Thursday, September 3, 2020

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

46 comments:

  1. "Doubling down" would be if they printed another fake letter "signed" by you. They are instead simply ignoring your demand for retraction.

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    1. Oh, well that makes it all better then...

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  2. It occurs to me to wonder whether those outraged by this perfidy include some of the people who Pooh-poohed Rabbi Michael Broyde’s self-serving sock puppetry. Not that the two forms of dishonesty are perfectly analogous, of course, but I just wonder...

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    1. "Pooh-poohing" aside, R' Broyde was publicly disgraced (deservedly, in my opinion), resigned his seat on the Beit Din of America, and has since led a much less public life. What consequences will the author of Yated's forgery face?

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    2. Just to clarify, I was musing about whether the same people who found that misrepresentation to be much ado about nothing similarly find this relatively inoffensive. I could have as easily framed the question in the reverse - whether those calling R’ Broyde to task are those who feign incomprehension of what R’ Slifkin is upset about. Simply put, it was a thought about how much our “absolute” moral compasses are in fact informed by our own biases, something that is clearly in evidence in almost all political dialogue these days. The practical ramifications to those dissembling by their respective employers and audiences is largely irrelevant to that point.

      Since you brought it up, however, I have not seen a long-term lowering of R’ Broyde’s public profile (in the short-term, obviously he lessened his exposure while the scandal was int he forefront of the public consciousness). As far as resigning his beis din seat, well, integrity is far more integral to the position of a dayan than to that of a journalist, especially in today’s climate of rampant journalistic bias.

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  3. "Newspapers often edit letters to the editor..."

    But this was not printed in the letters to the editor section. It was printed in someone's opinion column.

    You are mixing up two very different things here, and I can see why the Yated hasn't even responded. Whether or not Travis accurately captured your views is one thing. One can always quibble on something like that, b/c peoples' views are nuanced, and its hard to capture a nuanced view into one or two paragraphs. But to say he defamed you - a crime - is a very different matter altogether. That would require evidence that he was genuinely trying to pass it off as something you actually wrote. Certainly I could be wrong, as we have still not seen the page in question. But most likely, given its appearance in an opinion column, it was intended merely to approximate your views. There is nothing shocking or unusual about such a device.

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    1. Once again you are completely wrong. It wasn't an opinion column. It was a Q&A column, and it was printed as though it was written by me.

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    2. And the name of the columnist wasn't written at the top?

      In your post above you explicitly accuse Travis of "misrepresenting" your views. Nobody accuses outright forgers of "misrepresenting" their views.

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    3. What on earth are you talking about?
      It's a column in which Travis presents questions from readers, along with the answers that he receives from the Gedolim.
      I had an email discussion with him, and then he fabricated a letter from me. He believed that he was representing my views accurately, but he wasn't.

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    4. I think its pretty clear what I'm talking about. When someone claims forgery he doesn't care if the forger accurately characterized his views, because its irrelevant. For example, if Rashbi didn't write the Zohar or R. Asher the Besamim Rosh, then its not really relevant if their views were accurately represented by their forgers. Yet in your two posts on this you have claimed both forgery and mischaracterization. It indicates that you yourself recognize the indignant claim of "fabrication" has no merit.

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    5. Not sure why you don't get it, and why you keep making claims with no merit, such as that he was writing in jest. He wanted to present my views and so he decided to fabricate a letter in my name.

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    6. "But to say he defamed you - a crime - is a very different matter altogether."

      Actually, defamation is not a crime. At best RNS can sue him for defamation. But it is not a crime at all.

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    7. I keep arguing with you because i am a racist troll

      Signed,
      DF

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    8. "... you keep making claims with no merit, such as that he was writing in jest."

      As to the first, I think the merit of what I pointed out is clear. What's more, I think in truth you actually do get my point [tho some of your readers don't] and just don't want to admit it. If I'm wrong, and you truly don't understand it - well, nothing I can do about that.

      As to the second, claiming that I said "he was writing in jest" - you've misrepresented my position, and should apologize.

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    9. "It’s not uncommon at all for writer X to make up quotes or statements from Y, intending them satirically to represent Y’s thinking, as X sees it." That's what you wrote.

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    10. Because, DF, not everyone knows it's a forgery. The average reader will see "That Slifkin said this!" and not know RNS's real view. That is insult over injury - the "injury" being the more crime-y thing, the forgery, and the "injury" being the public perception problem and intellectual poor understanding problem.

      A guy who makes a fake painting but passes it off as art of someone famous (who is still alive) might get sued for forgery but complimented by the real master if the painting is any good. If the painting is bad, he will be sued AND the real master will be angry that the public [most of whom might know of the painting but not of fact that it is a forgery] now believes that his skill has declined.

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    11. DF, come on man, if you want to be the provocateur who is always trying to defend only marginally-defensible Chareidi positions, that's fine but, in as case like this, let's call a spade a spade:

      There is no justification (in Judaism, journalistic ethics, basic human honesty and decency, what have you) to completely fabricate a document, purport that it is actually written by another person (and that it accurately reflects their views), and and then sign that person's name to it without their consent or even their knowledge (whatever happened to "omer davar b'shem omro"?).

      It makes no difference whether this deliberate and outright deception is done in a opinion column, letter to the editor, Q&A column, or anywhere else.

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    12. Frankly, I think it is incredibly generous of R' Slifkin to care whether his forger accurately reflected his views: "If you were going to be so brazen as to counterfeit my thoughts, at least the have decency to get them right!"

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    13. I agree. I do not know why anyone would even want to pen a letter and attribute it to someone else, or why someone would want to defend that forgery.

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  4. I have to repeat what I wrote about your first column about this: If you don't take legal action, or at least threaten to do so, it'll be even worse the next time.

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    1. Any legal action would likely require tremendous investment of both time and money, and would likely result in failure. If you know otherwise please volunteer to help right this wrong

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    2. "Worse" how?

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  5. It is unclear to me why DF is defending such despicable practice. I work in Jewish journalism. It is never correct to print a letter from someone that the person did not write. End of.

    If Travis was writing a column he could absolutely reference your dialogue, e.g. "Recently, I have been discussing XX with YY. YY's position is etc & etc." He could still wind up being guilty of misrepresenting a view, but that is different to presenting someone else's view and affixing his/her name to it.

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    1. In a Letters to the Editor section, correct. In an opinion column, incorrect. Everything depends on context.

      Notice that RNS *still* hasn't posted a scan of the actual column. That's very telling.

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    2. DF, not sure why you keep insisting that it was an opinion column when I have repeatedly stated that it wasn't. Here's the page: https://www.dropbox.com/s/r6cnbyv8mnoxjx9/30%20q%26a%208-28-20.pdf?dl=0

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    3. DF - you're being absurdly obtuse. This isn't complicated. Any reasonabe person reading the column would have believed that Travis had received a letter from RNS when, in fact, he had not. RNS further accuses Travis of poorly representing his position. It's not ok and RNS deserves an apology at the very least.

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    4. Hmm Rabbi Slifkin, now that you posted the actual column, it looks like they are making the very limited claim that according to the Rokeach as brought by the Bais Yosef one may donate for the benefit of the deceased. This doesn't go against what you are claiming, that it only helps to reduce punishment, because this could very well be the benefit they're talking about. And with regard to your question, "How can one pasken a halacha about such a thing?", they are only paskening that tzedakah organizations are allowed to say this. You, on the other hand, are claiming that tzedaka organizations aren't allowed to rely on the Shulchan Aruch, due the other Rishonim.

      None of this, of course, would justify writing a letter in your name without permission.

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    5. You've got it backwards.
      1) As you correctly note, Rokeach makes a much more limited claim than the one made by tzedakah organizations (also because he is only referring to tzedakah, not to learning Torah). So in fact, they are NOT justifying what tzedakah organizations do.
      2) They are not paskening that halacha organizations are allowed to say this; they are paskening that it WORKS.
      3) I'm not saying that they aren't allowed to rely on the Shulchan Aruch. I'm saying that based on traditional Judaism, there is no reason to believe that it actually works.

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    6. @Rabbi Slifkin,
      1) Their "response" only mentions tzedakah, not learning, so its looks like they're only trying to justify tzedakah.
      2) You must be referring to these lines "..therefore the deceased most definitely receive reward for tzedakah given in their name" and "...and it will definitely help them have an easier din in the next world". Although it sounds like they are making a definitive statement, the CONTEXT of the "question" is what tzedaka organizations are allowed to do, so I prefer to understand these lines allegorically.
      3) Not sure why the collection of Rishonim that you found constitutes traditional Judaism, but the Shulchan Aruch does not.

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    7. 1) Right, but my question was about learning Torah, so they are falsely giving the impression that they are responding to my question, when they didn't!
      2) You can "prefer" to read it differently to what he meant, but (especially since I had a long back-and-forth with him) I know exactly what he meant. He is saying that the Shulchan Aruch is paskening that it WORKS.
      3) Sorry, I was imprecise. The point is that even what the Shulchan Aruch says, which goes against many other Rishonim, is vastly more limited than what they are claiming!

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    8. RNS - thank you for posting. It's important for people to see things themselves, rather than relying upon third parties, before reaching judgment. Seeing the evidence now, you are 100% right, it is definitely not presented as parody or a paraphrase.

      At the same time, a Yated reader contacted me to say that any regular reader of the column would know Rabbi Travis regularly paraphrases questions, a point I asked about previously. (He notes, for example, that many times "questions" are posed from Israeli public figures who obviously would not be writing letters to little-known American writers, and certainly not in English.) If that is accurate, noting also the points RNS himself already noted of Rabbi Travis's character, it does mitigate against claims of defamation or dishonesty. It does not appear to have been done in bad faith.

      Nevertheless, the Yated should still make it clear via a simple disclaimer, for the benefit of non-regulars, noting that questions have been paraphrased by the column writer at his own understanding. (Possibly combining the irrelevant "mischaracterization" issue had the inadvertent effect of diluting the more important misattribution issue.) Hopefully the Yated, or at least that particular columnist, will be more circumspect going forwards.

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  6. Must I be the one to raise the issue of Halacha ? In general per halacha you are not allowed to lie. When the publication states the article was written by RNS even though it was not it is an outright lie. First tell the publication halacha and also have a lawyer demand a retraction and clarification.

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    1. Absolutely incorrect in terms of halachah. The generality “you are not allowed to lie” is untrue. Assuming no monetary involvement, the general assumption is that this is an inyan mussari rather than halachah. Of course, if R’ Slifkin suffers discomfort or upset due to this misrepresentation it is forbidden under the rubric of lashon hara per the Rambam, moreover it is likely onaas devarim and geneivas daas. In terms of the strict legal definitions though, “lying” is likely not at issue here.

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    2. @Anonymous - (1) so according to your view of halacha you are in general allowed to lie ? BTW if halacha in general allows somebody lie - then halacha is a poor guide to good morals, good ethics and good law. FYI I am suspect about your opinion on lying under halacha is correct. Maybe some Rabbinic experts can chime in. (2) Ok, so lets go with your opinion. Why cant RNS make demands based on the other violations you mentioned ? If they are religious are they not aware of those other violations ? Maybe RNS can point them out and get a resolution.

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    3. In legal affairs, including halachah, one must be precise in one’s application. Thus, “lying” is an halachic category relating specifically to monetary matters. The other violations mentioned above have relevance to other areas, and, your characteristic inflammatory rhetoric aside, R’ Slifkin can certainly take them to task for that, as halachah provides a wonderful moral compass for these issues as well. I was only pointing out the error in your words, since you were raising an halachic point; when doing so, one must ensure that one is raising the correct point, to avoid an incorrect challenge.

      (To draw a parallel from secular law, if a lawyer in court objects to a given line of questioning as badgering, and it is, in fact, objectionable not for that reason but under the hearsay exclusion, the judge will overrule his specific objection, despite the fact that there are other reasons why that line of questioning is sustainably objectionable. Similarly, if RNS were to present an halachic argument on the grounds of “lying”, it simply gives his opponents the opportunity to reject his complaint on the grounds that such misrepresentation is not halachically forbidden because of the prohibition to utter an untruth, but because of other categories of forbidden speech, to wit: lashon hara, onaas devarim, and geneivas daas)

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    4. @Anonymous - "'lying' is an halachic category relating specifically to monetary matters." (1) So in general it is ok to lie under halacha if money matters do not pertain ? Meaning it is in general permitted to lie under halacha if no money matters are involved. (2) Are lashon hara, onaas devarim, and geneivas daas part of halacha ?

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    5. @Anonymous lets hope some experts can chime in. I assume Rabbinic law is part of halacha. "It is only by rabbinic law that it is forbidden to tell white lies as well..." https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1049008/jewish/Telling-the-Truth-and-When-It-Is-Permissible-to-Be-Less-Than-Honest.htm ACJA

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    6. ACJA - let me put it like this: is it permissible to tell your child a fairytale? What about if the child thinks it is true? How about telling your spouse you worked late, when you were in fact preparing a surprise birthday party for him/her?

      If “lying” were to be categorically prohibited, all of these examples would be sins. The fact is, however, that the utterance of an untruth per se is forbidden only in the context of monetary dealings. Where no money is involved, the prohibitions do not relate to the lie itself, but rather to the intent and/or effects; thus, intent to deceive is forbidden, causing someone pain is forbidden regardless of whether the words are true or not, etc. In this case, for example, the distress caused to R’ Slifkin by this article’s words would likely make it halachically forbidden whether or not it were technically true (I.e., even had R’ Slifkin actually expressed these views in conversation with the author, it would be forbidden for the author to repeat them while identifying R’ Slifkin as their proponent of doing so would cause R’ Slifkin pain or upset. The technical prohibitions are rechilus, lashon hara, and onaas devarim.) Furthermore, if presenting the information in this format makes people think R’ Slifkin wrote this question, or even that he holds these views (I.e. if everybody knows that this column is just a paraphrase of views expressed to the author rather than actually written by those they are attributed to, the question of whether these views are accurately represented is still relevant), this deceitful behavior is forbidden under geneivas daas. Even if the author originally thought he was presenting the views of R’ Slifkin accurately, once notified that this is not the case he would be obligated to rectify the unintentional deceit by notifying those whom he deceived.

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    7. @Anonymous - your comments are helpful. Can you please answer these questions. (A) Money matters are not an issue but a false statement made with intent to deceive. Is that a violation of Halacha ? (B) Are lashon hara, onaas devarim, and geneivas daas part of halacha ?

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    8. "One should not lie even if it is only for a joke."
      http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/halacha/Volume_5_Issue_18.pdf ACJA

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    9. ACJA - the answer to both your questions is yes.

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    10. @Anonymous - First a big thank you for the correspondence. 1975 New College Edition The American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language Lie - first entry “A false statement or piece of information deliberately presented as being true.” Second Entry “ Anything meant to deceive or give wrong impression.”

      So is a lie (as defined above) in general prohibited per Halacha ? (Assume no money issues involved when answering my question.)

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    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    12. @anonymous I wrote In general per halacha you are not allowed to lie. You then wrote "Absolutely incorrect in terms of halachah" We have had a bit of back and forth and I provided you with some halacha links. Do you still think my claim is "Absolutely incorrect" ? Thanks.

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  7. Simple solution. Consult a lawyer and see if you have a case against these people and sue them. They might even settle out of court to avoid the bad PR in the Jewish world towards them. People like these avoid any sort of litigation.

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  8. R. Nosson -

    Did you see the apology in the current edition of the Yoseid? P. 28

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