Wednesday, March 04, 2009


That's Not Going to Work

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

A Simple Jew has been having a bit of controversy in comments. The question arose whether another blogger, in apparently challenging a statement of a gadol Torah, was speaking heresy. Calls for immediate banning of his comments where made. I wrote this reply, which I've extended with several additional comments in the discussion on my reply...

One of the early complaints about Chassidut was the revealing of secrets. There's a story (if I remember correctly, writing this quickly at the end of my workday) of the Maggid of Mezrich, Rebbe Menachem Mendel his talmid, and the Baal HaTanya his talmid. They were walking down the road when a piece of paper with Chassidut was blown down the street by the wind. The (future) Rebbe Menachem Mendel picked it up and started to become very upset that such holy secrets were blowing down the street like garbage. The (future) Baal HaTanya comforted him saying with a story of the king being willing to sacrifice his most precious jewels to save the life of his child.

Judaism has been a religion of thinking, analysis, delving deep into G-d's words, teachings, direction, and secrets. Nor did Judaism shy away from questions of creation, the world and nature. Judaism did not debate how many angels could stand on the head of a pin, nor demand that man's interpretation of the words of Genesis mean that the Earth could not be moving in space (though relatively speaking what's moving can be debated).

Further, it deals remarkably with human nature. Business rules take into account how people feel and react to money, men-women rules take into account how adults can react to each other and human desires, community rules their people context. (Note a halacha of Purim allowed the reading of the Megillah to be moved to the nearest town market day - so people would MOVE the holiday to meet their business-life needs.)

Judaism has not been afraid of questions, of challenges, for the TRUTH does not fear lies. The Jewish people have been challenged BY FORCE throughout the ages, crushed by those who would shove their lies down our throats. But never have any foreign ideas been able to stand against the LIGHT of Torah.

Suddenly, in an age when our youth are QUESTIONING - a holy tradition of Judaism - a portion of our religious society has become fundamentalists in the nature of other religions. They would insist on learning only PSHAT, and anyone who varies one iota from the words of pshat is a heretic. In the nature of the Amish, they run from the tools rather than learning - and more important teaching the generation - how to use them to strengthen themselves and share the light of Torah. In the words of Rabbi Horowitz, they would raise the whole generation to be gedolim and tzaddikim, rather than mench'im and "just" good Jews.

There are those Jews who are questioning and even challenging Judaism. We have literally thousands of years of such challenges and the wisest and holies of men's answers to give them. What's NOT going to work is to say "SHUT UP", "SIT DOWN", "GO AWAY", or to stick our fingers in our ears and go "NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA".

So 'A Simple Jew' can shut down comments and just lecture to us. Of course, the EFFECTIVE teachers are those who interact with their students. He can tell those who question and challenge to JUST SHUT UP. It won't work, it won't help that person and it won't help Judaism - but it will make us feel better being able to pretend that there aren't such challenges. (And sometimes, if it's just pure vitriol, that may be appropriate.) Or he can give us a place to carry on a conversation, even occasionally an uncomfortable one.

I, for one, do not believe that Judaism is only for monks in a monastery. No, I don't ask him to tolerate someone who's only vomiting insults. But I am not afraid of the CONVERSATION - nor do I believe anyone with a solid grasp on Torah and Judaism should be.

Pirke Avos teaches us respect is not chased after, it is to be run from. If the gedolim need a crowd to be beating people to maintain their kovod, then the kovod is not real. Further, people who feel they need to beat up a questioner or even an insulter to maintain the kovod of their gadol, are being tricked by the yetzer hara.

WHERE IN THE SHULCHAN ARUCH IS THERE A MITZVAH TO "MAINTAIN THE LEGITIMACY OF OUR GREATEST LEADERS"??? Their legitimacy maintains itself from the truth and from the Torah. (I'm not saying there is no mitzvah of kovod to rabbaim or zakkainim. I'm asking about the mitzvah of "maintaining", the assumption we are required to _defend_ their kavod.)

Let me give you the words of a kannoi (a zealot) of the previous generation: "When we got for kannus, zealotry to defend the Torah, we cried as we exited our houses for what we would have to do. [Which was often violence or vandalism against their fellow Jew.] Today when they get up for kannus, they laugh and speak with pleasure about what they are to do."

Yes in a perfect world we would not tolerate those who would spread doubt. But would you rather take a tiny risk to perhaps have the opening of a Torah conversation with your lost brother, or lock yourself away? Even the Beis HaMikdash had windows to let the light out, and a 13th gate to let the lost in. Would you wall them off in case something inappropriate might draft in?

I agree that a blog author/editor is responsible to monitor and manage comments - though as a blog author/editor of a pretty active blog I must say this can be challenging and time consuming. However, it's a bit unrealistic to assume a blog author/editor - especially of a private blog (as opposed to an organization/business) can filter everything and create a perfectly kosher environment - if we could even agree on what that would be.

I think there's a level of literalism gone amok. Not only on words of the Gemora and even Midrash (which was NEVER meant to be considered literal), but on the merest small comments of gedolim (of current and past) generations as well. As Pirke Avos teaches, we can learn much from even the actions of the gedolim and tzaddikim. But there's a reason it also teaches they have to be extremely careful with their words (or people can be led to "bad places"). We can learn so much from their holy words, but we've also entered a time when we tend to ignore their context, situation, local customs and culture, and intended audience.

The holy words of the Rambam were appropriate for his community and/or the one he was addressing with Moreh Nevuchim. But those same words were assur'd (prohibited) in France, where they were considered confusing of the public's emunah by the gedolim of that community.

So which is it? Are they holy and appropriate - or assur and damaging?

Is challenging the words of a gadol as possibly out of context, misunderstood, or targeted at one audience or community and being applied too wide an action of kefirah (heresy)?

In the recent past, ParshaBlog challenged a statement posted on other blogs about Rav Kanviesky, shlita predicting a war to occur this past Chanukah. He challenged it's context - was it a personal answer to an individual (about where/when to hold a wedding) or a communal answer and we should all be urgently stocking up on food and water? In a very unusual instance, that blog author took the question to heart and arranged for the question to be taken back to the Rav!

The answer was ASTOUNDING! It was, if I remember correctly, "the answer was for the questioner (who had asked about whether to hold a wedding in Israel or not, and when), and things said 'in my name' cannot be relied upon."

Not only was the challenge not kefirah, it turned out to be common sense versus a time of "telephone tag" where messages and stories get passed around, distorted and meanings misinterpreted.

I, for one, am FRIGHTENED by the tendency of modern charedi Judaism to slide into fundamentalism. If our children dare ask WHY, they're charged as being under negative influences and pushed away to protect the others. For the adults, the words of the holy ones can't even be discussed for it might lead to charges of heresy - even the rumors of their holy words!

When did we become so afraid, and the Torah so weak?


  1. Reb Akiva -

    Mind if I sit by the blaze created by your True Light?

    Ah .. the warmth of true knowledge makes all the difference.

    It keeps me coming back for more.

    Especially, since there is NO END to THIS LIGHT.

    I, and everyone else, too, will be back again, B"H, real soon.


  2. Akiva, I basically agree with you, but don't you think we have to draw the line somewhere? Let's say there was someone making lots of posts on your or ASJ's blog making articulate and long-winded defenses of Xianity, or arguments that the Oral Torah is invalid, or statements that personally attack and mock many of the main teachings of Orthodox Judaism and its present and past gedolim? Isn't there a point where you start deleting the stuff? Questioning is one thing, but pushing a heretical ideology on others is another, even if it depicts itself as frum.

  3. I agree with your comment about 'slide into fundamentalism'.
    I think "left leaning Judaism" beside being pulled by the world's currents, it has to do with a person's Emuna. When your's is strong it's not necessary to point fingers, shout kefira. But when it's weak, everything becomes suspect, reflecting your own doubts and lack of strong bitachon.

  4. Words can kill. They can kill people and they can kill emunah. You have to be very careful what you post, and what is allowed to be posted in your comments.
    Constant vigilence. That's the bloggers' duty, otherwise people could come away confused, rather than educated.


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