A Personal Note to Cross-Currents Readers

I had been planning to write a follow-up message about my posting “The Earth Trembles” even before Illana B.’s comment (# 20) appeared. But her request – taking me back to my family’s wonderful years in Providence – convinced me to put aside some other pressing things and get down to addressing concerns that have been raised about what I wrote.

I have to confess that I don’t usually read the Cross-Current comments posted to my essays. To be honest, I have found that posters often seemed to not have really read the essay on which they chose to comment; and that the tone of some postings seemed unnecessarily abrasive. I receive much feedback from individual subscribers to Am Echad Resources and so I get ample thoughtful responses and constructive criticism from that source.

Having been apprised, though, of comments on various blogs that mischaracterized my words as “blaming” the Haitian disaster on “a cartoon,” I looked at the comments C-C readers had offered and, at the moderator’s suggestion, cleared those I felt deserved to be posted, and deleted those about which I felt otherwise. The latter category included repetitious comments and those that included name-calling, were crass or disparaged Gedolim. There are places on the web where such writing can feel at home. C-C is not one of them.

But I think most, if not all, of the points that were made even in the rejected postings are reflected in one or more of those that I approved – which can be read following my recent essay. The points, rendered as questions, can be put as follows:

1) How could I blame an earthquake on a cartoon?

2) Why did I only “tell other people” to engage in introspection, but not Orthodox Jews?

3) Why did I limit my suggestion for introspection to forbidden speech but not include other bad behavior and communal problems?

4) Why did I indulge in precisely what I was condemning, by naming particular writers of whose recent writing or portrayals I disapprove?

5) How could I call an editorial to task for its disparagement of Gedolim without commenting on the editorial’s topic – the alleged ugly wrongdoing of an Orthodox rabbi? And how could I characterize that wrongdoing as “alleged”?

6) Why have Gedolim not spoken out in condemnation of that alleged wrongdoer? Especially when they have spoken out about many other things of which they disapprove?

7) Would I have focused on haredi riots or name-calling had such things occurred the week of the Haitian disaster?

Let me take each question in turn.

1) I did not “blame” the earthquake on anything, much less a particular piece of writing or art. I simply cited the Jewish mandate to soul-search in the wake of disaster, and quoted a Godol of our generation who suggested that speech fueled by ill will is a particularly rampant evil in our day. I cited the cartoon and editorial as recent examples, nothing more.

What I wrote was like noting that “two new factories just this week began spewing particulates into the air” in an article about how pollution may contribute to the incidence of lung cancer. That some blogs chose to “simplify” my message to the point of wildly distorting it only reiterates the very problem on which my essay focused.

2) I wrote quite explicitly that the articles I cited were examples only of anti- Orthodox invective, but that “ill will and its expression, tragically” exist in the Orthodox world as well. I didn’t cite particular examples only because I couldn’t find any recent public ones. But my message was clearly intended – and clearly directed – toward Orthodox Jews, myself included, no less than anyone else.

3) I felt that I should follow the lead of Rav Steinman, and our speech was what he suggested we focus on. In no way did I mean, G-d forbid, to minimize other bad behavior we have seen of late, ethical, moral or otherwise.

4) I did not name any writer or artist, or even the name of the papers in which the material that offended me appeared. Even had I done so, though, I think there is a qualitative difference between decrying speaking or writing negatively about others and citing public examples of such already published writing to illustrate the problem.

5) I did not consciously decide to ignore the topic of the editorial; it simply had no bearing on my own topic. Needless to say (I hope), the descriptions of the alleged behavior of the accused man leave me deeply disgusted and saddened.

But until a court of law or beis din renders a judgment of an accused individual, no matter how heinous the crime and no matter the seeming preponderance of evidence, he or she may not be referred to as guilty. My use of the qualifier “alleged” was not meant to imply a defense of the accused, only to hew to the journalistically normative (and, I believe, halachically mandated) practice.

6) I cannot speak for any Godol with regard to something I have not discussed with him. But Gedolim, too, are bound by the halacha that prohibits judgment of guilt without a trial.

When it comes to religious issues that are not subject to beis din adjudication but which they consider important (even if they are issues that some people might not consider so), Gedolim have not only a right but a responsibility to speak out. Warning the community about kashrus concerns may seem a less important mandate than condemning individuals for grave moral or ethical offenses. But kashrus concerns are part of a Jewish religious leader’s mandate, and condemning people is only arguably so (personally, I don’t think it is, unless they judge that there is a danger of the offense being regarded by the community as insignificant). And in a case where no guilt has been established by a court, condemnation of the accused is not even an option.

7) Again, I was following Rav Steinman’s lead. But I do believe that had there been some example of outrageous behavior on the part of haredim the week of the Haiti cataclysm I would indeed have written something on the order of what I wrote at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2009/07/24/how-to-promote-baseless-hatred/

I hope the above clarifies what I wrote in my essay. I realize that that some readers will still feel strongly that, rather than the societal ill on which I focused, I should have addressed other things. I fully respect that feeling, even if I don’t agree with it. I recognize that many other issues seem of greater gravity than our speech and the emotions that fuel what we choose to say. Still and all, I believe that speech is our most powerful strength and potential – for good and, G-d forbid, for evil.

Dear readers, feel free to disagree – but, please, do so agreeably. Comments to this note are invited, as long as they are offered, even if in dissent, in a spirit of good will and the greater good of Klal Yisrael. Just as in any chavrusah, here too give-and-take, disagreements and even arguing can help lead to greater understanding. But just as in a chavrusah, the dialectic has to be, ultimately, between friends, respectful and aimed at a common goal.

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35 comments to A Personal Note to Cross-Currents Readers

  • Y. Finkel

    Commenters dont read the article they’re commenting on? Unnecessarily abrasive? I never got that impression. Rabbi Shafran personally may self-consciously feel that way, because readers are disagreeing with him, but to most disinterested observers, the comments in this forum are tame, moderated and substantive. I would respectfully urge caution before one calls his critics “abrasive”, or claims they’re not actually reading what he wrote. Too often we have seen that’s just a conveneint way to hide from or ignore the substance of the comments. As we would not like others to dismiss the comments and letters of Orthodox Jews and those who represent them, so too, we should not be dismissive of comments.

  • Yossie Abramson

    “I cannot speak for any Godol with regard to something I have not discussed with him. But Gedolim, too, are bound by the halacha that prohibits judgment of guilt without a trial.”
    You should inform Nosson Slifkin about this.

    Also, as a matter of policy, I do not think a writer should be moderating his or her own story.

  • David

    “I looked at the comments C-C readers had offered and, at the moderator’s suggestion, cleared those I felt deserved to be posted, and deleted those about which I felt otherwise. The latter category included repetitious comments and those that included name-calling, were crass or disparaged Gedolim. There are places on the web where such writing can feel at home. C-C is not one of them.”

    Pretty neat, to be able to censor your opponents’ arguments before having to respond!

  • Yosef Blau

    Rabbi Shafran’s clarification is welcome. The editorial he criticized relates to the question of rabbinic response to an alleged scandal with ramifications for rabbinical leaddership as well as the actions of an individual. Serious questions about approaches to geirus and dealing with intermaaried couples should merit some statement. Is there a beis din process that has not been publicized that is investigating this situation?
    The context in which the editorial was attacked described it as a major flaw that needs correction while ignoring silence from major rabbinic figures many of whom appeared at events sponsored by this discredited organization and whose institution received major contributions. It is not absurd to decry lack of leadership, particularly when the criteria for determining which issues produce public responses has not been clarified.
    Yosef Blau

  • Motty

    I did not “blame” the earthquake on anything, much less a particular piece of writing or art.

    Rav Shafran, if this is the case, I don’t understand the last paragraph of your post. It reads -

    “Had we only eyes like the Chofetz Chaim’s, we would discern that hatred and the misuse of the holy power of speech are not small evils. We would understand that they shake the very earth under our feet.

    So, the question is, do our words have the capability “to shake the earth” or not?

  • joel rich

    But just as in a chavrusah, the dialectic has to be, ultimately, between friends, respectful and aimed at a common goal.
    =================================
    Agreed. My suggestion is that R’ Shafran get a chavruta/member of the loyal opposition (or as debaters and football teams do-get someone from their team to play that role) to provide input on how a draft might be percieved by the uninitiated. The choice whether to modify or not would of course remain with R’ Shafran but there would be no surprise unintended reasoning.
    KT(as always)

  • ZB

    Rabbi Shafran, with all due respect concerning question #1 – even though you did not directly blame Haiti on evil speech exhibited by your two examples, you implied it by stating those two examples in proximity to your critique. A better retort would be not to give any examples if you didn’t mean to lay blame on anybody.
    The second issue concerning question #5 and #6 is that people are very frustrated that everybody is giving the benefit of the doubt to the “alleged” behavior of this individual. (even though there is overwhelming evidence for his guilt) However this same person did not extend that gratuity to the tens of people he “allegedly” wronged, especially a one R. Natan Slifkin who was railroaded and condemned without being able to even state his case (much less a din torah). Fair or not, this scandal is being tied to what happened 5+ years ago, and therefore there is a level of deep frustration among many, over the course of Orthodox Judaism in our era.

  • Bob Miller

    Regardless of the fate of various individuals who have been or will be tried in a court of law, the fact that serious problems exist in our own Jewish society is manifest. Do we have to wait for all legal cases to be resolved before identifying and implementing the needed steps to restore our honor? We expect our leaders, and the organizations that report to them, to dive in and lead. Much of the negative commentary results not from some yetzer hara (evil inclination) but from frustration.

  • Chaim Fisher

    Your claim that a wrong doer is innocent until proven guilty is strangely off the mark.

    You know full well that a person whom Beis Din has plenty of evidence against–and knows to be a wrongdoer!–is not going to get off scot free. That’s why they have Kipa, and lashes d’Rabonan, and other lesser punishments.

    When very strong evidence cries out “guilty,” it would be wrong to encourage and allow the person to continue being a threat. Wrong to throw the full weight of our community behind keeping him in a position of power, influence over weak people, and control of money. We aren’t asking for him to be tarred and feathered. Just take his hands off control of vital parts of our community so long as the evidence is so strong and he, indeed, has not denied it.

  • David T.

    I don’t understand what this talk is about “alleged” guilt. Rabbi Tropper issued a formal public statement on VIN admitting it. The statement reads as follows:

    “Rabbi Leib Tropper’s response to recent allegations has been delayed until now in deference to his legal counsel. Events of recent weeks have caused Rabbi Tropper great anguish, in particular given his recognition that the high standard of ethics in the Jewish community is one of its most treasured principles. He wishes to express his regret for the turmoil caused by his departure from the Eternal Jewish Family organization and for what has appeared to be conduct not within our significant laws of modesty. Rabbi Tropper now looks forward to a return to both his studies and time with his loving family, as well as to personal introspection. He thanks those outside his closest circle of friends for respecting his privacy.”

    Not that this guilt was difficult to establish, in any of a number of ways. So what’s all this talk about “alleged” guilt?

  • Natan Slifkin

    Rabbi Shafran, thank you for attempting to address the readers’ concerns. But with all due respect, you seem to have missed the point of many of the criticisms. People aren’t just asking why the Gedolim did not condemn the rabbi concerned. They are also criticizing the Gedolim themselves for endorsing him and his organization which were both highly questionable even beforehand, and in light of the revelations needs to have all its past operations seriously re-evaluated. On Cross-Currents itself, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote an excellent article pointing to some of the problems; the Badatz and the Conference of European Rabbis has also not been silent. Furthermore, there is criticism of the Gedolim for there being no visible attempt whatsoever to address any aspect of this situation after the revelations, which looks especially bad in light of the large financial donations that were directed to the yeshivos by this individual. Rabbi Aba Dunner explicitly accused the rabbinic establishment of having been bought off. There is clearly substantial grounds for concern and criticism, and yet your article gave the strong message that any such criticism is “evil speech.” Is it not the case that sometimes public criticism is necessary and valuable rather than being “evil speech”? Is it not the case that sometimes silence can be evil?

  • Shira

    As I said in the comments on your original article, I think inviting the world at large to some introspection is quite inspiring.

    And I don’t think it’s necessary for every article that one writes to reflect on the sordid mess referred to in several of the questions, even when the article’s topic is righting our wrongs.

    But if we’re on the subject I would take some issue with your remarks on #6 – trivializing sins is not the only danger when immoral behavior goes seemingly unnoticed.

    And it was disappointing that while pashkevilim (posters) were hung up in protest to the situation, it seemed that no public statements were made by actual people. Of course this points to a wider and deeper issue with regards to today’s leadership, followers, media, and probably several other elements….

  • dr. bill

    In the beginning of kol dodi dofek, the rav ztl strongly adviced we restrict our response to tradgedy, to what I or my community might do. As he said metaphorically, even Moses was denied his request to understand why. Despite the fact that rabbis of note throughout history,(mostly (but not always)at the receiving end of disaster where it more readibly understandable/excusable,) attempted a why or a what directed outward, we have normative passages in the tanach and the mishna that tell us to behave as the rav suggested. You can disagree, but to many who take the Rav’s position very seriously, your focus was misdirected. Save even deserved attacks on others for a different day and a different setting.

  • Evan Steele

    I would like to take exception to Rabbi Shafran’s suggestion that readers disagree “agreeably.” What could be wrong with being agreeable, and why would I object to promoting civil disagreement? To begin, it is clear from our written and oral history that sharp, even caustic attacks on expressed ideas are part of our Torah history. The Gemara is replete with retorts that can only politely be described as sharp. The stories we are told from past generations tell of Rebbe/Talmid relationships that were filled with public insults and caustic criticism. The relationship between Rebbeim were often filled with vicious disagreement. What, then, is the function of such sharply worded disagreement? I would suggest that the funtion lies in the honesty, passion, and truthfullness that comes from an argument made without undue consideration for the receiver’s feelings. What is lost when the speaker is overly concerned about the civility of his speech is often the power of the speech itself. To some extent, the more careful I am to not offend, the less powerful will be my words. I sense, in Rabbi Shafran’s request, an effort to water down dialogue itself. While I am certainly not advocating insulting or harmful speech, I also do not want to feel overly constrained by the desire not to offend. Another point: Clearly, there is much to say about what separates our caustic speech from that of previous, greater generations. It is clearly a function of yeridos hadoros that people offer criticism in a way that is indeed base and insulting. Any interaction, however, has two sides. Just as the speaker in today’s generation should indeed be mindful of not being disrespectful, so too, I would suggest, the receiver should be mindful of not being overly sensitive. It is as much a commentary on our generation that receivers are overly sensitive as it is that speakers are overly insulting. Finally, it seems curious to me that a writer would post an article on a blog and then not be interested in the commentary. I can certainly sympathize with the desire to avoid the nasty comments that any author these days seems to have to put up with, but, to me, that would suggest avoiding posting altogether. If one is going to jump into the often dirty waters of commentary, it seems to me that he needs to be prepared to get a little dirty.

  • Shades of Gray

    “But kashrus concerns are part of a Jewish religious leader’s mandate, and condemning people is only arguably so”

    “Fair or not, this scandal is being tied to what happened 5+ years ago, and therefore there is a level of deep frustration among many, over the course of Orthodox Judaism in our era.”(Comment # 2)

    There are issues which have nothing to do with condemning people.
    The RCA issued a resolution in 2009(“Unity in the Age of New Media”) regarding diplomacy,

    “… only in the rarest and most dire situations is it appropriate for individual members of the RCA, or the RCA itself, to issue public statements criticizing individuals or organizations…Be it resolved that the RCA, as well as its individual members, will employ any and all reasonable means of notification, negotiation and diplomacy before resorting to publication of negative statements and articles.”

    I am thinking that the Gedolim agree with the RCA about “reasonable means of notification, negotiation and diplomacy” , but perhaps feel that addressing any past instances directly is not benefical. The Gedolim have the difficult task of satisfying conflicting concerns and needs of different groups, “keeping the union together”(speaking of the State of the Union). I can therefore understand why they do not address these issues publicly.

  • Shira

    Joel Rich: “a chavruta….to provide input on how a draft might be percieved by the uninitiated…”

    Honestly, do you think Rabbi Shafran sits in his home office and puts out these lovely articles on his own? And furthermore, do you believe yourself – or any frequenter of CC – to have the perspective of the “uninitiated”?

    Except for question #1 above, a simple misunderstanding, I don’t think the general public reading Rabbi Shafran’s article (in some general publication) would go down the other paths that we have here. In fact I think they would have accepted the paragraph many here ignored: “the offensive comic strip seized upon intemperate statements made by Orthodox Jews about others.”

    Rabbi Shafran uses “we”-language throughout the article – remember after all his audience is AM yisrael.

    While the frustrations expressed here may be valid (I share many of them), they are not constructively addressed to Rabbi Shafran’s audience – rather than airing dirty laundry his purpose is to promote unity, collective understanding, and respect. This might even include gently introducing reason to the non-Orthodox mudslingers (“mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters”).

    CC has a different author who cross-posts his pieces here to share, whose aim is often to help shape Orthodoxy from the inside, and that would be Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum. (Has he walked the tightrope yet on this issue?)

  • Stan

    “But until a court of law or beis din renders a judgment of an accused individual, no matter how heinous the crime and no matter the seeming preponderance of evidence, he or she may not be referred to as guilty.”

    So Hitler cannot be called not guilty? So Oswald cannot be referred to as guilty? Come on!!

  • Chicago

    When it comes to religious issues that are not subject to beis din adjudication but which they consider important, Gedolim have not only a right but a responsibility to speak out.
    ** ** ** **

    With all due respect, when Gedolim come out against a person and ban the person’s hard work and talents, loss of money is inevitable. Therefore, how can causing monetary loss to another person, not be subject to a Bais Din?

    Additionally, once a decision was arrived at by the Gedolim even based on erroneous information, the Gedolim find it hard to reverse course. Therefore, why are the Gedolim ban targets not afforded the opportunity to have all angles analyzed by the Gedolim prior to them rendering a course of action?

    Perhaps Rabbi Shafran can answer these concerns here in the forum.

  • Bob Miller

    Since due process has been brought up in answers 5) and 6) of this article, I have some related questions.

    Parallel to the secular legal system, there is our Jewish legal system that includes every standing and ad-hoc bet din. The Jewish system is what Jews with intramural legal disputes are mandated to use. I’d like Rabbi Shafran to comment as to

    1. What responsibility our leaders have for the proper functioning of our legal system.

    2. What improvements they see as necessary and are aggresssively pursuing.

    I’m especially interested in knowing how much uniformity of procedures (including rules of order) they deem necessary for ad-hoc batei din.

  • S.

    Although I realize you will not read this comment, if this is such a nest of vipers, why post your essays here at all?

  • Dovid Kornreich

    Regarding the equations made by poster #2, #7, and #19, I believe Rabbi Safran addressed them indirectly with his (6). Tropper is no longer a danger to anyone after this enormous scandal (about which no-one denies the existence of.)
    Unfortunately, these commentors and the J-blogosphere in general seem to be out for blood. They disguise this motive under the facade of caring about victims and wishing to protect the public from harm.

  • Joe Hill

    “Although I realize you will not read this comment, if this is such a nest of vipers, why post your essays here at all?”

    S. — I assume Cross-Currents chose to syndicate Rabbi Shafran’s article, and R. Shafran is happy to allow them if they choose to. I don’t think R. Shafran sought out the arrangement, but rather vice versa.

  • Bob Miller

    Dovid Kornreich,

    Wouldn’t you concede that R’ Slifkin deserved some semblance of due process regardless of the demerits of his case?

  • Neil Harris

    Originally I wasn’t going to post a comment, as I chose to email R Shafran directly (and he always returns my emails).

    Re #23: I believe that this the case.

    It is often a common (and somewhat correct) cry with the blogoshere that Gedolim are not aware of what the real issues of the day are.

    I think that having R Shafran essays posted on Cross-Currents allows feedback that can be helpful. How often is the average person allowed to post a comment to those people (and this would include many Cross-Current’s writers) who do have access to many of the Gedolim of our age.

    To the folks at C-Cs, thanks.

  • joel rich

    Shira,
    Actually I believe that the reactions were quite what I would have expected and from what I can tell, rather widespread.
    KT

  • Phil

    I’m just curious if any other reader of CC recalls Rabbi Emanuel Feldman’s reflections about the tsunami of 2004.
    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2005/01/05/finite-2-plus-finite-2-do-not-always-equal-infinite-four/

  • Avi Shafran

    Dear All,

    Thank you all for your comments, all of which I appreciate and will take more time to read more carefully over the next few days. With Hashem’s help, I will post a substantive reply here sometime next week.

    For now, though, I just want to wish you all a restful Shabbos filled with sholom.

    AS

  • josh

    One does not need a Beis Din to decide that where there is enough evidence and ‘raglayinm ladavar’ someone who is in authority and public position,and is not just a private individual, and who is also in control of vast sums of money for public causes, needs to be stopped .His position and control must publicly be taken from him until there is apppropriare resolution.
    This is the responsibility of Rabbinic leadership.And each day that there is no public stand taken by Torah leadership, the Chilul Hashem just grows, and respect for the Rabbis diminishes.
    The Beis Din needs to act swiftly .
    In addition, your comments about readers commenting ‘without having really read your article’ should certainly state ‘allegedly ‘. This important blog is moderated extremely well and with due moderation.

  • Dovid Kornreich

    Wouldn’t you concede that R’ Slifkin deserved some semblance of due process regardless of the demerits of his case?

    Comment by Bob Miller — January 28, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    After discovering repeatedly over the years how only one side’s carefully worded version of the story can not be taken at face value, I have to suspend judgment.

  • Bob Miller

    Regarding the comment by Dovid Kornreich — January 31, 2010 @ 4:12 pm :

    Dovid,

    Considering how much time and effort you’ve spent on Slifkin-related issues on your blog and elsewhere, how is it that you have not managed to access all sides’ “versions” by now?

  • Phil

    Speaking of Rabbi Feldman (and my comment 3 above this one), he just wrote about the disaster in Haiti:
    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=167081

    Kol tuv, Phil

  • Avi Shafran

    Again, my thanks to all who posted comments above, and my apologies for not responding until now.

    The nature of such give and take is that it doesn’t really ever end. But I offer the thoughts below, which I think address most of the issues raised, as an artificial close to at least the public manifestation of this conversation. I expect that some may not find my responses satisfying, but I can only assure you that they honestly reflect my beliefs. Anyone who wants to send me a personal note is invited to do so; I’m at shafran@agudathisrael.org . I only ask that you keep in mind (as I try to do always) the Kotzker’s insight on the Gemara’s statement that “just as people’s faces all differ, so do their attitudes.” R’ Menachem Mendel is said to have made his comment in the form of a question: “Can you imagine disliking or disdaining someone because he has a different face from yours?”

    As I read it, there were four general areas in which the comments that were offered fall. I offer my reactions to each below.

    MY MODERATION OF COMMENTS TO MY ESSAY

    Only someone who has seen some of the comments that C-C administrators do not permit to be posted can fully appreciate the need for comment moderation. I think it should be clear from what appears in the comments that I did not wield any draconian censor’s pen when I did the gatekeeping for comments on my essay, “The Earth Trembles.” I have no problem with constructive criticism, indeed welcome it. It’s vitriol, cynicism and personal attacks that I believe are Jewishly wrong . As to my impression that even some non-objectionable comments betray a lack of careful reading of the essay being commented on, one need only look at the comments to that essay, several of which asserted that I had criticized only non-Orthodox: that is simply not true.

    Some apparently feel that having one’s thoughts published on Cross-Currents is a right. I believe it is a privilege, and C-C’s administrators, it would seem, agree. (If I wanted to regularly fill the role of moderator of comments to my essays, I imagine they would allow me to. I have not made that request, as I trust their judgment.) In any event, there is no dearth of places on the web where people can post whatever they want. For that matter, anyone can start his own blog, (and sometimes it seems everyone has).

    But a privately administered site is not a billboard. That’s not censorship or a denial of rights; on the contrary, it’s the exercise of a right: C-C’s to provide what it deems a forum for diverse but responsible Orthodox Jewish commentary. If C-C’s administrators were to inform me that they are switching to unmoderated comments, I would not likely not permit the continued posting there of my essays. I welcome thoughtful comments, even (actually, especially) critical ones offered in a spirit of goodwill. But no one should have to be subjected to the rants of individuals who, for whatever reason (and I’m sure there are many), don’t like me (or the Agudah, or haredim…).

    THE ESSAY ITSELF

    My reference to the earthshaking ramifications of bad speech was a metaphorical device. Yes, it referred to the recent quake; but no, it did not “blame” it on any particular sin, and certainly not, as some blogs trumpeted “on a cartoon.” My essay’s closing line merely summed up the point of what preceded it: that all (repeat, all) we Jews must consider our personal wrongdoings (the particular area I suggested echoed Rav Steinman’s suggestion after the 2004 tsumani in Asia) to be a possible factor contributing to a mass of sin that might render humanity more vulnerable to disasters. Throughout our mesora we find the concept of an abundance of sins that can come to reach a “tipping point”. Suggesting that loshon hora and related sins are a noteworthy part of the contemporary Jewish world’s “contribution” to evil, is entirely within reason, based on that mesora. And belief in an all-powerful Creator Who is aware of, and interacts with, His creations does not allow us to consider any event meaningless. And so, I pointed out, the recent disaster in Haiti requires soul-searching on our communal and personal parts.

    And by “our” I meant (and I wrote) all of us. The entire Jewish world is “my community,” not just Orthodox Jews. Which is why my criticism of evil speech was not aimed at others; it was aimed at us – all of us – the us that is the Jewish people. And that is why, even if the recent prominent examples of public loshon hora I could find were aimed against Orthodox or haredi Jews, I readily acknowledged as well that evil speech flows in the other direction too.

    Any errors of fact or judgment in any of my essays are my responsibility alone, but please know that what I write is not disseminated without review and input from people I deeply respect. That, all the same, some readers find themselves disagreeing with what I write is no sign of lack of due diligence. It is a sign, rather, that… they disagree. Such is what makes the world go ‘round.

    I do not regret writing my recent essay (although I am understandably chagrined that it was so grossly misrepresented). If you read Tablet’s story about it (or, for that matter, Harry Maryles’ Emes Ve-emunah blog entry on it – neither of which is charedi – you will see proficient readings of what I wrote, a stark contrast to the claims of less responsible web presences. The latter either did not comprehend what I plainly wrote, or chose to purposefully misrepresent it (in which case they ironically provided yet a new example of the very topic of my essay, the misuse of words).

    EJF

    I have to confess my ignorance of details about EJF. Agudath Israel had no dealings with it, to the best of my knowledge, and so all I know is from what I have read – and I don’t consider that “knowing.” All that I know firsthand (because it was in a statement from the organization), is that EJF claims that neither it nor its erstwhile director was involved in gerus procedures; the group only sent prospective geirim to batei din. If that’s indeed the case, I don’t see how the alleged personal behavior of said director, no matter how vile and even if proven to be true, compromises geirus. If I’m missing something here, I hope one of you will provide it privately. But I am being forthright and honest.

    Nor do I see (and here too I am being forthright and honest) how a rabbinic figure’s attendance at EJF events before its director was accused of personal wrongdoing somehow indicts the rabbi. Here, too, I’m being entirely honest. Please forgive my naivete, if that’s what it is.

    As to the accused himself, I apologize up front if it outrages anyone further, but no, I will not pronounce guilt on the basis of unanalyzed tapes and popular conclusions (no matter how many the tapes, no matter how popular the conclusions). That is not meant as a defense of anyone, nor does it evidence an unwillingness on my part to feel disgusted by the alleged behavior, or to be deeply suspicious of the person accused. But until either a confession or a beis din or court provides conclusive evidence that an individual is guilty of a sin, I will always use the words “accused” or “alleged” with regard to him. If a particular reader’s posek gives him or her permission to not only suspect guilt here but to assume it and write accordingly, I will respect that reader’s doing so. But I have received no such dispensation, and respectfully request that others afford my own position similar respect.

    GEDOLIM

    It seems that I have a very different understanding of Gedolim and Jewish leadership than at least some who have posted comments. Whether born of frustration or anything else, demands (or even requests) that Gedolim “show leadership” (i.e. do what we think they should be doing) are incoherent. If a leader is a leader, it is ipso facto his choice to decide whether to do or not do something. If leaders need to hew to what some of their ostensible followers, or others, feel they should do, then they are followers, not leaders.

    Yes, silence can be evil. But assuming, based one’s personal perceptions (or those of likeminded persons), that a respectable person’s silence in a particular situation is evil is an evil in its own right. And insinuating that recognized rabbonim chashuvim are useless (or worse) is profoundly wrong. “Mai a’hani lon rabbonon?” is not a sentiment Chazal considered proper, to say the least.

    I realize that the sentiment may not derive from any inherent disdain of, or condescension toward, Gedolim. What I suspect is that people are insufficiently respectful of the Gedolim of our day simply because of an assumption that today’s chachomim don’t “measure up” to those of yesteryear. The truth, though, is that yesteryear’s Gedolim were criticized too by some in their time, by people who felt that they too didn’t “measure up” to Gedolim of generations yet earlier. (Even Moshe Rabbeinu, for that matter, as per the Midrash, was subject to gossip and derision.) Plus ca change… What has changed today, though, is the internet’s ability to bring together and amplify the voices and reach of critics. Yes, niskatnu hadoros (as any Godol will readily attest), but the bottom line is “Yiftach bidoro k’Shmuel bidoro.” Each generation’s Torah leaders are their Torah leaders, no less than any earlier generation’s were theirs. And let’s not forget that we, too, are part of the dor that is niskaton. Our Gedolim remain our Gedolim, the chachomim that are the einei ha’eidah for our times.

    I fully recognize that the chachomim whom I consider to be those einei ha’ieda may not be the ones that others choose to follow. I respect those others’ choices and would never, chalila, disparage any Jew’s choice of a different recognized talmid chochom as his guide (even if that chochom’s approach to an issue was at odds with the position of those whom I revere). But just as I would not arrogate to judge (much less deride) that chochom’s decisions even if I personally thought they were misguided, so do I expect others to respect decisions of chachomim that I, and many thousands of others, consider to be the leaders of our generation.

    All of which is not to say that any Godol is omniscient or infallible. No chochom could – or would – claim such status. It is only to say that those chachomim and their decisions about Jewish communal life deserve our respect, no less (in fact much more) than any accomplished doctor does in medical matters. One need not understand or agree with any stance to maintain respect for the one taking it. And to criticize a talmid chochom for rendering judgments about evidence entirely before him (whether a situation, an approach or a book) is, in my estimation, to chisel away at the very foundation of our mesorah, based as it is on regard for the chachomim of each generation.

    I again apologize for not being able to publicly continue this conversation – which is such an important one – in this forum. But I again invite any comments or questions that anyone may want to direct to me privately. I can’t guarantee an immediate response, but I do try to respond to every respectable inquiry sent my way.

  • Shades of Gray

    I appreciate R. Shafran’s response here; I always appreciate his thoughtfullness and ideas, even if I disagree with a particular position. I take out from it the critical importance of maintaining in communication respect for all rabbonim as well as unity in the community, the lack of which, all agree is detrimental. As mentioned in the original post, “just as in any chavrusah, here too give-and-take, disagreements and even arguing can help lead to greater understanding”.

  • Dovid Kornreich

    Considering how much time and effort you’ve spent on Slifkin-related issues on your blog and elsewhere, how is it that you have not managed to access all sides’ “versions” by now?

    Comment by Bob Miller — February 1, 2010 @ 9:22 am

    I don’t think you realize how much disconnect there is between blogging about issues and real people’s lives and stories.
    The people involved in the making ban do not have any posted information about the ban process for me to access and I am not the “hocker type” to track them down and interview them.

  • lacosta

    Our Gedolim remain *our* Gedolim, the chachomim that are the einei ha’eidah for our times.

    — maybe this is the crux of the issue— maybe non-haredim have to leave haredim the space to have *their* gdolim, but to be brave enough to say ‘those are not our leaders, we don’t look to them, and consequently have no ax to grind with them [ except maybe when they criticize other eidot]‘ if haredi rank-and-file are satisfied with their leadership, maybe it’s no one else’s business;
    but of course non-haredi O jews have the space to reject leadership/gdolim/organizations that disagree/disavow/disparage them and theirs….