Former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman will be remembered by me for one reason. It was under his tenure that I first heard the idiom ‘being taken to the woodshed’. I suppose it originated from a time where a misbehaved child was taken by his father to an actual woodshed for a hard spanking. In modern times it has come to mean being severely reprimanded for publicly being critical of your superior’s policies.
One may recall the reason Stockman’s boss, President Ronald Reagan, “took him to the woodshed.” It was because of an interview published in Atlantic Monthly that he gave during his first year in office. Therein he retreated from his support of ‘supply side economics’ and publicly berated it. He coined the term ‘trickle down economics’ and used it in place of ‘supply side’. Needless to say, his influence in that office waned and eventually (4 years later) he resigned.
This phrase came back to me with a vengeance yesterday when an over hour long video presentation by Jonathan Rosenblum became unavailable to the public. It was initially uploaded to Vimeo for anyone who wished to view it; or link to it; or embed it into a website or blog. And suddenly it left the public domain to be made viewable only by a password.
I have tried to find out why it was removed from a source in the Agudah world. But I have as of yet received no reply to my request. So even though I can’t be certain of it, I have little choice but to conclude the obvious. Jonathan was taken to the woodshed. I surmise that he was reprimanded by his Hashkafic peers and/or superiors for contradicting the message they were trying to send.
So much for honest disagreement in the Charedi world. Now I am not saying that Jonathan – or more accurately those who had rights to that video were ordered to restrict it to the public. But they were certainly persuaded that it was counter the wishes and goals of the Agudah Moetzes or other like minded Charedi rabbinic leaders.
That conclusion is not too hard to reach after reading the recent news about how the American Moetzes acceded to the request of the Israeli Moetzes to follow up their prayer rally last Sunday with one of their own.
As an aside, I must ask why the Charedi rabbinic leadership in this country waited to be asked. Had they wanted to hold a prayer rally on their own, they would not have phrased their announcement as acceding to a request. Is it possible that even they in their heart of hearts believe this is going too far… and that it is only because of their respect for the Israeli Charedi leaders that they are doing it?
The prayer rally in Israel last Sunday as most people know was characterized as a plea to God to rescind the terrible decree to draft Charedim issued by the Israel government… calling it Shmad – the destruction of Torah study and Mitzvah observance. Even though they must know that this is at best a gross exaggeration and in my view completely false – they continue to characterize it this way. And that was the theme of that prayer rally.
Jonathan pointedly said that all that rhetoric was just posturing and the reality is that Charedi rabbinic leadership is actually quite happy with the way the draft law was being crafted. This is in direct contradiction to the message the Charedi world is trying to send to its flock (and anyone else who will listen). You can’t hold prayer rallies protesting Shmad when there isn’t any.
So there will be a prayer rally in New York next week and I ‘can’t wait’ to hear the hateful rhetoric blasting the State of Israel once again for attempting Shamd on the Torah True faithful. Videos like the one made available on the internet yesterday would make that kind of rhetoric laughable. And the last thing the Agudah et al wants is to be laughed at. So the video was restricted to the public.
Thankfully many people have already seen it – including me and many of my readers. And I believe I gave a pretty good description of what Jonathan said. Which he said was his own view – and not the official view of anyone or any organization. I have always admired Jonathan for his intellectual honesty; his integrity; his willingness to tell it like is; and his talent in expressing those views so well in writing.
Honestly expressed views by people with the integrity of a Jonathan Rosenblum should not be stifled – even if they are in direct opposition to those of his leaders. It is not disrespecting them to disagree with them.
That is where the Charedi world fails in my view. Their Hashkafa of Daas Torah trumps all else. If in their view one of their own has an opinion they don’t like, they will assert Daas Torah and that ends the conversation. The idea of being Mevatel (subordinating) yourself to the Gedolim – forces you to negate your views no matter how much you believe in them.
I don’t know how such thinking can continue to prevail in an large community of basically very smart people. And yet it does. I’m sure that Jonathan is OK with withdrawing his words from the public. That is what his conscience tells him is the right thing to do when he is told that his words contradict Daas Torah.
Which is one reason the internet is such a wonderful tool. The light of truth will surely clarify reality and no longer will there be a sole reliance on the rhetoric of one subset of Orthodox rabbinic leadership. So, in the absence of that video, my post about it (or one like it) should be circulated far and wide – especially at that prayer rally next week.
Update I spoke to Dr. Irving Lebovics at whose home Jonathan spoke. Dr. Lebovics attended Yeshiva University and Yeshivas Mir in Israel. He currently heads the Agudah in LA. He told me that the decision to make the video pass protected was a joint one by both him and Jonathan. Jonathan felt that he was misunderstood and that he did not clearly convey what he meant that evening – even though he did say what I said he did. He realized this after reading my post and some others on the internet. I appreciate Dr. Lebovics phone call. My hope is that Jonathan clarifiies his position in writing, his true forte.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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