Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky at Kingsway

My synagogue, Kingsway Jewish Center, hosted an Agudat Yisrael conference on parenting last Sunday that featured Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, introduced as a prominent Rosh Yeshiva and a member of Aguda's Moetzet Gedolei Torah (Council of Torah Sages), and Rav Yakov Horowitz, a prominent Torah educator who specializes in "at-risk youth." I and many other congregants were surprised that a modern synagogue like ours would host Agudat Yisrael, but our rabbi, Etan Tokayer, figured we had nothing to lose; Rav Kook preached ahavat hinam, gratuitous love, as a remedy for the gratuitous hate that led to the destruction of the Temple. I asked Rabbi Tokayer if he was aware that Rav Kaminetzky signed on to the Slifkin ban (after the fact). He replied that he was not, and that he is surprised. He then encourged me to attend the meeting, although I am past the parenting stage of life, and ask R. Kaminetzky.
I attended the meeting. Much of the advice given was pedestrian (we have to spend time with our children - duh), but I would take issue with two items raised by Rabbi Horowitz:

1. Make children conform to the school's rules, in school and out. If you don't like them and can't get the hanhala (school's management) to change them, submit to their authority or find another school. In an ideal world, the hashkafot of parents and school would dovetail, but in the world we live in that is not always the case. Nor can the parents always find another school, either for financial reasons or because there simply is none in reasonable commuting distance. It becomes a question of who's working for whom. I say that the school is working for the parents, and that the parents do not surrender their authority when they enrol their children in a school. On the school's premises and/or during school time children must conform to the school's rules, but off premises and on their own time what is acceptable to the parents is acceptable, whether walking on a particular street, talking to members of the opposite sex or the like.

2. Rabbi Horowitz related an account, pubished in Mishpacha magazine, of a parent who came to him concerning his seventeen-year-old son who came to him with doubts regarding ikarei emuna, basic principles of faith. After asking a "higher authority," R. Horowitz advised the parent to encourage the adolescent not to give up hope, that we are allotted seventy years on the planet give or take, and therefore his child has 53 years to resolve his doubts. R. Horowitz spent most of his life working with troubled Orthodox teenagers and I must defer to his judgment as long as the questions concern matters of belief. But what happens when we go from emuna (belief) to metziut (objective reality)? What happens when an intelligent seventeen-year-old is fed "facts" by his parents and yeshiva teachers that are demonstrably false, i.e. that the earth is 5771 years old and/or that humans are not descended from other animal species?

That, of course, brings me full circle. During the question and answer period, I called R. Kamintezky out on his letter; I had several copies on hand for disbelieving members of the audience. Before I could complete my question, the moderator cut me off saying that the Rosh Yeshiva could only take questions on the topic of the lecture, i.e. parenting and education. Never mind the obvious connection between miseducation (where I come from education is supposed to open minds, not close them) and children becoming at-risk and eventually leaving the fold. I am an adult and I could handle being slapped down that way. But all too many inquiring students, some as young as Bar Mitzva age or younger (I started having doubts in seventh or eighth grade) are slapped down in the same manner (or worse, physically) and cannot handle it. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some of the kids all of the time and all of the kids some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the kids all of the time. Eventually they will discover that we have been lying to them and playing them for stupid. And then they will reach one of two conclusions:
1. The Torah contains lies, or
2. The gedolim are fools, pathologically out of touch with reality.

I have reached the second conclusion. I fear that most of our disaffected young people will reach the first.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Garnel Ironheart said...

I wonder about the utility of this kind of tactic.
On one hand, you'd never had gotten away with even raising your hand if you'd have tried this on his "turf".
On the other hand, if we say that MO congregations should be inviting Chareidi authorities so that they can be confronted, it won't take long for word to spread and they'll just stop coming.

Fri Nov 12, 11:36:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Mordy Ovits said...

Very interesting post. It's good to not let his actions pass without comment, but I do think you could have handled it better.

Fri Nov 12, 01:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

Something like this happened in Teaneck a while ago: Three of these putzes were invited to a modern shul and of course Slifkingate came up. R. Schechter let the questioner complete his question, then blew a gasket and basically told him he need not address such matters.
http://neandershort.blogspot.com/2009/02/take-your-shoe-off-rabbi-khrushchev.html

I don't know how I could have handled this better, since I got cut off mid-sentence as soon as the moderator saw where I was heading. These putzes have to be given to understand that Slifkingate is not going away, that not every observant Jew is a sycophant of theirs and that they will be called to account for their rascality.

Fri Nov 12, 04:00:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Yiddle said...

You don't seriously believe that man came from ape do you? I may believe Slifkin did, but not normal men.

Wed Dec 29, 04:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

Yiddle - No, I don't believe man came from apes. I know we did. As a trained scientist, I cannot ignore mountains of evidence. All species are related by ancestry and descent. Deal with it.

If, and only if, your God stands or falls on something in the observable universe, then you risk having science destroy your God.

Wed Dec 29, 05:21:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Yiddle said...

How nice and thoughtful of you to delete my post countering your claim. I guess only your opinion counts.

Wed Dec 29, 07:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

Check again please. I did not delete anything here. You have two comments on this post, including the one I am replying to now.

Wed Dec 29, 07:52:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Yiddle said...

Repost:
Related? So?
Just because a baboon and a gibbon are similar does not lead to them having evolved into one another. Just because an elephant is similar to a mammoth does not lead to one descending from the other. The same God who created man from nothing also created your science from nothing as well. To my knowledge, your missing link has yet to be found, so you still can't establish the "facts" of evolution as posited by Darwinians. Although I will be the first to admit that after travelling on the NY subway, there is certainly enough evidence to make one wonder if we are somehow related to apes.

Wed Dec 29, 08:36:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

LOL @ "my science." It's the findings of thousands of scientists from all six inhabited continents published in millions of papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Similarity among species reflects similarity in their DNA. As soon as we learned how to sequence DNA, we found that morphological and biochemical similarities mapped onto DNA, exactly as the theory predicts. Human and ape DNA are more similar to each other than either is to fish DNA, and so forth. DNA comes from DNA. Therefore, ancestry and descent is the most parsimonious explanation for the observed data. That's how science works. You test your theories against observable reality, not against this or that holy book.

We don't like to talk about "missing links" because the lineage leading to man, like most evolutionary lineages, is not a straight line but a bush, most branches leading to dead ends. There are plenty of fossil species with characteristics intermediate between ape and man. I suggest you visit the American Museum of Natural History.

I do believe (but cannot prove) that God created matter and energy "from nothing," but once the universe came into being natural processes brought about what we see today and what will exist in the future, change in both the living and nonliving world being an ongoing process.

Thu Dec 30, 01:48:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Yiddle said...

And what do you say about God creating man? Or do you believe that Torah itself is not of Divine origin? Not inspired or influenced, I mean written by God Himself.

Millions of people also believe Jesus died on a cross, too. There is no evidence to support that such a person ever existed, let alone was crucified. The use of numbers of people and their findings is not an argument to me.All the fossilized remains of species having existed along this "chain" only shows that these creatures existed. I dont doubt that. They all existed. That in no way shows me that over the course of time they disappeared and became human.

Thu Dec 30, 03:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

There is little if any doubt that Jesus was a historical person who lived and died on a cross. The religious claims made about him, including those regarding the circumstances of his birth and the meaning of his death, are a whole new kettle of fish.

Yes, the Torah was written by God, but in the language of men - lashon bnei adam - specifically of men living at the time it was given. It is not a textbook of history or biology. It was not meant to tell us how the world works; we are meant to go out and discover that for ourselves (v'khivshuha). It is chock full of metaphors and anthropomorphisms, e.g. "hand of God." It sometimes does not mean what it seems to be saying, e.g. an eye for an eye. And it freely draws on the mythology current when it was given in order to convey its deeper truths. In this I am largely following the philosophy of Rav Kook, who did not have a problem with evolution.

Yes, God created man and everything else using the natural processes that He brought into being, which to me is a more sublime conception of God than Houdini-in-the-sky would be.

So, we have zillions of fossils, some of which are intermediate between apes and humans. They are arranged in orderly fashion, no human skeletons in Precambrian rock, no human and dinosaur remains found together, and so forth. They can be grouped into nested sets of similarities (boxes within boxes), based on morphology, protein sequence and now DNA sequence. Protein sequences are determined buy DNA sequences, and DNA comes from pre-existing DNA. But you say this does not indicate ancestry and descent. It is now up to you to suggest a theory that explains all of these data better than ancestry and descent, and it must be a theory that does not rely on the supernatural and that can be tested against nature.

Fri Dec 31, 02:12:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Yiddle said...

So what, in your opinion, will be the next step in the process? After humans have destroyed themselves or evolved into.....what?

Fri Dec 31, 04:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Neandershort said...

I am a scientist, not a prophet, and I don't know what the future will bring. Evolution is ongoing, and we humans are driving a good deal of it. We now have armies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria brought about by rampant overuse of antibiotics. Climate change brought about by human activity will have profound effects on the living world. Since we tend to shape the environment to suit our own needs, I would not bet on humans evolving into a radically different type of organism. We might possibly evolve the ability to be sedentary and not contract all manner of loathsome diseases, but only at the cost of many, many premature deaths .
And then, we might blow up the world with nuclear weapons, or befoul the planet to the point where it can no longer support human life. If that happens, the adaptedness of human intelligence will have proved short-lived indeed.

Sun Jan 02, 12:27:00 AM EST  
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