The new Jewish Action, a quarterly publication of the supposedly Modern Orthodox OU, has a hit piece written by Rabbi Zev Leff. The target of Rabbi Leff's hit? Professor Marc B. Shapiro's now-three-year-old book, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised.
Dr. Shapiro is Modern Orthodox, active in his community and a teacher at the popular Toronto-based Torah In Motion series currently under haredi attack. Rabbi Leff is a haredi polemicist and an alumnus of Teshe Yeshiva. Dr. Shapiro is a widely published scholar; Rabbi Leff is not.
Still, the OU saw nothing wrong with assigning the review of Dr. Shapiro's book to a haredi polemicist or in publishing a smear against Dr. Shapiro.
Dan Rabinowitz and Menachem Butler, editors of the Seforim Blog, gave Dr. Shapiro a chance to respond. Dr. Shapiro begins this way:
Rabbi Zev Leff (of Moshav Matityahu) reviewed my book, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised, in the most recent issue of Jewish Action [see review]. I don’t feel that he gave the readers a correct sense of what the book is about. To rectify that, I can only ask people to read for themselves and determine if his portrayal is accurate. For now, I would like to challenge him on the specific points he makes.
1. He writes “The Chatam Sofer in his responsa (Yoreh Deah 356) cites a source even older than Rambam who refers to Thirteen Principles of Faith.” As I noted in the book (p. 36 n. 176) the Hatam Sofer was mistaken about this. The source he refers to was actually composed by R. Yom Tov Lipmann Muelhausen (14th-15th cent.) and has recently been published. (I also point out that in another responsum, Even ha-Ezer II, no. 148, Hatam Sofer himself realizes that the source we are talking about has nothing to do with the Thirteen Principles which, he acknowledges, originate with Rambam.) The fact that R. Leff could include such a sentence, even though I showed it to be incorrect, leaves me with some doubts as to how closely he read my book.…
Dr. Shapiro goes on to show mistake after mistake made by Rabbi Leff, along with what clearly appear to be lies of omission told by Rabbi Leff, including this one:
I quoted sources that indicate that the notion of tikkun soferim is to be taken literally. Among these sources are Midrash Tanhuma and Yalkut ha-Makhiri (as well as the Arukh and a number of other texts which R. Leff does not mention, leaving the reader with the wrong impression).
Rabbi Leff then goes on to attack the Midrash Tanhuma as a source for Dr. Shapiro's argument, leaving out the other sources Dr. Shapiro quoted – sources that can not be refuted. And the Tanhuma 'refutation'? It really is not one, as Dr. Shapiro notes:
[Rabbi Leff] writes: “What Dr. Shapiro fails to mention is that those portions of the Tanchuma and Yalkut are not found in most early editions.” Let’s assume that this is correct (although to prove this one would need to actually examine the manuscripts, not simply refer to two apologetic comments found in the standard rabbinic commentary to Tanhuma). This would make perfect sense, as later copyists would be inclined to leave out that which they regarded as controversial or even heretical. What then does this prove?
Furthermore, the sources R. Leff mentions are only referring to Tanhuma. Neither of them mention anything about Yalkut ha-Makhiri. Of course, I am sure that he will also assert that this text is a forgery, or was written by a “mistaken student,” and will do the same with any other text that presents an alternate understanding of tikkun soferim.
What Rabbi Leff has done is reprehensible. What the OU has done by publishing this hit piece, and by not giving Dr. Shapiro a chance to respond in situ to Rabbi Leff's smear is far, far worse.
Is Modern Orthodoxy sliding to the right, to borrow a term from Professor Samuel Heilman? Sure it is.