Sunday, June 24, 2012

Will The Real Stan Please Stand Up

Here are two letters that were sent to Ami magazine, the first by a neighbor of mine and the second by me. Since there is not the slightest chance that Ami will print either of them, I am posting them here.

The letters relate to this week's column by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Some people claim that it is pointless and undignified to pay any attention to him; after all, this is a person who believes that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully, and who believes that "unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas" is more of a problem in the scientific community than in the charedi community! However, since Rabbi Shafran has an important position and his voice is heard by many people, I believe that he cannot be ignored.

Dear Editor,

Ami Magazine has once again demonstrated its knack for reveling in self-righteous arrogance that benefits no one. Two articles in your 30 Sivan issue demonstrate this tendency in particular.

The first is Rabbi Avi Shafran's comparison of Orthodox bloggers with Korach. While he accepts that there are some responsible bloggers, the examples he enumerates (those "who seek to share community news or ideas... [or] explore concepts in Jewish thought and law... [or] focus on Jewish history and society") demonstrate by omission that those who attempt to expose anything negative in Chareidi society are comparable to the villains in Parashat Korach. If a blogger discusses the shameful lack of accountability in cases of abuse and neglect, he apparently violates the negative commandment, "Do not be like Korach and his congregation." Thus, someone who attempts to improve Chareidi society by protecting its most vulnerable members is, in fact, comparable to one of Judaism's greatest internal enemies. This statement is so offensive that I might have assumed that I misunderstood the article, except that it typifies the self-righteousness inherent in your magazine's journalistic ethos.

Less egregious but equally tone-deaf is the examination of the recent New York Federation population study, which found that the Orthodox community in Greater New York is growing. Your analysis is nothing more than meaningless triumphalism, which preaches to a select choir that Orthodoxy is the only future for Klal Yisrael. Is that really what our community needs to hear? Were we in danger of doubting such a view? By citing such studies coupled with self-serving analysis, we blind ourselves to the genuine issues that face religious Jews. Did the nevi'im spend their time telling the People of Israel how great they were, or did they enable them to look for their flaws in order to correct them?

Only by avoiding self-righteousness and engaging in authentic cheshbon hanefesh can Orthodox Judaism achieve its genuine aims: that is, to create a society which is based on the precepts of Torah in fact, not merely in theory. Once again, Ami Magazine has chosen the easy and religiously irresponsible way out.

Rabbi S. Kahn
Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah
Beit Shemesh, Israel

To the Editor:

R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice-President of Agudath Israel of America, was recently interviewed in Mishpachah magazine. He explicitly acknowledged two obvious truths: (1) that abuse and molestation issues have not been taken seriously in the charedi community, and (2) that this has begun to change as a result of pressure created by blogs. In light of that, how could Rabbi Avi Shafran, in his latest column, deny any positive value to blogs that contain criticism of the charedi community, and equate them all with Korach?

I was further taken aback to see Rabbi Shafran derisively describe the world of blogs as "blogistan." The suffix "-stan" is usually used to describe an entity that has taken on attributes of restrictive, dictatorial theocracies that are common in the Moslem world. Is it not ironic that Rabbi Shafran, who insists on the unqualified, unimpeachable authority of Daas Torah and the suppression of any public criticism, uses the term "-stan" to describe those who seek precisely the opposite?

Rabbi Natan Slifkin
Ramat Bet Shemesh


  1. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)June 24, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Did you see R' Zwiebel's essay in the OU's "Jewish Action" magazine article on 'Jewish Unity'? It basically said "Jewish Unity is possible now because the Modern Orthodox are becoming more like Hareidim, and aren't cooperating with the Heterodox movements on communal concerns anymore. So now it's okay for us to be nice to them, and that's what Jewish Unity is all about. We look forward to greater Hareidization of the Modern Orthodox community, so make sure to kick out all the LWMO agitators if you want to have Jewish Unity with us."

    I don't think 'Unity' means what he thinks it means...

  2. Rabbi Dovid G. United KingdomJune 24, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Dear Rabbis Slifkin and Kahan

    Please read rabbi Shafrans article carefully.
    Nowhere does he deny that blogs may be bringing certain issues in our community to the public eye, but the means how this is done is what he laments.
    Bringing issues to the public but at the same time shaming our Gedolim is just not the way halacha permits these issues to be rectified. Nor is it the way our nation has practised itself over 2 milennia.
    Check the halachic sources up the Rambam hilchos Mamrim or Yoreh Deah 243 and 334 and you will see for yourself how the Halacha does not allow one to go public on a talmid Chochom shesorach.
    So even on the assumption that you are right that the Rabonim fail to take these issues seriously, that does not give anyone an excuse to publicly shame Rabonim, how much more so Gedolim whom hundreds of thousands look up to for leadership.
    I am not your typical hot headed rabbi yet i must say when learning Rashi this week, the similarities between Korach and certain blogs out there are astounding.

  3. Although I don't disagree with this post, I believe this blog's relationship with Ami magazine is beginning to resemble the attitude that at least one of the writers on Cross-Currents has towards The Forward. You have so many important things to say, with deep knowledge behind them - why waste your platform attacking a magazine that I suspect few of your readers read or respect? I believe this approach just tends to undermine the important positions you hold, just as the Cross-Currents writer's apparent obsession with The Forward undermines his message (and brings attention to a newspaper so obscure that I think most people had forgotten it even exists!)

  4. Agreed, it is WAY too easy to pull the "Korach card" as a means of deflecting criticism and avoiding real Cheshbon Hanefesh, as R. Kahn noted.

    I do agree with R. Shafran about one thing. People are often too quick to jump on those in leadership positions with libelous accusations, "that show them to be not only unworthy leaders but uncaring, corrupt, and worse."

    But if R. Shafran were to be righteous, and not merely self-righteous, courageous, and not merely an apologist for the Orthodox establishment, he would not only defend rabbinic leadership against slander, but ALSO seriously address claims of gross incompetence and negligence in the leadership ranks - especially where it has led to children being exposed to predators in the frum community.

    So yes, slander is a problem. But so is using that slander as an excuse to DO NOTHING about a very real and serious problem.

  5. Rabbi Dovid G. -
    If Rabbi Shafran believes that the bloggers who have brought heretofore ignored issues into the public eye have performed a public service, but must alter their tone in order to accord the proper respect for Gedolim, he should have said that. But he didn't. If he has made statements to this effect, I would appreciate your posting them.
    If Rabbi Shafran praised bloggers for their positive effect, but castigated (some of) them for their tone, I would likely agree with every word.
    Rabbi Zwiebel, of course, acknowledged the public service of bloggers, albeit with the caveat that preventing abuse may not be worth the lashon hara and bitul zman that results. (It's hard to understand why preventing abuse does not meet the criteria of lashon hara l'toelet.) Unless I'm missing something, Rabbi Shafran hasn't even gone this far.

  6. Regarding the comparison of bloggers to Korach:

    I am prepared to make this comparison on one condition. The "gedolim" subject their claim of God's appointment to experiment as did Moshe. If it is God's will that we protect child molesters, deny scientific fact, and create a parasitical society then I at least want some evidence that this is the case.

    Regarding the new New York population study:

    Considering that the largest demographic change is the increase in unaffiliated Jews, one might think there would be less celebration. Alas, the findings are not a surprise. Jewish religion and culture is increasingly dominated by fundamentalism of one sort or another, whether to dogmatic interpretations of texts and rabbinic authority or as blind commitment to the morally uninspiring state of Israel. Sure, high birthrates and cultural insulation have increased the number of Orthodox Jews despite these issues, but I am not optimistic about the future or Judaism at the present time. Hopefully, change will come.

  7. The uniqueness of Korach is that his conflict with Moshe Rabeinu wasn't a real conflict at all. The Mishnah in Avos that mentions him discusses the conflict of "Korach and his group", not "Korach and Moshe". This is likely because there can be no conflict with one side is 100% right and the other is 100% wrong, only a wait until the wrong side gets it.
    Is Rav Shafran suggesting that his side is so infallible that any that oppose it are 100% wrong?

  8. I frequently visit this site and enjoy reading the lively debates, however i must admit rabbi Shafran has it right this time.
    The disrepect given to gedolim on this blog and the accusiation we often read that the gedolim have a monoply over the jewish people with their narrow minded view with the question "who appointed them anyway" does read like a modern day Korach story.
    Perhaps it is time to rethink our ways. Perhaps one could set up a rabbinical board (not shafran or zwiebel!) but a team of rabbis from our community who would read over the blogs before they are posted and give their recommendations.

  9. Well that would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house now. Wouldn't it???

    The truth is there is huge continuum between legitimately questioning and criticizing religious leadership on the one hand and being "mevaze talmidei chachamim" on the other. The line is sometimes crossed, but it's up to the mature reader to decide what to read and what not to read.

    It's no more valid having rabbis as blog gatekeepers than to have them as gatekeepers for abuse allegations.

  10. What if rabbis would encourage public questioning, not hide behind daas Toira, and do a good job of making sure that questioners are not kicked out of their social society? In that case, no one would feel the need to vent their frustration anonymously on a blog. for all this Korach talk, Moshe didn't kick Korach's kids out of cheder for questioning the leadership. He allowed a proper debate.
    The leadership created a nasty blogosphere (yes it is distasteful at times).

    Furthermore, we can question the comparison bet Moshe and Gedolim. Moshe was picked by God in a blatant way. Korach was messing with clear nevuah. Leadership today bases it's right on Yiftach bedoro KiShmuel bedoro. Only that the tzibbur asked Yiftach to lead. When not chosen clearly by God, you gotta get voted in.

  11. Rabbi Slifkin, while your letter has a point within it that should be addressed by Ami, Rabbi Kahan's does not. I think that he obviously does not often read Ami, based on his letter, and he obviously did not read the population survey article, which was not simply a triumphant blowing of the charedi world's horn. I've never seen a letter talk about self-righteousness that was itself so self-righteous.

  12. For a different view of Ami than Rabbi Kahan's uninformed one, try Harry Maryles'.

  13. "after all, this is a person (i.e. R' Shafran) who believes that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully"

    The least you could do is to show R' Shafran's apology:

  14. In this week's yated, pinny lipshutz equates abuse survivors and their advocates with Korach. Seems this attitude spread to many publications, not just Ami.

  15. Calling every decree ` daas torah` is the same as referring to `mored bemalchus`-it comes across as self-serving. If the Rabonim are issuing statements regarding our welfare,they should be able to take criticism. Saying that certain comments are bitul zeman brings to mind that old quote, ` Shut up`,he expalined` ( Ring Lardner,courtesy of a one minute search ).

    The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Blogs,the net,facebook all of it is here to stay. Pretending a return to the good old days is feasable won`t work,as if the good old days were ever that good. Remember what happened to Yeshiah hanovi.The net is an improvement on that.

  16. "The least you could do is to show R' Shafran's apology"

    It was a weak and entirely inadequate retraction that he was forced to do in order to keep his job. I corresponded with him about it and it's clear to me that he is still proud of what he wrote.

  17. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Please can you present some rationalist approaches to Judaims?

    What's your view on Rambam and Ramban's approach to prophecy?

    The commentators cite lots of miracles that occured in Tenach. Which do you think are genuine?

    How do you understand the flood story with its various Midrashim (eg hot water) and why the fish didn't die?

    These are all subjects which would benefit from a fresh approach.

  18. Noone in ParticularJune 25, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    gedolim will get respect when they earn it, and not until then.
    personally, i am still waiting for anyone who currently gets called a godol to earn it.

    ironic, isn't it, that rabbis who don't get the kavod are the ones who deserve it???

  19. I invite Rabbi Shafran, et. al., to comment on this page:

    "Seven Questions NEVER to Ask an Incest Survivor"

    Yes, actually to comment, right there. The page is the statement of a Jewish incest survivor to whom David Morris has given a public voice.

    Is Magen LeYeladim U'Lemishpachot "blogistan"? Is the author a "blogistani"? Is David Morris a blogistani"? Is Rav Chaim Soloveichik a blogistani"? Is Rav Moshe Soloveichik a "blogistani"?

  20. --Bringing issues to the public but at the same time shaming our Gedolim is just not the way halacha permits these issues to be rectified.

    We should never shame anyone, but those who are protecting child abusers, encouraging poverty, setting Jews on a path that leaves them unprepared to take care of themselves or their children should be actively OPPOSED. And who voted them Gadol? Not me. I have my own rabbis I follow.

    If someone protects a child abuser, he is a rodef, a pursuer, and all bets are off. That person is fair game.

  21. Ami printed your letter this week, with a response by Rabbi Shafran.


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