Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Amusing Historical Perspectives On The Slifkin Controversy

Reading parshablog, it should be somewhat apparent that ideologically, I am more in the camp of Rabbi Slifkin (and though I disagree with him on certain points, have in certain aspects gone farther). Yet, at the same time, I am of the opinion that religious groups and even religious subgroups have historically set the boundaries of theological acceptability, and have the right to do so.

Dag brings to our attention an article in the Trusty Shovel Online, the latest salvo in this amusing controversy. It is titled "Why We Censor." And it appears to betray a certain amusing historical naivety.

In their argument of why it is necessary to ban Rabbi Slifkin's books, they cite none other than Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, from Mesillat Yesharim:

Yet the spirit of the Western world, in its media, in its science, in its art, in its politics, is a challenge to the authentic Torah spirit from the floor to the rafters.

Just pick up a Mesillas Yeshorim and consider the catalogue of things that the Ramchal lists as inimical to the very first step of the Path of the Righteous (Chapter 5), and it is clear that modern society has raised the difficulty of overcoming them to new heights: 1] Dealing with distractions and necessities of the world; 2] Laughter and ridicule; 3] Pressures of an evil society.

What is funny about this is that Ramchal was essentially the Slifkin of his day. His contemporaries banned his kabbalistic books, because he wrote them when very young -- he was a whippersnapper -- and because (he claimed) he wrote them under dictation from a maggid, an angel from heaven who taught him. They agreed not to burn the books but rather to lock them all up in an aron, so long as he agreed not to right any more such books. And Mesillat Yesharim was what he wrote when he was being held back from writing what he really wanted to write. Whether what they derive from Ramchal's writings is derivable or not, I wonder whether Ramchal would be forthright in supporting a ban on another Rabbi. Perhaps he would. But there is irony to their reference, since it is unlikely they are familiar with this history.

They conclude their article with:

Whoever wants to, is free to go it alone. He or she can plunge in to the treacherous waters of the modern world alone, and try to reach the truth heroically alone. It is a big task for an individual.

The rest of us will take shelter under the banner of gedolei Yisroel. As in the generation of Chanukah, so too in our generation — the gedolei veziknei hador cry out to us all: Mi laSheim eilai!

Whoever wants to reach Hashem should join them!

It is amusing that, if they are trying to avoid the label of kanaus, they would close with this slogan. They are probably trying to deliberately call to mind the idea of the Chashmonaim struggling against the Hellenic influence which took hold of many of their coreligionists.

Yet there is more to that reference. When did Mattisyahu shout this out? The Greek soldiers wanted to make them sacrifice a pig. When one fellow Jew volunteered, Matisyahu killed this Jew and shouted "Mi La-Hashem Eilay," "whoever is for Hashem, rally to me!"

Nor did he come up with this on his own. This was a deliberate reference to Moshe's shouting of the phrase in response to the sacrificing to the Golden Calf. Those who rallied to Moshe, such as the Leviim, slew many of their relatives and members of other tribes who worshipped the calf.

Thus, the implication is not just to rally to one position in order to stay true to religious beliefs (it certainly carries that connotation as well), but also that of threatening those who disagree with your religious beliefs. That this is the close of the article, and the beginning of the article reads (emphasis mine):

". . . Life and death I have put before you, and blessing and curse. And you should choose life so that you and your descendants will live" (Devorim 30:19).

Is it wrong to add: "Don't choose death"?

it almost appears like a call to jihad, and smacks of kanaus. It is highly unlikely they mean it so, to this extent, but then this historical cluelessness amuses me.

Update: Then again, as Eliyahu pointed out to me, it would be unlikely for them to read I Maccabees chapter 2, as seforim chitzonim (and thus another book not to read):

15: Then the king's officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.
16: Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled.
17: Then the king's officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: "You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers.
18: Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts."
19: But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: "Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers,
20: yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers.
21: Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances.
22: We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left."
23: When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king's command.
24: When Mattathias saw it, be burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar.
25: At the same time he killed the king's officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar.
26: Thus he burned with zeal for the law, as Phinehas did against Zimri the son of Salu.
27: Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!"
28: And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city.
29: Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there,
30: they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle, because evils pressed heavily upon them.


Anonymous said...

A yated is a tent peg, not a shovel. "Ye Faithful Tentpeg."

joshwaxman said...

Of that I am aware. My translation was a joke, based on another meaning of yated, in Devarim 23:14.

וְיָתֵד תִּהְיֶה לְךָ, עַל-אֲזֵנֶךָ; וְהָיָה, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ חוּץ, וְחָפַרְתָּה בָהּ, וְשַׁבְתָּ וְכִסִּיתָ אֶת-צֵאָתֶךָ.
"And thou shalt have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be, when thou sittest down abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee."

Thus, trusty shovel. And perhaps serving a similar purpose.
// wink ;)

Anonymous said...

Yet, at the same time, I am of the opinion that religious groups and even religious subgroups have historically set the boundaries of theological acceptability, and have the right to do so.

Rabbi Slifkin seems to agree - he now makes it clear that his books are not intended for the chareidi market.


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