Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Strange Obituaries

When someone revered as great talmid chacham passes away, a plethora of praise is naturally forthcoming. Given the tragic nature of the event, it is regarded as being in very poor taste for anyone to dispute the accolades heaped upon the person who has passed away. Unfortunately, this means that all kinds of fabrications are able to be passed along unchallenged.

Well, as a person directly involved, I think that I have a license to issue such corrections.

Here is a letter that I sent to Rabbi Yair Hoffman eighteen months ago, in response to his hesped for Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz:
Dear Rabbi Hoffman,

I just read your hesped for Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz at Vos Iz Neias. While I am sure that Rav Lefkowitz had many praiseworthy traits, I do not think that it is appropriate to praise someone in ways that are false - especially when their actions in these areas were the cause of harm to others.

You wrote about his "ehrlichkeit" and "unimpeccable (sic) honesty" and added that "he signed upon a number of Kol Korehs and always gave each of them the most profound reflection and thought." Well, I can attest that this is false. Rav Lefkowitz wrote a letter against my books (or signed a letter that someone had ghost-written) in which not only did he falsely claim that they contained kefirah, but he also claimed that those who wrote haskamos for the books had retracted them. Not only was this false, it was very easily proven false - all that he had to do was actually speak to the maskimim! I even sent a message to him before the letter was publicized notifying him of this falsehood, and his assistant told me that Rav Lefkovitz would investigate this and would remove this sentence if I was correct - but in fact he never spoke to any of them and the sentence stayed in even though it was not true.

Furthermore, when I spoke to his assistant in order to attempt to meet with Rav Lefkowitz to discuss his letter, his assistant reported back to me that he refused to meet with me. The assistant said that the reason for this, and I quote, was that Rav Lefkowitz did not actually read the books and did not really know what they were about. Instead, he was just relying on someone else, and so he did not want to meet with me, which would give the impression that he actually knew what it was all about.

Are these the actions of someone with ehrlichkeit? Are these the actions of someone who only signs Kol Korehs after giving them "the most profound reflection and thought"?

Incidentally, if you read Rav Nosson Kamenetzky's "Anatomy of a Ban," you will see that he reports similar shortcomings in Rav Lefkowitz's involvement with the ban on his books.

It would be better to restrict praise of the niftar to that which is true - surely there must be enough of it? - rather than to indulge in false praise that will force others to object.

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

This came to mind after this post at Garnel Ironheart's blog referred me to Jonathan Rosenblum's obituary for Rav Elyashiv. I'm sure that there is plenty of incontrovertible praise that could be given about Rav Elyashiv. Unfortunately, Rosenblum gives some praise that is very far from accurate:
Even after resigning, he remained ever a dayan in his conduct, refusing, for instance, to hear one party in a dispute unless the other party was also present. 
This is painful to read. I can attest that Rav Elyashiv signed a ban on my books, and against my being permitted to teach, based on second- or third-hand testimony as to the books' contents, in a campaign issued by crooks and frauds such as Rabbi Leib Pinter and Rabbi Leib Tropper. Furthermore, as Rav Nosson Kamenetzky attests in Anatomy of a Ban, Rav Elyashiv took actions against his books based on the false testimony of askanim, without asking Rav Kamenetzky for clarification. In fact, having been told numerous stories from people who were affected by rulings issues by Rav Elyashiv, the most common complaint that I heard was that he issued rulings on personal matters without hearing both sides, and that his handlers made it very difficult for people to get in and have their side of the story heard. (See especially this post, about how Mishpachah claimed that Rav Elyashiv's ban against it couldn't possibly be authentic because he never heard their side! Needless to say, it was authentic.)

Are there not enough good things to say about these rabbanim, that people have to praise them with statements that are utterly false?


24 comments:

  1. You have further support in the current edition of Hakirah. In an excellent article on the kashrut of a certain type of fish, it is documented that a number of 'gedolim' paskened without having complete information or contacting the local batei din involved.

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  2. Thanks for the shout out! I was wondering why my hit count suddenly jumped.

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  3. refusing...to hear one party in a dispute unless the other party was also present

    I think you're misunderstanding this quote. The word "dispute" here must be referring to a din Torah, not a halachic pronouncement like a book ban.

    The accolade is not that R. Elyashiv heard both sides. EVERY dayan is obligated to do that. It's that he'd only hear the litigants when both were present at the same time.

    Unless I'm mistaken yours is not a "din Torah" case with a to'en and nit'an (i.e. there are no "two parties" to hear out, let alone at the same time). The ban is a halachic pronouncement, with no obligation to hear the other side. So the above quote isn't referring to a case such as yours.

    However, that doesn't mean he shouldn't have listened to your side anyway. THAT is something poskim should esteem to - never to sign something against a person without hearing their side. I think you're right to bring this to people's attention, since it affects the victims every bit as much as a din Torah.

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  4. ליסטאה בליסתויה ידע! In a culture which thrives on oligarchic deity-leaders, what's the truth got to do with anything?
    If the Chareidim got to revise the Gemara (and would they and how), we would have Sugyos in Gittin and Bava Mezia called הודעת הגדולים כאלפי אלפים עדים דמי! (rimshot)

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  5. And, for all of you דיינים and חושן משפט fans and scholars, this obviously seems to be a case of שודי דדיינא which in theory is supposed to counter-act עיוות הדין and not the opposite. צ"ע

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  6. It's painful, but I have to agree, your post is a necessary correction. No one, of any religion, likes to speak ill of the dead, and certain segments of orthodox Jews in particular are especially prone to credulous belief of anything said about rabbinic figures, no matter how exaggerated. At least, we appear publicly to be so credulous, because for the reasons just mentioned, no one ever steps up publicly to dispute them.

    it must be emphasized, you are taking the very limited step of disputing false tales spread about the men you mention. A related, but yet still different question is how to react to information that is true, but does not present a full picture. Someone could write an entire book of X's diligence, for example, but might overlook his equally strong negative traits. O course, this is a very old question among all biographers, and the opinions are all over the map.

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  7. R' Natan, your post points to a serious malady in Orthodox circles where the apparent desire to appear as one of the 'important' rabbinic figures or the application of pressure to join overrides such concerns as truth and fairness. It appears to be virtually endemic in Kol Koreh's issued by Hareidi circles. Many examples could be cited in addition to your own experience and that of R' Natan Kaminetzky. The most flagrant of such other public pronouncements is the one which defended the reputation of Elior Chen, the extradited and convicted sadist and child abuser, that was signed by a slew of Hareidi rabbinic figures in Israel - including the one mentioned. Another such figure when questioned about his participation wrote that "when Rav __ signs, I sign too". Why should anyone submit serious halachic questions to people of questionable judgment or ethics? Mere knowledge of textbook halacha doesn't make someone into a serious posek. It requires maturity, a judicial temperment, good sense, and empathy as well.

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  8. I don't know how old these rabbanim were when they signed their bans but my impression is that they were quite elderly and out of it. It seems to me that they were treated shamefully by askanim and handlers with their own agendas. A godol and talmid chacham who has lost his edge in old age should be protected from the public eye and his dignity upheld -- he should not be led by strings like a donkey or a marionette.

    Admittedly it is only speculation on my part that this is what happened.

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  9. Motive and purpose

    The purpose for a Rabbi is to enhance spirituality.

    However, the motive of a Rabbi is often to enhance his self-importance.

    When motive does not coordinate with true purpose , spirituality becomes misrepresented and disguised.
    o

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  10. Sunshine is a great disinfectant and keeps people honest. Thanks for pointing out that these things weren't true.

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  11. Are there not enough good things to say about these rabbanim, that people have to praise them with statements that are utterly false?

    But banning of books as kfira without having read them and refusing to educate oneself as to their true content makes for a pretty bad person. What is there to truly praise such a person for?

    Has anyone pointed out what specifically is kfira in 'The Chalenge of Creation'? I'm reading it now for the first time and it's fascinating. I haven't found any problems with it.


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  12. R' Natan,
    You are almost completely on target. However, I would go a step further and surmise that it is often specifically those things that are NOT true about a person (but SHOULD be true if things were completely kosher) that are explicitly claimed by revisionists trying to cover up past mistakes.

    For instance, "Even after resigning, he remained ever a dayan in his conduct, refusing, for instance, to hear one party in a dispute unless the other party was also present."

    Why would anybody ever feel the need to praise a great Rabbi like this? What's the Hava Amina? A Rabbi who refuses to hear one party in a dispute without the other party present is not a Gadol, that is a bare minimum. It would be embarrassing to most Gedolim if that was the praise you came up with for them.
    Someone would only feel the need to explicitly make this claim BECAUSE they knew it was false.
    (I think this explains a lot about the simplistic statements often made by charedi leaders and representatives)

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  13. I think you have difficulty accepting that we define truth and falsehood using the closed world assumption, not the open world assumption. As such negation is a heuristic. If one wants to say something is false, all one needs to do is fail to prove it is true.

    Here, Ehrlicheit is defined in a closed world which simply doesn't include your considerations. There is a transitive closure here. If someone says your stuff is treyf, then I sign on to that because the other person is assumed kosher. You can't be kosher because we failed to find someone erlich who said you were!

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  14. It's useful in this context to call attention to Berachos 62a about giving a eulogy mentioning qualities not possessed by the deceased (and what happens to those who deliver such a eulogy).

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  15. You can't be kosher because we failed to find someone erlich who said you were!

    Pitputim, not that I understand what you are saying, but weren't the books published with haskomos? Meaning to say that people who are erlich vouched for them? Also, can you speak in plain English?

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  16. I ask, not to criticize, but because I want to understand.

    Though these Rabbis did do you harm, wouldn't contradicting these obituaries be lashon hara? All the more so (if I remember my lessons correctly) since these Rabbis were Torah scholars.
    Or is there a constructive purpose in relating this?

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  17. If you never actually spoke to Rav MIchel then it seems very unfair to accept the word of his "handler" as to what transpired or what took place . I feel for you , however these rants against Talmidei chachomim have very little to do with Clearing your name.
    Strikes me as wanting to exact your pound of flesh.

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  18. The Truth about Rav ElyashivDecember 7, 2012 at 8:25 AM

    Toby, when Rav Elyashiv zt"l was a lot younger, long before he was elderly and controlled by askanim, he signed a cherem against Rav Shlomoh Riskin shlit"a.

    When Rav Riskin called him personally to ask to meet and tell him his side of the story, Rav Elyashiv simply hung up the phone.

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  19. it seems very unfair to accept the word of his "handler" as to what transpired

    His handler wants to paint him in the best light!

    wanting to exact your pound of flesh

    What a disgusting accusation. do you even know what that phrase means?

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  20. The Truth about Rav Elyashiv said...
    Toby, when Rav Elyashiv zt"l was a lot younger, long before he was elderly and controlled by askanim, he signed a cherem against Rav Shlomoh Riskin shlit"a.

    When Rav Riskin called him personally to ask to meet and tell him his side of the story, Rav Elyashiv simply hung up the phone.

    December 7, 2012 8:25 AM


    ------

    Having recently read R' Riskin's book of memoirs, I think I know why R' Elyashiv signed a ban.

    The case with R' Slifkin is quite different.

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  21. After Rav Shach's passing, his biographies whitewashed his vitriol against Chabad, as if it was in anticipation of Chabad messianism. ("One day they're going to say that their rebbe is Moshiach!") This was also an attempt to make his views more palatable to the public--as if he said them as נבואה, protecting Judaism from a dangerous cult. (I can attest that Rav Shach's statements against Chabad were on a wide range of topics, not touching on believing the Rebbe to be Moshiach. The messianism only gained momentum after the Rebbe's stroke.)

    However (at least as I perceive it), with the passage of time, the "da'as Torah" has become more moderate and tolerant. Perhaps children in the next generation will not even be aware that there was ever a rift between the two groups.

    In the same vein: I don't think Rabbi Slifkin has actively to take any steps to "clear his name". From the posts on this blog, I think that he is gaining support from rabbis on the right end of the spectrum, not to mention having a modern orthodox fan base. I foresee that his views will be vindicated over the course of time.

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  22. Dose someone have to know every single living moment of a person to make a generalization about him?

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  23. "Having recently read R' Riskin's book of memoirs, I think I know why R' Elyashiv signed a ban. The case with R' Slifkin is quite different."

    Wow, that is quite a thing to write. I also read his memoirs recently, including this very story (where he even glosses over names and facts to spare the honor of gedolim including Rav Elyashiv who behaved dishonorably...)

    The memoirs teach many amazing things. But what is relevant here is simply that Rav Riskin certainly wasn't Rav Elyashiv's type. Especially regarding women's issues, which was the issue at hand (having Nechamah Leibowitz zt"l teach in his yeshivah, for which he got the explicit support of two leading gedolei yisrael).

    Your bottom line seems to be that someone who is "out of line" about things that are controversial in your eyes (like women's issues) doesn't deserve a fair hearing from a gadol ha-dor, who may issue a cherem without meeting him and then hang up the phone when he requests a meeting.

    But if the issue is not controversial in your eyes, such as Rav Slifkin's positions, then it is truly not right, and perhaps age and askanim can be blamed.

    In my eyes this is the truth: It is no accident that a Torah scholar who was able to issue a cherem when he was younger regarding women's issues, without hearing both sides of the story, is the same man who later had no problem banning books on topics that are (or at least were or should have been) far less controversial without hearing both sides, and who surrounded himself by askanim who both looked for opportunities to do things like this and also assumed, like their Rav, that hearing both sides of the story has no relevance.

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