Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Official Agudath Israel publication addresses Slifkin ban after reader criticizes previous issue which printed ban on Slifkin, cell phones & sushi


At 6:32 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Note todays NY Times ran an article on the Slifkin ban (hat tip to Shmarya, article below).

>Revered though they are,
>however, most of the rabbis
>signing the letter are not known
>as community leaders
>or public voices; only one of
>the Americans, for
>example, sits on the eight-
>member Council of Torah
>Sages at the head of Agudath
>Israel of America, an
>influential national Orthodox
>organization. Rather,
>they represent the most
>unworldly segment of the ultra-
>Orthodox community, in which
>learning is prized and
>contact with the secular world,
>including secular education, is

I was forwarded a copy of the Canadian Agudath Israel publication Perspectives. This publication is run and controlled by Agudath Israel of Toronto and reflects the opinions of the Agudath Israel organization in North America. It is associated with Agudath Israel of America and reflect the beliefs and views of that organization closely.

The editor, Rabbi Shmuel Y. Klein, responds to a reader's letter and makes it clear that the Rabbis signing the Slifkin ban are the "Gedolei Yisrael" and that "we are of the position that complete acceptance of the pronouncements of Gedolei Yisrael is basic and a given."

The NY Times article is misleading. These rabbonim are in fact being accepted by the influential national Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America as Gedolei Yisrael.

The so-called "most unworldly segment of the ultra-Orthodox community, in which learning is prized and contact with the secular world, including secular education, is shunned" is who we MUST follow according to this official mouthpiece of Agudath Israel.

(from inside cover)
Perspectives is a publication of Agudath Israel of Toronto
129 McGillivray Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5M 2Y7
Tel. (416) 781-2969 / Fax (416) 781-4544
Affiliated with Agudath Israel of America
Rabbi Shmuel Y. Klein – Editor
Business Manager – D. Basch
Rabbi M.M. Lowy – Rabbinical Advisor
Ass’t Founding Editor – Rabbi Yoseph Rennert

Page 26 Perspectives – March 2005, Purim 5765\
Volume 17, Number 4

Letters to the editor

Dear Editor,
Your recent edition of Perspectives (February, 2005) highlights three different issues that seem to have a common theme. The first article “Gedolei Yisroel” Discuss Eliminating Cell Phones,” deals with the attempt by certain Gedolei Yisroel to ban the use of cell phones among yeshiva bachurim. The second article, “Gedolim Ban Slifkin’s Books” addresses the recent controversy surrounding the publication of a book on zoology and Torah by Nosson Slifkin, a renowned yeshivish zoologist. The third item is a letter by Batya Gelman who calls upon the community to not embrace “customs from popular culture” and to refuse to eat sushi.

The unifying element among these three items appear to be a general distrust and disdain of the world and everything modern. One would have thought given Yiddishkeit’s explosive growth and success today where there are more yeshivos and other Torah institution than ever before in our history, that we would not feel intrinsically threatened by ideas or things, even when such ideas or things may be diametrically opposed to our way of life. Instead, what emanates quite clearly from your paper is quite the opposite. Bans of food, technology and books are the order of the day.

This garrison mentality is quite unsettling for those of us who believe that modernity has brought us some very significant benefits, such as security from anti-Semitism, the freedom to worship Hashem in the manner that we so choose without disruption from government authorities, various other technologies that have brought us everything from satellite shiurim, an explosion of Internet Torah, cell phones to keep our loved ones in touch with us at all times (particularly important in Erez Yisrael where suicide bombings and other violent attacks are regular occurrences), and an incredible array of kosher food that satisfies our palettes in ways never known to Yidden throughout our history and which makes it easier for us to maintain our kashrus.

No doubt that modernity has also brought with it some risks. But where would we be today had Avraham Avinu refused to accept ovdei avoda zara into his tent due to concerns that they may influence him in the wrong manner, or had Yosef Hatzadik returned to Eretz Yisrael in flight from the evil Mitzrim? We are who we are today, largely because our Avos lived and participated in their worlds and effectively shaped significant change. Are we truly that insecure that we must resort to banning technologies, books and foods? What message are we sending to all of us, including our children? Can we not use reasoned arguments to address societal issues and theological ideas that may not find favour in the eyes of our Gedolim before we resort to issuing additional bans?

It is incumbent upon your good paper to issue a retraction of this ban or, at the very least to provide Rabbi Slifkin’s response. Otherwise, your paper has contributed to the destruction of an innocent’s reputation, which in my view, is worse than all of the sushi and cell phone use combined.

Yours truly,
Yossi Adler

Editor’s Response:
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. Although I would strongly take issue with a number of points that you have raised, suffice it for now for one position, so crucial to this publication, to be reiterated. While we Jews do take pride in our ability to discuss matters and to “use reasoned arguments to address societal issues and theological ideas,” we are of the position that complete acceptance of the pronouncements of Gedolei Yisrael is basic and a given. This is not simply a crucial dimension of Jewish life: it is the cornerstone of our very survival. It has been that way since Moshe Rabbeinu, and has demonstrably been the case consistently throughout our history.

This publication (just as other similar-minded ones) seeks to enlighten, edify, challenge readers; we seek the help of the Almighty in our attempt (whether or not we actually succeed is another story, of course!). However, first and foremost the paper seeks to serve as the mouthpiece for those proclamations made by Torah sages that are relevant to our lives (and I am most emphatically NOT referring to the sushi matter!). Taking issue with Gedolei Yisrael is an assumed ‘right,’ and a misguided approach to my mind, as it does not conform to the traditional charter of our people.

Adherence to da’as Torah ought therefore not to be seen as producing a “garrison mentality.” Instead it is to be viewed as the requisite embrace of vision that is far more insightful than our own and of thought that is far more profound than our own. Indeed, we might often be tempted to adopt a stance of “shalom alai nafshi,” and even to believe that we have achieved “security from anti-Semitism,” as a result of some of the illusionary benefits of contemporary living. Despite this, though, we are repeatedly warned by Gedolei Yisrael that dangers lurk. It behooves us to be vigilant, and in particular regarding those inyanim upon which the words of Gedolim have touched.

Hence, just as soon as Gedolei Yisrael proclaim that the ban against Rabbi Slifkin’s works was erroneous, or that it is rescinded, Perspectives will be among the first to publish that change of heart, if indeed it occurs. At this time, though, I would merely dare to suggest that our Torah luminaries know a few things that both you and I might not.
The Editor

2) NY Times article:

March 22, 2005
Religion and Natural History Clash Among the Ultra-Orthodox

t was early January when the posters went up in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's largest ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and they signaled the start of a bad year for Rabbi Nosson Slifkin.

Twenty-three ultra-Orthodox rabbis had signed an open letter denouncing the books of Rabbi Slifkin, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli scholar and science writer. The letter read, in part: "He believes that the world is millions of years old - all nonsense! - and many other things that should not be heard and certainly not believed. His books must be kept at a distance and may not be possessed or distributed." Rabbi Slifkin, the letter-writers continued, should "burn all his writings."

Fundamentalist Christians have long championed a literal reading of the Bible that suggests the planet is thousands of years old, rather than millions. But the denunciation of Rabbi Slifkin has publicized a parallel strain of thought among ultra-Orthodox Jews, a subset of the Orthodox Jewish community that is deeply skeptical of modern culture, avoiding television and the Web and often disdaining college education.

Rabbi Slifkin has made a career of reconciling Jewish Scripture with modern natural history. He teaches a course in biblical and talmudic zoology at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, near Jerusalem, and gives frequent lectures, sometimes wearing a boa constrictor along with his black hat and jacket. With nine books to his name at age 29, he is a young up-and-comer in the sober world of Jewish scholarship.

The controversy surrounding him has pitted Jews who are skeptical of science against their more cosmopolitan brethren, who may follow ultra-Orthodox traditions but hold jobs as doctors or teachers. "My sense is there are literally tens of thousands of people who are upset about the ban," said Dr. Andrew Klafter, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, who is ultra-Orthodox. "I'm very, very puzzled by it."

In the days after the ban, Rabbi Slifkin's publisher and distributor dropped the three books mentioned in the open letter. He himself lost several speaking engagements and saw his own rabbi pressured to expel him from his synagogue. "He was crushed," said a friend, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of Jewish law and ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "Do you know what it's like to walk through the street and see posters branding you a heretic?"

Three of Rabbi Slifkin's books, published from 2001 to 2004, were singled out in the letter or in related materials: "Mysterious Creatures," "The Science of Torah" and "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax."

Predictably, the banned books have become hits. A copy of "Science of Torah" recently sold on eBay for $125, or five times its cover price. And Rabbi Gil Student, whose company, Yashar Books, has taken over the distribution of the other two books, said he had done a year's business in a month selling them.

Rabbi Slifkin's books seek to reconcile, rather than to contrast, sacred texts with modern knowledge of the natural world.

But in the process, he has sometimes cast a critical eye on those texts. In "Mysterious Creatures," Rabbi Slifkin discussed fantastic animals mentioned in the Torah and the Talmud - among them, the unicorn and the phoenix - and suggested that, in reporting their existence, Jewish sages might have relied on the erroneous writings of ancient naturalists.

He gently debunked the claim, found in a medieval text, that geese grow on trees, explaining that it was "based on the peculiar anatomy of a certain seashell." And he examined the Talmudic doctrine that lice, alone of all animals, may be killed on the Sabbath because they do not sexually reproduce - a premise now known to be false.

In "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax," Rabbi Slifkin examined the difficult separation of animals into kosher and nonkosher, and discussed apparent exceptions and contradictions to the claims of Jewish law. (The aardvark and the rhinoceros, for example, meet one test for being kosher but not another.)

And in "The Science of Torah," he took a scientist's eye to the Torah. Evolution, he wrote, did not disprove God's existence and was consistent with Jewish thought. He suggested that the Big Bang theory paralleled the account of the universe's creation given by the medieval Spanish-Jewish sage Ramban. And Rabbi Slifkin wrote, to quote his own later paraphrase, that "tree-ring chronology, ice layers and sediment layers in riverbeds all show clear proof to the naked eye that the world is much more than 5,765 years old."

The latter statement was particularly galling to the rabbi's critics, who support a literal reading of Genesis that they say puts the earth's age at 5,765.

The rabbis who signed the letter denouncing Rabbi Slifkin are widely respected Torah authorities; one of them, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, 91, is a leader of Israel's United Torah Judaism Party and one of the most respected scholars in Orthodox Ashkenazi Judaism. As a result, the letter has had repercussions far beyond the congregations of those who signed it. Rabbi Slifkin's publisher, Targum Press, and his distributor, Feldheim Publishers, have stopped carrying the books. Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox outreach organization, has removed most of his articles from its Web site.

Revered though they are, however, most of the rabbis signing the letter are not known as community leaders or public voices; only one of the Americans, for example, sits on the eight-member Council of Torah Sages at the head of Agudath Israel of America, an influential national Orthodox organization. Rather, they represent the most unworldly segment of the ultra-Orthodox community, in which learning is prized and contact with the secular world, including secular education, is shunned.

The letter against Rabbi Slifkin is not the only recent outburst against science among the ultra-Orthodox. Last November, during the annual conference of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Uren Reich, the dean of Yeshiva of Woodlake Village in New Jersey, said, "These same scientists who tell you with such clarity what happened 65 million years ago - ask them what the weather will be like in New York in two weeks' time."

Many science-minded ultra-Orthodox Jews say it is spiritually wrenching to see leaders they revere endorsing views they oppose.

Rabbi Adlerstein of Loyola said: "I know rabbis, I know teens in yeshivas who were on the verge of quitting" when the letter first came out. "They look at themselves in the mirror and they say, 'What have I been representing?' "

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to eat sushi? That's the funniest thing I've heard in a while... Perspectives should have put it on the humor page. Sefardi Jews have certain Syrian foods, and ashkenazi Jews have certain Russian/Lithuanian/Hungarian etc foods. Should we ban borscht because it was a russian food, and the russians after all became communists? Maybe there are some sparks of their soul in their food. lol.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least one Hasidic community in Monsey bans bicycles on the ground that boys riding them will become sexually stimulated by the rubbing of their body on the bicycle seat.

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which one? Sounds like nonsense to me.

At 2:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is so much nonsense passing for knowledge and authority in our community that you could not contain it all in a monstrous garbage truck. imagine a group of rabbis, notwithstanding all their Torah knowledge, passing judgment on areas, not only beyond their learning, but beyond their understanding. and imagine us taking them seriously. if there is anyone to blame it is ourselves, ourselves for not telling the king that his new clothes do not exist and continuing to take him seriously, and for continuing to take some rabbis seriously even when we know that they do not know what they are talking about.

At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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