Sunday, May 14, 2006

Monsey Asifa: Protecting our Gedolim from Hamodia

The self-proclaimed weekly newspaper of Torah Jewry, ie: Hamodia, has an article this week about the big Asifa. [No, it's not online. Give Hamodia credit for consistancy.]

First, I'm pleased to see that someone at Hamodia reads DovBear, on the sly. Because rather than perpetrate the grammar error which appeared on all of the Asifa's promotional materials, including the banner that adorned the dais, Hamodia refers to the Asifa as "historic," not "historical."

But its downhill from there

Unlike some of my blogging colleagues, I have a guarded respect for the gedolim. I don't think they are clairvoyant miracle workers, but I do think they own first rate minds, and I take it for granted that their knowledge of Rabininc literature is second to none. Unfortunately, Hamodia's report on the Asifa doesn't show us Gedlolim who are masters of reason and argument. We see no great minds. Instead, Hamodia makes Rabbi Shlomo Greenbaum, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman and Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon seem like blithering idiots. Choice examples:

Rabbi Shlomo Greenbaum... exhorted the olam to heed the call of the Gedolim whose Torah-inspired vision allows them to see in advance what we can see only in hindsight.

I don't know Rabbi Shlomo Greenbaum, but if he was invited to speak at the asifa, I imagine he's a smart cookie, and a smart cookie doesn't rely solely on appeals to authority to make his argument. I am sure Rabbi Greenbaum said more, but if he made a stronger case, it's not evident from Hamodia's reporting. Instead, all we see is a child telling us to listen to the grown ups. Also, "torah-inspired vision?" Who is still swayed by such nonsense? I concede that the Torah gedolim -like the gedolim in any discipline - can see things the ordinary person misses, but that's not "torah-inspired vision." That's logic, knowledge and experience. By adducing the "torah-inspired vision" of the Gedolim, Hamodia slights their brains.

Based on sources [Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman] compared the Internet to the koach hatumah of Miztrayim before the geulah.

The phrases "based on sources" when used in this context, suggests authorities from more than 10 years ago. Did Rabbi Wachsman really suggest that there are "sources" from the distant or recent Jewish past who identified the Internet with the "koach hatumah of Miztrayim?" Isn't it more likely that this is a conclusion reached by Rabbi Wachsman himself, or one of his colleagues? So why can't Hamodia say so? Why do they instead make him seem like a fool? Why is he portrayed as someone who sees references to the Internet in the old source material?

[Rabbi Wachsman] reminded the assembled that as shomrei Torah u'mitzvos we forego conveniences: we're all familiar with car trunks full of sandwiches and coolers of food [sic] because eating kosher food wherever we go is a given [sic] with no room for compromise. Needing the Internet for business purposed does not warrent bringing it to our home just to "make things easier."

If Rabbi Wachsman truly made this awful apples-to-oranges argument I tremble for my religon. We take kosher food with us when we vacation in places where kosher food isn't available because we have no other options: We can't eat treif. That's a lav. But checking the ball scores isn't a lav and there are countless other things to do on the Internet which are completely mutar. We can't stop at Howard Johnson's for a BLT, so the cooler full of food is a necessity, but that isn't an argument against using the Internet for permissible activities! The BLT is inherently osur. Baseball is not.

Responding to the argument that perhaps we should teach our children how to "live with the Internet," he said that we teach our children about cars, but we don't allow them to drive until they can handle the responsibility.

Yes. We teach our children about cars by permitting them see cars and to ride in cars. We also prepare them to drive cars safely, by permitting them to ride bikes, and by teaching them the rules of road safety. How does Rabbi Wachsman propose that we teach our children about the Internet if he also wants the Internet to be hidden from sight? If Rabbi Wachsman has his way, kids won't know anything about the Internet -indeed, they might not even know it exists- until they're old enough to use it without supervision. So when exactly are they supposed to learn the rules of Internet safety? When are they supposed to learn how to surf responsibly? I can't accept that someone with Rabbi Wachsman's reputation for brilliance, attempted such a sloppy argument.

Therefore, [said Rabbi Wachsman] adults should guard their tounges, think before they speak, and refrain from making cynical remarks.

Yes, apparently this is the same Rav Wachsman, who, per the account published at The Main Line, laced into bloggers for daring to publish a "cynical remark" made by a particular Flatbush Rabbi. [According to (not the)Godol Hador, the Flatbush Rabbi in question called Modern Orthodox Rabbis "misyavnim," and stated that they were trying to undermine the mitzvah of mila. If the Rabbi actualy said this, he deserves to have his name and his asinine remark plastered all over creation; if he didn't why hasn't someone from his shul contacted the bloggers with a true account? We'd gladly publish an exonerating account - if it existed. Bloggers, you see, generally aren't interested in slandering good men; we only wish to expose the bad men to the disinfectant properties of sunlight.]

The Mashgiach [Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon said] "everyone is willing to hear advice, recommendations, or suggestions, but they bristle at the mere mention of a takanah. Yet, a baal sechel should welcome a takonos if it means saving his children. "

Agreed. But shouldn't a baal sechel also be able to tell when his children are truly threatened? Doesn't he know the difference between alarmist nonsense and a real threat? As Hamodia tells it, Rabbi Solomon presented an either/or scenario: "Either you accept our decree and banish the Internet from your home, or your children will be lost forever." But this is a false choice. Those aren't the only two outcomes. It's completely possible to keep both the Internet and your children, and though a man of Rabbi Solomon's experience and intelligance surely understands this, you wouldn't know it from Hamodia's account.

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