On Apologists

  • 0

This weekend, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel granted Mishpacha Magazine an interview. I presume that when a orthodox Jewish publication interviews an orthodox Jewish public figure, the idea is to give the public figure an opportunity to set the record straight on any ambiguous issues and paint the public figure in a positive light. This is what makes this interview so odd. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Rabbi Zwiebel briefly addressed what has become a cornerstone issue for most sane people, sex abuse in the orthodox Jewish community. The expressly stated position of the Agudath Israel of America on this matter was ostensibly formed by the Moetzes Gedolei Yisroel. These Torah giants have determined that an orthodox Jew who is told about abuse should speak with a rabbi who in turn will advise them if they should proceed to the police. There is no central list of qualified rabbis to address this hairy question. Unluckily, Rabbi Zwiebel is constantly in the extremely difficult position of defending this position.

Invariably, Rabbi Zwiebel changes the discussion from the policy to the bloggers, or the falsely accused, or the assault of Daas Torah to deflect the criticism. It’s a poor strategy and it is not working. A couple weeks ago, an Agudah employee asked his Twitter followers and Facebook friends, I fit both categories, what Agudah could do to change the negative public perception about their abuse policy. I responded that they should change the policy. They haven’t. The point is that Agudah is aware of the public backlash.

The Mishpacha interview was more of the same and it spawned two very strident posts by my two favorite bloggers, Rabbi Slifkin and DovBear. When strident posts like theirs are written, the apologists take to the airwaves. In their best attempt to mete out measure for measure, the apologists counter attack. They call those who dare question the authority of the great rabbis heretics, rabble-rousers, angry, no longer orthodox, and a litany of other offenses.

What strikes me is that the apologists often wind up championing positions or ideas that those they are defending would not agree with. In other words, the rabbis these people are defending tooth and nail don’t necessarily agree with their world wide web warriors.

I can attest to this. When I questioned the folly of disallowing women from attending the Asifa, I was called all kinds of names. But the truth was that the rabbis who these name callers were defending actually agreed with my position. They wanted the women to attend. I can’t be a jerk or kofer for suggesting the very thing that the rabbis wanted. When I questioned the wisdom of a one-size-fits-all Internet solution I was lambasted. I subsequently discovered that several Gedolim agreed with that position as well. How can I be a horrible person for agreeing with some of the Gedolim?

I think a little of the same thing happens when people attack Rabbi Slifkin and DovBear. The apologists take more hardline positions than those who they are defending. They invoke crazy svaros and obscure statements from earlier rabbis, that the ones whom they are defending would never use. Their positions are always more nuanced than their apologists. The other side of the same coin is that the dissenters oftentimes understand the position they take issue with as more extreme than it was intended.

Apologists come in many shapes and forms representing many ideologies and positions. In politics I see the same thing. Politicians from either side of the aisle are much more willing to compromise than their constituents. It’s easy to be an extremist fundamentalist when you have no responsibility or consequences to your actions. But when the fate of others rests in your hands, and you are a good person, you are going to consider more than your most fundamentalist position. Public policy, whether it is religious or political is usually a combination of compromises. There are no true socialists and no true capitalists in government. They realize that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I think the apologists for the Gedolim need to take a deep breath and realize that the American Gedolim generally do not choose extremist positions. Similarly, most of the educators in our schools are not as extreme or unreasonable as the parents of the children in their schools. We cannot  allow the apologists and extremists to hijack or become the leaders of orthodox Judaism.

That being said, on the issue of abuse, the time has come for the Gedolim to really learn and appreciate what happens to victims of abuse. I honestly do not think they understand the gravity of the situation and perhaps if we educated them, their policy could change. If you would like to assist me or direct me in how to do this, please be in touch.

And for the record, my charedi poskim do not agree with the position of the Moetzes and they recommend going to the authorities.

  • Anonymous

    As always, thank you Rabbi Fink for the clear and balanced analysis. As to Agudah changing the negative public perception about their abuse policy – well, I have an idea for them. It would be better if the rabbis would say this themselves, but if not, let their spokesman say, clearly and publicly, that child abuse is a serious problem, that people should take it seriously and report it – if not immediately to the authorities, then at least to their rabbis, assuming they are unwilling to change their current policy – and that nobody under any circumstances should harass or otherwise discourage a person from reporting suspected sexual abuse. In other words, let them relate to this issue with at least the same sense of urgeny and importance with which they have related to Internet use, and let them relate to those who try to harass and intimidate victims, not to mention to perpetrators themselves, the way they have related so far to bloggers and gadflys. I think that would remove at least some of the stench of hypocrisy that they have made for themselves so far.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Rabbi Fink, but I’m puzzled by the following statement:
    “Similarly, most of the educators in our schools are not as extreme or unreasonable as the parents of the children in their schools.”
    That’s not been my experience at all, in mostly Modern Orthodox schools in New York area, where the teaching staff is generally more charedi than the parent body. This has caused conflict for us at times when the rebbes are teaching hashkafas we don’t agree with.

    • Jacob Alperin-Sheriff

      That’s also true out of town for MO schools (based on hearing conversations about the MO high school in Atlanta)

    • I could have been more specific. I was not talking about the modern orthodox schools. I was talking about the more yeshivish schools and Bais Yaakovs.

      Some of my evidence is a recent Hakirah article which you can read the first couple pages here: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol13Fried.pdf

      The rest of my evidence is anecdotal and mostly from my father, a 30 year veteran of orthodox Jewish education.

      • S.

        The rest of my evidence is anecdotal and mostly from my father, a 30 year veteran of orthodox Jewish education.”

        Look at it from the perspective of someone who is not the loving son of your father. Does that sound like the truth or that he is deflecting responsibility? What has he been teaching for the past 30 years? What will happen to him and all the rest, who you say are more moderate, if they simply don’t allow the extremists to dictate to them? Seems to me that yeshivas know exactly how to say no to parents, as they do it all the time.

        • It’s not true in his school. He’s talking about national trends.

        • Anonymous

          @1d750a2b9a24ef2e5285f9d7a6073fd4:disqus Seems to me that yeshivas know exactly how to say no to parents, as they do it all the time.

          Sure they do it all the time … but they only know how to say “no” to a subset of the parents. There is a group that they cannot say no to.

          • tesyaa

            The wealthy ones?

            • Anonymous

              Not just wealthy ones. Ones with power, whether that power comes from connections, influence, Rabbinic status, or wealth. This applies to all private schools (even all private and some public institutions).

          • Also parents can choose where to send their children to school. They can self select.

            • Anonymous

              @efink:disqus Also parents can choose where to send their children to school. They can self select.

              In theory yes. In practice, sometimes no. For example, outside of the NY area, there aren’t many schools to choose from. And even in places where there are two elementary schools, there usually is only one high school. And sometimes, cost enters the equation and basically you choose your children’s school based on what you can afford.

              Even inside the NY area, there isn’t always a plethora of hashkafically appropriate schools for everyone.

              Finally, in some societies, you don’t have the freedom of choose to self-select a school for your children. If you choose wrong, you run the risk of being ostracized and even ejected from your community.

          • S.

            @MarcSoFla ”
            There is a group that they cannot say no to. ”

            They can if they want to. In fact the entire Chareidi/ Yeshivish community can say no to extremism if it wanted to, unless the entire community itself ought to be characterized as extremists.

            • Anonymous

              @1d750a2b9a24ef2e5285f9d7a6073fd4:disqus No they cannot say no. If they did, they would be shut down and another yeshiva would open in its place. No change.

              And the community itself DOES want to be characterized as extremist. Why do you think they don’t object to the label “ultra” in ultra-Orthodox?

    • And the reason that parents put up with this is…..

      • cipher

        Charlie, the reason the parents put up with it is that for over half a century, the Modern Orthodox have been in thrall to the Haredim. We now have three generations of MO who have grown up hearing their parents tell them “Our way is better, because we remain loyal to the tradition while not shying away from secular culture and education”, yet seeing them glance furtively backward over their collective shoulder, longing for Haredi approval – an approval we all know they will never receive. This is one of the main reasons they have kids defecting to the right as well as to the left.

        The result is that apart from a few fringe groups and individuals – Avi Weiss and his students, Shmuel Herzfeld, perhaps Rabbi Fink, although I don’t know him and can’t say – there is no more Modern Orthodoxy. Authentic, pre-war Modern Orthodoxy – the Orthodoxy of Rav Soloveitchik (not that he was a Liberal, by any means) – is dead. The Haredim killed it, and the Modern Orthodox helped them to dig the grave. All that is left now is Haredism and Haredism Lite.

        It’s very sad, and it isn’t going to change. The Haredim are shooting themselves in their collective foot, and when they go, they’ll be taking most of the Orthodox world with them.

        • Anonymous

          @cipher:disqus TITCR

          • cipher

            Oh, I learned a new term! Thanks, Mark!

            (The Urban Dictionary has become my friend!)

      • kweansmom

        Just to clarify, this is not a daily struggle, but there have been isolated incidents over 15+ years of sending our kids to day schools. In general, I tend to err on the side of letting things slide rather than registering a complaint but in retrospect maybe we should have spoken up more. One son felt his high school rebbe was promoting a kollel lifestyle, even in a “Torah U’mada” type school. We chose not to raise a stink and maybe we should have. He was a teenager so we felt he understood this was not our hashkafa. On the lighter side, another day school rebbe had a Chabad background and gave out coins blessed by the Rebbe. Not my cup of tea but I was okay with our kids being exposed to different types of Orthodox Judaism.

        For the most part, I think the teachers know their audience and don’t deliberately set the kids up for a home/school conflict. I just wish there were more really dynamic and inspiring MO rebbeim.
        Rabbi Fink, I would welcome a separate post on this topic.

  • Anonymous

    Can we get links to attacks by apologists on Rabbi Slifkin and DovBear?
    Or are you referring to the comments on their blog posts?

    • Mostly comments. But there are apologist blogs that you can find if look hard enough.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, they’re definitely in the comments on both sites.

  • zach

    Rabbi Fink, I think you need to stop putting “gedolim” in capital letters. It perpetuates the notion that they are this lofty group of super rabbis whereas in fact the only thing that connects them is knowledge of gemara (they also usually share some sort of philosophical outlook depending on the organization granting them the “gadol” imprimatur.) Unfortunately we know that Torah knowledge in and of itself doesn’t imply anything about one’s ethical standards since we see time and time again that many of these same scholars are enablers of abuse and thievery and thus should be judged along with the criminals that they protect. Because they are often seen as being representative of the greatest that Orthodoxy has to offer, they share responsibility for the denigration of Orthodoxy in the eyes of other Jews as well as the ridicule of Judaism in the eyes of gentiles.

    • Sorry, governing bodies are capitalized. It’s neither a compliment nor a swipe, just grammar.

  • S.

    Similarly, most of the educators in our schools are not as extreme or unreasonable as the parents of the children in their schools. ”

    I have to reject this argument, which is what the yeshivas claim to deflect responsibility from the fact that they are the ones spreading the gospel of extremism. No parents ever instructed their children to reject their family mimhagim, stay away from family simchas and numerous other things which come from the schools. And if some parents are extreme, where do you think these parents got it from? Their own chinuch as youngsters, courtesy of the yeshivas.

    • As I replied below, see http://www.hakirah.org/Vol13Fried.pdf.

      • Eliyahu, I just read your link. Why are the “more” religious so worried that the “less” religious will influence their children… If their perception is that their ideology is “right” than they should be proud to proselytize, and only expect that their children will have a positive hashpa’ah on the “less” religious. To me this sounds like they have very little faith in their own ideology and question its validity to begin with. I am curious what you think?

        • I agree. When the full article is up, I will do a post on it.

        • ahg

          In Modern Orthodoxy the concerns are nearly the same. Only MO parents worry not not just about their children being pulled to the left but the right too. The difference in attitude is that the MO parent’s more worldly outlook has shown them that building our own Berlin wall won’t help. Plenty of MO kids “frum out” or go “OTD” – does that mean that MO lacks validity or were the parents just unable to convey their faith in their own ideology?

    • StylistTziporah

      i have to agree…
      many people who send their kids to right winged yeshivot including my own ended up having a “ru-ach shtush” go into their bodies for over 30 yrs and it hasn’t left.

      When the Yeshivot and the communities place value over minhagim and the subsequent fall-out of not toeing the line on these minhagim because of teenage angst or other reasons OVER the happiness and mental and emotional well being of their kids, then the dysfunction ensues. Kids rebel even more. When parents get embarrassed by things not crucial and halachic for that matter ie; son not wearing a hat to shul just one example,
      then the cycle of dysfunction continues and may continue and deteriorate into eventual G-d forbid throwing off the entire religion. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater a favorite expression I’ve been saying/using lately with all the Asifa hoopla, seems to be a big problem. By all involved. Sad. Very sad. And honestly my family is very connected to the Agudah and I’m trying to figure out solutions myself. Rabbi Fink. We should talk.

      • Email me.

      • tesyaa

        The bathwater is so dirty that when you finally look at it closely enough, you realize there’s no baby in there.

      • tesyaa

        What if the argument is not over a hat, but something halachic, like a sleeveless dress? Or texting on Shabbos? Don’t frum parents , even open minded ones who will be mochel on the hat, crack down, with the same rebellion and damage to emotional wellbeing?

        Even though a girl wearing sleeveless and a boy texting on Shabbos may grow up to be upstanding citizens, once their parents have cracked down on them in the name of halacha, the chance of them growing up emotionally healthy and productive is reduced.

  • Anonymous

    You’re just a reverse apologist.
    I have no reason to doubt that the Aguda (aka Moetzes)’s spokesman speaks for all its members. Yes, Aron Shecheter, Aron Feldman, et al as far as we are concerned agree with every imbecilic utterance spewed from Zweibel’s mouth. Yaacov Perlow is personally more concerned with “buttul zman” (whatever that is) than he is with child molestation.
    Until they fire his lame ass that is the way it works.

    • It’s called a bizzarro apologist. And your point does not address mine.

      • Anonymous

        you wrote this: “I think the apologists for the Gedolim need to take a deep breath and realize that the American Gedolim generally do not choose extremist positions.” .
        What Zweibel says is what they say.

        • I said “generally” so it wasn’t necessarily in this instance. But even in this instance, their position is more nuanced than the apologists think.

  • “There is no central list of qualified rabbis to address this hairy question. ”

    There is no list because there are no qualified rabbis.

    • Sure there are. I know some of them.

      • Not true. There are no rabbis in America who have the ability to investigate an abuse allegation, because they cannot compel witnesses to testify, they cannot force the collection of evidence, and they are not trusted by the courts to properly conduct such investigations. The simple fact is that in galut we have no choice but to trust the secular authorities if we ever want to have abusers held to account by the legal system.

        • Right. They just tell you to go to the police.

        • Dorron Katzin

          In addition, they do not have the professional training or experience. For an example of how “it is done”, there is a chapter in “It Happens Every Day” by Robin Sax which details how an investigation of molestation allegations is supposed to happen.

        • Dorron Katzin

          “Batei Din in our times are not effective in dealing with criminal
          behavior. Lacking the investigative arm of the police and having
          restrictive standards of testimony they can not establish guilt.”

          Link to full article:


  • Danny

    And for the record, my charedi poskim do not agree with the position of the Moetzes and they recommend going to the authorities.”

    Who do you think you are kidding, Eliyahu? You’re afraid to name your so-called chareidi poskim because they don’t exist. At least not in agreement with what you claim. Otherwise you could name them. But you refuse to. (I’m sure you’ll now give a “good excuse” why you can’t name them.)

  • Jake

    Brilliant Eliyahu. As always. Todah.

  • Shmuel Aryeh

    Internet tough guys (or gals, as it were) don’t need to look for nuance in any position or check to see if any Gidolai Hador agree with them. No surprise that you, or any other nuanced blogger would get hammered for that. Plenty of people looking to mix it up on the interwebs, frum or not.

  • Dorron Katzin

    An additional comment on the Mishpacha Magazine article:

  • marc

    i think that the main point over here is that Torah requires leadership. Even if its weak, or sometimes incorrect, leadership, leadership is still required.
    Bloggers generally have half the information, very little of the scholarship, and none of the guidance, of the leaders of a given group, lets say Gedolei Yisroel.
    But the internet gives them an audience. The audience and the bloggers are more into democracy than Torah leadership as a model, dont realize that whilst they are right on a given issue, they are not following the Torah way on how to get their point across, and they do more harm than good. This is because, in the long run, the ignorant masses (me included) that they talk to, lose total respect for Torah leadership, due to the Bloggers talking about Gedolim only in the areas where they are doing something wrong. They dont talk about all the good, only the bad. That is why most bloggers blog from outside a system they either never belonged to, are in the process of leaving, or have left already.
    Its similar to toppling American government because you disagree with a particular policy. You might accomplish a righting of a historical wrong, and that is important, but in the end, better a strong govermnment that makes mistakes, to no government at all

    i guess this is what pre “pnei kelev” looks like. Right now, the tail (thats you guys) are trying to figure out how to wag the dog! I hope, for all of our sakes, that you fail

  • cipher

    Two excerpts from the article that I found most striking:

    The question is, if the fact that [bloggers have] created some degree of change is worth the cost. At the very least, it’s rechilus, lashon hara, and bittul zman. That’s a high price to pay.

    Right – it’s too high a price to pay in order to save the life of a child. With this one statement, Rabbi Zweibel has destroyed what little credibility the Agudath might have had left (and that wasn’t much).

    ‘Today,’ he beamed at me, ‘is the reason that I joined Agudath Israel — precisely for the times that l understand things one way and they perceive it another way, and we follow them. That’s a good day.’

    An educated adult completely surrendering his autonomy. It is not a “good day”. And he’s “beaming”, yet. He obviously doesn’t care about the cost in terms of human life. As long as his belief system is validated, as long as he can keep on furiously clutching that security blanket for a little while longer, like the child he is – that is all that matters. Abused children and their defenders, vilified as “mosers”, can go to hell, figuratively and literally.

    Contemptible and pathetic.

  • cipher

    What strikes me is that the apologists often wind up championing positions or ideas that those they are defending would not agree with.

    I don’t see how you can say this, Rabbi. I think you give them far too much credit.

  • Cynthia Lauer

    At this point, I would stop calling Zwiebel an apologist and call him an enabler.

    He is making public statements that will make Haredi children more vulnerable to child abuse, and protect their abusers.

    From what I gather, Rabbi Elyashiv did not say that someone needed to consult a rabbi before reporting abuse to authorities. It was the Agudath Israel that came up with that toxic requirement. They have continued to hold to that position, despite all the opposition, and have now painted themselves as martyrs. If there is any concern for victims, it’s sure not showing, nor is there any understanding of the child abuse investigation process. At this point, that lack of understanding can’t be considered mere ignorance – it’s willful blindness.

    • I wasn’t calling Zwiebel an apologist.