Monday, March 12, 2007
Natan Slifkin loses an admirer
Submitted by reader Zezmir:
Hirshel: Let me begin by saying that I like Rabbi Slifkin. I have a few of his books and I think he's a well meaning fellow; I am especially drawn to defend him and his right to be a thinking man.
That said, I listened to his interview with Dennis Prager in August of '06 and was pretty disappointed . He was asked among other things by the interviewer - DP - a believer, if he believed in creation the way it's presented in the Bible, if he believed in the Exodus, and if he believed in Evolution. I cringed at his floundering under question by Christian fundamentalists and others – he seemed completely out of his depth, and in fact I got the impression that Dennis Prager himself might be more competent in this area than Rabbi Slifkin. It also reinforced something that I began to see in his last two books: he is increasingly intellectually dishonest (albeit perhaps well-meant) and takes his opponents criticisms (perhaps somewhat understandably) too personally. His oversimplifications, and his propensity for only telling one side of the story (his view) is, simply put, poor scholarship. And that's the point – he's not a scholar.
It seems to me that Rabbi Slifkin is another layman that – like many more modern thinkers – feels the need to deal with their conflicts, and find a way to navigate the terrain of Torah & Chazal vs. Science & secular thinking while splitting the difference. That's fine, and I have no problem with it on personal level. Every individual is entitled to find themselves and think things out; it's a noble and important process that is essential to the human spirit. But when someone writes a book or goes on a lecture tour, etc – i.e. he goes out in public to represent Yiddishkeit – that's where things change. It is irresponsible for someone to make statements that aren't carefully worked out and remain quite ambiguous; moreover, it is irresponsible to express an opinion as a fact. A scholar cannot put words in the mouths of others, even if he infers that his understanding is what that other was alluding to. All of this is especially problematic when a rabbi gives credence to questions and then comes back with answers are weak and incomplete, leaving the reader/listener in the unenviable position of problems that are stronger than the answers (and answers that address one problem while creating another).
I wish him well, but, as much as I wanted to be a member of the Slifkin support club, I just don't think I can do so anymore. We hardly knew ya, Natan.