Sunday, May 01, 2011

Da mah she'tashiv

In next week's chapter of Pirkei Avos we read, "Da mah she'tashiv l'apikores..." The Yismach Moshe (P' Tzav, in his Shabbos haGadol analysis of the haggadah's response to the chacham and rasha -- I missed my chance to post it then, so I'll make up for it now) wonders why Chazal stress the need to "know how to respond to the heretic" as distinct from other Torah knowledge. Just the answer to the apikores with whatever the Torah teaches about the particular Torah topic he/she has questions about -- know Torah and you know how to respond?

Apparently that's not sufficient, or not the best approach. The Y.M. explains that the lessons of Torah will not penetrate an unreceptive heart or mind. Unadulterated Torah truth is not always the best answer. One must "know" what to say, how to respond, which means sometimes offering different answers than what one might say in the beis medrash.

I don't work in kiruv, but from what I have read it seems that kiruv seminars are more akin to theatrical performance than university debating matches. To critique arguments presented by kiruv lecturers as not philosophically precise or not l'kol hadeyos of halacha or hashkafa is to miss the point. Rigorous philosophical of halachic truth and a "response to the apikores" are two completely different arenas.

I'm not so concerned about a kiruv professional "pulling one over" on an apikores and getting him/her as a result to be shomer mitzvos. The road to return will be filled with many changed opinions and impressions, and ideas that grabbed the ba'al teshuvah initially will hopefully become more refined and sophisticated as their religious thinking progresses. What is more disconcerting is bnei Torah who accept answers that may be appropriate in the context of "da mah she'tashiv" as being the absolute truth, not subject to question, dispute, or alternative viewpoints, without realizing that greater amkus and critical thinking is necessary on their part.


  1. Anonymous5:21 AM

    --example(s) of "answers that may be appropriate..."?

    --might Rabbi Elazar 2:19 mean, by your answers expose the "wicked heart" of the heretic, and the "good heart" of the ba'al teshuvah (R. Elazar, 2:14,13)? while Rabbi Yochanan bZ might add, answer those in the beis medrash such that they become an ever-stronger spring(2:11)...

  2. I disagree. Sheker has no place in bringing someone to emes

  3. >>>example(s) of "answers that may be appropriate...

    Depends on the circumstance.

  4. >>>Sheker has no place in bringing someone to emes

    A hypothetical: Someone is about to commit suicide. You can intervene and possibly save that person's life, but to do so you need to bend the truth a little bit in how you present your story that will get them down from the roof.

    Do you:
    1) Sacrifice a little bit of truth for the sake of saving the person's life, trusting that you can work things out when they are in a position to see things more clearly;
    2) Or, do you cling to the ideal of truth at all costs, even at the cost of human life?

    When someone is committing spiritual suicide and you can either feed them a palatable version of reality that will move them back from the ledge and allow rational discussion to take place or you can feel them the brutal truth and let them jump, it's the same choice.

  5. Do you really think the halachic category potential ba'alei teshuva are in are epikorsim, rather than (perhaps) amei ha'aretz?

    Re the sheker/ emes debate, consequences must be measured. My understanding is that there are more than a few former BTs who became wise to the fact that they were not leveled with. Is this a number's game where as long as its more who don't conclude this than those who do, that the cost is okay?

    And my goodness, what is the brutal truth here?

  6. chaim b.9:52 PM

    I don't understand the relevance of the first question to this issue.

    If number of people "saved" is not a good measure of success, what would you suggest is?

  7. I was just somewhat taken aback by your application of da ma she-tashiv le-epikores to contemporary kiruv.

    As for my second point, it has to do with the possibility that it's not just a record of those "saved" vs those who are in a neutral state. Some of those people are "ruined," especially if they married, had a family, etc. In addition, these "casualties" give Orthodoxy a bad name.