Will The Real Stan Please Stand Up

By Rabbi Natan Slifkin (Rationalist Judaism blog)
June 24, 2012

Here are two letters that were sent to Ami magazine, the first by a neighbor of mine and the second by me. Since there is not the slightest chance that Ami will print either of them, I am posting them here.

The letters relate to this week's column by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Some people claim that it is pointless and undignified to pay any attention to him; after all, this is a person who believes that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully, and who believes that "unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas" is more of a problem in the scientific community than in the charedi community! However, since Rabbi Shafran has an important position and his voice is heard by many people, I believe that he cannot be ignored.


Dear Editor,


Ami Magazine has once again demonstrated its knack for reveling in self-righteous arrogance that benefits no one. Two articles in your 30 Sivan issue demonstrate this tendency in particular.

The first is Rabbi Avi Shafran's comparison of Orthodox bloggers with Korach. While he accepts that there are some responsible bloggers, the examples he enumerates (those "who seek to share community news or ideas... [or] explore concepts in Jewish thought and law... [or] focus on Jewish history and society") demonstrate by omission that those who attempt to expose anything negative in Chareidi society are comparable to the villains in Parashat Korach. If a blogger discusses the shameful lack of accountability in cases of abuse and neglect, he apparently violates the negative commandment, "Do not be like Korach and his congregation." Thus, someone who attempts to improve Chareidi society by protecting its most vulnerable members is, in fact, comparable to one of Judaism's greatest internal enemies. This statement is so offensive that I might have assumed that I misunderstood the article, except that it typifies the self-righteousness inherent in your magazine's journalistic ethos.

Less egregious but equally tone-deaf is the examination of the recent New York Federation population study, which found that the Orthodox community in Greater New York is growing. Your analysis is nothing more than meaningless triumphalism, which preaches to a select choir that Orthodoxy is the only future for Klal Yisrael. Is that really what our community needs to hear? Were we in danger of doubting such a view? By citing such studies coupled with self-serving analysis, we blind ourselves to the genuine issues that face religious Jews. Did the nevi'im spend their time telling the People of Israel how great they were, or did they enable them to look for their flaws in order to correct them?

Only by avoiding self-righteousness and engaging in authentic cheshbon hanefesh can Orthodox Judaism achieve its genuine aims: that is, to create a society which is based on the precepts of Torah in fact, not merely in theory. Once again, Ami Magazine has chosen the easy and religiously irresponsible way out.

Rabbi S. Kahn
Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah
Beit Shemesh, Israel


To the Editor:


R. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice-President of Agudath Israel of America, was recently interviewed in Mishpachah magazine. He explicitly acknowledged two obvious truths: (1) that abuse and molestation issues have not been taken seriously in the charedi community, and (2) that this has begun to change as a result of pressure created by blogs. In light of that, how could Rabbi Avi Shafran, in his latest column, deny any positive value to blogs that contain criticism of the charedi community, and equate them all with Korach?

I was further taken aback to see Rabbi Shafran derisively describe the world of blogs as "blogistan." The suffix "-stan" is usually used to describe an entity that has taken on attributes of restrictive, dictatorial theocracies that are common in the Moslem world. Is it not ironic that Rabbi Shafran, who insists on the unqualified, unimpeachable authority of Daas Torah and the suppression of any public criticism, uses the term "-stan" to describe those who seek precisely the opposite?

Rabbi Natan Slifkin
Ramat Bet Shemesh