Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Another Closed Minded Individual

I'm always amazed by how Rav Natan Slifkin is inspire so many people to take a vehement and aggressive stand on his beliefs.  How many guys out there can claim to have been the reason for not one, not two, but three blogs whose very existence is based on attacking him?
(In response to Rav Kornreich's request, I will note that there are currently only two blogs dedicated to attacking Rav Slifkin.  However he will likely acknowledge that his first blog was dedicated as well before being "splintered off" so perhaps one might say "there have been three blogs...")
The latest, the one belonging to Rav Simcha Coffer, exemplifies what is wrong with the anti-Slifkin approach and why it fails to appeal to anyone outside a specific part of the Orthodox community.  Let's start with the masthead:
Laypeople tend to exalt scientists as being the model of rationality just because they are scientists or have published in the scientific literature
This is generally untrue.  In fact, other than a few celebrities like Stephen Hawking, most scientists toil in obscurity outside their immediate circles.  Quick, name me a scientist working on the Hadron acceleration in Europe without using Google.  Go on, who's the most prominent biologist at Yale University? 
In fact, laypeople tend to exalt science because it is based on the rational scientific method and, by extension, trust scientists when they present the results of their experiments because they assume that method has been used to produce those results.  Furthermore, there is very little exaltation involved, other than at awards ceremonies.  Most dedicated scientists don't have very active social lives and rarely step out to look for adulation from non-existent adoring crowds.  I did biology research in undergrad so trust me, I know.
Rav Coffer then follows up with this statement, obviously missing the irony of what he's written:
 Let them prove their case. Examine, test, reason, and question. Are they being open about untested assumptions. Are they careful to distinguish between data and interpretations of the data? 
Yes, absolutely. That's the entire point of the scientific method.  No scientist goes in front of his peers and announces "I've found the cure for cancer and no, I'm not showing you the data!"  Take a look, for instance, at the controversy surrounding Dr. Paolo Zamboni (no really, that's his last name!) and his "liberation" procedure for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. There are currently two fights going on over this procedure.  The one being waged in the popular press can be safely ignored as it is there only for its sensationalist value.  However, the fight in the genuine scientific community over its efficacy, safety and whether is qualifies for funding through government health systems is exactly what Rav Coffer challenges science to do.  No one is taking Dr. Zamboni's personal testimonials about how the procedure cured his wife as authoritative.  Scientists want data, raw hard data before they'll issue their conclusions and those conclusions will have to be presented with specific analysis of the data and how they drew those conclusions from them.  Does Rav Coffer not know how the scientific method works?  Is he so ignorant of science that he's prepared to make such outrageous statements?
Rav Coffer's most recent post, dealing with Rav Slifkin's own post on a posek who became Orthoprax after being exposed to the secular world, is also full of incoherent and slanderous statements.  For example:
 The gemara in Chagiga (15b) relates that the great sage Elisha ben Avuya went off the derech because he was influenced by Greek culture 
While this is true, it must also be noted that the Gemara gives a handful of other reasons that Acher went off the derech.  Who is to say that the reason Rav Coffer brought is the pivotal one?  Who is to say that in the absence of the others that Acher would have not stayed frum?
Secular books are, for the most part, anti-Torah; they contain the attitudes of the gentile nations which are diametrically opposed to the attitude of the Torah.
This statement makes no sense.  The term "secular books" has such a wide meaning as to be essentially meaningless in the way Rav Coffer uses it.  Are math books anti-Torah?  Are physics books anti-Torah?  How about children's books that teach moral lessons?  It is not reasonable to make such a sweeping statement and expect anyone rational to take it seriously.  
One might respond that the rational crowd is not the one Rav Coffer is speaking to but that's not accurate either.  Consider his advice for the potential rationalist:
I guess that depends. If these people are vocal with their doubts, if they routinely undermine our mesorah and its torchbearers in public venues, then yes, they should be vilified. If they maintain private doubts, then no, we should not be hostile towards them. Rather we should enjoin them to seek assistance from competent individuals. Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz
Rav Avigdor Miller was a pillar of the Torah community during his life with tremendous conviction and passion for Torah Judaism.  He was an inspirational and fiery orator as well as a first rate talmid chacham.  He was also vitriolic and venomous against anyone and any opinion that deviated from his narrow vision of what proper Torah observance should be.  His "it's my way or you're just another stinkin' kofer" approach to complex issues is not one that might inspire people with genuine questions about serious issues in Judaism.
To return to the subject of the recent post, Rav Coffer then concludes by doing what he accuses scientists of doing in the masthead of his point.  Consider these two statements:
A conference on evolution is populated one hundred percent by atheists, Bible critics, and every other form of human degradation. Everyone there is no doubt an avowed enemy of Hashem and His Torah.

Does Rav Coffer have any evidence to back up these contentions?  Has he ever attended a conference on evolution to see if his accusations are accurate?  He is maligning tens of thousands of people.  What does he have to back himself up other than a well-developed sense of self-righteousness?  What about frum scientists who work to understand how evolution is compatible with what the Torah tells us about the creation of the world or who toil in other branches of science?  Are they really secretly kofrim because they disagree with him?  Is it the way of Torah to attack people like this just because they don't hold by his specific approach to Torah?
It is clear that Rav Coffer's approach to science is one guided not by Torah, despite his protestations, but by hatred.  As Chazal tell us, hatred makes a personal irrational.  How else to explain this statement?

If an innocent ben-Torah makes the tragic mistake of attending a conference on evolution, it is like attending a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined! He would have been better off visiting a house of ill repute!

So not pedophile yehiva rebbes.  Not financial scam artists.  Not illegal body part/organ traders.  No, evolution is so awful that learning about it is worse than committing two of the three cardinal signs in Jewish law: arayos and avodah zarah.  Astounding!
Each post on the blog seems to be the same: My way of understanding the gemara is the only proper way.  If you disagree with me, you're wrong.  Slifkin!  Slifkin! Slifkin!  Oy that Slifkin!
I don't agree with Rav Slifkin on everything he says but, on the other hand, I recognize that he has a consistent approach that generates his statements and that he always is careful to use proper sources to back them him.  Perhaps this is frustrating for the "do as we say and otherwise shut up" crowd that Rav Coffer seems to be representing but that does not change the legitimacy of many of his positions.
It is one thing to disagree with someone, quite another to first conclude that one's opponent is wrong and then shower selective gemaras and slanderous statements on that opponent to support that conclusion.  Perhaps Rav Coffer would be taken more seriously by the rationalist crowd if he were to use a scientific method-type approach in his opposition to Rav Slifkin.


Menachem Lipkin said...

Excellent, excellent post. The Coffer's of the world do little to defend God and His Torah and much to drive away sincere, yet intelligent Jews. How sad.

Dovid Kornreich (Dr. Jekyll) said...

I think the post needs correction.
I splintered my original blog into two in order to devote ONE to bashing Slifkin's theology. I never maintained two blogs for that purpose.
So there are only a total of TWO blogs devoted to Slifkin--one of mine and one of Rabbi Coffer's.

Josh said...

The way the good rabbi sees it, you're either a Coffer or a kofer.

Anonymous said...

1) Assuming you acknowledge the reality that the overwhelming majority of gedolim, including YU Roshei Yeshiva like R' A. Soloveitchik and R' Tendler (in fact, I am hard pressed in fact the think of any gadol on record as not holding this way) reject the theory of evolution as incompatible with Torah, do I read you as correctly as tossing out their opinion in favor of that of frum scientists who hold otherwise?

2) How do you define what views lie outside the boundaries of Orthodoxy if not based on what the majority of rabbis hold?

3) It can be argued that gedolim are not experts in science and therefore their views on this matter are suspect. If we grant this argument, how do you respond to the counter claim that "frum" scientists do not have nearly the same expertise in Torah as gedolim and therefore their interpretation of Torah is suspect?

Observer said...

Anonymous - the Gedolim's greater expertise in Shas and Poskim (according to the Litvisher derech) is irrelevant to these things, which depend much more on overall derech. The Gedolim follow a very recent derech, whereas the frum scientists follow that of many of the Rishonim.

Shades of Grey said...

Anonymous: and there are YU Gedolim like Rav Schachter who believed 6 years ago that there was nothing wrong with Rabbi Slifkin's original banned books and told us that the gedolim who wrote the bans were mislead by holier than thou askonim - and he was right.

As usual, great post!

Experimental Knitter said...

Excellent post.

David said...

Good post.
Kofer that I am, I can't agree with R' Slifkin on everything (or even most things) but I genuinely admire his willingness to stand up and take his best shot at reconciling Judaism with reality and reason.
In the end, I am convinced that the Simcha Coffers of the world have considered Slifkin's approach, and rejected it only because they know that their answers are not as good as the questions.

Dovid Kornreich (Dr. Jekyll) said...

Thanks for making the clarification, Garnel.
I appreciate your responsiveness.

Shadesof said...

R. Tendler on evolution:

-Shades of Gray

Bob Miller said...

" fails to appeal to anyone outside a specific part of the Orthodox community."

The community of people who know the score about a given issue is often small, even elite.