Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rabbi Zev Farber's "Crime" and religious hypocrisy

There are a lot of issues that need addressing, but moderation won't allow some of them to be addressed in the proper forum.

1) I see lots of people throwing around technical terms like "apikorus" "heretic" etc., but not actually defining them. Rambam in the 3rd chapter of Hilchot Teshuvah defines them.

a. Min = heretic.  i. no God, ii. no Divine Providence, iii. multiple gods; iv. corporealism; v. worships a created object as a god or as an intermediary to God.

Nope, don't see R' Farber falling into any of those. OTOH, one major division of contemporary Orthodoxy does fall afoul of the fifth definition.  Which division of contemporary Jews talk about a "ממוצע המחבר"?

b. Apikorus: i. no prophecy or other Divine communication with Man; ii. refutes the prophecy of Moses (ding ding! - if Moshe didn't exist, he was no prophet); iii. God does not pay attention to the actions of man (that's another contemporary rav's view).

c. Denier of Torah: i. says that one word or letter was written by Man without direction from God; ii. one who denies the Oral Torah like Tzadok and Boethius; iii. one who claims God has overturned any mitzvah.

So, R' Farber seems to fall afoul of being an apikoros by definition ii. I don't see him actually falling afoul of c.i - even the prophets were guided by God's "wave".  Certainly not c.ii - the Oral Torah is valid, whatever its origin.  The Sadducees denied the whole Oral Torah, process as well as details, preferring nevuah as a source of psak

2. Disavowing: this is a broader issue.  YCT via R' Helfgot and R' Katz speaking in the name of the school, disavows the ideas, but does not disavow the person.  Which is probably wise, and follows precedent.  Has anyone ever lost their smicha from RIETS for changes in personal ideology?  Has the RCA ever cast anyone out for it?  There was an attempt 20+ years ago to revoke R' Avi Weiss' membership in the RCA.  Ironically, given his later IRF/YCT leadership, R' Angel was head of the RCA trying to expel him, and they couldn't find it in their hearts (or the RCA constitution) to do so.

R' Gordimer, by the same token, doesn't have a leg to stand on.  He belongs to the RCA, which has not cast out Chabad.  Why is that relevant?  The situations are analogous.  Many in Chabad hold a view that the Rambam describes as heretical.  The central organization won't cast them out, because it would break up families including their own.  And the RCA won't condemn them and declare them a heretical movement for a) having them as members, b) tolerating them.  This is RD David Berger's "scandal of Orthodox indifference" all over again.  If the RCA won't reject Chabad (and really, for institutional reasons, they can't - it would traumatize the kashrus inspection business), why would R Gordimer think that YCT must be rejected for tolerating R' Farber?

3. R Gordimer and RYA go overboard in their criticisms.
a. I don’t see RZF denying the Oral Law one bit. Not even its divine origin – that remains, even though the Written Law’s origin is demoted to the same prophetic level.
b) RYA quotes a Gemara and Rashi saying that denying that resurrection is from the Torah makes one a kofer – but I don’t see RZF denying either resurrection or its origin. And I don’t think even the Mishnah requires that one see it as coming from the Torah. I’ve never understood this need for it to be sourced in the Torah, which Rashi and (for political reasons) Rambam demand – it’s not a mitzvah, which would have to be present in the Torah, it’s a prediction of future events, which the Neviim are full of. So what’s wrong with it being sourced in the Neviim, where it’s explicit?


Micha Berger said...

Think "Yigdal", not "Peirush haMishnayos". I like your using Hil' Teshuvah, I am honing a post that takes a similar tack.

And I think your interpretation of c.i. requires placing far more emphasis on "without direction" than is warranted. The Rambam writes "mei'im Hashem", in contrast to saying Moshe picked on word on his own "mipi atzmo". Farber believes that prophets chose the words themselves, as he needs each document to have its own voice to be a documentarian. But he also that the words are there because G-d chose them, through his "evolution" analogy. Which leaves him with a self-contradictory position WRT the nature of the words of the Torah: they both are flawed enough to show the seams and are Divine. They both reflect redaction and are supposed to also justify TSBP. And yet... when push comes to shove his examples show texts that TSBP explain. In reality he leans toward redaction, with derashah being relegated to post-facto apologetics. And thus c.i. is violated as well.

The bigger problem is that you did not succeed in proving Farber's philosophy is Orthodox, you succeeded in proving that the RCA is fickle in applying the law. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Interestingly, by R/Dr Mark Shapiro's "does the philosophy justify being a shomer Shabbos?" standard, Chabad has more to stand on than Farber does. They produce problems with theology, he has problems with both theology and the foundations of halakhah.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

If you read through the entire article Farber's position becomes very clear. He denies the existence of Avraham Avinu and the other Avos, presumably the 12 sons of Yaakov as well. He holds that the narratives in Genesis are all allegorical stories invented to teach moral points or hint at old conflicts between the first "Israelites" and their neighbours. By invoking the Documentary Hypothesis he denies Matan Torah and, presumably, Moshe Rabeinu.
He concludes by saying he remains "Orthodox" because he likes what it gives him. That's not Orthodox, that's Orthoprax.

thanbo said...

Micha: that was in fact my point. RZF does fall afoul of the Rambam's definition of apikorus (and Milhouse is the only commenter I've seen who actually uses the term correctly).

And that the RCA is being hypocritical in attacking RZF (via Gordimer) while leaving Chabad (which in part violates Rambam's minut) and the RCA (which tolerates it) alone.

Let the rabbinic organization that is without sin cast the first stone. If the witnesses are normally the executioners, who really has standing to make these kinds of attacks?

thanbo said...


More than that, the ENTIRE narrative of the Torah is allegorical, according to RZF. No Moshe (to receive the Torah, written or oral), no "wilderness experience", no stand at Sinai, no conquest of the Land. For him the history starts with Judges, maybe, which is about the time of the Merneptah Stele.

The legal stuff is affected by social reality, so we may in some cases discard the letter of the Law in and find the spirit of the Law, and apply that to contemporary situations. Whose legal model does that sound like?

I do think RZF has fallen off the edge of Orthodoxy, but he was rather naive to not expect these kinds of reactions and overreactions from traditionalists. Which doesn't absolve the RCA and its mouthpieces from overreaching, any more than Divine Providence about someone's death absolves his murderer.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh I agree that the RCA is being selective. Calling Chabad on their heresies is a huge problem. Calling out YCT, whose semichos they already don't recognize, isn't as big a deal.
The problem from the start has been a lack of legal patenting on the term "Orthodox". If someone 200 years ago had registered it with all the particulars then we wouldn't be having this issue. Of course, the guy doing the registering would probably have ensured that 90% of us Orthodox folk didn't make the cut either...

Micha Berger said...

Well, to cut them a little slack.... A group that is claiming to be MO requires the RCA in particular to respond. Lub is no closer to the RCA than the Agudah.

There is also the problem that "Atzmus" came out of RMMS's pen. And he wrote it before there even was an RCA. The problems with deifying the rebbe are more fundamental and much earlier than the messianic stuff. Coming out against the LR wouldn't stick anyway.

thanbo said...

I think you're exaggerating a bit here. In 1935, I don't think RMMS thought he was going to be Rebbe. I think he was still in Paris. But the RCA was founded in 1935. And the "atzmus umahus" line was in a sicha from 1951, his first year in office. By the war, he seems to have been thinking of himself as Moshiach, c. 1941, but I don't know if he had the atzmus umahus thought that early.

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