Wednesday, February 12, 2014

They stab their rabbis

[I've been blogging, first on another blog and then here, since 2006. Between the two blogs, that's over 1500 posts. I can't remember ever calling out a particular person before. But I'm just too upset to let this one go.]

As we've already discussed here, a couple of Orthodox high schools now permit their female students to wear tefillin at school services. Last week, Rabbi Hershel Schachter published an article which focussed on the fact that the leaders of the school chose to address the relevant halachic questions themselves, rather than consult the halachic authorities they usually ask about weighty matters. Rabbi Schacter wrote sharply about the importance of consulting those who have greater knowledge.

I'd like to discuss the content of the matter eventually, but right now I am taken aback by a Twitter response by an Orthodox synagogue rabbi. He tweeted:

The shorter version of R. Herschel Schacter's missive (it's not a 'teshuvah') is that the greatest sin a Jew can do is disagree with him.

After this blatant mischaracterization of Rabbi Schacter's article, the tweeter did follow up with a post on his blog explaining his disagreement with the content of Rabbi Schachter's piece. But my point isn't to discuss his disagreement. My point is to discuss the way he launched it.

What's eyebrow-raising to me is the cavalier treatment of a leader, whether you agree with him or not. There is no sobriety, no maturity, no sense of respect at all.

I am reminded of a talmudic passage (Gittin 56a)  recording an event from the Roman siege of Jerusalem, leading up to the destruction of the second Beit haMikdash. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai wished to surrender to Rome, and others disagreed powerfully enough that they were willing to burn down Jerusalem's storehouses of food, to compel militant revolt. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai conspired with an insider to have himself transported out of Jerusalem, under the pretense that he was dead:

עביד הכי, נכנס בו רבי אליעזר מצד אחד ורבי יהושע מצד אחר, כי מטו לפיתחא בעו למדקריה, אמר להו: יאמרו רבן דקרו! בעו למדחפיה, אמר להו: יאמרו רבן דחפו! פתחו ליה בבא, נפק.

He did this, and Rabbi Eliezer escorted him on one side, and Rabbi Yehoshua on the other. When they reached the city gate, the zealots wished to stab him [to ensure that he was dead, and not conspiring with the Romans]. The escort said to them, "They will say that the Jews stab their rabbis!" They wished to shove his body. The escort said to them, "They will say that the Jews shove their rabbis!" They opened the gate for him, and he escaped.

The zealots had a murderous hatred for Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and all he represented, but the zealots understood something that this tweeter misses. You can disagree with someone, but if thousands of Jews follow him, then he has status, whether you like it or not. And to stab him or shove him says a great deal about how you view not just the leader, but your fellow Jews. That's what the zealots didn't want the Romans to see.

My point is not to say that this rabbinic tweeter should agree with Rabbi Schacter; if he has an opinion and he can cite halachic sources to support it, let him do so. But let him do so in a way that doesn't demonstrate such disrespect toward the Rabbi, and toward the thousands who do agree with him.

It's too bad that this tweeter doesn't get it; his followers now know that he will stab a Jewish leader, just because he disagrees with him.


  1. Thank you for this post Rabbi, you are among the many whom I know of that were saddened and dismayed but both the tone and substance of the responses to Rav Schachter.

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  3. This post has been included in the  Ki Tisa Havel Havelim, Losing Count edition.  Please visit, comment and share, thanks.