Not What You Think
Can you guess what real-life scenario is being described here? The conversation is only very slightly paraphrased.
Background: A group of authorities signs a letter of condemnation regarding a certain approach. The accused, from their own community, has the backing of numerous diverse people on this particular approach (even from those who disagree with the accused on other matters), and who are stunned by this condemnation. One of them approaches one of the signatories, a rabbi with a long white beard, to explain his position:
Questioner: How could you sign such a letter?
Rabbi: Because the accused did a terrible, terrible thing!
Questioner: How do you know? Are you familiar with the facts of the case?
Rabbi: No, I don't quite know, I'm not an expert in these things. But I know people who are! And they also condemn it.
Questioner: Are you aware that there are plenty of experts who do not condemn it?
Rabbi: Well, I suppose there are, but I personally agree with those who did condemn it.
Questioner: But if you admit that you don't actually know what happened here, what right do you have to decide to agree with the condemnation? Here is the actual data and arguments, which show that the accused didn't do anything terrible at all. What he did was perfectly normative, even heroic.
Rabbi: Listen, I might not be able to actually explain why it was a terrible crime, but it's one of those situations in which I can say that I know it when I see it!
Questioner: But I've provided actual arguments and evidence which show that there was no crime at all. And you haven't been able to come up with anything in response!
Rabbi: Goodbye. Have a nice day.
The questioner then approaches another bearded signatory, a purported expert in Judaism:
Questioner: Can you explain your basis for signing the condemnation? The accused did exactly what was appropriate!
Bearded signatory #2: You're ignoring the main issue, which is the fact that the accused started this whole situation in the first place.
Questioner: I don't agree at all - I think it was an existing situation which the accused was simply trying provide a solution for. But even if your claim is true, how would that justify condemning him for doing exactly what was appropriate at this point?
Bearded signatory #2: I never said that! You're mischaracterizing my argument!
Questioner: Okay, so can you tell me what your argument actually is?
Bearded signatory #2: No. It's not worth discussing it with you. Your views in other areas are so misguided that it's a waste of time. Stop harassing me.
Questioner: But you signed a very public letter of condemnation. You don't have to engage with everyone who argues with you about it, but surely you need to somewhere publicly justify why you signed.
Bearded signatory #2: I'll explain it privately to my disciples. I'm not interested in engaging with you or providing any public justification. Goodbye.
* * *
The above is a great description of what happened with the ban on my books, 16 years ago. But it's actually not what I'm describing at all. Instead, it's something very, very different and much more recent. The astonishing details - which make the analogies to the ban on my books all the more amazing - will be revealed in the next post.
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