Debating R. Slifkin has never been a pleasant task. There are serious problems with his scholarship and with the techniques he uses to refute those who critique his scholarship. This makes it difficult to have a civil yet vigorous debate.
After the whole incident of “Mike the headless chicken”, even Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky Shlita (who initially was supportive), gave up on him. R. Slifkin had challenged the Talmudic rule פסיק רשיה ולא ימות with the story of Mike the headless chicken who survived decapitation. R. Slifkin omitted to say that the scientists at Utah University reported that Mike was not completely decapitated: “most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since most of a chicken's reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem Mike was able to remain quite healthy”. The Talmudic rule is speaking about a completely decapitated chicken, so obviously there is no difficulty at all. R. Slifkin attempted to use this case as a basis for his general approach that Chazal were prone to error in their statements about the natural world, a continuous refrain on his blog.
R. Slifkin is, of course, perfectly sane. But, in the latest round of discussion he quoted anonymous sources to the effect that his disputants are insane and mentally ill for reasons that might very well apply to his own behaviour. On his blog today he wrote that he had to explain eight times to his opponent that he was entirely fabricating R. Slifkin’s position before his opponent acknowledged that R. Slifkin was correct! “Is that normal?”, he asked.
Now he does not provide an entirely accurate summary of the discussion but I leave it up to readers to check it our for themselves. It is R. Slifkin’s right to analyze his disputants and their right to correct the record. At least, in the end, as R. Slifkin conceded, his disputant acknowledged that he had been sloppy and changed the sentence in question to reflect the discussion.
But let’s see an example of how R. Slifkin reacts to a simple question, repeated no less than five times. Not once did he answer the actual question posed. What he did do was attempt to deflect the discussion away from the question and then ended with a vitriolic attack against his disputant. Having achieved the concession that he wanted, he waived goodbye, and then blogged about the mental insanity of his disputants. Smart but not nice! Emphasis is added in the following snippets:
YSO said...R. Slifkin, can you provide the precise words of the Rishonim where they explicitly write that Chazal as a group believed that the rakiya discussed in Pesachim 94b is literally a solid dome? January 7, 2011 12:30 AM
Natan Slifkin said...The words of Chazal in the Bavli, Yerushalmi, and Midrash about the nature of the rakia and the sun's passage on both sides of it are explicit, and none of the Rishonim claim that Chazal were not speaking literally. Perhaps you would like to discuss the different sugyos, and the words of all the Rishonim that I cited in my monograph, and give your own explanation of all these sources?January 7, 2011 4:36 AM
YSO said...R. Slifkin, I don't see how you have answered my question. Can we start with at least one Rishon? I.e., can you provide the precise words of one Rishon who explicitly states that Chazal as a group believed that the rakiya discussed in Pesachim 94b is literally a solid dome?January 7, 2011 7:07 AM
Instead of answering this very simple question, R. Slifkin went off on a tangent. He presented his own interpretations of Chazal and other such displacement activity. But that was not what was being asked. The question posed to R. Slifkin was whether he had an explicit prooftext from the Rishonim for his thesis. These prooftexts never materialized. Instead, after the fifth request for explicit prooftexts from the Rishonim or an admission that he did not have that level of proof, we get the following response:
Natan Slifkin said...... Now you are issuing the fantastic claim that Chazal did not mean what they plainly appear to mean and what the Rishonim understood them to mean and what everyone acknowledges the Rishonim understood them to mean, or that there were other members of Chazal who held differently. Please back this up with a prooftext. Present even a single contrary source from Chazal or from the Rishonim (concerning Chazal's views), or stop with your silly diversions which make you sound like an obfuscating fundamentalist idiot.January 9, 2011 12:01 AM
Actually, at that point, the disputant had not claimed anything. He merely asked for prooftexts. When the same conversation and request for prooftexts continued in a subsequent post, the insults came even sooner:
Natan Slifkin said...…you opened your post with two falsifications of my views. I pointed this out, and yet you refuse to back up your charges or retract them; instead you tried to change the topic. This is why I don't engage you in discussion, … You're plain dishonest and scurrilous. January 18, 2011 10:58 AM