Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anatomy of a Ban - UPDATED

In Wednesday's post, "It's A Beautiful Day For A Ban!", we noted the publication of a ban against the upcoming "Big Event", a concert featuring Lipa Schmeltzer and Shloime Gertner at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, scheduled for March 9th.

On Wednesday, "The Cool Jew" called several ticket vendors to see if the ban was being obeyed. They didn't appear to know about it, and tickets are still for sale.

Over the day, there were some questions raised about whether the ban, which was published as a full page ad in Wednesday's HaModia, was genuine. (See links in the original post for some examples.)

On Thursday, Chaptzem Blog! posted a copy of a flyer distributed in Boro Park that decreed the ban a fraud. The flyer was "signed" by the rabbis who had "signed" the ban.

On Friday, Chaptzem Blog! posted a HaModia clipping in which the paper says it confirmed with 31 of the signers that they had in fact signed the ban. The other two signers were traveling and could not be reached. Also on Friday, Big Event producer Sheya Mendlowitz and singer Shloime Gertner appeared on the Nachum Segal show to talk about the upcoming show. The ban was not mentioned. This appearance is noteworthy, as I'll soon show.

On Sat. night, the Zev Brenner radio show covered the issue. Big Event producer Sheya Mendlowitz participated in the radio show. "The Cool Jew" citing his shared content network with Gruntig reports:
The program concluded with a phone call from Sheya Mendlowitz the producer of the concert, who described in detail the answers to many of our questions. Sheya first explained that he is Chas Vesholom not in any way against the Rabonim and he will not do anything that is against the Rabnonim. The first time he said to have heard about the ban was through the web media and the newspapers. "No one approached us beforehand to try and work thing out Bederech Shalom" he said. He described the whole ban, mainly as a direct attack on Lipa who as Sheya expressed has been under attack for a long time.

Sheya concluded that as of now nothing is canceled and everything will go on as scheduled. “We are in the midst of negotiating and dealing with Rabonim” He reiterated, “and nothing will C"V take place which is against the views and opinions of the Rabonim, "Whatever happens, happens, we'll see". What I want, what I truly want" he said, "is what the one above wants."
This ban and the way it was done raises some serious issues.

1) The choice of signers. My original post noted the issue with Lipa Margolis being included among the ban's signers. It can't be said clearly enough. The man has no constituency. There is no group that wouldn't respect the authority of the ban were his signature not on it. Those in the yeshiva community who follow these bans would find Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, etc to be be compelling. Margolis is an evil man, who knowingly harbored a serial child molestor in his school for about thirty years. His inclusion serves only to rehabilitate him by association with the other well-known Roshei Yeshiva. He is not known, even within his own community, for his scholarship, ethics, or leadership. It is an insult to the the other signers that he is included as one of their peers.

2) The inaccurate language of the ban. As others have noted, the language of the ban appears to have been cribbed from another ban in Israel a few moths back. The text includes the obvious error of referring to the rabbonim "here" in Israel as well as those in the States. This is important to note because the publication of an inaccurate public pronouncement, signed by many community leaders, serves to make them look foolish. Whoever was behind the actual production of the ban's text succeeded in making the Roshei Yeshivah/Rabbonim look like illiterates who can't read/understand Hebrew. It also causes people to question whether the ban is genuine.

3) The implications of the ban. The text of the ban, although banning this specific event, bases it on the ruling of the gedolim banning concerts in general. "U'kvar hisree'oo al zeh gedolei Yisroel kan u'veArtzos Habris ve'asru be'isur gamur arvei shira eilu afilune'erachim ne'hafrada mele'ah." (And the "Gedolim" here in Israel and in the USA have already prohibited these concerts with a complete prohibition even if they are completely separate seating.) In other words, the grounds for banning this concert is the "ruling" that concerts are forbidden. It won't stop here. Indeed, it would be intellectually and morally dishonest to ban this concert on the basis of that "psak" and still allow future concerts to take place. Thus, these signers have hinged their credibility on their banning of all future concerts. If they do not, they will be rightfully viewed as hypocrites.

4) The lies in the ban. As I noted above, Shloime Gertner, one of the two featured entertainers, appeared in a radio interview Friday morning to promote the show. This demonstrates that the ban lied when it claimed that one singer had pulled out and only Lipa Schmeltzer was still appearing. Even if Gertner now decides to pull out, it's clear that HaModia published a full page lie endorsed by many leading rabbonim. This goes straight to their credibility. Their authority has been used to promote falsehood. Certainly, since it appeared in a public ad, the Rabbonim ought to rectify this publicly.

5) The organizers of the ban. Because of the problems listed above, it's clear that the organizers of the ban have put these rabbonim in an uncomfortable situation. I'd bet most of the signers didn't know precisely who else's signatures would be appearing. They also wouldn't have known that the assertion that Gertner had pulled out was a fabrication. They should have insisted on seeing the final text prior to signing and they should be aware of the implication with regard to future concerts, but it's likely that that didn't happen either. At any event, its clear that the organizers behind the ban have succeeded in perpetuating a huge public embarrassment to these rabbonim. They should be held accountable. Incidentally, all of the above criticisms are relevant whether or not one feels a ban is appropriate in this case.

6) The method of the ban's announcement. As noted above, Sheya Mendlowitz says the first he heard about a ban was when it was published in the HaModia. I believe him. This has happened before.. As I noted in the past:
The underlying point of how bans affect performers and musicians who have not done anything wrong, and are finding their parnassah opportunities taken away, is one that the Rabbis sigining these bans need to publicly address.

It's not just about concerts. The Agudah did the same thing with its takanos on wedding band sizes. The notion that someone can take away a person's legitimate parnassah, let alone an entire industry, without addressing said loss of income and their responsibilities to those affected is bizarre, and creates a huge chilul Hashem.

What did these people expect would happen when they suddenly banned a show (that followed their previously established guidelines) just days before. Who is supposed to assume the financial loss that would have resulted had the ban worked? Simply put, it's rishus, and I don't say this lightly. The people who instigate or support these bans have an obligation to those financially affected by them.
The event is only a few weeks away. WaMu/Madison Square Garden is not a cheap venue and there are numerous other costs here too. The costs to cancel the show are presumably massive. The timing of the ban basically leaves the producers no choice but to soldier on. The event was announced months ago. Why the relatively last-minute announcement of the ban? The signers have to take this into account when they ban things. Banning events under circumstances where the producers have virtually no choice but to continue is silly.

7) The fake anti-ban flyer. As this demonstrated, the preponderance of bans and "kol korehs" has made it easy for a fake flyer to be found believable. In the past, I've written about the unfortunate change from teshuvah to pashkevil with regard to the halachik process (no time to find links). This is an unfortunate but predictable outcome that further erodes the credibility of published bans and proclamations.

In a post last September, "Ban First, Censor Afterwards", I quoted Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum:
Things haven’t changed much since ancient times. Today, too, we have self proclaimed agitators and charlatans who have nothing to do with their time but to go around to our leading Torah sages and try to convince them that separate-seating concerts are a threat to our Yiddishkeit and to ban them. They falsely claim that there is pritzus in the hallways plus other fabrications. Exaggeration is a blood relative to falsehood, and almost as bad. A gossip is one who can give you all the details without knowing all the facts. Unfortunately, they often succeed in their mission. All it took was one Korach to convince the 250 heads of Sanhedrin of the holiness and purity of his mission.
In short, regardless of whether one agrees with the concept of bans in general, or that this concert should be banned --for the record, I don't believe these bans are appropriate -- it's self-evident that the way this was done has eroded rabbinic authority and resulted in a Chillul Hashem. Even if it achieves its goal and the concert is cancelled or boycotted.

In closing, it seems appropriate to note that although current Chaim Berlin RY, Rabbi Aaron Schechter, signed the ban --in fact, he signed the three most recent bans I've blogged-- his predecessor, Rav Hutner ZT'L, whose Torah is well-known even outside the Chaim Berlin walls, said “One does not educate with issurim.”

I hope that those involved with this fiasco, and those in the community who care about kavod haTorah, learn from this.


The Yeshiva World reports that Lipa has backed out of the concert.

The points above stand. As I'd noted, irrespective of the ban's "success", the process was, is, and continues to be a Chillul Hashem. The Rabbonim, especially those who signed the ban and community leaders need to address the issues raised by the ban.

UPDATE II: Here's an important quote from the above-linked Yeshiva World post.
Lipa also tells us that he is very concerned that there will be a backlash at the Rabbonim. He is publicly asking everyone to please refrain from making any accusations against any Rabbonim. “There is no reason for anyone to mix into this business, and everyone should rest assured that this was all done Bishalom”, Lipa said. “I don’t want anyone to talk Lashon Hara and Motzei Shem Ra against anyone - especially the Gedolim whom I have tremendous respect for”.
Does anyone really believe this was done "bishalom?" Through publicly posting lies and attacks? The rabbonim have to address this aspect of this. In short, whether Schmeltzer is saying this of his own volition or whether he was forced to state this, it's simply not believable.



Vos Iz Neias is reporting event producer Sheya Mendlowitz's statement obtained 7PM this evening.
"Regardless of what is being said in the name of , Or by Lipa Shmeltzer, "until there is a joint statement from, Sheya Mendlowitz, Yisroel Lamm, Lipa Schmeltzer, Shloimie Gertner, & Simchat Tzion the concert is still on". we are all under contract & therefore regardless what you read or hear until there is a joint statement made, everything remains as is. we hope to resolve this issue very soon." said Sheya.
Life-of-Rubin says Lipa has confirmed that he's pulling out of the show.