Saturday, October 29, 2005

Slifkin Lost

GodolHadors fantastic blog conceived and born in the heady days of the Slifkin affair will of course be marking its first anniversary, and he starts off with a post entitled The Gedolim vs. Slifkin: Who Won? Read it. His conclusion seems to be that Slifkin won. Although I agree with possibly all the main points in his post I think his conclusion is wrong. The way I see it Slifkin lost big time. But then again he was always going to lose. It was inevitable. He had the massed ranks of the ortho-fundamentalists ranged against him. It would have been impossible for him to win. He lost with grace. He put up a courageous fight which is certainly not for naught. But he still lost.

To appreciate why he lost one must understand what the battle was about. It was very much a ' what it means to be chareidi ' battle. Slifkins books were published by Feldhiem, a publisher whom the charedi street understands as its own, and marketed to the chareidi community. Slifkin saw himself as charedi even yeshivish; he had gone to mainstream yeshivot, and would have seen himself as an alumnus of that world. He had not done army service, wore a regular charedi yarmulkah and sported a beard. (OK granted he wore grey trousers, bad, but not enough to put him beyond the pail!) Many in the charedi street found him quite exiting. He was interviewed several times by chareidi newspapers including the Yated. He took part in Artscrolls mammoth project to translate shas (the Talmud). My point - Slifkin and his book were chareidi.

The reaction of 'The Gedoilim' (lit. the great ones; leaders) was precisely because Slifkin and his publications were chareidi. 'The Gedoilim' were reacting to that, proclaiming that Slifkins approach was definitely not chareidi. Slifkins interpretation might not be a clear cut case of heresy but that was hardly the point. 'The Gedoilim's job is to guard chareidi theology and Slifkins ideas was threatening chareidi theology. 'The Gedoilim' were setting down markers on how far one can stray from the official line and remain chareidi. And thanks to their efforts we now know what the rules are. The entire universe was created in six literal days. The world is an odd 5756 years old - literally. The sages of the Talmud knew everything. Their comments on anything natural or scientific is always correct and must be understood literally. Anyone who thinks differently might be considered Jewish, they might not even be heretics, but they are not chareidi. And again, for that is the whole point, they are not chareidi.

So who won in the arena that counts i.e. the chareidi street? 'The Gedoilim' won hands down. Have they in the chareidi world silenced Slifkin and his wild interpretations ? Of course they have. Will Slifkin be getting any new interviews with the chareidi press? Of course not. Is Slifkin a byword for ridicule in chareidi circles? Absolutely. Can anyone suggest the world is more than just over half of ten thousand years old or that the Talmudic sages might have got some of their science in a bit of a tangle? Only if they are very very brave, and they are aware that they have simultaneously declared themselves to be not chareidi .

1 Comments:

Blogger Shlomo said...

I agree. I have casually followed the whole affair from the distance of Apikorsis, and I could have predicted the outcome.

You're right about the problem being about Slifkin being one their own. No one cares what an apikoris says because he acts/looks different anyhow. Slifkin, when not sporting a lizard or two on his shoulders, is as non descrpit as they come in Bnei Brak or wherever he lives.

In their defense:

Think of the practical concerns that that the Rabonnim would have to consider. This book and the associated ideals turn 3300 years of precedent on its head. It's not easy for one man to change his mind, so imagine altering the entire religion for something that the religion itself doesn't demand that you study! One would have to re-educate every mechanech.

Besides, any change in the status quo adversely effects their powerbase. The Rabbonim see themselves as 'keepers of the flock'. Sometimes, in their logic, any change is a bad change when your sitting in a comfortable spot.

Kol Tuv

2:53 AM  

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