Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Repugnant Nonsense

A little nonsense is a dangerous thing.

The problem with this whole new culture of texts is that people take these texts out of context, publish them and then turn them into gospel. This is especially true when these statements were made in a certain era (the 1970s, for instance) and yet people try to apply them to 2011.

Case in point: I recently read some excerpts from Questions & Answers: Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller which were simply horrific. Horrific, I say. And to prove that to you, I produce them below.

From pages 70-71:

Q: Is college muttar for parnassah?

A: I'm not going to pasken any sha'alah. I'll tell you this. I had to go to college recently. I went to Brooklyn College to help protest against making this shelter in our neighborhood. [The City was trying to establish a shelter in the neighborhood, which would have brought undesirable elements into the community-Ed]. It was a protest meeting. As I walked in, I smelled a terrible odor. The place poshut had a Reiach Ra. It stank! The whole college had a terrible odor. It smelled bad. You really need a gas mask when you go into college! There's no place in America that smells as bad as a college. If you go to a place of the Mafia, a Mafia den, the Mafia den is perfume compared to a college! I mean it. It's not an exaggeration. Therefore, if a person has to go to a college, let's say he's a plumber, and he's going to a college to fix the plumbing there, and he has to walk in, he should hold his nose. He can't help himself. It's his Parnasah. He has to go there. But to go there and allow yourself to be dunked in their toilet, that's a different story. You want to be dunked in their toilet for Parnasah, I'm not telling you what to do. Go to your rebbe. He knows you better. Let him pasken for you. I wouldn't pasken that. I should pasken if you should dunk your head in a full toilet for Parnasah? It's too much, that I should be able to tell you that! (#852)

From Page 170:

Q: The Rav said a person shouldn't look for a shidduch with a girl who has a career. What's the reason for that?

A: A "career girl" is not the best shidduch, and let me explain. If a girl tries to learn some kind of an Omanut to make a living to support a ben Torah, yes. That's not a "career girl." She's looking for a zechus of having a husband who will devote himself to learning. I don't say how long he should learn. Whatever it is, it's a meritorious thing. But if a girl is interested in a career for herself, you should know, there's always a probability that she's going to be a very self assertive kind of a girl, a girl who thinks she's very important. And too much importance nobody should have, not even a man. Therefore, I know from experience that "career girls" are not the very best matches. If a girl tries to learn some kind of an Omanut for the purpose of supporting a ben Torah, that's not a "career girl." (E-209)

From page 174:

Q: Is it worthwhile to go to speeches by frum psychiatrists on Chinuch HaBanim?

A: If you want advice on Chinuch HaBanim, go to Mechanchim, go to Talmidei Chachamim. Don't go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. They get paid for it and they will welcome you, and you keep on coming and coming. One visit is followed by another visit. As long as you have insurance, they are willing to welcome you. Go to people that know the subject. The truth is, marriage counselors are of no use if they're not elderly Chachamim or elderly rebbetzins. Only they can help you. But regular marriage counselors only have a diploma and no experience. Many of them are divorced themselves, by the way. Many are divorced. Emily Post, who wrote for years and years in the newspapers about advice for marriage things, she was divorced and never got married again. So it's a waste of time and a waste of money. There are people who can advise you. Find out who they are, and ask people who are in chinuch: roshei yeshivos, people who were once Mechanchim. They will be able to tell you real practical advice (#E-206)


If I wish to be charitable, I will say Rabbi Miller's points of view are limited by the time period in which he wrote them (the 1970s). But whether he intended it or not, I am sure there are people who are going to take them to heart today because plenty of people just follow whatever they read in some book with a picture of a man in a beard on it.

So let me say the following:

1) For the pure of heart, college need not be something to fear
2) Career girls are often the best girls
3) Therapists can do amazing things and really heal the soul that was damaged and irreparably hurt by mussar and by cruel religious people and Rabbis, and marriage counselors (including and sometimes especially secular ones) can transform marriages, sometimes specifically because they are young/ relatable

And anyone who takes R' Miller's view in such situations is aligning himself with the side of repugnant nonsense. And also possibly of actual harm.


ilanica said...

To elaborate:
I think this Rabbi may need some professional help of his own. He seems to conflate some sort of bad smell in a school (which apparently doesn't occur in Yeshivos?) to a moral repugnance seems a little bit hysterical and delusional to me.

Also, he seems a little intimidated by women who have the wherewithal and self-respect to pursue a career to her liking that is personally enriching.

Additionally, the poor man seems a little confused on the nature of divorce and professional mental health services. Does he think that because a frum, uneducated, elderly person remained married for their whole lives, they automatically have the most wisdom to impart? And that they are happily married? That they are the most "practical"? And that those in the mental health industry (who are often overworked, overbooked, and overwhelmed) are a bunch of quacks? This seems just a case of ignorance...

Jewish Atheist said...

I fail to see the distinction between what he wrote and what you've written about homosexuality.

Chana said...


Then you're being intellectually dishonest. I was very clear on the point that I only take issue with people who trumpet their sexual orientation from the rafters, as it's basically the same as trumpeting the desire to sin, not something in which to take pride. I did not say that the people themselves were bad or evil, did not say they were 'lesser' and did not otherwise malign them. You might want to refrain from harping the subject in nearly every comment you've posted on my blog in the past year.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Miller was an old-fashioned Tsaddik and Baal Darshon.
Indeed he lived and wrote in a different age.

In the not-too-distant past:

Colleges were widely recognized as "dens of iniquity". Promiscuity was rampant. They were also the main breeding grounds of every kind of Apikorsus.

"Career women" were pointedly putting they're careers before family. And they commonly 'relaxed'
some of their frumkeit.

The fields of Psychology and Marriage-counseling were dominated by liberals with poor Torah hashkofoh, if any.
There was generally little emphasis on religion or the sanctity of marriage.

I know all this first-hand.

The book in question is nothing more than a transcript of some tapes. I believe it was a mistake to publish it because Rabbi Miller was generally brief during the Q&A sessions and his audience knew that his responses were abridged.

He elaborated beautifully during the main themes of the tapes and in his books.

His views do sometimes differ from other Gedolim, yet he was a magnificent Mashpia.
Countless of people became more conscientious of their Judaism due to that sage.
Including me.

Jewish Atheist said...

I was very clear on the point that I only take issue with people who trumpet their sexual orientation from the rafters

I was referring to your claims that:

1) Homosexuality is sinful.
2) Homosexuality is self-destructive.

These are harmful and untrue beliefs that have caused a huge amount of suffering in the world, just like Rabbi Miller's.

You might want to refrain from harping the subject in nearly every comment you've posted on my blog in the past year.

I think I've usually addressed the topic of the post. In this case, I'm addressing the irony of you posting about "repugnant nonsense" on the one hand -- including something maligning psychology, which as a field has unequivocally determined that homosexuality is both natural and healthy -- while posting your own "repugnant nonsense" in other posts. I'm not just ignoring your posts to "harp" on this subject.

Anonymous said...

How dare you speak with in such a manner against the a gadol (tatzal). I have no idea how you could consider yourself a frum jew if you have no repsect for da'as torah and geolay olam.

I cannot imagine how embarrassed and scared your poor husband and family must be.

This is why we just had tisha ba'av in galus.

May we be zoche that you have a change of heart and in turn see the coming of moshiach tzidkaynu.

Philo said...

Anonymous @ 8:33 am:

If ignorance and intolerance are expressed, that should be denounced. It's irrelevant whether those ideas come from someone who is lauded by parts of the community. It's still, as Chana wrote, repugnant nonsense. R. Miller's views weren't just wrong, but the way he expressed them oozed contempt and nastiness.

Philo said...

Jewish Atheist,

I'm also disappointed by some of Chana's expressed views on homosexuality, especially after her poignant and beautiful writing in posts like this.

But at least she's struggling with the issue and has compassion for those who are gay instead of, like most of the Orthodox community, just rejecting them with disgust.

Jewish Atheist said...

But at least she's struggling with the issue and has compassion for those who are gay instead of, like most of the Orthodox community, just rejecting them with disgust.

That's why I bother, I guess. It just seems like she's better than this.

Philo said...

I also think it's telling that the reason R Miller "had" to go to Brooklyn College was to protest against a homeless shelter. That speaks to a lack of compassion for anyone outside the Jewish community.

The lonely said...

Did anyone consider the idea of Rav Miller actually speaking the truth, even if it does not suit your weltanschauung?
Are you all too narrow minded to accept other opinions?

Philo said...

The lonely,

Nobody here is rejecting R Miller's comments because he said them, we're rejecting them because we're evaluating the actual statements and can think for ourselves and decide that they're wrong.

Anonymous said...

I agree that, for the pure of heart, college is not to be feared. That's if the definition of pure of heart is totally committed to Hashem and not simply seeking a high truth, no matter what that truth could be.

How many people are pure of heart?

E. Fink said...


Anonymous said...

How about we all stop trampling on the grave of a dead talmid chacham? Find living people with those opinions, and criticize them.

The Lonely said...

Dear Philo
Of course one can think for oneself, and it may even be that Rav Miller thought for himself. Some may decide, on their own, that Rav Miller was correct in his assessments.
And others may follow the do-as-I-want,-Halacha-be-damned crowd blindly, because they care more about their own desires, then Gods.

Anonymous said...

To ilanica;
on your second point that Rav Miller was intimidated by women who wanted a career, Rav Millers' concern was what a women's priorities were which makes logical sense, if she's more devoted to her job than her husband (which many career woman are)then you obviously have a serious problem in the relationship when she's liable to dump you if you begin to interfere in her work (e.g you want her to spend more time at home to influence the kids)
On your third point I am constantly amazed with people who think that you need a Harvard degree to be considered intelligent! Life and experience have nothing to do with intelligence, look at Presidents like Jimmy Carter and Obama they're Harvard educated and look at the messes they got us into. A "frum 'uneducated' married jew" is far more intelligent than his counterpart because he understands what makes a marriage, trust, goals, and above all dedication. It's that which R' Miller understood that modern psychologists and society don't if they did then maybe the 90% of Americans that cheated on their wives would stop.

Anonymous said...

anon 8:33 we have tisha bav in galus bec you're too lazy to sacrifice your quality fo life and fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv haaretz, now if such a sacrifice were required to ensure that your hat was as black as can be then you'd be running to do it

/end rant

obv im being somewhat sarcastic and not trying to malign you in anyway

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:33,

Irrespective of my views on these issues, I would just like to say that I do not consider myself a "poor husband." I'm quite lucky, actually.

As a side point, the crowd one speaks to does matter (sometimes). A "career girl" within the Charedi community might be different than a career girl in a more modern setting, for example. The point is that the audience here was a charedi one, not a modern orthodox one.


Anonymous said...

@ JA, as u seem to be the champion of rights, i was just wondering what your view on incest was? With two consenting adults of course.

ksil said...

lonely, " they care more about their own desires, then Gods" puh-leeze. anyone that doesnt believe these extreme right wing nutjobs just wants to eat treif pizza and shtup shiksas.....riiiiiight.

anon (8:48) - obama got us into this mess? interesting that you think that....too bad its not true.

mo, you are going there? silly boy.

Jewish Atheist said...

Jewish Atheist: Should Incest Be Legal?

Anonymous said...

Chana: He really, really, really wasn't talking to you. As a yeshivish girl, I understand what he is saying. May I restate it?
1. I'm not going to pasken any shaila, that is, I understand there are circumstances where college is necessary. However, there is a tremendous demoralizing influence in colleges today, and a person who has to attend college must know that it can corrupt them completely. You must "hold your nose" and not allow the corruption to touch you. I wish I could say No one should ever go to college but I can't so I will just emphasize how bad it is. I cannot pasken this publicly, only case by case.
2. A career girl is a girl who wants to build an independent career, separate from her goals as wife and bas yisrael and mother. This is obviously a problem. A career should only be a means of serving Hashem. It is not good for a man to want to have a career too much either - the career is the tool to give you the ability to serve Hashem, not the other way around.
3. There are very few religious and respectful people to ask in the professional world. It is better to ask a person experienced in educating children then the professionals currently available.
Please respond Chana so I'll know you read it! I've never commented before but felt a need this time.

ilanica said...

To yesterday's anonymous responder:
Everyone, men AND women, have a priority first and foremost to G-d. A woman's job is not to be a martyr any more than a man. She is given talents and qualities and can serve G-d outside of motherhood and wifehood. If a woman feels she'd rather not pursue a career as part of her Avodas Hashem but rather wants to be a mother, that is lovely and raising a Jewish family is super important. However to look at a young woman who chooses a career with happiness and thought and because she is contributing to the world at large, and say that this young woman is "not the best shidduch", is to me to be intimidated. Especially the way Rabbi Miller worded it: That she shouldn't have a career because G-d forbid she should feel too important! Both the husband and wife should be at home influencing the kids. If anything chinuch is the man's mitzvah, so a career man might "not be the best shidduch" either. However, it's a good shidduch if you respect women who have G-dly contributions to give outside of the home.

And no, I don't think the more educated you are the more wise you are. However, that goes both ways. Uneducated folks aren't necessarily more wise either. And those in the mental health industry are mostly good folks who devote themselves to helping people. Elderly rebetzins might have the same intention but not necessarily more expertise, although I agree wisdom can come from unexpected areas.
Good Shabbos!

Heshy said...

Anon 8:33 and Anon 6:09,

One of the reasons for Tisha B'av is hatred of PEOPLE, not VIEWS.

I happen to know that Chana finds some of Rabbi Miller's views inspiring. (She has written about them before.) Just not the views she cites above.

JA and Philo,

It is interesting that everyone is right.

1) From the perspective of someone who does not value the Torah as a divine document, Rabbi Miller's views are the same as what the Torah says and both should be ignored.

2) From the perspective of someone who values modern or secular ideas (psychology, science, women being assertive, education, etc.) but also values Torah (a man shall not lie with another man), it is repugnant to see Rabbi Miller's views on these matters and it is okay to see homosexuality as a sin (because God, not Rabbi Miller, said so).

3) For those who value the exact same things that Rabbi Miller valued (a man makes all the decisions in his house, people should be protected from ideas that can ruin their spiritual purity, etc etc), it is inconceivable to disagree with him. After all, he is a gadol and da'as Torah. Anyone who disagrees with him is trampling on a dead tzaddik's grave.

Jewish Atheist said...

In fact, it should make you question your assumptions! Reductio ad absurdum, you know.

Heshy said...


It is interesting that everyone is right, according to their axioms/worldviews. That's what I meant.

I wouldn't call it an assumption, though. (The same way you wouldn't call your atheism an assumption, presumably. ;-)

My point is that everyone disagrees because they start with different axioms. So arguing the logical conclusion of those axioms, without debating the axioms, is not going to get anyone anywhere.

Jewish Atheist said...

If the conclusion, though, is something absurd like a benevolent, omnipotent God insisting that gay sex is an abomination that should be punishable by death, then it should lead you to question your axioms, no?

If your axioms lead to a ridiculous conclusion, then your axioms are wrong.

ilanica said...

Jewish Atheist - that may be how science works, but not faith. If by virtue of being unfalsifiable, faith is problematic for you, than (as your name would suggest) EVERYTHING should be approached with skepticism and no religions are substantive belief systems.
However, there are those who take an approach to G-d and religion that has to do with personal spirituality and faith, and when there is a tension like the Problem of Evil, or more specifically, the Problem of Gay Sex in this situation, a person's responsibility is to indeed feel distressed and feel the tension. That is what Tisha B'av represents. We want to believe G-d is good but we have suffered so much, and we fight and we struggle and we mourn, and this is part of the tragedy of faith.

Charlie Hall said...

"I only take issue with people who trumpet their sexual orientation from the rafters, as it's basically the same as trumpeting the desire to sin, not something in which to take pride."

I just spent a week at a conference in Miami Beach, staying at a hotel in South Beach, which is supposed to be a big Gay center. I did not find that. To the contrary, the trumpeting of sexual orientation I saw was all from the Straight side, with few attractions other than beaches and bars with the (in)appropriate attire common to both. I have no desire ever to go there again.

I'll complain about the Gays when We Straights start acting a bit more modestly.

(And the one appealing feature of South Beach, the nice Art Deco architecture, turns out to have been developed by an anti-Semite who wouldn't allow any of the property to be sold to Jews.)

Charlie Hall said...

It is sufficient to note that gedolim of even greater stature than Rabbi Miller z'tz'l completely disagree with his take on secular education. One can start with Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's essay in Volume 7 of his Collected Works.

Heshy said...


I like Ilanica's response.

In short, I don't find it ridiculous to believe that an omnipotent God knows something that I don't.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Miller did NOT have a problem with secular education!
Only with certain secular subjects.
And certain kinds of secular schools.
And with a certain type of "career girl".
I have a hunch that Miller's definition of "career girl" is not the same as "The curious jew's".

Anonymous said...

Well put!
But remember what the Talmud says about arguing with a Jewish Apikorus.
I think JA is lonely and wants more company.

Heshy said...

Anonymous 4:15,

First try to define an apikorus. There aren't too many Mordechai Kaplans around today.

G@MBL!NG said...

so R' Miller must have entered Mafia dens to make the comparison of their prefume-like scent to college's stink?

Anonymous said...

Don't be a fool!
Rabbi Miller is dramatizing to get his point across.
As a matter of fact it's in the Zohar that spiritually a sin stinks. ('Rayach Ra')
And the worse the sin (or place of sin) the worse the odor.