Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History by Marc B. Shapiro II

I love this new book. Here are the spicy bits:

* Aaron Wertheimer censored a passage in midrash “that discussed the sexual activity of the righteous in the world to come.” (Changing the Immutable, pg. 80)

* The Conservative prayer book calls God “Master of Life and Death” instead of the literal “Resurrector of the dead.” Instead of calling Israel “the first flowering of redemption”, Siddur Sim Shalom ‘translates’ this line as “its promise of redemption.” (Shapiro, 80)

* Satan tells God in a midrash: “For You created heaven, I created earth.” (Heterodoxy and Censorship, Sawyer, 121)

* Bar Kappara expounded: What short text is there upon which all the essential principles of the Torah depend? ‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths.’ [Prov. 3:6] Rava remarked: Even for a matter of transgression. (Berakhot 63a)

* “R. Hayim of Volozhin records that the Vilna Gaon told him that in matters of halakhah one should not give up one’s independent judgment, even if that means opposing a ruling of the Shulhan Aruch.” (89)

* “All those who deviate from the community by casting off the yoke of precepts, severing their bonds with the people of Israel as regards the observance of the Divine Commands, and are in a class by themselves; also apostates, informers, and heretics — for all these the rules of an onen and of mourners should not be observed. Their brothers and other next of kin should dress in white, eat, drink, and rejoice that the enemies of the Almighty have perished.” (Kitsur Shulchan Aruch)

* According to R. Mordechai Leiner of Izhbitz, the sins of the righteous are predetermined. (90)

* “R. Yair Hayim Bachrach (1639-1702) assumes that a pious person will not drink wine seen by a non-Jew, just as he would not drink wine seen by a menstruant, since both individuals can contaminate through their gaze.” (97)

* One must accept martyrdom rather than drink non-Jewish wine. (R. Leib Pisk) (98)

* Ramban: if a menstruant woman at the beginning of her issue were to concentrate her gaze for some time upon a polished iron mirror, there would appear in the mirror red spots resembling drops of blood, for the bad part therein [i.e., in the issue] that is by its nature harmful, causes a certain odium, and the unhealthy condition of the air attaches to the mirror, just as a viper kills with its gaze. (98)

* “Israeli haredim have a difficult time bringing awareness of breast cancer to their communities, because the word ‘breast’ will never appear in their publications.” (184)

* R. Yisrael Ya’akov Fischer (1928-2003) stated that a poor man is permitted to make believe that he is blind or crippled if this will help him collect more money. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach asserted that some great rabbis, whom he did not name, permitted lying to donors about how many students attend a yeshiva in order to receive larger donations. (273)

* Tosafot: “When the oppressors cause the Jews living in their territories to swear that they will not go to a different city, they can swear that they will not go but have in mind ‘today’. Even if they state that they will not leave all their lifetime, they can add some qualifying factor in their mind, and if they void the oath silently with their lips it certainly is a valid nullification.” (BT BK 113a, s.v. noderin)

* The Rogochover permitted his son-in-law R. Israel Citron to swear falsely to the British authorities in Palestine that he was born in the land of Israel in order to speed up receipt of a passport. (279)

* R. Joseph Hayim permitted the forging of a false will to prevent a woman going to a secular court. (280)

* “Witnesses may be intimidated into reporting…” (Rosh Hashanah 20a) (280)

* “While in the popular mind hilul hashem is usually understood to mean that non-Jews see Jews behaving improperly and get a false impression about Judaism, here R. Joseph Hayim understands hilul hashem as meaning that the non-Jews will get a true impression, and this will bring Judaism into disrepute in their eyes.” (280)

* “In a secular court… there are those who say that it is even permitted to lie if it is impossible [to get a Torah-mandated result] without doing so. This is only when there is no chance that they will catch you (hillul hashem).” (R. Yitshak Eizik Silver) (281)

Marc Shapiro: “The implications of this viewpoint are enormous, as anyone who accepts it can no longer be regarded as a trustworthy witness in a secular court. See also Resnicoff, ‘Ends and Means’, 165: ‘A number of authorities also explicitly allow false testimony when a Jewish plaintiff wrongfully sues a Jewish defendant in secular court.’ Resnicoff supports this statement by citing examples where halakhic authorities from earlier centuries permit lying in court in order to achieve a Jewishly just result. For a contemporary halakhist who permits lying in court, see R. Eliezer Melamed, Revivim: kovets ma’amarim, 198 ff., who states that those arrested during protests against Israel’s expulsion of settlers are permitted to falsely deny accusations made against them in order to avoid punishment.”

* “R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was asked it if is permitted to tell a story that never happened if it offers the best opportunity to focus on a halakhic matter that is important for the listeners to be aware of. He answers that one can indeed do so.” (281)

* “All lies are bad, but lies about Torah are good.” (Jerusalem Talmud, JT Ber. 9:5)

* R. Elyakim Schlesinger reports that a group of Torah scholars actually admitted to him that they invented stories about the Hazon Ish, since they thought the stories would be inspiring. (283)

* Nietzsche: “Neither Manu nor Plato nor Confucius nor the Jewish and Christian teachers have ever doubted their right to lie.”

* That which leads to the right result is truth. (Rav Dessler) (284)

Luke: My summary of this book: The rabbis have created an alternate morality for themselves (i.e., they can tell any lie to advance the cause).

I’m not sure why a Gentile society that puts a high value on truth would want to allow Jews in their midst.

I’m not sure why anyone would give rabbis (and by extension the religious Jews who follow them) much credibility after reading this book.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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