Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Defense of a Condemnation

A group of distinguished Rabbonim write a letter of condemnation against the teachings of a maverick rabbi who claims to be doing outreach. Sounds like a summary of the great Torah/Science controversy of 2004/5. But it happened again today, when 16 rabbonim signed a letter of condemnation against Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi. Due to certain superficial similarities with my case, I have decided to discuss the differences. (Full disclosure: several of the signatories are beloved colleagues/ friends/ mentors, and one of them was my shadchan!)

Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi attained notoriety a while back for his claim that only one million of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were actually halachically Jewish. Aside from being nonsense, this claim was also extraordinarily hurtful and even dangerous. After a flood of condemnation, Rabbi Mizrachi apologized (though his apology contained several inaccuracies). However, he has presented a number of other deeply flawed and/or severely offensive statements and attitudes, in particular about Holocaust victims and people suffering from cancer or other misfortunes. Furthermore, when people have criticized these statements, he has responded with appalling viciousness, comparing his critics to Hitler and hinting that his followers might physically attack them. He's also very uneducated; he believes that stage magicians are actually performing real magic! As longtime readers of my website know, I am not in the habit of criticizing problematic Torah education approaches (there would be too much to do!) unless they are directly harmful to people, but that is unfortunately certainly the case here.

Following is the text of the letter that was released:
As rabbonim and mechanchim, we are greatly concerned about the popularity in some circles of a “kiruv” approach that does not bring honor to the Torah ha-Kedoshah but, on the contrary, creates considerable chilul Hashem.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi apologized for one particularly offensive statement he made on several occasions. But he has voiced, both before and since that apology, many things that reduce complex issues to simplistic and misleading sound bites. He has also repeatedly arrogated to “know” why unfortunate things happen to various people and has presented subtle statements of Chazal in superficial and deceptive ways.
That method may entertain and even stimulate some audiences, but it does no justice to the Jewish mesorah. And, especially with the worldwide audience enjoyed by any public speech these days, misleading assertions even when offered with the best of intentions, are particularly objectionable, and even dangerous.
Jewish institutions must be discerning about the credentials and the histories of those to whom they offer the honor of acting as teachers of Torah. We urge all shuls and organizations to act responsibly and take seriously decisions about whom they invite to address their gatherings.
HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz – Rosh Beit Din, Beis Din of America and Chicago Rabbinical Council
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein – Editor, Cross-Currents
Rabbi Shalom Baum – President, Rabbinical Council of America
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch – Rosh Midrasha, Midreshet Eshel Mara D’atra, Adas Yeshurun Herzliya Synagogue, Winnipeg, Canada
Rabbi Moises Benzaquen – Mara D’atra, West Coast Torah Center, Rosh Hayeshiva, Harkham Gaon Academy Los Angeles, CA
HaRav Mayer Alter Horowitz – Bostoner Rebbe of Yerushalayim
Rabbi Joseph Dweck – Senior Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community of the United Kingdom
Rabbi Daniel Feldman – Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman – Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Jacob Atlanta, GA
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg – Mara D’asra, Boca Raton Synagogue Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Micah Greenland – International Director, NCSY
HaRav Michel Twerski -Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Jehudah, Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky – Rosh Yeshiva, Darche Noam Jerusalem, Israel
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin – Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Avraham Joseph (BAYT) Toronto, Canada
Rabbi Avi Shafran – Media Liaison, Agudath Israel of America
Rabbi Yitzchak Shurin – Rosh Midrasha, Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya
At first glance, this seems very similar to the ban against my own books, so how can I defend the above letter? The truth is that I actually don't have a problem with the Gedolim condemning genuinely heretical works as heretical, or in their issuing a social policy against works that go against the educational approach that they desire for their communities. My problem is with their confusing the two!

There are several important differences between this letter and the letter of condemnation that was issued against my own teaching. First is that the signatories of this letter are actually familiar with Rabbi Mizrachi's teachings, unlike the signatories of the ban on my books, many of whom didn't even read English and who were relying on unreliable zealots. Second is that the signatories of this letter are actually genuinely knowledgeable about different approaches to these topics, unlike the signatories of the ban on my books, who didn't know science and (more importantly) weren't aware of the history of the rationalist approach. Third, the letter against my books was an attempt to impose authority (it was a ban), whereas this letter is a voice of critique, not an attempt to impose authority.

Now, I would like to address some of the counter-claims that have been made in Rabbi Mizrachi's defense. One person argued that "The great rabbis of Rambam's generation burned his books, too! So you see that he's right." Many people voiced a similar defense of my own works, and I never liked it. To quote Carl Sagan: "The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” Yes, they burned Rambam's books. But they also burned Spinoza's books. Having your books burned is no guarantee that they are legitimate!

Another argument being voiced is "How can you condemn Rabbi Mizrachi for saying that the Sassoon children died for their sins in a previous incarnation? That is a traditional Jewish approach!" There are two responses to be made to this. First is that gilgul neshamos is certainly not universally accepted. But second, and more importantly, it is irrelevant that rabbinic authorities have spoken in the abstract about such things; to state this about the Sassoon children and other tragedies is appallingly insensitive and hurtful.

The most common defense of Rabbi Mizrachi being claimed is that "Rabbi Mizrachi is successfully mekarev many people!" Many people likewise voiced this defense for my own works, and I didn't like that much, either. It was somewhat valid, in light of the fact that a significant aspect of the ban on my own books was not that they were heretical per se, but rather that they were dangerous and were leading people away from Judaism. With regard to this aspect, it was relevant to point out that my books were more helpful than damaging, and that the reports of my books being harmful were coming from frauds like Rabbi Leib Tropper. However, if an approach is genuinely wrong, then it doesn't matter how many people it is mekarev. And the signatories against Rabbi Mizrachi do not deny that his approach "may stimulate some audiences." They are saying that it is nevertheless wrong - either innately false, deeply offensive, dangerous, or all of the above. 

It is wrong to say that Downs Syndrome children and those with autism are being punished for their sins in a previous life. It is wrong to say that due to not being correctly religious, secular Jewish women acted without concern for their modesty at the gas chambers during the Holocaust. It is wrong to say that IDF soldiers who are mechallel Shabbat have no share in the world to come. It is wrong to say that children who are born with blindness are being punished for watching pornography in previous lives. It is wrong to say that people contract cancer as a result of sexual licentiousness and "dirty thoughts." Etcetera, etcetera; see this link for a long list.

In any case, the claims about Rabbi Mizrachi being mekerav many people are wildly over-inflated. Furthermore, one would have to consider how many people he has distanced from Judaism with his foolish and hurtful teachings. But the main point is that it's not a matter of numbers. Being mekarev people is not license to distort Judaism and to be offensive.

If there were any doubts about Rabbi Mizrachi's poor character, these were removed by his response to the letter. In an interview with Vos Iz Neias, he says as follows:
“I don’t know who these rabbis are,” said Rabbi Mizrachi. “It’s very interesting. It is like someone who makes $10 an hour giving advice to Bill Gates on how make money. I make more than 10,000 baalei teshuva a year. These rabbis never make one baal teshuva and they want to teach me how to make baalei teshuva? It is absurd.”
First of all, his claim that he makes ten thousand baalei teshuva a year (!), aside from being appallingly arrogant (and who ever claims to "make" people frum?!) is patent nonsense. It's so absurd that it reveals that it's not just that he doesn't care about truth; he doesn't even care that he doesn't care about truth! 

Second, he has completely failed to understand the letter. As noted earlier, it's not about how many people you are being mekarev. It's about whether what you are teaching is appropriate.

But what really takes the cake is his claim that the 16 signatories have never "made" any baalei teshuvah?! Hello??!! Does he have the slightest idea who he is talking about?! The list is like a Who's Who of success stories in the kiruv world!

Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi demonstrates foolishness, dishonesty, arrogance, and nastiness. Unfortunately, he seems to inculcate these traits in some of his followers, who respond with extreme aggression to any criticisms of him. There's nothing that can be done about them. But perhaps he can be prevented from recruiting more people to his brand of Judaism.
  

76 comments:

  1. Besides for his one million number holocaust victims snafu, there's absolutely nothing in Mizrachi's statements that contradict standard boilerplate charedi theology. I remember a prominent rosh yeshiva in the 80's say aids was a punishment for taiva, and the challenger space shuttle blew up because of gaiva. We all 'know' the holocaust was caused because of secularism, intermarriage, etc. etc., not for nothing was National Socialism (i.e. Nazism) a result of Jews abandoning God for the two evils of nationaism and socialism.
    The problem with Mizrachi is that he broadcasts to the whole world via social media what charedi theology really consists of, and that's what makes some folks squirming uncomfortably, hence this ludicrous scenario where the aguda mouthpiece issues the condemnation, why not the aguda chief honchos themselves put their names on it? Because they wish to condemn but not condemn, they cant condemn the meat and butter, they just dont like their dirty linen to be exposed to the world

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    1. Maybe not every charedi rabbi loves how this has become the new norm. Maybe these rabbis are standing up to it.

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    2. I like the story told about a Rabbi that said we can learn from everyone. Someone asked him what can we learn from an atheist? He replied when it comes to helping someone in need we don't tell him rely on G-d, we become like an atheist and help him yourself.

      Likewise when it comes to matters in life we shouldn't be all "holy" and claim to know G-d's intentions of why tragedies happen. We must sympathize with those that had evil befall them, and complain to G-d "Lama hareosa" why did you bring evil to these people?!

      All this about punishment etc. can only be applied to oneself. I.e. when self reflecting your life, your situation, find what you feel can be improved and work on that. But to impose these cheshbonos on others is pure evil.

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    3. There is a statement of Chazal (Nedarim 20a) that children are born with birth defects because of the lack of צניעות of the parents at the time the child was conceived--but it must be read as an injuctive telling us how to conduct ourselves modestly. It can't be meant to throw fire and brimstone onto people who don't conduct themselves properly.

      It's clear אונאת דברים to tell someone whose child has a birth defect (G-d Forbid) that the parents somehow brought it upon themselves. That's an issur in and of itself.

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    4. He says things akin to Avigdor Miller, but he says a lot more nonsense than just that, including all sorts of bizarre things from new age sites like autistic prophecy, post death experiences (links to Christian videos!!!) and then the horrifying material like this, which is a fantasy with no source spun out of his own sick imagination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1nL5W4Gv2Y

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    5. @Anonymous: When they disagree openly (in ways that could conflict with the general Charedi outlook) and with greater Rabbis, then I'll be convinced.

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  2. I suppose it depends on how you define "wrong". We should have the humility to realize that we don't know for sure the "data elyon". Past that one is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts (hat tip- Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan OB"M)
    KI
    Joel Rich

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  3. Down - not "Downs" - Syndrome.

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    1. I have had 2 sisters with Downs. Either is acceptable. Down's is probably the most accurate, though.

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  4. Do you have a source for Rabbi Mizrachi believing that magicians are performing real magic?

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNM-l3P39K0&feature=youtu.be

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    2. Well, he was speaking of a psychic, not a magician doing magic tricks like sawing a woman in half or pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

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    3. Not a psychic, a stage mentalist. They are a species of stage/entertainment magician.

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    4. Some mentalists are very open about it all being a completely natural, if very complex, skill, or even just a trick. It's still amazing to witness.

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  5. Unfortunately, Mizrachi is not the only one peddling some of this stuff. Some of the popular speakers (really, entertainers) on the frum inspirational speaker circuit claim to explain exactly why this or that bad thing happened (Zumba, anyone?). They still seem to be acceptable, for some reason. Mizrachi's mistake was his outrageous claim on the number of Jewish Holocaust victims. The Holocaust is still very fresh for much of the Ashkenazy Chareidi world.

    Also: "It's so absurd that it reveals that it's not just that he doesn't care about truth; he doesn't even care that he doesn't care about truth!". describes Donald Trump to a big gold T.

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  6. Mizrachi is a vile odious fellow who has "number one" on his mind whenever he makes these offensive sensationalist comments. In some ways he reminds me of another American rabbi who is prone to publicly broadcast his own offensive soundbites. I find it a disappointment that his followers are so brainwashed as to defend the indefensible.

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  7. I have no use for Mizrachi, but the condemnation is so opaque is that it is useless.

    1) They don't actually say too much about what they object to, so it is leaves people unconvinced or even with any understanding. R. Adlerstein's condemnation of Pogrow was similarly opaque so that people didn't even realize that he was a sex abuser.

    2) The method is the same equally faulty method that was used to condemn your books. We are the great authorities and so we can condemn others based on our authority.

    I suspect that one reason that a more specific condemnation is not forthcoming is what "e" mentions above: some of what he says is hardly distinguishable from stuff that various great Rabbis have said (e.g. Rav Ovadia Yosef on Katrina).

    I'll be more convinced that these Rabbis' hearts are in it, when they take on somebody their own size from their own camp. I never see that happen.

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  8. Third, the letter against my books was an attempt to impose authority (it was a ban), whereas this letter is a voice of critique, not an attempt to impose authority.

    This Kol Koreh by these 16 rabbis is also a more subtle call of authority, as it states, albeit indirectly, that shuls and venues should not invite R. Mizrachi. Yes, it leaves his name off that sentence, but it is blatantly obvious it is to him they refer - as he was named earlier in their Kol Koreh.

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  9. > Yes, they burned Rambam's books. But they also burned Spinoza's books. Having your books burned is no guarantee that they are legitimate!

    I agree wholeheartedly with the point you're making, but Spinoza is a bad example. He was a heretic, but he was also a genius and an influential philosopher.

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  10. >It is wrong to say that IDF soldiers who are mechallel Shabbat have no share in the world to come.

    If they know about shabbos and still willingly violate it, then they have no share in olam haba. This is not controversial, so why is saying this "wrong"?

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    1. What do you mean about them "knowing about Shabbat"? Most Jews in the world, both in Israel and outside it have very little or no Torah education. They don't understand what the Torah is and why it is important. I believe this is the "tinok she'nishba" status that the Hazon Ish used to clarify the situation we are in today and how observant and non-observant Jews can live together in peace and cooperate with each other.
      Thus, neither you nor anyone else is in a position to decide whether a particular individual "has a share in the world to come" because you don't know his or her true inner spiritual state.

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    2. Not everything that is noncontroversial is correct.

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    3. In order to ask this question, you already had to put two provisos into the statement. That alone should explain why the original statement is wrong.

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    4. I read somewhere (perhaps someone familiar with it can quote the source) that the reason chillul Shabbos is so severe is that the person doesn't believe that Hashem created the world--therefore a Shabbos violater is considered like a heretic in many regards.

      Most people who violate Shabbos are not doing it out of making a statement that they don't believe Hashem created the world--they probably rationalize that, for example, driving a car or cooking a meal is not really considered "work".

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    5. Considering that somewhere between seventy and ninety-five percent of Israelis believe in God and even in the Torah but only about a quarter are fully observant, that's probably the best explanation.

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    6. There is a list of people with no חלק לעולם הבא in the משנה in סנהדרין (צ עמוד א) and a מחלל שבת is not on that list.

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    7. G-d bless the Chazon Ish for his politically correct ruling. Now we can hold our heads high and show the world how tolerant and understanding we are. And G-d be blessed that the inconvenient source of a posek of similar stature to the Chazon Ish and whose following might be larger than the Chazon Ish'es who says that irreligious people who see and meet religious people aren't "tinok she'nishba" is widely UNKNOWN. And kudos to that posek himself who didn't publicize his ruling widely. Shame on Mizrachi for assuming so publicly and making us look like fundamentalist barbarians.

      @MS, why does it have to be listed in Sanhedrin if according to some views ALL Chaivei Kreisos are cut from this world and the next?

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    8. Yehuda P - Rabbi Soloveitchik dealt with your question, although I don't understand him. He claims that the psychology of Chazal was not a result of reading people's psyches. He says that Chazal created a link between Shabbos non observance and apikorsus and that is how it is, this person's intentions notwithstanding.

      Anyway, someone else's portion in Olam HaBa is of such minor relevance that it should not be discussed. Figure out how we can get that portion and go do it.

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    9. ... and that Posek is usually more moderate than the Chazon Ish...

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  11. "...he believes that stage magicians are actually performing real magic."

    Did not at least some Jewish traditions accept that real magic is possible ? And some 'stage' magicians have implied their magic is real plus many educated people believe in paranormal, psychic ability etc: I an extremely skeptical of all those claims.

    ANONACJA

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    1. Judaism pretty flatly believes that the supernatural ended somewhere between 450 and 350 BCE. That rebbes continue to claim they have it stands against that tradition, but at least they're rebbes. Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, and David Blaine are all Jewish, but hardly tzadikim or mekuballim.

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  12. Many Rabbis have claimed the Shoah as a result of Jewish rejection of strict halacha. The basis includes at least some Torah versus.

    ANONACJA

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    1. If that is the case, please explain why the Shoah struck "davka" at the communities that were strongest in religious observance, but not in a place like the US where observance was abysmally low for various reason.

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    2. According to R' Avigdor Miller, the Jews of America were either Anusim, or just ignorant. The Jews of Europe were willful sinners. I'm not saying I agree with such views, but I don't see a massive difference between R' Avigdor Miller and R' Yosef Mizrachi. Their posture, perhaps.

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    3. The claim that "Europeans Jews were (supposedly) sinners" still doesn't explain why the Torah centers and leaders were specially targeted and why the Germans were extra sadistic with outwardly religious-looking Jews. For that matter, Arab antisemitic propaganda usually shows "Israelis" as being Haredi Jews, even though they will claim that they "love Judaism and religious Jews but only have a problem with largely secular Zionists".

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    4. you are right. And this is why I am not a great "chossid" of R'Avigdor Miller. He-and many others- claim to know what the Almighty has in mind. Permit me to be skeptic on this.

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    5. Re R Miller's theory. Even within Germany, those who had intermarried and their children has better fates than their non-intermarried counterparts.

      I agree that there is nothing particularly unique about Mizrachi. I think that he is just an easier target.

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    6. If one thinks about it, the claim that "European Jews were punished because they were sinners unlike American Jews who didn't know any better" is similar to the bizarre claim by religious anti-Zionists that the Shoah was a punishment for Zionism. All of this is counter-intuitive and counter-factual. It was the ideological anti-Zionist communities in the Galut that were wiped out whereas the Zionist project in Eretz Israel not only survived but has thrived, particularly in the Torah education realm.
      BTW-I believe that most American Jews who were adults at the time of the Shoah DID grow up in at least nominally observant families but who abandoned observance on their own, even if they didn't have a very strong Jewish education as did more of the European Jewish youth of the same generation.

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    7. Incidentally, you can choose to believe Hitler himself or not (I don't, so much), but he claimed that his anti-Semitism was due to seeing a chassidic Jew in Vienna and "realizing" that Jews would never really assimilate. So you can look for mystical reasons, but the best "practical" reason for the Holocaust can be blamed on the types who insist on wearing black coats and hats.

      (Again, I don't say I agree. It seems that Hitler was an anti-Semite from when he was a kid. I'm just pointing out that if you want to play this game, it can very easily go both ways.)

      R' Manfred Fulda of YU, who is from Germany, once spoke to us on Yom HaShoa and pointed out that contrary to the myth, much of German Jewry remained religious right up to the end- very much so. Sure, Reform was very strong in Germany. It was also strong in Hungary (and in the US!), and many other forms of assimilation were very strong in Eastern Europe (and Israel!). So that's close to being a wash.

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    8. And don't forget the jews of Gaza who were exiled for their hatred of others (lefties and arabs) who are also gods children

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    9. Yeah, the Jews of Gaza were real haters. Give me a break. Kol haposel...

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    10. @YBD, you're asking an old question. The stock answer is that this follows BK 60.
      אין פורענות באה לעולם אלא בזמן שהרשעים
      בעולם ואינה מתחלת אלא מן הצדיקים תחלה

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  13. "..has presented subtle statements of Chazal in superficial and deceptive ways..." In other words, he correctly quoted them, but they are too embarrassing. So lets reinterpret the Chazal to make them palatable to many educated, democratic, liberal people.

    ANONACJA

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  14. Yosef Mizrachi often likes to argue that once a particular source (book, whatever) makes even one inaccurate claim, you cannot trust this source any longer. He admits his statistics were wrong with regards to the Shoah and then says "But it's ok, because according to my statistics I make ten thousand baalei teshuva a year!"

    He actually claims that he has made more people religious than any rabbi ever in history. anav me'od mikol ha'adam.

    I'm sorry I was ever naive enough to have supported this man.

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    1. I would be interested to know what attracted you to him in the first place.

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    2. >>Yosef Mizrachi often likes to argue that once a particular source (book, whatever) makes even one inaccurate claim, you cannot trust this source any longer.<< He said this about the Torah itself, and when I posted on his website a claim the Torah made (viz., Noah's flood) that was inaccurate, he sent me text messages threatening to have thousands of his followers call me in the middle of the night and otherwise harass me and my family (such threats are a violation of the NYS Penal Law). I've kept these text messages. In my opinion, he's a low-life.

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    3. Y. Ben-David, it's a long story, but in the beginning of my journey with Judaism I used to see him speak all the time in Queens. I was mekarave'd (is that a word?!) by Kachniks in the first place, if that's any indication of where my head was at the time.

      Saul, I'm sorry that happened to you, but happy you saved those texts. He uses that argument to disprove other religions - find just one mistake in the NT or Quran, and it's all over. The man is a cult of personality and it took me a while to realize how inaccurate he himself is so much of the time. More than anything else, his middos were what turned me off the most. His megalomania and nastiness towards those who disagree with him is astounding.

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    4. Hi Shaul. Mizrachi likes to brag about how he is always wrong and no one could prove him wrong. I went into a bit of a mini-depression myself because of Mizrachi's YouTube videos thinking that maybe the things he said was true. If you don't mind can you share any images of those texts he gave you? That will solidify that I know a righteous person wouldn't do this only a thug and a scumbag.

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  15. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED- really?

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  16. Your post gives rise to a conundrum that has bothered me for years.In the shabbat maariv service the standard siddur quotes from Mishna Shabbat-"for 3 transgressions women may die in childbirth.." and names them. This apparently provides that God's rewards and punishments follow one's actions almost immediately, and that the good and evil that befalls one may be explained by things one has done.I respectfully argue that this sends a very mislaeding message to well meaning but naive religious people and is not what our religion presribes. We have seen it many times, for instsnce,in the explanation that defects in a child's bedroom mezuza are responsbible for illness or worse that befalls the child. Can someone please expound on this for me? Thank you. Jeff Bernstein

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    1. hard to tell if you really are seeking an answer or merely baiting (as is so common). if you are seeking an answer, please write to me at amcha613@gmail.com, I will try my best to explain it. it is very basic to Judaism that hashem acts mida cneged mida, and that sin brings death (or suffering which is considered "partial death") in it's wake. however you question seems to indicate a basic misunderstanding of how hashem relates to us.

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    2. See Derashot Haran that I quoted in a comment below. I would suggest about Mishnah that that the context is not an individual death, but the quite common phenomena (in that time) of a women dying in childbirth. In that case, the Mishnah is mentioning the general Mitzvot related specifically to women by which they might avoid punishment, much like saying that we judged for the year based on Yom Kippur. Other interpretations are of course possible.

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    3. farblunet, this is meant to amplify David Ohsie's remarks. The sages didnt' intend their aphorism to imply that negligence in these 3 mitzvot that are specifically pertinent to women will result in death in childbirth. If so, then the survival of many non-observant women would be a demonstration that the concept is false. Besides, the death of many very observant women in childbirth in times past would dishonor their memory by implying a defect in their observance of those mitzvot. Nor is there evidence that observant women were in less danger during childbirth than non-observant Jewish women. As David implied, the aphorism is intended as an inducement for women who would naturally be anxious about giving birth to adhere to the laws pertaining to women. The issue of who survives dangers and who doesn't is not something that we can resolve. The citation from the Ran that David brought is akin to the Rambam's hashgacha klalit (general divine supervision) as the general rule for divine operation in the world. The exceptions fall under hashgacha pratit (particular supervision) wherein the recipient is saved from the common fate.

      Y. Aharon

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  17. He sounds pretty similar to m. pogrow. Is there a venue in which I can bet $ that he will soon be involved in an abuse scandal?

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  18. I know almost nothing about Rabbi Mizrachi, but I do know that ascribing punishment to specific bad behaviors is quite traditional. In fact, Hayim Soloveitchik argues in his famous essay that condemning rabbis who link punishment to specific sins is supremely anti-traditional.

    Hayim Soloveitchik, it goes without saying, is not some charedi apologist.

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    1. @Yehuda "...I do know that ascribing punishment to specific bad behaviors is quite traditional." Such belief is rampant among Orthodox Jews. Do miztvah for reward and averahs can result in punishment in this world or next. And why should we be surprised ? Orthodox Jews believe G-d may interfere in the everyday world. Everything happens because of the will of G-d. Baruch Hashem Blah Blah Blah, Im Yitzar Hashem Blah Blah Blah...

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    2. You're assuming Mizrachi is anywhere near the level where he can say such things.

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    3. You might notice that every time Chazal or rishonim discuss why something bad happens -- why Nadav and Avihu died, which sins lead to tzara'as, why each of the Temples fell, etc... -- there are at least six or seven answers.

      To me it says that while we are obligated to grapple with sin and teshuvah in response to tragedy, it does not mean we are capable of finding the actual causing sin.

      The big difference between us and the traditional phenomenon, though, is whose sin is blamed. It's a far cry between introspection at our own tragedy, and seeing what we ourselves should fix, and trying to figure out what someone else did wrong.

      Mashiach will only come when we stop figuring out why what that other group is doing is the reason why he hasn't come yet.

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    4. @ Micha Berger who wrote "Mashiach will only come when we stop figuring out why what that other group is doing is the reason why he hasn't come yet."

      Can you source that. Plus - Human nature being what it is, you have just gave almost a 100% guarantee Moshiach will not be coming.

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  19. >>ascribing punishment to specific bad behaviors is quite traditional.<< It may be traditional, but, nevertheless, it is wrongheaded and likely a sign of hubris. No human could ever know any divine reason why bad things happen. Such beliefs should be opposed in the strongest terms as a blaming of the victim, something that man seems to have a natural tendency to do. The reason why so many do it is because it makes them feel safer in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

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  20. When discussing Mizrachi, it might help to bear some things in mind. I'm assuming a lot here, but it seems obvious to me that he's a type who has very little real Torah education (I seriously doubt he has any sort of semikha, real or fake) and little to no education in anything else. The Holocaust is not something that happened (in his mind) to anyone in his world, so it's all kind of theoretical. Ditto, rachmana litzlan, disabled kids. His target audience are not "non-religious" people, although doubtless he thinks of them that way; they are traditional minded people who might in fact react to his rants in a way more rationalist intellectual types will not. This doesn't really change the reaction, but it can explain a lot.

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    1. Well yes, his appeal is one of this age of populism and 'trumpism' (and it is not a surprise he is a fan) - anti-rational, anti-intellectual, black and white, good vs. evil.

      When people no longer read secular sources, understand history or are able to think for themselves in a nuanced manner, a person like Mizrachi fills that void. His comments on the Shoah were him very much overreaching himself - but he rarely experiences any pushback because it seems likely people simply do not have the tools to challenge him.

      His audience is one that prefers to retreat into certainties, they like that he 'keeps it real' and 'tells it like it is'. He likes to mock, gurn and threaten and has a very unhealthy obsession with female sexuality and sexual mores - an ongoing theme of his.

      His method is that of a fire and brimstone Christian preacher and unsurprisingly his internet audience seems to have a significant amount of Christians, 'Noahides', Baalei Teshuvah and some detractors.

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  21. The Gemara in Bava Metzia is pretty clear about Onaat Devarim, that one cannot tell someone who is suffering that it is because of their sins. However, there are statements throughout Chazal that say which sins cause which suffering. The balance must be what to say to someone who is losing faith because they see someone else suffering. That is when we can use this to demonstrate God's justice (although it isn't always black and white, and Chazal were probably using examples, not necessarily the absolute answer). But in the face of someone who is suffering, it is a sin to mention such things. Mizrachi is just using the typical crass "Sabra" approach, but I wonder if there is any sweetness inside, or if the needles are all the way through his soul?

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    1. What I find disturbing is that he seems to take great pleasure - grinning and gurning - in pointing out the sins and punishments due to others (himself excepted presumably).

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    2. Exactly what most bothers me too. He appears to delight in another persons suffering and to dwell lovingly on the details of their supposed causal sin and corroborating punishment. Such cruelty is the very opposite of what the Rambam tells us a Jew should exhibit.

      And yes there is a fine tradition of pointing out the causes of disasters, but at the same time no one can tell another person what caused their own personal disaster. it is the difference between the general (eg 'carelessness towards lighting shabbat cnadles causes death in childbirth') and the specific ('your wife died because she wasn;t careful about lighting shabbat candles). Chazal utilise the former but condemn the latter.

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  22. On the underlying question of reward and punishment, see Derashot Haran #8 (in English):


    'And herein is resolved the great dilemma in G-d's conduct of the world: "the righteous man who suffers, and the wicked man who prospers." For if the heavenly influences manifesting themselves in this terrestrial world were all specific, so that one star would attach to one man alone, the Blessed One assigning it to him individually to compensate him in accordance with his deeds, this would, indeed, be cause for wonder. But this is not the case, for the ordinance of the terrestrial world is generic, so that it is impossible to expect continuous good uninterrupted occasionally by evil. This would be analogous to expecting the sun to ripen grain and fruits and not beat down on the head of the righteous man walking on the road in the period of Tammuz so that he not contract the illness to which he is thus predisposed. In the same way, when a certain malignant influence is released upon a place or clime, it will not manifest itself as the Blessed One's striking with rod or thong only specific individuals but as a generic maleficent force, which will cause injury even to him who does not deserve to be punished by it, unless his merit be so great that the Blessed One save him through an alteration of nature.'

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  23. According to one explanation of the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books, Rabbi Mizrachi's approach should be condemned.

    One of the people  I spoke to after the ban is a prominent and well-known  Charedi rav, someone I considered "moderate".  He told me at the beginning of an hour-long conversation that the ban on RNS's books was a "quasi-psak" of sorts, that one is not allowed to help some people while harming others(he was  aware of another book in which R. Elyashiv advised against publishing for this reason). He compared this to the fact that  the Seridei Eish would not allow boys from certain Eastern European communities to learn in the  Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, because it would harm them. R. Adlerstein wrote similarly in February, 2005 on Cross Currents  that "[t]here are people who have not had to grapple with difficult questions; they should be allowed to continue in peace"("Emunah Peshutah – Response to a Reader").

    Later in the conversation with this rav, it emerged that a second issue was an actual dispute about R. Avroham ben Harambam et. al(this was after Rav Aharon Feldman wrote his letter), but he told me twice to "Relax!", that I certainly am allowed to follow R. Avroham ben Harambam and others.

    According to the above "quasi-psak", Rabbi Mizrachi should similarly not be allowed to "help some people while harming others". Even if one argues that Rabbi Mizrachi's theodicy and fire and brimstone is less objectionable than Rabbi Slifkin's rationalism because other Charedi rabbonim(and the Torah)  have  similar techniques at times, I would counter that he's gone much further than such rabbonim due to his over-simplification, is not in the same league, and doesn't have any rebbe that he follows! His approach is counter-productive to kiruv and to  Judaism--any type--  as a whole, which is why AJOP associated rabbis oppose his methods.

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  24. Cross-Currents, which prominently headlined the condemnation of Mizrachi, has been hacked by the 'Russians' and has been offline for a few days now. Is this- like the Talmud burning in Paris- a siman min hashomayim that the forces above disapprove of these scurrilous attacks on Mizrachi?

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  25. A little intellectual honesty would force us all to admit that many chazal and later rishonim and acharonim ascribe reasons for apparent punishments. Perhaps, they were mostly referring to the distant past or we only see it many years later. As a result, we can live with it. Mizrachi, as crazed as he is, is following the same path. I hate his approach and am similarly uneasy with chazal. If we can only admit that chazal and others were wrong, in our estimation, and that we feel a more modern theological approach is more appropriate, we would not have to do intellectual somersaults defending opinions that we truly think are wrong.

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  26. He compared this to the fact that the Seridei Eish would not allow boys from certain Eastern European communities to learn in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, because it would harm them.

    I think this is probably a psuedo-story. I believe that, according to what I read in Prof Marc Shapiro's book, you had to have a Gymnasium (high school) degree to enter the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary. Thus, anyone not already exposed to secular studies would not be admitted anyhow. It is true that East European attitude towards TIDE was that it was only good for West European Jews and should not be spread further (e.g. Rav Chaim Ozer opposed the seminary moving to Israel for this reason). Also, the East European Rabbis mistakenly thought that Rav Hirsch and others also viewed TIDE as a compromise measure and not an ideal.

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  27. R’ Slifkin, what disturbed me most about the ban on your books was that not one of the signatories had directly approached you to find out what you actually said, in what context, and what you would be willing to retract and correct in later editions of your books. Since you personally know at least some of the signatories on the ban (and the last paragraph does make it a ban) of allowing R’ Mizrachi to speak in their institutions, can you let us know if all, or any, of the signatories directly contacted R’ Mizrachi to explain to him that even though his approach apparently works with large numbers of people it has deleterious effect on others and examine how he might modify his approach.

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  28. By the way, here's a report on the grooming of British Jewish children. It asks them to visit the Mizrachi homepage to view videos.

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/jewish-children-london-schools-being-groomed-by-religious-extremists-1554825

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  29. Not sure anybody has addressed this aspect of RM. He seems to be coming out a sephardic community and maybe they are his main intended audience. Maybe some Sephardim are more susceptible to or have a more or different mystical outlook. Also, there is a sort of schism between ashkenazi and sefardic. By making the Shoah more of an ashkenazi tragedy, it is like a strike against the Ashkenaz. As if the Shoah is proving the Sephardim are not inferior, but rather superior to the Askenazi.

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    1. I'm almost sure that's a big part of it.

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  30. Hello Rabbi Slifkin,
    Whether you like it or not, Rabbi Mizrachi is a genuine spokesman for Orthodox Judaism. His Judaism is a very plausible version given what the Tanakh, Talmud, Rishonim and other great sages of Judaism preach. I actually find it very surprising that so many Orthodox rabbis are against him. Whatever Rabbi Mizrachi says are found in all the mainstream Rabbinic literature, from mussar to hashkafa to kabbalah and halacha. This nonsense reforming and dumbing down the extremism of the most plausible readings and interpretations of the works of Tannaim and Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, and Jewish mystics is intellectual dishonesty.
    I am not saying that I like Rabbi Mizarachi or that I agree with him. I actuallly am an atheist, and Im an atheist because of the plausible read and interpretation of the extremist ideolgogies of the Torah and the Rabbinical works. What shocks me the most is that people actually become religioius by listening to the extremism of people like Mizrachi.
    I have read one of your books and and am aware of your other works, however, your view of Orthodox Judaism is way less plausible than the view of Mizrachi. If you point your finger at Mizrach and call him a bigot or an irrational fear mongering person, you are actually pointing at Judaism and calling out the flaws, bigotry, fear mongering irrationality of Judaism.
    (Anything Mizrahi says that you consider bigotry or extremism or fear mongering or irrationality, can be backed in the mainstream literature of the Torah, Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim, and Mekubalim.

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    1. Unknown, you are committing a fallacy similar to that of some Orthodox Jews: the notion that the Torah is an immutable entity. The Torah has an updating procedure built into it, and although the procedure is somewhat broken now, it is still operative. It obviously has also been influenced by external forces (which is most certainly part of the design since there is an update procedure and human updates always are influenced by outside forces).

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