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We Are Going in the Wrong Direction

For some, guilt by association is actual guilt. For these people, who you know and with whom you associate determine your credibility.
Wrong way

The war over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman is rising to a crescendo. The mouthpiece of the Ultra-Orthodox American establishment is the Yated Ne’eman. The Yated and its Matzav.com website are leading the charge to discredit and demonize Lipman in every way possible. Meanwhile, the Centrist Orthodox Americans are watching from the sidelines as they watch a potential hero go to zero. The Modern Orthodox Jewish community is becoming enraged as they see their values trudged upon by their charedi brothers and sisters.

It’s a mess.

Two important voices from the moderate camp have invited Lipman to speak. The RCA Convention will be headlined by Lipman and the BAYT Shul in Toronto is featuring Lipman as a Scholar in Residence the last week in June.

For these grievous sins, Lipman, the RCA, and BAYT have come under a severe assault of attacks from the Yated and Matzav. Articles calling for boycotts of these fine institutions, articles condemning the the decision makers and rabbinic leadership of both institutions, and of course articles enumerating the horrible sins of Lipman as ammunition for their war appear regularly in their pages.

The thrust of their arguments against Lipman focus on isolated incidents, out of context quotes, but most of all guilt by association.

I think this is a very important point. There are pundits who “connect the dots” to spin conspiracy tales on a daily basis. People believe it. Others just disqualify the opinions or ideas of others because they have a second cousin who gave money to someone else who has a nephew in Al Qaeda. People seem to be okay with this too. For some, guilt by association is actual guilt. For these people, who you know and with whom you associate determine your credibility.

Obviously, this parlor game is ridiculous. If you search long enough you can connect any two people in the world. Guilt by association is terrible way to make a point. Assuming that the two people are associated, there is no evidence that they agree on anything. They could hate each other. Or they could agree on one thing and completely disagree on another. It’s pure scare tactics and dishonesty to impugn people because of loose ties or even strong ties that they may have with others who might be different or even dangerous.

The same exact thing is happening now in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish media.

Lipman is in the same party as Yair Lapid? And Lapid’s father, Tommy, was virulently anti-orthodox? Lipman must also be anti-orthodox! The RCA asked Lipman to speak? The RCA must agree with everything Yair Lapid says too! BAYT invited Lipman for Shabbos? BAYT is clearly anti-Torah.

These are the arguments being made.

The non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t play this game. They would prefer to hear challenging ideas and thought provoking conversation than disqualify any dissenters by way of guilt by association. Does the RCA agree with every single thing Lipman says? Probably not. No two people agree on everything! Does BAYT co-sign every single thing Lipman has ever done? Of course not. But both institutions pride themselves on appealing to a broad spectrum of orthodox Jews and care passionately about matters of great communal importance. Thus, Lipman is a great candidate for a talk in both places.

But the uber-charedi world it doesn’t work like that. Unless someone is 100% kosher, they can’t get to the table. No matter how salient their points may be, they don’t have the opportunity to be heard. Worse, when two people are associated, and person A says or does something controversial, everyone runs to person B and asks if person B “holds of” what person A did. It’s ridiculous! People can disagree. People can have different opinions. Why is it even expected that if person B associates with person A they would agree with everything person A does? It makes no sense.

This is the best way to seek and destroy any dissent or debate. There is no room for dissent or debate when as soon as someone dissents or debates all that person’s associates are impugned and they are forced to distance themselves from the dissenter or debater. Nothing could be more chilling.

The other way is to analyze ideas, not people. Rambam writes “Hear truth from whoever says it.” These are wise words. The source of an idea is only secondary to the content of the idea. Great people can say stupid things and stupid people can say great things. It’s terribly insecure and unwise to automatically eliminate so many voices simply because they are guilty by association.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


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2 Responses to “We Are Going in the Wrong Direction”

  1. Eric Leibman says:

    Simply, you are known by the company you keep. And if you spend your time with people who stink of rotting herring, the smell rubs off on you. Lipman has chosen to cast his lot with people whose loathing for the Yeshivah world is the most poorly kept secret in the Jewish world. A party that has helped engineer massive cuts to programs for Yeshivah families that will entail tremendous and unnecessary suffering, as any proposed cuts could have been accomplished gradually over a prolonged period of time. It is done out of aggressive malice, pure and simple, and Lipman shares the blame and helps make it happen.

  2. Eric Leibman says:

    "Worse, it has long been established that orthodox Rabbis may not sit on organizations with non-orthodox Jews lest it be perceived as endorsement of non-orthodox values. I don’t think it’s a great tactic, nor do I think it’s wise in the long run." Excuse me, but wasn't it Rabbi Dovid Feinstein (and I'll bet Rav Ahron Kotler of Lakewood) who had some hand in promulgating the ban on sitting on boards of joint organizations with reform and so on? If I am correct, then are you openly criticizing Rav Feinstein and Rav Kotler and pitting your opinion against theirs as if it were on the same level?

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