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.