The Big Machlokes
I've been too busy to post to my blog, but just like everyone has room for Jello, everyone has time for Purim Torah. To the best of my estimation, GodolHador has also been too busy to post to his blog, so he's decided to do Purim Torah all year round. No doubt he's modeling himself after “The Godolim” who write those silly bans, but I get ahead of myself, even if this is a week late.
Perhaps the biggest question that has bothered me about the Rabbi Slifkin ban, is what is the Halachic status of those who agree with his books. What makes this problem especially troublesome for me is that I was always taught that “Nebech an Apikores is an Apikores”. Rav Yaakov Weinberg ZT'L always stressed this point, and lihavdil (Yiftach bedoro KiShmuel bedoro), the current Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel, Rav Feldman paskened the same way. He wrote:
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.
Now once that is the case, to say Rabbi Slifkin's books are Kefirah is to create the greatest Halachic nightmare of our generation. A brisker or a talmid of Rav Moshe who feels the need to pasken like Rav Elyshav would have no choice but to be completely porush from the frum community, since he has no way of knowing which of them are Minim. Now some may view that as a good thing. The problem is that a porush min hatzibur is also ein lo chelek! Talk about “Damned if you do, damned if you don't”!
We therefore need to go back the original Machlokes between the Rambam and the Raavad on whether an inadvertent heretic is a heretic or not. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik famously gave up trying to understand the Raavad's lenient position, but that's because he limited himself to true lomdus. He assumed Raavad's position had to make sense. I however have a much simpler explanation. According to the Rambam, there are certain fundamental ideas which someone must have in order to have a relationship with Hashem in the next world. The reason why someone doesn't have that knowledge is irrelevant. Without it, he ceases to exist after his death. According to the Raavad, believing in heresy is simply a very very bad sin – so bad that you lose your entire chelek for violating it. However, if someone violates by accident, but was actually motivated LeShem Shomayim based on a mistaken understanding of Torah, the sin simply doesn't rise to the level of the heresy.
Now based on this chakira, it is clear that those who follow Rav Elyashiv's psak on Rabbi Slifkin have no reason to worry about the Rambam's position altogether. Rav Elyashiv's psak that Rabbi Slifkin's books are kefirah would only make sense according to the Shitah of the Raavad. Saying that Chazal made mistakes in science and either misunderstood or failed to properly transmit the pshat of 6 days = 13.5 billion years can only be kefirah is you say kefirah is simply a very very terrible and sinful thing to say. According to the Rambam's view that Kefirah means that one who holds of such a thing can have no relationship with Hashem in the next world, such positions can't possibly be Kefirah. It's not just that the Rambam paskens those views are not Kefirah. According to the Rambam (and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe), it is impossible and beyond absurd to even consider the possilbity of them being Kefirah. If anything, they are the antithesis of Kefirah.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to people, for every Kula can be a Chumra, and every Chumra can be a Kula. Chazon Ish shiurim are painful on Pesach, but very convenient for sick people on Yom Kippur. The knife always cuts both ways.
We can now answer another difficult question. Can something true be Kefirah? According to the Rambam, the answer if of course not. How can true knowledge keep one away from Hashem in the next world. To the contrary – it would deepen his relationship to Hashem. According to the Raavad though, the knowledge may be true, but it can be a terrible sin to think and believe such a thing. Take for example Hirhurim - no not that kind, the dirty kind. The type that pop into your head when you repeat the name “Jessica Alba”. [Halachic warning! For those of you who've seen here – especially in person – it's completely assur to repeat her name.] (To dark blue shaitel, of course you're more gorgeous than her, but you're even more tzanua than Sarah Emeinu so I had to use another example.) Hirhurim can be true, but they still can assur to think about. A person may have true desires, but thinking about them can be a terrible aveira.
For who think that this pshat is a bit far-fetched, you should know that of all the words Rav Elyashiv used to describe Rabbi Slifkin's books, he never called them Sheker. How could he? The evidence is overwhelmingly in their favor. He may not believe it, but he never went so far as to say that they are Sheker. He rather said that “they can say such things, but we can't.” In other words, the Rambam may very well have been right to say that Chazal made scientific errors. However, for us to say such a things would be such a terrible sin that it falls under the category of Kefirah.
It seems to me that the best policy is to be machmir according to both Shitos. With things that fall under the Ramabm's definition of Kefirah, such a belief in a physical G-d, you should be machmir to treat the inadvertent heresy as real heresy. However, with true statements that current Godolim think are bad for people to think about, you shouldn't be maikel like the Rambam and believe in them, but rather be machmir like the Raavad and include them in the category of Kefirah. However, to treat a Raavad low-level kefirah statement as a Rambam high-level kefirah statement is to undermine the whole basis of the machlokes, which means that you aren't paskening like either one of them.
Of course many people like to choose one side of each machlokes, the same way as they only root for one side during a ballgame. In that case, the next time someone asks how could you say such kefiradikah thing such as “Chazal didn't fully transmit the truth about the 6 days”, tell them “I'm machmir – like the Rambam. Only those who are crazy maikel like the Raavad and are willing to accept sevaros that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik rejected as absurd would be bothered by such a problem. If you want to be maikel fine, but please don't prevent me from being machmir in this most important area."