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Jan 22, 2007

interview with the Zoo Rabbi - R' Natan Slifkin

Due to the recent flare-up in the Slifkin controversy, I have collaborated with R' Natan Slifkin in an interview in the attempt to answer some of the many questions and unclarities people have regarding the controversy.

Q: How did you become the "Zoo Rabbi"? And how do you make all those connections - you walk into a zoo and say I love animals, can I get into the lion cage - how do you convince them to let you behind the scenes?

NS: I've had a lifelong passion for animals, but as I grew up, I thought that I would never be able to make a career out of it. Then when I was in yeshivah, it occurred to me to start looking into what the Torah says about the animal kingdom. The rest is history...
The pictures and videos of me with wild animals are mostly from a private ranch in California where they train animals for work in movies. It's just a matter of paying a lot of money and signing a release of liability in case I get mauled! Occasionally, my connections to the Biblical Zoo have enabled me to go behind the scenes in some zoos in the U.S., and I also have some friends who work in various zoos.

Q: Has the controversy affected your book sales and speaking schedule? Have sales gone up? Gone down?

NS: Baruch Hashem, my book sales have gone way, way up. In terms of speaking engagements, while there are some places that will no longer invite me, this is far outweighed by the number of places that heard of me as a result of the controversy and davka want to invite me.
It's interesting; when Darwin's book originally came out, the Gedolim in Europe met to decide upon a response. They decided that it would be a very bad idea to place a ban on reading it, as it would merely encourage interest in it.


Q: How has the controversy around your works affected your and your families daily life?

NS: Well, it's already mostly died down. But for the first eight months or so, it completely and utterly took over my life. Aside from the time juggling emails and phone calls, it was extremely stressful and it took a great toll on me and my wife emotionally (fortunately our children are far too young to be affected).
It was especially difficult on my parents, who live in Bayit Vegan. There were posters all over Bayit Vegan - as if anyone there is even buying my books! My father (who is currently in a very grave situation in hospital) would go out every day to tear them down, and my mother was utterly distraught to the point that she was in tears frequently and couldn't bring herself to go to social events. I wonder if those who signed against my books gave any thought to their responsibilities in terms of causing tzaar to my family (or any other of the negative consequences of the ban, such as the massive chillul Hashem and the causing of many sincere people to move away from the yeshivah world).


Q: Do you ever get tired of it - either the job itself or the controversy - and just say I have had enough and will now do something else, like be the Plant Rabbi for example? Do you have other interests that take up your time?

NS: I was very sick of the controversy at the beginning, and I was desperate for it to be over. It was especially upsetting with those who attacked me personally and were motzi shem ra against me. But now it's died down a lot, and I've learned to handle it emotionally a lot better, so it doesn't bother me so much. My main frustration now is how so many people throw out charges against me which would be easily answered if they would just take the time to carefully read my book or my website.
The job and topic itself is certainly not something that I get tired of. It's a source of endless fascination for me. Additionally, there are constantly different aspects of it to focus on. For example, I spent much of the last few months intensively researching hilchos shofar, and writing new chapters for the new edition of Mysterious Creatures.

Q: How do you suggest lay people like me answer those who blankly ban your books without reading them? those who simply follow other rabbis like sheep, how do I respond (not start-up) as to why I want to read it - regardless of my agreeing with his answers?


NS: Well, if they are simply following their rabbis, you can say that you are simply following yours! You could say that you know that there are serious talmidei chachamim who endorse this approach, and that you have no chiyyuv or reason to follow these other people's rabbonim.

Q: Why is there so much hate toward you book and ideas, when you obviously have ma'are mekomos to back you up? Why has your work turned into such a wildfire? Why has it garnered the reaction it did, rather than just be shrugged off?

NS: That's a very interesting question. There are really two issues here - the question of why the ban caused such a backlash, and the question of why there is so much hate towards me. The answer to the first is that the ban was not just directed against me or my works, but against anyone who has ever used these approaches - which is tens of thousands of people. All these people felt like they had personally been condemned. A lot of people bemoaned the criticisms or even leitzonus against the Gedolim that erupted after the ban. I don't think that they realize how these people issuing the letzonos were, in many cases, extremely personally hurt by the ban. This isn't to justify the extreme reactions, but when you effectively tell a large group of people that they are apikorsim, without even giving any reasons, it's inevitable that this will cause tremendous resentment.

The reason why there is such hate towards me and my books is, I think, not so much due to what's in my books - after all, many of those who despise me have never even read my books. Rather, I think that it is for the most part due to my reaction to the ban i.e. defending myself very successfully on my website. If you consider the latest poster against me that was put up in RBS, the main reason why they said that people should not go to my shiurim was not so much the concern of "heresy", but rather that by doing so, people would be showing support to someone who is "defying the Gedolim."

Over a year ago, a certain rabbi told me that I was attacking the Gedolim on my website. I protested that I have always been very careful, as have been those supervising what I put on my website, that there should be nothing that attacks them and that I am only defending myself from their attacks on my work. His reply was very interesting and revealing. He said, "Defending yourself against the Gedolim is by definition attacking them." Now, that is something that sounds ludicrous, but what I think that he subconsciously meant is that his personal sense of identity was threatened when his image of the Gedolim and the universal acceptance of their rulings is shaken, because he draws his own sense of self-esteem from his idea of the Gedolim (which doesn't include the Gedolim that I follow!).

Q: Do you have a base of support that helps you get through the hard times?

NS: Baruch Hashem my family, rebbeim and community have been very supportive. I also have a file that is stuffed with hundreds of letters of support that I have received.

Q: How did you come to the conclusions that you came to that got you in trouble rather than follow other resolutions to the questions? Did those answers simply make more sense to you? Why have you been so adamant that your conclusions are correct, in spite of the rabbinic opposition to your solutions?

NS: When it comes down to it, we are talking about two very simple things - is the universe very old, and do creatures spontaneously generate. I've studied a fair amount of science and I am convinced that the universe is very old and that creatures do not spontaneously generate. My rebbeim in these matters have always told me that these conclusions are perfectly theologically acceptable, and that is what is written in the sources that I have collected. I investigated all the various answers to these and other questions, and the approach that I eventually took was the one that both made the most sense to me and that my rebbeim preferred. I have never been given any reason to tell my rebbeim that they were wrong, to ignore the sefarim that I studied, or to reject what I have learned about the natural world. It's not as though any of the Gedolim who banned my works gave any alternative answers to the problems that my books deals with.

You know, many people are under the impression that my books list dozens of cases where Chazal made mistakes in science. But the truth is that I only use that approach in THREE CASES! Mice growing from dirt, lice from sweat, and salamanders thriving only in fire. In each case, I was quoting other authorities, but the point is, throughout this whole controversy, not one of my opponents has said how they would explain these problems, let alone why my approach is wrong.

Q: Do you feel you are on equal footing with Rabbonim the likes of Rav Elyashiv, Rav Lefkowitz, the Novominsker Rebbe and others that you feel you can oppose them when they say you are wrong?

NS: I suggest that you look at what I wrote at http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/authority.html to see why I am not following their opinion; this is a very important page that I added recently to explain precisely this point.


Q: On your website you say that the Rabbonim refused to meet with you to allow you to explain your position. There is/was a rumor that Rav Moshe Shternbuch had agreed to meet with you. Supposedly he even agreed to meet with you on your own terms, yet supposedly you refused at the last minute.
Is there any truth to this rumor? Why would you not meet with him if he was willing? Can you deny the validity of the rumor?

NS: I have never heard anything like that (I haven't even heard a rumor like that!). Someone offered to arrange a meeting with him, after he had already written his letter. They hadn't spoken to him at all. I asked one of my rebbeim who is extremely close with Rav Sternbuch, and he couldn't see any point at all. After all, he had already made a public statement.


Q: Why do you continues to "peddle" your ideas, in light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Chareidi Rabbonim oppose them.
One would expect that even if you feels you are right, you should "go underground" for some years, spend his time delving into more traditional subjects, and then when older, wiser, and more mature, return to these issue.
As an objective observer, regardless of the issue themselves, it seems very haughty on your part, at your age, to continue on, knowing that so many great people oppose his books.
Why do you continue on?


NS: Again, this relates to what I posted at http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/authority.html.

I do accept, though, that these rabbonim have the right to say that they don't want this approach for their communities, which I am trying to make clear in the way that I am republishing my books.

Q: Were you disappointed when your fellow landsman David Beckham decided to leave English footbal and take up American soccer?

NS: I have absolutely zero interest in sports and I didn't even know that he left football - in fact, I'm not exactly sure who he is!

Q: And finally, when is your next book coming out, And what will the topic be (if you can reveal it)?

NS: It's a completely revised and vastly expanded edition of Mysterious Creatures, to be entitled Sacred Monsters. It will also include discussions of giants, dwarfs, the shamir, and two-headed people! It will hopefully be out by summer.

Thank you R' Slifkin for the interview. I learned a lot from it. I hope others did as well. And Refuah Shleimah to your father.
For further information and more details of the whole controversy, clcik on the Controversy link on the ZooTorah website

53 comments:

  1. Who is David Beckham ?

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  2. does nobody read the news? He is one of the most famous and popular English football players ever. He recently signed a contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy for 5 years for $250 million dollars. That woud be about $1 million per week.

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  3. rafi

    yeyasher kochacha - excellent job!

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  4. "I don't think that they realize how these people issuing the letzonos were, in many cases, extremely personally hurt by the ban. This isn't to justify the extreme reactions, but when you effectively tell a large group of people that they are apikorsim, without even giving any reasons, it's inevitable that this will cause tremendous resentment."

    This hits it on the head. There has to be, though, a healthy and respectful way for people affected by this to deal with their feelings.

    For one thing, it may be helpful to find "moderate" rabbonim that one can relate to discuss the issue. Don't take your hashkafos from the internet--pro or con.

    It doesn't have to be the gadol hador, just someone whom you feel that you can talk to. That is far more constructive than writing angry internet posting insulting Gedolie Torah.

    "I have absolutely zero interest in sports and I didn't even know that he left football - in fact, I'm not exactly sure who he is!"

    There is therefore room for someone to be a "Sports Rabbi". (someone did a guest post on the Mishmar website anticipating yesterday's Colts- Patriots playoffs and sent it to me on Friday. I haven't been following football, and was going to post it later this week !)

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  5. dr harold goldmeierJanuary 22, 2007 10:18 PM

    Whoever said or thought only the Muslims have a Taliban? Great interview. If he comes to Chicago, we can get him into the Linc. Pk Zoo----one of the world's best.

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  6. You made your career with this one.

    Even I've heard of David Beckham.

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  7. thanks Dr. H G (dad) and mii..

    bh - since RNS has no interest, the sports Rabbi will have to be someone else... you are right though - that point does hit it on the head. RNS has his rabbonim, as he mentioned.

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  8. You can tell your father that R. Slifkin conducted a tour of Lincoln Park Zoo last summer -- and that he was otherwise prevented from speaking in Chicago.

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  9. I for one was SHOCKED that David Bekham left for america. The mulit-million dollar contract better do good for american soccer or they might as well give up on it. I will admit though, his celebrity status was too big to stay only in England. I think we had the feeling he may pull a Beatles one day...

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  10. whats - pull a beatles? what does that mean?

    anonymous - that is a shame. I am surprised he could not speak in at least the modern orthodox type shuls, of which there are plenty....

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  11. I have one real question though: He says straight out that chazal were wrong? How can someone actually say that? Why are we using science to explain or contradict chazal? Perhaps they were different species that lived back then that have evolutionized to something else today? How can people today, claim that chazal were straight out wrong???
    I support the idea of explaining science and Torah. See Gerald Shroeder's book on the Genesis and the Big Bang. But shouldn't we be using chazal to prove science and not the other way around?

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  12. RNS in his website keeps on mentioning "My own rabbinic authorities".
    Not once does he mention there names.
    Who are they?

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  13. Very interesing interview.
    I'm glad there's an expanded version coming, Mysterious Creatures was facinating to me.
    And to be honest eye opening as well.

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  14. rafi,

    keep your dayjob because you're a terrible journalist! ;>)

    Seriously speaking - that was the most one sided interview I've ever read. You clearly were lobbing softballs and there was little to be learned from the interview other than that NS still hasn't reversed course. I'm not saying he should or shouldn't. I have conflicting emotions on this whole situation but as someone who has actually done some research and spoken to some of the parties involved in the ban [three of the signees] as well as to one of NS's close advisors, this doesn't even begin to paint the whole picture.

    so far you're just another blogger with a couple of family members cheering you on.

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  15. anonymous -
    1. I never claimed to be anything other than a blogger with a couple of family members cheering me on.
    2. I offered people to send me questions. You wanted ough questions to be asked, you should have sent some.
    3. I thought a couple of those questions were good enough to put him on the spot, like the one of Rav Sternbuch offering to meet him. I do not think they were all softballs.
    4. I stated in advance that the interview was to get his side fo the story. I said, if you have any questions you ever wanted to ask RNS, to send them to me. Did you think he would present the other side of the story?
    On the other hand, if you know a rep of the "other side of the story" who would be willing to be interviewed here to present that side, I would be more than happy to present that. I thought of asking Rabbi Perlstein.. but I was convinced not to bother trying...

    5. Feel free to fill us in with some info that you think we are missing. We are all here (all three of us) with open minds...

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  16. a blogger with a couple of family members cheering me on.

    Acheinu kol beis yisroel...

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  17. Mr. Anonymous, would you be so kind as to share with us what the 3 bannees said?

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  18. mr. anon.

    1. actually, no blogger has gotten that much info of RNS' side, so itself was worthwhile.

    2. what's the other side that we don't know? did they actually read the books? I know some didn't. what're we missing that makes it worthy of a "ban"?

    3. why the anonymous? what're you afraid of? why are you people so afraid of admitting who you are, yet you're so quick to judge others so that we can't get ANY real verification. You have NO chezkas kashrus unless we know who you are. Just because you say so? anonymously? please.

    4. The cheering you see only ofsets about a tenth of the criticism.... :P actually, as Mayor Daley says - "of course you support family"!

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  19. Shaya wrote:
    1. actually, no blogger has gotten that much info of RNS' side, so itself was worthwhile.

    Nonsense - everything he said is on his website and has been stated hundreds of times.

    2. what's the other side that we don't know? did they actually read the books? I know some didn't. what're we missing that makes it worthy of a "ban"?

    And I know that some did because I've actually spoken to some of them - not just asked sources. Try speaking to them yourself and find out for yourself.

    3. why the anonymous? what're you afraid of? why are you people so afraid of admitting who you are, yet you're so quick to judge others so that we can't get ANY real verification. You have NO chezkas kashrus unless we know who you are. Just because you say so? anonymously? please.

    Lighten up there, will you? I made no judgements of anyone other than to point out that this was a worthless interview [stress interview - not person] For all I know your brother is a marvelous human being but that wasn't my point. The interview did very little to shed light on the subject. Sorry if that's harsh but it's rather obvious and doesn't require that I publish my name to back it up. You're free to disagree of course and remain anon as well.

    4. The cheering you see only ofsets about a tenth of the criticism.... :P actually, as Mayor Daley says - "of course you support family"!

    Gald to see you guys stick together. Nothing wrong with that. Now learn how to take a joke.

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  20. Rafi Goldmeier said...

    anonymous -
    1. I never claimed to be anything other than a blogger with a couple of family members cheering me on.

    At least you're a man of truth! now smile.

    2. I offered people to send me questions. You wanted ough questions to be asked, you should have sent some.

    I have no need to. I can talk to NS anytime I feel like. He responds to email quite rapidly and has written abt his side extensively.


    4. I stated in advance that the interview was to get his side fo the story. I said, if you have any questions you ever wanted to ask RNS, to send them to me. Did you think he would present the other side of the story?

    No -that's why there's not much point to this. His side is irrelevant unless you've actually spoken to some of the others and heard their point of view.


    > On the other hand, if you know a rep of the "other side of the story" who would be willing to be interviewed here to present that side, I would be more than happy to present that. I thought of asking Rabbi Perlstein.. but I was convinced not to bother trying...

    Not to burst your bubble, I doubt any of them would agree to be interviewed by a blogger [w/three readers :>)] - but I have successfuly discussed the matter with three of them and you might want to do the same. They're not as hard to access as you might think.

    > 5. Feel free to fill us in with some info that you think we are missing. We are all here (all three of us) with open minds...

    I have no doubt abt that and I therefore invite you to speak to them yourself much in the manner that you spoke to Rabbi M. I don't presume to speak in their name and believe its best that everyone do their own research.

    For the record: I believe I made it clear that I was not expressing an opinion abt the issue - all I said was that this "scoop" was nothing to get excited over. I'd say that the fact that you received 20 comments abt it [keep in mind that this is a subject that usually attracts much attention in the blog world] and most of them from family members kinda proves my point.

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  21. To anonymous
    I (and I am aware of others also) did appreciate Rafi's efforts for the interview (eventhough, as you said, it did not include any big chiddushim for someone who has actually read all the material that R' slifkin has on his website (other than the news about david beckham).

    And I hearby declare, so as not to leave any mistaken impression, I AM IN NO WAY related to Rafi.

    Another Anonymous

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  22. so many anonymous posters (would anonymi be the plural?) that it is getting hard to keep track of!

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  23. Rafi Goldmeier said...
    so many anonymous posters (would anonymi be the plural?) that it is getting hard to keep track of!

    January 24, 2007 10:11 AM

    I know the problem all too well...

    Somebody suggested that Rafi interview someone on the other side? Well, I'm available. I happened to have read all the banned books and the website very carefully. And because I looked up the sources my self, I have still come down decisively on the side of the banners.
    I do not have anything personal against Rabbi Slifkin and I think I could offer a counter-balance to this one-sided interview for people who want to judge for themselves.
    send Questions to fkmaniac@gmail.com

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  24. And because I looked up the sources my self, I have still come down decisively on the side of the banners.

    Er, no, you came down on the side of the banners because R' Slifkin embarrassed your Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Meiselman.

    I do not have anything personal against Rabbi Slifkin

    Yeah, right! You are just repeatedly rude about him, say personal stuff against him, and completely fabricate stuff against his works.

    Have you retracted your claim about Rav Malinowitz retracting his haskamah yet? Have you apologized yet?

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  25. fkm - I mentioned I was interested in interviewing someone from the other side of the ban.

    Why would I interview you - were you somehow involved in the ban or just you know more details of the opposing opinion?

    If you were somehow able to answer the questions in an official capacity (meaning if you were somehow involved) rather than just offering your opinion of hwo the opposing opinion came to ban his books that would be interesting.

    Was your offer for an interview, for me to interview you or are you just offering people to send you questions which you will answer directly to them and maybe post on your blog?

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  26. uhoh - looks like someone here knows who you are....
    any response?

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  27. FKM is a nobody, he's not a Rav, nor an official representative of the banners.

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  28. do you guys all know each other? how? Do I know any of you? all you guys are posting anonymously or with anonymous type names, so I have no idea and can't keep track of who is who...

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  29. to whichever anon started this whole thing:

    1. I read and reread both the ban and RNS' website a few times in the process of deciding for myself (as halacha demands) whether or not I should start reading his books. Ther e were no great chiddushim but there were some insights I got out of the interview. Rafi never claimed to be peter jennings.

    2. I don't care if you criticize and disagree with rafi or not, we are all individuals. My issue was your tone was demeaning and I simply don't care for critics who hide behing "anonymous". I say what I say, right or wrong", and allow for corrections because people know who I am an dI have to take responsibility for my words and tone.

    3. There are 2 camps among the banners. Those who banned just the couple of books, and everyone else who can't read the ban and thinks RNS is in cherem. Even those who banned the books only, haven't explained anything, and continue to treat the klal like children who you simply order around. Throw that in with the newest and latest other takanos (education for chareidi women, denim, tznius, new vaad hashomrim to gaurd against en and women gathering together), some of us regular folk get a little tired and disinfranchised with the whole "leadership" thing.

    4. among those who banned it, if they read it first, good. But for the ones who didn't and some of the responses are "well, R' Elyashiv signed it so I have to also" is pathetic. It's embarrasing and borders on negligence, motzei shem ra, and loshon horah. It also continues to drive the wedge further between the leaders and the people.

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  30. This is starting to get interesting. but can someone please answer these two questions?:
    1 - How can someone nowadays say Chazal is wrong and made mistakes? What right do we have to claim something like that?
    2 - Rav Slifkin constantly refers to his rabbaim, but never mentioning their names. Wouldn't it be more prudent to quote the people who is asking? Isn't that halacha? Wouldn't that give it more merit?

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  31. whats - I will ask RBS your questions..
    Be aware, as he said, his father is in grave condition and depending on his condition, he might not be able to answer right away. I do nto know what the status with tat situation is...

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  32. I want to wish his father a full refuah shleimah and I hope he comes through allright.

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  33. I asked RNS your two questions and here is his response...

    << 1 - How can someone nowadays say Chazal is wrong and made mistakes? What right do we have to claim something like that? >>

    We have a right based on the forty or so prominent Rishonim and Acharonim who said so. It is also fairly explicit in numerous places in the Gemara. The Gemara in Pesachim, for example, says that Chazal had a dispute with the non-Jewish astronomers concerning where the sun goes at night, and Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi conceded that Chazal were wrong.
    Remember that we are only talking about scientific data, not about halachah.


    << 2 - Rav Slifkin constantly refers to his rabbaim, but never mentioning their names. Wouldn't it be more prudent to quote the people who is asking? Isn't that halacha? Wouldn't that give it more merit? >>

    In general I prefer to not name them, because that often results in tremendous pressure being placed upon them to retract their support. I will name my primary mentor in these areas, Rav Aryeh Carmell, who passed away a few months ago. His endorsements of my work, and his essay presenting the same approach, can be found on my website.

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  34. As far as NS claiming that Rav Carmell endorsed him - here's Rav Carmells letter posted on Dovidgottlieb.com for all to see. If I had a ringing endorsement like that I'd hang myself. Perhaps he has other letters that contradict this one but this one certainly tells me what Rav Carmell was thinking.

    Read it for yourself:
    Rabbi Avraham Chaim Carmel on the Slifkin Controversy

    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.)


    [Rabbi Carmell is commenting on the following passage:

    Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2003 11:29:05 +0200 From: Zoo Torah < @zootorah.com> Subject: RE: Basics for Philisophical 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....]

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  35. as the anon "who started this whole thing" I'll respond to Shaya G's latest comments.

    to whichever anon started this whole thing:

    1. I read and reread both the ban and RNS' website a few times in the process of deciding for myself (as halacha demands) whether or not I should start reading his books. Ther e were no great chiddushim but there were some insights I got out of the interview. Rafi never claimed to be peter jennings.

    Lovely for you. For the rest of us who've followed this issue, this interview did little to clarify matters any and I assume that your bro had that in mind when he conducted the interview. Perhaps I think more highly of him than you do, but maybe I don't know him as well. :>)


    2. I don't care if you criticize and disagree with rafi or not, we are all individuals. My issue was your tone was demeaning and I simply don't care for critics who hide behing "anonymous". I say what I say, right or wrong", and allow for corrections because people know who I am an dI have to take responsibility for my words and tone.

    I'll have to see how well I sleep knowing that you don't care for me, but my intent was not to demean but rather to make a subtle point that since this is such a sensitive issue, there's really no point in bringing it up when you have nothing substantial to add. I don't know about you, but most people feel like this is an issue that should probably be laid to rest.


    3. There are 2 camps among the banners. Those who banned just the couple of books, and everyone else who can't read the ban and thinks RNS is in cherem. Even those who banned the books only, haven't explained anything, and continue to treat the klal like children who you simply order around. Throw that in with the newest and latest other takanos (education for chareidi women, denim, tznius, new vaad hashomrim to gaurd against en and women gathering together), some of us regular folk get a little tired and disinfranchised with the whole "leadership" thing.

    No rpblem - get disenfranchised all you like. Fact is, Klal Yisroel doesn't survive very long without leaders whether or not you agree with them. I for one, get very disenfranchised with the whole blogosphere that offers very little rational thought and honest debate. B"H Klal Yisroel has managed for quite some time without it and will probably continue to do so.

    4. among those who banned it, if they read it first, good. But for the ones who didn't and some of the responses are "well, R' Elyashiv signed it so I have to also" is pathetic. It's embarrasing and borders on negligence, motzei shem ra, and loshon horah. It also continues to drive the wedge further between the leaders and the people.

    Very passionate but lacking much substance. As you are aware, every single hechsher relies on other hechsheirim because no hechsher agency can be everywhere at once. I imagine some of them felt that if trusted rabbonim felt this way after reviewing the material, they could rely on their opinions without struggling to read a language they don't understand.

    Allow me to reiterate that I haven't taken a position on the debate itself.

    ReplyDelete
  36. As far as not being invited to speak to his detractors here's a little snippet from http://www.toriah.com/wiki/index.php?title=Slifkin_-_Coffer_Debate#Cutting_off_Dialogue
    [scroll to the bottom of the page]
    which claims otherwise. I don't know how reliable it is.

    "Subsequent to the aforesaid interchange, Dr. Ostroff has not received any communication from you regarding this matter. In fact, I understand you dropped off the Avodah forum entirely after his aforementioned post to Aishdas.

    Furthermore, I understand that Rabbi Jacoby, of JEP Toronto, approached you when you were here and offered to broker a meeting between you and Rabbi Miller (including Dr. Ostroff) and you were unresponsive. You claim on your site that you were advised by

    “two Canadian rabbis who had prior experience with Rabbi Jacoby and/or Rabbi Miller that the agenda would be anything but dialogue. Instead, they warned, the goal of the meeting would undoubtedly be to browbeat me into submission rather than an open discussion to try to resolve our differences constructively. According to them, this is what had transpired in the past. They both strongly advised me against the meeting. Since at the time I was very emotionally overwrought by the controversy, I took their advice…”

    Well, as you write, you “took their advice” which means that you chose to reject any contact with your Torontonian critics. "

    ReplyDelete
  37. anon - actually I was hoping and even expecting that it would clarify issues and explain RNS' side of the story. The fact that you now say that no tough questions were asked, well I say again you should have sent some tough questions. I myself am not an expert on the controversy. I know what I have read and the little i have heard. I was actually hoping this interview would clarify things for me. And it did clarify a lot. But because I am not an expert on the topic, I might not have been aware of some of the tougher issues to ask about, which is why I asked for readers to submit questions.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous who says that Rav Carmell doesn't support Rav Slifkin -

    Duh, that's the wrong Rav Carmell! That's the son of the late Rav Aryeh Carmell, who is Deep Charedi and totally out of touch with who his father was.

    Rav Aryeh Carmell himself totally backed R' Slifkin - he not only reiterated his haskamah, but even wrote an essay in which he presented exactly the same views that the Gedolim claimed were kefirah.

    ReplyDelete
  39. "Duh, that's the wrong Rav Carmell! That's the son of the late Rav Aryeh Carmell, who is Deep Charedi and totally out of touch with who his father was.

    Rav Aryeh Carmell himself totally backed R' Slifkin - he not only reiterated his haskamah, but even wrote an essay in which he presented exactly the same views that the Gedolim claimed were kefirah."

    Them's fightin words. I am aware that this is his son speaking in his name. Can you please demonstrate how you know that Rav Carmell totally backed him and that his son is out of touch with his father? Sources please if you don't mind.

    ReplyDelete
  40. anon of 11:40

    it's obvious from the sons letter that he never really consulted with his father - "I have tried to imagine what would have been Rabbi Dessler’s position with regard to the ban against your books". and he is trying to remember what he discussed "in the past". he never says "here is what my father told me about this issue".

    ReplyDelete
  41. anon,

    >>I'll have to see how well I sleep knowing that you don't care for me<<

    I care for every jew, i don't care if you agree or disagree with my or rafis opinion

    >>Fact is, Klal Yisroel doesn't survive very long without leaders whether or not you agree with them. I for one, get very disenfranchised with the whole blogosphere that offers very little rational thought and honest debate. B"H Klal Yisroel has managed for quite some time without it and will probably continue to do so<<

    actually klal survived because rabbonim have disagreed and had different hashkafot and piskei halacha. we never would have survived if everyone played follow the leader - what or which leader? misnagdim argued that chasidism, when it started, was apikorsus as well, just remember, your words could apply then also.

    >>As you are aware, every single hechsher relies on other hechsheirim because no hechsher agency can be everywhere at once<

    also, because eid echad ne'eman. here though we have CONFLICTING hechsherim. same as in shechita. satmar doesn't eat lubavitch. ashkenazim don't eat kitniyot on pesach. same here.

    >>Allow me to reiterate that I haven't taken a position on the debate itself<<

    duly noted. I haven't either, I just don't like when people espouse (not that you have, just addressing the general issue) rhetoric like sheep w/o checking themselves -on both sides. The debate ought to be whether what RNS says is divrei minus or not. It has turned into, My rov says this and your hashkafa is wrong and you aren't giving kavod hatorah and how dare you question anything, etc...

    the simplist answer is, my rov paskened that I shouldn't (or can) read his book and so I follow my Rov. not that every hashkafa but mine is wrong. that method just deligitimizes every sect of orthodox judaism in one sweep.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Can you please demonstrate how you know that Rav Carmell totally backed him and that his son is out of touch with his father? Sources please if you don't mind.

    Because he wrote a haskamah, wrote a letter after the ban came out reiterating his haskamah, wrote to the Gedolim to tell them that they shouldn't have banned the books, and wrote an essay to reinforce the approach of the books! (This is all on R' Slifkin's website.)

    ReplyDelete
  43. KT - thank you for pointing that out.

    shaya g -


    >>Fact is, Klal Yisroel doesn't survive very long without leaders whether or not you agree with them. I for one, get very disenfranchised with the whole blogosphere that offers very little rational thought and honest debate. B"H Klal Yisroel has managed for quite some time without it and will probably continue to do so<<

    actually klal survived because rabbonim have disagreed and had different hashkafot and piskei halacha.

    That's a mistake - the Gemara lamented the fact that machlokes began among the Tannaim. The fact that Halachah allows for one to follow his Morah Horaah does not make that the desirable situation. We once had a Sanhedrin that issued the final ruling and no one could argue on that.
    I'm not saying everyone is forced to follow Rav Elyashiv on this - but seeing as to how many people supported his view, I'd be very careful before deciding that my local orthodox rabbi will chart the course for me on a sensitive issue like this.

    >>As you are aware, every single ...
    also, because eid echad ne'eman. here though we have CONFLICTING hechsherim....

    I think you missed my point here. The idea is that if a large number of reliable people have read the book and can explain it's objectionable content to you, then you don't necessarily have to read it yourself especially if you can't read english.

    >>Allow me to reiterate that I haven't taken a position on the debate itself<<

    duly noted. I haven't either, I just don't like when people espouse (not that you have, just addressing the general issue) rhetoric like sheep w/o checking themselves -on both sides. The debate ought to be whether what RNS says is divrei minus or not.

    Here too I think you're missing an essential point. Rav Elyashiv and his supporters only focused on whether what RNS wrote was minus oor not. It's the blog world that turned it into this ridiculous "my rav your rav" spat. Stick to what Rav Elyashivh and Rav Moshe Shapiro wrote and then decide where you want to go with this all.

    ReplyDelete
  44. anon --- you wrote-- That's a mistake - the Gemara lamented the fact that machlokes began among the Tannaim. The fact that Halachah allows for one to follow his Morah Horaah does not make that the desirable situation. We once had a Sanhedrin that issued the final ruling and no one could argue on that-------

    That is true. However, since that time we have never had a situation where one Rav holds something, no matter how great he is, and all the other rabbonim change their own opinions to follow him. Even nowadays in halacha issues many rabbonim (even in haredi circles and even in Israel) do state opinions that go against psak of Rav Elyashiv, but when it comes to an issue that is more in the public domain, suddenly everybody cowers away from holding an opinion against Rav Elyashiv...

    ReplyDelete
  45. Rafi,
    you write:
    "However, since that time we have never had a situation where one Rav holds something, no matter how great he is, and all the other rabbonim change their own opinions to follow him."

    That is correct but I was arguing on your original statement that "actually klal survived because rabbonim have disagreed and had different hashkafot and piskei halacha. we never would have survived if everyone played follow the leader - what or which leader?"

    I presume you agree that you were wrong on that point. The gemara makes it rather clear that these machlokesin almost destroyed klala yisroel.

    Now to the next question - should Rav Elyashiv be the preeminent decisor or may we rely on alternate opinions?

    Great question. Clearly if the shailah was whether a woman should undergo an abortion due to extenuation circumstances I doubt anyone in their right minds would simply ask their LOR. On the other hand, if the question was one of Bitul B'rov in Bassar B'Chalav, any reliable rav could be trusted to handle that.

    The Slifkin issue clearly isn't an example of the latter. It's a serious question that may not be clear-cut in Halachah. My sense and this what I gathered as well from the banners with whom I spoke, is that there's a certain "ruach" that emanates from his writings that challenges the mesorah in a most unhealthy way.

    Since I'm no expert on the Mesorah I can't agree or disagree. It wasn't until I heard him speak on the Denis Prager show that I picked up on this [something I've heard from a number of others as well] but I still lack an opinion because I'm a pretty average guy.

    Clearly he's a talented and bright person and I don't doubt that he has his heart in the right place. What the Gedolim who are concerned with preserving the Mesorah perceived is something that I must at least hold in high regard even if I don't trash him or his books. I'm not sure your average shul rabbi is of the caliber that I'd entrust with this kind of decision.

    To continue to pretend that this is simply a question of Yoreh Deah is failing to grasp the essence of this issue IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  46. anon --- you wrote---
    but I was arguing on your original statement that "actually klal survived because rabbonim have disagreed and had different hashkafot and piskei halacha. we never would have survived if everyone played follow the leader - what or which leader?"

    I presume you agree that you were wrong on that point. ----

    actually that was my brother who said that. not me.

    ReplyDelete
  47. How on earth can the Gedolim pick up on any "ruach" in his writings if they haven't even read them and can't even read English???!!!

    Besides, an Israeli Charedi rav can't judge what ruach is appropriate for a modern American.

    ReplyDelete
  48. anon wrote:
    "How on earth can the Gedolim pick up on any "ruach" in his writings if they haven't even read them and can't even read English???!!!"

    Probably the same way you can comment on something when you also can't read any english. Why don't you follow the comment thread and read where I wrote at least FOUR times that I've personally spoken to three of them who DID read the books and DO read english?

    Is it really that hard to comprehend or are you just so close minded that there's no way you can entertain the possibility that they may have had a point?

    ReplyDelete
  49. "My sense and this what I gathered as well from the banners with whom I spoke, is that there's a certain "ruach" that emanates from his writings that challenges the mesorah in a most unhealthy way. "

    Even assuming that this is true, why is the issue portrayed as being beyond Rabbi Slifkin? Did the rabbonim whom you spoke to agree that the status quo on these shittos, goes back to what was permissible before Rabbi Slifkin used the particular "ruach" in his writings? Why throw out the baby with the bathwater, and if one does so, how are people expected to change their opinions overnight?

    Baruch Horowitz

    ReplyDelete
  50. Exactly. If it is a matter of the "ruach," then the banners have horrifically misled people by giving the message that it is kefirah to say that Chazal erred in science or that the world is millions of years old.

    It seems to me that the banners have completely conflicting positions with each other.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I am just wondering. if 6 days of creation can only be exact, and the medrashim and mefarshim who say it's metaphorical are incorrect, then how do we explain the very next section of "na'aseh adam betzalmainu"? If we translate the torah "bi'diyuk", than how do we accept all the other explanations for the problems? Do we assume that God really did confer with the angels and create man in "their" image? how do you explain the double standard? How can you accept rashi's explanation of yehoshua stopping the sun? (rashi says he stopped the sun and moon from saying shira - NOT that he actually stopped the sun - The sun can't be stopped as the earth revolves the sun, not the other way around). according to this, the torah is way off - god forbid. and meshaneh hatevah is a pathetic answer for this. If rashi can't be right, then who is?

    no, the ban isn't referring to a ruach permeating his books. the ban is talking about the explanations of science and the torah, even though RNS has back-up for his ideas. the facts are the gedolim have put RNS in the same category as the higher education for girls and the tznius issues and the rest of these new takanos.
    What that reason is, is for them to explain. I have my theories, but some of you won't like it.

    ReplyDelete
  52. you know what - the ruach issue, in my mind, makes more sense than the other reasons. But that is only mentioned as a side point and not as the main issue. It is also not mentioned by most of the letters at all. So it is not likely that that was the cause of the ban.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Dan - im unclear what your arugument is. Are you saying that RNS is ok to argue what he is saying, because it can be explained through the 6 days of bereshis? Or are you saying that we can understand the age of the universe through the 6 days of Bereshis and RNS is wrong in explaing it in other ways?
    Ever since the issue of dinosaurs and the age of the universe was explained to me, and I heard the answer of 6 days, i never had a problem with it. Why is it so hard to simply say that the 6 days were obviously not 24 hours! How could they be? There was no sun to determine that. And even once there was, whos to say things have changed since then? It was the time of creation. People have no problem understanding that Adam lived to 900 years old, but the 6 days of bereshis had to be 24 hours each? I say 6 days were many many "human years" each, and dinosaurs died in the mabul. period. I never had a problem sleeping with that explanation.

    ReplyDelete

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