Friday, November 18, 2011

Love Letters

In last week’s Memo to ArtScroll I had expressed my hope that if and when they write the biography of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, that they do not whitewash his background to conform with their worldview. Rav Nosson Tzvi grew up in a modern Orthodox background and was not shy about it. He often referenced it when he thought it appropriate.

In the course of that post I made reference to Rav Nosson Kamenetsky (RNK) and his book Making of a Gadol (MOAG)– a book that was banned by the right wing in Israel. It contained what they perceived to be unflattering comments about certain Gedolim. One of their criticisms was about Rav Aharon Kotler’s letters to his Kallah. In my post I at first referred to them as love letters.

That was deemed inappropriate by many commenters on the right. I defended it. And to my great surprise and satisfaction so did a brilliant Talmid Chacham who can hardly be called Modern Orthodox, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer (RYGB). Here is what he said in response to the claim that Rav Aharon NEVER wrote ANY love letters to his Kallah:

That is total slander against Reb Aharon. Why wouldn't he write love letters to his Kallah?!

To be honest I have no way of knowing what was written in those letters. Which is why I modified the post and eliminated the word ‘love”. However it is highly unlikely that anyone knows the actual contents of those letters. Were they love letters? Who knows. The right wing angrily insists that they were nothing of the sort. And this attitude generated a number of comments of which the following by someone named Yosef is typical:

RHM, you really are way off here. For starters. you and YGB claim there would be nothing wrong if Rav Aharon wrote love letters to his Kallah. RNK seems to disagree, as The Alter and Rav Isser Zalman criticized Rav Aharon for it. But it is apparent as day that RNK did a terrible injustice here. He distinctly gave people, including yourself, the impression that those letters Rav Aharon wrote were love letters. And that they were inappropriate according to the Alter and Rav Isser Zalmen both. But he retains the right to deny he ever said that. He never did say it outright, but the spin on the story makes it seem so. RNK does not even deny any of the above. He agrees that there is no evidence that those letters were criticized because of a lack of tznius. But that's the readers' impression. The Frumteens Moderator hit the nail squarely on the head, and explained accurately what the problem is with MOAG. RNK can be one of the 36 Tzadikim (like RNS) but his book is a distortion of the truth, and should be rejected by anyone who cares about Emes.

(Frumteens is a vile website that among other things is dedicated to the destruction of Modern Orthodoxy. Although they may deny it.)

What is quite evident from Yosef's comment is that the right wing sees romantic love as something evil. Even hinting that a Gadol with the stature of Rav Ahron Kotler would have ever expressed something as base as love in a letter to his Kallah is seen as a terrible canard. Rav Kamenetsky’s mention of it in his book lowers the esteem we all have about the Kedusha that defined Rav Kotler’s entire life and therefore deserved to be banned.

The following is my response.

Anyone who thinks that my esteem (or the esteem of anyone with normal emotions) for Rav Kotler has been lowered because he dared to say he loved his Kallah in a letter - is seriously mistaken. In fact the opposite is true. It raises my already considerable esteem for him.

This is one of the problems with the right. They must believe that romantic love is a disgusting thing. Which is why it is a Genai (put down) to say that a Gadol like Rav Kotler would express it to his Kalla.

That Rav Kamenetsky subsequently said he didn't mean love letters is besides the point. He realizes how his community feels about it. They hear the word ‘love’ and immediately conjure up images of 'Hollywood and the movies!'

This is one of the definitive differences between the right and the rest of Orthodox Jewry. The right always think in black and white terms. There is no finesse. No shades of gray. No nuance. It is either right or wrong. Black or white. Expressing love is to a Kallah is an unholy ‘Hollywood’ like act that a Torah True Jew would never do. And even if he would - publicizing is it at best immodest. If it happens to be said in a book like MOAG… deny, deny, deny! How dare anyone write that Rav Kotler expressed love to his Kallah in a letter. Disgusting!

Welcome to the world of the right wing.

This is not the way of the modern Orthodox world. We do not see loving one’s Kallah as something disgusting that must be hidden. We take pride in it. I loved my Kallah too when we were engaged. And I have no qualms about letting the world know about it now. In fact to imply that I would never express such a thought to her is an insult to both of us! And as Rabbi Bechhofer implied it is an insult to Rav Aharon Kotler as well.