The Apostasy of the Monsey Fish

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26 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Something about fish stories is fishy.

  2. Mo says:

    I suggest you ask the Hassidic leader of New Square, whose visit to LA you recently were so effusive about here, about the fish story, which allegedly occured in his enclave. I doubt if it was a coincidence that such a thing allegedly happened there, as opposed to somewhere else, like Teaneck, the upper west side, or even Los Angeles.

  3. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    Man forever seeks the infinite, if not through bringing the miraculous into his gefilta fish, than by trashing those stories as lacking Truth. The cycnic, however, just wants to prove the masses wrong to show his intellectual supremecy.

  4. S. says:

    >I took heat from colleagues in town for being dismissive about the famous dybbuk

    With respect, isn’t there a problem in the house, so to speak, if one takes heat for not believing supernatural claims, without any regard to normal rules of evidence, that are currently making rounds?

  5. HILLEL says:

    I don’t like apostatasy–even of the fishy variety. In this age of cynical atheism, the need of the hour is to stress simple belief and recognition of G-D’s governance in our lives.

  6. joel rich says:

    Welcome to the middle ground where you can take shots from all sides. Perhaps it’s the result of being modern (sorry to say even the charedi community has moderns in it – once you study statistics it becomes much harder to confuse anecdotal stories with proof and causation for correlation and vica versa) but if you reject all wonder stories you’re krum and if you believe all your a fool (I stole this from the Rambam). The big question is which story falls where?

  7. Ken Applebaum says:

    In relation to Rabbi Adlerstein’s post and on the occasion of Lag Ba’omer that will commence tonight, I am more than a bit skeptical about the authenticity of the Zohar. Most academic scholars are of the view (based on anachronisms in the text, style of Aramaic used, etc.) that the Zohar was written by a Spanish rishon named Reb Moshe De Leon, who, with all due respect, passed it off as the work of Reb Shimon bar Yochai. It’s hard for me to understand how almost all the Gedolim (the Vilna Gaon, Reb Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ohr HaChaim, etc.) accepted it as being the work of the school of Reb Shimon without noticing the linguistic problems pointed out by the academics. Can anyone recommend a scholarly book dealing with this issue or any other reference? Many thanks.

  8. YM says:

    The reason why the talking fish happened in New Square is simple. Hashem doesn’t make supernatural miracles anymore; everything has to occur through natural means. In New Square, natural means include talking fish; in Teaneck and the Upper West Side, fish don’t talk.

  9. Observer says:

    See Kadmut Sefer Hazohar

  10. EV says:

    Hey, Mo, up in #2–said Hasidic leader was asked about said fish . . . in my presence . . . and he denied even knowing what we were talking about!

  11. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The “Islamic fish” story neither confirms nor denies the “Jewish fish” story. Similarly there are miracle stories of healings by wonder rebbes and also, l’havdil, by charismatic evangelical preachers in the name of JC and witch doctors in the name of whatever voodoo idol. The logical possibilities abound. Maybe, as R. Yitzchok claims, none are true. Maybe some are true and not others. Or, maybe they are all or mostly to some extent true. The possible rationales for the last possibility include: that the degree of faith of people overcomes their bad theology and makes something really happen; the koach ha-tumah (power of impurity) gives people the possibility to stumble as they are inclined; or that Hashem wants people to return to Him through whatever imperfect vessels they have on hand. It is clear that all the belief systems in the world are looking for redemption now. It will happen. It is just a matter of time. It is a good question when people will stop killing each other over it.

  12. Toby Katz says:

    The reason I never believed the Monsey talking fish story — and don’t believe the Koran fish story either — is that such a thing must be piscine to be believed.

  13. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Re Ken’s comment regarding the Zohar: it is reasonable to assume that R’ Shimon ben Gamliel’s teachings had been transmitted orally until the time of de Leon, which resulted in linguistic errors and anachronisms.

    Examples of this problem are the Tosefta and the Masechtos Ketanos, which are just minefields of problems. Even Gemara’s like Arachin and Krisus are full of problems, because before Guttengerg and before the Daf Yomi, it was just not worth it to write them for the very few that studied them, and so errors multiplied.

    Even more than the Oral Law, Kabballah has always eschewed written transmission, and for good reason. Look what happened when the booboisie got their hands on it.

  14. Nachum says:

    You forgot to mention the rooster in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, I think) who was about to have his head chopped off when he started screaming “Mohammed!” The BBC had an audio clip (one of the farmers had a cellphone with a sound camera, welcome to 2006), and I wasn’t convinced, but some Islamic authorities are. The rooster is safe, and mishegas isn’t limited to Jews. Or Muslims.

  15. Gershon says:

    The Brisker Rov may have been a skeptic, but only regarding incidents that didn’t involve his family members. R’ Chaim Brisker once told over a list of 50 so called “chassidshe Ma’asim” that happened to the Beis Halevi and the only reason we know about any of them is that the Brisker Rov took notes on two of them.

  16. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Oy, I wrote “Reb Shimon ben Gamliel,” when I meant Rav Shimon bar Yochai.” And on Lag Bo’omer, no less. We have seen the Booboisie, and they is us.

  17. Erin says:


    I checked the story and the rooster said “allah” not “Mohammed!”

    My rooster also can speak with 2 syllables but to speak with four syllables is completely different thing

  18. Nachum says:

    Right. Well, I’m not too convinced it’s saying “Allah” either.

  19. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Mo wrote –
    “I suggest you ask the Hassidic leader of New Square, whose visit to LA you recently were so effusive about here, about the fish story, which allegedly occured in his enclave. I doubt if it was a coincidence that such a thing allegedly happened there, as opposed to somewhere else, like Teaneck, the upper west side, or even Los Angeles.”

    I also doubt if it is coincidental. There is probably more gullibility in New Square than in more “enlightened” redoubts like Teaneck and the West Side. That could account for the talking fish. (It might be objected that gullibility strikes both kinds of locales equally, with New Square more likely to believe in the paranormal, and the other places more likely to fall for the wiles of certain yitzrei hora usually absent in New Square.)

    But it might also be argued that there is more emunah peshutah – simple faith in G-d – in New Square, which might tend to make the miraculous a more common phenomenon there.

    More importantly, I fail to see what effusive praise for a beautiful tisch on Shabbos has to do with skepticism about a talking fish. Shouldn’t we be able to embrace parts of a community, ideology, etc, without accepting all of it? Conversely, must be reject everything about a group with which we have some differences? The comment strikes me as much more cynical than skeptical.

    Ken Applebaum wrote:
    “Most academic scholars are of the view (based on anachronisms in the text, style of Aramaic used, etc.) that the Zohar was written by a Spanish rishon named Reb Moshe De Leon, who, with all due respect, passed it off as the work of Reb Shimon bar Yochai. ”

    Much ink has been spilled on the matter. I’m sure you can find some good material somewhere. I will only relate my personal conversations on the matter with R Aryeh Kaplan z”l. He told me several times that 1) there is no question that the intellectual content of the Zohar is extremely old, leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether R Shimon bar Yochai actually penned a work that was lost and rediscovered, or is credited for formalizing a discipline whose output was then transmitted orally till medieval times 2) documents he had seen in a university collection (which he believes Gershom Scholem had not seen) provided evidence that the greatest critic of R Moshe de Leon subsequently changed his mind, and accepted the authenticity of the Zohar.

    Yehoshua Friedman wrote:
    “Similarly there are miracle stories of healings by wonder rebbes… Maybe, as R. Yitzchok claims, none are true.”

    G-d forbid that I would claim this! I certainly believe that many are true. There is a tradition, I believe from R Sadyah Gaon, that Hashem works miracles for tzadikim in every generation. I just take a harder look at the claim before I will consider its truth.
    Skepticism is a continuum. Everyone has to set up criteria for “truth” that are somewhat arbitrary, because there is no absolute way of determining truth. The agnostic who claims that he accepts only what is empirically proven shouldn’t delude himself into thinking that he has succeeded in entertaining only absolute truth.

    Don’t get me wrong. Discounting faith, I believe that the scientific method comes closest to eliminating the most variable that could offer alternative understandings of observation. But it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. So much science deals with literally “connecting dots” of observed findings, and trying to find a formula that describes the curve that is generated. We can’t discount the possibility that between the dots, or in the extension of the curve beyond the experimental area, there are bizarre discontinuities. We know that for some physical phenomena there are discontinuities of the curve. We plot the curve and formulate the law based on a confidence that it is far more likely that the function is smooth, rather than discontinuous. That is an act of faith. The religious personality has faith in other realities, like the word of Hashem, or confidence in Chazal, or in the Rishonim. Different people will place their own bar of evidence in different places. The skeptic I am talking about understands that he is being “unscientific,” but is not about to reject his religious faith. He can have that faith, and still set his bar higher than other people within his faith community.

  20. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    Providing a large forum for Rabbi Adlerstein’s profound, and elegant, thoughts would alone have justified the creation of Cross-Currents.

  21. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Fortunately, readers of Hamodia, Hamishpacha, the Jerusalem Post and others did not have to wait for the creation of Cross-Currents to read the genuinely sage and articulate output of Jonathan Rosenblum, whom all the rest of us are poorly trying to imitate.

  22. Shlomo Zalman Jessel says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to label Torah codes unscientific, or too quick to scoff at facilitated communcation. When I was employed as a professional researcher, including at reputable universities and medical schools both in Israel and abroad, I worked on legitimate projects in each of these areas, and it’s not so clear-cut as you would think.

    The problem is that, when claims are by nature sensational, and where there are many people who have a strong hope and bias they will be true, then it is difficult to sort out what’s really going on. A multitude of skeptics also rise up and immediately dismiss the claims, but they too have a bias, because there is a certain sense of smugness (and arrogance) in not being “taken in”. It is rare to find people who have the combination of curiosity, humility and skill to be able to really try to understand what’s going on.

    I will add that Torah-related matters as well, since so often I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to decide between various opinions on a given issue, the mida of humility is the one that I look for the most. I regard it as possibly the most outstanding quality of gedolei Yisrael.

  23. gabby hays says:

    in regard to comment 19 paragraph 6…
    which documents at which library?

  24. Shlomo (New York) says:

    A fishy tale if ever I heard one!

  25. aweinstein says:

    Thank you R’ Adlerstein for a very well put clarification of the place of healthy skepticism in a thinking religious Jew’s life, and of its possible pitfalls. This was a much appreciated post.

  26. Aaron says:

    How about the Ramat Gan parrot? The sentence begs ridicule of the rabbanut, as it already has if one Googles “parrot tongue”

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