The Slifkin Affair Revisited Part 2: The Challenge of Eilu vEilu
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At the conclusion of Part 1, I stated that: Our call must be to honourably and truly apply Eilu vEilu. On the surface, this would seem to be a call for tolerance from both sides of the rift yet, Eilu vEilu is not simply a call for tolerance. As surely as Eilu vEilu demands tolerance of variant halachic opinions found to be within the parameters of Orthodoxy, there is equal demand for intolerance of views deemed to be outside the parameters of Orthodoxy. Eilu vEilus nature, as such, is different than what we may term the secular, academic realm of tolerance. As much as Eilu vEilu advocates for a remarkable vision of tolerance, it similarly recognizes the certain limits of tolerance within the realm of Orthodoxy. The powerful language of Rambam, Commentary to the Mishna, Sanhedrin, Introduction to Chapter Chelek at the conclusion of his presentation of his 13 Principles of Faith is directly on point; to Rambam, there is to be no tolerance of concepts outside these parameters. While others may argue specifics with Rambam and define the principles of faith somewhat differently -- yielding a reflection of the cognitive dissonance of Eilu vEilu -- at some point, for all Orthodox thinkers, a line must still be drawn. Within the line, there is the application of Eilu vEilu. Outside this line there is intolerance. True, a new category of tolerance for the individual, built upon the concept of Tinok Shenishba, literally the captured child, does then emerge; yet this category basically offers no tolerance to the idea or concept itself and is greatly limited in comparison to Eilu vEilu. The call of Eilu vEilu is not simply a call for tolerance. It demands a definition of the parameters of Orthodoxy so one can determine when tolerance is demanded and when it is not.
It is, thus, actually difficult for the Orthodox thinker to declare a broad intolerance of intolerance. In the response to the ban, many, recognizing that they were not demonstrating any tolerance toward the opinion of those who declared the ban, explained their position and I am one who has also used this argument in differing contexts by stating that while they are usually tolerant, they are still intolerant of intolerance. While such an idea may have standing in the general world of thought, within the realm of Orthodox Jewish thought and within the parameters of Eilu vEilu, this assertion is actually somewhat problematic because Orthodoxy also demands an intolerance of non-Orthodox positions. The most that an Orthodox thinker can declare is an intolerance for an intolerance of positions within the parameters of Orthodoxy, i.e. an intolerance for the non-application of Eilu vEilu when such application is appropriate. But to make such a statement, the Orthodox thinker must first define these parameters. Then one must further deal with the problem of what do when there is disagreement over these very parameters. The initial need, though, is still to recognize that Orthodoxy demands tolerance and intolerance in the same mindset. The Orthodox Jew cannot simply be intolerant of intolerance for the Orthodox Jew must be intolerant of heresy. As such, one cannot simply attack the proponents of the ban for being intolerant. If one believes Rabbi Slifkins books to be heretical, one would actually be called upon to be intolerant. The issue then is not tolerance; it is the definition of heresy and to define heresy is to demand a definition of Orthodoxy. In banning Rabbi Slifkins works, a declaration is being made that such works are outside the parameters of Orthodoxy. In not only challenging this ban but in contending that this ban is itself heretical, as some defenders of Rabbi Slifkin have advocated, individuals are declaring that the ideas that lead to such bans are themselves outside of Orthodoxy. It may be that they find, in the rejection of the application of Eilu vEilu to this argument, a basis for a challenge of heresy but nonetheless the true argument is not about tolerance. It is about the nature of Orthodoxy.
This is why the rift is so fierce. The issue is the very parameters of Orthodoxy. Should we actually not expect such ferociousness, from both sides, (each, of course, maintaining a certain vision of Torah to the exclusion of the other), in a battle to defend Torah? The call cannot be simply for tolerance. One cannot simply demand from the other respect for an opposing view or hashkafa. The response to a simple call of Eilu vEilu would be that this rule does not apply, for the rejected, non-accepted opinion is heresy and thus not bound to the call of Eilu vEilu. And indeed is this not what has occurred? The two sides have not only declared the other side to be wrong, they have declared the other side to be outside the pale of Orthodoxy. Eilu vEilu would seem, thus, to have no voice. It only has voice within the vision of Orthodoxy and each side has declared the other to be outside their opposing views of this vision.
Yet it was precisely at such a point as this that, throughout history, Eilu vEilu did raise its voice and called for connecting the unconnectable. This voice, though, was more than a simple call for tolerance. Indeed for Eilu vEilu to apply, it had to first declare its own vision of the parameters of Orthodoxy that would allow it to have voice. To assert Eilu vEilu had to always be predicated on an understanding of Orthodoxy that would include the divergent camps. The first call in applying Eilu vEilu thus always had to be the attempt to build a vision of the parameters of Orthodoxy that somehow included these opposing, even vehemently opposing, visions of Orthodoxy. This is actually a call for a qualitatively different type of vision of Torah than the personal vision of Orthodoxy upon which each position was constructed and that we apply in our lives. It is the call to find the essence of the machloket lShem Shomayim, the disagreement for the sake of Heaven (see Avot 5:20). It is the call to find the special vision of Orthodoxy that will broadly include variance. Of course, not all visions are acceptable; there are parameters to Orthodoxy. But as much as there is the necessary force to demarcate the boundaries of Orthodoxy, there is a force to extend these boundaries. This is the force of Eilu vEilu. It respects limits. It recognizes the need for intolerance of that which is clearly outside the pale. Yet it is the force of inclusion. For inclusion, though, there must be a certain type of vision and philosophy of Orthodoxy that can support this inclusion, an inclusion of that which initially even seems to violate ones personal vision of Orthodoxy. You cannot simply call upon proponents of the ban to respect the opposing view of Rabbi Slifkin. And you cannot simply call upon the defenders of Rabbi Slifkin to respect the opposing view of the proponents of the ban. Each can defend their intransigence by declaring the other heretical. What is needed is the articulated vision of Eilu vEilu that challenges the charge of heresy, not only in my mind but also in the others mind. The process thus undertaken under this charge of Eilu vEilu is not to determine what you believe in but, rather, to determine what, from what you do not believe in, is still part of Orthodoxy.
The vision of Eilu vEilu is thus not similar to the articulation of the vision of Orthodoxy that I adopt in my life and attempt to follow in my personal observance of Torah. It is actually an imposed vision filled with cognitive dissonance. It is a vision that demands of me the halachic tolerance of positions with which I do vehemently disagree. It is a realm where I can say that you are wrong, that I powerfully disagree with your position but I cannot say your position is outside of Torah. Somehow we are called upon, each of us, to delineate two visions of Torah. One is the personal Torah vision that we observe and follow in our lives, a vision that we advocate in disagreement with other personal Torah visions. Then we are called upon to describe another vision, an articulation of principles by which we define the pale. The question, within the vision demanded by Eilu vEilu, is, again, not: what do you believe? That is the realm of the personal vision. The question is: can you clearly maintain that what you do not believe, and that which the other believes, is indeed outside the pale? The closer the Eilu vEilu vision is to the personal vision, the less room for acceptance of variance. Of course, acceptance of variance is not always necessarily the ideal; there are parameters of Orthodoxy. The call of Eilu vEilu is still to see the two types of visions and to articulate them distinctly. I may have a vision of Torah that declares that I should support the State of Israel and I may disagree with the view towards the State, for example, of Satmar. But is this vision also to be the yardstick by which to determine whether Satmar is, or is not, within the pale? Eilu vEilu initiates the suggestion that it is not. I can declare to be Satmar wrong based on my personal vision of Torah but can I say that this view is outside the pale? I can only declare one outside the pale based on a vision of Eilu vEilu outlining such parameters.
This is the true dilemma that faces Orthodoxy at this time. The issue is not simply tolerance. The issue is the vision, or visions, of Orthodoxy. Those who banned the works of Rabbi Slifkin have a vision of Orthodoxy that excludes these works. Those who maintain that the ban itself is heretical, have a vision of Orthodoxy that excludes proponents of the ban. Given such visions, the ensuing rift is understandable. Intolerance of views outside of Orthodoxy is demanded and, at present, these two worlds see the other as outside of Orthodoxy. It would seem that each would contend that their differing visions are not just personal visions by which they live but also Eilu vEilu visions by which they also construct what opposition they will tolerate. What would seem to be left is for an individual to choose the vision with which he/she agrees and pick a side. This indeed seems to be what is happening with the ensuing friction that is always the reality of picking sides. (But does Rambam not maintain that, if not for the force of Tinok Shenishba, there should be animosity towards the one outside the pale of Orthodoxy?) Yet, is it correct to see these personal visions as Eilu vEilu visions? Have the questions that need to be asked to formulate an Eilu vEilu vision been asked? We know how to construct personal visions. Our learning of Torah is all directed to the construction of our understanding of Torah and the development of a hashkafa, philosophical system, and a halachic structure by which we live. But how does one construct Eilu vEilu visions?
Rabbi Aharon Feldman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael in
This is the shakla vtarya, the question and answer, of Eilu vEilu. The focus is not the argument per se, attempting to determine right and wrong. The focus is the vision behind the argument, attempting to determine whether that which I see as wrong is still within Orthodoxy. The proponents of the ban give no insight into their reasoning on this matter. To consider the use of Eilu vEilu, though, I am still left with the task of attempting to find this reason, this Eilu vEilu vision. And so I must also attempt to find the demarcation of this yardstick amongst those who challenged the ban. Are they true Eilu vEilu positions or only extensions of their personal Torah visions? What response is there to these visions? Is there another possible Eilu vEilu vision that encompasses the essential issue or issues upon which this disagreement is based and explains the entire matter in terms of a machloket lShem Shomayim? The proponents of the ban do not just disagree with Rabbi Slifkins works. They disagree with the vision that led to Rabbi Slifkins presentation. Those who challenge the ban do not just disagree with this action. They disagree with the vision that that led to this ban. Each, in turn, sees the others vision as, not just wrong but, outside the pale. A challenge of Eilu vEilu cannot be solely an attempt to cause the other to admit his/her vision to be incorrect. That is the realm of the Beit Midrash, of the battleground between personal visions. A cry of Eilu vEilu demands one to build, if possible, a broader, different type of vision in which differing personal visions can, paradoxically, co-exist within the realm of Torah.
This is the challenge that faces those who wish to mend the rift to find a vision that encompasses both views, which somehow can turn this machloket into a machloket lShem Shomayim, a vision that can quell the animosity and, while still calling upon each side to maintain and advocate for its particular vision, can offer a broader context to the disagreement. Perhaps this alternative is not existent and we are left with having to choose which delineated vision of Orthodoxy is correct. This must always be recognized as an alternative; Orthodoxy does have its parameters. A fear of friction cannot swerve us away from an ideal. Yet it is also the friction that arises from a too limited vision and definition of the ideal which the Ntziv, HaEmek Daver, Introduction to Bereishit basically declares to be the root of sinat chinim, free hate, and the destruction of the
Eilu vEilu, thus, also demands of us the attempt -- beyond our personal vision -- to formulate an Eilu vEilu vision of Torah that is as broad and encompassing as possible. It is a call to gain a different perspective on a machloket so that we can describe the disagreement within the language and perspective of Torah. To do so demands of us to analyze the variant positions not just their personal visions but also their Eilu vEilu visions. Eilu vEilu is, thus, a call for great contemplation for it is not only a call for tolerance. It is a call for the deepest philosophical examination in answer to the question of what are the boundaries of Orthodoxy. Not solely for tolerance. Not solely for peace. Because it reflects the search for the elusive and ultimately perplexing, confounding and mystifying Divine vision of Torah. To fully comprehend Eilu vEilu one must recognize that it represents a unique perception of life itself. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Iggrot Moshe 4:28 declares that, in the physical world, machloket fundamentally must be seen as a result of weakness for there must be only one right answer; in the world of Torah, though, machloket is of its very essence. It is only by arriving at the one right answer that we are also able to live a life of Torah in the physical world; this is our personal vision of Torah. Then there is the world of machloket, the world beyond the limits of the physical. This is our Eilu vEilu vision of Torah which demands of us to accept the paradoxical, albeit still with some parameters. Not all disagreements, oppositions and paradoxes fit within this vision either. As such, in the same way that we must have a method by which we determine our personal visions, we must also have a method by which we determine our Eilu vEilu visions. This is what must be undertaken. Methodology is, in fact, the key.
We must question: what is our personal vision of Torah? We must also question: what is our Eilu vEilu vision of Torah? This was partially the reason why I pointed out that, while certain defenders of Rabbi Slifkins works attacked the intolerance of those who propagated the ban, many of these same individuals themselves also show intolerance to other opinions with which they vehemently disagree. My issue was not solely the intolerance itself; in fact, as I have pointed out, the very nature of Torah is that it demands tolerance in certain situations and intolerance in others. My issue was also that by invoking tolerance, people were not seeing the greater picture. They ignored the fact that they also demonstrated intolerance and thus also were involved in determining when to be tolerant and when not to be. It is these underlying factors leading to the decision of tolerance and intolerance that need to be clarified. It is only by recognizing how we make decisions that we can delineate our personal vision of Torah and our Eilu vEilu vision. To define the issue as tolerance is to sidestep this undertaking and responsibility. We must investigate the vision that leads to our conclusions. Only once we understand our personal vision are we able to recognize and define other opposing visions within Torah and then meet the challenge of Eilu vEilu, to possibly articulate a differing and more encompassing Eilu vEilu vision of Torah.
A case in point is a presentation in the Emes Ve-Emunah blog of Rabbi Harry Maryles. Rabbi Maryles is extremely critical of the intolerance found within the charedi world towards Modern Orthodoxy. He contends, given that both charedi Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy are legitimate views within Orthodoxy, such intolerance is unacceptable; it is itself outside the pale of Orthodoxy. In response to Rabbi Maryles, we can ask: who is to say that those who maintain this intolerance toward Modern Orthodoxy agree with him that Modern Orthodoxy is within the pale? If they do not, their intolerance is actually understandable leaving us with the Eilu vEilu state of cognitive dissonance. On point, though, is the fact that Rabbi Maryles call is not simply for tolerance. He recognizes that respect for variant opinions can only be voiced if those opinions are within the pale and in another entry in his blog, he makes a clear statement that he will not be tolerant of a view that he believes to be outside the pale of Orthodoxy. By describing that which he will tolerate and that which he will not, Rabbi Maryles is actually presenting his vision of Orthodoxy, both personally and in regard to Eilu vEilu. This vision, though, is not fully articulated, although there are some hints and indications of it. He does state that he finds the proponents of the ban to be challenging the act of thinking. He also refers to these individuals, or some of these individuals, as fundamentalists. Clearly within his personal vision of Torah, he finds fundamentalism to be wrong and, within the Beit Midrash, he can battle with all who articulate such a position. But can we then say that fundamentalism is outside the pale? To answer that question an analysis is demanded of the Eilu vEilu vision, potentially distinct from ones personal vision. But, again, how do we determine this vision?
In the other entry in his blog, Rabbi Maryles praises Rav Shach and, distinguishing between life and life, Rabbi Dr. David Berger for being the only two willing to fight the false Messianism of Lubavitch. He wonders why no one else has stepped forward to undertake this fight. But is it universally accepted that the Mashichists are outside the pale of Orthodoxy? Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, a Lubavitcher and also a strong anti-Machichist, wrote an article in response to Rabbi Bergers book contending, despite his own personal disagreement with the Machichist view, that this view is still within the parameters of Eilu vEilu. Rabbi Maryles, and of course Rav Shach and Rabbi Berger, would disagree. Rabbi Maryles is infuriated by the response to Rabbi Slifkin because it is clear to him that all should recognize Rabbi Slifkins views as within the boundaries of Orthodoxy and thus subject to the guidelines of Eilu vEilu. Conversely, he contends that the Mashichists are outside the pale and are not to be seen as encompassed by the principle of Eilu vEilu. So, Rabbi Maryles rejects the contention of the charedi gedolim that Rabbi Slifkins works are outside the pale. However, he also rejects the contention of Rabbi Schochet that the Mashichists are within the pale. Is this an inherent stira, an inherent contradiction? Of course not but it does show a process of decision making and the reality of a yardstick by which these decisions were evaluated and made. It is such yardsticks that need to be articulated and formulated. But care must be exercised in order that the yardstick utilized delineates the pale of Orthodoxy and is not simply based upon our personal vision of Torah. The issue is not Rabbi Maryles arguments for disagreeing with the proponents of the ban and the Mashichists. But can these arguments also be used to declare these two outside the pale? This is the issue that we must address. (I should mention that we should, perhaps, draw Rabbi Schochets response to Rabbi Berger into this dilemma of definition for the tone of his response did not only challenge Rabbi Bergers argument but also challenged Rabbi Bergers position within the pale.)
Rabbi Feldman presents arguments for his position but he does not present the vision of Torah that led to him to choosing these arguments over others and the vision that signaled for there to be a ban.. Rabbi Maryles, similarly, states his positions but he also does not directly present the vision that led to his conclusions. Perhaps more significantly, they both do not articulate the mechanics of the process that led to their conclusions. The challenge of Eilu vEilu demands that one uncover such visions and mechanics so that one can determine how to evaluate which visions and, perhaps even more so, which mechanics upon which visions are built, are within the pale of Orthodoxy -- even though your vision and your mechanics are in disagreement, even vehement disagreement. This is where Eilu vEilu led me, both in regard to the Slifkin Affair and in regard to the Mashichists. In terms of personal vision, I basically agree with Rabbi Maryles. I disagreed with the ban and believed that Rabbi Slifkins works were within the pale. More so, I felt that Rabbi Slifkins presentation of the differing views on Science and Chazal in Mysterious Creatures was very well done. Yet my view of and respect for Torah study also leads me to recognize that individuals of the stature of many who signed the ban cannot simply be denied. The call of Eilu vEilu, even as it drew me into a realm of cognitive dissonance, was to attempt to understand this position. What were the personal visions of Torah that were in conflict? What, then, were the transcending issues that would be further delineated and explained within an Eilu vEilu vision of Torah? Perhaps, to use Rabbi Maryles term, I am against fundamentalism but can I clearly declare fundamentalism to be outside the pale. (This is not to say that I also do believe that the ban was built on fundamentalism.)
Similar questions also emerged in regard to the Mashichists, albeit of a different nature. My negative view of the position of the Mashichists is very strong. Within the Beit Midrash, I argue as an opponent. But that is not the end of the matter. Are the Mashichists outside the pale? To deal with that issue, I have to have parameters for that decision. I have to consider Rabbi Schochets presentation on the rules of Eilu vEilu. Echoes of the famous machloket between Rambam and Raavad regarding these rules come to mind, although Rabbi Schochets view is not really the view of Raavad. The issue is one of vision. My personal vision of Torah is strongly opposed. Usually my Eilu vEilu vision is broad, yet, in this case, I struggle with it. Why do I lean towards the arguments of Rabbi Berger? Obviously, it is more in line with my personal vision but is my personal vision overtaking my Eilu vEilu vision? The call is still to find the underlying vision. What exists in the view of the Mashichists that truly bothers me? Why do I struggle with them specifically in terms of Eilu vEilu? The issue is not solely the conclusion. The issue is also the mechanics by which the conclusion is reached. Nevertheless, I seem not to be alone. In answer to Rabbi Maryles query why more do not side with Rabbi Berger in declaring the Mashichists outside the pale, it would seem that many, who vehemently disagree with the Mashichist view, are still not willing to declare this group outside the pale. There is a challenge of visions. Our first response must be to articulate the various visions.
In regards to the Slifkin Affair and in regards to the Mashichists, this is really the challenge that is before us. It is not simply the conclusions that are reached on both sides that yield conflict. What is really underlying all the variant conclusions and seeming points of conflicts are visions of Torah, disagreeing visions of Torah. To understand what is truly at issue, we must articulate these competing visions of Torah which include competing visions of the mechanics of Torah decision-making. In my original article on the Slifkin Affair, Authority and Wisdom: The Slifkin Affair, I touched briefly upon aspects of this concept but, upon greater contemplation, I now see the issue as much broader. It is at this point, in my explanation of the variant visions within the Orthodox world, that I will start Part 3. But I leave you at this point so that you may contemplate your vision, not only of Torah but of Torah decision making. The underlying question may be: how do we know truth? And consider other visions and other forms of decision making and ask yourself whether such positions, even as you vehemently disagree with them, can still be within the pale of Torah.
© 2006 NISHMA