Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Slifkin Book Launch

Yes, yes, I was there too... (Ha, Hyrax-man - didn't expect that, did you?!) (Okay, maybe you did.)

After a quick dinner at Dougie's with a number of other former and current Lander students*, we drove over to the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills for the book launch.

I'd estimate that there were about 150 people there, most of them not bloggers, if you can believe it. There were a few in attendance however: Obviously, R' Gil Student, part of Yashar Press who published the book, of Hirhurim; Steven I. Weiss of Canonist; Nachum Lamm of Lammpost; Mark Frankel of BeyondBT; David Kelsey of Jewschool; and BrooklynWolf of WolfishMusings. Also there was Steve Brizel, and David Linn says he cut out early.

Some of the others have already posted, and I'll be borrowing from each to reconstruct what I remember:
Hirhurim: Most Important Event in Jewish Publishing since the Invention of the Printing Press
Canonist: Live-Blogging from the Slifkin Book Launch
JewSchool: Modern Orthodoxy Holds its Evolutionary Ground
Wolfish Musings: Challenge of Creation Book Launch
LammPost: The Challenge of Creation
The speeches started 8:00 NYJewish Time, which means about 8:25. R' Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb of the OU spoke first, and discussed the need for such a book. He began by discussing shalom (peace) and emes (truth), noting that peace can outweigh truth. This is not a time for polemics - those who disagree with the book can disagree and are entitled to disagree and debate these issues, but there should always remain kavod habrios (honoring of creations, i.e. honoring one another). He then switched to discussion about emes, and how all our ancestors - from the avos to Moshe to rishonim did not shy away from asking questions and discussing issues, and that this denigration of questions has caused damage to three groups. He noted the three groups who need this book the most:
  • 1) Ba'alei Tshuva
  • 2) Youths
  • 3) Laymen who have an understanding of science
As he spoke, it got better; I particularly liked his points about Jewish education when discussing youths - he noted that when students are told one thing when they are young, then grow up and find out that it was all untrue, they will simply say "forget it" and walk away completely.

Next up was R' Gil Student, who essentially gave more of a halachic discussion than a speech, but it was quite good. His prepared notes will be posted lateron Hirhurim. He went through three reasons why he felt the book could and should be published despite the 'banning' by some rabbonim, notably R' Elyashiv.

His first reason took a while, but ended up coming to the conclusion that while they were within their rights to ban it based on the opinion who does hold that "what one Rabbi said was allowed, another cannot say is not allowed" or by claiming that R' Elyashiv et al are much older and more knowledgeable, neverthless we generally hold that what others already said was muttar (permitted) cannot be made assur (restricted) by another rav. As there were a number of rabbonim who wrote (very nice) haskamos (attributions) originally, one can rely on those rabbonim.

His second reason spoke of the distinct subsections within the Orthodox community, and how one is permitted to follow the rav of his own community. He compared it to a Satmer Chassid asking a shailah (halachic question) about Satmer from a Rabbi who is from the more Yeshiva crowd - he wouldn't; or a Religious Zionist hesder student asking a question about the army (I think he used the example of pulling someone out of their home during disengagement) from R' Elyashiv - he wouldn't, either. Each would seek out the leaders of their communities (Satmer Rav, R' Lichtenstein/R' Aviner). Personally, I thought that this pointed to a larger issue: Instead of people respecting this idea, the idea of a ban by one segment was meant to apply to all the others. This, IMHO, is overstepping the bounds - it should have been presented as a ban for certain communities that are completely under the guidance of those rabbonim, and not meant towards everybody.

His third reason discussed the idea of asking one's local rav, and that while these lines have blurred in today's day and age, local rabbonim should be determining what is right for their communities when it comes to matters such as this, and not rabbonim from other areas. He used R' Chaim Ozer's response to a section of Frankfurt in the early 20th century as a prime example of this.

The last speaker was the man of the evening, R' Natan (Nosson) Slifkin. He discussed the... cover of the book, and how the book is not for everyone. The cover signifies this, and a serious point that those who don't like the book fail to address: How do they explain things such as the fossil record, dinosaurs, and the like? He took out as an example a dinosaur tooth (which led to one of the better lines of the night: "I can't pass this around, because another time someone broke it and I had to glue it back together. Imagine that: It survives 100 million years, and someone managed to drop it and break it.").

Afterwards, I didn't have much of a chance to shmooze, talking with Gil for but a moment (he was a bit busy, understandably), and just introducing myself to R' Slifkin and his wife, giving them some regards. I was surprised that he immediately knew who I was ["Oh, of SerandEz, right?"]. I did get a chance to finally meet and talk with Mark Frankel, which was nice, and introduced myself to Steven I. Weiss of Canonist on the way out. He either is or looks a bit younger than I'd imagined. He was having an interesting discussion about Jewish journalism with someone, and I'm interested in reading an article he said would appear in (I believe) The Jewish Press this week.

All in all, a very nice event, and what seems like it should be a fascinating book. Thank you R' Gil and R' Slifkin.

* They wanted to be mentioned, by strange names, so... shout-out to StrongBad, StrongBurg, Shorely, and PsychoBeard (Hey, they're all from Mevaseret, what do you expect?). We also saw at the launch the Blocks (Avi created MinyanMaps), Avi Grossman, and Roni Gaffni.

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