The following has been sent to me by a reader. It is supposed to be the full text of Rabbi David Orlofsky's letter smearing Rabbi Nosson Slifkin. If true, it is one more very good reason not to be haredi:
TORAH COMMUNITY UNDER ATTACK AGAIN
Once again the Torah true community, those of us who proudly consider ourselves charedim and give our allegiance only to the gedolei Torah, are under attack. Only this time, it is worse than ever.
When we had to confront the issues of wigs made from hair dedicated to Avoda Zara, or bugs in the New York city water system, or here in Eretz Yisroel, the issue of the Zebu being crossbred with our cattle, at least we could recognize that these were halachic problems. The secular media had a field day at our expense, but sadly, we’ve grown used to that. The laytzanei hador, those whose observance of Torah and mitzvos are kept more in the breach than in the practice, those amei haaratz who hate talmide chachamim more than goyim hate Jews (as is described in Pesachim 49b), sent around their usual e-mails and poison filled “blogs”. But sadly, we have grown accustomed to that as well.
This latest attack, however, hits us the hardest. Because it is about more than just a clear-cut halacha like “is the chicken kosher”. Rather it moves into the apparently gray area called hashkafa. And not esoteric hashkafas, but hashkafos that hit those of us who grew up in America the hardest.
We have gone to yeshivas that taught Torah in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon. We have integrated into our deepest sense of self the idea that science is right. We go to doctors who perform medical miracles, we view pictures beamed from Mars, we use computer technology that would have appeared as magic to people living thousands of years ago.
And, we were always assured, there is no conflict between our trust in True Torah values and modern scientific thought. The Torah says the world is only 6 days old? No problem, many of us were assured. A day doesn’t have to mean a day, and we are only starting to count from the creation of man, and there are various kabalistic texts that indicate that the world has been around for longer than we think and besides evolution can be reconciled as well, and on it goes until our very metzius, our total sense of daas, has become based on the concept that the integration of contemporary scientific thought and Torah are indeed compatible.
To be fair, there were always a few of those old European rebbeim around, who mocked the existence of dinosaurs (DINOUSAURS for goodness sake!) and responded to all our fancy scientific jargon with an acerbic “Vere you dere, Charlie?” But for the most part they were lone voices amid the college educated and well read American rabbonim to whom, frankly, we related with greater ease.
Then along came the letter signed by an impressive cross section of the gedolei Yisroel condemning the written works of Nosson Slifkin, the 29 year old wunderkind and self-proclaimed “Zoo Rabbi”, as kefira. The language was strong, even by the usual standards for such letters. And this time, it’s not them who are under attack, it’s us. Suddenly we are being called upon to reject ideas and assumptions that have sat with us so comfortably for so many years. It is if we are being asked to amputate a part of our body, so powerfully have these ideas become a part of us.
The reaction has been frightening. The amei haaratz and the latzanei hador have responded predictably. “Those wacky gedolim” they write. “Imagine, thinking like fundamentalist Christians!” “This is a return to the dark ages, an attack on intellectualism”. “Goyim ban books, not Jews”. Etc. etc. These individuals, who the late publisher of Mad Magazine used to refer to as “the usual gang of idiots” doesn’t concern me.
Unfortunately, even those on our side; honest yeshiva bochrim, erlicha baale batim, professional kiruv workers and mechanchim, are reeling from the letter. Are we really supposed to reject the sum total of years of scientific thought? The scientists have data, research, jargon, equations, and we’re left to snarl “Vere you dere Charlie?” in response?
We have even, lo alaynu, heard good yidden adopting the old trusted arguments of the enemies of Torah. “The gedolim don’t know what they are talking about, they are being manipulated by kanaim, they can’t even read English so they don’t know what is in the books, Nosson is relying on sound hashkafic positions, besides what do these gedolim know about science anyway?”, etc. etc. And in the process they don’t realize that they are destroying their own emunas chachamim.
The list of gedolim listed should give any intelligent person pause. Reb Moshe Shapiro, who never signs these kinds of statements. Reb Yaakov Hillel, considered one of the leading mekuballim of our generation, who reads English and added his own notation. Reb Dovid Feinstein, Reb Mattisyahu Solomon and of course Reb Eliyashuv. The list goes on and on.
And lest anyone fall for the old “they didn’t know what they were signing”, I have personally spoken to a number of the signatories or asked people that I know, to speak to them on behalf. They not only confirmed their participation but felt passionately that the ideas Nosson was disseminating were in fact kefira. Those that couldn’t read the excerpts in the original English, had people they trust translate it for them.
(The charge that they didn’t read the whole book is so obviously ridiculous that I’m surprised anyone would suggest it. If a book was published that had a few paragraphs encouraging Satan worship, or denying that G-d gave the Torah, would we need to read the whole book before passing judgment? Nosson isn’t denying that the quotes say what they say, just that there is also a lot of nice stuff they ignored. Obviously, because that is not the point!)
Nosson Slifkin’s defenders would have us believe that these Torah giants couldn’t follow his complicated scientific arguments. We, who rely on the gedolei Torah to render decisions in areas involving the most complicated areas of technology and medical practice, think they can’t follow a layman’s book on basic science? Those of us, who go to these gedolei Torah to answer the most difficult life and death medical shaylos, know better than to believe such nonsense.
And if we are led to accept that the gedolim are such a bunch of old fools, so easily manipulated, why can’t we say the same thing on every other issue? These people don’t realize that they are poisoning the very well from which they have been drinking and in the process destroying the foundation of the Torah community.
It is to them, the true Yirei Shamoyim, who have always followed daas Torah, that I address this response. I have no interest in responding to the bloggers and heads of Orthodox organizations who don’t have enough sense to stay out of issues they can’t understand. But for us, we need to understand, not question the gedolei Torah and straighten our own hashkafos hachaim.
There are essentially two issues to address. The first and more minor one is Nosson Slifkin and his ideas. The second, more important one is what is the true Torah approach to these issues regarding Torah and Science.
Nosson begins with an underlying premise – science is always right. Whenever there is a conflict between chazal and science, that is to say, contemporary scientific thought, science is always right. Even though science changes their opinion drastically at times, as with the concept of a static universe and quantum physics, it is the chazal who are left to be disposed of if they can not be reconciled with our understanding of science.
And the burden of proof is always on the chazal. They are guilty until proven innocent. Usually we say absence of evidence is not evidence. Nosson doesn’t even give the Chazal that much leeway. We know we will never find a Phoenix, he tells us, because science tells us so. Let anyone who believes the words of chazal produce one, and if not then the chazal are obviously wrong. Unless I see it with my own eyes, it is not true.
The gemara, however, takes a different approach. In Baba Basra 75a the story is told of Rav Yochanan, who was darshening about giant gems that adorned the entrance to the Bais HaMikdash. A student heard this and laughed. He knew that the existence of such gems were impossible! Later, he was traveling on a boat and saw them at sea. He came back and told Rav Yochanan “It’s true! I saw them!” To which Rav Yochanan responded “Empty one! And if you didn’t see them that you wouldn’t have believed?” He then looked at the student who was reduced to a heap of bones.
Rav Moshe Shapiro pointed out that when he laughed when he first heard about it, Rav Yochanan didn’t reduce him to bones. It was only when he changed his mind noting “seeing is believing”. Obviously the chazal themselves disagreed with Nosson’s position and didn’t feel they needed to respond to his insulting challenge that “he will give a million dollars” to anyone who can produce visual evidence to support the words of chazal.
Herein lies the kefira. The gemara in Sanhedrin 99b explains that anyone who insults and questions the words of chazal is an apikores. The Rambam in hilchos teshuva explains a kofer is someone who doubts the words of chazal. This is what the Rambam means in the eighth ani maamin “I believe in the truth of Torah”. If you don’t accept the Sages interpretation of the Torah – you don’t accept the Torah.
Nosson would have us believe that a person can believe whatever they want in hashkafa. “There is no psak in hashkafa” he writes. Unfortunately for him, the gedolim disagree. It’s actually pretty obvious - how can you have a din of kofer and apikores if everyone can believe whatever they want? So it must be that some ideas are considered beyond the pale of Jewish belief and that you are no longer considered a follower of Torah Jewry if you accept them. Belief in chazal is one of these ideas.
Nosson quotes Avraham Ben HaRambam to defend his position that you don’t have to accept chazal when it comes to science. Assuming that was actually his position, the full body of Torah thought has rejected his position. Just as one today can not dig up an obscure Rishon and use his view to matir something that has been forbidden by our halachic mesora, the Chazon Ish explains, the same is true by our beliefs.
Nosson writes that he rejects the mabul, even though the Torah states it explicitly and even makes halachic statements based on it. Because science says it didn’t happen, so the Torah itself must be reduced to fairytales. The reason he doesn’t reject the Exodus, he explains, is because there is no evidence against it! And if there were, well Nosson leaves the reader to fill in the blank for themselves.
When a Conservative Rabbi in Los Angeles doubted the Exodus there was an outcry from some of the same people who are now defending Nosson! Frankly it’s hard to understand the difference between the two situations.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Nosson is a nice guy, but he is not a talmid chacham by any stretch of the imagination. Searching for sources to back up his preconceived novel thoughts is not called Torah – it is called intellectual dishonesty. Intellectual honesty means first studying the Torah in its’ entirety to understand what it says before venturing an opinion on whether or not it is correct. But as Nosson himself states, he reserves for himself the right to interpret the Torah anyway he chooses. He doesn’t need a chazal or a rishon to deny the mabul, just science.
Does anyone honestly think that someone can come along and establish their own version of Torah without being a talmid chacham of massive proportions? Who is he to decide what is kefira and what is not? Does he really think he is on the level to do battle with the list of gedolei Torah who accuse him of kefira? Is anyone?
Nosson is a sad and tragic figure. After being asked to leave Shaarey Torah in Manchester, he learnt for a few years at yeshiva Medrash Shmuel under Rabbi Binyomin Moscowitz. When HaRav Moscowitz realized how seriously messed up Nosson was, he “encouraged him to move on”. Look at his haskamos in Nossons early work “Focus”. In the first volume he describes Nosson as his talmid. Not so in the second volume.
Interestingly, Nosson himself relates that he told his Rebbe (with his usual arrogance) that he no longer considers himself a talmid. He was finally mechavin to something his rebbe said. It is hard to establish a true Torah hashkafa without a rebbe and a valid mesora.
Cast adrift he searched for anyone who would listen to him and let him teach. Slowly, people became aware of his divergence from the Torah camp (he has described himself as a “post-charedi”) and brought it to the attention of the gedolei Torah.
Imagine for a moment that the gedolei Torah said that a position you held was kefira. Personally, I would tremble to the depth of my soul. I would beg them to teach me where I had gone wrong and how I could atone for this most heinous crime. But I certainly wouldn’t begin an attack on the gedolei Torah on the internet! He even brings an article from the anti-religious Jewish Chronicle of London, that supports him! Personally, if the Jewish Chronicle came out in favor of one of my positions that alone would be enough for me to realize I was wrong!
Rav Yaakov Emden wrote a lengthy and scholarly teshuva supporting the reinstitution of pilegesh. He concluded the teshuva by writing that of course he wouldn’t attempt anything of such magnitude without the agreement and support of the gedolim of his generation.
Rav Bic was the outstanding posek in America. He permitted riding on the subway to go to shul on Shabbos if one had paid for it in advance. When the other gedolim in America came out against him, he retracted his psak. He didn’t go on the offensive against them.
More recently Rav Yisroel Reinman coauthored a book with a Reform Rabbi under the direction of Rav Mattisyahu Solomon. The gedolei Torah came out against the project, since it gave a reform rabbi a forum to express his views. Instead of taking to the internet to attack daas Torah, Rabbi Reinman cancelled his speaking tour and deferred to the wisdom of the chachamim. Rav Mattisyahu himself apologized for his mistake in judgment. So it has always been with Torah Jews.
There are those rumor mongers spreading the usual conspiracy theories; this is really about Rosh Yeshiva X out to get Rosh Yeshiva X in order to wrest control of Yeshiva Y. Does an intelligent yirei shamayim even have to respond to such nonsense? And then the whispers of what Gadol X or Y supposedly told someone in private conversation. Have gedolim suddenly become so cowardly that they refuse to take a public position? Caveat Emptor, buyer beware. When the gadol tells you personally or publishes a letter, than believe it. Otherwise anyone can whisper anything they want.
So poor Nosson has aligned himself with all the anti-Torah forces and is falling back on the tricks and techniques employed by the maskillim of old. And we, the Torah true Jews are at a crossroad. We can believe that all the gedolei Torah are a bunch of blithering senile idiots at best, or a bunch of medieval inquisitors at worst, bent on destroying the forces of good and light led by the fearless Nosson Slifkin.
Or we can be true to our mesora and realign our own thinking by overcoming our natural biases, and prepare the next generation to have a correct Torah hashkafa.
Personally, the latter is the course I choose. And Nosson has the opportunity to create a tremendous kiddush Hashem by rejecting his deviant views and returning to the Torah fold.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. So instead, Nosson Slifkin will be relegated to a minor slot, at the next EDAH conference.
Having actually read Rabbis Slifkin's books I can only note that Rabbi Orlofsky has given both Pravda and Yated Ne'eman a run for their money. Like oil and water, truth and rabbis do not mix.
If anyone wants to confirm or deny the authenticity of the above letter, please do so on the record with full attribution (real name, valid e-mail address, how you know what you know). If you wish, this can be done by e-mailing me at "failed dot messiah at mindspring dot com." (There is an actual link at the bottom right of this page).