Is Heresy Horrible?

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70 Responses

  1. Chaim Zev Finkel says:

    Since when is a חולדה a mole?

    [YA – Since I opted for the modern Israeli translation. Probably the influence of hanging around edgy blogs and people doing academic Talmud, r”l]

  2. YS says:

    Thank you, Rav Alderstein, for another very thoughful piece.

    Ultimately, if I understand you correctly, you acknowledge that the need to draw lines results from a practical need to be able to maintain a cohesive society, in which it’s possible to bring up children who are loyal to the Mesorah etc. But you recognize that this utilitarian goal is at the expense of either pursuing or acting on the ‘truth’ as our intellect perceives it to be, whether that truth is right or wrong.

    As a parent, I’ve had to consciously direct one of my children away from the skepticism his thinking tends to lead him to (although it’s astounding that a sibling of approximately the same age, brought up in the same household, can be oblivious to the very same issues).

    I’ve always wondered whether we don’t need to somehow insitutionalize both making children or adults aware of these issues and providing them with approaches as to how to handle them. On the one hand, based on my experience (especially as someone who grew up pre-Internet), it’s a pretty small minority of the population that dwells on them. Why rock the boat? On the other hand, shouldn’t everyone be aware of them? The fact is, as you somewhat courageously noted, some of the best people in our community, who become our leaders, are blind to them. Needless to say, it’s not a healthy situation when a yeshiva-bochur attempts to discuss these matters with a Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva, only to be rebuffed and to realize that this person of authority has never really given any thought to them.

    “Tolerate the process that led to the error – but insist without flinching that the error be corrected, when called out by the greatest Torah authorities of the day.”

    It’s a little hard to accept this when you’re not intellectually convinced that there is an error to begin with and when you realize, as you noted, that the ‘greatest Torah authorities of the day’ are clueless about the issues.

    “When faced with questions about Torah, our first response has to be loyalty to the Torah that we love.”
    If the questions are truly hard, is it really reasonable for us to demand this emotional (as opposed to rational) approach? If so, are we prepared to absolve believers of other religions who refrain from asking the questions we think they should be asking and, out of loyalty to what they love, persecute others?

    I don’t for one minute think you haven’t given a lot of thought to all of this and I appreciate your approach. A good approach is all one should expect, as opposed to people in the Yeshiva-world who think they have answers to these matters. But ultimately, even the best approaces aren’t satisfying to everyone.

    Kol Tuv

  3. Mike S. says:

    There is a difference between clearly articulating what is heresy and proclaiming who is a heretic. And an even larger distance between that and declaring who has been insufficiently vigorous in denouncing heretics. It is the first of those you address; it is Rabbi Gordimer’s attack on those who he thinks should be more vigorous in denouncing heretics that seems to be drawing the most criticism, rightly in my view. Had he limited himself to pointing out that Rabbi Farber’s views were clearly out of bounds I do not think he would have received so much criticism.

    If we are going to purge the ranks of rabbis who are insufficiently vigilant in exposing their colleagues who cross clear lines, Frank Bruni’s piece on the Op-Ed page of today’s Times is a reminder that we have more urgent business than even heresy. Such a grave Chillul Hashem must take precedence.

    [YA – 1) It is simply unfair to criticize Rabbi Lamm – or anyone else – for failing decades ago to realize what the rest of us have come to know about abuse only after a long process of communal awareness. I’m not sure about precedence, but I completely share your view that rabbis – and laypeople – need to speak out against all sorts of chilul Hashem. Not my observation – the gemara says. 2) Rabbi Gordimer identified what the vast,vast majority of correspondents, coming from the left, right and center of the Orthodox world, consider unmitigated kefirah. That kefirah is not just an academic issue. Anyone whose geirus is presided over by R Farber will see it challenged. Neither you nor I can stop that from happening, or cause it to happen. It will happen. This will be tragic for many people. The reality is that any rabbinic group associated with R Farber who is unwilling to state unequivocally that his view are not Orthodox and that he cannot serve as a Dayan will see their conversions invalidated as well. Rabbinic groups have responsibility to the public even beyond that of individual rabbis. That should not be so difficult to accept.]

  4. Mr. Cohen says:

    Many years ago, I stopped attending a well-known Modern Orthodox synagogue in
    Brooklyn because the Rabbi (who also had a Doctoral degree in Secular Philosophy)
    made a speech in which he heretically claimed that Moshe was afraid to fight Og
    because he had psychological problems [G_d forbid!]

    He made several other statements that seemed like heresy, or close to heresy,
    but that was the one that drove me away from his synagogue.

    Amazingly, I was the only person in the audience who had a problem with that statement!

    Since then, that Rabbi has been promoted to a high and prestigious position in the Jewish world.

  5. Chaim Saiman says:

    I have taken the liberty of running the “replace” function in RYA’s first paragraph switching “heresy” with “biblical scholarship”

    Bible Scholarship to many Orthodox Jews, is what Trayvon Martin is to American black people: something that stirs up fears and concerns that they would rather not think about. The very mention of the word “bible scholarship” unleashes torrents of unwelcome ideas and images. We think of witch-hunts, of confessions under torture, of the burning of Bruno, of the stifling of questions and inquiry. We would like to believe, like our black neighbors would like to think about racism, that biblical scholarship is a concern of a bygone era [19th century] , an historical oddity we have left behind, but not something we need deal with today.

    [YA – I’m with ya, Reb Chaim, at least after one emendation. Here is how I would try your “replace” function:

    Bible Scholarship in the hands of people with insufficient yiras Shomayim, and with inadequate consultation with more seasoned Torah figures, to many Orthodox Jews, is what Trayvon Martin is to American black people: something that stirs up fears and concerns that they would rather not think about. The very mention of the word “bible scholarship,” at least coupled with a sophomoric and dismissive attitude towards mesorah, unleashes torrents of unwelcome ideas and images. We think of witch-hunts, of confessions under torture, of the burning of Bruno, of the stifling of questions and inquiry. We would like to believe, like our black neighbors would like to think about racism, that biblical scholarship is a concern of a bygone era [19th century] , an historical oddity we have left behind, but not something we need deal with today.

    Glad that we agree!]

  6. ben dov says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s article gives me the impression that Orthopraxy is more prevalent in the Orthodox camp than I realized. It is not only kofrim like Zev Farber who are removed from basic emunos v’deos but bystanders who believe Farber’s kefira is not an important issue.

  7. Reb Yid says:

    The protestations of this author and others notwithstanding, the effect of these kinds of threads is that of “sinat chinam”–baseless hatred.

    Biblical criticism and Orthodox Judaism are not mutually exclusive. While some and perhaps even many in the Orthodox world choose to deliberately ignore or vilify the former, that does not change the equation.

    I’m trying to imagine this site around 80 or 90 years ago, its reaction to the Bat Mitzvah being introduced in America, and all of the condemnations, theological, hashkafic and otherwise. So quite silly to ask folks to draw lines in the sand. We live in an ever changing and evolving world and Judaism has never, ever remained static.

  8. David says:

    The problem with what RYA is saying is that we do not have a clear, definitive set of dogmas, and I don’t see anyway we can have one. Neither the Torah nor Chazal laid out exactly what we need to believe, and what constitutes heresy. It’s convenient to cite the Rambam’s 13 ikkarim, but the inconvenient truth (as Professor Shapiro laboriously showed) is that this was never the final word. And even within the 13 ikkarim, there are grey areas. Ibn Ezra presumably accepted Torah min hashamayim, but he claimed there were some pesukim added later on. Even people who agree that prayers should not be directed to angels recite “Malachei Rachamim” believing that one can ask angels to pray on their behalf to Hashem. The Rambam himself was accused of denying techiyas hameisim (even though he listed it as one of the ikkarim!) because he held that people will die again after resurrection. In short, there is a large grey area, which is why the Rambam, the Ramchal, the Chasidim, and others were branded heretics because of controversial beliefs but eventually made their way in.

    Looking at historical dogmatic norms is a very imprecise science. There have always been those on the fringes who were criticized by some and accepted by others, making it impossible to make a specific determination of which dogmas are “in” and which are “out.”

    In a sense, we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. I agree wholeheartedly with RYA that we cannot live full Torah lives without any belief. But at the same time, we must acknowledge that we do not have a precise mesorah about belief the way we do about the color of our tefillin.

    I think that many of the commenters who expressed unease with Rabbi Gordimer’s essays disapprove of YCT’s direction and certainly do not accept Rabbi Farber’s theories about the authorship of the Torah, but feel that the charge of “heresy” is too weighty and its parameters are too ambiguous for it to be applied here. Can we be certain that the idea of the Torah being written by multiple authors through prophetic insight qualifies as heresy? I’m not saying I approve of the theory, but it is hard to definitively classify a claim as heresy when the parameters of faith do not have a definitive or universally accepted boundary.

    [YA – I don’t understand why you think that there is no precise test for kefirah. Many people for hundreds of years saw the Rambam’s ikarim as dispositive. The existence of de’os yachid (and de’os yotzei dofen) hardly is a counterargument. Do you ignore the psak of Shulchan Aruch when you learn that the Rashba disagreed with the Rambam that the Mechaber cites? Do you cast away the Mishnah Berurah when you find out that the Chayei Adam differed? There are opinions, and there is hachra’ah. While there is usually no hachra’ah in matters of hashkafa, midrash, etc., the Rambam (who ordinarily champions this lack of hachra’ah) sees a difference for ikarim. All the exceptions cited by Marc Shapiro do not take away from the fact that rov minyan and rov biyan of Klal Yisrael accept the truth of those thirteen areas, even if the exact formulation was disputed. Are we really to believe that corporeality is a legitimate position because R Moshe Taku seemed to endorse it? (I say “seemed” because even he quickly added a caveat that his idea of corporeality for HKBH is unlike that of beings in our experience.)

    In any event, Farber does NOT speak of any grey area, or any direct communication from Hashem. If his formulation is not kefirah, then nothing is. He may be a wonderful person who will rewarded by HKBH for sustaining his search for truth, but as basar v’dam, we have to rule on his bona fides to oversee geirus. The silence of YCT and IRF are a stronger indictment against them and their commitment to conventional halachic process, than they are of R Farber, may he be zocheh to come closer to authentic Torah, and resolve his doubts.]

  9. David says:

    Mr. Cohen,
    Why is it kefira to say that Moshe had a psychological disorder? I’m not saying I believe he did, but which foundation of Jewish faith is undermined by such a notion?

    [YA – 1) If being mevazeh talmidei chachamim makes one an apikorus according to the gemara, being mevazeh Moshe Rabbenu is a kol shechen. 2) See the Radbaz I cited, who argues that claiming that Moshe, as a manhig, was unaware of the way he was viewed by his flock is an even greater disgrace than saying he was a knowing object of religious devotion – and maintaining such a position was grounds for dismissal]

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Some Jews are sincerely wrong about basic principles of Jewish belief or law. That’s unfortunate, but we can allow for the possibility of ignorance or honest error. But when they affect to don the mantle of academic integrity while claiming their radical departures to be Orthodox Judaism, they cross into plain mendacity. The arguments of Rav SR Hirsch and his supporters against Frankel and Graetz of the Breslau seminary’s “Historical School” are worth rereading, because these two had the same subversive mindset and method we see today.

    All this is another example of having one’s cake and eating it, too, the modern American way.

  11. Daniel Rubin says:

    I think what’s motivating the comments and objections is a deeply felt sense that it’s no longer good enough to address the first order of business without tackling the second. Those of us who spent our formative years in yeshiva — and continue to be kove’ah itim there — have heard all about the first order of business. We know what the parameters are. We know what passes for acceptable and unacceptable, both halachically and culturally.

    All that’s taken us as far as it can. Now it’s time for more. The questions have piled too high, and it’s no longer adequate to remind us of what we’re not allowed to give as an answer. Dealing meaningfully with the intellectual challenges of the day has to become a priority. If all one has to offer is a reminder of what we were told when we were kids, then one has nothing to offer.

    Obviously you’ve alluded to this, R’ Adlerstein. You’re well aware of the unprecedented gap at the top. For the time being, what you have to offer is the moshol from Ta’anis. Well, frankly, if I were that girl, I would have told that dude to hit the bricks. And that’s what’s people are starting to do in the real world.

    [YA – I did not say that there are no good resources for genuine maaminim to consult. What I said is that none of them are on the Moetzes, and there are not enough of them. Contact me offline, and I will give you the names of four people, for starters.]

  12. Nachum says:

    Mr. Cohen, can you state on what, exactly, you base your opinion that ascribing human failures to figures in Tanach is heresy? Because as it happens, it isn’t.

    ben dov: And your solution is what, exactly? Inform people who have logically-held views that they must surrender them without question?

  13. DF says:

    R. Adlerstein – “we do not have gedolei Yisrael who throw themselves into the intellectual struggles of the day. . . .they are not familiar with the questions, let alone in a position to provide answers. That burden has shifted to people who are not at the top of the Torah pyramid, but are solid yirei Shomayim.”

    This just begs the questiion of what exactly “gedolei yisrael” are, or what it means to be “at the top” of the Torah pyramid. The above-quoted statement seems to say that the LESS one knows, or the more ignorant one is of anything beyond the beis medrash, the greater he is in Torah. Many cannot accept that proposition, for it comes down to this: Who is the greater scholar – someone who writes a commentary on (e.g.) the first chapter of Bava Metzia, or someone who writes a book reconciling evolution with the Torah? What takes more ability? Whose book will do more for Klal Yisrael? And, as someone is always quick to point out, one can be at the top of the Torah pyramid while still attempting to tackle intellectual struggles.

    (Parenthetically – R. Adlerstein implies, by juxtaposition, that Trayvon Martin was somehow the victim of racism. Because it is not the subject of the post, I will simply object to that and say no more.)

    [YA Non-sequiturs all around. Gedolei Yisrael, at this particular moment in history, are not the best place to go for ammo against DH. That does not make them not gedolim, and it does not promote scholars of other disciplines to a different plane. The definition of a gadol is not the subject of this thread. Neither did I imply in any manner or form that TM was a victim of racism. He may, or he may not. Many black people, along with many white people, believe that he was.]

  14. S. says:

    “The Orthodox community has tens of thousands of people who do respect mesorah and authority. For them, the first order of business needs to be to draw lines beyond which one cannot go.”

    These people don’t need to be told that a composite approach to the authorship of the Torah is heretical. The issue is almost completely irrelevant to these tens of thousands. A

    As far as “deal[ing] with academic challenges later” – when? In another 150 years? You have to be joking.

    [YA – Let’s try flipping this. Your concern is for the fine members of our community who do have to deal with real issues and challenges, although not slipping into the overt kefirah of R Farber. These people are not going to be set back in their quiet quest for emes by public reminders that a composite approach to the authorship of the Torah that leaves reliable communication from Hashem is heretical. The issue is almost completely irrelevant to them.

    As far as the second order of business, no it is not a joke. It is much more of a tragedy than a joke. But I would not have a problem sending a talmid with questions to you. I would not send him to Farber. ]

  15. Aaron says:

    This is similar to the point that I bring up when I hear the Conservative and Reform camps champion pluralism and inclusiveness when they rail against the Orthodox, as if pluralism is an end all and be all. I ask of them, ‘you yourselves (at least as of now; who knows if it will stay this way), reject Jews for J as being included as a part of Judaism. So, you too, have red lines. And your red line is OK and ours is not?’

    So I ask the Morethodoxy crowd, what are your red lines?

  16. Yitzy Blaustein says:

    Mr. Cohen wrote:

    “the Rabbi (who also had a Doctoral degree in Secular Philosophy) made a speech in which he heretically claimed that Moshe was afraid to fight Og
    because he had psychological problems [G_d forbid!]

    He made several other statements that seemed like heresy, or close to heresy,
    but that was the one that drove me away from his synagogue.”

    This is precisely the problem with heresy hunting. Everyone draws their own lines and feels a duty to pasul all those who cross those lines. So for Mr. Cohen, its claiming that Moshe was afraid to fight Og. For someone else its the claim that Rav Aharon Kotler was a sore loser at chess or that its ok to study English.

    Inevitably the heresy hunter becomes the hunted.

    [YA – That may be, but it hardly invalidates the hunt. The misuse of a concept never can invalidate the concept itself. All the witch hunts in the world will not diminish the thrust of the first Mishnah in Chelek.]

  17. Z says:

    Per HaRav Yoel Bin Nun’s excellent analysis, the biblical and even mishnaic ’emuna’ is really NEVER translated as belief. Of course I suspect that many might consider his and his school’s form of TaNaCh study bordering on heresy as well…

    I think the issue is: to what extent must our trust be in God (and his Torah) vs. to what extent must our trust be in the various layers of the mesorah surrounding our understanding of God and God’s Torah.

    In the well/mole allegory we are to presume it obvious that the well-drinker is the mesorah and the doomed-to-fail interim marriage is the (temporary and self-resolving) distraction of difficult academic/scientific issues.

    I would suspect that some might view the allegory differently — the trust is to be put in God, the Torah, and those truths that are provable (whatever that means); the distraction to be discarded are the human-sourced falseness that has crept into the tradition over thousands of years.

    Most are willing to concede some new provable truths and some offsetting falseness has crept into the large corpus of mesorah so this will always be a debate of degree. There are many hearts and minds with nagging and painful doubts and unanswered questions that could easily be classified as Orthoprax — at least on some hours of some days. In drawing a line in the sand are we prepared to lose those who at least occasionally find a foot on either side?

    [YA – Occasionally grappling with doubts is the lot of many people. (See good treatments of this ranging from Rabbi Lamm’s Faith and Doubt, to multiple sichos of the Nesivos Shalom.) Those don’t position a person as anything other than basar v’dam. Resolving those doubts – especially when the evidence is hardly scientific, in the sense of the hard sciences, and where there are solutions, even if imperfect, is another matter. We give the benefit of the doubt to loved ones. We need do the same to Hashem and His Torah.

    I have yet to hear of a “provable truth” that counters mesorah. No idea what you mean. Questions do not make a person Orthoprax. Assumptions do.

    What the word “emunah” meant in biblical and mishnaic usage does not impact how we use the word today, so R Yoel Ben Nun’s finding doesn’t add much to my day. By contrast, consider this passage, much closer to my point from the chuldah u-bor story that emunah deals with loyalty in the face of questions:

    “This gives us an entirely new way of thinking about Abrahamic faith. Emunah, the Hebrew word normally translated as faith, does not mean what it is taken to mean in English: a body of dogma, a set of principles, or a cluster of beliefs often held on non-rational grounds. Emunah means faithfulness, loyalty, fidelity, honouring your commitments, doing what you said you would do and acting in such a way as to inspire trust. It has to do with relationships, first and foremost with marriage.”

    Yoel Ben Nun to the contrary, those lines were penned by the famous uber-haredi authority ——Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.]

  18. David Sidney says:

    Excellent article. One critique:

    “When faced with questions about Torah, our first response has to be loyalty to the Torah that we love.”

    The problem with this statement is that on an individual level, if one’s loyalty to Torah is based on one’s belief in its veracity, then one’s first response to (substantive) questions regarding its veracity must logically be to confront the questions and determine the facts. For such a person, loyalty to Torah is a result of one’s search for truth, not a prerequisite for it.

    [YA I am genuinely mystified as to how this takes place, unless you are one of those who believes in “proofs.” Belief in Torah – in HKBH Himself – ultimately takes faith. The reasons for that faith vary from person to person. Once a person makes the determination that he/she finds winds within himself grounds to make a commitment, to heed an inner voice, a person experiences belief. That belief is nurtured through years of Torah, tefillah, connection with HKBH. That person may encounter intellectual challenges to part of the greater belief system. They are never counter-proofs, because they don’t exist. But they trouble him. What should he do with those troubling questions? What would a spouse in a good, strong relationship do if he/she discovered lipstick on the garment of a spouse. A troubling bit of evidence. Not hard proof. In a loving relationship, the person would give the spouse the benefit of the doubt, until such time as the mystery could be unraveled. certainly, it would not lead to a quick walk-out. We ought to treat HKBH and His Torah simiilarly.

  19. SA says:

    “For the first time in many centuries, I believe, we do not have gedolei Yisrael who throw themselves into the intellectual struggles of the day. The circles of most rigorous Torah study have so completely eschewed all other areas, that they are not familiar with the questions, let alone in a position to provide answers.”

    You of course realize that there are people who would consider that heresy right there.

    [YA – I am. But even they (or most of them) would admit that they were using the term loosely and for effect, and not halachically. There is halachic kefirah, and we have seen it in our day.]

    I think one of the problems is a widely prevailing opinion that no one actually has intellectual challenges today — of the haskala/socialist/Zionist type. We’ve been told that all these at-one-time-wildly-popular philosophies have failed, and that the only things sapping people’s Jewish attachment today are ta’ava, materialism and laziness.

    [YA – I think the first time I argued this way to rabeiim of mine, I was 17 yrs. old. Some of them got it, and some today also get it. I was stopped in my tracks once when my own Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, trying to convince me to lighten up about those challenges and devote myself entirely to the blatt, said to me, “Yitzchok, you think you have questions? I have questions you never thought of! But they don’t stop me from throwing myself into learning.”]

  20. daat y. says:

    This is why we state that “yiraso kodemes lechacmoso.”

  21. david a. says:

    no doubt limits are essential, but what about truth?

    there is also no doubt that many elements of our traditional beliefs are simply false. pretending otherwise is a recipe for failure. No religion can survive if it requires belief in falsehoods.

    [YA – “Traditional beliefs” are not the same as fundamentals of faith. I thought that was the point of this entire discussion. Belief in Torah min haShomayim will not be falsified.]

  22. LI Reader says:

    You couldn’t think of a better Talmudic story to illustrate loyalty to the Torah than the incredible story of the maiden, the mole and the pit? And no one else here is bothered by it?

    A stranger extracts a promise of marriage from a physically trapped woman by making her rescue conditional on it. And you think that her remaining loyal to that forced promise is a virtue?

    She has every reason in the world — legal, moral and halachic — to repudiate her promise after being rescued.

    In fact, isn’t he a rasha by virtue of forcing such a promise on her?

    And let’s not forget about the deaths of his 2 innocent children.

    Yet you seem to see the story as a wonderful illustration of the middah of loyalty and faithfulness — by extension — to Hashem and the Torah.

    The mashal fails on many levels and for many reasons. But its use here does say something about you.

    [YA – Actually, the gemara cites it as such an example. The fact that you reject it says far more about you!]

  23. Dovid Shlomo says:

    חולדה is a marten, not a mole.

    [I’m going to ask the Zoorabbi for a psak. Mi yavo achar hamelech?]

    [The Zoorabbi paskened like you. I made the change. Yasher koach.]

  24. Avidan Dehan says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, the story you bring from the gemara illustrates precisely Menachem Kellner’s point, not your own! “Emunah” classically means loyalty (to God and Torah) in heart and in life, not adherence to any particular intellectual stance.

    You might take Rabbi Farber’s approach of committing his life to Torah and mitzvot along with belief in God and the holiness of the Torah *despite* his honest but difficult intellectual inquiry, to be a perfect modern example of the young woman in the aggadah.

    [YA Find the midrash that cannot be read many ways! My reading is consistent with the Maharal. Yours is inconsistent with both Rashi on the first Mishnah of Chelek, and R Yehuda HaLevi in Kuzari. Both deny the significance of a belief system built on individual preference, rather than on mesorah.]

  25. Chaim Saiman says:

    RE your comments to my comments of 7/23 @8.22AM

    1. I would have a much easier time accepting the amendment Bible Scholarship “in the hands of people with insufficient yiras Shomayim, and with inadequate consultation with more seasoned Torah figures,” if reality made it less of a tautology. To seriously deal with these issues, one needs to understand them in their most complete and coherent form. But in the political economy of today’s charedi world, that in and of itself is at least an indicator that one’s yiras shamayim is shaky. Is it really bemikreh that none of what you term “first rate” or “top of the pyramid” people engage in these questions? All that being said, I accept the spirit of what you say.

    2. If its at all effective, a deep education in the humanities and critical methods will p’sik reisha have an effect on a person. That effect in and of itself makes it extremely unlikely that such a person will be deemed a a gadol in the charedi world.

    [YA In the not so distant past, it didn’t stop R Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, or in their day, R Saadya Gaon, the Rambam, Maharatz Chayes, RSRH, and the Malbim. Yes, different challenges, different tools needed, but we always had people willing to take on the opponents. I’m mourning with you, not disagreeing. I also think that it will change. I just can’t tell you when. In the interim, why do these stellar talmidei chachamim need by haredim? I’ll gladly take a DL gadol rolling up his sleeves and addressing the issue. And when none of the above are available, I will make do for my questions and those of my talmidim with fine bnei Torah who are not gedolim but are yir’eir Shomayim who have plenty of experience and guidance to offer us. I hope they are listening.]

  26. www.mohoshiv.com says:

    The fact that many people prefer not to be involved with controversy is not out of a surfeit of peacefulness, but out of a surfeit of laziness and not caring. The ones who clamour for communal peace are the same ones who would run to the police immediately should someone defraud them of a dollar. If someone cares deeply about something he will protest when he sees that something desecrated. That is human nature, it is right and it is good. To say otherwise is to be oblivious to feeling and emotion.

  27. B says:

    Thanks R A once again for casting issues in their proper context.

    I too had much the same experience in Yeshiva as you relate.

    I asked a prominent current Rosh Yeshiva at a meal last year why there was no effort to teach ikkre emunah given as its mitzva 1 in the sefer hamitzvos and yesod hakol in the beginning of the yad… he though for a moment and said “its shver I don’t know”. His wife piped up and said “if you don’t know who’s supposed to know? Am I supposed to know?! Joking aside the mekubal derech these days is to treat the theology of Judaism as a non essential part of the religion. Perhaps a dash of nefesh hachaim here and there but no real study.

    I have twice in my yeshiva career interrupted magide shiurim who said kidavar pashut neged ikar’s 5 and 7 in the pirush hamishna and these were both yere shamayim gmurim. Out of sight out of mind!

    Lichol hapchos we have a chiyuv to call YCT and demand they disassociate with Zev Farber. The number is on their site.

  28. Bruce says:

    As much as I appreciate R. Adlerstein’s insights, I think that they fall short here.

    There are two general competing theories about the authorship of the Torah: (1) literal Torah min Hashamayim (TMH) which claims that G-d gave the Torah in its entirety to Moses on Mt. Sinai (or possibly some of it in the 40 years that followed) and (2) the modern scholarly approach that claims that the Torah was written hundreds of years later and is a compilation of different sources.

    Different people may start with an irrevocable commitment to one or the other of these theories, believing that it is self-evidently true or self-evidently false that G-d would have written the Torah. I’m not criticizing these people; sometimes we just know what we know. But an open-minded person — defined functionally here and someone who is willing to admit the possibility of both theories and wants to investigate further — will find very different approaches in each camp.

    The modern critical theory is consistent with a plain reading of the text. Numerous parts of the Torah point to a later authorship. Different parts of the Torah show odd breaks, discontinuities, and inconsistencies. When these are lined up with each other, several of the subsections show remarkable consistency with each other in terms of vocabulary and perspective, and remarkable inconsistency with the other subsections. This is not obvious on an initial read, but with some study and guidance, the modern scholarly theory is quite persuasive, or at least I have found it to be. Not perfect, and there are many unanswered questions, but a simple reading of the text strongly supports the basic claims of modern scholars.

    Supporter of this modern scholarly approach include most non-Orthodox Jews and most Christian denominations including the Catholic Church. Moreover, most academics Bible scholars agree with the basic parameters of the theory. No academic scholar that I know of asserts that the Torah had any sort of written form before (say) King David or was written by a single author regardless of when it was written.

    What’s on the other side?

    The classic Jewish Torah commentators did not deal with the modern scholarly claims in their full complexity, but their explanations for most of the more blatant apparent contradictions often seem forced or ad hoc.

    The modern TMH supporters have — for the most part — been strangely silent for the past 150 years. Their approach for most of that time seems to have been either to ignore the scholarly claims, to misconstrue them and respond to these straw-men assertions, to label its supporters anti-Semetic, or to attack with claims of lack faith and heresy.

    David Tzvi Hoffman was the only traditional supporter that I know of who seriously took on this challenge, but much has happened in Bible scholarship in the past 100 years. His work — and I have only read part of it so far — seems badly out of date.

    It seems to me that if there really were good answers to the claims asserted by modern Bible scholars, the best thing to do would be to make them clearly, forcefully, and convincingly. R. Adlerstein’s point — we can deal with academic challenges later — might have made sense in the 1870s when Wellhausen and Kuenen were first writing, but after 140 years it might be a good time to deal with the academic challenges now. The failure to do so in any serious way raises the inference that there is in fact no good response to these academic challenges.

    [YA I remember about three decades ago, a fellow by the name of Bruce, tired of the goading by his good friend Howard to find True Religion, said, “Enough! Leave me alone for a while. I will examine all sides of the issue, all claims, and then make my decision. IIRC, Bruce came back with a conclusion. Neither side could score a TKO. Both sides could account for the evidence, even though they came to opposite conclusions. They differed in initial assumptions. If you start with that set of assumptions, the set of answers/approaches/solutions does not seem to bizarre.

    That very finding should help you understand what happened. The traditional world well over a hundred years ago looked at the people who were into Higher Criticism and said, “These guys are working with a different set of assumptions. We want nothing to do with them.” That decision just never was reversed, even as the world of academic biblical study went through many changes. (The Dati Leumi community in Israel is a clear exception to this, and found ways to coopt some of the tools of that discipline.) I’m not saying that this is a perfect or even good state of affairs. But understand the etiology of the decision. It wasn’t – and isnt’t – a concession of defeat. To the contrary, it was- and is – an act of dismissive defiance of the others as irrelevant. The traditional community is populated by people, only a very small percentage of whom care at all about the challenges of academic biblical study. Their needs are being met, and they have lots of children and grandchildren who stay stay loyal to its principles. Heterodox Jewish communities, in regard to future population, are someplace between moribund and rigor mortis.

    It is a large community. So by now there are LOTS of people – probably a growing number – who have been exposed to enough of the thinking of the academic camp that they need responsible approaches and answers. That, in large part, is what this thread is about. Traditionalists come up short on providing what a relatively small but important part of the community needs, while a new camp has arisen that knows no boundaries and lacks the seasoned involvement with traditional Torah that keep others loyal to it. You are right that the minority element that needs these answers has not been addressed to their satisfaction. But creating a faux-Orthodoxy that is to Judaism what Unitarianism is to Christianity is not the answer.]

  29. Someone says:

    “For the first time in many centuries, I believe, we do not have gedolei Yisrael who throw themselves into the intellectual struggles of the day.”

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    I admire your frankness, but bemoan what you stated. Assuming that it is accurate, we are in big trouble that we can not formulate proper responses. We will quickly become a laughing stock because we can not defend Dvar Hashem.

    Perhaps as a solution:

    1)We need to bring to the front ranks of our Gedolei Torah those who not only excel in pilpul and lomdus, but in Hashkafah as well.
    2)Mosdos that are charged with perpetuating and speaking for Torah (e.g. Agudah), should devote resources to addressing and promulgation Mesorah-True sources and approaches to all sorts of questions, from Briyas HaOlam to Maamad Har Sinai to Archaeology. If they created the Artscroll Gemara (with an ipad app!), they can surely do this, and do it well.
    3)We must make it a priority to not only stand up to those who use the title of “Orthodox” and “Semicha” while espousing anti-Torah messages. We must answer those questions immediately, with clarity, poise and pride. Your point about first and second steps is well-taken, but unless the second step (explaining why Rabbi Farber is wrong) is immediate and stark, the entire Torah world is left looking like ostriches.

    Perhaps there can be a positive outcome from this entire episode, in which the Torah world is galvanized to produce cogent articulations of Torah philosophy.

    [YA – Agreed on all points, with one unfortunate caveat. I have seen the output of some beautiful and well-meaning people who prepare all kinds of mesorah-true responses to intellectual issues, especially in scientific areas. Often, the refuah is worse than the makah. They are sometimes based on outdated or inaccurate science, with the consequence that someone who feels he was given an answer later learns that he was sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Imagine the letdown. This is especially common when the authors operate completely outside their areas of competence.]

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    R Adlerstein deserves a huge Yasher Koach for reminding us that Apikorsus and Kefirah are vitally relevant terms , as opposed to terms that have R”L been relegated to the intellectual archaeologists in academia. The works of R Farber can and should be viewed as rejecting the Yesodei HaEemunah of Maamad Har Sinai, and Kabalas HaTorah, as well as the equally bedrock principle enucniated by Chazal in many places, and emphasized by Netziv and RYBS , among many others. that Sefer Devarim is really Torah SheBaal Peh in the form of Torah Shebicsav and subjected to different means and rules of Parshanut than the rest of the Torah.

  31. Steve Brizel says:

    I have a simple question for R Farber-what is he thinking whenever he recites any Bracha or Tefilah that mentions Kabalas HaTorah. I think that the excerpts quoted by R Gordimer prove the case that the beliefs that underly such excepts cannot be squared with traditional beliefs as stated by Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim and the greatest Mfarshim on Chumash-whether Rishonim or Acharonim .

  32. Shades of Gray says:

    These excerpts elaborate on ideas in this post. Source critics and traditional scholars alike ascribe a single authorship to these variant texts.

    “Emunah does not only mean belief. It means loyalty. When faced with questions about Torah, our first response has to be loyalty to the Torah that we love. We can live with questions, if we refuse to betray the trust that the Jewish people have with our holy Torah”

    “Rather than to meet well-meaning people who provide simplistic, facile and unsatisfactory approaches, it would be better to have them meet frum people of deep intellectual ability who also struggle, without detracting from their shemiras hamitzvos. There are many, many of them. They will provide some answers, but more importantly, will be models of how to live with questions.”(People With Questions Are Not Sick, April, 2011)

    ” Instead of swinging at some pretty easy pitches, so many run from the plate at every new curve ball…The word emunah loses too much when it is translated as “faith.” More properly, it has strong overtones of faithfulness and loyalty. Conviction does not evaporate before every challenge and question. It allows one to function with questions, especially if there is any kind of plausible answer available”(The Gospel of Judas and Jewish Faith, April, 2006)
    =========
    “When a fire breaks out, our first response has to be to put out the fire – not to fire-proof the rest of the village…We can deal with academic challenges later.”

    “And in time, the arguments must be offered if the battle is to be won. But if you had a friend who was diagnosed with a terrible illness and found out that the only treatment he was planning to seek was from a reflex kinesiologist, would you ply him with papers comparing it with legitimate medicine? Or would you first scream that it is worthless, treif, and a fraud?… Later there will be time for scholarly papers.”(Comment to “Modern Orthodoxy at a Crossroads”, September 2011)
    ==========
    “The circles of most rigorous Torah study have so completely eschewed all other areas, that they are not familiar with the questions, let alone in a position to provide answers.”

    “Until recently, we had major talmidei chachamim well versed in the intellectual challenges of the day who devoted much time and energy battling the mockers and skeptics on their own turf… These figures studied and mastered the challenges from the inside, offering real counterpunches, rather than glib bromides. They did not, and could not, “prove” their case, but they could show that alternatives existed that were as attractive as any other(People With Questions Are Not Sick, April, 2011)

    ” So much confusion abounds because for the first time in hundreds of years – perhaps ever? – we do not have Torah luminaries who have devoted themselves to taking on the challenge posed by general culture. (I do not fault them in any manner or form for this. They have enough on their plates…)… The same holds true in other areas, such as archeology and Biblical criticism. The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them. People who have studied too much to just ignore these phenomena then often find it more satisfying to go far outside Torah circles for enlightenment. I recall Rav Bulman zt”l telling us about those in the nineteenth century who threw themselves into the work of answering the new Higher Criticism…The Malbim had started Artzos HaChaim – and could have written what would have become the Mishnah Berurah…”(Why We Are All ID Dummies, November, 2006)

    ” Until contemporary times, there were always people within the Torah community willing to enter the intellectual fracas of the day… Alas, it has been a long time since Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman and his headlong charge against Higher Criticism and Jewish Wissenschaft.”(Meir Soloveichik Takes on the Issues, February, 2006)

    [YA – Only because R happened to do a good job in this case. Usually, he/she is very sloppy. They actually come from different source-documents that were merged together when a Northern Kingdom computer (at one end of the house) met up with a Southern Kingdom one (at the other end.) If there were basements in Los Angeles, we would have an Underground text as well.]

  33. Gideon Slifkin says:

    Heresy may not be horrible, but it is regarded as ridiculous in the MO world, apart from ideologues, the small minded, those looking over their right shoulders and those who are borderline yeshivish. The average modern person would not think of taking heresy charges seriously, and would look down on people who do. Especially when the heresy charge has been over used and abused (see Zoo Rabbi). Phrases like ‘unmitigated kefirah’ just turn people off. No doubt you would claim this is a serious problem with MO, but that’s the reality. Rabbi Farber gives a shiur each week in my shul. He just won the Torah award. You think he will be cast out?! Silliness. The only reason people might care is because of geirus and similar as you mentioned, but that’s a very different issue.

    [Phrases like Unmitigated kefirah just turn people off. But unmitigated kefirah turns other people off. I guess it is a standoff between two communities that no longer speak the same language. Which is exactly what tens of thousands of people have been saying about YCT/IRF – including the MO world. (The haredi world, except for Yated, is ignoring this. There, YCT was long ago written off as neo-Conservative.)]

  34. Ohr Ganuz says:

    I once heard a certain litvishe talmid chochom who also happens to be well-read in secular philosophy translate, “v’lo yasiguhu masigei haguf” as: “human beings (“guf”) cannot be ‘masig’ Hashem.” Just further illustrating the point made by the last commenter.

  35. Dovid says:

    Several months ago i attended a shiur and the presenter pointed out that a prominent rabbi centuries ago was of the belief that Hashem was corporeal, and was not held to be a heretic. Are Rabbi Farber’s views ‘worse’? (An honest question, I’m curious.)

    [YA – I believe they are. R Moshe Taku, who can be dismissed as a lone wolf in this regard, nonetheless makes it very clear that when he speaks about corporeality he does not mean a physical body with the same traits and behaviors as ours, but something more ethereal. R Farber’s formulation of Torah min-HaShomayim as something NOT directly conveyed by G-d, but perceived in the encounter between Man and G-d by channeling in to the Divine flow is both gobbledygook and without peer.]

  36. Yisrael Asper says:

    Halacha even in its pre-Sinaitic form iis definitely involved in deciding what of Rabbi Zev Farber’s ideas are outside the pale. If the Avos for instance were not real what can we say about the origins of certain halachas? Were there no Hebrews commanded to have a bris as was commanded to Avraham? If he did not exist then the answer is no. The approach of Torah Im Derech Eretz was always to see what of the Derech Eretz the Torah allowed and not to subject the Torah to the arbitrary whims of the age or the arbitrary desires of individuals who however clever are not our spiritual leaders. This nihilism in any event is unworkable in and of itself. Do we really need another few generations to watch this movement go the way of prior ones in order to see that?

  37. lacosta says:

    haimishe yidden used to [and mostly still do] hold from emunah peshuta , which basically takes care of all the problems— one can’t have doubts if one doesnt even know issues exist [ in part this is RYA’s comment about current gdolim– bemechilas kvodeihem , do r steinmanelyashivauerbachkanievsky have expertise/knowledge-of-existence of issues in biblical criticism eg?}; in this case ignorance is bliss.

    but the risk is great in that approach — it is a
    belief [or non-belief, if one never asks what one need believe in–just go to shul ,open the daf etc] system thousands of amos wide and the tiniest zeret deep..

    individuals such as rabbi mechanic [about issues of emuna] and tuvia singer [ the anti-missionary and navi expert]can tell us that amongst the young generation of yeshiva/bais yaakov the gnawing doubts/desire for spiritual fire is a painful deficit that emunah peshuta in a Google world may not cut it…

    [YA – And the solution is…? Kefirah? “Openness” presided over by tinokos shelo kalu chadsheihem? Or putting them in touch with the responsible bnei Torah who have spent time with these issues?]

  38. joel rich says:

    Some might see a contradiction between “2. If its at all effective, a deep education in the humanities and critical methods will p’sik reisha have an effect on a person. That effect in and of itself makes it extremely unlikely that such a person will be deemed a a gadol in the charedi world.”

    and

    Rabbi Baruch 0f Shklov stated that he met the Gaon and he heard from his holy mouth that to the extent that one lacks in understanding the sciences, he will lack 100 measures in understanding the Torah, because the Torah and science are intertwined.

    I was raised to understand to strive for the latter as long as one can do so understanding the supremacy of torah in utilizing all the tools at one’s command to understand it.

    KT

  39. Yair Daar says:

    Although you mention a few reasons to be concerned with kefirah, the major lynchpin to your argument seems to be that defining kefirah needs to be treated like a halachik category. This is where I disagree.

    Halacha, unlike theology, is concerned more with defining a set a standard practices than with discovering the truth. As we know from the Gemara, we can say “eilu v’ eilu,” yet reject one opinion due to the rules of pesak. However, the current argument is one about truth, and, as Dr. Shapiro has pointed out in his book (which you mention), the discussion of kefirah comprises many opinions, to the point that we can’t say there is one central definition (at least in terms of Torah MiSinai). And even if you were to take all the opinion of all the rishonim and prove the none of them go to the lengths that R’ Farber does, that still doesn’t define his idea as kefirah (no matter how important the topic is; it simply proves that he is saying something novel. Rishonim do not have a monopoly over the truth as they might over pesak halacha. All Rabbi Farber is doing is suggesting a novel explanation for Torah MiSinai, as one might suggest a novel explanation as to the meaning of any passuk in Tanach. The fact that this opinion has not been stated before is only a problem if you believe that we are bound to mesorah for hashkafic and theological ideas, but then you are just rehashing a debate that will never be resolved.

    I think your sentence “we should never compromise on the truth of our mesorah” reflects this.

    Now, if you will then claim that kefirah is a halachik category in terms of shechita etc… so it should be treated as such, I would respond that you are correct, but that completely changes the tone of the argument. People should not be saying “Rabbi Farber is a kofer” any more than they should be saying that Beis Shammai is wrong. Feel free to avoid eating R’ Farber’s cooking and using him as a witness at your wedding. But don’t frame in terms of right and wrong, frame it in terms of pesak halacha (which is clearly not how this discussion has been going).

    Lastly, thank you for approaching a sensitive topic with respect, allowing both sides to debate with dignity.

    [YA I completely reject the bifurcation between practice and truth. Halacha does not ask us to play-act. If we invalidate the testimony of an apikorus, it is because we believe apikorsus to be wrong and untruthful. If apikorsus is mentioned in halacha, then there has to be a way to define it. Halacha ultimately has to pick in all areas between competing theories, and it has protocols that govern the process. You are quite right that we generally don’t invoke psak in matters of ideology; ikarei emunah are different. And if they would not be, the idea of Torah min HaShomayim would be different because of its place in the definition of apikorus.

    Eilu v’Eilu is a much-maligned concept. It never did, and never will, mean that all opinions are equally valid. See the chapter on it in my Beer Hagolah (Artscroll)]

  40. Yitzy Blaustein says:

    “All the witch hunts in the world will not diminish the thrust of the first Mishnah in Chelek.”

    Chazal describe some categories of people who have no portion in the world to come. But that is for Hashem to decide.

    I would distinguish between moral failings and theological errors.

    If someone is morally corrupt, their actions must be immediately brought to light and condemned.

    However, if someone is theologically in error, condemning them simply makes one seem defensive and fearful.

    Instead of condemning the theological errors of others, focus on what you stand for and show its truth and beauty. Let the truth and beauty of what you hold overwhelm any theological error you see coming from others.
    The rest will take care of itself.

    [YA IT is for Hashem to decide how He will deal with different people and their shortcomings. He is known to be lots more charitable to them than we are. However, it is our job to practice halacha, and to halachically decide on the defintion of all halachic constructs, including “apikorus” and others invalidated by reason of their rejected beliefs.]

  41. Shades of Gray says:

    “If his formulation is not kefirah, then nothing is. He may be a wonderful person who will rewarded by HKBH for sustaining his search for truth, but as basar v’dam, we have to rule on his bona fides to oversee geirus…I did not say that there are no good resources for genuine maaminim to consult. What I said is that none of them are on the Moetzes, and there are not enough of them. Contact me offline, and I will give you the names of four people, for starters”

    I think it’s positive to offer resources, and FWIW, I think these four people should consider working on a TABS-like website with the blessing of the Moetzes 🙂

    I am somewhat disappointed with the general situation: condemning something or someone when many have never dealt with it with the same rigor themselves, as shown by the fact that the Kiruv world was beaten to the idea of the TABS website(for which I don’t know have the technical expertise to evaluate).

    I would hope people have the fortitude to wait things out. Although as in chess game, it might seem that the Orthodox and Kiruv worlds need to make moves they have not made, there can be various social and historical contexts(hopefully positive) that can affect the allure of ideas, which are subject to Divine control, therefore it’s impossible to make chess predictions(see “Torah im Derekh Erez in the Shadow of Hitler”, by Prof. Marc Shapiro).

    In my experiences, in my teens, I had my own seder in Navi with Radak, and saw some dissonance between my general perceptions and regular yeshiva sedarim. When I mentioned this to my regular magid shiur, a very learned talmid chacham and pulpit rabbi, he responded, “so why do you learn it?”.

    Outside of regular yeshiva studies, I tried to form a relationship with a brilliant and uniquely talented rosh yeshiva, who unfortunately, has engendered controversy with some of his stances. In response to same question–” I don’t see the Mesorah in Navi”– he responded by asking which specific sefer of Navi I was learning(today, I would ask it differently, “what does the RY suggest as a means to better see the Mesorah when learning Navi”, and he might respond, “learn Malbim”). This rosh yeshiva has once instantly responded to someone “the pasuk you (mis)quote doesn’t exist in the entire Sefer Yeshaya”, while acknowledging on another occasion, that IIRC “today[in some circles, I would add] all you have to do is quote a little Navi, and people look at you as if you are quoting esoteric poetry!”.

    The conversation didn’t go anywhere from my perspective(and I felt embarrassed), but one thing I learned: it is important to define your question, even if acknowledging it’s generality. Indeed, this has relevance for any intellectual issue: clarify what is bothering you and how well you are grounded it both traditional sources and the secular challenges. Some of the above shakla v’tarya(discussion) about Navi is touched upon by by R. David Steinberg on the TABS website as well as by R. Moshe Benovitz of NCSY( Savitsky Talks, “Technology and Social Media: How Are They Affecting the Post-High School Year in Israel?”, 8/1/12, 14:00 in mp3; I’ve transcribed the latter’s comments on R. Yaakov Salomon’s recent Aish video blog, “Proving the Torah: It can and should be done” ).

    In summary, while the next chess moves are in the hands of various Orthodox players, it’s also a Divine chess board.

  42. Bob Miller says:

    In his note on one of the comments above, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, “It is simply unfair to criticize…for failing decades ago to realize what the rest of us have come to know about abuse only after a long process of communal awareness.”

    In this connection, two things have actually happened in recent decades:
    1. More has been learned about abuse (which is not to say that Torah law ever allowed abuse without consequences).
    2. It has become harder to get away with abuse or with shielding abusers, because some of us have become more resistant to intimidation.

    There may well have been past cases where the lack of a proper institutional or community response to abuse was not from a lack of understanding but from a correct belief that abuse could be successfully concealed from the public.

    [Or from a not correct – but rationally argued at the time – that moving the perp to a different venue would cure the problem while sparing his family]

  43. ben dov says:

    “ben dov: And your solution is what, exactly? Inform people who have logically-held views that they must surrender them without question?”

    Nachum, I do not understand what your point is. My point is that there is a boundary between emuna and kefira, and those who espouse the latter must not be recognized as Orthodox rabbis.

    If you agree with my point, what else is problematic in my words? If you do not agree with my point, we will not find common ground on this issue.

  44. Reb Yid says:

    Nachum
    July 23, 2013 at 9:59 am:
    “ben dov: And your solution is what, exactly? Inform people who have logically-held views that they must surrender them without question?”

    Of course; what other course of action could be contemplated? If an individual, out of arrogance or an enhanced sense of self-importance, comes to the mistaken conclusion that his “logic” disproves reality and the accumulated wisdom of the generations, then obviously he must be told he is wrong, and others must be dissuaded from joining him. This is no different from someone “logically” proving that 2+2=5, or that certain historic events that we all know occurred never occurred, or various other widely-known hoaxes that have a “logical” basis.

    If Farber had stopped at “I’m having a crisis of faith”, or “I don’t know what to do, I want to believe my mesorah but what do I do about these other issues”, etc., we might be able to cut him some slack. But preaching his apikorsus as though he came down from the mountain (that he doesn’t believe in) is like the freshman physics student deciding he’s just disproved Einstein or the rookie reporter thinking he’s pulled a Woodward and Bernstein through doing a few Google searches. Farber is orders of magnitude out of the league of the gedolim that he agrees with and those he disagrees with.

  45. Steve Brizel says:

    Z wrote in relevant part:

    “Per HaRav Yoel Bin Nun’s excellent analysis, the biblical and even mishnaic ‘emuna’ is really NEVER translated as belief. Of course I suspect that many might consider his and his school’s form of TaNaCh study bordering on heresy as well”

    Without having R Bin Nun’s article on the issue, how does R Bin Nun understand the various exhortations towards greater Yiras Shamayim and Ahavas HaShem that are such a prominent part of Sefer Devarim and the same being viewed as Mitzvos Aseh by so many of the Monei HaMitzvos? IIRC, jn an issue of “Tradition” a few years ago, there was an exchange/debate over the utility of R Bin’s school of Tanach study as a welcome supplement or an improper supplanting of the study of Tanach with Mfarshim for those who would neither study the same in any event or as a form of biblical criticism kashered for the RZ and DL mind.

  46. Steve Brizel says:

    All too often, we read and hear that the approach taken to Parshanut is an all or nothing proposition-IOW, one either mindlessly follows The Midrash Says or ArtScroll or one clings only to a literary sense of Pshat without any consideration of the words of Chazal, and the classical Mfarshim among the Rishonim and Acharonim, and without any consideration of the message of the Torah verse in question as developed by Baalei Chasidus and Musar. I think that both ArtScroll and the Pshat only derech are false extremes that can and should be rejected by any serious student of Tanach, and especially Chumash.

    [YA – for a fuller consideration of these issues, see the dialogue between Yaakov Beasley and Yaakov Blau in Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009)]

  47. Steve Brizel says:

    Even R Mordechai Breuer ZL rejected the concept of an evolving revelation and authorship which appears to be one of the cornerstones of R Bin Nun’s approach as running astray of Rambam’s view of the difference between the Nevuas Moshe Rabbeinu and all other Neviim. This fact is noted in the current essay on the Open Orthodoxy blog.

  48. Steve Brizel says:

    Like it or not, we are plagued by the notion that easy subsitutes for in depth study of Chumash with the Mfarshim in the original such as ArtScroll or a Pshat/realia based approach will enable someone to have an in depth understanding of the many messages contained in the Chumah. Like it or not, ArtScroll’s Stone Chumash is fine for the beginner, but no subsitute for learning the Gdolei HaMfarshim ( Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rashbam, Sforno, Meshech Chachmah and Netziv) in the original text. Similarly, viewing the text solely from a Pshat/literaryrealia basis without considering any input by Chazal and the Gdolei HaMfarshim when one has no real knowledge of the same has the potential to wreck havoc on the unity of Torah Shebicsav and Torah SheBaal Peh, and to give the improper pedagogical message that one “knows” Chumash R”L better than the Gdolei Mfarshim -regardless of the fact that the reader cannot make a leining in the same or is unaware of the issues confronted therein.

  49. Steve Brizel says:

    Those who cry “witch hunt” should consider the following historical parallel. One can easily condemn the excesses of the late Joseph McCarthy, but one cannot deny the significant inroads of Communism , its apologists and admirers, fellow travellers and useful idiots among the cultural , educational and even political elites of the US between the 1930s and late 1940s. In fact, some of the Democratic Party’s staunchest liberals ( and friends of Israel) were equally anti Communist-HHH, Scoop Jackson and many others who founded the Americans for Democratic Action. These great senators were appalled by McCarthy, but even more appalled at the insidious growth of Communism and its apologists within mainstream American society.

  50. Bob Miller says:

    “[Or from a not correct – but rationally argued at the time – that moving the perp to a different venue would cure the problem while sparing his family]”

    Objectively, that would fall under lack of understanding, since even then there was no evidence to support it.

  51. Steve Brizel says:

    David asked:

    “Why is it kefira to say that Moshe had a psychological disorder? I’m not saying I believe he did, but which foundation of Jewish faith is undermined by such a notion?”

    I would contend that such an unsupported statement at best is a genre of creative writing called “fan fiction”, and at worse Apikorsus and Kefirah for impugning Nevuas Moshe Rabbeinu. Such a POV is akin to a similar “Dvar Torah” that similarly asserted that Yitzchak Avinu had to be intellectually challenged or disabled in order to be a participant in the Akedah.

  52. Jon Baker says:

    I think I know who Mr Cohen is talking about, he often psychologizes biblical characters, and let me tell you, he’s tame compared to my rabbis & teachers growing up in Ramaz and LSS in the 1970s.

  53. Yehuda says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for your definition of emunah – i found it very inspiring. It reminded me of what the previous Bobover Rebbe Harav Naftali ztz”l wrote about his father Harav Shlomo ztz”l, when he found out that his wife and 2 children had been sent to Auschwitz: “Naftuli had seen it so many times in the last few years: faith, hope, and courage replacing fear, sadness, and disappointment. It was as if his father had so much faith in Hashem, so much trust, that he was able to fight away depression before it engulfed him.” (From “Nor the Moon by Night.”)

    The point about the pit & the girl etc. is that even though we might say that the guy should have saved her even without a promise in return, she still felt obligated to repay him – a very high level of hakaras hatov. Kal v’chomer should we have emunah, loyalty, trust in HKBH for He gives us everything at every minute.

    I can’t remember where i saw it but one authority said that at a time of doubt, one cannot use one’s mind to resolve doubts, as the mind itself has become destabilized as a result of the doubts. We see this ALL THE TIME where the question is, “Did the sin come first, or the kefirah to legitimize it?” Most if not all of the so-called atheists today are motivated by a “need” to get Hashem and absolute morality out of the picture. Actually, I think it was Harav Pinchas of Koritz zy”a who said this: that Yidden are all ma’aminim, but when ta’avah is strong, they “create” doubts in order to make things “muttar.”

    [YA – Yasher koach! Beautifully put. If only the YCT crowd had the experience in Torah to understand what you are talking about!]

    The problem, the way i see it (not being an authority or gadol or anything near it) is that people don’t have a strong personal connection to Hashem that is strong enough to weather the stormy times. Here it’s interesting to see the (loose) similarity between this and shalom bayis. Just as you don’t divorce your wife when she forgets to do something really important that she promised she’d take care of, because you have a relationship and you trust her enough to overlook things, how much more so should we overlook things with Hashem? Not meaning that we should ignore questions we have – certainly we should look for answers – but it shouldn’t affect our avodas Hashem. Well, it should – we should throw ourselves into avodas Hashem with more intensity, asking for siyatta diShmaya to resolve our doubts, and then we should go to a adam gadol for help.

  54. Shades of Gray says:

    I think its instructive to compare the perspectives of Cross Currents writers with that of Rabbi Ysoscher Katz of YCT in his recent post. From a halachic perspective, it’s correct to be concerned about kefirah. R. Farber, as well-meaning as he may be, is wearing the dual hats of academic and halachist, and there is a conflict of interest, both for geirus, as well as for communal cohesiveness which a spiritual leader needs to maintain. I think he should either retract his views by concluding צריך עיון after every question he raises, or play a less prominent role in the Vaad Hagiyur.

    R. Ysoscher Katz makes valid points. He emphasizes the psychological perspective of validation: “a successful rabbinic leader is one who is able to honor the struggle and engage these questions seriously”. Also, he notes the universal-across- the- denominations aspect of faith issues: “it is just a matter of time before[the Yated and R. Gordimer]will no longer be able to avoid this reality in their own backyard”. Compare this with Rabbi Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried, who writes in Hakirah(“Are Our Children Too Worldly?”)”to different degrees the problem of “children at risk” or “children alienated from, or just cold and indifferent to, Yiddishkeit” exists about equally in every segment of the frum community, from the very chassidic, through the yeshivish, to the Modern Orthodox.” R. Adlerstein also agrees that intellectual resources need to be developed.

    Is it possible to raise unanswered questions as an academic, without having the tone of having answers to everything? R. Shlomo Miller wrote regarding R. Slifkin’s books about concluding צריך עיון :

    ואם יש קושיא שאינו יודע תירוץ, צריך להודות שלא זכיתי להבין דבריהם וכמו שעשו גדולי ישראל בכל הדורות כשהי’ להם קושיא על הגמרא כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם, אם רק הוא מכם שאינכם מבינים

    However, it is wrong if one tries to proselytize, as does the “Israeli organization intent on winning people away from religious commitment by bombarding them with literature raising intellectual issues that Israeli haredim cannot easily answer”(Exclusivity, Russian Antisemitism, and the New Hatred To Come, June, 2005). In ‘We Desperately Need To Get Back To Theology’ (Jewish Press 12/09), Chabad’s R. Chaim Miller gives credit to the Modern Orthodox community for types of theological inquiry: “to their credit, they’re the only ones who are really thrashing out these issues, trying to get to the bottom of them.”

    On the issue itself of צריך עיון, R. Adlerstein concludes with a צ”ע :

    “Is it really OK for a Torah teacher or spokesperson to admit to continuously grappling with issues, to not having all the answers to his/her own satisfaction? Shouldn’t the Torah representative speak with such force that all who listen simply melt in his presence? Personally, I don’t think so. But then again, I really don’t know.” (“I Don’t Know”, January, 2007)

  55. Shades of Gray says:

    “If being mevazeh talmidei chachamim makes one an apikorus according to the gemara, being mevazeh Moshe Rabbenu is a kol shechen.”

    Some thoughts:

    There are less extreme ways of humanizing people of Tanach. In “Top Ten Quotes About Madoff” R. Adlerstein commented, “I am not much of a fan of elements of the “pshuto shel mikra school” that do not feel compelled to always check in with Chazal before commenting. I’m not ready to malign them either…”

    “In oral comments Rav Lichtenstein made in 1984 at a melaveh malkah he was even sharper. Asked about this general topic he pithily replied: “There are two approaches to the humanity of the Avot, that of Rav Aharon Kotler and that of Hazal!” He further went on to bemoan that the Hareidi perspective ultimately turns the Avot and Imahot into “ossified figures of petrified tzidkus”. (“A Letter from R. Nati Helfgot”, March, 2007)

    In Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch?” R. Simcha Feuerman quotes R. Avigdor Miller,

    “Related to seeing Biblical figures as human, I personally heard an interesting piece of Torah Sheb’al Peh from Rabbi Avigdor Miller, ZT’L, who was my wife’s great uncle, affording me the privilege of an occasional meeting. According to my memory, here is what Rav Miller said: “Without being disrespectful, I would like you to understand that when Moshe Rabbeinu ate a sandwich, he experienced hunger, desire to eat, and enjoyment of eating. It is a scientific impossibility to eat a sandwich unless you enjoy it because the food goes down the throat and is digested as a result of the salivary glands. A person does not produce saliva unless he feels desire for the food. If Moshe Rabbeinu tried to eat a sandwich without desiring it, the food would go down into his stomach like a bunch of rocks.”

    Jonathan Rosenblum made an understandable decision not to discuss machalokes between great people in one of his biographies, but there were apparently personality differences( “And in another case, I reduced a machlokes (dispute) of many years to two sentences…because the differences were primarily ones of personality, they had no larger significance, and their absence is irrelevant in the long-run.”–Mishpacha)

  56. Rafael Guber says:

    Sadly, Rabbi Farber advocates “Hot House Judaism.” The flowers are beautiful in a very controlled environment,but when forced to live in the real world they quickly wither and die. His Judaism make work for a few Jewish professionals and fellow travelers. It will never motivate ordinary people over the span of generation to make principled sacrifices to live a Torah life.

  57. H says:

    YA: I’ll gladly take a DL gadol rolling up his sleeves and addressing the issue. And when none of the above are available, I will make do for my questions and those of my talmidim with fine bnei Torah who are not gedolim but are yir’eir Shomayim who have plenty of experience and guidance to offer us. I hope they are listening.]

    Great article, thank you. I think at least in the area of Biblical criticism, thank God they are waking up and working on it, especially in Eretz Yisrael, especially in Herzog College and Bar Ilan. Herzog College just had their Yemei Iyun in Tanach with thousands of students attending. There is much to do, but at least their sleeves are rolled up and they are working on it…

  58. Raymond says:

    For whatever my way of thinking is worth, it seems to me that the whole point of our lives, is to learn the lessons life teaches us in our everyday lives. In other words, the purpose of our lives is to gain wisdom. Since very few people can gain wisdom solely through books, our concrete experiences serve to impact us in a much deeper way, teaching us wisdom, especially from our more harsh experiences in our lives. Similarly, the purpose of mitzvot is to teach us about G-d and deepen our understanding of Him. Throughout it all, the goal is wisdom. So to deny that beliefs matter in Judaism, strikes me as being absurd. Of course it matters…that is the whole point of why we are here in the first place.

  59. Bruce says:

    [YA I remember about three decades ago, a fellow by the name of Bruce . . . IIRC, Bruce came back with a conclusion. Neither side could score a TKO. Both sides could account for the evidence, even though they came to opposite conclusions. They differed in initial assumptions. If you start with that set of assumptions, the set of answers/approaches/solutions does not seem to bizarre.]

    I remember that guy too. Nice fellow, but was always asking some odd question. : )

    You remember the first part of my conclusion correctly. Yes, each side started with different assumptions and that largely explains their conclusions. But I didn’t stop there. That’s the beginning of the debate, not the end of it.

    This situation — people starting from different prior assumptions about the plausibility of two competing theories that explain some data — is quite common. For example, in law, the prosecution is trying to prove the defendant guilty and the defense is trying to show that the defendant is innocent. In medical research, a drug might work or it might not. In public policy, a particular program might help its intended beneficiaries or not. In all these cases, one starts with some idea of the relative likelihood of different approaches, and that initial estimate shifts as more data is examined.

    The framework for thinking about this comes from math and is called Bayes’ Theorem. Google it for all the technical details, but the basic insight is simple. If you are trying to decide between two theories that explain ambiguous data, you start with the initial relative probabilities of each theory being true in the absence of any data. You then examine the observed data and see how consistent or inconsistent it is with each theory. Data that is very consistent with one theory and very inconsistent with the other shifts the relative probabilities from the initial prior probabilities. This process continues as more data is examined, and eventually — maybe — if the data is strong enough, a fair observer would have to conclude that one theory is much more likely than the other.

    So that way that would work here is that people must start with some prior ideas about the relative likelihood of the two theories. Of course, we cannot quantify these explicitly, but we can think in terms of likely, not likely, could be, doubtful, etc.

    An Orthodox Jew might say, for example, that it is self-evidently true G-d exists, created us, and loves us, and that it is almost inconceivable that G-d would not give us some sort of explicit guidance. Before even looking at the evidence, this person would say there is a high probability that the Torah was given by G-d on Mt. Sinai.

    On the other hand, an atheist might say that it is self-evidently true that G-d does not exist (although would probably use an ‘o’ instead of a ‘-‘) and in any case G-d would not reveal himself with words falling out of the sky. Before even looking at the evidence, this person would say there is a high probability that the Torah was written by people.

    Other people might pick less extreme initial probabilities. But regardless of their initial assumptions, they now look at the evidence. And there’s lots of it.

    For example, the Torah predicts anti-Semitism. This is consistent with TMH, but much less consistent with human authorship. (Of course, much depends on how “human authorship” is framed. If the theory is that the Torah was written by people but divinely inspired, it might contain accurate future predictions.) The critical theory has some responses — it was referring to the Babylonian exile or the exile of the Northern Kingdom — but some of these get a bit strained. Not impossible, but a fair observer would conclude that the cleanest explanation belongs to the traditional theory. Whatever one’s estimate of the prior probabilities, the probabilities have now shifted towards the traditional explanation.

    But here’s another one. The Torah concludes by stating that Moses dies and no one knows where he is buried “even to this day” (ad hayom hazeh). The plain reading is that this was written well after the time of Moses, and that is consistent with modern scholarship. The traditional explanations, at least the ones I have seen, all seem forced and ad hoc. (For example, one explanation that I have heard is that this is a prophecy that this is referring to the day it is read, not written, and so it means Moses’s grave will never be found. But the phrase “ad hayom hazeh” occurs throughout the rest of the Nach, never refers to a prophecy, and in many cases refers to events that were true when written but not true today. Even Genesis uses the phrase this way. Joseph passed a law that 1/5 of everything belongs to Pharaoh — a law that is true “ad hayom hazeh”. Perhaps when written, but certainly not true today. So this explanation would apply to “ad hayom hazeh in this verse but no other, and with no apparent reason.) So here, a fair observer would conclude that the cleanest explanation belongs to the critical theory and the probabilities have now shifted towards the traditional explanation.

    Neither one of these is a knockout blow, but each is persuasive in a small way. The process can continue, and if enough persuasive evidence stacks up on one side or the other, it might shift the odds so far in one direction or the other that people might be persuaded one way or the other.

    This approach also explains the idea of emunah, at least some degree. Emunah here involves trust in TMH, even in the face of some evidence, even really good evidence, that suggests something different. That’s an entirely justifiable position. But I think even emunah has its limits. Surely there must be some conceivable set of data and argument that is so strong and overwhelming that it would convince people that their understanding is wrong. If not, emunah can look like foolishness. (And this is certainly true of both sides.) When the debate starts looking like Galileo vs. the Pope, you just don’t want to be on the Pope’s side.

    * * *

    I understand the reason for initially refusing to engage. although I think it ultimately was a mistake. But I’m glad that some people in the traditional camp are now are taking these ideas seriously. In the long run, that can only help everyone’s understanding.

    [YA – Bruce scores! You’ve localized much of the disquiet people have over R Farber’s pieces. There are no knockout punches. There are questions, and people live with questions – while seeking answers. We give people the benefit of the doubt, as per the Torah’s instruction. Should we not do the same for G-d Himself and His Torah? (I don’t believe there will ever be a knockout punch. R Yehuda HaLevi writes in the Kuzari (twice, IIRC) that Hashem will never demand of us that we believe anything that is counter-rational.) R. Farber’s conclusions about Devarim were based on his rejection of the entire corpus of Torah literature, from midrashim through Rishonim through Acharonim. All of those approaches SEEMED to him to be stretched and forced. So he concluded that G-d didn’t write it. If Klal Yisrael had so much disloyalty to Torah in the face of apparent difficulties, none of us would be here today.

    I agree that it is a good thing that traditionalists, at least some, are working at approaches and answers. As they generate their material, most of us will be much more eager to spend time with the conclusions of people more seasoned and respectful of traditional learning.]

  60. Someone says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    Thank you for your reply:
    “[YA – Agreed on all points, with one unfortunate caveat. I have seen the output of some beautiful and well-meaning people who prepare all kinds of mesorah-true responses to intellectual issues, especially in scientific areas. Often, the refuah is worse than the makah. They are sometimes based on outdated or inaccurate science, with the consequence that someone who feels he was given an answer later learns that he was sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Imagine the letdown. This is especially common when the authors operate completely outside their areas of competence.”

    Please help me understand your response. Are you saying that we have no options to reply? That we have no competent responses to questions of Emunah? Have we been reduced, in the Torah world, to one response only (“I believe because I believe. Fregt Nisht Kashas!”). Do we really have no defenders of Emunah? Furthermore, responses to Rabbi Farber do not need to be up to date on quantum physics. This has to do with Maamad Har Sinai, Avos, Nevuah and V’zos HaTorah Asher Som Moshe!

    You yourself said “We can deal with academic challenges later.” When is “later”? Because if “later” is not “sooner”, the Torah world will lose its credibility in the eyes of those seeking answers.

    Furthermore, if I understand your response, “later” will really be “never”, because of excuses.

    And then we are left with “Fregt Nisht Kashas”.

    Please help me understand your reply. I hope that I have grossly misunderstood you.

    [YA You have. I am not saying that we have no responses. I am saying that when we are faced with kefirah, the first order of business is to call it that, and keep people away from it. (Like it or not, there are still many, many people BH who ask questions of talmidei chachamim, including about matters of belief.)

    WE do have answers. In most cases, they are available only through personal contact with people who have developed them. There is a good reason for this. The people with serious intellectual issues are still in the minority in our communities – both MO and haredi. Discussion of problematic areas in public runs the risk of ensnaring people in questions that they would not have had to wrestle with, had they not discovered them in some public forum. We are reluctant, therefore, to publish on these areas, and prefer that the discussions be limited to those who need to involve themselves in them, with the proper guidance.]

  61. dina says:

    @Yisrael Asper
    “Halacha even in its pre-Sinaitic form iis definitely involved in deciding what of Rabbi Zev Farber’s ideas are outside the pale. If the Avos for instance were not real what can we say about the origins of certain halachas? Were there no Hebrews commanded to have a bris as was commanded to Avraham? If he did not exist then the answer is no.”

    I believe the rambam says that we keep bris etc because we were commanded to keep them at sinai, not because the avos kept them (he agrees the avos kept them, but that’s not their origin as mitzvos for us as klal yisroel to keep)

  62. Yisrael Asper says:

    “dina

    I believe the rambam says that we keep bris etc because we were commanded to keep them at sinai, not because the avos kept them (he agrees the avos kept them, but that’s not their origin as mitzvos for us as klal yisroel to keep)”

    I know. That wasn’t my point. Pre-Sinaitic Halacha also is something we rule on and that means it can have an affect on our beliefs concerning those days.

  63. David Ohsie says:

    With regard to why people don’t see the need to protest, perhaps there are some chickens coming home to roost? When Orthodox Jews who believe in the basic conclusions of the hard sciences (e.g. astronomy, geology, biology) are labeled as heretics (or at least believers in heretical ideas), then the label starts to get stretched. This is besides all of the vitriol directed between “Zionist” and “Anti-Zionist” Orthodox groups, betweeen “Charedi” and “non-Charedi”, between “Charedi” who will join the army and the “Charedi” that will protest their joining. These are all Orthodox Jews “excommunicating” each other in one way or the other.

    I’m not defending Rabbi Farber, buf if I was him I would say something like this: “Yes, there are always those who will label other Orthodox Jews as heretics. There were those that labeled believers in Copernicus thus and those people today will apply that label to anyone who is not a young earth creationist. Just by reciting the Prayer for Israel or, indeed, by communicating on the internet, I am beyond the pale for many Orthodox groups. So rather than paying attention to labels, you should consider the content of my statements.”

    [YA – The (quite frequent) misapplication of the term kefirah does not invalidate the concept. What R Farber believes is kefirah lechol hade’os – and for YCT and IRF not to openly say so, tells us much more about them than about R Farber.]

  64. Meir Goldberg says:

    FWIW, I have a blog that addresses some of the current issues in emunah that people might struggle with called truetorah. Just a disclaimer – the blog is heavily reliant on Chazal and a traditional approach, so it may not appeal to the skeptics.

    Also Rav Aharon Lopiansky’s da-ma-shetashiv at Torahdownloads is excellent.

    [YA I haven’t read either, but heartily recommend both individuals!]

  65. Yair Daar says:

    “YA – I completely reject the bifurcation between practice and truth. Halacha does not ask us to play-act. If we invalidate the testimony of an apikorus, it is because we believe apikorsus to be wrong and untruthful.”

    I would never claim that following Halacha is the same as playing pretend. But I think it’s clear (and I think you would agree) that deciding which halachik opinion to follow is not a simple as figuring out which argument has the most merit to it. Our methods of pesak are geared towards formalizing a common practice as much as they are geared toward discovering the truth. The Torah was given in a way that allows itself to be interpreted differently by those who think differently; isolating one opinion as being more truthful is often impossible.

    Now, the discussion related to kefirah is an interesting one because it has “truth” outcomes as well as halachik ones. I think the point you are trying to make is that if our sages provided legal ramifications to the definition of heresy, then clearly they felt that heresy requires definition and should be defined by the halachik process.

    As reasonable as that sounds, I don’t think it’s necessary that one leads to the other. The importance of defining heresy does not require using the usual halachik methods. One could easily split and say that for the halachik ramifications, we use the regular klalei psak, but for defining truth, we leave it more open. Would you say that once an opinion is followed due to klalei psak it becomes by definition more correct? I assume not. (If an opinion is logically correct it might become halacha, but not vise versa.)

    For example, what if someone honest and knowledgeable felt that following R’ Tam’s zmanim was correct to the point that they kept it to start Shabbos as well? While everyone else was in shul, he and his followers would still be driving around etc… Now, you might say that this person is violating proper halachik practice. But would you go so far as to say this person is true a m’chalel Shabbos b’farhesia? Would this person (assuming they are honest in their convictions and a Talmid Chacham) deserve being labeled in such a way? I don’t think so.

    Further, what if someone is a heretic according to Rambam but not Ibn Ezra or any other significant Rishon or Acharon? Would the fact that most have adopted Rambam ikkarei emunah make this person an apikores?

    Granted, these two examples are not exactly analogous to our situation. Rabbi Farber is advocating a position that no other significant Orthodox thinker has adopted. It is not like accepting R’ Tam’s Shabbos or Ibn Ezra’s definition of kefira. But if that is your problem we are just back to the original debate about how broadly we utilize Mesorah. And that is my entire point; this debate should not be about who is a kofer, but about what the truth is. If you can prove the Rabbi Farber is espousing kefirah, go ahead. But don’t use Mesorah as a proof.

    [YA -I agree that making the determination is not easy. But then, many halachic determminations are not easy. They still must be made, and responsible people in the halachic community make them. I also agree that we generally do not make such determinations in matters of aggada, creed, etc. But ikarie ha-dos are exceptions according to many; a handful of them are exceptions according to all. One of those is Torah min-HaShomayim. It is NOT difficult to determine that Rabbi Farber’s beliefs put him not at “the outer boundary” of Orthodoxy, as R Lopatin claims, but well beyond it. There is no machlokes about this. People and institutions that cannot or do not own up to this are shooting themselves in the foot, and leaving their wound exposed for all to see. They are making R Gordimer’s life much simpler, by doing the work for him.]

  66. Steve Brizel says:

    Yisrael Asper commented in part:

    “Pre-Sinaitic Halacha also is something we rule on and that means it can have an affect on our beliefs concerning those days.”

    Look at how the Mfarshim differ on the contents of the Halachos that were given at Marah before Matan Torah. I think that clear reading of the classical Mfarshim would lead any careful reader to conclude that whatever the content of the Mitzvos given at Marah, the same can be easily analogized to a preview or trailer of a movie. Bris Milah and Gid HaNasheh, while commanded to Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu, only became binding on all of Klal Yisrael after Matan Torah.

  67. hamevakesh says:

    Is it really always obvious that people who try to propose new ways of looking at things are betraying our ancestors. Maybe they are trying to find ways that have meaning for them which make it easier to accept what they have learned from prior generations. In any event, the classic literature on ikarei hadas makes it clear that these problems are not new.Maybe this is just another form of asking with Yirmiyahu tzadik athah hashem ki ariv alecha. You remain right but I still want to understand.

  68. Someone says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    You replied: “WE do have answers. In most cases, they are available only through personal contact with people who have developed them. There is a good reason for this. The people with serious intellectual issues are still in the minority in our communities – both MO and haredi. Discussion of problematic areas in public runs the risk of ensnaring people in questions that they would not have had to wrestle with, had they not discovered them in some public forum. We are reluctant, therefore, to publish on these areas, and prefer that the discussions be limited to those who need to involve themselves in them, with the proper guidance.”

    In my humble opinion, this approach is a recipe for disaster. Are we going to not address issues because they may cause some to ask questions? We have answers! Let us be proactive! Let us shout from the rooftops our beautiful Mesorah, and we can then “Ba’vorn” the potential questions and their answers. (Incidentally, see Rav Gordimer’s response to a similar question from me on his recent post. Simple. Elegant. Positive. Mission accomplished.)

    By relegating questions to Emunah to private meetings, students, young and old alike will be terrified to even ask! They will be branded as Kofrim or K’tanei Emunah – nebachs. I can state this as near universal fact, as I have been involved in Chinuch for decades. Thus, the result will be that we have created a generation of Baalei Sfaikos instead of Baalei Emunah, a generation of agnostics, conscious or subconscious, who are ripe for the picking for Rabbi Farber or the like.

    Furthermore, if a talmid is willing to ask the questions — who should he go to? In your prior reply to me, you bravely admitted that not all Rabbonim are qualified to cogently answer questions of Emunah. So where should the talmid with questions even go — if he is willing to do so? Do we assign a special secret door with a special knock to get in? Where is the access to this knowledge?

    If anything positive can come of this travesty — the bizayon of the Ikar of Torah min shomayim and the necessary strong response to it by Rav Gordimer, it should be that we have to proactively teach what we believe and why, and why we reject as falsehoods other approaches or denials of TMS.

    I will share an example: Most talmidim, young or old can tell you why they do not believe in Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc. They will tell you that it does not make sense to believe in a faith that was communicated to one person (or a small, small group). Maamad Har Sinai, however, was a mass revelation, hence their Emunah in Torah M’Sinai and Yahadus.

    Why? Because at some point they attended a Discovery Seminar, Shmooze, or a parent, Rebbe/Morah shared this idea with them. It is commonplace in schools to teach this. It is simple and short. Obviously, it does not cover EVERYTHING. Obviously, one could spend hours if not days discussing it, BUT IT GIVES THEM A PILLAR TO RELY ON!

    This has been successful. How often to we see Frum children converting to Catholicism or Mormon?

    But we have a big problem with “conversion” to apathy and agnosticism. You may want to portray the Orthodox world as being mainly in-line with Ikarei Emunah, with steady, simple faith. I counter that this is fiction and folly. So many frum Jews have no idea why they do what they do, and have no ability “l’hoshiv l’apikorus”. If they are not already secretly skeptical, they are ripe for the picking from those who would love to expose them to other views.

    Chazal’s admonition of “Dah Mah L’Hoshiv” is not for rare individuals. It is for everyone.

    Are we going to take the lead and give our people the tools to fulfill divrei chazal, or are we going to keep these answers hidden in (treasure) chest?

    With much respect and hope,

    Someone

  69. Bob Miller says:

    It may well be that many of us and our children are sheltered from contact with card-carrying apikorsim posing theological riddles. But each of us has his personal yetzer hara, always ready to play the role of internal apikoros. We should have a solid grounding in known answers before the predictable questions come up in thought.

  70. Eliyahu HT says:

    RYA- in the comment section, you stated- “The silence of YCT and IRF are a stronger indictment against them and their commitment to conventional halachic process, than they are of R Farber, may he be zocheh to come closer to authentic Torah, and resolve his doubts”.

    I find quite curious your wish that R Farber “be zocheh to come closer to AUTHENTIC Torah”.

    I empathize with your valiant efforts to protect the parameters of normative Orthodox belief- as a pragmatic matter.

    But this comment reaveals much more. You seem to condescend to R Farber because you believe he is plainly wrong and misguided. Does this mean you equate Mesorah with Authenticity? Are they necessarily one and the same?

    [YA – This is a matter of semantics. I refer you to the gemara in which one of the Amoraim was asked by someone to pasken for him a “din Torah” – and he refused. IIRC, the intent of the gemara is that the petitioner wanted the authentic, absolute, unvarnished emes of Torah in its pristine, abstract form. He responded that he could not do that. All human beings can do is follow the rules that HKBH has set down for us, i.e. the Mesorah, and come up with a human approximation of the Truth. In ignoring the mesorah, the Far Left can be described as inauthentic.]

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