Sunday, May 6, 2012

Response to Naftali Zeligman Overview

The purpose of this paper:
I am writing this blog as a response to ‘Naftali Zeligman’ who posted a number of serious attacks and questions attempting to disprove the veracity of Torah. Zeligman takes his cues from ‘daatemet’, an Israeli chozer b’shaila who, after becoming fed up with the chareidi world, used his website to try to disprove the truth of Torah. Some rebuttals have been forthcoming on’s torat emet section. also countered some of daatemet’s attacks. Unfortunately, these sites have never responded to all of his attacks.
The purpose of this paper is not to convince Zeligman or any skeptic, but rather to point out the deep flaws and misunderstandings in the very questions Zeligman poses and provide approaches to questions to those earnestly seeking truth. I readily admit my bias as an observant Jew.


  1. "intellectually satisfying to those who earnestly seek the truth"

    I think you mean for those seeking to believe in what they already believe in, i.e. that the Torah is divine. Such people are only seeking "the truth" on condition that the results are that the Torah is the truth.
    Wouldn't you agree?

  2. Well FQ, yes and no. The blog was intended more for Jews who are open to the idea of a divinely given Torah, though I believe even secular people could greatly benefit from this as well.
    Many of my approaches work with the assumption that both the 5 books of Moses and the oral Torah were divine - though I don't attempt to prove it (I might in the future, though. There are many other sites who do that.)

    My point was that many people make up their minds as to what they believe because they were born into a certain lifestyle or culture, or because they emotionally feel comfortable one way or the other. (Sometimes this is in favor of Observant Judaism, sometimes it is in opposition to it) This blog is not for them.

    I don't think this blog would convince Naftali Zeligman or Daat Emet to become on observant Jew again, since, they seem to have made up their minds that Judaism wasn't for them and only afterwards came up with these attacks.

  3. I think this is an excellent endeavor with much to gain and virtually nothing to lose.
    I recommend you read the posts I've written on Archaeology and the Torah found on my blog

    I think you should make a very big deal about the existence various trends in Archaeology that have come and gone. The minimalist school dominated for a few decades and probably most of what Zeligman is quoting from comes from that school.

    Once you realize that many questions comes from a particular, narrow, and now discredited sector of the field, you can avoid wasting a lot of time micromanaging a host of individual questions.

    1. @FK Maniac: Please feel free to link those articles in the comments section of the archaeology section.

  4. I understand. The issue I have is I believe that arriving at the truth is a much more difficult task when you start out with an assumption that what you believe is true. You typically just arrive back where you started, only now you feel more "satisfied" with your belief.
    I'm at a point in my life where I don't find it acceptable anymore to just assume I am correct. I am struggling to prove based on no pre-assumptions that the torah is divine. Or at least to get to a point where it at least makes the most sense for me to believe that.

    1. FQ, I think it is almost impossible for anyone to approach anything in a totally objective way. After all, we all have experiences, tendencies, social influences, etc that push us in a certain direction.

      Additionally, other than a mathematical proof, one cannot really prove 100% anything. In life we make decisions by what makes the most sense, what is statistically most probable.

      I believe that traditional Judaism is statistically the most probable thing to be true. When you consider the vast evidence altogether (regardless of whether you can poke holes in any one piece of evidence) it seems pretty clear to me that the Torah has the highest level of statistical probability to be true.

  5. Without getting too into it because it's only a comments section, what do you see as such great proofs?
    And my last question is, even if traditional Judaism is the most probable statistically, is that really enough to go on for one to give up his life and not worship idols? To risk losing an eiver ch"v on shabbos because it's not docheh shabbos? Does that fit in to the words ani ma'amin b'emunah sh'leimah?

    1. There are many pieces of evidence, which taken as a whole, paint a convincing picture. You can email me ( for some specifics, but they are the Kuzari proof PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD (most people get this wrong), the 7 wonders of Jewish history and especially the continued existence of klal yisroel and the unnaturally high impact of Jews on the world, the Esther code (Daat Emet and Zeligman's refutation of this demonstrates their lack of understanding of the nature of the evidence), the amazing self criticism and objectivity of the Torah, the incredible wisdom and depth of the the Hebrew language, the incomprehensible depth of gemara, the body's blood clotting on the eighth day after birth, and on and on.

      Regarding your last question. I ask you, how do you make any decision in life? When you buy a house, you go with what is most probable as to be the best house. When you choose a medical treatment, you go with probability, when you fly an airplane - probability. When we put someone in jail, we use what is probable beyond a reasonable doubt. When we look at what we call history, do we have absolute proof of Julius Caesar? Alexander the Great? Etc? We believe in their existence because it is most likely that they lived. So yes, Judaism is by far the most probably true of all belief systems and therefore that is what I would give my life for if need be.

      So what is ani maamin b'emunah sh'leimah? I believe that there is another level of belief in G-d and Torah. That is conviction. In other words, can one prove that s/he loves his/her spouse? Children? Parents? There is no need, for our love of someone is internal, not logical. We believe something based on our conviction. We know simply because it is who we are. It is a part of us. (In the deeper sources they call this Daas - connection to something that it becomes a part of us, e.g. And Adam knew Eve...)

      Judaism isn't a religion, it is a relationship between us and G-d (there are numerous sources for that). The ani maamin is based on our conviction of the connection of that relationship. Emunah means faithfulness (not faith), faithfulness to the marriage at Sinai between us and G-d.

  6. I'm still not convinced. I appreciate your effort and I apologize if it's my own fault for not letting your answer penetrate.
    I'll take a crack why I'm not convinced. You compare it to making life decisions, like flying on an airplane. When you consider how many intelligent people are athiests, if I plugged that back to the flying decision, if that high of a percentage of people said flying on an airplane was dangerous, I am pretty sure I wouldn't fly. Obviously there is a big difference becuase with airplanes you have actual statistics. You don't have something comparable with religion.

    And I don't follow your response regarding ani ma'amin.

    The proofs you list are good arguments, but I still feel there's a big jump from good arguments belief b'emunah sh'leimah.

  7. Hi FQ, sorry for the delay in responding, I just got back from Israel.

    I don't think the comparison you are making between flying and atheism is a good one. There is no reason why anyone would have anything to gain by not flying. The only reason someone wouldn't fly is because it was dangerous. By contrast, atheism is very attractive to many people (as is religion). It frees them from being restricted to a certain way of life, it helps them deal with pain caused by suffering in life (e.g. where was G-d during the holocaust), or caused by parents or religious figures who represent religion to these people. So there is an inherent bias for or against religion or atheism.

    Therefore, you cannot bring proof from numbers of people who may believe in a certain lifestyle or belief because almost everyone has "a horse in the race." Everyone has a bias. The only way to get to the truth in areas which do not have mathematical or statistical proof is to seek out the most likely possibility. That is why I believe in Torah Misinai.

    As for ani maaamin, my point about daas is that my connection to Hashem is the same as one who loves another. Can you explain that love or why you love someone? Not really. It simply exists through the connection to the beloved. Also see

  8. Hi, thanks for the response. I'll ask one further question. The bottom line for me is I don't mind going with the percentages/probability approach. I agree that most of our lives is made up of such decisions. But I think you'll agree that the riskier, more dangerous the decision is, the higher probability we require in order to take such risks.
    So for me, to keep most of the mitzvos, it's not so difficult. I'm not giving up that much to perform them. So I can be satisfied in the probability that I'm doing the right thing.
    But Judaism requires all out commitment. You have to give up your life in certain situations. One is not allowed to put out a fire in their house on shabbos. These are examples of decisions that require huge investments, and in those cases, normal people won't risk that much unless they are certain or as close to certain as possible that they are correct.
    And that is where I am baffled. How can Hashem require of us to do these things when there is substantial uncertainty out there such that we aren't sure that we are doing the correct thing?

  9. You ask an excellent question. I would have answered you that for me the evidence for the divinity of Torah is sufficient to motivate me to give up my life for G-d and Torah, but you do not agree with that.

    I would say then that just as when one initially has a relationship with someone it is not so deep and there are limits to the lengths one would go in loyalty and devotion to that loved one, so to a limited relationship with G-d would only allow us a limited connection/devotion to him, so we may not be willing to give up our lives for Him. But when one is deeply in love with another, there are no limits to the relationship and one would do anything, even give up ones life for their beloved, so to as we deepen our relationship with G-d, we'd be willing to die for Him. For at that point there is deep inner conviction that He exists and that we want to deeply connect to Him.

  10. Doesn't it bother you, though, that a Christian would say the same thing about his relationship with yoshkuh, and a muslim would say the same thing about his relationship with mohommad? These are very emotional things that can easily get deeply ingrained in people just by means of growing up that way.
    To me, that means that the emotional sense that you describe has very little truth value becuase most religious people feel such a thing, but most seem to be wrong.

  11. Good point, this is the logical next question.

    The answer is either a)other religions do not have any factual basis for their belief or any evidence to support it (Regarding Christianity, CS Lewis would disagree with me but that is another story) as opposed to Judaism which does have much evidence to support it. So belief in G-d using my inner connection and conviction is more firmly grounded because my starting point is stronger.

    Another answer b) is that most Christian or Muslim belief is based on just what you say, an emotional feeling because they grew up that way (many Jews do this too) or because religion fills a void or compelling need in their lives. But it doesn't go further than that. However, the inner knowledge I have been referring to is not an emotional thing but rather a firm conviction that something is true not because you can externally prove it, but because you simply intuit and feel it to be true in your innermost essence. That is not emotion, that is daas - intimate knowledge.

    Have you ever studied a mind blowing piece of gemara with the commentary of R' Chaim Brisker, or heard an inexpressibly true and beautiful idea from R' Tzadok Hakohen? Have you ever witnessed an amazing site such as the grand canyon or the birth of a child. At those moments we get a sense that there is something more here. We develop a conviction of certain truths that cannot be externally, mathematically proven but we sense must be true nonetheless. Allow me to quote you something from the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt'l (for the record I am not a Lubavitcher, I studied in the Lakewood Yeshiva system) which brings out this idea:

    "All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will never stand you firmly on your feet. There's only one thing that can give you that, and that's your own inherent conviction.

    For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot, that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

    For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

    The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

    Inside is boundless power."

  12. I used to be quite moved by the proofs, but I also have some specific and more general problems with them.

    My specific problem is that most of them aren’t even true. So, for instance, Natan Slifkin has shown that the “four animals” proof is not true.

    The one that scared me the most was the Purim proof. But I am not nearly as frightened by it anymore.

    Specifically, there is no tradition that says the small letters are prophetic. So it is an “after the fact” kind of proof, that does not have a source in the masorah on those letters.

    Second, there are three traditions of small letters in Megillat Esther.

    Which leads to the third objection: what do small letters mean in Tanach generally?

    From what I understand, they mean that the sofer had a question about spelling, or had two traditions on spelling, and therefore made a choice, but included the other possibility as a small letter in the text.

    Where do the small letters appear in Esther? They appear in the foreign names of the Persian sons of Haman. These would be names that could be difficult to transliterate into Hebrew: they were unfamiliar to scribes, and they were originally in another language. They could be legitimately spelled different ways. Thus, the small letters.

    Those are my specific objections.

    Now my general objections.

    First, I am mortified at the indoctrination practices of Aish HaTorah (where I learned these proofs.) They are taking advantage of young people who have no background in Judaism, and are leaning on these venerated rabbis for an accurate and fair Jewish education.

    The rabbis, with beards, and white shirts -- and some with a lifetime of immersion in texts – have the advantage. These gentlemen are our guides. They are “wise” in our eyes. They tell us about ancient texts. We are somewhat spellbound by them.

    So they have a responsibility to us to not misguide us. Generally, things go well at Aish.

    But then there are the “proofs” like the Purim proof. And we get one side of the story. And there are other proofs that fail much more quickly and clearly than the Purim one. But we are made to feel they are indisputable. And we are quick to believe these men who appear wise and steeped in Jewish wisdom.

    So my second general objection is these guys at Aish (guys I generally thought were pretty terrific and amazing) are trying to scare us. These proofs are trying to scare us into buying the idea that Yiddishkeit is provable and real.

    But there are (as you see) other ways of looking at the proofs. At Aish these other ways are buried, and not discussed.

    I am against people twisting things to scare me into adopting their worldview. It is wrong. I also want to reiterate something I wrote elsewhere: the biggest problem with Orthodox Judaism is that the skeptics are invisible and their views are not permitted to be acknowledged or even stated. If Orthodox Judaism would permit other views to be recognized, it would go a long way. People who have doubts don’t want to be forced into being invisible. The doubts are just as real to them as the certainty of other members of the community.


  13. Tuvia, thank you for commenting. The idea of a question in spelling accounting for small and big letters is not correct. You are confusing that with the opinion of the Radak (hakdamah Yehoshua) who says that with regards to Kri Ksiv. The problem with this Radak is that the gemara routinely derives concepts from kri ksiv (see Sotah 31, Megillah 27, etc). But if the Radak is correct and kri ksiv was just a spelling question, how could we derive anything from it?

  14. Esther Proof - It is a strong piece of evidence because of the "coincidence." Nobody claims that small letters are prophetic - though they are "darshened" in the oral law. Additionally, it may be true that not every book of Esther had tav, shin and zayin as the small letters. Still, don't you think it is a pretty big coincidence that of the megillahs that have commonly been used throughout history, the 3 small letters of all the letters in Haman's sons name (talking about when they were hanged) are tav, shin and zayin which is also they year 5707 - 1946-47? Add that to Julius Streicher's screaming out Purimfest 1946 right when he was hung (when he wasn't a Jew and it wasn't even Purim). Add that to the fact that eleven Nazis were supposed to be hung. One, a cross dresser, committed suicide (similar to Haman's daughter committing suicide) and the rest got hung. Add that to the fact that the hanging got postponed to Hoshana Rabba which in mystical sources is the day of judgement for the enemies of the Jews. Add to that the similarities between Nazism and Amalek. Well, I'd say that is a heckuva coincidence. So as far as I am concerned the Aish Rabbis got that one right.

  15. Tuvia, I understand your point about Aish, but couldn't I turn that around and say the same thing about every College and University in the world? Don't believe me? Try reading
    which basically shows how liberal professors indoctrinate and certainly give a one sided view of the world. This is certainly true in Jewish studies departments who are dedicated to showing how Torah isn't true. There is no other side shown.

    Now, I can't speak for Aish, for I never studied there, but I would tell you that proofs - or more precisely evidence of the truth of Torah is only a starting point. We use that as a jumping point to studying Torah in depth. That is why we follow Torah, because we study it deeply, we are amazed at it's incredible depth, it's inexpressible beauty. A question on a gemarah from a Ketzos, an answer from the nesivos. An approach in Chumash from the Maharal. A idea from Rav Tzadok. This is what makes us tick, this is why we have loved and lived Torah for 3300 years. This is our lifeline and our blood. I don't know whether or not you got that when you started becoming religious, but that is what you should have concentrated on. Proofs classes are important but secondary.

    Sure there are doubts, questions, etc. Our rishonim and acharonim have discussed them through the centuries and if you have those doubts, then sit down with a competent person and work through these questions. But nothing can compete with in depth Torah study which pulsates through our essence. Once you have that, many of your doubts will begin to fall away.
    You are welcome to email me any question you may have at I will do my best to give you a satisfying approach.

  16. I will take a crack at responding to you Meir.

    First, I don’t know that much about whether the Radak was “right” or “wrong” in saying that small letters could indicate a question on spelling.

    But I do think two things here: first – his opinion might be right. In which case the gemara’s opinion on small letters turns out to not be right with regard to Kri Ksiv. I don’t see why the Radak is necessarily wrong based on what you wrote.

    Another possibility – a very Jewish one I think -- is both that both views of Kri Ksiv are “right.” We learn that there are many seemingly contradictory ideas in Talmud that are both right. Different approaches.

    I actually think the Talmudic idea that contradictory answers are both right is what they would call in finance being “fully hedged.” No matter what the rabbis say – it is right! Even if they contradict each other. In short, they can’t be wrong. I think probably a rabbi came up with this idea.

    Re your second response.

    It is a pretty big coincidence that they were hanged in a year corresponding to 1946-7. That’s why there is a proof I’m guessing. I believe there were twenty four men on trial (I have to do some web research on this.) I believe some were convicted and sentenced to die, some were given prison terms, maybe some were exonerated (?) not sure (some in absentia I think.) But more than eleven men.

    Hoshanna Raba is (you know better than me but I read this somewhere) a day for those who are not evil but not good to be judged. I suppose I would hope G-d would not think of these fellows as “not evil but not good.” I would hope G-d would feel them to be evil.

    I can probably add a few more notes to your information – I think Streicher was actually a “Jewish expert” for the Third Reich – but I am not sure – but again: yes, it is a coincidence of sorts!

    What is left out is: there is no masorah on those letters, they were very possibly do to a confusion on proper spelling (as you say, Radak might have thought) and there are three traditions of small letters (which suggests that different scribes, from different regions had slightly different confusions crop up in the spelling of these foreign names.)

    It’s just left out is all – and that is where the idea of indoctrination creeps in.

    Also, I understand that the Aish gimmick that the Talmud has the line “there is a tomorrow that is now and a tomorrow that is later” applies to a very different kind of sentence in Tanach – has nothing to do with the Esther line regarding hanging them today and tomorrow. I feel Aish is tricking the neophyte Jew with that part of the Esther proof too.
    And I want to add one more point, which is a bit of a sensitive one. The Holocaust was not like Purim. It was not a Purim story. Six million men, women and children were brutally destroyed like animals. We don’t remember or celebrate the Holocaust every year as we do Purim. And it’s macabre to say that the death of ten or eleven Nazis is some kind of Purim “happy ending” to a story about the brutal destruction of six million innocents.

    1. Tuvia, you didn't read what I wrote. The Radak never said anything regarding big and small letters (in Esther or anywhere) he only said what you were talking about by kri ksiv. So your whole "shtickel Torah" is wrong.

      Your 2nd response regarding the Esther proof is way off base. I don't care how many men were on trial. Only 10 were hanged. Hoshanah Rabbah is the final judgement day for all nations. You will have to show me where it distinguishes between mediocre and evil.
      I never used the Tomorrow line you quoted nor have I ever heard anyone else use it.

  17. (Had to continue in a new comment - that last one was me, Tuvia.)

    Finally, you write in your final response: “Tuvia, I understand your point about Aish, but couldn't I turn that around and say the same thing about every College and University in the world?”

    It does go on quite a bit in colleges and universities. The only difference is that we are all pretty aware of what is going on there. I went to an Ivy League school for a while – and everyone was pretty aware of what is going on. That’s because we live in an open society, and the questions raised in school are ones we have background on and familiarity with. Doesn’t stop the professor from “doing their thing,” but students in most schools know what is happening. At the very least, there is debate around these issues, and plenty of sources for both sides to immerse themselves in.

    The frum world is very clear that -- while they are certain they have the Truth and that the Torah life is obviously True – their children will not be exposed to ideas, evidence, academic views which challenge the Truth of Torah.

    Reminds me of Soviet Russia under, say, Kruschev (maybe before your day?) He could speak for hours about the “decadent” West, with its “materialism,” its “inhumanity.” It was obvious to Kruschev that communism was the more noble and true system.

    Only, if anyone in Russia wanted to leave and go see for themselves? They got a bullet in their back! No one could leave.

    And America? People could come and go at will. And say what they want. And read what they want. And millions wanted to go there, not Russia.

    The frum world is closer on this point to Soviet era Russia (or today’s Cuba where Castro speeches about the “evil West” play on the radio still for hours – and noone can leave there either!)

    Finally: if you want to say you find the Torah and Talmud beautiful – you have my attention. I am interested in why people find it beautiful. Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it is not true in the same way we say it is “true” that “the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.” Aish and kiruv’s problem is they won’t stop trying to prove the objective, factual, historical truth of Torah. And if someone digs deep enough, they will find that the Aish arguments are not strong in this regard.


    1. So a student lives his whole life being taught the secular approach to the world and when he takes a few Aish classes you are so frightened at what happens? You mean a few Torah classes are so powerful that they uproot a lifetime's worth of "indoctrination" of secularism? Wow, you must be pretty insecure of the secular approach if an Aish Discovery class can challenge 20 plus years of secular education.

  18. Forgive my ignorance on the KK thing with Radak. I don’t know anything about it – I thought he was talking about small letters in general. I will look into it.

    Regarding indoctrination.

    The difference between my university education and my Aish education is that at Aish (I was there for months, in Jerusalem, years ago) we come in as true novices. We don’t know anything about Judaism. So we simply do not have the context to challenge the proofs.

    And, to my mind, Aish knows this. And abuses the power they have. We will listen and even be in awe of these ravs who know so much more than us. And they appear to be teaching us about G-d, and from ancient texts.

    There is something called the Authority Figure. And when someone is looked up to as an authority figure – people make all kinds of allowances for them.

    Read about the revivalist meetings in Western NY in the early to mid 1800’s. Preacher after preacher exhorting their congregants to sell all of their possessions, that “End Days” were nigh. They would all walk into a field, the world was supposed to end, and – nothing happened. And it happened again and again out there. (Mormonism also came from this time and place.)

    Religious figures can always prey on people’s hopes, fears, needs. Kiruv rabbis are in this business too. I’m not even saying it is a totally conscious act. Those Western NY preachers were heartbroken in those fields too!

    The Aish program doesn’t just start with Discovery – it takes you in and is loving, warm, and educational. In this way it builds a kind of trust. By the time they deliver Discovery – you are already somewhat attached.

    In this way, they are like a cult. We think of cults as all bad, but they are not. They attract young people and empty people. They prey on hopes, fears, insecurities, anger. They provide warmth, a home, a new outlook, group affiliation, even prestige. They don’t all ask you to swallow poison kool aid, but they have a deep effect on your unconscious.

    I may be a rare person – but I think indoctrination is what is going on. I think they have vulnerable young people before them. Guys who may not be having very “successful” lives. And I think they use this. I think they try to show, for instance, a way for guys who are not having much success with women or relationships a way to “have it all” by submitting to the shidduch system. I think they show guys who have career troubles that careers are not important to your identity. Being Jewish is. And you are already Jewish, so there is built-in prestige to that. No degree required.

    What I am saying, Meir, is that there is a dynamic there. The proofs are the only part I specifically object to. I’ve seen how getting the Aish version (half the story, or less) affects people who have spent months there already. I saw how it scared me. I had this belief that there had to be another side to the proofs – but I didn’t know where to begin to rebut them (this was ten years ago.)

    I think it is wrong to scare people in order to get them to see your point of view is correct. I think when rabbis do it? It is worse, because we have this built-in feeling (even secular folks have it) that defers to religious figures in some way. They are the trained ones. Dealing in ancient texts. We see them as “men of G-d.” Telling us what is true, and what is not. And it is hard to resist. People are vulnerable.

    There are unconscious things happening at Aish. There are also unconscious things happening at a Tony Robbins two week retreat (I’ve seen this with workmates who attended one – they came back quite different and I think radicalized. Thankfully, it did not last!) There are unconscious things happening at an Oprah show (well, used to be before she quit.) The specter of the almighty charismatic figure. It is tried and true. They talk, we listen and seek to understand.


  19. Tuvia, I am not going to sit here and debate you about Aish because I am not an Aish Rabbi. I am a kiruv Rabbi in the Meor network and I have a pretty good handle on what goes on in the majority of the campuses and Yeshivos and I can tell you that for most of my colleagues, 98% of the learning we do with students is Torah in depth or Torah hashkafah. We spend almost no time on proofs classes, though we will do one or two and I do explain some to students if they are interested in it.

    Every single thing you write about Aish can be said about University professors especially in fields which students come in not knowing much about it, such as philosophy, women's studies, religion departments etc.

    I am so sick of the old and tired cliches and canards of kiruv and cults. Nobody is forcing anyone to be in and Kiruv yeshiva or program. Nobody is forcing anyone not to explore the issues on their own. Students in Yeshiva ask questions on emunah all of the time. This blog started when a student in a kiruv Yeshiva brought up Zeligman's letter to his Rabbi. When a student starts to become religious in college, we don't try to get them to leave University to go to Yeshiva, we almost always wait till they graduate. And after they finish Yeshiva they often go back to grad school. Furthermore, 98% of the Kiruv Rabbis and Yeshiva Rabbis I know, do not want the "loser" and vulnerable student you describe. We seek highly motivated, intelligent and emotionally healthy students who can appreciate the depth and beauty of Torah. Not the weak and vulnerable. As it happens, I recently sent a student who had some emotional issues to a kiruv retreat recently, and the director gave me HELL for sending him.

    Tuvia, you seem like a nice and sincere person. So forgive me for saying that you come off as very immature blaming Aish for making you unhappy in some part of your life. Take responsibility for yourself, don't look to blame others.

  20. Meir:

    I do read an authoritarianism into religion. I do think many folks are made invisible because they don’t have the “right” hashgafah.

    That Aish uses cult –like tactics – I think it does. Cults get a bad rap though. No one forces anyone to be be a Hare Krishna or a Mormon (thought of as a cult by many.) No one forces anyone to be at Aish. But they employ similar tactics. (although Mormonism has grown from six in the early to mid 1800s to six million (in the US alone.) And I believe another five or six million worldwide! What kind of soup are they serving up? Kiruv could learn a thing or two from them!)

    I have family in the kiruv business. Believe me that we cannot discuss most of what I am saying here. They give the lectures. They set the ground rules. They are the “experts.” We are the “students.”

    That’s just the setup – be it in yeshiva, at Aish, in a frum community, anywhere Orthodox Jews discuss things with potential baal t’chuvahs. We are the vessels really. They do the pouring. The kiruv rabbi is comfortable giving a class, not sharing a podium with a Modern Biblical Crit professor, and letting the student decide.

    And if you are saying many university professors do the same thing – I agree. But we have a better handle on that going in – I disagree with your assessment of that. We can weigh it without repercussion. In Judaism, you are being asked to make a lot of changes to your life – in behavior and really in thinking.

    In university you can pay lip service to get an A, and as you get older you will see other valid points of view (I can tell you as someone who went to an ultra-liberal type of college: it can be silly what goes on, but there is very little in the way of “proofs” given us. I’m sensitive to this stuff, and in the university, it was so obvious we were being taught a liberal agenda. It didn’t bother me too much -- nor were the more conservative among us bothered too much.)

    Kol tuv,

  21. I think I understand what is really bothering you here, but for the sake of the blog I would ask that we email each other in private so that I can tell you what I really think is bothering you about Judaism. Please email me your email address at

  22. Hi R' Goldberg. One resource that might help you in your defense of Torah is R' Ahron Lopiansky shlit"a's shiurim on hashkafa found here They have been very inspiring to me. Remarkably nuanced & intellectually honest, they explore fundamental Torah issues clearly and would be useful for questioning frum people.
    Kol Tuv, Ariel Segal

  23. Yes, I have listened to them as well. They are amazing. Thanks for posting the link.

  24. Rabbi Goldberg you wrote: "Unfortunately, these sites have never responded to all of his attacks."

    Can you respond to the rest of them?

    1. I would love to, but unfortunately I only have time to write in the summer. Do you have specific things from daat emet that you can point me to about which I can write about this summer? Thanks

  25. Rabbi Goldberg.

    I'm a bit confused about the part of Zeligman article "did the sages have the authority to make rules"?

  26. Do you know what I'm referring to?

    he writes the following:

    "If there is a matter, the judgment of which is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between lawsuit and lawsuit, between affliction and affliction, being matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise, and ascend to the place which the Lord your G-d will choose. And you shall come to the priests the Levites, and to the judge that will be in those days, and inquire; and they will tell you the verdict of judgment. And you shall do according to the verdict which they will tell you at that place which the Lord will choose, and you shall be strict to do according to all that they teach you. According to the verdict of law which they teach you, and according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do: do not deviate from what they instruct you, neither to the right hand nor to the left."

    (Deuteronomy 17:8-11)

    (here begins Zeligmans observation:)

    Now, the simple reading of these verses yields something quite different from what Maimonides purports them to say. It speaks here of a person or a group of persons who do not know what the law is in a specific situation which has become matter of public dispute -- "being matters of controversy within your gates." Such persons are commanded to go to the Beit Din sitting "in the place which the Lord your G-d will choose." There they are taught the law, from which they have no right to deviate. Thus, the only authority the Torah explicitly gives the Supreme Beit Din here is that of an arbitrator solving legal issues which become matters of public dispute. Nothing is said of legislative activity such as introducing new laws, be it through exegesis of the Torah or as Rabbinic edicts or regulations.

    For example, according to Maimonides, the law that a woman may be betrothed with money is "the words of the Sages" (Laws of Interpersonal Relations 1:2), and in his responsa (paragraph 355) he explained that it is so because this law was not given to Moses at Sinai, but the Sages learned it later on their own through comparison of two Torah verses, as explained in the Talmud (Kiddushin 2a). At a certain point in time the Sages came and introduced a new law, unknown before - that a woman may be betrothed with money. This is a legislative action, and the verses of Deuteronomy 17 seem to give the Sages no authority for such activity.

    Moreover, Maimonides's exegesis of the verses of Deuteronomy 17 ("'According to the verdict of law which they teach you' -- these are the regulations and the edicts and the customs... 'And according to the judgment which they tell you' -- these are the matters they learn from the Law in one of the methods of the Torah's exegesis; 'From what they instruct you' -- this is the tradition they received one from another") seems to be his own interpretation, as it is not found in the Judaic sources preceding Maimonides's time.

    On the other hand, several Scriptural commentators tried to deduce the Sages' authority to issue Halachic verdicts, even if they contradict the plain meaning of the Torah and common sense, from the phrase "Do not deviate from what they instruct you, neither to the right hand nor to the left." This view is explained most fully in Nachmanides' commentary on Deuteronomy 17:11:


    do you understand his or mine point?