Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Where's the Beef?

YCT Talmud Chair, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz
“Kedusha is fragile, the smallest breach will eventually cause havoc to the community's spiritual wellbeing.”

Words like these illustrate why there is such an obsession with modesty by the right. Rashi  tells us (Vayikra 19:2) that where-ever one guards against Erva (sexual immodesty), one will find Kedusha – holiness. But the above quote was not written by a Charedi Rabbi. It was penned by Yeshiva Chovevei Torah - Talmud Department Chair, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, a champion of Open Orthodoxy. Which is somewhat ironic. I am reminded of a series of public lectures by their Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer participating in a ‘sexy podcast’ calling it the ‘Joy of Text’.  I think this may qualify at least as a ‘small breach.’ But I digress.

Rabbi Katz made this comment as part of a smear against Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer. He did so on his Facebook page for public consumption. Anyone can go there and read it. But it is Rabbi Katz that breaches a line. That of distorting the truth. He borders on being Motzi Shem Ra (deliberately besmirching the reputation of a fellow Jew) by innuendo - using imagery of sexual deviants to make his point. I take strong issue with the way he characterized OO’s best known nemesis. It was breathtakingly insulting. Here in part is what he said: 
 “To take the information gleaned from peering into people’s virtual homes and impulsively run to gleefully share it in the public sphere is obscene. To offer your blog to enable such behavior makes you an accomplice to the purveyance of immodesty… The image of an older man sitting alone in front of a computer, with no accountability or oversight, and constantly stalking on the web young male and female graduates from liberal institutions, reading, dissecting and mass distributing their every utterance is too disturbing to behold.”  
I said  it was breathtaking. But that is really an understatement. Although I generally agree with Rabbi Gordimer’s critique of Open Orthodoxy  - one can quibble with him. Indeed there can be respectful even strong disagreement. One can even say that Rabbi Gordimer is a zealous opponent of Open Orthodoxy - determined to undermine it. But to call someone who opposes your views an obscene voyeur and an accomplice to the purveyance of immodesty and then paint a picture of a ‘dirty old man viewing porn alone in his home’ is so over the top that it defies any rational explanation. 

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
As Rabbi Gordimer indicated in his brief response on Cross Currents, he is no more a voyeur than anyone reading this blog. Rabbi Katz’s public Facebook page is not his home where he is entitled to privacy. It is in fact no more private than the front page of the New York Times. This is an insult that requires a major apology in my humble opinion. And a personal request for Mechila. And a withdrawal of those comments!

Even-though I strongly disagreed with Rabbi Katz, I believed him to be sincere in his convictions and respected him for that. But this smear has caused me to re-think my opinion of him.It is as low as I have ever seen anyone involved with OO sink. Personal attacks have no place in public discussion of the issues affecting our lives. Legitimate criticism? Yes. Absolutely. Each side can debate and discuss the issues on their merits. The discussion can be and often is passionate. But passion is not excuse for besmirching and denigrating your opponent with smears and lies. As Rabbi Gordimer points out in his brief response on Cross Currents:    
Making it personal stifles debate about the merit of the issues and innovations under discussion in these articles, for the merit appears to be quite lacking. 
‘Where’s the Beef?!’ Where is the substantive response on that Facebook page that deals with the issues Rabbi Gordimer addresses? Why the smear? What has he gained other than making himself look like an immature teenager lashing out?  

Just to be clear, this is not a post attacking OO or defending the views of Rabbi Gordimer. This is a post condemning the use of gutter imagery to smear your opponent. I am disgusted by it!

I realize of course that here are a lot of sincere people that support OO, YCT, and Rabbi Katz. And they too are upset by the constant attacks against that denomination and institution. I have seen comments along the lines Rabbi Katz made about Rabbi Gordimer right here in the comments section of my blog. And when I see them it bothers me that emotion can so easily color the reaction of so many normally thoughtful people. Although I admit failing in that department occasionally, when it is pointed out to me, I try to correct it.

Reasonable people can disagree. But being disagreeable does not belong in any debate among sincere people committed to their ideals. Once you start with the name calling, then in my view, you’ve lost the argument.