Readers’ Feedback – Tables Turned on “Steven”

NOTE: Tables Turned posted the notice below. He is referring to the exchange between me and “Steven” in the Readers’ Feedback forum. That exchange is available here: 


Tables Turned wrote: 

Steven wrote: “I think it’s a big risk when people’s foundations of emuna rest on evidence such as this.” 

Does Schroeder make any effort to say, “listen to what I have to say, but don’t hang your emuna on it.”

My Response:

The overall impact of Genesis and the Big Bang (and similar books) depends on the combination of a number of arguments and points of evidence. A building might not collapse when one of its pillars falls, but it certainly does become more precarious. Every argument in Genesis and the Big Bang is a thread in an overall tapestry, whose objective was captured in the book’s subtitle: The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible. Every flaw detailed in Genesis and the Big Bluff weakens the argument of Genesis and the Big Bang to some extent. Consequently, it weakens the אמונה of its readers.

 Tables Turned then quoted the last sentence in my answer to “Steven”:

 “No authority holds that we are entitled to misuse Torah sources in the service of kiruv.”

 Isn’t this too obvious to write? Surely Schroeder would agree with it!

 But then again, maybe it’s not even 100% true. If I recall correctly, R’ Aryeh Kaplan discusses in his Handbook of Jewish Thought the concept of attributing modern rabbinic pronouncements to ancient rabbis, so that the listener will be more likely to listen to the halacha. (Note, I didn’t say ‘endorses’ but ‘discusses.’)

 My Response:

 It is apparently not obvious to some of Dr. Schroeder’s readers that kiruv is not a licence to misuse Torah sources. It was not obvious to “Shalom,” who wrote to me the following:

 Can you imagine a scenario where Dr. Schroeder (and others) may have possibly realised the “lay nature” of their publications would be littered with the kind of inaccuracies that you have mentioned and published notwithstanding this fact; with a greater good in mind? (I.e. best intentions Kiruv in a world of competing sound bites, where the means justifies the end).

 Also relevant to the topic is an excerpt from my exchange with Mr. Jonathan Bash:

 [Mr. Bash]: 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.

 It is difficult to respond to the point about Rabbi Kaplan’s statement without a more precise citation.


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