Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Update on the RNS Contretemps

You can watch or listen to my shiurim on our exchange at:

just pick the two most recent shiurim, on the definition of death, from Jan. 18 and Jan. 19.


  1. I found your speech very condescending. You made some good points, but they were drowned out by by your dripping sarcasm.

    You made some errors in logic, but the most glaring was toward the end when you explain RNS position regarding why the brain death issue is different than the lice issue. You make it appear that RNS is saying that you can kill one person to save another. You know darn well that nobody holds that. The point he's making is to say that unlike with lice, where the ramifications of Chazal's mistake are virtually nill, here the ramifications are the potential loss of life.

    The problem here is this. The manner in which you're presenting this will do nothing to bring people over to your understanding. You shrill tone works well with folks who are already pre-disposed to think like you.

    However, there are growing numbers of people who are finding harder and harder to accept so much of the types of things you say at face value. And all you're succeeding in is pushing those folks further away.

    It would be far more impressive to see a video with you and RNS sitting down and cordially discussing the issues.

  2. "You make it appear that RNS is saying that you can kill one person to save another. You know darn well that nobody holds that."

    I think you are actually making the logical error. If you use RNS's assumptions, it comes out that you can assume that someone who is "brain-dead" is dead, and therefore you can use his organs for someone else's pikuach nefesh. But if he's not actually dead, then you are killing him. Think about it. So to say that pikuach nefesh is a support for RNS's argument is ridiculous.

    The truth is that if you look at his comments, someone actually asks this kashya on RNS and he answers that he is going on the assumption that his position is correct. What this means is that his statement about pikuach nefesh is using circular logic - since I am right, therefore it is pikuach nefesh, and since it is pikuach nefesh, therefore I am right. v'dok

  3. There are solid reasons to assume that the brain death position is correct. Though there may be two sides to this issue it is quite legitimate and there's yesh al l'smoch to take this view.

    Once you do, the fact that it's pikuach nefesh is enough to force a change in the status quo, unlike with lice.

    Not circular at all.

  4. What you are saying is mamish incomprehensible. Here is a quote from RNS himself:

    RNS: It is thus a matter of pikuach nefesh, which always overrides everything.

    COMMENTATOR: It is a matter of pikuach nefesh in either direction.

    RNS: My statement about pikuach nefesh was predicated upon the presumption that all my previous arguments were correct, and that a brain dead person really is dead.

  5. Sam, I believe RNS is saying that pikuach nefesh overrides the issur to desecrate a dead body. He obviously holds that brain stem death, which no one has ever come back from, is definitive death. Obviously, if this is not death pikuach nefesh does not override murder. Murder, illicit relations and idolatry are still assur.

  6. What makes no sense to me is the machlokes between R Bleich and Rav Tendler. If someone has brain stem death, they can not breath on their own. Taken off the respirator, they will never breath, not even a single breath. Doesn't that mean they qualify as dead?

    I don't have time to watch the whole video right now but could someone tell me if RYGB answers this question:

    I have a more simplistic problem. Other than the fact that Rav Gedalia Shwatrz, Rav Tendler, Rav Moshe Feinstein held or hold of brain stem death, my question doesn't even take these things into consideration. My problem is how can anyone who holds brain stem death is not death allow ANY JEW to accept an organ donation? They are effectively accepting an organ by killing the person who the organ came from, no? Whether it be Jew or gentile, this person is being KILLED for their organs, so how can any Jew accept those organs?

    This is, of course, according to the Rabbis like RYGB, that hold brain stem death is not death.

  7. Does the Talmud mean that "the kidneys give eitzah" or does it mean that the kidneys are the sole source of eitzah? If the latter, then I guess they'd be responsible for sin. But if the former, it's not so pashut.

  8. Sam,

    Not sure exactly what you don't get. RNS has established that brain death is death. Once done Pikuach Nefesh is doche Chazal's "mistake" that ONLY cardiac death is death.

    He's NOT saying that one pikuach nefesh is doche another. ym

  9. Can you explain the pshat in Rabbeinu Bachye

  10. RYGB,
    I am curious to know if this hashkafa being promoted by RNS (i.e "Rationalist Judaism" which amongst other things discredits chazal's understanding of science, and basicly ignores 800 years of Jewish philosophy as well as elements of the halachik process)is similar in any way to past movements within Judaism, and what do you think the future holds with this school of thought in relation to Orthodox Judaism as a whole?

    This incident reminds me that you are sorely missed in Chicago.

    -Dovid Aronin

  11. "Can you explain the pshat in Rabbeinu Bachye"

    It is actually quite simple.

    Let us take the Hebrew term:

    כלי מלאכה

    Keilei Melachah

    Do the Keilei Melachah perform the work on their own?


    They are the tools by which a worker accomplishes his task.

    This is the way the Tziyoni expands on the Ramban:

    The innards and the kidneys are the tools of thought and desire.

    Rabbeinu Bechaye adds the word "counsel." So RNS asserts that this demonstrates that Rabbeinu Bechaye et al are using the word keli in its meaning of "vessel" - i.e., the container of a thing, in which it is located. So the kidneys and the innards are the location of thought and counsel.

    But he himself explicitly states elsewhere (at the end of Parashas Bereishis) that thought is located in the the brain - not of the innards or the kidneys.

    Ergo, the Rabbeinu Bachye, the Ramban and the Tziyoni are all on the same page: These parts of a korban olah are sacrificed because they were the tools by which the mind committed improprieties.

  12. Reb Dovid, shlita,

    Thank you for your kind worIds!

    I am still hopeful that RNS will realize he has gone too far, and will recant.

    Many commenters and correspondents have discerned parallels between RNS's current theological niche and the early Conservative movement, then known as the "Positive-Historical" school. I hope that comparison also helps to jar RNS back to the normative.

    If not, then the best outcome would be heightened cognition of the position on the fringe of the Halachic process that he occupies, and intellectual isolation and rejection of its premises and positions.

  13. What a disgusting thing to say. Actually, YGB, you are vastly closer to the early Conservative movement. RNS has never advocated going against any halachic rulings. You, on the other hand, claim that people can ignore the last 1000 years of halachah and can use scientific inquiry to determine what Chazal meant even when it means going against our mesorah since then - an approach that RNS rejects. But after having been called out on that on RNS' blog, I guess you are nervous and are trying to redeem yourself by casting aspersions on RNS.

  14. Let's not get too worked up about Rabbi Bechoffer's verbose rantings. This is the same person who enthusiastically quoted his rebbe that the Baal Pachad Yitzchok, rebbe of Ramchal, should have been put in cherem for his views on these matters!

  15. Yes, I must agree with David. As I've been saying from the beginning, this is personal. YGB is becoming unhinged over this.

    It's really sad, I've followed his writings for years and he's always seemed to be an intelligent, thoughtful person.

    I'm hoping YGB will see the errors of his ways and recant the horrible things he's been saying.

  16. David T.:

    I have no clue what you're saying. I have never taken any position remotely similar to your portrayal.


    Just curious, are you able to discern emotions from the computer screen? How do you know what I am or am not enthusiastic about?


    "Unhinged," huh? Good taunt! :-)

  17. RYGB, I really don't understand what you are saying about Rabbeinu Bachya. I know that you are trying to reconcile it with his statement in Bereishis about the heart transmitting thought from the brain. You write that the kidneys are the "the tools by which the mind (brain) committed improprieties." I have a number of questions on this, and I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer them.

    1. What does that mean? How does the brain commit improprieties via the kidneys? Don't the kidneys just filter waste?

    2. How does that fit into what he writes? Here are his words:

    על כן תחייב התורה את האדם להביא קרבן על חטאו ושיסמוך את ידיו עליו כנגד המעשה, ושיתודה בפיו כנגד הדיבור, ושישרוף כלי העצה והמחשבה שהסכימו בחטא והם הקרב והכליות כנגד המחשבה

    Rabbeinu Bachya says that the hands are for the act, his speech is for the words, and the innards and kidneys are because they "agreed to sin." How can you say that they are just transmitting thought from the brain?

    3. How does the Gemora's lashon of כליות יועצות fit with your claim that Rabbeinu Bachya sees the kidneys of just transmitting counsel from the brain?

  18. David T.:

    I have no clue what you're saying. I have never taken any position remotely similar to your portrayal.

    What are you talking about, it's right there on R. Slifkin's blog. Here:

    S.: I see, so from now on I can come to an understanding on the issue of esrogim murkavim - which Chazal never mentioned - based on secular wisdom. I can overrule RSZA and make a mezonos on oats and I should encourage my friends to quit eating chrein and instead fix practice based on Yaakov Elman's Persian research - so long as they aid in undestanding Chazal, not in overriding them.

    YGB: Of course you can do all that! If you believe Prof. Felix and Prof. Elman to be correct, you should follow them! And you can try to convince others as well. Why not?

    So, YGB, you are saying that a person is entitled to throw out a thousand years of mesorah about halachic matters. Now RNS never proposed any such thing and is against such an approach. So my presumption is that you are uncomfortable with being the treif one here, which is why you are getting increasingly aggressive against RNS.

  19. "Unhinged," huh? Good taunt! :-)

    Exactly. I'm trying to "taunt" back to becoming rational. I don't want to see happen to you what happened to R. Orlofsky. He's descended into an abyss of near insanity. All that's left of him is a incoherently blabbering clown.

    Please, if you haven't already, watch the videos you posted here. Watch them objectively. Watch them as if you weren't one of your fanboys or some mindless Chareidi wannabe "bochur". Then maybe you'll get a glimpse of what I'm talking about.

    This is all meant as a backhanded compliment. I truly believe that you are better than this.

  20. I elaborated on the kidneys in a new post.