Friday, January 7, 2011

Aveira Goreress Aveira

When this Blog was first initiated, I promised myself that I would stay away from anything personal. I adopted a whole list of "thou shalt and thou shalt nots". I resolved that I would not invoke the "K" word. I would not criticize Rabbi Slifkin personally. I would never discuss the issue of the ban. I would remain objective. I would remain calm. I would maintain decorum and communicate my message in a respectful tone. Tonight, I will probably break several of these resolutions if not all of them. The following Blog entry should be viewed as a personal protest of Rabbi Slifkin’s writings and as such constitutes a deviation from the standard operating procedures which define this site.

With his last two blogs regarding Rav Shlomo Miller shlita, Rabbi Slifkin has sunk to new lows. Unfortunately Chazal have already predicted such behavior when they stated: aveira goreress aveira.

Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the writings of Rabbi Slifkin knows how cavalier he can be towards Chazal. His books contain numerous examples of how Chazal [supposedly] erred in a variety of different areas relating to nature. To be sure, he plies his trade with an affected air of respectfulness. But the bottom line is, his attitude towards the wisdom of Chazal is appalling. If anyone still nurtures any doubts, his latest monograph clearly reveals where his heart really lies. It is entirely dedicated to demonstrating a) Chazal’s primitive knowledge of cosmology and b) our license to reject Chazal’s statements on nature in other areas of science unrelated to cosmology.

The gedoley Yisrael have remonstrated with him regarding his erroneous attitudes towards Chazal and have even taken forceful action such as banning his books. But all this goes unheeded by the Rabbi. On the contrary, he continues to stridently defend his views in the face of overwhelming rabbinic opposition. Since Azariah de Rossi I cannot remember anyone who has devoted so much time effort and research into subjects that invariably culminate in Chazal’s [purported] shortcomings in science! Rabbi Slifkin’s attitude towards Chazal is, in my opinion, his primary indiscretion and is the one which directly facilitates the expression of his numerous other indiscretions. (Incidentally Rabbi Miller warned him about this in his letter of admonishment!)

Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

Rav Shlomo Miller, the senior Charedi rabbinic figure in Toronto, first became known to many people when he wrote a letter protesting the heresy of interpreting Maaseh Bereishis in naturalistic terms, specifically as done in my book The Challenge Of Creation (but also applicable to any way of reconciling Bereishis with modern science).

This assertion amounts to nothing more than arrogant presumption. Rav Shlomo Miller is a world renowned gaon and posek. He didn’t "first become known to many people" because he happened to write a macha’a against Rabbi Slifkin’s opinions. This obvious attempt at self-aggrandizement by association with a renowned talmid chacham is Rabbi Slifkin's first indiscretion.

Rabbi Slifkin continues:

Now, in contrast to the topic of organ donation, where I admitted that I had not researched the topic thoroughly, the topic of women covering their hair is a topic that I have not researched at all. But what do I see? I see that Rabbi Broyde wrote a lengthy, detailed, article, with copious footnotes. And I see that Rabbi Miller responded with a single paragraph of assertions from authority and insults. And I ask myself: When two people have a disagreement, and one calmly presents a thorough explanation of his position, while the other refuses to do so and simply hurls out angry insults, who is usually correct? When you have good reasons to be confident in the correctness of your position, you don't refrain from sharing them. That's why, without knowing anything at all about this topic, I see Rabbi Miller's condemnation of Rabbi Broyde's article as an endorsement of its arguments.

The only thing Rabbi Slifkin got right was his statement about himself: "without knowing anything at all about this topic". He goes on to write "I see Rabbi Miller's condemnation of Rabbi Broyde's article as an endorsement of its arguments" Actually Rabbi Slifkin sees nothing at all! All he "sees" are his biased views against Chazal which have now expressed themselves in biases against current talmeeday chachamim. Even a fool would be able to come up with the following line of reasoning. Rabbi Miller is a well-known posek. If he was writing a counter-teshuva to Rabbi Broyde’s presentation, does it even begin to make sense that he would write a tiny 5-10 line presentation? Hmmm…. Let me call the kollel in Toronto in an attempt to understand the nature of Rabbi Miller’s "psak"…

But no. Instead, Rabbi Slifkin aligns himself with the propaganda of an insignificant am ha’aretz in Chicago and a pompous, loud-mouthed lawyer in Toronto – both renowned mevazey talmeeday chachamim – and even has the temerity to echo their attitudes on his supposedly "Rationalist" Blog. There is nothing rational about your behavior Rabbi Slifkin. The aforementioned two individuals could possibly be excused due to ignorance but you are a Rabbi. There is no excuse for being mevazeh talmeeday chahcamim! I am sure you know what the Rambam paskens in Hilchos Teshuva regarding the fate of those who are mevazeh talmeeday chachamim; kal va’chomer when it is done in such a public manner!

At this time, it should be noted that at least as far as Rabbi Slifkin is concerned, Rabbi Miller should be held a notch above other gedoley yisrael. Rabbi Slifkin is always complaining about the fact that the gedoley Yisrael signed a ban against him without giving him an opportunity to defend himself. You can look high and low and you will not find Rav Miller amongst the signatories; not in the Israeli ones and not in the American ones. The only reason Rabbi Miller wrote what he did was because Rabbi Slifkin came here to Toronto to disseminate his ideas. Consequently certain people here approached Rabbi Miller and requested that he write a letter delineating precisely what the issues were with Rabbi Slifkin’s view.

Second of all, Rabbi Slifkin complains that the gedolim did not explain what was wrong with his views. Once again, Rav Miller cannot be accused of this. He explained precisely what was wrong. And in case people might not understand his meaning, his letter was translated into English with explanatory footnotes!

Third of all, Rabbi Slifkin protests the fact that the gedolim never bothered giving him an audience. Not so Rav Miller! When Rabbi Slifkin was in Toronto he was granted a personal audience in Rav Miller’s home. And despite the fact that Rabbi Slifkin was unable to convince Rav Miller of his views regarding ma’aseh bereishis, the meeting ended amicably as Rabbi Slifkin himself will attest to.

If Rabbi Slifkin does not wish to accept Rav Miller’s criticism, this can at least be understood if not countenanced. But in view of the above, it would behoove Rabbi Slifkin to at least dan Rav Miller l’kaf z’chus. Instead, he insinuates himself into the fray without any research whatsoever and hastily arrives at ridiculous and unwarranted conclusions! He should have heeded Mishlei’s injunction against "grasping the ears of a dog" but instead he chooses to become embroiled in a "riv lo lo" (see Mishlei 26:17) and ends up aligning himself with those who denigrate the honor of the Torah.

Rabbi Slifkin, you must repair the damage you have done. I know Rav Miller and I’m sure he is mochel you. In fact, I’m sure he never even bothered taking any of the smears against him seriously in the first place. But this has nothing to do with your personal obligation. You must publicly apologize to Rav Miller on exactly the same venue you chose to defame him. Otherwise, I fear that you will be throwing in your lot with all the rest of the leitzim and kofrim who choose to denigrate the honor of the Torah.

Now, for those who would actually like to get a few facts mixed into the story, here’s what really happened.

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde is a Professor of Law at Emory University of Law and a dayan on the RCA Beis Din. Rabbi Broyde’s views can generally be characterized as leftist and people in the know have told me that even in the RCA he is a bit of a renegade. In 2008, he wrote a long teshuva which was characterized by him as "an attempt to justify the halakhic practice of the daughters of Israel who otherwise [other than uncovering their hair in public] dress and act modestly". Presumably this would apply both to past and present women. Rabbi E.B. Shulman responded to Rabbi Broyde and the latter presented his counter response ending with the following statement "I am convinced that it is the proper understanding of the Tur, Shulchan Aruch and Levush, as well as a smattering of Rishonim and Acharonim"

Recently, a certain Rabbi approached Rabbi Miller and complained that he was having trouble with Rabbi Broyde’s teshuva. I don’t know the exact details at this time but I strongly suspect that said Rabbi was experiencing some trouble with his constituency due to Rabbi Broyde’s teshuva. [Note: Rabbi Broyde claims that, in his opinion, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch would permit Jewish women to go out in public with their hair uncovered providing many (or perhaps most) Jewish woman do not currently cover their hair.]

In order to effectively address the issues associated with Rabbi Broyde’s teshuva, the above-noted Rabbi requested from Rabbi Miller that he should write a short "psak" regarding Rabbi Broyde’s teshuva in the most forceful way possible. If his constituency could be convinced that there was no merit to Rabbi Broyde’s approach, the issue could finally be laid to rest. After due consideration, Rabbi Miller decided to accede to his request. Rabbi Miller’s hand-written note was not a teshuva. It was not a response to Rabbi Broyde. It was his way of accommodating a personal request from a local Rabbi! It was not published anywhere and was never meant for public consumption. As these things go however, Rav Miller’s "psak", or more accurately, his macha’a, managed to find itself in the hands of unscrupulous individuals who decided to disseminate it over the net, misrepresent the background, and indulge in egregious bizayon hatorah! That’s the whole story, from beginning to end!

Rabbi Slifkin, does this story really warrant a post on your site, much less two posts? Is your site about the explication of the rationalist approach to Judaism or is it about gedolim bashing? I think you need to take a step backwards and begin examining your motives…

25 comments:

  1. R. Simcha, yeyasher kochacha for defending Rav Shlomo Miller, Shlita. The early intellectuals of the reform/conservative movements initially suggested relatively small departures from halachic practice. In the early years, it was their attitude even more than their scholarship that was faulty as Rav Miller writes.

    R. Shulman, in his rebuttal to R. Broyde, correctly writes: "R. Broyde’s concluding paragraph is fraught with ambivalence. He begins by stating that everything he wrote was meant only to justify the practice of modest Jewish women. I presume that by this he means the time-honored practice of limud zekhut, of seeking to defend – but not to endorse – even seemingly indefensible widespread practice, and that this caveat reflects his awareness of the fact that generations of poskim have seen the same sources and not understood them as he does. He then, however, continues: “Women and families who have a clear custom not to cover their hair should know that there is a firm foundation for such a practice in the Rishonim and Shulhan Arukh." This seems to go a good deal beyond mere limud zekhut. In any event, I hope to have made clear that the foundation which R. Broyde claims to have discovered is illusory. I am concerned, however, that no rebuttal, howsoever persuasively argued, will entirely undo the impression that the publication of such an article, in such a forum, and in such a format, will have made upon the general public. I am sure R. Broyde agrees that it would be unfortunate if, as a result of the publication of his article, women who might otherwise have covered their hair will be dissuaded from doing so. It is perhaps still within R. Broyde’s power to allay that concern." R. Shulman's concerns are well-founded as recent events have unfolded (see end of RSC's post).

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  2. His books contain numerous examples of how Chazal [supposedly] erred in a variety of different areas relating to nature.

    Three, actually. (in my books published before the ban)

    Rav Shlomo Miller is a world renowned gaon and posek. He didn’t "first become known to many people" because he happened to write a macha’a against Rabbi Slifkin’s opinions.

    He was known to many people (obviously) before coming out against me, but became known to many, many more as a result of coming out against me. There's a big world outside of Toronto and Lakewood.

    With regard to the thrust of your post - you appear to be confusing what I wrote with what Rabbi Maryles wrote. All I wrote was that, comparing Rabbi Broyde's substantial article with Rabbi Miller's insubstantial and insulting response, I am inclined to think that Rabbi Broyde must be correct. How is that a smear against Rav Miller?

    You are quite correct that Rav Miller was superior to the other Gedolim who condemned my work in that he explained his objection to my work in detail. But this is exactly what he did not do with Rabbi Broyde. As for your claim that I should be more favorably disposed to Rav Miller for meeting with me - I was, until he responded to a question about pedophiles by mentioning me. And, incidentally, I did not actually use any negative words about Rav Miller in either of my posts; I simply described the situation, and let Rav Miller's words speak for themselves.

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  3. For the first time I actually am happy with Slifkin's efforts. I am embarassed to be counted among R" Miller's followers. Rabbi Broyde wrote a well written and researched article if R' miller finds it to be "nothingness and an evil spirit" and "it is not the place here to be mefalpel in this matter" then dont be gores it ignore it. Otherwise respond appropriatly (As Rabbi shulman has done). A psak could have been written without what can only be characterized as childish name-calling.
    your claim that "It was not published anywhere and was never meant for public consumption." how can anybody today let alone one of our leading manhigim think that written words wont be made public.

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  4. B"H
    Dear Rab Simcha shlit"a
    Congratulations on your great post, defending the honor of the Torah is a very important issue, since it is written col hamebaze Talmid Chacham en lo refua lemakato...
    Yeyasher kochacha and Kol tuv

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  5. Kudos to both R. Coffer and R. Slifkin for standing up for the honor of (different) talmidei chachamim.

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  6. Natan Slifkin,

    Three, actually. (in my books published before the ban)

    Don’t be ridiculous. Just in the book Rav Miller critiqued you have more than three. Let’s list a few.

    1) The world is recent
    2) The entire universe was created suddenly on a specific date (including galaxies stars etc)
    3) The world was created meta-naturally
    4) Adam and Eve were created alone and are the progenitors of all mankind.
    5) Plant life was established before sunlight (as opposed to the evolutionary paradigm)
    6) The six days of creation, in addition to referring to elevated concepts were also literal six days.
    7) The mitzvah of Shabbos is a commemoration of the idea that the meta-natural creation process ceased and the fixed laws of nature began functioning.

    Now of course you will respond that all this falls under the general heading of ma’aseh bereishis but each one of the items I listed above are separate concepts and are not automatically implicated because the other ones exist. For instance, Chazal could have believed in all of the above but, say, #4, or, say, #1. So your thesis contradicts all of these ma’amarei chazal on an individual basis.

    In addition, there are several examples in your book Mysterious Creatures such as mud mice, tree geese, sweat lice and salamanders (according to R’ Akiva) and in fact, the preface of the book is partially dedicated to explaining how a rejection of Chazal’s science is a valid approach to take. It goes without saying that after the ban you mamash went crazy with this mehalech but even before you were well along your way.

    As for your claim that I should be more favorably disposed to Rav Miller for meeting with me - I was, until he responded to a question about pedophiles by mentioning me.

    This is a ridiculous comment. You’re trying to excuse the inexcusable. Rav Miller was responding to a question regarding the activity of gedolim regarding publicizing certain things and he used you as an example because of late there is no bigger example! He was not equating you with a pedophile chs’v and you know it!

    And, incidentally, I did not actually use any negative words about Rav Miller in either of my posts; I simply described the situation, and let Rav Miller's words speak for themselves.

    Once again ridiculous. You didn’t just “describe the situation”. You filled in the blanks quite clearly. You implied that Rav Miller was hurling insults because he was angry, had no good reason to be confident in his position, and was being disingenuous because he realizes the correctness of R’ Broyde’s position. It is obvious that you are showcasing this issue on your site because you want your readers to walk away with a negative impression of Rabbi Miller.

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  7. R. Slifkin wrote: you [RSC] appear to be confusing what I wrote with what Rabbi Maryles wrote.

    I did not see much difference between the Maryles post and the Slifkin post. R. Slifkin might want to re-read what he wrote. The intention and attitude behind both posts are clear!

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  8. Rabbi Coffer, I disagree with your take on it, but I am willing to offer you a guest post on my blog to defend Rav Miller.

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  9. Rabbi Slifkin,

    While I appreciate your offer (your offer is another example of your tendency to be brutally honest when presenting two sides of a debate, a mida which is admirable), I am not that excited about maintaining this thread. I made my macha’a li’chvod ha’torah and I am satisfied with what I wrote. I am not interested in berating you in public all over again nor am I interested in calling undue attention to an issue that, in my opinion, should have never been broached by you in the first place. However, I will confer with my colleagues. If they advise me to proceed, I will contact you via email. One thing I must insist on though. My submission must be posted without editing (my posts tend to be much longer than yours) and the moderation feature must be disabled in the comment section for 14 days. Alternatively, you must promise me that you will not be selective with which comments you allow onto your site regarding this post and you must promise me that you will allow my colleagues and me to respond to every post that appears in the comment section. Since I will be posting in a hostile environment (3-1 kefira to emes ratio on your first post and 7-1(!) KTE ratio on the second), I would like to make sure my colleagues and I have equal billing on your site. Maskim?

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  10. I don't think that I can turn the comments back on after 14 days, nor will people be reading it at that point. I agree to allowing everything through, or to no comments at all, but if that is the case, I reserve the right to append my own response to your guest post.

    Incidentally, I should let you know that some of the comments that I rejected on that post were ones that you would have very much not wanted to appear.

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  11. frumdoc,

    your claim that "It was not published anywhere and was never meant for public consumption." how can anybody today let alone one of our leading manhigim think that written words wont be made public.

    I did not write that Rav Miller did not think his words would be publicized! I wrote that it was not intended for public consumption. By “public” I meant the general public, as opposed to the chareidi olam which looks to its gedolim for guidance on issues which affect the klal and to which Rav Miller surely did want his psak to be publicized. Rav Miller knows that his written piskei halacha may very well be made public. But this doesn’t stop him from publicizing his view amongst his own followers. In this case, Rav Miller was simply trying to be michazek the yeshivishe velt against what he perceived as a pritzas geder in hilchos tzenius and a possible michshol for klal yisrael. That’s what gedolim do frumdoc…

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  12. Nachum,

    Your comment is a result of confusion. Rabbi Slifkin did not set out to defend the kavod hatorah of a talmid chacham! Your attempt to impute moral equivalence to our two posts (persumably for the sake of shalom), is seriously misguided.

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  13. 1. I for one never heard of Rav Miller, shlita, prior to the RNS controversy (for whatever that is worth). Then again, I had never heard of RNS!

    2. I saw RNS's protest against Rav Miller's position as restrained. Perhaps no one should protest against a sage of the Rav's stature. Does any protest, restrained or otherwise constitute an "attack" against a sage? In any case, I must note that Rav Miller's protest against Rabbi Broyde's tshuva was not at all restrained. Perhaps that is appropriate given Rav Miller's stature and Rabbi Broyde's reputation as a leftist renegade? Sorry - I really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings here and I actually admire the devotion expressed to the Rav. But this needs to be hashed out since the subject is being pursued here.

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  14. A Rebbi of mine used to quote someone (whom I do not recall) as follow:

    "Not everything that is thought should be said; not everything that is said should be written; not everything that is written should be published.

    What here, if anything, applies to (1) R. Miller (2) R. Broyde; (3) R. Coffer and (4). R. Slifkin?

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  15. Can you explain why for one 'wrong' halacha one is termed 'charina'

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  16. And can you also explain why R Miller finds it correct to explain scientific theories which have really nothing directly to do with Torah and really concern no one. Who really cares about 'ma lmaalo ma lmato'. Maase breishis happened long ago and that's it. Whereas hair covering is a halacha, nogaia today, for everyone, nothing to do with science, and why is that considered 'havayos dabaye verovo' and not worthy of attention of R Miller. Is that the pshat in R Yochanan ben Zakai only to bother with maasei breishis? Why is real Torah not considered important today for a posek?

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  17. I may add that the chasam sofer in common with most gedolim did not consider wearing a sheital as covering one's hair. He equated it with going uncovered. So according to RSM, I think the chasam sofer would consider him no less 'chariner' if he is mattir a sheital.

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  18. I notice a new blog of slifkin that the rabbis were all wrong in regards to the human body. I suppose tomorrow he will be writing against shechita saying it has now been superseded by stunning which is less painful. If one replies to an apikorus like you keep on doing, the gemoro says he will only get worse. Why is it so important to have to answer him on his non-creation ideas. These are not new, has any prewar godol ever bothered to?

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  19. Chaim1 -

    Can you explain why for one 'wrong' halacha one is termed 'charina'

    It depends on the circumstance, right? In this case, Michael Broyde's lengthy paper claiming that the Tur and SA is matir prias rosh was deemed by Rabbi Miller as a potential threat to the sanctity of our Jewish daughters. This should be quite simple to understand.

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  20. Chaim1 -

    And can you also explain why R Miller finds it correct to explain scientific theories which have really nothing directly to do with Torah and really concern no one… Whereas hair covering is a halacha, nogaia today, for everyone, nothing to do with science, and why is that considered 'havayos dabaye verovo' and not worthy of attention of R Miller…

    This too is simple enough to understand. The halacha that a woman must cover her hair is clearly implied in the Torah, clearly stated in the gemara, and clearly codified in the Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch. Although some people in nineteenth century/early twentieth century Lithuania relied on an extremely nebulous heter, this was due to specific circumstances. But otherwise, there is no such heter as evidenced by a who’s who list of modern day poskim such as R’ Moshe and the Titz Eliezer. These individuals wrote long teshuvos clearly stating their opinions. Further teshuvos are simply not necessary. What is needed here is a psak issued by a responsible gadol protesting the avant garde “psak” of a modern upstart whose paper implies that according to the Tur and Shulchan Aruch it would be permissible for women to go out in public with their hair uncovered. This attitude can obviously lead to a serious pirtza in klal yisrael and therefore must be protested, just as the Chasam Sofer protested the writings of Aaron Chariner due to their liberal bent.

    As far as the scientific theories Rabbi Miller finds correct to explain, they have everything to do with Torah. They have the effect of reinforcing our emunah in the truth of the Torah rather than having to reinterpret the Torah in order to accommodate the apikorsus of the materialists.

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  21. Chaim1 -

    I may add that the chasam sofer in common with most gedolim did not consider wearing a sheital as covering one's hair. He equated it with going uncovered. So according to RSM, I think the chasam sofer would consider him no less 'chariner' if he is mattir a sheital.


    Really? Hmmm… I don’t remember the Chasam Sofer writing six strong teshuvos personally condemning the Rabbanim who were matir wigs, trying to get them removed from their positions, berating them publicly using the most extreme terminology and trying to show that they were consummate am aratzim while waging a sustained war against them. Apparently you are more versed in teshuvos Chasam Sofer than I.

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  22. Chaim1 -

    I notice a new blog of slifkin that the rabbis were all wrong in regards to the human body. I suppose tomorrow he will be writing against shechita saying it has now been superseded by stunning which is less painful. If one replies to an apikorus like you keep on doing, the gemoro says he will only get worse. Why is it so important to have to answer him on his non-creation ideas. These are not new, has any prewar godol ever bothered to?

    Good question. But you have your facts wrong. When reform swept across Germany and other parts of Western Europe, the gedolim did, fight against the apikorsim of Reform. Ditto for Haskala in Eastern Europe.

    As far as your gemara, it refers to a private debate with a Jewish apikorus. But when the apikorus is disseminating his views publicly, it doesn’t apply. You are arguing with him for the sake of those who need chizuk, not for his own sake.

    Furthermore, your assumption re Rabbi Slifkin is highly doubtful. I am one of his strongest critics but even I would be surprised if Rabbi Slifkin was “matir” stunning next year. In fact, he states clearly that when it comers to halachos like shechita, we must follow them despite the apparently faulty science.

    As far as this Blog, I think it is important to demonstrate to the general public that Rabbi Slifkin is incorrect with many of his approaches and those who take chizuk from it, great! Those that don’t; well, at least no harm was done…

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  23. It is mentioned in the chasam sofer tsavooh.
    וזה לשון הצוואה וגם אפילו בפאה נכרית אני אוסר עליכם באיסור גמור.
    Apart from on shulchan aruch. I did write about shechita on his blog but my further replies were not accepted. You give him much more 'credence' than he deserves, he is not a rabbi even by MO standards although some of them compare him to Rav Elyashiv.

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  24. They have the effect of reinforcing our emunah in the truth of the Torah rather than having to reinterpret the Torah in order to accommodate the apikorsus of the materialists

    I think you will find that all Jewish blogs which by the nature of things are run by MO subscribe to his apikorsus. There is no such thing as proof otherwise there would be no 'bechira'. His views at the end of the day are more 'plausible' mainly because they are simpler.
    I am therefore against 'kiruv' as such by 'proof'. You either have emuna or you dont. And you have to believe others understand things better than you, and you are not required to understand everything before you 'believe'. Kiruv ought to be just about keeping and learning Torah and mitsvot, not about reasons for emuna.

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  25. btw - as you are looking to defend the honor of Rav Miller, shlita, it seems that there is a much more worthy blog to direct your wrath.


    Harry Maryles certainly doesn't restrain himself in criticizing the Rav.

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