Friday, September 25, 2020

The Charedi Opposition to Women's Names

My home town of Beit Shemesh is back in the news, for yet another extraordinary case of charedi intolerance. The Yisrael HaYom website ran a story on it, which was picked up by the Jerusalem Post. This time, it's that the city council decided to erase the first names of women from streets that are named after them. However, this case is more complicated and subtle than is widely being understood.

The neighborhood under discussion, Neve Shamir, is under advance stages of construction. It is designated for the general population, i.e. national-religious and secular Jews, as opposed to the neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh which are designated for charedim. The streets were originally named after the months of the year. But the (national-religious) mayor, Dr. Aliza Bloch, wanted to rename them after various heroes of modern Jewish history, including women such as Anne Frank and Sarah Aaronson. The charedi city councilors protested, reportedly over the appearance of women's names. And so the women's first names are not being printed; the streets will simply be called Rechov Frank, Rechov Aaronson, and so on.

Some people who are uncomfortable with bad PR for charedim (or for the mayor) are claiming that the entire story is being misreported and that it is Fake News. They say that it's just a matter of a design/utility choice of having a single word for the main street sign, and that the women's names are not at all being erased, but rather are printed in smaller letters below, which is also happening with the men's first names.

Alas, this is not true. As the mayor's spokesperson confirmed, the charedi councilors did indeed voice opposition to the women's names. The compromise reached was for all the names, both men and women, to be written in full only in small letters, and for the primary street name to be only the last name, for both men and women.

The charedi community frequently erases the names of women as well as their pictures. Wedding invitations are from "Rabbi Beryl Shmeryl and Wife," without the wife actually getting a name. And articles by female charedi journalists are often printed without their first names appearing

What about the fact that there are streets in charedi neighborhoods in Jerusalem named after Biblical women, with no objection ever voiced? That's no different from the fact that the Torah itself mentions names of women. It's not a relevant point to charedim who are opposed to printing women's names. They're opposed to the printing of names which represent women with identities, with faces, who they see as posing a challenge to the male mind, not to names of abstract women from thousands of years ago.

Now, it goes without saying that this recent charedi development is wrong. It's harmful. Any questionable alleged tzniyut benefits are vastly outweighed by the damage that it causes, in all kinds of ways.

But that's not what's under discussion. The topic being debated is whether the mayor should have accommodated this charedi demand. And that's a much, much more difficult question to answer.

To refresh your memories: For ten years, the city of Beit Shemesh was under the control of a charedi administration which had three enormous flaws. One, it was completely incompetent. Two, it was corrupt (one of the deputy mayors explicitly asked me to bribe him). Three, it tried to "charedify" the city as much as possible. 

After ten years, something extraordinary occurred. The elections were won by someone that many of us thought possessed absolutely zero chance of winning: Dr. Aliza Bloch, a national-religious woman. This is one of the great miracles of Jewish history! (I told her as much when I had the honor of hosting her in my home for Shabbos last year.)

Since Dr. Bloch's victory, the governance of the city has improved in myriads of ways. But many of those in the national religious camp, while preferring Dr. Bloch over the previous administration, are disappointed in certain aspects of her approach - in particular, with regard to charedim. Basically, Aliza Bloch decided to incorporate the charedi municipal parties into her coalition, and accommodate their wishes in various ways.

From the perspective of many in the national-religious camp, Dr. Bloch has sold them out in order to increase her political power. But from the perspective of Dr. Bloch and her supporters, she has engaged in necessary and valuable compromises in order to create unity, increase the chances of her governance lasting more than one electoral cycle, and ultimately effect long-term benefit for the city.

I'm not going to weigh in on who I believe to be correct. Partly, this is because I don't actually know what to think. But I think that it's certainly important to be aware of both sides of the issue.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the charedi city councilors even particularly care about the women's names on the signs. They're probably more bothered by the very fact of naming streets after non-charedi heroes. And fundamentally, it's probably more about basic issues of power and control. After all, these streets are not even in charedi neighborhoods, which have their "Rav Elyashiv Streets" and other streets named after charedi gedolim (without regard to whether these are offensive to non-charedim). It's probably not anything to do with women; it's all about exerting charedi influence on the city and limiting non-charedi influence.

I admire the idealism and passion of those who don't want to give an inch to offensive charedi demands. But such people would never become mayor of a charedi-majority city, and would be very limited in their ability to effect change. Aliza Bloch, by virtue of compromise, is able to be more effective at creating change. 

At the same time, that doesn't mean that people shouldn't complain when the mayor gives in to charedi demands. It's important for both the mayor and the public to see that giving in does cause pain to the non-charedi community. But, at the same time as complaining, people should recognize that the mayor has to engage in a certain amount of compromise. And if agreeing that first names will be omitted from the large street sign, and written in full only in small letters below, then perhaps that is a worthwhile trade for naming streets after non-charedi heroes and being able to continue as a non-charedi mayor in a majority chareidi city. (Note that I say "perhaps".)

Anyway, one local resident suggested that "streets should be named for trees or animals, instead of names of people that are hard to pronounce, remember, and type into Waze." Personally, I agree. I for one would love to see "Nigerian Red Uromastyx Lizard Street."

 

See too these posts:

The Invisible Women

Know Your Enemy

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Black and White Problem

The charedi community has a tendency to extreme black-and-white thinking. Biblical figures are either holy righteous people whose spiritual level we cannot even begin to grasp, or utterly evil. Great Talmudic scholars are ipso facto also great theologians, great leaders, and possess moral perfection, while nothing of spiritual value can ever be learned from people outside of the Torah community. There is virtually no nuance.

Now, a lot of non-charedim look down on this way of thinking. But it is also prevalent among other Jews and non-Jews, especially in the USA as of the last few years.

People see everything in black-and-white, in extremes. The guy I like is a good guy, the guy I don't like is a bad guy. Bad people can't do anything good, good people can't do anything bad. People who do good things can't be bad people, and people who do bad things can't be good people.  

The Israel-UAE-Bahrain peace accords this week are a great example. While we were never seriously at war with these countries, and it's not great for them to get F-22s, the peace accords are certainly an enormously significant accomplishment - not least of which because, once again, entrenched beliefs of the global community about the Middle East have been shattered. And yet many people cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this tremendous success, because it was brought about by Trump. Conversely, because Trump brought about this success and has expressed great love for Israel, other people refuse to acknowledge any serious faults with him.

The same goes for pretty much every political topic. Many Republicans and Democrats heap scorn and disdain on absolutely everything done by the other side, while simultaneously failing to acknowledge the problems on their own side. And this black-and-white extremist thinking is coupled with people exhibiting glee and triumphalism in pointing out every problem on the other side, even when it's something entirely insignificant, irrelevant, or a tragedy to be sad about rather than happy.

In a number of posts this year, whether regarding erasing women or mysticism or coronavirus, I've stressed the importance of understanding how other people view things. Aside from the tremendous value and benefit of maintaining some degree of societal unity, you can't effectively argue against a position if you don't understand why people take that position. And, by and large, people do have understandable reasons for the positions that they take, even if they are ultimately incorrect.

There are so many people who "just can't understand" how others could vote Republican/ Democrat. But is it really so hard to understand? With the differences covering so many areas, it's largely simply due to which things people choose to focus on, along with the fact that most people get their information on every topic from those who project a certain outlook upon it.

Unfortunately, as science has shown, people are biologically wired this way. Tribalism is genetic, part of how we evolved. We have an innate tendency to want to group everyone into those who are with us and those who are against us. And this is accompanied with a natural bias to see all the actions of those on our team as being good, and the actions of those on the other team as being bad.

But, as Judaism teaches us, our task is to rise above our natural, evolutionary instincts. And there are ways to do this. When you're confronted with a news story that confirms your personal good guy/ bad guy narrative, you need to be extra suspicious! Before sharing it with others, ask yourself if it's really true, and how you would feel about it if it was reversed. And if you can't understand how otherwise intelligent and good people feel about a topic, then try to understand it! And if you think that your team has everything correct and the other team has everything wrong, then it's time to re-assess. No single political/ religious worldview is perfect. Yes, some might be better than others, even extremely significantly so. But nobody is perfect.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, successful, and intellectually nuanced new year! 

 

(The Biblical Museum of Natural History is closed for the lockdown, but we look forward to re-opening, and we will be returning with live online tours for people around the world after the chagim - perhaps also during Chol HaMoed, if there is sufficient interest. Please support our mission of inspiring and educating hundreds of thousands of people about Judaism and the natural world!)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ghosts and Golems

There's a new book, A Jewish Guide to the Mysterious by Rabbi Pinchas Taylor, which promotes the most extreme examples of non-rationalist Judaism. Astrology, demons, evil spirits, ghosts, golems, magic, auras, extrasensory perception, reincarnation, mystical teleportation, astral projections, vampires, shape-shifting witches, and more. It's packaged along with criticism of mainstream science, ridiculous claims of science supporting magic, and promotion of pseudo-science such as extreme Creationist catastrophism. And it also includes revisionism of Rambam to be a closet or latent mystic.

Yet after reading it, I was pleasantly surprised!

To be sure, I didn't actually agree with pretty much anything in it. But the contrast to other books reflecting such an outlook was striking, in three ways. 

First was that Rabbi Taylor had no problem quoting respectfully from the full gamut of literature - not only rabbinic writings of all stripes, but also scientific literature and even academic Jewish scholarship.

Second was that he fully acknowledged the existence of alternate, rationalist approaches. 

Third was that he made virtually no attempt to delegitimize them! 

For example, while Rabbi Taylor presents all kinds of revisionist approaches with Rambam's approach to magic and demons, he acknowledges that there are those who maintain that Rambam did indeed reject these things. About the harshest statement he makes is that after acknowledging all the questions regarding the antiquity of the Zohar and bringing various apologetic responses, he concludes that to think that one can question its authority after it was validated by so many great Torah scholars "seems misguided." Which is hardly the standard non-rationalist approach - that there is absolutely no reason or right to deny the authenticity of the Zohar, and if you do then you're a heretic!

No, I wouldn't actually recommend the book to anyone (though I wonder if some of its readers will be more intrigued by the questions that he raises about the authenticity of the Zohar than they will be convinced by his responses). But it's a great lesson for other non-rationalists in how to do non-rationalism correctly. Just as rationalists can acknowledge the existence and heritage of a mystical approach, mystics can acknowledge the existence and heritage of a rationalist approach. It's so rare to see such a thing that Rabbi Taylor's work is a breath of fresh air!

 

Meanwhile, tours of the new Biblical Museum of Natural History are available until the lockdown starts. During the lockdown, we will be offering live online tours, including a full-day Yom Iyun. For more details, see www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org

Friday, September 11, 2020

Out Of Their Minds

The tensions between the charedi and non-charedi sectors of the population in Israel are very high at the moment. Charedim feel that the government is unfairly discriminating against them with coronavirus restrictions. Non-charedim feel that since the infection rate is much higher in charedi communities, they therefore need more restrictions. Add this to the simmering resentment over coronavirus in the entire country, and it's a powder-keg.

Yesterday, that powder keg exploded. Someone took a video of an utterly shocking incident at a train station, where some chareidi families were about to board a train. An Israel Railways inspector told them that they weren't allowed to board. "Charedim are not allowed on the train," he told them.

Naturally, this outrageous incident caused a national uproar. Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (UTJ) fumed that "It is shocking to see how far the policy of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox permeates... I demand that the Minister of Transportation sort out the CEO of Israel Railways regarding the behavior of his employees. Shame!" Transportation Minister Miri Regev - someone with strong sympathies to the charedi community - was shocked and ordered an immediate investigation of Israel Railways.

The first twist then occurred. Israel Railways said that they had absolutely no idea who the person was. He wasn't an employee of theirs.

So who was it? The speculation was that it was some random person with a grudge against charedim. Not an Israel Railways problem, but still reflective of a general problem with anti-charedi hatred.

The next twist came when the real identity of the "Railway Inspector" was discovered.

You're not going to believe this.

He was an actor.

Hired by...

...the municipality of Bnei Brak.

Yes, that's correct. The city council of Bnei Brak were upset that a light rail line planned for the Gush Dan area is not slated to pass through Bnei Brak. So they decided to hire an actor to stop charedim boarding trains and create an outrage about discrimination against charedim.

This might be the most mindbogglingly stupid decision ever made by a city council. Israel Railways is furious over the defamation and has filed a police complaint. Journalists - including several charedi journalists - are fuming and have called for the officials of Bnei Brak to resign.

Strangely, the fuss seems to have died down quite quickly (possibly eclipsed by the news of a lockdown). But can you imagine if it were the other way around?! If the city of Tel Aviv hired a charedi actor to stop secular Jews from boarding a train?! The charedi MKs would call it a blood libel. There would be protests until the city officials resigned.

How does such an insane act get authorized? Only when people are so caught up in their own victimhood and their own tiny worldview that they don't think about the consequences of their actions.

I can't even imagine what proper teshuvah for such a thing would entail (and how do you ensure that everyone who heard about the incident discovers the truth?). But I hope it happens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Unmitigated Chutzpah of the Daas Torah Defenders

It caused a public uproar and a political storm. It made all the newspapers in Israel, religious and secular. It even made it to the New York Times. 

I'm referring to the backlash to coronavirus czar Roni Gamzu, who had publicly criticized Rav Chaim Kanievsky after the latter was reported as giving a blanket statement that yeshiva students should not be tested for coronavirus. The charedi MKs and press were outraged - how dare Gamzu criticize Rav Chaim's leadership?! A planned visit by Gamzu to Bnei Brak was cancelled by the Bnei Brak municipality.

In a previous post, I discussed the nonsense of claiming that Gamzu is under any obligation to respect such decisions by Rav Chaim. But meanwhile, Mishpachah magazine claimed to have done an investigation and discovered that Rav Chaim had actually said no such thing. Instead, he had given a much more limited statement, that yeshivah students who had already been in isolation for two weeks need not be tested again. Accordingly, Gamzu apologized.

Aha! Charedim and Charedi-admiring non-charedim alike were jubilant, and expressed their great disdain for Gamzu and the non-charedi press for having believed the false report. "How dared they be so negligent in not checking their facts? How could they criticize such an important religious leader based on false reports?"

You must be joking.

Let's get a few things straight. It was the CHAREDI PRESS who first reported that Rav Chaim had issued the blanket instruction and who continued to report it. The report originated with Kikar Shabbos, and was happily picked up by other charedi news outlets. See the front page of Rav Aharon Shechter's newspaper Lehovin shown here, which reports that Rav Chaim said that yeshivos should not have their students be tested for coronavirus and should not rush to quarantine them, and ON THE VERY SAME PAGE slams the "intolerable chutzpah" of Gamzu for criticizing this absolutely authoritative guidance! (On the next page, Lehovin insists that "Listening to the Sar HaTorah, or other authentic da’as Torah, will never bring negative ramifications to its adherents." Yeah, tell that to the people in Bnei Brak who died of coronavirus - or to the Jews who died in the Holocaust because their Gedolim told them to stay in Europe.)

Why on earth should Gamzu be expected to disbelieve a report about Rav Chaim that is being spread by Rav Chaim's very own dedicated followers, who insist that everyone must accept it?! 

Furthermore, it's not as though there was any reason to doubt that it was true. After all, this is the same Rav Chaim who, at the beginning of the pandemic, urged that the Health Ministry be disregarded and the yeshivos not be closed, because "yeshivos protect from coronavirus"! In fact, compared to that terrible guidance (which is on video), his latest alleged guidance was much less serious!

In addition, it's not as though there's any practical way to find out what Rav Chaim really thinks about anything, short of meeting with him (which busy people should not have to do). With the utterly unprofessional and entirely broken system of leadership in the Charedi world, crucial decisions are made on the basis of "he said that he heard that Rav Chaim said a two-word response to a question about which the circumstances are not clear." There's no publicly available minutes of the meeting, no detailed written shailah and teshuvah. And they dare to criticize someone for getting it wrong?

For that matter, how is anyone so sure that the original report was indeed wrong? Maybe the Mishpacha magazine "revelation" was a cover-up? 

Such a thing has happened before. When Elior Chen, the worst abuser in the history of Israel, was arrested, a letter was publicized from the Gedolim (including Rav Chaim Kanievsky) attesting to his innocence. Naturally, this resulted in a public uproar, especially from the families of the victims. Kikar Shabbos reached out to the families and associates of the Gedolim who had signed, and these people expressed surprise and denied that such a letter existed; when they were shown it, they said that it must be fraudulent. Aha, the Gedolim had been framed! Alas, no. A neighbor of mine who had seen the letter and was horrified, wrote to Rav Chaim and asked why he attested to the innocence of such a terrible person, who was subsequently sentenced to 24 years in prison. Rav Chaim did not deny having signed the letter; he responded to my friend that he signed it because "his rabbis" signed it.

So if people can mistakenly/ falsely deny that Rav Chaim had defended Elior Chen, they can equally be mistaken or misrepresenting things when they deny that Rav Chaim had told yeshivos not to have their students tested. Not to mention that the fact of Rav Chaim having defended Elior Chen, and having defended his defense on the grounds that he was just following others, demonstrates all too tragically clearly how worthless his guidance is. 

The strange thing is, it's not as though I'm saying something that only a charedi-hating person would say. There's many, many people at all strata of charedi society who know all this perfectly well. They are entirely familiar with the fact that Rav Chaim is very sheltered, very old, very out of things, and completely manipulated by his horrible grandson Yanky and others who control him like a puppet. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of the movers-and-shakers in charedi society know this. 

So why do many of them express outrage when people criticize rulings uttered in the name of Rav Chaim, when they themselves know that "the emperor has no clothes"? I'm not sure. Perhaps they are embarrassed when others call attention to it. Or perhaps they want to maintain the illusion of the wisdom and authority of Daas Torah for situations when they want to take advantage of it.

Whatever the explanation, the facts are clear. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is an incredible masmid - extraordinarily, single-mindedly dedicated to Torah. At the same time, his directives regarding people, events and public policy are worthless. They sometimes go against all reason or are entirely corrupted (as with Elior Chen). Don't be surprised, and certainly don't be outraged, when his directives are criticized - especially when it's by someone like Gamzu, whose job entails caring about the wellbeing of others, and who, unlike Rav Chaim, is actually held accountable for getting things wrong.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Dangerous Inciters

The video below exposes the danger of Rabbi Yaron Reuven and Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi by compiling some of their most inflammatory and dangerous statements. Please share the link with those who need to see it, such as kosher stores which distribute the CDs of Reuven and Mizrachi, rabbis affiliated with Agudas HaRabonim, Torah Anytime (which hosts Mizrachi's videos), and so on. (If you are reading this via email subscription, it could be that you will not be able to watch the video; you will have to visit the website to see it.) 

 

You can also share this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/1qK_-hv5LcA 

(When the video was originally posted, Yaron Reuven complained to YouTube that it was a copyright infringement and had it removed. However, someone pointed out to YouTube that it is completely permitted under the Fair Use clause, which allows for sharing brief clips from peoples' videos with the goal of exposing their danger. YouTube then reinstated it.)

Thursday, September 3, 2020

"How Dare He?!" How Dare You!

A number of people asked me to comment on the recent headline about Rav Chaim Kanievsky instructing yeshivah students not to be tested for Covid-19, so as to avoid having to go into isolation if they test positive. I wasn't interested in writing about this; I've already written several posts about how his claim that yeshivah study protects against coronavirus was wrong, dangerous, and led to sickness and death. And I also wrote about how the whole thing is a farce anyway, since Rav Chaim, notwithstanding his unmatched dedication to Torah, is old, cloistered, cognitively impaired, and completely manipulated by his devious family.

But the latest developments contain something new - not about Rav Chaim, but about prominent people in the charedi community. Professor Roni Gamzu, Israel's "coronavirus czar," naturally and correctly criticized Rav Chaim's directive as endangering the public. In response, the chareidi politicians and press were in uproar. How dare he criticize Rav Chaim?!

MK Meir Porush condemned Gamzu for his audacity in speaking out against the leadership of the chareidi community. The Israel edition of Yated Neeman had its headline story about rabbis protesting Gamzu's disgraceful criticism of the Sar HaTorah. "Dust in his mouth!" declared the HaMevaser newspaper.

The utter perversion of Torah here, on so many levels, is truly shocking. Beyond the problem with trying to avoid isolating contagious people, and the resultant sickness and death and economic hardship, and beyond the fact that the charedi community has a disproportionately high rate of infection, the idea that nobody is allowed to disagree with Rav Chaim's decision is completely absurd and has absolutely no basis in traditional Judaism. Since when is everyone obligated to defer to one particular rabbi, who was not appointed by any formal process?! 

And, of course, even more outrageous is that it's not even as though this is a proper decision by Rav Chaim. He is completely out of touch with reality and it's his disgusting grandson Yanky, the most powerful man in the charedi Litvishe world, who is pulling the strings. This is a system of leadership that charedi MKs and newspapers demand that everyone respects?!

I'm particularly angry about this because my own city of Beit Shemesh is facing imminent lockdown due to the high rate of Covid-19 cases - primarily due to yeshivos. And so aside from the sickness and death, there is also the economic harm. And then, of course, the charedi community will be even more desperate in begging the non-charedi community to support it financially - despite the fact that it is the charedi community which is a primary cause not only of its own poverty, but also of the economic harm to everyone else, as a result of the system of "Torah leadership" which they support. 

How dare they!

UPDATE: 

A Mishpacha article claims that Rav Chaim's position was taken out of context, and that he was only referring to students who had already finished a quarantine period. Whether or not this is actually true is impossible to know; the system of rabbinic authority in the charedi world is so unprofessional and broken that it's impossible to ever be sure what Daas Torah actually says. It is also not particularly relevant to the question of Rav Chaim's general approach to coronavirus (since he is already on video as saying that one should ignore Health Ministry recommendations and not interrupt yeshiva studies). And it is certainly not relevant to the point of this post, which is not about Rav Chaim, but rather about how the charedi community reacts to criticism of Rav Chaim. In fact, the Mishpacha article supports my point, as I shall now explain. 

Mishpacha condemns the non-charedi media for their disrespect in how they reported the story. Yet Mishpacha acknowledges that the charedi press reported Rav Chaim's position as stated - and it was the charedi press which was the original source of the story! Why on earth should non-charedim not disrespect a ruling which was being championed by the charedi press, which they had every reason to believe was true (and was consistent with earlier rulings that disregarded health risks), and which Mishpacha agrees would indeed be a terrible ruling if it was true?! In fact, it's only because of the scorn being poured by non-charedim that Mishpacha went to the bother of "clarifying" the ruling! So the non-charedi criticism of a "ruling" by Rav Chaim should be applauded, not condemned!

See too:

Daas Torah on How to Avoid Getting Coronavirus

"If They Only Knew How Much Torah Protects From Coronavirus..."

Who Caused the Death by Daas Torah?

The Corona-Kollel Connection

Yated Doubles Down

A week ago, I wrote a post about a letter signed by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin which appeared in Halacha Q&A section of the US edition of Yated Ne'eman - a letter which the halacha editor had fabricated, based on a conversation that I had with him. I immediately wrote to the Yated, demanding a retraction; my letter appears below. They did not print my letter, nor did they print a retraction. Shame on them for doubling down on their falsehood!

To The Editor:

As someone who has written several letters to the Yated Ne'eman over the years which were not printed, I was very surprised to see that this week's edition featured a letter from me. It was particularly shocking, because I never wrote the letter!

Over the last few weeks I have been engaging in correspondence with my old friend Rabbi Daniel Travis about the theological question of whether one can donate money to yeshivos and have the reward for the Torah study transferred to a third party of one's choice. He told me that he would be responding in his Yated column. Little did I imagine that this meant that he would fabricate a letter from scratch and sign my name to it! No doubt he had the best of intentions, and I know that he is committed to integrity (and even thanked me in a book that he authored on the topic). But the fact is that this is a dishonest and unethical practice.

Furthermore, instead of accurately presenting my position, he misrepresented it in several ways. Most distressingly, he presented me as accusing charity organizations of acting with a lack of integrity, which I never did. Thus, he ended up committing a particularly unpleasant form of motzi shem ra; making a false claim about my character and pretending that I myself presented it!

Newspapers often edit letters to the editor for clarity and length, with an explicit advance notification to readers and letter-writers that they are doing so (which, incidentally, I did not see in your paper). But I have never heard of them creating a letter to the newspaper where none exists, paraphrasing and distorting someone's position, and signing their name to it!

It is deeply disturbing that such a departure from emes happened. I must demand that you print a retraction and apology, stating clearly that I did not author a single word in the letter that you attributed to me. Given the misrepresentation, it would be appropriate for you to allow me to write an unedited letter with my full views on this topic. And you should also clarify whether you believe that in general, it is acceptable to fabricate statements and pretend that they were written by someone, when they are actually only the Yated staffer's own (and potentially flawed) understanding of what the person said.

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

You'll Never Believe Who And Where

You will never, ever guess who wrote the following paragraph, and in which magazine it appeared:

A large and diverse community can only join together for common purposes on the basis of some shared values — first and foremost, that of respect for the right of others to think differently from oneself and tolerance for divergent views. Such tolerance starts with a recognition of one's own limitations and the unlikelihood that truth rests exclusively with one person or group.

So who wrote this, and where?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in a controversial sequel to The Dignity of Difference?

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times?

Ellen DeGeneres in Vanity Fair?

Nope!

The answer is...

Jonathan Rosenblum, in Mishpachah magazine this week! 

Incredible!

Now, it's true that Rosenblum is referring to the community of the entire United State of America. But obviously his words are also extremely applicable to the particular sector of Orthodox Judaism that Mishpacha represents, which most certainly lays claim to exclusive truth and has very little tolerance for divergent views. 

It particularly brought to mind the responsum from Rabbi Daniel Travis/ Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg (alas, it is impossible to know the true author) in which a person was told to disregard his father's dying wish to leave a donation to conservation and not to a kollel, and was told to give it instead to a kollel. This is based on the presumption that "we know better than him what he would really want to do with his money." Such an approach is the exact opposite of "respect for the right of others to think differently from oneself" and "recognition of one's own limitations and the unlikelihood that truth rests exclusively with one person or group." 

So, does Rosenblum secretly wish that the Mishpachah readership would also subscribe to the approach that he suggests for America as a whole? Or would he claim that only others should recognize their own limitations and the unlikelihood that truth rests exclusively with them, but charedi Jews do indeed have the exclusive truth?

Alas, there is no way to know. But either way, it's interesting to see such an approach promoted in Mishpacha as being desirable!

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Why I Can Never Be A True Rationalist

At the start of the millennium, I was in a pretty low place, in a variety of ways. I had recently been tasked by a certain outreach organiza...