Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Exchange of Letters- Of struggles, Slippery Slopes and Heresy

Last week I received an email from the father of several students who I taught a number of years back. After giving it some thought, I decided to share the email and my response. The man's name and one detail has been changed in order to keep his identity private.

Dear Pesach,

I've considered you a friend for many years, and still do. You were the rebbie to [a number of my children], and for that I'm grateful.

I see that your thinking about Judaism is evolving, and wish you success with your struggle to redefine your Judaism. I also am requesting that your remove me from your blog list, since I don't share this struggle, and am quite happy with the view of Torah Judaism that I've been taught and with which my parents raised me. Your new thinking is, I believe, a slippery slope to apikorsus. I don't have the bandwidth to argue or try to convince you; I'm too busy trying to keep my own sedarim in Gemara, Halacha, etc. But I wish that Hashem grant you menuchas hanefesh and insight into His Torah. 

I look forward to seeing you next time you visit [ ]. 

Best wishes to you and your family,

Yaakov (Name changed)

Dear Mr. Kramer,

I received your email, and, as per your request, have removed you from my blog email list.

For the most part, I appreciate the tone of your email. I consider you a friend as well, and appreciate the relationship that I developed with you, your sons and your family. At the same time, I was somewhat saddened by some of what you wrote. I certainly understand and even respect your decision to not read about certain topics and areas of thought which make you uncomfortable. There is certainly justification within our tradition for not exploring certain topics of thought. I too have lines that I prefer not to pass. 

At the same time your willingness to suggest that my "new thinking" is on the "slippery slope to apikorsus", was unfair, particularly without a willingness to back it up in any way. I am quite uncomfortable with a willingness to throw around the term "apikorsus" in a somewhat cavalier and unsubstantiated manner. To do so is dangerous and I would urge you to be careful how you use it. I suspect that there are those who would be willing  term the Judaism that you've "been taught and which [your] parents raised [you] as being on the slippery slope to apikorsus. Particularly, as someone who works in informal education, in a manner that tries to make Judaism understandable to people who might not connect to more traditional methods of teaching, I would hope that you would recognize that our tradition offers a broad range of hashkafot, including ones that allow us to deal with the most challenging of issues and questions. In fact, from Rav Saadiah Gaon, to Rambam, to Rav Crescas, to Rebbe Yehuda Halevi, to Rav Kook and Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, some of our greatest teachers of Torah have kept Torah fresh and meaningful by engaging in the questions that plagued their generation. To be sure, I am nowhere near their level, but at the same time, I take tremendous comfort in knowing that what I write seems to help many more people than it threatens.

If I indeed lack Menuchas HaNefesh, I am grateful that it spurs me to move beyond simple and easy answers. Through my struggles I have indeed gained "insights into [God's] Torah" far beyond those I had gained before. I have discovered that, if anything, questioning, struggling and looking for meaningful answers has deepened my faith in God and connection to His Torah. 



1 comment:

  1. I always read your posts, but I'm rarely able to comment. I spent a few minutes thinking about this post. At first, I wondered if his request required such a lengthy response. He simply made a polite request to be removed from your blog notifications; he didn't actually call you an apikores; and he even welcomed the prospect of seeing you again, so it doesn't sound like he's rejecting you either personally or religiously. My initial thought was that sending him the long response was a sign of insecurity about where you're currently holding. But when I thought more about it, I wonder what prompted his request in the first place. The first rule of blogging and email is that there's no requirement to click on any link or to read anything that you don't want to. He could have easily ignored your links, but he chose to write a pointed letter. Now I'm wondering what motivated him.