In my home we hardly have any English language Torah literature. If it's important enough to learn, it's important enough to learn in the original Hebrew. If it's a biography or some other work, esp. magazines and newspapers, then sadly I have to say that I no longer have any trust in the accuracy of such works, and the ta'aroves of emes and sheker without birur is like an issur kilayim. I was reminded of why I avoid these books when saw one lying on a table in shul this morning and foolishly skimmed through it. The book in question is a transcription of questions addressed to an "adam gadol" (at least someone who is in the eyes of those who put out the book and/or read it) and his responses. A few pages in there was this gem of a question (and I can't remember it word for word, but I think I'm close) -- "If we don't provide an education for the colored people, when will it all stop?" I'm not sure what the questioner wanted stopped (no explanation is offered), but I haven't heard or seen the term "colored people" since I stopped watching Archie Bunker many, many moons ago. The answer in a nutshell was that "it" (whatever "it" is) won't stop because there are very few "Negoes" like Booker T. Washington who are willing to use an education to make a positive contribution to society. Now, I'm not even going to pass judgment or question whether this point of view was perhaps proper in a certain time and place. What I am going to wonder is why the editor would choose to include this in a book issued in 2011. Is this the sort of attitude, is this the idea of respect for the dignity and rights of all people, that is part of our hashkafa and that we want to pass on to our children and talmidim? (This is your MLK day inyana d'yoma post). This was just the beginning, as the topper came a scant less than five pages later. Question: Should we should be happy that the Reform movement favors abortion because that means there will be less Reform Jews in the world? I did a double-take. This is the type question a person addresses to a talmid chacham?! The bigger pliya I have is that this is the type question a talmid chacham entertains and answers!? And it gets recorded and put in a book for people to read in a section entitled "Torah Hashkafa," like these are the type Torah hashkafos we bnei Torah need hadracha and chinuch in! L'havdil, in the Telzer "Shiurei Da'as" there is a discussion of the idea of "she'eilas chacham chatzi teshuvah." How a person formulates a question, how he defines the safeik, often solves half the problem. The type questions put in this book are not a she'eilas chacham. If "bnei Torah" are really so dumb (and it's a coarse and blunt way to put it, but I'm at loss for words) that they need to ask these things to talmidei chachamim, if our generation is so dumb that these discussions pass for "Torah hashkafa," then woe to us. True, this is an English language book -- one might say it's not meant for someone who can appreciate, for example, a shtickel in the Shiurei Da'as. But kal v'chomer hu: The less educated and familiar the reader is with true Torah thought, the more harmful exposure to such nonsense is. If I thought this is truly what discussions of Torah hashkafa are all about, I would be even more appalled than I am.
One other point: Of course, these type works are just fodder for those in other camps who look for any opportunity to undermine, belittle, and destroy any notion of da'as Torah and kvod talmidei chachamim. Indeed, if it required consultation with da'as Torah to figure out whether we should be happy that Reform Jews have abortions, they certainly have a point. My reaction to this book is so strong precisely because I believe that real da'as Torah is not about issues like this. The only reason that point gets lost in the shuffle is because real talmidei chachamim have better things to do than write English language popular press books or report their thinking on blogs. The other side gets to win the PR war, but that's why this is called "alma d'shikra," isn't it?