Sunday, August 01, 2021

Eytan Kobre's Generous Gesture

Eytan Kobre (Mishpacha Magazine)
I want to offer my sincere apologies to Mishpacha Magazine columnist, Rabbi Eytan Kobre if in any way I ever hurt him with my sharp criticism in previous posts. In my zeal to reject some of the extreme positions he seemed to take in opposition to views which I hold dear, I have said some things I now regret. (Like calling him Mishpacha’s resident pit bull.) 

I don’t know if he ever reads my blog – or even if he knows I exist. But in any case I over-reacted and want to publicly apologize to him . 

This does not mean I have changed my views on those issues. It just means that my hyperbolic comments were unwarranted and unfair. I should also mention that I gave also agreed with many of his columns wherein his views matched my own. 

Eytan is a complicated individual that is hard to peg in some ways. On the one hand he is stridently Charedi and stronlgly defends Charedi values such as fealty to Daas Torah as expressed by the rabbinic leaders that comprise the Agudah Moetzes. And his attitude about the State of Israel follows their typically negative attitude. 

On the other hand he has some of the attributes that I consider to be definitive of the moderate Charedi world. First he has a professional degree, one of the primary elements of the moderate Charedi world. And as I indicated - on some issues he often expresses a moderate view that is similar to my own - differing widely from the more extreme elements in the Charedi world.   

The most recent examples of a moderate Charedi view are in his last 2 columns in Mishpacha. The first of which I could pretty much have written myself.   Among other things he laments the  polarization in this country and the extreme partisanship that is the cause of it. Adding that some in his own community align themselves with extremists partisan views– thereby missing the boat of what our focus as the chosen of God should be. But he goes beyond our own community and actually praises America and the basic decency of American people.

It was however the second column that resonated with me the most, and generated my apology. It featured a vile email from an unnamed but apparently prominent Charedi educator about that first column. Here is what it said: 

 “It’s very difficult to discern if today’s essay is a product of achzariyus (cruelty) or ignorance. Either way it’s unfit for print.”  

Eytan tells us that this is not the first time he had a correspondence with this fellow.  His first encounter was via an email about an earlier column where he expressed views with which he consulted an unnamed member of the Agudah Moetzes  who agreed with him. Here is what that email said:

 “Bnei Torah are not impressed with a phantom gadol baTorah, nor do I trust your ability to assess one, present to one, or understand his response. Your advanced vocabulary and terrific writing skills have not extended toward a mature understanding of this world or on how our heilige Torah views it. You blindly trust lies and allegations thrown by those who hate morality and you defend media who work to advance the gimmel chamurois. Please stop writing and rather attend a shiur in Chumash Rashi to be mechazek your emunah.” 

This fellow has since bombarded Eytan’s email account with one vile criticism after another.  He is obviously not of the moderate Charedi persuasion

Eytan describes attempts to engage this fellow and had actually succeeded in doing so. But those emails attacking him continued unabated.

I  sympathize with Eytan. He is not alone on getting this kind of criticism for expressing his views. I have been victim to that a kind of rhetoric more them once. It used to hurt. But I have since learned to tolerate it – seeing it most often as being made by individuals whose make it their life’s mission to make other people miserable. Their views are a distortion of even those that vehemently disagree with me.   

Eytan is a better man than I. Even as those vile attacks kept coming in both emails and phone messages he was able to see the humanity in this fellow by virtue after watching him in an online video clip. The following is how Eytan ends his column: 

When I realized recently that someone had been flooding my spam message box with such unseemly sentiments, I looked to find out a bit more about him, and I came upon a video clip in which this person speaks. And the effect for me was a bit of a “Daryl Davis moment,” referring to the black musician I wrote about last week whose outreach to Klansmen has produced wondrous results.

Once you see another human being, even if just in a video, his being becomes… human. He turns from an easy-to-abhor abstraction into a real person, with feelings and thoughts, family and friends and a life history. It becomes difficult to dismiss him out-of-hand as unworthy of the effort to try to understand him, even if not to ultimately agree with him or justify his behavior.

The first step in arriving at v’ahavta lerei’acha, a feeling of caring for another — or at least an absence of ill will — is kamocha, acknowledging his humanity is on par with yours. 

Maybe it’s my skeptical nature, but a video of someone that so viscously attacks people because they disagree with their views - views that are in consonance with Torah values - is not going to humanize him to me. The constant unwarranted attacks are not overridden by a video of him that does not happen to be an attack. 

I can forgive someone for attacking me. But I cannot forgive someone that infects the minds of young students with the vilest of attacks against legitimate Torah views with which he disagrees and smears those that espouse them. That fellow may not be evil. He might just be mentally ill. Either way he should be kept away from Chinuch. He must never again be allowed to infect innocent young Jewish minds with that kind of venom.

If at all possible I would suggest that he should be removed from his position in Chinuch I cannot emphasize that enough. The damage he does by presenting his views as the authentic Torah view - to the exclusion of all others - is incalculable.