Friday, December 02, 2005

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.