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.