Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stiff Kin

I am very little acquainted with the whole Rabbi Nosson (or Nathan) Slifkin affair – in fact I haven’t read even one word of his books, and only recently heard about the ban and controversy.
I did however read Gil Student’s article in the Jewish Press (8/18/’06), which left me with more questions than answers.

Mr. Student starts by saying that the Slifkin controversy signifies the lack of centralized rabbinic authority in our globalized world. That there is a lack of such centralization is a clear fact, and unfortunately the source of many problems and lots of pain in the last 80 years or so. It has very little to do with world globalization and even less with the Slifkin controversy, except maybe that with the existence of such a centralized rabbinical body Slifkin would have written his books slightly differently.

Gil, throughout the entire article, takes the approach of calling all rabbis 'rabbis', without ever specifying whether they are MO rabbis or yeshivish rabbis. Although in a utopian world this should absolutely be the case, Student himself refers later in the article to communities as "yeshivish", "hareidi" and "MO". One would expect a little more consistency: if you relate to the world as it should be, then there are Jews, period and rabbis, period. If you look at the world as it sadly is, then you refer to yeshivish Rabbis and Modern Orthodox Rabbis, and the yeshivish community and MO community. I sincerely don't understand why he tried to blur the distinguishment between these factions as if it were an issue of individual rabbis disagreeing on a certain subject.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Student, who quite obviously is familiar with the world of science, isn't aware of the fact that the scientific community has absolutely zero tolerance for any kind of thought out of the party line: renowned scientists such as Fred Hoyle, Stephen Hawking, James Lovelock took serious flak - the kind that makes the Slifkin ban like a benign joke - for advancing theories which aren't accepted among the mainstream scientists, not to mention what poor Bill Dembski had to endure for the mere suggestion that the idea of a creator might be considered as a scientific option.

Of course, the fact that the scientific community is stubborn, obnoxious and completely averse to any thought that doesn’t fit its strict ideology is no justification for our rabbis to behave in the same way. Yet it should be at least as much as a warning for Modern Orthodoxy from being so infatuated with modern science. Whether many MO leaders’ obsession with reconciling Torah and science (which, by the way, is not to be confused with technology) emanates only from their desire to look ‘nice’ and ‘enlightened’ in the eyes of Gentiles and frei Jews, or is their excuse to adapt halocha to their lives and modify it at the same pace as scientists modify the theory of evolution, I don’t know. But I do know that after some rudimentary study of evolution (yes, from real scientific books, written by real goyim who really don’t believe in G-d), I came to the conclusion that regardless of one's beliefs, wishful thinking and ideology-driven agendas have turned science into a religion. And since scientific philosophy and the scientific method are both defined by the scientific community itself, they are formulated in a way that precludes any and all honest review and criticism. Thus, leading scientists can deride any and all dissent from within their impermeable “temple” as pseudoscience.

It is beyond the limits of my space and time constrains (60+ hours physical –yes, it still exists- workweek) to discuss this issue even in relatively short terms(Rav Avigdor Miller's books on the subject are a good start), yet an example must be brought: one of the criteria for a theory to be considered scientific, it must stand the test of falsifiability, i.e. that it is possible, in theory to disprove it thus rendering all their theories “true until proven false”. Only thing is, the disproof must be accepted by the scientists, and they are the only ones who can decide if a disproof is valid or not. Yet when a theory with which they aren’t comfortable arises -such as Jim Lovelock’s Gaia theory- the mainstream scientists immediately dismiss it as black magic.

Unfortunately, as Mr. Student points out, there is a similar situation in our midst as well. However, science is hardly the best framework to take example from. As I have mentioned before, I am hardly acquainted with the controversy, the ban and Slifkin’s books, so I really can’t take sides here. But even taking the article at face value, there might be justification in the Yeshivish rabbis’ actions; Slifkin, after all, is neither Rabbi Avrohom son of the Rambam, nor the Maharam Schick. These people were first and foremost immersed in intensive Torah study and piety, and investigated science only subsequently. I’m not sure this is the case with Nosson Slifkin. As for the Student’s question what exactly is wrong with the books –to which the rabbis gave no answer to this day- I think there might be some insight: although no one will be banned or excommunicated if, for example, he listens to rock’n’roll privately. But if he writes books about rock’n’roll being compatible with Judaism or that the Leviim in the Bais Mikdosh played Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, I don’t think he should be surprised if a cherem is thrown at him. Even if factually there isn’t anything heretic in the books, these things maybe shouldn’t be shouted from the rooftops. Maybe we still need some barriers between the secular world and us. I’m not trying to imply that this was the rabbis’ intent, yet it might be possible. It is also possible that they were manipulated by powerful behind-the-scenes decision makers, such as the Hebrew Yated Lo Neeman’s Nathan Zochowsky, or other powerful scoundrels.

Yet what puzzles me most is that this article, relating to a three years old event, not only made it to the Jewish Press, but merited an editorial. Mr. Student and the JP decision-makers apparently couldn’t find anything more important and relevant to contemporary Jewish life. Apparently six women shot, one killed, in Seattle by and Arab terrorist is no news for the Jewish press. The entire nation is ablaze about the border situation – the JP is silent. Forget that Zapata (TX) county sheriff and his men reported numerous incidents of Muslims paying up to $50,000 to cross the border into the States. Forget that they had Arabic propaganda and patches with planes flying towards buildings. Forget that drugs, gangs, illness, prostitution and violence are flooding in from Mexico. Forget that Jews and Jewish institutions are terrorist’s primary targets. That is not important. After all, publishing such articles might prompt some Jews to ask their Rabbis what they have done in order to protect them. Maybe if too many Yidden demand that their security be improved, the Orthodox organizations would have to bargain with politicians for sane borders, instead of cash. Maybe if Jews would decide to get prepared to defend themselves, they’d have less money to donate to the rabbinates. Maybe.

One thing is sure: even the tiniest and most “primitive” living creatures, such as the amoebae and algae have an instinct for survival - Jews don’t. Evolution disproved.


Gil Student said...

What makes the issue current is that over the past few months Yated Ne'eman has been publishing articles against Rabbi Slifkin (without mentioning his name) and a recent issue of Jewish Observer published three articles against
him (also without mentioning his name). On the other hand, the RCA
recently released a statement that declared the acceptability of evolution.

Be well,

Gil Student

The Anti-Semite said...


What about addressing the other issues in the post?

I mean, if the subject is important enough to generate an editorial in the JP, I'd expect the broader impications to be expanded upon a bit.

Thanks & best wishes.