Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pelta Open-Mindedness Challenge!

If you're a Modern Orthodox guy who interacts with haredim a pretty good amount or an apikorus like me, you've heard something like the following (and if you're like me, you've heard it a lot):
"So you're not frum/haredi? You haven't gone through the right experiences, that's all. You're just missing something. I can't explain what you're missing. You should talk to/read Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb/Rabbi Moshe Meiselman/Rabbi Avigdor Miller/Rabbi Chaim Zimmerman/the entire Talmud/Rabbi Aharon Feldman/Rabbi Jonathan Sacks/Professor Marc Shapiro/Professor Lawrence Kaplan/Rabbi Yaakov Wincelberg/Rabbi Natan Slifkin/an Aish rabbi/a Chabad rabbi. Yeah, I know you've gotten this sort of recommendation before, but trust me, this rav knows everything and is so up your alley. Hey, you're a open-minded guy right (sometimes this part is said sarcastically)? So trust me, you haven't talked to this rabbi, just take my word for it that he's somebody worth talking to."

Personally, I have no problem with this sort of recommendation. Who shouldn't like to have more things to read and interesting people to talk to, even if one doesn't agree with their worldview? But see, then I proceed to give recommendations back. But they never like that. They expect you to be open-minded and talk to people who think like them...but many never seem to want to be similarly open-minded.

To solve this problem, I'm issuing another challenge. If somebody would like to recommend up to three books for me, I will read them, on the condition he reads up to three books of my choice.* Alternatively, if somebody wants me to be in touch with up to two rabbis for me to ask my "questions," my interlocutor will give me some reasons he believes in Judaism and I will give him the names of some non-frum thinking people for him to ask his "questions" to (which he must ask as questions and ask respectfully). I will do my end of the bargain ASAP, while my interlocutor will have six months to fulfill his end. The sole condition is that my interlocutor uses his real name.**

(Email me at or comment here. First come, first serve. The challenge can be taken up by multiple individuals.)

[In other news: New Video-of-the-Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It at the bottom of the sidebar.]

*I can get most books on offer through Interlibrary Loan or worst comes to worst, I can buy via Amazon. As an alternative to books, multiple blog entries and journal articles can be used. If my interlocutor chooses the book option, we can also agree to write Amazon mini-reviews so people can know what we thought of the books.
**The challenge offer is null and void for individuals who have bandied about or stated the accusation that I've purposely obfuscated texts for my own (I would assume sinister) purposes. I can only think of two individuals (both haredi rabbis) in this category, but individuals who would even make such an accusation are clearly on a very different wavelength than me.


  1. I wish I hung out with more yeshivish guys so I could get these recommendations!

  2. I wish you would challenge Isaac Betech to a debate. He is seemingly looking for someone to debate so he can spread even more loshon hora/Motziei Sheim Ra about Natan Slifkin.

    So yeah, email him and setup a debate about anything and I would LOVE to see that.

    He will suggest books and I hope you do the same.

  3. > But they never like that. They expect you to be open-minded and talk to people who think like them

    See, here's what you keep missing: the reason no one frum is interested in reading Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris is because, while the New Astheists have built a whole philosophy around attacking religion without actually developing any positive thoughts on their own dogma, the religious continue to develop positive thoughts on their religion and therefore have no time to read outside thoughts. A good frum Jew would rather learn a new gemara or hear a good chidush. For a New Atheist, there is nothing else other than attacking religion.

  4. Garnel,

    Maybe you should be learning a new gemara or hearing a good chidush instead of wasting your time reading up on the musings of non believers.

  5. Well said, Skeptitcher.

    >But they never like that. They expect you to be open-minded and talk to people who think like them...but many never seem to want to be similarly open-minded

    Well said. Tolerance and open-mindedness are always a one-way street with the religious.

  6. I don't get the premise. Why do you need all these conditionals and showcases? Either go read something your friend recommended because you are interested in it, or simply don't read it (because you're not interested in it). Either recommend to your friend something you think is worth him reading and ask for his feedback (and he will then either take your suggestion or not depending on whether he's interested) or don't recommend something. Why is everything some kind of show trial or demonstration?

    One is either interested in research/a question/subject/book/topic/discussion/individual/author/rabbi etc or simply is not.

  7. Interested Observer:
    I'm attempting to rectify the problem of people expecting others (well, namely me) to be open-minded without similarly looking to be open-minded. I think that should raise the quality of dialogue. I don't know how that's a "show trial" (that phrase is usually used in the context of fake trials used to put people in jail or kill them).

  8. Daniel:
    It gets fun after awhile :)


    Regarding Sam Harris, I disagree with you. I think Sam Harris has developed thoughts on his own worldview, particularly in his newest book and in the last chapter of End of Faith.

  9. E-man:
    I'm taking a break from dealing with anti-evolution haredim (he's a young earth creationist too, no?) right now, I can only deal with so much...

    I think you ought to debate Isaac Betech, I've seen you taking him on in the comments anyways ;)

  10. I can't imagine why Garnel would think that it is Sam Harris's job to go beyond demonstating the untenability of religious arguments to "developing thoughts on his own worldview." That's like taking your mattress saleseman to task for not including a suitable bedmate.

  11. Garnel: >the reason no one frum is interested in reading Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris is because...the religious continue to develop positive thoughts on their religion and therefore have no time to read outside thoughts.

    Since you're so busy thinking positive thoughts, how is it that you have so much time to torment atheists, and spend the overwhelming majority of your spare time reading atheist blogs?

    If you're so busy reading non-atheist material and developing positive thoughts on your religion, when would you have found the time to declare: "Nazism and Communism, avowedly atheist political movements, are the no. 1 murders and torturers in history." Or:"There is no fundamental difference between the atheist running the local corner store and Joseph Stalin, y"sh." Or: "any atheist has to accept he's in the same club as Hitler, Tse-tung, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. To deny this is hypocrisy."

    Why would you be spending your extremely valuable time harassing, tormenting, and spreading hate speech about human beings when you could be developing your powerful relationships with divine entities?

  12. You should read "The Postman" by David Brin, "Guardians of the Flame" by Joel Rosenberg, and "The Silmarillion" by JRR Tolkien. ;-)

  13. And you should watch "Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising" :P

  14. "The Postman" I can agree with, but substitute "Black Boy" by Richard Wright and "Fear No Evil" by Natan Sharansky for the others.

    Also, I'd love to hear Baruch review The Screwtape Letters.