Thursday, April 28, 2016

Binah Magazine writer criticizes the view that authority must not be questioned - even if corrupt and against halacha

I just came across the letters section in the current Binah magazine. It clearly is relevant to the Kaminetsky- Greenblatt Heter for Tamar Epstein. A reader strongly attacks  Binah for publishing a story in which the school principal was corrupt and did things against the Torah - and the heroine was the school secretary who obtained guidance from her rav how to deal with it. This reader's point  being that one does not raise the possibility in students minds that the principal can make mistakes that one needs to do something about it. Furthermore she asserts that it is
wrong to question the system - but rather we must ignore these
corrupt deviations.[disclaimer - I did not read the story]. I was very impressed by the response of the story's writer - and for Binah for publishing the original story and the author's response presented below.
Sara Wiederblank responds:

Dear Fellow Teacher,

I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss my intentions when writing The Secretary. The point I was trying to make is this: When
someone in authority fails to live up to his or her sacred charge, what are the bystanders to do? For some of those among us who have experienced the tragedy of failed leadership, the trauma of these discoveries is so great that they are left doubting the entire system. This serial was intended to show the responsibilities and potential of the average bystander, and also to demonstrate that when the halachic process is followed, the community's good can be served and we can all emerge from the experience whole and proud. 
 You claim that what the principal did was "quite minor" and perhaps "grossly blown out of proportion." I disagree. Lifnei iver lo siten michshol charges an advisor to only provide advice that is in the best interests of the seeker. Mrs. Hertzberg failed to do that most egregiously. Not only was she swayed by her own negios, she actively lied to pursue her own agenda. This is unacceptable in a leader and is not mitigated by her many years of outstanding service.

In fact, the Torah warns us against the likelihood that we will be hesitant to approach wayward leaders because of their history of impeccable service. In the topic of navi sheker, the false prophet, the Torah warns us not to be swayed by the man's Illustrious history of prophecy (see Ohr  Hachaim on Devarim 13:3).

Moreover, I take issue with your claim that it is terrible to allow the possibility for students to ever question authority.

I agree with your concern that people might rush to issue such judgments on their own educational leaders. This is a legitimate concern that I have kept in mind throughout writing this serial, and because of its seriousness I worked in close consultation with Binah's content director.

I hope that no one uses this story as an excuse to declare open hunting season on their own mechanchos. However, that concern is one side of a coin; the other side is passively standing by while corruption rules. That, too, is a tragic situation that this serial addresses.

You suggest that the goal of the serial was to please people who would think, "Good! Finally someone is putting the principal in her place." I certainly hope that there weren't many readers who felt this way. Indeed, I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who sympathized with Mrs. Hertzberg, and realized that she was not an evil person, merely a complex person with a mixture of good and bad, as most of us are. She is not a villain whom we rejoiced in trouncing. However, she  needed to be checked - and she was.

You also claim that going to the Rav was inappropriate and made the situation a bigger deal than was necessary. However, Ariella behaved correctly. Lo saamod al dam rei'acha demands that if you see something, you say something, to the appropriate  party, as Ariella did, 

I would like our readership to be aware that Ariella's actions were guided by my consultation with two Rabbanim, and Rabbi Eisen's response was based on their explanations of how a Torah leader should handle claims such as Ariella's. I included his detailed explanation to show readers that this is a Torah matter and has to be handled by daas Torah.
Certainly, Rabbi Eisen acknowledged the possibility that nothing untoward happened - this was no witch hunt - but the Torah demanded that he properly investigate, to avoid innocent people being hurt , I don't see how going to a Rav with a serious concern could ever it be construed as "over-responding"': it is the responsible thing for a Torah Jew to do when faced potentially serious concern.
The fact that Ariella is the heroine of this story should not detract from the daily heroism of our teachers and principals. To point to one failed leader is not to condemn them all. Is is because we so revere our leaders that we need guidance as to live with the possiblity that one of their members is perhaps not what we had hoped.
May we always maintain our respect for our leaders, and maintain our discernment for retzon Hashem 

Sara Wiederblank


  1. Can someone please post the dates of the Binah issues containing the original article as well as this letter

  2. it seems that when education is focused on educating compliant masses - questioning authority is very inconvenient - Torah authority is not based on position, title or power but by the greatness of character which has the courage to expose vulnerability and admit mistakes - we see in the Talmud, Shevuot 31. In court, a student thinks that a poor person is in the right and innocent and the rich person is liable and in the wrong, but his Rabbi, the judge holds differently. He is told to voice his disagreement with the judge, and not remain silent. When, according to his opinion he thinks that his Rabbi, the judge is making a mistake he should not wait but intervene and express his opinion and of course in a respectable way. He does not have to be concerned about his Rabbi's possible loss of esteem and respect and he should not fear any reprisals or retaliation by the rich man. He should speak out for the sake of coming to the truth and distancing himself from dishonesty. The Talmud here is not speaking about a disagreement in learning, but in actual p'sak, how a case in a beit din, a law court should be judged. And it obvious that the student should question his rabbi, the authority figure when it comes socio-moral learning, as to how the rabbi conducts himself in the world. This is especially true where corruption and a lack of honesty is involved.

    The Talmud learns this from the verse - מדבר שקר תרחק - Distance yourself from dishonesty and untruths.

  3. This issue is in accordance with agudah policy: if your principal (or school owner) is having innapropriate relationships with students, that's OK. Especially if the owner is a major 'agudist' (with big 'agudah' yichus.)

    Discourage even the foolishness of 'going to a rav', the official agudah policy they don't even believe in.

  4. Where do you claim this is "agudah policy"? Rabbi Sherer z'tl, would never have condoned inappropriate behavior. Don't make statements you cannot back up with proof.

  5. The letter is in the current, Pesach issue.

  6. Ironic how Hamodia's magazine, Bina, is the one in support of exposing when a leader makes a mistake. Does Ruth Lichtenstein, the edditor-in-chief, only have this policy for Bina or is she creating a new policy for Hamodia as well? May we mention all the cover ups Hamodia was fruntrunner in?

  7. The point that some people are missing is the fact that RSK is not an authority to give any Psak. If it was then not only it should be criticized, we should expect to see consequences to the corruption in terms of the removals of those responsible for the corruption

  8. Thanks. Is the original article in the previous issue?

  9. Do you know how many times I have asked the Hamodia and other publications to publish the seruv on the Young Israel "rabbi" who bullies the widow? How was this story able to get published when I can't warn of an aveirah d'oraisah (for which the Hashem says his wrath will burn and he will smite the afflicter with a sword (שְׁמוֹת 22:23)) being committed under the auspices of Young Israel?

  10. Hamodia is constantly displaying photos of RSK in the picture section.

  11. It seems that it was a serial - fictional story, that had a new chapter published every week. It probably just ended within the last two weeks..., which prompted the letter and its response.

  12. David Katz, "A Case Study in the Formation of a Super-Rabbi: The Early Years of Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, 1713-1754,

    I think katz says Rabbi Ezekiel Landau did not criticise the tumim, because of the chillul hashem even though he suspected he was a sabatean

  13. Hmm. If I submitted the story of the Las Vegas rabbi bullying the widow as fictional do you think Binah might publish it?

  14. The letter is extremely valuable, not only for the biographer of Ezekiel Landau, but for the historian of rabbinism, because it fascinatingly reflects the mentalite' of the rabbinic elite, the core values of the first-rank Talmudic scholars of the pre-modern era. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that the letter so resonated with the learned public. Ezekiel Landau gave eloquent voice to what so many great scholars were feeling, namely, that the controversy itself was causing more damage to rabbinic Judaism than the facts of the case. The public scandal was worse than Eibeschutz's alleged heresy, as long as Eibeschutz denied that he was a Sabbatian. To Ezekiel Landau the damage lay in the removal to the public domain of what ought to be an in- house matter, confined to the rabbinic world of the great communal rabbis and other leading scholars. Pro and anti Eibeschutz factions had formed among the public, and this "democratization" of the conflict was its most deplorable aspect. Landau feared that the public would become accustomed to judging and weighing the character and reputation of Eibeschutz, Emden, and the other great rabbis involved in the controversy. This the public ought not to do, for it inevitably leads to a reduction in the esteem in which the elite is held. To Landau and those like him, Jewish survival, the survival of Judaism properly organized, depends upon the maintenance of a hierarchy whose highest rungs are occupied by the greatest scholars. Not for nothing did Landau make reference to the famous Talmudic passage (Hagigah 14a) which declared that of all the curses and maledictions found in the Book of Isaiah, the worst was the prophecy (Isaiah 3:5) of the inversion of the proper social hierarchy, that "the child shall behave insolently against the elder, and the base against the honorable." Landau warned that if the mutual recriminations between the principals in the controversy would lead to public involvement in these sensitive issues, the rhetoric of the scandalmongers and excommunicators would cause the public to lose confidence in the rabbinic leaders as role models, which would in


    turn result in a decrease in the study of the Torah, which is a vital necessity for Jewish survival: "If rumors will now float to the effect that the great rabbis are not as perfect as angels, the young men will no longer flock to them to study. As a result the Torah will be forgotten in Israel, and the yeshivot will be empty. Such a prospect fills me with dread."722
    This is all a direct paste from R' Dovid Katz's thesis, linked above. I am astounded at how closely this resembles the argument of R' Aharon Feldman and others in the TE issue.

  15. Interesting point. But the cases are not comparable because the information that Tamar was an aguna who suddenly did not need a get has been public domain for a long time. If the rabbis actually dealt with the matter and all its manifestations then there would be no need for the laymen to get involved. The problem with the Tamar Epstein cases is that the rabbis are not dealing with it as is clear from the strange actions of the Feinstein Beis Din as well as the sudden silence of the major rabbis after the strange letter from Shalom Kaminetsky was published in the public doman on the Matzav Web site.


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