Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Blogger Unorthodoxjew

The blogger Unorthodoxjew (UOJ) has decided to call it quits and taken down his blog from the internet. He will be missed by his hundreds if not thousands of readers. The man exposed child molestation in the Orthodox community and much else. He served, despite his many faults as an ombudsman to the charedi community. After a while the Kolko case turned absolutely bizarre. The affair morphed into something much darker and seedier, if that is possible. In fact, I find some of the latest revelations including the material about Rabbi Belsky and his beth din impossible to believe. There were days the charges and countercharges came at such a fast and furious pace it was impossible to sort it all out. I have spent more hours than I care to admit reading all this gossip, only to end up confused and bewildered. I have this recurring wish/fantasy that the documents are forged, there are no scandals, the rabbis are as perfect as can be.

My basic feeling about the blog is this: If what UOJ said is basically true, even if he made a mistake about some detail or other, he was right to publicize the material no matter what the consequences, even on the internet. People are entitled to know any and all obvious wrongdoings of their leaders. Liberal Jews should know that Orthodoxy is not always pure and holy. If they are not true then what the blogger UOJ did was totally, totally unconscionable. Although I find myself believing much of what UOJ initially said, mostly because I have not seen anyone stand up and show how and where he is mistaken or lying, he has done the entire cause a disservice in going about it in such a half crazed way.

UOJ’s blog did have its share of problems. There were times when he tried to destroy totally the idealization Ultra Orthodox Jews have for the rabbinate. As I have argued more than once, Idealization of the historical rabbinate is the libidinal juice that lubricates the delicate mechanism called Ultra Orthodoxy. Destroy the idealization and everything will change. Every cheeky blogger, including me, is to some extent committed to truth and realism, even when it is unfavorable. Nevertheless, there are responsible limits. I think it is bad public policy to keep on making the rabbinate look bad, unless the story has a specific practical current purpose, such as exposing perverts and their enablers. I would like to give a concrete example of inappropriate badmouthing of a rabbinical figure.

UOJ attacked out of the blue the late Rosh Yeshivah of Baranowicze Reb Elchanan Wasserman z’’l. It had absolutely no relevance to his subject of sexual predators in the Orthodox community. In this game of Monday- morning- quarterbacking UOJ pointed out, I assume for the moment correctly, that Reb Elchanan made a horrible ex-post error in judgment in refusing the American visas that were being offered to his students immediately before the war. There goes Reb Elchanan over a cliff. Tear up his baseball card. I, for one, would want details. Did he tell Mike Tress or whoever offered the visas to tear them up, give them to some other yeshivah or what? Did he say I know I am going to die, but I miss downtown Baranowicze? The actual decision to murder all the Jews was made in 1941. This story must have happened around 1939. Turn it a little one way or the other and it takes on a different flavor.

I think I remember reading somewhere the great leader of Progressive Judaism, Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck had the opportunity to leave Berlin, and chose to stay with his community. He was deported to Theresienstadt in 1943, survived and went on to lead a productive life. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe was in America in the 30’s, returned home, only to return at a later period. Here is Rose Friedman, the wife of Milton, at age 94, in an interview in the WSJ (7/22?). Rose: ''…that is one of the problems. When immigrants come across and want to remain Mexican.''Milton:'Oh, but they came in the past and wanted to be Italian, and be Jewish…''
Rose: “No they didn’t. The ones that did went back.”

There are terrible stories in obscure historical works, sometimes buried in a footnote or appendix, including serious charges against the previous Belzer and Satmar Rebbes. It was a dark time. Some Rabbinical ‘saints’ (tzadikim) acted badly, for which they will be brought to account by history and in heaven. All one needs is to read Gerald Zuriff’s courageous, balanced and well documented book Response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States: The Activities of the Vaad Ha-Hatzala Rescue Committee, 1939-1945. The chapter on how the visas to Shanghai were allocated is just horrible and heart breaking. (Also relevant is Mendel Piekarz’s (Heb.) Ideological Trends of Hassidim in Poland during the Interwar Period and the Holocaust.) History is not a secret, and when it comes to scholarship and wissenschaft there can be no a priori restrictions. A scholar must always be free to tell what he believes to be the truth, irrespective of consequences.

The material about Reb Elchanan, assuming it is true, would be appropriate in my opinion in any comprehensive rabbinical history of the period. It should be situated against the context of the times, his worldview and the worldview of his peers and teachers, his total achievements over a lifetime and the legacy he left behind. Was Reb Elchanan unique in this respect? Did every UO rabbi think the same way? Was there a difference between pulpit rabbis and heads of yeshivot? Did the German rabbinate have the same attitudes as the Lithuanian? Did he have the moral right to decide for others without ascertaining their preferences?

My feeling is that to use just this Reb Elchanan story from 65+ years ago in the context of a blog about a child molesters and their enablers is an exercise in malevolence against the leadership as a whole. They don’t deserve it; even if the collective leadership in Brooklyn or Baltimore has been lax in uprooting child molesters in the schools. I am not arguing the story should be repressed. I am saying it should not have been revealed on the UOJ blog.

Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky z”l had an aphorism that went like this “Not everything that you think, do you say. Not everything that you say, do you write down on paper. Not everything you write, do you publish.” I daresay if he were alive today, he would add “Not everything that you publish in historical journals do you put on an internet site dealing with sexual predator rabbis and read by an anxious, vulnerable and somewhat unsophisticated readership.”

There is a need going forward to keep up the work begun by UOJ. Rabbi Yosef Blau has acted courageously and with intelligence in dealing with sexual predators in the Modern Orthodox community. The charedi world needs someone of his stature and gravitas. If the rabbinical leadership forgets about this issue and returns to business as usual, the next time such cases arise they will no longer be the tinok shenishbaw defense ‘’who knew such things happen in our community.’’ Now they know; the ball is in their court.

2 Comments:

At 12:39 PM, Blogger greg said...

Check out this blog:
aboutuoj.blogspot.com

It has many quotes from UOJ with links to their sources. You will see that the guy has quite a bit of hatred to gedolim in general. It leads me to wonder if his "criticism" of gedolim about various issues comes from a pursuit of justice or a desire to criticize....

 
At 3:24 AM, Blogger greg said...

Just click on the link….
aboutuoj.blogspot.com

 

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