The Yeshiva part of YU’s student council (SOY) publishes an annual “Torah” journal called “Beis Yitzhack.” Each year, Roshei Yeshiva, rabbinic alumni, Kollel or rabbinical students, and some undergraduates submit Hebrew articles on a variety of topics. This year, Kollel Elyon member R. Daniel Stein published two articles which offended many readers and embarrassed YU’s Kollel.
Normally in order for BY to get such negative reaction, someone has to make a big deal out of it.1 A few years ago, some students published a “mehqar” (academic talmud) -type piece in BY and attributed something to Ha-Gaon R. Shaul (GRAS”H) Lieberman.2 Probably no one would have noticed it unless the authors themselves hadn’t pointed out to everyone that were able to publish this piece in the typically “traditional” BY.3
I’m not around YU this year, so I don’t know exactly what is currently happening between the walls of the Yeshiva. I do know that Protocols posted something about this edition, and consequently sparked a vicious flame war in the comments and a subsequent follow-up post. I’ve been told, The Forward got wind of this and will cover it soon.
Thanks to Avraham I managed to get copies of the offending articles.4 My reaction? Honestly, I didn’t like either article.5 Are they worthy of the extreme reaction they’re getting? That’s a different story, and a more complicated issue.
What gets published or rejected is ultimately up to the editorial staff of the BY. What are their standards? I have no idea. Assuming they accept everything submitted, BY would be ideologically “open,” but it would eventually have to publish articles which diminish its credibility. However, in order to reject submissions, BY would need some objective acceptable criteria, which would invariably alienate some if not all of its intended readership.
What about R. Stein’s responsibilities? He took positions, and defended them based on his (or other’s) interpretation of selected sources. Should he have not quoted controversial opinions?
Once an opinion is published, it’s part of the public record. If this opinion is actually Torah, then why should we be embarrassed? The sages of Israel did not hide anti-secular laws from the Romans.(B. Bava Qamma 38a) Or following the mentality of the yeshiva, if these “gedolim” are at a level in which we may not question them, then who are we to censor them? If you find that they have ridiculous opinions, then perhaps they are not as great as you would like to believe.
In one of his articles, R. Stein belittles a methodology employed by at least one of YU’s Roshei Yeshiva. If he gives himself the right to evaluate and criticize one of the Roshei Yeshiva, then certainly R. Stein should not be held to a higher standard and above criticism himself. R. Stein chose to put his position in print, and consequently opens himself to peer evaluation.
There are certain rules of discourse which are determined by “common sense” or basic civility. If R. Stein is wrong, prove it. Demonstrate how he misreads sources. Prove how his logic and conclusions are incorrect. Many of the commentors in Protocols didn’t even read the article and were relying on one person’s abridged translation. With no actual evidence, people hide behind “anonymous” screen names and feel free to hurl invectives at anyone who disagrees with them. This is less of a problem with Protocols than it is with the entirety of the web. Slashdot and Kuro5hin both depend on the community moderating itself such that the insightful get read over the trolls.
I’m not a fan of censorship, but on the other hand we can’t accept every single possible position as part of every discussion. For now, I’m just advocating accountability. Accountability for Roshei Yeshiva in terms of their own methodologies and how closely they follow Torah. Accountability for the critics to demonstrate why they disagree. And finally accountability for the “netizens” for their comments.
Don’t censor articles from BY, but make sure they’re well argued. Don’t hide issues of the BY, but RTFA and respond coherently. No one is above criticism, but no one deserves an intellectual lynching either.
If you really think you’re right, put your name on the line and defend your position. Don’t suppress others and don’t hide behind anonymity.
If YU wants to maintain any credibility, it has to stop hiding from controversies and civility.
It’s time to put up, or shut up.
Update: I “put up” my own review of R. Stein’s article.
1. The fact that it’s written in Hebrew probably has something to do with its readership around YU.
2. R. Lieberman taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Despite being a world class Talmid Haham, many in YU do not take him seriously simply because of his affiliation with the conservative movement. Other might reference his Tosefta Ki-fshuta, but for the most part he is ignored. In this case, authors sinned by attributing the hallowed honorific reserved for select sages.
3. The best analogy I can think of is a high school yearbook. Every year someone puts in a “hidden” message which normal people won’t see. Nothing happens until someone points it out to the administration at which point, people get banned from graduation, pages get ripped out, etc.
4. As per my arrangement, I will not distribute my copies under any circumstances. Don’t as me, don’t ask Avraham. Just buy the book.
5. I realized in my GNU Testament post, I took a “cheap shot” at Rushkoff in that I disparaged his book without providing the exact flaws. For this, I apologize. Since I will not go into detail about the article’s content, I am intentionally not elaborating here. I may blog about the specifics later.