Monday, May 4, 2015

Vigilante Action and Rav Moshe Shapiro

There is a shocking video being publicly circulated on news outlets and blogs which apparently first surfaced a year ago - I don't know how I missed it until now.

First, some background. As noted in the post on Mass Hysteria, one such case involved the alleged missionary pedophile ring in Nachlaot. People genuinely believed that dozens of children had suffered at the hands of such a ring. They also believed that one of the masterminds was a certain 72 year old giyores who was running an institute for giyur, that she had been housing the ring's activities in a secret lair beneath her home, and that she was attempting to convert the children to Christianity.

Some of the parents who believed their children to have been victims approached Rav Moshe Shapiro for guidance. He told them that the police are not going to be of any help (part of such conspiracy theories is often that officials are part of the conspiracy). Rav Moshe said that some tough men need to put on masks and break into the woman's home to overturn it, and that the woman herself must be beaten until the point of hospitalization; he added that he doesn't mind if she is beaten beyond that point. Whereupon the men broke into her home, ransacked it, tied and gagged the woman, and beat her with crowbars until they broke her arm and leg.

When I first reported on this extraordinary story last year, I was under the impression that the men involved had no evidence to back up their claims that they were acting on Rav Moshe's orders. To my surprise, there is a video, apparently filmed secretly, which shows Rav Moshe saying exactly the words quoted above:


(Note to those reading this via email subscription - as usual, you will have to visit www.rationalistjudaism.com in order to see the video.)

The police indicted Rav Shapiro, and according to this article, he claimed that his words were taken out of context, and that he was offering sympathy rather than issuing instructions. I don't know how that can possibly be reconciled with the strong language that he used, and his saying that the police are not going to be of any help. His message rings loud and clear.

Even more bizarre is that shortly after these events, Rav Moshe issued a letter declaring that the woman is utterly innocent and righteous. He condemned the beating in the harshest terms, saying that the people who did it were moreh b'Torah shelo k'ahalchah, and that the accusations against her were based on fantasies. Rav Moshe adds that one can never punish a person except with incontrovertible evidence. And he concludes by beseeching the "innocent woman" to forgive those who attacked her due to their mistaken beliefs.

So did he believe her to be guilty or not? If he didn't, then why did he say such things to his disciples? And if he did, why is he then writing that she is innocent? And if he changed his mind, why isn't he admitting that he made a mistake?

As if things weren't bizarre enough already, they get even stranger. In his letter, Rav Moshe refers to the case of eglah arufah. That is a case where a person is found murdered with no clues as to why he was killed. The elders of the city perform an atonement ceremony, in which they disavow responsibility for the person’s death, and say, “Our hands have not spilled this blood and our eyes did not see.” Rav Moshe says that the elders of today need to make this declaration!

How can he disavow his role in this? Even if he is claiming that he did not actually instruct his disciples to beat her up, is there really no connection whatsoever between him saying that the police are useless and that the woman should be beaten near to death or beyond, and his disciples doing exactly that?!

All this ties in very closely to the topic of the previous post, regarding the extent to which people need to take responsibility for the actions of extremists. If a major Rav talks about beating someone up in very graphic terms and disavows blame when people do exactly that, then there is a serious problem of avoiding responsibility.

With Rav Moshe Shapiro, it is of personal relevance for me. Rav Moshe Shapiro was one of the primary opponents to my work in the notorious campaign of ten years ago. His role had particularly painful consequences, because many of my colleagues in education were disciples of his. They revere him to an extent that you wouldn't believe, and they considered it inconceivable that a person of his extraordinary genius could possibly be wrong, overly arrogant about his own approach, or hot-headed. And so they turned on me (in some cases, publicly). Yet surely this case demonstrates that they were mistaken on all these counts!

Furthermore, Rav Moshe's primary footsoldier in the campaign was his disciple Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer. He wrote a book called Chaim B'Emunasam, which was directed against my books. It bears an extraordinarily effusive approbation from Rav Moshe, who describes Schmeltzer as a "gaon" (!). In Chaim B'Emunasam, Schmeltzer edited the opinions of the Rishonim in order to claim that every word in the Gemara is from Sinai, and he states that nobody ever said that Chazal were mistaken in science, and that to claim otherwise is heresy. Most significantly, Schmeltzer's book said that any such heretics, who deny the divine infallibility of certain statements in the Gemara (i.e. me), should be put to death by any means possible.

Thank God, nobody ever physically attacked me, but my wife and I were subjected to a terrifying phone threat. Now, I truly don't believe that Rav Moshe thinks that someone should kill me. But how can he endorse a work which says such things?

The charedi rabbinic leadership needs to learn that violence results from an atmosphere of violent language. Otherwise, to declare that "Our hands have not spilled this blood" is simply false.

38 comments:

  1. In my opinion there is another problem involved as well in the extreme statements made by Jewish religious leaders.
    I believe that over the years with the powerlessness of the Jews in the Galut it became accepted for such leaders to take out their anger at their powerlessness by making exaggerated statements and calling all sorts of people "Mosrim" and "Hayavei Mitta" and the like.

    In situations where Jews had no power anyway, the leader could rant and rave, and know that no one could interpret his statements literally because everyone knew that they had no way to perform such egregious acts - and even if someone did take the statements literally, he couldn't perform such acts either.

    In the modern age, where everybody and his brother can acquire weapons if they really want to, and many Jews acquire some expertise in the use of weapons in the army, someone who is Hozer BiTshuvah in an extreme manner after his army service and has a certain volatile temperament, can feel/claim that he is "required" to use his knowledge of violent engagement to fulfill the "Torah-true" words of his Rebbe.

    This leads to some of the situations where a leader's wild statements bring followers to act violently based upon them.

    I think that Avtalyon's Pirkei Avot (1:11) warning "Sages be careful in what you say," applies with added force in these troubled times where it may be easier for people who have a tendency to interpret violent expressions literally to acquire the means to vent their "righteous anger" - not to mention that sticks and metals bars are generally not at all difficult to acquire.

    This doesn't explain every situation, and there definitely appear to be cases where a leader later claims disingenuously that he did not imagine that anyone would take his words as a literal call for violence. However, in all cases rhetorical restraint is a very needed commodity (not just in Hareidi circles).

    Bivrachah,
    Catriel Lev
    RBS-Alef

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    1. "many Jews acquire some expertise in the use of weapons in the army, someone who is Hozer BiTshuvah in an extreme manner after his army service and has a certain volatile temperament"

      Are you seriously suggesting that violence only comes from those with IDF service? Please. The students beating each other in Ponovitch have never held a firearm in their lives. Somehow they manage to be violent.

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    2. No, I am NOT suggesting this is the only way, but this is one of the ways which is sometimes overlooked.

      As I mentioned at the end of my comment, "This doesn't explain every situation, and there definitely appear to be cases where a leader later claims disingenuously that he did not imagine that anyone would take his words as a literal call for violence. "

      I just mentioned this as yet another reason why rhetorical restraint is a very needed commodity.

      Bivrachah,
      Catriel Lev, RBS

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    3. Who know, Joey - is it not possible for the Lord to work in mysterious ways?

      Best regards to L, M, Dov Dov & Co. Those Bnai Torah back-bencher days were fun, weren't they?

      Delete
  2. The ANTI-TORAH Cult of Modern ChareidismMay 4, 2015 at 7:38 PM

    Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for being a relentless and courageous warrior for G-d's truth.

    My Rav zatzal, who spent forty years in the Mir in Yerushalayim clarifying the truth of G-d's Torah in conjunction with understanding the chochmah of science, psychology & the spiritual.truth underlying the natural.world, warned me years ago, that despite Rav Moshe Shapiro's clear intellectual genius, his lack of sincere dedication to truth was a problem to be wary of.

    Clear evidence that Torah Genius without 1000% dedication to truth wherever it leads (plus humility) does not lead to yashrut or human decency

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    1. What does that mean? What do you (or he) mean by "truth"?

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    2. May we ask who your rav was?

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    3. May I ask who was this rebbe?

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  3. does any one know who the judge in his case was does anyone have a link to any of the court documents?

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  4. Hashgacha Protis in action. For a brief moment I wish I was Haredi so I could actually believe it was Hashgacha😀

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    1. you don't have to be chareidi to believe in Haschaga just a Maamin bnei maaminim and a Jew.

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    2. Also, you can be a maamin ben maamin and a Jew and not believe in hashgacha pratis.

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    3. a maamin might believe in it HP but miomandis certainly did not (unless you are an extremely special guy)

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  5. To me a universal truth seems evident here: power corrupts. While a Torah sage should be able to rise above it, time and history demonstrate this is rarely the case. At the end of the day most are "only human" This doesnt excuse the weakness but does explain it.

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  6. I'm interested to know what evidence exists either for or against the existence of this paedophile ring in Nachlaot. The general impression I got was that there was a very big problem there, but nobody had enough legally admissible evidence to do anything about it. To call that mass hysteria sounds incorrect. I am open minded, though.

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    1. I remember that there was one man (falsely) accused of being involved in this "ring"--the police searched his house and confiscated his computers, checking them for evidence. The unfortunate man--out of shame of such accusations--committed suicide.
      My grandmother, who was not a particularly religious woman, used to say that a person should fear people more than he fears G-d. (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai told his students on his deathbed to fear Hashem as much as human beings.) Hashem can always forgive, but other people can ruin your reputation irreparably.

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    2. There is no evidence, period, that there was anything more than one or two pedophiles, acting independently of each other. They seem to have been quite "active" and of course that's a big problem, but there has never been such a thing as a "pedophilia ring." In this and other charedi cases, it's an attempt to make it "outsiders" rather than who is really responsible.

      The problem is that by encouraging their kids to talk of a "ring," the parents damaged the evidence against the real culprits.

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    3. No to mention creating hysteria and harming innocent people.

      Lawrencekaplan

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  7. "Any talmid chacham who lacks 'da’at' is worse than a putrid animal carcass!"

    Vayikra Rabba 1, quoted by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z'l, who in turn was quoting Rav Hutner z'l


    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/daatTorahLichtenstein.pdf

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    1. One of the very first teshuvos in the Igros Moshe is to a R"Y Hutner, which I take to mean Rav Yitzchok Hutner. The question was whether one could bring Tefillin to someone who is quarantined for a contagious disease, if the Tefillin would subsequently have to be burned. Rav Moshe answers no. The fellow should not put on Tefillin.

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  8. Looks like Rav Shapiro originally thought that the woman was guilty and that they would get away with it because they were masked, then when they were caught and/or the woman was declared innocent by the courts, he wrote the letter and threw his students under the bus to escape culpability.

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    1. I would think that was obvious. I suppose R' Slifkin gets it too and is just trying to make a rhetorical point.

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    2. The above DF is not me (the usual DF), though is sounds like something I might think.

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  9. I think the clear and explicit language of R. Moshe Shapira's letter proves that the clip was taken out of context.

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    1. straight thinkingMay 5, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      You must be joking. The secret video is much more revealing than a letter written to cover things up. Besides, what possible context could there be which reconciles with the letter?

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    2. unfortunately, the video as presented doesn't give the context (in other words we don't know what the question that r' moshe is responding to is). the simple understanding is that he was likely asked what would be the wise reaction to "some one who did such and such" to which he responded that it would be wise to take the law into your own hands and not rely on the police. he was not stating that that is what should be done to the elderly woman in question, since we don't in fact know that she "did such and such". that is clearly what the letter states, not that beating her would be wrong if in fact she was guilty, but rather that she had a cheskas kashrus that remained in effect because there was no evidence of her guilt. he condemns the beaters for acting in the absence of halachikly valid evidence, but never states that they would have been wrong had she in fact been guilty. incidentally, other than the news presenter saying so, do we have any reason to believe that the recording was "secret"? it is entirely possible that he knew that he was being recorded, and didn't consider anything he was saying to be secret, since it involved no actual instructions to beat a real person.

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    3. straight thinkingMay 5, 2015 at 3:11 PM

      good grief, you are really desperate to avoid the obviousness of the situation. He is clearly talking about that specific person. You really think that his chasidim went to discuss such a desperate situation with him and didn't spell out that they are talking about a specific person?

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    4. who went to discuss what with him? what was the situation presented (desperate or otherwise)? that's my point, none of that is clear from the video as presented. technically, he may not even have been discussing the situation in nachlaote. he's a pretty smart man, and a very original thinker, so it is unlikely he would have fallen for something who's roots lay in "mass hysteria".

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    5. He may be smart, but he also believes the world was created after the domesticaton of the dog, so he's not beyond believing ridiculous things.

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    6. I think the video proves nothing! It is prejudicial and shouldbe admissable in court. iIt was clearly edited to leave out specific references. He was probably talking theoretically. He probably said that if it was proven... then...
      It sounds like a stretch but the deliberate editing makes it hard to believe the alternative.

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    7. He probably said that if it was proven... then...

      And that makes it better? Rule of law. Look it up sometime. Even Halachah follows that concept. Perhaps your precious RMS should look at a Chumash sometime. I have one I can lend him, as he obviously doesn't own one of his own.

      Delete
  10. Question:

    To understand the nature of the evidence, first read through this book, No Crueller Tyrannies.
    http://www.amazon.com/No-Crueler-Tyrannies-Accusation-Witness/dp/0743228340/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

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  11. Natan:

    Why do you assume that R. Shapiro is speaking of the same woman in the video as he is speaking of in the letter?

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  12. I had originally sent a comment on the matter that apparently got lost in the aether. The attempts here to excuse the rav for his intemperate and dangerous remarks are strange. The letter that he signed states the halachic approach to judging criminal cases. It requires clear evidence and is not the prerogative of private individuals. Unfortunately, he, himself, did not act on such principles and an elderly woman was nearly killed as a result. The apprehended attackers claimed to have had instructions for their act from the rav, and this video only substantiates their claim. It is also disturbing that the rav's letter is not a profession of guilt or responsibility for the action. It only makes reference to the need for the 'elders' of the city to make atonement. How he could sign on to a letter with the words, "yadeinu lo shafchu et hadom hazeh ve'eineinu lo ra'u" is beyond me. I understand that he would wish to avoid a jail sentence, and that his intemperate remarks against that woman, much less the severe beating, angered her powerful supporters who were close to Rav Elyashiv (she was connected with the giyur organization run by an Elyashiv spokesperson). Nonetheless, the letter is a cowardly way of attempting to avoid responsibility. Perhaps if there are consequences to his words, he and other Hareidi elders with learn to be more careful with them.

    Y. Aharon

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  13. david kornnbluthMay 5, 2015 at 8:29 PM

    the Rav here may have been lied to as everyone knows a Rav cannot pasken without hearing both sides.

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    1. Yes, everyone knows that. Except all the rabbanim who don't bother.

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    2. And yet, he did pasken.

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  14. when you read about R shapiro's victim it makes you hard to feel sympathetic for her
    http://www.lukeford.net/blog/?p=38359

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