Thursday, 25 April 2013

New revelations about Rabbi Broyde

So far, the wincingly-embarrassing revelations that Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde had used more than one pseudonym to express himself anonymously in the public arena have besmirched his personal reputation, but no doubt had been publicly cast over the rigour and reliability of his academic work and piskei halacha. 

But it seems that there are holes in his academic and halachic probity as well. My old friend Steven I Weiss has written an article for the Jewish Channel, describing a detailed, controversial article written by Rabbi Broyde for Tradition about women's hair coverings, the scholarship of which was buttressed by a letter from an elderly Talmudic scholar named David Keter. Weiss's article casts serious doubts on the existence of such a person. Read Weiss' full article here. Rabbi Broyde's online article for hirhurim, which substantiated his halachic claims by relying on David Keter's support can be read here. Nothing is yet proven, but if this is indeed true then his lack of yashrus moves from the childishly embarrassing to the shamefully dishonest.

I have another example of Rabbi Broyde's apparent fabrication of halachic proof. A couple of years ago, Rabbi Broyde was in London, UK, and gave a shiur to a coneference of Jewish doctors. In the course of his lecture, he referred to a letter from the Lubavitcher rebbe which permitted prospective medical students to take entrance exams on Shabbat. My husband thought that this was an unusual position for the Lubavitcher Rebbe to take, and contacted his own Rav, the Lubavitcher Chassid and talmid chacham Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, shlita. Rabbi Rapoport was also puzzled by this; he said that he had never heard of such a psak from the Rebbe, and that he does not think that the Lubavitcher Rebbe would have said such a thing, for a number reasons. My husband then emailed Rabbi Broyde, asking where he could find the source the Rabbi Broyde had refered to. Rabbi Broyde's response was "I do not think it has been published.". My husband felt that this was an unsatisfactory answer, and emailed him again to ask "If not, where can I find reference to it to look into it further?". He received no further reply.

At the time, my husband thought that this seemed strange. If a letter has not been published, then how can Rabbi Broyde know of it to refer to it? And the psak in this letter contradicts the huge amount that is documented already about the Lubavitcher Rebbe's stance in this regard. In light of the discovery that Rabbi Broyde has fabricated other material, which was not halachically sensitive, his reliability in presenting 'new' halachic proofs is also affected.

I had initially felt pure sympathy and embarrassment for Rabbi Broyde, along with the sense that it is such a stupid thing to do. How embarrassing to be derided in this way! How shameful for a man of letters and scholarship to engage in such petty, childish tricks! But my sympathy is slowly evaporating. To engage in childish games of 'bigging up' one's importance and blowing one's own trumpet anonymously is one - ridiculous, embarrassing - thing. But to present inauthentic academic scholarship is another. And, to my mind, to create proofs to substantiate a halachic argument which cannot stand on it own legs is a far more serious third issue.

Chazal tell us that in the next World, man is presented with a retrospective of his life. The tzadikim, who triumphed over sin, will look back at the desire for sin which they overcame and say 'It was like a huge chasm', while the wicked who gave in to the desire to sin will say 'it was like a small hole'. This seems to be the wrong way around; surely he who gave into sin should think that the desire to sin was as large as a chasm, while he who triumphed over the desire should view his desire as something small and easily overwhelmed. Yet the reverse is true. When the wicked look back at the sin they gave into, they will see how petty and meaningless that sin was. They will wish that they had overcome their desire to do something which was nothing but a waste. The righteous, when they look back at their lives, will recognise that the fact that they triumphed over their base desires was an achievement of pure will, and that their victory is indeed great.

It seems to me that Rabbi Broyde's actions are similar. Maybe when he did it, it seemed like something important; something that no one would ever know about; something that didn;t really matter, because he was right anyway. And now that it is all being dragged into the bright light of public opinion, perhaps he is realising how small his sin was.

I remember reading somewhere that the sins we really regret are not the huge sins of ideology or conscience, but the petty sins of desire and smallness. It is sad that someone who is a great thinker and a great teacher has dragged himself down in this way.

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