Rabbi Avi Shafran, Haredi Dissembler
By David Kelsey • Special to FailedMessiah.com
Rabbi Shafran, the director of public affairs at Agudath Israel, has written an essay for Tablet called, “The Jews’ Jews.” Even so close to the High Holidays, it is mostly a typical haredi rejection of responsibility.
Rabbi Shafran writes [the italics are all quotes from Rabbi Shafran's article]:
"The origin of anti-Semitism has confounded the best of minds."
Often, yes, but at least in theory, not always. Sometimes Jews do provocative things. If the larger community would downplay or worse, defend such criminal actions, in such situations, rising anti-Semitism would be less of a mystery. In practice, and not just in theory, this is what we are seeing with the haredim.
"Haredim as a group continue to be unfairly maligned—and pilloried for their principles."
No, they are usually “pilloried” for, 1) attempting to force their “principles” on others and, 2) defending criminals simply because they are haredim
"By defending halachic standards regarding conversion in Israel, we are portrayed as small-minded..."
The halachic standards the haredim have “defended” are not those of the traditional Judaism of yesteryear, but an ever-increasing proscription of greater and greater severity, including unconversion.
"We are condemned as mullahs and women-haters..."
This is a classic Shafran sleight of hand. Rabbi Shafran is framing his opponents as merely hyperbolic, and excessively so. This is in order to shift the discussion away from policy and a legitimate conflict of interest with the haredim and instead, to steer the focus to the haredi as a sensitive victim.
"...for taking Jewish law and custom seriously, we are sneered at as backward"
No. For taking the words of your leaders and rabbis of the ancient past as near infallible, you are sneered at as backward.
When a group of haredim in an Israeli town try to preserve their particular style of education, they find themselves branded racists.
To be clear, Rabbi Shafran’s outrage at such “branding” is where haredim seek student exclusion from their government subsidized school systems based on the race and ethnicity of the students.
"Name-calling is not an argument"
Rabbi Shafran’s suggestion that non-Orthodox (and some of Modern Orthodox) Jewry‘s complaints against the haredim are devoid of actual content and mere name-calling is, in fact, name-calling itself, and a particularly silly attempt to diminish his opponents’ issues and contentions.
"A national Jewish newspaper publishes a comic strip featuring wild-eyed, grotesque depictions of religious Jews, cynically disparaging their desire to share Torah with other Jews"
But the “grotesque” haredi quotes Eli Valley used in his comic were not created by Valley.
Valley told Failed Messiah:
Rabbi Shafran's outrage over my so-called "wild-eyed, grotesque depictions of religious Jews" is odd, considering that the comic consisted of actual quotes by haredi leaders that are rarely repudiated by Shafran and his contemporaries. I would suggest that instead of equating moral criticism with anti-Semitism, Rabbi Shafran challenge his own community by insisting on an end to sermons of hatred, intolerance, misogyny, homophobia, and calls to violence in the haredi world. That would be the Jewish, and ethical, thing to do.
Additionally, the Big Kiruv outfits targeted by Valley aren’t motivated only by a desire to “share Torah with other Jews,” but rather, they have the goal of making them haredi. This is a major distortion by Rabbi Shafran about the intentions of Big Kiruv.
"And we haredim can even understand, in light of the scandalous behavior of some, why other Jews view us all with suspicion, or even worse."
But it isn’t the scandals alone. It is the horrible way the haredi community reacts to the scandals. Time after time, the haredi community rallies around the criminal, no matter how guilty, and no matter how lurid the crime.
The haredi community consistently appears unwilling, and is perhaps unable, to negotiate with outsiders in good faith. Even in this essay, so little is offered in terms of real dialog, just the usual victimology in the guise of big tent people-hood, focused on “name-calling” (both sides are wrong!) instead of the justified outrage that the haredi community consistently rallies around intolerance and criminals.
His very position allows for nothing more.