Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Flashback

I'm not the same person I was a few years ago. Overall I'm grateful for that, but occasionally, it's a real shame. Because sometimes I hear or read something which I just wish I could have discovered back in the days when I was a trusting, innocent, da'as torah believing yeshiva bochur. Alas, those sweet and unspoiled times are no more. Yet it's just too interesting of an opportunity to pass up. So I'm going to attempt a bit of a time warp. I'm going to try to recapture that bygone era, to return to that pristine state of immaculate faith and imagine what would have gone through my head if the old Me had just read what I did. Here goes:

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I just read this letter from R' Nosson Slifkin to R' Moshe Meiselman. I just don't know what to say! I'm angry, and in shock, and very, very upset! (The letter is a response to various objections and comments R' Meiselman made regarding R' Slifkin and the ideas expounded in his books.)

I have to admit that I'm not very knowledgeable in the overall issues or even the specific points that are mentioned in the letter, and so make no claim about the veracity of the overall dispute regarding Science vs. Torah (although I think you might be able to figure which side of the debate I'd side with). But putting all that aside, if R' Slifkin is being honest in his presentation of R' Meiselman's comments, (he does provide specific quotes from recorded sources, which would be pretty easy to verify, and which therefore cause me to believe that he's being truthful), R' Meiselman's assault on R' Slifkin is entirely inexcusable. Seeing how R' Meiselman unfairly disparaged him, distorted his words, lied outright, misrepresented his intentions, and was just overall deplorable in his treatment of R' Slifkin made me sick to my stomach. I felt betrayed and deceived. It was exactly the type of reaction which my inner apikores loves to shove right up into my face as he loudly proclaims, "You see! This is what roshei yeshiva are like!"

But I ask myself why this really matters. After all, to a frum Jew, someone who believes in the importance of halacha, it's irrelevant if even the most prominent gadol hador (which no one claims R' Meisleman is, but he is a well respected rosh yeshiva) was caught red-handed in a great juicy fib. Halacha is meant to be adhered to regardless of how other people behave. Yet for some reason the whole thing grates on me terribly. After pondering the matter for a few brief moments, I think I know why it's troubling me so much.

To so many of us whose knowledge of the deep philosophical and ideological truths of Judaism are quite deficient, the fact of the matter is that our commitment to Judaism is to a large part based on trust. Halacha isn't easy to keep, but we keep it because we know it's the right thing. But how do we know that? Most of us haven't really studied or investigated that claim with any real depth. Yet even while we are aware of our lack of solid intellectual grounding, we still trust that that the belief is true. But why? I think if we were to examine why most of us believe that many of our cherished ideas are true, we'll discover that it's simply because our rabbeim have told us that it is so. They've taught us, and explained to us, and instilled it within us, that this is the right path. And we trust these people. We trust them for all sorts of things, but we also most definitely trust them that they understand torah well, that they are fair minded, honest, and considerate. And that they know best. So even though we ourselves can't know for certain it's the right thing, we rest easy knowing that these great people, who are so much wiser and more knowledgeable than us, must surely have investigated the issues properly, deliberated carefully, and thoroughly considered all the factors before coming to the conclusion that our path is indeed the right one.

But when I see something like the above, when I see a person that is considered a talmid chacham, one who is supposedly fair-minded and reasonable, and who posseses much knowledgeable of torah, one who is looked up to and admired as a bearer of truth, displaying such an utterly reprehensible demonstration of prejudice and untrustworthiness, it shakes me to my very core. And it makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, the trust I put in my rabbis about the torah being right and proper might actually be mistaken too.

9 comments:

joe said...

Excellent post!

I have realized for some time now that our faith is based on the gedolim and our rebbeim.

I have had a real crisis of faith when my "Godol" and tzaddik let me ( the community) down big time!
I won't go into the details now
(If interested you can e mail me )
either way,I am less naive now and stories as you have posted about our leaders being stupid, mislead or at worse lying and corrupt are not shocking to me at all
They are but "par for the course"

I have had to reasess my faith and values and it no longer runs along the lines of orthdoxy or even judaism for that matter.

It is for that reason that I identify with your shock and horor with the beahvior of rabbi meiselman etc and I would like to point out to you Hedyot , that for your blissfuly happy emunah's sake, to do the ostrich and don't scrutinize your heroes as you never know where this will lead !

The Hedyot said...

> ...don't scrutinize your heroes as you never know where this will lead...

Too late. I know exactly where it will lead. I'm there.

Anonymous said...

Check out the justification of some of the attacks by a talmid.
blog:http://fkmaniac.blogspot.com
I'm sure he can address the one's he left out too if you'll ask him.

Anonymous said...

Thank G-d, there are always at least some honest rabbis around, so all is not lost. Also, I thought part of our trust was in a chain of tradition going back from our parents, not our rabbis.

(Berel Wein once pointed out that the Jewish people are stronger than their leaders. He pointed to the Christian practice of forcing rabbis to debate, thinking that if the rabbis loses, all the Jews will convert. In fact, however, even when two great rabbis converted in the times before the Spanish Inquistion, no Jews followed.)

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows that Meiselman is obnoxious. Just look at his recent book review in Jewish Action http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/ and this is only the most recent example.

satyaman said...

>> when I see a person that is considered a talmid chacham, one who is supposedly fair-minded and reasonable, and who posseses much knowledgeable of torah, one who is looked up to and admired as a bearer of truth, displaying such an utterly reprehensible demonstration of prejudice and untrustworthiness, it shakes me to my very core. And it makes me wonder if maybe, just maybe, the trust I put in my rabbis about the torah being right and proper might actually be mistaken too.>>>

Well said. For me, it was the Slifkin affair that shook me to my very core - to see people who should know better parrot the party line, which could so easily be uncovered as false. In such cases, I could only regrettfully conclude that people I had once looked up to were either fools or liars.

When someone is caught in a boldface lie, they are like a witness caught giving a false statement. In such cases, trust is gone and their entire testimony comes into question and may even be entirely discounted.

josh narins said...

I am ultra-orthodox atheist.

Why are any of the billions of religionists, around the world, believers?

Their parents, their community, their leaders, everyone who might hold their future in their hands, is probably one too.

In math, there are formal and informal schools of logic. One of the informal is called "Fallacy Logic." It is the school that says attacking the arguer, instead of the argument(ad hominem), slippery slope arguments, and special pleading, are logical fallacies.

One of the nice things about Judaism is that there is no doctrinal position that Rebbi are infallible.

Scroll down to Common Fallacies of Logic and Rhetoric for a fuller list of "fallacies."

Note: Fallacy logic isn't infallible, or always applicable, at least, according to other schools of logic.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Actually, I was totally impressed an in awe of Rav Natan's total humility and respect in the way he wrote the letter. (I don't think I would have responded well as he did) He may not respect R' Meisleman in the slightest, but he wrote a letter, which was so well written, that Rav Natan brings kavod to his own title of "Rav".

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

I experienced a similar disillusionment as a young bachor when I realized that Shlomo Ha-Melech violated the prohibition against having too many wives and horses. How could it be that the wisest of the wise made such obvious mistakes?