Thursday, December 25, 2008

Misyavnim and the Power of the Pen

Yeshiva World News has an interesting article ‘re-printed’ from the Yated by Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz, its editor.

It is about Chanukah and Misyavnim. Misyavnim were the Jews who during the Maccabee era advocated the Helenization of all Jews. They believed that by abandoning Torah and Mitzvos – even one as fundamental as Bris Mila - they would better their lives.

There are such Jews today. They are members of the Reform Rabbinate who advocate abolishing the Bris Mila – calling it a meaningless ancient ritual and a barbaric act.

But Rabbi Lipshutz never even mentions them. Instead he has decided to equate Misyavmin to bloggers.

A similar attack has been made before by others. Certain Modern Orthodox Rabbis were called Misyavnim by certain Charedi rabbis who - because of health concerns - advocated abolishing Metzitza B’Peh.

Metzitza B’Peh is a part of the Bris procedure that our Sages considered a necessary health requirement in their day. I am not going to rehash that argument here. Suffice it to say that this accusation was an outrage – whether one agreed with those Modern Orthodox rabbis or not.

Rabbi Lipshutz has a point in some instances. There are some bloggers whose goal is to separate Jews from Torah. But as a general principal I believe he is wrong. In any case I don’t think he is talking about the 'skeptic' blogs. I think he is talking about those who frequently criticize Orthodox Jews and their behavior.

And even though there are some who seem to focus exclusively on that, I do not believe that in most cases they do so because they hate Torah. I think they do so to point out hypocrisies among some of those who claim to adhere to it. They are not Misyavnim. Their goal is not to separate Jews from Torah.

But that does not stop Rabbi Lipshutz from saying the following:

In today’s day and age, Yevanim hide behind the power of the pen, the web, blogs and populist demagoguery to attack us. Misyavnim offer wild accusations to back up their unfounded charges. They spare no effort to vilify and castigate us, as if they were paragons of virtue. The more growth our community experiences, the more scorn the misyavnim heap upon us.

This description can just as easily refer to my blog or others like it. Of course he doesn’t identify me by name. He could therefore easily deny he meant me. But that he doesn’t make it clear whether he does or he doesn’t - leaving it to the readers to draw their own conclusions.

The fact is that there are many who attack me using the same kind of rhetoric he does– or worse. So are people who run blogs like mine Misyavmin? Do we seek to assimilation to the point of destroying Torah Judaism? Do we want to uproot Mitzvah observance?

I can only speak for myself. Yes, there is power in my pen. What is my goal? It is none of the above.

My goal is not to bury Torah Judaism, God forbid. My goal is to lift it up! It is to show the world the beauty of the Torah and to separate those whose behavior dishonors it. My goal is to rid the Torah world of its trash and their trashy behavior.

My goal is to make the Torah world a viable community where Torah can be lived and learned. My goal is to make the Torah world as safe and self sufficient as possible and to seek leadership where very little exists.

So I criticize whenever I see something wrong. I criticize when I see bad decisions being made. I criticize when I see blinders on certain leaders to community problems. …or apologetics for bad behavior by certain members of the religious world.

I advocate for a Hashkafic tolerance. I advocate for full participation in the culture in areas that are halachicly permissible – as a means of a living fuller lives for those who appreciate that culture. In most cases people who are more fulfilled serve God with greater joy than those who are not.

This is not Helenizing any more than Rav Hirsch was Helenizing with his advocacy of Halachicly permissible participation in the culture.

It is articles like this one by Rabbi Lipshutz that are polarizing. Instead of pointing to the real Misyavnim, he points to bloggers and the power of their pen. We are the Misyavnim in his eyes.

Rabbi Lipshutz does his readership no favors by writing this way. He is a divider – a polarizing influence in Orthodoxy. He would rather write us all off than pollute the purity of the Charedi Hashkafa. Charedim against the world - ‘us’ versus ‘them’. That is his world view.

The Torah world does not need Askanim like him. His rhetoric causes more animosity and hatred on both sides than anything I write about.

If there was ever anyone who pushes Jews away from Judaism with ‘the pen’ it is Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz.