Monday, June 22, 2009

Defending the Indefensible

Dr. Marvin Schick is a man with whom I agree the vast majority of times. I can clearly say that I see eye to eye with him on many issues - especially those having to do with to Jewish education. However I strongly disagree with his views articulated in a paid article in response to the Jewish Week (JW) article on Rabbi Dovid Cohen (available on his blog.)

To sum up his article - Dr. Schick claims that the Jewish Week is guilty of a witch hunt motivated by their penchant towards Charedi bashing. He says it is a character assassination of a ‘a notable scholar and a truly nice person,’- calling it McCarthyesque.

He thereby questions the insinuation of guilt the JW heaped upon Ohel because of an unrelated incident with their Posek, Rabbi Cohen. An incident that happened in a Teaneck Shul over two years ago! He further castigates the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) for getting involved in this ‘putrid journalistic cauldron’.

He even tries to at least minimally justify Rabbi Cohen’s views in the sense that almost everybody cheats on their taxes anyway. Judge not lest ye be judged.

But the most problematic portion of his letter for me was the following:

There is at least a minyan of anonymous sources which aren’t identified, allegedly because they are fearful of retribution. This claim itself is designed to make the Orthodox look bad. The Orthodox are routinely taken to task, including in the Jewish Week, and the critics are mentioned. What retribution would ensue if this newspaper had identified its sources? When charges are made, the absence of attribution undermines credibility.

If Dr. Schick does not think that Orthodox communities do not contain individuals who will act in retribution, then he is living in a different world than the one I live in.

I received an e-mail that responds to Dr. Schick. I would not normally publish a letter that is as strongly worded. Indeed I caution that it should not be treated as entirely my point of view. But what this poster has to say is important. As is his passion about this issue. And the justifiable anger. I therefore publish it as written.

His identify is known to me. He asked me to use the pseudonym Toras Emes. I agreed because I completely understand his fear of being attacked as others have already been.

If there is anyone guiltier than Rabbi Cohen (if the aqllegations are true) it is his apologists. I could perhaps deal with them. It is those who have threatened and actually carried out those threats of retribution that I have the biggest problem.

Had this not become a matter of public record, I would never have brought it up. But once the truth becomes public knowledge - it certainly should be defended. It must instead be condemned as forcefully as possible by everyone - including rabbinic leaders!

Here now the response:

Guest Post by Toras Emes

I want to begin by acknowledging Dr. Schick's outstanding devotion and work on behalf of Jewish education over many decades. I hope that his disgraceful attack on the JW and his defense of R. Cohen was a lapse of judgment or was based on misinformation. In any case, those of us who care about Toras Emes must respond.

Dr. Schick accuses the JW of McCarthyism and character assassination. As we shall see below, it is Dr. Schick's column that reeks with character assassination and McCarthyism -- he sees enemies where none exist and he makes accusations against innocent people without any foundation in truth.

1) Dr. Schick begins by asking "what does Ohel have to do with R. Cohen"? Dr. Schick, did you read the article? The answer is in the first sentence of the article. Ohel takes millions of dollars of government money while its "Rabbi" (who is known to be a very powerful and central figure in Ohel) openly tells people that they can defraud the government of its rightful share of tax money.

Is it not the height of chutzpah for Ohel to ask the government for tax dollars while Ohel employs Cohen as its Rabbi? Why should those of who us who pay our taxes use our hard earned after tax dollars to fund an organization that does not seem to mind that its Rabbi is telling others that they can defraud the government? Dr. Schick, are these not legitimate questions?

2) Dr. Schick then wonders how the RCA was also "thrust into the same putrid journalistic cauldron". (As an aside, I agree that this whole story is putrid -- the fact that a heretofore well respected Rabbi has for years been publicly and privately telling people that they can ignore entire sections of Choshen Mishpat that deal with tax evasion and gezel akum is truly putrid). Dr. Schick, once again one must ask, have you read the article?

The article explains in great detail how the RCA very recently decided to sever its relationship with Cohen because of his noxious ethical and moral views. How is that not relevant? That also answers Dr. Schick's question as to why this story is relevant 28 months after Cohen made his comments. The fact that the largest Orthodox Rabbinic organization in the world essentially decided to throw a well respected Rabbi off of its most prestigious halacha committee is extremely relevant and newsworthy.

3) Dr. Schick seems to think that the article engages in character assassination. Is the truth character assassination? If so, the JW is guilty. The story is absolutely truthful and you could confirm that if you did even a modicum of research. You could have spoken to the RCA, the many witnesses whose names are known to the RCA, or you could have asked around in Teaneck/Bergenfield where the story is well known.

Dr. Schick, with all due respect, you have engaged in character assassination against the journalists and staff of the JW and all of the people who came forward to tell the truth to the RCA. They are the ones who deserve an apology.

4) Dr. Schick seems to think that the article bashes the Orthodox. If one thinks that David Cohen represents the Orthodox then he is correct. However, fortunately many Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva do not think that Cohen is Orthodox at all in light of his deletion of very important parts of the Shulchan Aruch.

However, putting that aside, the article actually makes the Orthodox community look good. The article tells us how the largest group of Orthodox Rabbis in the world has decided to ostracize Cohen because of his views. It tells us that the RCA has also adopted a policy under which people who engage in unethical conduct would not be eligible to receive honors in shul. The article tells us how many Orthodox people were so disgusted by Cohen's words that they came forward to report what happened to the RCA.

Is all of that not a great Kiddush Hashem? Don't the true Orthodox Jews (not charlatans like Cohen) come out looking good? Just in case anyone might think that the halacha is to blame for Cohen's views, the article tells us that "virtually every halachik source agrees that tax evasion, as well as theft from non-Jews, is categorically forbidden".

Trust me, there is much more about this story that actually would make Orthodoxy look bad but it was not included in the article. Dr. Schick, you are the one engaging in McCarthyism -- you see enemies when none exist.

5) Perhaps the worst and most dangerous part of Dr. Schick's article relates to his shock and surprise that people would be "fearful of retribution" if their names were cited in the JW. Dr. Schick, have you been reading the news in the Jewish world for the past decade? Perhaps the single biggest issue facing our community are the threats and intimidation that people are often subject to if they report any misbehavior by Rabbis to the press or the authorities. So, Dr. Schick, let me fill you in on some of the facts of this case which again you could have discovered without much research.

Rabbi Cohen and one of his friends, as well as one Rabbi in the Teaneck/Bergenfield neighborhood, undertook an extreme campaign of intimidation and scare tactics in order to dissuade anyone from telling the truth to the RCA. Some of the people who came forward to the RCA were forced out of their shul, were subject to a deplorable motzei shem ra campaign, and they even had their parnossah threatened. That is why so many people were terrified to tell the RCA the truth. It is not surprising therefore that the JW had to rely in large part on the letters that were written to the RCA.

Dr. Schick, whether or not you have legitimate gripes against the JW for some of their past articles, I hope that you have come to the realization that in this case the JW did not engage in character assassination, unfair Orthodox bashing or McCarthyism.

The critical question is whose side are you on? Are you on the side of those who believe in a Torah that condemns fraud, thievery and gentile hatred, that believes that we are required to follow the halachos in Choshen Mishpat relating to tax evasion and gezel akum, and that refuses to accept scare tactics and intimidation as a means to prevent the RCA from knowing the truth about a fellow Rabbi?

Alternatively, are you on the side of people who use religion as an excuse to engage in the most deplorable type of character assassination in order to scare and intimidate people from coming forward with the truth? Dr. Schick, I hope that you are on the side of the former group and that you will apologize to the JW and to the people who courageously came forward with the truth in the face of threats and intimidation.

Updated: 6/26/09 11:28 AM CDT