Friday, April 26, 2013

We are all Gil Student

So goes a DovBear post, in support of Rabbi Gil Student of Hirhurim. He makes some good points.

The background is firstly the scandal or 'scandal' involving false personas created by Rabbi Michael Broyde, exposed by Steven I. Weiss. Then, The Trusty Shovel (a reference to the Devarim 23:13, because it serves similar purpose) had an article attacking Rabbi Gil Student and "Mr." [sic] Harry Maryles for attacking chareidim for their scandals but offering defenses or only muted criticism of Rabbi Broyde. You can see Rabbi Student's letter to the editor about this and the authors response here.

I think that the Yated article was wrong to attack Rabbi Student, because indeed, Hirhurim is NOT at all what they allege it to be. (Emes veEmunah is another story, in that it at least actually does often criticize chareidim as well as various chareidi rabbis.)

On the other hand, perhaps some of the criticism in the original Yated article is correct, but better directed at me, and other bloggers of this tier.

I am not talking about the likes of Failed Messiah, which reports all such scandals equally. Rather, I am talking about those who take the middle ground.

On occasion, I have criticized certain rabbinic figures or even random chareidim for lapses or scandals. For instance, I called attention to that fellow who refused to help his wife give birth, instead flagging down a truck driver to perform the delivery. I called that fellow a chassid shoteh, I still think to make a point. Or I called attention to Baba Eleazar's quite likely being a con artist who preyed on vulnerable innocent Jews, and decried the religious culture that let people like this operate with impunity. Or I pointed out that Rav Kanievsky believes that Jews and gentiles have a different number of teeth, for the sake of pointing out that we should not necessarily give weight to positions of chareidi Gedolim when it comes to matters involving the intersection of science and halacha. Or the rabbi in Israel who thinks that he caused the previous Pope to resign. Other times, I may read articles in the secular press about chareidim and not think very kindly of them.

Yet the criticism and exposure of Rabbi Michael Broyde pained me. Not because I really agree with his ideological positions, or his halachic methodology. I am not sure that I do.

Rather, I am a lot more ambivalent about the exposure of this scandal. I don't think that it was a good thing that Steven I. Weiss did, ruining (directly or indirectly, as he would prefer to frame) Rabbi Broyde's position in the name of a scoop. I think that what Rabbi Broyde did was stupid and immature, like much of conversations which happen on the Internet, but that it was not really harming anyone.

Similarly, many of the "scandals" involving Rav Schachter, such as the most recent one, which was publicized by an ignorant journalist who entirely missed Rav Schachter's intent (that one should report child molesters even if it falls under the category of mesirah for reason X; the journalist put it as that one should not report child molesters because it is mesirah for reason X). And then various liberal touchy-feely rabbis write articles distancing themselves from him and in that way puff themselves up. And I don't think very kindly of the journalists in question.

In these instances, I think I have a more nuanced position. But this was perhaps the Yated article's main point. Cross out Hirhurim (where it is not true) and put in parshablog, and cross out Rabbi Student (where it is not true) and put in Rabbi Waxman:

I think I have a good rejoinder to this, about my selection and purpose. But still, at its core, the author's point is not so dumb. It is asking where the nuance is in regard to chareidim, and where is the achdus when it comes to chareidim?


Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I admire you sense of responsibility. You didn't have to post anything about this, you could have ignored the entire thing. But you realized that that would just be ignoring the issue.

obscene said...

It is one thing to infiltrate a rival organization, it is another to self promote oneself. These can be forgiven. But one has no right to distort history, or distort Halakhah by inserting fictitious words in the mouths of greats to promote one's agenda. That is indeed scandalous.

RAM said...


Are you implying that you're OK with public criticism of a prominent rabbi only when you don't sympathize with his general approach?

joshwaxman said...

Reb Chaim:
I don't know that this post is so admirable. It might just be obsessive navel-gazing. And recall that in the end I said "I think I have a good rejoinder to this, about my selection and purpose", which means that I am not necessarily ultimately self-critical.

But I do think it is useful to transform one's experiences into opportunities for introspection. You hear a dog bark. One could get insulted, or one can ask oneself "why did Hashem want me to hear that dog bark?" Either hashkafically, as an understanding of hashgacha pratis, or just as a way of approaching life, I think this is a good approach.

I don't see how I implied that. If I *had* implied that, I would be saying that that was not a good thing.

What I did say it that PERHAPS I was more apt to be dan lekaf zechus or to see the nuance in the situation when I was already sympathetic. And that PERHAPS I should apply similar nuance to others. Not that I was "OK" with public criticism.

For instance, when I saw the public criticism of Rav Schachter, I actually bothered to listen to the contents of the 10 minute clip, unlike some other rabbis out there who condemned without listening. And I discovered that he said one should report a molester even though the guilty person could be placed in a hefker situation. And that the Forward led with the assertion that he had said that one should not report. And perhaps for other situations involving other prominent rabbis I did not agree with, I did not consider the ignorant press was looking for a scoop. (e.g. reports about the Eidah Chareidis.) maybe I did in the past, maybe i did not. but this introspection might help me be more nuanced in future situations.

I don't think I addressed whether public criticism was appropriate.

joshwaxman said...


i agree that this behavior is inappropriate and not good. see where I condemned sockpuppets defending the Rebbe. But while it is immature and stupid, I am not convinced that it should be a fireable offense, which is what the public naming and shaming accomplished.

"or distort Halakhah by inserting fictitious words in the mouths of greats to promote one's agenda"
within the original reporting, and perhaps even now, i am not convinced that this is the case. from what Rabbi Broyde said, he took second-hand reports and reported it as firsthand. That is, someone from an earlier generation said that Rav Moshe had said X. And he pretended to be that someone from the earlier generation who experienced it firsthand.

Rabbi Broyde's own words on the subject:
Stories that were told using that pseudonym were all stories that one of us had heard as a child from a generation of torah scholars now gone; the stories about Rav Moshe are particularly so.

So, in his view, he was not ' inserting fictitious words in the mouths of greats to promote one's agenda'.

This is the kind of nuanced analysis (if I may pat myself on the back) that I think is good to promote in the general case.

But this is well beside the point of the post, which is to indulge in navel-gazing.

kol tuv,

Yehoshua Duker said...

He didn't just take a second hand report and give it over as if it were first hand. He invented a person (Dovid Keter), and under that name, manufactured flase Torah discussions involving Rav Shach and others, had those false discussions published under the false, invented persona, and then quoted that letter to butress his own Halachik essay.

joshwaxman said...

Assuming all of that is true, these were later revelations, not part of the original article, and therefore were not germane to my own original reaction.

But given what Broyde wrote in defense, how do you know that these were false Torah discussions involving Rav Shach? Maybe these were anecdotes he had heard from others, and he wished to bring them forth as more than hearsay.

Not that I think that this is appropriate.

Yehoshua Duker said...

Your blog post was dated April 26, which was after those revelations. I don't know why you would accept the explanations of a man who has committed academic fraud and has zero credibility. By the way, he has not defended himself against these more recent allegations in any way, as far as I know.

joshwaxman said...


My blogpost was dated April 26, but was discussing my reactions as I had them as I reacted to them. In order to compare to other reactions I had. Though yes, on April 26, I had read of the other accusations.

"defended himself against these more recent accusations"
yes, at a certain point, it is a good idea to shut up. he had already addressed this point -- he said Rav Moshe only as one example -- and it does not strike me as a new point. no, it is not a good idea to feed the media frenzy. in his situation, i also would choose to shut up.

if you want to doubt his defense, you could have doubted his defense based on what 'obscene' wrote. i don't see why you needed to introduce a new data point (of Rav Shach), presented as something different, in order to say ultimately that you don't believe his proffered defense.

please don't try to force me into defending something that i don't think is good behavior. (that wasn't the point of this post!!!! and isn't what i want to become the focus of this post. as i thought i made clear.)

but at the same time, i think it quite possible that his admission and clarification were honest.


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