Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Other Side of the Rabbi Orlofsky Controversy

I wrote a post yesterday on LJ on this topic. Thanks to the power of Google, it has drawn a lot more attention than I normally get on LJ. After further contemplation, here is a revised version of what I originally wrote.

Earlier this year, due to a technical glitch a customer was having problems redeeming a gift certificate. Before giving me time to work on the problem they reported it to their 1000 member Yahoo group. From there things spiraled out of control, as people bashed me and sent threatening e-mails to our company. I was accused of sending hate mail and one person put the glitch on the same level as bashing gays in the local newspaper. It continued for days, even after the problem was resolved. All I could do was sit on my hands and let our PR person do damage control. By that point the truth wasn't relevant. It was a real life lesson on how much damage can be done on a baseless accusation.

Another similar real life lesson occurred during the battle for control of the mikveh. The battle had already turned ugly, when our Rabbi got involved. His first move was to contact the parties involved to get both sides of the story. There was another Rabbi who I lost all respect for. He accused anyone (including my family) who had experienced events that he claimed never happened of being a liar and was not afraid to do it publicly. On the other hand, at same time I learned a valuable life lesson from our Rabbi about getting the facts before resorting to name calling.

On Sunday night, I saw a blog post and some follow up discussions on how horrible Rabbi Orlofsky is based on some of his comments on an audio clip. He was put on par with the worst criminals the Haredi community has to offer. The basis of the condemnation were two clips. In one clip Rabbi Orlofsky accused Rabbi Hersh Weinreb of stupidity and the 2nd one says that modern orthodox who don't believe in the Gedolim are not bnei Torah.

Rabbi Orlofsky was my Mashgiach in Yeshiva. He had a lunch time seder, where I had to make the Siyum because I was the only one who had been to every class, (including him). While the clips were damning, they lacked context and from I have known seemed out of place. I chose to call Rabbi Orlofsky directly. He has given me permission to share the details of our conversation.

The whole controversy began last Friday when the clips were anonymously sent to the OU office. The clip is from a shiur given 5.5 years ago, the time period during the battle over the banning of Rabbi Slifkin's (who I have a lot of respect for) book. Rabbi Orlofsky had taken the rather lonely position, of standing up for the Gedolim. The lecture was at Ohr LaGolah. While people may consider them to be just ordinary Ohr Sameach students, he pointed out that they are really a seperate program made up of Rabbis who's values include allegiance to the concept of following Gedolei Torah. He felt they had not deserved the name calling and personal insults. He was shocked to be hearing these types of attacks coming from a place like Ohr LaGolah. By his own admission he lost control and went overboard. He was not prepared to hear many of the comments and questions he had been receiving (including name calling of the gedolim), in this setting.

The point of contention was not about which Rav to follow but of the importance of having a Rav in the first place. This has been a long standing Jewish tradition and he was shocked to hear these Rabbis rejecting the concept.

Rabbi Orlofsky has a ton of respect for Rabbi Weinreb and meant that even with all his knowledge Rabbi Weinreb would not consider himself to be a Gadol and goes to the Gedolim for advice. The point was that people who were bashing the authority of the Gedolim (the students) were the same people who follow people who go to the Gedolim when their expertise in halacha are required. The attack was an unjustified way of making the point.

Rabbi Orlofsky has since sought out and received acceptance of his apology from Rabbi Weinreb.

The 2nd clip was Rabbi Orlofsky speaking out against the concept of "Catholic Israel" where it is the people who determine Jewish tradition rather than the Rabbis. The Modern Orthodox was a slip of the tongue after saying Conservative 3 times in a row. Given his lecture style he probably explained the use of the Modern Orthodox term, but the clip cuts out right away. He has said that he would love the opportunity to hear the rest of the tape. An anonymous person has claimed that they have a copy of the tape and threatened to make it public. On behalf of Rabbi Orlofsky, I have requested to arrange to get the recording to him. To date the person has not responded. All I know about the person is their IP address is from Brandeis University.

Rabbi Orlofsky is amazed that with thousands of hours of his recordings around there is only a two minute clip on him. If his shiur was so horrible, what happened to the other 58 minutes?

Not only that, but has no one else ever said anything that was not what they intended or worse yet taken out of context?

Rabbi Orlofsky made a mistake a long time ago. He admits he was wrong and has apologized to the people that he hurt. His life accomplishments are not going to be undone by this incident. As we go into the Yom Neroim, it is important to realize that our actions have consequences. Things are not always as they are appear. If we are quick to condemn others without trying to understand the other side, we are just spreading Sinat Chinam.

I will never know 100% for sure what was going on in Rabbi Orlofsky's head or what he had actually intended to say. My experiences of the past year have taught me that things are not always as black and white as they may appear. Perhaps my friendship with him has allowed me to know him a lot better than the people are attacking him.


Anonymous said...

This is far from the first time that Orlofsky has shot his mout off in a rude, offensive, and intemperate manner. The joke is not and has not been worth the distortion to Torah that he brings over. This has been true for over 10 years.

Anonymous said...

"He admits he was wrong and has apologized to the people that he hurt."

No, he hasn't. He never apologized to Rabbi Slifkin.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

This is a terrible attempt at a whitewash. The excuses you offer here do not jive with the audio clips, nor with widely reported chains of such incidents. This attempt at an excuse would only make sense in an Orlofskian, sorry - that should be Orwellian - world.

And, actually, the public denigration of a talmid hacham is pretty black and white. The sages offer no cover for it. In a situation of hillul Hashem, we even don't honor/defer to/ cut slack for a hacham. R. Dovid Orlofsky has completely stepped out of bounds. It just took a while to catch up to him.

You're right. We should draw some conclusions before the Awesome Days. Such as, if I show disdain for other people's Torah, if I demean others who are devoted to, learn, and teach Hashem's Torah - it will surely come back to bite me. Hard. In this world, or the next.

It is amazing that Rav Weinreb's colleagues and students are so cultured and restrained that they haven't tarred and feathered R. Orlofsky. If the tables were turned, I think we know well what Dovid Orlofsky would have to say.

Hashem yirachem. Oy for the ears which have heard such things. Oy for the minds which have been influenced by such things.

E-Man said...

He actually said many slanderous things against Rabbi Weinreb and no explanation can come CLOSE to even getting him to be able to apologize for those slanderous remarks. If I call your mother a disgusting name and say no offense, does that mean I am really a righteous person? No, it means I am a disgusting person who knows what I did was wrong and therefore tried to temper the reaction against me.

Anonymous said...

Written statement from Rabbi Orlovsky:

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what actually happened, if we as people can self righteously denigrate another person -ANYONE- even if we happen to knew the factual events, what does that say about us? What does it say about us armchair philosophers engaging in that self-same activity even whilst engaging in it?
How can we be comfortable passing judgment on a fellow Jew while completely ignoring our own actions?
How can we condemn a man for blasphemy by condemning him fit blasphemy? Do we not see what's happening here?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this is in line with his m.o. on all matters and people he disagrees with. Public bashing to the extent of asking his audience to ban the businesses of people he doesn't like. It is very unfortunate. But I have seen him acting like a clown on a kiruv panel discussion as well (maybe he had too much to drink then). He was a guest in someone's home and began to berate their respected grandfather -- and when they tried to stop him so as not to embarrass himself, he refused to stop and carried on with outright lies. Black and white lies. Such as insisting the grandfather had a Rolls Royce and chauffer. The grandfather had neither. But Orlofsky insisted. Perhaps there is an early inset of a mental disease that is harming this Talmud Chocham's frontal lobes. Or perhaps he is all books but not practice. But fter the panel discussion, it was too much. He would make a good comedienne, but not really a Torah authority. Just so sad -- especially since he presents himself as a Kiruv expert.