Friday, July 13, 2007

No shittos vs metzius allowed at Cross Currents?

Evidently I hit some kind of a nerve at Cross Currents, because I wasn't allowed to respond to a comment directed at me on this post. Although Cross Currents moderates posts, they're somewhat open to critical and opposing comments (at least of a moderate sort; pun intended). So it surprised me that my benign comment should not be allowed through. I posted it days ago. Nothing. So a couple of days ago I posted another comment asking why they couldn't put mine through and allow me to respond. Since that was already two or three days ago, I'll post it here. See, the thing is, Cross Currents can choose not to post comments, but anyone can then post it anyway and talk about how they won't allow it through. Oh well.

So here goes. The background: in that post R. Yitzchok Adlerstein yearns for normalcy with frumkeit:

A frum psychologist once drew the line for me between Leningrad and the present. (Don’t even try to guess. No, it is not Dr Twerski; besides, he’s a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.) He was dismayed by what he saw as a trend in certain parts of the community – belief in what should not be believed by rational people. He was disappointed that so many could accept notions like facilitated communication (reports that autistic children when given keyboards would break their silence to write long documents in Yinglish exhorting people to repent) and over-reliance on alternative medicine to the exclusion of conventional medical intervention. He argued that too many people were pressured into a life style that really was not meant for everyone, and which suppressed ordinary and basic human needs that HKBH programmed into us, like self-reliance, and providing for one’s family. Sensing that their lives were not in synch with what much of humanity (and, on some level, they themselves) regard as “normal,” they had to turn their backs on the value of the normal and embrace the paranormal.

I’ve mentioned Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l’s frequent byword before in these pages: Man darf zein normal – a person ought to be normal. [...]

So I commented, and they posted it:

Unfortunately you can’t simultaneously immerse children into an environment in which they will be told rebbeshe mayselach (or Aggadah) and allow them to believe it to be true and historical and then expect fully rational people to emerge. Furthermore, you can’t simultaneously expect people to dismiss science and yet consume it and then distinguish it from pseudo-science.

If we’re looking for normal, we’d need to be normal.

Later R. Adlerstein responded to me:

The Rambam (Hakdamah to Mishnah) disagrees with you. Champion of an allegorical approach to Chazal though he was, he nonetheless asks the question of why the Rabbis didn’t just come out and say what they meant, rather than speak in code. One of his answers is that they employed the best approach for children. I believe that what he means is that it is quite healthy for children to grow up with a simple understanding of some of the more dramatic stories in Chazal. They can change over to the more “sophisticated” adult understanding later in life. Failure to convey the power of the message of Chazal (in the final analysis, the core message is a true one, whether understood simply or allegorically) to children would be a mistake. Depending on the needs of the individual, transitioning to “normal” adulthood would only require exposing him/her to the possibility of an allegorical intent later in life.

My response, which never got posted was something like this:

It's an issue of metzius (reality) and not shittos (views; esp. when opined by what may be considered canonical Sages).

My meaning was that it's all well and good that Rambam's view (according to R. Adlerstein) is that it is appropriate to teach the literal meaning of aggadah to children (note: my main point concerned "rebbeshe mayselach"). However, that doesn't then mean that what I wrote--"Unfortunately you can’t simultaneously immerse children into an environment in which they will be told rebbeshe mayselach (or Aggadah) and allow them to believe it to be true and historical and then expect fully rational people to emerge. Furthermore, you can’t simultaneously expect people to dismiss science and yet consume it and then distinguish it from pseudo-science."--isn't true! We see it. I see it. You see it.

Another example of this phenomenon (choosing shittos over metzius) pertains to historical matters. A favorite example of mine is the matter of the origin or evolution of language. People may say that "the original language of man" was Hebrew, despite all evidence to the contrary, putting aside the question if there even was "an original language." Yes, citing shittos and studying them is talmud Torah. But it isn't metzius if it isn't also how it happened.

Getting back to my contention that the Rambam's view of how to present Aggadah to children doesn't change my point--sure, it's my opinion and I didn't make any formal surveys, so I suppose you can challenge me that it's metzius. So challenge me.

In theory one can agree with me and also the Rambam, namely that today such teaching leads to arationality in our time that spills over into acceptance of bogus fads, but in the Rambam's time it needn't. After all, the Rambam's time was quite foggy by contemporary standards in terms of actual knowledge of many things about the world that we've at least come to clarify. A favored example of mine is Prester John. For centuries it was widely believed that there was a Christian king known as Prester John who headed a mighty empire in either Ethiopea or Arabia. It perplexes the modern mind how people could believe that this king--who, by the way, no one had ever met or truly corresponded with--existed. Century after century. Apparently it didn't occur to people that if it is now 1400 and I think this guy exists, why did people in 1200 also think he exists? Makes no sense, right?

But that was the pre-modern world.

And, by the way, there *were* copies of correspondence with Prester John, that great Christian hero, the emperor who lived in the heartland of the Infidel (i.e. the Muslims). Of course, the correspondence was all fake but it was copied and circulate and believed for centuries. (Jews knew of it and believed it as well; having our own legends, our own travelers with fake stories. Our own chronicles and historiography ALSO incorporated legend with fact.)

That being so, clearly the idea that eschewing miracle stories and fantastic legend was really an option then is untenable.

In any case, here is my comment, which now is a lengthy post instead of two lines which no one would have noticed anyway.

Edit: in the comments David suggested that my term "shittos" might have been inadvertently blocked by Cross Currents because of its unfortunate first four letters and that my comment (two comments) may not have been submitted innocently, since the moderators may never have seen them in the first place!

So I emailed Reb Yaakov Menken of Cross Currents to see if that indeed happened. He replied that it shouldn't have filtered out a word like "shittos," but nevertheless for some reason only the second comment appeared in moderation, and since it was inexplicible, having not seen the first one, it wasn't posted.

Therefore, in light of this knowledge I must retract my charge (reasonable, I think) that C-C refused to post my comment. Nevertheless, this is a post so I'll leave the substance, my opinion, as it stands. But let me stress that I no longer believe that my comment was not allowed to be posted.

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