Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

In a recent post, Rabbi Slifkin took Ami Magazine to task for their article entitled "The Imposters Among Us". I haven’t had the opportunity to read the essay in question (the online version is garbled and unprintable) so I cannot comment on Rabbi Slifkin’s analysis. However, something struck me as being fundamentally wrong with his presentation. I actually had to read it three times before I was able to pinpoint the problem. Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real. Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response. Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?

This paragraph, and all that it implies, is a vivid reflection of Rabbi Slifkin’s general approach to Jewish theology (hashkafa) and is the primary cause of the opposition generated by the authors of this blog, indeed, by any Jew who adheres to our Torah traditions as transmitted by Chazal and Rishonim.

Let’s dissect his statement.

"The intellectual challenges to Judaism are very real."

No, they’re not. They seem real to some Jews, just as they seemed real to the Jewish Hellenists, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the early Hebrew Christians, the Karaites, Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskala, the Reformers and others. But the truth is, Judaism, and all of its fundamental tenets, is firmly founded on rationality and logic. Furthermore, it is supported by an endless amount of historical, archeological and empirical evidence. Anyone who makes an honest effort to understand will be rewarded with all the support he needs to reinforce his convictions. Unfortunately, Rabbi Slifkin has made a career of pointing out the ostensible "challenges" to our mesorah and thus, at times, seems unable to see the simple truth which stares him in the face.

"Fortunate are those of us whose sense of Divine providence in Jewish history, and whose appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah, as well as other factors, enables us to maintain belief in revelation; but if we are honest, we will acknowledge that there are nevertheless intellectual challenges to which Judaism presently does not have a good response."

This is just a bunch of fluff. It’s a way of holding on to a seriously flawed approach to hashkafa while simultaneously pledging allegiance to the cause. Anyone who possesses a real "sense of Divine providence’, anyone who possesses a real "appreciation of the nature and role of the Torah", would not be so easily swayed by the vacuous claims of the academics, secularists and materialists. He would recognize the superiority of his traditions over those of the gentiles and laugh at their feeble attempts to undermine our Torah. If on occasion he was faced with a question that he was unable to answer, he would not publicly characterize it as a "real challenge to Judaism". Rather, he would say what R’ Akiva Eiger was wont to say: "tzarich iyun gadol va’Hashem ya’ir eini". It requires further research and I pray to Hashem that He reveal the answer to me, that’s it. But he would never doubt the veracity of our received traditions especially when they have been proven to be correct time and time again.

On occasion, Rabbi Slifkin does indeed raise valid questions which have to be addressed but in the vast majority of cases his issues are easily able to be dealt with. The element of uncertainty and obscurity which typically attend his writings introduces unwarranted doubt and groundless suspicion in the minds of his readers. And that’s really too bad.

"Can we really be hostile towards those who consider the challenges overpowering?"

I guess that depends. If these people are vocal with their doubts, if they routinely undermine our mesorah and its torchbearers in public venues, then yes, they should be vilified. If they maintain private doubts, then no, we should not be hostile towards them. Rather we should enjoin them to seek assistance from competent individuals. Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz’l.