Friday, November 09, 2007

Burning the Living Torah

Back in 1981, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote a new translation of the Chamishei Chumshei Torah… the five books of Moses …called The Living Torah. He felt that previous translations were not that clear or readable. He also wanted to keep the translation as close to its basic meaning as possible and to make certain that it remained faithful to the tenets of Torah Judaism.

It was an immediate success. And it remains highly popular. It can be found in all manner of Orthodox homes and synagogues from the most Charedi to the most modern Orthodox.

But according to reliable sources, Rabbi Elyashiv has now deemed this book to the product of a heretic. Worthy of burning. Not useable. That is because his closest confidant and representative, Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein, has declared in Rav Elyashiv's name that anyone who believes that the universe is more than 5768 years old is a Koffer B’Ikkar. An Apikores… a heretic. So this widely accepted Chumash can be thrown in the trash… indeed must be thrown in the trash! That is because Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan is on record in a widely publicized paper that he wrote that he believes the universe is 15 billion years old.

This declaration was made by him from a podium at the Eternal Jewish Family (EJF) conference in Washington, DC... an organization formed to standardize all Orthodox conversions. The conference was attended by many of the top names in the Torah world. Many recognized as Gedolim.

This is a shocking development.

As most people who are interested in these things know by now, this controversy began several years ago when Rabbi Natan Silfkin’s books which espoused these views were deemed heretical. But since then the controversy has remained in a state of uncertainty.

There have been Poskim who have quietly said that Rabbi Slifkin’s books are not heretical. Others have said that Rabbi Slifkin’s specific explanations were problematic and that was Rav Elyashiv’s problem with them. But not the general thesis of an ancient universe. At worst this was not the preferred belief, but acceptable nonetheless. Certainly not heretical.

Rabbis Slifkin and Kaplan are of course not alone. The Tifferes Yisroel, and many many others join them. Furthermore many current Gedolei Torah, like Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky are on record as accepting that such beliefs are not heresy.

The vast majority of educated Orthodox Jews believe that as well. Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews who are as Ehrlich as could be …believe in an ancient universe. Many are distinguished Talmidei Chachamim of the highest caliber. Many are in Chinuch at all levels. Some are even Charedi.

In one brief moment according to Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein, Rav Elyashiv has deemed us all Kofrim B’Ikkar. And has ordered that anyone who believes the world is ancient, may not serve on a Beis Din and may not perform conversions. And any conversions done by them… past, present, or future… are illegitimate!

Can anyone even begin to imagine how many people there have been over time who have been converted by a Rav who believed that the universe is ancient? They have gotten married, had children… and even grandchildren by now. All interspersed into the general Orthodox population!

This is a nightmare. I can’t even begin to fathom the repercussions of this. Rav Elyashiv is the most respected of Gedolei Torah in the world. Most of the Charedi world considers him the Gadol HaDor, especially in Israel. The equivalent of Shmuel B’Doro… the prophet Samuel in his time …or Moshe Rabbenu in his!

The time has come to stop this…or it could end up destroying Judaism. Telling intelligent, educated, and sincere Jews that they must deny their sincere beliefs can push many, many of them over the edge. Talk about ‘adults at risk’. This is the grand-daddy of them all.

It can destroy Judaism as we know it to declare that only the most simplistic of beliefs are acceptable. Any rational attempt to understand or explain evidence that the universe is ancient is forbidden. One must look at facts and deny them. Or else he or she is a heretic!

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan thought that such an attitude was ridiculous and said so… in so many words.

There is so much more to say on this subject but I am still in a state of shock.

At this point, it is time for all those Gedolim who disagree to stand up and say so publicly! American or Israeli, they must declare that Rav Elyashiv though a great Gadol, is not the final authority on this matter.

I call upon them to do so. No more beating around the bush. They have to stand up for Klal Yisroel and have the courage to say that Jews who believe in an ancient universe are not Kofrim B’Ikkar. They are not heretics! And that they will not allow the Living Torah to be burned!