Thursday, January 20, 2005

Is there a similarity between banning a book and excommunicating a Jewish survivor of childhood sexual abuse from a community?

I just read the following article that was just published in this weeks Forward and was reminded of the poem that batdina wrote about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Her poem is provided after the article.

Orthodox Rabbis Launch Book Ban
By Steven I. Weiss
January 21, 2005

Dozens of prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis are backing an international effort to ban a fellow rabbi's books, arguing that the works are heretical because they suggest the earth is much older than a literal reading of Genesis would suggest.

The target of the campaign is Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, an ultra-Orthodox author known as the "Zoo Rabbi," best known for his books and tours relating to his research on animals in the Bible. He also has written on wider questions regarding science and the Torah. In particular, Slifkin's critics object to his assertions that "the Sages were mistaken in certain scientific matters" and "that the world is millions of years old." According to a literal reading of the Bible, Slifkin's critics argue, the world was created in six days and is only 5,765 years old.

The push to blacklist Slifkin's books is the broadest and most coordinated example of what have been the increasingly frequent efforts by ultra-Orthodox rabbis to ban books that they find objectionable.

Slifkin's articles have been pulled from the Web site of Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based ultra-Orthodox outreach organization with dozens of branches across the globe.

The outreach organization appears to be reconsidering its position on the age of the universe. An essay by physicist Gerald Schroeder, titled "The Age of the Universe," also has been removed from the Aish HaTorah Web site. It was replaced with a note stating: "This article is currently under review, in consultation with today's leading Torah scholars." Schroeder, author of the book "Genesis and the Big Bang Theory," argues that Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity can be used to reconcile seeming contradictions between the Bible and conventional scientific theories regarding the age of the universe.
Among the targets of other recent high-profile ultra-Orthodox campaigns were "One People, Two Worlds" — a 2002 disputate pitting an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Yosef Reinman, against a Reform rabbi, Ammiel Hirsch — and "The Making of a Godol" (Mesorah, 2003), by Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis objected to the Hirsch-Reinman book on the grounds that it provided a platform for a Reform rabbi to outline his theological views; as for Kamenetsky's book, a biography of his late father, the revered Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, critics argued that it included unflattering biographical details that should not be shared with the public.

The list of rabbis who have signed on to the Slifkin ban — publicized most prominently in a letter that appeared in the January 7 edition of the ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Ne'eman — is a partial "Who's Who" of ultra-Orthodox leadership, including Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon of the highly respected yeshiva Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., and Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, the Israeli-based sage who is seen by much of the Ashkenazic Orthodox world as the final authority on rabbinic law. The ban was in large part the product of protests from lay people, who circulated excerpts of Slifkin's work across the world and brought the offending passages to the attention of their rabbis.

Slifkin's works were dropped by his orginal distributor, Feldheim Publishers, but picked up by a new company, Yashar Books. He plans to remove the eight rabbinic endorsements that have appeared in his books.

For his part, Slifkin says that his work is not heretical, and is actually comparable to the works of many traditional Jewish scholars, including Maimonides and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. While Slifkin would not comment for this article, he has used his Web site ( to document allegations and present his responses.

"If I am a heretic, Heaven forbid, then I take my place among the thousands of other such 'heretics' in the Torah community," Slifkin wrote on his site. "They are the vast majority of those who toil in the physical and biological sciences as God-fearing Jews, of outreach workers, of those who for various reasons have encountered parts of secular culture, and all of whom have used the sources and the approach of my books for many decades, if not for hundreds of years."

Several Modern Orthodox rabbis are defending Slifkin.

In an interview with the Forward, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said that he had reviewed some of Slifkin's work last weekend, after hearing of the ban; from what he read, he said, Slifkin appears to have "impeccable traditional Jewish sources to back up his views on these things."

Weinreb said that while his organization has "no position" on the age of the universe, it maintains that "a person is entitled to draw from traditional Jewish literature, even minority opinion." He added, "We're certainly allied with that point of view that science and Orthodox Judaism complement each other and are harmonious."

Rabbi Yosef Blau, a top Talmud instructor and religious adviser to students at Yeshiva University, also defended Slifkin. In a letter being circulated on the Internet, Blau argued: "Rabbi Slifkin's basic approach of integrating the insights of modern science into our understanding of Torah is consistent with the approach of many [Torah scholars] throughout the generations." Blau also criticized the decision of rabbinic authorities to act without having met with Slifkin.

Schroeder, who wrote the article being reviewed by Aish HaTorah, said he did not know that his writings were being used on the organization's Web site and that he was surprised they would have been removed.

"Just yesterday, I gave four hours of classes on the age of the universe, in Discovery," he said, referring to the organization's in-depth seminar program. Of the site's notice that the article was "under review, in consultation with today's leading Torah scholars," Schroeder asked, "Why would a Torah scholar know relativity, unless he's studied relativity?"

The Day G-d was Excommunicated
by Batdina

I heard a voice coming from the fields
beyond the synagogues and the black-hatted masses
beyond the halls of study and the ritual baths
beyond the chambers of rabbi's courts.
I followed the voice and found a spirit wandering in the wind.
I asked her why she wanders so. She replied:
I have been banished from the family of my youth
Cast away from the people to whom I belong.
Why is that so? I asked,
For I knew of her family and their people,
I knew of the deeds of kindness they had done
I knew of the outstretched arms they offer to lost cousins.
Her voice came to me,
Plaintive as the wind whispering in the reeds
She said: I opened my mouth and told the truth.
That is my sin. This is my punishment.
What is your truth? I asked.
She said: I was but a child at the time,
I was violated in unspeakable ways by my very own father.
My mother did nothing to protect me. My siblings stood by silently.
I, too, kept quiet for many years, hoping to bury the pain.
But the day came when the truth burst out from my heart
In a river of tears, in a sea of pain
In an ocean of grief and self hatred.
I went to those whom I trusted, but they did not believe me.
They told me I was mistaken, that it did not happen.
But I cannot deny the truth that lies in my heart
I refuse to betray the child within me by denying her pain.
I told the truth.
It is ugly and hideous, but it is the truth nonetheless
and I will not be silent to protect the honor
of he who does not deserve to be protected.
I have been ex-communicated because I have spoken the truth.
So, I shall wander here, in these fields of barley
Until the day when the piercing blast of a ram's horn rips away the layers of denial and lies
and the truth is known to all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question that maybe someone can answer. I just read the following comment on another blog.
If a rabbi bans a book, does that mean all other rabbis have to follow through and ban the book too?

Or can a rabbi read the book for him or herself, and then choose for him/herself if a book should be banned?

I am aware that survivors of abuse and their family members often get banned from a community when they speak out, or go to the authorities. Does this mean if a rabbi in one community decides that there should be such a ban, that all communities should follow through with the ban?

How about if an offender is banned from one community? Do other communities have to follow through with the ban too? or are alleged and convicted offenders exempt?

January 20, 2005 3:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops here's the comment:

Rabbi Aharon Feldman on the Slifkin Controversy

I just spoke to someone I know at Ner Yisroel Baltimore and it seems that R' Aharon Feldman has begun to speak out on the issue of R' Slifkin's books being banned. Two separate people approached him privately, one asking about the support attributed to him by R' Slifkin in his rebuttal and a second person asking about whether the books are permitted in light of the ban. To the first, R' Feldman replied that he had never said the things being attributed to him in R' Slifkin's rebuttal. To the second, he told the person that since the gedolim had issued a ban, we must listen to them.

Additionally, today in the weekly Mussar lecture to the entire yeshiva, R' Feldman spoke about the issue of kefira. Without mentioning anything in particular about the ban, he nevertheless stated that "people who are fighting kefira are correct and should be supported since they are doing it l'sheim shamayim". He stated that this applies even if they turn out to be wrong as long as their motivation is l'sheim shamayim. The lectures are usually taped and I will try to get ahold of this tape to hear the original.

January 20, 2005 3:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops again!

This is where the comment above came from:

January 20, 2005 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found the following on another blog. Not sure if it relates or not, but thought it was interesting.
January 19, 2005
Rabbi Yosef Blau on the Slifkin Book Ban

Here's a short response from Rabbi Yosef Blau,
spiritual advisor at Yeshiva University:
Rabbi Slifkin's basic approach of integrating the insights of modern science into our understanding of Torah is consistent with the approach of many talmidei chachamim through out the generations. There are recent examples of even modifying actual halachot because of scientific advances. For example, Rav Moshe accepts pregnancy tests to effect nida questions though the gemara assumes that pregnancy can be known only after three months. In Israel paternity tests and DNA evidence are accepted to various degrees by almost all poskim. Women who have lost two husbands are regularly married a third time by Orthodox rabbis despite the prohibition of katlanis (see Rambam).

The process in which a cherem is obtained without any serious discussion with the person attacked nor any formal beis din procedure, is fundamentally flawed.

The assumption that any perspective different from that of one's own is not merely in error but is heresy is extremely dangerous and can lead to a significant reduction in the number of Torah observant Jews. While one can examine the cherem's signatures to notice all the significant names that do not appear, it is not clear who was approached to sign.

I doubt that my concerns, and those of the many Areivim members who have commented, will have any impact on the world that takes a charem in the Yated Neeman seriously but it is important to protest against the hurt to Rabbi Slifkin and his family and the the embarrassment caused to Orthodoxy.

In a conversation with me, he also said that he didn't think Modern Orthodox rabbis would be likely to say much about the issue, as their constituency wouldn't be likely to consider the ban legitimate.

He also intimated that there's a difference here between Israeli and American rabbis, the latter of which actually have science courses in their yeshivas. I didn't get into the latter with too much depth, as the word count for my Forward piece prohibits it, but also because, as yet, with more American rabbis than Israeli rabbis signed on, it's hard to say that the evidence backs him up -- as yet.

But there's ample room for a follow-up here, to call many ultra-Orthodox rabbis who haven't signed on and see what they think. Most specifically, the Council of Torah Sages, a 17-member group that stands atop the American ultra-Orthodox community, has only one member signed-on. What do the others think? Maybe some phone calls will tell, though maybe they won't.

January 20, 2005 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is NO comparison between banning a book and banning a human being, a truma victim, who dares to speak her truth. I have only one thing to say to any rabbi who claims that a survivor is not credible and therefore was not abused. You were not in the room while the survivor was being violated. You weren't there. You don't know what happened. excommunicating a survivor for something you can not disprove is wrong and has nothing to do with torah.

January 20, 2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

As I've posted in other blogs on this subject, Aaron Thomas remains excommunicated. See:
His crime? He got permission from a beis din to take the person who allegedly sexually abused his son to a civil court.

January 20, 2005 9:26 AM  

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