My thoughts on the Slifkin ban.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Is Rabbi Slifkin a heretic?

Perhaps the single most important Halachic question in the controversy over Rabbi Slifkin's books is what is the Halachic status of Rabbi Slifkin and the many who agree with his books? For if his books are in fact heresy, it would seem to follow that who agree with them are heretics. The ramifications of such a psak are simply mind boggling. Even if those who agree with the books are safek kofrim, the implication would wreak havoc on the daily lives of every frum Jew.

The basic source to be lenient is the well known Raivad in his hasagos to the Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 3:7. The Rambam writes that one who believes in a Corporeal G-d is a Min. The Raivad argues and says that you shouldn't call such a person a Min since there were those who were greater and better than the Rambam who believed such things because of what they saw in Tanach, and even more so because of what they saw in the Aggados which corrupt people's minds. (Note to self – don't corrupt your mind by mistakenly taking things literally.) The Kesef Mishnah is not happy with that Girsa, for how could the Raivad had used the words “Great and Better” than the Rmbam to refer to someone who believes in a Physical G-d?! The Kesef Mishnah therefore brings down a Girsa which says “Even though the fundamental belief is like that, one who believes G-d has a body because he took the language of the Pesukim and Midrashim literally is not worthy of being called a Min”.

There is a well known Rav Chaim Brisk on this Machlokes. As everyone knows, Rav Chaim was famous for finding the fundamental premises underlying the positions of the Rishonim. Rather than trying to prove one particular side of a debate was correct, he would create a framework to show how both sides had a coherent and rational position. His deep understanding of every side of an issue sometimes made it very difficult for him to pasken, for he was loathe to reject shitos which had so much merit to them. It is therefore very striking that in this case Rav Chaim said, “I don't understand the Raivad. Nebech an Apikores is still an Apikores”. Whatever psychological or epistemological excuses you may give, this person believes in a being other than G-d. Now without a doubt Rav Chaim was able to come up with creative explanations for the Raivad's position. However, he wasn't able to come up with one that he considered to be worthy of the Raivad. A sevara is not just a technical answer - it has to make sense. Rav Chaim was unable to come up with an explanation of the Raivad that made sense.

It therefore follows that for those who hold like Rav Chaim that inadvertent heretics are considered heretics, the ramification of saying Rabbi Slifkin's books are kefirah would be scary beyond belief. This would pose such an emergency to our Halachic way of life that we should literally stop everything and not touch another sugya until a solution was found. For the many Briskers out there, this should be their highest priority.

How about the rest of us though? We didn't all learn in Brisker Yeshivos, and even those of us who did don't necessarily need to follow every psak of Rav Chaim. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I quote to you this letter written by Rav Aharon Feldman and sent to Rabbi Gil Student. (Please go to the 11th entry of Moshiach Talk to read the full letter.)

In my humble opinion, the belief of the elokistim runs counter to one of the thirteen principles of faith and indeed the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva) rules that (such people) are in the category of heretics (“minim”). Therefore, their shechita and testimony (including that relating to kashrus) are invalid and one may not include them in a minyan. Even though their belief is inadvertent (“shogeg”), it is already well known (from Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk z”l) that one who holds an opinion of non-belief (“apikorsus”) inadvertently is considered a non-believer nonetheless. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his work “Igros Moshe” (Orech Chaim, Vol 4, section 91 para. 6) draws the same conclusion.

Thanks to Rav Aharon Feldman's bekius we see that Rav Moshe Feinstein paskens that an inadvertent heretic is a heretic. If there ever was a Posek Acharon here in America, it was without a doubt Rav Moshe Feinstein. For those concerned about Posek Acharon, it seems that by default you should follow Rav Moshe's psak until you specifically hear from your Rav otherwise. Now we don't know conclusively if Rav Moshe himself would have considered Rabbi Slifkin's books to be Kefirah. There is a debate between his son and his son-in-law on the books, with each of them on the opposite side of the spectrum. I'm would not be surprised though if they both would agree that if the books are in fact Kefirah, those who agree with them are therefore Kofrim, with all the halachic ramifications that follow.

Since there is a large segment of the frum community who follow the psak of the Rambam, Rav Chaim, and Rav Moshe in this area, it seems we have by far the most urgent Halachic emergency of our lifetime. Now a devil's advocate may say that the Gedolim only paskened the books are Kefirah for whose who held inadvertent heretics are not heretics. For those who consider inadvertent heretics to be heretics, they didn't pasken the books are kefirah. To even say such a thing is to leave the world of sevara and join Alice in Wonderland. For the countless people who pasken like Rav Moshe, to even be choshesh that Rav Dovid Feinstein is correct and the books are Kefirah leads to the most frightening shaylos imaginable.

The problem though is even worse than that. If you recall the language of the Raivad above, and especially the Girsa approved by the Kesef Mishnah, not all inadvertent heretics are exempt from Halachic consequences of their beliefs. The Raivad only said the Halachic system forgave them because they took the Pesukim and the words of Chazal at face value. It doesn't necessarily follow that one who mistakenly believes in Kefirah because of scientific evidence would be similarly excused. In fact, Rav Feldman on page 4 of his article makes a similar point. Interpretations which have no basis in the Written or Oral Torah and which contradict the tradition of the Midrashim and the commentaries are perversions of Torah ideas and may be classified as megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha (distorted interpretations of the Torah) which are forbidden to study. The third perek in Pirkei Avos says about one who is megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha that “even if he has Torah and Good deeds, he has no chelek in Olam Habah”. Even if everyone paskened like the Raivad, it may not be enough to save Rabbi Slifkin and his many followers.

The basic Halachic sources indicate we have an unparalleled Halachic nightmare here. However, you don't even need to open a sefer to see that there are those who pasken Rabbi Slifkin is a heretic. There were several well known and respected Rabbonim who slandered Rabbi Slifkin and accused him of things which simply weren't true. Now the Halacha in such a case is very clear. Anyone who publicly maligns someone must publicly ask for forgiveness. (While the Chafetz Chaim argued with Rabbeinu Yonah and said if the person didn't know you spoke badly about him, you shouldn't ask for forgiveness if doing so will make him aware of the lashon harah, in this case though the pronouncements were well known, and Rabbi Slifkin surely knew about them for he has written a beautiful rebuttal of them.) Aside for asking Mechila for themselves, these Rabbonim need to publicly ask Mechila for another reason as well. Through their libel they caused their many followers to be violate Issurei Deoraisah, and their followers must also ask for forgiveness, espcecially with the month of Elul coming up! Since this is a case of Machti Es HaRabbim, it is of utmost importance to rectify the problem right away. Yet we see that many of these prominent Rabbonim did no such thing. How could this be? The simplest explanation is that they pasken Rabbi Slifkin in a heretic, and therefore the libel that they spoke against him doesn't pose a Halachic problem.

Twenty three Gedolim signed a letter calling Rabbi Slifkin a Min. All I've heard so far is one unconfirmed account that one of these Gedolim said he didn't mean to call him a Min – but his books are Kefirah. That still leaves twenty two Gedolim who have yet to publicly retract their statement calling Rabbi Slifkin a Min, and even according to the one who did, if you pasken like the Rambam, Rav Chaim, or the “Posek Acharon in America” Rav Moshe, you still must consider him a Min. Now I must admit I try not to follow the rumor mill about how one of the Gedolim who signed the ban appeared to one of his Talmidim in a dream and said “Only an idiot would take a Kol Korei literally! The only thing stupider than that would be to take the first Perek of Biraishis literally!” If there are Gedolim who have publicly retracted their signatures or modified their statements, I haven't heard of it. (If anyone has information on this, please email me.) However, even if only one of the Gedolim still stands by the heresy charge, it creates Halachic nightmares beyond belief. There are many questions people have about the ban. Surely among the most perplexing though is why aren't the Gedolim acting on the ramifications of their own words and teaching us how to live in the a world where much of (if not most of) the frum world are posul for the most basic Halachic functions.


At 2:50 PM, Anonymous dave said...

WADR, this issue is turning into an obsession with you and other bloggers. I understand your point, but enough allready, move on, it's not healthy for you.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous NCO Chassid said...

From that citation in Igros Moshe, it as at the very least debatable [and at the most a raayah punfakert] that R' Moshe held a nebech apikoris is oychet an apikoris.

My sources indicate that Rav Elyashiv seems not to agree with that well-known vort of R' Chaim.

Also, the Sefer HaIkkarim did not agree with it:

See page 12 in this essay:

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous R2-D2 said...

The problem is that the Sefer HaIkkarim's position, which is identical to that described by RAF in his letter on the Slifkin affair, simply doesn't make sense. How can one hold kefiradik views and not be kofer? Certainly according to Rambam's view of how Olam HaBa is all about our intellectual relationship with Hashem, it's not possible.

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Chaim said...

Dave, the point is that showing the absurdly far-reaching ramifications of this ban might help people see how ridiculous it was.

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous SAF said...

RAF seems to have changed his mind on nebech apikoris just as he changed his mind on Slifkin. I was always taught nebech apikoris is oychet an apikoris and can't possibly change my mind on that. If I ever decide to follow Rav Elyashiv and RAF and consider Slifkin's book to be kefirah, it would be impossible for me to live my life. I couldn't trust my Rebbeim, the mashgichim of the local vaad or my wife when she claims she went to the mikvah.

I am left with three choices. I can flush my life down the tiolet. I can flush Rav Chaim down the tiolet. Or I can flush Rav Elyashiv and RAF down the toilet along with their ridiculous ban. While I don't enjoy it, number three is really the only choice I have. To even consider the possility of the ban being legitimate is to destroy everything I have. Sign me up for banning the ban. What can I do to help?

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous dave said...

Chaim, from Webster's dictionary. "Obsess- To preoccupy the mind excessively." I'm not arguing whether the ban was right or wrong. I'm saying, you're not changing anyone's mind anymore. People have made up their mind allready. Move on. Get a life. Whatever. Even Gil on hirhurim said a while ago he was stopping blogging about it for the same reason.

At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(While the Chafetz Chaim argued with Rabbeinu Yonah and said if the person didn't know you spoke badly about him, you shouldn't ask for forgiveness if doing so will make him aware of the lashon harah,"

My memory is that the chofetz chaim says that you *should ask forgiveness, and that R Yisroel Salanter disagreed, and said you can't if doing so will make him aware of the loshon hara.

If what you wrote is correct, I'd appreciate sources, esp. any reference to R Yonah if one exists.

At 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where in the ban did they call him a min? They said the work is minus.
Or are you extrapolating that they all agree that he who writes minus is a min.

At 10:53 PM, Anonymous DBH said...

You're right. It's R' Yisroel Salanter. I'll double check to be sure, but I'll go back and fix it when I have the chance. Thank you.

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us know if there is any mokor in R Yonah at all, or if that was an error.

At 11:41 PM, Blogger ari said...

Huh? Did I miss something? First there are many psakim of the Rambam we don't follow.(eg kollel: see Igros Moshe on the topic)RAF specified HE IS NOT A KOFER. The only person(that counts) to call him a kofer was RMS and he is NOT a posek. R Elyashiv(posek),R BElsky(posek)RHS,RY Berkowitz and the list of poskim go on and on that hold either he is not a kofer, or his work is OK. I think I understand your point but I think you're way off here.

At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Ploni Almoni said...

"It doesn't necessarily follow that one who mistakenly believes in Kefirah because of scientific evidence would be similarly excused."
Firstly,since there are numerous Rabbinic sources which said the same things as R' Slifkin, he & others who agree with him even if they are wrong,are no different than one who is misled by a posuk or a Midrash,which the Raavad says is an excuse.
Secondly,one can argue that proven science is even stronger than a posuk or Midrash, because a posuk or
Midrash is not always literal.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you ever plan to publish your much talked about theories into this whole affair? I for one am still waiting to hear them.


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's been six months already!

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rumors on blogs maintain that Rav Hershelk Schachter has defended the content of Slifkins writings.

Rabbi Slifkin holds that the notion of "Chava being created from Odom's body " is just an allegory and that she really didn't "make the break"- literally.

following are Slifkins own words ....[ in boldface answering the question below]

[ blogger: Here is an email i received from someone in correpsondence with R Slifkin.... -----]Original Message-----From: [editorial censor of name] Sent: Sunday, October 23, 2005 4:37 AMTo: zoorabbi@zootorah.comSubject:
Hello Hello Rabbi Slifkin, I have been looking at your website and read about the "Controversy" and want to ask if acceptance of evolution would also mean that you would accept that Eve didn't literally come from Adam's rib or side- physically and literally? Thanks for your response ahead of time...

[ Slifkin:] Dear [ editorial censor of name],

It wouldn't necessarily require that, but I do happen to believe that this is not literal (I think that this is by far one of the cases where it is easy to see that it is meant allegorically).

best wishes, Natan Slifkin

Is it even REMOTELY conceivable that Rav Hershel Schachter would say that this was acceptable opinion or that it should be taught...even to baalei teshuvos? I cast my bets "no way ".

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