Thursday, December 29, 2005

Conservative/Reform & Slifkin

Flight went well.

A little while back, one blogger, I forget if it was S. or GH, said that many of the arguments used to defend Slifkin are similar to those which eventually spawned Reform and Conservative Judaism. I was speaking with one of my rebbeim and mentioned it. He said "You're right. But achieving a deeper religious experience entails risks."

Having a great time.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Light Blogging

Blogging has been light lately, and will remain so over the next two weeks. I'm taking a short vacation to Israel. I'll try to post some interesting tidbits, but no promises.
The last few posts haven't' had much to do with happenings in the Jewish realm either. That should change once I get back.

Taking a Step Outside

Both in blogging and the real world, its important to take a step outside. To slow down and think about things. Some of my more popular posts are those where I wrote a draft, left and came back to reread it. The same with my comments. When I sit down and write hastily, I find later I could have easily worded it better or used a different angle.

Part of this is due to the insane amount of information constantly assaulting us. The push to "go with the flow" and follow the basic mainstream opinion, without thinking, is almost unbearable. Assuming you're lucky enough to realize it.

Just a thought.

Update: In October, the New York Times ran an article "Meet the Life Hackers," discussing how some deal with the vast amounts of information available, and with the constant attempts at contact (email, cell phones, etc). I highly recommend reading the article.

More Problems at the UN

The United Nations spent nearly $600 million on relief for the tsunami last year. Several agencies have refused to disclose details of their relief efforts, despite promises in the past to do so. That's troublesome enough, but a new report says that up to 1/3 of the money may have been spent on overhead.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Minute with 61 seconds

On December 31, a leap second will be added. Leap seconds are added in order to keep atomic clocks and the earth's rotational time in synch. There have been others since they began in 1972. So, right before midnight on December 31 (which is 7pm on the east coast of the US), clocks will read 23:59:60 before changing to 0:00:00 of 2006.

More Info: I, II


Was one year ago tomorrow, December 26.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Shimon & Levi, Menashe & Ephraim

Absent the cheit ha'egel, what role would shevet Levi have had? Would there have always been 13 tribes, or would Levi have still taught, and thus not been counted as a shevet, while the bechorim served in the Beis HaMikdash?

DovBear's Moment of Truth II

As expected, DovBear tried to find differences in the Clinton and Carter executive orders, while ignoring the underlying some of the underlying points; government intercepting communications without a court order, Clinton and Echelon, the way the NSA wiretaps are thought to work, the role of an executive order in government, whether the order is actually unconstitutional, the Congressional authorization post 9/11, the many professors, libs and conservatives alike, who are on both sides of the issue, the Foreign Surveillance Court's view that the President has such powers, etc etc.

I'm not saying that the actions taken are or are not constitutional. Especially since I'm not positive on how they work (note that there is a difference between speaking in public and on a public telephone. Cell phones and landlines differ too. Technology matters).

What bugs me is that DB (and others) aren't interested in either a policy discussion or a legal discussion. Rather, they just want to bash Bush. Which is perfectly fine, but at least let them be honest about it. In seeking to bash Bush, in spicing up their rhetoric, words like "illegal," "unconstitutional," and "impeachment" are used. While the latter may be a purely political exercise, the former two are words of art, with specific meanings.

Not that DB is doing anything different than anyone else. All politicians take this route, and most of us commit similar grievances in our daily conversations. Just recognize that its blending different discussions, law, policy, and politics. While people frequently have the same view on all three (see "A Conflict of Visions" by Thomas Sowell), they are three different discussions.

As you can no doubt tell, I have an interest in politics and law. I'll try to keep it out of this blog, unless you guys want it.

Update: DovBear admits "The key difference is I want to get rid of Bush because he's an imcompetant baboon who's repeatedly lied to the American people about issues of substance, and who has mismanaged both a war and a hurricane. You wanted to get rid of Clinton simply b/ he was a democrat who liked women." I replied. Apparently DB fell into the trap of assuming everyone against him has like minded views, and couldn't possibly be anything than a frothing at the mouth right wing lunatic with no brains. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

DovBear's Moment of Truth

DovBear recently went on a rampage (I, II, III) against Bush for his wiretap surveillance. Let's see how he reacts to Clinton and Carter having done the same thing, in fact, they even went farther. They even authorized physical searches, not just wiretaps.

So, DovBear...where's the outrage?

Update: That obviously unconstitutional United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in sealed case 02-001: "We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."
And Andrew McCarthy lists 28 cases where warantless searches have been allowed. So nu DB, are you playing law? Or politics.


1) I've just finished finals. Looking forward to a nice relaxing time. More posts to follow soon.
2) Ezzie gave me three links on Haveil Havalim, which resulted in 20-25 referrals to this blog. In a row.
3) During my brief finals hiatus, this blog crossed the 5,000 hit threshold.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Your Grandfather Kicked out Mine

R' Yona Metzger, chief rabbi (Ashkenaz) of Israel spoke at the Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst this Shabbos. He had a number of interesting things to say.

Once, while in England for a rabbinic conference, he was asked by someone what bracha should be made when one sees a Chief Rabbi. R' Metzger answered, that since he was the first chief rabbi who was born in Eretz Yisroel since the founding of the state, the correct bracha was "boreh pri ha'adama."

The second story, was more humorous, but took guts. While in Spain on the occasion of the 800th yahrtzeit of the Rambam, R' Metzger met the King of Spain. As a gift, he brought the King a shofar. The King asked what it was, and R' Metzger replied (paraphrasing):
"About 500 years ago, your great great grandfather was the King of Spain. And my great great grandfather was probably a citizen of Spain. And your grandfather kicked my grandfather out. [talk about guts!] And, as you are aware, many Jews become marranos, practicing Judaism in private. But there was one problem, Rosh Hashana, when we blow this ancient instrument, the shofar. One of the marranos, who happend to be in charge of the King's orchestra, had an idea. He told the King he wanted to make him a concert with only ancient instruments. The King loved the idea, and the marrano scheduled it for the largest ampitheater he could find in Spain. And chose Rosh Hashana as the date.

"The King, his ministers, and the government were sitting in the front row, and hundreds of marranos were behind them. The conductor got up and told the King that this was an ancient Jewish instrument, that they would blow once a year. Before they blew it, they would say the following sentance. The conductor then made the brachos on the shofar, the marranos quietly saying amen. And then he blew the shofar.

"So now you know how we worked to keep our traditions. 500 years ago we blew our shofar under the table. But with everything you've done to help the Jewish community in Spain, I now give you a shofar. Over the table."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shut Down Ponevezh?

[EDIT: Please note that the Jerusalem Post has 2 stories in their article. The bochur was not killed, his story is the last couple of paragraphs in the article.]

When fistfights first broke out at Ponevezh, people were shocked. Fights within a yeshiva? Over succession? Who would have thought? The response? Rahter lukewarm. No one knows what actions were taken. Whether the bochurim involved were thrown out. We know they weren't publicly castigated. We know the fights continued, even made it into the papers and some blogs.

Many argued (myself included) that such attacks should be dealt with severely and openly. No second chances. If you push around a rebbe, you get thrown out. If not, if people see that they can get away with things, actions will only get worse.

And they have.

Now a 20 year old boy lies in the hospital, beaten and stabbed.

Yeshiva Orthodoxy is pointing to a Jerusalem Post story where a talmid at Ponevezh was stabbed. Inside the yeshiva. Police say it was related to the turf war going on. Bad enough if it wasn't. After all, if one talmid feels he can stab another, regardless of the circumstances, there's trouble. If it is related to the turf war...there are no words.

Talmidim at Ponevezh deny that the attack was related to the succession battle. While it is definitely possible that another explanation exists, the Post doesn't mention one.

If this is how the talmidim are acting, they should be thrown out.
If this is how the rebbeim are acting, sitting on the sidelines while their colleagues are beaten, while their talmidim are stabbed, they should quit.
If this is how the Yeshiva is acting, it should be split up.

Or shut down.


Tomorrow many New Yorkers might wake up to a nightmare. If the transit workers strike, subways and buses won't run. Despite it being Friday, which means fewer will go to work, tens of thousands will still trek into the city for work, shopping, and final exams.

It is illegal for public employees to strike. CWY raises a valid point; when private employees strike, the only ones impacted are the store and the employees. Yes, the economy too, but that's a very attenuated impact. When public workers strike, when buses and subways don't run, if police and firefighters stay home, if your garbage isn't picked up or teachers don't show up, everyone is affected.

The NYTimes is running an article outlining some of the demands of the transit workers union, which represents about 40,000 people.

1) Pensions: The union wants to change the retirement age to 50 after 20 years of service. MTA wants it to be 62 after 30 years of service. The pension is equal to half of the retirees pay, which averages $55,000.

2) 8% raise

3) The TWU is prepared to accept a 6% raise if disciplinary actions against employees are decreased by 25%.

The TWU is upset because the MTA has a $1b surplus, and the union claims the MTA's proposal barely keeps up with inflation (another way of saying that it more than keeps up with inflation). They claim their demands would cost only $550m a year.

Therein lies the logical disconnect. Surpluses are not guaranteed, indeed, by 2008 the MTA expects to be operating a huge deficit. Saying that now there is a surplus, and therefore give us a raise, money for which must be found *every year* isn't logical. Its an argument, but not a strong one.

I hope they don't strike. If they do, the union is subject to $1m daily fines, and each striking member would be fined $25k per day. The fines double daily. So after a 2 day strike, the average TWU worker would need to forfeit his salary for the entire year. Exactly why the fines will be dismissed when the strike is resolved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Shomer" Negiah

What constitutes being "shomer negiah?"

There are many non-married couples, who, despite not holding hands, giving hugs, etc. have no problem passing each other things and accidentally touching or "accidentally" bumping into one another when going through a doorway. According to most (not the least being the people themselves), they are "shomer negiah."

But is that true? Isn't it really a gradation, pragmatically drawing a line? Shomer, guarding, would appear to be especially important on the little things, those which are close to the line, which may or may not be problematic and which occur frequently. So yes, you won't do the "major things" but the "small" ones, which aren't "so bad" are ok.

That isn't to say that anyone who isn't careful about passing through doorways should suddenly throw it all out the window. That rationalizing certain things as being "ok" is always wrong. We all make pragmatic decisions, we all draw lines in the sand. We create defenses for those lines, calling it "shomer negiah" when it may not truly be so. Those defenses and decisions are important. So is honesty.

Ten Random Things

Yet another meme, this from Sago Boulevard and Nephtuli. can anyone say blam (blog spam)? Here goes:

1) Procrastination is one of my best traits
2) Those who know me call me a computer geek
3) And a law nerd
4) Devil's advocate is a tool regularly employed in my discussions and debates
5) Lately I've been worried that I see elitism as not always a bad thing
6) The Brother laser printer that's sitting on my desk has printed 12,000 pages in 15 months
7) People say that I'm great at explaining things
8) There are three plants, a sword, and two computers in my room
9) Coming up with 10 random things about myself is very hard
10) Not a single sentance on this list I have written has begun with the word "I"

I bequeath this meme to LamedZayin and Ezzie

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Frum & Modern Orthodox

An interesting discussion took place last Shabbos. We were discussing whether respect for others is lacking more in some sects of Orthodox Judaism as others. My default position is that there is no really big difference across sects, we all just like to think that we're better than those who differ.

But that's not what this post is about. The following comment was made:
Last shabbos I was in X. I know lots of people...frum and modern orthodox.

Needless to say I cut the speaker off right there and then.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Shuffle Meme

Lots to say, but with finals this week and next, my blogging time will be minimal if not non-existent. But, memes seem to be momentary fads, so here's my response:

First, memes remind me of those chain letter emails. You know, the ones you deleted because they were really annoying. Luckily, with rare exception , my friends seem to have outgrown that. I'm just kidding LZ, this is actually refreshing. Of course, in a world of "anonymous" bloggers, things like this provide a window into our lives for our readers, without compromising our pseudo-anonymity. Does anyone think this meme is just to up the link count on Google BlogSearch and Technorati?

Anyway, I don't own an iPod. Or a discman. I use Creative MediaSource, which came with the sound card on my computer (Audigy 2). I placed all of the songs in and hit shuffle. Here are the top 15, the sole criteria being that I've actually listened to the song before.

1) We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel
2) Shir Hashirim - Blue Fringe
3) Wonderful - Everclear
4) Pachelbel Canon in D Major
5) Einstein on the Beach - Counting Crows
6) Havannah - Kenny G
7) Nothing Gonna Stop Us - Jefferson Starship
8) Here's to the State of Mississippi - Phil Ochs
9) Mikimi - Yosef Karduner
10) Ants Marching, Dave Matthews Band
11) Drums - African Percussion
12) Kryptonite - Three Doors Down
13) I Believe (World Trade Center Tribute Version) - Blessed Union of Souls
14) Light My Fire - The Doors
15) Down Under - Men at Work

By the powers vested in me by the meme and blogosphere, I hereby pass this meme to Sago Boulevard, Menachem Butler at AJHistory, and because of his comments on my Jewish Music post, Yitzchak over at JudeoPundit.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Stars, Crosses, Crescents, & Crystals

Israel will finally be allowed to enter the International Red Cross. Magen David Adom (MDA), the Israeli agency, will be allowed to enter using "Red Crystals."

Until now, Israel hasn't been allowed in, since Muslim countries objected to the Jewish star. Israeli medics in combat situations will now be allowed to wear a red crystal (or cross or crescent). The symbol is supposed to protect them from harm.

Should we celebrate? Its good that Israel is finally part of the IRC, ending decades of exclusion. But its bad that they can't enter with their own symbol, while the Muslim and Christian countries can use theirs. It smacks of discrimination and racism. I guess its better than nothing.

R' Elyashiv Criticizes Banners

R' Elyashiv criticized rabbonim for opposing a book because they hadn't read it. That's what Krum is reporting. The letter, by R' Aharon Feldman was printed in Israeli papers. In all fairness, R' Elyashiv only gave his opinion after a beis din of experts, who presumably read the book, gave their opinion. But the second step, to my knowledge, was not followed at all. And even the first doesn't seem to have happend with Slifkin.

Head over to Krum for the story.

As It Should Be

Officials: Passenger killed after claiming to have bomb

Even if air marshals aren't on every flight, at least they're on the important ones.

[Update: A woman with the man at the time, who appears to be his wife, claims that he was bipolar and had not taken his medication. Nonetheless, I believe the air marshals acted appropriately and justly.]

Defense of the Ban - III

I had planned on expanding this into a few posts, but I'm short of time.

I think the ban is purely a protective measure. When is the last time you heard in a shiur "Well, yes, the Rambam says that. But we don't pasken like him, so just forget about it, don't read it, and we'll move on." I'd love to see a talmid say that to his rebbe, "Yeah, since we don't pasken like X, so I decided not to prepare his view on the sugya, after all, its kefirah."

Leaders are supposed to lead, and that means making decisions. We do it for our children all the time. They can't understand certain things, so we tell it to them on a simple level. A doctor discloses information to his patient, but tells him the basic truth. He doesn't delve into the exact numbers of every study done on a particular procedure or medication. An attorney discusses matters with his client, the pros and cons. But he won't get into a long theoretical discussion on the merits of securities law. Its pointless.

Most people are sheep. They follow blindly, either because they can't do or don't know better. And for them, we make decisions. Hopefully, at the proper time, they grow up and we introduce them to more complicated ideas. Elitist? Perhaps, but am I wrong? And some of them never grow up.

Does anyone doubt, that you could make statements, fully compatible with Judaism's beliefs, which would throw off a huge segment of the Charedi world? Or the MO world? When you have the view that Chazal are infallible, something like R' Slifkin's works can be very troubling, and very damaging. Not are, but can be. Would you publicly state everything you feel, knowing the consequences could be people leaving Judaism?

Do you think Godol Hador would go to a class of 4th graders and say to them "There was no global flood. Maybe it was local. Oh, and Yetzias Mitzraim, it wasn't really 600,000 men."

So they issued the ban. Look at the reasons written in the ban, and in the letters that followed. R' Slifkin's works could lead to a lack of trust in Chazal. Now, for me, they only increased my trust in Chazal. I recognize that they are humans (a rather inspiring thought), who could err, yet still accomplished great amounts. That they utilized the science of their day, just as we should.

In the latest letter, RSK is said to have signed it because the "tone" of R' Slifkin's works were problematic. Tone? That has nothing to do with content. Nothing to do with ideas. Only the consequences. Post-ban there were rumors that some of the signers had been tricked, they thought it would only be shown to Slifkin, not that it should be called kefirah, that he should rephrase his works. Tone, not ideas.

Societies change slowly. 9/11 wasn't a great change, it was the recognition of something that had been going on for years. Now, there are vocational schools opening up in Boro Park, talk of the Tal law in Israel, Touro College too. And there are more changes. The Internet wasn't banned in Lakewood because it was unknown. Everyone carries cellphones (unless you're in the Mir). These things start out at the edges and move in. And they're still at the edges. They'll route around the roadblocks, and "pretty soon" it'll be "normal".

We're at this impasse because of the failure of our educational system, among other things. So, for now, some rabbonim have decided that people shouldn't hear. I happen to disagree, but I can understand their point. They have a society, and they feel that this can destroy it. That they went about it in a terrible way is another story.

Obviously, its not so clear cut. Practically, Slifkin's books wouldn't be read in Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak. So why ban it? I don't know, but I'm just giving an alternative view on it. We could be really cynical and just say that all the signers were tricked, never really meant it, and this is the work of a few people who deserve to get taught a lesson.

I'll make a prediction. In fifty years, or maybe a hundred, modern science, the age of the universe and evolution, medicine, and the Earth circling around the Sun, will be accepted in Charedi circles as well. As people learn that science is not evil and that it enhances religion, they will come around.


We all know the classic definition of chutzpah. The boy who kills his parents and then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan. So where does this get filed?

Jason Strickland, and his wife, Holli, are accused of beating his stepdaughter (her niece), Haleigh Poutre, 11, who is now in a vegatative state. Less than two weeks after they were charged, Holli was found dead beside her grandmother, in a possible murder-suicide.

Here's where it gets interesting. Jason never formally adopted Haleigh. He married Holli about a year after Haleigh's mother left to Virginia with a new boyfriend. The Dept of Social Services, who has custody of the girl, wants her feeding tube and ventilator removed. Her doctors agree that she won't come out of her vegatative state.

Here's the chutzpah. Jason wants to be appointed Haleigh's guardian, so that he can be assured the feeding tube and ventilator remain. Chutzpah? Of course, there's more to the story than that, Jason faces murder charges if Haleigh dies.


Monday, December 05, 2005

New Readers

There must be some new readers out there. Over the last couple of weeks, both hits and visits have skyrocketed. This blog now averages over 100 visits and nearly 200 page views per day. About 1/3 of the total visitor count is from the last week alone.

So welcome. Hope you enjoy. Feel free to say hi in the comments.


In response to the John Seigenthaler fiasco, Wikipedia is introducing a registration requirement for article submissions. But, to quote Seigenthaler and an article (I, II) :

Seigenthaler said he wasn't convinced the new registration requirement would stop the practice of vandals posting content that is slanderous or knowingly incorrect. Wikipedia will either have to fix the problem or will lose whatever credibility it still has, he said.

"The marketplace of ideas ultimately will take care of the problem," Seigenthaler said. "In the meantime, what happens to people like me?"

Exactly. The marketplace will take care of it. There is no way (cost effective way) to guarentee all material submitted is accurate. As for the meantime...see my comments by OnTheMainLine, where Mississippi Fred first posted about this.

Defense of the Ban - II

I'm not in favor of the ban. In today's day and age I think we gain a lot more by debating ideas on the merits, incorporating truth where it is found and using it to help fulfill our religious lives. By placing trust in people we empower them. Ask anyone who has taught a class or tutored a student, ask anyone who is a parent, what they have learned. Everyone has a different perspective, a different way of thinking. By limiting ourselves we limit the perspectives brought to Torah, we limit the amount being learned, and we lower the level that we, both individually and collectively are at.

Ok, that sounded really mushy. But I am against the ban. Nonetheless, I will attempt to undertake a defense, one which I disagree with, but which I think is tenable.

I don't think the ban is about the interplay of science and Torah. Obviously, Torah is true. And if Science is true as well, then the two must reconcile. There's no choice in the matter.

It seems obvious that some statements of Chazal with regards to science don't fit with modern scientific observations. I'm pretty convinced that the Sun doesn't circle the Earth, and I don't plan on waiting for a new scientific theory to say otherwise. Ah, so Chazal erred on a scientific matter? Ok, so what? We even have korbanos when the entire klal does something based on an incorrect psak. If errors are impossible, those pesukim might be rendered superfluous.

Yes, some say that nature has changed (or, if you'd prefer, evolved). Medicines don't work because people are no longer the same. Possible? Sure, anything is. Other bloggers have written on this subject, and I have no desire to rehash it.

to be continued...

P.S. I have final exams coming up next week, so blogging will be light. I do plan on finishing this series, but it might take some time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Defense of the Ban - I

I plan, but do not promise, on posting what I perceive to be a defense of the ban. In fact, after hearing, reading and thinking about it for nearly a year, I think its the only defense that has any merit. So watch closely, I hope to begin later this week, perhaps even tomorrow.

R' Miller's letter - A Response

There's something missing from R' Miller's recent letter. His stated purpose was to strengthen the hearts of those who have heard the words of kefirah. Yet he then goes on to explain how Chazal knew about photons and waves, that the moon and planets don't reflect their own light and that the Gra was aware of quantum mechanics.

In other words, Chazal knew science. The obvious implication is that Chazal were correct in these three areas, and are thus correct in other areas as well, namely the age of the universe and ma'aseh bereishis. For the sake of argument, we'll accept that Jewish tradition accepts the world being 5,766 years old. Ramban to the contrary, we'll also accept that ma'aseh bereishis is literal and actually consisted of 6 days of 24 hours in the way we perceive time.

But the argument doesn't follow. Picking and choosing examples is great, but provides a distorted picture. We don't follow the medicine of the Gemara, and I don't recall people seeing chicken's feet lately after they slaughtered a cat. The sun hasn't gone beneath the earth and warmed up hot springs in some time either.

Since the argument doesn't follow, I'd like to offer an alternative, which also doesn't follow.

For thousands of years, Chazal knew some of the basics of science which have only recently been discovered. Quantum mechanics, waves and photons, that the moon and planets don't have their own light. Now, finally, science has caught up.

But it hasn't just caught up. In some areas its surpassed Chazal's understanding (or at least what some assume it to be). We don't follow medicine of the Gemara, in fact, we may not be allowed to. Suffice it to say, that in some areas, modern understanding has surpassed Chazal's.

Thus, now that we've seen science catch up in these three areas (Quantum mechanics, waves and photons, and reflection), we should become even more comfortable with the application of science to our real life. Especially when we find obscure Jewish sources which have said the same thing, or given permission to believe in those things.

[Obviously R. Miller wasn't trying to make an ironclad case, and it is wrong to hold his letter up as an attempt at proof. To me, it appears to be more "mussar"-like, and is meant to sway the heart instead of the mind.]

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Short Response to FKM

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (FKM) has attempted a defense of the ban on the works of R’ Slifkin. I must say that this is welcome. The blogosphere has been, and predominantly continues to be, a place where the ban is debated and argued against. Like all issues, some (both bloggers and commenters) use language which doesn’t enhance their inherent argument, but rather stirs up the crowd (hey, we all want hits). That being said, I don’t find his arguments persuasive. Here’s a short response.

Essentially, FKM’s defense of the ban rests on two points. The first is that Slifkin is using the opinion of R. Avraham ben HaRambam (RABR) to justify an allegiance to science. Second, the effects of allowing Slifkin’s works could be very problematic and detrimental.

With respect to the first question, FKM writes “There are strong undercurrents of attitude and conviction in his writing.” As there should be. People write with conviction. But that there is an underlying attitude is problematic, and therefore FKM is “now convinced that there is no way to salvage any significant part of these three books and they need to be scrapped entirely.” So because of an attitude issue, the significant material of the books (and lets be honest, the only significant material consists of the views and not the presentation) should be banned.

There are a number of logical fallacies with this. FKM assumes that Slifkin is not out for the truth of Torah, rather, for the truth of science. “This allegiance to modern science is what fuels his use of RABR’s opinion…R’ Slifkin has shown us in all of his banned books where the drive to make liberal use of ths opinion comes from.” One can hold that they both contradict and that Torah is primary. But in assuming that Slifkin holds science to be the primary, FKM thinks that Slifkin is picking and choosing, taking RABR because its convenient, rather than taking RABR because the true-Torah way mandates it. Why does he assume this? I don’t know, but I’ll assume that it makes FKM’s case easier to prove. Both are unwarranted assumptions, but I think mine is more likely.

“It’s simply not reasonable in R. Slifkin’s mind to believe that what Torah really means could defy our scientifically confirmed understanding and rational grasp.” So does FKM go to doctors? Take medicine?

FKM also uses Rabbi/Professor Leo Levi’s books to show that science is not rational either. Therefore, a reliance on science is misplaced. Yet, he misses one major point. Levi wanted the charedi world to embrace science and shift from social science. He used the example of the social scientist in Britain, a nobel prize winner, who wanted to euthanize people over age 60. Social science, according to Levi was worthless. There we listen to Chazal. But hard sciences should be studied. He wasn’t as clear about psychology, specifically cognitive psychology, but in general he wanted people to study science. And accept it.

FKM even says that we may need a moratorium on the views of RABR. We won’t burn his books like the Rambam’s were (I hope), but that moratorium will now be placed on the RABR, Rambam, Tiferes Yisroel, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, and many other Gaonim, Rishonim and Achronim. Forget that, even the Gemara would have a moratorium placed, Baba Basra and others would need to be censored. Get out the white-out. We might also place a moratorium on medicine and doctors. Why? When people try the Gemara’s medical solutions, and they don’t work, we shouldn’t want them go to to a doctor, get antibiotics and find that they do work. Zoos should be outlawed too, as should any trip involving wildlife or animals. Can’t let anyone study or see something which doesn’t fit a narrow view of Chazal.

Let’s remember one thing. Modern science is relatively new. And yet, it explains a lot more than older science did. But, with modern science came a skepticism of religion. That skepticism, that science drives people away from religion (instead of towards) is one of the fuels for the ban.

As for the works being dangerous, they aren’t dangerous because of inherent danger. They’re dangerous because of the failure of our education system. The ban is a self-fulfilling prophecy, refusal to responsibly educate can make information dangerous.

Oh, and last: Remember that you're claiming we can't follow Rishonim and Achronim. But you, by saying that, are also not following Rishonim and Achronim. And in many of these areas, there has never been a decision or conclusive proof either way. Lack of opinion does not mean the prevailing notion amongst the lay person (lay in science or general knowledge or Torah) is correct.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Partial Translation of R. Miller's letter

The following is a partial translation of the letter. It includes the first half of page 1, which doesn't really deal with the arguments, so I've skipped it to finish later. Page 2 discusses why R. Miller is writing the letter, followed by the first two arguments. The argument on Quantum Theory continues to page three, but I've left out the last paragraph (the Gra) due to time. If it seems a bit disjointed, that's because it is a rough draft, and was typed as I read, I'll polish it up motzei shabbos. There are probably some mistakes too. Please correct them, add in what's left out, etc.

The Letter:

Page 1:
Here are the books of [Rabbi] Slifkin, which were already put in cherem by the Gedolei Ysireol. From when I first saw them I said there is "something fishy" (rayach minos) about them. Afterwards, I saw what he wrote about the Six Days of Creation, and they are kefirah. They are divrei boros and don't understand that everything in nature that we see now was completed in six days when Hashem rested on Shabbos and said to the world "Enough." But time and the laws of nature during Creation have no comparison to what we see today. And Razal have already said...

page 2:
And the meforrshim write, on the question of the Rasha in the Hagadah, "what is this work..." and we answer "this is what hashem did for me..." and in the Torah ist is written "vamartem zevach pesach" And the meforshim wrote that when we hear divrei minus we don't respond to them, rather we tell ourselves divrei chizuk. We say to ourselves and not to him [the Rasha] "zevach pesach"

Therefore, I am writing to strengthen the hearts of those who have heard the words of kefirah, which are not true according to those who know the laws of nature.

Until 400 years ago it was not known that the planets (kochvei lechet) don't have their own light, rather the light which is reflected comes from the sun. This was until Galileo came and saw the planet Venus doesn't have its own light. Now, from my perspective, this is clear from the words of Chazal, when they called it "nogah." The word "nogah" differs from the word "ohr" (light) like the Malbim explains in Chabakuk 3:4, "vinogah k'ohr tihiyeh." The Malbim writes that nogah is an object that has no light of its own, rather it sends out light from something else, like the moon and starts ([cochavei leket, appears to be planets]). They don't have light, rather, they just take in and reflect the light of the sun. From this it appears clear that what Chazal meant with the word "nogah" for Venus - that it doesn't have its own light. If so, this idea, which was not known to scientists, 2,000 years after Chazal knew it.

When dealing with the nature of light, scientists first had the Corpuscular Theory of Light, until they changed to the Wave Theory of Light, until 100 years ago, when they switched again, that light is made of photons. They came up with "Quantum Theory" and that sometimes light behaves like waves and sometimes like particles. The word "ohr" (light) according to [SEE SHEET] comes from the word "yareh." But there is another word like ohr, see Iyov 3:4 "nahara." It seems to me that the word nahar is like a wave. If so, the two words that are like "ohr" also describe the two "bechinot" of light.

I should also mention the words of the Gra in Aderet Eliyahu...

Are We the Muslims?

Most reading this are familiar with Marc Shapiro's "The Limits of Orthodox Theology." One idea advanced in this great book is that Rambam's 13 ikkarei emunah were not meant to be binding. At the time, Muslims were engaged in polemics against Jews. With no education, the average Moshe would be confronted with questions to which he had no answers. So the Rambam wrote these ikkarei emunah, along with the proviso that you *had* to believe in them. The defense of the common folk would be "If someone as great as the Rambam says this, it must be true. I'm not knowledgeable, but I trust him." The 13 ikkarei emunah provided a defense for people.

I had a scary thought. Maybe we're the Muslims.

Look at the Slifkin Affair. We have rabbonim, leaders of their respective communities, who are considered talmidei chachamim by all. They see science, rightly or wrongly, as threatening. Many use science as a basis for religious atheism, some rabbonim just don't recognize that many use it for science and that it actually can strengthen religious belief. Just look at their letters, the mistaken fear that science automatically leads to a rejection of Chazal. So they seek to protect their followers. How many times have we heard "The Gedolim say it so it must be true." Would we have been as critical of the Rambam's ikkarim as we are of the Slifkin ban? Its the same approach. And we're knocking on the door yelling "You're wrong!"

But the analogy is flawed, on several levels. Across the board, education is higher than its ever been, which mitigates the danger of "scientific exposure." Those threatened are generally from insular communities, with no outside experiences. It means they're less likely to know scientists who use science for atheism, or read the books that say its ok to believe in evolution. Its a non issue, and thus less dangerous.

Additionally, and most importantly, we aren't outsiders trying to break in. We're insiders fighting for a true understanding of Torah. That doesn't remove the threat that the Gedolim feel towards their communities. To them, a lackluster educational system, or one with different priorities, justifies their actions. Which is why the letters don't advance arguments but use rhetoric (see R. Perlow and R. Aharon Schechter's letter), form without the substance. The attempts at substance (see R. Feldman's letter) are logically flawed.

While the conversation sometimes moves towards providing a secular education, we don't want to impose the learning of evolution and cosmology, physics and chemistry in every school. Different strokes for different folks and all that. But we do want to be able to study them in our schools. We don't want to be thrown out for it either. We want to be able to show that science and Torah are not contradictory, that they can't be.

So no, I don't think we're the Muslims. Even if similar tactics are used.

R. Shmuel Kamenetzsky

Interestingly, R. Shmuel Kamenetzky seems to have signed onto R. Schechter's letter also. This is big news because R. Shmuel had give R. Slifkin an haskama, and his brother, R. Nosson Kamenetzky said his brother doesn't get scared off by zealots. But the letter is written in singular, on R. Shechter's letterhead, leading some to suspect the signature was cut and pasted. Not that this ever happend before....

But, both R. Perlow & R. Shechter's letters say zero. They are both quiet during the initial ban and then during the yearlong outcry that followed. Only now, after it has died down, do they choose sides, saying nothing of substance.

New Slifkin Letters

Krum over at MavenYavin links to three new anti-Slifkin letters. I'll post about them once I've read them.


Misc. Post

"Better the majority should worry about its umfarshtendenish of Rule 404(2), not Stephen's chutzpah."

The above is part of an article by Judge Alex Kozinski and Prof. Eugene Volokh on the use of Yiddish in American law. Emails with the article have floated around for a while. Today I came across the source, and decided to share it. Proper attribution and all. For those lawyers, the cite is 103 Yale L.J. 463 (1993). Everyone can read the updated version here. And yes, read the whole thing, its very funny, and pretty short (4 pages). And yes, the above was actually in a court case.

Now for some other stuff:

1) Finals are coming up in a couple of weeks, so blogging may be a bit lighter for the near future
2) If readers want (comment or email me,, tacky I know, but I wasn't in the mood to be inventive) I'll sum up the questions and comments from the VC discussion on faith and religion. See here.
3) I can't stand listening to FM radio from after Thanksgiving until January 1.
4) Good Shabbos

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Religion, Faith, Miracles, etc

Creationism and miracles have garnered a lot of attention on the J-Blogs in the last year. The Not-Quite-Retired Godol Hador has spent a lot of time on this, discussing the Flood, Creation, various other miracles, Faith, etc. How do we know the miracles happend, proofs for Sinai, you name it, it was discussed.

There is a similar discussion happening now over at The Volokh Conspiracy. The VC is a blog run by Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA Law School. Over a dozen others blog there as well. But don't let that get to you. The questions Eugene asks, both of religious and irreligious readers, are quite similar to the ones posted by GH and others. Unlike GH, the VC generally does not allow their comments to turn into tirades, and posts are well thought out and logically argued, lacking some of the more colorful language GH is known for. Name calling is strictly frowned upon.

Before I link to the actual posts, please note that this is not limited to Judaism, but religion (and irreligion) in general. Some of the questions and comments refer to other belief systems. Think twice if its for you before you go.

A sample question:
(4) Faith: Likewise, some people say that they have faith in their religion’s factual assertions, and that the whole point is to take them on faith. Yet I take it that you don’t take on faith most other people’s assertions about supernatural phenomena, whether secular (werewolves) or religious (claims of other religions). You probably even think less of people who are too willing to take on faith claims about extraterrestrials, vampires, reincarnation, and the like. Why do you take on faith the religious claims that you do accept?

The Volokh Conspiracy
"A Question for Our Religious Readers"
"A Question for Our Irreligious Readers"