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.