Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What the Unwashed Masses Want

Rav Avi Shafran's recent piece on Haiti continues to generate reaction across the blogosphere.  His initial piece, in which he gave the distinct impression that non-religious Jews spewing hatred against religious ones was the reason for the earthquake in Haiti, was followed up by a clarification.  However, if people were expecting an apology they were in for a rude surprise.  True to his nature, he spent the second post explaining how so many people got the "wrong" impression of his first column and that this was no reason for him to apologize or explain himself.  His original piece was fine and any detractors were themselves the problem, not him.
In many ways, it's wasy to see why he would think this way.  One of his own statements describes the bubble he lives in.
I have to confess that I don’t usually read the Cross-Current comments posted to my essays. To be honest, I
have found that posters often seemed to not have really read the essay on which they chose to comment; and that the tone of some postings seemed unnecessarily abrasive.
For all I have been critical of other Cross Currents contributors, it should be noted that they do read the comments posted to their essays and many times respond.  Rav Shafran's lack of interest in the impression his writing makes on his readers is apalling and speaks of an paternalistic attitude most people no longer care for.
Consider these examples of how little Rav Shafran thinks of his detractors:
1) I did not “blame” the earthquake on anything, much less a particular piece of writing or art. I simply cited the Jewish mandate to soul-search in the wake of disaster, and quoted a Godol of our generation who suggested that speech fueled by ill will is a particularly rampant evil in our day. I cited the cartoon and editorial as recent examples, nothing more.
In other words, he mentioned the disaster, quoted someone who, in full, said that disasters are related to our bad behaviour, and then just happened to mention two examples.  But chas v'shalom, you shouldn't read a linkage into that or anything.
2) I wrote quite explicitly that the articles I cited were examples only of anti- Orthodox invective, but that “ill will and its expression, tragically” exist in the Orthodox world as well. I didn’t cite particular examples only because I couldn’t find any recent public ones.
Perhaps in addition to ignoring those who disagree with him, Rav Shafran also skips all those news stories that contradict his assertion.  I mean really, is it that hard to find news about Chareidim behaving badly these days?
But until a court of law or beis din renders a judgment of an accused individual, no matter how heinous the crime and no matter the seeming preponderance of evidence, he or she may not be referred to as guilty
Oddly, I fail to recall what court Rav Nosson Sliffkin was convicted in.  Would Rav Shafran come running to his defence the way he has to Rav Lieb Troppers?  Why is it that the former received no benefit of the doubt and no chance to defend himself while the latter is eligible for both in spades?
But Gedolim, too, are bound by the halacha that prohibits judgment of guilt without a trial.
This is an admirable position and one that raises the question I just asked.
There are two points I would like to make.
First, as a PR specialist, Rav Shafran should be well aware that it doesn't matter what he says.  What matters is what people hear him say.  He could give a speech as true as the Torah itself but if his wording is vague and his audience gets a completely different impression then the defence "Well that's not what I meant!" is worthless.
In a couple of weeks we will learn about how when Moshe Rabeinu was soliciting donations from our ancestors to build the Mishkan, he wore a seamless white robe.  The commentators notes that the reason for this was to head off any possible complaints that he was pocketing some of the money he was collection.
On the face of it, this sounds absurd.  Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, a common thief?  The man who spoke with God face to face looking for a quick buck on the side?  Absurd! 
However, the lesson we draw from Moshe Rabeinu's garment is exactly what Rav Shafran seems to have missed.  Moshe Rabeinu could have worn ordinary clothes and simply ignored any challenges from the riff raff about unjust gain.  After all, both he and God knew that he was innocent of such charges so why should he care what his detractors thought?
Further, even if he did pocket some of the money, wasn't he entitled to it?  What, he was supposed to put up with the burdens our ancestors heaped on him (and which he was happy to complain about on multiple occasions) for free?  Wasn't he entitled to some kind of salary for overseeing the whole operation?  Who could blame him for taking some of the money?  Only someone who didn't appreciate him and such a person could also safely be ignored.
But Moshe Rabeinu was not content with either line of thinking.  For him, there was no substitute for absolute honesty, going beyond any strict reading of the law and instead doing things that would leave even the most disgruntled plebian no chance for complain.  It was not enough that he knew that he was doing no wrong.  He had to make it blindingly obvious that he was doing nothing wrong.  Nothing less would do considering the level of holiness he was working on.
My second point deals with the ongoing comparison between the Tropper issue and the Sliffkin affair.  Not suprisingly, there are those who would like to avoid such comparisons and are prepared to go to various lengths to show there is no connection between the two.  However, most of their arguments are disingenious or simply wrong.
Simply put, those who link Sliffkin with Tropper are not offering an opinion on the correctness of Rav Sliffkin's writings.  It is possible to be completely opposed to Rav Sliffkin's ultra-rationalist beliefs but still be outraged by how the system hung him out to dry without a trial or a chance to defend himself while that same system did all it could to ignore Rav Tropper's indiscretions for as long as it could and now hides its head while offering mealy-mouthed "Well he hasn't been convicted yet" excuses for not condemning him publicly.  The same people who condemn Sliffkin without having read a single word of his supposedly treif book suddenly are interested in judicial process and not ruining reputations!  It is this point that the anti-Sliffkin crowd, discombobulated by their hatred as they are, simply do not understand.
What is it that we, the unwashed masses who respect authority but do not "gadol worship" want?  I can speak only for myself but here is my request.  Do I suspect that Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, and the other major authorities who enabled and supported Rav Tropper as he rampaged through the world of conversions approve of the indiscretions Rav Tropper committed?  Chalilah that anyone should think so.  I have no doubt that these great rabbonim, upon being apprised of what kind of menuval they had been connected with, slapped themselves on the forehead and resolved to move away from any future associations. 
But it isn't enough for me to think that.  I believe that we, the great unwashed masses, need to hear it from these great Gedolim.  I am not asking anyone to come out and condemn Rav Tropper.  However, imagine the impact a public statement on the unacceptability of a Rav commiting such indecent acts, how such acts are against the Torah and how it is fitting for any decent Torah scholar to avoid any such person would have. 
Rav Shafran clearly believes that it is so obvious the "gedolim" think this way that nothing further needs to be said.  I clearly believe that Moshe Rabeinu's white cloak teaches us otherwise.

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