The truth is that ideas and even personalities can fall in and out of favor over time in the Orthodox community, as in all communities, as a result of what their approaches yielded in the real world over time. That’s not “re-writing history,” as Shapiro asserts. It is the playing out of history.
The thing is, not in the Catholic Community - as far as Orthodox approach to Catholicism is concerned and once it gets above a critical level of favour.
There are debates on whether Feeneyist belief (no one who dies without baptism and without either being baptised by a Catholic priest or after baptism converting before one is at all saved) was thus critically - the technical term for this level is "infallibly" defined by Eugene IV at Florence Council or not. Perhaps something else is sufficiently close to the text of the document - a partial conversion of a non-Catholic might make it, which is what I have personal motives for wishing and hoping, or an implicit submission to St Peter's successor, in living like the Pope wants Catholics to live, even if you are ... not a Catholic? But a Pope wants Catholics to confess to being Catholics. Or perhaps not, as the Feeneyite school claims (priest Leonhard Feeney, excommunicated by Pius XII, rehabilitated by Paul VI, one of the Sedisvacantist Schools, around English magazine Veritas and its Swedish counterpart Adoremus, two at least of the alternative Popes - Alexander IX and Boniface X, lay author Charles A. Coulombe, who must not be confused with his namesake who was a French physicist). But the basics is, if Council of Florence was a valid Council, if it Gaudete Domino is a valid document of it, if it defined Feeneyism, then Feeneyism is Catholic dogma. Or, if it defined sth a little less stringent than Feeneyism, as my back then Father Confessor Anders Piltz OPTert (and Latin Professor in Lund) suggested, when we were discussing Traditionalism and he thought I was getting totally Feeneyite, the text of the document actually says that he who "omnino non" - "not at all" - converts will be damned, and he considered this as meaning a partial and implicit conversion could make it. Or if Evolution and Heliocentrism are totally banned due to Bible and Church Fathers, according to a very famous canon from Trent council - or not.
The principle behind these discussions is that the true faith is NOT like all other communities.
It does NOT change what it has bound itself to.
So, in a Catholic ear, Avi Shafran is admitting Orthodox Judaism is not the true faith - whether he realises this or not.
Precisely as Muslims and Mormons usually do not realise that in our book it takes more than "one man has a vision of an angel telling him about God" to establish the true religion - but they still admit to basing their religions on what Jibreel taught Mahomet or what Moroni taught Joseph Smith. They admit it without realising how damning it is - usually.
What’s more, sensitivities to reputations and feelings are taken into account in some Orthodox literature about historical happenings and personalities. That hardly constitutes the equivalent of Soviet-era attempts to change the past.
I think Soviet-era (and perhaps post-Soviet-era too?) attempts of changing the past are at least inspired by this Jewish habit. You know, once back when that started, Jews were overrepresented among Bolsheviks.
If a biography of Bertrand Russell can choose to elide the great philosopher’s serial marital infidelities and not be accused of rewriting the past, a hagiography of a great rabbi should certainly be permitted to overlook judgments he made with the best of intentions that in retrospect might seem misguided to some today.
I think a biography about C. S. Lewis which left out that Joy Davidman Lewis had previously been Joy Davidman Gresham, that for this reason the Catholic friend John Ronald Reuel Tolkien boycotted the Anglican wedding, that would be not quite a biography.
I am not sure if a biography leaving out a philosopher's serial marital infidelities can claim to be an honest biography. Unless of course it was published while other involved people still had reputations to cover independently of public interest in philosopher. Or unless it only claimed to be his philosophical, not his personal biography.
Was CSL a lover of Mrs Moore? Well, as long as people lived to whom Mrs Moore's reputation mattered more than the true biography of C. S. Lewis, such a thing might be left out. If he was, there might be some rewriting to be done of biographies - in order not to rewrite the past. It seems impossible to verify, but probable that he was so up to his Christian conversion in 1930. And his today biographers on the web are not leaving that out.
Nor should his Catholic admirers leave out that he never converted to Catholicism in due form.
As for Russell, I am not sure he was a great philosopher. Not as great as C. S. Lewis at any rate, and anyone who rates him greater is in my book clearly suspect of having Bolshevik metaphysics. Of believing, if not "future classless society", at least DiaMat.
So, I do not admire the hagiographers who leave out "judgments he made with the best of intentions that in retrospect might seem misguided to some today". I would not admire a hagiographer of St Francis who left out that he helped St Clare to elope her parents or denied (or even left out) he died in his early forties after having made his life very hard with asketism. Even though such omissions might make him more attractive or less frankly unattractive to certain people. Nor do I admire people saying "he preached to birds" in a way as to suggest he was some kind of Radagast, when in reality the story is "he tried to preach to men, they refused to listen, he preached to birds and blessed them and they flew out in four directions like a cross, and men started to listen there".
Such acts of civility are at times portrayed as scandalous by Shapiro and his reviewer — as are changes of practice or emphasis.
Now, I disagree with Avi Shafran and might perhaps be agreeing with Shapiro (whom I have not read in this context, though I have read some by a linguist called Shapiro, might be same man, as quoted in Aitchison) as to where civility ends and dishonesty begins. But thanks for getting to "changes of practise and emphasis".
But the truth is that religious praxis does change, and that should be expected. While the Torah’s mandate, to observe the laws God has given us, doesn’t ever change, the particular directives of halacha (Jewish law) regarding many of those laws continue to evolve, as they always have, with normative rulings in many cases emerging only over years. That is part and parcel of Judaism’s halachic system since Sinai.
Now, I think the real literal halacha of Sinai belongs to the Old Testament. It belongs to the religion in which Jews still had a Temple - the one in which Jesus Christ was circumcised on the eighth day, carried forth during purification rite of His Blessed Mother on the fortieth day, worshipped for Easter during the visit of His Mother and Stepfather when He was twelve.
It is certainly part and parcel of the halachic system that new feasts could be added due to new graces from God. Purim and Chanukka were very famously so added before the Old Testament ended. So was - but post-Christian Judaism changed this - a Septuaginta Feast, celebrating the 70 translators who had all given same text in Greek from their Hebrew manuscripts. Now, through Christ, God gave the community of His covenants - they had lived in the Old and were starting the New with Christ - a very many great blessings. That the Resurrection happened during the Jewish Easter means that some Christians thought Christian Easter should be celebrated on Jewish dates and not omitting Jewish rites. But it was a new and greater blessing than that of Sinai. The Church decided to separate the dates (Council of Nicea gave the formula "first Sunday after first full moon after vernal equinox") - and to consider the earlier Jewish Easter as subsumed in the celebration of the new Easter of Resurrection. In Easter Vigil we do read about the Exodus of Israel from Egypt - as about Creation, Fall and promise of Redeemer, Flood of Noah.
We consider the Temple religion was the due preparation for Christianity, for Catholicism. We consider the very immense changes in "particular directives of halacha" (including non-literality of most of the 613 Thorahic laws, in their new Christian application, but literality of moral law or decalogue and literal justice, if not sufficient mercy with the justice, for the new circumstances as given by God in Christ, of the judicial system in force up to Christ) as having been decided by God, since so He chose to finish the old covenant and establish a new and eternal one. Some details were then left up to the Church to decide.
But the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish community which came up with new interpretations of Temple related laws was a community apostate by the Deicidal judgement of the Sanhedrin, apostate by the cry "we have no king but Caesar", apostate by the cry "crucify him", apostate by rejecting the preaching of St Peter the Sunday of Pentecost and therefore unable to decide validly any valid changes in halacha. At least on the level where something is replacing the Temple.
One opinion in the Talmud, for example, permits fowl and milk to be cooked together and eaten. Just try ordering milk-braised chicken in your local kosher eatery these days; they’ll sic the mashgiach on you in a Borough Park moment.
So that the fowl might not be cooked in the milk of its mother, like the calf?
How many birds give milk?
So that milk and meat may not burden the digestion?
But that is a medical, not a religious reason.
Men using mirrors was once forbidden as a “womanly” act, a once-true assessment that, for most Orthodox men today, is no longer considered applicable.
St Paul considered a man wearing long hair as (generally speaking) shameful. But he did not say "therefore forbidden". There are exceptions when Catholics wear long hair. Kings, insofar as wearing the hair longer is considered a mark of royalty. Poor men and hermits insofar as hair cuts are expensive. And El Cid Campeador up to having kept a certain promise. He felt shame as long as not having done so. Plus some Germanic peoples out of respect for their ethnic custom, in certain periods.
Saying the use of a mirror was forbidden for a man was perhaps less circumspect than St Paul.
And perhaps shows a bit how Judaism is unnecessarily machist. Too eager to stamp a man as "womanly" if not conforming to certain often very social exactions on manliness - and therefore, too social.
I will cite first a passage of the Bible, with a Catholic comment, then Avi's misciting it:
Deuteronomy 17: If thou perceive that there be among you a hard and doubtful matter in judgment between blood and blood, cause and cause, leprosy and leprosy: and thou see that the words of the judges within thy gates do vary: arise, and go up to the place, which the Lord thy God shall choose.  And thou shalt come to the priests of the Levitical race, and to the judge, that shall be at that time: and thou shalt ask of them, and they shall shew thee the truth of the judgment.
Challoner comment:  If thou perceive: Here we see what authority God was pleased to give to the church guides of the Old Testament, in deciding, without appeal, all controversies relating to the law; promising that they should not err therein; and surely he has not done less for the church guides of the New Testament.
Orthodox societal norms, too, are subject to change, according to the guidance of the religious leaders of each generation. That’s nothing novel, either; the Torah commands us to heed the “judge who will be in those days” — even if what he says is different from what a previous generation’s judge may have said.
If the norm is just societal, if it is not doctrinal, not sacramental, not a question of justice, we agree. Also, if "different" does not involve an actual contradiction. But not if it involves both a contradiction and a level considered as doctrinal, sacramental, or of justice, of the natural law.
Non-Feeneyites express themselves differently than Gaudete Domino at Council of Florence to Armenians, but if that "different" involves a contradiction about the doctrine of salvation, one must be Feeneyite. Only if it involves no contradiction, only then can one accept this difference on the doctrinal level.
Also, what dynasty constitutes a true kingship claim over any ethnic nation, there too changes can come. Even acceptance of Republics may be fine, as long as it is acceptance only of a different constitution, not of a different spirit of constitution. The Irish Constitution which starts with "in the Name of the Holy Trinity" is a Republican one, but not an Anti-Catholic one. Not even an Uncatholic one.
But this is about the difference between societal norm and doctrine. Catholic priests on Ireland today may contradict those in the times of Bonnie Prince Charlie or Queen Victoria or Charles II on whom the Irish must obey as civil authority. But this is only a societal norm, not a doctrinal one. Obviously certain societal norms are offlimit. One cannot say one owes obedience to an Oliver Cromwell or a Robespierre - that is not just another societal norm, it is in contradiction with the Catholic doctrine of what a state is or what a state owes the Church, especially in a nation that has received the faith.
I am afraid that Avi Shafran is shuffling in doctrinal matters under the heading "societal norm" - and I am also afraid since his community goes back to the apostasy of "no king but Caesar" while rejecting the true Christ of Whom Moses spoke, that to him "societal norm" is the main thing and doctrine less important. Indeed, if he can consider Bertrand Russell as great philosopher, he probably does not very much value the doctrines about God in the haggada (story) of the Torah - to which we Christians however still owe absolute allegiance, just as in the days of Gamaliel and of Christ.
Consider a societal norm taken for granted today, like religious education for Orthodox girls. That was once entirely non-normative; every educated Orthodox Jew is well aware of that. But the religious leaders of the Orthodox world in the early 20th century — including the revered Chofetz Chaim — decided it was necessary for girls to be formally taught Jewish beliefs, texts and halacha . And so the radical change was made. A world without Bais Yaakovs is today unimaginable.
Indeed, Judaism is placing "societal norms" over the commandment "thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother". It started to do this very soon after its apostasy, even before the Temple was destroyed.
Hanan ben Hanan, son of the Hannas who was father in law to Caiaphas, killer (by pseudo-judgement) of the Apostle and martyr James, whose relics were miraculously transported to Hispania, where he had preached before returning to martyrdom, cannot possibly pass for a Christian authority, nor can any of his successors, up to destruction of Temple. It was his immediate successor, Joshua Ben Gamla or Joshua Ben Gamaliel, who introduced school compulsion for boys, thereby taking away the liberty of parents to decide the education of their children.
And, not only does the rewriting remind of Soviet-era, but the use of the term "societal norms" in a connection like this one does so too.
Avi Shafran has more or less stated that Jewish Orthodoxy is not at all Orthodoxy as we Christians understand it. It is society worship, man worship, idolatry. And Jews rewriting their history is not more a surprise than Greeks rewriting the story of Noah along with hints from Phenicians about Abraham and Lot into the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Which is sensibly close enough to original events (as given in Genesis) to be one confused confirmation of events from independent source (when confirmations are confused, many are needed, and are there), but sensibly different enough from them to not contain the orthodoxy inherent in the original story.
Even normative beliefs, at least to a degree, have changed in Judaism. Whereas once, a Talmudic sage could assert that “There is no Messiah for Israel” — that the ultimate redemption would be entirely Divine, without the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy — today, that belief is, in the eyes of halacha , heresy, something pointed out by the revered Chasam Sofer.
The Davidic dynasty is reigning in Heavenly Jerusalem. The claims of Christ are given in Matthew ch. 1. The claims of the Blessed Virgin is being Mother to the King. And the Davidic dynasty is also reigning in the Catholic Church, since the Church Militant on Earth and the Church Suffering in Purgatory are just temporary extensions (which will end at Judgement Day) of the Church Triumphant up there.
Now, there was a judgement given in 1633. It was against Galileo. If you are Heliocentric, probably you think at the very least that judgement needs to be below the critical level, for Catholicism to hold. Heliocentrism being so proven, right?
Well, Catholicism does not need that. Heliocentrism is not proven. As I have more than once argued.
Or there were judgements carried out against Albigensians from first quarter of 13th C on to their disappearance. Sometimes with recantations of errors (as in Galileo case) and sometimes with burning of heretics (as the OT religion would have executed a blasphemer by stoning). The Catholic Church never stated as a doctrine that heretics must always be pursued this way. It only made a societal norm that heresy be tried by judges of the Church and in case of impenitent or relapsed heretics be punished according to the State law about punishment for heresy (which was usually, in pretty many states, by popular demand since rise of certain heresies leading up to Waldensians but before them, burning). This only implies for doctrine that burning for heresy is not in iself undeserved (except in cases where innocents are falsely found guilty), not that it must always be carried out in all and every circumstances.
Or begging was encouraged and making money out of lending money discouraged - well, yes, as should be. Some people get economic ethics so totally backwards they think there was something wrong with Medieval Catholic ethics on economics here. No. Catholicism does not need to rewrite its history.
Same thing is of course true as to its age limits over most centuries about marriage : 14 for boys and 12 for girls.
Doctrinal implications are: 1) the brain maturity and maximum volume as gained through the growth spurt age 10 to 12 (both sexes) must be there for consent, unlike that which consolidates but somewhat shrinks the brain in ages 18-25; 2) the sexual puberty must be there (it comes both sexes between 9 and 18, but typical near totality of boys ages ages 13 to 15, typical near totality of girls ages 11 to 13); Church society has a right to legally regulate access to marriage according to the medium age of puberty (at which age the brain maturity is also there).
As to the raising of age limit from 14/12 to 16/14, it involved replacing medium age of puberty (age at which approx 50% have attained it) with an age at which 95% have attained puberty. It involved no reference to the next stage of brain development, the one which determines adult brain for most of life, and therefore does not involve a doctrinal, only a societal norm change.
The 18/18 limit given by civil societies however involves a reference to teens being too immature to chose for life whom they shall live with. Accepting it as anything other than an unjustice is therefore a doctrinal contradiction. Some who would accept this are indeed involved in leaving out references to the 14/12 limit - but I do not think they are more Catholic in accepting the doctrinal contradiction which is at least implied or shaded at, than they are in using "Jewish acts of civility", as "defended" by Avi Shafran.
No, unlike Judaism, Catholicism has shown rock immobility, as it could expect if "thou art Peter" was spoken by God. And by the same God who spoke to Moses on Sinai. Next verse, Matthew 16:19, is where He promised that Papacy and Episcopacy should receive the keys of the kingdom of Heaven that Rabbis and Kohanim were about to lose.
I can congratulate Avi Shafran on two things - one is being "honestly dishonest" about this in the article cited. The other is how I found him, he is not a fan of modern Darwinism.**
Hans Georg Lundahl
St Rufinus of Assisi***
* Read more: Forward : Yes, Orthodoxy Changes. No, That's Not 'Rewriting History.' Avi ShafranJuly 20, 2015
** I had already signed, but he is presumably not a fan of original Darwinism with its racialist and eugenic side issues either. Let's hope so.
*** Patron Saint of one Ruffino Niccacci.