Response to Daat Emet publications
by Rabbi Dov Stein
47 Rachel Emainu St.
Tel. 02-5661962, 02-5664137
Translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Schatz
- These responsa have not been reviewed by the Sanhedrin and may or may not reflect the official position of the Sanhedrin, they are the work of the esteemed Rabbi Dov Stein, and are included here to indicate the kind of questions being handled by the Sanhedrin. Da'at Emet (True Knowledge) is published by Yaron Yadan, who studied in an yeshivah, yet today attempts to discredit Rabbinic teachings - Webmaster.
Enclosed herein are answers to the serious accusations against our Bible and its traditions that have been written in the successive pamphlets entitled “Daat Emet”. These answers are intended both for observant and non-observant Jews.
It is unfortunate that it is necessary to conduct a discussion in this manner, in the style of the bitter debates that took place during the middle ages between the Jewish Rabbis and the Christian priests (many of which were converts), especially since there are many current arguments similar to those in the past. As in all cases where a discussion takes place between cultured people, it is important that it be done in a just and respectful manner, and not just to find fault. The “Daat Emet” pamphlets do not meet these standards, and they are intended to be critical.
It is worthwhile in this connection to tell an interesting story. At the end of the 19th century, Rabbi Chaim Soleveichik , the Rabbi of the city Brisk, and the head of the Yeshiva there, was visited by one of his former students. Rabbi Chaim learned to his dismay that this student had become non-religious. The student said, “I have a number of questions about religion. Perhaps my Rabbi and teacher can answer them?” Rabbi Chaim remained silent. The student continued to ask many hard questions about religion. But Rabbi Chaim still remained silent. The student did not despair, and presented a long series of questions about God, about Judaism, about the Talmud and about religion. But Rabbi Chaim continued to be silent. Finally Rabbi Chaim broke his silence, and asked the student, “My student, now that you have finished asking your questions, I have a question for you. Did these questions arise in your mind before you wanted to become non-religious, or perhaps afterwards?” The student stuttered, and in the end confessed, “Yes these questions actually arose in my mind after I wanted to become non-religious. However, what difference does it make, since the questions are difficult questions, and I am sure that the great Rabbi can enlighten me about them”. Rabbi Chaim then answered, “My former student, I know the answers to questions, and can give detailed answers even to your difficult questions. The problem is that you adopted these questions to explain the reason that you became non-religious. You are not presenting me with questions, you are presenting answers. I have replies to questions, but I do not have replies to answers!”
Therefore the ideas presented herein are not a series of answers for the writers of “Daat Emet”, because their problem is that they do not want to observe the Torah and its commandments. These ideas are written for those whose will has not been corrupted, but the distributed pamphlets have awakened in them questions that require honest answers.
There are in Jewish history two famous leaders that missed out on greatness. Jeroboam the son of Nebat and Shevna the scribe. Jeroboam, to prevent loss of honor, began the process leading to the destruction of the ten tribes of Israel (Sanhedrin 102.). Shevna, because of his lack of faith and his leaning towards the Assyrian culture, almost succeeded to do the same for the remaining tribes (Sanhedrin 26.).
Nevertheless, even when A Jew reaches the point of despair in his battles with God, all his frustations and anger against the Creator of the world will not detach him from the Lord. On the contrary, such a person when he repents will possibly bring happiness to himself and sanctification of God, and will in this manner correct more things than he damaged.
It was pleasant to learn that the pamphlets reflect in many cases a search for truth, and not hatred or a desire for revenge. The comments written here are mainly intended for those searching for truth. Anyhow, many of the questions relate to fundamental problems and require consideration of basic outlooks in Judaism. Many questions are essentially the same questions asked by Jewish leaders over the generations, but possibly by mistake or possibly intentionally are presented without the answers. The puzzling thing is that Daat Emet could have used the innovative ideas of the many Jewish leaders, who have answered many serious questions on the Talmud; questions that could cause the naive reader to believe that the Torah world has been destroyed. Naturally, such is not the case. However this is the way of truth. Out of mutual respect and the search for truth, Jewish leaders occupy themselves with the investigation, questioning and solution of Torah ideas so as to arrive at the purpose of the commandments, since we were created to serve our Creator.
It is almost certain that the questions and their solutions will bring a great blessing and will increase our faith and the learning of Torah, and therefore the distribution of the pamphlets will bring about the opposite result to that intended by their distibuters.
The approach here taken is with the intent to follow the path of truth based on reliable sources, to defend Jewish views, and at the same time to show the problems of hostile views. We will refrain from defending important values that do not have a solid base in the Torah, but on the other hand, when necessary we will not refrain from presenting the imperfections of views alien to Judaism
The terms secular and irreligious are mentioned frequently by us. A significant number of people or their parents falling into these categories have simply been trapped into this framework by the bitterness of the exile. There have been cases of mass murder, wholesale robbery, prevention of learning Torah, separation from the Jewish society, destruction of Jewish literature, prevention of learning Hebrew, and being exposed to radio and television programs negative to Judaism. These are examples of numerous methods for direct or indirect coercion to believe in various faiths that appear on the surface to be the truth. In many cases these groups and their children have joined our enemies during the exile, willingly or for advantage. Secularists or the irreligious that live in an environment in which it is possible to revive their original culture in an authentic manner are to some extent in a better situation. This situation manifests itself in the growing movement of repentance. However, it should be realized that the repentance process is performed only after the mind of the one seeking the right path has been exposed to thousands of incorrect concepts that contradict the Torah and interfere for a long time with his adopting the right path. An increasingly large number of these groups are beginning to understand what damage has been done by the period of exile, and these groups are strengthening themselves. However, there is always someone who does not believe that he has the strength to overcome the conceptual breakdown..At the same time there is created an increasing identification by these groups with the foreign cultures that have captivated them. Unfortunately they also join in action with our enemies. Therefore the term irreligious that is used here refers to those who are lost to Judaism, and it is essential to make a final effort to save them from complete conversion. These people and their children are our “war captives” (a cultural war against the entire idol worshipping world that has cost us many lives), and they have lost any connection to our culture. Regretfully, it happens frequently under pressure, during the long period of exile, that they have joined the world wide cultural war against Jews or against Judaism, and in this way have actually become traitors . Whosoever among these captives that does not manage to make the important turnabout is likely in the course of a few years to find himself assimilating just as the converts have done during all the generations. These captives after leaving Israel or even those in Israel have often assimilated among our Arab neighbors, among the Russian non-Jews, or among the foreign workers who are flooding our holy land, and among the international peace forces who are spying against us. This process is already quite active, surely among the Jews who have left Israel, who assimilate faster than all the Jews in the diaspora. Also here in Israel there are already thousands of women that have married Arabs.
A. Concernimg Errors
It is essential to distinguish between the personal opinions of the Jewish leaders of the various generations and the Jewish fundamental beliefs. Every statement or opinion of all the Jewish wise men is subject to criticism, examination and review by every Jew. This is the fundamental cultural task of the Jewish nation for all generations. There have been Jewish wise men from the time of Moses until our generation whose opinions were criticized, and the law was not decided according to their ideas. It is improbable that there is an important wise man whose legal opinions have not been criticized. Wise men are human, and it is permissible for them to err. Our respectful attitude towards the Jewish wise arises from the search for truth, which was for them a basic tenet not only from a scholastic approach but also according to their deeds. They were not ashamed if they erred to admit this to their opponents in a dispute. This attitude requires us to be careful not to be in a hurry to dismiss an opinion stated by one of these wise men. Nevertheless, an opinion is not beyond criticism, and it is possible that the opinion will be dismissed based on the criticism.
There is no sympathy in any culture for the idea that it is possible to claim that the spiritual leaders have erred. Such an attitude lowers the respect for the statements of the leaders. Has anyone ever heard that any country broadcast the statement that their High Court has erred? Moreover, the creative and mental expertise of our sages was in the fields of justice, thought and faith. In general the sages developed their expertise in science as a result of legal problems that were brought before them in the fields of agriculture, zoology, physics etc. Nevertheless, you will find in our culture, a culture of truth without any partiality, that we learn from the Torah that errors are attributed even to our sage Moses. Rashi states concerning three passages (Lev. 10 16; Num 20 10-11; Num. 31 21), that Moses because of anger made an error.
We find in the Jerusalem Talmud that one Tana brashly tells Rabbi Akiba, who was the greatest of the Tanaim, that he was mistaken. Thus in Taanit chapter 4, is stated, “Rabbi Akiba, when he saw Bar Cochba would say that he was the Messiah; Rabbi Yochanan ben Turtah responded, Akiba, even when grass will grow from your cheeks the Messiah will not have arrived”. Even the Sanhedrin can err. The first two chapters of Tractate Horayot deal with this topic. It has been stated concerning the Rambam, “From Moses until Moses no one as great as Moses has arisen”. Nevertheless, many wise sages have stated that the Rambam erred. Moreover, Rabbenu Saadiah Gaon states that we do not have to accept the opinion of our sages concerning nature and medicine if it does not agree with our present knowledge. We find a similar statement by Rabbi Avraham the son of the Rambam
Apparently the “error” is the great advantage of creation. There is here a paradox: It is forbidden for you to err, but the ability to err is what gives a value to your deeds and your opinions. Many of the medicines and discoveries have come about from errors. A similar statement can be made with respect to errors of the sages. These errors are essential for the development of a successful Jewish viewpoint that can adapt to the varied cultural realities, so as to absorb, digest and convert them to a Godly idea. An opinion of a Tana or Amora can possibly be entirely invalid at a particular place and time, and yet be completely valid at a different place and time. The Ramhal states in “Mesillat Yeshorim” chapter 20, that the law is forever in accord with Beth Hillel. However, we have a tradition that the law is at present according to Beth Hillel, but in the distant future the law will be in accord with Beth Shamai, which seems nowadays to be impossible, just as is a statement that a mouse is half soil. Possibly in another 50 years it will be possible, or it will then become clear that what was said will become relevant and in place. It seems that that is the explanation of the saying of the sages (Berochot 34:) “Rabbi Abahu said: the position of repentants is more worthy that of the completely righteous”. This means that an error corrected by a repentant makes him better than one who has never sinned. In some respects this is similar to the idea that certain particles in the universe behave at the same time as solid materials and as waves. A perfect item does not belong in the living world. We have not as yet sufficient information and understanding of the world and of the Creator to unerstand such paradoxes.
B. The Israel Heritage
From the moment that the Torah was given, it became the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people. (See Deut. 33 4, “Moses commanded us to observe the Torah; a heritage for the congregation of Jacob”). In a sense it is as if God is subject to the legal decisions of Israel, even if there are occasional errors. The spiritual nature of the people of Israel is the desire to spread the word of God throughout the world. Since the Jewish nation dwells in the midst of the existing complex world, which includes many nations and numerous cultures, the Torah outlook only naturally is in a continual reciprocal relationship with other cultures. Opinions, concepts, idiomatic phrases, and new words from various cultures are absorbed into our culture. The Jewish nation serves as a melting pot for purifying these ideas , which often extends over many generations. Therefore it is possible to find foreign views in our culture, which have received a different shading, even to the extent of being the opposite of the original ideas. From this aspect, the Jewish people can be considered as messengers of God for maintaining and improving all that is found here in this world. This mission also applies to the opinions of non-Jews, so that these ideas will have a positive content and weight for spreading the word of God. This is an ancient vision that is brought in the Talmud (Megillah 9.) on the sentence (Gen. 9 27) . >From this point of view the extent of idol-worship in the world is continually decreasing,
C. The Talmud
The Talmud is apparently the final authority for deciding the law for all Israel. However: 1) There are many unclear points in the text of the Gemara, mainly because of the interference from the non-Jews who censored the text, and because of difficulties in the understanding of the text which have led to much disagreement and criticism. 2) This authority is given to the gemara only in the legal realm. However, this is not so with respect to opinions, and views on the existence of the world, science, legends, etc. A person can explain these items in any way, and he will not be considered as having unfit ideas. In the gemara itself there is a notice about errors of Jewish sages versus non-Jewish sages. The Jewish wise men believed that there were cases where the non-Jewish wise were more correct and even agreed that there is wisdom among the nations (Pes. 94:, Moreh Nevuchim, part 3, chapter 14).
D. The Position of the Prophet
When the prophet acts as a wise man, his words are considered as explained in part A of the preface.
E. The Sanhedrin
The Torah culture is presently functioning as a cripple. The lack of a Sanhedrin prevents the making of essential decisions in many fields and prevents the updating of numerous legal decisions, since in all legal systems there cannot be explanations or corrections without a supreme authority that is authorized to do so (except for ad hoc local regulations for which there is limited authority). When a Sanhedrin will be formed it will be a deciding factor in the redemption process. The present situation resembles the condition of a society that does not have a high court and does not have enforcement agencies.
The Jewish nation does not function as an egalitarian society but as a functional society. In this respect the Jewish society resembles an army. The idea of equality is fundamentally a religious concept. This idea is based on the assumption that every person has a soul, which is a Godly spark that cannot be measured. Nevertheless, because of the love of God by Israel, and the desire by Israel to satisfy the Creator, the importance of the idea of equality has decreased and has been nullified relative to the concept of efficiency. The division of tasks in Israel is done not on the basis of equality but on the basis of usefulness to increase the influence of the Torah and even of the world wide culture. This is the reason that in a war the army operates by definition as a non-egalitarian body. In the army there is no equality of authority.
G. Supreme Values
The will of God lies at the top of the ladder of Jewish values. This value is more important than all other values, for if this is not so we place ourselves as a separate god having a greater validity than God himself, which is of course untenable..