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Posts Tagged ‘Agudath Israel’

The “New” Outreach?

Friday, May 30th, 2003

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.

Rabbi Avi Shafran And The Jewish Press

Friday, June 28th, 2002

We are saddened by some assertions made by Agudath Israel of America spokesman Rabbi Shafran in last week’s Forward newspaper. We have, until now, avoided any editorializing on the continuing and animated exchange of opinion that has appeared for several weeks in our Letters To The Editor section, preferring to let our readers explore the issue of Agudath Israel’s non-participation in the recent Washington rally in support of Israel. And we will not now address the controversy. However we cannot leave unremarked some of Rabbi Shafran’s comments.

The Forward quotes Rabbi Shafran as saying, “Jewish Press readers, to a large part, are more centrist or Modern Orthodox readers. They may have a pre-existing animus for Agudath Israel and used the rally to jump on us and to both misconstrue and misrepresent us.”

Rabbi Shafran should better have focused on the message rather than the messengers. He did not help his cause by laboring so hard to suggest that the demographics of our readership somehow skewed the totality of the commentary that appeared in our paper. After all, “a large part” of our readership is not “most of it”. Nor is the notion that our readers “may have a pre-existing animus for Agudath Israel” all that persuasive. Of course, Rabbi Shafran knew that the demographics are not what he tried to communicate to Forward readers. These sort of contrivances should be beneath a national organization that acts out of principle.

More important, Rabbi Shafran also left unaddressed the signal fact of Agudath Israel’s participation in the 1974 mass demonstration in Dag Hammarsjold Plaza against the PLO, despite his having claimed that Agudath Israel stayed away from the Washington rally because of a “longstanding policy” against such involvement. Indeed, The Jewish Press did not create the statement of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, a”h, on the importance of Agudath Israel’s demonstrating “wall-to-wall” support for Israel despite the organization’s dissent from some of what went on there. We just reported it.

Rabbi Shafran apparently feels that Agudath Israel is uniquely shielded from having to explain anything it does. But he must now know that there are consequences to such a posture.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/editorial/rabbi-avi-shafran-and-the-jewish-press/2002/06/28/

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