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January 17, 2017 / 19 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘controversy’

The Times Detects A ‘Strong Odor’ In Williamsburg Controversy

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

We find it ironic that the controversy over separate women’s swimming time in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn public pool broke even as Americans are grappling with the issue of transgender rights.

In large part, much of the media insist that gender is a state of mind rather than a function of genitalia – to the point that a transgender person must be allowed to use a bathroom appropriate to the gender he/she identifies with rather than one appropriate to the genitalia he/she was born with.

But some of those same folks – in this case the editorial board of The New York Times – find it off-putting and unconstitutional for a municipal authority to provide a far lesser accommodation to Orthodox Jewish women seeking to observe traditional notions of modesty when swimming.

In a March 25 editorial titled “Transgender Law Makes North Carolina Pioneer in Bigotry,” the Times condemned North Carolina for “passing an appalling, unconstitutional bill that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity….”

A few weeks later, in its April 18 issue, the Times, in an editorial titled “Transgender Bathroom Hysteria, Cont’d.,” described reaction to the North Carolina statute:


After the withering backlash against North Carolina for passing a discriminatory law…it would stand to reason that lawmakers and governors in other states would think twice before peddling bills that dictate which restrooms transgender people can use.

And yet, state legislators in Tennessee, Kansas, South Carolina, and Minnesota are pushing similar absurd measures….

Laws to address non-issues [like the need to restrict transgenders] can have serious repercussions. The hastily passed bill in North Carolina, which said people must use public bathrooms based on the gender on their birth certificate and prohibited local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances, has been roundly condemned by corporate leaders, civil rights groups, and religious leaders….

If lawmakers who might want to follow North Carolina’s example aren’t moved by appeals to equality and human rights, they should ponder this reality: The price of bigotry is becoming quite steep.


Fast forward five weeks. In late May the New York City Parks Department announced it was going to end a policy of setting aside several hours a week for “women’s swim” at a public pool in Williamsburg. The sessions were instituted about 20 years ago, without much fanfare or incident, as an accommodation to Orthodox Jewish women who, due to their religious beliefs, would not swim together with men.

But someone apparently filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights claiming men were being discriminated against. The commission notified the Parks Department that the swimming arrangement was in violation of anti-discrimination laws and had to be ended. The Parks Department agreed, but after New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind intervened the department withdrew a statement announcing the end of the program and said the future of the women’s swim program would be reviewed.

This, in a June 1 editorial, is what the great advocates of transgender choice on the Times editorial board had to say concerning the Parks Department’s about-face on the Williamsburg pool controversy:


Four times a week this summer – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:15 to 11 a.m., and Sunday afternoons from 2:45 to 4:45 – a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn will be temporarily unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access.

The pool will instead answer to the religious convictions of one neighborhood group…. Orthodox Jewish beliefs demand modesty in dress, and a strict separation of the sexes, and those are the beliefs to which the taxpayer-owned-and-operated Metropolitan Recreation Center will yield…. The city’s human rights law is quite clear that public accommodation like a swimming pool cannot exclude people based on sex. It allows for exemptions “based on bon fide considerations of public policy,” but this case –with its strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular place – does not seem bona fide at all. [Italics added]


Tellingly, the Times did not cite a single one legal authority supporting its legal conclusions.

And although no one seems to have protested the women’s swim time for some 20 years, the Times followed up on its offensive allusion – one “redolent of anti-Semitic smears,” as our op-ed contributor Jonathan Tobin puts it on page 8 of this week’s issue – with this dripping bit of angry sarcasm:


[T]he summer sun shines equally on the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, and that plus the New York City humidity make everybody uncomfortable and hot under the collar…. There is no just way to tell a sweaty Brooklynite on a Sunday afternoon that he should be ejected onto Bedford Avenue because one religious group doesn’t want him in the pool…. Let those who cannot abide public, secular rules at a public, secular pool find their own private place to swim when and with whom they see fit.


And all of this says nothing about a glaring omission in the Times’s take on the matter: Although there are many examples around the country of Muslim women being provided with the same accommodation in public pools as the Orthodox women of Williamsburg, the Times completely ignored that in its denunciation of the Williamsburg program.

To be sure, the Times in 2008 reported on a controversy at Harvard over its having set separate gym hours for Muslim women. But it did not editorialize about it.

Nor did it editorialize about the city of Toronto’s various accommodations of Muslim women – but it did carry a giddily positive news report about that program, headlined “In Toronto, a Neighborhood in Despair Transforms Into a Model of Inclusion.” Times reporter Dan Levin wrote:


Her face framed by a yellow hijab, Idil Hassan watched her young daughter splash with other children at the Regent Park Aquatic Center, an architectural jewel of glass, wood and chlorine in the middle of Canada’s largest housing project.

The center has given Ms. Hassan, a 34-year-old nurse, the ability to do something more than just watch her child: she, too, can join in.

On Saturday evenings, mechanized screens shroud the center’s expansive glass walls to create a session that allows only women and girls to relax in the hot tub, swim laps or careen down the water slide, a rare bit of “me” time treasured by many of the neighborhood’s Muslim residents.

“I wouldn’t come before because my religion doesn’t allow women to be seen uncovered by men,” said Ms. Hassan, a Somali immigrant. “It’s really helpful to have that day to be ourselves. I even learned to swim.”


As far as we can tell, only the Orthodox Jewish women of Williamsburg have been targeted by the Times’s editorial writers over this sort of thing.

What is it with the Times and Orthodox Jews?

Editorial Board

ADL Joins Anti-Netanyahu Team, Says Cancel Speech to Congress

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Oooh, another bit of drama in the ‘Obama-Bombing-Bibi Soap Opera’ …

The White House has started bringing out the heavy artillery: The New York-based Anti-Defamation League is the latested to be recruited to pressure Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into canceling his address to the U.S. Congress on March 3.

Yes. It’s another round of messing with Israeli politics, cloaked in the guise of harassing a prime minister over a speech to Congress. But it’s really about trying to rally enough bad blood to make Netanyahu look bad to people who know he’s probably one of the few in Israel who actually knows how to lead, mistakes notwithstanding.

Ah — and lest we forget — it’s also about trying to distract the American public from that other thing: the Iranian nuclear threat that’s being carefully hidden away in a pretty package with a shiny pink bow. It’s about to be sealed in an agreement between Tehran and world powers led by President Barack Obama at the end of March. Obama’s not very happy that Netanyahu is planning to talk about that with Congressional lawmakers.

Somehow ADL national director Abraham Foxman was persuaded to tell The Jewish Daily Forward that the controversy over the address by Netanyahu – who was invited to deliver the speech by the Speaker of House, John Boehner, months ago – is “unhelpful.” Foxman was quoted as saying the Netanyahu should stay home, according to the Feb. 7 edition of the UK-based Huffington Post.

(Frankly, Harriet, how on earth did the UK get into this? Oh, right — they get into anything that has Netanyahu involved — forgot. Carry on…)

“One needs to restart, and it needs a mature adult statement that this was not what we intended,” Foxman said in the Forward interview published Friday. “It has been hijacked by politics. Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions.”

Foxman said he “stands with Israel” and its concerns over the rapidly closing U.S.-Iran deal on Tehran’s nuclear development activities. However, he said Netanyahu’s upcoming appearance before the Congress has become “a circus.” Instead, he suggested the prime minister postpone the speech until after Israel’s March 17 elections. Or make his case at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference, scheduled the same week as his address at Congress.

Of course, the scheduled date of the AIPAC conference was the reason Netanyahu moved the date of the speech back to March anyway, even though it was closer to elections. He only travels once that way.

This writer finds it interesting that the White House staff has been so successful at recruiting nearly every major American Jewish organization into trying to pressure the leader of the State of Israel on a matter seriously affecting Israel’s national security.

Were the situation reversed, one wonders how the American people would react if the Kremlin were to play the same games to stop President Barack Obama from addressing the United Nations Security Council at a special session, for instance, or even the Duma in Moscow on a matter of equal gravity affecting American national security?

Another question might be to consider which threats, if any, were implied or outright tossed to haul the ADL on to this bandwagon.

Most of the American Jewish organizations tangled up in this shameful campaign of harassment benefit from at least some government funding for community assistance programs. As such, they are enjoined to avoid any form of political involvement or they lose that funding instantly.

So many questions … so few answers … so little time …

Rachel Levy

Biden Skips Town & Netanyahu Speech to Congress

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is skipping town on March 3, and avoiding the proverbial ‘tempest in a teapot’ he fears will occur when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses a rare joint session of Congress.

It is the role of the vice president, as president of the Senate to attend joint meetings of the Congress. But Biden did miss one other session, however, in 2011, according to the White House.

Biden’s office confirmed to NBC News on Friday that he will be traveling abroad at the time of Netanyahu’s speech, but could not say where or why. As NBC News journalist Steve Benen observed, “It’s hardly unreasonable to wonder if this is the diplomatic equivalent if ‘I’m washing my hair – somewhere.’”

“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early, but the planning process has been underway for a while,” a spokesperson for the office explained to Politico.com.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she was “seriously considering going” and that it was her “intention to go” although she was still her “hope that the event will not take place. There’s serious unease.”

Three other prominent House Democrats – Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon – plan to skip the session.

Last Wednesday seven Jewish Democrats met with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to discuss the controversy, caused in part because the speech was arranged with Dermer by GOP House Speaker John Boehner several months ago, without consulting the White House.

The proximity of the session to Israel’s national elections is also a concern – but far more threatening to the White House, apparently, is the proximity of the speech to the deadline in talks with world leaders for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear development program.

Israel’s prime minister has openly opposed the wide-ranging agreement being discussed by the U.S. and world leaders with Iran, which grants Tehran far more flexibility with its uranium enrichment activities than reasonable or safe, according to military experts.

Hana Levi Julian

Philip Berg (86), the Kabbalah Centre Rabbi

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Rabbi Philip Berg (born Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, in 1927 or 1929), founder of the controversial Los Angeles based Kabbalah Centre, that attracted many movie celebrities to join its ranks, died on Monday at age 86 (or 84).

Rabbi Berg was ordained in 1951, from Yeshiva Torah voDaas

Berg’s Kabbalah Centre introduced a New Age version of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, made famous for it promotion of its version of Kabbalah to non-Jewish celebrities. The Kabbalah Center’s assets are believed to be in the many millions of dollars, acquired from donations, selling red bendels (strings), and pocket Zohars.

Primarily based in Los Angeles, the group has centers in 40 countries.

A few years ago, Rabbi Berg suffered a stroke, and his wife Karen Berg, and their two children began to take over running the business.

Rabbi Berg will be buried in Tzfat, Israel.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Arab Donald Duck Tweets for Israel to be ‘Demolished’

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

An Egyptian radio host who identifies himself as the official voice of Donald Duck on Disney Middle East called on Twitter for Israel to be “demolished.”

The discussion that began Sunday on the Twitter feed of Wael Mansour continued on Tuesday.

“I truly wish #Israel is demolished, I hate Zionism, I have so much hate inside me with every single child they murder or land they seize!” Mansour tweeted Sunday. The tweet followed one that read: “I saw a video of Israeli soldiers brutally arresting a palestinian woman in front of her 3 children coz they seized her home & she objects!” which could explain his Twitter outburst.

Mansour responded to some critics by tweeting: “I don’t know why insulting #Israel & #Zionism is “Anti-Semitic”?! They are just a bunch of Polish/ Ethiopian immigrants roughly 70 years old” and “There are Jews who hate Zionism; does it make them Jews Anti-Jews?! Of course NO! We respect Jews & disrespect Zionism, there’s a difference.”

The Algemeiner called on Disney chairman Bob Iger, who is Jewish, to respond to the controversy. Disney owns the rights to Donald Duck.

Contacted directly via Twitter by the Algemeiner, Mansour told the paper, “The Zionist entity is a racist entity by definition, performing crimes of hate by the power of its criminal law. I stand firm by what I said.”

Mansour said Egypt “dictates an overwhelming Islamic sentiment that happened normally. On the other hand, the Zionist entity is a bunch of immigrants stealing lands and creating a state based on a racist difference.”


By the Law Among Nations, Jerusalem Belongs to Us

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Contrary to the claims made by Palestinian leaders, various NGOs, and certain members of the international community, international law fully recognizes the Jewish people’s claim to Jerusalem, where they have historical roots dating back over 3,000 years and have been the largest ethnic group in the city since 1820.

Ernst Frankenstein, a British authority on international law said, for example, that the Jewish people have a right to their ancestral homeland and ancient capital city in Jerusalem based on the fact that the Jewish people never relinquished their historic claims to the area.

Furthermore, Frankenstein claimed that Roman, Byzantine, and other successors lacked a “continuous and undisturbed presence” in Israel that would dispossess the Jewish claim to the land. In fact, the Ottoman Turks, who owned the Land of Israel prior to WWI and the British Mandate, renounced their claim to all of the land of Israel in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923When the Balfour Declaration was drafted there was no Palestinian “nation.” In 1919, Palestine was a sparsely populated land where Lord Balfour claimed that only 700,000 Arabs lived, of whom a large number migrated within recent history.

In contrast, there were far more Jews in the world in need of a homeland in 1919 than there were Arab residents in Israel and there existed a significant Jewish minority that continued to live in Israel. As the Blackstone Memorial, signed by Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Melville Fuller, proclaimed in 1891, Israel, which included Jerusalem, is the “inalienable possession” of the Jewish people “from where they were expelled by force.”

The Balfour Declaration was drafted with the goal of establishing a Jewish national home in the Land of Israel. The “civil and religious” rights of the Arabs were to be respected, yet politically, the country was supposed to belong to the Jews. The Balfour Declaration was ingrained into international law at the San Remo Conference. Through San Remo, “The Jewish people have been given the right to establish a home, based on the recognition of their historical connection and the grounds for reconstituting this national home,” Jacques Gauthier, an expert on international law, had explained.

Thus, the Palestine Mandate, which included a united Jerusalem was established with the goal of guiding “towards independence and self-governance those races, peoples or communities who for various reasons are not yet able to stand alone” – in this case the Jewish people – according to J. Stoyanovsky writing in The Mandate for Palestine. Around the same period of time, the international community discussed setting up mandates to assist other nations in similar situations, such as the Armenians, although in their case it wasn’t implemented.

Contrary to Palestinian claims, none of the resolutions passed since the San Remo Conference renounce the Jewish claim to a united Jerusalem. U.N. Resolution 181, although it called for Jerusalem to be an international city, never held any force under international law and it was rejected by the Arab side. Furthermore, the resolution states that a referendum was to be held after 10 years to determine changes to the city’s status; since Jerusalem had a Jewish majority, it was expected that a united Jerusalem was to become a part of Israel after 10 years. Furthermore, U.N. Security Resolution 242, of which all peace negotiations are based on, deliberately makes no mention of Jerusalem and does not call upon Israel to withdraw from all of the territories it captured in 1967. And finally, when Jordan controlled east Jerusalem, Jordan’s annexation of the area was never recognized by the international community; and since that date, Jordan has relinquished all of her claims to Jerusalem.

Thus, Israel has the strongest claim to Jerusalem according to international law.

Visit United with Israel.

Rachel Avraham

The Slifkin Torah-Science Controversy: An Admittedly Biased Insider’s Perspective

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

The Jewish community is no stranger to conflict. Some controversies, however, transcend their local concern and reverberate in ways originally unintended. I believe we have witnessed such an event with the recent controversy surrounding three books about Torah and science by Rabbi Natan (Nosson) Slifkin. The bans promulgated on his books have come to represent more than just disapproval of those specific works; they have come to signify the lack of centralized rabbinic authority in our globalized world and the increased empowerment of the individual afforded by the Internet.

The Books

Let me start from the beginning. Rabbi Slifkin has been teaching about Torah and animals for a number of years and has written prolifically on these subjects. These issues led him to topics regarding Torah and science in general, and after careful research he published three books about the subject.

His first book in this genre was titled The Science of Torah and discussed the age of the universe and evolution. His next was Mysterious Creatures and addressed the seemingly mythical creatures mentioned in rabbinic literature, such as unicorns and dragons, and the general scientific orientation of the Sages. And the last was The Camel, the Hare, & the Hyrax, which discussed the kosher signs of animals and their relation to current zoological knowledge.

All three books had haskamos (approbations) from English-speaking Torah authorities and were initially well received.

Personally, I became acquainted with Rabbi Slifkin through e-mail and bought The Science of Torah, but was not particularly interested by it. Various theories of reconciling Torah, the age of the universe and evolution were old hat to me. I had already heard and read enough on the subject in my youth to recognize that there is no contradiction between various common scientific theories and the Torah.

I was not even going to buy the second book, Mysterious Creatures, until a number of people told me my name was mentioned in the introduction. It seems some personal exchanges with Rabbi Slifkin were valuable enough to him that he thanked me for my contribution. I did buy that book and greatly enjoyed it. I then rushed to acquire the third book when it became available and was likewise impressed with it. I even wrote a review of it for my blog (TorahMusings.com) and translated into English its laudatory approbation from a respected posek.

The Ban

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur two years ago, that Rabbi Slifkin’s books had been condemned as heretical. I don’t recall how the grapevine carried the news to me, but looking back I see that I still have my e-mail to him inquiring about it and now realize that I contacted him on the very day that everything started. What follows is based on Rabbi Slifkin’s retelling of the story and my own recollection of the events of which I was aware.

Rabbi Slifkin received a phone call on September 21, 2004, informing him that he would shortly be receiving faxes of letters from rabbis stating that he must retract the three books mentioned above. He would have until the end of that day to do so or face public scandal and humiliation.

Rabbi Slifkin immediately tried to arrange meetings with the rabbis whose letters were faxed to him but they all refused to meet with him (one initially agreed but later changed his mind). Rabbi Slifkin also called the rabbis who had written haskamos for his books to see if they had retracted those approbations, as those condemning his books had claimed. This turned out to be false.

On the advice of his halachic authority, Rabbi Slifkin refused to recant his books until he would be able to meet with the rabbis condemning the books. As he wrote to me in his private e-mail late that night, “If they’ll show me where I wrote something wrong, of course I’ll change it, my website is full of corrections to my books.” But he never had that opportunity.

On September 23, a major rosh yeshiva in America phoned Rabbi Slifkin to offer him encouragement and tell him to keep a low profile and let the whole thing blow over. But it did not subside. The next day, erev Yom Kippur, signs went up in Rabbi Slifkin’s neighborhood declaring that the books are full of heresy and that one is forbidden to own them. The following months saw signs posted in Israel and pamphlets distributed in Israel and the U.S. vilifying Rabbi Slifkin.

In the week of January 2, 2005, the Israeli (Hebrew) Yated Ne’eman published a ban against Rabbi Slifkin’s books signed by some leading rabbis in Israel and in America, including Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg and Rav Dovid Feinstein, along with an accompanying article. The next week, the European (English) Yated Ne’eman published a translation.

That is where my direct involvement began. After the publication of the ban, Rabbi Slifkin’s publisher and distributor decided to cease their involvement with his books. After consultation with a number of rabbis who wanted these books available for their communities, my new publishing house, Yashar Books, agreed to take on the distribution of the books.

As the arrangements were being made and afterward, I obtained support from a number of leading rabbis and roshei yeshiva. My position continues to be that a community whose rabbi rules the books are permissible should have access to them.

Subsequent Developments

Since the original publication of the ban, more rabbis have published letters against Rabbi Slifkin, some denouncing science in eneral while others addressing only the books in question. Due to the immediacy of the Internet, any letter or article condemning Rabbi Slifkin has been quickly disseminated.

In the meantime, Rabbi Slifkin did not simply stand back and allow his books to be denounced. After the ban appeared on Yated Ne’eman’s website, Rabbi Slifkin added a section to his website (ZooTorah.com) to address the controversy. In this section, he calmly and responsibly presented an account of the events, relevant documents, and responses supporting him by various rabbis. He also posted a long list of sources that seem to directly contradict claims that his positions are unacceptable.

In addition to all this, the entire controversy was being carefully covered on various Internet media, most notably blogs. I posted frequently to my blog on this subject. While I tried to restrict my comments to respectful discussion of intellectual subjects, other blogs reflected less discipline, sometimes going well beyond the bounds of decency.

There was a sense of outrage over this ban and, more than that, personal pain. Whether from baalei teshuvah who felt pushed out of the community for which they had sacrificed so much to join, or rabbeim and kiruv workers who had just been informed that they’d been teaching heresy for many years, there was a very loud cry of anguish being voiced on the Internet. It was this new medium that served as the focal point of criticism of the ban and, ironically, the growing crisis of faith it has caused.

Of the three banned books, The Science of Torah had already sold out before the ban, and the other two sold out fairly quickly in the ban’s immediate aftermath. The Science of Torah was recently thoroughly revised, expanded and published under a new title, The Challenge of Creation, with a foreword by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union. Because of the controversy, we have had the book reviewed by a number of knowledgeable rabbis, including an expert on both Torah and science from whom my posek insisted we receive permission before commencing with publication.

It was no surprise to me that a tremendous wave of support for Rabbi Slifkin was forthcoming from the Yeshiva University orbit. Rabbis, professors, students and alumni sent many supportive e-mails, looking for ways to help. The largest Jewish book sale in the country, Yeshiva’s SOY Seforim Sale, stocked the banned books, all of which sold out very quickly.

(To the organizers’ credit, they were hesitant to stock the books until I had them speak to Yeshiva’s mashgiach, who insisted that they sell them. There have since been a number of lectures on this topic, some by roshei yeshiva and rabbeim and others by professors, all generally favoring Rabbi Slifkin’s positions, even if criticizing him on minor points.)

But what surprised me most was the support from the yeshivishe world. I was expecting very little but received, and continue to receive, many letters, e-mails, phone calls, and even random stops on the street in Brooklyn from people who feel very passionately about this subject. Many rabbis and learned laymen seem to have tremendous sympathy for Rabbi Slifkin, both on a personal level for his public humiliation and on an intellectual level for his championing their views.

The Issues

From the beginning it has never been quite clear what the problems are with the banned books because none of the rabbis involved gave any detailed explanation.

The initial ban quotes Rav Yisroel Weintraub as saying vaguely tht Rabbi Slifkin denigrated our tradition. Rabbi Yitzchak Sheiner is quoted as saying the problem is that Rabbi Slifkin believes that the world is millions of years old. And Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel is quoted as saying the problem is that Rabbi Slifkin claims that the Sages could, on rare occasions, err in scientific matters and any corresponding halachic issues. Rav Moshe Shapiro was unclear but seemed to object specifically to the issue of the Sages and science.

None of them, however, agreed to clarify the matter by meeting with Rabbi Slifkin and explaining their objections. Months after the ban, Rav Aharon Feldman cited as problematic Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches to the age of the universe, the order of Creation, evolution and the Sages’ knowledge of science.

In Rabbi Slifkin’s books, he described the evidence for an ancient universe and discussed the various theories that have been proposed to explain this from a Torah perspective. He then offered his own theory, which follows in the footsteps of the Rambam, Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann, Rav Aryeh Kaplan and others, and which takes the “six days” of Creation in a less than literal sense. This, the banners seem to claim, is heretical, while others either support this view or find it hard to condemn considering its respected pedigree.

Following the view of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav Avraham Kook that if evolution can be demonstrated to be true it is consistent with the Torah, Rabbi Slifkin reviewed the evidence for evolution (as he defines it) and proposed a Torah perspective for understanding it. While it is understandable that people might disagree with his conclusion, the approach in general is not Rabbi Slifkin’s but of those much greater than he. The strong Torah precedents for his views are even clearer in his new book, The Challenge of Creation.

Regarding the Sages and science, Rabbi Slifkin surveyed the many views on how to deal with the apparent discrepancy between current scientific knowledge and various Talmudic statements. He made it clear that he favored the view of the Rambam (most eloquently stated by Rambam’s son), the Gaonim, and many authorities throughout the centuries and up to this day that the Sages sometimes relied on the scientific conclusions of their contemporary experts.

The banners seem to have been particularly disturbed by this position despite its being advocated by such recent luminaries as the Maharam Schick, Rav Hirsch and Rav Yitzchak Herzog. One banner reportedly dismissed Rabbi Slifkin’s precedents among Torah authorities by saying, “They were permitted to hold this opinion; we are not.” My rosh yeshiva hastold me he strongly disagrees with this statement.

I am certain that some readers will be scandalized by Rabbi Slifkin’s approach to these topics and others will wonder what the big deal is. I was among the latter, having heard for many years that Judaism has no problem with such ideas. It is not just the Modern Orthodox world in which these ideas have gained acceptance. The utter shock with which many within the American yeshivishe community reacted to this ban, the stunned expressions of the kiruv professionals, shul rabbis and high school rabbeim when they learned that the approaches they had been taught and were teaching are unacceptable, is testimony to how mainstream these ideas had become. Rav Aryeh Kaplan’s writings certainly reach beyond Modern Orthodoxy.

To this day, I still have trouble understanding the intent of the ban. Were the Torah scholars who signed the ban really ruling that these views are heresy, other sages notwithstanding? Or were they just trying to protect the students in their yeshivas and members of their communities from views they consider dangerous but not heretical?

Rav Chaim Soloveitchik described mussar as a harsh medicine thatcures those who are sick but makes ill those who are healthy. The banners may be concerned that the traditional views cited in Rabbi Slifkin’s books are similar in that they might damage the faith of some readers. But even if true, dispositions and backgrounds vary and these views are essential for the faith of many others. It would therefore seem that this should be a local matter, depending very much on individuals and communities, and addressed by local rabbis and roshei yeshiva, rather than impersonal halachic rulings on posters and in newspapers.

The ban, as it stands, raises many difficult questions for a large segment of the Orthodox community. Ironically, the ban – both in terms of procedures and content – has generated questions of faith that are perhaps greater than those it was supposed to prevent.

We can only hope that in the future the concerns of the greater community will be specifically addressed – along with an explanation of how such a devastating personal blow can be issued without the accused being allowed to defend himself. That’s certainly preferable to a proclamation issued from afar that leaves the public guessing about the rest of the story.

Rabbi Gil Student

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/the-slifkin-torah-science-controversy-an-admittedly-biased-insiders-perspective/2006/08/16/

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