My thoughts on the Slifkin ban.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Big Machlokes

I've been too busy to post to my blog, but just like everyone has room for Jello, everyone has time for Purim Torah. To the best of my estimation, GodolHador has also been too busy to post to his blog, so he's decided to do Purim Torah all year round. No doubt he's modeling himself after “The Godolim” who write those silly bans, but I get ahead of myself, even if this is a week late.

Perhaps the biggest question that has bothered me about the Rabbi Slifkin ban, is what is the Halachic status of those who agree with his books. What makes this problem especially troublesome for me is that I was always taught that “Nebech an Apikores is an Apikores”. Rav Yaakov Weinberg ZT'L always stressed this point, and lihavdil (Yiftach bedoro KiShmuel bedoro), the current Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, Rav Feldman paskened the same way. He wrote:
Even though their belief is inadvertent (“shogeg”), it is already well known (from Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk z”l) that one who holds an opinion of non-belief (“apikorsus”) inadvertently is considered a non-believer nonetheless. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his work “Igros Moshe” (Orech Chaim, Vol 4, section 91 para. 6) draws the same conclusion.

Now once that is the case, to say Rabbi Slifkin's books are Kefirah is to create the greatest Halachic nightmare of our generation. A brisker or a talmid of Rav Moshe who feels the need to pasken like Rav Elyshav would have no choice but to be completely porush from the frum community, since he has no way of knowing which of them are Minim. Now some may view that as a good thing. The problem is that a porush min hatzibur is also ein lo chelek! Talk about “Damned if you do, damned if you don't”!

We therefore need to go back the original Machlokes between the Rambam and the Raavad on whether an inadvertent heretic is a heretic or not. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik famously gave up trying to understand the Raavad's lenient position, but that's because he limited himself to true lomdus. He assumed Raavad's position had to make sense. I however have a much simpler explanation. According to the Rambam, there are certain fundamental ideas which someone must have in order to have a relationship with Hashem in the next world. The reason why someone doesn't have that knowledge is irrelevant. Without it, he ceases to exist after his death. According to the Raavad, believing in heresy is simply a very very bad sin – so bad that you lose your entire chelek for violating it. However, if someone violates by accident, but was actually motivated LeShem Shomayim based on a mistaken understanding of Torah, the sin simply doesn't rise to the level of the heresy.

Now based on this chakira, it is clear that those who follow Rav Elyashiv's psak on Rabbi Slifkin have no reason to worry about the Rambam's position altogether. Rav Elyashiv's psak that Rabbi Slifkin's books are kefirah would only make sense according to the Shitah of the Raavad. Saying that Chazal made mistakes in science and either misunderstood or failed to properly transmit the pshat of 6 days = 13.5 billion years can only be kefirah is you say kefirah is simply a very very terrible and sinful thing to say. According to the Rambam's view that Kefirah means that one who holds of such a thing can have no relationship with Hashem in the next world, such positions can't possibly be Kefirah. It's not just that the Rambam paskens those views are not Kefirah. According to the Rambam (and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe), it is impossible and beyond absurd to even consider the possilbity of them being Kefirah. If anything, they are the antithesis of Kefirah.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to people, for every Kula can be a Chumra, and every Chumra can be a Kula. Chazon Ish shiurim are painful on Pesach, but very convenient for sick people on Yom Kippur. The knife always cuts both ways.

We can now answer another difficult question. Can something true be Kefirah? According to the Rambam, the answer if of course not. How can true knowledge keep one away from Hashem in the next world. To the contrary – it would deepen his relationship to Hashem. According to the Raavad though, the knowledge may be true, but it can be a terrible sin to think and believe such a thing. Take for example Hirhurim - no not that kind, the dirty kind. The type that pop into your head when you repeat the name “Jessica Alba”. [Halachic warning! For those of you who've seen here – especially in person – it's completely assur to repeat her name.] (To dark blue shaitel, of course you're more gorgeous than her, but you're even more tzanua than Sarah Emeinu so I had to use another example.) Hirhurim can be true, but they still can assur to think about. A person may have true desires, but thinking about them can be a terrible aveira.

For who think that this pshat is a bit far-fetched, you should know that of all the words Rav Elyashiv used to describe Rabbi Slifkin's books, he never called them Sheker. How could he? The evidence is overwhelmingly in their favor. He may not believe it, but he never went so far as to say that they are Sheker. He rather said that “they can say such things, but we can't.” In other words, the Rambam may very well have been right to say that Chazal made scientific errors. However, for us to say such a things would be such a terrible sin that it falls under the category of Kefirah.

It seems to me that the best policy is to be machmir according to both Shitos. With things that fall under the Ramabm's definition of Kefirah, such a belief in a physical G-d, you should be machmir to treat the inadvertent heresy as real heresy. However, with true statements that current Godolim think are bad for people to think about, you shouldn't be maikel like the Rambam and believe in them, but rather be machmir like the Raavad and include them in the category of Kefirah. However, to treat a Raavad low-level kefirah statement as a Rambam high-level kefirah statement is to undermine the whole basis of the machlokes, which means that you aren't paskening like either one of them.

Of course many people like to choose one side of each machlokes, the same way as they only root for one side during a ballgame. In that case, the next time someone asks how could you say such kefiradikah thing such as “Chazal didn't fully transmit the truth about the 6 days”, tell them “I'm machmir – like the Rambam. Only those who are crazy maikel like the Raavad and are willing to accept sevaros that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik rejected as absurd would be bothered by such a problem. If you want to be maikel fine, but please don't prevent me from being machmir in this most important area."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Is Rabbi Slifkin a heretic?

Perhaps the single most important Halachic question in the controversy over Rabbi Slifkin's books is what is the Halachic status of Rabbi Slifkin and the many who agree with his books? For if his books are in fact heresy, it would seem to follow that who agree with them are heretics. The ramifications of such a psak are simply mind boggling. Even if those who agree with the books are safek kofrim, the implication would wreak havoc on the daily lives of every frum Jew.

The basic source to be lenient is the well known Raivad in his hasagos to the Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 3:7. The Rambam writes that one who believes in a Corporeal G-d is a Min. The Raivad argues and says that you shouldn't call such a person a Min since there were those who were greater and better than the Rambam who believed such things because of what they saw in Tanach, and even more so because of what they saw in the Aggados which corrupt people's minds. (Note to self – don't corrupt your mind by mistakenly taking things literally.) The Kesef Mishnah is not happy with that Girsa, for how could the Raivad had used the words “Great and Better” than the Rmbam to refer to someone who believes in a Physical G-d?! The Kesef Mishnah therefore brings down a Girsa which says “Even though the fundamental belief is like that, one who believes G-d has a body because he took the language of the Pesukim and Midrashim literally is not worthy of being called a Min”.

There is a well known Rav Chaim Brisk on this Machlokes. As everyone knows, Rav Chaim was famous for finding the fundamental premises underlying the positions of the Rishonim. Rather than trying to prove one particular side of a debate was correct, he would create a framework to show how both sides had a coherent and rational position. His deep understanding of every side of an issue sometimes made it very difficult for him to pasken, for he was loathe to reject shitos which had so much merit to them. It is therefore very striking that in this case Rav Chaim said, “I don't understand the Raivad. Nebech an Apikores is still an Apikores”. Whatever psychological or epistemological excuses you may give, this person believes in a being other than G-d. Now without a doubt Rav Chaim was able to come up with creative explanations for the Raivad's position. However, he wasn't able to come up with one that he considered to be worthy of the Raivad. A sevara is not just a technical answer - it has to make sense. Rav Chaim was unable to come up with an explanation of the Raivad that made sense.

It therefore follows that for those who hold like Rav Chaim that inadvertent heretics are considered heretics, the ramification of saying Rabbi Slifkin's books are kefirah would be scary beyond belief. This would pose such an emergency to our Halachic way of life that we should literally stop everything and not touch another sugya until a solution was found. For the many Briskers out there, this should be their highest priority.

How about the rest of us though? We didn't all learn in Brisker Yeshivos, and even those of us who did don't necessarily need to follow every psak of Rav Chaim. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I quote to you this letter written by Rav Aharon Feldman and sent to Rabbi Gil Student. (Please go to the 11th entry of Moshiach Talk to read the full letter.)

In my humble opinion, the belief of the elokistim runs counter to one of the thirteen principles of faith and indeed the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva) rules that (such people) are in the category of heretics (“minim”). Therefore, their shechita and testimony (including that relating to kashrus) are invalid and one may not include them in a minyan. Even though their belief is inadvertent (“shogeg”), it is already well known (from Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk z”l) that one who holds an opinion of non-belief (“apikorsus”) inadvertently is considered a non-believer nonetheless. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his work “Igros Moshe” (Orech Chaim, Vol 4, section 91 para. 6) draws the same conclusion.

Thanks to Rav Aharon Feldman's bekius we see that Rav Moshe Feinstein paskens that an inadvertent heretic is a heretic. If there ever was a Posek Acharon here in America, it was without a doubt Rav Moshe Feinstein. For those concerned about Posek Acharon, it seems that by default you should follow Rav Moshe's psak until you specifically hear from your Rav otherwise. Now we don't know conclusively if Rav Moshe himself would have considered Rabbi Slifkin's books to be Kefirah. There is a debate between his son and his son-in-law on the books, with each of them on the opposite side of the spectrum. I'm would not be surprised though if they both would agree that if the books are in fact Kefirah, those who agree with them are therefore Kofrim, with all the halachic ramifications that follow.

Since there is a large segment of the frum community who follow the psak of the Rambam, Rav Chaim, and Rav Moshe in this area, it seems we have by far the most urgent Halachic emergency of our lifetime. Now a devil's advocate may say that the Gedolim only paskened the books are Kefirah for whose who held inadvertent heretics are not heretics. For those who consider inadvertent heretics to be heretics, they didn't pasken the books are kefirah. To even say such a thing is to leave the world of sevara and join Alice in Wonderland. For the countless people who pasken like Rav Moshe, to even be choshesh that Rav Dovid Feinstein is correct and the books are Kefirah leads to the most frightening shaylos imaginable.

The problem though is even worse than that. If you recall the language of the Raivad above, and especially the Girsa approved by the Kesef Mishnah, not all inadvertent heretics are exempt from Halachic consequences of their beliefs. The Raivad only said the Halachic system forgave them because they took the Pesukim and the words of Chazal at face value. It doesn't necessarily follow that one who mistakenly believes in Kefirah because of scientific evidence would be similarly excused. In fact, Rav Feldman on page 4 of his article makes a similar point. Interpretations which have no basis in the Written or Oral Torah and which contradict the tradition of the Midrashim and the commentaries are perversions of Torah ideas and may be classified as megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha (distorted interpretations of the Torah) which are forbidden to study. The third perek in Pirkei Avos says about one who is megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha that “even if he has Torah and Good deeds, he has no chelek in Olam Habah”. Even if everyone paskened like the Raivad, it may not be enough to save Rabbi Slifkin and his many followers.

The basic Halachic sources indicate we have an unparalleled Halachic nightmare here. However, you don't even need to open a sefer to see that there are those who pasken Rabbi Slifkin is a heretic. There were several well known and respected Rabbonim who slandered Rabbi Slifkin and accused him of things which simply weren't true. Now the Halacha in such a case is very clear. Anyone who publicly maligns someone must publicly ask for forgiveness. (While the Chafetz Chaim argued with Rabbeinu Yonah and said if the person didn't know you spoke badly about him, you shouldn't ask for forgiveness if doing so will make him aware of the lashon harah, in this case though the pronouncements were well known, and Rabbi Slifkin surely knew about them for he has written a beautiful rebuttal of them.) Aside for asking Mechila for themselves, these Rabbonim need to publicly ask Mechila for another reason as well. Through their libel they caused their many followers to be violate Issurei Deoraisah, and their followers must also ask for forgiveness, espcecially with the month of Elul coming up! Since this is a case of Machti Es HaRabbim, it is of utmost importance to rectify the problem right away. Yet we see that many of these prominent Rabbonim did no such thing. How could this be? The simplest explanation is that they pasken Rabbi Slifkin in a heretic, and therefore the libel that they spoke against him doesn't pose a Halachic problem.

Twenty three Gedolim signed a letter calling Rabbi Slifkin a Min. All I've heard so far is one unconfirmed account that one of these Gedolim said he didn't mean to call him a Min – but his books are Kefirah. That still leaves twenty two Gedolim who have yet to publicly retract their statement calling Rabbi Slifkin a Min, and even according to the one who did, if you pasken like the Rambam, Rav Chaim, or the “Posek Acharon in America” Rav Moshe, you still must consider him a Min. Now I must admit I try not to follow the rumor mill about how one of the Gedolim who signed the ban appeared to one of his Talmidim in a dream and said “Only an idiot would take a Kol Korei literally! The only thing stupider than that would be to take the first Perek of Biraishis literally!” If there are Gedolim who have publicly retracted their signatures or modified their statements, I haven't heard of it. (If anyone has information on this, please email me.) However, even if only one of the Gedolim still stands by the heresy charge, it creates Halachic nightmares beyond belief. There are many questions people have about the ban. Surely among the most perplexing though is why aren't the Gedolim acting on the ramifications of their own words and teaching us how to live in the a world where much of (if not most of) the frum world are posul for the most basic Halachic functions.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Yeridos HaDoros vs. Scientific Progress

I'm sorry for not posting sooner. There is a lot to discuss, but I've been very busy and haven't had the time to give these topics the justice they deserve. For starters, there have been some excellent comments left here, some of which I intend to develop into full posts. (I've always received excellent feedback via email, but it seems more and more people are leaving intelligent comments for all to see.) I also have several important posts in the works, a few of which I have even alluded to in my blog.

However, since I only have time for a brief post now, I'd thought I'd ask a classic question that I recently discussed with someone.

Anyone who learns is constantly amazed at how deep an understanding of Torah the previous generations had. The previous generations in turn felt the same away about their predecessors. And the situation was always that way. There are statements in Chazal of how much more the previous generations knew than they did. It therefore seems extraordinarily safe to say that the sum knowledge of Torah that we have today is but a tiny fraction of what existed at the time of Mattan Torah. Yeridos HaDoros at work.

With science however the opposite phenomenon is at work. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generations and so our knowledge of science grows and grows. It is true that the situation wasn't always that way. One could argue that scientific progress went on very long vacation from the ancient Greeks all the way to the Renaissance. Since the advent of the scientific revolution though not only has the sum total of scientific knowledge been growing, but you can even make a strong case that the rate of growth is increasing.

Each of these points is somewhat self evident, but when you put them together it leads to a disturbing conclusion. When Torah was first given it represented at a bare minimum a very large part of the sum total of human knowledge. When you think about what the competition was, and how abstract and broad Torah is, I think it very safe to say that Torah was the overwhelming majority of mankind's knowledge. However, since then the percentage of mankind's knowledge which consists of Torah has been declining. Even if we could somehow stop Yereidos HaDoros, the progress of science alone would mean the Torah represents a smaller percentage of mankind's knowledge each year. This may lead some to conclude that Torah is Chas V'Shalom becoming less relevant to our lives, as it consists of a smaller and smaller percentage of the totality of what we know.

There are several ways of dealing with this question, depending on your Hashkafic point of view. I didn't have time for a full post, so I thought I'd throw out this question and learn more about the people who email me and comment here. In general, I try to only bring up Hashkafic points on this blog if I feel they have relevance to the Slifkin ban. Even though this post is a slight detour, it is no exception in that regard. Try to see how each side of the Slifkin debate would answer it, but don't let that one issue color your answer. The best answer emailed to me will receive bragging rights.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Battle Tested Hashkafah

When choosing between competing philosophical truths, it can be almost unseemly to consider the practical ramifications of each. After all, surely Truth is more important than whatever real life consequences happens to follow from it. We see though that time and time again people consider real life ramifications when they are engaged in philosophical debate. For example, there is a long running debate on whether free-will is real or merely an illusion because everything is predetermined. Even the determinists may agree though that the belief in free-will plays a useful role in getting people to live productive lives. While it may be a fiction, and one people are determined to believe in at that, it is still a useful fiction for without it no one would feel the urge to do anything. The practical real life ramifications of the two belief systems is itself one reason who many people choose to believe in free will – or so they tell themselves.

Some of the classic arguments in favor of G-d also make use of such a device. What type of world would you rather live in, one created with a purpose in which our actions matter, or a purposeless one in which nothing truly matters and morality as we conceive it is merely a useful fantasy? (I seem to think that some of those arguments have more merit than my fellow bloggers do, but that will be for a later post.) It is even used as a kiruv device. In elementary school one of my rebbeim told the class the story of the irreligious woman who enrolled her sons in Yeshiva, even though that required her to keep a kosher home and Shabbos, simply because of how much better behaved the Yeshiva bochrim were to the public school kids when walking to school in past her house each day. The beauty of Shabbos and other mitzvos are frequently used as reasons to become frum.

When dealing with the Slifkin ban, some of the pro-Ban forces have used such reasoning to support their position. For example, on page seven of his article Rav Feldman writes The Chazon Ish, considered by many to be the posek acharon (final Torah authority) for our times, writes in his “Letters” [Section I, Letter 15] that “our tradition” is that the shechita of someone who denies the truth of the Sages whether in the Halacha or Aggada (the non-halachic parts) of the Talmud is disqualified just as is someone who is a heretic. He adds that experience has shown that those who begin questioning the truth of the Sages will ultimately lose their future generations to Torah. [None of these opinions apply this approach to the words of the Rishonim or Acharonim; only to the Sages. They would not apply as well to passages in the Sages which are allegorical.] The argument that Chazon Ish used from experience is in no way a proof of whether Chazal made scientific errors or not. He is simply pointing out the dangers of such a belief – even if in truth the Rambam and those who agree with him about a fallible Chazal are correct. Now I have no doubt that the Chazon Ish was a shrewd observer of those around him, and therefore much thought much be given to what he reported.

However, we must also bear in mind a clear counter-example. Rav Hirsch held like the Rambam when it came to Chazal making errors, and not only did he not lose his own future generations to Torah, but he saved and actually built up a frum community that everyone had written off as doomed. When you read Rav Hirsch you are always struck by his fierce intellectual honesty and his commitment to truth. But surely he had strategic considerations in mind as well. Torah was being attacked on all sides, and Jews were abandoning it in droves. Rav Hirsch surely knew that is he claimed Chazal never made an error in any area whatsoever he would have been laughed out of Germany and have been unable to accomplish all that he did. One of the key steps to an effective defense is to limit the area vulnerable to attack. By conceding that Chazal may have made errors in science, Rav Hirsch was able to show how they still conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and how they were without equal when it come to their true area – understanding the Word of G-d.

The Chazon Ish and Rav Hirsch were living in different communities, and what would have beeb considered a statement of outright rebellion for an associate of the former – that Chazal may have been extraordinary in morality and theology, but were frequently mistaken in science – would have been the ideal thing to say in the community of the latter, or in the community of the Rambam for that matter. When there has been a well respected science that was openly threatening the Torah community, the approach of the Rambam and Rav Hirsch has proven to be effective. Many of us would not be frum or even Jewish had that approach not been used. When the community hasn't been under attack by science, those who focus their energy on questioning Chazal's science were very possibly taking the first steps to doubting all that they wrote.

The question is which approach would be most effective for us today? I think it quite clear that the approach which has been battle tested for today's environment is the one which acknowledges that Chazal made scientific errors. We are much closer to Germany at the close of the 19th century than we are to Bnei Brak in the first half of the 20th century. We live in the most open society in all of history, and people are exposed to more ideas – both good and bad – than ever before. Science and technology are becoming more and more entwined in everything that we do, and with that is coming more and more respect for them. Those Rabbanim who say that Chazal knew all of modern science will simply be laughed at as the frum community becomes ever more knowledgeable in these areas. And even if there are still some communities which would gain from the infallible Chazal position (better grab them while you can), in no way should someone make blanket statements which would cripple those living in different communities. Imagine if the Rambam and Rav Hirsch had to contend with their communities seeing statements from the most prominent Rabbonim alive that it is heresy to doubt that Chazal were infallible in science. Would they have been able to accomplish all that they did?

Now I prefaced this post by saying there is something unseemly about deciding such a monumental area by such a crude cost benefit analysis. It would surely be better if such considerations were removed from the discussion. If we do choose to include them though, we should realize that they give us far more reason to oppose the ban than to support it.

Torah disproven by Rav Feldman

Rav Feldman's article has a wealth of information in it and whether you approve of the ban or not, it is worth rereading his letter again and again. Among the interesting things that you find is that according to Rav Feldman's understanding of the Leshem, the Torah has been conclusively disproven.

Look at the following two quotes from the letter, the first from pages 6-7 and the second from pages 7-8.
Leshem Shevo Ve-achlama writes:
The main thing is: everyone who is called a Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that everything found in the words of the Sages whether in halachos or agados of the Talmud or in the Midrashim, are all the words of the Living God, for everything which they said is with the spirit of God which spoke within them, and “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו).” This is just as we find in Sanhedrin 48b that even regarding something which has no application to Halacha and practical behavior, the Talmud asks regarding [the Sage] Rav Nachman, “How did he know this?” and the reply given is [that he knew this because] “The secret from God is given to those who fear him….”

...As the Leshem cited above says, if even regarding matters which are not related to halacha, the Sages say, sod Hashem liyerav, “G-d reveals the secrets of nature to those who fear him,” then certainly there must have been siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) and even ruach hakodesh (a Divine spirit) assisting the Sages in their redaction of the Oral Law. It is therefore inconceivable, to these opinions, that G-d would have permitted falsities to have been transmitted as Torah She-be-al-peh and not have revealed His secrets to those who fear Him.

In other words, if Torah is in fact true, it would be inconceivable to say that Chazal made scientific errors under any circumstances, especially in areas which have halakhic ramifications. After all - “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו)” - could it be that secular, atheistic and even idolatrous scientists could have information that Chazal HaKadosh didn't? The very notion is absurd. And since we know the Torah to be true, we know that Chazal could not have made scientific errors, especially when there are Halakhic ramifications, and even more so when those who didn't fear Hashem weren't making those errors. The inverse though is also true. If we could show that Chazal did make scientific errors, it would prove that the entire Torah is not true according to Rav Feldman's explanation of Leshem.

This may strike some of you as a tremendous chiddush, and in fact it is. It is not without some precedent though. The Gemara in Peshachim 94B relates the dispute between the Chachmei Yisroel and Chachmei Umos HaOlam. The former said the sun travels beneath the sky by day and above the sky by night. In other words, the sky is a giant curtain which the blocks the sunlight from reaching us during the sun's return trip above the earth at night. The latter held the sun travels beneath the sky at day and below the earth at night. Rebbe said that their view is preferable to ours, because the wells are cold by day but warm at night. In other words, when the sun goes beneath the earth at night, the heat from the sun rises and warms the wells better than it does during the day time.

Most Rishonim understand from this Gemara that Rebbe agreed that the wise men of the Nations of the World were correct. The Gilyon HaShas on the side of the Gemara though brings down a Shitah Mechubetzit in Kesubos that quotes Rabbeinu Tam as saying that the Chachmei Umos HaOlam may have had better arguments than the Chachmei Yisroel, but in fact the latter were correct for we say in davening “UBokeah Chalonei Rakiah”. He seems to be saying that it is inconceivable that our Tefillos would praise Hashem based on a false understanding of the heavens, and therefore Chazal must have had “the secret of God", even if they couldn't win the debate. This may be the precedent that Leshem is relying on. Now some may complain that even Rabbeinu Tam is just one shitah, and many other Rishonim held that Chazal could make astronomical errors. The fact remains though that the Gedolim don't pasken like them, but they do pasken like the Leshem.

It follows then that according to Torah the sky is a heavenly curtain which the sun hides behind in its return trip. If in theory this fact would ever be scientificly disproven, it would mean Torah has been disproven. (This also has practical scientific relevance. We should tell NASA to make sure not to crash any space shuttles into the heavenly curtain. Think of the tremendous Kiddush Hashem when they listen to us and save the lives of the astronauts.)

For those of you agree with modern scientific understanding of these matters, there are several things which make this Gemara interesting. The first is that both sides of the debate were wrong, as they have the sun going around the earth. The theory of the earth going around the sun had actually been proposed long before this debate took place. It was first proposed by Philolaus the Croton in the 5th century BCE, supported by Heracleides of Pontus in the next century, and the finishing touches were added by Aristarchus – the man who first measured the distance from the Earth to the Sun – and who was born in 310 BCE. Thus the real truth had already been revealed long ago - and had been rejected as being absurd. Neither Chazal nor their opponents had the level of insight of some of those who lived long before them.

What is also interesting is the reason given by Rebbe for why the Chachmei Umos HaOlam are correct is itself mistaken. The heat from the Sun at night does not penetrate all the way to the surface at the other side to warm the water in wells. There is however a much better proof that the sun goes beneath the earth at night, which relies on a key insight by Anaxagoras that was subsequently used by Aristarchus to measure the distance to the sun. This key insight is that the moon is not a source of light and merely reflects the light of the sun. When we see the moon at night, it is only because it is reflecting the light from the sun which is beneath the earth. From the fact that is argument was not given, it seems from this Gemara at least that Chazal were not aware of that basic fact.

According to the current science then, not only were both Chazal and their opponents wrong – with Chazal being even more wrong, but Chazal even conceded defeat for the wrong reason. If the Torah is true though, it would be inconceivable for Chazal to have been so mistaken in so many different ways, especially when others who didn't have their level of Yiras Shomayim did have the truth, and when this misunderstanding even led to a mistake in davening! (Whether you consider the Tefillos written by Chazal to technically be Torah She-be-al-peh or not, this would still be a major problem according to Leshem.) According to Rav Feldman's interpretation of Leshem then, there is only one conclusion – The Torah is false.

Now there are other ways of viewing things, and I plan to post on them. In some ways though my attacks are a bit unfair, for it is quite obvious that Rav Feldman himself doesn't believe everything he wrote. I have several explanations for what really he is up to, and according to at least one of them he wants us all to point out the many flaws in his arguments. In no way are the many points I raise an attack on him. I'm merely showing what is inherent in the article that he wrote, as he no doubt knew that the many blogspots would.

Now some of you are no doubt thinking that even if I accept Rav Feldman's explanation of Leshem, I haven't disproven Torah. After all, who says you can accept the evidence of your senses? Maybe the sun does return above the sky every night? That is actually the most important point Rav Feldman touches upon in his article, and I have several major posts planned on that topic. Another argument is Nishtanu HaTeva. Maybe the sun used to travel around the earth and retrun back above the sky at night, but then things changed and now the earth revolves around the sun (due to environmental and nutritional differences, etc). In fact, maybe the Church was right to condemn Galileo, for at the time in which he published the sun was still going around the earth. If that is so then, how were others able to see the truth and know it was the earth that moved? You must say that they made a mistake, and then nature changed to completely conform to their misunderstanding. If that is so, they must have had a tremendous Zechus. This far outweighs any regular Tzadik Gozer V'Hakadosh Baruch Hu Mikayim. Hashem permanently changed the working of the cosmos to follow their predictions. That is far more impressive than Yehoshua merely stopping the sun for a few hours, and certainly more impressive than any miracles Chazal had ever done, for how many of them are still working and can be seen by us?

It seems that in defending a single psak by certain Gedolim, Rav Feldman has provided powerful evidence for those who want to prove that the entire Torah is not true. This may strike some of you as a bit counterproductive, so of like removing beams from the foundation of a building so that they can used to protect the top floor from nasty seagulls. Surely Rav Feldman has his reasons for doing so, but you can understand if many are deeply puzzled by it.

Once we are discussing the the earth going around the earth, it is worth revisiting another line in Rav Feldman's article. the source of all the knowledge of the Sages is either from Sinaitic tradition (received at the Giving of the Torah) or from Divine inspiration. That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable. How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had? How were they so precise in their calculations of the New Moon? I already pointed out how this statement greatly insults both the Rambam and Chazal. There is however yet another problem with the statement, for it accuses Hashem of Bittul Torah. Anyone who studied Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh is struck by how difficult the calculations are. There are actually though two things which can greatly simplify the calculations. If you know that the earth revolves around the sun, and does so in an elliptical motion, you can get better measurements with much less work. Time spent crunching numbers and balancing equations is time that could be spent learning other areas of Torah. If Hashem revealed the secret of how to calculate the new moon, why didn't he teach us the simpler and more accurate method, so that more Chachomim could have understood it with much less work? Why teach a method based on a false view of the universe, when doing so requires much more work than the correct one. According to the Rambam who said Chazal got the information from the Greeks, it is not a problem. According to Rav Feldman though, does Hashem want us to sweat our way through tedious math even when simpler methods are available? If so, this leads to many interesting conclusions with great relevance for those going to college and to those who use calculators and advanced math when dealing with Torah issues. The full scope of that discussion is beyond me, so we may have to hope Rav Feldman presents us with a follow-up on that topic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Name that Kefirah!

One reason why so few people are willing to consider the possibility that the ban may have some merit is that so many false reasons have been given for it. I have a theory as to why that is, but I'll save that for another post. It should be clear by now that the reasons publicly given for the ban are misleading at best. There is one in particular though that I find particularly appalling, because it takes a powerful argument that I empathize with and twists it to support a ban that I vehemently oppose.

This simple, powerful, and utterly misleading explanation for the Slifkin ban is that we need to be Machmir when it comes to a Safek Kefirah. Even if the reasons to support the ban are not airtight, as long a case could be made that Kefirah may be involved we should be Choshes for that possibility. Now this is obviously not the real reason for the ban because the ban required Rabbi Slifkin to condemn and burn his books. If a Torah book only has a possibility of being kefirah you wouldn't burn it. The singers of the ban clearly felt the books were 100% Kefirah, not merely a Safek Kefirah.

There is however a more important reason why that argument is false. Despite the great importance of the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim, there are many Yesodei Hadas which Klal Yisroel is shockingly Maikel on. Since we are talking about the most serious issue imaginable, I think it only appropriate to play a favorite game of mine: “Name that Kefirah”. Below is a list of certain actions and beliefs that many frum Jews have. Please name which of the 13 Ikkarim each of them may violate, and if possible explain how precisely it would possibly violate them. Bonus points for when you can show it violates more than one of the 13 Ikkarim. The first person to email me all the correct answers will receive a PDF of Marc Shapiro's Torah U'Madda Journal article on the 13 Ikkarim. You could of course download it yourself, but that's not quite the same. Here is the list. I left out the all the Chas VaShalom's so that you can have the zechus of adding them yourself.

1) A shockingly large number of frum Jews believe that Hashem has emotions and that we make him happy when we do mitzvos and sad when we do aveiros.

2) Some frum Jews believe in various segulos that can protect us from an Ayin Harah, help us to recover lost objects, find a mate, or a parking space in Boro Park.

3) If there is one day a year in which you don't want to be a Min, it is on the Yom HaDin. (It's a long story but trust me on that one.) Despite that, the Ashkenazi Machzor has a prayer on that day directed to G-d's attribute of mercy. Additionally, the Tefillos on that day contain references to spiritual beings interceding on our behalf.

4) Many frum Jews believe there is a literal piece of G-d in every Jewish soul.

I won't even go into the recent heresies within a certain segment of Klal Yisroel and the idolatrous motivations behind them, but there have been some excellent books on the subject.

The point of this post is not to condemn the countless frum Jews who knowingly and unknowingly flirt with kefirah in each of the above cases. I have no problem being Dan L'Kaf Z'Chus and assuming that they must have who to rely on (though for at least one of the cases above I personally wouldn't bring non-mevushal wine to their homes). It should be clear though that each of the cases on the list above may possibly violate one or more of the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim. Whether they technically do so or not, they certainly go against the spirit of the 13 Ikkarim and it is safe to say that the Rambam himself would not approve of them. Moreover, that list has many more entries (where is Marc Shapiro when you need him). I've purposely kept this list much shorter than I could have in order to encourage people to find as many additions to it as they can (and to save my ammunition for the next time I play the game).

I've always wondered why Klal Yisroel was so Maikel on certain Yesodei Hadas. There are so many areas in Halacha where we pile Chumra upon Chumra, yet when it comes to being a Ben Olam HaBah we make no attempt to cover all the bases. You think this is the one area where you would want to be on the safe side. I'm sure there's a deep Sod in here somewhere; I just haven't found it yet.

If the Gedolim want to protect our Yesodei Hadas I'd be the first one to support them. However, let's begin with protecting the Rambam's 13 Ikkarim – which we all profess to believe in, before we begin adding new ones - especially when the new ones may very well lead to Kefirah. I realize that last remark contains a bold assertion, and I plan to back it up in a later post.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rav Feldman - Part 1

Many people have commented on Rav Feldman's recent article on Rabbi Slifkin. The general consensus seems to great disappointment that such a subtle intellect gave such weak reasons. Unlike my fellow bloggers though I won't merely refute Rav Feldman's many points. I will present evidence that Rav Feldman himself did not believe everything he wrote in the article. As for why he would write something he did not believe to be true, there is only one explanation I can think of and those of you who regularly read my blog can probably guess what it is.

In general, it's quite hard to show someone doesn't believe what he is saying. In the case of highly intelligent people it is fortunately somewhat easier, for there are certain types of mistakes they wouldn't make accidentally. For example, if a genius writes an nine page article in which the underlying premise of page four openly contradicts the underlying premise of page six, it is clear he was aware of the contradiction and that at least one his premises must be mistaken. If a great mind makes several errors like that in the same article, it should be obvious to all that he didn't think the particular reasons he gave were valid. Mind you he most certainly believes in the conclusion he reached, for otherwise it would be dishonest. To give people bad reasons for doing the right thing is a time honored tradition, especially when the real reason can't be publicly stated. Parents and teachers use such techniques all the time and it shouldn't shock us to see an exceptionally talented Mechanech use it when he has to.

Let's look at some of the inconsistencies:

1) That they were in contact with such sources is undeniable. How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had? How were they so precise in their calculations of the New Moon?

The Rambam says Chazal got their knowledge of astronomy from the Greeks. The Rambam knew the precise mathematical level of the ancient Greeks, as he mentions in several places in the Moreh, and he "wrote the book" on calculating the Halakhic new moon. Unlike Rav Feldman, most of us would not bring an "undeniable proof" by saying the Rambam is clearly mistaken - especially not in an area in which he was the acknowledged master.

That however is simply a factual error - ignoring those well known facts which disagree with a thesis even you bring in more obscure facts to support it. A more fundamental problem is how Rav Feldman ridicules the brilliance of Chazal. (I sent a sneak preview of this to another blogger - not sure if he wants the credit - to see how he would phrase it.) Many societies have made tremendous scientific breakthroughs. Look at Da Vinci and the Renaissance, Archimedes and the ancient Greeks, and Feynman and the countless achievements of American Jews in the last century. Everyone acknowledges that Chazal had the most sublime intellects humans could ever hope to achieve. To say that it was impossible for them to make certain scientific breakthroughs simply because Rav Feldman himself can't figure out how they could have done so is so shocking as to be beyond comprehension. He would never say Einstein must have had nevuah because he couldn't have been that smart. Yet he insists the far more numerous Chazal with their far more refined and developed intellects could never have made what are far less revolutionary breakthroughs and so it is therefore undeniable that they must have had a Mesorah on science.

To completely dismiss the shitah of the Rambam and to denegrate the intelligence of Chazal just to defend a single psak of certain current day Gedolim is the height of counter-productivity.

2) A bigger problem is when he wrote:

Slifkin goes on to posit that the Theory of Evolution in one form or another is a fact – only mentioning in passing those eminent scientists who have discredited this theory because the discovery of the DNA molecule make it statistically impossible. Cf. Professor Alvin Radkowsky, Encounter, 1989, p58, AOJS, citing Nobel-prize winning physicist, E.P. Wigner, that the probability of a simple life-form arising spontaneously from primeval “soup” and reproducing itself (as current evolutionary theories have it) is zero, or impossible.

First of all, look at how minority opinions are meant to be treated in Torah and how they must be treated in Science. With Torah, it is completely assur to maintain a minority opinion in Hashkafic matters, even if those opinions have not been conclusively refuted and have merely been rejected by current Gedolim. With science however you must believe the minority scientist even if he is speaking outside of his area of expertise and his question has been fully answered by those specializing in the field. (DNA itself must have evolved from more primitive ways of passing on traits to the next generation.)

There is however a more fundamental problem with what Rav Feldman has written. According to him not only is there no problem with DNA instantly popping into existence regardless of the mathematical odds, but this actually happened all the time in the recent past. Dirt and other inanimate matter would spontaneously generate into DNA – and the rest of the louse as well! You can't have it both ways. It is ironic that the biggest problem evolution has yet to fully answer in precise detail is not at all a problem for those who believe in Nishtaneh HaTevah, but that is the unfortunate corner Rav Feldman painted himself into. Once again, talk about a counter-productive attack.

3) A cynic would say maybe Rav Feldman got distracted and had forgotten what he had written two pages earlier. There are however even bigger contradictions within the same page on page eight.

One of the most powerful reasons why R. Avraham’s opinion was rejected by most opinions, is the introduction of the wisdom of Kabbalah of the Ari Zal in the sixteenth century. This cast the Sages in another dimension. Before then, many authorities had held that the esoteric wisdom described in the Talmud as Ma’aseh Breyshis and Ma’aseh Hamerkava was science and philosophy. After the introduction of Kabbalah it became clear that these were the Sefer HaYetzira, the Zohar and the Tikkunim. This was accepted by the overwhelming majority of Torah scholars since then. Kabbala made it clear that when the Sages spoke, they based themselves on their knowledge of the mysteries of creation. This would give them an accurate knowledge of matters of natural science as well.

Look at this bizarre train of thought. When the Rishonim thought the esoteric wisdom Chazal had was science and philosophy, they still disagreed with the science and philosophy of Chazal when presented with compelling evidence or a strong counterargument (The Rambam argues with some of Chazal's philosophical positions in the Moreh, and many Gaonim and Rishonim argued with their science). Now however that we know the esoteric wisdom which Chazal had a Mesorah on was Kabbalah – and not science and philosophy – it is completely assur to argue with them on scientific matters. In other words, you can dismiss the primary content of their esoteric wisdom, but not something which is a merely consequence and side benefit of it.

There is another problem with the statement as well. While it may not be as great a logical contradiction as the previous one it is in many ways even more disturbing. Rav Feldman has no problem changing our Mesorah in light of the new evidence - as long as it presented by the Arizal via Ruach HaKodesh and not via science and our own sense preception. Now where is a vast difference between the two, but rather than save Rav Feldman's explantion it utterly destroys it. We don't say that the Arizal was a greater lamdam than the Vilna Gaon or the Rambam. While he was a tremendous Talmid Chacham, his Kabbalistic insights were achieved through Ruach Hakodesh and the many heavenly beings who taught him because of his Tzidkus. As long we follow the Arizal in Hashkafic matters that is not a problem. However, Rav Feldman writes that the conclusions of the Arizal (such as that Chazal never made scientific errors) are Halakhicly binding and we have no choice but to follow them. That is a fundamental contradiction with what is one of the most important Halakhic principles we have -“Lo BaShamayim Hee" - the Halakhic system doesn't change because of new divine revelations. How can we possibly change the Halakhic status of certain beliefs and label them heresy based on a new revelation? It is only if the Arizal's insights are not Halakhicly binding that we would be allowed to follow them altogether. We don't pasken according to the Maggid of the Mechaber, yet Rav Feldman insists we must follow the Halakhic ramifications of the Arizal even when they contradict the previous Halakhic Mesorah that Klal Yisroel had - to the point that the old Mesorah is now kefirah!

There are more contradictions of this nature in Rav Feldman's letter in which his very premise undermines his conclusion, and I have yet to touch upon the more important aspects of the letter. Needless to say there is much in the letter that I agree with and he does discuss some fundamental issues that had not previously been given the attention they deserve. I hope to return to these in the near future. For now though it should be clear that just like the ban itself, there is far more to Rav Feldman's letter than meets the eye.

Breaking News!

I received the most incredible mail from a fellow blogger. I'm not sure if he wants me to use his name so I'll call him G HaDor. No, wait. That's too revealing. Lets call him Gadol H. Anyway, he heard from the next door neighbor of one of Rav Sheinberg's closest former Talmidim now living in Australia that Rav Sheinberg never signed the Slifkin ban. It seems that on the day in question Rav Sheinberg had been abducted by aliens and it was his body double from another planet who signed the ban. More importantly, even the body double never meant to condemn Rabbi Slifkin. He thought he was signing a Haskama for the books which he gladly did because he knows Rabbi Slifkin's body double very well from their Lamed Vov meetings on their home planet. It had never occurred to the body double that someone would condemn Rabbi Slifkin for merely repeating what the greatest of our Baalei Mesorah have written. So you have here irrefutable proof that to in any way give the slightest credibility to the ban is not only an assault on the kavod of Rav Sheinberg but also an assault on the kavod of his esteemed body double.

Now I've been called disingenuous (and sincerely disingenuous) for taking the ban seriously in my attempt to undermine it. My reasons though are not merely a strategic ploy to lure those who would never question the Gedolim to ask the proper questions which would force movement on the issue. I also refuse to believe that the Gedolim would make such a monumental decision without carefully considering the ramifications. And even if under extreme circumstances beyond my comprehension they did make such an error, they would fix it immediately. A Psak Halachah on the Yesodei Hadas is the most serious decision a Posek could possibly make. If people misunderstood or misinterpreted what they meant they would fix it immediately. If someone has the slightest doubt that a certain Posek for whatever reason would not do so, he shouldn't rely on that Posek for anything, ever.

Now it should be clear to everyone, especially those who support the ban, that the real reasons for the ban have not been given. For those who don't know what the real reason is, the fact that it hasn't been publicly given is itself a great hint to what it must be. If there is one thing everyone who's analyzed the ban agrees upon, it is that there has been much misinformation about what the means and why it has been done. I find it especially amusing how those who support the ban prefer to give demonstrably false reasons for the ban rather than simply saying I trust the Gedolim. That they feel the need to do so gives me hope that there will be movement on this issue. Even if the Gedolim though refuse to budge and to answer sincere and urgent Halachic and Hashkafic questions on the reasons and ramifications of the ban from their own loyal Talmidim, there are steps the rest of us can take to resolve this thing. The one obstacle I see is that it will require those who oppose the ban to acknowledge the terrible longterm damage it will do. Solutions which would strike those ignorant of the ramifications of the ban as being over the top would be considered overly moderate and cautious by those who realize what the lasting consequences will be. Spreading awareness of how the ban will have a major impact on those who agree with it, those who don't, those who are unsure, those who are already born and those who will be born centuries from now is the first step to fighting it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Collateral Damage

At the end of the NY Times article on the Slifkin ban there is a heart wrenching quote. Rabbi Adlerstein of Loyola said: "I know rabbis, I know teens in yeshivas who were on the verge of quitting" when the letter first came out. "They look at themselves in the mirror and they say, 'What have I been representing?' " As bad as it has been for the Rabbis and for those in Yeshiva, the damage is much worse with those who don't have as strong a background in the first place. For the question isn't "What have I been representing" but "What absurd religion have I been living?" As a result of the ban they will now see Orthodox Jewry as being anti-Science and anti-Reason. People live their lives with a cost benefit analysis that depends on the perceived probability of certain facts. There are countless people, both Jewish and Gentile, both religious and irreligious, who as a consequence of the Slifkin ban now perceive the likelihood of Torah being true to be greatly diminished. As difficult as the ban has been for Kiruv workers – and the true damage it did there has yet to fully articulated - it will do even damage among those already frum. If Torah is true, how could the Gedolei Yisroel who study it all day be so mistaken? סוד ה' ליראיו - the secret of God is given to those who fear Him! (hat tip Rav Feldman). Society is already providing more than enough temptations for people to become irreligious. If people believe Torah to be in fundamental conflict with the science in which we live our daily lives, many people will leave Torah as a consequence. Like all good fiction, this letter is 100% true once you strip away the particulars and look at its underlying point. If you don't know anyone who's faith in Torah has been deeply shaken by the ban, then you simply aren't the type of person people feel comfortable confiding in.

The most conservative estimate of the number of people who no longer truly believe in Torah as a consequence of the ban would have to be in the low hundreds. When you consider it takes a while for these things to really affect people, the numbers are likely to grow every year. Every year there are countless Catholics who give up their faith when they become old enough to truly appreciate the ramifications of the Galileo incident. Even though the magnitude of the error in the Slifkin case is much worse, Yahadus won't lose nearly as many as Catholicism did simply because we don't have as many to lose. The longterm damage though will be similar. A hundred years from now bright and precocious children will challenge their Rebbeim for being anti-Reason because of the Slifkin ban.

The important thing to remember is that no intellectually honest supporter of the Gedolim will deny the damage already done to the frum community by the Slifkin ban. For to say the Gedlim were unaware of it would be to accuse them of negligent homicide – killing tens of thousands of neshamos because they were too ignorant to investigate the status of their own followers. The only defensible position is that they were aware of what the consequences would be and yet felt they had no choice but to proceed with the ban in the manner in which they did so. By now some of you are no doubt thinking I'm being disingenuous again. What could be so important that the Gedolim would sacrifice the Emunah of frum Jews? One source that was invaluable in helping me to solve that problem was the brilliant and frightening biography of Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg written by
Marc Shapiro But whether you can find a viable theory or not, it is important to realize it is impossible that the Gedolim did not see what the consequences of such a momentous decision would be. For even if you grant the absurd notion that they didn't, it still leads to the impossible question of once they know, why don't they backtrack and try to salvage the Emunah of those turned away and to stop new people from joining them. To say petty politics is the obstacle when the stakes are so high is to accuse the Geolim of Chas V'Shalom being Reshayim Gemurim. The only reasonable explanation is that they knew what they were doing and chose what they felt was the best of a range of bad choices. Like any good Machlokes, the argument over the ban will become interesting when the facts are settled and the difference between the two sides is pure sevara. While that is a topic for a later post, I hope everyone realizes that this is one of the major decisions affecting the future of Klal Yisroel. Whether you love the ban or hate it, understanding every side to this issue is crucial.

Aish HaTorah and the Slifkin Ban

In response to the ban against R’ Slifkin Aish HaTorah removed certain articles from their website and has changed their approach accordingly. Rav Noach Weinberg, the head of Aish HaTorah, is very politically connected in Israel, and he knows which pronouncements of the Gedolim need to be followed and which can be safely ignored - especially for a Kiruv organization. If he authorized pulling certain articles from his website - even though that is implicitly criticizing the Hashkafos of his older brother Rav Yaakov TZ'L (Former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel) as well as the staff and graduates of his own Yeshiva - it is because he had to. You don’t go Lifnim Meshuras HaDin to handicap yourself when you are fighting to save lives. And handicap itself is exactly what Aish HaTorah did. Some of their most effective programs had been altered in order to comply with the psak of the Gedolei HaDor. Had Rav Yaakov Weinberg still been alive to meet with and refute Rav Eliashiv, things may have been different. For now though, Rav Noach felt he had no choice to but to obey the psak, regardless of the tragic consequences.

One can certainly empathize with the terrible position Aish HaTorah has been put in. The question though is on the Gedolim who signed the ban. Do they really prefer that people remain irreligious than for them to become frum but believe in an Old Universe, a non-word-for-word literal reading of Maaseh Bereishis and a fallible Chazel? The answer is clearly yes, for otherwise they would not have forced Aish HaTorah to change tracks when they have been so effective with the one they were on. In their ban of Rabbi Slifkin, they explicitly said he must not be allowed to engage in Kiruv, for there is no circumstance in which it is permitted to spread these ideas. The Gedolim clearly realized this would hurt kiruv efforts, just as they knew it would cause the non frum world to mock Torah.

The non-banned book on Rav Yaakov Kemenetsky has a wonderful story. Someone told Rav Yaakov that he became Shomer Shabbos because a Kabbalist had told them that Moshiach is coming very soon, and if he wants to be a part of it, he better start keeping Shabbos now. Rav Yaakov replied that even though we hope and pray for Moshiach to come everyday, logically there is no more reason to expect him to come now than to expect him to come a hundred years from now. Some of Rav Yaakov’s talmidim were surprised by his answer. Don’t we say Shabbos is equal to all the Mitzvos? Isn’t it worth his keeping it for the wrong reason and hope that he eventually keeps it for the right reason? Rav Yaakov replied that this person right now believes in Moshiach, which is one of the 13 Ikkarim. When he keeps Shabbos for a while and Moshiach doesn’t come, he will eventually open his store on Shabbos and no longer believe in Moshiach. Since Moshiach is one of the Yesodei Hadas, you can’t take a chance like that. While this is yet another case of a Gadol paskening based on the 13 Ikkarim (what would Marc Shapiro say?), it also teaches a valuable lesson: You can’t get someone to keep Mitzvos by destroying their beliefs in the Yesodei Hadas. It seems that these Gedolim feel that the Hashkafos in R’ Slifkin’s books are Mamash Kefirah, and you can’t get someone to become frum by teaching them Kefirah. If that ruling prevents people from becoming Shomer Shabbos so be it, but they stand by their psak and accept the responsibility for it in the next world.

Lest someone think I am reading more into the ban than the signers intended, read the text of the original ban The author should not be permitted to engage in outreach in order to avoid causing others to stumble in apostasy, chas vesholom. The Gedolim do not want people learning this approach, even if doing so would enable them to become Shomer Torah U'Mitzvot. As shocking as some may find this, it is not nearly as bad as some of the other casualties of this ban. It is worth focusing on the cost of the ban for it helps us to figure out what the motivation behind it truly is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

What was the goal of the ban?

I appreciate the many thoughtful emails I have received. Some feel the ban is here to stay and the damage is already done, so no matter what plan I may have it is doomed to fail and so I should go on to other public policies issues affecting the frum community. Others feel that taking the ban as a serious Halachic psak is a very shrewd way to get the followers of the Gedolim to do the same, which will at a minimum lead to some movement on the issue. There is one thing in common though to almost every email I have received. People assume I don't really believe the Gedolim planned all this, and that I'm merely acting as if I do for strategic reasons. A typical email was the one that told me I should continue to do the “smart” move of taking the ban at face value, while they will continue to fight for truth by attacking the Gedolim. While taking the Gedolim seriously is by far the smartest tactic here, it has the added virtue of being true. To avoid being called disingenuous, let me share some of the reasons why I reached that conclusion.

When ascertaining someone's motivation it is very important to look at their actions and not merely their stated reasons. I think it beyond obvious that the purpose of the ban was not simply to stop Rabbi Slifkin from spreading kefirah. To even suggest such a thing is to accuse the Gedolim of being Chas V'Shalom complete and utter idiots. Not only is that an attack on Klal Yisroel for choosing such foolish leaders, but it is an attack on human intelligence. Even an avowed atheist with no appreciation of Emunas Chachomim would realize that if there is a group of people who tens and hundreds of thousands people consider to be supreme geniuses who dedicate their lives to a highly intellectual endeavor, odds are that they are accustomed to analyzing things quite carefully. If nearly two dozen of them agree on something, there must be some justification for their doing so. Their conclusion may be wrong, but there must be some level of thought into what they were doing. To say that they all chose a plan so obviously mistaken that any high school kid would've told them it would backfire is absurd.

Let us count some of the many errors the Gedolim would have made if that were their sole motivation. The full list in fact is far longer than I have the patience to type right now. My goal here is simply to show that anyone of average intelligence in such a situation would have chosen a much better plan. Since the Gedolim are clearly smarter than your average DovBear, there must be another reason for what they are doing. I believe I have found it by asking these very questions, so let us begin.

I've already pointed out how the R' Slifkin situation could have been dealt with very smoothly. First contact those Rabbonim who gave the Haskamos to R' Slifkin and get them to retract. Afterwards invite Rabbi Slifkin to meet with the Gedolim and with the Rabbonim who previously endorsed his view but have now changed their minds. Explain to him which of his views they think are harmful and why he shouldn't teach them anymore. Then tell him they expect him to no longer teach that approach, and to explain to him the approach they prefer he takes. Find out from him precisely how he intends to react, and then word your public pronoucement accordingly. If the goal was simply to stop Rabbi Slifkin from spreading his views, that would've been one of several painfully obvious solutions. It is bloodless and puts R' Slifkin in a position in which he has no choice but to follow the Gedolim.

Aside from not going after those who gave the Haskamos, the Gedolim did many other inexplicable things. To stop people from reading a book written in English, they put up signs in Hebrew in Chareidi neighborhoods. Furthermore, the Gedolim made it almost impossible for R' Slifkin to listen to them, for they raised the bar beyond what he could reasonably do. They not only insisted that he no longer teach what is in his books. They insisted he publicly retract his kefira and burn his books – even the Torah parts of them. When Rav Eliashiv was asked how could previous Gedolim have held the heretical views of R' Slifkin, he replied “They were permitted to say these things, but we may not.” When the Gedolim tried to coerce R' Slifkin to denounce views held by the greatest of Gaonim and Rishonim, it was obvious what he was going to reply, if only implicitly. “Rav Eliashiv can say such things, but I may not”. How could someone not yet 30 condemn Gedolim of previous generations for being inadvertent heretics? One would think you need to be at least 40 before doing so, and one would expect a well-mannered Englishman to be even older than that.

What is more surprising is why they went after a 20-something-year-old for writing errors that others older and wiser than him have also made. It was bound to strike people as cowardly. There have been many prominent Rabbonim who have been denounced by the powers that be. While they are each lehavdil incomparable in their own way, The Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Steinsaltz, and Rabbi Lamm all have something in common. Whether they chose to or not, they were all more than capable of defending themselves from the fierce charges throw at them (and some of them were even greater than the ones attacking them). They already had a deep knowledge of Torah and many followers. No one would possibly have pity and be shocked at how others could attack them. Great people have great enemies – it comes with the territory – and must be ready to protect themselves.

For the Gedolim to attack R' Slifkin required great bravery, for they knew it would strike many of their own followers as cowardly. Why would they choose to go after Rabbi Slifkin and not the Rabbonim who both read and praised his books. Publicly condemn Rav Shmuel Kamanetsky and Rav Yisroel Belsky. This would strike people as a fair attack. Great Rabbonim who publicly praise meenus should get condemned. Why go after such a lightweight? I spoke to one Yeshiva Bochur in particular who fully supported the ban and had no doubt the Gedolim were correct, yet was deeply shaken and somewhat confused at such a fierce attack on a sincere Ben-Torah not much older than himself. If Rav Moshe Shapiro feels that Rav Aryeh Carmel is perverting the words of Rav Dessler to support his own kefira agenda, let him condemn Rav Aryeh Carmel. Why condemn R' Slifkin for merely repeating what he read in seforim Rav Aryeh Carmel published, as that is guaranteed to upset and confuse people?

There are many more such questions to ask and I plan to get to them. If there is one thing we've learned from the war in Iraq, even the right thing to do if done improperly can do far more harm than good. The Gedolim of course know this, and so took the particular approach they did for a very good reason. It was the best possible way to go after their true goal, and it should be clear to everyone that the goal was not simply to stop R' Slifkin. There is much more going on over here, and it makes the issues even more urgent. For once you properly dismiss the false justifications for the ban, the real reasons become more apparent. While I can't answer every last question of why the Gedolim did things the way they did (and it is clear they didn't accurately predict every last detail of how things will unfold), I do have a theory that can explain most of them. I don't think it wise to post it on my blog just yet, but I will share my reasoning and let people draw their own conclusions.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Give Kavod its due

Last week I decided to explicitly state what my strategy for fighting the ban is. Rather than attacking the kavod of those who signed the ban, use that very kavod to fight against the ban. Halachicly, that is certainly the preferable approach. An aveira l'shmah is assur after Matan Torah, so even if someone felt the only way to combat the tremendous Chillul Hashem of the Slifkin ban is to ridicule Gedolei Yisroel, it would still be assur to do so. If Hashem's Halachic system forbids us from ending a desecration of His name, that is His problem, His responsibility and His call - not ours.

Fortunately, there is no need to attack the honesty and intelligence of the signers of the ban. In fact, if they were Chas V'Shalom as simple-minded and stupid as some of the anti-Ban bloggers portray them, petty arrogance would prevent them from backing down in the face of such harsh ridicule. If you believe they are capable of backing down in such a public matter despite the personal attacks against them, then they truly are perfected individuals. If so, treat them as such. If you don't believe they would back down when doing so would be a tacit admission that those who ridiculed them were correct, then why not save your time and energy for something more productive.

In short, even if ridicule were a Halachicly viable option – which it most certainly isn't, it is hard to find a situation in which it would be the most effective strategy of either ending then ban or healing the damage caused by it. Treating the ban as a deliberate and well thought out policy is a much wiser course of action. Some may fail to see how doing so will at all help us. After all, the psak was already made, and how can anything we do change that? I hope you'll excuse me, but I have reasons not to give a full answer at this point. I'd rather take things one step at a time, so the process unfolds naturally. I will say though that the target at this point in time is not the Gedolim themselves but rather their followers. As long as the Gedolim are being publicly attacked, their followers will instinctively rally to their defense and not even consider the possibility that they were mistaken. However, once an honest and open discussion of the issues involved begins, the followers will start asking very legitimate questions. If a book that quotes from the Moreh Nevuchim and Michtav MeEliyahu should be burned, why not those Seferim as well? If there are differences between R' Slifkin's book and those Seforim, why wasn't the tzibur told about them in the beginning when the ban first came out? If R' Slifkin's books in fact shouldn't be burned, how could so many Gedolim sign a public statement calling on R' Slifkin to do just that?

These are all very legitimate questions, and it would be a sign of great disrespect not to ask them, for that would imply there are no good answers. I believe the reasons these questions haven't been asked yet en masse by the Talmidim of these Gedolim is because to do so when the psak is under public assault would be disloyal. The sooner we end the public ridicule, the quicker honest introspection and analysis can begin. How the Gedolim respond to their own Talmidim dissecting the ban word for word will determine our next course of action. I'm fairly certain of how they will respond and what the next step should be, but for obvious reasons I think it best to wait before sharing them on my blog (email may be another story). I will say that I truly believe the Gedolim here were acting L'Shem Shomayim, and they took what they thought was the best course of action. As much as many of us disagree with the ban, it is worth finding the Chochmah in how they chose to do things the way in which they did, if for no other reason because it lets us see what we are up against.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Looking for a few good hats

Gil recently released his views on Marc Shaipo's book on the Ikkarim. I wish I had seen it earlier because I had started working on a similar post (as I mentioned), but obviously not nearly as scholarly and comprehensive. While I have a few quibbles with his presentation, his basic point is one I have already argued and strongly agree with. Even if in general Hashkafah is not subject to a Psak Halakhah, Yesodei Hadas is one area which is subject to Psak Halakhah, as it has profound Halakhic implications. If the recognized Gedolei HaDor call a shitah meenus, that has serious consequences. Even if you don't pasken like them, the fact that much of Klal Yisroel does is sufficient to create serious Halakhic nightmares, as I've started to post about. Someone who is serious about the future of Torah Judaism, and not just YU, should focus on the what those Halakhic implications are.

For that reason I'm hoping to start a multi-person blog called Hilchos-Slifkin. It won’t allow any comments on whether the ban was correct or not, no personal attacks, no political analysis or even Hashkafic discussions. It will only discuss the Halakhic ramifications of the ban. There are Halakhic ramifications for those who follow the ban, Halakhic ramifications for those who think it is mistaken, and Halakhic ramifications for those who are unsure. Each of these should be discussed and debated in an objective manner. I think focusing on the Halakhic aspects would make people aware of the seriousness of the issue, and help create an environment which focuses on understanding what is at stake for everyone, and not just scoring points for a particular side. If anyone would like to join, contact the email address to the right. I suspect I'll have a lot more so-called white hats than black ones. I do hope that some pro-Ban people will help us discuss the Halakhic implications.

Rav Chaim Brisk and the Rambam

There is a marvelous story told about Rav Chaim Brisk and the Rambam in Olam Habah. Like all such stories it almost certainly fictional - and 100% true.

There are different versions of it, but this is how I heard it.

180 days after entering Olam Habah, Rav Chaim gave a shiur to all the Rabbonim in Olam Habah. Marai Mekomos were handed out in advance so everyone could prepare and get their questions ready for the new Chiddushim the were bound to hear. As expected, Rav Chaim Brisk focused his shiur on solving a difficult problem in the Rambam. His answer though was so sublime, so penetrating yet simple, so revolutionary, elegant, and far-reaching that all the Gedolim in Olam Habah were speechless. Even those who knew Rav Chaim well were shocked and awed beyond belief. There was nothing to ask, no comments to add, nothing to say in response to such a brilliant solution. So the Rabbonim did the only thing they could do, which was to burst out clapping and to wait on line to congratulate Rav Chaim.

When everyone else had left, a Sephardic Rav went over to Rav Chaim and introduced himself as the Rambam. Before Rav Chaim could reply, the Rambam went on to praise the brilliance of the solution. He then added with a touch of sadness, “I wish I had thought of it. Actually though, I had a more pragmatic – almost baal habatish reason for paskening that way” which he proceeded to tell Rav Chaim. As he was speaking, Rav Chaim's face went from awe to disbelief to shock to anger. When the Rambam was done, Rav Chaim waved the back of his hand at him and said in disgust,“What does a Sephardi know from a Rambam!”

Now the person who made up this story clearly meant to criticize Rav Chaim, which is why he had him say something racist. In point of fact though, Rav Chaim in the story is 100% right. Why the Rambam said what he did is irrelevant. Rav Chaim's goal is to explain the internal logic of his position. He is coming up with the severa the Rambam would have come up with - if he were a great Lamdam. The fact remains that Gedolei Yisroel have accepted the Rambam and so their must be a valid reason for what he said.

The reason why I bring up this story is that it has great relevance to the Slifkin Ban. Even if you believe the ridiculous hearsay of how and why various Rabbonim came to sign the ban, they fact remains they stand by it. Even if they didn't know what they were signing at the time (again, I find that too absurd to believe), by now they certainly know what it was they signed, and they clearly agree with it and expect people to follow it. If they thought it was a mistake, they would publicly say so and remove their names from the list. To say otherwise is to accuse them of Rishus! Now there are some Rabbonim who allow social goals and public policy to color their psak a bit. However, for a Rav to allow his signature to stand on a declaration he considers to be false and not in conformity with Halachah is the most serious Aveirah. It would quite literally be megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha , about which the third perek in Pirkei Avos says “even if you have Torah and Maasim Tovim, you have no chelek in Olam Habah”. To say the Gedolim are afraid to publicly change their minds because of politics and “the kanoaim” is to further accuse them of cowardice. The contention is far too absurd to be taken seriously. In fact, it would be an issur Motzei Shem Rah to accept such a story.

KeBolo Kach Polto – If they disagreed with the statement bearing their signatures, they would take a public action of the same caliber as the original declaration. They wouldn't privately tell a single unknown Talmid of theirs to spread the word onto the Internet, for they wouldn't possible expect anyone to listen to such hearsay.

The fact remains that the Gedolim meant what they said – this is burnable kefirah - or else they would have publicly clarified things. Until you see hard evidence to the contrary, treat the ban as if each and every Gadol meant what he signed. Even if one Gadol clarified or modified his position, it in no way means they all did.

Now some of you may despair, “then how could we possibly fight this thing!”Ironically, treating the ban as legitimate is the best way to counteract it!. When both common sense and your own political self-interest say you should treat something as real, it makes sense to start doing so.

The Blogospere has failed!

There was a moment at the beginning of Rabbi Slifkin's lecture in Brooklyn last week that was simply priceless. He said “If there is anyone here today who is not a blogger, please raise your hand”. Everyone started to laugh. Then people started to look around, and in a room of about 30 people, only one of them had her hand raised. Then everyone starting truly laughing – literally ROTFL. It took a full two minutes to quite everyone down.

Now all of you reading this know that I made up that story, because all of you were at the lecture. The very way every one of you can disprove my story only goes to prove my deeper point. The bloggers are talking to themselves. Those who are truly bothered by the ban went to the web to find kindred spirits. After spending enough time disagreeing with the other bloggers they eventually start their own blogs. Nothing though has been accomplished towards ending then ban, and some steps have been counterproductive. “Not the Gadol HaBloggim”, while combining keen insight with crude caricatures, ending up providing the ammunition for Rabbonim to portray the whole pro-Slifkin movement as a Chillul Hashem. Whether that was fair or not (and it clearly wasn't), it played into their hands. Overextend yourself and you only wind up hurting yourself. The harsh responses that have been posted on the web haven't done any good, and many have even backfired. Even Rabbi Slifkin's brilliant and spirited defense hasn't accomplished what the true goal should be, which is to have the ban removed on friendly grounds. Even Rabbonim who may be opposed to it feel the need to protect the honor of the Gedolim from such attacks.

The blogosphere is filled with brilliant, insightful commentators with pens far sharper and wittier than my own will every be. What is lacking though is a strategy. Attacking the competence, mental health and foresight of Gedolim is ludicrous. It simply turns off those who follow them, and allows our movement to be portrayed as anti-Torah and anti-Gedolim. Unfortunately, those who are anti-Torah and anti-Gedolim will be supporting us anyway, and we have no need to recruit them. (I say unfortunately, because with friends like that, who needs enemies. It was reported that one audience member at the Brooklyn Dinosaur lecture asked about “the alleged Avraham Aveinu”. Talk about counterproductive! That Rabbi Slifkin has a vocal supporter who sees questioning the Science of Chazel as a first step towards questioning the veracity of Chamisha Chumsei Torah only makes our task much harder.)

What is needed is a method to get those followers of the Gedolim who would never question them to become involved in the anti-Ban movement. The obstacle that we face is how do you fight a group of people stronger and powerful than you? The answer is an old martial arts trick: use their strength against them. Don't attempt to hit back or even to block their punches. Rather, use their own weight and movement against them. Instead or refuting or mocking their words, take their words even more seriously than they were perhaps originally intended. Use your own slight weight to magnify and exaggerate their motions, until they themselves are forced to retract them.

If the Gedolim say R' Slifkin should burn his books, find out if others should do so as well. Ask shaylos if you can Halakhicly rely on someone who continues to believe Chazel made scientific errors after the psak. What if someone believes in it l'hachis – should he then certainly be considered a kofer? Find out if it is mutar to have the fifth Volume of Michtav Me-Eliyahu or the Moreh Nevuchim in your house. If you burn those seforim, do you have to do Teshuva?

Politically, assume that everything that followed was planned by the Gedolim. After all, they could have first contacted those Rabbonim who gave the Haskamos to R' Slifkin and gotten them to retract. They then could have invited R' Slifkin to meet with them and reach an accommodation, whereby they won't in anyway publicly attack him, but will insist in the future he teach a different approach and tell people his position has changed. From the fact that the Gedolim didn't defuse the situation - as they so easily could have, it is clear they wanted something that was guaranteed to make the NY Times, as has every one of their recent bans. To suggest otherwise is to accuse them of gross incompetence, which would render their judgment (and hence all of their psak) suspect.

Now I have an easier time taking this approach because I truly believe it to be true. With my own personal experience I've seen Gedolim thinking many steps beyond what us mere geniuses are accustomed to. They are the ones who seven moves into a normal looking chess game would say, “Game over, there is no possible way for white to even get a draw from that position”. I have a theory of why the Gedolim wanted things to unfold this way, which I plan to share when I have it all worked out. However, even those who don't believe my contention would do well to follow that approach on purely strategic grounds. Treat the ban as a psak Halachah, and analyze the implications as you would any other area of Halakhah. Flesh out the implications until consistency forces the signers to modify or clarify things. Attacking a Gadol for being a fool will not get a response, for why should they even dignify it. Showing them how their very words can lead an earnest and sincere person to severely violate Halakhah has to get a response from them. It is no longer their Kavod which is being attacked. To the contrary, their very Kavod is leading people to make Halakkhic errors. They then have no choice but to respond and protect the Halakhic system.

Treat the Gedolim and what they say with even more respect and sincerity than their own followers do. It gives the pro-Slifkin movement the high ground, and leaves no obvious way to discredit us. If they didn't properly think things through, as some of you undoubtedly think, this would hang them on their ropes and force them to concede. If I am correct though and they did know what they are doing, this will force them to share their real reasoning, and allow us to progress to the next step. Either way, the dialogue will be more productive, and we will no longer be turning off those who may sympathize with us but can't stand the lack of Kavod HaTorah.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Good news from Rav Scheinberg

While there are many signatures to the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books, there are three that I primarily care about: Rav Elyashiv, Rav Scheinberg, and Rav Dovid Feinstein. My Rebbeim have frequently asked them shaylos, and they are considered by many to the Poskei HaDor. Their psak on Rabbi Slifkin has really upset me as my posts to the right in the Halakhah category explain. If I had to choose between those three Gedolim rescinding their psak or the other twenty, I would choose those three in a heartbeat. That they haven't done so have been very painful for me, and I'm not quite sure how to react.

In the case of Rav Scheinberg though, there is a major loophole. I can consider him my Posek and still ignore his psak by Rabbi Slifkin. How, you ask? Very simple. There is a marvelous sefer called Divrei Chachamim by Rav Aryeh Zev Ginsburg. The author went around asking different shaylos to different poskim. Rav Scheinberg wrote in his haskamah to the sefer that he testifies that whenever the sefer quotes him it is accurately presenting his position. On Page 290 (Reish Tzadi) of the sefer, point number 10, Rav Scheinberg says that today there is no issur to shop around and to go to a second a Posek to get a kula if you aren't happy with the psak of the first person you asked. (Though it is obviously better to get permission form the first one.) Now if you choose Rav Scheinberg as your Posek, there is no problem in shopping around for a psak on any area you want – including the Slifkin ban. Shop around until you find Rabbi Hershel Schachter, who will tell you in person that there is no problem with Rabbi Slifkin whatsoever. (It would be nice if he would say it louder and more often, but that's for another post.) The important thing is that while Rav Scheinberg signed a letter saying Rabbi Slifkin's books should be burned, he allows you to find a Posek who would say that not only is it an issur gamur to burn them, it is a great mitzvah to learn them. So one person can burn the seforim while another person learns them, and they each have the approval of Rav Sheinberg, albeit to different extents.

If anyone has any knowledge of Rav Sheinberg changing his mind on the Slifkin ban, please let me know. If anyone has any information about any of the signers of the ban publicly retracting and saying they are not kefirah, it is not assur to learn and to teach their contents, and they should not be burnt, please let me know. I want to have a post on where each of the signers of the ban stands, and the more information I have the better.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Slifkin and Galileo

"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin."

Cardinal Bellarmine, 1615, during the trial of Galileo

Some of you may have noticed that in the links I give to the right, I refer to R' Slifkin as Galileo. At first I wasn't sure if that was a good idea, since it insults those I respect and offers a defense to those I despise.

It is insulting to R' Slifkin, who unlike Galileo did not mock those who differed with him. In his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo created a buffoon of a character named Simplicio to defend the Earth-Centered position. Rabbi Slifkin always made it clear that while he is taking the Torah approach that makes the most sense to him, there are other legitimate viewpoints out there. Furthermore, R' Slifkin took the courageous step of publicly defending his work and fighting for the truth, unlike Galileo who publicly caved to save his life, though to be fair, R' Slifkin was not (yet) threatened with being burned at the stake. While Galileo was no Avraham Aveinu and was not willing to be thrown into the Kivshan HaEish, R' Slifkin has yet to be put into that position, so we can't know how he would have acted. (This does beg a question though. These Babylonians burn Meenus, yet a Min himself - walking Meenus - they leave alone.)

It is also insulting to Galileo, who is the father of the scientific method and one of the greatest intellects of the past Millennium. To compare him to young man who hasn't even said something revolutionary, let alone discovered a fundamental breakthrough, is not worthy of the man. While we all hope R' Slifkin rises to Galileo's level of insight, it doesn't seem to have happened yet and most of us are not holding our breaths. (Unless if he really is one of the Lamed Vov Tzadikim, as Rav Elyashiv said is possible.)

It is most insulting to the Gedolim who signed the ban. To imply that they are making the same mistake the Catholic Church did over 370 years earlier is quite severe. On the other hand, it is offers a great defense to the Catholic Church. How bad could their error have been in 1633 if the Gedolim made the same one in 2004? You can no longer say the Medieval Church was alone in fighting reason and scientific progress.

Despite these problems, I think it is important to make the analogy, and I believe we need more people to say it publicly more often. Bloggers of the World Unite! The Chilul Christianity of the Galileo affair did the Catholic Church irreparable harm. In many people's minds, the Church is anti-reason, and Galileo is the proof they bring to that point. Many years from now, much of the world will feel the same way about Orthodox Jewry, and the Slifkin banning will be the proof the bring.

Some will say it is only some Gedolim who spoke out, so it doesn't reflect on Torah. Hogwash!
1) Even those who disagree with the ban agree that Rav Elyashiv, Rav Sheinberg and Rav Dovid Feinstein are among the Gedolei Hador and among the greatest Poskim alive today. Those who agree with the Ban don't say the same thing about Rabbi Hershel Schachter, let alone the others on the list. When every one agrees to the greatness of the Gedolim on one side, and not every agrees to the greatness of the Gedolim on the other side, the former clearly have the edge.
2) When you look at those who learn everyday and in general take Torah seriously, you find many more of them who follow and respect the first set of Gedolim than the second. Torah is certainly not a pure democracy - we only care about those qualified to vote. And those quallfied to vote overwhelming support the pro-Ban Gedolim.
3) The biggest problem though is that when you realize that only the pro-Ban Gedolim have been willing to speak out, while the anti-Ban Gedolim are unwilling to publicly fight for their position, it is clear the latter have in essence conceded the point.

Anyone within the Torah World who feels “The Gedolim” have clearly spoken out against R' Slifkin's positions would be more than justified in saying so. For someone outside the Torah World, to take that position would have even more merit. The next time someone says that “Torah conflicts with Science”, intellectual honesty requires that you acknowledge the legitimacy of the statement before disagreeing.

I know there are some within YU who feel that since their Roshei Yeshiva disagree with the ban, it is not their problem and they have nothing to worry about. I've already written how Halachically the ban would still concern them. Even if someone disagrees with my point though, the Chillul Hashem affects all of us.

Now I realize the Gedolim were aware of these ramifications, yet still decided to sign the ban. I hope to properly explain why at a later point in time. For now though, I'm simply adding this to the list of questions I'll have to answer. Why did they feel banishing these ideas from our Mesorah was so important that it was worth incurring the ridicule of the Non-Frum World, both Jewish and Gentile? What was so urgent that they decided to pay such a heavy price?

As many of you no doubt know, Rabbi Slifkin will be speaking this week at the Young Israel of Flatbush (Avenue I) on Tuesday at 8:00 and on Wednesday at 8:00. I hope to go there as I think it is very important that we show our support. Whether you personally agree with his Hashkafos or not, as long as you feel that they have legitimacy within out Mesorah, it is important to let him know that he is not in this fight by himself. While emailing him is a good idea, showing up in person to hear him is probably much more meaningful.