Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

In a recent post, Rabbi Slifkin took Ami Magazine to task for their article entitled "The Imposters Among Us". I haven’t had the opportunity to read the essay in question (the online version is garbled and unprintable) so I cannot comment on Rabbi Slifkin’s analysis. However, something struck me as being fundamentally wrong with his presentation. I actually had to read it three times before I was able to pinpoint the problem. Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real. Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response. Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?

This paragraph, and all that it implies, is a vivid reflection of Rabbi Slifkin’s general approach to Jewish theology (hashkafa) and is the primary cause of the opposition generated by the authors of this blog, indeed, by any Jew who adheres to our Torah traditions as transmitted by Chazal and Rishonim.

Let’s dissect his statement.

"The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real."

No, they’re not. They seem real to some Jews, just as they seemed real to the Jewish Hellenists, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the early Hebrew Christians, the Karaites, Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskala, the Reformers and others. But the truth is, Judaism, and all of its fundamental tenets, is firmly founded on rationality and logic. Furthermore, it is supported by an endless amount of historical, archeological and empirical evidence. Anyone who makes an honest effort to understand will be rewarded with all the support he needs to reinforce his convictions. Unfortunately, Rabbi Slifkin has made a career of pointing out the ostensible "challenges" to our mesorah and thus, at times, seems unable to see the simple truth which stares him in the face.

"Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response."

This is just a bunch of fluff. It’s a way of holding on to a seriously flawed approach to hashkafa while simultaneously pledging allegiance to the cause. Anyone who possesses a real "sense of Divine providence’, anyone who possesses a real "appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah", would not be so easily swayed by the vacuous claims of the academics, secularists and materialists. He would recognize the superiority of his traditions over those of the gentiles and laugh at their feeble attempts to undermine our Torah. If on occasion he was faced with a question that he was unable to answer, he would not publicly characterize it as a "real challenge to Judaism". Rather, he would say what R’ Akiva Eiger was wont to say: "tzarich iyun gadol va’Hashem ya’ir eini". It requires further research and I pray to Hashem that He reveal the answer to me, that’s it. But he would never doubt the veracity of our received traditions especially when they have been proven to be correct time and time again.

On occasion, Rabbi Slifkin does indeed raise valid questions which have to be addressed but in the vast majority of cases his issues are easily able to be dealt with. The element of uncertainty and obscurity which typically attend his writings introduces unwarranted doubt and groundless suspicion in the minds of his readers. And that’s really too bad.

"Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?"

I guess that depends. If these people are vocal with their doubts, if they routinely undermine our mesorah and its torchbearers in public venues, then yes, they should be vilified. If they maintain private doubts, then no, we should not be hostile towards them. Rather we should enjoin them to seek assistance from competent individuals. Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz’l.

29 comments:

  1. Hi SC. Long time no see. I've missed you. I hope you had a wonderful Pesach, and am looking forward to many more communications with you.

    I would like to make a few points.

    The Ami Magazine article is not directed at R. Slifkin, who is open about his hashkafos. Nor is it directed against people like the Jewish Hellenists, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the early Hebrew Christians, the Karaites, or the Reformers, who were neither Orthodox nor Orthoprax, and were open about that fact. Rather, the target of the article is people who appear frum and remain within "the system" without attempting to undermine it, yet secretly harbor strong doubts about issues that are basic to yiddishkeit ("Orthoprax"). Some of the real-life examples it brings are a posek, and a single bochur who is dating frum girls, who do not believe in Yiddishkeit, yet do not reveal this fact to their respective constituents.

    The tone of the article is quite nasty. (I guess this is understandable, though. It is scary for a person who is compeltely Orthodox to think that your prospective son in law, taking your daughter out on a shiduch date, appears Orthodox but in reality is Orthoprax.)

    The article is extremely dismissive of the validity of any doubt in the mesorah. It should either address the issues, or not mention them at all.

    As this is your blog, I will not use it as a platform for publicizing the many serious problems posed to the mesorah in light of many and independent areas of science. Suffice it to say that, while I respect that you have found answers that are personally satisfying to you, many of us find those answers to be extremely dochuk, ie, unsatisfactory. Yet, for various reasons, we find satisfaction in the practice of Yiddishkeit, and remain frum.

    The article is quite idiotic. Would the author suggest that a father of six children divorce his wife and move out if he harbors doubts?

    In summary, you use this blog posting as an opportunity to vent against Rabbi Slifkin, which I think you should continue to do if it makes you feel good, but your use of R. Slifkin's critisism of the Ami Magazine article does not work so well as the backdrop to your critisisms.

    You really should read the article.

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  2. Dear Nachum,

    Shalom Aleichem. Nice to hear from you again. I too hope you had a wonderful yomtov.

    You wrote: The Ami Magazine article is not directed at R. Slifkin, who is open about his hashkafos…. a single bochur who is dating frum girls… do not reveal this fact to their respective constituents.

    I’m sure you’re correct. But as I specifically mentioned in my post, I did not read the article and therefore was not responding to Rabbi Slifkin’s analysis. I was commenting on a specific statement Rabbi Slifkin made which I felt was egregious regardless of circumstance.

    As this is your blog, I will not use it as a platform for publicizing the many serious problems posed to the mesorah in light of many and independent areas of science.

    Surely you jest! First of all, you have already pointed out what, in your opinion, is a “serious problem” with the mesorah. Starlight comes to mind… Why the coy demeanor all of a sudden?

    Second, I encourage dissent. That’s what the comments section of this blog is all about. Feel free to express your misgivings re the mesorah at any time! Don’t worry; I won’t call Ami and rat you out. All I ask is that you remain open-minded during the process.

    Oh, and one more thing. If you actually do decide to make allegations against the mesorah, such as claiming that there are “many serious problems posed to the mesorah in light of many and independent areas of science”, I would respectfully request that you demonstrate your contention with “many independent lines of contra-mesorah evidence” so our readers can judge for themselves if your claims hold water. Try not to make unsubstantiated claims.

    In summary, you use this blog posting as an opportunity to vent against Rabbi Slifkin,

    I don’t like your summary. I use this blog to offer my readers a counterview to RNS’s assault on the mesorah. This blog aims to demonstrate the veracity of our mesorah while defending it from its detractors, foreign, or domestic…

    which I think you should continue to do if it makes you feel good,

    Patronization is beneath you Nachum…

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  3. Your claim that those who use their brains and follow common sense are "easily swayed by the vacuous claims of the academics, secularists and materialists" is more condescending than anything I have said.

    Even though I am very fond of you, I frankly do not have the patience right now to debate with you. I do not believe I can convince you, especially if you take a position that excludes the possibility of a true skeptic being rational, or, as RNS put it, the "intellectual challenges to Judaism being very real."

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  4. Nachum,

    Your claim that those who use their brains and follow common sense are "easily swayed by the vacuous claims of the academics, secularists and materialists" is more condescending than anything I have said.

    Hmm… I’m thinking scarecrows. Or straw men… I did not say what you attributed to me. On the contrary, I encourage common sense. I encourage “using your brains”. What I said is that anyone possessing a true sense of Divine Providence and a real appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah would not be so easily swayed by the arguments of the scientists. He would be aware of the superiority of his position and not be so easily put off by a kasha!

    Even though I am very fond of you, I frankly do not have the patience right now to debate with you. I do not believe I can convince you, especially if you take a position that excludes the possibility of a true skeptic being rational, or, as RNS put it, the "intellectual challenges to Judaism being very real."

    With all due respect, you’re avoiding the issue. Who cares if you can convince me? This is a public forum. Say what you feel and try and support it. Don’t you want to take your position for a spin around the block and see how it performs?

    I think I need to make something clear. Although I believe the preponderance of evidence supports the tenets of our mesorah, this does not mean that I “exclude[s] the possibility of a true skeptic being rational”. The human mind has two primary features which distinguish it from the animal kingdom; reason and emotion. Both are necessary. Both are indispensible to the human condition. And yet, the latter often times gets in the way of the former. I know, say, a lot of rational Christians and yet they all claim that my mesorah is false. This is the way of the world Nachum. Rational people can maintain irrational positions. That’s the purpose of this blog. To elucidate the issues at hand in the hope that the Torah-true “rationality” will penetrate our minds and let a little bit of the light of the Torah shine in!

    To summarize, you are conflating two distinct ideas. The “possibility of a true skeptic being rational” has nothing to do with "intellectual challenges to Judaism being very real.".

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  5. December 12, 2010 12:14 AM
    Bl’n my next post will treat the fundamental yesod of hashgachaso Yisbarach and will (hopefully) clarify its proper parameters while simultaneously demonstrating that it does not contradict the adoption of a meta-natural recent creation event.


    Shalom - I'd still be interested to read this if RSC is still ready willing and able to write it.

    Cheers

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  6. Yitz,

    Shalom Aleichem,

    Long time no speak. As you can see from the frequency, or rather infrequency of my posts, I've been too busy to spend any significant time on this venue but bl'n I will try and write a post or two on hashgacha as soon as I can. Thank you for expressing interest.

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  7. "Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz’l"

    Rabbi Coffer, has it really not occurred to you that many of these people began to doubt Judaism precisely because of the shiurim of Rav Avigdor Miller and similar such material?

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  8. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Rabbi Coffer, has it really not occurred to you that many of these people began to doubt Judaism precisely because of the shiurim of Rav Avigdor Miller and similar such material?

    “Ki yisharim darchei Hashem, vi’tzadikim yeilchu bam, u’foshim yekashlu vam”

    Rabbi Miller speaks the truth. His style is uncompromising. He is a throwback from the old Litvishe Rabbanim of pre-war Europe. His opinions are those of his great Rabbeim in Slabodka Yeshiva. Anyone giving his shiurim a chance will not be turned off from Yiddishkeit! I guarantee it. Sure, if someone listens to one or two shiurim and comes with a chip on his shoulder expecting to hear his own opinions echoed in the shiurim, he will fail. But if he comes with an open mind and gives it some time, he will invariably succeed in imbibing all the great truths of the Torah. At the very least, many of his sifeikos in emunah will eventually be cleared up. It doesn’t happen overnight you know. Even the great dor deah needed ten makkos over a period of a year and then the splitting of the yam suf before the Torah finally said va’yaminu

    There were ten’s of thousands of people at Rabbi Miller’s livaya ten years ago, people from all walks of life, who were profoundly affected by his deep schmuzzen, uncompromising truth, and remarkable insight into life. He was mikarev thousands upon thousands of people to the Torah, both richokim and kirovim. Halivai you and I would come to a fraction of his greatness! Rabbi Miller was my Rebbi so you may wish to take the following with a grain of salt but I consider him the profoundest and most influential individual in the field of hashkafa in post-World War 2 America. I disagree with you. I don’t think anyone was ever turned off from Yiddishkeit because of him. I think they were already turned off and didn’t give him a chance to turn them on. But that’s my opinion…

    In point of fact, I believe your mehalech is fraught with danger and is much more likely to cause people to go off the derech. I obviously do not mean to offend you, as you know, but as you yourself admit, only the “fortunate few” who have a solid basis in concepts like hashgacha and the role of Torah are “enabled” to somehow maintain their emunah in the face of the (supposedly) overwhelming evidence against the mesorah. So what do you do? You write books and agree with these people! So, yes, some of them might say “well, if Rabbi Slifkin still adheres to the Torah despite all the counter-evidence, so will I”. But that’s a big chance to take! I’m sure many of them have heard their own counter-Torah ideas echoed in the views of the academics and materialists you are constantly quoting and decided to be porek ol entirely. Well, I’m not sure of anything. But what I’m saying certainly seems reasonable to me.

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  9. I was exposed to R. Miller at about the age of 10, when I picked up Rejoice O Youth. It made a deep impression on me, which affects me to this day.

    I recently reread the beginning of the book and was once again struck by the power of R. Miller's outlook.

    It's a shame that R. Miller has been getting such a bad rap from some quarters in recent years as part of the backlash against the Slifkin ban.

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  10. Nachum,

    Thank you for mentioning this. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I was quite upset with Rabbi Slifkin’s assertions regarding Rabbi Miller ztz’l.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to mention once again the importance of listening to Rav Miller’s shiurim. Anyone who makes a career of listening to his lectures will eventually find his sifeikos in emunah gone. I guarantee it! And that’s just the beginning. Eventually he will gain all of the tools necessary to be a true oved Hashem. He will acquire proper Torah attitudes and learn how to resist the overpowering influence of Western culture and ideology. He will learn how to refine his character and he will attain the knowledge necessary to utilize nature as a means of being aware of the Creator. He will learn the secrets to successful living both bein adam la’Makom and bein adam la’chaveiro. There is literally no end to the greatness one can achieve if one simply chooses to embark on career of listening. And there’s no one better to listen to than mori v’rabi Harav Avigdor Miller ztz’l.

    Once again, thank you Nachum.

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  11. I think people are different. Some are helped by minimizing the challenges to Judaism and some are harmed.

    1)R. Shimon Schwab, I would argue, held that at least one challenge to Judaism was real.

    He writes in his revison regarding the chronology issue, for example that, "The purpose of this attempt was to assist the bewildered Torah-true students of Jewish history sitting on the horns of a dilemma,
    and to strengthen their emunah" and

    in the original(from Hakirah article)that the results

    "can hardly be doubted for they appear to be the result of painstaking research by hundreds of scholars and are borne out by profound erudition and by ever increasing authoritative evidence...we are compelled to admit that the Bayis Sheni must have existed for no less than 586 years"

    The point is that RSS took the challenge seriously.

    2)Heshey Zelcer in the attached Hakirah article writes:

    Some may point to this near-silence of American Orthodoxy as a self-confidence that is dismissive of Biblical scholarship, but I am
    afraid that beneath this dismissive attitude is a deep insecurity...We need our best Orthodox minds to address these issues or we may one day pay the price in lost Jewish souls(pg 154-155).

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%208%20Zelcer.pdf

    Similarly, Daat Emet asks(I won't link them here) about the fact that challenges are not taught in yeshivos(a response to them, would perhaps be based on the Rambam in Avodah Zarah regarding not all minds being able to grasp the truth):

    "If the "Divine truth" is in the pocket of the Charedi, why are they so afraid to teach their students Biblical criticism, the results of archeological research, and to teach them whether their faith passes the test of reasonable critique?"

    3)Dr. Daniel Jackson writes on R. Marc Angel's site:

    "A pristine philosophical theory that resolves all contradictions is unlikely to be convincing; rather, we must learn to live with doubt-not merely to tolerate it, but to embrace it as an expression of our seriousness in our quest for truth. "

    (I don't agree with a number of items in the article, eg, I care little for Bible Criticism or Shirah Chadasha, but for those like him, minimizing challenges won't work)

    http://www.jewishideas.org/articles/torah-min-hashamayim-conflicts-between-religious-be

    4) Finally, Rabbi Adlerstein lamented in 2006, what he repeated again regarding the Ami article:

    " So much confusion abounds because for the first time in hundreds of years – perhaps ever? – we do not have Torah luminaries who have devoted themselves to taking on the challenge posed by general culture. (I do not fault them in any manner or form for this. They have enough on their plates. I can still feel sorry for us, and for the honor of Torah.) ...If evolution is incorrect, these phenomena need explanations – not appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures. The same holds true in other areas, such as archeology and Biblical criticism. The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them. People who have studied too much to just ignore these phenomena then often find it more satisfying to go far outside Torah circles for enlightenment."

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/11/24/why-we-are-all-id-dummies/

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2011/04/17/people-with-questions-are-not-sick/

    In sum, I agree R. Miller's shiurim help in many ways, but they are not a panacea for all emunah issues, and there are probably many(as I linked above) who would agree with RNS that "the intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real".

    --Shades of Gray

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  12. bl'n I will try and write a post or two on hashgacha as soon as I can

    Looking forward. It should generate more interest than your latest entries about frogs.

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  13. Shades,

    Shalom Aleichem! Welcome to our humble venue. I hope you will find our material somewhat useful. Thank you for writing. I have a few comments on your missive. I will cut and paste the portions I am responding to in italics.

    I think people are different. Some are helped by minimizing the challenges to Judaism and some are harmed.

    I’m not convinced that you are correct. I have been involved in kiruv for a long time and have found that minimizing challenges is a very weak approach, at best. As far as I’m concerned, the only valid approach to kiruv is that of my Rebbi, Rabbi Miller; to study the material exhaustively and offer a properly informed reconciliation. If after said research the Rabbi/kiruv specialist still doesn’t have a reasonable reconciliation, the questioner should be commended for his good question and informed that as of the moment his question requires further research. Any intelligent individual who is sincerely looking for the truth cannot be pooh poohed with nonsense. He may be too diplomatic to tell you but the question will continue to gnaw at the back of his head.

    we are compelled to admit that the Bayis Sheni must have existed for no less than 586 years"

    The point is that RSS took the challenge seriously.


    Of course he did. As he should. I disagree with his conclusion though. We are not compelled to admit anything of the sort! First of all, RSS was not the first person who broached this topic. Rav Saadya deals with it in Emunos v’Dayos (near the end of ma’amar ches), Maharal responds to the issue in Beer haGolah at the very end of Be’er Shishi, Abarbanel addresses the issue, and many others. I’m embarrassed to say but I can’t remember how Rabbi Miller dealt with this problem. But there are plenty who do. R’ Hirsch Goldwurm ztz’l, one of the most preeminent Jewish Orthodox historians of the twentieth century, wrote a dissertation on this issue and concludes his treatment with the following statement: “On the other hand, none of the ancient documents have the authority or were as scrupulously preserved by so many multitudes at the Tanach, Seder Olam, and the Talmud”.

    Continued…

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  14. Some may point to this near-silence of American Orthodoxy as a self-confidence that is dismissive of Biblical scholarship, but I am afraid that beneath this dismissive attitude is a deep insecurity...We need our best Orthodox minds to address these issues or we may one day pay the price in lost Jewish souls (pg 154-155).

    Oh boy. First of all, Zelcer has nothing to worry about. It is self confidence, not “deep insecurity”. Our traditions have been repeatedly criticized by the best the gentile world had to offer. Prominent amongst them were the Greeks and Romans. Subsequently Paul tried to convince us that Jesus was something special and Mohamed tried to convince us that he was something special. A small number of Jews fell prey in every generation (Hellenists, Sadduces, Hebrew Christians, etc.) but for the most part our nation remained strong. Why? Because we were self-confident! We understood the superiority of our traditions. It was easy to dismiss the blandishments of the goyim. The simple shtetl, Jew who left the ghetto for a few hours to peddle his wears was maligned, mistreated, spat upon, beaten, and sometimes worse. He was called dirty Jew! He was informed that he is sub-human and was brought 101 “proofs” from the bible supporting this position. But did he cave in? He knew he was a prince amongst men. He knew that when he left the ghetto he was at risk from “wild animals”. He plied his trade and hurried back to his palace in the ghetto. He didn’t entertain doubts about his traditions because a few wild dogs barked at him in the market place. Until the advent of Moses Mendelssohn and the Jewish Enlightenment, I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of European Jews would give their lives rather than Baptize! This doesn’t sound like an insecure nation to me.

    Unfortunately, today is a different story. But not necessarily amongst American Orthodoxy. Actually, I suppose it depends what you mean by Orthodoxy. Those American Jews who are a product (directly or indirectly) of individuals like Rav Aharon Kotler, R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Yitzchok Hutner; or the Chasidim of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, Rav Shlomo Halberstam, Rav Yoseph Yitzchok Schneersohn, and many others, foster no doubts about their traditions. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule just like the misyavnim during Grecian times but for the most part the Chareidi Orthodox community still maintains its original self confidence.

    Now I realize that my assessment might be a bit naïve. One of my colleagues constantly warns me that even in Orthodox (read: Yeshivish/Chasidish) circles, outside influences are unfortunately penetrating. As such, I agree that we definitely need to mount a defense, a proper, well-informed, Torah-true defense. But this leads me to my next comment.

    Continued…

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  15. You quote Rabbi Adlerstein as follows:

    If evolution is incorrect, these phenomena need explanations – not appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures.

    This of course is correct. But it is also a straw man. Rabbi Miller spent 50 years battling evolution, demonstrating clearly that its tenets were based on unfounded assertions while possessing no evidence whatsoever. Rabbi Miller appealed to the published scientific literature when disproving evolution. He quoted evolutionists, not creationists! His command of the material was awesome.

    Rabbi Adlerstein continues:
    The same holds true in other areas, such as archeology and Biblical criticism. The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them.

    This is just as misleading as his original claim. Rabbi Miller spent years discussing archeology and Biblical criticism. The fact is, the most preeminent Biblical criticizer, Julius Wellhausen, was already refuted by R’ Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Rabinowitz in his monumental work Doros Rishonim. Rabbi Miller brings countless examples of how one criticism after the next turned out to be wrong. In my humble opinion, anyone who is sincerely searching for the truth can easily find it in Rabbi Miller’s books and lectures.

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  16. SC,

    Thanks for your response.

    I would just add that R. Adlerstein didn't refer to R. Miller specifically.

    Also, I found the quote from R. Hirsch Goldwurm in the appendix to the Artscoll "Second Temple Era"; thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  17. Shades,

    I would just add that R. Adlerstein didn't refer to R. Miller specifically.

    Yes, that’s true. But he implies that any of the material out there amounts to nothing more than an “appeal to outdated science [compounded with] gross inaccuracies and the citing of marginal figures” Since Rabbi Miller is the foremost authority on this subject for the past sixty years, Rabbi Adlerstein’s comment is obviously directed at him and any others who follow in his path.

    You must know something. Adlerstein’s approach is an unfortunate symptom of the infiltration of scientism into the ranks of even the most frum people. Rabbi Adlerstein already wrote a condescending article regarding the ID scientists a couple years ago. He dismissed the whole idea of Intelligent Design out of hand without any knowledge of the subject whatsoever! I wrote a counter article and requested that he print it in Cross Currents so his readers could at least see the two sides of the argument but he refused. I have the article posted on my site. Please peruse it at your leisure and let me know what you think Click here: Response to Rabbi Adlerstein’s Article on Intelligent Design

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  18. I was introduced to R. Miller's Rejoice at Aish decades ago and was impressed with the power and clarity of his writing. Later, I took his book into a university library to investigate his article sources; no easy task since only minimal information was given to reference these. I was shocked to find that he relied on anecdotes and shabby science. Or more accurately ZERO science. Subsequently I realized that for all of his Talmudic knowledge (I began attending his shiurim in Brooklyn) his scientific knowledge was not even at a grade school level, and indeed was often quite laughable.

    I now feel that all kiruv workers should avoid all references to R. Miller's books, except perhaps his historical ones (which although I believe are also flawed are at least somewhat defensible.)

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  19. Although it was many years ago that a rabbi gave me R. Miller's Rejoice O Youth, I remember that some of his arguments were thought provoking, but I was put off by what seemed like unnecessary hysteria about scientists. Scientific method and scientists, after all, have given us most of the advances in biological sciences, including immunology, and many of those on which we depend.

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  20. Carol
    I also read R. Miller's Rejoice O Youth, and found it thought provoking.
    Despite being professionally involved in biological sciences I was (and I am) able to distinguish between a challenge to scientific knowledge based on the scientific method and a challenge to speculative ideas supposedly based on science.
    Needless to say that R Miller z"l only challenged the latter.

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  21. This is foolishness. You are attacking Slifkin for attempting to present a rational defense of your beliefs, and you do this based on your own assertion that there is no such thing as a rational challenge to your beliefs. This, you assert based on your extensive familiarity with geology, biology, astronomy, history, biblical scholarship... etc.? No, I'll wager that you have no formal education in any of these things, and that you would consider such education completely superfluous (as you're already sure that you're right). As to Avigdor Miller, I listened to a shiur where he proclaimed that people co-existed with dinosaurs (never mind the fossil record, never mind the absence of any record of anyone's having seen one, never mind genetics, never mind geology), and I even read the first few pages of "Rejoice, O Youth." R' Miller essentially copied out long-discredited arguments from Christian fundamentalist creationists, and stated them as if they were conclusive proof. You may not believe that there are serious intellectual challenges to Judaism-- you may even be so arrogant as to believe that every person who has considered (and even shared) your beliefs and then come to conclusions different from your own is simply foolish or dishonest-- but, in the end, you're just hiding your head in the sand, because (unlike R' Slifkin) you lack the courage to address serious questions seriously.

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  22. David,

    Is your comment directed towards me or towards Dr. Betech?

    Simcha Coffer

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  23. Shadesof,

    I would just add that R. Adlerstein didn't refer to R. Miller specifically.

    I responded to this but there was some glitch in the Blogger software for a couple days and my comment was erased.

    Here’s what I (think) I wrote:

    True. Adlerstein did not refer directly to Rabbi Miller. But since Rabbi Miller was unarguably the most vocal Jewish Orthodox opponent of Evolution in modern times, R. Adlerstein’s claim that current responses to the evolution loggerhead amount to “appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures” is a direct criticism of Rabbi Miller’s approach.

    This is not the first time RA has criticized anti-evolutionary efforts. In Cross Currents, he wrote an article portraying Intelligent Design in a negative light. His article was atrocious. He possesses no technical knowledge in this area and demonstrates an obvious lack of understanding regarding the fundamental issues which attend this issue. I responded with an article of my own and requested that he publish it in Cross Currents but he refused. So, I contented myself with posting it on my own site. I encourage you to read it. Click on this link Response to Rabbi Adlerstein’s Article on Intelligent Design and let me know what you think.

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  24. Carol,

    Shalom Aleichem. Welcome to our humble forum and thank you for writing. I look forward to hearing from you again in the future.

    Although it was many years ago that a rabbi gave me R. Miller's Rejoice O Youth, I remember that some of his arguments were thought provoking, but I was put off by what seemed like unnecessary hysteria about scientists. Scientific method and scientists, after all, have given us most of the advances in biological sciences, including immunology, and many of those on which we depend.

    You are, of course, correct. Science has yielded the most incredible results in fields such as medicine. As such, you will never find Rabbi Miller disparaging the science of medicine, or any other science which produces tangible results. In fact, he was a great fan of the life sciences and used his broad knowledge in this field to demonstrate the Wisdom, Kindness and palpable Presence of Hashem.

    His disparagement of science was reserved for fields such as biological evolution, chemical evolution, and stellar evolution, and for the elitist academic establishment as represented in organizations such as The National Academy of Science. Evolution does not utilize the scientific method (empirical experimentation). No tangible macro-evolutionary process has ever been observed, much less recorded. No detailed testable Darwinian pathway has ever been demonstrated to exist. And most importantly, there is a patent lack of fossil evidence to support the theory. All this should amount to the death knell of evolution.

    Unfortunately, the scientific community continues to perpetuate a theory which has absolutely no basis in science whatsoever. Why? Simple. Because they are materialists. They reject, a priori, anything which even sounds like meta-naturalism no matter how compelling the empirical evidence might be. This drove my Rebbe (Rabbi Miller) crazy! He couldn’t stand the blatant misrepresentations of the academicians! He considered them enemies of Hashem and enemies of the Jewish nation. In fact, he considered them enemies of mankind.

    It is impossible to synopsize Rabbi Miller’s view in one short comment. Suffice to say that your initial impression of his book was spot on! The best advice I can give you, indeed, the best advice you will ever hear, is to keep on reading! Buy his tapes and keep them glued to your ears! I guarantee that if you give it some time you will eventually rise to the heights of awareness of Hashem. If there are any specific statements by Rabbi Miller which vex you, I enjoin you to write me and I will do the best I can to clarify his position.

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  25. zdub,

    Shalom Aleichem! Welcome to our blog.

    Before I begin, I must confess that it took me some time before I finally decided to respond to your comment. Rabbi Miller was the most influential force in my life. Quite naturally your disparaging remarks caused me to become exceedingly “put off”. I’ve since regained my composure. Nonetheless, you might perceive a tinge of “irritation” in my response. Just ignore it. It is not meant personally.

    I was introduced to R. Miller's Rejoice at Aish decades ago and was impressed with the power and clarity of his writing. Later, I took his book into a university library to investigate his article sources; no easy task since only minimal information was given to reference these.

    I recommend his later books. Check out “Sing You Righteous” wherein Rabbi Miller provides countless references to his statements re science. Also, check out tape # 78 entitled Evolutionists Speak. He provides dozens of sources including the name of the book, name of the author, and page number in the book for the quote in question. I personally purchased each and every one of the books he quotes in the aforementioned lecture and looked up the quotes myself. If you don’t believe me, you are welcome to challenge me. Just mention any quote he makes and I will scan it in from the original book and send it to you via email.

    I was shocked to find that he relied on anecdotes and shabby science. Or more accurately ZERO science. Subsequently I realized that for all of his Talmudic knowledge (I began attending his shiurim in Brooklyn) his scientific knowledge was not even at a grade school level, and indeed was often quite laughable.

    With all due respect, the only thing laughable here is your absurd contention. I’ve been in the “debate” business for quite some time now. One of the things I learned is that when a protagonist makes sweeping and unsupported statements you can bet he has no idea what he is talking about. Since you’ve chosen to publicize your assertions re Rabbi Miller’s science, you need to be prepared to demonstrate your point. I challenge you! Please supply a few examples of Rabbi Miller’s “sub grade-school” knowledge of science. Or please supply a few “shocking” examples of his shabby science.

    Here’s a prediction. You will not provide even one single valid example! I dare you to prove me wrong. If you can’t, it would behoove you to publicly retract your outrageous assertions re one of the gedoley yisrael of the last generation.

    As mentioned, my comments should not be taken personally.

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  26. David,

    I wasn’t sure if your remarks were addressed to Dr. Betech or me. But upon reflection, it seems I am the intended target. Here’s my response.

    This is foolishness. You are attacking Slifkin for attempting to present a rational defense of your beliefs,

    Ridiculous. I do not “attack Slifkin”. This blog was created to DEFEND our mesorah from its detractors. My issue with Rabbi Slifkin’s presentations are not their element of rationality; it is their contra masoretic nature which troubles me.

    and you do this based on your own assertion that there is no such thing as a rational challenge to your beliefs.

    No. If anything, I assert that our mesorah can be rationally defended from attack. Furthermore, I believe that rationality supports our mesorah. Never do I invoke my personal “beliefs”.

    This, you assert based on your extensive familiarity with geology, biology, astronomy, history, biblical scholarship... etc.?

    Wrong. I “assert” my “attacks” on Rabbi Slifkin because I believe they possess merit. If you believe I am wrong, choose one of my posts and try and refute it. As they say in the colloquial, “put up or shut up”.

    I'll wager that you have no formal education in any of these things, and that you would consider such education completely superfluous

    Hmm… you sound like some of my students. As it happens, I teach both history and biology at a local yeshiva here.

    (as you're already sure that you're right).

    Actually, no. I’m sure you’re wrong.

    Continued…

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  27. As to Avigdor Miller, I listened to a shiur where he proclaimed that people co-existed with dinosaurs (never mind the fossil record, never mind the absence of any record of anyone's having seen one, never mind genetics, never mind geology),

    So, are you asserting that you are an expert in paleontology, history, cell biology and geology? (just using your style of argumentation against you)

    Here’s a challenge. Please demonstrate that dinosaurs and people could not have co-existed using any or all of the four scientific fields you quoted.

    and I even read the first few pages of "Rejoice, O Youth." R' Miller essentially copied out long-discredited arguments from Christian fundamentalist creationists, and stated them as if they were conclusive proof.

    Like what? Demonstrate your point! If you just feel like mouthing off, pick another blog. This is a serious venue. Our readers are looking for the facts, not hearsay.

    You may not believe that there are serious intellectual challenges to Judaism--

    You are misrepresenting my view. Rabbi Slifkin concluded that “The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real”. He believes that in light of current scientific enterprise, some of our traditions are afflicted with serious problems. I believe that these problems possess rational solutions. Of course these challenges are serious. But they have resolutions. So they are not real. That’s all I meant.

    you may even be so arrogant as to believe that every person who has considered (and even shared) your beliefs and then come to conclusions different from your own is simply foolish or dishonest-- but, in the end, you're just hiding your head in the sand, because (unlike R' Slifkin) you lack the courage to address serious questions seriously.

    Thanks for your commentary. Unfortunately, I can’t take it seriously. No doubt this is due to my lack of courage.

    David, you’ve seen my nastier side. And although I don’t regret my response, my primary mission is to supply “serious responses to serious questions”. If you have a serious concern, please feel free to float your issue on this forum.

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  28. Thank you for responding, Rabbi.

    I have a very bad memory and it was probably on the order of 20 years ago that I read it, but I seem to recall that R. Miller in Rejoice O Youth had said something about humans and Neandertals interbreeding, and he further said that you could see examples of it in the faces of some of the population today. It may be that R. Miller was prescient in this assertion.

    At the time I read it, I seem to remember that scientists believed that there could not have been interbreeding between these two disparate species. However, there have been several more recent studies -- one that posits that Neandertals had red hair and one that says that not only were humans and Neandertals alive concurrently, but that we did interbreed and a certain percentage of today's (human) population actually has Neandertal genes.

    Although scientists have believed that Neandertals were not capable of speech, a recent finding claims that "stone-tool scratches on the teeth of most Neandertals and their presumed European ancestors occur at angles denoting right-handedness", in a paper by anthropologist David Frayer of the University of Kansas in Lawrence(Science News 5/21/11, p. 16)

    "Scientists have linked prevalent right-handedness in human populations to a left brain hemisphere that controls right-sided body movements and functions crucial to language. So given the new tooth evidence, populations of largely right-handed Neandertals and their predecessors must have possessed a gift for gab."

    The report also said that "human inner ear fossils also show that Neandertals' ANCESTORS could hear all the sounds employed in modern tongues. (Although other scientists believe Neandertals were physically incapable of articulating some modern speech sounds.)

    That being said, I am interested in your (I think) assertion that humans were contemporaries with dinosaurs (the earliest of which lived 250 million years ago). Is this something that you believe and can support?

    I would also like to say that I greatly appreciate your respectful, magnanimous, and even tone of your responses, even to those who are not. Rabbi Slifkin gives you much credit and appreciation for this, and he is right.

    I believe that it is only with a respectful and factual discussion of the issues that we can get closer to the truth, rather than be side-tracked by emotional ones.

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  29. Carol,

    It may be that R. Miller was prescient in this assertion

    Much as I’d like to concur with you, this isn’t so. Rabbi Miller was careful to base his scientific statements on published scientific literature. Scientists already suspected a long time ago that Neanderthal was merely a race of humans which apparently assimilated with other humans and eventually died out. They knew that Neanderthal fashioned tools and they knew that its capacity for intelligence was on par with modern humans. As prominent paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus wrote over 30 years ago, “Detailed comparisons of Neanderthal skeletal remains with those of modern humans have shown that there is nothing in Neanderthal anatomy that conclusively indicates locomotor, manipulative, intellectual, or linguistic abilities inferior to those of modern humans” (Erik Trinkaus, "Hard Times Among the Neanderthals," Natural History, vol. 87, December 1978, p. 10)

    As to your current quotes re Neanderthal, I was delighted to see them! Baruch Hashem there are still people who bother to spend the time to research the claims of the scientists for themselves! I am grateful to you for your personal honesty and for your support of my Rebbe’s (Rav Avigdor Miller) writings.

    That being said, I am interested in your (I think) assertion that humans were contemporaries with dinosaurs (the earliest of which lived 250 million years ago). Is this something that you believe

    Yes

    and can support?

    May I ask you a question? Can you support the notion that dinosaurs did not live contemporaneously with man? I assume the veracity of the Bible and its narratives. This assumption is based on a vast body of logical, historical, archeological and empirical evidence. But this is not to say that I can produce empirical evidence for each and every claim found in the Bible. As long as you do not have evidence that dinos and man did not co-exist, my default position remains the pashtus, of the pesukim in the Torah (the plain meaning of the Bible verses).

    What you must understand Carol is that permineralization (that’s a fancy word for fossilization) is a relatively “rare” event. Scientists have currently identified over 2 million species and yet the geological record only yields 10% of that. There is no reason to expect that the stratigraphic record would capture all cohabitations. In order for your question to even possess any relevance, you would first need to demonstrate that all dinosaurian cohabitations were captured by the rocks and man was not. I know of no such study and I’m positive that if it were ever to be conducted it would not contradict the Torah. But this is neither here nor there. I’m just looking for evidence that the two species could not have cohabitated. If you have any, I’d love to hear it.

    I would also like to say that I greatly appreciate…

    Thank you for your kind remarks and, once again, thank you for writing.

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