Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Bizarre Denunciation of a Denunciation of a Denunciation

This Chanukah, I took my family to visit an amusement park, which was hosting a special day for the families of Tzohar rabbis (I am not a Tzohar rabbi, but I was given the free tickets by a supporter). Tzohar is a remarkable organization which, under the leadership of Rav David Stav, seeks to do what the Israel Rabbinate is supposed to do but fails at abysmally. It is a group of passionate Zionist Orthodox rabbis who try to make Judaism meaningful and attractive to the secular majority of Israel.

Most secular Israelis only encounter rabbis when they get married - and they find it a highly unpleasant, bureaucratic mess, which makes many of them prefer to get married in Cyprus instead. Tzohar rabbis, however, teach the secular couples about the beauty of a Jewish marriage - and moreover, they do it for free. I saw hundreds of Tzohar families in the park, and they were the crème de la crème of religious Jewry - full of love for Torah and klal Yisrael and yiras Shamayim rather than yiras bnei adam.

Earlier this year, Rav Ovadiah Yosef launched a blistering denunciation of Tzohar and Rav Stav. He referred to him as a “wicked man,” who is “dangerous to Judaism” and who has “no fear of God at all.” Unsurprisingly, it resulted in verbal and physical harassment of Rav Stav.

The RCA wrote a private letter of support to Rav Stav, which was subsequently leaked to the media. In the letter, they did not attack Rav Ovadiah personally, but they did denounce his words as "terrible," and they quoted the Gemara in Yoma 86a: "Each of us is obligated to make G-d beloved through his or her actions. If a Torah scholar deals kindly with others, people will say, 'Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah! Fortunate is his rabbi who taught him Torah! Woe to those who do not study Torah! This one to whom they have taught Torah, see how beautiful are his ways!' If, however, he is not honest in his dealings and does not speak kindly to others, people will say the opposite: 'Woe to this one who has studied Torah! Woe to his father who taught him Torah! Woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah! This one who has studied Torah, see how crooked are his deeds and how ugly are his ways!'

Enter Ami magazine. Ami is a popular yet very strange publication, perhaps most infamous for its 2012 cover story on antisemitism which depicted the White House draped with swastika flags. In addition, after the conviction of the long-term Satmar pedophile, its cover story - the sole story that it ran on this case - was an interview with the defense attorney! Ami also ran a puff-piece about New Square after the Skvere Rebbe's assistant tried to set a "dissident" family home on fire. This week, there is an absurdly lopsided portrayal of the political situation in Bet Shemesh, and in general Ami is a great example of charedi pravda-style journalism. But it's the editorial regarding the RCA, by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, which really takes the cake.

Rabbi Frankfurter denounces the RCA for its denunciation of Rav Ovadiah's denunciation of Rav Stav. Rabbi Frankfurter denounces Rav Stav (whom he calls "Stav") as a "reformer" and an "anti-Torah activist." He claims that the RCA letter is "unpardonable," and that it highlights the RCA's "departure from halachic standards," because halachah "sanctions, and in fact demands, the reproof of a person who has deviated from the path of Torah and mitzvos."

But doesn't it occur to him that the rabbis of the RCA do not actually believe that Rav Stav has deviated from the path of Torah and mitzvos? Why on earth would they accept Rav Ovadiah's statement to that effect? Especially since Rav Ovadiah is known for issuing pronouncements without being fully appraised of the situation (and if there's anything here to be condemned as a "departure from halachic standards", you have it right there).

The Ami editorial doesn't get any better. It condemns the RCA for its letter of protest regarding the Manhattan rally against Yesh Atid's social engineering, giving the impression that the RCA letter of protest was due to RCA solidarity with Yesh Atid. In fact, the RCA letter of protest was due to the rally being a Satmar-led event that included hate speech against Israel and strengthened Israel's enemies. The editorial also issues the usual canards against Yesh Atid, claiming that any supporter of Yesh Atid hates Torah and wants to "close down" the yeshivos. As usual, it's oblivious to the fact that in the Dati-Leumi world, people love Torah and yeshivos exist, even though people serve in the army and work for a living.

Can't we have a weekly English magazine for Orthodox Jews that doesn't spout offensive nonsense? I'm sure there would be a market for it.


  1. Who needs a weekly? We've got an almost daily entertainment on your blog.

  2. Really? Rabbi Stav's Sefer is full of nonsense. I read and could not believe how silly his ideas are. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Zatz"l is a legendary posek, his seforim are full of geonis. And you compare the two, how silly

  3. Yes there is one and its free. "The English Update."

  4. Can someone quantify what it is that Rav Stav and Tzohar have or are doing that is so anti- Torah.

    All I have heard and read to date is that he is evil, but I am unaware of what it is that he has done to make him evil

  5. Did not one of Tzofar leaders, Rabbi Cherlow, suggested to recognize non-Orthodox streams including Reform conversions?

    Of course, greatness of sages is not measured by the amount of people who attended their funeral, nevertheless it is revealing that noone else levayah in Israel was attended by such an enormous amount of people as HaRav Yosef zt"l levayah.

  6. > Can't we have a weekly English magazine for Orthodox Jews that doesn't spout offensive nonsense?

    Orthodox Jews who don't get off on offensive nonsense generally read real magazines with well-written articles, not Chareidi ones.

  7. The Satmar-led anti-Israel rally was a chilul HaShem.

  8. Tzohar rabbies are great people, but to spend a day in tbe amusement park is weird. I expect rabbies to learn and not to go on swings and merry-go-rounds.

  9. Why do we live in such an upside down world

  10. Can't we have a weekly English magazine for Orthodox Jews that doesn't spout offensive nonsense?

    Offensive nonsense is what I look for when reading orthodox jewish news material. It's also why I read blogs.

  11. I hate to quibble, but is Ami popular? (I hope not!)

    How conveniently people forget that Rav Ovadia denounced Rav Stav in the must of an election campaign in which his soon was running. He was certainly no stranger to overheated campaign rhetoric. And how does he connect support of Rav Stav to ignoring Rav Soloveichik?

  12. Eh the post is a "A Bizarre Denunciation of a Denunciation of a Denuciation [sic] of a Denunciation", though I've lost track what that makes this comment.

  13. Mishpacha is not half bad, much more open-minded than Ami, certainly.

  14. Mishpachah is better than Ami, but that's not saying much. I've written several posts about problems with it:

  15. this editorial was printed recently? the whole affair was months ago.

  16. Whether Haredim and other Orthodox Jews understand this or not, we live in a world of pluralism and post-Modernism. Most people, including most Jews, do NOT accept religious and halachic norms as applying to them and can not accept the fact that there is only one form of Judaism. This is the situation whether we like it or not. All classical norms of behavior such as opposition to homosexuality, the sanctity of marriage, and viewing things like foul language and pornography as being offensive have been thrown in the junk heap. The fact that Israeli has a state Chief Rabbinate at all in this modern world is rather amazing.
    Yaron London, a prominent secularist, wrote before the election for the Chief Rabbis that he wants the Chief Rabbinate to be controlled by the Haredim because this will turn the secular public against it completely and this will lead to demands that the entire Rabbinate be abolished, which is what London says he wants.
    Rav Stav, TZOHAR and other open-minded people are trying to stem this. Fewer and fewer secular Israelis even bother to get married through the Rabbinate...they go to Cyprus, or they live together without being married together, often raising children without a stable family relationship which is disastrous.
    This is the reality...the only way to overcome this challenge is to make Judaism "user friendly" without compromising halachic norms. This is NOT EASY, but Rav Stav and others are working overtime to do this and they are having some success. The ultimate question is: Should the official face of Judaism in Israel be or Haredi, or is it preferable that its official representatives be people who the general public can relate to...Rabbis who have served in the army, understand modern Israeli society, are conversant in secular knowledge while maintaining allegiance to the halachic system.

  17. "The RCA wrote a private letter of support to Rav Stav, which was subsequently leaked to the media."

    Does anyone know if the leak was Rav Stav's fault, or was a copy of the original, held by the RCA, leaked?

  18. > Did not one of Tzofar leaders, Rabbi Cherlow, suggested to recognize non-Orthodox streams including Reform conversions?

    I know him personally, and I doubt this very much. Depending on what you mean by "recognize", though. Recognize that they exist, than yes, definitely. He's a very realistic person, and focuses on the issues that the Jewish World is experiencing right now, rather than the ones from 50 or 100 or 150 years ago.

    But he's a frum yid, and a Talmid Chacham. He even has a shaggy grey beard, and wears a suit to teach Torah.

  19. Kira said...

    >I know him [Rabbi Cherlow] personally, and I doubt this very much. Depending on what you mean by "recognize", though. Recognize that they exist, than yes, definitely.<

    Suggestion to Israel to recognize Reform conversions is not just recognizing that they exist:

  20. According to the RCA, the letter to Rav Stav was sent privately via email; however, a secretary saw Rav Stav's email when it came in and his supporters immediately published it without the RCA or Rav Stav's knowledge. The first he heard about it was from the press.

  21. Free cheese can be found in mousetrap only (Russian slang).

    It's correct that TZohar activities are free of charge for their clients, but from that one might conclude that they are voluntary, and this is wrong - they are paid very well by New Israeli Fund. Everyone who is familiar with reality in Israel knows that everything supported by NIF is Evil. Examples such as imprisonment of Emmanuel parents and juridicial war of Palestinian Arabs against settlers would suffice.

    Dear Rabbi Slifkin, in absolute most of cases I completely agree with you, but now I believe you are wrong, and I strongly suggest you to reconsider it. And, ugliness of rav Ovadia attacks should not matter. Middle Ages dragons were reportedly fed by beautiful damsels, but the opposite is wrong - if a dragon eats someone, he/she is not necessarily beautiful :-)

  22. If the RCA leadership really expected the e-mail to remain private and not be leaked, they must be very naïve.

    Lawrence Kaplan

  23. I don't understand the 'private letter of support' in the context of an election campaign. Aren't they trying to get their candidate elected? This whole thing is totally weird.

  24. I had the chance to talk to my rabbit about Tzohar a while, back he is involved with it and does about a wedding a month via Tzohar, he said that he find that most of the couples he works with end up very happy to have had him perform their wedding.

    One bride even asked him to give a short Dvar Torah at the wedding

    He told me that in the last 17 or so years Tzohar has done about 80,000 weddings, they also do Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor services in places that might not otherwise have them like say a secular kibbutz

  25. In context of an election in which one cannot vote, a private letter of support is just that.

    I read the Haaretz article about R' Cherlow and his letter to his students. I maintain my previous position: R' Cherlow suggests ways that they can be integrated into Israeli society, including suggesting separation of religion and state - equally revolutionary in Israel. He does not suggest recognizing them as valid expression of Halachic Judaism.

    Whoever said above that Tzohar is funded by New Israel fund is mistaken. Women of the Wall are, indirectly. Tzohar is not.

  26. @Carol, the RCA might be looking to to be friendly with him (for future cooperation) without getting bad PR, so they sent their blessings in private.

  27. what percentage of the orthodox world would buy such a newspaper?
    Sadly, not many.
    I wish it weren't the case.

    PS from your commnent thread, it sounds as if you should do a post about tzohar (or at least link to their site).

    It sickens me how much people can hate an organization without really knowing anything about it.

  28. Everyone who is familiar with reality in Israel knows that everything supported by NIF is Evil. Examples such as...

    Everyone who is familiar with numbers knows that all odds are prime. Examples are 3, 5, and 7.

  29. I happened to have bought this Ami because of the provocative headlines.

    It claimes that Tzohar "describes itself as an organization that describes itself as seeking to reform Judaism in a way that makes it more accessible to secular Israelis."

    You didn't mention that. I have do not know if that description is true, but your describing his article without mentioning the thrust of his argument certainly isn't.

    Without addressing this your above post is worthless.

  30. You're right, I should have called out Ami on that description, too.

  31. "Can't we have a weekly English magazine for Orthodox Jews that doesn't spout offensive nonsense? I'm sure there would be a market for it."

    I'm not sure at all. Most orthodox Jews are mindless lemmings. The swallow the pop nonsense in Magazines like Ami and Mishpacha and don't think deeply enough to be bothered by the things you write about here. It's said, but likely true.


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