(This was originally entitled “Media Lies.” As much as I hate mentioning names – it personalizes the matter when it is far better just to discuss the issues – I am responding to the Jewish Week’s latest attack on me, an obvious attempt to evade responsibility for the lies they published by cloaking themselves in the mantle of the Holocaust. If they do apologize eventually, I will be delighted to note it, and return to weightier matters. – RSP)
The Jerusalem Post earlier this week picked up the lie originally published in the NY Jewish Week – “US Rabbi Leaves Conversion Court over Women’s Role” – proving once again truth of Mark Twain’s adage that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” I never realized how literal that statement was.
The contention of the NY Jewish Week that I stepped down to protest the formation by the RCA of a mixed gender conversion committee was a lie, is a lie and will remain a lie. Even worse, it was published and retained by them as a conscious, calculated and intentional lie. They were informed immediately after they published the lie that it was a lie. Immediately. Not a day later or a week later. Immediately. The publisher then doubled down and compounded his lies with more lies.
A number of Jewish community leaders have appealed to the publisher to retract and apologize – or at least retract – knowing, as they do, that the newspapers’ assertion is a complete lie. To date, the publisher has refused to retract, clarify, apologize or in any way mitigate the propagation of the lie that his reporter fabricated and that he disseminated. He has attempted to divert attention for his misdeeds by playing word games. Nice try at changing the topic. So much for the great ethics of the great ethicists who sit in judgment of everyone else.
You can judge for yourselves, for it is on this paragraph that the lie was based, a paragraph that I wrote last week:
“The GPS system has always had its detractors, inside and outside the RCA, and those detractors are exploiting this crisis to change the system. (Those who have obsessively focused on the Rabbanut angle always missed the point, and Israel is now dealing with its own conversion crisis with issues regarding standards that are not dissimilar to ours.) Thus, the RCA has just appointed a committee “that will review its current Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses.” The committee consists of six men and five women, bolstering the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical functions for women. Is there a role for women to play in “suggest[ing] safeguards against possible abuse”? Probably, although it really is self-understood. But what role can they play in “review[ing]” the GPS conversion process? That is halacha, minhag, psak – a purely rabbinical role.
There are members of the committee who have never liked the GPS guidelines, and do not follow them. There are very few members of the committee who were part of the original committee, which entirely consisted of Rabbis. Of course, they will have to water down the standards – they’ll call it a “revision” and an “improvement” – but I fear we will not be far from the old days of quickie conversions with little true commitment. That, by the way, still happens, and a few RCA rabbis acting outside the GPS system still perform those.
I will be delighted to be proven wrong. But I don’t think I will be, and therefore it is time to get out. I do not wish to be coerced to apply standards and guidelines that, to my thinking, may not comport with the requirements of Torah, and the makeup of the committee will almost ensure that outcome, however it is presented.”
I noted that this was an attempt to bolster the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical roles for women. Did I suggest or even hint that the appointment of women to the committee was a reason to resign? Not in the least. I even noted that women “probably” have a role to play in suggesting safeguards against abuse – but not in formulating conversion standards or practices. It is the committee itself that troubles me – not the presence of women on the committee – an exercise more in public relations than in substance. There are men whose presence on the committee troubled me, as their hostility to the GPS system is well known. That is the “makeup” of the committee to which I referred.
Was there even an insinuation, an allusion, or a reference to the presence of women on the committee that would induce me to resign? Not in the slightest. We have women on our shul board and a woman Vice-President. I interact with professional and intelligent women all the time; I don’t live in a cave or in the 16th century (not that there’s anything wrong with the 16th century, or the modern cave). The Jewish Week is simply engaging in character assassination, trying to marginalize my voice (notwithstanding that to some, the suggestion that I resigned because of the presence of women made me a hero, not a villain). But if I am to be a hero to some, then at least let it be for some principle I espoused, value that I upheld or action that I performed that achieved some good. Not for a lie.
It was quite clear to any reader – except the willfully dishonest ones – that my reasons for resigning related to my sense that the GPS standards would change – in one form or another – and to escape the culture of negativity, suspicion and distrust with which the conversion process has been invested. It had absolutely nothing to do with women – on the committee, off the committee, or anywhere else. That was an intentional and malicious fabrication. There is simply no way that the words that I wrote could be interpreted to mean what they claimed it meant.
Indeed, insiders knew of my decision a week before I even knew a committee was being formed, and attempted to talk me out of it. One can agree or disagree with the formation of the RCA committee, its composition or its mandate – but no honest person can assert that it was the presence of women that led to my decision. It was simply not in my words or in my thought process. The attempt to make that the story is simply shameful, reprehensible and dishonorable. And the publisher still refuses to apologize or retract. This is not a misunderstanding or a few words taken out of context. This is a disgraceful lie.
Now, why would a journalist blatantly print lies and falsehoods? I hesitate to speculate. Obviously, recent events have reminded us that we never fully know what kind of demons lurk within human beings, demons that they carry with them (perhaps from childhood) and lead them into all sorts of mischief. One astute observer commented, about the publisher: “The man never met a feminist, especially a so-called “orthodox” one he hasn’t tripped over his shoes running to worship. Likewise, he’s never met an orthodox rabbi, especially ones that ignore him, that he hasn’t tried to vilify.”
The press has tremendous power. Despite its low standing with the public, and the obvious credibility issues some journalists have, people have a tendency to believe something simply because it is in print. (The Rambam mentions such a phenomenon in the Guide to the Perplexed, in reference to ancient writings.) Obviously, in this particular case, the publisher and his staff are pushing an agenda, trying to ensure that a very vocal interest group maintains its pressure on the RCA and trying – for years already – to belittle, disparage and weaken the rabbinate as an institution. They are actively engaged in trying to remake the Jewish world by weakening observance, diluting Jewish identity, and mocking true commitment. It really is the “Jewish Weak.”
It is not just the highlighting of rabbinical scandals, especially involving Orthodox rabbis. That is a legitimate role, even if it can also be abused. More troubling is the ignoring of some rabbinical scandals because they involved favored rabbis, those who toe the ideological line of the publisher or have otherwise earned his favor. Then, the “public interest” in exposing malfeasance takes a back seat to the “public interest” – as he sees it – in promoting a particular agenda. That is dishonest.
None of this is new nor should it be shocking. In the most infamous example of the last decade in just a slightly different context, Israeli journalists admitted to protecting PM Ariel Sharon “like an etrog” (their term) from the corruption and bribery scandals that engulfed him during his tenure in office so that he would be able to expel Jews from Gaza and destroy the settlements there – a goal of the Israeli left (and the American Jewish left, including the Jewish Week) since those settlements were built. Fortunately, Gaza has been quiet since the expulsion in 2005 and there have been no harmful ramifications of that expulsion… A right-wing prime minister accused of the same crimes would have been hounded out of office, as we see the left consistently pesters PM Netanyahu over nonsense, especially things involving his wife. The same process occurred with Ehud Olmert – although it was the relentless reporting of a right-wing journalist that eventually led to his downfall, arrest, conviction and pending prison sentence, and after decades of corrupt behavior.
Sadly, the day has long passed when journalists just report the news. Now, they think they are the news, they make the news, and sometimes – as in my case – they just make up the news. And they can do that – not, of course, according to the Torah, which is grossly violated, but according to the US Supreme Court in NY Times v. Sullivan (my analysis can be heard here, http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/765992/Rabbi_Steven_Pruzansky/THE_LAW_AND_THE_LAW:_The_New_York_Times_v_Sullivan:_Libel_Law,_and_the_Torah’s_View_of_Journalism‘), which essentially permits journalists to defame public figures as long as they don’t do it with “malice.” And go prove that there is malice.
Of course, I hesitate to castigate all journalists just because of the sins of one; they are not rabbis after all, who are held to that standard… They are not all guilty of something venal just because one is. They don’t all have to be suspects just because one is. Nah, that’s just for rabbis…
Once again, I call on the Jewish Week to retract and apologize. They can then try to undo the harm that they have attempted to cause me – collect all the feathers blowing in the wind, in the famous parable – by publicizing their retraction, informing the Jerusalem Post and other outlets that unknowingly disseminated their lies. And if they don’t, they don’t. Dante placed in the Ninth Circle of Purgatory those people who were guilty of treachery born of pride, i.e., arrogance. (The Eighth Circle consists of those guilty of fraud; I wonder who decides when there are several options…) Perhaps dishonest journalists just do not want the denizens of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Purgatory to be lonely. Sweet, sensitive types, obviously.
Many good Jews do not read the NY Jewish Week, being quite familiar with the animus of some of its staff to Torah Judaism. Other good Jews who would not consider bringing treif food into their homes should really ask themselves on what grounds they justify bringing treif newspapers into their homes, do they really want to desecrate their Shabbat with such publications – and why should they patronize the advertisers who enrich the purveyors of prevarications, fomenters of falsehoods and haters of holiness?
People can agree or disagree with me. That is fine, indeed welcome. I enjoy the exchanges and it often spurs public debate in a healthy direction. But people with integrity do not fabricate assertions and use them to disparage their ideological opponents. We shall soon learn if there is even a shred of integrity at the NY Jewish Week. Gary, apologize and retract. Don’t hide behind diversions, word games or excuses.
At the risk of boring the reader, and the double risk of redundancy, here’s the link to the Link, and an interview from this week: http://jewishlinkbc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5388%3Arabbi-pruzansky-responds-why-i-stepped-down-from-the-rcbc-bet-din&catid=150%3Anews&Itemid=562.
[Update: Just a short time ago, the hapless Jewish Week sort of “regret” linking me with the DC rabbi accused of a number of crimes, claiming that they did not intend to suggest that I was connected to his activities. Obviously, then, the reference was just gratuitous and an attempt to further malign me, but the publisher then claimed that we were linked in an “unsuccessful challenge” to the RCA slate of officers running in 2012.
Can’t the Jewish Week get anything right? I, and a dozen or so others, ran independently as petition candidates for various RCA offices in 2012.
But I won my election, and currently serve on the Executive Committee. That is hardly what one would call an “unsuccessful challenge,” except in Jewish Week speak. This partial apology was offered in the context of changing the topic – as corrupt journalists do so well – accusing me of comparing the Jewish Week and its publisher to the infamous Der Sturmer and its publisher, Julius Streicher, what they termed an “outrageous comparison.” Heaven forfend! There is no comparison and I would never make such a comparison, any more than they were comparing me to my DC colleague. One can note what they have in common – they are both newspapers – without comparing them. There is no comparison! I certainly regret if they misconstrued my comment and anyone offended took offense, even those who do not mind routinely causing offense to others.
Now, will the Jewish Week apologize and retract for disseminating the false propaganda that I resigned from the local Bet Din in order to protest the inclusion of women on the RCA Committee, or will they continue to hide and obfuscate behind linguistic smokescreens and pitiable diversions?