Sunday, July 8, 2012

Shafran versus Slifkin – Slifkin Responds

In our previous post, we discussed Rabbi Slifkin’s letter to Ami magazine and explained why his issues with Rabbi Shafran’s article were irrelevant. As it happens Rabbi Shafran also addresses Rabbi Slifkin’s letter to which Rabbi Slifkin then counters with a seven point response. It is these points that we would like to discuss here but before doing so we would like to quote the following statement from our previous post.

The purpose of Rabbi Shafran’s article was to criticize blogs that are dedicated to the disparagement of gedoley yisrael and the undermining of their authority, hence the comparison to Korach. The article was a one-pager in total, containing less than 700 words, and was written with a specific goal in mind; presumably to warn people of the dangers of such blogs.

If the preceding statement is kept in mind, Rabbi Slifkin’s seven point response is entirely irrelevant, at best. Before we proceed with our analysis, the following quote from Rabbi Slifkin’s post I Was Wrong is highly edifying. 
I would also like to stress that I most certainly agree that there is plenty to criticize about the blogosphere. There are blogs that are way too quick on the draw to judge unfavorably. There are blogs that level accusations without basis. There is also a tendency towards negativity which, even if it serves a useful purpose, is unhealthy… there is an inbuilt problem with the very nature of blogging, in terms of the rapid pace, and the loss of responsibility and respectability that accompanies anonymity. My dispute with Rabbi Shafran should certain not be read to mean that I think that there is nothing to criticize about the blogosphere. 
Beautiful! So Rabbi Slifkin agrees with Rabbi Shafran that there are things to criticize about the blogsphere. That’s precisely what Rabbi Shafran was doing in his article; providing criticism. The quote from Rabbi Slifkin above is similar to the statement we provided about the nature of Rabbi Shafran’s article. Seemingly there should be no issue here. But for some reason Rabbi Slifkin is still unhappy. Here are his points, with our comments interspersed after each one. 
1. "Whether or not the Jewish world would have been any slower to understand the scope and tragedy of abuse had the subject been raised, and the need to confront it promoted, in a responsible, honorable way is a question whose answer neither the letter writer nor I can possibly know." Surely he can't be serious. But even if he is, and even if he were to be correct, it's irrelevant. The point is that it's due to blogs that the issue was taken seriously, and appreciation should therefore be shown. 
Rabbi Shafran is making a side point. He's making the very reasonable assertion that the blogs that revealed the abuse issue did not have to do so in a fashion that was denigrating to the gedoley yisrael. He understands that any revelation of abuse, even one done in a malicious fashion, has its benefits. In fact, this is precisely what he states in the very next sentence! “One is, however, required to acknowledge good things and what brought them about, even if those vehicles are unworthy in other ways.” The word “however” is a qualifier. Ergo, Rabbi Slifkin is clearly quoting Rabbi Shafran out of context. 
2. "One is, however, required to acknowledge good things and what brought them about, even if those vehicles are unworthy in other ways... I think I can say with surety that Rabbi Zwiebel's comments were in that vein..." Exactly. So if Rabbi Zwiebel could do that in a few short paragraphs, why couldn't Rabbi Shafran do that even once in a full-length article on the topic? Even in this response, there is zero hakaras hatov! That was the main point of my letter. 
Full length article? The whole thing was one page, barely enough to develop an idea, any idea, properly. The message of the article was the dangers associated with reading blogs that denigrate gedoley yisrael. Why in heaven’s name would Rabbi Shafran choose this article to express hakaras hatov to blogs that revealed abuse? The very notion is absurd! Besides, who says they deserve hakaras hatov? They could have revealed the issue of abuse in a far more responsible and honorable manner. Rabbi Shafran is very careful with his words. We are required to “acknowledge good things”, that’s it. The hakaras hatov goes to Hashem, not to people whose primary purpose with such revelations is the undermining of Torah authority. 
3. "As to that place, I clearly wrote that I was not referring to all blogs but to those who, in their crassness, cynicism, negativity, and disdain for talmidei chachamim and gedolim, emulate Korach." Wrong. As Rabbi Kahn pointed out in his letter (which was unfortunately not printed), "While he accepts that there are some responsible bloggers, the examples he enumerates (those "who seek to share community news or ideas... [or] explore concepts in Jewish thought and law... [or] focus on Jewish history and society") demonstrate by omission that those who attempt to expose anything negative in Chareidi society are comparable to the villains in Parashat Korach." Rabbi Shafran, is it possible for a blog to point out genuine problems with Charedi society and its leadership, without you accusing it of emulating Korach? 
Wrong? What exactly is wrong about Rabbi Shafran’s response? Anyone reading the article can see that he is discussing blogs that evince patent disdain for Torah leaders. That’s what the article says. Rabbi Kahn’s remark is silly. How can “omission” be a stronger demonstration than the actual words of the article themselves?

As far as the omission, it may very well be that Rabbi Shafran has reservations about unregulated blogs writing critically regarding any branch of Orthodox Judaism, charedi or otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that he thinks that all blogs that write about charedi Judaism are “korach blogs”. Like Rabbi Slifkin himself admits, blogs are way too quick to judge unfavorably and generally tend towards negativity. If a public figure associated with the Agudah chooses to support the validity of certain blogs, he obviously must be very careful with his examples.  
4. "As to my neologism, the suffix "stan" has been used creatively by many to recall the lawlessness, malice, and violence in certain countries whose names end in that syllable. As such, it is most properly adapted for reference to the world of pernicious blogs." I think that Rabbi Shafran is correct in that the suffix does not necessarily mean what I thought it meant, and he is entitled to use it with this connotation. However, let us examine whether, with this connotation, it is indeed appropriate for him, of all people, to use it in reference to the blogosphere. "Lawlessness, malice, and violence"? With regard to lawlessness, the critique of the blogosphere towards the charedi system of authority and society is exactly that! Abuse is handled illegally and inappropriately (if at all) rather than through the legal system. Rabbinic pronouncements are arranged via all sorts of shady (sometimes criminal) askanim and with complete lack of protocol rather than via any halachic and professional procedures. And he is accusing the blogosphere of lawlessness?! With regard to violence, I assume that he means verbal violence (as far as I know, the only physical violence relating to charedi rabbinic authority is on the part of charedim, in Ramat Bet Shemesh, New Square, Ponovezh, and last week in the offices of Yated Ne'eman in Bnei Brak). Now, there's certainly plenty of unfortunate verbal violence in the blogosphere. However, I think that it is evenly matched by the verbal violence issued by the Gedolim and those who act in their name, whether in letters, speeches, or books calling for the execution of rationalists. I would further add that such verbal violence is much worse when issued by people in positions of authority rather than when issued by some random blogger. And with regard to malice - the malice in Rabbi Shafran's own article certainly matches anything coming from the blogosphere. 
This response requires no comment. Rabbi Slifkin admits that his original criticism of the term “stan” was unwarranted. The rest of Rabbi Slifkin’s remarks are entirely irrelevant to the topic at hand and amount to nothing more than a cheap shot at Rabbi Shafran.  
5. "It is telling that now, with the issue of abuse squarely in the focus of the Jewish world (indeed, of the larger world as well, on front pages and in lead newscast stories), the inhabitants of Blogistan continue..." Surely Rabbi Shafran is joking. Does he really expect people to accept that now, all of a sudden, the Gedolim are adequately taking care of matters? Agudah still insists that people with suspicions of abuse must not go to the authorities without asking a rabbi! The Gedolim still have not apologized for decades of covering things up! There are still "Gedolim" who are publicly known to have enabled abusers for decades that continue to receive honor! 
Now Rabbi Slifkin is taking cheap shots at gedoley Torah! This is precisely what Rabbi Shafran was talking about. But all this is irrelevant. Now that the abuse issue is out in the open, people have no choice but to deal with it! Whether the gedolim are “adequately taking care of matters” is irrelevant. If they don’t address the issues, the police will! (as has been done in Williamsburg recently). There is simply no reason to continue going on with tirades against our gedoley Torah. As far as Rabbi Slifkin’s remark that the gedolim need to apologize for decades of covering up, this comment is so pernicious it would be improper to dignify it with a response.   
6. "That really says all one needs to know about the true motivations of those militants." It's amazing that Rabbi Shafran considers it impossible to know whether the blogosphere effected the strongest change regarding abuse, but he is 100% sure regarding people's personal motivations. Rabbi Shafran should take a lesson from Rabbi Zwiebel, who said that he's not going to judge, and who pointed out that "I do believe that among them there are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain." 
Nothing amazing about it. Rabbi Shafran lives on planet earth. He doesn’t bury his head in the sand like Rabbi Slifkin is trying to do here. He understands that people’s actions are an indication of their inner motivations and are therefore deserving of criticism. The truth of the matter is, Rabbi Slifkin understand this too. As he writes; “I most certainly agree that there is plenty to criticize about the blogosphere. There are blogs that are way too quickto judge unfavorably. There are blogs that level accusations without basis.” So, Rabbi Slifkin, what kind of blog levels accusations without basis? Blogs with pristine intentions? Blogs with pure motivations?  
7. "It is not the welfare of the Jewish people that they seek, but rather, for whatever personal reasons they may feel they have, to attack and undermine true Jewish authority. That was the point of my essay, and its veracity is self-evident." The personal reasons of bloggers are unknowable and irrelevant. Rabbi Shafran's essay compared all those who critique Charedi society to Korach's entirely villainous act that was punished by death. Whereas the truth is that, despite shortcomings, the blogs are addressing real problems with charedi rabbinic authority and effecting real improvement, as admitted by none other than the Executive Vice-President of Agudah. Rabbi Shafran should be expressing some of the hakaras hatov that he quotes the baalei mussar on, and should be engaging in some introspection regarding the flaws of the system that he defends as "true Jewish authority," rather than issuing malevolent condemnations. 
In summary, Rabbi Shafran’s article is entirely justified and in fact needs to be taken under serious advisement by those who make it a habit of perusing the korach type blogs. Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that “Rabbi Shafran's essay compared all those who critique Charedi society to Korach's entirely villainous act” is false and is obviously a calculated distraction designed to avert the reader’s gaze from the truth of Rabbi Shafran’s message.

One final question needs to be addressed. If everything we are saying is so simple, so obvious, why does Rabbi Slifkin have such issues with Rabbi Shafran’s article? What’s wrong with criticizing blogs that are clearly out to criticize gedolim for the sake of criticism alone? And the answer is simple. Rabbi Slifkin (who, to his enormous credit, is brutally honest about himself) answers it himself. Here it is. 
“I most certainly agree that there is plenty to criticize about the blogosphere…There is also a tendency towards negativity which, even if it serves a useful purpose, is unhealthy. Indeed, my own blog certainly suffers from the latter (although, at least in my case, a large portion of the blame can certainly be attributed towards the Gedolim that Rabbi Shafran defends) 
‘nuff said…

Friday, July 6, 2012

Shafran versus Slifkin

In the most recent issue of Ami Magazine, an article appeared by Rabbi Avi Shafran which was highly critical of certain Jewish Orthodox blogs. The bloggers in question are the type who make it their business to disparage “Torah scholars and selfless communal leaders” in an attempt to create a “future…devoid of the old bearded men who so vex them.” Rabbi Shafran doesn’t pull any punches. He accuses these blogs of cynicism, self-aggrandizement and arrogance, and compares them to the congregation of Korach. Korach approached Moshe with seemingly objective claims but in reality they were a cover-up for his subconscious desire to undermine Moshe’s authority. Like Korach, the “Korach blogs” would like their readers to believe that they are animated by a “selfless pursuit of justice and truth”, but like Korach, their real objective is the undermining of Torah authority.

In a media atmosphere skewed by bias, political correctness, unjustifiable tolerance, and gratuitous compromise, Rabbi Shafran’s article shines forth like a beacon of light in the endless darkness. Finally a mainstream Jewish media outlet chooses to ignore the imperatives of PC and publish the uncompromising truth. It’s about time!  

As it happens, Rabbi Slifkin disagrees with this assessment and in fact wrote a letter to Ami Magazine criticizing Rabbi Shafran’s article. Before we address Rabbi Slifkin’s issues, the following should be noted.

The purpose of Rabbi Shafran’s article was to criticize blogs that are dedicated to the disparagement of gedoley yisrael and the undermining of their authority, hence the comparison to Korach. The article was a one-pager in total, containing less than 700 words, and was written with a specific goal in mind; presumably to warn people of the dangers of such blogs.

If the preceding statement is kept in mind, none of Rabbi Slifkin’s criticisms make any sense. In his letter to Ami, Rabbi Slifkin complains as follows: 
R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice-President of Agudath Israel of America, was recently interviewed in Mishpachah magazine. He explicitly acknowledged two obvious truths: (1) that abuse and molestation issues have not been taken seriously in the charedi community, and (2) that this has begun to change as a result of pressure created by blogs. In light of that, how could Rabbi Avi Shafran, in his latest column, deny any positive value to blogs that contain criticism of the charedi community, and equate them all with Korach?         
First of all, Rabbi Shafran didn’t deny that there was any positive value to such blogs just as he did not assert that there is any positive value to them. This simply wasn’t the topic of his article. The topic was the tremendous harm caused by blogs that disparage gedoley yisrael. This is not the time or place for equivocation. “Admitting” that there might be some value to these blogs amounts to nothing more than unwarranted vacillation, and would surely result in the undermining of the article’s primary message.   

Second of all, Rabbi Shafran was careful to avoid naming any of the blogs in question. His criticism was general and applied to all such blogs, not just the ones that happen to discuss abuse issues. There are plenty of blogs that post disparaging remarks against our gedolim without necessarily focusing on issues of abuse. These blogs can’t take any "credit" for supposedly bringing the abuse issue to the forefront so an “admission” by Rabbi Shafran here would not only be unwarranted, it would be patently false.

Third of all, perhaps Rabbi Shafran is not as convinced as Rabbi Zweibel that the abuse issue has changed in the charedi world because of such blogs.

And fourth, and most obvious, Rabbi Shafran does not “deny any positive value to blogs that contain criticism of the charedi community”. He denies any positive value to blogs that are dedicated to the disparagement of gedoley yisrael. That’s two different things entirely! You can write about problems of abuse in the charedi world without disparaging the gedoley yisrael. The abuse issue is just an excuse for these blogs to blast our Torah leaders and undermine their authority. Like Rabbi Shafran writes, these blogs are nothing but “Self-glorification in the guise of advocacy” and “Haughtiness pretending to the selfless pursuit of justice and truth.”

In the following post we will, bl’n, discuss Rabbi Shafran’s response to Rabbi Slifkin and Rabbi Slifkin’s seven point response back to Rabbi Shafran.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Institution of Kollel

Normally this blog does not address social issues such as the institution of Kollel. But there’s an exception to every rule.

Rabbi Slifkin writes: 
When someone is in kollel, in 99% of cases, this is not merely a personal direction for their own life. It also means that they are raising their children with kollel as the expected norm, with no secular education, and with no expectation that they will be self-supporting. 
Let’s rephrase that.
When someone chooses to learn in kollel, this is not merely a personal direction for his own life. It also means that he is raising his children in an atmosphere saturated with Torah and yiras shamayim. His family is imbued with a love and respect for limud haTorah which will remain with them for the rest of their lives. The ramifications of his decision will influence the spiritual direction of his family long after abba/tatty is forced to leave the kollel in pursuit of a parnasa.
The above description is surely how Rav Aharon Kotler viewed the institution of kollel. Like any other institution, kollel can be misused, and is being misused in certain parts of Eretz Yisrael and America. The roshei kollel need to address these issues. In the humble opinion of this writer, kollelim need to enforce time limitations. There should be an industry standard. 2 years. 3 years. 5 years. Whatever it is. After the maximum has been reached, roshei kollel need to encourage their yungerleit to seek out a parnasa. Only the mitzuyanim can extend their kollel career beyond the stipulated limit and only the roshei kollel can decide who is a metzuyan.

Rav Aharon Kotler was one of the post WW II gedolim responsible for the rebuilding of yiddishkeit in America. When he first introduced the concept of Kollel, it seemed bizarre. He spent the rest of his life trying to educate American Jews about the idea of learning Torah l’shma (for its own sake). In retrospect, his innovations were instrumental in paving the way for the greatest explosion of Torah learning in recent history. Kollel may have its problems but let’s not forget how important this institution really is.