How to Criticize in Elul
We owe much to Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum.
Not just because he gave us an excuse to stop talking about Noah Feldman.
Not really for the substance of his remarks, either. Many readers of CC undoubtedly reached the same conclusions on their own.
Nor do we applaud him chiefly for his courage in stating what others will object to. B”H, while you probably will not find one on every corner, there are still more than a few people in the right-of-center Torah world with the courage to speak their minds.
I believe we ought to applaud him because his critique was a model in how to criticize without leaving your yiras shomayim (reverence for Heaven) at the door. It is a point that will unfortunately be missed by some of the “negativity bloggers” who will wonder whether a long-standing Agudah activist has joined their ranks. He hasn’t.
His criticism was trenchant and biting. I won’t review the substance of his argument, which is not the point of this posting. For convenience, I reproduce his essay below. (OK, it’s not just for convenience. There must be some people far less enthusiastic than I am, because the original has been bowdlerized. If you go to the site that first posted the piece, you will find some changes have been made. Maybe someone thought it was a yeshivishe Wikipedia. The Yated version was different from the beginning, I’m told, but that is hardly surprising.) He pulled no punches:
In every generation we have the likes of Doeg and Achitofel who misled great people such as Shaul and Avshalom with falsehoods and lies that caused them to try to kill Dovid. Doeg even succeeded in getting Shaul to kill all the Kohanim in the city of Nov. This shows how falsehoods can be spread, how easily they are believed, and the terrible damage that can result. Even the greatest of the great are vulnerable to such camouflaged slander and can be misled by advisors they trust… Today, too, we have self proclaimed agitators and charlatans who have nothing to do with their time but to go around to our leading Torah sages and try to convince them that separate-seating concerts are a threat to our Yiddishkeit and to ban them. They falsely claim that there is pritzus in the hallways plus other fabrications. Exaggeration is a blood relative to falsehood, and almost as bad. A gossip is one who can give you all the details without knowing all the facts.
Now, lots of folks could have said that. Lots more certainly think it. What distinguishes Rabbi Teitlebaum’s version is his bottom line, which shows his mettle admirably.
It must be clearly noted that despite all that was said, one is required to follow the ruling of our sages even when they say “Right is left and left is right.” Nowadays when there is no Sanhedrin, one must seek a leading posek and follow his ruling on all matters and not go “posek hopping.” This applies not only in the above case but in all other areas as well. There are some disagreements among our leading poskim in Hilchos Shabbos which can be an isur sekilah. One can’t pick and choose stringencies from one or leniencies from another. (Gemora ) The Agudas Yisroel follows the ruling of the Moetzes Gedolai HaTorah. Others can decide on their posek whom they wish to follow. But whoever it is, the psak must be followed even if it hurts.
He makes two points for which he should be saluted. Firstly, he emphasizes (in contradistinction to so many others in the blogosphere) there is a gevul, a limit to our criticism. In the final analysis, gedolim are our einei ha-edah, and important issues must be brought to them. We must be prepared to do things that are not comfortable when allegiance to their authority demands it.
He then turns around and underscores that each community must make its own choice of Torah authority and leadership. Different camps might each champion different talmidei chachamim.. Agudah chooses to fall behind the Moetzes; there are different legitimate choices for others to make. One choice that, beyond cavil, that is not legitimate is to not choose at all!
Halevai that all of us who write and comment in the public forum should employ as much balance and yiras shomayim as Rabbi Teitelbaum.
Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum: A Kosher Alternative
Many people are in total shock at some of the goings on in the Catskills this summer. I will not go into the details. Suffice it to say that hundreds of our teenagers boys and girls were enticed to engage in activities that are far from what their parents and teachers consider acceptable, and far from what we have a right to expect from Yeshiva and Bais Yaakov products. While there are many reasons for it and no easy or simple solutions, we must be very careful not to add to the problem by forbidding everything without providing a satisfactory kosher replacement.
The Yetzer Hora of today is not the one of yesterday or the one our grandparents had to deal with. Today we have television, movies, CDs, DVDs, Internet, videos, certain type cell phones, and music that are extremely attractive and contain more filth than ever before. They are everywhere and they can easily be brought into our homes without detection. Their influence and message is so powerful and seductive that they have penetrated even the best homes. We are dealing with a mighty foe whose magnetic power of attraction is difficult to resist. Saying “No? doesnt always work. Unless we provide our children with a kosher alternative to it all, we are asking for trouble.
While in the past, summer camps may have been considered a luxury and kids could be kept in the city, nowadays camps are a lifesaver. Most summer camps provide kids with a kosher outlet for their pent up energies with a balanced program of learning and sports. There is Color War and BOG. There are hikes and trips. Children are kept so busy that they dont have the time or desire to look for non-kosher means of entertainment.
Many years ago, Pirchei Agudas Yisroel used to organize trips to Washington, Baltimore, and Toronto. Motzoei Shabbos there was learning along with game nights, and concerts. There was the famous Pirchei Choir that put out beautiful records and tapes that brought countless hours of delightful Jewish entertainment into thousands of homes. This was all done in order to keep children busy during their free time so they shouldnt have to go looking elsewhere. It was important to show children at a very early age that the Torah is not just restrictions, but that Shabbos as well as the rest of the week can be a time of constructive joy and pleasure. Happy laughter and family voices in the home will keep more kids off the streets at night than the strictest curfew.
I still remember when the Pirchei Agudas Yisrael put on a play and concert more than forty years ago in Montauk Junior High School. ( The play was based on the book Family Aguilar. ) There were some who tried to convince the rabbonim to put a ban on it. Since I was the president of Pirchei at the time, Rabbi Moshe Sherer z.l, asked me to go down to the venerable gaon hador, Rabbi Moshe Feinstien z.t.l., to get his halachic opinion. Not only did he not ban it, but he gave it his blessings. He understood only too well the importance of giving the boys a kosher alternative; otherwise they would soon find their pleasures elsewhere. One must be very careful before imposing restrictions. “Restrict everything and everything becomes permitted,? is what my father z.t.l. once said. When some tried to ban the Miami Boys Choir Concert in N.Y. and tried to get Rabbi Pam z.t.l.s signature as well as that of the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva to ban it, they both refused to sign.
A number of years ago, Rabbi Motty Katz of JEP and I organized a Chanuka trip to Washington on the two days that yeshivas give off for Chanuka vacation. Thanks to Mr. Yisroel Lefkowitz and others who helped subsidize part of the trip, we were able to charge only $20, which included an overnight stay in a nice motel. We were only able to take along 100 boys even though many more boys wanted to come along. I received a very nasty letter in the mail from a prominent rosh yeshiva accusing me of causing bitul Torah and admonishing me for organizing the trip. I very respectfully replied that it wasnt I who was causing any bittul Torah but rather the yeshivas that gave the kids off for two days without providing them with something positive to do. I told him that if he wanted, I would show him where some of his students are hanging out during this time. I never received a reply.
I give great credit to the Mirer Yeshivah in Yerushalayim that has realized the great problem of what happens when their bocurim have nothing to do during bein hazmanim. The yeshiva organizes trips at subsidized prices which take their talmidim around Eretz Yisroel. If only other yeshivas would follow their example, many tragedies would be avoided.
When sports and concerts are forbidden, and all forms of kosher entertainment are off limits, we are asking for trouble. If our kids cant find a place to vent their energy within a kosher environment, then they will find it elsewhere. In a time of war even the Torah itself permitted one to marry a captive non-Jewish girl under certain conditions. Chazal explain the logic behind this law. The Torah understood that a person is only human and therefore in this instance, while fighting a war, it gave him some leeway. The Gemora tells us that for everything the Torah forbade it gave us something similar that was permitted. Todays war with the Yetzer Horah is far greater than ever before.
But in every generation we have the likes of Doeg and Achitofel who misled great people such as Shaul and Avshalom with falsehoods and lies that caused them to try to kill Dovid. Doeg even succeeded in getting Shaul to kill all the Kohanim in the city of Nov. This shows how falsehoods can be spread, how easily they are believed, and the terrible damage that can result. Even the greatest of the great are vulnerable to such camouflaged slander and can be misled by advisors they trust. Just turn to Shmuel II chapter 16 and read the story of how Dovid who knew better than anyone else of the great dangers of an evil tongue was himself taken in by Tziva who fabricated a false story about Mefiboshes. If even the greatest of the great can be misled, then wed all better be very careful and constantly on our guard least we too fall into the same trap.
Things havent changed much since ancient times. Today, too, we have self proclaimed agitators and charlatans who have nothing to do with their time but to go around to our leading Torah sages and try to convince them that separate-seating concerts are a threat to our Yiddishkeit and to ban them. They falsely claim that there is pritzus in the hallways plus other fabrications. Exaggeration is a blood relative to falsehood, and almost as bad. A gossip is one who can give you all the details without knowing all the facts. Unfortunately, they often succeed in their mission. All it took was one Korach to convince the 250 heads of Sanhedrin of the holiness and purity of his mission.
Some have organized special activities and places for these “at risk kids? to get together under proper supervision, but this is not the real solution. The problem must be addressed long before young people reach the “at risk? stage. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If the money we spent on rehabilitation where to be spent on prevention, wed get far more for our money, and fewer people who need intensive intervention
It must be clearly noted that despite all that was said, one is required to follow the ruling of our sages even when they say “Right is left and left is right.? Nowadays when there is no Sanhedrin, one must seek a leading posek and follow his ruling on all matters and not go “posek hopping.? This applies not only in the above case but in all other areas as well. There are some disagreements among our leading poskim in Hilchos Shabbos which can be an isur sekilah. One cant pick and choose stringencies from one or leniencies from another. (Gemora ) The Agudas Yisroel follows the ruling of the Moetzes Gedolai HaTorah. Others can decide on their posek whom they wish to follow. But whoever it is, the psak must be followed even if it hurts.
Yes, there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in order to make sure that concerts are conducted in a true Yiddish atmosphere and flavor. Performers should not be Jewish rock or rap singers and the music should not imitate todays street hip-hop culture as some performers unfortunately do. Sadly, Ive gone to frum weddings where the music and dancing felt like one was in a discothque with only the flashing lights missing. Roshei yeshivas and rabbonim danced in the middle of the circle having no idea as what type of music they were dancing to. I hope no one is going to ban music at weddings because of this, but rather the msader kidushin or rabbonim should meet with the band leaders as well as the mechutonim to rectify this outrage. Serious concerns must be discussed between the concert organizers and rabbonim beforehand. Instead of seeking to ban these concerts, we must make sure that they are a kiddush Shem Shomayim. Music has a powerful effect upon the listener
and we must ensure that it follows in the footsteps and style of Dovid Hamelech the “nim zemiros Yisroel,? to whose words our music is often put.
We definitely need our gedolim to guide us, and if we come to them with sincere requests to teach us to run activities al pi Torah, they would respond wisely and constructively. We should no longer leave the field open to those few agitators and connivers who choose to deprive our young people of positive outlets. For if we close the doors to that which is permitted, theyll unfortunately, soon find other places to fill the void!
© 2007 Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum.