Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Unified Chareidi Non-Response to the Lipa Ban

Today's Hamodia has five opinion pieces on the Lipa ban controversy.

The editors write:
In the aftermath of the events surrounding the "Big Event" concert ban, Hamodia was deluged by reactions from readers that demonstrated the wide range of their views and the passion they had towards their views. The volume of this response was unusally high -- both from those complimenting Hamodia and from those criticizing us -- and many questions were raised.

That being the case, we opened our pages to the input of Rabbanim, educators, and various professionals for their views on this topic.
None of the pieces address the main issues raised by the ban. More on that shortly, but first, some brief summaries of the pieces. Hamodia blurbs the first two. Here's how Hamodia framed them.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, uses his classic elegant pen to portray the lengths to which the media will resort in order to pursue and promote their agenda. Whether the subtle inaccuracies he cites are a result of shoddy or slanted journalism is anyone's guess, buth the damage is done in any case.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Director of Project Y.E.S., distinguished himself as a calm voice of reason last week, when he disseminated an email to his large list of readers and spoke at length on a popular Jewish call-in radio program reminding people to publicly and privately model appropriate derech eretz for daas Torah despite their personal feelings on a particular subject.
The pieces can be found in today's Hamodia on pages D32-D34.

Rabbi Shafran's piece is called "The Really Big Event."

In the piece, Rabbi Shafan criticizes the Fourth Estate, bloggers, talk show hosts, and the Jewish Star. In my opinion, this criticism is misplaced. I think much of the public commentary, although not the comments left on some blogs, has been respectful of the rabbonim even as it questions their handling of the situation. Those who feel it is forbidden to question rabbonim will find the notion of "non-gedolim" raising questions to be chutzpah. But I don't buy it. I suspect, given what I've seen of his writings, that Rabbi Shafran doesn't really believe so either.

Rabbi Shafran writes that he'd had an informal off-the-record conversation with the editor of the Jewish Star and was surprised to find himself quoted in that article. He says a more accurate rendering of his opinion would have said that he "knew nothing about the circumstances surrounding the ban."

In my opinion, Rabbi Shafran is being disingenuous here. I'm not going to start parsing his words, but it seems obvious that the quotes attributed to him in the Jewish Star represent his current opinion of the text of the ban, even if that was not yet his opinion then.

As I've noted, it is self-evident from the ban itself. Any thinking person would have some of these questions.

Rabbi Shafran also has some criticisms of the NY Times piece. Most of these are inconsequential.

Addressing the issue of Rav Kamenetzky's statement as quoted in the Times, Rabbi Shafran writes:
And right after noting that "Some critics say the rabbis were manipulated," the Times quoted Harav Shmuel Kamenetzky, shlita, as regretting that time constraints did not allow the Rabbanim to "meet together" as they often do before issuing a Kol Korei of this nature. Asked about the juxtaposition later, Rav Kamenetzky stated unequivocally that he was in no way manipulated and that the sentiment of the ban reflected his intention entirely.
I may not be parsing words today, but Rabbi Shafran is. Rabbi Shafran ignores the fact that Rav Kamenetzky has said that he is not opposed to all concerts. Yet, the text of the ban explicitly says that the Gedolim have prohibited all concerts.

This is tangential anyway. The main issue here, which Rabbi Shafran does not address in his essay, but Rav Kamenetzky acknowledges, is the abuse of process surrounding the ban. Put simply, even if you agree with the goals and ideals of the ban, as Rabbi Shafran quotes Rav Kamenetzky, the way it was implemented was wrong. Rav Kamenetzky admits as much. Rabbi Shafran is tap-dancing around this admission.

At the end of his essay, Rabbi Shafran acknowledges some other questions that were raised, most notably about the two-lines under the text of the ban signed by the "Vaad Mishmeres Hakodesh", which contained demonstrable falsehood. He doesn't address them though. I think he should have.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz penned another piece on parenting called "A Steady Hand."

Rabbi Horowitz once again offers advice on how parents should continue to demonstrate respect for gedolim, but punts on almost all of the questions raised about this episode. This is especially disappointing, because many of the commentors on his site have raised valid questions that need to be answered. Incidentally, that post now has 7734 page views and 210 comments.

Rabbi Horowitz offers a possible solution to the issues raised when a Kol Koreh is issued. He suggests printing a phone number at the bottom where people can call for further information.

With all due respect, I do not think this suggestion would work. It is evident --as Rav Kamenetzky said-- that the people organizing the ban lied. Having a phone number that they answer -- and make no mistake about it; it will be the people behind the ban answering the phone, not the Roshei Yeshivah who signed it -- would not provide clarification or emes.

Rabbi Eli Teitlebaum wrote "What's Jewish About Jewish Music."
This is a fluff piece that addresses none of the questions raised by the ban. The only somewhat relevant point to Lipa at all, though not really to the ban, is that Rabbi Teitlebaum feels that "songs sung by those who model and inspire deviant behaviour and immorality are far from Jewish, no matter what holy words they are sung to."

Rabbi Teitlebaum has gone on the record criticizing askanim in general for organizing these sorts of bans. Its ironic that he avoids the issue entirely here.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine's essay is called "The Concert Was Cancelled. Where Do We Go From Here." (Sounds like a Jewish Observer article title.)

Dr. Levine makes two main points.

1) Much of today's "Jewish music" sounds innappropriate to him.
2) We need to provide "kosher" creative activities for the frum community.

I suspect that Dr. Levine and I share musical tastes to a degree. Article title aside, he doesn't really address the ban at all.

Eytan Kobre's article "Of Gardens and Mazes" is a labyrinth of irrelevant side commentary on the New York Philharmonic's trip to North Korea. He contrasts the moral obtuseness of Philharmonic director Lorin Maazel with Lipa's acceptance of Daas Torah. He also doesn't address any of the questions raised by the ban.

Rabbi Shafran's insinuations aside, there have been many troubling questions about this ban that have been raised in a respectful manner. For the most part, these questions stand even for people who support the goals of the ban.

I posted many of those questions in "Lipa in Wonderland - 20 (or so) Ban Questions."

It's a shame that the Chareidi leadership keeps punting. This is the best they can come up with? The lack of answers is telling, the failure to engage the questions even more so, and the result is a standing chillul Hashem with effects that will reverberate for years.