It's Time To Erase Amalek - From Daily Discourse
After I removed the two posts about the Kaplan Affair, I was inundated by emails asking/demanding clarification. Here is the explanation.
First of all, I want to give some background to how this story developed. Last Wednesday, I was sent the audio file by a friend who learned in top charedi yeshivos for many years. He described it as “absolutely terrifying” and said that “The only way to stop these sort of things is if the Mir get enough bad publicity that it’s not worth their while to allow them to continue.” I discussed it with a Rav who is in the charedi world, very politically savvy and sensitive, and he said that it has to get out.
Before going any further, I discussed it with two other friends who learned in the Mir for many years and who know R. Kaplan well (and they like him). They were also horrified by it and felt it was very important for it to be publicized. They were, however, concerned that I would be (non-physically) attacked for doing so, and warned that I should not be the one who blows the whistle, so I decided to hold off.
However, then I discovered that the story had already gotten out, in a review of shiurim by Joel Rich on Torahmusings.com, and in turn in a Facebook post by Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf. Both of them strongly condemned it. Since the story had already been broken by others, I posted about it. In my post I said very little, other than to transcribe the relevant parts of the audio, to briefly and accurately summarize it, and to express horror.
As the story started getting picked up by others, however, three things bothered me intensely. First was that while I felt very strongly that Rav Kaplan should be condemned for what he said, I also felt that he should not be condemned for what he didn’t say. There's plenty to condemn. There's the basic disgusting anti-Torah attitude, common to almost the entire charedi community in Israel and many in the US, that charedim have a right to be supported by the rest of Israel and not share in the burden of military service, and that anyone who feels otherwise can only be motivated by hatred of Torah. There's the shocking claim that Rav Steinman said that government ministers are classified as Amalek and deserve to be killed. There's Rav Kaplan's frightening and clear message that it is absolutely forbidden to doubt this. There's the appalling pride that he displays with his five-year-old, who is creatively looking for ways in which government ministers can be killed.
But Rav Kaplan did NOT say that, practically speaking, people should actually go ahead and kill them. On the contrary; from the outset, he said that people should not actually go ahead and do it. (According to his words, this is due to his simultaneously subscribing to the charedi approach of leadership paralysis.) Yes, what he said could lead to that, and the lesson that Rav Kaplan is imparting to his students and children is loathsome and dangerous. But that is not the same as telling people to actually go ahead and kill them, and nobody should claim that he said that.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what some people claimed. One blog commentator described him as a "murderer." No, he's not! His words might - unintentionally - lead someone to murder, which is (one of the many reasons) why they must be condemned; but he is not a murderer. Another blogger described him as “a rodef al pi Halacha.” No, he’s not!
As it reached the media, such distortions continued. The Israeli newspapers and the Jerusalem Post reported the story correctly, but the London Jewish Chronicle did not. Their article reported, without qualification, that Rabbi Kaplan “advocates killing ministers.” No, he didn’t!
Let Rav Kaplan face the music for things that he did say, not for things that he didn’t say. And a further problem with distorting what he said is that it allowed him and his defenders to respond that he never advocated actually killing ministers and that people are distorting his words. Which is true (contrary to some people's claim that he was lying) – but it enabled him to avoid taking responsibility for what he actually said. He did not say that people should actually kill them – he was clear from the outset that they shouldn’t. But he DID say that they are Haman and Amalek, and that they are therefore in principle worthy of being killed.
The second thing that bothered me was that this was being made into a story about Rav Nissan Kaplan. This is not to minimize what he did, but he is hardly the biggest problem in this area (especially as he since retracted and is grovelling with apologies). There is rhetoric about Amalek and suchlike coming from much bigger players than someone regarded as a young entertainer of harmless Americans. While Rav Steinman's spokesman denied that he said what Rav Kaplan attributed to him, there are other reports of Rav Steinman describing Lapid as Amalek and saying that the government should suffer in hell and have their names erased. It is true that Rav Steinman has explicitly qualified such statements by noting that the way to battle Amalek is by learning more Torah, but it is still a wrong and dangerous way to talk. And remember that Rav Steinman is a moderate compared to the likes of the Eidah Charedis, Satmar and Rav Shmuel Auerbach! (They have described Rav Steinman himself as Amalek due to his being too moderate, and one deranged follower attacked and nearly killed Rav Steinman)! Then there's Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the new rabbinic leader of Shas, saying that Jews who wear knitted kipot are Amalek - which he later clarified as "only" referring to the leaders of Bayit Yehudi and their supporters. Unlike with Rav Kaplan, these statements have not been retracted.
The third thing that bothered me, and the final straw, was how some people were presenting the way that the story played out. Although I did not post Rav Kaplan’s lecture on the internet (it was posted on his own website!), and although I was not the first or even the second to report what he had said, I was being portrayed as the person who was responsible for it getting out. Along with all this came accusations that I was causing irrevocable harm to Rav Kaplan, to the Mir, fanning the flames of hatred and causing discord in Israeli society with vast repercussions, etc. Put together with the first distortion, this meant that I was being accused of spreading a story that Rav Kaplan was telling people to actively go out and kill government ministers. Frankly, I didn’t have the stomach to deal with this. Since this is not my personal fight (except insofar as I detest the way that it has become acceptable to call one’s ideological opponents “Amalek,” as people have referred to me many times), I decided that I did not want to be personally involved any more. Besides, there were already enough people who had picked up on the story that it wasn’t necessary for me to be involved. So I took down my posts. IMPORTANT UPDATE: I just discovered that the story had in any case been sent to the press even before I wrote about it, so it was getting out regardless of anything I wrote.
Meanwhile, as reported in various media outlets, Rav Kaplan is frantically trying to save himself (or Rav Steinman?), expressing total remorse and claiming that he never heard anything from Rav Steinman about this, that he never had any conversation with his son about killing ministers with a hammer, and that he freely makes up false stories and incorrect views about very serious matters. Hopefully he has learned his lesson, but what about everyone else? What is really needed is a clear statement by the Mir, and even more so by the Israeli Charedi establishment, about whether they consider it acceptable to describe their opponents as “Amalek.” In my view, this is a word that should be erased from daily discourse. In light of the obligation to kill Amalek, it is simply far too offensive, loaded and dangerous a term to be used about anyone today.