Monday, January 17, 2005

The ban, the halachic process, and haredi posekim

Others have already addressed the shameful ban by prominent haredi rabbinical authorities on several of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's wonderful books on science and Torah. The story was first blogged here, and extensive discussion of the episode can be found at House of Hock, Hirhurim, and DovBear (yes, we agree on this one! I hope he can live that down...).

I'd like to focus not on the substance of the ban, but on the process. As I discussed in my last post, process is as important as substance, if not more so.

Those of us in the "Modern Orthodox" community (for want of a better description) tend to accord great respect to the opinions of the gedolim of the haredi ("black hat") community. We don't regard their rulings as the last word in halacha, but we, and certainly our rabbis, take them very seriously. No one questions their vast expertise in Torah and halachic literature.

Some, such as Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l, have indeed been regarded throughout the Orthodox community, Modern Orthodox included, as supreme posekim on many subjects.

And then comes an incident like this one. According to most reliable accounts, the decision to ban R' Slifkin's books was reached without allowing the rabbi to defend himself, without even meeting with him before issuing the ban. Most of the signatories to the ban apparently never read more than brief excerpts of the books taken out of context.

Is this how a serious posek approaches the halacha? Especially where a man's livelihood is at stake? (Not to mention that that man is himself a rabbi and affiliates with the haredi community?)

If it weren't for the fact that no Torah court could be found to hear such a case, I would say that R' Slifkin should take the posekim to a din Torah for sullying his good name and destroying his livelihood without due halachic process.

As R' Gil wrote, the signatories comprise "a serious list of esteemed Torah leaders". Some of them are considered by haredim to be the senior halachic decisors of this generation. If this is how they approach a ruling with such serious consequences for a man's life, how can we - how can anyone - take their opinions seriously on any other halachic matter?

I can't conceive, for example, of leading Sephardic authority R' Ovadiah Yosef reaching a similar decision without extensive study and analysis, not to mention a meeting with the author. I don't know what he thinks about the age of the earth. I do know, though, that he takes halacha very seriously.

Modern Orthodox rabbis urgently need to speak out on this matter. Not on the matters of creation and evolution, or of book-banning. They are important, but not the ikkar. Saying, "science and Torah are compatible" or "I'm opposed to banning books" is not enough.

No, they must address the halachic process here: Is this a legitimate way to reach psak? If not, what does that imply about the rulings of the same posekim on other issues?

Simply put, they must take a stand on their, and our, relationship with haredi posekim. In the wake of such an affair, do we have any reason to continue according them respect as halachic authorities? If so, why? If not, what does that say about the relationships between our communities and theirs? Which approach is really "Torah-true"? (Should we agree to meet with them before banning their books of responsa?)

Rabbis of the blog shtetl, dare you get the ball rolling?


Batya said...

Now I understand what he was referring to in the "animal email" I get from him. I couldn't imagine what what going on.
Why do they bully people? Are they that insecure in their beliefs?

DovBear said...

We agree 100 percent.

Scary, but there it is.

The Hedyot said...

The flawed process the rabbis utilize is but one of the primary issues this fiasco touches on. Please see my posts on this subject at and

Evan_P said...

Seems the same thing happened with HaRav Kamenetsky's book. While, at least in this case, it does seem someone with a knowledge of English read the books, though I don't know if they were read completely. I don't quite understand how someone can impose a Cheiram on a book without knowing exactly what is in it. Which is, I understand, the reason the members of the Sanhedrin where required to know all the possible languages, so there wouldn't be a case of not having all the relevant information.

DovBear said...

Now that we agree, how about a link on your sidebar?

I did it for you on day one, buddy.

Zman Biur said...

Yeah, well, but you link to everyone. Some of us are more discerning.

Actually, though, I had been intending to add you. Now that you don't get on my nerves so incessantly.

DovBear said...

Who gives you more links and more hits than me?

How about some hakarat hatov. And don't be coy. You and me were love at first sight.

Zman Biur said...

Got your name up in lights. Happy now?

Yehoshua said...

There's a strong letter that was sent to the gedolim:

It's worth reading.

DNA said...

Yehoshua, I agree with Mr. Berkovitz's letter with one minor exception. Not wearing tefillin at night is a din d'rabbonon. Therefore, if the Rabbis decided that one should wear it, even if it were actually night, it would be appropriate to wear them. Comepletely off topic but true.