Thursday, November 29, 2007

Slifkin in the Jewish Press III

For those who haven't tired of the issue, the Slifkin debate is again in the Jewish Press. What follows are mostly some general thoughts, beyond the topic of dinosaurs and evolution.For better or for worse, I have little interest in dinosaurs, the age of the universe, or in evolution. I understand of course, that there are others who are interested in these topics. My interest has rather been in the Science/Chazal issues, and I have always appreciated those who treat those topic separately from the former issues. To me, nuance and clarity of thought should be the name of the game, and separate topics deserve separate treatments, no matter what positions one takes.

I have quoted, positively, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb's forward to Challenge of Creation(and linked to a Jerusalem Post article discussing the issue), but noted clearly that that I was referring to the general points of intellectual inquiry, which have an application beyond the particular book. Similarly, one of the main reasons I attended the Challenge of Creation book launch was to hear Rabbi Weinreb, whose thoughts I enjoy hearing on many issues. Indeed, at the book launch, he mentioned the importance of the ability to think and to express a question, and that this could lead to strengthening, not weakening of emunah(based on my general recall of the speech).

I am still interested, though, in some aspects of the Jewish Press article linked above. For example, how does Rabbi Slifkin understand the following Moreh Nevuchim?

When we make Kiddush on Shabbos we recite the words of the fourth commandment stating that God rested (vayonach) on the seventh day. Chazal say that this means that creation came to halt on that day. The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, explains this as follows: “On each day of the six day creation week, novel entities were formed outside of the system of nature currently in operation and, on the seventh day (Shabbos), the state of the world became lasting and established just as it is at present.”

In a more general sense, as I have commented recently on Hirhurim, I am more concerned with intellectual honesty in public discussion, and to an extent, less afraid where the chips fall on the Slifkin issue. In other words, each side should admit to any weakness or perceived weakness in its positions, and not be afraid of allowing time to the other's arguments. This goes beyond the Slifkin issue, and I think applies to explaining any issue of Torah hashkafa, Charedi policy, or even basic emunah(I realize that emunah al pi chakirah is not a simple issue, but I'm referring to those who benefit from the approach).

I am not saying that this blog is necessarily the place to discuss every single issue, and therefore I give thought to what I post. But there should be a place for rigorous back and forth, for allowing the same thought process that is used in learning gemarah. I believe that intellectual honesty, strengthens, not weakens the Torah, and in the spirit of attempting that, I see fit to allow a link on this blog to a contra-Slifkin view, as well.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Annapolis Peace Conference

In reaction to the Annapolis Peace Conference, Orthodox Jewish groups are focusing not only on political advocacy, but also on generating awareness on what Yerushalayim means to Jews spiritually, and that it can not be taken for granted.

These topics were mentioned at the Agudah Convention, this past Motzoie Shabbos, which I attended. I also link to the OU's IPA website on the topic, and to The Gift of Jerusalem, from this past week's Jewish Press.


Third Ohel Benefit Concert

From "Every Neshema Can Soar", a musical video presentation at the Ohel Concert, earlier this month, sung by Shlomie Dachs and Son, to the tune of his "Hamalach"(click on song # 4, here, to sample):

"Tatty, I wonder, I am so blessed,
But my friend-he's very different;he's not like the rest,
He's so shy and quiet, he can't really play,
Yet he's still one of the letters, so precious, each one Hashem made ..."

"It's true there are special ones,
But he will learn, my precious son,
For I know the people who work and who teach.
With their skills they will touch his mind,
He will never be left behind,
And his Torah will be within reach.

The theme of the concert was indeed one of a Sefer Torah, and an actual one was dedicated at the concert.

Also unique was the fact that the concert was held despite a Broadway theater strike, thanks to the intervention of local politicians, as well as the dedication of the stage hands, ticket-takers, etc., who worked free of charge when they found out about the worthiness of the cause!

Featured at the concert were Yaakov Shwekey, Shlomo Simcha, Shloime Dachs, Chazzan Yechezkel Klang, Shalsheles Junior, and a child chazzan, Simcha Leveinstein.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Silence is Interpreted as Acquiescence

Rabbi Eli Teitlebaum writes to the Jewish Press:

I would like to add my name to those who approve of Rabbi Yakov Horowitz’s Nov. 9 op-ed article “You Might End Up Dead.” While these crazies are fortunately few in number, they make a massive chillul Hashem, since the media do not differentiate between wild extremists and most other Orthodox Jews.

If we remain silent when women are attacked by misguided individuals, we are all guilty – as we learn from what happened when the holy shevet of Binyamin refused to take action when a woman was violated by a wild gang of youths in their midst. A tremendous number of Jews died in vain and the shevet of Binyamin was nearly wiped out.

One can resort to civil disobedience but never to violence. Often our Torah leaders are afraid to call mass protests against public Torah desecrations only because of the fear that some individuals will get out of hand and receive all the media attention, thereby causing a chillul Hashem instead of a kiddush shem shomayim.

All of us must protest such behavior lest our silence be interpreted as acquiescence. Unless we all clearly distance ourselves from such behavior we, too, are guilty.

Let us hope for the day when letters such as this one will no longer be necessary !


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Respect for Torah Leaders

Rabbi Avi Shafran has an important essay about the vital importance of according proper respect to the views of gedolie Torah(Torah leaders).

He quotes the chazal regarding "binyan yeladim stirah, v'stiras zekenim binyan":

Commenting on the decision made by the Judean King Rechavam (King Solomon’s son) to shun the advice of the elders of his father’s court and heed instead the advice of younger advisors (Kings I:12), the Talmud remarks: “[What might seem] constructive on the part of the young [can in fact be] destructive; and [what might seem] destructive on the part of elders [can in fact be] constructive” (Nedarim, 40a). Rechavam’s wrong choice brought schism to the Jewish kingdom, fanning the flames of rebellion.

I noted the balance, towards the end of the article, between having an opinion and respecting views of gedolim:

It’s not only the so-called “Law of Unintended Consequences” that can figure into weighty decisions. A host of factors can make the right decision seem the wrong one, puzzling observers, even outraging them. To be sure, we all have a right to our opinion, and much can be gained by sharing our perspectives with others.

But two vital commodities in all-too-short supply these days are humility and respect for elders. We do well to consider that our confidence—“evidence” and all—that we know what is best no more qualifies us to make the right decision than putting a ranger’s hat on a bear’s head and a shovel in his hand makes him an expert on forest conservation.

At times, I will meet a person who will tell me, or imply , that I am not permitted to even express an opinion because I do not have daas Torah. I believe that such views do harm to true kvod chachamim, by implying that we live in a communist society, where a person is not even allowed to express an opinion!

This is why I am happy that Rabbi Shafran writes "we all have a right to our opinion, and much can be gained by sharing our perspectives with others". Of course, there is an appropriate way to express an opinion, and how to discuss words of Torah leaders. Much depends on the forum and on the care one takes in choosing how one expresses himself.

Kavad hatorah is vital, yet it does not come naturally, given that we naturally value personal autonomy. We should not, however, make it harder than it actually is, by implying that daas Torah means that we are not permitted to think for ourselves.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Creating a Safe Atmosphere for Dialogue

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz has a very important article that discusses the importance of encouraging and allowing for the greatest degree of participation in public dialogue, as opposed to intimidating people, intentionally or otherwise, into silence. Chazal tell us that one can learn from everyone, even from the smallest person, so we should not intimidate people, but rather, encourage participation to the greatest extent possible.

This is a topic which is near to my heart, and I think that it is also the first such article I have seen which made this point in the Charedi press(I will stand corrected if I'm wrong). If so, I give a big yasher koach to Rabbi Horowitz !

First, a little humor:

In my hometown of Monsey, New York, there are several weekly newspapers that are mailed to the community free of charge. I never cease to be amazed when people decline to sign their names in letters to the editor about mundane matters. Here are the types of letters that appear week after week:

“I would like to thank the Town officials for doing such a wonderful job plowing the streets after last week's snowstorm” E.R.

“I really enjoy the Dvar Torah column every week.” Name Withheld.

Whenever I read one of those letters, my first reaction is, “Wow, you are really going out on a limb there! No wonder you didn’t want to post your name on that letter.”

The article continues:

What is most troubling is that the only voices that are being silenced are the moderate ones. The kanoim, those in our community with the most extremist views, comfortably thunder their macho’os, protestations, in very public forums with nary a concern, while those who have more mainstream views are intimidated to express them.

Rabbi Horowitz concludes:

We desperately need forums where these matters are candidly discussed in an environment of mutual respect with an eye towards generating solutions to these challenges; where all views are encouraged and appreciated and where those who care enough – and have the courage – to ask tough questions are venerated for their dedication to the future of our children.

I would just add that each community and publication will have it's own limits of acceptable tolerance, of the limits of elu velu . The specific focus of Rabbi Horowitz's article is regarding educational matters such as helping troubled teens, where there is indeed a greater leeway for discussion and different opinion. As opposed to certain social or educational issues, an idea on a more haskafically/theologically significant topic, such as on Science and Torah will obviously not get printed unless it is acceptable by the vaad ruchani(rabbinical board) of the particular publication. I can understand that.

However, within certain limits, one can try to have more tolerance even on hashkafa topics. The idea is not to extend the limits of elu v'elu on core issues, but rather to find more tolerance within them on the non-core issues. The problem becomes, of course, if every small topic turns into a core issue; however, Not Everything Is a Ten.

It is also important to distinguish between agreeing with an idea, versus merely hearing a person out, and trying to understand where they are coming from. Participants need to think with nuance, and to carefully distinguish between various ideas, and to ask for clarification. Obviously, not all forums lend themselves out to this to the same extent , but all discussion should see nuance as a value.

I indeed believe that the image of the Torah community would be improved, were we to take this to message to heart.

Finally, there are, recent, positive examples where more than one Charedi publication has made an effort to encourage a participation of a wider range of ideas. I believe in giving credit where it is due, and perhaps such an example will be a subject of a future posting on this blog.