When Is An Apology Not An Apology?
During the controversial controversy over my books, a certain former friend, whom we shall call Mr. X, in conjunction with a certain rabbi, was urging me to issue a public retraction/ apology for my books. It's not that Mr. X thought that my books were actually heretical; indeed, Mr. X himself believed that the world is billions of years old, and he did not believe in Chazal's descriptions of spontaneous generation. But Mr. X urged me to issue a partial apology, for errors in "tone" or "expression," as a tactical move, in order to defuse the controversy, and prevent damage to myself and others.
A rav that I was consulting didn't agree. He told me that there's no point issuing a partial apology - my opponents would be satisfied with nothing less than a complete capitulation, that my books are utter heresy. And a complete capitulation, while serving the interests of many rabbis/ charedi apologists associated with me or my books, would not be beneficial to me or to the people who so strongly identify with the rationalist approach. He told me that the people pushing me to apologize were looking out for their own best interests, not mine. I'd be compromising my integrity for no benefit to the people that count. And if I have to suffer the results, so be it.
I didn't apologize. In retrospect, I believe that the rav was completely correct, and I'm glad that I listened to him. But Mr. X was furious with me for not following his advice. In a public lecture that he later gave about the ban on my books, he criticized me as "a person who is not willing to listen to anyone."
(Of course, there are times when one should apologize even if one does not feel sorry - such as for shalom bayis. I am not referring to such cases.)
I was reminded of this when thinking about certain recent "apologies" that are not genuine apologies at all; instead they are just tactical moves to deflect opposition. This alone is disturbing enough; what makes it sadder is that some naive people seize upon these as examples of the moral greatness of the person issuing the apology. Whereas in fact, it doesn't demonstrate any moral greatness - just political wiliness.
How can one tell if an apology is sincere or merely a ploy? It's not always possible, of course. But sometimes there are clues that give it away.
First was Rabbi Avi Shafran's apology for his infamous article in which he said that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of respect than Captain Sully (because Sully was just doing his job, whereas Madoff went beyond expectations in apologizing). When there was uproar at this dangerously insane article, and many people calling for Rabbi Shafran to be fired from Agudas Yisrael, he issued an apology, but it seemed rather tepid. He spoke about having used an "unsuitable example" instead of admitting that the core idea was wrong. My suspicions about the insincere nature of the apology were confirmed when, in a personal email to me, he told me with pride about all the positive comments he had gotten on the article and about how he would love to discuss it one day.
Second was Leib Tropper's apology for having used his position at the top of a geirus organization to take advantage of female converts for the benefit of himself and others. His apology was carefully worded to not even be an explicit admission of guilt, despite the fact that audio and video recordings of his activities were freely available on YouTube. And I recently discovered that his devoted disciples still believe, presumably with his encouragement, that he never did anything, and that the recordings were elaborate fakes engineered by powerful adversaries.
But now we have perhaps the ultimate example of an insincere apology that is just a tactical maneuver. I'm referring, of course, to Jonathan Rosenblum's apology for slandering Rabbi Dov Lipman, as discussed in a previous post. Rosenblum, I'm told, received a tremendous amount of heat, with several people publicly responding and pointing out that his accusations were based on gross factual inaccuracies.
Rosenblum's apology starts out great. He goes into full details about his factual errors. He admits that "he had no business to make any assumptions, and certainly not to publish them, without clarifying the situation." He apologies to Rabbi Lipman and Mrs. Wolfson "for wrongly characterizing their actions as provocative, and for not having done adequate research."
Of course, one can ask, as did Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, "I think it is important to examine how Jonathan Rosenblum, who 'had no business to make any assumptions, and certainly not to publish them, without clarifying the situation' did exactly that." A neighbor of mine, Menachem Lipkin, pointed out that, to make matters worse, he had already given Rosenblum the correct information a long time ago:
Rosenblum talks about the “assumptions” he made and how they were wrong. However, he and I had an ongoing email/phone exchange during the the Fall of 2011 when all this was going on. I gave him great detail of what was going on. I sent him a highlighted a map of the area showing him all the relevant buildings, “zones”, etc. I urged him to come down and I’d give him a tour of the area. I also urged him speak directly with Rabbi Lipman (who was not yet the “evil” man the Chareidi media has made him out to be). He did neither. Even articles he wrote at the time had factual errors which I pointed out to him.
Rosenblum makes an interesting statement: "For a Torah Jew, 'We regret the error' is insufficient." I'd expect that to mean that for a Torah Jew, it's not enough simply to issue an apology. There must be genuine contrition, a sincere effort to make amends with the victim, introspection as to how one did such a thing, and a change in one's ways.
Unfortunately, it seems that I misunderstood him. After a brief diversion to criticizing Yesh Atid, Rosenblum returns to yet another all-out attack on Dov Lipman. And to quote Menachem Lipkin:
Even if one accepts his "apology", he can barely get through the article before repeating the very transgression he so narrowly apologized for in the first place!
From JR’s “rebuttal” section:
“SADLY, RABBI LIPMAN has done little himself to provide secular Israelis in his party or beyond with a greater appreciation of the joy, the intellectual stimulation, or the cosmic power of Torah learning.”
From an assistant in Dov Lipman’s office:
1) E-mail Dov received from someone chiloni “True Story: I met on Friday afternoon with two successful young Israeli entrepreneurs — both secular IDC graduates and IDF special forces veterans. The issue of them having a meeting on Saturday (as they were leaving NYC Sunday morning) came up — and one said that he would not meet on Shabbat. He explained that he usually would have done so, as religion to him was personified by the haredi who did not share his values and with whom he did not identify at all. Then, he explained, Yesh Atid came along, with the Rabbi Dov Lipman — and showed him that he could embrace Judaism…that it was now owned and controlled by those with whom he disagreed so profoundly.”
2) Yesh Atid started the weekly Bet Midrash for MK’s – the first in the history of the Knesset. Every Tuesday at 3:00p.m. religious and secular MK’s study a section of Torah together and Dov is a regular contributor.
3) After a speech in a Jerusalem bar a girl raised her hand and said to Dov – “I just want you to know that you make me want to be more Jewish.”
4) Dov speaks a few times a week to secular students visiting the Knesset and each time he emphasizes the value of Torah study and he emphasizes the message of secular people respecting religious and vice versa.
5) After speaking in a bar in Tel Aviv, the young college students said that they never met someone chareidi who respected them and Dov explained that most chareidim would not force their ways on them. The outgrowth of that event was a Knesset taskforce for dialogue between chareidim and chilonim which Dov chairs.
Furthermore, if Rosenblum genuinely regrets having been motzi shem ra on Dov Lipman, then why on earth does his apology only appear on Cross-Currents, and not in Yated, where the original motzi shem ra appeared? In a heated email exchange that I had with Rosenblum last week, I asked him that question twice, and he did not respond. I also posted this question on Cross-Currents, but my comment was rejected. Since at least last Sunday, Rosenblum was aware that his accusations against Dov Lipman were false - plenty of time to put a retraction in the Yated, if he was genuinely sorry.
All of the above confirms a rule that I posted about a long time ago, which is neatly revealed in a statement that Rosenblum makes immediately following his expression of moral regret:
THAT HALACHIC AND JOURNALISTIC failure was a double patch in panim [smack in the face], resulting not only in a loss of credibility but serving to distract attention from the very real issues that divide me and Rabbi Lipman, who is now an MK in Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
Whenever someone gives two reasons for something, it's always the second reason that is the real reason. The first reason is given because it sounds better.
Rosenblum's expression of regret for a moral failure, a sin of bein adam l'chavero, was only urgently issued to Cross-Currents readers, not Yated readers. It was followed by exactly the same sin of motzi shem ra all over again. Because it wasn't a sincere apology at all - just a tactical maneuver, in order to enable Rosenblum to repair and reinforce his attack on Yesh Atid, and Dov Lipman.
Oh, and to return the story that I opened this post with. The real name of Mr. X who was urging me to apologize for my books, as a tactical move? I'm sure you can guess.