Thursday, December 4, 2008

Questions I - what? vs why? vs silence?


I would like to start a discussion of the nature and validity of questions in the Orthodox world. This is a spin-off of the discussion regarding R' Tropper and R' Slifkin in the comments section. I think it deserves a separate post.

Let me start by stating that forty years when I first met Rav Shlomo Freifeld. I asked him some fundamental questions. His response was, "These are good questions, it is important to ask questions. But you should know that probably all of the questions you will ask have already been asked by our sages and discussed. But you need to be patient. We will eventually get to your questions."

It is one of the ironies of life that Reb Shlomo never did answer these questions - though we talked for many hours and I spent much time with him. One of the reasons for my sefer Daas Torah has been my own efforts to answer these questions. Reb Shlomo himself had many questions. He would raise questions in discussion or at the Shabbos table - but often there was no answer.

He had an extensive library of English books which included philosophy and novels. He even had me take out various philosophy books from the Brooklyn College library for him to read. However he never articulated answers to fundamental questions. He served primarily to validate the enterprise of searching and questioning. Once he approached me for a favor. "I just got a donation of a set of Encyclopedia Judaic on the condition that it be used by the yeshiva. It is full of kefira so I can't let it be used freely. Would you please use it so that I can fulfill the conditions?"

He often talked about the freshness of a child's curiosity and the unfortunate stagnation that happens when a person grows up and "knows" the answers

A year after his petira, I called up his son-in-law - the present rosh hayeshiva - to ask what Reb Shlomo held regarding asking questions or discussing topics that might cause religious doubt. He responded, "I never discussed these type of hashkofa questions with him. The only one who mights have discussed these type of issues with him was my wife." As far as I know there was no yerusha concerning Reb Shlomo's comfortable open mindedness.

There is a very profound statement by one of the most famous heretics - Spinoza. He asked, "What is an answer?" As any parent knows there is a certain age that child ask "why?" to anything and everything. What is an answer? Spinoza said that an answer is simply that which takes away the urge to ask another question!

It was not just Rabbi Freifeld and Rav Hutner who had an insatiable curiosity about everything. Soon after the petira of the Lubavitcher Rebbe I was talking with Rav Yaakov Goldberg - the head of the Lubavitch baal teshuva yeshiva Hadar HaTorah - concerning some of these things. He said, "You are too late! All these fundamental questions were of great interest to the Lubavicher Rebbe. There is no one today."

Finally let me mention my experience with writing and publishing my sefer Daas Torah. When I first started working on it I consulted a famous rabbi connected with Artscroll. He told me point blank - "you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues."

I consulted with Rav Bulman. His response was, "You will never get away with presenting multiple views. The yeshiva world holds that there is one right answer. You are following in the approach of Rav Tzadok and Rav Kook. But I want to buy the first copy. You hear I don't want a present I want to buy the first copy."

I talked to Rav Yaakov Weinberg - rosh hayeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. We talked for an hour and he repeatedly said. "We encourage questions from our talmidim in the yeshiva. There is nothing that you can't ask. However regarding writing - you can write about anything except the dispute between the chassidim and the Gra." He was also astonished when I mentioned Rav Dessler's view of eilu v'eilu - that it is simply a manifestation of different perspectives but all competing view of our sages are fundamentally in agreement. "You can't tell me that an intelligent person can think this way! If so words have no meaning."

I then went to Rav Eliashiv - he told me simply that there is no problem of raising issues and presenting multiple alternatives - as long as the source material was from mainstream accepted views. He did not see a problem "as long as I did not present sources from the Cairo Geniza." In regards to the issue of confusion - he said simply "let them ask their rebbes and rosh yeshiva." You don't avoid teaching Torah because it raises questions."

Rav Solveitchik on the other hand was not an intellectual i.e., he was not an open ended thinker - he was a Brisker. One of his students told me that one winter they were involved in a complex sugya when someone raised a question which was not discussed in any of the commentaries. It greatly upset Rav Solveitchik because "there is no valid question which is not discussed in the meforshim." The students were in the middle of their summer break when they received a call that Rav Soloveitchik wanted them to come to a special shiur. At the shiur he announced that he had found the solution to why no one talked about the question. The question was based on a mistaken girsa. He repeated again, "If it is a valid question you will find it discussed in the meforshim. If it isn't discussed that indicates it is not a valid question."

In the next post I will cite some of the fundamental texts dealing with the validity of questions - in particular those that don't have clear definitive answers. One final caution - the issue of asking questions and being open-minded exists in equal measure in the non-Orthodox world - both secular and religious. It would be helpful if you read the classic work "Teaching as a subversive activity." It contrasts the view of secular education as process of socialization versus learning how to think clearly.

25 comments :

  1. He often talked about the freshness of a child's curiosity

    R'YBS talked about this as well

    I'm fascinated by your account - the trail is a familiar one though not at the same heights. At some point don't you wonder about the cost of not being intellectually honest in our search .

    KT
    Joel RIch

    ReplyDelete
  2. BTW you might want to listen to at leas the first few minutes of this where R' Sacks talks about asking questions

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/729482/Cheif_Rabbi_Dr._Jonathan_Sacks/The_Importance_of_Leadership

    KT
    Joel Rich

    ReplyDelete
  3. Recipients and PublicityDecember 4, 2008 at 6:45 PM

    Dr. Eidensohn says some interesting things: "Let me start by stating that forty years when I first met Rav Shlomo Freifeld. I asked him some fundamental questions."

    RaP: Rabbi Freifeld's way of dealing with people and their issues was unique. He is long gone and the void has never been filled. Perhaps had his one and only son not been banished from Far Rockaway to Israel then the unique Freifeld derech of warmth and ahavas Yisroel would have continued. It no longer exists, only in broad brushsrokes: The impact he had on people at the time he was alive, and that some of his heirs were able to build a regular (non-Baal teshuva) yeshiva that now thrives because the 5 Towns has become a major center of Orthodox life.

    "His response was, 'These are good questions, it is important to ask questions. But you should know that probably all of the questions you will ask have already been asked by our sages and discussed. But you need to be patient. We will eventually get to your questions'."

    RaP: This is very good kiruv. Anyone curious about how kiruv is done, pay close attention to how Rabbi Freifeld handled situations like this. You are fortunate o have been exposed to his mehalech.

    "It is one of the ironies of life that Reb Shlomo never did answer these questions - though we talked for many hours and I spent much time with him."

    RaP: But at the time it was well worth it as you see that it left its mark.

    "One of the reasons for my sefer Daas Torah has been my own efforts to answer these questions."

    RaP: And it never ends....

    "Reb Shlomo himself had many questions. He would raise questions in discussion or at the Shabbos table - but often there was no answer."

    RaP: More good kiruv, always to pre-empt questions, based on the knowldge of what is on people's minds, by asking the questions yourself, this is a very disarming technique that gets people to let their natural guard down, especially if you throw in some cholent and zemiros. People will change strongly from this kind of "love bombing".

    "He had an extensive library of English books which included philosophy and novels."

    RaP: So does reportedly the disputed library of the previous, 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, with works by Russian thinkers, and it's kept under lock and key, except that which has not been disposed of or lost to recent water damage.

    "He even had me take out various philosophy books from the Brooklyn College library for him to read."

    RaP: How do you know he read them? Maybe he was just going through the motions to impress you that he was a student of philosphy when he was all the time reading Maharals and Zohars and chatting with Rav Hutner on the phone etc?

    "However he never articulated answers to fundamental questions."

    RaP: He didn't have to nor was it his goal. He knew that the longer one spends time immersed in Torah Umitzvos that many former supposed questions lose their stature, as people get into the questions of the Gemara and Rishonim and Achronim. It's a process of sublimating and seamlessly dove-tailing one world into another

    "He served primarily to validate the enterprise of searching and questioning."

    RaP: Obviously! He was playing the game of trying to shift the enterprise of thinking from just qustions to lomdishe kashyes. He was not interested in performing labotomies, he needed all the brains to create future talmidei chachomim.

    "Once he approached me for a favor. 'I just got a donation of a set of Encyclopedia Judaic on the condition that it be used by the yeshiva. It is full of kefira so I can't let it be used freely. Would you please use it so that I can fulfill the conditions?' "

    RaP: This story makes no sense. He only got the encyclopedia from them? Or it came with money for the yeshiva?

    "He often talked about the freshness of a child's curiosity and the unfortunate stagnation that happens when a person grows up and 'knows' the answers"

    RaP: Yeah, again this shows what a master mekarev and mechanech he was. He was tryiung to connect people with their inner child. To wake them up and put them in touch with themselves. This is as natural and refreshing as a spring rain shower that awakens the seeds in the gardens. It is like the proverbial wave of the magical wand that wakes up the sleeping prince/ss.

    "A year after his petira, I called up his son-in-law - the present rosh hayeshiva - to ask what Reb Shlomo held regarding asking questions or discussing topics that might cause religious doubt. He responded, "I never discussed these type of hashkofa questions with him. The only one who mights have discussed these type of issues with him was my wife." As far as I know there was no yerusha concerning Reb Shlomo's comfortable open mindedness.

    RaP: This is all true and correct. But you missed an opportunty there. He was maybe saying you should talk to his wife, now Rebbetzin Dr. Tehila F. Jeager PhD, and maybe she could convey Rav Freifeld's thinking like Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David is able to convey the world of her father Rav Hutner to those who are fortunate enough to hear her teach (notably her female pupils at BJJ in Jerusalem mainly, who, if there husbands will be lucky enough, will get to hear what she had to say).

    "There is a very profound statement by one of the most famous heretics - Spinoza. He asked, "What is an answer?" As any parent knows there is a certain age that child ask "why?" to anything and everything. What is an answer? Spinoza said that an answer is simply that which takes away the urge to ask another question!"

    raP: Heretics? Spinoza? Why does he have to come into this choshuve discussion? Look what happened to him from his questions, he was put in total cherem. Too much rationalism, and scholasticism, can be lethal, methinks!

    "It was not just Rabbi Freifeld and Rav Hutner who had an insatiable curiosity about everything."

    RaP: Truly unique men and you will never find anyone like them ever again!

    "Soon after the petira of the Lubavitcher Rebbe I was talking with Rav Yaakov Goldberg - the head of the Lubavitch baal teshuva yeshiva Hadar HaTorah - concerning some of these things. He said, 'You are too late! All these fundamental questions were of great interest to the Lubavicher Rebbe. There is no one today'."

    RaP: I think this is an outstandng answer. He gave you an amazing response. I have heard the same for pesak, that today there are the heaviest shaylos but few gedolim who can deal with them and do them justice. This is what a dor yosom means!

    "Finally let me mention my experience with writing and publishing my sefer Daas Torah. When I first started working on it I consulted a famous rabbi connected with Artscroll."

    RaP: Yeah, ArtScroll. It has its pluses and minuses. Generic-homogenized-sanitized-politically correct-neutered-parev Agudism in print! If you love the American Agudah conventions you will love ArtScroll!

    "He told me point blank - 'you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues'."

    RaP: I hope you weren't frightened by this type of cultural tyranny. It's the words of a commisar not of a thinker or writer. Those kind of people view Judaism as a type of "Catholicism" with a dogma (dogma HATES rationalism!) and a "Catechism" to be recited robotically from one source or another.

    "I consulted with Rav Bulman."

    RaP: One of the most unique Orthodox rabbis of our times: A Europena-rooted, thoroghly American, YU trained Agudist who openly took pride in his Rebbe Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik of RIETS and did the bidding of the Agudah Gedolim. Emotionalism, Hasidism, Modern Orthodoxy, Lomdus, Rabbonus, kiruv pioneer, Jewish day school creator, thinker, writer, and kanoi, all wrapped in one. And above all a trueand humble mentsch and a man of compassion!

    "His response was, 'You will never get away with presenting multiple views. The yeshiva world holds that there is one right answer. You are following in the approach of Rav Tzadok and Rav Kook. But I want to buy the first copy. You hear I don't want a present I want to buy the first copy'."

    RaP: That's the best haskoma. He was doing great kiruv with that view too. Not being a fanatic. A kindly kanoi! But it opens you up for attacks from all sides. Why do you side with Rav Shternbuch and the Badatz who are so narrow in their views? And why at the same time do you leave an opening for people like Rabbi Slifkin and their views?

    "I talked to Rav Yaakov Weinberg -

    RaP: Whoa! What a cast of characters you have brought so far. All are bona fide iconoclasts and big mekarevers. Rav Yaakov was so unique, a true genious with his own funny ideas, he was not even allowed to join the Moetzes of Agudah in America because Rav Elya Svei was so opposed to his views and outlook and methods.

    "rosh hayeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. We talked for an hour and he repeatedly said. 'We encourage questions from our talmidim in the yeshiva. There is nothing that you can't ask'."

    Rap: Hmm. How about all the questions about hanky panky at Ner Israel about molestation, that have come to light in recent years, as raised on the UOJ blog? What went on that he waws banished from Ner Israel and had to go to California. A trail of shut down institutions and lots of questions hang like a dark cloud over the head of this complex and brilliant man.

    " 'However regarding writing - you can write about anything except the dispute between the chassidim and the Gra'."

    RaP: This makes no sense. Hope you do NOT listen to him. Such chutzpah, so far noone but he has told you and demanded what "NOT" to write. He was trying not to create breaches, but the split came in Israel in any case when Rav Shach finally broke from all "the rebelach" (as he supposedly insultingly called them) on Agudas Yisreol and created the Degel HaTorah (with a stop along the way creating the Sefardi Shas party first.) Since then, in some ways there is a kind of open split between the two worlds of Chasism and Litvaks (I don't like using the term "misnagdim", it's so archaic, perjorative and misleading). It's a long and tough subject. Breslov has become bigger and into mass public displays of zeal in Israel. Lubavitch got into worldwide "Rebbe is Moshiach" worship with yellow flags, "Yechis" and all, and the Litvaks have gone their way as the Sefardim have carved out their own path in Israel under Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Shas party.

    "He was also astonished when I mentioned Rav Dessler's view of eilu v'eilu - that it is simply a manifestation of different perspectives but all competing view of our sages are fundamentally in agreement. 'You can't tell me that an intelligent person can think this way! If so words have no meaning'."

    RaP: Both are right, it all depends how you come at it and how far you will go. There is only one Torah, but it has Seventy Facets (600,000 according to the Kuzari, one for every Yid.)

    "I then went to Rav Eliashiv - he told me simply that there is no problem of raising issues and presenting multiple alternatives - as long as the source material was from mainstream accepted views. He did not see a problem 'as long as I did not present sources from the Cairo Geniza'."

    RaP: The most brilliant response so far and it shows his genius, yashrus and even sense of humor! The Cairo Geniza line is worth a million!

    "In regards to the issue of confusion - he said simply 'let them ask their rebbes and rosh yeshiva.' You don't avoid teaching Torah because it raises questions'."

    RaP: Again, more brilliance and superb practicality. Amazing! NO wonder he became the Gadol haDor and every last major shaylo is decided by him. A true glatte kop!

    "Rav Solveitchik on the other hand was not an intellectual i.e.,"

    RaP: This is avery funny statement. He had a PhD and was not an intellectual" what then was he in his expertise of the philosopher Herman Cohen whom he gloried in?

    "he was not an open ended thinker -' "

    RaP: Yes he was! He was a philosopher and even a mystic (though not Kabbalist) his first tutor was a Lubavitcher who secretly taught him Tanya. He was close with those other open ended thinkers and luminaries, Rav Hutner and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe all trained and well read in secular thinking and literature.

    "'he was a Brisker'."

    RaP: Yes and no! And not quite. With over a decade studying intensely at the University of Berlin with aPhD in Philosophy and married to a woman, his wife Tonya who also had a PhD in Education from a German University, and with a lifetime spent with the intellectual elite of Boston and at YU much of the Brisker in him was tempered and became something different.

    "One of his students told me that one winter they were involved in a complex sugya when someone raised a question which was not discussed in any of the commentaries. It greatly upset Rav Solveitchik because 'there is no valid question which is not discussed in the meforshim.' The students were in the middle of their summer break when they received a call that Rav Soloveitchik wanted them to come to a special shiur. At the shiur he announced that he had found the solution to why no one talked about the question. The question was based on a mistaken girsa. He repeated again, 'If it is a valid question you will find it discussed in the meforshim. If it isn't discussed that indicates it is not a valid question'."

    RaP: Every student will have a differnt tale of their rebbi. He was not producing automatons. So as a Soloveitchik he had all the hallmrks of other big Briskers as magid shiur, but he was more than a mere Brisker in this regard.

    "In the next post I will cite some of the fundamental texts dealing with the validity of questions - in particular those that don't have clear definitive answers. One final caution - the issue of asking questions and being open-minded exists in equal measure in the non-Orthodox world - both secular and religious. It would be helpful if you read the classic work 'Teaching as a subversive activity.' It contrasts the view of secular education as process of socialization versus learning how to think clearly."

    RaP: Not sure what all this is about. The jury is out. Will respond if possible.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Recipients and PublicityDecember 4, 2008 at 8:49 PM

    Dr. Eidensohn says some interesting things: "Let me start by stating that forty years when I first met Rav Shlomo Freifeld. I asked him some fundamental questions."

    RaP: Rabbi Freifeld's way of dealing with people and their issues was unique. He is long gone and the void has never been filled. Perhaps had his one and only son not been banished from Far Rockaway to Israel then the unique Freifeld derech of warmth and ahavas Yisroel would have continued. It no longer exists, only in broad brush strokes: The impact he had on people at the time he was alive, and that some of his heirs were able to build a regular (non-Baal teshuva) yeshiva that now thrives because the 5 Towns has become a major center of Orthodox life.

    "His response was, 'These are good questions, it is important to ask questions. But you should know that probably all of the questions you will ask have already been asked by our sages and discussed. But you need to be patient. We will eventually get to your questions'."

    RaP: This is very good kiruv. Anyone curious about how kiruv is done, pay close attention to how Rabbi Freifeld handled situations like this. You are fortunate o have been exposed to his mehalech.

    "It is one of the ironies of life that Reb Shlomo never did answer these questions - though we talked for many hours and I spent much time with him."

    RaP: But at the time it was well worth it as you see that it left its mark.

    "One of the reasons for my sefer Daas Torah has been my own efforts to answer these questions."

    RaP: And it never ends....

    "Reb Shlomo himself had many questions. He would raise questions in discussion or at the Shabbos table - but often there was no answer."

    RaP: More good kiruv, always to pre-empt questions, based on the knowldge of what is on people's minds, by asking the questions yourself, this is a very disarming technique that gets people to let their natural guard down, especially if you throw in some cholent and zemiros. People will change strongly from this kind of "love bombing".

    "He had an extensive library of English books which included philosophy and novels."

    RaP: So does reportedly the disputed library of the previous, 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, with works by Russian thinkers, and it's kept under lock and key, except that which has not been disposed of or lost to recent water damage.

    "He even had me take out various philosophy books from the Brooklyn College library for him to read."

    RaP: How do you know he read them? Maybe he was just going through the motions to impress you that he was a student of philosphy when he was all the time reading Maharals and Zohars and chatting with Rav Hutner on the phone etc?

    "However he never articulated answers to fundamental questions."

    RaP: He didn't have to nor was it his goal. He knew that the longer one spends time immersed in Torah Umitzvos that many former supposed questions lose their stature, as people get into the questions of the Gemara and Rishonim and Achronim. It's a process of sublimating and seamlessly dove-tailing one world into another

    "He served primarily to validate the enterprise of searching and questioning."

    RaP: Obviously! He was playing the game of trying to shift the enterprise of thinking from just qustions to lomdishe kashyes. He was not interested in performing labotomies, he needed all the brains to create future talmidei chachomim.

    "Once he approached me for a favor. 'I just got a donation of a set of Encyclopedia Judaic on the condition that it be used by the yeshiva. It is full of kefira so I can't let it be used freely. Would you please use it so that I can fulfill the conditions?' "

    RaP: This story makes no sense. He only got the encyclopedia from them? Or it came with money for the yeshiva?

    "He often talked about the freshness of a child's curiosity and the unfortunate stagnation that happens when a person grows up and 'knows' the answers"

    RaP: Yeah, again this shows what a master mekarev and mechanech he was. He was tryiung to connect people with their inner child. To wake them up and put them in touch with themselves. This is as natural and refreshing as a spring rain shower that awakens the seeds in the gardens. It is like the proverbial wave of the magical wand that wakes up the sleeping prince/ss.

    "A year after his petira, I called up his son-in-law - the present rosh hayeshiva - to ask what Reb Shlomo held regarding asking questions or discussing topics that might cause religious doubt. He responded, "I never discussed these type of hashkofa questions with him. The only one who mights have discussed these type of issues with him was my wife." As far as I know there was no yerusha concerning Reb Shlomo's comfortable open mindedness.

    RaP: This is all true and correct. But you missed an opportunty there. He was maybe saying you should talk to his wife, now Rebbetzin Dr. Tehila F. Jeager PhD, and maybe she could convey Rav Freifeld's thinking like Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David is able to convey the world of her father Rav Hutner to those who are fortunate enough to hear her teach (notably her female pupils at BJJ in Jerusalem mainly, who, if there husbands will be lucky enough, will get to hear what she had to say).

    "There is a very profound statement by one of the most famous heretics - Spinoza. He asked, "What is an answer?" As any parent knows there is a certain age that child ask "why?" to anything and everything. What is an answer? Spinoza said that an answer is simply that which takes away the urge to ask another question!"

    raP: Heretics? Spinoza? Why does he have to come into this choshuve discussion? Look what happened to him from his questions, he was put in total cherem. Too much rationalism, and scholasticism, can be lethal, methinks!

    "It was not just Rabbi Freifeld and Rav Hutner who had an insatiable curiosity about everything."

    RaP: Truly unique men and you will never find anyone like them ever again!

    "Soon after the petira of the Lubavitcher Rebbe I was talking with Rav Yaakov Goldberg - the head of the Lubavitch baal teshuva yeshiva Hadar HaTorah - concerning some of these things. He said, 'You are too late! All these fundamental questions were of great interest to the Lubavicher Rebbe. There is no one today'."

    RaP: I think this is an outstandng answer. He gave you an amazing response. I have heard the same for pesak, that today there are the heaviest shaylos but few gedolim who can deal with them and do them justice. This is what a dor yosom means!

    "Finally let me mention my experience with writing and publishing my sefer Daas Torah. When I first started working on it I consulted a famous rabbi connected with Artscroll."

    RaP: Yeah, ArtScroll. It has its pluses and minuses. Generic-homogenized-sanitized-politically correct-neutered-parev Agudism in print! If you love the American Agudah conventions you will love ArtScroll!

    "He told me point blank - 'you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues'."

    RaP: I hope you weren't frightened by this type of cultural tyranny. It's the words of a commisar not of a thinker or writer. Those kind of people view Judaism as a type of "Catholicism" with a dogma (dogma HATES rationalism!) and a "Catechism" to be recited robotically from one source or another.

    "I consulted with Rav Bulman."

    RaP: One of the most unique Orthodox rabbis of our times: A Europena-rooted, thoroghly American, YU trained Agudist who openly took pride in his Rebbe Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik of RIETS and did the bidding of the Agudah Gedolim. Emotionalism, Hasidism, Modern Orthodoxy, Lomdus, Rabbonus, kiruv pioneer, Jewish day school creator, thinker, writer, and kanoi, all wrapped in one. And above all a trueand humble mentsch and a man of compassion!

    "His response was, 'You will never get away with presenting multiple views. The yeshiva world holds that there is one right answer. You are following in the approach of Rav Tzadok and Rav Kook. But I want to buy the first copy. You hear I don't want a present I want to buy the first copy'."

    RaP: That's the best haskoma. He was doing great kiruv with that view too. Not being a fanatic. A kindly kanoi! But it opens you up for attacks from all sides. Why do you side with Rav Shternbuch and the Badatz who are so narrow in their views? And why at the same time do you leave an opening for people like Rabbi Slifkin and their views?

    "I talked to Rav Yaakov Weinberg -

    RaP: Whoa! What a cast of characters you have brought so far. All are bona fide iconoclasts and big mekarevers. Rav Yaakov was so unique, a true genious with his own funny ideas, he was not even allowed to join the Moetzes of Agudah in America because Rav Elya Svei was so opposed to his views and outlook and methods.

    "rosh hayeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. We talked for an hour and he repeatedly said. 'We encourage questions from our talmidim in the yeshiva. There is nothing that you can't ask'."

    [...]

    " 'However regarding writing - you can write about anything except the dispute between the chassidim and the Gra'."

    RaP: This makes no sense. Hope you do NOT listen to him. Such chutzpah, so far noone but he has told you and demanded what "NOT" to write. He was trying not to create breaches, but the split came in Israel in any case when Rav Shach finally broke from all "the rebelach" (as he supposedly insultingly called them) on Agudas Yisreol and created the Degel HaTorah (with a stop along the way creating the Sefardi Shas party first.) Since then, in some ways there is a kind of open split between the two worlds of Chasism and Litvaks (I don't like using the term "misnagdim", it's so archaic, perjorative and misleading). It's a long and tough subject. Breslov has become bigger and into mass public displays of zeal in Israel. Lubavitch got into worldwide "Rebbe is Moshiach" worship with yellow flags, "Yechis" and all, and the Litvaks have gone their way as the Sefardim have carved out their own path in Israel under Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Shas party.

    "He was also astonished when I mentioned Rav Dessler's view of eilu v'eilu - that it is simply a manifestation of different perspectives but all competing view of our sages are fundamentally in agreement. 'You can't tell me that an intelligent person can think this way! If so words have no meaning'."

    RaP: Both are right, it all depends how you come at it and how far you will go. There is only one Torah, but it has Seventy Facets (600,000 according to the Kuzari, one for every Yid.)

    "I then went to Rav Eliashiv - he told me simply that there is no problem of raising issues and presenting multiple alternatives - as long as the source material was from mainstream accepted views. He did not see a problem 'as long as I did not present sources from the Cairo Geniza'."

    RaP: The most brilliant response so far and it shows his genius, yashrus and even sense of humor! The Cairo Geniza line is worth a million!

    "In regards to the issue of confusion - he said simply 'let them ask their rebbes and rosh yeshiva.' You don't avoid teaching Torah because it raises questions'."

    RaP: Again, more brilliance and superb practicality. Amazing! NO wonder he became the Gadol haDor and every last major shaylo is decided by him. A true glatte kop!

    "Rav Solveitchik on the other hand was not an intellectual i.e.,"

    RaP: This is a very funny statement. He had a PhD and was not an intellectual" what then was he in his expertise of the philosopher Herman Cohen whom he gloried in?

    "he was not an open ended thinker -' "

    RaP: Yes he was! He was a philosopher and even a mystic (though not Kabbalist) his first tutor was a Lubavitcher who secretly taught him Tanya. He was close with those other open ended thinkers and luminaries, Rav Hutner and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe all trained and well read in secular thinking and literature.

    "'he was a Brisker'."

    RaP: Yes and no! And not quite. With over a decade studying intensely at the University of Berlin with aPhD in Philosophy and married to a woman, his wife Tonya who also had a PhD in Education from a German University, and with a lifetime spent with the intellectual elite of Boston and at YU much of the Brisker in him was tempered and became something different.

    "One of his students told me that one winter they were involved in a complex sugya when someone raised a question which was not discussed in any of the commentaries. It greatly upset Rav Solveitchik because 'there is no valid question which is not discussed in the meforshim.' The students were in the middle of their summer break when they received a call that Rav Soloveitchik wanted them to come to a special shiur. At the shiur he announced that he had found the solution to why no one talked about the question. The question was based on a mistaken girsa. He repeated again, 'If it is a valid question you will find it discussed in the meforshim. If it isn't discussed that indicates it is not a valid question'."

    RaP: Every student will have a differnt tale of their rebbi. He was not producing automatons. So as a Soloveitchik he had all the hallmrks of other big Briskers as magid shiur, but he was more than a mere Brisker in this regard.

    "In the next post I will cite some of the fundamental texts dealing with the validity of questions - in particular those that don't have clear definitive answers. One final caution - the issue of asking questions and being open-minded exists in equal measure in the non-Orthodox world - both secular and religious. It would be helpful if you read the classic work 'Teaching as a subversive activity.' It contrasts the view of secular education as process of socialization versus learning how to think clearly."

    RaP: Not sure what all this is about. The jury is out. Will respond if possible.

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  5. "you are a danger to klall Yisroel. You are going to cause confusion and doubt by telling people that there are multiple ways of understanding fundamental hashkofa issues."

    This has been the shita of Artscroll Publications from the beginning. First using a thick black magic marker to redo the dress and lack of headcoverings on some past rebbetzins, then the use of 'photoshop' to remove questionable rabbonim sitting next to other rabbonim.. The facts that are eluded and void from the many biographies are comic, in particular to the families of these leaders. WHAT CAN YOU DO, the artscroll rabbinic board believes that diverse POV's will cause anquish and lack of bitachon, instead we have the largest group of 'drop outs' ever from the frum ranks.
    BTW Rav Bulman Z"TL was very close with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook ZT"L and had a fondness to the yeshiva and learning at Mercaz Harav. Off the subject, he was the first shul in New York (Far Rockaway) to have Rav Kahane z"l address the kehilla on a motzi shabbos. (i was there).

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  6. RaP: This is very good kiruv. Anyone curious about how kiruv is done, pay close attention to how Rabbi Freifeld handled situations like this. You are fortunate o have been exposed to his mehalech.
    ============
    I found your charaterizations interesting, insightful and irritating - in the sense of finding a serious stain on your suit on Shabbos. You keep repeating how this is good kiruv. What do you mean by kiruv? Why not understand simply that Reb Shlomo was a master teacher as were/are the others cited in my post.

    Kiruv implies that some how you need to sell or reframe something that is not acceptable to the person now. None of the examples fit that description.

    If I tell you directions how to get to Mahanattan from Far Rockaway - is that kiruv?

    I would replace every instance of your word kiruv with the word teaching.

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  7. "He even had me take out various philosophy books from the Brooklyn College library for him to read."

    RaP: How do you know he read them? Maybe he was just going through the motions to impress you that he was a student of philosphy when he was all the time reading Maharals and Zohars and chatting with Rav Hutner on the phone etc?
    ================
    Aside from the fact that he had no need to impress me with what he did or did not read - it was obvious from what he said to me and others that he was familiar with the material. He never gave any indication that he was a master of philosophy - but he was fascinated with ideas and insights.

    One of his major concerns - besides being a master teacher and role model was the issue of honesty.

    He used to give a drasha at the kiddush after davening. One Shabbos he spoke of the greatness of R' Yehuda haNassi and showed it by analyzing Shabbos (3b):Said R. Hiyya to Rab: Son of illustrious ancestors! Have I not told you that when Rabbi is engaged on one Tractate you must not question him about another, lest he be not conversant with it. For if Rabbi were not a great man, you would have put him to shame, for he might have answered you incorrectly.1 Still, he has now answered you correctly, for it was taught: If one was laden with food and drink while it was yet day,2 and he carries them out after dark, he is culpable, because it is not like his hand.3

    I sat very uncomfortably through the derasha - which contained profound insight about the nature of great people - because the proof he brought was a direct contradiction to what the gemora had said.

    I had just finished making a siyum on mesechta Shabbos so I was sure that he had erred - but how could he make a mistake in an explicit gemora? After the kiddush I approached him together with my chavrusa to ask him to explain the contradiction between what he had said and what the gemora clearly said.

    He listened carefully to my question and then looked directly at me and said, "What do you expect - I haven't looked at that gemora in 25 years."
    That was not kiruv - it was an expression of a great man who was not ashamed to admit that one of his students had caught him in making a mistake. It was a lesson both in humility and in the reality of some one who had sacrificed even his own Torah learning - for the sake of helping others. Ironically it was also the peshat in the gemora itself.

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  8. RaP: This story makes no sense. He only got the encyclopedia from them? Or it came with money for the yeshiva?
    ==============
    The encyclopedia was donated on condition that it be used by the yeshiva. He wanted to accept the donation but at the same time he didn't want anybody corrupted by the heresy within it. He also didn't want to violate the condition of the donor. By selecting those talmidim such as myself - who were not going to be harmed by reading it - he fulfilled his obligation in full.

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  9. DT: Rav Solveitchik on the other hand was not an intellectual i.e.,"

    RaP: This is a very funny statement. He had a PhD and was not an intellectual" what then was he in his expertise of the philosopher Herman Cohen whom he gloried in?

    DT: "he was not an open ended thinker -' "

    RaP: Yes he was! He was a philosopher and even a mystic (though not Kabbalist) his first tutor was a Lubavitcher who secretly taught him Tanya. He was close with those other open ended thinkers and luminaries, Rav Hutner and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe all trained and well read in secular thinking and literature.

    DT"'he was a Brisker'."
    ======================
    Rav Soloveitchik's intellectuallism - his mastery of abstruse and abstract secular and philosophical ideas - was not inherent to his being. He was to the core a solid Brisker gadol. The philosophy was just a front.

    His daughter Reb. Tova Lichtenstein said as much at a conference at the Van Leer institute - in response to a lament from R Yitz Greenberg that Rav Soloveitchik had led them into the modern world but was not here to help show them how to resolve conflicts between Torah and the secular world. "My father was not bothered or interested in the so-called conflicts between Torah and secular knowledge. He was involved in secular studies because that was what that generation needed from its leaders. It was necessary to impress people that you could be frum and well educated. If he were functioning as a leader today he would have take a more traditonal role as rosh yeshiva."

    When it came to the big issues such as the conflict between science and Torah or conflict with Archeology and Biblical critisim - he said simply that he wasn't intersted in these questions and laughed at those who were bothed by these questions.

    He said almost word for word the response that Rav Chaim Brisker said to the issues of questions."

    I am using intellectual in the sense of the Rambam - someone who has major questions and feels it necessary to try to answer them in order to live. Rav Soloveitchik started with the point of emuna peshuta and the questions were just kiruv tactics or intellectual games such as one would play chess. The issues of the philosophical world simply were not that important to him. Rav Shurkin told me that for the last 25 years of Rav Soloveitchik life - he never saw him once with a secular book.
    He was not obsessed with understand Kant her Herman Cohen - he was obsessed with understanding Rambam and Tanya.
    Thus he was interested in understanding things within the closed system of the Brisker world. He did not have an open ended curiosity and drive to know - which seemed to have characterized others such as Rav Kook, Rav Hutner and Rav Freifeld.

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  10. Recipients and PublicityDecember 5, 2008 at 11:25 AM

    Dr. Eidensohn says about Rabbi J.B. Solovietchik: "He did not have an open ended curiosity and drive to know - which seemed to have characterized others such as Rav Kook, Rav Hutner and Rav Freifeld."

    Unlike the others here, by the time he got to the USA, Rav Solovietchik had already spent over a decade of his life in Berlin studying with the greatest secular minds at the university and earning a PhD, a phenomenol accomplishment in those days for a young man coming from the Eastern European world of shtettels, and Brisk, like Slabodka, Volozhin, Mir, Telz and the rest were just shtetlach, little one horse town dorps. Only Vilna was any decent size in Lithuania and it was not huge either. Further afield, St. Petersburg and Moscow were bigger cities (under the Bolsheviks there was no Yiddishkeit there either). But to go to Berlin, Vienna, London or Paris between the two world wars (1918-1939) was to go to the top of the mountain intellectually, the intellectual and academic capitals of the world (soon to be displaced by American universities with the fall of Europe to Hitler from 1939 on).

    So one can assume that given that Rav Soloveitchik spent about a decade in Berlin, and of course he was learning Torahthere as well, but he gave enough of his time for all manner of secular intellectaul endeavours there.

    In America and Boston and New York his role was different. He saw himself as a trailblazer in spreading Yiddishkei through chinuch (he was a true pure mechenech while Rabbi Freifeld was a mekarever first and foremost).

    In his early American years in rav Soloveitchik was literally, what one would call in today's terms, a Charedi fanatic. He fought corruption in shechita in Boston and took on the majority dishonest shochtima that involved him in along legal dispute. And he resolved not to do that again. He joined Agudath Israel in America when it was established by Rav Lazer Silver in the 1930s and served on its first Moetzes Gedolei haTorah, until he resigned to build the RCA as he saw that as the future he needed to infuse with his influence helping the rise of Modern Orthodoxy.

    Please stop revisionism of him and making him into a "generic Brisker" when he was a revolutionary of thought and intellect battlin in many ways to bring Orthodoxy into a modern world and trying to make modernity not trouble Orthodoxy.

    The proof that this troubled his contemporaries who began to hold him at arm's length, is how he was rejected by the rising yeshiva world. Rav Hutner forbid his students to attend even Rav Soloveitchik's famous Yohrtzeit shiurim in spite of their early close friendship. He kept his assocation with the Agudas HaRabbonim at all times where he sat with Rav Moshe Feinstein (his relative) in harmony.

    So one could say that in America "he had better things to do" that pontificate and stare at his navel and contemplate the universe etc when he had a major job to do of being the top magid shiur at RIETS which fell to after the sudden death of his father Rav Moshe Soloveitchik ztk"l. He was not the "official Rosh Yeshiva" of RIETS as that title went to Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin.

    So one sees that when all was said and done in the bulk of his time, Rav Soloveitchik was a marbitz Torah par excellenec in America and left the amateur philosophising to lesser minds, because his mind had already scaled all the philosophical and intellectual peaks of Western Thought and Logic at the Unversity of Berlin and the time he spent there with its professors and fellow intellectual and thinkers.

    The quote/retort/mussar you mention from his daughter Tova to Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is not the end of the story because one must see who is asking the question and why and who the one giving the answer is. For as is known, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and his wife Blu Greenberg are about as radical Modern Orthodoxists as anyone can be. If Rabbi Soloveitchik reprsents the core and the best of Modern Orthodoxy, then Rabbi Irving Greenberg and his wife Blu belong to the far-left wing "lunatic fringe." Blu is the "mother" the Orthodox Feminist movement in America and her husband is in cahoots with all the left wing Jewish Federations that seek out ultra MO rabbis that will support Federation-type views.

    So Rebbetzin Tova was giving Greenberg good MUSSAR! Stop making my Tatty into a social actvists he had better things on his mind like learning a blatt gemora or thinking over his Zaide's Reb Chaim Soloveitchik's chiddushim.

    In any case how would she know what was going on when her father was in Berlin? What he read? Who he spoke to and what he spoke about in all the years before she was in diapers? So your quote needs greater context than you gave it.

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  11. RaP wrote: Please stop revisionism of him and making him into a "generic Brisker" when he was a revolutionary of thought and intellect battlin in many ways to bring Orthodoxy into a modern world and trying to make modernity not trouble Orthodoxy.
    ===============
    Revisionism requires that there be a clarity of the starting point. Is it is public image or what those close to him perceived.
    This is the battle between Dr. Lawrence Kaplan - a student and translator of Rav Soloveitchik - and Rabbi Meisleman who was not only a relative but also learned with him as chavrusa for many years.

    Rav Shurkin also told me that Rav Solveitchik once explained why he went to university "My mother insisted." She was highly educated and apparently a much strong personality than his father. On another occasion he answerered by explicity saying, "It was necessary to be highly educated to make a proper impression on a generation that respected college professors but not talmidei chachomim."

    BTW the way Rav Chaim was also a revolutionary. His scientific model of learning - "ask 'what' questions not 'why' questions" - was a major change and one necessary to attract people who were attracted to secular learning and found traditional yeshiva learning boring.

    Similarly Rav Yisroel Salanter acknoweldged that his mussar movement was "frum haskala" He consciously and deliberately took the ideas of the revolutionary humanists and made it kosher. He said "we can not keep people frum by locking them up in high walls. We need to take that which they are attracted to and make it frum." [From the Seridei Aish's essays on the subject]

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  12. So I think we will have to agree that some look at R'YBS and see themselves in the mirror. Far be it from me, who was not a talmid, to posit what an intellect and a soul in a different league then me really thought.

    I would say however that his letters in C-C-C, as well as his life long devotion to YU and mizrachi (not being dragged along looking like he wanted an out and at great personal cost - imho he must've known that he was on the gadol hador teack in the agudah world) and his philosophical writings replete with outside the Yeshiva references, imply a unique nature.

    I doubt a pure Brisker would written Halachik Man?

    In any event, he is no longer here to tell us and we must each rind our way through the dark night.

    KY
    Joel Rich

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  13. first Moetzes Gedolei haTorah, until he resigned to build the RCA as he saw that as the future he needed to infuse with his influence helping the rise of Modern Orthodoxy.
    When I was at Ohr Somayach, I was looking through The Struggle and the Splendor -- the Agudah's house history -- and I noted that it said that the Agudah's first Moetzes Gedolei haTorah was founded in 1948. So that indicated to me that the Rav could not have been on it, as he had left the Agudah before that. Indeed, in the Jewish Observer's "obituary" for the Rav, the following is written: "While Rabbi Soloveitchik was affiliated with Agudath Israel in the 30's and he addressed its national conventions during those years, he later became the honorary head of the American Religious Zionists (Mizrachi). He also was Chairman of the Halacha Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America." I then proceeded to call the Orthodox Archives and they told me that the Moetzes was certainly founded in 1948 and that the Rav had been on the Nesius of the Agudah, but that there was no Moetzes yet. So there was no indication that the Rav was on a Moetzes and indeed, it seemingly hadn't existed until 1948.

    And then I went through R' Rakeffet's 1st volume on the Rav. Shocked, I called R' Rakeffet and he gave me the awesome opportunity to interview him (listen to it here: http://www.mediafire.com/?3bzjtjf32s8 ). Later, he let me know that the source literature was documented in his volume on R' Eliezer Silver. I went to Hebrew University and took a look; it cited an old issue of Hapardes and I managed to find it in HU's archives: p. 16 of Hapardes, September 1941 cites that the Rav was instated into the 1st "Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah." I informed the Orthodox Archives via telephone and R' Berel Wein, whose course at Ohr Somayach I was taking at the time.

    Indeed,the Rav was also National Executive Director of the Agudah.

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  14. ."..he was a revolutionary of thought and intellect battlin in many ways to bring Orthodoxy into a modern world and trying to make modernity not trouble Orthodoxy." This is the battle between Dr. Lawrence Kaplan - a student and translator of Rav Soloveitchik - and Rabbi Meisleman who was not only a relative but also learned with him as chavrusa for many years.
    Well, let's clarify; this is a battle between Dr. Kaplan and R' Meiselman. Dr. Kaplan (and others, like R' Nati Helfgot and R' Yosef Blau) points out R' Meiselman's revisionism on other things. If I'm understanding correctly, you're referring to R' Meiselman's view that the Rav was just using philosophy to show Americans how beautiful Judaism is. I would note that the alternative perspective Dr. Kaplan offers is that of the Rav's son-in-law Dr. Isadore Twerski. Dr. Twerski's words:
    "The Rav's teaching is not cast as an apology for traditional Judaism or as an attempt to harmonize it with some general school of thought. The masorak is not subordinated to any extraneous system nor does it need to be validated by aligning it with Kant and Hegel. It needs to be appropriated and explicated, to be analyzed and conceptualized. The Roy's teaching-drawing freely from Torah and hokhmah-fascinates us for its compelling interpretive insights ..., its theological subtleties, philosophical perceptions and moral nuances, its beauty and profundity.... The Roy's message is the following: When you know your Way--your point of departure and goals--then use philosophy, science and the humanities to illumine your exposition, sharpen your categories, probe the profundities and subtleties of the masorah and reveal its charm and majesty; in so doing you should be able to command respect from the alienated and communicate with some who might otherwise be hostile or indifferent to your teaching as well as to increase the sensitivity and spirituality of the committed."
    Dr. Kaplan notes:
    "Note that Professor Twerksy makes place for the apologetic motif in the Rav's use of philosophy, but this is a minor strand in a rich and colorful tapestry. The use of science, philosophy, and the humanities is primarily designed to deepen one's own understanding of the masorah. While such use may also enable one to reach such perhaps otherwise unreachable opaque people as the alienated, hostile, and indifferent, it also serves 'to increase the sensitivity and spirituality of the committed.' ...(I should add parenthetically that 99.9% of the "general American public" would not have been able to understand the rich rabbinic Hebrew of Ish ha-Halakhah. As the Rav once quipped to me: "Who could read Ish ha-Halakhah? Only rabbonim! But what do rabbonim know about philosophy?")

    [btw, I would just note paranthetically that the Lichtensteins and R' Meiselman (as well as R' Shurkin) obviously view the Rav in very different lights]

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  15. Your latest article leaves me with a long time question.

    If a religious person is willing to be questioning and open minded, what stops him from questioning fundamental issues and arriving at conclusions that may be unacceptable by any benchmark. For example, a person might ask that Chazal seemingly got the dates of the Persian Empire wrong, misunderstood the life cycle of the louse, make many assertions in hilchos treifos that conflict with facts, and seem (sometimes) to think the world is flat. If the person is a straight thinker and unwilling to accept forced answers such as nature altering drastically over the centuries, or all the secular historians being boors, he may then question the basis of many halachos that are based on Chazal's understanding of fact, such as hilchos kashrus of keilim, which often defies common sense. The person may then go a step further and say that since Chazal are not infallible in logic, perhaps this effected their halachic conclusions or understanding of how Torah works. After all, the Gemara's way of thinking is a strange one to anyone not inured to the system.

    Of course there are answers to everything, including the classic answer that we don't have to know the answer. But what happens if our open minded gent doesn't accept this rather crooked approach wholeheartedly and concludes: "OK, maybe you're right and maybe you're wrong. Meanwhile I will be agnostic regarding these matters, believing in nothing as cut and dried.

    What stops a person sliding down this slippery shute? Belief in Torah MiSinai Kuzari style? An open minded person can find holes in that argument large enough for a tank to drive through.

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  16. RaP wrote:
    "However he never articulated answers to fundamental questions."

    RaP: He didn't have to nor was it his goal. He knew that the longer one spends time immersed in Torah Umitzvos that many former supposed questions lose their stature, as people get into the questions of the Gemara and Rishonim and Achronim. It's a process of sublimating and seamlessly dove-tailing one world into another

    "He served primarily to validate the enterprise of searching and questioning."

    RaP: Obviously! He was playing the game of trying to shift the enterprise of thinking from just qustions to lomdishe kashyes. He was not interested in performing labotomies, he needed all the brains to create future talmidei chachomim.
    ==================
    You are assuming that he saw no value in questions other than Torah. I saw no evidence of that and would like to know how you know this? Or it mere conjecture on your part?

    I was study a sefer Keser Torah which asserted that all knowledge is found in Torah. I asked Reb Shlomo so why is there a need to study anything other than Torah? He replied that while it is true that all knowledge is contained in Torah - practically speaking we do not know how to access this information and therefore we have to acquire knowledge of many things from non-Torah sources.

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  17. Avraham said,

    If a religious person is willing to be questioning and open minded, what stops him from questioning fundamental issues and arriving at conclusions that may be unacceptable by any benchmark.

    For a person that thinks, this will happen anyways. Rabbi Avigdor Miller z"l said that when a person has a serious question it is like being bitten by a poisonous snake. It can't be left to fester.

    I have met people who are very sincere but who were thwarted from asking questions. Many of them came to the false conclusion that there are no answers and that we can't prove that Judaism is better than anything else.

    For example, a person might ask that Chazal seemingly got the dates of the Persian Empire wrong, misunderstood the life cycle of the louse, make many assertions in hilchos treifos that conflict with facts,

    We have a rule that a judge can only go by what he sees with his eyes. Therefore, microscopic things don't exist in halacha. For example, if one examined a sefer torah and saw that a letter was fine but under the scope it is cracked, the torah is kosher. Similarly, spontaneous generation appears to be happening if one doesn't have access to see the microscopic eggs. As far as halacha is concerned we deal with the world as we see it and this is valid in the eyes of heaven. We don't have to have the absolute underlying truth for the correct halacha.

    In truth, even in science this is true. Newtonian mechanics are not correct. They have been replaced by Relativistic physics. However, in daily events we work with the Newtonian model.



    and seem (sometimes) to think the world is flat.


    Chazal admit that their view of how the Sun revolves around the Earth is wrong and the Gentiles are right. (The Sun moves around the Earth if you assume that the Earth is a fixed point in the Universe. The mathematics of the motion is easier if you assume that the Sun is stationary. That doesn't prove that it is.)

    Lo bashomayim hi means that Chazal can have a perception of the world that approximates physical reality close enough so that halacha can be based on it. Modern science is also not correct. Every new textbook that comes out says that once we believed such and such and now we believe x (for the next few decades). Humans are not required to penetrate to the ultimate depths of the scientific truth if Hashem accepts an approximation as adequate.

    he may then question the basis of many halachos that are based on Chazal's understanding of fact, such as hilchos kashrus of keilim, which often defies common sense.

    I don't see how "common sense" is violated. If you want a real violation of common sense, ponder the theory of evolution. The life cycle of the Emperor Penguin is an absolute contradiction to the survival of the fittest.

    After all, the Gemara's way of thinking is a strange one to anyone not inured to the system.

    The Gemara's thinking is deep far beyond the common type of thinking that passes for rational thought. Anyone who has merited hearing solutions to the most difficult problems by true masters of the Gemara realizes that their logic is far from irrational. However, it may seem so to the uninitiated. Relativity is also weird.

    I have personally benefited from having heard shiurim directly from Rav Shimon Schwab z"l and no question of any kind was forbidden. He discussed the age of the Earth (which is a concoction to solve dilemma of the contradiction to probability that evolution presents). He also discussed evolution in relation to the Torah directly as well as many other questions.

    There are ultimately some questions that a person won't find a solution to until much later or never. The raavad complains that the Rambam shouldn't have written about yediya and bechira since he didn't offer a satisfying answer. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky z'L said that the Rambam was showing that fun a kashye shtarbt men nit, one doesn't die from an unanswered question.

    If the overwhelming evidence is for the truth of the Torah for the vast majority of issues, some open questions don't invalidate it.

    Presenting these questions and discussions to the general public may be dangerous. It's more important for them to have the right conclusions without knowing the reasons. However, those who have questions should be able to ask and get answers. The people who have the answers exist. It is not always easy to find them.

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  18. I see Rav Tropper has become a gaon and a world authority in kiruv. Interesting note about the Rav being in Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and how Aguda twisted history to hide it. That is more grist for the mill for the open minded issue. If frum authorities are willing to twist history at the drop of a hat, an open minded person may ask, how can they be trusted regarding anything. Surely this will spill over into halacha. And it does:

    Yesterday I attended a shiur where the rav (an American) explained that if one is choshesh for the Zebu being treif, this will invalidate every head of cattle in South America since the Zebu has been inbred there for about a century since it is much hardier, survives the climate better, and has much less sirchos. But what did the Rav Elyashiv crowd do? For some reason they only examined the pedigree a decade back or so, and thus falsely maintain that some lines there have no Zebu stock - which is lichora a patent falsehood.

    Take the wig issue. A huge tumult was raised which has mysteriously quietened down. Why? Have the Indians stopped worshipping idolatry? Evidently, because it seems the whole thing was a mistake mei'ikara as many people claimed from the start. But does anyone admit this? Maybe. Not that I've heard of.

    If this is going on nowadays, the open minded person may ask, who knows what'sbeen going on for the past 2,000 years. Conclusion: It is dangerous for a frum person to be open minded. Fake open minded Eish HaTorah style ok, truly open minded, never.

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  19. Reply to tzoorba


    The hilchos treifos I had in mind are the rules of what injuries will cause an animal to die within a year. The Chazon Ish asks that these rules conflict with modern findings, and answers that nature has changed. In the time of chazal animals would die within a year, nowadays they do not. An "open minded" person could feel free to reject such an non-evidence-based answer.

    The late Klausenberger Rebbe has a teshuva where he mentions a couple of instances of hilchos kashrus where poskim ask that they defy common sense and strive to find answers. His answer is that we do not care about what common sense and what we see with our eyes. The Torah is supreme. The "open minded" person would not be happy with such a response.

    Learning gemara ultimately requires emunas chachamim because many things will remain an enigma, especially the exegesis of verses which, by common assent, are no longer properly understood. Plus, the yeshivish saying goes that our job is not to know why the rishonim say something but only what they say. To accept this requires a limitation of open-mindedness.

    The overwhelming evidence is that the Torah is the most valid of any religion or ethical system on earth. Scientifically speaking, the validity of the torah cannot be proven (or there would be no bechira). Regarding the Torah codes, the most ambitious attempt ever to provide scientific backing to the Torah, Professor Yisrael Auman wrote (after the experiment was repeated with the mutual participation of both sides of the argument) that the rabbis experiment has not been proven and he did not know if it was provable.

    If a person wants an answer he will find it. However, an open minded person, by normal definition, is not looking for a particular answer but for any answer - he is open minded.

    In conclusion, a frum person's open mindedness must be redefined. He is open to questions, but not to any answers. Only the answers that concur with the system. There is nothing wrong with this, but this difference in definition is misleading when it is not undestood and pointed out.

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  20. To Avraham:
    My canned response to your extreme definition of "open-mindedness" is:

    Are you open minded to the possibility that you were adopted as an infant?
    If you truly are, you should be running to the lab to get a DNA test in order to really know who your parents are.

    Most Orthodox people rely on "non-evidence based" answers to your questions much the same way most of us rely on our experience growing up and do not feel the need to question the parenthood of our "alleged" fathers and mothers.

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  21. Funnily enough, I did feel uneasy about the adoption issue after my mother mentioned that a maternity ward nurse once brought in a giant, red-faced Afrikaner baby for feeding instead of me. This set me thinking (at the age of about seven) how I was reliant on my mother's hopefully accurate powers of identification in order to be whom I supposed myself to be. A nerve wracking experience. I have seen the passage where Michtav Eliyahu compares belief in Hashem to belief in one's parents' validity to their title, and could never quite grasp his point. Aren't thousands of babies adopted every month? Someone who automatically assumes he is not adopted must be ignorant of reality.

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  22. I asked you:
    If you are so open-minded to the possibility of having been adopted, have you performed a DNA test in order to get some "evidenced based" answers?

    A "yes" or "no" response will suffice.

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  23. Someone who automatically assumes he is not adopted must be ignorant of reality.

    This is an incorrect portrayal of the opposing position.
    No-one here is advocating total blind assumptions without any rational basis. The assumptions one can make about one's parents are intuitive and becomes more solid as the relationship based on proven trust develops over time.
    But on the other hand, it is an assumption that is not "evidence-based".

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  24. Interesting question in a few years - If a DNA test becomes simple and cheap, why wouldn't this be acase of efshar lvarer and be required for yerusha etc.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  25. Only a talmid of Rav Herschel Schacter could come up with such a sheila!

    ReplyDelete

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