Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum used to stand out among haredi spokesmen (there are no spokeswomen) for his honesty. But, as haredi positions have grown harder and more extreme, Rosenblum has been forced to…
… forgo his honesty and opt for heavy, disingenuous spin.
We first saw this last year when Rosenblum misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the Langer case, and used that misrepresentation to promote the haredi cause.
Now, Rosenblum does the same with today's conversion crisis:
…Needless to say, most mainstream journalists are totally lacking the ability to read, much less evaluate, the halachic sources upon which the Rabbinical High Court based its decision, and could care less about the halachic issues involved. As a consequence, they placed a decision about a halachic issue onto a template more congenial to them, and reported it like a sports match or political contest: In this corner the "tolerant" Rabbi Druckman, and in the other corner "hard-hearted" haredi judges engaged, as always, in ruthless power grabs.
Even on its own terms, the World Wrestling Federation metaphor cannot be sustained. Rabbi Avraham Sherman, author of the Rabbinical High Court decision, served for many years as an IDF rabbi, and once spent a sabbatical at Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy.
Another one of the judges graduated the national religious hesder system. Finally, the High Court's decision was endorsed by the European Conference of Rabbis, hardly a haredi organization…
Jonathan Rosenblum grew up in a non-Orthodox American Jewish home. Does that mean his current views represent the Bund or Conservative Judaism? Of course not.
Further, both rabbis in question are now haredi. They are both – especially Avraham Sherman – close to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the haredi leader behind the conversion crisis.
And, despite Rosenblum's assertion to the contrary, the European Conference of Rabbis is largely haredi.
As for Israeli journalists' ability to read rabbinic teshuvot, the rabbinic court could alleviate this problem (which extends to the vast majority of haredim, who also lack the skills necessary to read those teshuvot) by translating their sources into modern Hebrew with full punctuation (and no arcane abbreviations) and publishing them, along with the court's own teshuva, on the Internet and with its decision.
To not do this but to criticize the public for (allegedly) not understanding the basis for the court's decision is disingenuous.
Rosenblum goes on:
…Rabbi Sherman was stating the overwhelming consensus of halachic opinion that a mere pro forma declaration of one's commitment to full mitzva observance is inadequate, and that a beit din must assure itself, after searching inquiry, of the candidate's sincere intention to take on full mitzva observance. As the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Herzog wrote, the burden on the beit din is much heavier in contemporary times, when a convert is not necessarily joining an overwhelmingly observant Jewish community.
Rabbi Druckman apparently does not share that view. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, perhaps Rabbi Druckman's most distinguished defender, tacitly admitted as much when he said, "When did we ever hear that someone who relies on a minority opinion against the commonly held one is considered a willing heretic?" (Rabbi Lichtenstein's father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, considered it axiomatic that conversion requires a full acceptance of mitzvot.)…
What Rosenblum does not tell you is that Sherman's decision overturning Rabbi Druckman's conversions was made by ruling Rabbi Druckman a willing heretic.
In other words, without doing that, Druckman's conversions would still stand.
As for the minority view, Rosenblum continues to misrepresent. He also equates Rabbi Druckman with non-Orthodox clergy:
…Orthodox rabbis have long criticized heterodox rabbis for not informing "converts" that their conversions will not be recognized by a large segment of the Jewish world, and thereby paving the way for future tragedies. And the same can be said of an Orthodox rabbi who follows a single opinion against the overwhelming weight of historical and contemporary halachic decisors.
First of all, Rabbi Druckman followed the opinions of several noted rabbis – including a former Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel. The idea that Druckman took one lone opinion and held by it when there are hundreds of opposing opinions is simply false.
Further, the job of a posek (a rabbi who decides Jewish law) is to use all decisions – even minority decisions, even lone minority decisions – to reach the correct decision. And that decision may be lenient or strict or somewhere in between. And it may be supported by dozens of poskim or by just a few.
The job of a posek is not to add up those in favor and those against and then go with the majority. It is to apply his best reasoning to the current, unique case before him, using previous decisions as guides but not as judicial fiats.
For example, it could be that Rabbi Druckman would have preferred changing the Law of Return to define Jew by halakha rather than by secular law. Now, after that move to change the Law of Return failed and Israel has hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish citizens from the Former Soviet Union, after the fact, Rabbi Druckman is willing to rely on a minority position that he otherwise would have rejected.
This same process is done day after day by poskim asked to decide everything from the kosher status of a chicken to the validity of a marriage. It is the normative halakhic process. And nowhere in that process does the "vote" of Yosef Shalom Elyashiv count more than the vote of Rabbi Haim Druckman.
Finally, Rosenblum fails to tell his readers there is a very real rabbinic discussion over what, exactly, accepting the yoke of the commandments actually means.
We do know that, until very recent times, a convert was told about a small number of mitzvot – one or two severe, a few more light – and was then converted immediately. There was no years of mandatory conversion classes and no deep investigation into the converts motives and background. And the court that did those conversions? It did not need to have even one ordained rabbi sitting on it – three laymen was enough.
The haredi arguments made against Rabbi Druckman could easily have been made 2000 years ago by Beit Shammai against Beit Hillel – in fact, they were.
Beit Hillel was never frum enough for Beit Shammai. Beit Hillel was too lenient. It cared too much about then-modern circumstance and not enough about "tradition." Beit Shammai thought Beit Hillel was intellectually weak. And Beit Shammai thought Beit Hille was too respectful and accepting of non-Jews.
So, as I wrote almost three years ago during the height of the Rabbi Slifkin Ban, Beit Shammai acted:
…The Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 1:4 tells a story of those times. The sages were meeting at the home of a prominent supporter, on the roof of his house. Beit Shammai appeared armed, murdered several members of Beit Hillel, and blocked the exit from the roof. No member of Beit Hillel was allowed to leave until he agreed to uphold the halakha of Beit Shammai, the minority. Beit Hillel – fearing for their lives – gave in. The sages then passed 18 gezerot (decrees) proposed by Beit Shammai. Most were aimed at separating Jews from Gentiles, and included kashrut gezerot that exist to this day. The Jerusalem Talmud calls this day the blackest day ever to befall the Jewish people.
Beit Shammai was traditionalist. Its halakhot (laws) were restrictive. Its worldview was anti-modern and anti-rational. We carry the effects of Beit Shammai's intransigence to this day.
If Beit Shammai had been met with arms, if Beit Shammai had been expelled from normative Judaism, our halakhot would be less strict and our reaction to the Gentile world – and its science – would be more open.
But on a Jerusalem day 1950 years ago, fanaticism won, crushing the democracy the sages used to guide the Jewish people…
Today's haredi mimic yesterday's Beit Shammai with, I fear, results that will be even more disastrous.
So why does Jonathan Rosenblum continue to misrepresent and shill?
Two words: Cognitive dissonance.
To admit the truth would mean separating himself from everything he has spent years acquiring – his closeness to senior haredi leaders, his job, his community and, perhaps, his family. The pain of acknowledging the truth is too great.
This same process traps many in cults; today it traps Rabbi Rosenblum in his.