Monday, April 16, 2012

Standing Up to the Moral Mafia

I find it very difficult to restrain myself. The outrage I feel at what happened to a dedicated individual – a religious Jew of good will – to be so disgusting that it begs for a major response by those who speak in the name of Daas Torah.

I don’t know Dovid Teitelbaum at all. But I read his excellent letter to the Ichud on how to tackle the problems of the internet. His attitude is not that different from my own. He basically said that instead of trying to cast the internet as all evil which in the end would be futile, we should instead embrace it for the good it is capable of doing. He then lists some of those things available on it that can excite students and engage them interactively in positive ways.

R’ Dovid is a man who respects ‘Daas Torah’. And yet he was vilified by an apparently Charedi publication called the Flatbush Jewish Journal. To put it the way he does:

I grew up in a family that had the utmost respect for Rabbanim and I have tried my best to instill those same values in my children. Moreover, as a director of a camp I often speak with many Rabbanim, Rebbeyim and teachers, and I am in awe of the dedication I see them put into their students. I never allowed myself or my family to read anything that might contain loshon harah, whether it be printed in the tabloids or on so called kosher news sites. I specifically wrote my letter to what I believed was a properly moderated frum newspaper.

On the chance that my language may have, unintentionally, lent itself to misinterpretation I have tried to respond to the accusations against me by sending in the above response many times, even quoting other famous Gedolim with similar views, but all my letters were turned down. When I asked what the specific issue was, I was never given an answer. I have had my letter looked over by many respectably Rabbanim of the community to see if there was any hint of hatred or negativity toward gedolei yisroel and have yet to been told there was. I decided to let the whole thing pass and forget about it, but a month later again the FJJ (Flatbush Jewish Journal)
published a statement, repeating the same diatribe, stating that my opinion was contrary to the stance of Gedolai Yisroel, with three photos of Gedolai Yisroel as if to imply they agreed with the published statement.

I don’t necessarily blame any rabbinic leaders for the FJJ statement. I believe the blame goes entirely to the FJJ publishers. But if there is no rectification by the rabbinic leaders themselves, a great injustice will be allowed to remain unchecked!

This is yet another example of a negative fact of life in right wing Orthodoxy. Jewish activists known as Askanim are calling the shots. In this case the ‘activists’ are the publishers of the FJJ. They have taken it upon themselves to ‘speak’ on behalf of these rabbinic leaders. Mr. Teitelbaum calls them the Moral Maifa. I think he’s right.

Is this what the right wing concept of Daas Torah has degenerated to? Blind adherence and obedience - not to Agudah type Gedolim - but to presumptions about how they think? I’m afraid to say that the answer to this question may very well be - yes! Unless they were told to write that - which I seriously doubt - we have gone way beyond merely respecting the opinions of Gedolim. We are now in the brave new world of presumptive Daas Torah. Askanim are now apparently acting on assumptions rather than reality.

How could this happen? I think that the answer is all too obvious. All one needs to do is listen to any number of speakers at the last Agudah convention. Or any number of them at prior conventions. The attitude expressed there is that disagreeing with Agudah type Gedolim is tantamount to heresy. Even when expressing reasoned and respectful dissent. That is apparently considered outside the pale.

I refuse to believe that the Agudah Moetzes type rabbinic leaders feel this way. And yet I can’t help wondering if R’ Dovid will be left hanging out to dry. If that happens, I have to wonder why? Why would they allow a good man to be destroyed by even well intentioned people?

How have we come to the point where good people cannot express an opinion lest they be labeled Gedolim bashers? If the Agudah Moetzes does not defend Rabbi Teiltebaum is it because they feel a unified response to issues of the day is so important that they are willing to allow a dissenter to be thrown under the bus (…to put it the way R’ Dovid does)? Is dissent - even within their own constituency - so intolerable?

Perhaps they feel the greater good will be served by it. I don’t know. Perhaps they feel that leniency on certain issues will underine Judaism and that any dissent at all will destroy it. Perhaps they feel that throwing a good person under the bus – terrible though that may be - is worth the price.

Somehow I can’t believe that. I would hope that very soon a member of that august rabbinic body will speak up on Mr. Teiltelbaum’s behalf. He doesn’t have to agree with him. I wouldn’t expect a principled person to change his position for no reason. But I do expect a principled person to stand up against an unfair attack toward some just because he respectfully disagreed with his rabbinic opinion.

The FJJ was out of line. I blame the kind of rhetoric heard at the last Agudah convention for allowing this mentality to prevail. Sadly, if this trend continues, respect for rabbinic leaders among the masses is sure to be even further eroded.

Hat tip: Curious George