Saturday, February 5, 2022

A Grievous Error

Dear Rav *****, 

Greetings, I hope you are well. Let me begin by saying that I have admired you for many years. Which is why I was severely disappointed to see that you signed on the letter of condemnation against Rav Eliezer Melamed, shlita. 

There is probably no point in my saying that I have found his works and actions to be worthy of great praise, since you undoubtedly feel that they are wrong and dangerous. However, I would like to share with you a perspective that you may not have realized. 

Seventeen years ago, several dozen leading rabbinic figures in the charedi world campaigned against my books on Torah and science. They believed my books to be a perversion of Torah and dangerous. And, from the perspective of their worldview, they were absolutely correct! The rationalist approach of Rambam and others to these issues is indeed completely at odds with their perspective, and it certainly poses dangers from any perspective. 

However, there was something that they failed to take into consideration. They were so outraged and concerned about my books, and so convinced of the justice of their cause and of their own legitimacy and authority, that they failed to take into account the consequences of their actions. 

This is the 21st century. People do not react well to seeing a group of rabbis ganging up to ban a popular rabbi for espousing an approach that resonates with the general public. The backlash was immense. The prestigious rabbis who denounced my books were themselves denounced, as well as despised, ridiculed and scorned. Rav Aharon Feldman, of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, told me that the Gedolim looked like fools. He set out to defend their charges - which, of course, did not convince a single person, and merely undermined his own honor. The rabbis who tried to delegitimize me themselves lost legitimacy, and nowadays even their own followers are embarrassed to discuss it. 

Furthermore, the entire incident created an immense crisis of confidence in charedi rabbinic authority. There were thousands of people in the chareidi community who decided that this community was not for them. Many of them upped and left - some to the Centrist/ Modern Orthodox community, while others left Orthodoxy altogether. The entire effort by these charedi Gedolim to bolster rabbinic authority and prevent people straying had the exact opposite effect. 

The same will happen here - probably even more so. Rav Melamed is much more popular and respected than I was; over a million copies of his works have been printed. There is absolutely no doubt that he is one of the most successful teachers of Torah in our era. And he has (justly, in my view) earned the respect of many, many talmidei chachamim. What will we be seeing as a result of the campaign to ban his works and delegitimize him?

In my shul today, the Rav spoke about it. He mentioned how he has his personal areas of disagreement with Rav Melamed. Nevertheless, he said, Rav Melamed is a Gadol B'Torah. He slammed the condemnations of Rav Melamed as an absolute disgrace, a bizayon of Torah of the highest order. 

I have seen similar reactions from many other dati-leumi rabbanim that I know. And if this is the reaction by rabbis, can you imagine how it looks to the general public? Do you think that families in your community will respect your actions? And how does it look to the wider public? Rabbis fighting and denouncing each other? And all following the lead of Rav Tau - someone is so caught up in his religious zeal and paranoia that he claimed that Chaim Walder was an innocent person who was framed by an anti-religious conspiracy? 

It is not too late to try to mitigate some of the disgrace and damage. You could issue a letter of retraction. You could say that while you disagree with Rav Melamed on serious issues, you nevertheless respect him as a Torah scholar and regret attempting to delegitimize him. I know that this is a difficult step to take, but the net gain in respect for the religious community in general and you in particular will be considerable. 

Sincerely, 

Natan Slifkin

NOTE: You can purchase Rav Melamed's works in Hebrew at this link and in English at this link. You can also show your support for Rav Melamed by donating to Yeshivat Har Bracha at this link.

UPDATE: Looks like some of the accusers are already frantically backpedaling. See here.

16 comments:

  1. "Furthermore, the entire incident created an immense crisis of confidence in charedi rabbinic authority. There were thousands of people in the chareidi community who decided that this community was not for them. Many of them upped and left - some to the Centrist/ Modern Orthodox community, while others left Orthodoxy altogether."

    Huh? Thousands of people? I find that pretty hard to believe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thousands is not such a big number, given the size of the charedi community.
      You're forgetting that books by Slifkin, Schroeder, Kaplan, Carmell, Leo Levi and no doubt others were very popular at the time. All of these books were suddenly declared questionable at the time of the ban. No, thousands is not an unreasonable figure. Untrue or exaggeration? Maybe, but definitely not unbelievable.

      Delete
    2. Certainly difficult to believe. How embedded were they in the Chareidi community to start? How far did they move out? Switch shuls? Switch schools?
      What precisely does "people in the chareidi community who decided that this community was not for them". What did the decision look like? Colossal aggravation and eventual going on with the same life with some less enthusiasm?

      "Many upped and left." How many? How far?

      "nowadays even their own followers are embarrassed to discuss it."
      This is much more credible.

      Delete
  2. The time really has come for the moderate, sane RZ world to start creating the next generation of rabbinic leadership. The far-right nuts RZ world has a ten year head start. Almost all RZ schools in Israel now have far-right Torah teachers. Where will this lead to? Nowhere good. The letter about Rabbi Melamed is just the start. The next generation of RZ kids will all grow up thinking that 'Extreme is good.' It is a disaster in the making. A solution is long overdue.

    Rabbi Slifkin, if you can lead this change, then please please do.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I clearly haven't been keeping up with the news. What exactly happened with Rav Melamed?

    ReplyDelete
  4. His seforim are indeed well-written, and I know a lot of people who gained from studying them.
    But, in my opinion, his biggest achievement is the series for kids (even though he's not the real author). I've seen 8 years old boys and girls proficient in hilchos shabbos just because they read them!
    If some rabbis don't like some things he wrote, it's an absolute disgrace to treat him that way, even if ''he did not respond''.

    I'm in no way a chasid of Rabbi Melamed, I even recently tried to discuss his views on Daas Torah on this blog, and I personnally don't enjoy the simplistic approach to halachah presented in those seforim. But he certainly merits a lot of kevod hatorah, and that was denied from him by these rabbis who act as if they were his hierarchic superiors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What do you mean by "simplistic approach"?

      Delete
    2. I mean he does tend not to bring many differing views, just one or two, and very rarely deepens to the contradiction point. He also does tend to agglomerate ''sephardi'' and ''ashkenazi'' practices into monoliths, where in fact there is wonderful variety. In short these seforim lack nuance to my taste.
      But again, it's jut an issue of taste.

      Delete
  5. Many of the signatories are now claiming that they signed the second letter (the one with dozens of signatures that didn't mention R' Melamed by name) without knowing that it would be released together with, and linked with, the first letter, with three (really two and a half) signatures that *did* mention him.

    Well, maybe. But that certainly doesn't absolve them. What, no one paused to ask, "Wait, what is this nameless letter *really* about?" (And I'm thinking a lot of them guessed, or half-guessed, anyway.) No one thinks twice before signing *anything*- or refuses to sign altogether? What do they prefer we think- that they are mindless followers or happily put into cherem talmidei chachamim that they have political differences with? They can't have it both ways.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As usual I think it's the conniving askanim misleading their Rav.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Could you please remove the kid gloves and give us some background? The letter that I saw seemed basically legitimate. They disagree strongly with his stance on relations with Reform and on certain psakim of his, and therefore recommend people should use other seforim. What's the problem with that? Or is it just that it looks bad and will backfire?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Danny, I agree. Rabbi Slifkin always speaks out against rabbis for the most trivial reasons, and now that somebody else does it, he complains? Furthermore, he has written in a previous post that the Torah urges us to speak out against evil. Well, now the Rabbonim are doing exactly that! And not only that, but they are his very own DL Rabbonim! Clearly he only respects these Rabbonim when they are secularist enough for him. But the moment they display even the smallest bit of counter-secularism, he "no longer admires them". Shame.

      Delete
    2. Could you please not pretend that you don't know exactly what the problem is? When you use the phrase "recommend people should use other seforim" you know exactly what that means. It means a hatchet job on an incredibly respected Rav.

      The people who 'disagree strongly' with his stances decided to silence him and have him de-facto declared 'Passul'.

      It stinks. As a tactic, it stinks. As an attitude, it stinks.
      It's the act of ignorant bullies and it should be stood up to.

      Delete
    3. "Well, now the Rabbonim are doing exactly that!"
      No they are not. Do you know what "exactly" means?

      Delete
    4. "They disagree strongly with his stance on relations with Reform and on certain psakim of his, and therefore recommend people should use other seforim."

      "Certain psakim"? So what? Tosfos frequently dismissed Rashi's pshat- indeed Tosfos probably had more disagreements with Rashi, then these rabbonim have with Rav Melamed. Almost every ספר has פסקים that are rejected. (e.g. "That famous leniency of the נודע ביהודה", or "the very controversial opinion of the ציץ אליעזר".) We don't ban a ספר on the basis of a few disagreements. (And from I can infer, it's seems that the particular disagreement here is on a question that has limited application. But maybe I missed what that aspect of the controversy is about.)
      So why the uproar?
      It's about Rav Melamed's politics.
      I see a parallel here, with the Satmar assault on RMF. There too it was really about politics, but they used a halachic disagreement on sensitive matters as a way of legitimizing their war.

      Delete

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