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.