Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Slifkin Affair - My Pennies Worth

A blogger commenting on an ongoing story can only speculate whether a particular event will have any long-term significance. It is for historians to decide whether the blogger was right or had totally misread what was happening.

So I stick my neck out and declare that in my opinion the ‘Slifkin-Affair’ is a very big story. A story that will have long-term repercussions. A story that will redefine the parameters within which Torah can be interpreted to fit into to current scientific knowledge. A story that will sow seeds of doubt in many a mind.

Are our Gedolim really worldly-wise or are they just a bunch of reactionary clerics? Do Gedolim always behave in a less than professional manner (signing declarations before having read the books et al) or is this an unfortunate aberration. Can science and Rabbinic Judaism coexist or are they after all mutually exclusive?

Slifkin is not an eccentric absent-minded professor sitting on the margins of Chareidi Jewry. Slifkin is one of us. He went to the same black-hated Yeshivos as we did. We learned with him ‘bechavrusah’. We can’t recall anything about his behaviour that would foretell a future career as a heretic poisoning the mind of the Torah-true masses. Is it possible that many of those other heretics whom we have been taught to hate, and appear in our minds eye as a cross between a devil and a gangster were really just soft-spoken intellectuals sorts?

How is the ‘kiruv’ industry that relies so much on Slifkin and Slifkin-types going to cope? How are all the black-hatters that feel compelled to find a way of interpreting Torah according to science but at the same time feel compelled to conform to daas-Torah going to manage? Is Artscroll going to pretend that Slifkin did not have a major input in many of their flagship projects?

These and others big questions are significant because they expose to rational introspection extremely delicate areas of the whole ‘charedi’ belief system. Reading some of the blogs over the last week I think the process has began. Only time will tell how all this will pan out.


Blogger Shlomo said...

The gedolim don't want the people to get any ideas of their own. Perhaps they feel it is dangerous for people to dwell on these subjects. They may have a point.

As a former charedi (and teacher) I can sympathize with the position of these gedolim. There are few possible outcomes here:

1. Slifkin could be wrong. That would do more damage than good. For any critical thinker, or one like myself, trained in the Sciences, that kind of apologetics would backfire. You can do kiruv on the idiots without apologetics. Creationist Christians are good at finding converts among the mindless.

2. Slifkin could be right. That would also do more damage than good. It would mean that any Jew willing to add 2 + 2 and honestly say it equals 4 will also have to admit maybe everything he has been taught is possibly a lie.

3. Slifkin could be right AND wrong. This would also do more damage than good. The debate over Slifkin will ultimately bring up a subject that gedolim and the kehillos are not going to enjoy discussing. All it will do is create more sefeykos.

As a teacher, one doesn't give the whole truth at once. Students can't handle that. One has to ease them into a subject bit by bit, and once they have the method, the details come easily.The biggest problem is that science is a big subject, but everyone wants to talk like they are experts. So not only do we end up with bad Torah, we end up with a bad understanding of Science. I could care less about the former, other than how it would further fragment the communities.

His ideas are not original. There is a book out there called "The UnAuthorized Version of the Bible" by A.H. Moose (a nom de plume), printed in the 1920s. Not as detailed, but along the same lines. There was an old Chosid that used to daven in my father's shtibel who (I'll not use his name) was one of the editors of a popular newsletter in Europe that engaged in this sort of apologetics. I think it was called "Nitzos".

3:27 AM  
Blogger Shlomo said...


NITZUTZOS ??? I forget. The Chosid's name was R.Chaim Leiberman. We was a nice quiet man. Never said much either. He always wore a grey double-breasted pinstripe suit on Shabbos. I know he was close to the Late R. Josef Schneersohn, but in what capacity I don't know.

3:35 AM  
Blogger OJ said...

You say that 'Slifkin is one of us'. For the record, his background is somewhat different than most right-wing orthodox. He is the son of (a) Professor(s) - from the UK I believe. There may be other things about his background that are atypical too. So he is not from a typical Haredi background - though he may have tried to join that world later.

But he has still written some great works.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Bnei Levi said...

The ban is being withdrawn:

11:30 PM  
Blogger Yehoshua said...

A strong letter was sent to the gedolim, and posted at

4:25 AM  
Blogger pop said...

I am in a generation that spent years and years in learning. We spent years in high school, years in bais medrash, years in kollel. Some of us also went to college. We arent stupid. Yet we are told we cannot deal with being told the truth or whatever.

When does my generation get to hear a mehlach that is the emes? When we have finished shas. uh oh - some of us have. Finished mishnah berurah - uh oh some of us did that too. How a bout tur -shalchan oruch. Uh ohh - some are working on that. I wont ask about those of us with a ba or ma or phd in the sciences as well.

This post baby boomer generation is fed up with mumbo jumbo.

It makes one very suspicious as to whether there are any real answers out there at all.

11:22 AM  

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