Monday, September 5, 2011

Maharal: A healthy religion doesn't silence critics but answers them

from Daas Torah - translation copyrighted

Maharal (Be’er HaGola #7): [Concerning the questions raised by those of other religions concerning Judaism and in particular the Talmud] This is also true concerning what they have written regarding religion also.  It is not proper to hate their words but rather they should be brought close. If this is not done and the words of those who disagree are not accepted lovingly but rather are simply rejected – it definitely indicates that one’s religious views are weak and that is the reason criticism is rejected. That is because someone with the weak indefensible position can not withstand opposition. Consequently it is not correct to reject out of hand any views which are opposed to his – especially those which are expressed not out hostility but out of genuine interest in his religion. Even if these question are against his faith and religion he should never say, “don’t speak!” or “shut your mouth!” If he did so than there is no clarification of religion. Rather his reaction to these types of religious questions should be “Say whatever you desire to express.” He should not leave the opponent saying, “If I could I would say more.” Because if he simply silences critics and questioners he is simply showing the weakness of his religion. 

Thus what I am advising is the opposite of what some people think. They believe that when they refuse to speak about religion this strengthens the religion and gives it greater power. This is simply not true because avoiding the words of one’s religious opponents is simply nullifying and weakening his religion especially when he says “shut your mouth and don’t speak about these matters!” Thus the ancient sages, even when they found things in books which were against their religion they didn’t simply reject them. The intellect requires that one not react to criticism – especially concerning religion – by simply silencing the opponent. One needs to keep in mind that what is published in a book is typically for the sake of knowledge and is not meant to destroy. Therefore don’t reject and block out criticism. We do not find that in previous ages that people prevented and rejected discussion of religious issues at all and there was no dissent from this attitude.


  1. This is a very open minded approach. One can only regret that it is not taught to Rabbis, especially in the areas of Kiruv.

    Since we see today that a lot of young rabbis are themselves BTs, they often overcompensate in both their zealousness, and their relationships to others.

  2. "This is simply not true because avoiding the words of one’s religious opponents is simply nullifying and weakening his religion."

    This is an argument against the practice of the gedolim of banning books (such as Slifkin's) without hearing both sides of the story -- that is, without a trial, witnesses, cross-examination, introduction of evidence, etc. Such bans, instigated based on misinformation planted by people later revealed to be abusers and lawbreakers, only expose the gedolim and the entire charedi world to scorn and ridicule. It's just as Marahal said -- silencing one's opponent weakens one's religion.

  3. I wish to ask a question of those who identify with Haredi Orthodoxy.

    The acknowledged Posek haDor (although he is not referred to as Gadol Hador in the same way as R' Shach was) is R' Elyashiv shlita.
    However, he seems to be an outsider in the Haredi and Lithuanian world. His main rebbes were R Kook and R' Herzog, both of whom were considered Modern Zionist orthodox. As a Dayan under R Herzog, R Elyashiv made some very lenient and creative piskei halacha. These are not relied on today.

    Hence, my question is, whether R Elyashiv is looked upon with some suspicion in the Haredi world? This would especially be the case in Brisk spheres of influence - considering the harsh words that the Brisker Rav had for the Rabbanut, and R Elyashiv's praise for the Rabbanut, which he likened to the nascent Sanhedrin!


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