When to talk and when to not

The idea for this blog post came today when I noticed an article called “Where cancel culture stops,” by Yisroel Besser in Mishpacha magazine, meant for Orthodox Jews. (I apologize for my extraordinarily long delay in writing blog posts.)

Dictionary.com calls cancel culture

“the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive,”

and it’s often done on social media to shame.

Jan. 10, 2016: Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, by Sir Joseph

The article is about prominent Philadelphia rosh yeshivah (head of school) Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky endorsing Donald Trump for reelection, over the summer, saying

Yes, I think people should vote for him. He’s done a good job” … [and it would be] “worrisome” [if he lost].

Rabbi Kamenetsky is 95 and was speaking to the deputy editor of the magazine, which is read by people in the Orthodox community. The point of the magazine article was Besser questioning whether he should’ve included the pro-Trump remark, which he felt became a distraction and took away from the point of his original article with such a prominent person.

Two personal points: I don’t understand the rabbi’s reasoning. Maybe he had several reasons, but I find Trump supporting school choice — and giving more federal money to non-public schools of all types — appears to take away from any value-based or theological judgment.

Also, I understand Besser’s dilemma but am adamant he had to include the pro-Trump remark because of who said it. Omitting it would’ve been ignoring news (doing a bad job) or hiding it (calling his character into question). Reporters have a job to do. It’s a process and won’t always end as expected. They ask follow-up questions after their subjects say something interesting, and that can completely change the focus of a story. It’s called breaking news!

Rabbi Kamenetsky also supports the anti-vaccination movement, saying at least six years ago,

I see vaccinations as the problem. … It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine is a hoax. It is just big business.”

He follows the lead of an Israeli rabbi who ruled schools

have no right to prevent unvaccinated kids from coming to school.

I wonder how that works in his school’s dorm, full of high school boys, and Judaism’s value of life.

JONAH International logo, fair use

Then, there was Rabbi Kamenetsky’s “staunch support” of the anti-gay JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) and its co-founder Arthur Abba Goldberg, who believed reparative therapy could change homosexual orientation. Rabbi Kamenetsky was the first major rabbi to endorse the activities, not supported by any mainstream medical or mental health organizations.

A lawsuit against the group ended with a New Jersey Superior Court jury ordering JONAH closed for consumer fraud. (It simply changed its name to Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, so watch out!)

Back in the 1980s, Goldberg was working for a Wall Street investment bank when he orchestrated a massive fraud in which the firm sold more than $2 billion of fraudulent municipal bonds for several cities. He pleaded guilty in several courts to avoid life in prison, served six months, and the Securities and Exchange Commission permanently banned him from the securities industry.

Rabbi Kamenetsky was born in Lithuania — and educated in Toronto, Baltimore and Lakewood, NJ. He co-founded Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia in 1953 in the city’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and moved it to Overbrook, two years later, where it remains today. (Google says it’s actually a five-minute walk, 0.2 miles away, from the building I lived when I first moved to Philadelphia, 1998-2001. Who knew?!) He is revered as

“one of the most widely known living Haredi Litvish Jewish gedolim outside of Israel” (a big deal).

There’s no doubt Rabbi Kamenetsky is brilliant when it comes to Judaism and strict Jewish law. He was raised with it nearly a century ago and lives by it, seemingly exclusively in most matters.

But he should probably keep in mind, not everything needs to be said — like a political endorsement, which is outside his expertise in Judaism and strict Jewish law. It could be distracting.

Something to add? Disagree? Let us all know!

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