Note To Readers
When we published Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz’s open letter of resignation from the Rabbinical Council of America in our issue of Dec. 23, we were unaware that he is a cousin of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler’s wife. While it has no bearing on the particulars of the Tendler-RCA controversy, or on the questions raised by the RCA’s response to recent decisions by the Jerusalem Bet Din of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Faskowitz should have disclosed his relationship to Rabbi Tendler.
In a telephone conversation this week with The Jewish Press, Rabbi Faskowitz acknowledged that he was remiss in not having mentioned the relationship in his open letter, though he pointed out that he had mentioned it in the second paragraph of a private letter he e-mailed the RCA on June 30, 2005 – a letter that detailed his concerns with the way the organization had pursued its investigation of the charges leveled against Rabbi Tendler and with what he viewed as its disrespectful reaction to the ruling of the Jerusalem Bet Din.
Rabbi Faskowitz said his resignation from the RCA is “all about the [Jerusalem] Bet Din. If my reason for resigning had anything to do with my relation to Rabbi Tendler, I would have resigned when the RCA expelled him.”
Re Jason Maoz’s interview with Abigail Pogrebin, author ofStars of David (“Not such ‘Stars of David,’ ” Dec. 30):
I read the book and found it fascinating because, to her credit – sometimes overtly and sometimes implicitly – the author actually asks these people about the fact that for the vast majority of them the Jewish story, the saga of their families if you will, dies with them. And a lot of them go into very convoluted excuses. I thought Beverly Sills and Ruth Ginsburg were particularly pathetic.
Rich Man With A Title
Coincidentally, a friend of mine had lent me “Stars of David” a couple of weeks ago, and I heartily second Mr. Maoz’s positive assessment of the book. As for World Jewish Congress honcho Edgar Bronfman’s denigrating the idea that God gave the Torah to the Jews, and his denying that the God of Israel is his father or his King – can anyone imagine the leader of a Catholic organization talking about Catholicism in such dismissive terms? He’d be forced out of his position in an instant. With us Jews, however, someone can be a total am haaretz and apikorus and still be hailed as a “Jewish leader” – providing that he’s a rich man like Bronfman.
New York, NY
Munich’ Fears Groundless
In taking ADL National Director Abraham Foxman to task for his assessment of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” you refer to the movie as “a presentation fraught with far more danger than Mel Gibson’s recent casting of the Jewish people as responsible for the death of Jesus, which drew much public ire in the Jewish community, stoked in greatest measure by…” Mr. Foxman.
Two years ago, you predicted in an editorial that the release of Mr. Gibson’s “Passion” movie “will ignite the kind of virulent anti-Semitism that provided the foundation for pogroms throughout history and the Holocaust little more than a half a century ago.”
Apparently, with the realization that the fears over “Passion” were unfounded, you are taking on a new bogeyman, predicting that “the consequences of Mr. Spielberg’s theme taking hold among American Jewry and being picked up by policy makers in Washington would be catastrophic.” In your view, “Munich” is scarier than “Passion” because many Christians already held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus and they “hardly needed Gibson’s encouragement.” You are thus suggesting the existence of novelty in the moral message conveyed by Mr. Spielberg’s film.
But does “Munich,” in fact, offer any chidushim? Doesn’t everybody “know” already that the “Israel-Palestinian” conflict is based on a misunderstanding between two long-suffering peoples with equal historical and religious claims to one small piece of land and why can’t we just all get along? And isn’t this “knowledge” already reflected in longstanding American governmental policy to pressure Israel to “share” this piece of land with the Palestinians regardless of the security consequences?
Like “Passion,” “Munich” is a movie – and just that. It will keep millions of people entertained for a couple of hours. It will be the topic of discussion at some cocktail parties and office water coolers. It will reinforce the views of those who agree with the views conveyed by the movie, and will offend those who do not (including those who deny Israel’s right to even exist). Mr. Spielberg will laugh all the way to the bank once again and might even win another Oscar. But by making bold predictions about the societal consequences of this movie, you are once again crying “wolf” – or “Foxman.”
Zachary M. Berman
More On `Torah Lishma‘
Rabbi J. Rosenblatt (Letters, Dec. 30) accuses me of being “out of my league” in discussing the purpose of Talmud Torah and refers to my front-page essay (“A ‘New’ Understanding of Talmud Torah,” Dec. 16) as “intellectually corrupt.” My conclusion that learning Torah merely “for the sake of learning” is not a Jewish concept he ascribes to “either egregious ignorance of the primary sources or willful distortion of them.”
In the interests of brevity and basic dignity I will not respond to his insults, only to the substance of his argument. I feel no need to defend my right to study the Torah and form significant conclusions despite being a non-gadol – something Rabbi Rosenblatt is clearly offended by. Indeed, I wonder how he feels permitted to challenge me on intellectual grounds if he does not consider himself to be a gadol.
When all the smoke is blown away, the extent of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s substantive response is a vague reference to Nefesh Hachaim. Without going into detail or quoting a single passage, he claims that R’ Chaim of Volozhin supports “a concept eerily similar” to the conception of learninglishma that I claim doesn’t exist.
In Section 1, Chapter 21 Rabbi Chaim writes “And this is the Torah of Man: when he is involved in Torah lishma – to observe and fulfill all that is written in it – he purifies his body from head to foot.” Clearly, Rabbi Chaim defines learninglishma as not random, aimless “learning for the sake of learning,” but learning with a clear and practical purpose: to observe and fulfill.
In Section 4, Chapter 3 he further explains, based on the Rosh in Nedarim referenced by Rabbi Rosenblatt, that learning lishma is “to know, to understand, and to increase acquisition and pilpul.” Unless one defines pilpul as irrelevant theorizing, Rabbi Chaim’s approach only supports my article.
It should also be noted that the vast majority of Rabbi Chaim’s remarks about Talmud Torah relate to its mystical benefits. For one thing, therefore, much of what he writes is complementary to my article, not directly related to it. For another thing, he merely refers to a different sort of benefit or goal of learning Torah. Nowhere does he, or any classic Torah authority, advocate the sort of aimless, esoteric, non-practical learning that is prevalent today.
If Rabbi Rosenblatt is troubled by the fact that I, rather than any “gedolim,” have noted the dubious foundation of the modern kollel approach, perhaps he should take it up with them.
Words Have Meaning
In his letter of Dec. 30, Rabbi Riskin admits to having been “taken aback” by my criticism (Letters, Dec. 16) that he committed a “major error” regarding his translation. Actually, my criticism was that he had committed two major errors.
In his letter, Rabbi Riskin deals with only one of his mistakes. Specifically, he turns his attention to the Latin etymology of the adjective naive – nativus, “which means natural, unaffected candor and artless, actuated…by truth.”
On that basis he assures the reader that it would be okay to describe the Patriarch Jacob as a “naive” tent dweller. Rabbi Riskin’s mistake is that he relies on etymology without considering modern usage. (English has changed since the Roman Empire.) In modern standard English, the adjective naive is also associated with a lack of learning, experience, sophistication. It might be used to describe an individual who is devoid of wisdom and good judgment or someone who is gullible and easily duped. (One might be tempted to describe Esau in such a fashion, unjustly – certainly not Jacob. It would not fit the biblical context.)
Even according to Rabbi Riskin’s etymological reference, it would still be highly imprecise to select naive as a translation oftam. Quoting an unabridged dictionary, Rabbi Riskin cites “artless” as a worthy synonym. In modern American usage, artless is defined as lacking skill, crude, lacking knowledge. Is Rabbi Riskin still so sure about naive as an accurate translation of tam when referring to the Patriarch Jacob?
It is true that naive can connote qualities which are not so negative – in the sense of being natural and unaffected by guile; however, given the negative connotations cited above, there are far better English equivalents which would more accurately translate the Hebrewtam. (For example: wholehearted, which Rabbi Riskin used in his Dec. 2 column.)
I disagree with Rabbi Riskin’s interpretation of Malbim. Isaac did not think that his son Jacob was out of touch. It was a judgment call. As a parent, Isaac believed that Jacob should devote his life exclusively to spiritual matters as a Torah scholar. (That does not mean that he thought Jacob was naive or out of touch.)
Isaac was aware of Esau’s “problems.” However, he understood that Esau had great potential. Rebecca did not wish to confront Isaac about such an issue. She understood that her actions would be vindicated as indicated by the biblical context.
This exchange reminds me of the Italian saying Traduttore e traditore – roughly translated as “The translator is a traitor.” I do not wish to imply that Rabbi Riskin is a traitor. I am not speaking politically or theologically. The point is that it is simply very difficult to translate
from one language into another language, given the divergent cultures and vocabularies pertaining to the languages under discussion.
Don’t Discourage Aliyah
Reader J. Schwartz’s letter (Dec. 16) about Orthodox Jews andaliyah is full of distortions and errors from beginning to end.
1. No one ever claimed that the State of Israel as presently run is the geula – it is “the first flowering of the geula.“
2. Zionist rabbonim do not speak out against the state – only against the present government and, in fact, are careful to differentiate.
3. If Reader Schwartz is displeased with secularism in Israel he should make aliyah, become a citizen and at least vote for change.
4. Terrorism also affects America; in fact, many Jews were murdered in the World Trade Center attack. In addition many Jews in America are victims of violent crimes – far more than in Israel.
5. Cuts in government funding mainly affect those who do not work. This situation also exists in America.
6. Who says living here means living in “dire conditions”? This is the sin of the miraglim. Just as in America, here there are rich, poor and middle class people.
7. Living in Israel is more than a great mitzvah. This is the only land in which a Jew can fulfill himself both individually and nationally.
Every Jew should be planning aliyah – or at the very least not discouraging others from doing so.
The Problems With Evolution
Evolution Is Anti-Science
Reader David Fass (Letters, Dec. 30) begins his attack on my views on evolution by saying: “Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it’s not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world, that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.”
There follow nine paragraphs, but I was unable to find (a) a direct quote of anything I said and (b) why I was wrong.
All physicists today believe in the Anthropic Principle – that the universe was designed for people. Is that objectionable? Science has proven it.
Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the most prominent of the evolutionists, clearly stated that evolution is not a natural process but an accident. If you believe in accidents, you are not talking about science. Scientists had four theories about the origin of the moon until people actually went there, brought back rocks, and saw that all the theories were wrong. The latest theory? It was an accident.
The problem with evolution is that it is anti-science. That was the purpose of my letter. Does science believe that a tiny dot can emerge from nothing? It does not. Does science believe that a tiny dot containing the entire universe can expand? Einstein’s theory of Black Holes denies that such a dot can expand. Does science believe that a primal dot turned into a fiery plasma of simple material that became incredibly complex quarks and genes – all by accident?
Science teaches entropy, meaning that a closed system cannot gain in complexity, only decline. The simple plasma could thus not become complex atoms and genes.
Mr. Fass concludes by writing, “The image of the ‘idiot scientist’ conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter may be comforting to some, but it’s ultimately just crude escapism.”
Why not quote where in my letter I supposedly insulted scientists, or science? I didn’t insult science; to the contrary, I feel that modern science encourages our belief.
Rabbi David Eidensohn
David Fass’s letter is, based on my experience, very typical of people who defend evolution. They shed little light on the subject, yet engage in attacks on those with dissenting views.
You’d think that if the viability of evolution were, in his words, “discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites,” he could refute at least one point made by Rabbi Eidensohn. Instead of offering refutations, Mr. Fass writes with an air of disdain for Rabbi Eidensohn, rabbis in general, yeshivas, Monsey and the “yiddishe kup.” What an earth does all this have to do with the shortcomings and fallacies of an outdated “scientific” theory?
It’s very encouraging to hear from Mr. Fass that “scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people” and that “their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective.”
The problem is that scientists can also be staggeringly dishonest when it come to furthering their careers, prestige or bank accounts.
One case in point (and there are others), reported by newspapers around the world just last month: Dr. Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University faked 9 out of 11 stem cell research experiments. His phony results were being reported around the globe as scientific breakthroughs. Obviously, being educated is one thing; having integrity is a different story.
If Rabbi Eidensohn had questioned internal combustion or the properties of electricity when he’s surrounded by cars and electrical appliances, I could understand Mr. Fass’s irritation. But questioning the viability of a far-fetched theory like evolution is not all that out of line. I don’t live in Monsey, but my guess is that chickens aren’t turning into monkeys – even in Monsey.
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Greenberger is the author of “Human Intelligence Gone Ape” (NCSY) available free at EvolutionDead.com.)
There was just one problem with David Fass’s contention that Rabbi Eidensohn (and by extension the entire frum community) looks askance at science for failing to accept evolution. Evolution is not science. Never was, is not now, and never will be.
Evolution was introduced as a theory, and like most other theories it should have long ago been discarded. But it has one important element on its side: Evolution is atheism, and trumped up by Satan’s “useful idiots” in the academic community this lie continues to be foisted on lemmings who lack the sophistication and backbone to lash out in disgust.
I am far from alone in my conviction that evolution is a pseudo-religion. The most recent edition of the Economist magazine featured on its cover the cliched progression of a hunched-over ape eventually morphing into a comely lass. In the accompanying article, evolution was described as one of the three great secular faiths (Marxism and Freudianism being the other two) of the 19th century. (The author of the article, it should be noted, is one of the creed’s staunchest supporters.)
That supposedly Orthodox Jews fall over themselves trying to inject evolution into the story of creation does not impress legitimate truth seekers. Troubled by science? I don’t think so. But evolution? That’s a whole different story.
Hey, I can be open-minded. If in another 600 billion years man evolves into a centipede, I’ll retract this letter. You have my word on it.
Dr. Yaakov Stern
There are many Young Earth Creationists who believe in the Torah’s chronology of a 6,000 year old universe, a number of top scientists among them. Even though most of them are non-Jews, Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, spoke highly of them and was very critical of Orthodox Jewish scientists who accept evolution, despite the Torah of Nature showing no evidence whatsoever of millions of years – let alone billions – that have been invented solely to support the vapid belief that the theory of evolution requires vast eons to even begin to operate.
It is remarkable how the solid scientific evidence of a young universe still has not registered on some Orthodox didacts. Evidence such as the rate of decrease of the earth and sun’s magnetic fields, the rate of decrease in the size of the solar disc, the high residual warmth of the moon and mere half-inch of dust on its surface (which amazed the Apollo astronauts who had been told to expect being swamped), the decrease in the speed of light, the paucity of helium and micro-meteoric dust in the atmosphere, the rate of mineral deposition into the oceans, the fallacious premises of radiometric dating, the still “unwrapped” state of the arms of the great spiral galaxies, the thickness of Saturn’s rings, the continued existence of short-term comets, human population statistics, the complete dearth of any human record or artifact older than 6,000 years, polystrate fossils, the non-organic theory for the origin of oil, dendochronolgy (no tree older than 5,100 years can be found), pleochroic haloes etc., are all indicative of an astounding recency of creation.
In view of all this, it is perplexing how some Orthodox Jewish writers are still wedded to the discredited idea of evolution over billions of years. As the late journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed, “In the future evolution will be laughed at as one of the greatest jokes of history. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious a hypothesis could have been accepted with the incredible credulity that it has!”
Letters to the Editor