Rav Avi Shafran, he of the "Bernie Madoff is a greater guy than a pilot who saved a plane full of people" fame has struck once again. After several months of low level, self-serving Agudah propaganda, he has once again decided to shake the Earth with an understanding of life that defies comprehension.
His topic this time in the recent earthquake in Haiti. Now, since that terrible disaster I have been dreading reading about some rabbi saying "Well, it's because those shvartzes are such sinners into voodoo and all" and fortunately, that hasn't happened yet (thank you Pat Robertson for breaking the ice). However, Rav Shafran's perspective does lead to some definite head-scratching.
Yes, it's true that Judaism places Jews as the central and most important nation in the world. (Side note: find me a religion or nationality that doesn't put their own people at the centre and then you can criticize us, okay?)
Yes, Jews to repentance. Jewish religious sources maintain that catastrophes, even when they do not directly affect Jews, are nevertheless messages for them, wake-up calls to change for the better. Insurers call such occurrences “Acts of G-d.” For Jews, the phrase is apt, and every such lamentable event demands a personal response.
It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews at the center of humankind. But, while Judaism considers all of humanity to possess seeds of holiness, Judaism does in fact cast Jews as a people chosen – to embrace special laws, to be aware of and serve G-d constantly and, amid much else, to perceive Divine messages in humankind’s trials.
However, there are times to say that out loud so that everyone can hear and times not to. The day Moshiach appears and announced the completion of the final redemption is an example of the former. The current disaster in Haiti an excellent example of the latter. What does Rav Shafran want people to say? "Ah ha! It was the Jews' fault!"?
Fine, let's say he's right. If doing teshuvah, learning with more intensity and concentrating on performing deeds of chesed to our fellows, Jewish or non-Jewish alike, will lead to a better, safer world then who could argue against it? Let's show the world that gemillus chassadim is our strength by helping the Haitians.
Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there. In order to strengthen his point, Rav Shafran feels it necessary to raise two completely irrelevant examples of how the Jewish world is responsible for not reaching its potential and therefore, one assumes, helps create earthquakes and other such things:
No prophet or wise man, only eyes and ears, are necessary to recognize that the Jewish world today is rife with “evil speech” – speaking and writing ill of others (whether the words are true, false or – so often the case – some toxic mixture of the two), and with the hatred that breeds such sins. Jewish media are filled with accusations and “scoops”; they compete gleefully to find the vilest examples of crimes to report, to do the most attention-grabbing job of reporting them, and to be the first to do so.
Is he speaking of the people who maligned and threatened Rav Daniel Eidensohn when he tireless worked to break the recent EJF scandal? How about the people who continue to defend the Agriprocessors debacle despite the ongoing convictions? What about people who malign other Orthodox Jews who aren't Chareidi?
Nope, none of them:
The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. And another Jewish newspaper ran an editorial placing the alleged ugly sins of an individual at the feet of Jewish rabbinic leaders, simply because the presumed sinner, before he was exposed, had arranged for several respected rabbis to deliver lectures and had encouraged people to make donations to their institutions. Having thus “established” guilt by that association, the editorialist demanded that every Orthodox organization and rabbinic leader publicly condemn the alleged sinner or be smeared themselves with sin. Then he mocked rabbinic authorities as a group for, instead of issuing condemnations of sinners, rendering decisions on social and halachic matters, as if that were not precisely what rabbis are for.
In other words, it's everyone's fault but ours, says Rav Shafran. We are just victims. It's everyone else that has to do a cheshbon hanefesh.
Now, I've seen the cartoon in question and I will agree that it is disgustingly vile, something worthy of Nazi or Arab anti-Jewish propaganda. However, one must keep in mind its source. For the artist of the cartoon, Orthodox Jews are clearly a definable group with a consistent and evil agenda who seek to pervert innocent non-religious Jews. The same artist would, I presume, recoil from a cartoon showing Blacks, Orientals or any other ethnic/religious group in such a light but that's Jewish self-hatred. Frankly, he doesn't know any better and isn't of being outraged we should feel pity for a man who has shown himself as capable of anti-Semitism as Herman Goebbels himself.
The logic of the second part of the paragraph, a veiled attack on those who want to hear some condemnation of Rav Leib Tropper from the "gedolim" who supported and enabled him, is also suspect. It's like the driver of the getaway car telling the police he should be arrested because he didn't actually rob the bank! Read the paragraph again: Rav Tropper sought out the approval of these leaders, he got them money, he used their names to push his agenda, and they're not somehow responsible?
Orthodox Jews, however, should know better and this is where Rav Avi Shafran's analysis falls flat on its face. If the average non-religious Jew is spreading loshon horo, so what? For Orthodox Jews, it is far worse because of the higher standard we hold ourselves too. People who don't keep kosher can't be expected to know about the intricacies of shemiras haloshon but folks who look for a minimum of three hechshers on their water but don't keep away from speaking gossip and slandering others are committing a grave sin. By talking about how wrong attacking others is and then launching into an irrelevant screed against his opponents, Rav Shafran shows a complete lack of self-awareness to the problems facing Torah Jewry today. They are not our worse enemy, we are and it seems he refuses to see it.