DarkBlueHat

My thoughts on the Slifkin ban.

Monday, July 04, 2005

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.

22 Comments:

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Gil Student said...

I can tell you for a fact that there are plenty of people who read my blog but otherwise have very little knowledge of the blogosphere. At least one rabbi, with very little web savvy, talks to me each time he sees me (which is a handful of times a year) about my recent posts. He is extremely concerned about the Slifkin issue.

This has happened to me with a number of other semi-prominent people in the community. More than once, I'll mention an article or a journal and receive within hours an e-mail from the author or editor thanking me for mentioning it. One professor, after I expressed uncertainty over whether I properly understood his article, took the time to confirm that I had understood it correctly. Another professor, from the same university, submitted a manuscript to me for publication and added that he agreed with a critique I had written about one of his colleagues.

You'd be surprised how many people are reading.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Apparently none of them cared enough to show up to the lecture. They may have thought “My these bloggers are worked up over that Slifkin guy”, but they aren't willing to do anything to help him. I plan to post on how non-Internet people can help, and see if it does any good. So far though, Rabbi Slifkin spoke about a controversial topic in the middle of one of the largest frum neighborhoods around and next to no one showed up. Clearly we need a change in strategy.

Of course this whole thing begs the question of why didn't the Gedolim choose benign neglect in the first place.

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are insane to think that the geodlim planned all this, they might or might not play chess well, but they don't know the american scene at all. And few of them, for the record, are good chess players. I know people who play chess, who've played with some of them, it is time you grew up and saw the current crop of gedolim as human beings.

But I agree that this is the strategy to use, because it is quite clear that they did NOT mean the ban literally and this is the only way to prove it.

Everyone who asks this is told not to treat people who espouse these views as kofrim, but the reason given is that "there is stll machlokes about this" which is their way out, so I doubt it will work longterm but it's useful enough anyway as strategies go because it makes them feel foolish

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're overinterpreting. People didn't show up because the blogosphere has succeeded. There are very few people who went to hear Slifkin because as several people told me, they know what he has to say already. I'm sure the lecture would not teach much new. Showing up supports him personally, but doesn't have any larger effect, so people skipped a lecture they didn't think would enlighten them. Not a big deal.

 
At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"'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."

DuH. That is why once they saw that people were taking the ban literally, they couldn't disown it, as it would call their judgement into question. The only way they knew to deal with it without making themselves lose all authority was to stand by the ban.

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Anonymous1 - It will take a while for me to convince you of the correctness of my take on the situation, but it is nice to see that you consider my approach of taking the ban seriously as a politcally shrewd one. Even if I'm completely wrong (which I'm not), it is a good proof by contradiction.


Anonymous2 - Showing up supports him personally - what more of a reason could someone want? It also is a vote of support. If the Gedolim found out many hundrerds and thousands of people came to hear him, would it have an effect?

 
At 9:36 PM, Blogger Gil Student said...

I don't know why people didn't show up. But I know that, for example, a rabbi who has known me by face for years started reading my blog and now makes sure I get aliyos in his shul and has asked me to speak. I've been asked to speak at other shuls also, by people who know me from my blog.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Gil - Perhaps the pro-Slifkin group is like the Dean campaign. Sometimes a vocal minority does not have the majority behind them. I know you have many fans - Just read this profile in FutureSimchas! The question is, how much of an influence are you having. Just because you feel strongly about something and many people religiously read your blog, does not mean those people feel strongly about the same issues you do and have reached the same conclusion. You can entertain people without convincing them. We need a multi-pronged strategy here on how to get people involved. Getting people to take the Halachic ramifications of the ban seriously is one way to get them to speak to their Rabbonim, and so have the concerns passed up the Rabbinic food chain. There are other steps as well, and people need to realize the urgency here. The longer the ban stands, the harder it will be to alter it. History is judging us and the verdict so far is not pretty.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Godol Hador said...

I partly agree with you. But only partly. Plenty of people read my blog. It was the ridicule that got me started in the first place. If the ridicule had no effect, Rabbi's Feldman and Orlofsky wouldn't have mentioned it. Clearly, they ARE concerned that regular frum people are ridiculing the Gedolim. Its not just the Mis-nagid's and skeptics of the world. Anyways, I like your tactic too. Good luck with that.

 
At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your plan assumes the gedolim are pro-active -- which is a false assumption.

The gedolim/poskim are re-active -- which is why things like this happen.

 
At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but it is nice to see that you consider my approach of taking the ban seriously as a politcally shrewd one.'"

I think it would have been politically shrewd in January (and hirhurim advocated something like this too - I agreed but others didn't.)
At this point, it is basically a pointless strategy with little chance of success as a)they have an answer ready at this point (it's the majority who say it's kefira, but it's not unanimous, so you needn't avoid their wine, etc.) and b)they are more likely to shrug it off. I wish you well, but the time for this has long past.

 
At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the Gedolim found out many hundrerds and thousands of people came to hear him, would it have an effect?"

Probably not, and if it did, it would be a bad effect. This is worse than your previous idea, which at least doesn't do any harm.

 
At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was the ridicule that got me started in the first place. If the ridicule had no effect, Rabbi's Feldman and Orlofsky wouldn't have mentioned it. Clearly, they ARE concerned that regular frum people are ridiculing the Gedolim. Its not just the Mis-nagid's and skeptics of the world. Anyways, I like your tactic too. Good luck with that."

This is true. Humor is the most powerful weapon, and it's the fact that so many have lost respect for the gedolim who signed that worries them. The problem with the ridicule on Gadol Hador's blog is that while he is not misnagid, he is a skeptic, and not a "Regular frum guy" at least by the standards of the signatories. If Gadol wasn't airing general doubts about faith and was only ridiculing Slifkin his site would have been much more effective. A similar site from a charedi would do wonders. (It does worry me that our most talented satirists are skeptics.)

 
At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having the ban stand is not necessarily the worst outcome, as even though it's standing, most people are ignoring it in practice. This is one major step in rebellion against da'as torah ideology and blind following of whoever is called a "Gadol" when they rule on situations they don't understand. And while I'd prefer that there was some responsible leadership, the fact that the average charedi is shrugging his shoulders and saying "these ideas have been popular for thirty years, a bit late to ban them now" and ignoring the ban is probably a positive development. Eventually, it will force more responsible leadership.

 
At 2:21 AM, Anonymous joshua said...

I think that "the alleged Avraham" quote is being taken out of context. Slifkin embraced Rav Dessler's view that 6 days really means 6 sefirot, so the chronological problems in Bereishis go away. The audience member was making the point that if one can take a traditionally clearly understood word ("yom") in the Torah and reinterpret it, at will, as a sefira, what will be next? Perhaps Avraham, who our tradition tells us was our forefather, was also really a sefira. That was the point being made. He said "the alleged person Avraham" to mean the person who, using Rav Dessler's theory, may someday be explained to be a sefira, not a person. He wasn't questioning that Avraham existed--only that he may not exist after Rav Dessler gets through with him. I should know--I made the remark.

 
At 2:43 AM, Anonymous joshua said...

>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.<

I was attacking Slifkin (for embracing Rav Dessler's explanation), not supporting him.

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Joshua - I'm sorry, my mistake. A certain "skeptical blogger" praised the bravery of the one asking that question, so I assumed you had the same motivation as he did.

I believe my underlying point still stands. Our goal should be to make inroads with those who never question the Gedolim, and treating them with kavod is the way to do that. Again, my deepest apologies for misinterpeting your intentions. To answer your question though, he have a Mesorah that Brias HaOlam and Maaseh Markavah contains the deepest mysteries and so is not simply to be taken literally. Does G-d have a literal throne with pictures on it?

 
At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Apparently none of them cared enough to show up to the lecture"

What does that prove? Rabbi Slifkin isn't going to tell anyone anything they didn't already know about dinosaurs or the age of the universe, with all due respect to him. I think in the area of zoology he has some truly insightful things to say, things that aren't commonly known, but that's even a more narrow field of interest. And his lectures were in Flatbush just as Flatbush became a ghost town for the summer. Frankly, I would have gone only so I could pay my ten bucks, but I just couldn't make it either night (weddings) and I'm sure that was the case for plenty of other people who'd have gone just to show support.

I bet if his lectures were about the ban itself there'd have been more people there. But to have him tell me that dinosaurs lived 165 million years ago? Sorry, I've known that since I was ten.

 
At 9:46 AM, Anonymous ralph spoilsport said...

DBH: In my opinion, the idea that the Gedolim are 'playing a complex chess game' here is more insulting and disturbing than the whole rest of the story put together.
Who hired them to do this? Who authorized them to play with you and me like pawns in some kind of game? Their official jobs are as poskim or Roshei Yeshiva, and they are supposed to be telling us the truth about Judaism so that we can follow it properly. If you are right that they see themselves as planning some kind of cosmic strategy for 'success of Torah' or some other such goal, then they have really overstepped their bounds, and the problem is bigger than anyone on the blogosphere has mentioned.
There were times in the history of Klal Yisrael when we had official leaders, such as Kings or official Judges, and even then there was all kinds of trouble. These Rabbis, however smart they may be, have no business playing general at our expense.
Maybe your strategy will work, but if your assumptions are right, we're really in a mess.

 
At 8:19 AM, Anonymous daat y said...

I congratulate you on your sincere intentions.However in reality you will be turning windmills.There is no chance of the Gedolim changing.Those who follow these Gedolim will follow as much or less in the Slifkin affair as they did with regard to the sheitls or water issues.

 
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