The president of the Rabbinical Council of American, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, has weighed in on the ongoing dispute between Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck and Gary Rosenblatt of Teaneck, editor and publisher of New York’s Jewish Week.
“I am pained that I have to distance myself from a colleague, but the kind of language that Rabbi Pruzansky used is unacceptable and crosses the line of decency and discourse,” Rabbi Matanky is quoted in the Jewish Week as having written. (Rabbi Matanky lives in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood – which is more or less the Teaneck of the Midwest – where he is rabbi of Congregations K.I.N.S. and dean of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy.)
The backstory leading to these words is complicated. It traces back to Rabbi Barry Freundel’s arrest last month for voyeurism. The spiritual leader of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., Rabbi Freundel is accused of having spied on women, videoing them using a camera hidden in a clock radio as they prepared to immerse themselves in the mikvah in order to convert to Judaism.
In response to that deeply troubling situation, the RCA appointed a commission to look into ways to make the conversion process smoother and to reduce the possibility that such a crime would ever recur. The chair of that commission is the RCA’s immediate past president, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood.
In a long post on his blog,www.rabbipruzansky.com, Rabbi Pruzansky, who had been the head of Bergen County’s Bet Din L’Giyur – its conversion court – announced that he was leaving that position.
Some controversy erupted from that October 30 post. The RCA’s commission includes six men and five women. As we reported last week (“Local rabbi resigns from Bergen County beit din”), Rabbi Pruzansky does not think it necessary – or perhaps even wise – to include women. But, he said, he did not say, or even imply, that his resignation from the beit din had anything to do with the fact that women are on it.
In that post, Rabbi Pruzansky wrote that the Jewish Week had misunderstood his decision, through what he called “sheer incompetence.” The Jewish Week, he wrote, is “typical of the sordid state of journalism today.”
The paper had erred when it wrote about his resignation, he said; it got the name of the organization he was leaving wrong.
In an addendum to his original post, Rabbi Pruzansky said that although the Jewish Week later corrected that mistake it added another, insinuating an unwholesome connection between the two men by writing that Rabbi Pruzansky “shared the company of Rabbi Freundel.” It was an odd and unpleasant turn of phrase.
In that October 30 post, Rabbi Pruzansky added what has become the most incendiary part. He demanded that the Jewish Week’s publisher apologize for what he called “despicable outrageous slander.
“They should apologize,” he wrote. “But, I guess, to follow their way of reporting, both the Jewish Week’s publisher and Julius Streicher published newspapers that dealt a lot with Jews. Same business, I suppose. That’s bad company to be in.”
(That line has been removed from the post, but as of Wednesday it still appears in the comments, where it had been repeated.)
On November 5, Rabbi Pruzansky added another post to his blog. It is called “Gary Rosenblatt Lies. Now He Should Apologize.”
In that post, after clarifying his stance, he wrote:
“Now, why would a journalist blatantly print lies and falsehoods? I hesitate to speculate. Obviously, recent events have reminded us that we never fully know what kind of demons lurk within human beings, demons that they carry with them (perhaps from childhood) and lead them into all sorts of mischief. One astute observer commented, about the publisher: ‘The man never met a feminist, especially a so-called “orthodox” one he hasn’t tripped over his shoes running to worship. Likewise, he’s never met an orthodox rabbi, especially ones that ignore him, that he hasn’t tried to vilify.'”
(For the record, Mr. Rosenblatt is an Orthodox Jew; both his father and his grandfather were Orthodox rabbis.)
On November 11, Rabbi Pruzansky wrote another post. This one he called “The Last Word: Gary Rosenblatt Still Lies.”
There, he addresses the issue of whether he called the publisher of the Jewish Week – Mr. Rosenblatt – a Nazi by comparing him to Julius Streicher.
He did not, Rabbi Pruzansky wrote in his blog. “All I did was respond in kind to a sleazy journalistic trick that they attempted to use on me. The trick? Conflating ‘comparison’ with ‘commonality.’ It goes like this: the statement, ‘Gary Rosenblatt has two eyes and two feet, just like Genghis Khan’ is a true statement. It is not a comparison of those two individuals, but an assertion of what they have ‘in common.’ It is no indication at all that the two men are essentially alike – values, personality, temperament, world-view, etc. – but the linkage of the two is designed to arouse in the mind of the reader an unfavorable image.”
Mr. Rosenblatt did that to him when he linked him to Rabbi Freundel, Rabbi Pruzansky charged, so he merely turned returned the favor.
“It is true that whenever the Holocaust is referred to at all, any subtlety is completely lost in the process,” he wrote. “It is indeed unpleasant to find one’s name gratuitously linked in the same sentence with a Nazi, as it is unpleasant to find one’s name gratuitously linked in the same sentence with an accused voyeur. That was my point! Yet, the publisher acts as if it was some innocent mistake on his part, or something that lent itself to different meanings, and something that offended me and would not have offended another person.
“It is not surprising that he resented having his sordid tactics used against him, and his only response – rather than concede the use of the dastardly ploy – was to cry ‘Holocaust.’
“So allow me to state unequivocally that Gary Rosenblatt is not a Nazi, and the Jewish Week is not Der Sturmer. The Jewish Week is adept at a modern form of yellow journalism, in which the use of commonality as comparison is rampant, in which lies are wantonly published and in which targets – especially Orthodox Rabbis, Orthodox Jews and the Holy Torah – are routinely assailed. Sadly, such drivel has its audience.”
According to Rabbi Matanky, as quoted in the Jewish Week, if a non-Jew had made such statements, “we would be up in arms. It simply cannot be condoned, especially coming from a rabbi.”
“The president of the RCA has made his position clear, and it stands,” Rabbi Goldin added.
The head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, expressed his point of view succinctly in a letter to the Jewish Week.
“Whatever disagreements Rabbi Steven Pruzansky may have with The Jewish Week or its editor, Gary Rosenblatt, his comparison of this newspaper with the vile, anti-Semitic Nazi rag Der StÃ¼rmer was simply unacceptable,” he wrote.