Thursday, May 22, 2008

"When Sacred and Sheker Collide"

World Jewish Digest has published "When Sacred and Secular Collide", an article mainly about the Lipa ban, by Saul Austerlitz.

Austerlitz interviewed a number of bloggers for this article, including me. He also interviewed Rabbi Avi Shafran. I've been very disappointed with Rabbi Shafran's handling of this affair.

Here are Rabbi Shafran's quotes (and Austerlitz's characterization).
For still others, the debate is moot because preserving the propriety of religious Jews' behavior is the only issue at hand. "As the rabbis of the Talmud put it," notes Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, the rabbinic authority whose membership includes numerous signatories to the kol koreh, "‘One can be distasteful even within the bounds of halacha.'"
Rabbi Shafran, though, says it is important to maintain religious priorities. "Haredi Jews who truly respect rabbinical rulings respect them even when those rulings do not confirm those Jews' assumptions," he notes. "So I think the community generally recognizes that these recent happenings were statements, and valid ones, that entertainment concerns do not trump more important ones."
In the first quote, Rabbi Shafran frames the issue as moot because "preserving the propriety of religious Jews' behavior is the only issue at hand." That's a strange assertion. It's also untrue. As I've noted in my earlier coverage of this issue, one can be 100% supportive of the ban's goal and still be troubled by the abuse of process. That abuse is the underlying issue here, despite Rabbi Shafran's efforts to ignore it.

The second quote is a straw man. It's also meant to give a false impression. Rabbi Shafran's clear implication is that those who question this ruling are not Jews who truly respect rabbinical rulings. Frankly, the implication is offensive. It's untrue and Rabbi Shafran is well aware of this.

In an earlier post, "Do These People Deserve Answers?", I assembled comments from only three chareidi blogs, that raised serious questions about the ban. Rabbi Shafran is a contributor to one of those blogs, Cross-Currents. The notion that he is unaware of Chareidi criticism of the abuse of process in this case strains credulity. As well, when Hamodia felt compelled to defend the publishing of the ban, Rabbi Shafran was one of the writers tapped to write an article in defense of it. (I addressed that essay in "A Unified Chareidi Non-Response to the Lipa Ban.") Rabbi Shafran is well aware of the level of public outrage within his community. His attempts to write those upset out of the community, as it were, is in my opinion, unethical. It's certainly intellectually dishonest.

Indeed, the reality is that the exact opposite is the case. Most outside of the Chareidi community could care less about the ban. It's another minor blip on the radar. It might make an interesting NY Times story on those quaint Chareidi extremists, but there's no sense of confusion, disappointment, or betrayal among those outside observers.

To the contrary, the people most troubled by this are those, like myself, who respect the concept of rabbinic leadership and are horrified to see it so easily abdicated and/or abused.

I've had conversations with many Chareidi rabbonim, and I've heard second-hand from others of conversations they've had in which the rabbonim expressed a strong awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, the way this and other recent events in the community have been handled. Some of the rabbonim who signed the ban have acknowledged problems. Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and Rav Belsky have both done so (in different ways) on the record. I know of others who have done so privately.

A final point. Rabbi Shafran might like to pretend that this is a minor incident, with no ramifications. He is wrong. In time, this will be viewed as a tipping point in the Chareidi communities relationship with it's rabbinic leadership. The Slifkin affair is now widely viewed to be one, mainly for the Chareidi intellegentsia and Right wing Modern Orthodox communities. This one will be seen as such by a much broader cross-section of Chareidi Judaism.

In general, I agree with Austerlitz's presentation. Except this point.
For Schmeltzer, Karpen, Slifkin and others like them, their position as intermediaries between the haredi world and the frighteningly uncontrollable secular world is being challenged by a rabbinate on the offensive.
The rabbinate is not on the offensive on this issue, although they are on other issues relating to technology. They are on the defensive here, a position they've been forced into by the duplicitous actions of the ban organizers and a fear of admitting error.

For ease of reference, my previous posts on the subject are listed here in chronological order.

"It's A Beautiful Day For A Ban!"
"Anatomy of a Ban"
"Kol Koreh Bamidbar, Ban New Derech Hashem"
"Ban, Baby, Ban!"
"The Silence of the Bans"
"The Times They Are A-Bannin'"
"Of Bans and Men"
"The Lipa Ban -- A Response to Rabbi Adlerstein"
"Lipa in Wonderland - 20 (or so) Ban Questions"
"You've Got (Lipa) Mail"
"A Unified Chareidi Non-Response to the Lipa Ban"
"Think People Are Talkin' Bout Dis?"
"Michenichnas Adar Marbin B'Lipa" - a pre-Purim humor post
"Do These People Deserve Answers?"
"You've Got More (Lipa) Mail - Critical Edition"
"Lipa Letters and Links"
"Zal's Continued Response"
"A Concerted Effort"
"Lipa - The Gift That Keeps On Giving!"
"Cross-Currents Digs Lipa!"
"JM Links From Around and About"
"Rav Belsky: Lipa Ban (A Little Bit) Forged"
" Post Pesach Lipa Fix"
"Matzav Reports, You Decide"

Here's a somewhat related post I wrote two years ago: "Lipa Schmeltzer and Rabbi Nosson Slifkin."

As always, I am happy to give space to opposing views. My invitation to the Chareidi leadership to present their point of view here stands. Rabbi Shafran?