Outside the Pale – Responding to Readers


Let’s say a person lives in Williamsburg, sports a shtreimel and long, curled peyos, and his father was the gabbai for many years in Rav Yoelish’s beis medrash. All his forebears in recent memory hail from Satu Mare, Hungary. On the other hand, he drapes an Israeli flag outside his apartment (and lives to tell about it), and swears allegiance to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Is he a Satmar chusid?

My intention is not to be facetious, but to begin answering some of the concerns of readers over the last days. Dr. Shapiro pointed out what he thought was a blatant contradiction in two lines of Rabbi Leff’s review. Rabbi Leff calls certain positions “outside the pale,” but then goes on to say that rabbinic authorities are not conclusive as to whether these views are heretical or not. So which is it? Are these views kosher or treif?

I offered a resolution, of sorts. I argued that the contradiction vanishes if one assumes a difference between what is “heretical” and what is “unacceptable.” Rabbi Leff was saying, I believe, that some beliefs may not be heretical, but the voices that have rejected them have been close to unanimous. In those cases, maintaining such beliefs is “outside the pale” of Jewish experience. The community has the right to regard them as foreign, rather than merely different.

Back to our confused chosid. His neighbors will never succeed in persuading a court to order him to cease and desist from calling himself Satmar. On the other had, he could know shas and memorize Al HaGeulah V’Al-HaTemurah, but he won’t land a job teaching at Torah V’Yirah. He has the right to call himself whatever he wants; others have the right to ignore his declaration. Debating who should, and who should not, use the name Satmar will be of little consequence. His neighbors will simply see him as outside the pale. Rabbi Leff, it seems to me, makes the parallel argument regarding beliefs that push the envelope. Except for principles of faith, we don’t legislate beliefs. People can follow minority opinions in midrashim and in medieval philosophy. The price that one pays for such beliefs is that his thought-system is at variance with the near-unanimous collective experience of generations of Jews. Others may regard him – like our maverick Satmar – as foreign to their experience of Judaism – and with good reason.

I was pleased to see how many readers actually agreed with my main point, despite reporting that they were disturbed by what I wrote! They accepted the distinction between heretical and unacceptable, but were disturbed by where it might lead. Their concern is well-placed; I am also worried. The fact that it makes people uncomfortable, however, does not diminish its reality. If there are positions that are indeed unacceptable, worrying about the slippery slope is not going to make those positions kosher for mass consumption.

Yes, the construct lends itself to abuse. There will be groups that argue that anything but their hashkafa, their halachic practice, is beyond the pale, and foreign to all of Jewish thought and experience. But they will do this regardless of what I write in my article! And they will be patently, demonstrably wrong. So I am not as worried about them as others are.

Are people who believe in a universe older than 6000 years, or that the mesorah of Chazal did not necessarily extend to matters of science, beyond the pale? They may indeed (as Rabbi Natan Slifkin pointed out) be beyond the pale of certain communities, particularly in Israel. But given the sheer number and stature of those who held these positions (Warning: we are NOT going to open this up to a rehash of the merits of Rabbi Slifkin’s case), anyone arguing that this is beyond the pale is simply wrong. (Of course, there are those who argue that such beliefs are worse than beyond the pale. They claim that they are downright heretical, since contemporary gedolim have determined that the previous gedolim are wrong, or that they are no longer appropriate after we’ve been enlightened by the Ari, or because contemporary gedolim are not pleased with them, so espousing them is the equivalent of disgracing and disparaging chachamim. That claim is not up for discussion here. Suffice it to say that when I discussed this approach with one of my –alas – unnamable rabbeim, his response was a terse “That’s silly. You certainly don’t have to believe that.”)

Rabbi Leff’s argument (if I have understood him correctly) is that some ideas run counter to what all groups in memory, current and past, have always believed, and these ideas are indeed beyond the pale. I agree with the reader who wrote about someone who maintains that all of Bereishis is allegorical, including the lives of the avos. Such a person maintains a belief that is beyond the pale, even if it might be argued that it is not heretical. (The signatories to the cherem of the Rashba against the study of speculative philosophy by young students apparently felt the same way. They pointed with derision directly at those who claimed that Avraham and Soro represent form and substance, and were not historical figures.) Someone who believes that G-d has no knowledge of human volitional acts may be said to live on a different Orthodox planet, even if he can point to the Ralbag holding the same. Anyone who believes that “where there is a rabbinic will there is a halachic way” (subsequently repudiated by the original author of those words) can be said to live outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy in general, even if someone will prove that the position is not heretical. No significant part of the educated Orthodox world ever did, or ever would countenance such a position. Anyone who believes that halacha was sexist in the past, and that our duty today is to atone for the sins of our ancestors and put men and women in equivalent roles is, in my opinion, cut of the same cloth as the other examples. So is anyone who believes that halacha is arrived at by identifying all possible halachic positions that have been voiced, and choosing the one that fits your needs.

Do I have a satisfactory litmus test of what is in, and what is out? No I don’t. Not having an airtight definition does not mean that the construct is not valid. Get used to it. We don’t have the answer for everything. I still can’t really describe an electron, but I have a pretty good sense that they exist.

What are the consequences of being “out?” No direct halachic ones. Heresy is a halachic construct, and has its rules. An apikorus, min, kofer, etc cannot testify in court. Someone who is not, but stands outside the bounds of the greater community, does not suffer from that disability. But the construct still is useful. Most importantly, it defines which values and concepts we wish to transmit to our children. At an appropriate age, it is fine that they should learn about the Ralbag. But our jobs as parents are different from the vocation of scholars. To our children, we pick the values we believe are the most important for their spiritual development, and stress them. We will emphasize some more than others. And we will communicate that the Ralbag’s view simply has no traction among anshei shelomeinu.

There may be other applications.

I personally heard Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l discuss a teshuva (Minchas Elazar?) that paskened that a shochet who denied that Rashi was written with ruach ha-kodesh was disqualified from shechita. The Rosh Yeshiva argued that he did not believe that the author was making an ideological statement about how Rashi came to his conclusions. Rather, he meant that a person who could say such a thing from within a community that assumed the opposite had abstracted himself from the community to a degree that he could not be trusted. Rav Ahron Feldman, shlit”a, said something similar about meshichistim. They are not heretics, and should not be treated that way. Yes, you can count them towards a minyan. But they believe in something very foolish, and we do not rely on the judgment of foolish people for matters that affect the community. They should not serve as mashgichim. (I assume that he leaves room to trust them if we determine that they do their job particularly well. A good friend of mine who works in kashrus stopped drinking wine from Milan because of the meshichist problem, until he inspected the setup personally and saw that the people in charge discharged their duties responsibly.)

By right, I should not have to respond to questions about why so much of the invalidation comes from the right. It has nothing to do with my central thesis. Esther, however, seemed so pained by her finding of beyond the pale thinking on the right, that I am tempted to come clean.

Is the right capable of coming up with some strange ideas? Sure. Does it seem to be happening with increased frequency? Yes. Is it as likely to come up with ideas that are so extreme that they lie completely outside the collective experience of Klal Yisrael, that they should be labled not just “not for me” or “not for us” but “outside the pale?” Not anywhere as likely as from the far left.

There are very, very few serious talmidei chachamim on the left; there are very many on the right. Talmidei chachamim can get things wrong. Great talmidei chachamim can get things wrong. But the “mistakes” they make seldom put them beyond the perimeter. It is not impossible, but less likely.

(I know this kind of candor is not going to go over well. What about Rabbi X and Rabbi Y and Rabbi Z. I hope we don’t have to go there. We won’t go there. Too much ad hominem lashon hora. For those not furious enough to shut me down, consider an operational definition of talmid chacham, and then compare left and right. I propose, as a rough guide, that minimally, a talmid chacham can explicate a Rashba well; has learned at least quarter of the Ketzos; could open a Pri Megadim and figure out what he is saying without getting sea-sick; can read from the Shev Shema’atsa intelligently in any perek. A talmid chacham should be able to do far more than that, but if he can’t, he is not a player. If you are not acquainted with these works, then frankly, you are not in a position to judge. There are thousands upon thousands on the right who can perform these tasks. That claim cannot be made on the far left, and this is an understatement.)

Innovations coming from those who are not talmidei chachamim have to be more suspect of being unacceptable.

I empathize with Esther about the issues she raises, plus a few more. I don’t believe that they represent departures as significant as she believes. Women did in fact work in other Jewish societies, sometimes to allow their otherwise capable husbands more time to learn. People being supported by their wives today still concede that it is the men who bear the actual responsibility. Women are voluntarily (theoretically) agreeing to an artificial arrangement in order to allow their husbands to learn, in order to provide a talmid chacham as a father to their children. When women become incapable of working for one reason or other, the men within those communities should recognize the need to take over. I know of many cases where they did, in the heart of Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim. I am not a navi, but I have confidence that with time, the texts of Torah themselves will lead any Torah community back from extreme positions. I do not have that faith in communities not so steeped in Torah.

I will point to at least one position on the right (I suppose) that is beyond the pale, even though probably not heretical: the position of Neturei Karta, or at least the chevra that likes to fabrengn with Ahmadinejad, y”s.

Some readers pointed to statements by Rabbi Leff that indicate that he does not distinguish between “beyond the pale” and “heretical,” particularly a statement about the authorship of the Zohar. I would be disappointed to find out that he held that someone who questioned whether all the content of the Zohar came from the pen of R. Shimon bar Yochai was a heretic (although my regard for him would not be diminished). After listening again, I don’t believe that he was saying that. He branded as heretic someone who would deny that the content of the Zohar is part of Torah she-b’al-peh. That is a far more defensible position.

I will end with where I probably should have begun – by urging readers to read Rabbi Yitzchok Blau’s excellent treatment http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/TUJ%2012%20Blau%20Yitzchak%20179%2D191%20QX%2Epdf of Dr. Shapiro’s book. He treats the topics we have discussed here with more rigor than the disjointed musings of a late-night insomniac. It is important and comforting to learn that Dr Shapiro himself, as Rabbi Blau shows, holds that there are beliefs that describe the core teachings of Orthodoxy. The arena of Torah belief is not a free for all (or, borrowing from a previous posting of mine, a Chinese menu).

I will reproduce two snippets for readers:

As Dr. Johnson remarked, the fact that there is a twilight does not minimize the distinction between day and night. We can exclude Ibn Ezra s view from the charge of heresy, remain unsure about how much more latitude to give for an expansion of Ibn Ezra, and still confidently assert that J, P, E and D are beyond the pale.

I can agree … without coming to the conclusion that no decisions can ever be reached in theological debates among traditional figures. The methodology may differ from halakhic decision making but that does not mean that no decision-making method exists altogether. Perhaps majority vote plays no role in the world of hashkafah, but a near unanimous vote does.

All the rest, as they say, is commentary.

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72 Responses

  1. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve, I read the book and largely agree. IMHO, choosing to employ a mashgiach or a witness at a religious ceremony has a different standard than calling someone “outside the pale.” You do not have be a Kofer for me not to trust or respect you. I would not be annoyed if I did not get a bracha at a charedi cousin’s wedding; even the treatment of the late R. Jacobs at his grandchild’s aufruf is “inside the pale,” bad judgement but inside the pale. Chabad gets off much lighter. I explained many posts ago why chabad is treated differently; they should not be. I am more nervous about where chabad is heading, and has for some subset already gone, to real Kefirah, particularly given our history. For those, already in that camp, I might be even more radical than RDB; but i don’t even like Italian sparkling wines.

    Responding to/explaining the CS would take us far afield, but al regel achas, it is not normally assumed that what is said only by mekubalim is normative.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    For interested readers, there is a wonderful sefer called Sichos HaSofer based on ShuT CS on the CS’s views on a wide range of subjects. In one of his teshuvos YD: 355 ,the CS was asked whether there was any halachic differences between accepting the Rambam’s Ikarim or R Y Albo’s formulation of the Ikarim. The CS wrote that he was unaware of any halachic differences and that according to the mkubalim, there were no ikarim because every “kutz” of the Torah was an ikar.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-All that I can and will say in response to your last post is that I strongly suggest that you and others of a similar POV read R D Berger’s book on the subject.

  4. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve – in a word – YES. as I wrote above: “And finally R. Alderstein writes and I strongly agree: “There are going to be far fewer things (and people) placed beyond the margins when the touchstone is near unanimity.” Now define 2 things: 1) who votes – I say all who self-label as orthodox, and 2) near unanimity – i say at least the definition of the MY with the sampling method used by the OU for bugs.”

    Has Chabad or Shapiro or the Gush Ram reached that level – except for a (small) percentage of extremists in Chabad, my guess is not. However, that does not mean one cannot criticize their viewpoints or in the extreme, attempt to isolate them certainly within one’s community. You do not have to be a felon to be strongly criticized. Even putting books is cherem is certainly within one’s privilege; considering one a kofer or “outside the pale” should have the standard proposed above.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-one more query-I see that R D D Berger has posted on this thread. Would you apply your rule of thumb re discussions of Chabad messianism and its very problematic nature? If so, why?

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-WADR, I think that your answer begs the issue. IMO, one cannot analyze whether the Ikarim or even the Sefer HaIkarim are binding either from a halachic or halachic POV or even from a perspective of Minhag Yisrael Torah without delving into issues of both theology and history. I think that R Blau’s critique is hardly inconsequential, especially as it related to how a historian discovers, vets, utilizes and presents sources and even more so, when the historiographical approach of the writer is very evident in his other writings which utilize a historical approach but which set forth a yearning for the not so good old days of the 1950s. IMO, offering a historically based critique of those who believe in the Ikarim without offering a substitute rooted in both theology and history is akin to whetting one’s appetite but failing to serve the main course.

  7. Dovid Kornreich says:

    The bottom line is that Dr. Shapiro’s books have exposed a rift between the academicly inclined Orthodox and the Rabbinic vangaurds of tradition. (In a similar way that the Slifkin affair has.)
    It must be very hard for someone like Dr. Shapiro, who has such a broad command of the history of Jewish thought, to not feel qualified to present his honest research to the public and try to change the way people think about Jewish theology.
    The rabbinic vangaurd simply do not give the final word to superior reseach. As Rabbi Adlerstein points out constantly, neither Jewish theology nor halacha is determined by lists of names and #s of primary sources.
    The question is why and it’s hard to articulate a good answer to a sincere Orthodox Jewish academic whose whole career trains him to give better research the final word.

  8. L Oberstein says:

    JO wrote – I know of no quote attributed to the Amercan gedolim that implies they took issue with the approach or philosopies of the Israeli gedolim.
    Kudos to Rabbi Adlerstein for refuting this statment forcefully. In reality, people whose mind is not open to different ideas will not pay attention to facts. Call it cognitive dissononce or willfull ignorance but it affects the right and the left wings of orthodoxy.
    I am happy that our arguments are of this nature.
    Outside of orthodoxy, all I see is ruin and this makes me very sad, not triumphalist. Gays and Lesbians seem to set the agenda, as if that will keep the Jewish People alive. Arnie Eisen, the new Chancellor of JTS doesn’t care about hashkafa – ideology, he just wants to find anything that will stop the decline in membership of younger Jews who just don’t affiliate.
    UTJ sounds good on paper but how many people subscribe to it? There are more Satmar Chassidim of either one of the two groups of Satmar Chassidim than there are observant Conservative Jews in the world.Who would have believed that 50 years ago?
    Whilte we have fun deciding what is inside the Pale and what is outside the Pale, most Jews have long left our spiritual Pale of Settlement and are assimilated almost beyond reach. I use almost because there is still time, but not unlimited time to find the right ways to revitalize Judaism.We need leaders like S R Hirsch who didn’t care what the Eastern Europeans thought of his methods and was innovative and dared to re-create othodoxy.

  9. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Steve Brizel, I respectfully disagree. Perhaps you know Dr. Shapiro; I do not and give him the benefit of the doubt (by my labeling him a historian and not a theologian – which the one lecture of his I heard tended to confirm) that he is not obfuscating but perhaps not ready to publicize a position. Frankly, greater men than Dr. Shapiro left this earth with only questions but no answers. The assumption that everyone should have a comprehensive theology is just that – an assumption. Besides, what Brecht wrote of Galileo, is certainly applicable to religious theology in our time – hide the truth carefully beneath your coat. Our Rabbis suggested teaching it only in small groups to those capable of understanding. His book made a strong and necessary statement that many questions can be considered legitimately; I do not assume he was just poking holes or required to provide alternatives.

    I apologize if I am overstepping, but lack of a theological position and still searching, does not make one an Orthoprax (I hope,) if that might be what you are implying. When pressed against the wall, I would perhaps deflect with R. Albo’s three, but I see little value in engaging / blogging publically on this topic.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Gewirtz-WADR, it is easy poke holes in and ask questions about the Ikarim. In all seriousness, I think that it is disconcerting to do so and not offer one’s own theological construct, while one hides behind one’s professional training as a historian, despite the fact that one’s POV re the kind of Orthodoxy that one wants is in print and available online.

  11. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “…We might as well get used to it, and work with what we have. We will all have a more satisfying ride if we stop complaining about what we cannot change, and take advantage of what we do have.”

    As the serenity prayer goes, “G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”. I’ve been thinking for some time of the relevance of Kubler-Ross model (R. Yaakov Horowitz, for example, recently applied the Kubler Ross concept in “Wallmart is Coming” to the internet, so one can apply it here as well). Instead of denying reality and grieving for what “was”(or for what one thinks is no more, but may actually “still be”, to an extent), people should move into the “acceptance” phase and accept certain realities for what they are–no more and no less. As in the Kubler Ross, I think that acceptance may come and go in cycles.

    “I don’t like it; my talmidim don’t like it; lots of people don’t like it…. Speaking in absolutes, and in harsh language, does the job for a vast community that looks for absolutes, and cherishes authority rather than chafes at it.”

    This can create problems for someone who doesn’t like absolutes, but interacts with people who do. My own solution is to try to express myself with caution if I think that I’m speaking to someone who might object to any “chiddushim”(novel concepts), and then when among more like-minded individuals, being more open. I don’t think that this is the most serious problem facing the klal or the individual(it’s certainly not for me), but it can be an issue.

  12. mycroft says:

    I guess Amazon must follow Cross-Currents-I received an e-mail with the following subject today:

    “Amazon.com recommends “Must a Jew Believe Anything? Second Edition with a New Afterword” and more”

  13. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Rabbi Alderstein: You write: “I agree with several commentors that Dr. Shapiro landed a good number of blows in his letter; I look forward to seeing Rabbi Leff’s response. (I also believe that Rabbi Blau got in a few jabs in his Torah U-Mada article, and many still await Dr Shapiro’s response to them.)”

    That is hardly balanced. Rabbi Leff’s got his response on the seforim blog, soon after his review appeared. His rebuttal is eagerly awaited as you indicate; it is tellingly late already. Rabbi Blau’s jabs at Shapiro were hardly consequential, certainly not the things that require/necessitate rebuttals. What R. Blau asked for (3 years ago) is Shapiro’s theology that might stand in place of what Shapiro showed was not universally established Jewish theology. Last i checked, Shapiro is a historian, not a theologian. I have had many an occasion to comment, that all too often, what constitues a (barely) passable Drash, is labeled theology. I would hope that Dr. Shapiro’s response comes if and when he has developed a comprehensive theological position, something that rarely happens, except by yechidai segulah, in one’s thirties.

    I for one take seriously Chazal’s admonition that not all things ought be discussed in public; serious theology is certainly in that category.

  14. Eric says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is the Rabbi here. I am uneasy with anyone publically challenging him. It is one thing to ask a Rav a question in private or to debate with him if he allows it in private. But for us to speak as if we are somehow on a similar level or as if we have the right to talk back to a Rav, especially in public, doesn’t sit well with me. I am a very uneducated person. But I have just read through some of the Mishne Torah that talks about the importance of maintaining serious, major league respect for gedolim and for rabbis in general. Everyone, please recheck yourselves to make sure you are showing the proper respect and deference to Rabbi Adlerstein. Please be careful how you phrase things. I think the only people that should consider openly debating him are fellow rabbis.

  15. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    “The contention … centrist and haredi communities get their ideas from projecting what R Yaakov would have said … They don’t have to do that. They have living gedolim to go to.”

    I’m not quite sure if this paragraph is a response to my post. Rabbi Adlerstein wrote (or implied) above that those claiming the middle ground are basing themselves on Reb Yaakov. If I am understanding correctly, R. Adlerstein is now saying that we don’t need to project R. Yaakov view because we can ask current g’dolim who are standing in R. Yaakov overall approach.

    I agree but just want to re-stress the importance of us not slipping into black and white thinking while criticizing others of that. There are Talmidei Reb Yaakov that would agree with everything Rav Elyashiv says and there those that would disagree. There are many, many Talmidei Rav Shach, living in the US, that have a tremendous subltety in their approach to issues and different human needs, and they attribute this to their Rebbi zt”l.

    One can appose bans and still believe that particular books are k’fira. One can accept certain modern science and believe (along with Professors Spetner and Levi) that the theory of evolution is silly.

    This past Shabbos, I saw in a sefer called Bris Krusah L’sfasayim, written to argue the necessity of metzitzah b’peh. He quotes a Kol Koreh from 100 years ago, from Rav Shmuel Salant and others. Its language makes some current Kol Korehs sound warm and cuddly. Strong, over-the-top-sounding language is not a modern Israeli inovation. Soft subtle langauge (which I would like to see more of) is the more of an innovation.

  16. Meir Shinnar says:

    Two issues:
    One of the assumptions in rav adlerstein’s position is, to cite

    The specific question raised concerned the criticism of innovations on the left relative to what seem like equally foreign innovations on the right. My response, in part, is that innovators on the left are sitting ducks for criticism, since there are very few talmidei chachamim in their ranks. We were not talking about parshanut or academic papers about history, but about changes that have to stand up to the scrutiny of halachic discourse. I was offering not a description of what a talmid chacham should be, but how the layman can recognize someone who can and cannot even hope to voice an opinion in a serious halachic debate.

    The real question and debate, however, is whether analysis of the ikkarim, hashkafa and related issues is a “serious halachic debate” in the same sense as whether a given eruv is kasher. Clearly the rambam thought otherwise – his famous parable of the palace, and placing most rabbinic scholars as outside the palace. The fundamental difference is over the appropriate assumptions and methodology for hashkafa and theology – and being a talmid chacham (even of the highest caliber), baki in shas and poskim and by any other criteria, is no proof of any expertise at all in the areas of machshava – and someone may be expert in hashkafa without being baki in shas… Even without this more radical formulation, there is a general understanding within halacha itself that there are different areas of expertise – and a talmid chacham who is expert in gittin is not necessarily an expert in eruvin – and therefore, halachic expertise does not translate into expertise in hashkafa.

    The second issue is defining communal norms.
    Now, R Adlerstein would wish to reformulate R Leff’s critique that this is not a declaration of heresy, but of being outside communal norms. Whether this is indeed R Leff’s position I will leave to him to declare.
    Restricting the debate to communal norms rather than heresy is far more palatable, as there has been a traditional reluctance to label major sources as heresy – and also has backing in the radbaz’s tshuva limiting heresy to more willful rebellion rather than intellectual error, but allowing the community to exert control over its norms.

    However, as this in reference to Marc Schapiro’s works, what marc Schapiro has done is to demonstrate, through extensive documentation, that a significant part of the community recognized as Orthodox – not just the ibn ezra, but even far more recent figures, have espoused postions that are at variance with the 13 ikkarim. If the issue is communal norms rather than arguing the halachic and hashkafic basis for these sources – he has shown that the communal norms are actually very broad -unless one has redefined the community to be very narrow – with all those sources now not being part of the community.

    Now, it is one thing for the Satmar community not to hire a graduate of Merkaz harav, or for Brisk not to hire a hasid – however, that is quite a different issue than arguing that these positions are outside the norm of the Orthodox community considered more globally – even if they are not ours.

    Furthermore, if historical communal norms are the criteria, a community that can argue that the rambam, rav hai gaon, rav hirsch, the tiferet yisrael, etc are outside of its communal norms (as in the age of the universe debate) may be reasonably argued to have placed itself outside the traditional norms of the Jewish community…..

    Meir Shinnar

  17. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Joe wrote: The problem many of us face is illustrated in these passages – those gedolim and talmidei chachamim who are reasonable/centrist/american-style/etc. who don’t agree with the meah shearim/bnei brak version of Orthodoxy do not come out and defend their views against the attacks.

    We’ve been there before. There are many reasons for this. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether these reasons are satisfactory, but it ain’t gonna change anytime soon. This is an imperfect world, עד ביאת הגואל . We might as well get used to it, and work with what we have. We will all have a more satisfying ride if we stop complaining about what we cannot change, and take advantage of what we do have. To use your word – you are looking for “reasonableness.” It hasn’t disappeared. You may have to look for it a bit harder, but HKBH will not let you down. Further details next time you come over for Shabbos.

    Ori wrote: Why employ such hyperbole? Doesn’t it just make people discount rabbinic opinions, making it harder for those Rabbis to express themselves when things are really serious? Isn’t there a story about the little Kol Koreh who cried wolf?

    Why? Because it is devastatingly effective. I don’t like it; my talmidim don’t like it; lots of people don’t like it. But you can’t ignore the fact that the system works quite well for a very large group in Israel, and increasingly in certain redoubts in the US. Speaking in absolutes, and in harsh language, does the job for a vast community that looks for absolutes, and cherishes authority rather than chafes at it. If you will point to the problems this creates for some people, to all those who are driven away by such a system, you will hear two responses. First – it is more important to deal with the needs of the core group of loyalists than to pander to the marginals. Second – can you point to a system or protocol any other community actually uses that produces better results?

    Garnel wrote – The problem for Rav Adlerstein, it seems, isn’t the idea of having a discussion, but rather who should be allowed to participate. It’s one thing to have a colleague of his quote problematic teshuvos, quite another for someone from the world of scholarship to do that. It doesn’t sit quite right.

    I therefore wonder about the limits of intellectual debate within such limitations. It seems that anyone who doesn’t “fit in” doesn’t belong in the debate. Am I missing something?

    Missing something? I certainly hope so. I said nothing of the kind. “Accept truth from whomever says it” is a motto cherished by lots of us. There are no preconditions. I engage in friendly correspondence with several of the names cited frequently by commentors: Dr Shapiro, Dr Kaplan, Dr Kellner. I disagree often; I learn much from them. I have no problem admitting that they run rings around me in knowledge of sources. Occasionally, I score a point nonetheless. I agree with several commentors that Dr. Shapiro landed a good number of blows in his letter; I look forward to seeing Rabbi Leff’s response. (I also believe that Rabbi Blau got in a few jabs in his Torah U-Mada article, and many still await Dr Shapiro’s response to them.) I don’t see why my post should be seen as ignoring or denying the validity of Dr Shapiro’s points. It concerned itself, as I have said umpteen times, with one point alone, which I thought was important enough (if not central) to preserve and support. (Had Rabbi Leff come across as the clear hands-down victor in the exchange so far, there would have been no need for me to write, would there?) That point was the notion that certain notions are beyond the pale, even if they are not heretical. The only points that I argued were to be treated this way are those outside the collective experience of not only the greater part of Klal Yisrael, but nearly the entire community, within a generation and for previous generation. All the hysteria about who calls the shots, and who defines people as beyond the pale dealt with an issue I didn’t discuss (and about which my sympathies are with the commentors, not against!) – smaller communities who try to argue that their definitions are the only acceptable ones, and all those who do not accept them are beneath contempt. This has nothing to do with my argument.

    Are there discussions that are closed to certain people? Sure. Geologists do not debate members of the Flat Earth Society; real physicians don’t have very much to speak about with reflex kinesiologists or whatever. Those are extremes. But to a lesser extent, the analogy has some validity in some halachic discussion. Those who lack fundamental skills and background cannot really take part in the discussion. And some very eminent talmidei chachamim could not hope to take part in a discussion of the finer points of Ohr Hashem.

    JO wrote – I know of no quote attributed to the Amercan gedolim that implies they took issue with the approach or philosopies of the Israeli gedolim.

    After writing several responses and staying civil, I am about to lose it. Is this supposed to be funny? You mean you believe that American talmidei chachamim would have answered the key question at last year’s Torah Umesorah convention like R Aharon Leib Steinman shlit”a answered? They would have said that day school teachers should not play ball during recess with their students? You think there is no difference of opinion between Bnei Brak and parts of the US about whether kiruv workers can give a shiur on a one time basis in a non-Orthodox synagogue? (How else did a particular Rosh Yeshiva start a campaign a scant few years ago against R. Shmuel Kamenetsky shlit”a, if not by asking the question in Israel, getting a negative answer, cutting out the last paragraph where the gadol wrote that rabbanim in the US should nonetheless defer to local opinions if available, and then gather more signatures on the basis of that one gadol?) Do you believe that R Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a would answer a question from a recent baalas teshuva in medical school the same way R Yaakov zt”l did? (She met a guy, realized that he would have to do much learning to catch up, necessitating her dropping out of medical school if they continued the relationship. R Yaakov questioned her reasons for wanting to become a physician, and in the end told her that chesed was a chiyuv d’orayso for her; getting married was not! She dropped the guy, not school. Years later, they happened to meet again, after she finished school, and he had gone off to Israel to learn. They married!)

    The suggestion is risible. The contention that thousands of people in the gap that now exists between the centrist and haredi communities get their ideas from projecting what R Yaakov would have said were he alive is narrow and silly. They don’t have to do that. They have living gedolim to go to. The people I hear the most playing the silly game of living their lives according to what someone would say if he were here are the group always telling us what Rav Aharon zt”l would have said.

  18. mycroft says:

    Is the right wing producing more educators, and if so why? Is it because it is easier for MO graduates to work in a non Jewish environment than for right wingers?
    certainly to some extent RW’s have less professional opportunities thanm MO grads and thus the profit maximizing solution to many RW’s is to go to chinuk, BTW how many jobs wo a college education will pay as much as chinuch and at least per hour pay as much as chinuch.

    Comment by Ori

    The talmidim of R’ Yaakov are sending their children/grandchildren to yeshivos that are staffed by talmidim of the less tolerant of a R’ Yaakov’s

    don’t forget R Yaakov was also a Rav of a schul for years-thye tend to be more tolerant than pure RYs-see eg disagreement between RAK and R E Silver and RYK.

  19. Ori says:

    Is the right wing producing more educators, and if so why? Is it because it is easier for MO graduates to work in a non Jewish environment than for right wingers?

  20. Michoel says:

    Zev T. said:

    “MANY of their greatest figures say things that are completely outside the collective historical experience of Klal Yisrael – e.g., that Maase Bereishis must only be understood entirely literally and nobody ever said differently”

    I would greatly appreciate some substantiation of this claim. I am not aware of even one gadol who has said such a thing and certainly not “MANY”.

  21. bb says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    There is a sustained rejection of the kind of Yiddishkeit presided over by R Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l. It is perceived by some as haredi-lite, and therefore detested. I don’t believe that they will succeed in wiping it out, Esther. There are now tens of thousands in the US who are too secure in what they received from their rabbeim.

    I think the MO was saying the same thing 30 years ago. The along came a large number of teachers and rebbeim in the MO schools who were trained in RW yeshivos, and the MO started complaining about what was happening to their schools/children. The talmidim of R’ Yaakov are sending their children/grandchildren to yeshivos that are staffed by talmidim of the less tolerant of a R’ Yaakov’s views (many yeshivos and rabbonim could be mentioned). I would imagine we will be in the same boat as the MO in 10 years time.

  1. January 5, 2008

    […] the aforementioned belief, as well as a continuation of the “Outside the Pale” discussion, will not be accepted in this […]