Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rav Shach & Prof. Marc Shapiro

A very negative essay about Rav Shach was posted on this blog by shloimie with the assertion that what it says must be true because the author is the well known academic Prof. Marc Shapiro whose erudition is acknowledged by all. Obviously whatever he wrote must be true. Yonah L. responded that the essay could not have been written by Prof. Shapiro because it was replete with so many errors and uncharacteristic intemperate language. Prof. Shapiro would never be guilty of such writing.

The fact is that you are both right. The essay was in fact written by Prof. Marc Shapiro and posted to Mail Jewish in 1993 (Vol 10 #93). It aroused great offense - even amongst the Modern Orthodox participants of that forum despite its ostensibly defense of Rav Soloveitchik against Rav Shach's criticism [Mail Jewish( Vol 10 #95).

For example Mail Jewish (vol 10 #98):
On the other hand, Marc takes Rav Shach to task for various statements and perhaps crosses the line into disrespect. His defense is that Rav Shach, by his behavior, has demonstrated that he is not worthy of Marc's respect. While I do believe that such a line exists (a line beyond which a person is no longer worthy of respect), it seems to me worthwhile to err on the side of caution until it has been authoritatively determined that such a line has been crossed; does Marc have any personal dealing with Rav Shach in which he has been insulted or offended? In the end, Marc sounds as shrill as the statements attributed to Rav Shach and any impact he hopes to
have on the "non-converted" is minimal. Perhaps Marc's point would be underscored by choosing the "derech shalom" instead on engaging in the same level of anger against which he is protesting. Aside from this purely functional aspect of maintaining kavod, this is perhaps a worthwhile halacha to choose to go "l'chumra" with. Marc is unhappy with Rav Shach's attacks on Lubavitch -- but isn't Rav Shach applying the same standard to Chabad that Marc is applying to him? If Rav Shach feels that a person or a movement is heretical, then he should speak out, and in strong terms, as Marc has spoken out against Rav Shach. Whether his assessment of Chabad is correct is another matter entirely.

Another comments was:

(If I showed my father, a Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaath, my husband who is presently learning in Lakewood, or my father-in-law who is a retired YU physics professor who learns in Bais Hatalmud, Marc Shaprio's post, they would all probably tell me to stop reading such nonsense.) Marc tells us to listen to Rav Auerbach or Rav Yosef rather than Rav Shach. I wonder what those gedolim would think of his post. Are they some of the Rabbis he consulted before he submitted his post
See also Mail Jewish (vol 10 #100) where Prof. Shapiro acknowledges that he is basically just reporting the views of some people he respects and thus giving voice to an anonymous group of critics of Rav Shach.
I would like to clarify my posting about Rav Shach. In fact I actually hinted to this in my first sentence (if I remember correctly). What I wrote does not actually reflect my personal feelings. That is, I really don't get upset at what Rav Shach says because a lot of people say things I disagree with and it doesn't pay to always get angry. However,
what I posted is a reflection of the anger I have heard from a number of people including some well known rabbis whose names many people on this list would recognize. Since messages are not sent in anonymously I chose to have my name appear and represent all of the people who feel this way. In fact, all of the private mail I received was supportive, although I don't know how many of them are from Lubavitchers.
Finally I contacted Prof. Shapiro himself regarding the article. He was embarrassed to hear that it still existed and acknowledged that it was not something he was proud of. The following is the exchange of emails.

He also acknowledged that he erred in saying that Rav Shach said the Rebbe was a heretic. After careful research he could find not a single quote to that effect.
I wrote:
can I post your response. there were some commentators who
couldn't believe you made such a statement and therefore questioned the integrity of the one who posted it? BTW I just found it in the Mail Jewish archives from 1993 #93,95, 100 where you also retract your tone.

It was bizarre also that you acknowledge that it is not your view but
that you were presenting the view of those who were upset with Rav Shach.
It is so different than all the thoughtful and well researched material which is your hallmark.

Prof. Shapiro said:

You can post if you want (but use the expanded quote below, where I add a few things. You can also mention that as I pointed out, I wanted to see how the community of Mail Jewish readers would respond to what were common sentiments (but never actually formulated in writing -- one exception being the journal Ha-Maor), so the post was a bit of a gambit, which now comes back to haunt me.

My thoughts on R. Shakh are actually found in the Torah in Motion lectures referred to below

"Yes -- when I was much younger and more foolish. In those days
the internet didn't exist and we didn't realize that everything we
wrote would be around until the end of times, to embarrass us . . .

But I have subsequently, in both writing and in speaking said that R. Shach understood some aspects of Chabad a lot better than the rest of us. Now I certainly can criticize much else he said, including some of what he wrote about Chabad, but it would be done with more tact and respect. I never expected this e-mail to live on."

I have three lectures on R. Shakh at


My thoughts on him are found there and I don't think even his biggest fans will find much to criticize in them.

1 comment:

  1. R'DE,
    Is the issue whether R'MS made some youthful intemperate remarks or whether a consideration of R' ES's comments over the years concerning others (including R"YBS) define a standard of respectful disagreement (or are you saying that according to R'ES, R'YBS was a heretic as well?)?
    Joel Rich


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