Sunday, March 02, 2008

Shades of Gray: Keeping it Real

What a sad state of affairs. A hero of the Charedi world is being pilloried by a former supporter. The blogger ‘Failed Messiah’ has written a very strongly worded critique of Rabbi Yakov Horowtiz for his defense of Daas Torah and the Gedolim. It is undeserved.

What Failed Messiah said can be basically summed up in the following excerpt:

Forced to chose between truth and convenience, between truth and unfairness, between truth and deceit (he) has… chosen to take the easy, disingenuous way out.

What he is talking about is Rabbi Horowitz's recent column and radio appearance wherein he asks the Charedi community not to abandon their Daas Torah because of an admitted and very public mistake on their part with respect to a ban on Lipa Shmeltzer and concerts. Rabbi Horowitz acknowledges that a mistake was made and at least one Gadol who signed the ban made a very public mea culpa.

This is not to say that these rabbinic leaders didn’t deserve criticism. They did. I was not reticent in saying so at all. But that does not mean we simply dismiss all of them as a bunch of incompetents vying for power and prestige. That is far from the case. They erred here. And who knows when else they erred and if they will err again.

As Rabbi Horowitz himself pointed out, they are human and make mistakes. Something I have tried to point out again and again about these Gedolim. Because of that criticism I have been subjected to sometimes vehement attack from their defenders. But being human is not a flaw in their character.

I truly believe that most of those who signed on to the ban who work on behalf of Klal Yisroel are self sacrificing individuals beyond what we would expect of them. I say most because I also truly believe that some of the names there do not belong on any list of Gedolim.

They dropped the ball here. I am convinced that this episode has been an extreme embarrassment to them… one they will hopefully learn from and never allow to occur again if they can help it.

So Failed Messiah is wrong on two counts. He’s wrong to so completely dismiss individuals who works so tirelessly for the Jewish community and he is wrong to criticize Rabbi Horowitz for defending the Charedi institution of ‘Daas Torah’… an institution that Charedim understand in their own way and see as indispensable in maintaining a Torah community.

It isn’t an either or game. There is no black and white here. As always there are varying shades of gray at play. And one does not throw out the entire enterprise of Daas Torah because of a few errors, even if they are serious ones. The only time we should ever do that is if we find an organization to be corrupt at the core. And anyone who thinks that is true about these rabbinic leaders or Rabbi Horowitz has an unholy agenda that does not interface with the reality.

Rabbi Horowitz’s point should not be lost here. Aside from cutting some slack to those people whose Torah knowledge is so vast and whose intentions are good, he urges that his community not be so quick to take steps that are irreversible. If a society that places so much value on its rabbinic leaders suddenly rejects those leaders, it isn’t only the leaders that they will lose. They may lose their children too. Because once you undermine your authorities, it is a much slipperier slope out of observance... especially young people.

Anyone who knows what Rabbi Horowitz does for the Torah world cannot possibly agree with Failed Messiah at all, even if some of his criticism is legitimate. Failed Messiah mentions that he has left Orthodox observance and to me that is a tell-tale sign of an underlying bias.

I’m not saying he purposely lied. But at some level one has to be a least a little bit suspect because of where he is coming from. Failed Messiah seems to be angry at Orthodox Judaism. It has disappointed him. I’m not exactly sure what the precipitating factors were as I am only an occasional visitor to his blog. But if the title of his blog is any indication, I have an idea what the genesis of his exit is.

But even if one leaves out any bias, and concedes some of his points, one must consider the fact that Rabbi Horowitz is working from the inside and has the respect of most of these very Gedolim. As such, he is in a position to influence their thinking in ways that an outsider like me does not. Not that Rabbi Horowitz has compromised any of his beliefs or misrepresents them in his columns or interviews. But he is careful in how he words his criticisms. He chooses the focus of his columns very carefully. I know that he is as upset by what happened here as any of the rest of us. But does that mean he has to scream it from the rooftops and focus on only the bad? I don’t think so. He writes what he believes and speaks the truth. He never says anything he doesn’t believe in. He is not disingenuous. He does not lie!

I’m sorry that Failed Messiah seems to have now completely sworn off Orthodoxy because of this episode. I hope he re-considers. As well I hope he reconsiders his harsh criticism of Rabbi Horowitz. More often than not, things are not as black and white as they seem. Rabbi Horowitz has to walk a tightrope every time he writes a column and says anything critical. He is a firm believer in Daas Torah. To now criticize him for maintaining that belief and not being as condemning as Failed Messiah or others think he should be is an unfair and unrealistic expectation. And it would do more harm than good.