Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fool Me Once…

There is a popular saying that goes something like this: Fool me once – Shame on you! Fool me twice… Shame on me!

Another sad chapter has just been written in the book of Orthodox Jewry.

Yesterday, out of the blue a ban against a website was published in a Yiddish language newspaper. The ban was immediately put on the internet and it spread like wildfire. It was not against some website that disparages rabbinic leadership or promotes heretical thinking. It was against one of the finest Charedi oriented news websites on the internet: Vos Iz Neias (VIN)

I am a frequent visitor there and occasionally use it as a source for some of my posts. It has been around for quite some time – long before I even knew what a blog was. I find their approach to news reporting to be fair and balanced (I know that phrase has become a cliché but it fits). I also find their occasional editorials to be the same – whether I agreed or disagreed.

Yesterday the most vicious attack imaginable was made against this website in a document signed by a virtual who’s who of Charedi rabbinic leadership. When I first read it, I was in a state of shock. The accusations made by this document had absolutely nothing to do with anything I ever saw at VIN. While I do not read every article or every comment, I do read it enough to know that the kinds of things they were accused of just did not happen there. Here – in part is a translation of the Hebrew from Hirhurim:

Satan has found a way, that a site exists on the Internet known as “Vos Is Naiz”, as if it were founded only to spread news of the Jewish world; yet it contains a hidden ambush — as with the news, it includes stories and events of the corrupt, abominable, and lowly; full of contamination, filth, foul language; slander, gossip, and degrading of Torah scholars; it also prints libels and slander regarding Torah individuals and organizations. Similarly the comments written there are filled with adultery and slander, and increase fights in Israel, putting everyone’s dirty laundry in public. It also writes against officers and politicians under whose favor we live, to ruin their reputation; the disgrace of G-d’s name is immense and mighty.

We are pained the the owner of this website operates in the darkness, and violates “Cursed is he who strikes his friend secretly”; we are pained that we don’t know who this individual is that we could warn him, push him away, or chase him to decimation; as our holy Torah deems appropriate for those who cause the public to fall to sin; it is obvious that the obligation rests on anyone who knows to come to a rabbinic court and make this known, just as the Torah states, “should he not testify, he shall bear his terrible sin.”

We have thus come to make clear our opinion, that of the holy Torah as we see it:


There is no other way to put it. This is a vile document. The accusations are clearly lies. Vicious ones! One would think that anyone who speaks for Torah in any capacity would never affix his signature to such a document without a complete and thorough investigation of the facts. Especially those who are considered by many to be the Gedolei HaDor. And yet if one examines the names that signed on to this piece of garbage one will see some of the biggest names in the Charedi world. Here is a partial list (taken from Hirhurim):

R. Yaakov Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe
R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia Yeshiva
R. Malkiel Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood
R. Aharon Schechter, Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin
R. Matisyahu Solomon, Mashgiach of Lakewood
R. David Shustal, Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood
R. Yerucham Olshin, Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood

I have been in touch with a few sources who are familiar with the background to this story and have found out the following.

These rabbis were duped by an Askan (a ‘religious’ community activist) of questionable repute. He approached some or all of them with his accusations about VIN. They trusted him and OK’d the use of their names on a document banning VIN. That was the sum and substance of what happened.

Why did this Askan do it? Because one of his communal oxen was gored. He is a member of Satmar who had many favors done for them by a particular politician. VIN had published a series of negative articles about him and this Askan was afraid of doing him damage and thus losing Satmar's political clout.

That agenda driven evil-doers like this exist is a sad fact of reality. But that great rabbis (…and they are great rabbis!) can be so easily and so often manipulated is both shocking and eye opening.

Not that even greater rabbis haven’t been duped before. They have. Rav Nosson Kaminetsky was vilified to Rav Elyashiv by such people. As was Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

That was shocking at the time. But that it keeps happening is what so strongly troubles me. One may recall that a couple of years ago a charity concert to be given by popular Jewish singer Lipa Schmeltzer was banned and then canceled because of the very same type of thing. An Askan with an agenda duped some of these very same Rabbonim. When Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky later found out he was duped – to his great credit – he publicly admitted it and apologized.

But now once again his name appears on a ban that he was duped into approving. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the rabbinic leaders whose names appear on the ban (the ones that I recognize). But I have no choice but to question their decision here. They have unwittingly participated in besmirching an innocent man – the owner of the VIN website! They of course did not do so on purpose. They never would. That cannot be denied. But by their actions - an innocent man was hurt!

What makes this even worse is it takes away from their credibility as rabbinic leaders. Even though I occasionally disagree with their pronouncements based on my own understanding of an issue (usually coupled by reliance on the views of other rabbinic leaders) I nevertheless considered their views to be the result of what they call Daas Torah. To me that means that they do their due diligence in finding out the truth about matters upon which they comment and use their vast knowledge of Torah to respond properly.

I now question that. I don’t question their Torah knowledge or sincerity. I’m sure that Torah drives every single action they do and every statement they make. But I no longer believe that due diligence is always done. And that casts doubt on every single decision they make.

If this were the first time something like this happened, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyone - no matter how great - can be fooled once. But… it keeps happening! And look at the names included here!