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.

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