Sages And Infallibility
You are to be applauded for publishing Rabbi Slifkin’s essay (“Harry Potter’s Fabulous Jewish Monsters,” front-page essay, Aug. 3) – and on the front page, no less.
Thirty years ago it would not have been published, since the thoughts expressed were so mainstream as not to be newsworthy. Now, however, some of our “Torah leaders” would resolutely march us back to the Dark Ages. For the rest of us there is Rabbi Slifkin – and the Rambam, Rav Kook, Rav Hirsch, and others who share their approach.
What I do not understand is why people should be so disconcerted at the thought of Chazal not being infallible on matters of nature. Are we Catholics who believe in the infallibility of the pope? Chazal could, theoretically, be mistaken in matters of Torah as well: it’s called he’elem davar, and the Torah itself prescribes a special korban for it (Leviticus Ch. 4).
Science Vs. The Supernatural
Rabbi Slifkin wrote: “When [young people] encounter statements in the Talmud or Midrash that run counter to their knowledge of the natural world, they are challenged in their faith. If their rabbinic leaders dismiss their questions or, worse, chastise them for asking, their difficulties become a crisis. For such people, learning that the great Torah authorities of history did not see any need to accept Talmudic statements of science as being infallible is a great reassurance, and can be a lifeline for someone whose emunah is drowning. Precisely that approach which causes a crisis in rabbinic authority for some, rescues rabbinic authority for others.”
But why are they challenged in the first place? Why is their faith in the sages’ mastery of all levels of reality so frail and their faith in science so strong? Believe me, I also wonder how to reconcile many fantastic statements of Chazal with empirical reality. The problems are quite perplexing, but they don’t challenge my faith.
I am in no way chastising such Jews for having little faith in the sages and enormous faith in science. Such chastisement is clearly inappropriate. They are clearly the innocent victims of a certain zeitgeist that has filtered down to even the very young. They apparently have become so assimilated into the mythology surrounding modern science that they cannot conceive of the physical existence of any mystical reality. Shooting the messenger of such a state of affairs is uncalled for.
But as Jews who firmly believe that the world of the spirit is more real than the world of the laboratory, we need to cry over such people, not berate them. Rabbi Slifkin’s books only extend such people’s complete acceptance of science into the realm of religion in general, and specifically the many clearly observed and directly experienced supernatural claims of Judaism that run contrary to science.
I humbly submit that it is completely counterproductive, in an attempt to strengthen faith, for Rabbi Slifkin to cater to a mindset (one perhaps shared by Rabbi Slifkin himself) that cannot accept, in principle,the real existence of a supernatural reality. Such a reality is attested to by many first-hand accounts of our sages which none of the classic commentaries (marshaled by Rabbi Slifkin in his books) categorically denies.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
12:07 AM Gil Student