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Commentary with Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is a regular column on the Nishma website in which Nishma's Founding Director analyzes contemporary issues, in the general as well as the Jewish world, from a Torah perspective.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

THE SLIFKIN AFFAIR REVISITED - Part 3: The Nature of Machloket

Available on the Nishma web site

7 comments:

  1. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    In part 3, Rav Hecht, shlita, expands on the concept of machloket, defining three major types as well as necessary assumptions that come with each. However, one thing that was missed was the nature of personal bias. The gemara tells us that the mitzvah of rebuke can only rarely be practised. One amora doubts anyone can do it properly anymore. If that was the case 1500 years ago, imagine how much more applicable the statement would be in this arrogant day and age. Why is this so? As mentioned in the article, one of the qualities of the rebuker must be the willingness to accept rebuke, to get as well as to give. This is a very rare personal characteristic. Quite often, the people who dish it out are the last ones to accept it. This is despite the fact that the gemara exounds on the virtue of accepting rebuke. There is another underlying assumption in this machlokes, that of personal bias. In an honest debate, both sides agree to present their positions and keep an open mind to the positions of their opponents. This point is often forgotten as most public debates nowadays are mostly shouting matches where each side screams its opinion with no intention of hearing what the rebuttal is. The question in any machlokes therefore becomes - am I entering the machlokes with an intention of reaching a true conclusion, or do I just want to shout down anyone I disagree with, regardless of the merits of their case? In the Sliffkin affair, it is this bias that has poisoned the dialogue between the two sides. As opposed to starting with the response to the ban as the commencement of the machlokes, as the article suggests, I would propose that it is the nature of the ban itself that determines the response and therefore the subsequent machlokes. In this case, several bad assumptions were made by the authorities declaring the ban.

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  2. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    (1) The book contains material which is heretical. Unfortunately, there is no way the gedolei hador who issued the ban could know this as they never read the book. Therefore the assumption was made that the source reporting to them was doing so with honest intent to uphold the honour of Torah and not in pursuit of a personal or ideological agenda. (2) The rulers of the chareidi community occupy a position of leadership over the entire Torah-observant jewish world. There are two possible assumptions that flow from this. The first is the simplistic: If you don't agree to accept their authority, you're not Torah-observant and therefore all Torah-observant Jews follow their lead. The second would acknowledge that non-Chareidi religious Jews exist and can be considered Torah-observant but that they have no real authority of their own and therefore must follow anything the chareidi world decrees. This is what has lead to the bitterness on the other side and the vehemence of the reaction. This machlokes is simply not Torah-related in the true sense of the term. It is a political decision made by political leaders under the guise of being religious in nature. When a person enters into a real debate, he assumes he will get an opportunity to make his point, to be heard. No one in their right mind shows up for such an event knowing that he'll be shouted down the minute he disagrees with the other person. This is exactly what has happened here. The propoents of the ban basically said "We're decided this book is apikorus, we're not interested in hearing the opinion of anyone who disagrees with us, thank you and have a nice day." Who would not be turned off by such narrowness? How else could it have been handled? Rav Sliffkin could have been invited to meet with the chareidi leadership and explain his position personally. He could have been given a chance to prove his position using halachic sources. An advisory could have been put out exclusively to the chareidi public: "This book is not for us" and left at that. In a perfect world, a compromise might have emerged from both sides' desire to avoid conflict and present a view that is harmonious with Torah beliefs. Instead, what amounted to a power grab happened leading to a political fight.

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  3. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    (1) The book contains material which is heretical. Unfortunately, there is no way the gedolei hador who issued the ban could know this as they never read the book. Therefore the assumption was made that the source reporting to them was doing so with honest intent to uphold the honour of Torah and not in pursuit of a personal or ideological agenda. (2) The rulers of the chareidi community occupy a position of leadership over the entire Torah-observant jewish world. There are two possible assumptions that flow from this. The first is the simplistic: If you don't agree to accept their authority, you're not Torah-observant and therefore all Torah-observant Jews follow their lead. The second would acknowledge that non-Chareidi religious Jews exist and can be considered Torah-observant but that they have no real authority of their own and therefore must follow anything the chareidi world decrees.

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  4. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    This is what has lead to the bitterness on the other side and the vehemence of the reaction. This machlokes is simply not Torah-related in the true sense of the term. It is a political decision made by political leaders under the guise of being religious in nature. When a person enters into a real debate, he assumes he will get an opportunity to make his point, to be heard. No one in their right mind shows up for such an event knowing that he'll be shouted down the minute he disagrees with the other person. This is exactly what has happened here. The propoents of the ban basically said "We're decided this book is apikorus, we're not interested in hearing the opinion of anyone who disagrees with us, thank you and have a nice day." Who would not be turned off by such narrowness? How else could it have been handled? Rav Sliffkin could have been invited to meet with the chareidi leadership and explain his position personally. He could have been given a chance to prove his position using halachic sources. An advisory could have been put out exclusively to the chareidi public: "This book is not for us" and left at that. In a perfect world, a compromise might have emerged from both sides' desire to avoid conflict and present a view that is harmonious with Torah beliefs. Instead, what amounted to a power grab happened leading to a political fight.

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  5. Stating that something is political seems to imply a self-serving purpose to some action or pronouncement. In this vein, I do think that this may be too harsh a term to apply to the Charedi gedolim. I think that their intent is to do what is best. Nevertheless, I do think that there were policy concerns in rendering this decision. Let us recognize that notwithstanding the language of any pronouncement, the intended audience is still the Charedi world. The Charedi world just speaks in this manner -- not that this is our opinion within Torah but that this is the opinion of Torah. This is fundamental to the Charedi approach because at its essence is the desire to remove decision making from the individual and pass it on to authority figures, i.e. the gedolim. Such a transfer cannot occur if one believes that he/she chooses the authority figure. The authority must be presented without any doubts or questions. To accomplish its goals, the Charedi world cannot recognize any gadlut outside its realm -- thus it must speak in this manner. And again this manner of presentation is necessary as allowing decision making by the individual opens up the possibility of a person becoming non-religious, etc. I do not think it is politically motivated and built upon a desire to maintain control. I think it is an outgrowth of the fear of Reform. Limiting possibility in thought and declaring strong walls of authority was a method of combatting Reform -- and continues in our world today. I will expand more upon this in my next part of the article.

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  6. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    As the old saying goes, "nations have no friends, only self-interests". Or the other old one, "everything's political". It's not too harsh to suggest that the current machlokes between the different segments of the Torah world are based on political considerations rather than religious ones. Consider: the object of learning Torah is to reach an understanding of the universal truth it contains. If a person is sincerely interested in reaching that truth, any source of information that furthers that quest is legitimate for learning from. As an anology, if I were to want to write a paper on the proper treatment of heart attacks, but my personal prejudice caused me to avoid all papers written by someone with a French-sounding name, the quality of my final product would suffer. Yes, the chareidim "came of age" in their fight against Reform by deciding to creat their own separate community with centralizing authority instead of the individual authority espoused by the modern groups. I would go as far as saying that Mizrachi and Modern Orthodoxy could improve themselves by adapting some measures of centralized authority and setting standards. Having said that, there is a certain intellectual ignorance in deciding who one can learn from, and who is ab initio disaqualified from teaching because of a background.

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  7. schweitzer@axxent.caNovember 15, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    Two example will suffice. Dovid Hamelech, in Tehilim, notes "from all my teachers I have learned", and not just the ones he philosophically agreed with. In fact, the gemara tells us his willingness to learn from anyone craeted within him the ability to become the final halachic decisor for his generation since everyone knew a psak from him was developed every conceivable point of view out there. A second involved a story a friend of mine told me, about a rav who wrote a sefer and wound up dependent on some Latin sources. He turned to a priest who knew the language and with his help, finished the book. Imagine the alternative - well, he's like to do the book but if he has to turn to a goy for help, well then it's not worth writing? In the end, the statement in the last post "a desire to maintain control" is exactly what this conflict is about. Certain elements in the chareidi world wish to create a definition of what an authentic Torah Jews is, from the clothes worn to the nusachs used. Anything that contradicts that view is a danger to these people and is pushed aside. It's all about political control and denying that gives the machlokes a kedusha that it is not entitled to. So there!

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