Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whose Ox is This Anyway?

It is a matter of great importance to me to be critical of those whose actions I see as harming Judaism. It does not matter to me who they are or what their station. If I see a wrong I will and point it out and explain why I think it is wrong. My hope is that in doing so - that in some way I have contributed in generating public pressure that will change or correct things. Or at least prevent them from ever happening again.

Sometimes it is a Charedi wrong and other times it is a Modern Orthodox wrong. It doesn’t matter to me. I call them as I see them. Some cases are worse then others. There is no black and white. Nor is there an evil villain in most cases.

I do not see the vast majority of religious leaders as evil at all. They try and do the right thing. But sometimes they mess up. Sometimes they even admit it. Other times a rabbinic leader appears to mess up but upon further review or special context or clear explanation of circumstances there was no mess up at all. In fact it turns out to be quite the opposite. What seemed like a Chilul HaShem may end up being a Kiddush HaShem under the right circumstances.

Sometimes I even call them wrong. And when I am convinced of that, I apologize.

What is interesting as well as very predictable is the way some individuals react to my critical posts. I will get a great number of negative comments. Some of them are quite harsh but most of them are approved. Some of my critics are so angry and venomous that it shocking to see what can come out of the mouth of a Jew who thinks of himself as the most religious of our people. Those are deleted.

The fact is that the truly venomous comments come from both sides of the religious aisle. The language is similar – usually something like: ‘How dare you criticize a Talmid Chacham of this caliber’ or ‘Who do you think you are?!’ Whether the critics are Charedi or Modern Orthodox depends on whose ox is being gored.

What is lost on my most of my venomous critics on either side of the aisle is that neither in the case of Charedi leaders or in the case of Modern Orthodox leaders do I in any way denigrate their character or their leadership - except in the most egregious cases such as those having to do with child sexual molestation. My respect for the vast majority of rabbinic leaders remains very high. One can question a leader without losing respect for them. That is the way I try to do things.

My last post on Rabbi Lookstein is a case in post. I have tremendous respect for Rabbi Lookstein. I know he is a dedicated Rav to his Shul; principal to his school; and leader in Klal Yisroel. He has an over fifty year history of such dedication. I am 100% convinced that that he is very Medakdek B’Mitzvos- careful in his religious observance. I am also 100% convinced that what he did last Wednesday was done L’Shem Shamayim. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

To suggest that I have belittled a Talmid Chacham in making a public protest of this one incident - any more than the RCA has belittled him- is a gross misrepresentation of what I did. I merely echoed their view – which I believe is the correct one.

This is the case with Charedi leaders too. Never in my most critical mode did I ever say or think that Rav Elyashiv, for example, is anything but a Gadol and 100% L’Shma even when I questioned what he did. Never did I denigrate him. The same thing is true here with Rabbi Lookstein. But in both cases there are those who see even the slightest criticism as a major attack against them justifying their vilification of me.

As for Rabbi Lookstein - he may yet vindicate his actions and that will be just fine with me. I note that he sent a letter to his colleagues at the Rabbinical Council of America explaining and perhaps even justifying his actions. My instinct would be to side with him for precisely the reasons he said. But my instinct seems to be contradicted by Halacha. I could be wrong and this may indeed be an exception. That remains to be seen and should be determined by people far more learned than I am. Nothing would make me happier than to find out that both the RCA and I were wrong and that he was right.

But getting back to the point of this post - whether I protest a Charedi leader’s act or a Modern Orthodox leader’s act – I do it because I believe lines were crossed that are in some way harmful to Klal Yisroel. That - in my view - requires a public Macha’ah – a protest - whether the ‘wrong’ is an interfaith service, a concert ban, or book ban.

I may be wrong and those who think so are free to present their views and explain why. No one has to agree with me. But please do not misread my criticisms as biased. I do not look at your ox any differently than the other fellow’s.