The Slifkin Affair
What is the Slifkin Affair? Rav Aharon Feldman shlita described it as follows: “probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory is what is known as the Slifkin affair”. A public letter banning some of Rabbi Slifkin’s books was issued by leading Torah authorities including the preeminent posek Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita.
The books were banned because they were deemed to contain ideas antithetical to Torah, and therefore forbidden to read because of the Torah commandment, לא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם (“You shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes”) which forbids tempting oneself with matters which might turn one away from the Torah.letter, by Rav Aharon Feldman is Rosh HaYeshiva at Ner Yisroel. (see footnote 1)
As Rav Feldman reports, the ban was met with resistance by Rabbi Slifkin who vigorously defended himself on his internet site. His campaign was eminently successful. In a short time, most people were convinced that the ban had no basis or reason, and that Rabbi Slifkin had been unwarrantedly victimized. Blogspots and internet sites (mostly anonymous) became filled with tasteless, derogatory attacks on these authorities, at times to the accompaniment of vulgar caricatures. However, despite portrayals to the contrary, the ban appears to have achieved its intended purpose.
The ban, however, limits Slifkin’s access to ultra-Orthodox communities. “It is upsetting. I know there are people in those communities who benefited a lot from what I wrote, so it’s a shame I’m not going to be able to get to those people now” he told The Jewish Press. (See footnote 2)
Thus the ban alerted readers to Rabbi Slifkin’s attempts to “re-educate or reformulate the thinking of the chareidi community” on core issues (letter, Rabbi A.C. Carmell).
Rabbi Slifkin’s most recent book is Challenge of Creation (2006) which is a revised and expanded version of Science of Torah (2001). There is much of value in his books, but some of the concerns are:
- Rabbi Slifkin substitutes Darwinian origin myths for the meta-natural account of creation solely by Divine decree in the first chapter of the Torah (a chapter that Rabbi Slifkin claims is allegory). For Rabbi Slifkin, man is a type of “modified monkey” that evolved via chance and naturalistic processes, and the verses referring to the creation of the first man and woman (Adam and Chava) are not a historical account of the ancestors of all mankind.
- A review of the sources quoted by Rabbi Slifkin (such as Rambam, Rav Dessler and Rav Hirsch zt”l) in no way supports the central thrust of his books – which is the attempted reconciliation of Torah to Darwin.
- Not only is there no support for Rabbi Slifkin’s approach in these and the other classical sources (Chazal and Rishonim), but his approach actually compromises core Torah beliefs.
Rabbi Slifkin's approach misses a vital well-attested point in the classical sources - the laws of nature that prevail today after creation are not the same as the conditions that brought the mature universe itself into being during the six days of creation (Moreh Nevuchim I:67, II:30). This is why natural or quasi-natural accounts of the development of the cosmos and life in it (such as Big Bang Cosmology or Darwinian evolution) are metaphysical falsehoods (as well as being speculative and scientifically suspect; see "Origin Sciences"). The laws of nature that prevail today were themselves in the process of formation during the six days creation week. Hence we are unable to use the currently observed laws to extrapolate back into the creation period (Moreh Nevuchim II:17). It is the naturalistic content of Darwinian style origin theories that is fundamentally at odds with the Torah (more than the actual length of the time-period). Rabbi Slifkin's approach thus undermines the mitzvah of Shabbos (Moreh Nevuchim II:31 with Abarbanel). To put it as succintly as possible, we do not make kiddush on Shabbos to commemorate the creation of modified monkeys via billions of years of the action of random natural forces.
These concerns are not a criticism of Rabbi Slifkin’s person as he is undoubtedly well-intentioned. However, he has offered his views to the public as an authentic Jewish response on fundamental issues. It is those views that are questioned by some of the leading Torah authorities.
2. E. Resnick, “Slifkin Launches Book, Discusses Ban”, Jewish Press, July 26, 2006.