During the last few weeks, as we have chronicled in the newspaper, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s blog comments – first on Rabbi Barry Freundel’s mikvah-peeking scandal, then about the Jewish Week and its possible resemblance to the Nazi propaganda sheet Der Sturmer, and most recently on responses to terrorism in the wake of the Har Nof nightmare – have drawn both outrage and approval from readers.
Because they are strongly written and Rabbi Pruzansky’s deeply held opinions are highly controversial, they evoke strong reactions from a wide range of people.
Last week, the Orthodox Union – to which Rabbi Pruzansky’s Teaneck synagogue, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, belongs – put out a press release headlined “Orthodox Union Rejects Incendiary Rhetoric.” It does not mention Rabbi Pruzansky – or anyone else – by name, but after deploring the bloody Har Nof massacre and supporting forceful measures in response, it deplores what seem to be his suggestions.
“We cannot countenance a response to terror that resorts to wholesale demonization, advocates for the collective punishment of Israeli Arabs, or calls for the destruction or dismantling of Muslim holy places,” the statement reads. “Such rhetoric is anathema to the Jewish religious tradition and has no place in civil society. Such rhetoric is wrong and must be repudiated, whether it is voiced by lay leaders, community leaders or rabbis. Such calls to action do not enhance the security of the State of Israel or enable Israel’s security forces to fulfill their difficult responsibilities.”
At the statement’s end, it adds that although the OU urges community members to speak out against terrorism and in support of Israel, it “must be done in a responsible fashion.”
In response to his critics, Rabbi Pruzansky has said all along that he had been misunderstood, and his intent twisted. He is not advocating collective punishment, he said; he is in fact advocating nothing that the liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz did not suggest years ago.
On Saturday night, he spoke on Zev Brenner’s radio program, “Talkline.” Asked about the OU’s statement, he said: “There is a lot of Kabuki and a lot of politics going on. I think also there is the domestic situation that has to be tended to. Every shul has enhanced security for several years and that played into their decision, but it is strange. Both organizations” – here Rabbi Pruzansky is referring to the OU and the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis – “have had a lot of situations over the years, with people acting in vile ways that they did not seem fit to condemn. They have had that issue in the RCA for years, so it is surprising.
“There is tremendous support for what I wrote – when it is properly understood – in the RCA.”
Still, Rabbi Pruzansky and the board of his shul have decided that it would be wise for him to be more aware of possible reactions to his blog posts before he puts them up.
“As many have noticed, I have a penchant for writing, and occasionally writing provocatively,” Rabbi Pruzansky wrote in a statement to his congregants. “I do regret that, in the aftermath of the horrific massacre in Har Nof, I wrote in a manner that many deemed harsh, although that was not my intention.” After acknowledging his awareness that there is not universal agreement with his position among members of his shul, and that his effectiveness in presenting that position is weakened when he uses “language that many find confrontational rather than illuminating,” he told his readers that he knew that his writing had suffered over the years because he had not worked with an editor. “All writers need another set of eyes or two in order to ensure that errors are avoided and rhetoric that distracts is eschewed,” he wrote.
“Therefore, I have agreed (upon recommendation of the shul leadership) to form a panel of people that I trust will review my writings – not to censor the ideas, but to make certain, when necessary, that they are conveyed in slightly-less colorful ways.”
Then, reverting to a trope that he uses often, Rabbi Pruzansky wrote, “It is clear that there are members of the media who do not like me and routinely pick apart my words and place them in the worst possible light.” Editors will make that much harder to do.
In its statement, Bnai Yeshurun’s board makes clear that “the public writings of Rabbi Pruzansky are his personal thoughts, views and opinions and not those of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, its Executive Board, Board of Directors or members….
“The Executive Board met with the Rabbi earlier this week and has been in communications virtually non-stop since last week. We fully appreciate the gravity of the situation for our shul and the extended community,” it continued. The rabbi will work with editors; moreover, the executive board “will review the results of this new process periodically to ensure that it is effective.”
In an email to the Jewish Standard, Rabbi Pruzansky elaborated on using editors. “The key point about the editors is they do not constitute a panel, or a board, and are NOT part of the shul,” he wrote. “If they were, that would make the shul responsible for what I wrote or say outside the framework of the shul, and that would pose upon me the limitations that come from the shul’s tax exempt status.
“That is why it is separate, unofficial, and, for the most part, my idea.”
Both the rabbi’s and the board’s statements touch on security issues. The board’s statement mentions that the shul is aware of security issues, has discussed them with local and national experts, and is working with Teaneck’s police department, which has enhanced its patrols to ensure the shul’s safety. The implication is that there is some connection between Rabbi Pruzansky’s blog and the enhanced security measures, although that connection is not made explicit. “There is no cause for alarm,” the shul’s statement asserts.