Monday, April 15, 2013

A Bright Light - Dimmed

Rabbi Michael Broyde
What a sad day for Modern Orthodoxy. One of its brightest lights has been dimmed. According to a JTA report - the brilliant Rabbi Michael Broyde has been suspended indefinitely from the RCA’s  Beth Din of America. From the JTA:
“Rabbi Broyde has admitted to behavior that the Rabbinical Council finds extremely disturbing,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the court's parent body. “We have determined and announced by the Beth Din of America, our affiliated rabbinical court, that he has ceased to serve as a dayan [judge] immediately and indefinitely.” 
What did he do to deserve this? From the expose by Steven I. Weiss in the Jewish Channel Newsdesk
The Goldwasser character (Rabbi Broyde’s pseudonym) also joined a professional rabbinic organization that rivals the one of which Broyde is a member, giving the Goldwasser character access to thousands of messages a year through its members-only listserv e-mail discussions and other members-only correspondence regarding its plans and positions. And while the Goldwasser character consistently claimed to be corresponding with that organization from a home in Israel, the Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses attached to those e-mails show they were sent from a Comcast subscriber in Atlanta and from Emory University facilities… The Goldwasser character has also been used for other means, such as commenting on blogs and engaging in scholarly correspondence.
 Broyde has often written or spoken publicly about the members of the IRF and the positions they’ve taken, sometimes expressing strong disagreement or condemnation, and sometimes expressing support for their positions.
Multiple rabbis who would not speak on the record out of concern for their careers said Broyde would occasionally speak about the IRF’s plans and discussions as though he had direct knowledge of them, even though he was not a member. According to these rabbis, when Broyde was asked how he’d obtained the exclusive information, he’d say that he obtained it from anonymous sources. 
At first denying it, he subsequently admitted and apologized. He did so publicly on Hirhurim – where is a frequent guest contributor. Here is part is what he said: 
It was an error of judgment on our part to join any professional organization. We did so in an era in which membership was not verified at all and no fee was charged, but it was still something that my own rabbayim would not approve of and thus I regret. I am truly and genuinely sorry for this.
I regret the occasional “sock puppeting” but it does not seem extremely harmful and is quite common. With hindsight, I am sure that this was a mistake, too – but anyone who has read the comments section of the Orthodox Jewish blog world knows that they are very harsh and unkind. I erred by sometimes saying something nice or validating in order to change the conversational tone. I do regret it. 
This has been quite shocking to me. I was a fan. In fact I still am a fan of his brilliant Halachic mind. I do not consider him an evil person. But I do consider this a grievous mistake on his part. The RCA made the right decision in firing him. My heart truly goes out to this man.  Although I did not know him personally, I have had some e-mail conversations with him and have gleaned from those that he is a man of high moral character. In this one instance (albeit a 20 year long one) he had a moral lapse. I think he admitted that and apologized. For some reason he did not see what he was doing was all that wrong. He says he did not mean anyone any harm. 

But I must add that his self promotion (sock-puppeting) by way of those fake blog comments is more than a little disappointing. I know what he means by the level of conversation being very course in the comments sections of blogs. I suppose one can’t be blamed for trying to avoid them.

But to self promote goes beyond merely avoiding the venom. It is tantamount to seeking Kavod. That is one of the most surprising things to me about this. My conversations with him indicated quite the opposite about his character. He had always expressed himself with self effacing modesty. Always willing to sacrifice himself for the good of Judaism.

But that was not the case here.  Chazal tell us, when one chases Kavod, Kavod runs away from them. Now that Rabbi Broyde has been so quickly and indefinitely relieved of his duties on the RCA Beth Din, his Kavod has been severely compromised.

Aside from the harm this has caused the Modern Orthodox community, no doubt it must be causing him a great deal of personal grief. Not only to him, but to his family. And to his congregation. And to his students. My heart goes out to all of them, including Rabbi Broyde himself.

I still believe that he is a man of integrity who was somehow blind to the lack of it displayed in this 20 year long escapade.

The man made a mistake. He is human. Nevertheless - as  a result he has been dishonored by his own rabbinic fraternity. He is paying the price.

I for one will still be on the lookout for scholarly articles by him in the future. A mind like his is a terrible thing to waste. I still consider him a bright light in matters of Halacha and Hashkafa.

We all make mistakes. Some of us make big ones. The trick is to learn from them and to never repeat them. I believe that will most definitely be the case with Rabbi Broyde. I wish him well