Monday, September 26, 2011

Avi Shafran & Jonathan Rosenblum

I have more than once heard people kvetch that Rabbi Avi Shafran's writing is triumphalist in tone. I never understood this complaint; he's the public affairs guy for the Agudah, making haredim and harediism look good is his job. I rather like Shafran's writing. In fact, even while Shafran promotes his own ideology unabashedly, he has asserted repeatedly that others can fairly disagree with the haredi views of the issues. Moreover, even in his role as the public affairs guy, he has managed to make a very important criticism of his own group which I think many consistent critics of haredim have failed to make. That's not to say that Shafran is not dreadfully wrong on the biggest issues in the haredi world, but at least he admits that others have the rights to their perspectives and isn't usually mean in his attacks on The Rest of the Universe.

People who criticize Shafran sometimes tell me that there are better Anglo-haredi writers out there, most prominent among them Jonathan Rosenblum. I don't get this at all. I understand that Rosenblum is well-educated (I should know, I wrote his Wikipedia page), but the man has moved to a different planet. In Jonathan Rosenblum's world, Britain's "National Health will not pay for an arterial stent for anyone over 59, no matter how healthy he or she otherwise is." Planet Rosenblum also has a fascinating history. We learn that "in a 1981 lecture at the American Museum of Natural History, Colin Patterson, the chief paleontologist at the British Natural History Museum, observed that both creationism and Darwinian observation are scientifically vacuous concepts, which are held primarily on the basis of faith." We also learn in the same piece that "Reviewers have not been kind to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins...Critics have found it to be the atheist’s mirror image of Ann Coulter’s Godless: The Church of Liberalism..." The reader who is unfamiliar with the Synagogue Council of America controversy will learn from the hagiography of Moshe Sherer from Rosenblum's corner of the galaxy that the OU and the RCA were in a non-gadol-backed position when they stayed in the interdenominational organization.

Meanwhile, on Planet Pelta, National Health actually does pay for stents -- and all sorts of medical treatments -- for people over 59 and Rosenblum was just repeating a rumor originally spread over the Internet. As for Patterson's opinion of evolution, Rosenblum is (obviously) relying on a (surprisingly old) out-of-context quote from Patterson; Dawkins' book received mixed reviews, while Coulter's was laughed off. With regards to the Synagogue Council of America, both the Rav and R' Eliezer Silver were clear in their instructions to Modern Orthodox leadership figures to stay.

Rabbi Shafran may portray haredi society in a utopian manner and have some really silly ideas. But at least there can be a cogent discussion; we are, after all, in the same galaxy.

[In other news: I haven't really thought of anything particularly cool for the blog description, but I added something temporarily. If you have any ideas, I'd be much obliged. Also, at the bottom of the sidebar on the right side of the page, I put a new Random-Video-of-the-Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It. It's from The Genius of Britain series, available on Youtube.]

10 comments:

  1. same again Shame on you, writing on yom tov.
    What is your excuse this time?

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  2. :p

    Blogger messed up the date for some reason, I just changed it from the 23 to the 26 though

    ReplyDelete
  3. add comment moderation to your BS

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  4. Blogger messed up the date for some reason, I just changed it from the 23 to the 26 though

    After 120 years you may have to come up with something better why your blogger posted two days running on yom tov.
    Or dont you also believe you are going to die!
    As they say you dont belong to the 'dying club'.

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  5. I don't understand, Why would he need an excuse?

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  6. The main difference between Shafran and Rosenblum is insight.
    Shafran will write a piece of crap detailing how there is NO spousal abuse in the Jewish community and vilify anyone who disagrees.
    Rosenblum will write a piece of crap detailing how there is NO spousal abuse, bring plenty of statistics where available and challenge his opponent's positions.
    Shafran will write that anyone who disagrees with the Agudah's view that they represent true Torah Jewry is ignorant and knows nothing about observance.
    Rosenblum will write that the Agudah represents the most authentic Torah Jewry but that certain parts of Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism also have some authenticity to them although they fall short of the ideal.

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  7. Baal:
    In another comment, they're wondering aloud the inconsistency of me talking in frummer lashon when I'm a "non-believer" and this guy wants me to be shomer yom tov; I can't win! :P
    Garnel:
    Thank you for talking to the post's substance. See, I disagree. I think Shafran generally puts off this air of, "I think everybody else is wrong, but that's cool, just treat us respectfully." Rosenblum's "facts" which would seem to devastate the other side as ignorant, or demonically willfully ignorant, are often disingenuous. Witness the Sherer hagiography and the rhetoric loaded at tzioni rabbanim and R' Sherer's mother-in-law, in contrast with the saintliness of everybody involved with the Agudah's top file, not excluding R' Sherer; no stories from R' Lamm are told about R' Sherer, but stories from R' Elias and similarly inclined sources are cool.

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  8. Brining in any Artscroll publication makes the Rosenblum/Shafran comparision useless. Rabbi Shafran until recently had not "editoral board" or anyone really overseeing his writing.
    The Sherer "hagiography" and everything else Artscroll puts out is all fine-tuned and approved by an editorial board.

    I do hear your points, Baruch, but these days everything from an Agudath press release to posted pictures/videos of chassidishe Rebbes is all for the consumer to see.
    I think that R Shafran tends to get his "message" out there beyond the eruv much more than R Rosenblums, for whatever reasons.

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  9. Reb Neil,
    I'm not sure I hear your point. Are you saying that a book which is accredited to Rosenblum isn't his responsibility but Artscroll's?

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  10. Rosenblum's other superiority, in my view, is his willingness to address difficult issues in the Chareidi community. For example, when it comes to the sexual abuse of children Shafran will simply deny it exists. Rosenblum might downplay the problem with selective statistics but he will admit the problem exists, that secular authorities should be involved (albeit under the guidance of his gedolim) and that there is no justifying the protecting of pedophiles.
    One gets the sense he might say even more but he's under heavy editorial constraints. Remember he's a BT while Shafran is a FFB so he has to watch what he says a lot more.

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