Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Damage to the Honor of Torah

The following is an e-mail sent to the Areivim e-mail list by a member who wishes to remain anonymous. I think it demonstrates as much as anything I’ve seen the fallout created by the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books. Shortly after the ban a letter was circulated by Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Feldman on this issue which was very troubling and in my view only adds to the problem. But I do agree with him on one thing:

“Probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory is what is known as the Slifkin affair.”

This is definitely true. But I disagree with him on the cause. He blames Rabbi Slifkin. But Rabbi Slifkin is as much a victim as anyone else. The real culprits are those who speak in the name of the Gadol who dictateded this ban and manipulate his actions. What they have done is unleash an explosion of doubt amongst some of the most sincere Torah observing people in Judaism... thinking people, some of the brightest we have... many of them RW or Charedi in orientation.

There are of course many amongst them who don’t care and simply say “Write them off.” “Kfira is Kfira.” “Who cares how many there are?!” They will have to give Din VeCheshbon for their actions. They will have a lot to answer for indulging in their zealotry. Read the following letter and see why:

Regarding the Emunas Chachamim issue as a result of the Slifkin affair Etc. I would appreciate it if you can post this anonymously, as I think it is very important to make clear to people that there IS a crisis of faith, yet most people will not talk about it publicly. I speak to my very close friends about it - but that's it - as I see what the Chareidi Kannai Reshaim can do - and I don't want to be subject to that kind of hell on this earth.

This email may seem harsh, and I generally try to tone myself down, but I think I'm just going to let it all out - if you want to edit it, feel free - if not, you can leave it as is so that people know how others feel.

I grew up in a TIDE home in the USA and was educated in mainstream Chareidi yeshivos. I was educated there to believe in the infallibility of the Gedolim, and although I did not accept it totally - as I understood that it is obviously possible for people to be mistaken here and there, I did accept most of it. Eventually, I moved to Eretz Yisrael, married and settled down. I began studying sciences in a local University for parnassah reasons, and as will ultimately happen, questions started popping up. I purchased two books that were quite good in defending Torah - one was the book by Prof Yehudah Levi "The Science In Torah" and the book by Nosson Slifkin "The Science of Torah". Although I did not agree with everything in the book, it gave a very good overview of the situation and possible solutions to the issues raised, as well as the personal view of Nosson Slifkin.

Some time later, bans started appearing, calling the book Kefirah and forbidding the reading of the book. I'm sure everyone knows this, so I won't get into this in detail. I had BIG problems with the actual ban - so I went to a number of prominent Rabbis to try to help me understand it.

There were three answers:

1) The Gedolim are the Gedolim - just rely
on them and ignore everyone else, including your own puny brain.

2) The Gedolim are the Gedolim - but in this case they are mistaken, but they
Are usually correct - so just ignore this psak and follow them in everything else.

3) The Chareidi community is insane and you have to understand that they are insane - try not to take it personally - maybe eventually they will once again regain their senses. The cause of the insanity is the holocaust - from which the moderate branch of Orthodoxy never recovered, and mostly the Kannoim survived.

I'm not going to name the Rabbonim I went to, as they spoke to me privately and probably would not have wanted their names plastered all over the internet, but suffice it to say that they were not 35 year old high school Rebbeim (no offence meant to any high-school rebbe - but I wouldn't go to them for my Hashkafic issues).

Additionally, information about HOW the process of the banning worked started coming through over the internet, and suffice it to say that my Emunas Chachamim was not benefiting.

Lastly, a number of "Gedoley Hador" published articles over the
Internet - namely R' Moshe Shternbuch and R' Feldman - which unfortunately made the issue worse. They either promised to give their version of how Torah/science mix - but they never did, or they showed their absolute lack of knowledge in scientific theory and methodology. The lack of receiving any type of theory whatsoever that made any sense was the Makeh B'patish for me, and internally, I started thinking of many Rabbis as utter fools who have phenomenal memories and have learned much Torah.
The Torah has not affected their morality nor has it made them become more intelligent people. Was it wrong of me to think like that? Probably, yet any person that would look at the facts presented to them would either have to rely on blind faith in Gedoley Hador or come to the conclusion that the emperor has no clothes.

No, I have not taken off my yarmulka or stopped wearing tzitzis or stopped keeping Shabbos, but until today I have great nisyonos with regard to Judaism and Mitzvos that have a deep impact upon my soul. I don't know if it is possible to put how I feel in writing, but those who have gone through such nisyonos know what I mean. B"H I have a wonderful wife who has stood with me and strengthened me throughout the process, and it is probably due to her alone that I remain frum today. The Gedoley Hador have turned me off to Judaism - if the MOST RESPECTED RABBIS IN JUDAISM CAN ACT LIKE THIS, HOW CAN I BE EXPECTED TO FOLLOW THEM???

The simple answer is "Don't judge Judaism by the way the Jews act", but please see "Off the Derech" by Faranak Margolese - Page 49-50: "Based on my experience and the hundreds of off the derech stories I have heard, I am convinced that when people say "you should not judge a religion by its practitioners" they are mistaken. We say Torah lo bashamayim hi - the Torah is not in Heaven. It is here on earth, in our interpretations of it, in our commitment to it, in our love for it. We believe that Torah is not a theory to be studied, but a way of life to be lived. Judaism is ultimately about the way we live it. The Judaism that exists in books may be intellectual stimulating and essential to our observant lives. But what impacts us most dramatically in terms of our commitment to observance is the reality we create with it here on earth. And what impacts us most in terms of our feeling toward Judaism is the relationships and experiences we have with observant Jews. Negative relationships and their painful experiences push us away from both Torah and Jews"

The feeling that I feel most strongly toward Judaism (or as Faranak Margolese puts it - towards the practitioners of Judaism) is a feeling of betrayal. Much of the good that I was taught exists in Judaism has been utterly destroyed by the actions of a few extreme individuals - who are the ones who should be leading the flock in the correct direction.

Each person must come to his own personal peace with what happened, but for some of us, the path is very, very difficult.