Monday, August 23, 2010

Ode to Rabbi Shmuley

I don't know anybody who takes Rabbi Shmuley Boteach seriously. I don't mean that as an insult; I actually have thought some writings of Rabbi Boteach to be quite thoughtful and thought-provoking (particularly this essay) and am not familiar enough with his work to make a general judgment myself. It's just that whenever I hear him mentioned -- and I usually hear him mentioned by frum Jews -- it's because they are disagreeing with him or devaluing his worldview. I do not know of one person, frum or not, who thinks he did a good job -- much less, won -- in his debate against Christopher Hitchens at the 92nd Street Y. Declaring that Stephen Gould did not believe in evolution ("Gould destroyed Dawkins...Gould didn't believe in evolution, he believed in punctuated equilibrium!") will probably stand out as one of the more embarrassing pieces of religious apologia offered against evolution for years to come.

Still, there is something I admire about Boteach. See, Shmuley Boteach has the courage of his convictions. He argues for Judaism in the public square against people who he recognizes as ethical and intelligent. He is willing to pit Judaism against the smartest New Atheists and truly believes that the former will conquer.

Boteach's attitude so contrasts with the attitude I see from so many others. Some offer shoddy proofs that the only logical way to live one's life is in concert with Jewish ideals and then refuse to debate these ideas in the public square or print peer-reviewed essays defending them, instead offering classes where they can espouse their own ideas and attempt in their Q&As to shut down all who disagree, hoping that their students will not use the Internet to look into their assertions. Alternatively, there are those who reject the ridiculous answers provided by others, but refuse to provide their own, thus giving the impression that the reason they are frum is because, well, they were indoctrinated.

Boteach fearlessly takes his wares into the marketplace of ideas, truly believing they are the best and can withstand any attack. And I think that has to be admired.

[Side news: George Will has been writing hawkishly pro-Israel articles the past few weeks and Jeff Jacoby put one out as well, thought readers might be interested. Oh, and there's a new Random-Video-of-the-Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It at the bottom of the sidebar.]


  1. My guess why people "in the velt" don't take R' Shmuley seriously is that he doesn't inject a lot of Torah into his public talking, whether on various TV outlets as a commentator, on "Shalom in the Home", or in his various pieces. However, as you point out, he not only does these talks in the public sphere, but he is the foremost rabbinic presence on TV, the radio, and in various articles around (whether it be JPost, the Jewish Journal of LA, or on Huffington Post, among others). And as egocentric as he calls himself "America's Rabbi", how many out there can come anywhere close to how much he is out there and doing as well of a job as him?

  2. Didn't Boteach do something with Playboy?