His books banned by haredim, ‘zoo rabbi’ to speak locally

His books banned by haredim, ‘zoo rabbi’ to speak locally

Rabbi Natan Slifkin has hiked in Israel, gone on safari in Kenya, whale-watched in the Pacific, scuba-dived in Eilat, and wrestled alligators in California.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin communes with a friend.

Asked what else has he done that might be called "exciting," he replied, in an e-mail interview with The Jewish Standard: "What, that’s not enough?! How about defending myself against attacks by scores of distinguished rabbis? That was even scarier than wrestling alligators!"

Three years ago, three of Rabbi’s Slikfin’s books — "The Science of Torah," "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax," and "Mysterious Creatures: Intriguing Torah Enigmas of Natural and Unnatural History" — were banned by several rabbis in the United States and Israel on the grounds of heresy.

"The Science of Torah" — which has been expanded, retitled "The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology and Evolution," and reissued last year — deals with the age of the universe and evolution; "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax" with the signs of kosher animals; and "Mysterious Creatures" with the conflicts between the Talmud and zoology.

Slifkin will discuss "Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash," the new title of the expanded "Mysterious Creatures," at Cong. Beth Aaron of Teaneck on Sunday, Aug. ‘6, at 8:30 p.m.

The three books had been out for several years, but a telephone conversation on the morning of Sept. ‘1, ‘004, shook him and exposed huge philosophical differences in the Orthodox world regarding science.

According to Slifkin, the caller, a Rabbi Michoel Lyons in Bnei Brak, said he would be faxing him letters from four rabbis — Elya Weintraub, Michel Lefkowitz, Yitzchak Shiner, and Elya Ber Wachtfogel — demanding that he withdraw the books from circulation by the end of the day and publicly apologize for their content.

If he refused, Lyons said, Slifkin would face "public scandal and humiliation".

The four letters "spoke sweepingly of the books being full of utter heresy," writes Slifkin on his Website, www.zootorah.com.

In the e-mail interview, Slifkin, 3′, said that he felt "surprise and shock" about the ban. "My books had been out for years without anyone raising an eyebrow," he added.

The day of the telephone call, Slifkin said, he tried to meet with the rabbis, but they all refused. He also refused to recant.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, a few days later, posters with the letters by Weintraub, Lefkowitz, and Shiner appeared in several synagogues in Ramat Bet Shemesh, where Slifkin lives. A second poster, signed by ‘3 rabbinical authorities, came out several months later.

The poster ended with this phrase: "Signed with a heavy heart and the hope that the author who has spread this heresy will burn his books and publicly retract all that he has written."

Rabbi Aharon Feldman of Yeshivat Ner Israel of Baltimore, one of the rabbis that supported Slifkin, told him that four "leading Torah leaders" refused to sign the ban.

Slifkin wrote an account of the events and responded to the charges of heresy raised by the rabbis, who represent haredi communities.

He said he found out through sources that the rabbis behind the ban never read the three books.

"It’s irrelevant if they read the books," he said. "I think that even if they would have read them they would have banned them, although probably not in as strong terms."

What did he learn from the controversy? "I learned that the haredi and non-haredi communities differ in their approach to Torah in a much greater way than I ever imagined, and that it is impossible to bridge the gap."

Another big gap he saw was the knowledge of science of the talmudic Sages, he added in the e-mail.

From the charges leveled against him, Slifkin deduced

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