Readers’ Feedback – Jonathan

NOTE: Below are three dialogues between Jonathan & me.

Comment: Dear Sir, You must have had a meaningful dialogue with Dr Schroeder.  

My response: 

I am not sure of the significance of this comment, so it is difficult to reply.  

One thing is entirely clear: when you publish a book, you can expect critiques. There is absolutely no obligation for any reader to contact an author personally. Once your ideas are part of the public domain, it is not only praise and royalties that you can anticipate – criticism is part of the package. 

Furthermore, it is clear to any impartial reader that there are no ad hominem comments in Genesis and the Big Bluff. It is factual and impersonal. 

Jonathan: 

Did you discuss this with Gedolim? And what semicha do you have?  

My response: 

All gedolim agree that it is unacceptable to manipulate Torah sources. All gedolim agree that it is praiseworthy to correct misconceptions created by writers who do so.  

I made detailed, easily-verifiable claims in Genesis and the Big Bluff. Now there is only one relevant question: are these claims correct? For example, whereas Dr. Schroeder claims that Nahmanides wrote that we inhabit an ever-expanding universe, I demonstrate that he did no such thing. This can easily be verified by checking the relevant sources (which I painstakingly cited in Genesis and the Big Bluff). You – and all other interested parties – are welcome to look at the sources I cited, to verify for yourself which position is correct and to draw the necessary conclusions. 

As far as your second question is concerned: Let’s pretend that Genesis and the Big Bluff was written by an Albanian peasant with an interest in Talmudic studies. Would that make a difference? Or let’s pretend that Genesis and the Big Bluff was written anonymously so that you could imagine that it had been written by an illustrious rosh-yeshiva. Would that make a difference? The answer to both these questions is emphatically No. The only relevant question is this: Are my claims correct or not?  

When Rabbi Judah the Prince (known to Talmudic scholars as Rebbi) had a debate with Antoninus (מסכת סנהדרין דף צא:), he advanced a position which Antoninus refuted. Rebbi did not then enquire as to the prestige of the semicha held by Antoninus (the latter was a gentile, after all). Rebbi evaluated the point made by Antoninus and conceded that he (Rebbi) had been wrong. He thereupon changed his position.  

By the way – what semicha does Dr. Schroeder have? 

Jonathan: 

I think with respect you should withdraw this pending research – this is very damaging to: 1. You 2. South African Jewry 3. Ohr Sameach regards, Jonathan Bash, Jerusalem 

My response: 

I do not know what you mean by pending research. Genesis and the Big Bluff is posted at www.TorahExplorer.com and is accessible to all interested parties. I have no intention whatsoever of removing it. 

Secondly, what convinces you that exposing the truth is damaging? What criteria are you using to determine that a book which contains mistranslations, fabrications and crucial omissions of Torah sources is valuable, but an exposé thereof, which corrects numerous misconceptions and describes a legitimate Torah approach to the relevant issues is not? 

חז”ל (מסכת נדרים לט:) tell us that a primary consideration in this context is: 

  בכבודכם מחיתם, בכבודי לא מחיתם  

Loosely translated, it means this: Don’t be so concerned with my welfare (although I am sure that you are sincere when you write that not withdrawing Genesis and the Big Bluff is damaging to me). Don’t be so concerned with the welfare of South African Jewry or anyone else. Start by thinking of הקב”ה. If the claims made in Genesis and the Big Bluff are correct (and they are), then an author has consistently mistranslated sources, fabricated others, attributed to ראשונים positions which they vehemently rejected and otherwise indulged in egregious textual shenanigans. Through this, he has misled untold numbers of Jews. Have you pondered how much damage this has caused to הקב”ה’s agenda?

Jonathan’s reply to my answers with my responses

Dear Yoram,  

Thank you for your in depth reply. It is truly much appreciated.  

I guess we are disagreeing on a number of crucial hanachos [Assumptions, presuppositions] 

1. That his work is wrong.

2. That this consequently damages Klal Yisrael.

3. Even if he is wrong that the public manner in which you have ‘put him right’ is the best method of approaching the subject.  I think Rabbi Gottlieb who also disagrees with Dr Schroeder is more tsnius. 

My Response: 

I am going to repeat what I stated in my previous email to you: 

I made detailed, easily-verifiable claims in Genesis and the Big Bluff. Now there is only one relevant question: are these claims correct? For example, whereas Dr. Schroeder claims that Nahmanides wrote that we inhabit an ever-expanding universe, I demonstrate that he did no such thing. This can easily be verified by checking the relevant sources (which I painstakingly cited in Genesis and the Big Bluff). You – and all other interested parties – are welcome to look at the sources I cited, to verify for yourself which position is correct and to draw the necessary conclusions. 

When you say (in point 1) that you disagree about Dr. Schroeder’s work being wrong, is there any substance to your claim? Can you point to any specific claim made in Genesis and the Big Bluff as being deficient in terms of translation, understanding, logic or anything else? Until such time as you produce detailed arguments, I am afraid that I must take your comments as nothing but a content-free smoke-screen.  

As far as point 2 above: It is self-evident that manipulation of Torah sources – particularly in the service of biological evolution – is damaging to כלל ישראל. I do not intend to argue this point. 

As far as point 3 above: Why not be completely צנוע and say nothing at all? I repeat here what I stated in my previous email to you: 

If the claims made in Genesis and the Big Bluff are correct (and they are), then an author has consistently mistranslated sources, fabricated others, attributed to ראשונים positions which they vehemently rejected and otherwise indulged in egregious textual shenanigans. Through this, he has misled untold numbers of Jews. Have you pondered how much damage this has caused to הקב”ה’s agenda? 

If your house caught fire (Heaven forbid) because your neighbour likes indulging in arson, you would not keep quiet about it! You would scream your lungs out! When a person’s finger is burned and he does not cry out, there are two possible explanations: either he has extreme self-control; or, his nerve-ends have burned, so he is no longer sensitive to the pain. Your composure is not necessarily a reflection of a love of צניעות. It could be an indication that your sensitivity to הקב”ה’s loss is insufficiently acute. Where is the torment for the thousands of souls convinced – on the basis of mistranslations, omissions and fabrications – that חז”ל and rishonim support the notion of biological evolution? Where is your anguish at the fact that rishonim have been grossly mistranslated? Where is your indignation at the manipulation of Torah sources?  

Given that Ohr Sameach and Aish Hatorah have a shared history and the differences in shitas are well known, it is damaging to attack his work and by proxy Aish Hatorah who endorse him (along with many other institutions).  Klal Yisrael is in so much danger at the moment.  Perhaps living in Israel, I feel this more sharply than in South Africa.  Rav Noach Weinberg, a few months before he was niftah met with Rav Eliyashev to discuss the current dangers to Klal Yisrael.  Rav Eliyashev explained to Rav Noach that he felt the physical danger was more serious than 1939.  Given the background, surely all of our efforts should be on increasing our own ruchnios and putting our efforts into kiruv rechokim.  

A few years ago, I heard the Novominsker Rebbi give a lecture, explaining that the 2 ikkur avodos of our generation are Kiruv Rechokim and Shermiras Haloshon.  I can’t help thinking that your efforts to expose the truth according your shitas are problematic in both areas.  

My response: 

The Novominsker would never promote kiruv on the basis of distortion of Torah sources. The meeting between gedolim – fascinating, and also totally irrelevant to this discussion.  

All the homilies in favour of unity, the calls to study the history and sociology of various yeshivos, the appeals to שלום and calls to fraternity – are not substitutes for substance.  

As far as the second charge – I repeat what I stated in my previous email to you – there is not a single ad hominem statement in Genesis and the Big Bluff. 

I can’t imagine you to be anything other than a terrific yid and of course totally l’shma.  It’s for this reason, I want you to consider this bigger picture. Why not consider at least initiating a conversation with Dr Schroeder.  He is of course also l’shma and would no doubt appreciate the dialogue.  Perhaps also have a discussion of these points with Rabbi Gottlieb.  See if he would suggest an approach with greater tsnua. 

My response: 

Rabbi Gottlieb’s scathing critique of Genesis and the Big Bang has been around since the publication of Genesis and the Big Bang, some fifteen years ago. For the past few years, it has been available online, on Rabbi Gottlieb’s web site. Dr. Schroeder has never adequately responded to this critique (last time I checked, there was still nothing on his website by way of response). What makes you so certain that he welcomes dialogue with critics? 

When Genesis and the Big Bluff was first released, Rabbi Gottlieb put a link to it on his blog with the following message: I highly recommend this.  

You can see it for yourself here: 

http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2009_10_01_archive.html 

Jonathan’s reply to my answers with my responses

Jonathan Bash wrote 

Dear Yoram,  

Further to my last email.  I have examined your paper more carefully.  Many of your torah critiques are undoubtedly accurate.  I still cannot imagine what drove you to spend so much time in attacking this work and then doing it publicly.  

My response: 

Hurray! Progress at last. Now if only you would change Many of your Torah critiques to All of your Torah critiques, we would really get somewhere… 

You say that you cannot imagine what drove me to spend so much effort on Genesis and the Big Bluff. I will try one more time to explain. 

Imagine an average Jewish American tourist in Israel witnessing a demonstration by Torah Jews (חרדים) in defence of Shabbos. He sees them crying out, Shabbos! Shabbos! He hears them making speeches (in the hot July Sun) and waving placards. Such a tourist would quite likely use words very similar to your own – I cannot imagine what drives them to do this! What is all the fuss about? 

What the American tourist misses is that when Torah Jews see Shabbos desecration, they consider it a slap in the face of הקב”ה. Perhaps if a stranger walked up to the tourist’s wife and slapped her in public he wouldn’t display such equanimity. Of course, the only difference is that he loves his wife, so any insult to her is an insult to him. But, being far from Torah, he finds it hard to empathise with הקב”ה.  

For Talmudic scholars, manipulation of Torah sources is like a slap in הקב”ה’s face. It hurts us. The meaning of כי הם חיינו ואורך ימינו is that the chain of tradition is the lifeline that links the Jewish people to the Covenant at Sinai and constitutes our very existence as a nation. It infuriates us to see Torah sources misused.  

Mr. Bash: 

Dr Schroeder is a scientist, not a rabbi.  Let us say your are right and proven to everyone that he is an Am H’aretz. At the end of the day, you can never prove that his main scientific point is wrong – that the universe is 6 days old and 15 billions years old at the same time is a scientific theory – essentially that is all anyone is interested in.  This is the line which has mekareved 1000’s to Judaism – thanks to Dr Shroeder!  The Rishon Yitzchak m’Acco said this about 1000 years ago.  The danger is that we could be throwing out the baby with the bath water. 

My response: 

You only wrote Dr Schroeder is a scientist, not a rabbi because you read parts of Genesis and the Big Bluff. I bet that had you not read it, you would have continued to consider Dr. Schroeder a bona fide Torah scholar, if not quite a rabbi. Most of his readers do. It is part of a widespread misconception that all a Jewish scientist has to do to become a תלמיד חכם is to don a kippa.  

You wrote: Let us say you are right and proven to everyone that he is an Am H’aretz.  

I stated my objectives carefully in the introduction to Genesis and the Big Bluff. They are: 

1. To provide a comprehensive critique of Genesis and the Big Bang, the objective being to demonstrate how deeply flawed it is in general, and, specifically, how far off the mark it is in describing the Torah’s approach to biological evolution.

 

2. To provide an accessible introduction to the Torah and science interface.

 

You wrote: At the end of the day, you can never prove that his main scientific point is wrong – that the universe is 6 days old and 15 billions years old at the same time is a scientific theory – essentially that is all anyone is interested in.  

You acknowledged above that once you examined my arguments carefully, you became convinced that my claims about Dr. Schroeder’s manipulation of Torah texts are correct. About half of Genesis and the Big Bluff is devoted to an examination of Dr. Schroeder’s scientific claims. Perhaps if you read that part too, you will realize how shaky that part of his argument is. 

Furthermore, I strongly disagree with your statement that the only thing anyone is interested in is the age of the universe. For one thing, there is much material in Genesis and the Big Bang that has to do with biological evolution. This material is extremely damaging to Torah Judaism, and cannot be overlooked in assessing the overall effect of Genesis and the Big Bang. 

You wrote: This is the line which has mekareved 1000’s to Judaism – thanks to Dr Schroeder!  

This is a serious mistake. Kiruv is not the most important parameter in Torah life, nor does it grant one licence to manipulate Torah sources. Here are a few relevant points to ponder: 

1. You are surely aware that if you wish to invite non-observant Jews for Shabbos (and they decline your offer for Shabbos accommodation), you cannot just assume that it is permissible to do so, on the basis that they will be positively influenced. Many responsa have been written by contemporary legal authorities (פוסקים) regarding this question. None took the approach that the kiruv consideration automatically justifies Shabbos desecration.

 

2. We could muster hordes of בעלי תשובה by convincing them (perhaps through manipulation of Torah texts) that it is permissible for כהנים to marry divorcees. Nonetheless, we refrain from doing so.

 

3. We could generate really huge throngs of בעלי תשובה by reading certain verses in Isaiah in a more casual manner. For example, we could argue that when the prophet uses the word עלמה, he actually means a virgin, not a maiden. Nonetheless, we refrain from doing so.

 

Kiruv is an important endeavour (I speak as a person who is deeply involved in outreach activities), but it is subject to an important caveat – we are not balabatim of the Torah! The Torah is not a plaything, to stretch and twist in accordance with our whims! No Torah authority sanctions mistranslations, omissions and fabrications of Torah sources in the service of kiruv.

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