Remembering Aish HaTorah’s Founder Noah Weinberg

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

To the great sadness of Jews around the world, R. Noah Weinberg passed away last week (link). There are many moving tributes on Aish.com.* One thing about R. Weinberg was that he was passionate. You couldn’t speak to him for more than 5 seconds without seeing his devotion to God and to the Jewish people. I didn’t agree with everything he said or did, but I agreed with most of it and I certainly recognize that he has done more for the Jewish people and sacrificed personally more for it than I can ever hope to do.

Now that he has gone and cannot suffer any political fallout, I think I can share my discussion with him about the ban on R. Natan Slifkin’s book. I approached him at a wedding on February 6th, 2005. About an hour later (I only came for the chuppah), I sent out an e-mail to some friends with notes on this conversation, although I omitted what was probably his strongest and harshest statement (see below).

Click here to read moreI introduced myself to R. Weinberg as the new distributor of the banned books and started asking him about the subject. He was clearly upset about the whole issue. His words, repeated a number of times throughout the conversation: "What the hell kefirah is there in that?" He also pointed out, without my prompting, that the banners were labeling as heretical the teachings of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav Dessler.

He strongly disagreed with the ban and urged me to remain an independent thinker, not bending to every public pronouncement by famous rabbis (he gave examples of rabbis to whom I should not listen but I will not list them right now). But later he quoted the famous Chinukh (nos. 495, 496) about the prohibition of "lo sasur" (link) and said that it applies to the Gedolim. Even though they are wrong, we should still follow them and R. Slifkin should revise his books. I told him I’d pass along the message.

CHARLES POSTS:

The reason why it may have been wrong for R’ Gil to put up this post is actually for the same reason as why it may have been wrong to post the rebbe video.

Both posts contained words, namely the "S word" and the "h word" that many people from A WIDE RANGE of orthodox communities find offensive in CERTAIN CONTEXTS.

The same nut-jobs that go around lying to rabbis and devoting their lives to destroying certain Jewish singers will probably find these word offensive in ANY context. Contra to that there’s one self-described "modern orthodox" family that I know of that uses these words (and far more nefarious ones) at their Shabbos table irrespective of who is sitting there.

Between those two extremes within (and without) the Orthodox community there are individuals that are genuinely refined to such a degree that if their pulpit rabbi used the phrase "what the hell" in any context they would lose respect for them while if a family member said it in a completely secular context they would not be the least bit bothered.

To the point: There are people who come to this blog who do not care about the mission statement but, rather, know of it to be a place filled with Torah- related topics and generally things of a positive, upbeat nature. The underlying reason why you decided that it was worth including R’ Weinberg’s quote is BECAUSE of the sensationalism inherent in hearing a Rabbi use that phrase despite how mild some may look at it. That’s part of what makes it a "good story." Not every good story must be told. For example, I could say that in Brooklyn I saw a car drive by a large puddle and splash a GODOL walking on the sidewalk and overheard the rabbi say to himself "damnit!." I could also say that in Brooklyn I saw a car drive by a large puddle and splash a GODOL walking on the sidewalk and overheard the rabbi EXPRESS FRUSTRATION WITH HIS BECOMING WET. Same point except that the only difference is that when that rabbi dies Hirhurim will memorialize him as someone who was human enough that he got frustrated and that in his frustration he was known to have said "damnit" while some other blog will mention the frustration but leave out his exact choice of words.

When someone says "what the hell" in a context such as the one you described it is probably the result of some sort of frustration stemming from the topic being discussed. From a purely dramatic point of view R’ Weinberg’s frustration was an apt characterization of the many of us CORRECTLY felt concerning the treatment of traditional sources by those who thought they knew better.

HOWEVER, when conducting a pure cost/benefit analysis of posting this item it is imperative to weigh the COST of posting something forever that may have been the product of frustration as opposed to a thought out critique of the Anti Slifkinites. This same cost/ benefit analysis should have been used when posting a video that though funny and rightfully critical of rabbi-worship used a word offensive to many normal people (that would describe themsleves as being "to the left" of R’ Gil).

I do not believe in hagiography OR white washing any real mis-deeds or quasi-misdeeds of the rabbis (and G-d forbid would I call this quote an example of any sort of misdeed), however, ALMOST NOTHING is gained by using the exact wording of something spoken as the result of frustration when simply describing the emotions of the speaker would have sufficed. In fact, the aforementioned people who may find the word "hell" unrefined when spoken by a Rabbi may also look down on R’ Weinberg as a result of his use of this word.

Just to split hairs once more in an attempt at clarification: If R’ Weinberg would have paused for 5 seconds and then after thinking of a eloquent response would have described certain rabbis in extremely negative terms I do not think that would be problematic simply because after contemplation that analysis was obviously deemed most appropriate.

TALMID WRITES: If gedolim tell you that right is really left you follow them, because you assume that they are indeed correct – – who are you to know better.
But if you truly know them to be wrong, as a talmid rau’y le-hora’ah is, IT IS FORBIDDEN TO FOLLOW THE WRONG PSAK.
As Justice Jackson would have put it, the sanhedrin was not final because it was infallible.
Everyone with half a brain knows that the gedolim were wrong on age of the universe and evolution. if their views are incompatible with rational scientific thought, they are incorrect, and fortunately there are other gedolim, rav dessler and rav hirsch and others, who were correct and whom we can follow on this issue. You don’t follow a hora’ah be-ta’us. That’s just stupid and against the sifrei explicitly.

LI READER WRITES: A couple of years ago aish.com suddenly purged several articles from their site.

I don’t remember if any of those articles were by Rabbi Slifkin himself, but what they all had in common was that they were all consistent with his approach.

Could the people who maintain aish.com have decided to follow a different shittah than their rebbe’s?

MJ WRITES: I have very serious problems with what Aish has done and would welcome a critical reassessment of the goals, methods, and larger influence of the right wing Anglo BT industry on the norms and politics of the Orthodox world. The process of mimesis that the BT industry encourages has constructed a new otherness within the community that undermines some forms of traditional authority while reifying others.

In sum, it is probably the most destabilizing influence on the larger Orthodox community in the last 30 years and yet it has been heralded as an unquestioned success.

DANIEL WRITES: It is important to understand why Rav Noach Weinberg was so frustrated over the ban of Rabbi Slifkin’s books: the ban had the potential of causing countless Neshamos to be lost to assimilation.

You may ask, how so? Very simple. Rav Noach was able to bring all types of people closer to Torah, including those who were highly intelligent. Some of these people, no doubt, would ask about some of the scientific pronouncements of the Sages that have been proven incorrect. This issue could be a serious distraction in getting someone to even consider the truth and beauty of the Torah. Fortunately, Rav Weinberg was able to turn this into a non-issue, by stating that the Sages were simply following the accepted scientific viewpoints of their era. End of discussion. The notion that it was forbidden to hold such a view was a threat to the entire Kiruv movement.

It is true that Rav Eliashiv has ruled that Rabbi Slifkin’s approach is acceptable for those involved in Kiruv Rechokim (I would add, Kiruv Kerovim as well). But Rav Weinberg’s Derech was to be Mekareiv by teaching the truth, not with apologetics or sugar coating. He did not want it to be thought that this Derech was incorrect, but could, nevertheless, be used for Kiruv purposes. What would happen, after all, if a person becomes Frum, and then finds out that this Derech is considered "heresy" by some?

JER POSTS: In the last few years I’ve listened to many refined people tell me in very refined ways that banning legitimate and helpful books is not that big a deal, that there aren’t entire segments of the community living on other people’s money, or there are but it’s OK, or it’s not OK but I shouldn’t talk about it (it’s not a refined discussion), that there aren’t any child molestors, well maybe one or two, fine, several, but it’s not that big a deal, they need help, they need parnossa, there’s no big cover-up, well there is, but it’s none of our business.

So you’ll pardon me if after all of this refinement that I have no problem with someone in a leadership position speaking from the heart and shouting what we all should be shouting: WHAT THE HELL.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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