Thursday, December 30, 2010

I refuse to obey pashkevils

Generally, a pashkevil is a broadside posted on a wall that announced some new religious ban or rulings Sometimes, they appear in newspapers, often as paid advertisements.  Recently, the Gedolim used a pashkevil to announce their ban on VIN.

The problem with the pashkevil is it usually employs overheated language, and provides no real justification for the new rule or ban. Instead of arguing facts, as in a lawyer's brief, the author of a pashkevil attempts to frighten or shame his audience into obeying. Threats are sometimes made, and dissenting points of view, when they are represented at all, are demonized . In other words, the pashkevil harangues rather than convinces.
Often serious questons are raised about the process used to produce a pashkevil. Sometimes, it is alleged, the pashkevil is written by a zealot or someone who stands to benefit materially from the new rule of ban. Sometimes the signatories aren't told all the facts, or they are given a misrepresentation of pertinent details. In one famous case, the signatories may not even have been given the pashkevil to which their signatures were later attached. If the pashkevil bans something like a book, the author is not sually given a chance to reply and his side of the story is not shared. In another famous case, an English book was banned by a pashkevil signed by Hebrew-speaking Rabbis who, for the most part, were English-illiterate. Is it not known if the signatories perform formal  investigations of any kind before agreeing to endorse the claims of a pashkevil, nor is there any mechanism or precedent for withdrawing or modifying a pashkevil after questions about it have been raised.

To the best of my knowledge, the Rabbis have never publicly addressed these shortcomings. Until they are addressed, I simply refuse to obey pashkevils. I encourage you to ignore them, too.

This proposal is not a slap at the Rabbis who use pashkevils to publicize their fiats, nor is it a casting off of their authority. It is a slap at the process itself, a process that is often abused by zealots, and one that ultimately provides us with absolutely no assurances that a pashkevil reflects the true views of the men who have signed them. It is a process that must be reformed.

If you agree, please make it known that you also refuse to obey pashkevils. You can do this by commenting on this thread, or by joining this Facebook group, or by simply making it clear to anyone who asks that you refuse to obey pashkevils. I don't pretend that the people who write and rely on pashkevils use Facebook or blogs, but it is the small stones that start an avalanche. If enough people make it clear that they will not obey pashkevils, the method will fall into disuse.

Let's hope that together we can end the pashkevil era and help create a new, transparent, reliable, and fair process for making and disseminating Rabininc decisions. Let's force the Rabbis to recognize that thinking adults should not be expected to embrace new rules, or abandon old habits on the basis of an angry diatribe stuck on a wall. Let's make them understand that by continuing to use pashkevils, they are undermining their  own authority and subjecting themselves and the Torah they represent to scorn and mockery. Let's change Orthodox Judaism for the better.

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