Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orlofsky's contrition

David Orlofsky has published a letter in which he appologizes for insulting RHW (The letter was sent to me, likely by the same person who sent it to Luke Ford, but he published it first. I guess that wins Luke a hat-tip).

Full text and my comments after the jump

My comments have been updated.
Dear Friends,

As I recover from my initial shock, of hearing the harsh recording of myself from 51/2 years ago blaring at me, I feel I need to get some perspective for myself and for the people who know me well.

The recording wasn't harsh. What you said was harsh.

I am a pretty open person. I don’t have a lot to hide. I can’t think of a time when I refused a request to record any of my shiurim, public or private. In truth I have a style that has been described as humorous although also with an edge. As I get older I have gotten better at striking a balance between the two and not coming on too harsh. But there have definitely been times that I have lost control and gone overboard. I regret those times.

When the Slifkin debacle was taking place, I was being sent on a daily basis entry after entry attacking gedolei Torah. My view on gedolei Torah is clear – Klal Yisroel has always turned to their Torah authorities for guidance and direction. There have been legitimate disagreements which gadol to follow, but as long as everyone felt bound by Torah and halacha, that was legitimate.

What is not legitimate were the terrible attacks on gedolei Torah being perpetrated by the “bloggers”, a term I was not familiar with at the time. 

Perhaps my memory is fading but I seem to recall dozens, if not tens of dozens, of bloggers who objected to the Slifkin ban, and managed to express their disagreement without insulting anyone. I sincerely believe I was one of them and RHW, though not a blogger, is an example of the sort of level headed Jew, who was honestly distraught about how Slifkin was railroaded. Many bloggers were coming from the same place, and expressed themselves as decorously as RHW did.  Like his cohort Avi Safran, Orlo is tarring all bloggers with the same brush. This is deeply unfair. On behalf of those bloggers who disagreed with the ban, yet did not insult anyone, I feel justified in demanding  an apology,

These people had always existed of course, but they were usually relegated to the back of the shul or the mikva, where they would share their witticisms and attacks on Torah among themselves.Today, anyone can set up a weblog and say anything they want, no matter how nasty or unsubstantiated it may be, 

And just about anyone can teach a class to impressionable young people and say anything he wants, no matter how nasty or unsubstantiated it may be --as Orlo has shown us. A guy like him, who sits in a classroom, not teaching Torah, but spouting his opinion, is just like a certain type of blogger, only Orlo has a smaller audience. Why he thinks he's better than us, is a mystery. We're cut from the exact same cloth.

and many people will flock to read it. These are people who no one pays attention to in real life, but they take on an anonymous identity and can be as outrageous as they want, without having to take responsibility for their words.

Really? No one pays attention to Gil Student or Harry Maryles in real life? Both, I expect, will find this amusing, and may chuckle about it on the way to the next well-attended event in which they are featured as speakers. Orlo, it seems, hasn't learned anything. He's still saying nasty, unsubstantiated things. And if he's speaking specifically of the anonymous bloggers, well, he's part right. He's wrong to say no one listens to us in real life (how would he know?) but he's correct that we don't take any responsibility for our words; however, we also don't expect anyone to believe us. We expect to be disregarded out of hand. We know we have no credibility. Because we're anonymous, we have to work 10 times as hard and actually make our cases. No one, absolutely no one, says, "Well if that's how DovBear holds, there must be something to it."  Unlike Orlo and the Gedolim we can't simply rest on our reputations; we have to prove our points. If people, generally, accepted what the anonymous bloggers had to say about Slifkin, and not what the well-known luminaries like Orlo said, doesn't that seem to be a rather strong indication that we had the better case?

Also, this might be a generational thing, but its deeply amusing that Orlo doesn't consider the Internet to be "real life." I wonder if his grandpappy thought the telegraph wasn't "real life" People happen to pay attention to me both online and off, but even if I was a shut in, with only Internet relationships, that would still be "real life".

I was told at the time, that my opinion, koton that I am (or maybe because I am a koton), would make a difference to a lot of people who were confused by the disinformation that was going around.

As I recall, you were the source of the disinformation.

As one yeshiva guy put it “Orlofsky is such a cynic, if he believes the gedolim on this, it must be true! So I tried to draft a letter on the subject, to defend the gedolim who had signed the kol koreh against Slifkin’s books. No one authorized me to do so, since why would they? Who am I? As I told one person who thought I was acting on behalf of Reb Moshe Shapiro, do you really think if he wants to get a message out to the world, he would choose the guy sitting in the back taking notes who doesn’t really understand everything that well? He has doctors and scientists and big talmidei chachamim in his shiurim – why would he pick me?

I sent the draft to a friend for his thoughts and he mistakenly sent it to someone else. Soon the bloggers had it. They decided to declare open season on me. 

I don't have the best memory, but I don't recall anyone other than GH attacking Orlo. So open season?
I've been corrected.

UPDATE: If this version of events is true, and the bad old bloggers got it by mistake, why did Gil call it an official letter, and say Orlo published it?
UPDATE: Gil was speaking of a later version of the letter, which was "official" it was release after the leaked version was ripped into bite sized pieces.

Unfortunately, although I can be accused of being a loudmouth, fifty years of clean living didn’t leave them much to work with. They were reduced to calling me stupid (I’ve been called that by better people) or “a third rate seminary teacher” (which I said is not an insult, it’s a job description) and “kiruv clown”.

GH also demolished your letter, and made a mockery of your arguments. Odd that you remember the insults but not that.

The personal insults didn’t bother me, I was upset though, that somehow I had been propelled into controversy, when I had managed to avoid this kind of thing my whole life. But can I remain silent when I see great people being maligned?

Yes. Yes, you can. 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to choose between playing it safe and maintaining your integrity. I was given my chance “to take a bullet for the president”.

This makes no sense. You weren't trying to "take a bullet" for anyone. You were trying to show everyone that no bullets needed to be fired. The bullet you took wasn't "for" anyone. It was directed at you, not them, and acquired via your own stupidity. You weren't attacked with bullets meant for the gedolim. You were attacked for writing a senseless letter filled with misinformation. Saying you "took a bullet" means you saved them, that you put yourself between the attacker and the victim. That's not what happened.

In the middle of this maelstrom I was told that there were people in the Ohr LaGolah class I was teaching who were being affected by all the bashing. Now these are not Ohr Someach students; these are Rabbonim who are part of a separate program and supposed to be people who share common values. One of those values is allegiance to the concept of following gedolei Torah. To hear the views of the bloggers coming out of the mouths of these people was very upsetting.

It wasn't the "views of the bloggers". It was the view of almost every thoughtful person I knew. What the gedolim did to Slifkin was unconscionable (or rather what the zealots did to him was unconscionable; the gedolim were guilty only of letting themselves be taken for a ride). Most people didn't need the bloggers to figure this out on their behalf. They realized it on their own.

And so I lost it. 

Oh. The bloggers made you do it? How lame. You insulted Hersh Weinreb for the same reason Mel Gibson insulted Jews. Those types of words don't come out of a vacuum. It's clear as day you already had a low opinion of the man. The bloggers may have made you mad, but they didn't put the ideas into your head. Perhaps something needed to light the fuse, and perhaps that Slifkin controversy was what did it, but the dynamite was already there.

I did not prepare a well thought out presentation to give on the subject; that I did in my Har Nof shiur. Here I allowed myself to lose control and speak in an unacceptable manner. I have already written to Rabbi Weinreb, a man I have a lot of respect for and have spoken with in the past, to beg for forgiveness. The mench that he is, wrote me back:

machul lach, machul lach, machul lach. Kesiva v’chasima tovah to you and yours. THW

which is frankly more than I deserve because of the harsh way I spoke about him. But he is a better man than I.

Not in dispute.

Rabbi Nissel, who has been close to Rabbi Weinreb for many years on a personal level, was shocked to see that he was being dragged into this mess.

Dragged into the mess by YOU. You're the one who attributed the story to him.

He shared that story about Rabbi Weinreb, to show his gadlus; how he had an appreciation for the gedolei Torah. 

And YOU shared the story for the very opposite reason.

It was I that used it to create a contrast between that and what I felt was infidelity to them. It was not a point I made in any other forum but in this class I allowed my emotions to get the better of me.The shiur lasted an hour. I am relieved that at my worst, the bloggers could only find 2 minutes worth of material to use to humiliate me. So I guess at my worst, I am okay 98% of the time.

Yeah, you're the best. Pat. Pat.

The second clip, cut immediately at the words “Modern Orthodox” was obviously a slip of the tongue. I said “Conservative” several times; that was my point. Conservative Judaism accepts the concept of “Catholic Israel” developed by Solomon Shechter that klal Yisroel and not the Rabbonim are the ultimate deciders of Jewish tradition.

Ok, so you meant to say "Conservative Jews" aren't benai Torah? Why is that an improvement?

Update: I have in my possession a recording of a lecture given by R. Nosan Kaminetsky at Young Israel  Beth El of Boro Park. At this lecture RNK says clearly and plainly that he does not believe his book Making of a Godol would have been banned if Rav Elyashiv read English. He also says that a zealot - specifically a descendant of R. Aaron Kotler - manipulated Rav Elyashiv into banning the book. By Orlo logic R. Nosan Kaminetsky is not Orthodox and also, presumably, a liar. After all, Orlo is heard on the tape saying anyone who says like RNK belongs in the Conservative camp. So is RNK wrong and non-Orthodox or what?  I'd love to hear Orlo explain this.

Modern Orthodox (and that is an amorphous term) does not reject that concept to the best of my knowledge. HaRav Lichtenstein from the Gush once bemoaned the fact that there was no Moetzis Gedolei Torah for the Dati Leumi. I don’t know what comes next in the recording; I don’t have a copy, but it could be that I clarify this point in the next minute.

So that’s the story. The bloggers who have had it out for me for years, found a class from 51/2 years ago where I said some harsh things. 

Yes, we all work together, and have been scouring your recordings for half-a-decade. In fact "How can we nail that super, great guy Orlo" was the subject of the keynote at our super secret convention

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of recordings of me around. If this is the best they can do, at least I have more control than I realize.

Alternative explanation: The bloggers aren't out to get you, and we haven't been searching for clips in which you embarrass yourself and your employers.

I don’t know how these things come to a close, 

You offer a real apology, and one that doesn't seek to spread the blame around, or slander all the bloggers in the world.

but if there is anything to learn from it, it’s the lesson I learnt from Pirkei Avos “there is an eye that sees and an ear that hears and everything is written in a book”.

Ksiva VaChasima Tova


Dovid Orlofsky

Search for more information about David O at

No comments: