Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect": Apikorsus Defined

This post is a continuation of the preceding one entitled Practically Speaking, Torah Protects. In the previous post we demonstrated that – as opposed to Rabbi Slifkin’s assertion that practically speaking Torah does no provide protection – Chazal were clearly of the opinion that the merit of limud haTorah results in very real and practical results such as physical protection from harm.

In this post we will discuss several ma’amarei Chazal that describe both the spiritual and physical harm engendered by adopting the attitude that “practically speaking Torah does not protect”.     

The Gemara (Yerushalmi Chagiga 1:7) relates,

R’ Shimon bar Yochai taught: If you encounter cities in Eretz Yisrael that have been uprooted, it is because the inhabitants did not support teachers of Torah, as indicated in Yermiah (9:11) “Why did the land go lost…And Hashem responds, because they have abandoned my Torah”. 
Rabbi Yuden, the exilarch, dispatched R’ Chiya, R’ Asi and R’ Ami to travel throughout all of the cities of Eretz Yisrael and establish teachers of Torah. One time they arrived at a city and discovered that it possessed no teachers of Torah. They asked them [the city leaders]:
 “Where are the guardians of the city?” 
 They [the city leaders] brought them the centurions [soldiers guarding the city]. 
 “These are not the guardians of the city!” exclaimed the rabbis. “These are the destroyers of the city!”
 “So who are the guardians of the city?” asked the city leaders.
 “The teachers of Torah,” answered the rabbis. “As it is written (Tehilim 127:1): If Hashem will not build the house, its builders have toiled in vain; if Hashem will not guard the city, its watcher keeps his vigil in vain.”  
 Before we proceed, I cannot resist mentioning that this Gemara is yet another example which proves that Rabbi Slifkin’s fundamental thesis ("Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect") is kineged (contra) Chazal. But this is not the point we are attempting to bring out here. Our current point is this:

To state that the primary protection for a city is Torah and not soldiers is a concept that can reasonably be understood. But why did the rabbis state that the centurions were the “destroyers” of the city?

My rebbi answered as follows. The issue here is the attitude. It’s the attitude that the centurions are the protectors which is destructive. The soldiers possessed this attitude and so did the inhabitants of the city. The rabbis were remonstrating with the people. They were telling them that such an attitude is materialistic in nature and causes one to lose sight of reality – the spiritual reality. And once one loses sight of the spiritual reality, one risks the possibility of physical destruction.

This type of attitude is discussed at length by Chazal in tractate Sanhedrin (90b). After the Mishna states that every Jew has a portion in the world to come, it lists several exceptions to this rule. One of them is an apikorus (an heretic). On daf 99b, the Gemara discusses this classification. 
'What is an apikorus?' asks the Gemara. 
Rav Yoseph says, for example, those who claim, ‘Of what benefit are the rabbis to us? Their study of Torah is for their own benefit. Their study of Mishna is for their own benefit. 
From here it is clear that Chazal considered one who believes that limud ha’Torah does not afford benefit to others is an apikorus, G-d forbid! But let’s continue studying…

Abaye responds to Rav Yoseph that such a claim ("Of what benefit are the rabbis to us") is even worse than apikorsus (heresy) and falls under the category of mi’galeh panim ba’torah, which means “acting brazenly against the Torah.” Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this category is worse than apikorsus because it involves willful impudence against the Torah. Abaye then goes on to support his claim by quoting the famous verse in Yermiah (33:25): 

"If it were not for my covenant day and night, then the laws of nature (lit. heaven and earth) I would not have established." 

The term “covenant” in this verse is understood by Abaye to refer to the Torah, and so there is an open verse that the study of Torah not only provides physical protection but is actually responsible for the ongoing existence of the entire universe!

Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok supports Abaye’s position from another verse (Bereishis 18:26): 

"Then I will spare the entire place for their sake."

Once again, this demonstrates that the study of Torah by Torah scholars does not only provide personal protection; it even provides local protection and sometimes (as per Abaye’s position) even global protection.

Notwithstanding any kushyos or objections Rabbi Slifkin may have, it is abundantly clear from countless ma’amarei Chazal that limud haTorah produces physical benefits in a very practical way, and nothing he says or asks can change this fact. Furthermore, we have demonstrated from several ma’amarei Chazal that Rabbi Slifkin’s attitude that “Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect” is not only contra-Chazal but is even categorized by them as apikorsus and mi’galeh panim ba’torah r”l!  In this writer's humble opinion, Rabbi Slifkin would do well to cease his strident and ongoing assault against the Torah and its students. 

I would like to end with the famous ma’amar Chazal quoted all over in Shas. 

Talmeeday chachamim marbim shalom ba’olam

Those who study the Torah increase peace in the world! The Gemara in Brachos (64a) lists five pesukim to support the idea that Torah brings peace to the world, and includes things that are merely related to Torah such as “places of Torah” and even "those who love Torah". Rabbi Slifkin believes that Torah does not provide any practical protection. As we have seen, his attitude is diametrically opposed to that of Chazal’s. 


To our readers: If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section and I will do my best to respond. If I have made any errors in the ma’amarei Chazal I quoted, I would greatly appreciate being notified.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practically Speaking, Torah Protects

Rabbi Slifkin's personal disapproval of the Chareidi attitude to the IDF is well-known to his readers and has been extensively documented over the past two years in his numerous posts on this topic. A central subject in his writings is the Charedi claim that limud HaTorah provides protection, a claim which he seems particularly bent on refuting. As we’ve mentioned in the previous post on this topic entitled Bitachon and the IDF, for the most part we have ignored his writings due to the fact that his posts have long ago ceased being academic in nature. Unfortunately, his latest post on this topic – Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect – is exceptionally egregious in its siluf (distortion) of Chazal’s idea. Something should be said to address the issue.

Rabbi Slifkin asserts: 
There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist… It's just as well that the Gemara does not make any such claim, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. 
The only thing “quite clearly not true” is his assertion. Ironically, his post appeared on November 16, the very day that the world was learning Sotah daf 21 in Daf Yomi. The Gemara compares the learning of Torah to light. Just as light protects the world, so too does the learning of Torah. In fact, the Gemara specifically goes on to provide a mashal of how the Torah protects an individual from listim, robbers (read: terrorists)!  This ma’amar Chazal alone serves to defeat Rabbi Slifkin’s thesis. Nevertheless, let’s spend some time analyzing some of the more salient points in his post.   

Rabbi Slifkin asks, rhetorically: 
"Torah scholars do not need protection"? We saw the terrible tragedy of the Torah scholars who were massacred in Har Nof… "Someone on their way to do a mitzvah (shaliach mitzvah) cannot be harmed"? Some of the stabbing victims of the last few weeks were on their way to daven or to give shiurim. "When you're learning Torah, you can't be harmed"? We saw otherwise in the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav. 
Let’s conduct an experiment. Let’s repeat Rabbi Slifkin’s argument, but instead of Torah, let’s substitute, li’havdil, the IDF, with the objective of demonstrating that “Practically Speaking, the IDF Does NOT Protect.” Here’s the way the argument would read.   
It's just as well that the State of Israel does not make the claim that the IDF provides protection for the people of Israel, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. ‘The people of Israel are protected by the IDF'? We saw the terrible tragedy in Har Nof. 'People in Israel who are travelling on the road are protected by the IDF from Arab terrorists'?  What about the stabbing victims of the last few weeks. 'If you live in Israel, you are protected by the IDF'? What about the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav? 
The argument is clearly absurd. Reasonable people do not consider the cited cases as evidence that the IDF does not provide practical protection for the people of Israel.  True, sometimes terrorists slip through despite their efforts. But does this render the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens "not unequivocal," or only true "in some abstract or hyper-qualified sense, but clearly not true in any practical sense today"? Does it lead to "the bottom line that there is no practical truth or ramifications" for the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens? Obviously not.

And just as obviously, when Chazal say that Torah protects, they naturally do not mean that Torah is a 100% barrier against any harm. Only a fool (or a person with an agenda) understands Chazal that way. Chazal, who were painfully aware of the death of almost every talmid chacham in Eretz Yisroel by the Romans in the war of Beitar, knew that Torah does not provide protection unconditionally.

Anyone with even a modicum of theological sophistication understands that it is not the Torah itself which provides protection but rather Hashem who provides protection in the merit of the Torah. Obviously there may be additional conditions and considerations that come into play. Any rational claim that "x protects against something" is not meant to guarantee that “x” is the only factor in determining the outcome. The only logical way to understand Chazal is that Torah does indeed provide protection but sometimes Hashem decides that there are overriding considerations which necessitate an ostensibly harmful result that would normally be shielded against by the merit of the Torah.

Rabbi Slifkin writes: 
Now, many people, even in the charedi world, realize this, at least to some degree. That's why, since the stabbings began, many charedim have been learning self-defense, buying pepper spray, and requesting increased army protection. 
But the reason they do this is not because they "realize to some degree" that Torah learning is irrelevant in providing protection. It's the simple matter of combining emunah and bitachon with hishtadlus. To my mind, everyone in Israel should learn self-defence. When Shaul fell in battle, Dovid eulogized him. The first thing he mentioned is that we need to teach our boys self-defense! Dovid is the paragon of emunah and bitachon in Hashem yet he understood the importance of physical hishtadlus. Bitachon is not a stira to hishtadlus (as anyone with a basic understanding of hashkafa understands). Please see this post for further elucidation.

This concludes our response to Rabbi Slifkin's assertion that "There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist". As we have seen from a number of quoted ma'amarei Chazal, his claim is patently false.

In the following post we will deal with the spiritual ramifications of maintaining the view that "practically speaking, Torah does not provide any physical protection"