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The “New” Outreach?

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A letter published in last week’s issue as well as several others slated for publication in the coming weeks, are critical of our editorial comment several weeks ago regarding Agudath Israel of America’s Avi Shafran’s penchant for addressing religious issues in non-Orthodox publications. Our comments were triggered by a particular Shafran piece in the March 21 issue of such a publication, The Jewish Week, entitled “What Da’at Torah Really Means,” in which Shafran addressed the seeming rejection by so-called Modern Orthodoxy of the notion of general deference in decision-making to Torah authorities. Shafran’s particular targets were YU’s President Rabbi Norman Lamm and Edah’s director, Rabbi Saul Berman. Although they differ in otherwise significant ways, virtually all of the letters justify Shafran’s efforts in the non-Orthodox press as efforts at “hasbarah” and “outreach.” We continue in our belief that Shafran’s labors are misdirected.

If Rabbi Shafran is interested in reaching the Modern Orthodox audience, it is seems hardly logical for him to offer his wares in publications with a non-Orthodox philosophy and constituency. If he is interested in making a universal statement, then the error in pursuing a non-Orthodox venue is even more manifest.

Where exactly is the precedent for the latter enterprise? When Torah leaders of sainted memory such as Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveichik sought to air their views on profound halachic and
communal issues, they invariably sought out Orthodox publications. Indeed, Rav Soloveichik’s historic 1956 challenge to the Conservative movement was delivered in the Orthodox Daily, Der Tag, not the Forvertz.

Moreover, if his goal was to persuade the non-Orthodox Jewish Week readers as to the legitimacy of the notion of Da’as Torah, why in Heaven’s name would he attempt to do so in an article showcasing Orthodox division on the issue? Indeed, if, as our critics have suggested, Shafran’s efforts are focused on outreach to the non-Orthodox, we cannot imagine that a single non-Orthodox reader of The Jewish Week would somehow be drawn to Orthodoxy after reading the biting comments of those on both sides of the Orthodox divide – Shafran’s assault on Rabbis Lamm and Berman and Berman’s retaliatory remarks.

Surely the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action, the Rabbinical Council of America’s Tradition, the Young Israel’s Viewpoint, and yes, even The Jewish Press, have sufficiently wide circulation and would be more suitable forums for reaching the desired audience. Are these so ideologically anathema to Agudah but The Jewish Week not?

We are also constrained to point out that the stadt and self-justification that may come from being identified in secular oriented publications – “Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America” – is fleeting at best.

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