Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
I. Who Should be Issuing a Retraction/ Clarification?
Following my earlier post about Rabbi Sherer's mention of my article at the Agudah Convention, in which he failed to read out an important phrase when quoting from my article, a number of people wrote to the Agudah to register their protest. The Agudah responded by pointing out that the phrase which Rabbi Sherer had omitted was only parenthetical. The Agudah also claimed that it is in fact I who owes Rabbi Sherer an apology, for calling his speech “despicable in its dishonesty.”
In fact, I had already retracted that, but I will reiterate: I apologize for referring to Rabbi Sherer's speech as "despicable in its dishonesty." I had not realized that the Jerusalem Post had put my phrase in parentheses.
And now it is Rabbi Sherer's turn to issue a clarification. The Agudah claimed that Rabbi Sherer's omission "did not in any way change the meaning of the sentence." I think that it is not Rabbi Sherer's prerogative to make that judgment. Someone put it very well: Rabbi Sherer was reading directly from the article. If a Rabbi is going to verbally attack a person publicly for a statement that the person supposedly made, then the statement should be quoted in full - especially since what was in parenthesis would have been in the author's favor.
There is another important point to be made. There is not a single reader of my blog who is under a mistaken impression as to what I wrote or what Rabbi Sherer saw and said. On the other hand, there are plenty of attendees of the Agudah conference who, as a result of Rabbi Sherer's speech, think that I wrote something quite different from what I actually wrote. I have already issued a retraction and have clarified matters. It's time for Rabbi Sherer to do the same.
Rabbi Sherer should also clarify that what I wrote was one of several reasons that I gave for becoming post-Charedi, and not - as he implied - the sole reason.
II. On Anonymity
Agudah spokesmen also pointed out that Rabbi Sherer had taken pains not to mention me by name. It doesn't really make a difference to me either way, but this seems absurd. If Rabbi Sherer had not wanted me to be identified, he could simply have read out the part of the article that deals with the reasons for being post-Charedi. It did not add anything to his speech for him to read out the part of the article in which I describe how three of my books were banned seven years ago. But it did mean that everybody knew exactly who he was talking about!
III. On Context
A standard reply that the Agudah sent out to letters of protest included the following:
What is more, Rabbi Slifkin’s attitude toward Gedolim – which was Rabbi Sherer’s focus (although he took pains not to mention Rabbi Slifkin’s name) – is well evident in other writings of Rabbi Slifkin. For example: “How are [Gedolim] suited,” he wrote on March 23 of last year “for leadership positions? The fundamental belief of charedi society, that total dedication to Torah is what makes the ideal leader, is… exposed as hopelessly wrong.”
Strong words, indeed. I was curious to see in which context I had written them, and I was especially curious about the ellipsis (that's the "..." in the quote). So I googled it and discovered the original post. I saw that the ellipsis served to replace a single word: "thereby." And what was the "thereby" to which I referred? It was to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky having signed a letter attesting to the innocence of the monster Elior Chen, and subsequently defending his signature on the grounds that he signs whatever his rabbis sign. As I wrote in the original post:
"I have always tried to write respectfully about the Gedolim, even when disagreeing with them strongly. But now I am honestly not sure if one should be respectful about the signing of this letter, especially when it is defended on the grounds that other rabbis signed it. The best limmud zechus I can think of is that, due to their intense dedication to staying in the Beis HaMidrash, the Gedolim are simply naive about the world and/or easily manipulated. But if that is the case, and it results in them signing letters such as this, then how are they suited for leadership positions? The fundamental belief of charedi society, that total dedication to Torah is what makes the ideal leader, is thereby exposed as hopelessly wrong. And even with this limmud zechus, one has to wonder how a Rav could attest with certainty to the innocence of someone who has been indicted for such terrible crimes, with one child suffering permanent brain damage and in a vegetative state for the rest of his life, merely because other rabbis say that he is innocent. With the publication of the letter supporting Elior Chen, is there any way to justify the system of leadership in the charedi world?"
Technically speaking, the Agudah did not distort what I had written. However, I think that it would have been more appropriate if, when quoting that sentence, they would have revealed a little more about the context in which I wrote it. Especially when the entire topic here is one of reporting people's positions accurately. So, for example, they could have written, "he wrote on March 23 of last year, in the context of Rav Kanievsky defending Elior Chen." Surely that is at least as relevant as the date!
(I subsequently engaged in a bizarre and fruitless discussion with the Agudah as to how it was justified or understandable for Rav Kanievesky to attest to the innocence of Elior Chen on the grounds that "other rabbis did so," and how this fits in to the notion of Daas Torah. But it was presumably forbidden to even ask this question, since according to Rabbi Sherer, we may not ask the Gedolim to explain their Daas Torah decision.)