Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Slifkin in Toronto: an update

I'm in Toronto this week and am interested to see that the Slifkin controversy is still playing out here. As you will recall, it started a couple of weeks ago when R. Slifkin came to speak in the city and R. Shlomo Miller, the local Rosh Kollel, circulated a letter which was displayed as a poster and also copied and circulated throughout the city, banning the books and saying they had 'the odor of heresy' (rough translation), comparing him to the wicked son of the haggadah and, having discredited science, giving a series of strange scientific explanations about how the Torah accounts of instant creation could be explained by modern theories of advanced physics.
This was followed by a lengthy news report in the Canadian Jewish Tribune about the whole affair, which essentially kicked off the public debate beyond R. Miller's natural circle. A week later it was followed by a strange letter in the same paper (a spoof?) which again was widely discussed.
In the past week, a group of rabbis got together and published a poster protesting the 'pgiah bekavod haTorah' (insult to the honor of the Torah) that a Jewish newspaper could publish this article and letter. Not to be outdone, some more centrist orthodox rabbis (apparently) published an even stronger letter, naming the Jewish Tribune, and also protesting against the assault on the kvod haTorah. Now, last but not least, the Canadian Jewish News has published an opinion piece (entitled, The Slifkin Affair: A Lament for Orthodoxy) protesting the way R. Slifkin has been treated by the rabbis and the way the rabbis have tried to stifle debate.
The reason this is interesting is because this all makes Toronto one of the few cities in which the Slifkin affair has been debated or even covered at any length in the Jewish press. It is also one of the few cities in which widespread opposition by the educated Jewish public to the banners has been expressed -- again in the press -- most remarkably, in an unprecedented attack on the person regarded as Toronto's leading halachic authority. In effect, Rabbi Miller's ban (which, to give it its local context, is widely understood here to be part of a concerted effort to stifle the left-wing-ish orthodox Torah in Motion program run by Rabbi Jay Kelman, who brought Slifkin in to lecture) sparked off the kind of debate and publicity for R. Slifkin that has rarely been seen beyond the blogosphere. It will be interesting to see -- a. where this all ends locally, and b. how this will affect the behaviour of the haredi rabbis in cities which R. Slifkin visits in the future.

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