Born and raised in Manchester England, he attended the local yeshiva. He left in 1995 to continue his studies in the Medrash Shmuel yeshiva and Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem Israel. He was ordained at the Ohr Somayach yeshiva, and currently lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, Israel.
Slifkin explores traditional rabbinic perspectives in his books and discusses how they may relate to issues of interest to modern science. His writings elicited little controversy until 2005. In Slifkin's approach, traditional Judaism mandates neither a literalistic approach to Biblical cosmology, nor a belief that the Talmud is always correct about scientific matters. Views similar to these were accepted by some as within the realm of Orthodox Judaism. A public debate began about Slifkin's books about the question of how literally Orthodox Judaism interprets the Torah and how much weight should be given to the scientific discussions of rabbinic sages.
Slifkin is the author of numerous books dealing with the Torah and zoology:
The condemnation itself objects to two aspects of Slifkin's work: First, it objects to Slifkin's assertion that the scientific writing contained in the Talmud may not be as authoritative as the more overtly religious content, "that Chazal Hakedoshim [Holy Sages] can err chas vesholom [heaven forbid] in worldly matters." Secondly, it objects to the tone of Slifkin's work, stating that "even what is not heretical is expressed in a way only a heretic would speak.
The ban caused a widespread debate, largely on the Internet, in which rabbis and scholars from around the world participated, and which generated intense opposition to the ban. Slifkin's publisher, Targum Press discontinued distribution of his books. Afterwards Yashar Books, a smaller Jewish publisher, agreed to distribute them. Materials written by Slifkin were removed from the websites of influential Orthodox kiruv (Jewish outreach) organizations, such as Aish HaTorah. Aish HaTorah and several other organizations that participated in the ban have themselves published material reconciling Genesis with acceptance of an ancient universe.
According to Jennie Rothenberg, writing in the secular Jewish Moment magazine, someone who has knowledge of the Slifkin ban asserted that this incident represents a major breaking point within ultra-Orthodox society. "Over the past 15 years, the rabbis of Bnai Brak and the more open American ultra-Orthodox rabbis have been split on a number of important policy decisions," says the rabbi, who requested to remain anonymous. “The Slifkin ban is a huge break. It’s a kind of power struggle, and those who didn’t sign the ban are outraged right now. I’m talking about rabbis with long white beards who are furious about it." Slifkin’s views, according to this rabbi, are shared by countless figures within the ultra-Orthodox community. "He’s saying out loud what a lot of people have been talking about quietly all along. To those people, he’s a kind of figurehead. A less confrontational version of this view is expressed very succinctly by an (anonymous) head of an Orthodox Kollel: "he is being unfairly attacked by people who have good intentions, but no perspective." He was also supported by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of Los Angeles.
Some in the Orthodox world questioned whether a ban on a book or author could be an appropriate response in the modern world. According to Rabbi Gil Student, publisher of Yashar Books, "The case can be made that the days of effective banning are long gone. In today's world of individuality, curious people will read what they want regardless of what is labeled "kosher" and "non-kosher." Banning books only serves to make them more appealing to those who are looking for interesting reading." According to Rabbi Student, such a ban might have the opposite effect to what was intended. "On the one hand, people who have no doubts about science and Torah might possibly read these books and develop doubts. On the other hand, people who already have doubts, or even just questions aligned with a firm faith, have much to gain from these books. In fact, I understand that R. Slifkin's writings have positively influenced people who were on the verge of rejecting Judaism.
Following the opposition to the ban a number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis defended those who had banned Rabbi Slifkin's books. Rabbi Aharon Feldman and Rabbi Shlomo Miller wrote articles in defense of the ban, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman gave three lectures on this topic at Toras Moshe. These defenses of the ban were themselves controversial, and Rabbi Slifkin posted them all on his website, together with rebuttals written by various people. Rabbi Meiselman requested that Rabbi Slifkin remove the lectures from his website, a request that Slifkin did not acquiesce to.