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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Rabbi Zev Farber responds to Yated

The Yated newspaper criticized Rabbi Zev Farber's dvar Torah, Choosing a Wife - Did Yaakov Get It Right?. I would not be suprised if the Yated became aware of Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah from my post, Yaacov led astray by his infatuation with Rochel.

Here is Rabbi Farber's lengthy response: A Letter from R. Zev Farber: Maligning a Rabbi – Did Yated Ne’eman Get it Right?

Rabbi Farber introduces the core of his rebuttal by hesitantly conceding "...I admit that a few statements could have been phrased less provocatively. The title was chosen specifically to catch the eye. In retrospect, I probably should have been less flashy in my presentation." This acknowledgement almost seems like teeth-pulling, and is quite ambiguous.

Rabbi Farber states that his rebuttal is focused on "an approach found in classical meforshim". Rabbi Farber's non-specific concession statements, plus the sources in meforshim (even the "extreme interpretation" of the Zohar) do not negate or account for the problematic idea that Yaacov was "led astray" by his "infatuation" with Rochel. If Rabbi Farber would have been specific as to what he would have changed in retrospect that may have provided some real clarity.

In my opinion, while Rabbi Farber's dvar Torah was inapproriate and his rebuttal does not sufficiently alleviate that assessment, I concede that there appears to be merit in his statement,
...if I had had no basis in Chazal, it would still not have been a heresy. The question of whether one is bound to interpret a story in the Torah – as opposed to a mitzvah or halakha - the way Chazal do, is an old question. The consensus amongst the Geonim, backed up by many Rishonim and Aharonim, is to unequivocally permit it.
I am not sure whether the Yated was referring to the halachic concept of kefirus, or a definition of heresy that is more contemporary. (e.g. heresy - "any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.")

Here are selected responses to Rabbi Farber's letter (they are from the Hirhurim comments section of In Defense of YCT II):

from Ojoe:
The issue is not whether Chazal and the Rishonim spoke about the mistakes of the Avos. Of course they did! The issue is that a young fellow like Farber has come up with a new fault, unmentioned before.
Comments such as "If Yaakov had followed the example of Avraham’s servant, and chosen personality criteria as opposed to physical ones, perhaps the story of Bereishit would have gone differently...If one of our forefathers could be led astray by external criteria..." are not defended simply by saying that Chazal also criticized the Avos.

I am disappointed in this 'defense' and think it hurts his case more than helps.

from C.T Hirsch:
The problem is that one needs a tradition or a mesorah in order to understand how statements by chazal which are negative of the avos and other spiritual giants in tanach are supposed to be understood.
At any rate, one needs a mesorah in order to understand the seemingly harsh statements of chazal, and we certainly ought to be very cautious before we invent our own.

from Gil Student:
I just read R. Farber's devar Torah, finally, and I have to say that I find it in very poor taste. Not deserving of the hysterical reaction in Yated, but not something I'd allow on my blog or, when I was editing Mesukim Mi-Devash, in my parashah sheet.

Related Links:
- Musings on the Proper Way to Learn Chumash