Friday, June 16, 2017

An Unexpected Turn Of Events

Twelve years ago, the notorious controversy over my books was responsible for immense turmoil and stress in my life. One of the most hurtful episodes occurred one day after mincha at a local Israeli charedi shul where I davenned during the week. As I left the shul, the owner of the shul approached me and told me that I was not allowed to davven there any more. I had never been thrown out of anything in my life (contrary to the slander spread by some unsavory individuals), and the feelings of frustration, anger and rejection were overwhelming. It was the closest I had ever gotten in my life to hitting someone out of anger.

Over the ensuing years, I sometimes saw this person in the neighborhood, and it always aroused feelings of intense resentment. He was also involved in other activities of religious zealotry, including disrupting a concert in the local park because it caused charedi kids to mingle with dati-leumi kids. He started giving shiurim after davenning in another charedi shul that I sometimes davven at, and I would walk out when he entered to speak.

Earlier this week, I was at a wedding, and this person was there. He saw me and approached me to talk to me. As soon as I saw him, I felt the familiar feeling of loathing. I tensed up, getting ready for another confrontation.

He came up to me, and told me that he wanted to ask my forgiveness.

My jaw dropped.

He told me that he was very sorry. He said that at the time, a certain rabbi had called him and put a lot of pressure on him to throw me out of the shul, and he had caved to it, but he'd been feeling terrible about it ever since. There had been several times over the years when he had intended to approach me to ask forgiveness, but he hadn't followed through.

My emotions were swirling. I now knew how Harry Potter felt when he found out that Snape was secretly working to protect him. All those feelings of resentment dissipated, and I wholeheartedly forgave him.

There are a number of potential lessons to take from this. One is that someone who has wronged you might actually be feeling bad about it. Another is that if you do feel bad for having wronged someone, it's a good idea to make amends sooner rather than later.

But it also reminded me of how, at the time, there was a kind of mass hysteria going on. The essay Slifkin, Salem and the Senator compares elements of that period to other notorious witch-hunts, but it does not highlight the mass hysteria aspect. I've discussed mass hysteria in other contexts - the KosherSwitch controversy and the alleged Sanhedria ritual abuse cult. People get swept up in events, and they say or do things that they later regret. When such episodes are taking place, it's often a good idea to keep quiet, step back, and wait for things to calm down before analyzing the situation.


  1. Like the current Rabbi Dweck controversy

  2. I am very moved. At last, people are coming to their senses or were with their senses all along and are finally brave enough to own up on what they did.

    The original episode also occurred twelve years ago, or some time later?

  3. Its a rarity sadly. Most never feel remorse for destroying a persons life ... its nice you got an apology, however it doesnt remove the fact of the hundreds of thousands? Who never do.

  4. Thank you for the uplifting story. This incident, and others that have happened to me recently, really teach me that to be "dan l'chaf zechus" is not just about wishful thinking. It truly is the case that we often don't know the other half of the story or the other person's intentions.

    A recent silly example in my life: Someone ignored two emails I sent her, and I started getting upset, thinking this person must be arrogant and uncaring, obviously not even having the decency to reply. It turns this person's sister had suddenly became deathly ill. She hadn't responded to my emails because she had been sick with worry and in and out of hospitals with nary a moment to take care of her personal correspondence. I felt terrible afterwards for thinking about her the way had.


    (Your story also of course demonstrates teaches us that admitting that one is wrong and saying sorry is important -- a lesson we are taught as children but many find hard to actually follow! Kudos to this person for doing so.)

  5. Not fair of you to post that Gilui Daas again. I was having a perfectly normal day and now my blood is boiling!

  6. NB. I mean - from the many flaws and nonsense in it.

  7. Natan, how do you honestly think history will remember you for?
    A) War against chareidi ignorance
    B) A great professor of science as it pertains to Torah
    C) A baal Machlokes

    1. And you, MO, will be remembered as the faker who used the name MO to hide your UO anti-rationalist opinions under the appealing, to some, name MO. And you don't bother hiding that in your "user profile" nor in your comments. Or you will merely be forgotten.

  8. Did it occur to you at the time that you accepted the apology to use Yosef's line with his brothers after their father's death? To explain that הכל לטובה and now in retrospect you realize how you needed the ban to catapult your books to popularity and bring you to where you are now?

  9. Great story and especially fun to read in Elul. Your response is very inspiring to me, as not everyone forgives so well.

    It is interesting that you refer to the Sanhedria situation, a case where you yourself actually did take a position in the absence of any knowledge.
    I believe that you and many, many others will one day be that person offering apology to people who were terribly hurt by those who irresponsibly took a position.
    Maybe pay this forward and fix that before you are shamed into it?


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