Rabbenu Murphy

The local version of Murphy is that “no good deed in Hollywood goes unpunished.” A variation for writers in the public eye might be “no published idea goes understood.”

I experienced this twice today, and apologize for any confusion regarding one of the two incidents. (The second concerns the interview with the New York Times. I hope to write about that separately. Suffice it for the moment that many colleagues agree that it is always best to have an �insider� speak about a potentially damning issue, because unfriendly �outsiders� will certainly do far more damage. Those of us � and there were more who did not appear in the article � who spoke to the Times all agreed that our goal would be to try to minimize the chilul Hashem. It doesn�t take too much imagination to figure out how much more damaging the piece could have been had the interviewees not tried as hard as I can testify they did to defend the other side as vigorously as they did, while not selling short emes as they and their rabbeim see it.)

The one I will apologize for is my review column in Jewish Action [Spring 2005; not available online]. Even good friends and supporters got it wrong, which means that I must have missed the mark of effective communication. (The only blog I read with regularity is Hirhurim, and even Gil misunderstood my intentions.)

No, this leopard has not changed his spots. I find Frumteens� hashkafic pronouncements odious and repugnant. When I interviewed the mysterious Moderator, I told him that I would have to point out in print that our readers � myself included � reject his views. I made good on that promise.

The mistake which people made (for which I have to take some responsibility) is seeing the article as some sort of endorsement of the Frumteens site, or of Mr. Frumteens. I thought I had made it abundantly clear that the site was valuable in giving parents a glimpse into the world of troubled teens. I continue to believe that many parents are in denial about what is happening in our community, and that hearing first person accounts might give some of them a jump-start into getting more involved. I have no reason to doubt that Frumteens provides a rare window into a little-understood world.

The review did not recommend Frumteens as a place that kids should go . (It really couldn�t. The readership of Jewish Action is overwhelmingly Modern Orthodox; Frumteens is geared almost exclusively to the right.) It did explain how the site attempts to help kids, and by the accounts that several of the people in the Jewish Action heard, Frumteens does do much good. I don�t see why that should be taken away from it, even if other parts of the same site spew the most contemptible venom.

The Chofetz Chaim made the case for a broad effort by faithful Jews to reach out to their brethren. Many saw themselves too unlettered and unskilled to make the attempt. He offered them a mashal.

A simple villager watched in amazement as a bucket brigade efficiently passed water from a brackish pond to put out a fire. When he attempted to drink from the pond, he was stopped by people concerned for his welfare. He voiced his confusion. If everyone else was using the water, we couldn�t he? �Don�t be foolish!� came the reply. �To drink water, you need purity. But to put out a fire, any kind of water will do.�

Mr. Frumteens voices opinions I believe are despicable. He also, apparently with some success, puts out certain fires. If others would be there to do the job he is doing, we could ignore him entirely. But that is not the case.

I thought I had made that clear. Rereading my review, especially the end (which emphasizes the need for parents to understand what is happening to kids), I can�t find the point where I went wrong, but I will take the word of the readership that it must be there. I will, however, repeat exactly what I wrote in the offending piece. �My hope is that the stridency of his remarks will not interfere with readers� appreciation of what he is accomplishing in reaching out to kids who need to be heard.�

Might I remind everyone that it was the Rambam who urged us to �accept truth from whoever speaks it.� Have we become so narrow that we cannot see the good accomplished by those with whom we sharply disagree?

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27 Responses

  1. sarah elias says:

    Is it possible to enlighten us as to which articles you’re apologizing for? Links, perhaps?

  2. Shimon says:

    You’ve used the words “odious”, “repugnant”, “contemptible venom” and “despicable” to describe the content on Frumteens, content which is “spewed” towards teenagers! How can you then say that there is much that is valuable about that site? He is corrupting and perverting tens and maybe hundreds of young minds! Perhaps he doesn’t kill anyone like Hamas or Hezbollah which also have social services and charitable organizations. But is destroying impressionable minds with venom something we can countenance?

    The Rambam may have urged us to accept truth from whoever speaks it. I am not entirely sure that he would agree that impressionable teenagers should be exposed to the broken clock that occasionally speaks truth accidently. Would you be so sanguine if this was a Jews For Jesus site that was also accomplishing all these things, reaching out to teens and so forth and occasionally even providing halakhically sound advice? Remember, you yourself characterized the site as “odious”, “repugnant”, “contemptible venom” and “despicable”.

    I apologize for being so harsh, especially since you’ve tried to explain that your intentions are being misperceived. But perhaps you should reconsider if there can be any value in exposing vulnerable youth to an anonymous authority figure that spews “contemptible venom” and represents “repugnant” views as the only way in normative Judaism.

  3. Nachum Lamm says:

    I still think the most important point is not the hashkafa, but the unsupervised nature of the site. Again, I’m not accusing the moderator of any ill-intentions, but we really must be quite vigilant in cases like this. And whose word do you have that he is successful?

    Despite what you say, the site attracts kids from all over the spectrum. Moreover, there *are* other sites that do this work, in a much less objectionable (from all points of view) manner.

  4. Adam Steiner says:

    It is true that we should accept the truth from whoever speaks it and recognize the good that some do, even (or especially) when we disagree with them. One could (and I think quite rightly) argue that the overall benefit of Frumteens is in the negative. While Frumteens may be putting out some fires, others are created which are more dangerous. Teenagers are not adults and are much more impressionable. That leads to further damage caused by the Frumteens site/moderator due to his “repugnant” and “odious” hashkafic views.

    Ironically, it is the very end of your post which hints at one of the problems Frumteens has. “Have we become so narrow that we cannot see the good accomplished by those with whom we sharply disagree?” It is one thing to advise a teenager on movies, platonic relationships or cholov yisroel. It is quite another to couch the advice in broad hashkafic terms and indoctrinate them with hashkafic views which all too often lead them to reject the good and truth which comes from those with whom these children will then sharply disagree. (This isn’t particular to Frumteens, the general approach across society in general and Judaism in particular seems to be (sadly) that anyone different is always wrong and should never be listened to and is always wrong.)

    In such cases, while we do recognize the good and the window which Frumteens affords us, there may be an obligation to explicitly discuss the problems with the site, or mention them when discussing the site in general. I have not yet read the article, but from your own comments and those of Gil it would seem that the problems with the site (or a more explicit mention of the goal of the article should have been made.

    I agree wholeheartedly that parents should use the site to see a window into the lives of teenagers nowadays. As a 23 year old I can still clearly remember the days (and still see) where parents wander aimlessly through their child’s existence without facing reality. The “My little Angel” syndrome is alive and well. Perhaps Frumteens will help put an end to that.

  5. Mendy says:

    Are you absolutely sure that the person you interviewed was really the primary moderator? You wrote that he doesn’t live on the East Coast, but most people think that it’s Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, who lives in Far Rockaway.

  6. Daniel says:

    Regardless of your good intentions, the article does lend an implicit endorsement of a site which espouses views abhorrent to the Modern Orthodox world which is the audience reading JA. Furthermore, the anonymous nature of the website runs counter to all appropriate guidelines for communicating with children, and should be condemned, not condoned.

  7. Danny says:

    I think you guys are forgetting one thing. You all may consider the hashkofos on frumteens repugnant, but they are accepted as correct by people greater than us all. You can disagree, and you can even dislike it, but to deny someone his right to disagree with you and to hold like his own Rebbeim and his own Mesorah is more repulsive than a bad hashkafa. If you dont like it so much, go make your own “Modernteens” site and lets see how successful you are.

  8. Edvallace says:

    I hate to say it but describing the content of a site with which you disagree as �odious”, �repugnant”, �contemptible venom� and �despicable� merely because you disagree with it, smacks mightily of the type of behaviour you yourself decried in the Slifkin affair. You are free to take issue with his words and even to recommend that teenagers refrain from going there, but why the venom? The moderator is at worst espousing a viewpoint held by many in the world that he is addressing and allegedly the words of Rabbis like Rabbi Kotler and the like.

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that someone from the Orthodox right camp would see YU as a disgrace. Rabbi Gifter said so openly and often as did and continue to do so, many other Rabbis and Roshei Yeshivah.

    Calls for his dismissal [not that its going to happen anyhow because its his site] etc. are at best hypocritical. Don’t read it if you don’t like or work on refuting his words but don’t nail him to a wall as if he’s some kind of devil. To do so would mean your guilty of the same things you accused all the signees of the slifkin ban of.

    Agree with him or disagree but lose the strong talk.

  9. Anonymous B says:

    Danny & Edvallace,

    Two simple points:
    1) Go to frumteens. Your talk of tolerance is totally mitigated by his lack of tolerance.

    2) Unsupervised adult males are targeting high school females. That should be enough to spark concern & require oversite. That they are spreading a disgusting ideology only increases the need.

    3) We are certainly allowed to value judge, especially when it comes to educating children. Go take your PC distortion somewhere else.

  10. shimon says:

    “Agree with him or disagree but lose the strong talk.

    What nonsense. Rabbi Moderator can tell teenagers that R. Kook a heretic, ridicule differences of opinion in halakhah and espouse the view that Israel is a satanic entity and it is those that object to it who have to “lose the strong talk”? Shouldn’t Rabbi Moderator also “lose the strong talk” or is strong talk only the prerogative of the right-wing?

  11. aisrael says:

    “Frumteens is geared almost exclusively to the right.”

    A high proportion of the teenagers who write in to the Frumteens site are Modern Orthodox. Most of the kids who write in are typical teenagers with typical issues and questions, a bit skewed to the left. Some might be at risk for being at risk ..but the typical visitor is not the sort of teenager that the moderator claims to be helping in his offline work. The site is not geared to kids who are to be found in pool halls, doing drugs. It’s more geared at general prevention for kids who are not really in trouble, and occasional outreach to those who need more.

    In that context, the moderator aims to “straighten out” their hashkafas, and in that context, he is spewing hatred, and giving out some pretty dubious p’sakim.

    Apart from the many problems at the site noted, the moderator has very extreme ideas about the role of women in Orthodox society, women and talmud torah and the like, that seem influenced by his Satmar background. These views seem inappropriate even for the average charedi girl, and IMO can be quite damaging. As a general matter, the moderator seems to lack judgement, and I think his influence on the kids he deals with online is negative. Probably the first lesson such kids need to be taught is not to trust anonymous rabbonim!

    Your justification that the moderator does needed work may be true for his offline work. Online, I think he is a menace.

    “I thought I had made it abundantly clear that the site was valuable in giving parents a glimpse into the world of troubled teens…I have no reason to doubt that Frumteens provides a rare window into a little-understood world.”

    I think the site is of limited value in showing parents much about kids who are truly at risk. Be that as it may, it is on the *world wide web* where it is providing Jews from all sectors of society and goyim with the same glimpse. These visitors will find the kids’ issues fairly normal, but will find the moderator – and by extension, the charedi world (if we are lucky) or Orthodox Judaism (if they are less discriminating) deranged. The potential for chilul hashem at that site is stupdendous; I have already heard from gentiles who visited the site and want to know how prevalent the moderators’ views are in Judaism. I imagine that I feel much the way Muslims do when asked how prevalent fundamentalism is in Islam, and I hope that my interlocuters believed my response more than I believe the response of “moderate Muslims.”

  12. rikki says:

    I agree with edvallace and danny.
    If you have a problem with the frumteens moderator, go have it out with him.
    See if you can best him on any of the points with which you disagree.
    I was also pretty surprised by R’ Adlerstein’s vitriol. It gave me the distinct impression that he was trying to cozy back up to his “Chassidim” in the Modern-Orthodox/YU camp after they bashed him for promoting Frumteens.
    Don’t be so frightened, Rabbi, you won’t get put into Cherem…Not because the MO/YU crowd is so tolerant, but because they don’t have the energy to actually DO anything.
    Pecking out a few blogs is the extent of their commitment.

  13. grend123 says:

    Does it bother anyone that this interview appeared in an OU magazine when the Moderator has said on frumteens that he is besafek if he can eat OU since the Rabbonim involved are mostly apikorsim?

    Yes, that’s a real quote… I’m trying to find the link.

  14. Joel Rich says:

    “Don�t be so frightened, Rabbi, you won�t get put into Cherem�Not because the MO/YU crowd is so tolerant, but because they don�t have the energy to actually DO anything.
    Pecking out a few blogs is the extent of their commitment.

    Comment by rikki”

    Dear Rikki,
    With all due respect, what is the toelet in writing this comment that makes the apparent lashon hara acceptable.
    An alternative explanation might be that the camp you describe has the self-esteem in its approach to avodat hashem such that alternative approaches within the broader “orthodox” world do not require a cherem.

  15. Do tell says:

    Grend – Go find the quote – It doesnt exist. Disagreeing with someone is one matter, but making up stories is completely other thing. Go ahead, I want to see that quote.

  16. shira says:

    “See if you can best him on any of the points with which you disagree.”

    the moderator censors those comments.

  17. Zev says:

    Re. the NYT article, Rabbi Adlerstein wrote: “It doesn�t take too much imagination to figure out how much more damaging the piece could have been had the interviewees not tried as hard as I can testify they did to defend the other side as vigorously as they did”

    I’ve read the article, and I’m sorry to say that I see no traces of an attempt to vigorously defend the other side. Quite the contrary. In my view, the people who contributed to this article sought to influence an internal debate by using the NYT to bash the other side, and to make them look foolish in the eyes of the world. Rabbi Adlerstein is to be condemned for his participation, not commended.

  18. rikki says:

    Dear Joel,
    “An alternative explanation might be that the camp you describe has the self-esteem in its approach to avodat hashem such that alternative approaches within the broader �orthodox� world do not require a cherem.”
    It’s easy to say that the reason the MO camp doesn’t get excited about alternative approaches is due to their confidence in their Avodas Hashem, but it does not ring true.
    The vehement reaction to Rabbi Adlerstein’s faint praise of Frumteens gives the lie to that theory.
    Anytime one of the MO’s sacred cows, (Rabbi Soloveichik, Zionism (the long-distance kind) are dissed, they show precisely how intolerant they are.
    As to the toelet:
    I come from the MO world and I know that with rare exceptions, there is a staggering complacency and smugness to be found there. The only wrath to be raised is when one rocks the comfortable state of self-satisfaction. The troublemaker is quickly branded an odious, reactionary fanatic, and life proceeds apace to the gentle buzz of benumbed tranquillity.

    This self-satisfied approach is not harmless, it leads to situations like this:
    Read the above article, about the plague of Modern Orthodox premarital sex. Tefillin dates, mikveh for the unmarried, these are the issues that arise from this smugness.
    A little fanaticism (as if) is good, a little fire in the belly about Yiddishkeit. Stop worrying so much about what your goyishe friends will think of you and be proud of the Torah, its stringencies and its leniencies.

    You don’t have to like the Frumteens Moderator, so go argue with him. But bring something stronger than “boich svarot”, because he does.

  19. chana says:

    Children are not inanimate fires. And you dont allow pernicious people to have contact with them on the off chance they might do *some* kind of good. Thats nonsensical reasoning. YOu can put out a fire with poison water you cannot save children with it. To allow kids to have access to despicable people who use *contemptible venom* thats irresponsible at best. You cannot get good fruit off a bad tree. Its as simple as that.

  20. David Brand says:

    Amazing! Disagreement with MO hashkafa being called “hatred” (see aisrael’s post above). Until now, that device was used by politicians, but I thought that we could refrain from that type of thing here. The fact that there are haskhafic disagreements is simply a fact of life. Nobody should make any excuses for their hashafas, especially when recieved by a rebbe who received it from his rebbe. This reminds me of those who complain about the alleged Haredization of our schools, but overlook the fact that the staffs of those schools are nearly all Charedi. People simply pass on what they received. That’s the very nature of the Mesorah, isn’t it? To call names simply doesn’t help. A better way would be to simply disagree, and leave it at that.

  21. Michael says:

    Zev, pardon me, but you aren’t showing the necessary amount of “imagination.” It was obvious that the NY Times would bash those who banned Slifkin. They needed no help from Rabbi Adlerstein, Gil Student, or anyone else.

    It said, however, that “The rabbis who signed the letter … are widely respected Torah authorities; one of them, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, 91, is … one of the most respected scholars in Orthodox Ashkenazic Judaism.” Where’s the description of him as taking Judaism “back to the Dark Ages?” What happened to the line about charedi Judaism’s “furious rejection of modern life?” What happened to the rabbis “howling” with “shrill denunciations” of anyone who studied biology?

    Strangely, none of those things made it into the article. I very strongly suspect Rabbi Adlerstein deserves a lot of the credit for that. Of course you don’t “see” “an attempt to vigorously defend the other side.” The point is what you don’t see.

  22. chaim klein says:

    I may have missed the boat coming in late. But why doesn’t the Union or RCA or someone set up a site like frumteens or an inreach organization like NCSY to Modern Orthodox kids. This inreach program should not have as its aim the transformation of these kids intoo Chareidim ( although their probably are worse fates) I teach general studies in a yeshiva where the families are probably slightly right of center and although the yeshiva is unique in its approach to openness and questioning the students still have a plethora of questions and issues. This applies as well to Orthopraxis adults that I learn with, Modern Orthodox kids that I teach in another context. The OU was wise enough to set up a program at universities, believe me such a program is necessary for Orthodox Day School kids and Yeshiva bochurim as well, although the chances of attracting the Yeshiva world as a whole is probably not realistic. At least they have frumtens to go to. Does such a site exist for MO kids ? Anyone? I’m prepared to help launch such a project. Chaim Klein

  23. rikki says:

    Chaim, nobody set up such a site because it’s easier to bash others than to do something positive oneself.

  24. someone says:

    i have heard of some sort of attempt, based on so many nice ideas that would never work, and completley collapsed around apikorsus and hate remarks which filled it

  25. Ploni says:

    If our teenagers are choosing to go to the RW for assistance that means they have something to offer that we do not. If our children are going not to our rabbis and counselors for help but to the extremist right wing factions, that means we have failed where they have succeeded. Rabbi Adlerstein is right. – if we could come up with a site as effective as frumteens, the whole issue would be moot. Expressing outraged over someone else’s success only distracts from our own failure. Instead of bashing, we should try to find a way to do what frumteens has already done, and then we wont need discussions like this.

  26. Larry says:

    If Rabbi Adlerstein has a connection to the frumteens moderator perhaps he should solicit his assistance and advice on setting up a frumteens for the MO community. We are always being so blindsided by the chareidim its about time that we used what our sages teach us, “Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.” Moreover, if we are not willing to learn from the success of others, at least let us learn from our own mistakes. We were blindsided by ArtScroll in the last generation and instead of learning from their success we spent our time (and still do) bashing them. Where did that get us?
    Nowhere fast. Frumnteens is the 21st century version of ArtScroll, but probably even more right-wing; certainly more outspoken. Our youth are going there for questions about hashkafa halachah and life. Just look at these examples, which I found on Google:


    Often they receiving asnwers that do not correspond to our hashkafa (The challenge to Modern Orthodoxy at this juncture is, will we spend all day screaming “foul” and getting nowhere or will we stop being crybabies provide our youth with what they need, according to our own hashkofos? If we don’t, they will continue going to frumteens, and we will once again be left in the dust.

  27. someone says:

    this is what the Moderato had to say about the article

    “Jewish Action is a religious Zionist magazine. Rabbi Adlerstein wrote what the hashkafa issues are that the readers of Jewish Aciton would not agree with – Zionism, Modern Orthdoxy, Rav Kook, etc.

    In the Modern Orthodox community, you can say a lot of thigns, but once you say something against the holy State of Israel / ZIonism, or Modern Orthodoxy, youve “crossed the line”. Rabbi Adlerstein has been castigated by Modern Orthodox Zonists for daring to write something nice about an anti-Zionist site.

    It’s sad, but thats the way it works in that world.

    (Of course, neither the readers of JA in general nor Rabbi Adlerstien seem to have a problem with a site that’s anti-Lubavitch, because they agree with that, or at least dont hold Lubavitch as a sacred cow. o its OK to be anti lots of things, as long as its not Zionism).

    Rabbi Adlerstein should be given credit because he did what he correctly believed ot be helping teenagers in trouble – or their parents – same thing – even thoguh he gets critisized for it.

    MODERATOR Posted – 13 April 2005 21:46
    PS – Just to make sure that my last post does not convey an impression that I do not want to convey.

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s article about frumteens is totally positive – not one negative word was said. And I thank him on behalf of the frumteens community for his kind words.

    What he said is that I do not mince words and my unminced words on things like Zionism and Modern orthodoxy etc will “not delight the hearts” of the readers of the Modern Orthodox, Zionist readers of that magazine.And of course thats 100% true! It was good that he warned them before coming to frumteens that they will see me say that their Hashkofos are against the Torah They arent exposed, in the Modern Orthodox world, to demonstrations of the wrongheadedness of what they believe in.

    Rabbi Adlerstein was extremely nice during the entire interview. And yes, he said that he disagrees with lots of things on the site (he mentioned techeiles also on the list), nd I was like, OK, so you disagree, I call ’em the way I see ’em. I dont have much of a choice in the matter. I dont “choose” hashkafa one way or the other because I like it. I say what I see is the proper hashkafa according to the Torah. And that was that.

    So he wrote that the readers of Jewish Action wont be happy with the fact that I wrote the Torah says such-and-such.

    Thats fine. He’s 100& right about that. They will not be happy.

    But whats that got to do with anything?

    Unfortunately, many in the community in which Rabbi Adlerstein functions donesnt agree.

    And thats fine with me, too.”

    sounds pretty nce and fair. no hate coometns, just respect for otheropinions without saying his are wrong.

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