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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Slifkin’

Mrs. Brown’s Journey

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I must admit to being a little shocked. After reading the Forward article by Judy Brown about her journey away from traditional belief – I really was taken aback.

Judy Brown is the award winning author of the book, Hush – a fictionalized story about the sex abuse of a childhood friend. A friend that experienced it in the Chasidic community in which she was raised. I heard Mrs. Brown speak passionately on this issue last winter here in Chicago. She was dressed quite Tzanua (modestly) according to Orthodox Jewish standards -and she wore a Shaitel. That is a wig. Which is how most married Orthodox women in the western world cover their hair.

I had assumed from this that although she was upset by the way her community treated sex abuse, that she was still very much a believer in the theology of Judaism. A recent article – where she described herself as still wanting to dress modestly even according to Chasidic standards despite the “pull” away from that by society – just corroborated my perception.

As it turns out, she apparently is not a believer. It is not that she abandoned her belief in God. But she seems to have abandoned her belief in the theology she was taught about the Torah… and perhaps has even crossed the path into the world of skeptics and Orthopraxy. As she admits:

“I discovered the agony of praying to God when I knew I was talking to myself.”

She now sees herself as an outsider among the people she grew up with.

I am not here to judge her. I am instead looking at the world in which she was raised. It seems obvious from her account that it is because of what she was taught – and the way she was taught it – that upon discovering the scientific way of looking at the world she appears to have lost her faith.

Interestingly, it was not the internet that lead her astray. It was the book Cosmos by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. I did not read the book. But I’m pretty sure it is based on the wonderfulPBS series of the same name hosted by Professor Sagan. I absolutely gobbled that series up. I actually recorded every episode and have watched some of them many times. I still have the entire collection in VHS.

It was an eye opener for me as well. One of the most educational and entertaining series I have ever seen to date, even though it was produced in the 1980s. Especially the episode on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. And yet I did not become a skeptic. Except for one brief remark by Professor Sagan where he argued against the existence of God in one of those episodes, what I saw was entirely compatible with Judaism.

But apparently Mrs. Brown had a different reaction. She had the same kind of reaction as people who are taught that every word in the first chapter in Genesis must be taken literally. That the world was created in 6 days and is less than 6000 years old. Even the most basic knowledge about the sun being a star – and stars being suns was a shock to her.

No matter how much she resisted believing what she read in that book, she eventually succumbed to the fact that there are billions and billions of stars (suns) in the universe and that many of them are millions of light years away, thus crashing her belief system. And now, prayer has become nothing more that talking to herself!

What a sad thing to read just before Rosh Hashanah.

In this era of instant information that can be had any time and any place and read in the palm of your hand, it is beyond foolish to try and ban it… or to even use filters so as to avoid reading the science upon which things like the age of the universe is based.

But it is even more foolish in my view to not teach the science in the first place. Ignorance is our worst enemy. Because the minute one finds a contradiction to the insistence that only the most literal interpretation of the Torah is acceptable, believers can and often will sadly go the way or Mrs. Brown.

Instead of hiding the facts of nature by ignoring the study of science, it ought to be fully taught in every school. There are Shivim Panim LaTorah. The idea of an ancient universe is not Kefira. Had Mrs. Brown been armed with that knowledge she may not have had her ‘epiphany’ about Judaism.

Had she been taught the theory of evolution properly, she would have realized that indeed it is quite compatible with the idea of God’s creation of the world. That He used the method of evolution as the mechanism for his creation. While there are elements of the theory of evolution that seem to contradict some of our beliefs, the overall outline of it is compatible with them.

But for Mrs. Brown (and probably for the vast majority of those whose secular education is so strongly limited) learning about evolution caused her to stop believing in some of the fundamentals of Judaism.

It seems however that instead of increasing the knowledge base of our people, religious leaders are going in the opposite direction. Virtually all Charedim in Israel have no education in science at all. Even in elementary school only basic math is taught. Beyond elementary school it’s Gemarah 24/7.

In the US that was not the case in the not too distant past. Virtually all Charedi high schools taught basic science. But it has increasingly become popular in these schools to either minimize or completely eliminate secular studies. The problem that this causes for Parnassa purposes is obvious and has been discussed here many times.

But what has not been discussed that much is the vulnerability this creates in these students. The slightest exposure to some basic scientific thinking can easily cause them to go completely OTD or become Orthopraxic closet skeptics!

The solution to preventing them from succumbing to this knowledge on the part of Charedi leaders is to completely ban all possible access to the “Kefira” of science. They condemn and want to ban the internet as that is the most readily available source of knowledge available. They even ban books that try and reconcile that science with the Torah – like those written by Rabbi Slifkin – in the strongest possible terms… fearing it will all lead people astray. But banning it all is about as possible as banning air.

Mrs. Brown decided to read a book on the subject after having some spirited discussions with a friend. The book she chose was Cosmos by Carl Sagan. Had she been fully prepared for it by a proper science education, she may have had the same reaction to Cosmos that I did. But instead it led her to reject her religious teachings.

Even without the kind of basic science education that I had – had she read Rabbi Slifkin’s books, she might still be a believer today. But his books were banned. In her mind therefore, what difference was it which ‘forbidden fruit’ she partook of?

Harry Maryles

Popular Blogger Gil Student: ‘The Internet Is A Dangerous Place’

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

In the world of Orthodox blogs, few are as popular as Hirhurim.blogspot.com, run by Rabbi Gil Student. Visited over four million times since its founding five years ago, Hirhurim – which the Jerusalem Post ranked as the “Best Jewish Religion Blog” in 2005 – features informative, intriguing, and sometimes controversial discussions on halacha, Jewish philosophy, biblical stories, and more.

Rabbi Student, the managing editor of OU Press and founder of Yashar Books, recently compiled some of his blog posts in book form. Released last month, Posts Along the Way, Vol. 1: Shuls includes 50 short essays on such topics as women rabbis, Carlebach minyanim, and the permissibility of holding one’s child duringdavening.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Student.

The Jewish Press: What inspired you to start your blog in March 2004?

Rabbi Student: At the time, there was a Jewish blog discussing homosexuality from a halachic perspective and I didn’t feel the sources were being represented accurately.

In 2006 the Conservative movement officially issued a permissive ruling on homosexuality. But back in 2004 they were in the discussion stage and a lot of discussion was happening online and via e-mail lists, and it had slowly moved to blogs.

I decided to create my own blog to correct what I thought was an incorrect and misleading halachic position on this sensitive topic.

Many people views blogs as forums for gossip and criticism of the Orthodox community establishment. What is your take?

If you have a hammer, you can use it to build a house or bang someone on the head. It’s a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Just as a newspaper can be used for gossip and horrible character assassination – a blog can also. And just like a newspaper can be used to enlighten the community and give it important information – a blog can also.

What’s your background?

My background is, I think, part of what makes me interesting to people. I went to a Solomon Schechter elementary school – so I have a Conservative upbringing. Then I went to Frisch for high school, a very modern Orthodox school. For college I was in YU, and now I live in the moderate Yeshivish community on the outskirts of Flatbush.

So I believe I have a pretty good idea of how all those communities, in general, think about various issues. So when new issues come up, I kind of think about them from various perspectives.

It’s very hard to pigeonhole me, and I get a lot of criticism for that. Some people think I’m an extreme left-winger, some people think I’m an extreme right-winger, and some people think I’m an extreme centrist. And I just don’t think I’m any of them.

How did a kid from Solomon Schechter wind up becoming an Orthodox rabbi?

I don’t really have a story. A person matures and thinks things from a different perspective. I have to do what I think is right, and I’m convinced that where I ended up is the right direction to be going.

Is Student your real last name or a penname?

It’s my real name. Student is a legitimate Polish name that we can trace back to the 1870s; it was not changed at Ellis Island.

You gained some notoriety four years ago when, as the president of Yashar Books, you decided to distribute Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s books despite a ban placed upon them by leading haredi rabbis. Can you talk about that controversy?

It was a very polarizing debate and the people who opposed my position were very harsh in their condemnations; it was disillusioning and disturbing.

I’ll give you an example: a personal friend of Rabbi Slifkin started a blog against him criticizing him very harshly – theologically, ideologically and personally. I found it very disturbing that someone who knows so much Torah could be so personally hurtful.

Why did you support Rabbi Slifkin?

As a religious businessman I contacted various local rabbanim and asked them if they wanted these books available for their communities. I’m a firm believer that p’sak halacha be very specific to the individuals and communities involved.

Rabbi Slifkin’s books were written for people who have doubts or questions about their faith, particularly regarding so-called contradictions between Torah and science. In his books, he shows how the two can be reconciled. Many rabbis who recognize there are people in their communities who struggle with these issues asked me to make sure that Rabbi Slifkin’s books were available in stores to help people, even after – and despite – the ban on the books.

Earlier in your career you were involved in defending the Gemara against anti-Semitic charges. Can you talk about this?

That must have been about ten years ago. I came across anti-Semitic accusations against the Talmud, which I knew historically had been around for centuries, but I was surprised to see people bringing them back up and posting them on the Internet. I felt it was important that someone should respond to them, so I spent time doing the research and posted a number of responses. To this day I get e-mails about it.

How do you respond to people who claim the Gemara requires one mode of behavior vis-?-vis Jews and another vis-?-vis non-Jews?

This is something that Rabbi Michael Broyde has written about in law journals – Judaism’s approach to people within the legal system and outside of the legal system. For people who are outside the legal system and do not follow halacha, there’s a different standard in how you treat them because it’s not a reciprocal relationship. The Torah does not demand that you put yourself at a disadvantage because you follow halacha and they don’t.

Also, I think the general attitude is like a free market: you have to treat everyone fairly but everyone has to take care of themselves. Within your own community, though, you have to treat each other as family, just like if you were running a store you’d give a better discount to your brother than to some stranger off the street. The Jewish people [comprise] one big family.

Charging interest [is an example of this]. There’s nothing wrong with charging interest. It’s standard business practice; there’s an opportunity-cost of money. But when you’re dealing with family, you give them an interest-free loan.

Here and there, though, you hear Jews claiming one can cheat and lie when dealing with non-Jews.

I think it’s absolutely not true; it’s a distortion of the Torah.

So why do Jews say this?

You’re asking me a sociological question. Maybe it’s a leftover from Europe when we were persecuted; maybe it’s just an inner city mentality of everybody for themselves.

You also wrote a book arguing that the Lubavitcher Rebbe cannot be Moshiach. Can you talk about that?

I actually prefer not to. People get very offended by it. I wrote the book for ba’alei teshuvah to let them know that there’s more than one perspective on the issue. I have no interest in fighting with Lubavitch.

Any parting thoughts?

I do want to say one thing: The Internet is a dangerous place and just because I’m writing on the Internet doesn’t mean that I think it’s good for everybody to just go on the Internet.

I think it’s important for people to use filters and to be careful about what links they click on. We really need to guard ourselves because there is a lot of schmutz out there.

Elliot Resnick

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Helping Jews
   We now know that some of the money raised by the UJC (Federation) to aid Israel in the wake of the recent war with Hizbullah has actually gone to help Arabs. Although the estimates as to percentage vary widely, there seems to be no doubt that huge amounts of money were given to non-Jews.
   Wake up, people – your money may be supporting those who actively work for your destruction. Demand complete disclosure and accountability of all money spent. Demand that 100 percent of your money be used to help Jews in Israel. Let your thoughts be known.
   In general, Jews need to be much more aware of how their money is spent with regard to Israel. What activities are being funded? What percentage is actually reaching Jews in need? Can the money be spent more efficiently? Individually, are you indirectly supporting the enemy by purchasing a drink, gift, or even a taxi ride in Israel from an Arab?
   There are so many needy Jews in Israel. So many Jewish children are poor and hungry. Thousands of Jews from Gush Katif were forcibly expelled from their homes and are in need of support. Use your money for those who truly deserve our help. Most credible charities should be happy to provide you with information on how the money is spent. Just ask them.

Ken Abrams

Margate, NJ


UN Reflects The World
   While I generally agree with your Oct. 13 editorial “The UN at a Crossroads,” you missed one important point. The primary problem with the UN is not that it is an out-of-control organization that has been hijacked by anti-Israel Third World nations (though of course it is very much that). The real problem is that the world itself is anti-Israel, save for the U.S. when presidents like George W. Bush make the country’s foreign policy.
   The UN merely reflects the sentiments of the international community, and therefore will never really change as long as much of the world remains infected with anti-Semitism. In other words, not in the lifetime of anyone reading this, unfortunately.

Robert Kleinman

(Via E-Mail)


Don’t Expect Change
   Re “The UN at a Crossroads”:
   Regrettably, it is entirely unrealistic to harbor an optimistic expectation – “albeit a slim one” – that a new secretary general can effectuate a United Nations “that will be refashioned into the kind of organization it was designed to be” rather than “the virulently anti-West, anti-Israel vehicle it has become.”
   In just one example, the “new” Human Rights Council deviated not one iota from its previous incarnation, the Human Rights Commission, when its first meeting reverted to the same predilection to pass spurious condemnatory anti-Israel resolutions and pronouncements and compounded the shameful injustice by putting Israel’s alleged “misdeeds” on all future agenda.
   The unpalatable possibility that Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela could be elected to a two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council is symptomatic of the world body’s pervasive inner rot preventing the emergence of an effective, moral, and peace-promoting UN, even with a new and well-meaning secretary general.

Fay Dicker

Lakewood, NJ


‘Work In Progress’
   Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s op-ed article in last week’s Jewish Press (“A Giant of Faith and Intellect”) shows him to be a serious person who, despite all the controversy he’s generated, really does try to get it right. And his reliance on his understanding of what great authorities have had to say is truly laudable.
   But what came through to me most of all is that young Rabbi Slifkin is a work in progress, and as such should hardly be looked to as an authority on weighty matters like creation and evolution. The problem is that in his books on those subjects he writes as though he expects his readers to accept what he has to say as authoritative, based on his selective quoting of certain rabbis in order to bolster his arguments.
   In addition, his application of the dicta of great rabbis as to what is and is not acceptable strikes me as just a little too facile. I was particularly troubled by his use, in his op-ed last week, of a respected source for the proposition that “even if one’s own rebbe states something that does not seem to make sense, it is forbidden to accept it.”
   In years to come Rabbi Slifkin perhaps will come to appreciate that whether something makes sense in the light of Torah is not a simple matter – nor can its acceptance or rejection be determined after a limited period of rumination.

Rabbi Yechezkel Martin

(Via E-mail)


Engage, Don’t Reject
   I enjoyed Rabbi Slifkin’s tribute to Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, zt”l. The author’s tone of deference should go a long way toward disarming some of the criticism that has come his way in response to his books on Torah and evolution.
      I have read all of Rabbi Slifkin’s books and find them engaging and even eye-opening. Yet I concede that I lack the background to evaluate whether his conclusions are all or even partially valid. So I certainly can understand why the rabbinic establishment would have problems with him.
   Nevertheless, I believe the attacks against him are misplaced. In my opinion, it would be far better to engage his conclusions if they are found wanting or erroneous than simply to disparage them out of hand.
   Perhaps it would have been better had Rabbi Slifkin been more assiduous in seeking rabbinic approval for his work. But the questions he raises merit reasoned response, not dogmatic rejection.
   Having said that, I’m still struck by the troubling degree of superficiality that shows up here and there in Rabbi Slifkin’s work. His recitation of such trite truisms as the importance of “striving for truth” and “accepting truth from wherever it comes” begs the obvious questions of how and by whom “truth” is determined.

Jerome Doll

(Via E-Mail)


False Gods

   As someone who has researched anti-Zionism, I read with interest the two recent front-page essays by Paul Bogdanor (“Jews Who Hate The Jewish State,” Sept. 1; “Leftists For A Second Holocaust,” Oct. 13) and would like to add to the topic.

   A disproportionate number of secular Jews are pro-Palestinian activists. And many anti-Zionists come from mixed marriages where only one parent is a Jew. These Jews are confused about their identity.
   In Britain, one finds not only the highest proportion of secular anti-Zionist Jews in the Diaspora, but also the most successful anti-Zionist group anywhere. The 1,300-member Jews For Justice For Palestinians attracts many of the most celebrated Jews. On July 6, 300 of them signed a full-page ad in the Times of London, costing $18,400, denouncing Israeli “war crimes.”
   Two London papers, the Independent and the Guardian – and their letters pages, which include many anti-Zionist Jewish contributors – compete with each other in demonizing Israel. The editor of the former is Simon Kelner, a Jew. Recently the London Review of Books, whose editor is Mary-Kay Wilmers, a Jew, published a condensed version of the now infamous piece by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt which postulates that the “Jewish lobby” dictates American foreign policy.
   G.K. Chesterton said, “He who does not believe in God will believe in anything.” A study published in the July 2004 issue of BBC History magazine found that an astonishing one in every 100 British Jews between 1948-1954 was a member of the Communist party. Today, a similar phenomenon repeats itself when agnostic and atheistic Jews in Britain idolize another false god – Palestinian nationalism.

Jacob Mendlovic

Toronto, Canada



More Meat Scandal Fallout


Supervisors Reading Newspapers
      I was astonished by the Kosher Today dispatch, headlined “Rabbis Debate Role of Mashgiach Temidi,” in your October 13 issue. The account of the “debate” over what reforms need to be implemented in the kosher supervision process demonstrates the unbelievably low level of monitoring now in place.
   The head of one large supervision agency is quoted as saying that it is not enough that a mashgiach temidi in a restaurant checks shipments of meat and other ingredients upon their arrival. “I believe,” he said, “that the mashgiach temidi must have a full record of what comes in and goes out.”
      Imagine that. And why exactly isn’t that the minimal standard currently demanded by all the supervising agencies allegedly looking out for the interests of the kosher consumer?
      The article also contained this gem: “Some rabbis complained that many supervisorsspend most of their day reading a newspaper or studying Talmud.” And a spokesman from a major agency was quoted as saying that his agency “dispatches senior supervisors to check on their mashgichim” – a practice that apparently is the exception rather than the rule.
      I’m not the first person to offer the observation that we as individual Jews should spend at least as much time worrying about the fundamental issue of kashrut as we do about bugs in water and Indian hair in wigs. The latter are certainly legitimate issues, but the tumult that accompanied them when they first garnered public attention was more intense and longer lasting than what has ensued in the wake of the Monsey kashrut scandal.

Henry Purl

New York, NY


Modern Approaches Needed
      Reader Dov Grossman was right on point in his criticism of those in the rabbinic world who insist that mere laypeople have no right to comment on the Monsey meat scandal (Letters, Oct. 13). Those rabbis seem to think that, since fraud in the kosher marketplace violates halacha, any possible solutions to this ongoing problem must come from them and not from those directly affected by such violations – namely, the poor consumers.
      But deciding on a specific process of safeguarding kashrut is not fundamentally a matter of halacha. When laypeople suggest battling possible fraud in the kosher meat industry with universally accepted methods and systems that have never been thought to violate halachic standards (for example, regular and comprehensive auditing and supervision), they are speaking with as much insight and expertise – and are as deserving of respect and consideration – as those who interpret the halachot governing kashrut.
      I find it difficult to understand why it’s considered disrespectful to rabbinic authority if we laypeople call for modern approaches and technologies to prevent violations of halachic standards (which I agree are the exclusive province of the rabbis).

Shmuel Blumenthal

New York, NY

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Free Yom Tov Seating


   Once again Kehilas Mevakshai Hashem of Midwood, Brooklyn, is proud to offer free seats for the Yomim Noraim as a public service to the community.
   Anyone in walking distance of our shul, whether adult or mature (non-noisy) child, is welcome to daven in our well-lit, air-conditioned, roomy, ground level bais haknesses.
   Our address is 3011 Avenue K (between Nostrand Avenue and East 31 Street). To reserve your seat, kindly phone (718) 469-6999.
   Best wishes to all of Klal Yisrael for a k’siva v’chasima tova and thanks to The Jewish Press for publicizing this community service.

Rabbi Yehuda Levin

Kehilas Mevakshai Hashem

Brooklyn, NY


Warning On Honey

   As the New Year approaches, readers are advised to avoid giving honey to infants younger than one year because it can cause life-threatening botulism under that age.

   May we all be inscribed for a healthy and sweet New Year.
R.A. Cyrulnik, MD
Fellow, American Academy of Neurology

(Via E-Mail)



Hillary Pro
   I was pleased to see that The Jewish Press is not fixated on the past and saw fit to endorse Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary. As you mentioned in the editorial, you shared the early concerns of many Americans about what kind of senator Ms. Clinton would be, particularly on Middle East issues. I too was somewhat skeptical, but her performance in the Senate these past six years has convinced me that my fears were groundless. I cannot conceive of anyone being more firmly in Israel’s corner than she has been.

Frieda Averbach

New York, NY


Hillary Con

   Et tu, Jewish Press? Have you fallen in with the politically correct crowd? If not, how do you explain your endorsement last week of Sen. Clinton? Is this not the same Ms. Clinton who, as first lady, embraced Suha Arafat moments after the latter viciously libeled Israel? As I recall, The Jewish Press minced no words in condemning Ms. Clinton at the time.

   The fact that she’s said all the right things about Israel doesn’t really impress me – any senator from New York has to be pro-Israel. The real test of Ms. Clinton’s sincerity on Israel would come if she were a senator from, say, Iowa or Tennessee.

   In addition, the way she recently deserted Sen. Joseph Lieberman was offensive to me as an American, a Democrat and a Jew.

Harris Feinberg

(Via E-Mail)


Rebuild The Towers


   Five years after September 11, the World Trade Center site still remains as bin Laden left it. The current plan for Ground Zero was conceived in the aftermath of disaster. The desire of most Americans to see New York rebuild exactly what Al Qaeda took from us was stifled by fear and grief. Our elected officials said we couldn’t rebuild the Twin Towers because it was disrespectful, nobody would work there, and they, the towers, would be targets for Islamic fundamentalists.
   Amazingly, five years later they plan to build a taller, flashier, lone structure called “Freedom Tower.” Only a building shaped like a Jewish star and made of pork with a cartoon of Muhammad on top could be a more tempting target for our enemies.
   As long as we’re building a tall commercial tower whose height and moniker invite attack, there’s no excuse for not rebuilding the Towers.
   It’s not too late to do the right thing at Ground Zero.
Gary Taustine

New York, NY




Still More On Slifkin Controversy


Unwarranted Attack


      As he has done so often in the past, chronic letter-writer Dr. Yaakov Stern reveals himself to be a man of little tolerance for views that differ with his – as well as someone with an astonishingly narrow idea of what constitutes Torah Judaism (Letters, Sept. 8).

      His wholly unwarranted attack on Rabbis Student and Slifkin , simply because they are open to the idea that the theory of evolution does not necessarily contradict the Torah (“The Slifkin Torah-Science Controversy,” front-page essay, Aug. 18), was ugly and ill informed. It was also quite presumptuous – who is he to judge their frumkeit? Is he acquainted with either man?
      Fortunately for Dr. Stern, he has ample opportunity this time of year to do a cheshbon hanefesh and resolve not to cast aspersions on his fellow Torah-observant Jews.
Gary Blumenthal
Los Angeles, CA


Justifiable Attack
      Based on past responses to his strongly-worded letters to the editor, some readers will jump all over Dr. Yaakov Stern for his letter last week on the Slifkin controversy. I say to any and all of them: Tough. I cheer when someone like Dr. Stern stands up for our Torah and our gedolim. Jews with backbone have never been afraid to engage the Hellenizers, the apikorsim, the maskilim on their own terms, denouncing them for the dangers they represented to the neshamos of Klal Yisrael.
      Readers who cry crocodile tears whenever someone like Dr. Stern gives a full-throated response to those who disrespect our gedolim either don’t know or won’t acknowledge that Modern Orthodox pseudo-sophisticates are far more likely to scorn haredim than vice versa.
      The Slifkins of the world are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a very troubling phenomenon of our times: the growing number of frum Jews, most of them not nearly as intelligent as Rabbis Student or Slifkin, who think it makes them appear hip and intellectual if they question the authority of our rabbinic leaders.
      It’s a phenomenon all too visible on the Internet, specifically on the many so-called Orthodox blogs that engage in open mocking of our sages, in denigrating Yidden blessed with emunah shleimah as being nothing more than deluded simpletons, and in championing politics and politicians whose worldviews are anti-Torah to the core.
      That so many of the bloggers who spew derision at haredim are connected in one way or another to Yeshiva University – either as graduates, students or just hangers-on – should give that school’s administrators and rebbeim much cause for concern.
Pinchas Hernstein



Middle Ground

      The part of Rabbi Student’s article I related to most was where he wrote of ” personal pain” and “a very loud cry of anguish being voiced” This moves beyond Rabbi Slifkin’s books, or even the general topic of the interface between Torah and science.

      Addressing issues and hashkafos (Torah philosophy) without addressing people’s individual feelings will not bring peace and resolution. True, tolerance and pluralism should not be a cause for accepting any possible distortions in hashkafah. The oft-quoted Netziv on tolerance in the preface to Bereishis can indeed be abused, like any other Torah source. But I feel there should be at least an acknowledgment, on both sides, of the plight of individuals caught in the middle of all of this. Realizing and acknowledging this, on both sides, is part of empathy – nosei b’ol im chaveiro.
      Whenever I participate in discussions of the issue, I stress that I am sanguine about the future. I am sometimes challenged for my optimism, but I nevertheless believe there is good reason for it. Somehow, people with different hashkafos will have to learn to accept and live with each other. The Jewish people have survived many tough challenges in the past, and we will survive this one as well.

Baruch Horowitz

(Via E-Mail)


Rebutting Slifkin’s Detractors
      In the past two weeks, several letter-writers have supported the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books about Torah and science in which defends evolutionary theory and concludes that the Talmudic Sages were not infallible in scientific matters. Allow me to address the main issues raised by these letter-writers.
      Dr. Yaakov Stern states presumptively: “Our Sages have divided the history of man into three 2,000-year epochs,” insisting that it is “sheer foolishness” to believe that a 7,000-year-old shard of pottery can be excavated. There are sources, from the Zohar through Rav Hirsch, Rav Dessler and Rav Kook, that suggest a world older than 6,000 years. Dr. Stern should argue with them before taking on Rabbi Slifkin.
      The Rambam, no fan of the steady-state theory that the universe has always existed, nonetheless writes that if that theory were proven true, we would find a way to reconcile it with Torah. The Rambam is making a critical point here. Two opposing truths cannot coexist. If Torah is true and a seemingly oppositional scientific fact is true, there must, by definition, be a way for the twain to meet.
      Evolution is at present a theory, but if it ever becomes established as fact we need not be concerned that it requires a non-literal interpretation of the creation chapters of Genesis. Belief in evolution does not mean denial of any principle of Jewish faith.
      Bezalel Fixler seeks to account for the archaeological record by advancing Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky’s thesis that all matter was created in its fully advanced state. The world was made in six days; it merely looks like it is billions of years old. Perhaps, but when we observe the death of a star that is five million light years away, we are witnessing an event that (scientifically) occurred five million years ago.
      Why would God destroy a star that never existed? Why would He create fossils of non-existent creatures? Why perplex us with a prehistoric man when there never was a prehistory? At any rate, whether the universe is actually 16 billion years old or was created to look that way, the scientific end result is the same.
      Shimon Helfman scornfully quotes from Rabbi Slifkin’s The Challenge of Creation that the scientific estimate for the age of the universe “might be wrong by a few billion years.” Asks Mr. Helfman: “Is he serious? In my opinion, a miscalculation of a few billion years constitutes an enormous blunder.” Rabbi Slifkin is saying nothing new here. Scientists readily acknowledge that the age of the universe has not been pinpointed. Still, “a few billion” is a hiccup when discussing a universe that has existed for up to 16 billion years.
      Finally, Shmuel Rosengarten declares that Rabbi Slifkin and his publisher, Gil Student, “undermine the authority of our gedolim.” Rabbi Slifkin did the yeshivish thing for his books, by obtaining haskamot from gedolim. How can Mr. Rosengarten accuse Rabbi Slifkin of undermining Torah authority when he actually obtained the approbation of talmidei chachamim?
      While Mr. Rosengarten would likely respond with a variation on the “my gadol is greater than your gadol” theme, let me suggest instead that he accept the fact that gedolim can make mistakes. For example, in a recent article in The Jewish Observer, Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller wrote that every 28 years we recite the Birkat Hachamah at the precise day and time when the sun was created. However, this is based on the erroneous calculation that the year is 365-and-a-quarter days long. Even in 2006, Rabbi Keller evidently remains unaware of the length of the solar year.
      The Sages of old were anchored to the science of their time. If we accept that science, we would be forced to believe that the world is flat, because that was the view of the Talmudic Sages. We would embrace the geocentric theory. We would believe in spontaneous generation. Rabbi Slifkin’s critics effectively make these errors into articles of faith. Denial of any of them would make one a heretic.
      I believe that Rabbi Slifkin is owed an apology by those who harmed him. In the meantime, I pray that he will continue his good work, and that we as a people will focus on what is true, not on what is comfortable.

Avi Goldstein

Far Rockaway, NY

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Dangerous Times
   Are we blind to what’s happening? Are we so preoccupied that we don’t realize the seriousness of how Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb is progressing? As a young man I could never understand why the Western powers did not stop Hitler when he was weaker in the 1930’s. Now I feel like I am reliving it with the pathetic world response to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
   As Santayana said, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Howell Schisler
Plano, TX
UN Aid For Lebanon
   A number of aid projects to help rebuild Lebanon’s shattered infrastructure and economy are being set up due to the devastation caused by the war. Lebanon and Hizbullah are very lucky to have so many friends among the oil-rich Arab nations; however, Canada, the U.S. and the EU are pledging hundreds of millions more to Lebanon then their Arab brethren.
   The recent fighting started July 12 when Hizbullah guerrillas crossed the Lebanon-Israel border at Aita al-Shaab, killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others. It was not Israel that began the war. Israel was not the belligerent. Its civilian centers in the north were hit by thousands of rockets emanating from Lebanon, causing massive damage. Yet Israel is not being offered one penny in aid by the UN humanitarian bodies or the EU.
   Why this state of affairs? Is it because the oil-rich nations must be appeased?

Harry Grunstein

Hampstead, Canada


Disagrees On Wallace
   While I am by no means a fan of Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” fame, I disagree with the thrust of the Sept. 1 Media Monitor column (“Mike Wallace Loves Arab Dictators”). I did not see Wallace as being soft or lenient in his interview with the president of Iran, may his name be erased with all the rashas of history. If anything, Wallace kept pressuring him to stop being so evasive and answer the questions directly.
   I think this was the first time Wallace took no shtick from a monster like this man. He asked the right questions and forced answers out of the evasive Iranian. I know very well Wallace’s history of biased reporting on the Middle East, but there was no evidence of that bias in this interview.

Gisele Strauch

Brooklyn, NY


Wallace’s Yom Kippur Ham
   Mike Wallace is every bit as loathsome as portrayed in last week’s Media Monitor column. But Wallace’s bias goes beyond his weird crush on Islamic bad boys. Not only has he long demonstrated a severe anti-Israel bias (he was bashing the so-called Israel Lobby years before it became a popular sport among both left-wing and right-wing extremists), his sense of his own Jewishness is ambivalent at best.
   Several years ago the gossip columnist Lloyd Grove, then with the Washington Post, reported that Wallace was spotted at a Washington eatery ordering a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur. When Grove asked him about it, Wallace confirmed the story.
   “I had a cheddar and ham sandwich,” Wallace told Grove. “I am a Reform Jew. The best thing I can do is serve my master.”
   The man is truly despicable.

Harvey Kornreich

New York, NY



Jews Who Hate The Jewish State 

Norman To Norman


      There is a justifiable need and purpose for Paul Bogdanor’s careful recording and compilation of self-hating Jews who are compelled to publicly spew their poison (“Jews Who Hate the Jewish State,” front-page essay, Sept. 1).
      Frankly, I was not aware how widespread the problem is. I also do not know to what extent, if any, these people identify with their Jewishness. If they are indeed Jewish al pi halacha,I cannot and will not accept them as my “Jewish brothers” and I resent and reject their views as “Jewish” opinion. The greater tragedy is all the seemingly mindless renegades who give them an audience and a following. Pity all those Jewish neshamas going lost.
      Mr. Bogdanor cites this quotation from Norman Finkelstein: “I say this without fear; for those who believe in freedom and dignity, we are all Hizbullah now.”
      My reply to Mr. Finkelstein, from one Norman to another: Count yourself fortunate thatyou did not pronounce that boast inmy presence. At any rate, I can guarantee with certainty that the day will come when you will learn the full meaning of fear beyond your imagination. The day when you are called before the Heavenly Court to answer in truth you will learn and you will know what you have done – and you will realize in horror that it is too late to hope for redemption.

      You also have a serious problem with the English language, Mr. Finkelstein. Perhaps someone can help you correctly define the words “freedom” and “dignity.”

Norman Shine

Brooklyn, NY



What About Neturei Karta?


      It is not news to anyone that Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt and Noam Chomsky hate Israel. What shocks me is the longstanding indifference and failure to confront anti-Zionists who wear black hats and kippot, most notably the Neturei Karta. These heretics meet with Iranian and Palestinian terrorist leaders and demonstrate alongside leftists and Islamic fundamentalists.
   Worst of all, Neturei Karta dress in Orthodox garb, giving the false impression that the Torah is against Zionism, as their posters declare. When are Orthodox Jews going to wake up and confront the enemy within?

Sergey Kadinsky

Forest Hills, NY

Orthodoxy And The Medina


      I hope this letter won’t be too controversial for you to publish. I absolutely loved Paul Bogdanor’s wonderfully informed and marvelously written article on our enemies from within. The sickness of the soul that afflicts so many secular Jews is a phenomenon that has no parallel among other peoples and nations.
      But as a non-Orthodox reader of The Jewish Press, I have to tell you that while I’m offended and angered by secular left-wing academics who hate Israel and identify with its enemies, I’m even more offended by Orthodox leaders and organizations who are either anti-Zionist or neutrally non-Zionist. While the former get some headlines in the secular media, as when Neturei Karta march with their Arab brothers, the latter, which would include most chassidic and right-wing yeshiva groups, are far larger in numbers and far more insidious in the negative influence they exert on our people.
      After all, the aforementioned Orthodox anti-Zionists (and non-Zionists) supposedly represent the Torah, the very belief system that forms the foundation of Jewish existence. If rabbis and Torah scholars deny Israel’s legitimacy, or if they assert that the Diaspora is somehow on the same level as the State of Israel, the message to the world is that the Jewish claim to Israel is a fraudulent one, because if it were legitimate, wouldn’t these paragons of Jewish learning and piety be in the forefront of declaring it so?
      As I mentioned earlier, I myself am not Orthodox. But I have family members who are, and I grew up in an Orthodox home. I am therefore more than familiar with the inner workings of the Orthodox community, the differences in belief and ideology and so on. I know that for much of the Orthodox world, Israel is problematic in that the yeshivas and the chassidim historically were opposed – sometimes violently – to the creation of a Zionist medina, and that after the medina was declared most of them insisted on viewing Israel as a secular abomination on the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael.
      It’s true that the passage of time dampened some of the hostility, as did the slowly dawning realization that Israel has become the international capital of Torah learning, with more yeshivas and talmidim than ever existed in the golden age of Mitteleuropa.

      But love for Israel? Gratitude to Hashem for restoring us after the long night of Exile, just as He promised? Recognition that the creation and survival of a Jewish state against such long odds is nothing short of a most spectacular miracle? I’m afraid you’ll find little if any of that in the non-Modern Orthodox Torah velt.


Howard Schneiderman

(Via E-Mail)



More On Slifkin And Evolution 

Heresy And Consequences


      The casual observer of the Slifkin controversy (“The Slifkin Torah-Science Controversy,” front-page essay, Aug. 18) might logically ask,” Since Judaism is a religion of laws, and if Rabbi Slifkin and others of like mind are faithful to the commandments, why should it matter if they subscribe to the theory of evolution?”
      The problem is that Judaism is as much about thought as it is action. Any doubt as to the veracity of the Torah will ultimately lead the doubter astray.

      Our Sages have divided the history of man into three 2,000-year epochs. The first ranges from Adam Harishon until Avraham Avinu and is essentially a period of darkness, as the world’s inhabitants lived without Torah. The second span includes the birth of the Jewish nation and the many centuries spent in the Holy Land. Finally we have our present condition; the 2,000 year exile whose conclusion will usher in the Age of Moshiach.


      To reject this model because some archaeologist finds a shard of pottery and declares it at least 7,000 years old is sheer foolishness. It’s relatively easy to explain away the difficulties science supposedly presents to the Torah, but for some inexplicable reason many observant Jews contort the Torah to conform with the atheists who populate American universities.
      The reader should not be deluded. While the Slifkins and Students of the world claim the backing of respected rabbis, their true loyalties lie with the pedagogues in our so-called institutions of higher learning.
      As an American, I can understand how some might be uncomfortable with the concept of banning a book. But heretical ideas have dangerous consequences. Need we be reminded of Shabtai Tzvi?

Dr. Yaakov Stern

Brooklyn, NY



Off By A Few Billion?


      In his subjective discussion of evolution, Rabbi Slifkin concedes that evolutionists may have erroneously estimated the age of the earth. He writes: “This only means that the scientific estimate for the age of the universe, at about fourteen billion years, might be wrong by a few billion years.
      Is he serious? Are we to accept the claims of evolution, which might be wrong by only a few billion years? In my opinion, a miscalculation of a few billion years constitutes an enormous blunder. (I’m glad Rabbi Slifkin is not my accountant. By the way, I’m quoting from the author’s book, TheChallenge Of Creation, pages 148-149.)
      In addition, attempts are made to rehash the silly arguments about the fossil records. The fossil records show no evidence of a transition from one species to another. The missing link is really missing. (Proponents of evolution are aware of that fact.) In order to rationalize their ridiculous claims, they made up a theory that such transitions occurred rapidly. That’s why we cannot find them.
      Furthermore, I take exception to Rabbi Slifkin‘s distortion of Ramban’s commentary on Genesis 1:27. He misunderstands Ramban’s Hebrew. Slifkin writes that man descended from an ape-like creature based on Ramban’s commentary. Ramban explains that Hashem gave man a soul that sets a human being apart from the animals. (This has nothing to do with descending from apes.)
      Instead of reading Slifkin’s book, it would be better for people to read Darwin On Trial by Dr. Phillip Johnson.

Shimon Helfman

(Via E-Mail)

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

New Leadership Needed
    If one were previously inclined to believe that Israel’s leadership would finally muster the will to fight the Islamofascists chomping at its borders, the recent war with Hizbullah/Iran should dispel us of this illusion (Steven Plaut, “The War Israel Chose To Lose,” op-ed, Aug. 25).
    Instead of arming the IDF with cutting edge technological prowess and beefing up its human intelligence capabilities, Israel’s leaders have, since the advent of the Oslo Accords, steadily eviscerated their fighting forces. Instead of steeling the population, intellectually and psychologically, for victory over the jihadists, they cynically prepared them for channeling their anger onto their religious nationalist brothers and sisters. Nothing like a good dose of scapegoating to maintain political power.
    If the (Jewish) citizens of Israel do not demand an immediate regime change, Professor Plaut’s ominous predictions about Israel’s future will become a reality. Will Israel’s leadership (hopefully a new one) have the courage and the vision it takes to implement Jewish Press columnist Louis Rene Beres’s Project Daniel before it is too late? Time is of the essence.

Adina Kutnicki

Elmwood Park, NJ



No Further Withdrawal
    The one million citizens of northern Israel are at least fortunate that Prime Minister Olmert did not have time to implement his reckless Convergence Plan. For had he eradicated almost all of Israel’s communities in Judea and Samaria, where would many of those fleeing Hizbullah’s rockets have found refuge during the recent hostilities?
    Residents of the maligned settlements have naturally provided indefinite hospitality for their brethren from the north; nevertheless, Mr. Olmert still intends to eventually destroy these very same communities and unilaterally withdraw to virtually the 1949 “Auschwitz lines” – despite non-stop genocidal threats by Iranian President Ahmadjinedad and his grinning terrorist cohorts.
    The severely traumatized Israeli populace must demand a new government. One that will not fecklessly endanger them anew by suicidal withdrawals from the Judean and Samarian mountains.

Chaim ben Zvi

(Via E-Mail)



Obsolete Expressions
    “Land for Peace” should be renamed “Land for Rockets.”
    When will the Peace Now crowd realize that the old clich? about making peace with enemies and not friends is hardly applicable when your enemies don’t want peace?
    I sincerely hope that expressions such as “land for peace,” “peace of the brave” and “peace now” disappear from the Hebrew lexicon for the foreseeable future.
    Israel must be prepared to respond so forcefully that Syria and Iran will think very carefully before they unleash their proxies or themselves against Israel.

William K. Langfan

Palm Beach, FL



Questions Poland Trip
    Re Shmuel Ben Eliezer’s Aug. 18 Po-Lin column:
    I don’t understand why the mayor of Lodz or Mr. Nowak, who organized the annual commemoration of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto, would assume that Israeli teenagers, after living through the horrors of the recent war, would be anxious to see the Warsaw Ghetto monument and Lublin, as well as visit the practically Judenrein communities of Wroclaw and Lodz.
    Something seems very sick about the whole experience.

Bobbie Goldman

Cherry Hill, NJ




*     *     *     *     *


Slifkin Critics Have Their Say


Pieces Of A Puzzle
    I can understand Gil Student’s frustration with the Slifkin controversy (“The Slifkin Torah-Science Controversy: An Admittedly Biased Insider’s Perspective,” front-page essay, Aug. 18). After all, I used to strongly support the big bang and the idea that the universe is billions of years old. I’ve read all the books and sources including Schroeder, Rav Kook, Rabbi Kaplan and even The Science of Torah by Rabbi Slifkin.
    I thought they would help, but the reality is that these approaches simply don’t work. If you accept the idea of billions of years, you won’t be able to accept the pshat in Chumash until Lech Lecha at the earliest. This is unacceptable to everyone and Mr. Student doesn’t even try to address the problem.
    However, once you accept the six days of creation and reject the uniformitarian assumption of historical science, you will have no problem with thorns in the fossil record or the Mabul and Hashem’s promise that it will never happen again. You will have no problem with the fact that the Torah says the entire world was united at the Tower of Babel.
    Everything in the Torah fits together like a puzzle, which is why the gedolim are correct for insisting so strongly for the simple pshat everywhere.

Ari Haviv

Flushing, NY



Fully Grown Creation
    I read with interest the first-page article by Gil Student. Permit me to comment on the issue of reconciling the Torah view with that of science regarding the age of the universe.
    My rosh yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, had a very plausible approach to resolving this problem. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) states, “all of creation was created with their height, with their mind and with their beauty.” Tosefos adds that we see all creatures gradually developing their beauty, strength, mind, etc. At the time of Creation, however, all this happened immediately.
    In other words, the world was created fully developed. Adam was created as a fully-grown man, not as a baby who developed with time. This holds for all of creation.
    With Reb Yaakov’s approach, there is no need to change the accepted meaning of the Six Days of Creation. The world was created in six days 5767 years ago, but with all the physical characteristics it has today.

Bezalel Fixler

(Via E-Mail)



Undermining Gedolim
    Individuals like Gil Student and Rabbi Slifkin undermine the authority of our gedolim – and without that authority, where would bnei Yisrael be today? We have survived as a community of faith through thousands of years of indescribable hatred and persecution precisely because we looked to our sages to light our way, to teach us right from wrong, to silence the heretical and illuminate the perplexed among us.
    By questioning – and worse, may Hashem have mercy on us, criticizing – giants of emunah and learning who, in their wisdom and vision, have seen fit to ban books by Rabbi Slifkin that might lead Yidden astray, we are in effect telling the world that we don’t respect our Torah leaders.
    Perhaps Rabbis Student and Slifkin would feel more comfortable as Conservative or Reform Jews, in which case they could ignore, dispute, or castigate the verdicts of our Torah authorities to their heart’s content. But if they insist on identifying with the Torah camp, they would be well advised to humble themselves at the feet of our sages. As for me, I choose to serve Hashem and honor His messengers and teachers.

Shmuel Rosengarten




Young Upstart
    I continue to be fascinated by the commotion over the writings of Rabbi Slifkin and I find the reaction to their banning by leading halachic authorities incomprehensible. Here’s why:
    A review of the biographical information Rabbi Slifkin offers on his website shows that he has no special training in zoology but rather is simply someone who’s had a “lifelong fascination with wildlife and has kept a wide variety of exotic pets, including iguanas and tarantulas.”
    We are told that Rabbi Slifkin studied at Yeshivas Shaarei Torah in Manchester, England (we are not informed for how long, at what level, and with what distinction, if any) and then moved to Israel where he “spent many years in study at Yeshivas Midrash Shmuel and the Mir Yeshiva.” Rabbi Slifkin, we read, “received ordination” at Ohr Someach Institutions after teaching there for some time. (Significantly, Rabbi Slifkin is today all of 30 years old.)
    So here we have a thoroughly ordinary young man giving his opinions about the interplay between the fundamentals of the Torah and zoology – although there is nothing to indicate that he’s an expert in either – and the Orthodox world is in a tizzy over what he has to say. And Rav Yosef Sholom Eliyashiv, arguably the leading posek of our time, is castigated for having had the temerity to condemn this young man’s interpretation of Creation.
    I would also point out that Rabbi Slifkin’s website tells us that his first book – Lying for Truth: Understanding Yaakov’s Deception of Yitzchak – was published in 1996. In other words, he was already pontificating to the rest of us when he was barely 20 years old!
    Only among us Jews.

Chaim Feuer

(Via E-Mail)


Rabbi Gil Student Responds
    I thank those who sent in letters about my article and those who contacted me privately. The article was not about how to reconcile science with Torah but the public banning of such attempts as heresy. Thus, Ari Haviv’s and Bezalel Fixler’s letters about the age of the universe are somewhat beside the point – although I will add that Rabbi Slifkin discusses these issues expertly in his new book, The Challenge of Creation.
    Chaim Feuer challenges Rabbi Slifkin’s qualifications. This seems to me to be a meaningless exercise. Even if Mr. Feuer is correct in all of his claims, one should judge a man by his actions and a book by its content, regardless of the author’s age and in which yeshiva he learned. This is even truer when discussing a book that has almost no chiddush in it and quotes giants of Torah scholarship on every point it raises.
    Shmuel Rosengarten states simply that the gedolim have spoken and everyone else is wrong. It is comfortable to believe that gedolim agree on all matters but this is simply not always the case. Particularly in respect to how we relate to science and secular studies, there are different approaches among gedolim. Rav Shimon Schwab once wrote a pamphlet about secular studies titled “Elu Ve-Elu, These and Those.” Regarding the issues we are discussing here, there are also “These and Those,” some of whom Rabbi Slifkin himself cites as providing ample precedent among gedolim for his positions.
    Let me further respond to the question asked of me by many people, including one of the rabbis I quoted in my article: Why did I refrain from mentioning any names of the rabbis who support my and Rabbi Slifkin’s positions?
    The answer is twofold. First, I have enough experience to recognize that mentioning a respected rabbi’s name in such a context is an invitation for a most repugnant round of name-calling and reputation smearing. I do not want to be the direct cause of such an unfortunate misuse of language.

    Furthermore, I believe this is an issue that requires discussion with one’s own rabbis. I personally discussed it with rabbis upon whom I rely, to the point of having the entire article approved by a prominent rosh yeshiva. But everyone should consult with his or her own authorities.

Letters to the Editor

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