Friday, April 19, 2013

Avrohom Birnbaum's Mistaken Umbrage

Rabbi Gil Student
“Why are they so quick to snipe so resentfully at every perceived lapse of their chareidi brothers?”

So reads the ‘pull quote’ in the middle of an article in the print version of the Yated about fellow blogger Rabbi Gil Student and me.

A fellow named Avrohom Birnbaum takes us both to task in his perception of how we handled the news about one of our own versus how we handle news about Charedim. Both Gil and I had written about former RCA Dayan, Rabbi Michael Broyde. Gil’s posts have been more about reporting what happened. Mine were more critical in nature.

Rabbi Broyde was caught in what I would call a childish prank. Over a period of many years he faked his identity in order to gain online access to a rival rabbinic organization - the IRF (International Rabbinical Fellowship). As well, he was caught using aliases for purposes of what can only be seen as self aggrandizement – commenting with lavish praise about his own writings and his own brilliance.

It was an ethical lapse for which he is paying a very high personal and professional price. Soon after he was exposed, Rabbi Broyde admitted what he had done and apologized to the IRF. Immediately after that he made a public apology that was published on Gil’s blog. Both Gil and I were accused of going soft on him while being overly harsh on Charedim who have erred.

Before I address that, I want to address how Mr. (Rabbi?) Birnbaum described our blogs:
“(T)he level of intellectual discourse (on my blog) is lower than that of Hirhurim (Gil’s blog).”
I would normally take offense at something like that. But I am very willing to say that Gil’s blog does have a higher level of intellectual discourse than mine. Not because he is more cerebral than I am (…although that may very well be the case even though he is probably about 20 years my junior). But because of the different focus our blogs have. Gil’s blog features a lot more Torah and Hashkafa than mine does. Gil is a Masmid and does his homework.  And when he discusses Halacha and Hashkafa he does so with sources. This is one of the reasons that Rabbi Broyde guest posted so many times on Gil’s blog. He too is interested in sourced Halachic discourse and he too does his homework.

My blog is more about opinion. Although I too discuss Halacha on occasion, and more-so Hashkafa, the majority of my posts are commentary on the events of the day. Hence by its nature - less intellectual.

Back to Mr. Birnbaum.  Aside from his unnecessary and somewhat insulting (to me, my readers and commenters) comparison of our 2 blogs - he was much harder on Gil. Gil was sent a series of loaded questions by the Yated about his frequent hosting of Rabbi Broyde’s Divrei Torah and Divrei Hashkafa. I say loaded because the questions were designed to either embarrass Gil , Rabbi Broyde or both. Here is an example: 
2. Do you feel you owe your readership an apology for prominently featuring the articles and halachic rulings of a person who has been revealed to be both an outright liar and an ethically tainted individual? 
Answering an insulting question like this would have had no purpose other than making at least one of them look bad. And calling Rabbi Broyde a liar is not exactly how they would treat one of their own rabbis in similar circumstances. I do not for example recall very many instances where a Charedi rabbinic leader or commentator has been critical of Charedi miscreants.  They claim that doing so is Lashon Hara or Motzi Shem Ra. On the rare occasions where they might even agree that one of their own had an ethical lapse, to the best of my recollection - they never mentioned any individual by name.  But when it comes to one outside their circle, they have no difficulty doing so.  

This is exactly what Mr. Birnbaum accuses us of! This gander does not treat our goose the way he would like our goose to treat his gander.

Gil to his everlasting credit chose not to answer them. I imagine that it was because for the most part, he wanted to spare Rabbi Broyde any additional embarrassment.

What is inexplicable to me is that he characterized our two blogs the same way: 
(T)here are many similarities in the way they cover chareidim. Mr. Maryles is especially adept at surfing the internet for negative stories about chareidim, posting them, and bemoaning chareidi dysfunction and the resultant chillul Hashem. He consistently claims to only have the welfare of the chareidi community - which he claims to admire - in mind, but begs them to just “be normal,” like he is. Whenever there is chareidi scandal or weird story, he is on it. 
That Gil does not do that should be obvious to anyone who reads his blog on even a semi regular basis. But the fact is that Mr. Birnbaum is wrong about me too. I have written about this before. But no matter how many times I say so, there are just some people who cannot understand what I am doing. They see me only as a Charedi basher.

I am not a Charedi basher. But I do in fact post a lot of commentaries about Charedim who have made Judaism look bad… in some cases making an actual Chilul HaShem. That isn’t because I am ‘adept at surfing the internet for negative stories’ about them. I don’t do that. 

These stories hit me in the face like a ton of bricks. When a negative story about a Charedi misdeed hits the mainstream Jewish media - it is not my editorializing that makes Judaism look bad. It is what that individual did that makes Judaism look bad. These stories are often picked up by larger mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, too.

If I see media exposure of bad acts by religious looking Jews, I am going to comment on it and condemn it. That’s because I want people who read these stories to know that there is at least one Orthodox rabbi that isn’t going to rationalize it away or ignore it.

Why do I seem to ‘pick’ on Charedim? Because they are the ones making the news most of the time. My standards are the same for all religious Jews, whether Charedi or Modern Orthodox. When anyone does something wrong I evaluate the extent of the wrong-doing and comment accordingly.

But there is a difference that I will admit to. I am a bit harder on Charedim for 2 reasons. One is because they claim to be the most religious Jews among us... that their lives are more about Torah and Avodas HaShem than ours is. So by their own definition then they should be judged by a higher standard. 

But the second reason is even more important.The more religious a Jew is perceived to be by the public, the greater the Chilul HaShem. Charedim simply look more religious. Perceptions are more important than reality when it comes to Chilul HaShem.When a Chasidic Rebbe - who is often spoken about in saintly terms - sins, that Chilul HaShem is far greater than when a simple nondescript Jew does the same thing. Both are equally wrong. But both do not have the same negative impact. So I will be much harder on a prominent religious leader than I would be otherwise. And even among rabbinic leaders, a Chasidic Rebbe is perceived by the public to be more representative of Jewish leadership than is a Modern Orthodox rabbinic leader.

Also - as I hinted above - there are differences in various types of wrong doing. And my reactions are therefore different. Hacking a rival rabbinic fraternity or using aliases for purposes of self aggrandizement is not the same as being involved in a criminal money laundering -tax evasion scheme. Both are wrong. But my reactions to the two are going to be entirely different.

That is a lot more that can be said. But this post is already too long. I have no personal animus to Mr. Birnbaum for this. His criticism of me is rather mild in comparison to some of the criticism I have received in the past. I am Mochel him. 

But in my view he needs to ask Mechila from Gil. He has done to Gil what he accuses us of doing all the time. He has grossly mischaracterized his blog… and Gil himself! He is guilty of Motzi Shem Ra. And for that he must apologize. And I would add, so too should the Yated for publishing it.