new “ever more stringent rule” any more than banning TV was. It is simply dealing with a new m’tzius. There are many simple s’voras to say that internet is worse than television (although I could hear arguments both ways). So if Reb Moshe was against TV, why is it so controvertial or even comment-worthy that Rabbanim in Lakewood should appose internet use?

    Let us all not over-simplify. The ban of Making of a Gadol was signed by Rav Shlomo Wolbe, Reb Yaakov’s nephew, who was a first hand observer of the characters discussed. Rav Shmuel, in one haskama to a recent controversial work, wrote EEm hu reik, hu mikem. A great subtle person writes that for a reason. Let us not fall into the trap of saying that right-wing kannoyim are taking over the world, against the moderate derech of Reb Yaakov. Maybe they have some valid points, that Reb Yaakov would have agreed with.

  44. Shalom says:

    Am I the only one who is bothered by the fact that the gedolim who are making so many of the decisions for us, often don’t know very much about the history of Jewish philosophy. They spend their time on Talmud and halachah. Isn’t that a problem?

  45. Joe Socher says:

    R. Adlerstein,

    In your post your wrote:

    (…Suffice it to say that when I discussed this approach with one of my –alas – unnamable rabbeim, his response was a terse “That’s silly. You certainly don’t have to believe that.”)

    Then in response to another commenter you state:

    “The only people who should be insecure are those who do not have genuine and comparable talmidei chachamim, but I sense that you do not travel in those circles. Every innovation that your are appalled by has strong resistance in Torah circles of the highest caliber. They just don’t get to write in Yated.”
    ………………….

    The problem many of us face is illustrated in these passages – those gedolim and talmidei chachamim who are reasonable/centrist/american-style/etc. who don’t agree with the meah shearim/bnei brak version of Orthodoxy do not come out and defend their views against the attacks.

    We hear many reports from “unnamable” gedolim or talmidei chachamim but rarely a forthright public statement, which de facto concedes to the extremists the power of defining our religion. Where is the leadership?

  46. Jewish Observer says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein and others are making an assumption that more “moderate” gedolim would not agree with the “radical” stuff coming out of EY today. I certainly understand why they want to believe that, but the hypothesis is intrinsically flawed. We never found that Reb Yakov type gedolim incuding himsef, Rav Ruderman, Rav Hutner, R Aharon, etc. did not fit right in to the word of their EY counterparts including e.g. Rav Meir Chodosh, Rav Shach, the Steipler, etc. I know of no quote attributed to the Amercan gedolim that implies they took issue with the approach or philosopies of the Israeli gedolim. It is the ultimate impudence for us to not follow the dicta of today’s gedolim, then justify our lukewarm approach by attributing it to our assumptions about what R’ Yakov would have said.

  47. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Here’s the problem I have with Rav Adlerstein’s 2 essays.

    First of all, I am not, chas v’shalom, questioning either Rav Adlerstein’s or Rav Leff’s intelligence or Torah knowledge.

    Having followed the controversy involving Rav Leff’s review of Marc Shaipro’s book, I well recall that every criticism raised by Rav Leff was comprehensively rebutted by Mr. Shapiro in his response.

    Now, obviously this has struck a nerve with some who might be thinking: “He’s a modernisher and he’s telling US about what the Chasam Sofer said?” as if Shapiro has no right to use certain sources to prove his thesis about the origins of our Ikkarim.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. There’s another teshuvah frm the Chasam Sofer that emphasizes that working in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah and just as no one says “I’m not putting on tefillin today because I’m too busy learning” no one can say “I’m not going to help build Eretz Yisrael today because I’m too busy learning.” I once quoted that to a chasid who came to my door who then assured me I didn’t really understand what the Chasam Sofer meant.

    The problem for Rav Adlerstein, it seems, isn’t the idea of having a discussion, but rather who should be allowed to participate. It’s one thing to have a colleague of his quote problematic teshuvos, quite another for someone from the world of scholarship to do that. It doesn’t sit quite right.

    I therefore wonder about the limits of intellectual debate within such limitations. It seems that anyone who doesn’t “fit in” doesn’t belong in the debate. Am I missing something?

    But in fact Sh

  48. Steve Brizel says:

    I saw R D Berger’s always cogent comments here and I could not resist to paraphrase another of Dr Berger’s comments-Those who condemn R Y Greenberg as beyond the pale should have the intellectual honesty to have the same views with respect to Chabad-and vice versa.

  49. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein: Some of the innovations – no matter how strongly and absolutely they are couched – are aimed at particular communities within Israel. The rhetoric follows an old rabbinic style that is unnerving to us Westerners, and employs much hyperbole.

    Ori: Why employ such hyperbole? Doesn’t it just make people discount rabbinic opinions, making it harder for those Rabbis to express themselves when things are really serious? Isn’t there a story about the little Kol Koreh who cried wolf? 😉

    Toda, Ori the comfortable beyond the pale resident

  50. mycroft says:

    The ban of Making of a Gadol was signed by Rav Shlomo Wolbe, Reb Yaakov’s nephew, who was a first hand observer of the characters discussed

    Rav Noson KAMENETSKY the authOR IS RAV YAAKOV’S SON. R. Noson is also the son-in-law of Rav David Lifshitz-the YU Rosh Yeshiva and head of Esras Torah for a while. Of course, that also gives him the yichus of bieng the brother-in-law of great Ortho sociologist Prof. Waxman.

  51. bb says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    There is a sustained rejection of the kind of Yiddishkeit presided over by R Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l. It is perceived by some as haredi-lite, and therefore detested. I don’t believe that they will succeed in wiping it out, Esther. There are now tens of thousands in the US who are too secure in what they received from their rabbeim.

    I think the MO was saying the same thing 30 years ago. The along came a large number of teachers and rebbeim in the MO schools who were trained in RW yeshivos, and the MO started complaining about what was happening to their schools/children. The talmidim of R’ Yaakov are sending their children/grandchildren to yeshivos that are staffed by talmidim of the less tolerant of a R’ Yaakov’s views (many yeshivos and rabbonim could be mentioned). I would imagine we will be in the same boat as the MO in 10 years time.

  52. Michoel says:

    Zev T. said:

    “MANY of their greatest figures say things that are completely outside the collective historical experience of Klal Yisrael – e.g., that Maase Bereishis must only be understood entirely literally and nobody ever said differently”

    I would greatly appreciate some substantiation of this claim. I am not aware of even one gadol who has said such a thing and certainly not “MANY”.

  53. Ori says:

    Is the right wing producing more educators, and if so why? Is it because it is easier for MO graduates to work in a non Jewish environment than for right wingers?

  54. mycroft says:

    Is the right wing producing more educators, and if so why? Is it because it is easier for MO graduates to work in a non Jewish environment than for right wingers?
    certainly to some extent RW’s have less professional opportunities thanm MO grads and thus the profit maximizing solution to many RW’s is to go to chinuk, BTW how many jobs wo a college education will pay as much as chinuch and at least per hour pay as much as chinuch.

    Comment by Ori

    The talmidim of R’ Yaakov are sending their children/grandchildren to yeshivos that are staffed by talmidim of the less tolerant of a R’ Yaakov’s

    don’t forget R Yaakov was also a Rav of a schul for years-thye tend to be more tolerant than pure RYs-see eg disagreement between RAK and R E Silver and RYK.

  55. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Joe wrote: The problem many of us face is illustrated in these passages – those gedolim and talmidei chachamim who are reasonable/centrist/american-style/etc. who don’t agree with the meah shearim/bnei brak version of Orthodoxy do not come out and defend their views against the attacks.

    We’ve been there before. There are many reasons for this. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether these reasons are satisfactory, but it ain’t gonna change anytime soon. This is an imperfect world, עד ביאת הגואל . We might as well get used to it, and work with what we have. We will all have a more satisfying ride if we stop complaining about what we cannot change, and take advantage of what we do have. To use your word – you are looking for “reasonableness.” It hasn’t disappeared. You may have to look for it a bit harder, but HKBH will not let you down. Further details next time you come over for Shabbos.

    Ori wrote: Why employ such hyperbole? Doesn’t it just make people discount rabbinic opinions, making it harder for those Rabbis to express themselves when things are really serious? Isn’t there a story about the little Kol Koreh who cried wolf?

    Why? Because it is devastatingly effective. I don’t like it; my talmidim don’t like it; lots of people don’t like it. But you can’t ignore the fact that the system works quite well for a very large group in Israel, and increasingly in certain redoubts in the US. Speaking in absolutes, and in harsh language, does the job for a vast community that looks for absolutes, and cherishes authority rather than chafes at it. If you will point to the problems this creates for some people, to all those who are driven away by such a system, you will hear two responses. First – it is more important to deal with the needs of the core group of loyalists than to pander to the marginals. Second – can you point to a system or protocol any other community actually uses that produces better results?

    Garnel wrote – The problem for Rav Adlerstein, it seems, isn’t the idea of having a discussion, but rather who should be allowed to participate. It’s one thing to have a colleague of his quote problematic teshuvos, quite another for someone from the world of scholarship to do that. It doesn’t sit quite right.

    I therefore wonder about the limits of intellectual debate within such limitations. It seems that anyone who doesn’t “fit in” doesn’t belong in the debate. Am I missing something?

    Missing something? I certainly hope so. I said nothing of the kind. “Accept truth from whomever says it” is a motto cherished by lots of us. There are no preconditions. I engage in friendly correspondence with several of the names cited frequently by commentors: Dr Shapiro, Dr Kaplan, Dr Kellner. I disagree often; I learn much from them. I have no problem admitting that they run rings around me in knowledge of sources. Occasionally, I score a point nonetheless. I agree with several commentors that Dr. Shapiro landed a good number of blows in his letter; I look forward to seeing Rabbi Leff’s response. (I also believe that Rabbi Blau got in a few jabs in his Torah U-Mada article, and many still await Dr Shapiro’s response to them.) I don’t see why my post should be seen as ignoring or denying the validity of Dr Shapiro’s points. It concerned itself, as I have said umpteen times, with one point alone, which I thought was important enough (if not central) to preserve and support. (Had Rabbi Leff come across as the clear hands-down victor in the exchange so far, there would have been no need for me to write, would there?) That point was the notion that certain notions are beyond the pale, even if they are not heretical. The only points that I argued were to be treated this way are those outside the collective experience of not only the greater part of Klal Yisrael, but nearly the entire community, within a generation and for previous generation. All the hysteria about who calls the shots, and who defines people as beyond the pale dealt with an issue I didn’t discuss (and about which my sympathies are with the commentors, not against!) – smaller communities who try to argue that their definitions are the only acceptable ones, and all those who do not accept them are beneath contempt. This has nothing to do with my argument.

    Are there discussions that are closed to certain people? Sure. Geologists do not debate members of the Flat Earth Society; real physicians don’t have very much to speak about with reflex kinesiologists or whatever. Those are extremes. But to a lesser extent, the analogy has some validity in some halachic discussion. Those who lack fundamental skills and background cannot really take part in the discussion. And some very eminent talmidei chachamim could not hope to take part in a discussion of the finer points of Ohr Hashem.

    JO wrote – I know of no quote attributed to the Amercan gedolim that implies they took issue with the approach or philosopies of the Israeli gedolim.

    After writing several responses and staying civil, I am about to lose it. Is this supposed to be funny? You mean you believe that American talmidei chachamim would have answered the key question at last year’s Torah Umesorah convention like R Aharon Leib Steinman shlit”a answered? They would have said that day school teachers should not play ball during recess with their students? You think there is no difference of opinion between Bnei Brak and parts of the US about whether kiruv workers can give a shiur on a one time basis in a non-Orthodox synagogue? (How else did a particular Rosh Yeshiva start a campaign a scant few years ago against R. Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit”a, if not by asking the question in Israel, getting a negative answer, cutting out the last paragraph where the gadol wrote that rabbanim in the US should nonetheless defer to local opinions if available, and then gather more signatures on the basis of that one gadol?) Do you believe that R Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a would answer a question from a recent baalas teshuva in medical school the same way R Yaakov zt”l did? (She met a guy, realized that he would have to do much learning to catch up, necessitating her dropping out of medical school if they continued the relationship. R Yaakov questioned her reasons for wanting to become a physician, and in the end told her that chesed was a chiyuv d’orayso for her; getting married was not! She dropped the guy, not school. Years later, they happened to meet again, after she finished school, and he had gone off to Israel to learn. They married!)

    The suggestion is risible. The contention that thousands of people in the gap that now exists between the centrist and haredi communities get their ideas from projecting what R Yaakov would have said were he alive is narrow and silly. They don’t have to do that. They have living gedolim to go to. The people I hear the most playing the silly game of living their lives according to what someone would say if he were here are the group always telling us what Rav Aharon zt”l would have said.

  56. Meir Shinnar says:

    Two issues:
    One of the assumptions in rav adlerstein’s position is, to cite

    The specific question raised concerned the criticism of innovations on the left relative to what seem like equally foreign innovations on the right. My response, in part, is that innovators on the left are sitting ducks for criticism, since there are very few talmidei chachamim in their ranks. We were not talking about parshanut or academic papers about history, but about changes that have to stand up to the scrutiny of halachic discourse. I was offering not a description of what a talmid chacham should be, but how the layman can recognize someone who can and cannot even hope to voice an opinion in a serious halachic debate.

    The real question and debate, however, is whether analysis of the ikkarim, hashkafa and related issues is a “serious halachic debate” in the same sense as whether a given eruv is kasher. Clearly the rambam thought otherwise – his famous parable of the palace, and placing most rabbinic scholars as outside the palace. The fundamental difference is over the appropriate assumptions and methodology for hashkafa and theology – and being a talmid chacham (even of the highest caliber), baki in shas and poskim and by any other criteria, is no proof of any expertise at all in the areas of machshava – and someone may be expert in hashkafa without being baki in shas… Even without this more radical formulation, there is a general understanding within halacha itself that there are different areas of expertise – and a talmid chacham who is expert in gittin is not necessarily an expert in eruvin – and therefore, halachic expertise does not translate into expertise in hashkafa.

    The second issue is defining communal norms.
    Now, R Adlerstein would wish to reformulate R Leff’s critique that this is not a declaration of heresy, but of being outside communal norms. Whether this is indeed R Leff’s position I will leave to him to declare.
    Restricting the debate to communal norms rather than heresy is far more palatable, as there has been a traditional reluctance to label major sources as heresy – and also has backing in the radbaz’s tshuva limiting heresy to more willful rebellion rather than intellectual error, but allowing the community to exert control over its norms.

    However, as this in reference to Marc Schapiro’s works, what marc Schapiro has done is to demonstrate, through extensive documentation, that a significant part of the community recognized as Orthodox – not just the ibn ezra, but even far more recent figures, have espoused postions that are at variance with the 13 ikkarim. If the issue is communal norms rather than arguing the halachic and hashkafic basis for these sources – he has shown that the communal norms are actually very broad -unless one has redefined the community to be very narrow – with all those sources now not being part of the community.

    Now, it is one thing for the Satmar community not to hire a graduate of Merkaz harav, or for Brisk not to hire a hasid – however, that is quite a different issue than arguing that these positions are outside the norm of the Orthodox community considered more globally – even if they are not ours.

    Furthermore, if historical communal norms are the criteria, a community that can argue that the rambam, rav hai gaon, rav hirsch, the tiferet yisrael, etc are outside of its communal norms (as in the age of the universe debate) may be reasonably argued to have placed itself outside the traditional norms of the Jewish community…..

    Meir Shinnar

  57. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    “The contention … centrist and haredi communities get their ideas from projecting what R Yaakov would have said … They don’t have to do that. They have living gedolim to go to.”

    I’m not quite sure if this paragraph is a response to my post. Rabbi Adlerstein wrote (or implied) above that those claiming the middle ground are basing themselves on Reb Yaakov. If I am understanding correctly, R. Adlerstein is now saying that we don’t need to project R. Yaakov view because we can ask current g’dolim who are standing in R. Yaakov overall approach.

    I agree but just want to re-stress the importance of us not slipping into black and white thinking while criticizing others of that. There are Talmidei Reb Yaakov that would agree with everything Rav Elyashiv says and there those that would disagree. There are many, many Talmidei Rav Shach, living in the US, that have a tremendous subltety in their approach to issues and different human needs, and they attribute this to their Rebbi zt”l.

    One can appose bans and still believe that particular books are k’fira. One can accept certain modern science and believe (along with Professors Spetner and Levi) that the theory of evolution is silly.

    This past Shabbos, I saw in a sefer called Bris Krusah L’sfasayim, written to argue the necessity of metzitzah b’peh. He quotes a Kol Koreh from 100 years ago, from Rav Shmuel Salant and others. Its language makes some current Kol Korehs sound warm and cuddly. Strong, over-the-top-sounding language is not a modern Israeli inovation. Soft subtle langauge (which I would like to see more of) is the more of an innovation.

  58. Eric says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is the Rabbi here. I am uneasy with anyone publically challenging him. It is one thing to ask a Rav a question in private or to debate with him if he allows it in private. But for us to speak as if we are somehow on a similar level or as if we have the right to talk back to a Rav, especially in public, doesn’t sit well with me. I am a very uneducated person. But I have just read through some of the Mishne Torah that talks about the importance of maintaining serious, major league respect for gedolim and for rabbis in general. Everyone, please recheck yourselves to make sure you are showing the proper respect and deference to Rabbi Adlerstein. Please be careful how you phrase things. I think the only people that should consider openly debating him are fellow rabbis.

  59. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Rabbi Alderstein: You write: “I agree with several commentors that Dr. Shapiro landed a good number of blows in his letter; I look forward to seeing Rabbi Leff’s response. (I also believe that Rabbi Blau got in a few jabs in his Torah U-Mada article, and many still await Dr Shapiro’s response to them.)”

    That is hardly balanced. Rabbi Leff’s got his response on the seforim blog, soon after his review appeared. His rebuttal is eagerly awaited as you indicate; it is tellingly late already. Rabbi Blau’s jabs at Shapiro were hardly consequential, certainly not the things that require/necessitate rebuttals. What R. Blau asked for (3 years ago) is Shapiro’s theology that might stand in place of what Shapiro showed was not universally established Jewish theology. Last i checked, Shapiro is a historian, not a theologian. I have had many an occasion to comment, that all too often, what constitues a (barely) passable Drash, is labeled theology. I would hope that Dr. Shapiro’s response comes if and when he has developed a comprehensive theological position, something that rarely happens, except by yechidai segulah, in one’s thirties.

    I for one take seriously Chazal’s admonition that not all things ought be discussed in public; serious theology is certainly in that category.

  60. mycroft says:

    I guess Amazon must follow Cross-Currents-I received an e-mail with the following subject today:

    “Amazon.com recommends “Must a Jew Believe Anything? Second Edition with a New Afterword” and more”

  61. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “…We might as well get used to it, and work with what we have. We will all have a more satisfying ride if we stop complaining about what we cannot change, and take advantage of what we do have.”

    As the serenity prayer goes, “G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”. I’ve been thinking for some time of the relevance of Kubler-Ross model (R. Yaakov Horowitz, for example, recently applied the Kubler Ross concept in “Wallmart is Coming” to the internet, so one can apply it here as well). Instead of denying reality and grieving for what “was”(or for what one thinks is no more, but may actually “still be”, to an extent), people should move into the “acceptance” phase and accept certain realities for what they are–no more and no less. As in the Kubler Ross, I think that acceptance may come and go in cycles.

    “I don’t like it; my talmidim don’t like it; lots of people don’t like it…. Speaking in absolutes, and in harsh language, does the job for a vast community that looks for absolutes, and cherishes authority rather than chafes at it.”

    This can create problems for someone who doesn’t like absolutes, but interacts with people who do. My own solution is to try to express myself with caution if I think that I’m speaking to someone who might object to any “chiddushim”(novel concepts), and then when among more like-minded individuals, being more open. I don’t think that this is the most serious problem facing the klal or the individual(it’s certainly not for me), but it can be an issue.

  62. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-WADR, it is easy poke holes in and ask questions about the Ikarim. In all seriousness, I think that it is disconcerting to do so and not offer one’s own theological construct, while one hides behind one’s professional training as a historian, despite the fact that one’s POV re the kind of Orthodoxy that one wants is in print and available online.

  63. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve Brizel, I respectfully disagree. Perhaps you know Dr. Shapiro; I do not and give him the benefit of the doubt (by my labeling him a historian and not a theologian – which the one lecture of his I heard tended to confirm) that he is not obfuscating but perhaps not ready to publicize a position. Frankly, greater men than Dr. Shapiro left this earth with only questions but no answers. The assumption that everyone should have a comprehensive theology is just that – an assumption. Besides, what Brecht wrote of Galileo, is certainly applicable to religious theology in our time – hide the truth carefully beneath your coat. Our Rabbis suggested teaching it only in small groups to those capable of understanding. His book made a strong and necessary statement that many questions can be considered legitimately; I do not assume he was just poking holes or required to provide alternatives.

    I apologize if I am overstepping, but lack of a theological position and still searching, does not make one an Orthoprax (I hope,) if that might be what you are implying. When pressed against the wall, I would perhaps deflect with R. Albo’s three, but I see little value in engaging / blogging publically on this topic.

  64. L Oberstein says:

    JO wrote – I know of no quote attributed to the Amercan gedolim that implies they took issue with the approach or philosopies of the Israeli gedolim.
    Kudos to Rabbi Adlerstein for refuting this statment forcefully. In reality, people whose mind is not open to different ideas will not pay attention to facts. Call it cognitive dissononce or willfull ignorance but it affects the right and the left wings of orthodoxy.
    I am happy that our arguments are of this nature.
    Outside of orthodoxy, all I see is ruin and this makes me very sad, not triumphalist. Gays and Lesbians seem to set the agenda, as if that will keep the Jewish People alive. Arnie Eisen, the new Chancellor of JTS doesn’t care about hashkafa – ideology, he just wants to find anything that will stop the decline in membership of younger Jews who just don’t affiliate.
    UTJ sounds good on paper but how many people subscribe to it? There are more Satmar Chassidim of either one of the two groups of Satmar Chassidim than there are observant Conservative Jews in the world.Who would have believed that 50 years ago?
    Whilte we have fun deciding what is inside the Pale and what is outside the Pale, most Jews have long left our spiritual Pale of Settlement and are assimilated almost beyond reach. I use almost because there is still time, but not unlimited time to find the right ways to revitalize Judaism.We need leaders like S R Hirsch who didn’t care what the Eastern Europeans thought of his methods and was innovative and dared to re-create othodoxy.

  65. Dovid Kornreich says:

    The bottom line is that Dr. Shapiro’s books have exposed a rift between the academicly inclined Orthodox and the Rabbinic vangaurds of tradition. (In a similar way that the Slifkin affair has.)
    It must be very hard for someone like Dr. Shapiro, who has such a broad command of the history of Jewish thought, to not feel qualified to present his honest research to the public and try to change the way people think about Jewish theology.
    The rabbinic vangaurd simply do not give the final word to superior reseach. As Rabbi Adlerstein points out constantly, neither Jewish theology nor halacha is determined by lists of names and #s of primary sources.
    The question is why and it’s hard to articulate a good answer to a sincere Orthodox Jewish academic whose whole career trains him to give better research the final word.

  66. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-WADR, I think that your answer begs the issue. IMO, one cannot analyze whether the Ikarim or even the Sefer HaIkarim are binding either from a halachic or halachic POV or even from a perspective of Minhag Yisrael Torah without delving into issues of both theology and history. I think that R Blau’s critique is hardly inconsequential, especially as it related to how a historian discovers, vets, utilizes and presents sources and even more so, when the historiographical approach of the writer is very evident in his other writings which utilize a historical approach but which set forth a yearning for the not so good old days of the 1950s. IMO, offering a historically based critique of those who believe in the Ikarim without offering a substitute rooted in both theology and history is akin to whetting one’s appetite but failing to serve the main course.

  67. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-one more query-I see that R D D Berger has posted on this thread. Would you apply your rule of thumb re discussions of Chabad messianism and its very problematic nature? If so, why?

  68. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve – in a word – YES. as I wrote above: “And finally R. Alderstein writes and I strongly agree: “There are going to be far fewer things (and people) placed beyond the margins when the touchstone is near unanimity.” Now define 2 things: 1) who votes – I say all who self-label as orthodox, and 2) near unanimity – i say at least the definition of the MY with the sampling method used by the OU for bugs.”

    Has Chabad or Shapiro or the Gush Ram reached that level – except for a (small) percentage of extremists in Chabad, my guess is not. However, that does not mean one cannot criticize their viewpoints or in the extreme, attempt to isolate them certainly within one’s community. You do not have to be a felon to be strongly criticized. Even putting books is cherem is certainly within one’s privilege; considering one a kofer or “outside the pale” should have the standard proposed above.

  69. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-All that I can and will say in response to your last post is that I strongly suggest that you and others of a similar POV read R D Berger’s book on the subject.

  70. Steve Brizel says:

    For interested readers, there is a wonderful sefer called Sichos HaSofer based on ShuT CS on the CS’s views on a wide range of subjects. In one of his teshuvos YD: 355 ,the CS was asked whether there was any halachic differences between accepting the Rambam’s Ikarim or R Y Albo’s formulation of the Ikarim. The CS wrote that he was unaware of any halachic differences and that according to the mkubalim, there were no ikarim because every “kutz” of the Torah was an ikar.

  71. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve, I read the book and largely agree. IMHO, choosing to employ a mashgiach or a witness at a religious ceremony has a different standard than calling someone “outside the pale.” You do not have be a Kofer for me not to trust or respect you. I would not be annoyed if I did not get a bracha at a charedi cousin’s wedding; even the treatment of the late R. Jacobs at his grandchild’s aufruf is “inside the pale,” bad judgement but inside the pale. Chabad gets off much lighter. I explained many posts ago why chabad is treated differently; they should not be. I am more nervous about where chabad is heading, and has for some subset already gone, to real Kefirah, particularly given our history. For those, already in that camp, I might be even more radical than RDB; but i don’t even like Italian sparkling wines.

    Responding to/explaining the CS would take us far afield, but al regel achas, it is not normally assumed that what is said only by mekubalim is normative.

  1. January 5, 2008

    […] the aforementioned belief, as well as a continuation of the “Outside the Pale” discussion, will not be accepted in this […]

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