Professor Marc B. Shapiro writes via email:
Just today someone called my attention to the excerpt of my class that you posted. These were comments made to a live online class of around 25. I have been giving classes on gedolim for many years now (and many of the listeners are actually in the [American] haredi world). We discuss all sorts of things, and the questions I am asked are no different than the ones asked in haredi yeshivot, even if my answers may sometimes be different. With all the people we discuss (and it is often a discussion) we do it with respect.
I was asked about the description of R. Elyashiv in the book which a couple of years ago everyone was talking about, and I gave my impressions. Following the class some people emailed me similar stories about other gedolim and even talmudic passages, and I discussed these in a later class. The conversatiion we had was no different than if a group of friends were discussing how sad they think it is that one of the greatest Torah sages had so little contact with his family, and how this was turned into something to admire by this book. As I said in the excerpt you posted, this is not the sort of thing that should be publicized by a family (and there are indeed members of the family who backed this book, while others opposed it).
This is all online and therefore anyone can listen to what we said and cite it. But you turned this into a headline in order to attack R. Elyashiv. What was a description of a man who is not comfortable around people, and found refuge in the books (which I think is very sad), became for you a means to defame him. What is part of his personality that he can't control, is seen by you as a way to knock him.
The conversation in my class was not designed to be broadcast all over the world so people can join in and heap abuse on a great Torah sage (and I have to say that Torah in Motion does not permit posting excerpts as you did.) I almost fell off my chair when I saw you describe one of the greatest Torah sages alive as a "sick, evil, vindictive man." How can you speak about a great Torah sage that way? R. Elyashiv has always struggled with relating to people (this is no secret). There are many people who have this struggle, and some become great sages. Do you have so little understanding of psychology that you refer to such a person as "evil"?
I realize that some people might not like any examinations of the lives of gedolim, and only want hagiography. This was already an issue in my book on R. Weinberg. But as those who participate in my classes know, each figure we discuss, even those who views are diametrically opposed to my own, are treated by me (and the participants) with the great respect, even awe, while at the same time we try to understand their pesonalities and motivations.
I cannot for the life of me understand how even if you disagree with R. Elyashiv you can refer to him this way. Everything he has ever done has been to advance Judaism as he sees it. Of course, you can disagree, but since when does disagreement mean that you can speak about him this way and use what I said to tear down this great sage, especially now when he is need of a refuah shelemah? I was discussing a problematic portrayal in a hagiography, which I thinks helps illuminate some of the ethos in the Israeli haredi world, and you saw it as an opportunity to attack a Torah sage in a very crude way.
I thought that your website was about exposing problems in the Orthodox world (e.g., sexual abuse), and thought that this could be valuable. But this post really crossed the line.
I think Shapiro's email is horrific. Here's how I responded:
So in your mind, the very real defects of the man who leads Ashkenazi haredi Jewry should not be used to judge what he's done to others, to judge his cruelty? Go ask Natan Slifkin how this great Torah sage treated him. Go ask legitimate candidates for Ashekenazi Chief Rabbi, who watched an unqualified stooge with a checkered background get the job because your "sage" wanted to weaken –and if possible, destroy – the Rabbinute. Ask converts what he and his proxies have done to them. Did you know that when Yitzchok Fisher was found to have transmitted HSV-1 to infants through metzitzah b'peh, he asked Rabbi Elyashiv if he should stop doing MBP. Elyashiv told him to continue doing it (and also, apparently, not to cooperate with authorities). What does this "sage" owe the babies Fischer subsequently infected, and other babies infected by other mohels because of it? This is an abridged list, Marc, there's more and you know it. You've just shown the world that you're no more honest than the average Moetzet member or Agudah hack. You knew the class was taped, that it would be advertised and sold to the public. The class was open to anyone who wanted to join – no preconditions at all, no background checks, no special club signs needed to get in. And you knew it. What Torah are you covering for? The one that tells us to lie to make our leaders look good? Should we call it Sheker in Motion? But I have to thank you. You've shown me that in the end, even the best of Orthodoxy still chooses sheker over emet. If it was true when you taught it to 35 students, it's true when its repeated to tens of thousands. So what happened? Did the shul in Scranton threaten you? Were you asked to stay away? Did they threaten to deny your family access? Aliyot? Or do you really believe that no matter how cruel, vindictive and mean a "gadol" is, as long as he's living, he's beyond hard criticism and honest reporting of his cruelty? Which is it?
And Shapiro responded – but without really answering any of my questions:
Everything is context. Something discussed in a class with people who have been together for a long time is different than what goes out online with big headlines when designed to attack as opposed to understand. I am the first to say, and I say now, that I disagree with so much of what R. Elyashiv says. For me it is very sad to read about his family life. Everyone has his or her issues. But to publish a book which portrays not knowing your children's names as a sign of greatness and something to aspire to, that to me is outrageous. The issue for me is the ethos in the haredi world where this sort of thing is put out there as something positive.
And then, as I was marking up this post, Shapiro also added this:
And yes, I believe you do have to weigh things. If all R. Elyashiv did was the things you mention, then I could understand your description of him. But he has done much, much more in his life. If Natan Slifkin wants to attack him, I might understand it (to his credit he didn't) But what has R. Elyashiv done to you that all you focus on is the bad? Believe me, there is also lots and lots of good in R. Elyashi, which I am sure you could find if you wanted tov.
Yes, Professor Shapirao, what do sickened babies and terrorized converts have to do with me? What does the horrific mistreatment of a scholar or the shaming of the Rabbinute or the desperate people with pikuakh nefesh needs turned away cold by Elyahiv have to do with me?
After all, Elyashiv didn't hurt me directly. He just hurt those poor, weak, defenseless people the Torah says we should protect and stand up for.
And by now, we all know the Torah isn't something to be taken seriously – unless it gives us license to hate schvartzes or gays or some other group we don't like anyway.
So what is this all to me?
Isn't that what the wicked son says at the seder?
We should all say a virtual kaddish right now, because the Torah is dead and we're the last generation who will know to mourn it.