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Rav Dessler zt"l



The Slifkin Affair

Rabbinical Comments on the works of R. Nathan Slifkin

Excerpts of a letter by Rabbi Aharon Feldman Shlit"a, Rosh HaYeshiva Ner Yisroel: 

"Probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory is what is known as the Slifkin affair. Rabbi Nosson Slifskin, a talented young man still in his twenties, wrote three books in the past several years in which he attempted to justify certain conflicts between the findings of modern science and parts of the Torah and the Talmud. ... Nevertheless, in September of last year [2004] a public letter banning the books was issued by some of the leading Torah authorities in Israel, and then shortly afterwards a similar ban, signed by many prominent American Roshey Yeshiva, was issued in the United States. The books were banned because they were deemed to contain ideas antithetical to Torah ... The ban was met with resistance by Slifkin who vigorously defended himself on his Internet site on several grounds." ...           

"Slifkin’s campaign was eminently successful. In short time, most people were convinced that the ban had no basis or reason, and that Slifkin had been unwarrantedly victimized. His campaign made the signatories appear easily swayed and naive. Easily swayed, because they had relied on the “extremists” and had not sufficiently checked the accuracy of their claims. Naïve, because the tumult over the ban catapulted the books into best-sellerdom. The books had been previously virtually unknown but after the ban began selling by the thousands even at inflated prices – which meant that the ban accomplished nothing."

"Blogspots, Internet sites (mostly anonymous) where anyone with access to a computer can express his spontaneous, unchecked and unedited opinion with impunity, became filled with tasteless, derogatory attacks on these authorities, at times to the accompaniment of vulgar caricatures."

"As a result, many thoughtful, observant Jews were beset by a crisis of confidence in the judgment of the signatories. This was an extremely vital crisis since these authorities constitute some of the greatest Torah leaders of our generation, authorities upon whom all of the Jewish people rely for their most serious decisions. More important, it threatened to make any of their future signatures on public announcements questionable. The irony of it all is that the books, which had originally been written to defend the honor of Torah, became one of the most potent vehicles in our times for weakening the authority of Torah." ...

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Carmel on the Slifkin Controversy

 published at DovidGottlieb.com

[Rabbi Carmell is commenting on the following passage by Rabbi Nathan Slifkin:
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2003 11:29:05 +0200
From: Zoo Torah < @zootorah.com>
Subject: RE: Basics for Philosophical discussions
Actually, if someone feels that one needs to have a sufficiently qualified authority upon which to rely for the allegorization of the Mabul, then I can provide one. It's a more authoritative source than the Rishonim. More authoritative even than Chazal. It's the Metziyus. Hashem's "diary of history," the physical world, states that there was no global Flood. I think that Hashem is a reliable source (unless, of course, He was deliberately deceiving us...). There is only one metziyus. On the other hand, there are different ways of understanding the Torah....]

Dear Nosson הי"ו

As you realized on your last visit, my father, shlita, is unfortunately no longer in a position to discuss the issue of your books.  I would like to share with you some ideas I have discussed with him in the past. 

I have tried to imagine what would have been Rabbi Dessler’s position with regard to the ban against your books.  The following three points come to mind: 

1) Rabbi Dessler advocated a healthy skepticism, to the point of contempt, towards the “conclusions” of scientism, in particular where these challenged the beliefs of a Torah Jew.  See the epilogue to Artscroll’s biography of Rav Dessler (p. 365), “Against the worship of Science”. 

He would not have taken kindly to your attitude that anything reported in “The New Scientist” as fact is to be accepted as such. 

2)  Rabbi Dessler, following in the footsteps of the Maharal, taught us to have the greatest reverence for Chazal and the tremendous siyatta diShmaya and divine insight that permeates all their teachings. 

I think that his advice to anyone tackling issues of science and Torah would have been to use their knowledge to discover, or come up with, alternative theories that the bias of scientism may have rejected, but may give more credence to Chazal

3) As you may have by now discovered, the main opposition of the Gedolim is to your attempt to “re-educate” or reformulate the thinking of the chareidi community.  As one person put it: “your worst crime” was to put haskamos on the books. 

Rabbi Dessler was uncharacteristically outspoken in his criticism of such attempts (see letters vol. 3). 

4)  Finally, regardless whether I am correct in my assessment of Rabbi Dessler’s attitude to the above, one thing is definite.  After the fact, Rabbi Dessler would have accepted the decision of those Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva and Mashgichim in whose hands Hashem has entrusted the directions of our generation.  When Hashem showed Adam and Moshe, “dor dor vedorshav… manhigav” these are the names on that list.  We can get no closer to Hashem’s ratzon than by listening to our Gedolim who have spent their entire lives in ascertaining the emes of Torah.  Even if, as a result of all the non-Torah ideas that we have read, their opinion seems to us to be incorrect, Hashem wants us to follow them.  Their siyatta diShmaya in knowing what is good for Klal Yisrael is unimaginably greater than ours.

Wishing you all the best,

Avraham Chaim Carmell

P.s. I saw a statement on your website to the effect that “G-d told you that the mabul never happened.”  I would like to draw your attention to the Radak who writes that a navi sheker may truly believe that he had a Divine revelation about the falsehood he prophesizes about.  He is nevertheless chayav missa, because as a believing Jew, he is required to realize that he has allowed himself to be mislead by his imaginations (or as a horaas sha’a, since he is a danger to Klal Yisrael.)

Letter by Rabbi Shalom Kamenetsky Shlit"a prior to the Ban

From:  owner-avodah@aishdas.org
September 13, 2004 5:39 PM
Avodah - High Level Torah Discussion Group
Age of the Universe (Haskamos to the Science of Torah by RNS)

 Rabbi Nossen Slifkin wrote on Avodah (13:9):

>I do not accept that Ralbag only has validity if backed up by Chazal,
>and Ralbag apparently didn't think so either. Rav Nadel's position is
>that Rambam (and, by the same token, Ralbag) give us a license to
>allegorize when there is necessary cause, such as overwhelming
>scientific evidence. My specific allegory in my sefer has haskamos from
>Rav Aryeh Carmell, Rav Sholom Kamenetzky, and Rav Mordechai Kornfeld, shlita.

 I asked Rabbi Sholom Kamenetsky Shlita whether his letter [of approbation] in the sefer [Torah and Science by Rabbi Slifkin] could be taken as expressing agreement with Rabbi Slifkin's approach.

 Rabbi Kamenetsky has given me permission to forward his response to Avodah. It is addressed to me by my Hebrew name ("Yoel" [Ostroff]).

 September 13, 2004

Dear R' Yoel, 

Thank you for the note. My name does appear in his book and a careful reading of the haskomo will show that I gave no haskomo on the content. What impressed me about the book is its science. The uninitiated unlettered Jew often finds that the responses he gets when he questions the seeming incompatibility between science and Torah (l'havdil) are lacking.

The science in the book is impressive, but I do not agree with the positions he takes in the Torah. True, he has "unconventional"
sources that would lend some credibility to the theories he proposes, but I see these as "suggestions" (based on somewhat spurious understandings of unconventional sources) that are to allow the uninitiated to feel that he can begin learning Torah, and see for himself that the issues are irrelevant. More than anything else, RNS should be lauded for trying his best to defend the Torah against a group of apikorsim that are bent on mocking Torah and disseminating science as the "proof" that Torah is false, Rachmono litzlan. But to say that these theories have credibility as Torah positions was not my intent in my letter of approbation. I agree with Rabbi Bechofer and there is no such thing as scientific evidence which is "incontrovertible".


Sholom Kamenetsky

The ban and statements by other leading Torah authorities