Monday, March 11, 2013

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky’s Critique of Me

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, ZTL
Update: I have received a communication from Rabbi Kamenetsky apologizing for any anguish he gave me via his Ami article and asked for Mechila. I accepted it and was already Mochel him at the outset - as posted in my original words below. I truly thank him for his exemplary Mentchlichkeit - a Mentchlichkeit that is typical of the Kamenetsky family.

I am stunned. Yesterday, on the very day that I observed the Yahrzeit of my grandson Reuven (see the post below this one) I was directed to an article written by the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivah Toras Chaim at South Shore, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky. He is a grandson of one of my heroes Rav Yaakov.

Rabbi Kamenetsky, who publishes a weekly article in Ami Magzaine has written a virtual hit piece against me. I occasionally buy this magazine and have enjoyed his articles very much. He impressed me as a true bearer of his grandfather’s heritage. His articles are usually well written, light hearted, often humorous and make good points with which I often agree. I would certainly not call him extreme by any definition of the word.

But he changed course in his latest article by attacking me. Although he did not mention me by name, he referenced a blog post I had written about his uncle, Rabbi Hirsch Diskind (Oct 14, 2012) that was highly critical of what he said. I will deal with that shortly.

I don’t dispute what he says in a general way. There are some bloggers that one can describe in much the same way he does. I too have noted in past posts the vituperative comments that  get posted with impunity because of the anonymity afforded to some bloggers and commenters – who take full advantage of that anonymity to make some really disgusting comments. When this happens on my blog, I try to delete them or edit out the objectionable comments.

But I am not anonymous. And yet in grouping me together with anonymous bloggers he accuses me of lacking Yiras Shomyim and Mesorah. Anyone who reads my blog regularly would know that this is far from true.

After bashing bloggers in general he is even more upset at Hashkafa blogs. Since my post is the primary target of his article, I can only assume he means me. I am accused of shooting from the hip;  misquoting; misinterpreting;  taking quotes out of context; a lack of any attempt to ensure honesty; and even a not so veiled accusation that I am a “wannabe” Maskil born 100 years too late!

Yes, it hurt to hear that from someone I actually respected… especially a grandson of someone I revere. But I am Mochel him. That’s because I understand why he did it. He is standing up for his uncle, Rabbi Hirsch Diskind… defending him from what he thought was an indictment by me.

I did take strong issue with Rabbi Diskind. Not really so much for the comment itself because of its un-addressed implications.  In the widely read newspaper, Hamodia, Rabbi Diskind had made the claim that mourning the loss of the great secular Jewish Poet, Nachman Bialik (as did one of his Rebbeim from his youth) was not in accordance with the Torah.

My problem was that left alone such a comment could easily be interpreted to mean that Bialik’s poetry itself is not in accordance with the Torah. Nor by inference just about anything else that is secular. It is not that much of a leap to conclude that from a statement that mourning Bialik is “not in accordance with the Torah”.

That was my entire point. I felt that such statements lead those who hear them to consider it Daas Torah to not engage in any secular culture at all. Something that I am convinced his grandfather would not agree with since his Yeshiva, Mesivta Torah VoDaath had a very fine secular studies department in high school that probably studied classic works of literature.

I may have erred in allowing a very irate Menahel to vent his own frustration with this statement – coming from a Hashkafa similar to many own. He was indeed very harsh in his criticism. In my defense, I thought it was important to see that there are Mechanchim that do strongly disagree with those kinds of statements… and to demostrate just how upsetting those statements are to him. My hope was that perhaps Rabbi Diskind would see that and either recant or explain better what he meant.  If that hurt Rabbi Kamenetsky I truly do apologize.

Rabbi Kamenetsky goes to town quoting liberally from my post without really rebutting anything I said. He calls my argument silly! He implies I would never cry over the death of a Gadol.  Well although I do not cry at the death of non family members, it is demonstrably untrue that I did not profoundly feel the loss. I felt tremendous loss by the departure from this earth by many Gedolei Yisroel including his grandfather. And those who have died since I began this blog have been publicly eulogized right here on this blog. Including Rav Elyashiv about which he specifically asks.

Rabbi Kamenetsky’s only real argument is that I mistook his unlcle’s quote for what it really was. That his uncle was not really denigrating secular literature but was merely comparing the reaction of a Rebbe from his youth about the loss of Bialik - to his reaction to the loss of the Chafetz Chaim. Had that Rebbe reacted to the Chafetz Chaim with the same sense of loss as he did to the loss of Bilalik, his uncle would not have written that comment. It would have been nice to hear that directly from Rabbi Diskind. But I will take Rabbi Kamenetsky’s word for it that this is what he meant.

The only problem is that this is not what he said. He simply said that the response by his Rebbe was not in accordance with the Torah. He did not mention anything about his Rebbe’s lack of reaction to the Chafetz Chaim’s death. Had he said that, I might have responded differently. As stated, however, I stand by my original post that his words can too easily be misconstrued to be anti Bilaik and anti any other secular author as not in accordance with the Torah. The obvious conclusion by probably far too many Bnei Torah would be to stay far away from any secular literature and avoid it like the plague.

That is in fact the direction of much of the more extreme part of Charedi world, is it not? How many Yeshiva high schools are popping up that do not have a secular studies program at all? How many Mechanchim today would ever mention a novel by Tolstoy? How many Roshei Yeshiva today would say what his grandfather said to a student using Tolstoy as part of his admonition to him? 

Rabbi Kametesky mentioned this very fact to point out an error I made in attributing his comment to be about Shakespeare rather than Tolstoy. (I accept his correction. But it does not diminish the point I made with it.) Furthermore, to suggest - as Rabbi Kamenetsky did - that I implied Rav Yaakov would cry over the death of Tolstoy is ridiculous. I would never suggest such a thing.

In conclusion, I will again repeat that I am Mochel Rabbi Kamenetsky for the hurt he has inflicted upon me by misunderstanding who I am. I understand where he is coming from in defending his uncle, Rabbi Diskind.

But I would respectfully ask whether Rabbi Kamentesky ever publicly defended his other uncle, Rav Nosson whose book, Making of a Gadol was banned by Rav Elyashiv. And if so was it with the same fervor and sense of umbrage? I have. Many times.