(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?
I read the newest Jewish Week statement. It’s not an apology at all. In fact, it compounds its lie by attempting to invoke Godwin’s Law, in which (supposedly) the first person in an argument to compare something to the Holocaust must lose. It’s an artifice used by someone losing an argument.
The Jewish Weeks knows very well that you invoked Der Sturmer PRECISELY because of the absurdity – the same absurdity it used when it sought slyly to link you with R. Freundel. Yet it now righteously claims to be hurt because you compared them to Nazis. Godwin”s Law. Either the Jewish Week has a breathtakingly poor degree of reading comprehension, or its deliberately lying again. In either case, for shame.
You nailed it. Exactly. They enter high dudgeon mode in 2-3 seconds. And without any credibility.
Final sentence of article by Steve Brizel, 2007/11/15:
“I have unfortunately come to expect nothing but the worst
about Torah Judaism from the Jewish Week.”
Marvin Schick, 2011 March 10:
“The Ohel coverage needs to be seen in the context of the endless
attacks on the Orthodox that is a hallmark of the Jewish Week.”
Rabbi Dov Fischer said:
“The Jewish Week has a well-deserved reputation for
being vitriolically anti-Orthodox, and I share that perception.”
SOURCE: The Jewish Week, 2012 February 10,
Letters to the Editor, pages 7 and 8
Ira Newhouse Esq. said November 3, 2014 at 4:08 PM:
“The Jewish Week is a dinosaur. Look at how much effort, as well as its competitors HaAretz and The Forward, devote to maligning the Orthodox. Meanwhile the Orthodox just keep growing and growing. Rabbi Pruzansky is right to just ignore them, and get his message out via his own blog.”
“Gary Rosenblatt’s personal agenda here is embarrassingly transparent…he’s never met an Orthodox Rabbi, especially ones that ignore him, that he hasn’t tried to vilify.”
PS: I stopped reading the Jewish Week 20+ years ago because of its incessant, relentless bashing of Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism.
Amazingly, the Jewish Week has no complaints against Reform “Rabbis” who perform “marriage” ceremonies that join Jewish men with non-Jewish women.
Nor does the Jewish Week have even one word of complaint against Reform “Rabbis” who perform homosexual “marriage” ceremonies.
Nor does the Jewish Week have even one tiny objection against Jews who eat pork on Yom Kippur.
The Jewish Week has been following
these two simple equations for decades:
Orthodox = bad
Reform + Conservative + Secular = good.
Good going Rabbi P., keep writing on this subject, we need your leadership now more than ever.
As long as you speak the truth the people who are interested in the truth will always believe you and not the surrounding lies.
I believe you should look back at your post and consider whether your writing in fact suggested what many understood it to mean. I and many others read your original post, and inferred, before the JW article, that one of the factors in your decision to resign was in fact the inclusion of women. It is a reasonable inference, given that you list it in your explanation of your resignation. Also, given that you do not say anything about deciding to resign before the inclusion of women. You seem focused on the JW, and maybe do not realize that many more read your post the same way.
Now you say that women’s inclusion was not a factor, that your decision came before you had any knowledge that women may be included (is that a correct understanding?). Now you demand that the JW apologize for what many believe was a reasonable interpretation. Your text stands on its own, though.
I think a more hedged statement by the JW would have been something like “one of the factors contributing to the rabbi’s decision appears to have been the inclusion of women.” Would that have satisfied you? You did talk about the women’s presence on the committee in a statement about your resignation. Do you not see why people would think there is a connection?
So now you say there was no connection. That does not mean the JW should retract. They could update their piece and say that you claim it was not a factor, but it is not as if you have proven it was not a factor. A cynical person could view your actions as pulling back once your post became controversial. You published a text that suggested something (to many, not just the JW) and now you have written more about it. People can take it all into their consideration.
No, the reference to the women was parenthetical. The most aggressive protagonists here are women who see one man’s crimes as an opportunity to change the substance and procedures of conversion. Ask yourself this question: is it even possible that the committee will conclude that no changes are necessary but that existing regulations simply need to be enforced? Is it possible that the people who are most outspoken will be content with just cosmetic improvements, a show? I think not. But the committee itself, even if it were only men, is problematic, and cause for my resignation.
In any event, someone showed me the latest report in the Jewish Week. They dropped that claim without mention (!) but did not see fit to clarify the omission, retract or apologize. Shameful! That was the claim that they made into the story. Now they shift gears and make the Holocaust into the story. How pathetic and deceitful.
I mentioned a number of facts as part of the story. That doesn’t mean any of those facts would be cause for resignation. The causes are as I outlined. The fact that they lied and fabricated a reason that was not articulated – and now have suddenly dropped that as if nothing happened – just shows their bad faith.
I await their retraction and apology.
Respectfully, I think you are missing my point. I believe you that you did not intend to suggest that the women’s inclusion was a factor but that is how many read it. Your posts are disseminated widely (in the mod/ortho world) and a common understanding was that the women’s inclusion was a factor. You could have written it to avoid that inference, namely by stating that you decided to resign prior to any knowledge that women might be included. I’m not saying you had to write that, but I’m just saying people, and the JW, made a reasonable inference. Your conclusive statement about the reference being paranthetical shows that you viewed the text differently than many readers. Do with that what you will, but it does not make the readers wrong. You don’t get to invalidate that inreference, but only add to the record, which you have done. As I stated, in terms of journalism, I think an update stating your claim that women’s inclusion was not a factor would be proper on their part.
Regarding the committee, your question above (“Ask yourself this question”) about possible changes presumes that the system needs no changing, would benefit from no possible reform. Committee-produced standards are rarely so perfect.
Further, if you would please address the perceived irony in your position, it would be appreciated. Many have noted that you shudder at the idea of reforms by this committee being imposed on batei din around the country, and yet you were instrumental in creating the GPS standards that were, for some rabbis and converts at least, imposed on them. You helped create the centralization, and yet now that it is possibly changing/evolving/devolving/etc. you criticize the nature of such centralization.
Didn’t you yourself list one of the reasons you were resigning that women being on the committee was akin to women serving rabbinic authoritative functions? They claim is legitimate. They don’t need to report your exact statement they precise way you would unless they’re just being your press officer.
No, not at all. I noted that it was an attempt to curry favor with an interest group. The hope is that appointing women will silence the voices who want an accounting of why the RCA didn’t act sooner. I noted there is probably a role for women in safeguarding against abuse, although it really is common sense. But women on the committee? I never said that would be a reason to resign. The committee itself, even without women, is reason to resign. That’s the point.
Aside from generating PR, I’m not sure what positive substantive outcome there will be. The presence of some of the men – opponents of GPS from the gitgo – is troubling. This is kicking the can down the road and hoping people move on.
Marvin Schick said this on 2011/6/27:
“As I reflect on what the Jewish Week publishes on a regular basis, I know that I have failed. Orthodoxy-bashing is alive and well at this newspaper and this was abundantly on display recently in two long articles that unfairly attacked Ohel Children’s Homes, one of the many projects that we religious Jews are proud of. These articles were written by Hella Winston, whose animus towards the Orthodox knows no bounds.”
SOURCE: A New Low at the Jewish Week by Marvin Schick, 2011/6/27
Conservative Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu said this on 2012/10/22:
“Orthodox bashing has become vogue for many secular Jews,
and I find it increasingly problematic.”
From a letter to the editor that was precisely on point:
Shame on the Jewish Week for this yellow journalism! Rabbi Pruzansky’s point, in referencing Der Sturmer, was precisely to highlight the sloppy reporting and transparent bias of your own report. Your report tried to pull a painfully obvious “guilt by association” ploy by writing that R. Pruzansky was on the executive committee of the RCA with R. Fruendel. R. Pruzansky called you out on that by playing the same game to lump you together with Der Sturmer. And now you brazenly double down on that sickly move by citing his very point, out of context and with no background?
It’s probably too late, but this is the reasons people don’t trust newspapers anymore. The Jewish Week is entitled to its anti-orthodox viewpoint [though it has the byproduct of emboldening anti-semites] but to play fast and loose with the facts like this is shameful.
just for clarity’s sake it is unlikely that Mark Twain in fact made that remark – http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/07/13/truth/
Now the revisionists are cheating Mark Twain out of his great quotes??
Liberal Jewish media are like liberal media in general, so don’t expect any genuine apologies about anything. When someone has been singled out as not liberal, the liberal media feel free to let loose in any way that satisfies their inner hate.
Rabbi, if anything you were too “liberal”, as it were, in not criticizing the RCA for women on its Board. You should have. For it has already moved beyond geirus. I notice the RCA’s beis din, the Beis Din of America (BDA) has now asked several women to join its Board. This is a beis din that already liked to trumpet its use of female “toenet”s. Rabbi Michael Broyde, one of its most prominent members, has stated publicly that the BDA does everything it can to make sure women feel comfortable, as though other courts do not. (That men should also feel comfortable, doesn’t concern him.)
As a musmach lawyer, I occasionally deal with bottei din and get asked for referrals for bottei din. I have always said the BDA could be fine for a generic business dispute, but for ishus (marriage, divorce) issues, run, don’t walk, away from them. They are very much in synch with modern legal culture, in which the discrimination showed towards men is well known. A man would have to be a fool to allow them to serve as judges or arbitrators, or even mediators, in a marital dispute.
In short, though you didn’t actually say anything about it, the fact that you are improperly criticized for supposedly speaking out against women on the Board, shouldn’t prevent you from ACTUALLY making that point. As we all know, some people like to play preemptive strikes. It enables them to set the goalpost parameters of what is and what isn’t acceptable discourse. The strategy is, “Call them (e.g.) racists, so they have to defend themselves, at least now they wont dare come close to the topic again.” I surely hope you will not allow yourself to be manipulated this way.
Well, I serve on the BDA and have to disagree with your characterization. Having been involved in many cases of ishut, I can state unequivocally that both men and women are heard equally, both are made to feel comfortable, and both are treated as equally as possible. I do not sit on a case with a bias for or against a woman or a man. That is how it should be, although it is not always, not in all batei din and not in all secular courts.
The BDA board primarily does management and fund-raising. As the Director recently stated, it does not involve itself at all in halacha or even in the processes of Bet Din. It should be open to all who have something to contribute. Are they pandering to the zeitgeist? Some may see it that way, but it seems pretty innocuous to me.