Thursday, December 30, 2010

Intimidating Tactics

A few days ago at the height of the storm (No... not the blizzard that New Yorkers are still suffering from but the storm against me on Matzav - where I was practically crucified by the commenters) I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a member of a rabbinic Vaad. He had very poor command of the English language, a thick Chasidic accent and his comments to me were heavily laden with Yiddish phrases in Satmar-like Chasidic pronunciation.

Whatever my criticism of the right wing Yeshiva world is, they are light years ahead of Chasidim like this fellow in secular education and acculturation. The man was practically illiterate in the language of the country in which he was probably born - just like the vast majority of the Chasidim in his world who learn English as a second language. I don’t know it for certain but I strongly suspect he was a mainstream Satmar Chasid.

Also (and I have no way of ascertaining this) I am virtually certain that comment number 50 on the Matzav hit piece was written by the very same person. The language was almost identical. Here is an unedited excerpt:

I am very well versed with the kol koreh agaist vus iz neais.
I am a rav and I was part of a meeting which took place dec of 09 with gedoilai rabonim and roshai yeshivas .we were discussing klal things and the issue of vus is neias came up again ,( it had been discussed previous MEETINGS , THAT THIS web site has been doing this for along time ) .
The problem is that this web site has a heimishe name and attracts frum shomer shabos audience .but it post articles which have contents of loshen horah ,rechiles againt individuals and against the rabim (even thouth its comes from other news paper sources) .
Also they post articles which contain stam smutz of pedophilia and stam divrei zenis (,example if ever a jew was accused of such it went into great detail of exactly what happened, not withholding the name and all the details of such even though most of the times the cases was thrown out).
The rabonuim heard how the web site destroys erlicha yidishe homes ,business, mosdos , buy posting news ,op ed irresponsibly.
Also the comments below the articles are full of the above loshon horah, rechiles, zenis .allso comments against the emuna and laughing against mitzvahs, minhagim and so forth.

Being personally involved in the process of getting Vos Iz Neias (VIN) banned he claimed it is legitimate and not - as has been reported - the result of Rabbinic leaders being misled. Those that signed it meant every word written in the ban.

He then went about praising the Satmar activist who convinced Yeshivish – non Chasidic rabbinic leaders to sign on to the VIN ban. He claimed that this activist is a person who has dedicated his life to the serving Klal Yisroel – and has gotten things done! He gave me one example where his political clout resulted in a quick response from a politician. He had gotten an advertiser to remove an offensive and sexually explicit ad from a billboard on a road heavily traveled by Orthodox Jews.

His complaint about VIN was that they not only undermined Satmar’s political clout but that they also allowed the kind of disgusting stories he mentioned in the above Matzav comment - in all their ‘glorious’ detail. How dare VIN allow such things on a website read by the sheltered masses?! And the comments were even worse. ‘Shouldn’t such a website be banned?’ he rhetorically asked.

The man has no clue. He is still of the mindset that all dirty laundry needs to be kept private. That issues of sex abuse must absolutely be swept under the rug. In another words this Satmar type Rav is still a card carrying member of ‘the bury you head in the sand’ society -as are the rest of those Rabbanim on that Vaad. This is precisely the attitude that was illustrated in the book ‘Hush’ that ended up in tragic consequences.

During the course of the conversation he said that he heard my Talkline interview, that I was wrong, and that I should apologize. He hinted that the Vaad is considering placing a ban on my website because of my Talkline comments. I respectfully declined and shortly thereafter we finished our conversation and hung up.

Is this what Jewish leadership has come to? Mafia style intimidation tactics? Is this how rabbinic leaders operate in Satmar to get what they want? Is this how they approached those non Chasidic Yeshiva rabbinic leaders – with some sort of intimidation if they didn’t sign on?

I can’t answer that question. I can only speak of my own experience. It was not pleasant.

I have been told by informed sources that the ban on VIN is being reconsidered by some of the signers. Or that it will at least be in some way modified to better reflect reality. I have also been told that these same rabbis are strongly considering no longer signing onto anything an outsider brings them even if he has the best of reputations and intentions. That they will be severely limiting in what they will in the future be signing. I hope that’s true. But to be honest, I’ve heard it before.

While I understand the limitations of time placed on these Rabbanim who spend so much of their time serving Klal Yisroel, the fact is that those limitations are causing them to inadvertently but increasingly undermine their own authority and effectiveness. With each successive event of this kind their leadership status gets questioned by more and more of their own people.

Are we at a point where only the hard core followers will trust them anymore? Where the majority of Charedi Jewry who are moderate no longer listens to anything they say? That bans against concerts and websites are completely ignored?

I think so. At least if one judges by the success of a Lipa Schmeltzer who has not really modified his singing style from that which generated the ban. Or from the numbers of people who still frequent VIN despite the unusually condemning language! My own hit counts have actually increased because of my public defense of VIN and the criticism that was generated by it. I doubt the increase was only by modern Orthodox Jews.

I say the following with the greatest amount of respect. I say it precisely because I do believe these people are leaders despite their repeated mistakes– and that their voices should be heard.

In my view all future requests for bans should be rejected. If for example they perceive a problem with a website they should speak out. They should explain objections and the Halachic and Hashkafic issues. But in no way should they ever put their names to anything like this ever again if they want to maintain whatever credibility they have left. Perhaps by doing so they will be able to rebuild their stature as effective rabbinic leaders to even greater numbers of people.