Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Disappointment of Aish HaTorah

Every year I take my family to a Pesach hotel.  This was our fifth year with the same program and for the first four years we had the pleasure of having things led by an amazing Rav.  Not only was he a dynamic speaker but he was also willing to address deep topics for the crowd and not shy from stating controversial viewpoints that he strongly believed in.
Apparently this wasn't what some people liked so this year a different Rav was brought it.  In contrast to the previous one who was a pulpit rabbi, this one is one of Aish HaTorah's "missionaries".  He's one of their biggest guns, apparently (or so he likes to think).  He's also known as an amazing speaker and, given his reputation as Aish's "rabbi to the Hollywood stars" I was intrigued as to what he'd be speaking about during various parts of the program.
I'll admit my biases off the top.  I really like the previous Rav and was not happy he wasn't even invited back so for me this guy was starting at a disadvantage.  In addition, due in part to my blogging experiences, I am well-aware that Aish's Discovery material, the stuff they use to prove the truth of Torah, is about as deep as a puddle of rainwater after the sun has dried it away.  So I was cynical going in.
Unfortunately my cynical side was not disappointed.  I was hoping for great speeches on a variety of subjects, some of them even Pesach-related.  Instead I got the Discovery Seminar, only it was the dumbed-down version due to time constraints.  Talk about disappointment!
Imagine the following: you attend a conference on the latest treatments for heart attacks.  Twenty years later you attend another conference on the same subject and the main speaker repeats all the stuff he said at the first one.  What would your response be to such a speech, given that treatments for heart attacks twenty years ago are totally obsolete and only of historical interest today?
I attended a Discovery program around twenty years ago and the material that this Rav covered was almost identical to that original presentation.  Over the last twenty years there have been tremendous social changes in the Jewish community including the rise of the atheoskeptics along with the growing off-the-derech phenomenon.  Chrisian missionaries, as annoying as they can be, aren't the primary threat to many parts of our community anymore but just like twenty years ago that's all his presentation was about: Kuzari proof, verses in the Bible that refute Chrisianity, etc. etc.  Every talk he gave about his successes was the same: he finds some schmedrick that knows nothing about history or comparative religion and feeds him the Kuzari proof.  Nothing about atheoskeptics.  Nothing about answering the questions OTD's raise.
By the end of the first talk I was annoyed so I raised my hand.  My question was quite simple: "Your material is all nice and good for a high school student with no knowledge of Judaism.  What do you say to someone who actually knows what you're talking about, has investigated the alternatives and doesn't buy your 'proofs'?"
The answer?  "That's the subject about another talk."  Talk about blow-off.
The problem wasn't so much the shallow nature of the so-called "proofs" this Rav considered so conclusive.  It was other things like how he misrepresented Chrisianity, something he quietly admitted to me that he did to 'simplify' things for the crowd.  Ah good, now he's not only arrogant but thinks we're all stupid too.
Then there was the aforementioned arrogance.  In one of his talks he assured us he needed only 5 minutes alone with the Pope to convince him of the truth of Judaism.  Right, because you get to be Pope after collecting another of those proof-of-puchase things from boxes of Alphabits.  Listen, I'm not a fan of Catholicism or Chrisianity in general but I have no doubt of the great intelligence the Pope needs to possess to do his job.
There was also a lot of disappointment.  One of his speeches was titled "Answering the skeptic".  I was excited for that one.  Perhaps there was an actually intelligent version of his presentation he'd been saving up? No, he assured us off the top, he wasn't going to speak about that.  There was no point in speaking to skeptics, at least publicly.  There you go: a major threat to traditional Judaism and we might as well just ignore them and speak about successful encounters with ignoramuses.
Maybe it was the inconsistencies in his speeches.  A couple of nights after telling us that he was 5 minutes away from converting the Pope to Judaism he told us the story of how he spent an eleven hour flight to Israel convincing some hapless chiloni about the truth of Torah.  However, at the end of the flight the young man in question did not immediately go out and buy a black hat and sign up for kollel learning.  For the Pope he only needed 5 minutes but after 11 hours this chiloni was still not completely convinced?
There was other inconsistencies.  He told us a story of how he mocked some Mormon missionaries (in Salt Lake City of all places) and pointed out the absurdities of their beliefs.  They apparently responded by saying that it was their willingness to believe in such absurd things that made them beloved of God.  Of course, he chortled, this is in total contrast to Judaism which is a completely rational faith with no absurd beliefs!
No, I didn't mention the idea of spending $100 or more to buy a gloried lemon for Sukkos.  No, I didn't mention dibbuks or any Baal Shem Tov stories.  Instead I went for what I thought was the obvious: the idea that there are many prominent Jewish figures who believe we should read the first chapter of Bereshis literally which means that the Earth was created over 144 hours and that dinosaur bones were planted by God as fakes in order to test our faith.  Fake dinosaur bones, could there be anything more absurd?
His answer, of course, went beyond inconsistency and into something that is either a lie or idiocy: there are no rabbis he's aware of, he said, who hold like that.
Okay, where to being?  How about Rav Dovid Gottlieb, philosopher-in-chief at the Yerushalayim branch of Aish's competitor, Ohr Sameach?  In addition to ineffectually slagging Rav Natan Slifkin from time to time, he apparently believes that it is the universally accepted Jewish belief that we must read Genesis literally.  Here's the money quote:
Our mesorah insists that the six days of Creation, counting from the first creative act, were six literal days
Got it?  Well apparently this Rav had never heard of Gottlieb and, in his mind, that meant he was of no importance.
And what of the Slifkin controversy which was based entirely on this issue, with Rav Slifkin writing a whole book on how there is copious support in the mesorah for a non-literal understanding of Genesis and his opponents putting him into cherem for daring to say so?
Oh no, was the response, that's not what it was about and anyway, no one takes the literal position that Genesis must have taken 144 hours as we understand them.  They simply hold that we can't understand what happened during that period of time and Slifkin crossed some kind of line by trying to explain it.
Right.
What about Rav Aharon Shechter and his diatribe, made famous by Youtube, against Rav Slifkin while insisting on a literal understanding of Genesis?  Nah, he hadn't heard about that either.
Fine, I figured I'd go for the big gun.  He wasn't aware of any rabbonim who were in favour of the literal reading of Genesis?  Had he perhaps heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a"h?
(By the way, this is probably why Chareidi-type figures try so hard to ban the internet.  They don't seem to be able to figure out how to adjust to the new reality it has created.  Pity the poor Chabad shaliach, for example, who insists that open meschichistim are a fringe part of the movement when confronted with an on-line video showing a prominent Chabad Rav insisting der Rebbe fihrt de velt.)
In a letter dated back to 1961 the Rebbe reveals a partial understanding of science but also quite openly dismisses any understanding of Genesis other than the "traditional" (in other words, the view he favours) one:

The theory of evolution, to which reference has been made, actually has no bearing on the Torah account of Creation. For even if the theory of evolution were substantiated today, and the mutation of species were proven in laboratory tests, this would still not contradict the possibility of the world having been created as stated in the Torah, rather than through the evolutionary process. The main purpose of citing the evolutionary theory was to illustrate how a highly speculative and scientifically unsound theory can capture the imagination of the uncritical, so much so that it is even offered as a scientific" explanation of the mystery of Creation, despite the fact that the theory of evolution itself has not been substantiated scientifically and is devoid of any real scientific basis.
Nope, the Rebbe wasn't a literalist either!
Now, I am not a skeptic, by any means.  I have critically examined the relevant materials and concluded that the Torah is true but that it is also an incredibly complex document.  Both the atheoskeptic who insists that it's a man-made document and the fanatic who insists on believing any bit of dogma, no matter how bizarre, both misunderstand the Torah, possibly wilfully in order to adjust it to meet their personal agendas.  Fine, that's the way they are, I can't help that. 
But after listing to this crap (sorry, that's the most polite word I could come up with) I became very angry.  People are becoming frum because of him?  After listening to presentations full of inaccuracies, misrepresentations and lies?  What kind of superficial, simplistic Judaism are they being led to practice?  How well do they really understand how Torah works?  What kind of easy pickings will they be for the first atheoskeptic with a spare copy of The God Delusion who walks by?
I liked the food.  I liked the davening.  The seders were great.
But I'm really hoping this Rav's appearance is a one-time event that doesn't get repeated.

81 comments:

BrooklynWolf said...

Then there was the aforementioned arrogance. In one of his talks he assured us he needed only 5 minutes alone with the Pope to convince him of the truth of Judaism. Right, because you get to be Pope after collecting another of those proof-of-puchase things from boxes of Alphabits. Listen, I'm not a fan of Catholicism or Chrisianity in general but I have no doubt of the great intelligence the Pope needs to possess to do his job.

Heh. I wouldn't be surprised if the "proof" that he would have used on the Pope is that the Christian Bible says that 75 people went down to Egypt (as opposed to 70). That's usually the first "disproof" I hear each time. Of course, it never occurs to them that somewhere along the way some Christian theologian might have noticed the discrepancy. Poor guy, he'd probably be totally lost when the Pope started explaining to him about the Septuigant and how, in many circles, it was considered authoritative for a long time -- complete with it's count of 75.

The Wolf

Baruch Pelta said...

Another great post Garnel. One quibble: I don't think they're easy pickings for us atheoskeptics. I am friends with a lot of Discovery fans (the main questions I got when I went off the derech were "what about the Bible Codes?" "What about Kuzari?" "What about the 4-animal-proof?" and "What about Gerald Schroeder?") and these are people who have ensconced themselves against any evidence. The fact that they weren't interested in looking into counter-arguments against Discovery narishkeit in the first place indicates that they are what they say they are -- pashuteh yidden who are mevatel daas and can't be bothered to look at arguments from kofrim.

By the way, Gottlieb's most direct about the age of the universe here:
http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/AGEOFTHEUNIVERSE.htm

Michael Sedley said...

Great Post,

The more that I read about Discover-Like "Proofs" the more I am amazed that any thinking people (myself included) still believe in Judaism.

If the best "proofs" are either outright lies, or use faulty logic, is there still any reason to accept Judaism.

B"H I'm firm in my belief in SPITE of Discovery, but if I was to ever go OTD - it would be because of the arguments against G-d inherent the the falsehoods of cerain Charedi institutions (i.e., if the Torah is true, how come you can't prove it without lying)

no one said...

The thing which is nice is that they learn Talmud.
and maybe they do help some people who would be into other worse types of cults. I have to admit i have got a soft spot for the Talmud and any place that really spends time with it has to my mind a high degree of legitimacy.

Natan Slifkin said...

Can't you say who it was? It's not as though the program was a secret or anything like that.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

I realize that the public nature of the program removes the loshon horo nature of spreading this guy's name (Rav Gil Mechanic, BTW) across me blog. However, my annoyance was both because of his supreme self-confidence and the crappy material he's been given to work with more than who he is in particular.

Natan Slifkin said...

"Gil Mechanic"

I don't think that there is such a person. Do you mean "Daniel Mechanic"?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Ah yes, that would be him.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

It seems like the big avla here is that Rabbi Mechanic insulted your intelligence. That's understandable - no one likes that. And, to be perfectly honest, it's annoying to sit there and think that the people sitting around you probably assume that you are buying what he is selling.

But the question is: does it really no longer work? I assume that Aish has some kind of inkling if their numbers are way, way down or not.

YGB said...

In fairness to Aish HaTorah, I think you should change the post's title. I don't think the rabbi in question is affiliated with Aish in any formal way. Although Aish lists his organization, Project Chazon, as an affiliate, PC's website conspicuously omits any reference to Aish.

YGB said...

Oh, and just to round out the picture (while avoiding discussion of the substance of Garnel's plaint), at the two presentations I attended, the crowd seemed mightily well entertained. Which is probably the main purpose of a Pesach hotel Rabbi.

:-)

Baruch Pelta said...

S:
An informed leading figure in the OU told me that kiruv stuff isn't working well these days. That being said, like I wrote earlier, a good deal of my friends have been greatly influenced by Aish.

RYGB:
He was the director of Discovery for 15 years, so I assume he knows the ins-and-outs of how it works. Officially speaking, Chazon is listed as an office of Aish and if you email chazon, you email "chazon@aish.com ." It's an Aish operation and is therefore fair game.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

RYGB, at his first lecture he gave his background and it was "I was a nobody and then I met Rav Noach Weinberg and went to work for Aish." His speech about his appearance at Princeton was predicated on his having gone there at the behest of a big Aish donor. His material was al Aish discovery stuff. I think I was not off base making an association between him and Aish.

As for being entertaining, he certainly was. He had the crowd eating out of his hand. But so would a good stand up comedian, except the comedian would admit he was telling wild stories just to get people to laugh.

shimon9test said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Baruch: "An informed leading figure in the OU told me that kiruv stuff isn't working well these days."

I hear, but I'm curious about Aish specifically. If the OU is experiencing something like that, does that

Baruch Pelta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch Pelta said...

He meant efforts being done in kiruv generally, including Discovery (which I particularly mentioned in my question)

Y. Ben-David said...

Baruch Pelta-
We seem to be seeing contradictory data these days. I spoke to Rav Natan Lopes Cardozo a couple of days ago and he told me he is convinced a major spiritual crisis is brewing among young religious Jews (he lives in Israel so I presume that is referring primarily, but not only, to Israeli youth). I said "but we see a massive growth in the Orthodox community and a much lower drop-out rate of young people than there was 40-50 years ago". He said that even so, he was seeing a LOT of dissatisfaction. I asked if it was due to problems of belief (e.g. the Holocaust, Israel's ongoing crises, good and evil, etc) or due to "rigidity in the halacha". He answered "both". I then asked about why the drop-out rate of youth seems to be much lower today. He said "social pressure".
I must say I was really confused after this. He certainly gets around and talks to a lot of people. But then I look at the opening of the new, larger, full-service synagogue in my place of work at an Israeli government company and compare that with the shed we prayed in 20 years ago. The level of kashrut is much higher now in our company dining hall. I look at the children who grew up in our typical Israeli national-religious synagogue in a suburb of Tel Aviv in which almost all the children who grew up there, many from families that were only so-so religiously, have remained religious.
If religious youth is disaffected, it would be natural that kiruv would also be affected. I don't know what to think. All I know is that I, myself, am dissatisfied in the the same that people Rav Cordozo says are unhappy, so I am glad to know that I am not alone, not that I want to give up religious observance, G-d forbid. However, even though the religious world, and its values which I see around me seem increasingly alien to the way I and a lot of people think, it seems that the religious world is bigger and stronger than ever. Any opinions?

Anonymous said...

Srsly, garnel, aish was Never happy to have an educated audience or to entertain shades of philosophic grey. And nowadays the stand-up comic style is all.

SD said...

Would it be unfair to say -- despite claims otherwise -- that these "Discovery" Gateways" presentations are not for those who actually have the questions (and the knowledge to know why the question is a very good question)?

That rather they are for the already-frum bourgeoisie, to allow them the pleasure of basking in the delusion that the trueness of their treasured beliefs has been confirmed by "biggest experts"?

YGB said...

I have no vested interest in Aish, but Reb Noach zt"l's 1980 Lakewood series is an amazing introduction to the world of Jewish Thought, and I do not believe he was a shallow thinker in any way. He may be critiqued for allowing shallowness to pervade the organization, but that is the almost unavoidable nature of the phenomenon: The larger an organization gets, the shallower it gets.

zach said...

Were you aware that this rabbi was going to lead the services before you plunked down what was certainly a large chunk of change? If not, you should complain very loudly.

Anyway, an interesting post but hard to read without paragraph spacing. Please address this in the future.

topdog said...

I get the problem people have with the simplistic black-and-white kiruv approaches. I'd like to know if the oilum thinks this project emunah site is any better. He certainly looks more open to discussion...

Dovid Kornreich (Dr. Jekyll) said...

You seem to be suffering from the same lack of depth and nuance that this presenter is guilty of , Garnel.
Why should an Aish rabbi have to defend any position other than his own. Aish holds of Gerald Schroeder's approach that the six days are literal but they don't add up to 144 hours.

And if yoou actually watch the YouTube video, Rav Aharon Schechter doesn't say Genesis has to be understood literally. He takes the Mahral's approach that creation is "Sisrei Torah" and it can't be understood at all!

You are oversimplifying the issues just as much as this Aish rabbi was.

Menachem Lipkin said...

Aish holds of Gerald Schroeder's approach that the six days are literal but they don't add up to 144 hours.

That's not really what Dr. Schroeder holds. If you want to simplify his approach it's that the universe was created in 6 days AND 14 billion years. The difference just depends on one's perspective. Dr. Schroeder also says, and I heard with my own ears, that Adam had parents.

I know that Dr. Schroeder teaches at Aish, but is it totally true that Aish holds of his approach?

Natan Slifkin said...

I just had a long phone conversation with Rabbi Mechanic, who was very upset and bewildered at Garnel's account of what transpired. He flatly and vehemently denies every single part of the account. (I myself often find that people misrepresent me; sometimes deliberately, sometimes subconsciously, and this is sometimes even done by people who are close to me - and it is immensely frustrating.) The Ami article - which Rabbi Mechanic hated as much as the rest of us did - likewise did not accurately represent his work, and quoted him (also inaccurately) without his permission. I do know that while in the past he was heavily involved in Discovery-style presentations, he has very much moved away from that approach in the last few years, for which he should be commended.

Shadesof said...

"I get the problem people have with the simplistic black-and-white kiruv approaches. I'd like to know if the oilum thinks this project emunah site is any better. He certainly looks more open to discussion..."

Project Emunah/R. Clinton's website looks like like something new and interesting, and I would recommend it!

As far as the discussion of past approaches, I think it's better to relate to them in a positive way even if one finds them unhelpful, no matter where one is on the emunah peshutah/skeptical continum. For example, I commend Project Chazon and Discovery for trying to help teenagers and the frum public increase their belief, even if I question whether they are THE intellectual answer to the Haskalah, or to frum people who share the same questions on a more complex level then they *publicly* deal with. This is because I think that Torah Judaism is a force for good in the world, and I am also not willing to give up as far as finding intellectually satisfying approaches.

Speaking of questions/proofs, here is a question I would like to see focused on:

R. Boruch Clinton, quotes R. Gottleib's Kuzari Priciple positively on his new website("Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's updating of the Kuzari argument is a treatment of the problem that I've always found persuasive). My question about R. Gottleib's approach is what he writes concerning Faranak Margolese's quote of him*(see link, and quote below).

Does R. Gottleib believe that the Haskalah was "irrational"? Also, how does the Kuzari principle interact with any historical challenge, such as the years of the Bayis Sheni? If it doesn't deal with the issue because it's about logic, philosophy, national experience and memory, then why is anyone "irrational" for rejecting the Kuzari principle which doesn't address all issues using *historical* methods?

To be fair to R. Gottleib, he has lectures on his website on many topics other than the Kuzari Principle, can run circles around many intellectually, and I'm sure is aware of these issues. However, to call "opposition" irrational, one would have to directly engage the most learned of the opposition publicly, and I haven't seen that done in the frum world, as say, the Ramban debated the Christians. To the contrary, Ami Magazine wrote how there is a need to protect the frum public from questions.

======

"The last paragraph does not in fact represent my position. There is no leap. We have sufficient evidence to require us to believe that the Torah is true. The only choice we have is to be rational or irrational, and the latter is clearly the wrong choice. The interested reader should look at Living Up to the Truth on this website."

http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/correction-to-off-the-derech.htm

Baruch Pelta said...

Shadesof:
...why is anyone "irrational" for rejecting the Kuzari principle which doesn't address all issues using *historical* methods?
Gottlieb maintains that his apologetics are so compelling that anything else we see which contradicts the plain truths of the Torah (like the universe and the earth being only 5771 years) must be an illusion. In other words, while you -- Shadesof -- may think these historical methods of which you speak look strong, he maintains the proofs he's elaborated on in his book are so obviously true they override any other evidence we see. Ergo he writes at http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/AGEOFTHEUNIVERSE.htm :
The bones, artifacts, partially decayed radium, potassium-argon, uranium, the red-shifted light from space, etc. - all of it points to a greater age which nevertheless is not true...Does that mean that G-d is tricking us? Not at all: He told us the truth! Only someone who [perversely] decides to ignore the statement of the Creator and rely only on what he can investigate will be lead to a false conclusion.

In other words, since we already know the Torah's from God, modernishe methodologies which contradict the Torah's truth will yield results you will realize -- from knowing the Torah's from God -- are false.

Personally, I don't find the Kuzari Principle compelling and I certainly don't find Gottlieb's apologetics more compelling than the physical evidence we have for the age of the earth and the age of the universe. I've written a critique of the Kuzari Principle and some other apologia for Judaism here:

http://bpelta.blogspot.com/2010/12/kuzari-principle-proof-from-mass.html

(As for the point that Gottlieb can run intellectual circles around some, that may be true, but a person can be very smart and ignore the evidence against the point-of-view he wants to be true (you know this of course from the fact that there are extraordinarily intelligent Christian apologists)

Shadesof said...

"As for the point that Gottlieb can run intellectual circles around some, that may be true, but a person can be very smart and ignore the evidence against the point-of-view he wants to be true"

That's true, but I think he has what to contribute, and is entitled to respond(FWIW, I attended three shiurim of his on Derech Hashem when I visted Ohr Somayach, and then had a pleasant conversation afterwards on topics having nothing to do with the Kuzari Principle, or with Derech Hashem, for that matter, and am open to hearing from him).

R. Gil Student discusses what I am gettig at--"language differences"-- in connection with his review of "Freedom from Bondadge" and says that rebuttals would "likely be some talking past each other" due to differences in "language"(see below).

Nevertheless, I'm still interested in a response from R. Gottleib--in the same "language"-- even if I question whether his use of "irrational" is warranted or not.

(see also FKM's post, linked below, defending the Kuzari Principle)

=======

"He also utterly demolishes R. Dovid Gottlieb's so-called proof (also known as "The Kuzari Proof") for the Torah. Over the past few days, I read the latest updated version of R. Gottlieb's book. It is not my place to argue in detail with his logic but I found it to be fatally burdened with unstated and unproven assumptions about psychology, sociology and Jewish history. Gold has a field day, although I'm not sure that he and R. Gottlieb speak the same "language" so there will likely be some talking past each other in any rebuttals that are produced."

http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2008/06/freedom-from-bondage-ii.html

http://fkmaniac.blogspot.com/2008/07/in-defense-of-rabbi-gottliebs-kuzari.html

Baruch Pelta said...

Shadesof:

I see from your last comment that we're on different wavelengths. I do agree with Rabbi Student though that Rabbi Gottlieb's book is "fatally burdened with unstated and unproven assumptions about psychology, sociology and Jewish history."

Shadesof said...

"I see from your last comment that we're on different wavelengths. "

What do you mean? Why is encouraging discussion between both sides, on "different wavelengths"? Or do you think discussion is futile and has already happened?

I said that I think RDG "has what to contribute", even though I understand what you are saying(see below). What's wrong with trying to learn something from RDG in the process of debate? The Rambam said "accept the truth from anyone who says it".

The issues are:

a) do you speak in logical and experiential terms vs. historical methods(RDG would try to critque historical methods; I believe that R. Ken Spiro briefly does that in his book regarding the Bayis Sheni issue; also, I think Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, from what I've heard, also spoke about national memory).

b) if the Kuzari method is so scientifically-solid, that opposition is "irrational", why does the frum community protect people from challenges(as AMI wrote in part, eg, even R. Baruch Ber was negatively impacted)?

Actually, Daat Emet asked the question:

"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?"

(a response--for debate-- would be, that emunah is both intellectual and spritual/emotional, and the avoidance of public exposure is not due to any intellectual weakness; also, the same Rambam who wrote Moreh Nevuchim said in Hilchos Avodah Zarah that not all minds can grasp the truth)

c) I would agree in part with AMI that not all online-skeptics are familar enough with pro-Torah sources(most never saw Doros HaRishonim, or have a solid grasp of Shas; Ezzie Goldish made a similar point on his blog SerachandEz when discussing the Ami article)

d)AMI is also correct about the role of emotions, in part, in going OTD, even if the writer took it too far

Baruch Pelta said...

It was something else I was disagreeing with you on when I said we're on different wavelengths, but yea let's focus on the point where we agree: I agree with the need for debate. I've had a few myself, the most formal being http://bpvsfkm.blogspot.com/

Yitz Waxman said...

Without getting into the details of this particular Rabbi or his presentation, I'd just like to point out that today, after the Slifkin bank, any kiruv Rabbi pledging fealty to our charedi sages are basically in an impossible situation. They're going to have to compromise something, and the options basically come down to choosing the least vile poison.

Option #1a - present a literalistic reading of the creation story, and also try to convince your secular audience that this is fine and there is no contradiction with simple scientific observations.

Result #1a - your audience will laugh you off the stage or simply walk out and see what's on TV.

Option #1b- the omphalos approach - present a literalistic reading of the creation story, and acknowledge the conflict with science. Tell the audience that the conflict doesn't matter because God made the world look old.

Result #1b - Audience is likely to give the Rabbi a cold blank stare as they absorb the insult to their intelligence. If anyone is a bit savvy or even thinks about it for a minute, then the Rabbi has a substantial risk of fielding painfully embarrassing questions.

Option 2a - You're both right! Time is relative and the universe is 15 billion years old and also created in six days.

Result 2a - Cute, but the charedi sages don't accept this and for good reason. It still leaves the same problem of accepting naturalistic evolution, which is the thorny theological problem that caused the bans to begin with. The details just don't fit a full literalistic reading. The Rabbi exposes risk to being forced to concede allegorical interpretations to Genesis.

Option 2b - present RNS's explanations from his banned book.

Result 2b - go directly to cherem.

So what would you do? OK, I assume nobody on this blog would take the job - fine. But that is an entirely different type of critique.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Rav Slifkin, in reponse to:

> He flatly and vehemently denies every single part of the account

I reread my post and, frankly, I don't see anything that needs adjusting based on Rav Mechanic's denials. My account of the questions I asked and the answers I gave are exactly as I recall them. Perhaps there were two Rav Mechanics and you contacted the wrong one? (Just to try and give the one I heard the benefit of the doubt)

As for reconciling Torah with science, there is an answer that is floating through the discussion that needs to be stated clearly:
1) The Torah is true.
2) The Torah was written so as to be understood by us with our current knowledge of the universe and by people living 3500 years ago with their knowledge base. It is ridiculous to assume that one of my ancestors and I will read the text in the same way but the beauty of God's writing it is that it remains relevant to every Jew in every generation.
3) Therefore a simplistic literalistic understanding of the Torah's account of creation, in this day and age, is no longer possible. That does not make the Torah untrue, it only changes how we must approach and understand it.

YGB said...

The best approach, IMHO, was, is and will be, that of R' Aryeh Kaplan zt"l.

Dovid Kornreich (Dr. Jekyll) said...

So what would you do? OK, I assume nobody on this blog would take the job - fine. But that is an entirely different type of critique.

You left out the third approach--which was Rav Aharon Shechter's:
We have no business delving into esoteric metaphysical areas. Creation ex-nihilo is a metaphysical process that ordinary human beings cannot begin to describe.
Science can pose all the theory it wants, but that doesn't obligate Judaism to offer satisfactory resolutions with it.
Sometimes you have to live with the tension of not having things known and reconciled.

Yitz Waxman said...

Sometimes you have to live with the tension of not having things known and reconciled.

It seems to me that the approach can only be introduced to the uncommonly responsible individual that already recognizes the value of carrying the yoke of Torah and mitzvos, as well as the leadership of the chareidi sages.

I personally wouldn't suggest to impose said tension on the typical secular educated Jew. Who is looking for extra tension in their life?

In any case, I salute Rabbi Kornreich's acknowledgement that the tension exists.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Rav Kornreich's position is fine for the emotionally and spiritually mature Jew who is prepared to admit that God's Creation is far bigger than any one person could ever conceive and that accepting there are mysteries like how everything came into being are beyond human ken.
For others, however, who need answers to satisfy their spiritual needs, such an answer - that there is no answer - is not acceptable and shouldn't be presented as such.

elie said...

Here is a link to a speech by R' Mechanic, where he puts on a similar show as the one described in this post: http://www.torahanytime.com/scripts/media.php?file=media/Rabbi/Daniel_Mechanic/2009-02-09/The_Truth_of_Judaism_My_Conversation_With_Hollywood/Rabbi__Daniel_Mechanic__The_Truth_of_Judaism_My_Conversation_With_Hollywood__2009-02-09.wmv

Baruch Pelta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch Pelta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baruch Pelta said...

RE Yitz:
If the question a secular person is asking is "How do you reconcile the age of the earth with the Torah," then of course you can give the same answer Soloveitchik and Berkovits gave to the question of how there's so much undeniable evil in the world: "We can't know, it's a big mystery." That'll only convince a certain group of people, but it'll work for them.

The better questions are "how old is the earth" or "are humans and chimps descended from a common ancestor?" "We can't know, it's a big mystery" -- and in addition refusing to rule out the 6000 year old answer -- as I think you would agree, is an (extraordinarily) obviously history-denying answer to those questions that'll leave audiences laughing. The "answerer" should be looked at like the conspiracy theorist he is.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I spent about ten months in Aish Jerusalem. They had mikareved my cousin and her husband, and I innocently told them I would like to visit Israel for a month or so. They suggested Aish to learn about my heritage. Sounded like a plan.

I am somewhat observant now. Back then (2001) I was not observant, and really had no background in Torah. I always thought of myself as Jewish though, and an earlier visit to Israel got me asking questions about what that meant. I was more interested in Israel than Judaism actually.

But I went. I spent months there learning about our heritage, and learning about our history. The rabbaim there are great guys – I really don’t think anyone can hold much of a grudge against these men. They are simply very nice, smart, non-materialistic, funny, solid b’al t’chuvahs. They know a lot of Torah too I think – most of them do I would say. And they are honest, even about where they are holding.

The environment too was great. Decent food (and free), housing. Good trips around the country.

They tried hard to control the type of person who enrolled there – it isn’t easy offering everything for free. People walk in, take advantage. Some kids needed to be told to leave – but only for reasonable reasons.

So, I enjoyed.

But, after several months we did take Discovery. That was a very eye-opening seminar. Even a little bit frightening. Here I was, I thought, learning about a tradition. But no, it was much more. It was the Truth, and they were going to show me why they believed it to be.

This was pretty hard core stuff. And the lifestyle of ultra-orthodox living we were being exposed to – it seemed the logical outcome of the Truths of Discovery.

Very difficult stuff in the end. I still am not sure what of Discovery is totally over the top and “demonstrably false,” and what is good evidence. It would be helpful if you could pretty much do a run down of Discovery proofs, and in a simple and fair way, show why they are poor evidence.

I hear a lot about how Schroeder is wrong, how the Purim story is not persuasive, how the prophecies regarding Jewish history are somehow not good proofs. But maybe someone can spend sometime putting forth the Discovery claim, and then a serious, drama free response or rebuttal?

They also have a significant program to teach Jewish history there – does anyone find the perspective very remiss or wanting? Addressing any and all kiruv approaches would be helpful – especially if the response is from a frum person of integrity.

Finally, many of my friends there became black hat. And I don’t even think they needed the proofs at all – they never discussed them.

Tuvia

Baruch Pelta said...

Tuvia, this comment is in response to your request for rebuttals. I'll reference some I think are helpful here, but you can find others via google.

I hear a lot about how Schroeder is wrong,
http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/stenger_25_2.html

how the Purim story is not persuasive,
http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Purim.cfm

how the prophecies regarding Jewish history are somehow not good proofs.
I included a bit on this at http://bpelta.blogspot.com/2010/12/kuzari-principle-proof-from-mass.html and we further discussed it in the comments.

t said...

Tuvia,baruch pelta isn't a frum person of inegrity.He's a faker trying to use a frum name to fool people.He's actively involved in getting people to become atheists.

Baruch Pelta said...

Actually, I continue to use the name "Baruch" because I've written for several academic publications using that name. (When I went off the derech, it was quite public; there was no subversiveness involved.)

YGB said...

http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/the-age-of-the-universe---a-torah-true-perspective/11191032?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/2

The download is free. A hard copy cost $5.14 plus shipping.

This is the blurb:

This is a transcript of a lecture given by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z'tl which discusses the question of the age of the Universe according to Torah thought: Is it around 6000 years old or billions? Rabbi Kaplan goes through various approaches to this question, and concludes with a view based on authoritative sources from over 700 years ago, which lead to a very satisfactory answer. Also briefly touching on other interesting topics, this booklet is an important read for anyone wanting a non-apologetic answer to this question. Price for printed version is profit-free. Only lulu makes money as a printing fee.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all. I have begun to look at these resources (Baruch’s also).

I thought Schroeder was pretty good when I saw him at Aish years ago. I know this is all very complicated – I have read some of his more virulent detractors (there is that fellow on Talk Reason who basically goes berserk over Schroeder’s ideas. He is the epitome of “spitting mad.” He is a well trained scientist. He wonders why Schroeder won’t answer his challenges. Frankly, If I was Schroeder I would not debate a guy this scorching in his criticism.)
The blogosphere has loosed so many perspectives, critiques, counter-critiques. In the end, you cannot really tell who knows what they are talking about.

I read Genesis, after having listened to Schroeder, and I get a sense that there is something to this ideas that it describes the scientific truth about how evolution came out. How a man (Moshe) might envision or see it, but only one who frankly had an insight that was not man-made (prophecy?).

I hear about the prophecies (I think I am talking mainly Isaiah, but probably elsewhere) and I think that Jewish history has conformed to some of it/ all of it (I’m not sure on this one). But I see that Jewish history has somehow deviated from the norms – either by mimicking the Tanach prophecies consciously, or because of some divine guidance or unique forces or something else. And the influence of Jewish people, ideas, monotheism seems also part of the ideas (somewhere) in Tanach.

The Purim thing – ok, it is strained. But it is still not really all that awful. So you got three different traditions of letter sizes. That seems pretty amazing any way. The idea that “there is a time that is now, and a time that is later” or whatever that is, maybe that is a reaching by Discovery (and hopes no one looks into it to deeply). But I have not done the research either.

I hated that Aish tried to prove it all. It scared me. I didn’t want to change my life 180 degrees because of proofs.

Strangely, many other guys I knew either liked the proofs or didn’t care one way or the other. They became frum after Aish (and I mean very frum). My cousins are examples of this.

Still, many of us stand around these blogs and try to get at some final truth on these points.

It’s all pretty sad, pretty hard. It kills me to hear from a Rabbi that Noah’s ark happened exactly as we read it. Part of me wants to just give up on Judaism, walk away, tell G-d I’m sorry, I can’t handle the difficulties. But I also read that we don’t have to see it as literal (though some rabbis say it is).

It would be good for there to be a real, dispassionate look at all of the proofs. Maybe some get a “B,” others a “C” and others a flat “F.”

Finally: when Garnel and Wolfish Musings really deride the proofs (I suppose they are including the Jewish history as fulfillment of prophecy proofs too?) – I do want to know: is none of this stuff Discovery talks about have any substance to it?

If not, in what ways is Judaism true – so true that we MUST take it seriously and live a life of mitzvoth? Go to yeshiva, eat strictly kosher, keep a real Shabbos?

I think the proofs are terrible ways to get there – and I think most don’t get to be frum from proofs.

But what are we doing? Are we to spend our lives going back and forth on this stuff? Or listening to many frum people who insist on Jewish truth that is objectively real, and others who roll their eyes?

The question of “why be Jewish?” is asked every day. What the heck is the answer now? What will the answer be tomorrow? It is scary to contemplate being so deeply involved in Judaism.

And what happens if in 229 years nothing happens and the world does not go topsy turvey and moshiach does not arrive?

I’m done…!

Tuvia

Yitz Waxman said...

baruch pelta isn't a frum person of inegrity

Yes, Baruch is not frum. I don't see any indication that he lacks integrity.

Unfortunately, the gist of the posting emphasizes the lack of correlation between one thing and the other.

David said...

Good post, Garnel. You can feel free to use me as an example in demonstrating your point... I got "Aish'd" at a time when I was looking for "answers" and finding Conservative Judaism's "anything goes" ideas somewhat frustrating. I admired what I perceived to be the integrity of Orthodoxy, and went with it... a few years later, I pretty much figured out what you wrote in this post. I'm not sure how, in light of that, you maintain your beliefs, but mine pretty much fizzled, along with my respect for the leaders of this tribe.

YGB said...

What does it mean to be "Aish'd?" A whole lot of bashing is going on here with lots of heat and little light.

Garnel Ironheart said...

1) T, I may disagree with much of what Baruch thinks nowadays but my belief that he's wrong about certain truths doesn't mean I have any questions about his integrity. As for a non-religious person using a Hebrew name, if you have complaints about that go tell Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, Yossi Beilin, Avidgor Leiberman, etc.
What, you thought only frummies speak Yiddish?
2)Anonymous, when you say "(I suppose they are including the Jewish history as fulfillment of prophecy proofs too?" I say chas v'shalom. We are living in a time when prophecies are unfolding around us. Ironically many in the Aish camp refuse to see that because that would mean that the current state of Israel is actually part of God's plan for history and therefore an obligation to support.
3) As for the Purim thing, not to go off on a tangent but there is excellent historical proof for the story. You just have to remember that when you're reading the Megilla you're reading it from a Jew-centric point of view that assumes that the whole world has nothing else to do but pay attention to us while secular historians might not have found Haman's machinations, especially as they were so quickly overturned, worthy of mention. In addition we like to boast about how Ester was THE queen when Artaxerxes had a couple dozen, one in each of his main cities. So sorry but Purim did happen.
4)"And what happens if in 229 years nothing happens" then we counted wrong. There's good evidence we've been counting wrong for millenia but we had to draw up a consensus at some point.
5)"I'm not sure how, in light of that, you maintain your beliefs" My beliefs are based on faith and trust, not superficial proofs.
6)Getting Aish'd means becoming frum but basing your frumness entirely on what Aish teaches you at a Discovery seminar and assuming it is the entire truth of Judaism and sum total of official opinions.

David said...

Garnel,
If your beliefs are based in faith and trust, does that mean (as in Gottlieb's case) that evidence to the contrary is simply inadmissible? I believe you once suggested something to that effect...
Alternately, are your beliefs subject to reconsideration if contradicted by evidence?

David said...

YGB--
I'm not sure I'd have defined "Aish'd" exactly as Garnel did (I was aware that other views existed), but it's close enough that I won't quibble.
As to "heat" v. "light," I understand your point (the purpose of my post was not a detailed analysis of my so-called spiritual journey, nor a point-by-point refutation of the stuff they taught at Aish). In a nutshell, Garnel's point (and mine) is that the Kuzari proof and the various tricky stuff that's presented (Torah codes, lettering in the Book of Esther, etc.) is clever, but does not stand up very well to close scrutiny. Since Aish (understandably, I acknowledge) presents a rather one-sided argument, many people who buy into the philosophy find themselves hurt and even resentful when, later on in life, they cannot sustain a belief that was created by gimmicks.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> evidence to the contrary is simply inadmissible?

Not at all. A dispassionate study of archeology supports much of the Bible. A dispassionate study of the Torah supports a unified author living at the time of the Exodus. Even atheoskeptics will admit, once you push them enough, that their best arguments are based on the "absence of proof is proof of absence" assumption along with suppositions, guesses and pretermined conclusions.

> Alternately, are your beliefs subject to reconsideration if contradicted by evidence?

Sure, but like I said, I've not seen any.

See David, one problem with discussions in this field is that each side comes at it with a religious ferocity, for lack of a better term. Religious folks can't understand why the atheoskeptics don't believe and the atheoskeptics see religious folks as fools who haven't seen the light. That's why these talks never go anywhere.

Your final point to YGB is also very important. It's important that people become shomer mitzvos, sure, but bringing them into Torah with a framework that can't withstand free discussion is a recipe for future disaster. Yes, Aish probably does valuable work but the Judaism they present is far more simplistic than the real thing.

Baruch Pelta said...

Even atheoskeptics will admit, once you push them enough, that their best arguments are based on the "absence of proof is proof of absence" assumption along with suppositions, guesses and pretermined conclusions.
I can't speak for every atheoskeptic, but as an atheoskeptic who has argued with Garnel about this stuff (over at my blog in the main), I certainly don't look at things that way. I think a better characterization of the atheist position than "absence of proof is proof of absence" is "that which is asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

Garnel Ironheart said...

Ah but what's considered without evidence?
We have good evidence that as early as 2300 years ago there was a well-established tradition that the Jewish people had originated in Egypt, received the Torah at Sinai and subsequently moved to Israel. Older records from surrounding civilizations do not contradict this in any way. We presume our assumptions are based on the fact of Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah. The continuity of Jewish history since then supports such an assumption. Where's the contradictory evidence because, in the presence of such an established tradition the burden of proof is on the denier.

Baruch Pelta said...

A well-established tradition doesn't really mean anything, as we've established in the cases of multiple other cultures, dead and alive. If you mean what Gottlieb calls a National Experiential Tradition, I addressed that in the link I referred to earlier.

The fact that we're still around is pretty cool, but it isn't evidence of anything. In fact, precisely what is so cool is how we're still around after so much hester panim.


Anyways, if we're discussing the Bible's account on its own terms, the idea that this massive influx of Jews entered Israel is archaeologically unsound (even religio-nonskeptics like R' David Wolpe and R' Gil Student admit that; see eg http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx ). Moreover, the Bible's account is clearly influenced by the Epic of Gilgamesh. While the Bible's talking about the global flood which other cultures also believed in, it just never happened.

Garnel Ironheart said...

1) Actually there's good archeological evidence of an influx of Israelites right around the time the Bible says it happened. The problem is not the existence of an Israelite invasion. The problem is that the Torah's population numbers don't match what was known about populations at that time. However, it's very clear that there was a period right around when we say it was that the population of central Israel jumped exponentially along with the appearance of non-Canaanite pottery in large numbers. Considering that Joshua describes the Israelites entering Israel but only really settling in the middle of the country and down towards the souther Jordan valley, this is remarkably consistent.
As for the Epic of Gilgamesh, Rav Hertz in his classic Chumash commentary clearly demolishes the argument by concluding that the only real idea they had in common was a global flood. Whoopee.
At any rate, what's interesting about that is how cultures across the ancient near east all the way to the far east have a variant on the flood tradition, almost as if one just might have happened on a large scale...

Baruch Pelta said...

Here's what I wrote:
Anyways, if we're discussing the Bible's account on its own terms, the idea that this massive influx of Jews entered Israel is archaeologically unsound (even religio-nonskeptics like R' David Wolpe and R' Gil Student admit that; see eg http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx )
I stand by my previous assertion and haven't seen evidence to the contrary. If there is evidence, I await seeing it.

As for the Epic of Gilgamesh, Rav Hertz in his classic Chumash commentary clearly demolishes the argument by concluding that the only real idea they had in common was a global flood. Whoopee.
Prima facie, that sounds ridiculous, although I'll admit I haven't seen that Hertz inside. Nothing in common? See http://www.religioustolerance.org/noah_com.htm . Heck, there were a lot of other flood myths which preceded the Torah (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html).

Garnel Ironheart said...

> I stand by my previous assertion

But your assertion is contradicted by the latest archeological evidence that there was a sudden increase in population that could only be explained by a mass migration. The only historical record of any migration into Israel during that time is ours. Done.

Go see the Hertz inside and you'll realize that the only thing in common between the two stories is:
1) Flood
2) One guy survives.
That's kind of like saying that The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant was ripped off from The Lord of the Rings because each book features
1) Reluctant hero
2) Ring of power he doesn't know how to use
Yet anyone who's read both will tell you that's all they have in common.
And yes, I said there was lots of flood myths and from civilizations large distances apart. I suggested that there may be an actual ancient event to account for that.

t said...

Yitz,tuvia wanted a frum person of integrity so i responded that pelta isn't that person at all.As for garnel,pelta is american not isralei,where they use hebrew name,unlike american jews.

t said...

Garnel,i'm sure if only the bible hadn written about a flood affecting mankind.Then sceptiks like pelta would say if there really was such an event the whole world would have written it down.Now that they did,they say everybody made it up!

Baruch Pelta said...

The point I was making was that there sure are a lot of flood stories which seem to be connected (even as they differ in various ways), thus making it seem the Bible's story is connected to earlier precedents.

I wasn't addressing the hypothetical point you tease out from the multiplicity of flood stories that the Deluge must have happened.

There are very good reasons to think there wasn't a global deluge (as religio-nonskeptics like Marc Shapiro have pointed out), so the point that the skeptic is just looking for reasons not to believe seems invalid:

http://kiruvawarenessnetwork.blogspot.com/2007/12/historical-and-scientific-scholarship.html

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-flood.html

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

> ,pelta is american not israeli

Like Noam Chomsky?

As for the deluge, one must keep in mind that, like ma'aseh Bereshis, a literal simplistic reading of the text is clearly not the most tenable way to understand what happened. Clearly there was, as described, a suspension of the natural order which means that a naturalistic approach will always misunderstand what happened.

> thus making it seem the Bible's story is connected to earlier precedents

The problem is that, unlike surrounding cultures, there are no really, really ancient copies of the Torah for obvious historical reasons. (Including that they wrote on stone and we wrote on parchment) Yes, Sumerian artifacts are a lot more ancient but that doesn't prove their story came first, only that older versions of their stories than ours have been discovered.

As for KiruvAwarenessNetwork, I lost respect for his approach when he reached the point where he concluded that UltraOrthodoxy is like Nazism.

Yitz Waxman said...

Rabbi Bechhofer -

I am still digesting the R' Kaplan z'l article (transcription) on the subject of the age of the universe. Thanks for posting the link.

I wonder why you find this article as the best approach?

YGB said...

As always, Rabbi Kaplan is honest, straightforward, unapologetic and brilliant. Kind of like Garnel... :-)

Anonymous said...

>>>> But your assertion is contradicted by the latest archeological evidence that there was a sudden increase in population that could only be explained by a mass migration.

Garnel, could you kindly link to something that supports this assertion. Thanks.

Yeshivish said...

R. Bechoffer, It seems to me that R. kaplan's approach only deals with the age of the universe and not with evolution.

Yitz Waxman said...

Rabbi Bechhofer,

It seems to me that Rav Kaplan's approach fits squarely into "2a - the universe is 15 billion years old and also created in six days".

Is this approach a tacit agreement to naturalistic evolution? It would thereby put it squarely outside of acceptable belief as dictated by our present day chareidi sages.

Nishma said...

In looking over this dialogue, the question to me seems to be: What are we really discussing? Is the question: how to best accomplish kiruv? or is the question: what is the corerct path to the emet haTorah? And then there may be the further question: how these two other questions relate to each other?

At some points within this discussion, the issue seemed to focus on the effect of kiruv and how well the approach of organizations such as Aish were working. To this there were responses ranging from that it did work or does work to the fact that to a large extent people become initially intrigued but then almost violently become anti-Orthodox rejecting these proofs for being so simplistic, with many possibilities in between. The evaluation of the whole process is based upon effect and the argument seems to be in this evaluation of effect, some saying that for the most part it is working while others arguing that in the end it doesn't work. It would all seem to come down to Kiruv.

At some points in this discussion, though, the issue seems to leave the realm of kiruv and enter the realm of Torah thought itself and the desire and need to know the truth to the best of our abilities. The question is not then what works but how we really should be approaching these questions with a recognition that what we may feel is the right approach is actually not the one that will be most successful in regard to kiruv. The call seems to be for the truth and not what works.

end of part 1 -- comment to continue

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Nishma said...

Part 2 - RBH

It is the distinction in these two paths that needs to be further articulated and investigated. Do we only ask these questions because of kiruv? If the answer to that is yes than the evaluation of these questions should be based on what works. If, though, we are to ask these questions because they are Torah questions that need to investigated and studied, then the answer actually should not depend on what works, in fact what works may lead us astray accepting that which should not be accepted.

In developing my organization Nishma, I found that much of what I was doing was taking questions found in the world of kiruv and trying to truly answer them as questions in learning, just for the sake of knowing Torah. For example, one of the classic questions that became a focus of Aish was: what is love? If you think about it, this is actually quite a good question and the way Aish presented the question really highlighted its importance. Afterall, why would someone be willing to mesh his/her life with another, sharing assets, based upon an emotion? Aish in answering this question with a focus on kiruv gave one defintion of love that, simply, would 'sell'. The question, more emphatically, was seen solely as a kiruv question and didn't really surface in the beit midrash (for other reasons as well). What I found, though, in taking this question as a serious question in learning was that there was actually variant viewpoints on the definition of love with major implications on certain hashkafic and halachic matters. The subject was really most complex, perhaps too complex to be presented in its entirety to a kiruv audience. But then comes the big question -- perhaps in the first stage of kiruv you need simplicity but isn't there also the need to deal with these questions within the complex Torah parameters that they deserve?

We have to get beyond the question of what works, both in the short term and the long term. Perhaps, actually, we have to start recognizing that there is a short term and long term in kiruv and what we really have to start doing is recognizing that what works in the short term to get someone in the door is not going to work in the long term when we also want the same person to be a thinking person within Torah. Then, such a preson has to integrate with a Torah world that actually should be sophisticated in its approach to these questions not because of kiruv but because of our obligation to understand Torah. Sadly that is often not the case, often because our concern for kiruv actually leads many of us to maintain the simplicity because that is what the new ba'al teshuva will understand (and then what is ensured that they will continue to only understand until 120)

The bottom line is that maybe simplicity works in the short term as a first stage but if, because its success at this level, we are satisfied to allow it to be the accepted approach beyond this first elementary stage we will suffer. There will be people leaving and leaving with a disgust for Orthodoxy. Sadly, also, the people staying, in accepting this simplicity, will lower the future standards of Torah on many levels. The greatest sadness, though, may be in what we do to Torah, allowing simplicity to take the place of the truth of Torah

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Yitz Waxman said...

RBH -

Well said. At the risk of over-simplification, any substantive division between "kiruv Torah" and "yeshivah Torah" constitutes a hidden agenda, which is a desecration of Torah.

Anonymous said...

My questions are these:

Are we actually permitted to see the universe as old?

Are we permitted to see evolution as possible and even likely given the fossils?

Are we permitted to see Adam and Eve as allegory, their story “written in the language of men?”

Are we permitted to see the mabul as allegory?

Are we permitted to see the Torah as having been fixed and edited over time at the very least, as at least some Talmud statements and Rabbinic statements over the centuries seem to suggest?

Finally, what prophecies that Aish trots out are bad proofs? What prophecies that Garnel reads as being fulfilled are good proofs?

And very finally, in matters of Daas Torah, can rabbaim (today and in the past) be in error? Can Chazal be in error?

Thanks for your answers,

Tuvia

YGB said...

In my opinion:

Are we actually permitted to see the universe as old?

Yes.

Are we permitted to see evolution as possible and even likely given the fossils?

Yes to the first part of the question; yes - but disagree with "likely" - to the second part of the question.

Are we permitted to see Adam and Eve as allegory, their story “written in the language of men?”

No.

Are we permitted to see the mabul as allegory?

No. But it need not be believed that it was global.

Are we permitted to see the Torah as having been fixed and edited over time at the very least, as at least some Talmud statements and Rabbinic statements over the centuries seem to suggest?

Too vague.

Finally, what prophecies that Aish trots out are bad proofs? What prophecies that Garnel reads as being fulfilled are good proofs?

Can't answer for him :-)

And very finally, in matters of Daas Torah, can rabbaim (today and in the past) be in error? Can Chazal be in error?

Yes and yes.

Baruch Pelta said...

Tuvia, even a kofer like me can tell you the very simple answer to all those questions (with the possible exception of "are we permitted to see the Torah as having been fixed and edited over time," if you mean anything more than the rishonim Marc Shapiro quotes in Limits of Orthodox Theology maintained): It's a machlokes! :)

Yitz Waxman said...

(1) The universe existed 15 billion years.

(2) 6,000 years ago G-d literally breathed breath into Adam haRishon, who was formed directly from dust.

I have trouble accepting both of these. If one accepts (2), then it seems to me that young earth creationism is far superior. IOW, if we are obligated on (2), we didn't gain much by being granted the right to believe in (1).

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Rav YGB,

> Are we permitted to see the mabul as allegory?

> No. But it need not be believed that it was global

Yet Rav Hirsch, zt"l, uses his grammatical approach to conclude that the flood was not one of water but of an unspecified type of destruction. No, the floor was not an allegory but one must consider that it was not simply a lot of water in one place all at once either. Clearly something happened during that time that we simply can't conceive.

Anonymous said...

Answers were almost what I expected. Thank you for them.

Would be nice if Garnel Ironheart would share his own proofs of Torah from Mt. Sinai.

I always believed in G-d, even when terrible things happened.

After ten months at Aish, very difficult time dealing with both G-d and Judaism.

Arguing whether Noah’s ark is real with grown men is just depressing. Doing it with Jews is even more depressing. I would prefer to have those kinds of talks with fundamentalist Christians.

Hearing proofs of G-d is actually one good way to lose your belief in G-d. Having been hammered by Jewish thought, the ikkurim, Jewish practice I now say: I accept the idea of G-d. Kind of miss my younger self’s quiet, unspoken belief.

Two ideas I have:

First, the rabbaim, the sages had/have one larger goal: keep belief high, keep Judaism alive.
I believe that if emmes ever conflicted with emunah, the sages and the rabbis went with whatever kept emunah higher. The Mesorah is built with this in mind.

To make it impervious to criticism, we are commanded to accept that our sages are on a higher plane than us and we therefore cannot really (in orthodoxy) refute them.

Second idea:

As Jews, we have thoughts about Judaism and beliefs about Judaism. And Judaism can go on, even if they are in conflict.

We have thoughts about our mesorah, about Torah, about Jewish history that could hurt our belief in Judaism. These thoughts do not go away. They are just collected and sit there.

We also have a desire to believe – to keep Judaism alive, to be Jewish, to embrace ritual and Torah Judaism, and Jewish thinking.

Judaism remains possible because we are able to do both. A lame illustration of this in the secular world is when we go to a horror movie. We get frightened and enjoy the suspense (akin to belief), but we know we are sitting in a theater and munching on popcorn and are safe from the monster on the screen (akin to thinking).

Actually, in the movie industry, they call the film experience “suspended disbelief.” We don’t quite believe the horror movie, but we gain something from immersing ourselves in it. This is called suspending disbelief.

All religion will survive modernity because of this.

Any thoughts?

Tuvia

Anonymous said...

For RYGB:

The link for Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's speech does not work: (http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/the-age-of-the-universe---a-torah-true-perspective/11191032?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/2)

Perhaps you have another link to this lecture?

Yitz Waxman said...

try this link for the Rabbi Kaplan transcript