Shapiro Responds To Responses: What Are We Really To Make Of All The Censorship?

The paragraph that I think best sums up Frimer’s (and my own, at times) major gripe with Shapiro:

It is, therefore, critically important to reiterate that the cases cited by our author, exemplify neither pesak in general, nor the consensus view of the posekim. It is forbidden to misrepresent in halakhic rulings a matter of law and policy. In essence, then, Prof Shapiro’s scholarly and well-documented book presents the reader with a most fascinating review of an approach within halakhic decision making, which has been rejected by mainstream peak. Indeed, such cases need to be actively addressed if they are to be uprooted.

And then Shapiro’s response:

I agree with Frimer that none of the great possum supported lying in peak as a normative option on a regular basis. Yet as I have already indicated, I believe that there is a tradition that allows for not being frank at certain times, when it is thought that other values are at stake. In the book I state that we should understand this position in a sympathetic fashion even if it is at odds with how today we generally approach matters.

You get an interesting impression of Shapiro’s views on the subject from reading this back-and-forth. On the one hand, the censorship is clearly upsetting. (How do you think Rav Moshe would feel if he knew he was censored like that?!) On the other hand, though, given that there is certainly a valid tradition for the obscuring of truth is certain circumstances, it seems that Shapiro is almost arguing we shouldn’t be so upset by censorship like this. (Would Rav Moshe really be so upset — or upset at all — if he knew that the great scholars that censored him did it for what they felt was the greater good?)

Indeed, I find myself poised between these two conflicting realities.

Perhaps this great paragraph elucidates:

Frimer asks how are we supposed to educate our children and students as to the importance of truth and truthfulness if what I say is correct. This is a good question with which educators need to struggle, but it is not a refutation of what I have written. If my position is correct, the world will not collapse. It will just be one more Torah matter, alongside Amalek, yefat toar, slavery, homosexuality, etc., that at certain times is not in line with contemporary values. (Emphasis added.)

What About The Murdered Hyena?

Rabbi Natan Slifkin on the recent murder-by-stoning of a hyena by some Palestinians:

I suspect that there is another factor at play here: the identity of the villain. With the lion, the villain is a rich, white, presumably Republican, American. That's the type of person that the world loves to hate. Whereas with the hyena, the villains are a group of Palestinians. It's not so popular to show them enjoying throwing rocks to kill. [...]

If you care about the senseless slaughter of endangered animals, then you should care about the unnamed hyena as much as you care about Cecil the lion. But for many people, it's not about caring for the victim - it's about hating the villain.

One of my favorite things I've read on his site in a while.

The ‘Rabbi Doubts Evolution — But Not Because Of Religion’ Saga

It all started with Rabbi Avi Shafran’s article here, (read that first):

A relatively minor discovery but it wasn’t expected. In fact, larger surprises, leading to substantive revisions in the study of evolution are the rule rather than the exception. From Lamarckism to classical natural selection to Darwinism to the Modern Synthesis, evolution theory, well, evolves. But whatever mechanisms are believed to serve as the engine of evolution, the theory’s fundamental idea remains that life sprang from inanimate matter and came to yield all the organisms in the biosphere we occupy. As such, the news was, for me, another opportunity to come face-to-face with a personal reality. […]

What I cannot bring myself to accept, though, is speciation, the notion that the approximately 10 million distinct species on earth (along with another estimated 20 million marine microbial organisms) all developed from a common ancestor.

Those numbers, it must be stressed, don’t refer to individual creatures, but rather to distinct species. And, to make the head-wrapping-around-the-thought even more daunting, scientists estimate that the above numbers reflect only a mere one percent of all species that existed on earth, 99% of which are extinct. What’s more, new species are constantly being discovered, like a slew of previously unknown animals and plants recently cataloged in the Greater Mekong region.

According to the high priests of Scientism (and the masses that venerate them), all of that variation derives from one prehistoric single-celled organism. And that ur-organism itself sprung from inanimate matter.

Rabbi Slifkin quickly responded thusly (read that second):

His discussion of evolution is utterly muddled, mixing together three topics - the origins of the very first life form, the common ancestry of all animal life, and the mechanisms of evolution. Yet these three issues are entirely separate.

With regard to the first topic - the origin of life - most scientists freely admit that we know very little about it, and one is certainly not ridiculed or excommunicated for observing this. Similarly, with regard to the third topic - the mechanisms of evolution - most scientists freely admit that we still have oodles to learn about it. But with regard to the second topic - the common ancestry of all animal life - there is an overwhelming convergence of evidence from many different areas, including the fossil record, the pattern of homologous versus analogous similarities, the nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom, vestigial limbs, and much more. Rabbi Shafran does not counter any of these. Even advocates of Intelligent Design do not challenge this. So, yes, if you publicly dismiss all of this without presenting any counter-arguments and apparently without even understanding it, then you are not going to be taken seriously by the scientific community, and you probably indeed deserve “derision and ridicule.” It’s like challenging the historicity of the moon landing - you’re not a heretic, you’re an idiot.

Then Jerry Coyne jumped in with a post on his blog Why Evolution Is True (read this third):

It turns out, though, that Shafran’s Big Beef isn’t this rate variation, it’s the fact that he doesn’t think that evolution has been sufficient to explain a.) the proliferation of species over the history of life, and b.) the origin of life itself. […]

Has life proliferated too fast to be explained by natural processes? No. Let’s assume that we start with one species 3.5 billion years ago (the “universal common ancestor”, or UCA), and it simply bifurcates into two lineages. How long would it take to get to a billion species? (The rabbi estimates ten million today, but let’s assume, as is reasonable that 99% of the species formed since the UCA went extinct without leaving descendants. So we have to account for the evolution of a billion species) That’s an easy calculation (watch; I’ll screw it up!):

2^x = 1,000,000,000, where x is the number of splitting events required to produce a billion species.

x log 2 = log 1,000,000,000 = 9

x = 9/0.301 ≈ 30

In other words, only 30 splitting events would yield that billion species. Over 3.5 billon years, that’s one speciation event every 116 million years. As Allen Orr and I calculated in our book Speciation, on average a new species forms by splitting of a given lineage at a rate between one every 100,000 years and one every million years. (This is a rough estimate, of course, and varies by taxa.) The upshot: the data we have on species formation shows that there’s been plenty of time time for evolution to have created a billion or even 100 billon species.

He never addresses the issue of the origin of life.

We finally conclude this little excursion as follows (read this last):

Coyne’s fancy math tries to obscure the question, but not very well. It is not true according to his model that only 30 speciation events are necessary to form 1 billion species. It is that 30 speciation times are necessary, in which on that day, magically, every single species split, and then went dormant for another 116 million years. Then speciation day 2 occurs, and every single species splits, and goes dormant for another 116 million years. On speciation day 30, by coincidence all existing 500 million species decided to split on the very same day, and formed 1 billion new species. But clearly, in real life, they would be happening at random times. If 500 million species split in 116 million years, that is 4 events per year. He is playing fast and loose with the word “event”.

So, there’s all the information. Do with that as you please.

Lakewood Yeshivah’s Are Stealing From The Government

Josh Nathan-Kazis writing for Forward:

The disproportionately high amount of money going to Lakewood schools in recent years doesn’t correspond to similarly high levels of Internet access. Schools receiving E-Rate subsidies are not required to use those funds only to bring Internet into classrooms. They can pay for telephone service, administrative servers, certain kinds of wiring and telephone hardware, and even mobile phones and e-mail addresses. Yet for schools receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in E-Rate funding, Lakewood’s Orthodox yeshivas report startlingly few Internet-capable devices on campus.

Besides the Lakewood public school district, only eight of the 66 Lakewood schools that received E-Rate subsidies in 2011 report having more than 10 computers or other Internet-capable devices.

A tremendous chillul Hashem this all is. I am so filled with shame when I read things like this. And then these things get picked up by the mainstream media, and it brings forth things like the following from the gentile population:

A group of ultra-Orthodox near me (live near Ramapo) wanted to get a PUBLIC PARK declared Hasidic Only on Sunday’s. They were serious. I don’t know what to do with that…

You want to know what the problem with religious fanaticism/extremism/zealotry is? Right there.

Some Notes On Rabbi Gil Student’s Nice Article On Jewish Censorship

Rabbi Gil Student writing on Jewish Link:

If history is a source of inspiration, it need not be accurate. History consists of stories, almost parables based on a true story. As long as the story works, it can be accepted as history; if it fails to inspire, it must be rejected. Historical truth is only as valuable as its positive message. This entails no intellectual dishonesty as long as there is no real claim to accuracy. History is meant to convey themes, as the punchline goes: “I don’t know if the stories about [any given rabbi] are true but they don’t tell such stories about you and me.”

I heard on more than one occasion from a student of Rabbi Hillel Zaks zt”l that he would always say, in response to that last bit about “gadol stories”, something along the lines of: “How can we say such a thing? If it didn’t happen, then it’s sheker! Either it’s the emes or it’s not.” Plain and simple.

And I feel the same way. I’m not into making up stories about the greatest Torah scholars. If they are really the perfect angels that many make them out to be, then their greatness is unattainable, and not worth striving for for us mere mortals. Tell me about their struggles — and even their failures — and how they got past them. That’s truly inspirational. That truly has the power to bring people to action. I don’t need to hear about how they knew all of shas by heart before they turned three. (They didn’t, just by the way.)

We are blessed by variety, even if many opinions remain marginal. By censoring the past, we lose a part of our Torah heritage, even if we follow a different opinion.

Emphasis is my own. But it is a very important emphasis.

Controversy does not increase the glory of God. However, wiping out the memory of controversy condemns us to repeat the mistakes of history. Thankfully, many in the Orthodox community object to the overzealous ideological editing that Shapiro documents in his book.

Sums it all up rather nicely.

Who Was Greater Than Rambam?

In a similar vein, my Rosh Yeshivah has spoken on more than one occasion that there is a serious argument to be made that many of the scholars of the last generation or two are “greater” than many of the Rishonim. How so? Not in terms of righteousness, certainly, but in terms of breadth of knowledge.

Take, for instance, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, a man who was a total master of the entirety of the Tanach, Gemara, Halacha, as well as Kabbalah, philosophy, and so forth. The amount the Rav Soloveitchik knew, and had at his fingertips, is no doubt greater than what, say, Rambam knew. Perhaps the level of mastery was not the same, but just based on what is available in print today, we simply have access to more, and thus, almost by definition, the scholars of today know more as well.

Interesting to think about…

We Found A 4-Legged Snake

Rabbi Natan Slifkin in response to the implications for such a discovery relative to the literal reading of Bereishis:

[...] Scientists have never scoffed at the idea that snakes once had legs. It has long been accepted that snakes used to have legs. The new fossil just affects some relatively minor aspects of snake evolution.

What scientists have long scoffed at is the notion that snakes had legs 5775 years ago, walked upright, and were as intelligent as human beings. The discovery of a 113-million year old fossil with tiny legs has no bearing on that.

Quote Of The Day

According to a study done by researchers at Harvard, 80 percent of children said their parents care more about achievement or happiness than if they were kind to others.

- Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

I don’t know how bad this really is, but, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t say I’m much different. And, if we’re all going to be honest, how many of us can really say differently?

Really, put all into perspective, is it not more important that we achieve our personal, family, and communal goals — assuming that those goals are admirable and in the service of God — than it is to just be nice to people?

In truth, we should have both. Achieve your goals (religious and otherwise), and be nice to people along the way…

Recommended Reading: A (Brief) Review Of ‘The Devil’s Delusion’ By David Berlinski

In my humble opinion, The Devil’s Delusion is one of the absolute best books on the subject of modern “Scientific Atheism” or “Militant Atheism”. I couldn’t put it down. It’s eloquent, elegant, and clever to the point of inducing laughter at times. It’s smart and unusually impartial — Berlinksi is a self-proclaimed agnostic — and plays Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al on their own court, something not many do, or are capable of.

It’s exactly the way a book of this nature should be. It’s not preachy. It’s not childish. It’s not simple. In fact, all of these words are precisely polar opposites of what this book is.

The other book in this vein, and of this caliber, that I would recommend is, of course, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack’s own The Great Partnership. But these two books are very different. Radically so. Because while Rabbi Sack’s book is, at the end of the day, a religious work that stands on its own, The Devil’s Delusion is a direct response to the books of modern atheists — and wouldn’t exist without their prompts. It is for this reason that, if you have ever found yourself challenged on some level by the works of Dawkins and so forth — or would just like a totally solid foundation for this sort of stuff — I would recommend The Devil’s Delusion pretty much before anything else.

I am pleased to have found/read this book, to say the least. It’s not new, by any means, but it is fresh in its approach (to me at least). I’ve never read anything quite like it.

In short, I would probably summary thusly: It doesn’t try to, nor will it even come close to, proving anything to anyone (and nor should it); except for the fact that the modern atheistic scientific enterprise is deeply, incredulously biased — a fact so well explored and exhibited in this book that it takes quite the edge off an otherwise seemingly relentless war on religion. A must-read for the modern religious thinker.

Da'as Torah And The Holocaust

Rabbi Yaakov Menken:

One thing that certainly cannot be done is to try to second-guess them [the Rabbis] based upon an alternate reality that never happened — e.g. saying that “the Holocaust” somehow proves Rabbonim were wrong telling people not to leave Europe.

Except for the fact that there was also a sizable portion of Rabbis telling the Jews to get out of Europe as quickly as possible. So that’s also da’as Torah then, is it not? So which da’as Torah is right? The da’as Torah that led Jews to their deaths? Or the da’as Torah that saved them?

If we look at Jewish history, it happens repeatedly: appearances are deceiving. What appears to be is not the reality — which is really about where we stand with HaShem. See Megillah Esther, for example. No one looked more wrong than Mordechai did when he refused to bow to Haman, which appeared to have caused the decree to wipe out the Jews. The reality is precisely the opposite; Mordechai’s actions saved us from a deadly decree.

Yes, but Mordechai was a prophet.

Richard Dawkins Taken Down By His Good Pal Christopher Hitchens

Richard Dawkins writes the following in his book The God Delusion:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

It is this paragraph that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his debate with Richard Dawkins, called anti-semitic. Personally, I don’t really care either way. All this paragraph is really saying is that God sure seems like a jerk. Indeed, I would readily agree to such a notion. Just looking at the last few hundred years of history, it is more than a little difficult to conclude otherwise. And it is one of Dawkins’s greatest pleasures, it seems, to point out just how big of a jerk God can/was/would be.

But this hardly matters. Because it speaks only to the character of a Deity, not His existence.

In other words, and essentially to summarize the quote above, Dawkins is offended.

Well, now we quote Richard Dawkins’s good friend Christopher Hitchens’s response to someone stating they are offended by something:

The Misogyny Of Tisha B'Av? Really?

I just never know what to say when I see things like this. Good for her, I guess? I think it’s great that she now feels more connected, and I don’t question her motives, but I can’t agree with how she got to her conclusion. The fact that the metaphors employed by Chazal reference a women makes it misogynistic? I don’t get it. There are plenty of male (sexual) metaphors found throughout the Talmud as well. I can’t say I feel insulted by them. I mean, the Torah itself is seen as female! How is the employment of certain metaphors in certain cases sexist against women? I just don’t get it…

There are plenty of things in Judaism that seem more than sexist. This is not one of them.