Monday, March 31, 2008

Cross-Currents Digs Lipa!

Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein posts "The Mistake of One-Stop Torah Shopping" at Cross-Currents. Overall, it's a good essay which makes some important points about the trend of local rabbinic leadership abdicating responsibilities to Israeli Gedolim and its a worthwhile read.

However, Rabbi Adlerstein can't seem to get past his original take that the Lipa ban was/is inconsequential. In this essay, he throws in a dig at critics of the ban's language.

He writes:
Sometime after the petirah of R. Moshe zt”l and R. Yaakov zt”l, a group of people essentially came to the conclusion that there was no one left in America worth addressing questions to, whether of the halachic or daas Torah type. They determined that the mantle of leadership for America had shifted to Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim. This was hardly a unanimous decision, but the group could claim both strong leadership and large numbers of followers. Those to whom the questions were addressed would often demur, arguing that the questions should properly be brought to talmidei chachamim closer to the source of the question. The questioners, however, were persistent, and argued that the local talmidei chachamim themselves wanted nothing more than the counsel of the luminaries in Israel. Gradually, it became the standard practice in much of the Torah world.

The result is that responses and standards that are entirely appropriate to the special conditions of Israeli Torah life are quickly flown across the Atlantic to waiting consumer markets here. Many people thought they “caught” the kanoim who pushed the Lipa concert ban in a crude error. The letter signed by American roshei yeshiva was originally written about Israeli concerts, and still contained the reference to them, rather than to American concerts. I don’t think it was an error or oversight at all. The full expectation of many people by now is that if something is true in Israel, then it is true here as well. Why should there be a difference?
Once again, Rabbi Adlerstein seems to be missing the point.

The reason the language of the ban, erroneously referring to Eretz Yisroel instead of America, is of note is because it clearly demonstrates -- using the language of the ban itself-- that said text was not read carefully prior to publication. In other words, the mistaken language shows that the banners rushed to print/publicize something damaging to others without even carefully reading what they'd signed. This in and of itself demonstrates a huge problem with the process.

Rabbi Adlerstein suggests that the ban signers would in fact agree with "Da'as Torah" in E'Y that all concerts are prohibited. As such, he suggests, that the language might not have been a mistake. The problem with this notion is that its simply not true.

In an earlier post on the subject, Rabbi Adlerstein "read between the lines" and attempted to explain Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky's comments to the Jewish Star. Obviously, he's read the Jewish Star interview.

Here's what Rabbi Kamenetzky told the Jewish Star about the text:
“It is very general, you’re right, but I don’t think it will refer to all concerts. You have to have an outlet for kids.”
At least one of the ban signers, one who Rabbi Adlerstein clearly respects, is not opposed to all concerts and explicitly said so in an interview Rabbi Adlerstein has quoted from in the past. (Allegedly, there are other signers who feel this way as well. Wouldn't it be nice if they said so publicly?)

In light of this, why is Rabbi Adlerstein suggesting that the language accurately represents the beliefs of the signers? It doesn't and he ought to be aware of this.

Additionally, even if one were to grant Rabbi Adlerstein's premise that all the ban signers accepted Israeli Da'as Torah on concerts, the problem of imprecise language being used in a public pronouncement should still be troubling. As any Ben Torah ought to know, the precision of language is important to the halachik process, even if one can't be "medayek" in Acharonim to the same level as with Tannaim, Amoraim, and Rishonim.

Anyhow, while we're talkin' 'bout Cross-Currents...

Rabbi Avi Shafran is one of Cross-Currents' writers. He wrote a piece purporting to explain the ban for Hamodia, "The Really Big Event". Why didn't he post it on Cross-Currents? It would seem relevant to Cross-Currents' goal. He's published other articles that have appeared elsewhere on Cross-Currents. Why not this one?

Here's part of Cross-Currents "About Us" self-description.
Cross-Currents is a journal of thought and reflections, from an array of Orthodox Jewish writers. We post about issues of the day and issues of our days, representing our individual perspectives.

By hearing about Orthodoxy from the Orthodox, it is our hope that you will — if not a member of our community — develop a more balanced and nuanced perspective than that which you find in the general and Jewish media.

In recent years, weblogs have provided a forceful alternative to mainstream media outlets, even discrediting stories that appeared on the major news networks. In 2004, having seen the effectiveness of these political weblogs, Rabbi Yaakov Menken of Project Genesis suggested to Rabbi Adlerstein the development of an online Jewish journal using the same technology — and the new was born.

Stories about Orthodox Jews and Judaism which misrepresent us are frequent fare in both the Jewish and secular press, and many of our essays discuss these as well. We also offer an alternative view of the modern twists on the timeless Torah, or instruction, that is Judaism, so often glowingly chronicled in the other outlets you may read.

This, then, is our take on the news, a different perspective than the one you are used to seeing. We’ll be self-critical, yes, but analytical and fair as well. Some will tell you that we’re engaging in “apologetics,” but we are unafraid to help those with a more honest and impartial viewpoint to understand how we actually see things, versus what the media might tell you.
Seems like Rabbi Shafran's essay fits the Cross-Currents frame, as the Lipa ban is one of the most blogged about communal issues of late. Of course, posting the essay would allow for it to be easily linked to and commented on. And, then Cross-Currents moderators would have to choose between allowing critical comments to go up (most of the comments on their earlier posts were critical) or choosing to censor the comments, with the resultant loss of integrity apparent to those regular readers who submitted comments.

Incidentally, I critiqued Rabbi Shafran's essay, in part, here.