Monthly Archives: September 2005

Rabbi Gil Student And The Art Of Censorship

This is Banned Books Week. Fittingly, Rabbi Gil Student has written another post on Blogs And Lashon Hara. In it, R. Student lays out Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir’s views on the halakhot involved, especially those involved if (or ever!) an Orthodox rabbi is criticized. I analyzied Rabbi Meir’s position here. Rabbi Meir sent me an e-mail early yesterday expanding and clarifying his views. I responded by asking him for his permission to reprint his e-mail. Rabbi Meir did not respond to that request. Five hours later, R. Student’s post appeared. R. Student had been corresponding with R. Meir. It is on that correspondence that R. Student bases his post.

I have previously noted problems with R. Meir’s approach. In part, R. Meir posits the following:

If we apply the exact same criteria to a politician, we find that
reasonable criticism will generally meet them. Having a bad political
leader can result in great damage to the community, and having timely
knowledge of the abilities and character of candidates is of benefit
because these people typically stand for election at fixed intervals
and the information is of practical use to the community. No one has a
right to a political office, so if someone gets voted out because of an
item revealed in a blog, this is not "undeserved."…

In response to R. Student’s post, I left the following comment on R. Student’s blog:

[A}s long as rabbis are involved in politics, and as long as they issue bans* w/o interviewing the author first, refuse to meet w/the author and then refuse to talk with questioners or the press – there is NO REASON to give them the benefit of the doubt. Rabbis – like Ovadia Yosef and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, for example – are politicians and should be treated as such.

R. Student censored that comment, even though it follows R. Meir’s guidelines – guidelines R. Student claims to endorse. R. Student has again proved himself to be a base censor, a rabbinic coward who deletes any comment that he is not man enough to answer.

*[This is a reference to the Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban, and to a Moment Magazine article R. Student called "probably the best article I’ve seen so far on the subject." That article notes:

It was a September morning in 2004, midway between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Slifkin’s phone rang.…The voice on the other end belonged to a rabbi from the religious enclave of Bnai Brak, and he was calling to deliver an ultimatum.

He informed Slifkin that four prestigious rabbis had opened his “Torah Universe” series and found three of its four books to contain heresy. …The man on the phone informed Slifkin that he had until the end of the day to retract his books. If he didn’t, the charge would be made public and other prominent rabbis would join the campaign against him.…

Within the next few hours, Slifkin received four faxed letters. Their authors represented both the Israeli and American ultra-Orthodox communities: Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel and Rabbi Yitzchok Sheiner were yeshiva leaders in New York, while the others, Rabbi Michael Lefkowitz and Rabbi Elya Weintraub, were among the leaders of the Bnai Brak community. Slifkin spent the rest of that day trying to arrange discussions with each of them, hoping to find out exactly which of his statements had caused such fury. None would agree to discuss the matter with him. Three days later, hours before Kol Nidre, the rabbis’ condemnations were posted on synagogue walls in Slifkin’s neighborhood.

The article later notes that none of the 23 rabbis who signed the ban would speak with the reporter about it.]

UPDATE: Rabbi Student has now banned all comments from me. Why? He claimed my above comment violated this policy:

Important Policy: This blog is intended only for the interchange of ideas for the purpose of Torah study, promoting enlightened public policy and/or the refinement of character. Comments in that spirit are welcome but those that entail denigration of character are not welcome and if they appear will be deleted upon discovery. Since editing is rarely feasible, comments that are deemed inappropriate will be deleted entirely or, if possible, edited.

I pointed out my comment did not violate that policy and I again pointed out that R. Student’s real purpose in deleting the comment was his inability to answer the challenge it posed. I further noted that failing to answer challenges is a pattern demonstrated by his teachers, and that R. Student’s censorship is a sign of that.

For those of you who do not know, R. Student’s teachers are YU’s Rabbi Hershal Schachter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig.

Rabbi Schachter is known for making Rabbi Ovadia Yosef-like public remarks that are often hurtful to whole segments of Jews (like his infamous "monkey" remark that so irritated many women) and then refusing to answer public questions about his remarks or to publicly clarify them. He also refuses to speak with reporters.

Rabbi Willig is best known in non-Orthodox circles for his role in covering up the Lanner child abuse affair that rocked the OU several years ago. Rabbi Willig intimidated witnesses against Rabbi Lanner and behaved in a reprehensible manner. When his role was exposed, and after much pressure built, Rabbi Willig apologized for his actions. He then spent the next several years refusing to help abuse victims or to do anything else concrete to atone for his protection of Rabbi Lanner. Like Rabbi Schachter, Rabbi Willig also refuses to speak with the press.

Neither Rabbi Schachter or Rabbi Willig are fit to lead Jews. It is becoming increasingly clear that this applies to their students as well.

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Filed under Blogs, Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban

Rabbi Goldschmidt Must Be Backed By FJC And Lazar To Enter Russia

Interfax reports on the "reason" behing the banning of Berel Lazar’s rabbinic rival, Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Pinkhas Goldschmidt, from Russia by the Putin government:

Moscow, September 28, Interfax – The Russian Foreign Ministry is investigating the motives behind a decision to cancel an entry-visa issued to Moscow Choral Synagogue Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, ministry spokesman Mikhail Troyansky told Interfax on Wednesday.

"At the moment, we are investigating the circumstances surrounding the annulment of Rabbi Goldschmidt’s visa", Troyansky said.

A Moscow source told Interfax that Russia recently adopted new visa regulations for foreign clergymen.

The new rules allow clergymen from abroad to come to Russia for religious activities only at the invitation of an officially registered centralized religious organization, he said.

The source said that Goldschmidt is reported to have been invited to Russia by a business group.

Sources in Moscow told Interfax that Goldschmidt, who arrived at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport from Israel on September 27, was not allowed to enter Russia and was forced to return to Israel.

Putin only recognizes Chabad and its front group the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC). That would appear to mean that Rabbi Goldschmidt, Moscow’s long-serving Chief Rabbi and a pro-democracy opponent of Putin and Lazar, would only be allowed back into Russia if he is officially invited by Lazar’s Chabad-controlled FJC.

Putin is an anti-democratic thug. Lazar and Chabad are his lap dogs. So far, the Jewish media is silent.

UPDATE: Miriam Shaviv has an interesting take on this development here.

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Filed under Chabad Theology, Court Jews & Quislings, Jewish Leadership, Territorial Disputes, Thuggery and Dirty Tricks

New Moment Magazine Article On Rabbi Slifkin

Moment Magazine has published a new article about the Rabbi Nosson Slifkin Book Ban. Perhaps the best quote in the piece comes from Rabbi Ahron Feldman, the ‘godol’ who first backed Rabbi Slifkin but then sold him out:

None of the rabbis who signed the ban was willing to speak with me, but I reached [rabbi Ahron] Feldman this summer while he was vacationing in Israel. I asked him to explain how the ban’s signers differ from fundamentalist Christians: Both groups believe that Darwinism is heretical and that the world is 6,000 years old. Feldman, who speaks English with strong Yiddish inflections, replied that he was not familiar with Christian ideas but was reasonably sure that they were nothing like Jewish ones. “We rarely can converge with Christians on anything,” he said, “so I doubt we agree with them on this matter.”

Actually, Young Earth Creationism, the idea that the earth was created old with fossils of dinosaurs buried under layers of earth, the idea that Rabbi Feldman and his cronies support, was invented in the mid-1800’s by a Christian theologian and apologist named Gosse. It has no source in Jewish tradition. That Rabbi Feldman could be so ignorant about the idea is frightening. When one takes into account the thuggish manner in which the ‘gedolim’ imposed their ban, and add in their ignorance of both science and history, one is left with a sad and inescapable conclusion. May God protect us.

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Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban

American Jewish World Service Calls For Expanded US Role In Darfur

American Jewish World Service has launched a call to action on Darfur. The petition, which can be signed here, calls for an expanded US role in ending the genocide. Let’s hope it works.

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Filed under Darfur, Famine, Hessed

Putin Bars Non-Chabad Chief Rabbi From Russia

Moscow’s Chief Rabbi – an opponent of Chabad, Putin’s pro-Stalin, anti-democracy movement, and Chabad’s self-appointed ‘chief rabbi’ of Russia Berel Lazar – was barred from returning to Russia after a trip to Israel by Russian border guards. The AP and Ha’aretz report:

The chief rabbi of Moscow’s main synagogue said Russian border guards had denied him entry to the country on Tuesday when he returned from a trip to Israel.

Rabbi Pinkhas Goldschmidt, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, urged the authorities to review his case and let him return to Russia.

He said the border guards told him that his Russian visa had been annulled, but gave no further explanation. He flew back to Israel after being denied entry.

Goldschmidt, chief rabbi at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, said he hoped the incident was a misunderstanding.

Adolf Shayevich, Russia’s chief rabbi, said that his Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations asked the Foreign Ministry for an explanation of what happened to Goldschmidt but had not yet received an answer.

"It was unexpected for all of us, since he never has had any problems," Shayevich told Ekho Moskvy.

It seems clear – Putin bans a political opponent and does a favor for Chabad at the same time. And the Jewish media? If past examples are any indication of the future,  expect near silence. What you do read will probably contain a quote from Lazar supporting Goldschmidt. Lazar may even ‘intercede’ with the Foreign Ministry. Then, if Goldschmidt is allowed back in, Lazar can claim to have helped. And if not, Lazar did his ‘best.’ But Chabad’s long campaign to crush rabbis not under its direct control will not be reported in any detail. Too many uncomfortable threats come with printing uncomfortable news.

UPDATE: Miriam Shaviv has Ma’ariv’s take – which largely agrees with mine – here.

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Filed under Chabad Theology, Court Jews & Quislings, Jewish Leadership, Territorial Disputes, Thuggery and Dirty Tricks

The OU Spins Kosher To New Lows

The OU has announced it is now certifying Maalox as kosher. Why? The OU (incorrectly) notes:

Kosher certification is not required for prescription medications, but it is a requirement for over-the-counter medications – such as Maalox® and Triaminic® – which are not used in life-threatening situations or in cases of serious illness.

Following the OU’s incorrect logic, Aspirin, Tylenol, Sudafed, Claratin and dozens of other over the counter medicines also require certification. Further, many OTC drugs were once prescription only. That quickly leads one to realize that prescription drugs used in non-emergency situations or for chronic conditions would also require certification. The OU’s statement is false because:

  1. Only something with taste has the potential for falling under kosher laws. Products without taste are not a problem.
  2. That taste must be good. If the taste is the product so bad that it would not be consumed as food, the product itself is kosher.
  3. If the (solid, i.e., a pill) product is swallowed whole and not chewed, the product is kosher. Why? It is not the normal way of eating to swallow food whole. One gets no pleasure or taste from it.
  4. Even if the medicine is treife, one consumes less that the required amount to count as eating treife.
  5. Usually only one ingredient out of many found in a pill is treife, and that ingredient – a derivative of a derivative – is almost always batel in the pill itself.
  6. Gelatin is commonly considered treife, but many significant poskim considered it pareve and kosher, no matter its source. (Indeed, I have personally heard haredi teachers of semicha posit that all gelatin is kosher and pareve even though "we" do not poskin this way.) When consumed as a pill gelatin amounts to less than the required amount to count as eating and is consumed by swallowing not chewing. (See #3 above.) Therefore there is no reason whatsoever to require gelatin capsules to ‘kosher.’
  7. The purpose of consuming the medicine is not for eating or pleasure.
  8. OTC and prescription drugs have scientifically proved healing qualities. Most herbal and homeopathic medicines do not. The laws of kashrut as applied to medicine were made 2000 years ago for herbal medicines that lacked proved track records of healing. Permitting their use is based on a doctor prescribing them. The case for use of OTC medicines is much stronger and should carry far more halakhic weight. That the haredi world does not view them this way should tell you volumes about that world’s understanding of science and its reaction to modernity.

Buy kosher Maalox if you must, but don’t do so because of the OU’s unnecessary certification. And certainly do not spend more money buying kosher Maalox rather than a generic or competing brand. Use the money you save to help pay your kids tuition.

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Filed under Kosher Business?

The Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir Flip Flop

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem wrote a column a few weeks ago endorsing public criticism of public figures. This week, Rabbi Meir has ‘modified’ his message – Rabbis are lagely exempt from such criticism. Why? follow Rabbi Meir’s ‘logic‘:

If we apply the exact same criteria to a politician, we find that reasonable criticism will generally meet them. Having a bad political leader can result in great damage to the community, and having timely knowledge of the abilities and character of candidates is of benefit because these people typically stand for election at fixed intervals and the information is of practical use to the community. No one has a right to a political office, so if someone gets voted out because of an item revealed in a blog, this is not "undeserved."…

But why not rabbis?

1. "[Rabbis have a] reputation for upstanding conduct, then giving [rabbis] the benefit of the doubt is not merely a good deed, it is simply good judgment."

2. "[A] person can’t exactly phone up the governor and schmooze with him or her over the way to improve their failings. [I do not recall Rabbi Elyashiv taking any calls from the masses over the Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban. The same holds true for Dovid Feinstein and a number of other’gedolim.’]"

3. "Compare this to the average spiritual leader. Even if we are convinced that they have made mistakes, revelation doesn’t always make the most sense. Many of these people are surprisingly accessible [sic], and so often it is much more practical and ethical to merely confront them with any concerns. And it is worth asking if letting followers know about shortcomings will ultimately be of benefit.

"Due to their great moral authority of these leaders [sic], undermining their status can do immense damage to the community — perhaps more than the damage resulting from having authority in the hands of an imperfect individual."

In other words, Rabbi Meir should believe that if the governor would take your phone call, publicly noting that he had failed as a leader would be wrong, especially if it would lead the masses to distrust other political leaders and our poitical system as a whole. But he does not believe this. Why?

Having a bad political leader can result in great damage to the community [and a bad rabbi cannot?], and having timely knowledge of the abilities and character of candidates is of benefit because these people typically stand for election at fixed intervals and the information is of practical use to the community. No one has a right to a political office, so if someone gets voted out because of an item revealed in a blog, this is not "undeserved."

Therefore, because rabbis are not democratically elected and are not responisble to their communities, and because they have a self-ordained "right" to retain their office (in perpetuity, no less) no matter how flawed their leadership is, rabbis are above criticism.

Rabbi Meir’s point is clear:  If Jews are going to leave Orthodoxy because they learn the truth about our ‘gedolim,’ or if they will shift Orthodoxy’s worldview to the religious Orthodox left, then the truth must be hushed up.

If Haza"l had used Rabbi Meir’s standards, much of Nakh would have been censored.

It is also important to note that ‘gedolim’ are political leaders, their followers often vote in blocks, and that ‘gedolim’ are regularly and actively involved in the political process. Yet Rabbi Meir ignores these facts in order to shield ‘gedolim’ from public scrutiny.

Let’s face it, people. Orthodox Judaism is anti-democratic, anti-modernity, anti-science and anti-rationalist, and no amount of kiruv-based apologetics and sugar coating can hide that fact. We are Islam but without a theocracy. God forbid we should ever aquire one.

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Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Lies, Spin and 'Creative' PR, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban