Monday, August 11, 2008

What's In Rabbi Falk's Encyclopedia?

Josh, over at Parshablog, brings us this excerpt from Rabbi Falk's book Oz VeHadar Levushah:

Rabbi Falk advocates "doctoring" books that don't agree with what the Torah says. He specifically speaks to the issue of the age of the universe, but I would be willing to wager that he means this to apply to other areas where the encyclopedia disagrees with traditional Torah statements. As a result, Rabbi Falk has a lot of doctoring to do in his encyclopedia:

Just about everything about astronomy has to be "doctored," as no encyclopedia that I know of states that the geocentric model of the universe is the correct one, as the Rambam has it. Certainly no encyclopedia mentions (except, perhaps in the mythology section) that the stars are attached to a sphere which revolves around the earth each day.

Much of geology has to go out the door, because of the age of the universe problem. Likewise with archaeology -- you can't read that there are cities have been inhabited continuously since before the days of Noach.

A good deal of biology naturally has to be ripped out as well. Evolution, as you can imagine, is a big no-no. However, I'm fairly certain that most encyclopedias do not mention spontaneous generation (as in lice, or half-earthen rodents) as fact either.

Much of history has to go as well, since, in many places, the current historical understanding of events/places/dates may not match the traditional Jewish chronology. In addition, some historic events may involve details that we may not want children getting a hold of.

A fair portion of the section on genetics and its related entries have to be expunged as well. After all, genetics and mutations form a basis for the study of evolution.

Any of the sections dealing with biblical personages have to be cut out. Surely these are not written from a Jewish perspective and will contain information or allegations that are contrary to traditional Jewish thought. In fact, the whole section on Biblical books will have to be cut out (due to the Documentary Hypothesis and other similar theories), as will the entire section on Judaism - since it too, no doubt, contains misinformation about Judaism (for starters, that there are other branches of Judaism...)

Sections dealing with other religions, theology, mythology and religious personages have to be chopped too. Can't have mentions of other religions that aren't completely derogetory.

Any section dealing with popular culture (movies and their stars, radio programs, television programs, celebrities, etc.) also have to be removed.

This list is by no means complete. I'm sure that there are plenty of things that I missed in my list. So, after all this material is cut out of the encyclopedia, one has to wonder what is left?

The Wolf


Leah Goodman said...

I gotta say - I'm having a lot of trouble with this issue. My stepson is being raised in a much more closed community than my husband and I were raised in.

I'm FFB but raised MO/Conservadox. I was allowed to read anything that other kids my age were reading. When I questioned things I'd read, my parents listened and answered.

Now my 11-year-old stepson's mom told me that he's not allowed to read Harry Potter, and I feel like she's fighting the wrong battle here. I feel like the battle should be how he feels about what he reads rather than what he reads.

It's not as if he'll never have the opportunity to read something she'd rather him not read.

However, as the (wicked) stepmother, I will do as she asks because it's not my place.

Anonymous said...

"no encyclopedia that I know of states that the geocentric model of the universe is the correct one, as the Rambam has it."

Not just the Rambam. Tanach and Chazal too.

ProfK said...

I'm floored, absolutely floored by this. I went to the Index of the Encyclopedia Britannica to see which items would have to be ripped out. What I was basically left with were the outside bindings that would have held the pages together, if any pages had remained. But why stop with encyclopedias? Cookbooks, unless produced under "kosher" auspices are out, because they mention treif items. Decorating books are out because they have pictures of women doing the decorating in them. Even a book on chess would have to be banned, because check mate comes from "Shach matte"--the shah is dead--and that brings up Iran and Persia leading us to the Arab states and Arabs, and we can't have the kids knowing about them.

Please, please where is the Rav with common sense who will finally stand up and say "Enough!"

Anonymous said...

Is there no end to this kind of insanity?... You want "kosher" reading material?Read Meal Mart hot dog packages.

Anonymous said...

The new slogan of Artscroll and Feldheim: No thinking allowed!

I mean, really. This advice is straight out of any fascist or communist handbook, it's so blatantly ignorant. What is wrong with these people?

-suitepotato- said...

Humans like self-consistent systems to avoid the fearful alternative of having to think for themselves. They like having the illusion of that freedom, even if they never actually use it, and if you pointedly tell them no, they have to do it. Pass a law banning an act that's never been done, and they will find a way to do it. Never bring it up, and there's a good chance it will never occur to them and to the one that does, there's probably some other rule to cover it. Write a new one, and they have to break it.

Like people collecting Beanie Babies who never did and never will auction them on eBay. They just want to fit in, be like everyone else, and do what seems like something to do, even if they had no interest in it themselves.

So they need systems that are like thinking for themselves, but really aren't. Little programs and instruction sets. Shorthand. Cliffs Notes for living. Religion is one of those systems to give people the illusion of originality and self determination, but it is actually an embrace of that dictum that when free to do anything they want, they will usually imitate each other.

The alternative to literal reading of Torah is a transcendental implied reading that requires the risk of disagreement, of disruption, of change to something they can't count on, can't control, can't make Cliffs Notes for.

That scares people. So like fanatics, they redouble their efforts. Censor, avoid, abstain, deny, ignore, pretend. Wait until the challenge to the flimsy system goes away.

Never considering that the true majesty and grandeur of what they had was precisely the transcendental implications and not the plain read. Because the interpretation depended on the spirit of the one doing the interpretation and not on what was written dryly.

Remember The Abyss? It's like what Lindsey Brigman said about the ideas about the alien water tentacle: "We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that."

It's how we decide to see things that is the mark of us.

The rabbi in question is like the majority, just not ready to drop the framework and let go and have faith. It may seem contradictory, but religion is usually a way of avoiding having to rely on faith. It doesn't have to be. It's up to us.

DAG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DAG said...

Sorry...this is the right one :

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there is so much in his sefer that is laughable that it overshadows anything that he may have to say of value.

Falk is seriously disturbed; he reminds me of Bruriah Keren who also went way overboard with tznius (although I'm not, C' v'S, making any accusations...)

Leah Goodman said...

I read this wonderful book list. I suppose that if you look hard enough at the lamp, you might see those two people kissing... therefore lamps should be assur.

Lion of Zion said...


"Read Meal Mart hot dog packages."



"no encyclopedia that I know of states that the geocentric model of the universe is the correct one, as the Rambam has it."

but it could, no? from what i understand (this goes back a while), a geocentric model could be represented, but we don't because of occam's razor prefers a heliocentric model.

anyway, are you really surprised by this type of censorship?

Anonymous said...

LoZ: Regarding geocentricism, I used to think that one could set up the system however one wanted, the only difference being that one was much simpler than the other.
Someone pointed out to me that you can't do that. If we are correct about the distance from the earth to various stars, they would be orbiting around the stationary earth at speeds much faster than the speed of light, which is impossible.

Anonymous said...

This is about the best argument I've seen for ignoring rabbis and using your common sense.

ProfK said...

Once you start messing with scientific principles then all of them become suspect. Those that believe in geocentrism would not accept that scientists are correct about the distance from the earth to the various stars, nor would they accept the accuracy of the speed of light. Accepting either of these would mean that geocentrism would be invalidated.

Anonymous said...

We must also be careful to say "faucet" instead of "sPIGot," "beefock," instead of "HAMmock" and "Altamoydia" instead of "VIRGINia" (my fingers tremble as I write this).

"Baseball?" Scrap it--sounds too much like "Bais Baal." Anyway, having boys handle a "bat" is only okay if they never, ever, ever hear modern Hebrew pronunciation.

Anonymous said...

This book is one of the most demented diatribes ever written. I recall that the book has an approbation from R. Moshe, z"l; however, the book was written AFTER R. Moshe was niftar! Go figure that one out.

It was pointed out in prior blogs that this book is frighteningly popular in many yeshivish circles. Many communities have study groups and courses based on this book and the "guidelines" R Falk sets forth. They even give bechinas on various topics as if you can another Semicha in Tzniuous topics.

This book has a good number of highly positive reviews on Amazon- I included my own, calling it "neurotic" among other things in order to keep the comments balanced.

Misery indeed loves company.

Anonymous said...

This is incredible and incredibly sad.

Anonymous said...

I am personally shocked over a book that is being taught in first and second grade in my kid's school. It contains positive references to unmarried men and women kissing in public as well as the marital act itself, descriptions of prostitution and a rape, descriptions of religions foreign to Judaism and human sacrifice, positive representations of wholesale slaughter of cities full of people, including children, positive descriptions of an incestuous marriage of brother and sister, and that is only in the first part. Fortunately, they won't learn the other four parts until they are older.

Commenter Abbi said...

um, how about doctoring his own book so at least the English grammar is correct: "Ensuring That Plenty Good Literature Is Available"???

mother in israel said...

I believe there is a Hebrew encyclopedia published for haredi children, that would probably meet most of Rabbi Falk's requirements.

Anonymous said...

What would the Rabbi's definition of good literature be? From his examples of what isn't, one would have to assume that his literature neither conveys information nor provokes thought. That being so, why would anyone want to read it? or have their kids waste time reading it (once they become fluent readers.)

Anonymous said...

By the way, I am a physicist. It is possible to describe motion in any coordinate frame you like, including one where the Earth stays still. The fact that the time derivative of the coordinates of a distant star is faster than the speed of light is no problem because the velocity in that coordinate system is not that coordinate derivative. However, such a description is not a very useful one either for dynamic calculations or for understanding. It is certainly true that a frame fixed to the Earth's surface is not a "local inertial reference frame"; i.e. one in which an object not being acted on by a force goes in a straight line at constant speed.

BrooklynWolf said...


Can you please put that last comment in more layman's terms?


The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"Cookbooks, unless produced under "kosher" auspices are out, because they mention treif items" - I know you are joking, but my mother ripped out all the recipes with ham and other pig products in them.

Anonymous said...


Not without oversimplifying a little, so what follows in not technically precise, but here goes.

Consider a coordinate system fixed to the surface of the Earth. Let's use longitude, latitude, height and time as the coordinates. Now imagine a distant star. In our coordinate system the height and latitude remain (approximately) fixed, but the longitude changes by 15 degrees per hour. That corresponds to a coordinate velocity of: height* Cos[colatitude]*(15 degrees per hour) which can be much faster than the speed of light if height (the distance from the Earth) is large enough. But think about the light coming from the star to us--the height decreases at the speed of light, but the longitude still changes 15 degrees per hour. So in our coordinate system the light follows a spiral path to the Earth; one rotation per (sidereal) day, with the radius decreasing 1 light-day per rotation. The light is always going faster than the matter in its vicinity.

Leah Goodman said...


Oh no! that's awful. I use even treif recipes to get ideas for foods to try out.

One of my fave recipes is "basar v'chalav." I use ground-beef style veggie burger to make great tacos.

Anonymous said...

Someone should send Rabbi Falk one of the all time best sellers for Orthodox kids and adults alike: Harry Potter

Penniless Parenting said...

You have a point that its just too impossible. However, maybe they need to just have kosher publishing for frum encyclopedias. I'm not sure i want my kid being able to find out everything apikorsus and untznius in the encyclopedia before he's old enough to understand the explanations behind it...

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Anonymous said...

You mean the world doesn't revolve around me?

Anonymous said...

Childish musings - I totally disagree with you. If a child is old enough to go through encyclopedias and understand a subject then he's old enough to learn about it. At this point you should have a close enough relationship with him that he would not hesitate to talk to you and then you can discuss it. That is a perfect time when parents can guide their children towards their own views.

Hiding a subject from a child will send only one message: "From now on I will research and learn everything on my own to find out exactly what my parents are afraid of" Your child will learn more diverse opinions on that subject and make up his own mind which could lead to making serious mistakes inlife, because there is lots of disinformation.

For example condoms are being sold to us as a magical tool that prevents all harms, and simultaniously lets one enjoy himself. It is not easy to find out that condoms are only 87% effective.

Anonymous said...

Teenage Boys From Orthodox Brooklyn Families Arrested After Public Drinking, Partying

I have posted a few times about this issue. I am shocked how many people keep saying “Yeah this is nothing new – it’s been going on since forever”. Who are we kidding? This is the THIRD TIME in a week that Frum kids have been ARRESTED upstate. No, in my days in the mountains this did not happen. Maybe there used to be one story during an entire summer and it certainly would have been the talk of the town!

Now it is happening on a daily basis! (Kudos to Hamercaz news for not sweeping it under the rug!)

Anonymous said...

Raul -

1) Pranking 911 is stupid but it does not represent a "Youth At Risk" problem

2) The other story seems to be more about our "NaNach" problem than our youth problem:

from the Hamercaz article you reference:
The adult, who is a member of the "Na-Nach" style Breslovers, had been hanging out with the boys earlier at a "Kumzitz" at a local park where they had lit a bonfire and sang songs. The adult claimed that he had not supplied the boys with any sort of alcoholic beverage. However, the officers did not believe him, and he was taken into custody.

So I think you're getting a little carried away