Do not demean others

Do not demean others

I am responding to Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy’s response to “Ranted in Bergen County” (“Dear Rabbi,” December 4.)

Although the name of the rabbi referred to was omitted, it is evident that the subject of discussion was Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. I strongly object to several comments in the response to Ranted’s question. They include, “Such a person would benefit from therapy to help him understand his risky drives and deficiencies and to help him become more vigilant in monitoring his problematic behavior.” I wonder: Is Rabbi Zahavy a mental health professional? Even if he is, has he interviewed Rabbi Pruzansky? Has he sat down with his wife or children to determine how good a husband and father he is? Although Rabbi Pruzansky is, evidently, not supported by all, has Rabbi Zahavy surveyed the community to determine the great many people whom he has helped and supported? Has he attended any of his shiurim? I could go on, but you get the point.

Rabbi Zahavy advises the letter writer to “Stay away from him… He is a danger to your community, to stable society and to civilization…” He then follows up with additional demeaning remarks about this unnamed rabbi.

In specific reference to Rabbi Pruzansky’s column following the massacre of the rabbis in the synagogue, he obviously was enraged and outraged! I wish more of us shared similar emotional reactions to those kinds of behaviors by our enemies. Even if Rabbi Pruzansky is of the opinion that his ideas are justified according to Jewish law, I suspect that his thoughts, or at least his decision to have them published, were affected by his feelings of upset. I also suspect that similar ideas came to others in response to the massacre. Rabbi Pruzansky, unfortunately, penned his ideas. But we should be judged primarily by what we do, not by what we think or write, especially when what is written is unlikely to influence others.

There are other rabbis and community leaders who have expressed their disagreement with Rabbi Pruzansky. But they have done so in a respectful way. Is it really proper to besmirch and disrespect Rabbi Pruzansky in this way?

Finally, my mother once told me, in response to angry letters I wrote to her from summer camp, that I should put them aside before mailing them, read them again a day later, and then modify them or throw them out. As The Standard has indicated, Rabbi “Pruzansky to work with editors…agrees to ‘another set of eyes’ to check his blog posts.” Terrific idea! I would suggest that Rabbi Zahavy do the same. Following my mother’s and my own advice, I will ask someone to read this letter before I send it.

Rabbi Zahavy responds:

I thank Mr. Levner for his response to my Dear Rabbi column, which gives me the chance to expand on important advice. If you do see a friend or colleague repeatedly engaging in actions that are risky, possibly destructive to his well-being or to the well-being of his family or community, there comes a time at which you ought to point this out to him or her. And if the behavior is egregious, I believe you should do what you can to urge that person to get professional help.

No, I am not a mental health professional. But yes I do believe that in a healthy community we offer each other advice on how to confront problems, even personality issues. And sometimes that means to urge a person to seek professional help for antisocial activities that can be destructive. Likewise, if you know about someone who is engaged in domestic violence or is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may not succeed, but to prevent harm, you ought to encourage the person in question to get treatment.

My hope is that in the specific situation I address in my column, by getting counseling, over time, the person in question will be able to activate his internal “editors” rather than have to rely on external review of his writing or sermonizing. I may add that when called upon, as my time permits, I’m always willing to act as an editor, to read through and comment on any of the writings of my colleagues before they are published. In the academic world that is a common practice. It enhances the quality of published work and prevents many errors of fact or judgment from reaching print.