Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rabbi David Bibi clarifies the point of his article

There has been much criticism of Rabbi David Bibi's article published in the Jewish Star, on blogs and in letters to the editor. In comments on certain blogs (such as DovBear and RationalistJudaism), he posted the following response. In part (if I understand correctly) that this was a shortened version of a much larger newsletter, and with the context cut, it conveyed a different impression than he intended. Perhaps my comment in a subsequent post, but this post is devoted to Rabbi Bibi's words:
I am so sorry that my article was so misunderstood. I am completely at fault. Here’s why!

The article in the Jewish Star was simply a very edited version taking my column in the weekly newsletter I have been writing for 15 years which is distributed to almost 20,000 people. The original was 4000 words and cutting it to 900 or so was probably the first mistake. I guess I could use lessons from Reader’s Digest.

The second was going against my own advice to avoid stating in public things that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Only this week I cautioned others following a terrible article in the Asbury Park press and after hearing a press conference by former mayor Koch on this very matter.

My intent in releasing the edited letter to the Jewish Star was to argue against the paper’s headline the previous week.

As I wrote this past Friday, it “was to state that the problem is not a Syrian problem, not a Sephardic problem, not even an Orthodox problem. It’s a Jewish problem. Lets come together to solve it, lets give each other the benefit of the doubt and lets avoid pointing out scapegoats, because in the eyes of the world, we’re all the scapegoats.”

But for those who accuse me of condoning murder – and you were not the only one – I am saddened by my own lack of foresight.

And again I wrote on Friday, “I realize if even a few people misconstrue and write about it, then a hundred times that number may think the same but not write.”

With regard to the story of a friend and half a friend, obviously the story is not my own, although I liked the Goodfella’s line.

Again I quote myself, “It is a story told to all our children and one used by our Rabbis for a thousand years to define a friend. It was meant to convey the lessons we grow up with not to condone murder chas veshalom. Ask your Rabbi why it’s told. Ask Aish HaTorah why Rabbi Weinberg uses it to define friendship in his series on the 48 ways to wisdom, tape #11.”

In hindsight I agree. It was probably then wrong story to use.

And concluded my column Friday with the following four paragraphs

“Was it wrong to break the law? Absolutely!
Do I condone the behavior? No, I do not.
Should thing have been done differently? Yes.
Do we live in a country where we are required to follow the law? We do and we should be thankful for that.

The original unedited version of my article ended as follows. This may help to better understand where I was going with it.

“Have we gotten too comfortable here? Have we as scripture states become so fat that we’ve forgotten? Have we forgotten who we are, where we come from, and what it’s all about? Do we bear responsibility for our children leaving the path and turning against us whether as playwrights, authors, con men, or going so far as to set people up? It doesn't happen in a vacuum my friends. We're doing something wrong. Hashem tries to tell us. At first gently but eventually with a smack when we are not paying attention. When Rabbis are implicated and it is a son of a Rabbi who implicates, the fault must lie with all of us.

What's the solution? Who am I to say? But let me close with one final story - another my Rabbi often told me and a lesson he preached. Its a famous story told about the Chafetz Chaim zs"l.

When he was a young boy he wanted to change the whole world. He tried, but became frustrated. So, he revised his goal. He was only going to change his country, Poland. He soon saw that this was also a bit too ambitious, so he decided to just change his little town of Radin. Alas, this also proved to be too much, so he decided to change just the Bet Midrash where he prayed and learned. He soon realized that the only person he was capable of changing was himself. (Rabbi Abittan would also say, before you preach take care of yourself, let your inside match your exterior.)

So, the Chafetz Chaim got to work. As we all know, he succeeded in becoming one of the greatest sadikim in the history of our Nation. People began gravitating toward him and his Bet Midrash soon filled with people eager to learn from him. In time, his name spread through Radin. The small town became a Torah center by virtue of the great saddik who lived there Sure enough, the Jewish population of Poland began heeding the words of this saddik and Gadol HaDor. He wrote many sefarim (books). His masterpiece of halacha (Jewish Law), the Mishna Berura is used by poskim (halachic authorities) worldwide. His works, "Chafetz Chaim" and "Shmirat HaLoshon" have revived the all-but-forgotten mitzvah of proper speech. It has become a cornerstone of serving Hashem. His multitude of sefarim cover all aspects of Jewish life, and anyone who wants information or inspiration on practically all aspects of Torah need only turn to him. Yes, Rav Yisrael Meir succeeded. He changed the whole world.

We can do it. We can change the way things are. We can change our country, our city, our town, our community and our families. Where do we begin? With ourselves. We must examine our values and sense of honor. We must look at the justifications we make, the blind eye we turn aside and the way we live and act.

Each of us must build himself up to the point where he can truly say he has fulfilled the vesre to become a light on the nations. When the world turns to us and says, “I want to be like you”, then we have succeeded.

All the best,

What he was responding to was the previous week's article in the Jewish Star. I think that it was either this one or more likely this one. See also a response to this response in the comment section at RationalistJudaism.


Anonymous said...

In many shuls, the rabbi would be forced to resign after publishing the crap that Bibi published. His piece is right up there with Shafran's defense of Madoff, and leads me to doubt his sanity. The story he told is a defense of covering up murder (or at least manslaughter). This rabbi is really crazy.

joshwaxman said...

the thing is, i am not sure this is the case. he is right that this is a "famous" story among those who know such stories. i heard it as a Jewish story in 6th grade, in a good elementary school.

not every aspect of a story, especially if intended allegorically, or if one minor point of the story is intended as the lesson.

for example, consider the following story:

"This may be compared to a man who puts his son onto his shoulder and then sets off on the way. The son sees some object and says: Father – lift up that object and give it to me – and he gives it to him, and thus a second time and a third time. They then meet another person, and the son says to that man: 'Have you seen my father?' His father says to him: 'Don't you know where I am?!' He casts him down from atop his shoulder, and a dog comes and bites him."

Is this necessarily the best conduct for a father, to cast his son down in an area where he can be bitten by a dog? But this is a mashal used to explain why Amalek waged war on the bnei yisrael right after they tested Hashem saying 'Is God in our midst or not?'

as i discussed in the previous post, we saw an "Application" for one variant of the story in which it was used to be something not about friendship at all.

though once a story enters into the corpus of popular Jewish stories, it can be taken in all sorts of ways.

the question is how Rabbi Weinberg used it; and the question is how Rabbi Bibi used it. i have to read the article again, but his point was not that *WE* should cover up their crimes, or cover up murder. rather, it was one motivating factor for those rabbis in helping this younger person, who was the son of a friend, despite it being against the law. and not that if it was done, in the end, it would be entirely right, but rather that this should be considered a slight mitigating factor.

one can agree or disagree with this assertion -- i am not sure i agree -- but that does not make him crazy. it makes him wildly misunderstood by his audience, at the same time as being possibly misguided. there is a difference.

i have more to say, but perhaps in that post i was considering writing.



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