Saturday, January 14, 2012

is this really what "Torah hashkafa" is all about?

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?  


  1. Anonymous11:06 PM

    Your comments about English are inane, which is quite unfortunate because they only serve to distract the reader from your main point which was on the mark.

  2. Be happy you did not keep reading.

    The best part was when he admitted that he would not violate Shabbos to save a non-Jewish life. Or when he stated that he feels bad when a black kid dies just like when he sees a cat run over in the middle of road.

    It's a real indictment of the frum community that this man is still held in high esteem.

  3. great unknown12:31 AM

    Agree with the Divrei Chaim and disagree with Anonymous. A lot can be lost in translation. The problem is, you'll never know.

    Especially with Torah, where sometimes the subtlety of a nuance is critically important.

  4. English has its role, especially for those whose Hebrew is not (yet) at a level where the original Hebrew and its nuances can be appreciated.

  5. M.G.I -- I agree with you.
    I am not talking about looking at an English chumash & rashi or ramban or gemara because you need some help with the language. I am talking about the books of "hashkafa" and biographies and things of that nature. There's only so much damage you can do in translating a classical sefer and making it more accessible. It's these non-nanonical "hashkafa" works that get me nervous.
    Secondly, my point really was with regard to what my kids read (I was writing about the books we have in my home). I want them to struggle to master Hebrew now so that they have the skills to read any text. This is a topic for another time, but I believe ivrit b'ivrit education is far superior to the alternative. The time to learn how to read a Ramban is 8, 9, 10th grade. If you use an English to get by then, you will be hard pressed to find the time to develop the learning skills later in life.
    Maybe that addresses Anonymous' point as well, but who knows.

  6. Anonymous12:54 PM

    neither heard nor seen the acronym
    NAA"CP" for many, many moons?

    is bircat haminim so inconceivably
    inapplicable to the Reform?

    are there no such works written in
    Hebrew(yiddish) for a Hebrew-reading audience?

  7. great unknown9:17 PM

    What if this book truly represents "torah hashkafa", and the source of the quotes is indeed a "gadol"? Do you have any other gadol publicly disagreeing with these comments? Is there a firestorm of protest like the one engendered by "The Making of a Gadol"?

    I raise these questions not because I agree with these hashkofos, but as a bitter rhetorical comment on the situation in the frum world outside of the yeshiva cloister. Your question about the sensitivity of the yeshiva world to the circumstances and challenges of the average frum ba'ale boss, ben torah or not, is precisely on point. There used to be great Rabbonim who were looked upon as manhigai hatzibur. Today, that role has passed to the Rosh Yeshivas, whose primary - or perhaps sole - focus seems to be on the welfare of the yeshiva world; the rest of the tzibbur has to live from trickle-down yiddishkeit.

    BTW, lest there be any misconceptions, I reject the hashkofos as presented. Not justbecause of my personal opinions, but because of discussions I had with people whom I consider to be gedolim. I pity the person who does not have those resources available.

  8. Anonymous10:14 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Anonymous,
    I generally don't delete comments, but I felt I had to in your case because you mentioned the title of the book in question. I deliberately left it out of the original post.

    As for the tochen of what you wrote,
    >>>he gave them when people spoke that way he is just writing it as a transcription
    I don't buy that as an excuse for two reasons. 1. As I wrote in the post, the fact that people can even ask such questions is deplorable. 2. The fact that one even treats such questions as worthy of a meaningful response without passing comment on the morally depraved POV they stem from is sad. And the answers at times are no better than the question, e.g. see Naftuli's quote about about a black child being run over being no worse than a cat killed on the road. Sad.

  10. Bob Miller9:51 AM

    It's a bit much to condemn all hashkafah-oriented books written in English. We're adult enough to pick out the good and leave the bad.

  11. I am not condemning them - I am simply pointing out that greater wariness is needed because one cannot always discriminate (in the way you suggest) between good and bad when we see a guy wearing a black hat and coat on the cover and the imprint of a kosher publishing house on the binding. There is no such danger when reading a purely secular book. I would rather stay away.


    Founded over a century ago and therefore retains the name for brand recognition. Are you denying that African Americans are offended by the use of the term colored people?

    >>>is bircat haminim so inconceivably
    inapplicable to the Reform?

    See Chazon Ish's comments on moridin v'lo ma'alin.

    >>>are there no such works written in

    Since you think there are, give me some examples of classical seforim (something you would find on the shelves in a yeshiva beis medrash) like this.

  12. >>>It's a bit much to condemn all hashkafah-oriented books written in English. We're adult enough to pick out the good and leave the bad.

    One other point: The chareidei world clearly does not take this position, as the number of banned books and periodicals just grows and grows. So why is a book like this not on the list? We all know why -- because it's easy to get up in arms when someone says something that rocks the boat about your view of the date of the bri'ah or doesn't treat your favorite gadol with the respect you think he deserves, but when it comes to disrespecting a shvartza or a reform apikores, well, who really cares? It's OK to trample them underfoot.
    Just to be clear: I'm not commenting on the appropriateness of those other bans. I'm simply observing as a l'shitasam, if you want to censor and edit heavily, then you have to do it across the board. Respect for the dignity of other human beings should be under our banner as Torah Jews, not simply a cause of the left, of tikun olam types. Tzelem Elokus of mankind should be our watchword. Whether it's books like this or current affairs in places like Beit Shemesh, somehow the voices of the Torah world are muzzled when they should be heard loudest in opposition.

  13. Eliezer11:41 AM

    I've noticed it often: when Chazal (Yuma 72b) say that the Torah can be a Sahm Hachaim or a Sahm Hamov'es, they really meant it, and they knew it from experience. Remember Zechariah ben Avkilus? Remember Yoshia'hu's mistake in Taanis 22b? Remember the people that are mattir an eiruv in Brooklyn and who say they have a mesora to say Yimach shemo on Jews they hate? Torah is not a silver bullet. It amplifies what you bring to it.

  14. You beat me to it - your point fits exactly into another post I started writing but have saved ob my other PC that I don't have access to right now, so stay tuned.

  15. Anonymous1:17 PM


    (1) Even if a sefer is written in Hebrew you still have to check the mekor that is being brought down.

    (2)Many things are in fact equivocal.Add the transalate's bias into the mix.It does wonders at distorting.

    (3)You have an English lanuage blog.Why can't others?