Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rabbi Birnbaum Apologizes – Sort of

Last week Gil Student and I were attacked in the Yated because of a perception that we go easy on our own people when they do wrong while being very hard on the right when they do wrong. I responded here and Gil responded in a letter to the editor of the Yated. Without rehashing my response I will just say that his views about my motives and purpose in the way I write are mistaken.  I forgave him and asked only that he apologize to Gil since his criticism of Gil was much stronger than it was of me. Which is kind of odd since my blog is far more critical of bad behavior than Gil’s is – by far!

He has apologized to us both in answer to Gil’s letter (not available on line). But he stuck to his guns about us - mostly directing his criticism to Gil. Gil’s ‘sin’ – he says - remains. That’s because Gil continues to have links to articles in the margin of his blog – some of which are negative. He only apologized for hurting us in his ‘legitimate’ message.

Most of the commentary I read about Rabbi Birnbaum’s apology is highly critical of it – calling it not much of an apology.

I cannot speak for Gil, but I accept his apology even though I did not ask for one. I am also not going to fault him for his views which are based on Charedi Hashkafos. I did not expect him to change those Hashkafos. In the world of the right, only the good is publicized. The bad is kept as hidden as possible so as not to make them look bad to the world.

When they see bad press it hurts them. When they see me (more than Gil) publicizing and criticizing it too, they blame us for helping to spread Lashon Hara about them.

Even when they occasionally concede it is true (as R' Birnbaum does) - why spread it? What is gained? Why hurt them even more? Why increases the numbers of people made aware of this? They consider bad behavior in their community to be such an anomaly that mentioning it paints an unfair picture of them to the world.

To quote R' Nosson Sherman's explanation about why he only publishes flattering things about Gedolim in ArtScroll bios - eliminating even the most innocuous negative (to them) things like the fact that Rav Aharon Kotler once read a secular novel  - "If it doesn't inspire - it ought not be said".  They see their own way of life as the epitome of perfection in serving God. And they see most of their people accomplishing that, if the stick to their script.

They therefore do not want Mussar from us. They think they are not deserving of it since the bad behavior is so rare in their circles… and who are we to criticize them?! I would be fine with that except that if we don't give them any Mussar, they won't get any at all. And, unfortunately it is not as rare as they would like to believe.

The message they give to their public is that their world is a glorious one where the Torah way of life -  emphasized mostly in Bein Adam L'Makom ways - is lived to near perfection. Nor do they understand the need for Orthodox leaders to condemn bad behavior publicly. But as I have consistently maintained - not doing so only adds to the Chilul HaShem. I will therefore continue to do as I do and he will continue to disapprove. That's too bad because we really ought to be on the same page here.

"We are all brothers and sisters" says Rabbi Birnbaum. I agree. No one cries out for unity more that I do. And I would love to never see a negative story about an observant Jew again. But if and when it happens, I am going to say something about it. I only wish Rabbi Birnbaum would do the same.