Thursday, March 09, 2006

Exploring the Jewish Observer on R. Slifkin

I haven't read the new Jewish Observer* yet. But mentions that the latest issue features an article on pg. 50 by Rabbi Dr. Leo Levy which indirectly addresses the Slifkin issue, and perhaps other matters as well. Here is a quote from the article (the only bit I've seen so far):
Although the disciples of Shammai and Hillel were unable to settle their disagreements, "they treated each other with love and friendship" (Yevamos 14b). We would do well to follow their example. This is especially important today, when Divine Providence is hinting to us that redemption may not be far off - provided we permit it to come by eliminating unjustified hatred from our midst. When Halachic authorities deviate from these guidelines, the results can be very destructive. The reader, especially if he has spent time in Eretz Yisroel, is likely to be familiar with ... huge posters, "signed" by great Torah authorities, plastered all over walls and bulletin boards, attacking actions that were approved by other Torah authorities - and attacking them in the most extreme and virulent terms, without ever having discussed the matter with the approving authorities, or even mentioning these - leaving the public confused, if not worse.

A hundred years ago, the founders of Agudath Israel showed the way by convening the spiritual leaders of almost all factions of European torah Jewry ... How sad that in the last generation, it was made to fall apart - at least in Eretz Yisroel.

Resorting to labeling, instead, is much, much easier, but also far less constructive - to put it mildly.

Before we disqualify any idea as totally out of bounds, we should first make sure that not one accepted authority supported it.
Since I haven't read the article I don't want to characterize it one way or the other, apart for taking the liberty of inferring that it does in fact refer--even if only in part--to L'Affaire Slifkin. If it didn't, the article would explicitly say so and those who've read it say that it does not deny that this is an element addressed in it.

So, what's peshat? The Jewish Observer is, after all, the monthly mouthpiece of the Agudath Israel of America, whose policy is ostensibly set by a rabbinic panel called Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, members of whom recently wrote a letter calling the books in question of "impudent and audacious spirit".

Do you see the quandary? While I don't believe that the Moetzes personally approves articles for publication in the Jewish Observer, it is not exactly a free press. Articles published therein reflect the views of the Agudah, not unusual for a party publication, whose views come from on high.

On the one hand its possible that this article was an oversight, it somehow slipped in under the door and will be strongly repudiated.

But maybe not. As I see it, there are two possibilities. One is simply that American gedolim are in fact tired of the new situation they've found themselves in, that of being led by gedolei Eretz Yisrael. Everyone needs a little autonomy. The other possibility is that this Slifkin maaseh isn't going away. Some of the hamon is upset, clearly. As it stands, this episode will probably receive four lines of text in the 2068 edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica, at most. But like a snowball careening down a mountain, who knows really where it ends? R. Dr. Leo Levy is a prominent rabbi--but he isn't a "godol," and my apologies to him for pointing that out. Publication of this article allows daas Torah-niks to dismiss it entirely, because R. Levy isn't a godol. But the genuinely perplexed and upset laity can feel soothed by this article and everyone wins without anyone changing their mind.

*The Jewish Observer is described as "filled with the views of leading Torah thinkers on current issues."

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