Does Orthodox Judaism promote compassion and non-judgment or fire and brimstone? As a secular Jew growing up, I believed it represented the latter. There was nothing appealing to me about it. Then, I began to learn and meet Orthodox Jews and discovered that the Torah is “D’rachecha darchei noam v’chol n’tivotseha shalom.” (Its ways are those of pleasantness, its paths are those of peace.)
But what about public speakers who focus on the punishment, claim to know the mind of God, and condemn those who disagree with them? Unfortunately, such voices exist in the Orthodox Jewish world. For these reasons, several months ago, we posted a warning on Facebook about a popular speaker, Yosef Mizrachi, who employs such methods. While we normally promote kiddush Hashem at Jew in the City, in the face of grave chillul Hashem, we feel we have a responsibility to speak out against it. My rabbi is a big believer in the teaching of the Talmud “shtika k’hodaah” (silence is tacit approval).While many of our readers supported our statement, we heard from some who were outraged that we could say such a thing. Who gave us the authority? We had spoken to trusted rabbis who had ruled that we should warn our readers, but that didn’t seem to satisfy some.
Too often we hear at Jew in the City that Orthodox rabbinic leadership is not willing to stand up for what’s right. That the “good” rabbis remain silent and allow our Torah to be represented by those who say hateful things. We’re delighted to report that a letter has just been sent by some of the leading rabbis of our generation to a venue in Los Angeles that is scheduled to host Yosef Mizrachi for a speaking engagement this shabbos. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) posted the letter as well
The signatories are a diverse and prominent group of rabbis spanning the Sephardic, Yeshivish, Hasidic, Kiruv and Centrist Orthodox world and include:
HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz Rosh Beit Din, Beis Din of America and Chicago Rabbinical Council
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein Editor, Cross Currents
Rabbi Shalom Baum President, Rabbinical Council of America
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch Rosh Midrasha, Midreshet Eshel Mara D’atra, Adas Yeshurun Herzliya Synagogue Winnipeg, Canada
Rabbi Moises Benzaquen Mara D’atra, West Coast Torah Center Rosh Hayeshiva, Harkham Gaon Academy Los Angeles, CA
HaRav Mayer Alter Horowitz, Bostoner Rebbe of Yerushalayim
Rabbi Joseph Dweck Senior Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community of the United Kingdom
Rabbi Daniel Feldman Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Jacob Atlanta, GA
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg Mara D’asra, Boca Raton Synagogue Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Micah Greenland International Director, NCSY
HaRav Michel Twerski Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Jehudah Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky Rosh Yeshiva, Darche Noam Jerusalem, Israel
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin Mara D’asra, Congregation Beth Avraham Joseph (BAYT) Toronto, Canada
Rabbi Avi Shafran Media Liaison, Agudath Israel of America
Rabbi Yitzchak Shurin Rosh Midrasha, Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya
The statement says:
As rabbonim and mechanchim, we are greatly concerned about the popularity in some circles of a “kiruv” approach that does not bring honor to the Torah ha-Kedoshah but, on the contrary, creates considerable chilul Hashem.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi apologized for one particularly offensive statement he made on several occasions. But he has voiced, both before and since that apology, many things that reduce complex issues to simplistic and misleading sound bites. He has also repeatedly arrogated to “know” why unfortunate things happen to various people and has presented subtle statements of Chazal in superficial and deceptive ways.
That method may entertain and even stimulate some audiences, but it does no justice to the Jewish mesorah. And, especially with the worldwide audience enjoyed by any public speech these days, misleading assertions even when offered with the best of intentions, are particularly objectionable, and even dangerous.
Jewish institutions must be discerning about the credentials and the histories of those to whom they offer the honor of acting as teachers of Torah. We urge all shuls and organizations to act responsibly and take seriously decisions about whom they invite to address their gatherings.