Emes Ve-Emunah

A Forum for Orthodox Jewish thought on Halacha, Hashkafa, and sociological issues of our time.

Name: Harry Maryles
Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Much of who I am is based on the philosophy of my primary mentor, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik from whom I received my rabbinic ordination. It is also based on a search for spiritual truth from various sources that I have studied. Primarily it is a reflection of my understanding of two great philosophic works, “Halakhic Man” and “Lonely Man of Faith” by the pre-eminent Jewish philosopher and theologian, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Of great significance to me is Dr. Norman Lamm's conceptualization and models of Torah U’Mada. Another individual who helped shape my thinking was Dr. Eliezer Berkovits who introduced me to the world of philosophic thought. My early religious education was most influenced by two pioneers of American Elementary Torah Chinuch, Rabbis Shmuel Kaufman and Yaakov Levi. The Yeshivos I attended were Yeshivas Telshe for early high school and more significantly, the Hebrew Theological College where for a period of ten years my Rebbeim included such great Rabbinic figures as Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Rabbi Mordechai Rogov, and of course Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Slifkin Affair: A Current Analysis

This week’s Jewish Press had a front page article by Rabbi Gil Student. I encourage everyone to read it. Even though I have been aware of the situation from the very beginning I was still unaware of some of the points raised by Rabbi Student such as the following excerpted from the article:

“But what surprised me most was the support from the yeshivishe world. I was expecting very little but received, and continue to receive, many letters, e-mails, phone calls, and even random stops on the street in Brooklyn from people who feel very passionately about this subject. Many rabbis and learned laymen seem to have tremendous sympathy for Rabbi Slifkin, both on a personal level for his public humiliation and on an intellectual level for his championing their views.”

I had no idea that the Yeshivishe world was so supportive. Until now I thought that with very few but notable exceptions, the Yeshiva world was firmly on the side of the ban once it was made, even if here-to-fore they were not. This was how Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aaron Feldman, viewed it. And this is how prominent Charedi Kiruv worker, Rabbi Dovid Orlovsky took it.

In a mea culpa essay circulated around the internet he hammered Rabbi Slifkin and suggested that if he (Rabbi Orlovsky) were the one whose books were banned he would be on his hands and knees begging for Mechila for espousing heretical views. (…which of course are not heretical at all except to those who banned the books.)

Additionally, there were the later assertions by certain rabbinic figures who were at first reticent to add their names to the ban. They too now supported the ban and considered Rabbi Slifkin to be impudent! In one instance of retraction of initial support, the ban was joined by a renowned rabbinic figure recanting his original support... after reading an unrelated article written by Rabbi Slifkin and interpreted as heretical. So with the tide seeming to shift in the direction of the ban I was gratified to learn from Rabbi Student that it was not universal.

I have said many times in the past both on this blog and elsewhere that the issue is not Rabbi Slifkin himself. He has unfortunately become the target of a group of people with a mindset which is fundamentalist to the core. And he has unfairly become their symbol for heresy and impudence.

Some people have tried to explain the actions of this group as a means to protect their own students, not well versed in the nuances of those of us who have studied science at a university level, from becoming heretics through the reading of his books. The views about creation and science contained there-in were after all views they were not familiar with and had always been thought of as heresy.

But while that may be part of the banners motives, I am convinced that it is only of secondary importance to them. This is a battle for the soul of the Torah world. It is a battle to exclusively define core Torah belief as those of their own, to the exclusion of all others. Rabbi Slifkin’s views (and others like them) are considerede heresy and they are determined to stop these views form being spread. And banning Rabbi Slifkin’s books on the subject is they way they are going about it. And this is critical to understanding what all the furor is about.

Most people who read this blog know where my own sympathies lie. They are clearly on the side of honest and open debate. And where there is Halachic and Hashkafic precedent one should freely be able to choose the position with which one is most comfortable. And those of us who are so disappointed with the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books were disappointed because the concept of plurality of thought, the idea of Elu V’Elu which has always been the hallmark of Judaism going back to the days of the Mishna is been denied to us by those who view fundamentalism as the only legitimate approach.

Since the ban many of those who work in Kiruv in the Yeshivishe world have all been scrambling to try and figure out what to do… how to approach intelligent and secularly educated Jews who have a natural affinity see the world through the prism written about by Rabbi Slifkin… and not look foolish and ignorant. I spoke to many Charedi leaders and people in Kiruv in Chicago after the ban and they were all as troubled by the ban as I was. Until the ban, the Lakewood Roshei Kollel in Chicago (The CCK) invited people who held views similar to those of Rabbi Slifkin to speak to outreach groups as well as to the actual Avreivhim in the Kollel. These included people like Dr. Gerald Schroeder, and Rabbi Sholom Kaminetsky. And the Lakewood Kollel in Chicago is not alone. One commentor I an earlier thread mentioned the following anecdote about the Lakewood Rosh Kollel Kollel in Detroit, Rabbi Shmuel Irons:

“Shmuel Irons gave a Simchat Torah night lecture (mostly off the cuff, I think) about Egyptology, Emmanuel Velikovsky and the Age of the Universe (I think that's what the title was). Rabbi Irons quoted many of the same sources as R. Slifkin. Not long ago I asked him, "Rabbi Slifkin's books get put in cherem while you said virtually the same thing, from the same sources, from the amud on Simchas Torah..." His response: "Some people have mazal." And he then had a hearty laugh.”

What is to be taken from his response? That there is no real Issur in holding the views contained in Rabbi Slifkin’s books, and that Rabbi Slifkin was singled out for banning because of his relative youth and, therefore, vulnerability. Banning his books had no real repercussions on anyone or any specific institutions. Except for Rabbi Slfkin and his family, who have really suffered unfairly from this harsh attack. To have banned the writings of Aryeh Kaplan, Gerald Schroeder, and the many rabbinic speakers of the type who spoke in Lakewood Kollelim that have espoused virtually the same thing Rabbi Slifkin does would have had far reaching repercussions that could not have stood. That is why there has been no banning of books containing views virtually identical to those of Rabbi Slifkin’s books. By attacking the younger Slifkin, it was thought that they could dispense with this ideolology without any real controversy in the wider Charedi community. But they were wrong.

The fallout is now apparent. The controversy is huge. People who are considered Gedloim have come out and joined the ban, where they had never considered doing so before. Ideas are now called heretical that have had clear precedent in the literature of some of the greatest Rishonim and Achronim in history. And some Rabbanim on the other side of the controversy have gone out on a limb to support Rabbi Slifkin. How these Rabbanim are viewed by those who have joined in the ban remains to be seen.

Where will all this end? Only God knows. But that is the “state of the union”.

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