Monday, December 27, 2010

In defense of Harry Maryles

At Matzav, Gavriel Rivlin has published a vicious attack on Harry Maryles who crossed the honorable, disinterested, gentlemen at Matzav by questioning the rabbinic ban on VIN.

For those who don't like reading obnoxious, self-serving posts, masquerading as honest criticism, here's the shorter Gavriel Rivlen: CHUTZPAH!!! (It helps to picture some fat, red-faced, blow-hard screaming down a counterargument)

In all honesty, Rivlin sounds like every clueless H.S Rebbe I've ever known. His endless screed against Harry Maryles and VIN (see it after the jump) can be summed up as follows: Turn off your brain and kneel before the Gedolim because this is Torah.

Well those of us who aren't graduates of whatever brainwashing academy produced Rivlin know it doesn't work that way.

We know the Gedolim aren't infallible, and we know they are often manipulated by zealots. Ample evidence of this exists, and several individual cases have been confirmed. We also know that open inquiry, free speech, and criticism make a culture and a community stronger, not weaker. And we know that someone who attempts to end an argument by accusing his opponent of acting disrespectfully is holding a losing hand.

More importantly, we know that telling the facts as we know them in an open forum, where others can respond with their own best understanding of facts, is the best way to discover the truth. Perhaps Harry is wrong when he says the VIN ban was manufactured by Satmar politicians, but we won't know if the matter is never discussed. By recommending silence, discretion, and blind obedience, Rivlin is only protecting those who are corrupt and dishonest. If the architects of the VIN ban have acted honorably, they have nothing to fear from a discussion of their methods and motives.

Though men like Rivlin refuse to see it, Judaism is not a cult, and nowhere are we required to offer Rabbis our blind obedience. Certainly, Rabbis are entitled to respect, but if their motives and decisions are never discussed or defended we've created a situation that's ripe for abuse. Men - even our gedolim - are not angles. Like anyone else, they are capable of errors and of being corrupted. Our only protection is dialog, and we must not accept Rivlin's attempt to bully us into obedience by suggesting that dialog is a chilul hashem.

The very fact that the Gedolim refuse to explain this ban is enough to make thoughtful people suspicious. We deserve to be treated like adults, and we're entitled to to how and why this decision was made. In 2010, its simply not enough to stick a hotly-worded polemic on a wall. If the Gedolim have a case against VIN let them make it clearly, calmly and coherently. If they are unable or unwilling to do this, they should not expect our compliance.

Harry Maryles, Have You No Shame?
Monday December 27, 2010 10:35 AM - 13 Comments
By Rabbi Gavriel Rivlin

It’s one thing to think something in one’s heart. It’s another to broadcast one’s thoughts over the airways, especially when it involves publicly questioning and openly criticizing gedolei Yisroel.

I admit that it is kind of ironic to deal with this issue on the internet, which seems to have become a breeding ground of sorts for those who wish to express their disdain for our most revered leaders and their decisions. But I am so disturbed by what I heard expressed by Rabbi Harry Maryles on the Zev Brenner radio show this past Motzoei Shabbos that I feel it is incumbent on me - and perhaps cathartic in dealing with my frustration - to express my outrage.

To be clear, our gedolim don’t need anyone, and surely not me, to defend their actions or counter those who publicly castigate them, but as Rav Chaim Brisker is quoted as saying, “Oib es tut vey shreit men - If it hurts, one screams.”

And it hurts. And I can’t help but protest the chillul Hashem that has ensued following the release of a recent kol korei. In fact, perhaps it is an even bigger chillul Hashem than the one which the kol korei addresses.

The kol korei released recently regarding a so-called “Jewish” and “Orthodox” website has garnered much attention. On the internet, with the help of several websites - two of which have connections to, or whose writers have worked or written for, the website in question - the kol korei was first branded as false and later painted as the work of an individual with an agenda.

Reading those claims, one would believe that the Vos Iz Neias website was in the category of a mainstream chareidi newspaper, pure of lashon harah, rechilus and anything objectionable, and the kol korei is simply preposterous. Those like Harry Maryles, Zev Brenner and others would have you believe that you couldn’t read a more pure and untainted publication than Vos Iz Neias.

Apparently, they haven’t read the site, because even those who defend the Vos Iz Neias website admit that its attraction is the fact that it pushes the envelope and reports those things that no self-respecting frum publication would publish.

It would appear that Harry Maryles and those who share his views wish to ignore the public defamation by VIN of the respected Dor Yeshorim organization, the false report by VIN regarding Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, and the publication of a report condemning a respected Monsey rov who stood up for kedushas Yisroel.

They ignore the incessant reporting by VIN of every frum Jew accused of doing something wrong. The Jewish world never had such reporting. Yes, people found out information from the non-Jewish world, but that is the way it should be. Mainstream Jewish reporting was designed to be free of gossip, rumors and allegations.

When a Jewish fellow from Lakewood was arrested, Vos Iz Neias gave free reign to those who wished to mock lomdei Torah, allowing commenters to call yungeleit hypocrites and names that I can’t write here. Similarly, the VIN comments have long been utilized as a platform for those who wish to question the decisions of rabbonim in a public domain. Anytime rabbonim have said something that certain people didn’t understand, didn’t agree with, or didn’t like to hear, they have been able to use VIN’s comments section to question the words of the gedolim. Such questions should be posed to admorim and rabbonim privately and not put out there in public for people to devaluate our Torah leaders.

This is compounded in general by a use of unedited language taken directly from non-frum media sources, the type of language unbefitting a frum audience convinced that they are reading a frum blog.

[It should be clear that we are not referring to mistakes that are made and are corrected. Every publication, websites included, is run by human beings who err. To err is human. But not to apologize or issue a change or correction is to suggest that "We don't give a hoot." In the aforementioned examples, despite requests, the VIN site never issued an apology, clarification or correction. Clearly, the truth has never mattered to its operators.

Some have tried to argue that there is nothing wrong with Vos Iz Neias, as it just provides up-to-the minute true Jewish news. The Jerusalem Post, The Forward and others do that too - alongside many of their immodest ads, objectionable comments and unfiltered language. If people go there to get news, that's their prerogative, but for mosdos and frum businesses to advertise on a such a site portrays it as being hashkafically mainstream when it is not. This is indeed problematic. There are some readers who assume that a site must be kosher based on the fact that frum businesses and mosdos advertise there. Viewed objectively, however, the VIN site has a liberal agenda, posting material and comments that fit its agenda and that are often not in consonance with Torah ideals.

The VIN site has also, despite being notified about it numerous times, unapologetically subscribed to secular advertising agencies which randomly feed ads to the website. A number of those ads have contained blatantly inappropriate text and images. These ads ran alongside those of mosdos and frum businesses. While this does not always happen, there must be some effort on the part of a frum website to ensure that this does not happen. Ignoring this demonstrates a total lack of responsibility or regard for what is proper and what is not.]

This is all ignored by Maryles, who unabashedly - on air and on his blog - questioned and criticized our gedolim, while simultaneously proclaiming how much he respects them and their mesiras nefesh.

In fact, this past Motzoei Shabbos, Maryles remarked on air to Zev Brenner that “he’s never seen anything [on Vos Iz Neias] remotely close to what was described in the kol korei.”

We guess he conveniently skipped over the articles and examples we gave above. How convenient. And there are dozens more examples. One need not be a Sherlock Holmes to find them.

Zev Brenner is a kind and sincere broadcaster, but we wish that he would stop allowing his radio show to continually serve as a medium for those looking to criticize our gedolim and those who operate mosdos haTorah and chinuch in American communities.

Both Maryles and Brenner made statements without picking up a phone to call even one of the signatories of the kol korei, including the Novominsker Rebbe, who, as pointed out on the radio show, was a rebbi of Maryles at the Hebrew Theological College (Skokie Yeshiva). Could he not pick up a phone to call the Rebbe, or Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, or any of the gedolim who signed? Is that too much to ask for before publically questioning our gedolim and, in essence, calling them competent?

What a disgrace. What a chillul Hashem.

Wouldn’t Harry expect one to call him to ascertain the veracity and background of his signature before he is publically lambasted?

Contrary to what Harry apparently believes, expressing one’s admiration for gedolim does not then give one a green light to publically question and criticize their views or stances. It is a disgrace of the highest regard, and it is shocking that Harry had no qualms about doing so.

Mr. Larry Gordon, the hardworking and dedicated publisher of The Five Towns Jewish Times appeared on the Zev Brenner show after Harry Maryles. It was Mr. Gordon’s publication, The Five Towns Jewish Times, that was first to report claims that the kol korei was orchestrated by an individual with an agenda, painting a picture of a flawless frum website that for some unknown reason was targeted by the gedolim. While Mr. Gordon sounded sincere on air and mentioned that there could be other legitimate motivating factors that prompted the rabbonim, that it is not what was stated in The Five Towns Jewish Times.

Neither Mr. Gordon nor Rabbi Yair Hoffman, a talented writer who writes for both The Five Towns Jewish Times and Vos Iz Neias and is often outspoken on communal issues, issued any statement about speaking to gedolim on the matter. Nowhere in The Five Towns Jewish Times article that questioned the validity of the gedolim’s statement was there mention of Mr. Gordon or Rabbi Hoffman or someone else calling the gedolim who signed the kol korei for their response to the claims made.

What is bothersome is that when a frum couple went on a court show and seemed to have gotten bungled in “Shaitel Gate,” Rabbi Hoffman wasted no time in making his way down to Georgie’s in Brooklyn to get to the bottom of the story.

Did this kol korei deserve any less? Could not the gedolim have been paid a visit?

It is astounding that a so-called frum newspaper would publish an article stating, in no uncertain terms, that our gedolim were fooled into signing a kol korei without mentioning speaking to even one of the rabbonim. Not one.

Once again, is that too much to ask for?

And while we appreciate Mr. Brenner’s expertise in radio broadcasting and his desire to conduct a fair and balanced interview on the matter, we found it very disturbing that Zev, during his discussions and at the end of the broadcast, referred to the website which the gedolim forbade as “great” and “wonderful.”

So we have Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, the Novominsker Rebbe and some of our other gedolim stating that the website is a chillul Hashem, and we have Zev Brenner calling it “great” and “wonderful.”

Zev, we expect more from you. You have done so much good and you are a truly honest and forthright individual. We are sure it was not intentional, but we must stand up for kavod haTorah.

At the same time, we have Harry Maryles sharing his “theories” and “guesses” - those were his words - about the whys and the whats of the kol korei. We have him making assumptions and sharing speculations without picking up a phone. We have him stating that he is “the last person to give advice” to the gedolim, and then promptly stating that gedolim “don’t have time to do research, and if they can’t make proclamations accurately, innocent people get hurt.”

You read correctly. Harry Maryles has the nerve, on public radio, to disparage gedolim in ways that are simply shocking. “I no longer believe that due diligence is done,” adds Harry.

When questioned to whom he was addressing his remarks, Harry said that people “should not lose faith in our rabbinic leadership,” and his message is actually to “the leadership to be a bit more careful” and “not let this happen again.”

If this wasn’t on air, you’d think I made it up or that the remarks were issued by someone from outside the frum community.

Yet here we have a rabbi, a member of the frum community, going on air, giving advice to our gedolim, saying they are irresponsible, and admitting that he had not spoken to even one of them prior to making his remarks.

“If they keep making mistakes, people will question their leadership capabilities,” he said.

Harry, have you no shame?

No, it wasn’t our gedolim who are mistaken. It is you who made the egregious mistake of vilifying our gedolim in a public venue. For the life of me, I can’t understand the justification for such conduct, from a rabbi no less.

Perhaps Harry does not understand what is wrong with VIN because he is guilty of the same thing the website has been at fault for. If one thinks a gadol has erred or was manipulated, chas veshalom, one doesn’t discuss it publically, which can hurt the way our generation perceives our Einei Ha’edah. Instead, one should get involved in shtadlonus and present their questions properly to a gadol. VIN, as mentioned above, has allowed people to question or mock what our leaders say about issues they don’t understand or are just not comfortable with. Apparently, Harry feels that’s okay.

So I say to Harry and those who espouse his mistaken views, if we’re at the point where public castigation of gedolim has become an accepted practice, then we might as well all close up shop, move to the Amazon, and leave our hallowed traditions behind, because the Yiddishkeit I was taught had the gedolim serving as the Einei Ha’eidah, the guide posts of the generation, not the objects of scorn and ridicule, chas vechalilah.

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