Richuk Karovim II

My posting on the Slifkin matter has generated thoughtful comments that raise significant questions. I would like to elaborate on what I wrote previously and also indicate that a somewhat extended discussion of my views on book banning was included in the January 2003 issue of the RJJ Newsletter. It is available on my website established by wonderful son – With respect to the current matter:

1. Orthodox Jews are obligated to be obedient to Torah authority. This obligation obviously pertains to situations where there is disagreement with what Torah authorities are mandating. As a guide, we have the poignant incident involving Rabban Gamliel and Rebi Yehoshua that is recounted in Rosh Hashanah, Mishnah 2:9. If I were instructed by Torah authorities � specifically persons who have condemned Slifkin�s writings � to withdraw what I have written on the subject, I would do so without hesitation. I would obey because obedience is an essential condition of our religious commitment.

2. Obedience does not necessarily negate our ability to express an opinion. I believe that we have a significant zone of freedom, a belief that should be evident from what I have written over a great number of years. Our thought processes are not reduced to sycophantic expressions. Our status as Orthodox Jews does not carry with it an obliteration of thought. There are limits, of course, one obvious one being that we are not free to challenge halacha. Another limit is the obedience referred to in point 1.

3. Even when obedience is required, there may be occasions when it is acceptable to maintain one�s previous position, the proviso being that whether in word or deed, maintenance of a previous position does not beget action that is contrary to the obligation of obedience. There is, in other words, a certain latency to some views that are being abandoned. I know of no formula that can guide us in these matters. It may be useful to reflect on the follow-up to the Rabban Gamliel and Rebi Yehoshua story that is presented in Berachos 27b.

4. I am not competent to judge Rabbi Slifkin�s writings, nor do I have a problem with sharp criticism of his work. As I wrote in the RJJ Newsletter, I take exception to the mindset that generates bans against a Torah-observant Jew whose aim was, as I understand it, to demonstrate the compatibility of Torah and science. If it is necessary to criticize him, it should be sufficient to say that he is to-eh (mistaken) and that what he has written is inappropriate. This view does not contradict what I wrote about the obligation to be obedient. I also should mention, as one commentator did, that we should be concerned about the impact of a ban on Rabbi Slifkin and his family.

5. I will not detail here the various difficulties I have with the process used here and elsewhere to issue bans. I will simply question whether the process was sufficient and appropriate.

6. Those who are ready to issue bans, especially when the language of the work that is being banned is not familiar to them, should be mindful of what has been said regarding Rav Yitzchak Elchanon�s reaction to Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch�s Commentary. His view was that the work was perhaps not appropriate for Vilna, but it was necessary and appropriate for German Jews. If this Commentary were written today, I wonder whether it would pass muster. As one critical example, there is his interpretation of Bereshis 25:27.

7. Perhaps we should not be concerned that bans make the already difficult enterprise of kiruv even more difficult. I have strong doubts about this. Can we ignore the impact that bans have on some Orthodox? We are losing people at an alarming rate and while modernity and an open society are certainly the primary factors, it is also certain that bans do damage on this front.

8. Several comments concern the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, presumably because of the close relationship that I had with him. I do not know how he would have reacted to Rabbi Slifkin�s writings, although there is a strong prospect that he would have regarded them as heresy. Bans, however, are another matter. This is what I wrote in the RJJ Newsletter referred to at the start of this posting:

�The foremost of these Torah giants was the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood. In the twenty years of his fervent and fevered activity on behalf of the Torah world, he essentially was responsible for just one major prohibitory ruling, it being against Orthodox membership in rabbinical bodies with non-Orthodox Jews. This ruling came more than fifteen years after he arrived on these shores. In that great period of the development of American Orthodox Jewry, the Gedolei Torah were constantly occupied with major issues. They did not shirk their obligation to lead and they did not lead by prohibiting that which perhaps should have been criticized and not prohibited.�

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12 Responses

  1. dilbert says:

    You seem to contradict yourself. In the first paragraph, you write, “If I were instructed…to withdraw what I have written…..I would do so.” In the second paragraph you write “Obedience does not necessarily negate our ability to express an opinion”, but there are limits on the ability to express an opinion, and “Another limit is the obedience referred to in point 1.”

    In summary, you have no ability to express an opinion if a gadol asks you not to. And if a gadol told you to follow him on each and every pesak that they issued, would you listen? If you did, your thought process would be ” reduced to sycophantic expressions.” Therefore, there is at least a potential for being reduced to sycophantic expressions, at the will/wish of the gadol. This does not sound like a a “significant zone of freedom.” Your zone of freedom then is not absolute, it exists at the discretion of the gedolim. Do you really mean or want that? Is that what our HKB’H really wants from us? The Rav of the old city says that it is an abdication of our G-d given responsibility to put all decision making in the hands of others.(Thoughts for the Month of Elul)

  2. JC says:

    Dear R’Schick,

    I agree with you that “obedience [to the gedolim] is an essential condition of our religious commitment,” and therefor have decided to obey the ban (notwithstanding how my interest has been piqued in something I was previously only vaguely aware of!) I never seriously considered doing otherwise. But doesn’t this all beg the question, viz.: Is there a point at which kovod haTorah is better served by not obeying because they have lost their capacity to lead? Is there some test we can apply, short of the M’Naughten Rule, where we conclude they can no longer properly distinguish between right and wrong? Or do we say that emunas hachamim mandates that that can never be the case. No matter how inexplicable, outrageous, etc. their behavior appears to us, no matter how close we seem to a Caine Mutiny situation, we have to obey because our survival as a Torah-driven society depends on it?

  3. Leonard Oppenheimer says:

    First I wish to say how delighted I am to have found this place to share intelligent and respectful thought and opinion about important Torah matters; I have learned much from reading the comments of all of you.

    Regarding Dr. Schick�s thoughtful words, I wish to say the following:

    1. The obligation of obedience to Da�as Torah, based on the mitzvah of Lo Sosur (Do not deviate from the instructions of the Sages) is a slippery issue, as many have commented. Which opinions � every opinion, or only Piskei Halacha; does it apply also to matters of hashkafa; what if there are conflicts between Sages � these are all difficult matters to settle.

    The guidance that I received from Rabbi Nachman Bulman zt�l is that an opinion only rises to the level of �Da�as Torah� when it is a consensus public statement by the overwhelming majority of great Sages of any time. Anything short of that is an opinion that commands great respect and reverence, but it is not necessarily one that commands �obedience� if there are halachically well grounded dissenting views.

    In this case, clearly there are many great luminaries who have signed this ban (much to my shock and chagrin, I must admit). However, as some have commented, there are quite a few who have NOT signed this ban, including virtually all the original maskimim to the books. I do not know for sure what Rav Bulman would have said about this, but I am guessing that there is sufficient dissent (or at least non-joining) to question whether we have a situation that commands us to obey.

    (This is besides the fact that I can attest that in many personal conversations with Rav Bulman, he expressed views that were very much in agreement with the basic approach that Rabbi Slifkin takes in his books).

    2. Another point that I wish to make is to agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Schick�s analogy of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon�s comments viz Rav Hirsch�s work, to the effect that �the work was perhaps not appropriate for Vilna, but it was necessary and appropriate for German Jews. �

    It seems very clear to me that a fundamental problem with this ban is that, IMHO, in fact NOTHING will be gained by this ban. Those who fully agree with the ban are unlikely to have read the books, and those that read the books are unlikely to honor the ban. All that is gained for sure is a great controversy, and unfortunately, the great possibility of Chillul Hashem when the Torah world is seen as a fundamentalist sect that is unwilling to acknowledge what the rest of the world accepts as scientific fact, and refuses to consider that there are some questions about what our Sages have said that need to be dealt with in a way that reconciles them with what we know from other disciplines. It is therefore unclear to me why the message could not have been limited to discouraging these books in Bnei Brak, Lakewood, et al, without all of the accusations of heresy, etc.

    May we all be zocheh to see the truth come out in a way LeHagdil Torah U�Leha�Adira.

    Leonard Oppenheimer

  4. H. Grossman says:

    The letter of Rav Moshe Shapira objecting to the book of Nosson Slifkin can be accessed here:

  5. Blocked says:


    1. Orthodox Jews are obligated to be obedient to Torah authority. This obligation obviously pertains to situations where there is disagreement with what Torah authorities are mandating. As a guide, we have the poignant incident involving Rabban Gamliel and Rebi Yehoshua that is recounted in Rosh Hashanah, Mishnah 2:9.

    End quote:

    With all due respect to your analogy in the mishna in Rosh Hashana there was initially a well tempered halachical argument between Rabban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua. Rabban Gamliel forced Rebbi Yehoshua to accept his ruling in order not to cast into doubt halachical rulings of the beis din.

    There is however no source in shas or poskim to pour a kettle of boiling water over someone’s head because you think that he’s in the wrong without entering into any communication whatsoever with that person before taking offensive action.

  6. Leapa says:

    Dr. Schick, your comments are well thought out, and show an admirable ‘bitul’. I am concerned that the amount of prohibiting going on today is undermining Daas Torah, because it has already led to people (including Chareidim) simply ignoring the prohibitions.
    On the other side, those following all prohibitions are essentially prevented from earning a normal living, obtaining basic knowledge, and leading a normal life in our generation.
    I am also concerned about a widening gap between ‘klei kodesh’ and the rest of us, and a side effect that instead of baalei batim respecting ‘klei kodesh’ they merely view them with condescension because the ‘klei kodesh’ are in a process of increasingly living in their own world due to their increasing separation, fostered by numerous prohibitions.
    I don’t believe this was the case in the past.

  7. dilbert says:

    I apologize for not having the complete accurate quote in my first comment. Here is the entire quote from R. Nebenzahl’s book. He addresses the conception that observant pilots drop out of fighter pilot training because they are trained from childhood to follow orders, and a pilot must improvise.

    ” .. there is no doubt that this situation is forbidden. We must not nullify our independent intellectual capabilities even when seeking the direction of others, great as they may be. We must always bear in mind that it is our own intellectual capacity which guides us to seek out these great men, and to believe in the Geatest Guide of All, HaShem. Man may think that he fulfills his obligation in this world by adhering to the specific advice of our Sages to “Accept a teacher upon yourself”(pirkei Avot). In reality, however, if one considers this a permanent state of affairs, to a certain extent he is not fully discharging his obligation to submit to the yoke of Heaven; for we are obliged to accept only God, and no other , as the Supreme Being. We must realize that it is only because we have not yet reached perfection that we seek the aid of the more advanced knowledge of our Sages.
    It is forbidden to accept such a perverse situation as permanent. On the contrary, we must strive to minimize our dependence on others by becoming great scholars ourselves, so that we will be able to rule on halachic issues through our own wisdom. …..we must also recognize that our ultimate aspiration is independent thought.”

    R. Nebenzahl is the chief Rabbi of the old city of Yerushalayim and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat ha Kotel.

  8. Joe Schick says:

    The reference to Bereishis 28:27 is a typo, and is in fact 25:27.

  9. Blocked says:

    The Alter of Slabodka has the same philosophy as Rabbi Nebenzahl

  10. espaklarya says:

    “As one critical example, there is his interpretation of Bereshis 25:27.”

    The problem with R Hirsch’s comment there is that there really is no textual basis for it…

  11. Michoel says:

    Can someone please just paraphrase Rav Hirsch’s words? Thanks

  12. Barzilai says:

    Rav Hirsch says that while the message and goal of a Torah life is relatively simple, the way it is transmitted has infinite variations. The method of teaching for a child with a scholarly bent, if used for a �vildeh chayeh�, is a recipe for disaster. The Torah is criticizing how Yitzchok and Rivka raised their children. They didn�t analyze their personalities carefully enough to discern what method of teaching would be best for each, and so Eisov learned just enough to enable him to duplicitously exploit a facade of righteousness, while Yakov became a tzadik.

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