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.