My thoughts on the Slifkin ban.

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.


At 9:47 AM, Blogger Godol Hador said...

You've lost me. Now I can't tell anymore when you are being ironic, and where you are being sincere!

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous daat y said...

You are sincere.But also sincerely disingenuous.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Aside from the one joke, I meant every word of it. The brilliance of this strategy is that it works whether you respect the Gedolim and believe they know what they are doing or not. I'm surprised everyone hasn't tried it yet. Once I explain why the Gedolim did what they did in the manner in which they did it, you'll realize they do have a well thought out game plan. Until then you'll have to trust me.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Until then you'll have to trust me."

You take yourself waaaaay too seriously. No, they didn't predict this outcome at all, you MORON

At 9:50 PM, Blogger DovBear said...

Smarter than the average Dov Bear Hirsch, maybe.

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it! »

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