Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Wish I Was a Member. . . . .
So I could retract my membership

I wish I was a member of the Agudah so I could retract my membership with fanfare. Rabbi Shafran is the voice of Orthodoxy, even if it isn't exactly the branch we subscribe to. His articles are published far and wide. And this article should clearly have never made it onto his computer, much less off the computer and into the press (see here and here). They are published in many non-Orthodox publications. As Rabbi Yair Hoffman writes, "I strongly believe that each of Rabbi Shafran’s points are completely antithetical to the true Torah perspective and that the consequences of printing such an article can have far-reaching and harmful ramifications."

In one article he managed to:
  • Praise Madoff, the man who destroyed dignity, destroyed lives, destroyed fortunes, destroyed foundations, destroyed endowments, and who has, perhaps, permanently altered the landscape giving. (And, yes, scale does matter. Don't pretend we are all thieves anyway and that there is no difference between those who systematically defraud over and over and over and over again, and those whose children have eaten an apple or two in the grocery store before the infraction was noticed*. There is a difference).
  • Denigrate Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a man who heroically saved 155 passengers, for absolutely NO good reason.
  • Denigrate the Torah publicly.
If you ever wondered how the Torah can be twisted into a pretzel to not only excuse acts of evil, but to praise those who perpetrate them, you need to look no further. If you have ever wondered why it seems some need to "diss" others to build up their position, then look no further.

I won't sit around waiting for a retraction from Rabbi Shafran. Pesach awaits and the retraction will likely never come. I'd write the Agudah, but the article somehow made it out the door of the Agudah. I'm not sure it is worth spilling ink.
*Another shopper noticed my children snacking on the apples we were buying for Pesach. I had the grocery store weigh two other apples in their place, but who G-d only knows if we made restitution.


David said...

I'm stunned that R' Shaffran would say such things. It should be needless to say that I thoroughly disagree with him on all points.

Anonymous said...

purim was last month! this must be a joke

Anonymous said...

SL, when my kids were young I used to have to first go the express line and buy an apple or a banana right away and save the receipt, every single time.

Re Rabbi Shafran, he clearly intended this to be provocative and controversial, but he wasn't thinking clearly, especially with his denigration of Capt. Sullenberger, who showed great selflessness, not selfishness as Rabbi Shafran claimed. How anyone can defend Madoff is also beyond me. Maybe Rabbi Shafran thinks he's auditioning for a column with the Wall Street Journal or some other conservative organ, but he missed the boat on this one.

Orthonomics said...

tesyaa-I normally go straight to the checkout line also, but my kids were in the fire engine part of the cart, had just eaten, and when I offered to buy them some fruit to snack on they said no. Stupid me! Next thing I knew they were eating apples, and I'm still not quite sure when they nabbed them from the cart. Fortunately, most grocery stores very forgiving.

Can't imagine the WSJ wanting to take this type of drek.

ora said...

I don't see how he "denigrated" Captain Sullenberger. He clearly didn't know the whole story, or he would have realized that there was self-sacrifice involved and that the reason Sullenberger became a popular figure is that he did a whole lot more than just land the plane. But he never said Sullenberger was selfish, a bad person, etc -- just pointed out that landing the plane in and of itself was not a moral decision (although again, he erred in making that out to be the entire story).

I agree that the article was a flop but I can see how his original idea (moral decisions, not talent or luck, are what matter; owning up to sins takes character) wasn't too far off. Unfortunately he went too far in the attempt to link it to current events and so make it controversial + attention-grabbing, and ended up warping the stories involved.

I admit to having sympathy for Rabbi Shafran here -- it's not easy to write for a huge crowd, and it's not easy to critique your own writing. Writers can quickly get so caught up in an idea that they fail to see how it could be misconstrued or how they are misrepresenting events. It happens to anyone who writes often enough.

An article making it into the paper/onto the Internet isn't usually such a big deal. I don't know how the Agudah works, but I'm guessing only one or maybe two people were involved in giving Rabbi Shafran's piece the thumbs-up.

Anonymous said...

He is off his rocker. I called the Agudah on Friday to ask them if they would repudiate these statements and they told me that everything that R' Shafran says is in the name of Agudah and with the blessing of the Moetzes. So thinking that perhaps I misunderstood what he was saying or that it was some kind of parody I e-mailed him for a clarification and unfortunately he meant what he said. I blogged about his response to my e-mail, it made me sick and it is the opposite of everything that we as Jews have believed for the last 5000 since Avraham and Yishmael.

Ezzie said...


I said to a friend - even if you could somehow defend the ideas behind R' Shafran's column (and while I could see what he was trying to do, he failed miserably in the attempt), what was the point? What good could possibly have come out of this piece? It's a huge chillul Hashem.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is I often disagree with R' Shafran but I read this on C-C and knew there was no point in posting a comment. I feel for him - he had the kernel of an idea and probably failed to have the effort peer reviewed. Often times when you live in a certain environment you don't appreciate how things will sound to others (others in all streams of orthodoxy have had this experience as well)

The smartest thing imho for R' Shafran to do would be to say " Here's the point I was trying to make, in retrospect I realize the agaddita I used to transmit the message didn't come across as I meant it. I apologize for any unintended implications."

Joel Rich

Mike S. said...

Mark Twain once wrote that "some things cannot be burlesqued." R. Shafran's article is surely one of them.

Lion of Zion said...


why the dig at WJS?


"It happens to anyone who writes often enough."

true. but

a) the responsible thing would have been for shafran/agudah to apologize and retract the article

b) shafran/agudah is not some independent blogger who speaks for him/herself, but rather the represenative of american orthodoxy (which of course is a dubious claim, but that's a different issue)

Anonymous said...

Shafran is an idiot for writing such an article.

The editor is an idiot for allowing it to pass muster.

The paper is even more idiotic for printing it.

What good could any of them have thought would come from such an article?


Anonymous said...

Sad to say, but Agudah has become a fringe element. Between protecting sexual predators (of children) and then this--I'm amazed that they have any credibility at all. It makes me worried for the entire Orthodox Jewish community. Where are we headed? No, wait, don't answer that...

Anonymous said...

i think the problem that the agudah has with sullenberger is that because he saved everyone it led to mixed swimming

Avi said...

@tesyaa - have you ever read the WSJ? It's true that the WSJ has made a distinction between Madoff's criminal behavior and the banking system collapse (a systemic risk which the WSJ blames on the investment banks which created and sold CDO's with risk profiles they assumed had no downside, the Fed for pushing easy money, Democrats in Congress for pushing Fannie and Freddie into artificially raising home ownership levels, and finally, Congress/Treasury for removing moral hazard and propping up some institutions which ought to have failed). The WSJ is right - there's a huge difference. Madoff is a crook on a gigantic scale, while most of the actors in the financial crisis are guilty of letting good intentions get ahead of caution (the Fed wanted to keep growth up, Dems in Congress wanted more lower income people to have the American Dream (even if they couldn't afford it), and Congress/Treasury felt that letting big banks fail would take down the whole financial system). The investment bankers were gleefully playing the hand they were dealt, but even there it's hard to argue that what they did was *criminal* - in most cases they were just stupid and greedy.

Re: R. Shafran... Madoff could have done his "teshuva" (assuming it is teshuva and he's not just sorry that he had to stop) twenty years ago! If he'd stopped as soon as things got out of hand, he would have lost a few million dollars, spent a couple of years in a minimum security jail - if that - and moved on with his life. So many people and institutions and charities would have been saved from ever getting involved in his scheme. Instead, he recruited brokers and built it into possibly the largest fraud on record.

That Cpt. Sully deserves praise goes without saying - for choosing a flight/landing path that kept the plane away from killing people on the ground, for checking the plane twice after he landed, and for being involved in a miracle in the first place.

Shoshana said...

I love the mixed swimming joke! That made my night...

Lion of Zion said...

yes, anon really should have signed his name on the great line

Anonymous said...

Al & LoZ,
True, I rarely read the WSJ, and I did not mean it as a dig against the paper, rather just meant that it a conservative paper with which the likes of R Shafran associate themselves. Sorry, maybe the cleaning fumes got to me too!

Lion of Zion said...


i was just surprised, because (imho) the WSJ is very selective and publishes only the most original, insightful and accurate content, e.g.,

Anon819 said...

SL - Thank you for addressing this. I generally disagree with Rabbi Shafran's views, but respectfully so. In this case, I was very disturbed. Many of us are so close to wanting to write off any connection to the charedi world, and holding on because we hope there is still more that unites us than divides us. This is one of the times that the evidence seems to go the other way unfortunately.

Ateres said...

I have nothing to say other than that I am as shocked as everyone else here.

Anonymous said...

BTW, Rabbi Shafran did retract his article.

Ariella's blog said...

On your experience with the apples, it brought back memories. When my kids were smaller and really did not have the patience to wait, I would bring the fruit they wanted to a courtesy counter to request that I could get it weighed to pay for it. I also used to offer them American cheese slices, which did not have to be weighed out of the package.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with having your children eat fruit or vegetables in the store? Of course, you have the cashier ring up a set aside piece of fruit twice during checkout: this is standard practice in my family for the past 11 years in mom n pop shops as well as large chain supermarkets in the NYC area. No one blinks an eye. Why is that different from having the cashier ring up an open (or empty) box of cookies? I've noticed other families do this as well. Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

i cant actually take credit for the joke about the mixed swimming, a version of it was said at the romer/keter torah dinner

bergen tuition horror show said...

very important article about bringing affordable yeshiva tuition to bergen county

bergen tuition horror said...

ommittee to discuss day school without ‘bells and whistles’

People concerned about rising day-school tuition will meet tomorrow night at a private home in Englewood to discuss the possibility of creating a “bare-bones” day-school curriculum at reduced costs to parents.

Englewood resident Abby Flamholz is part of a 20-person committee that formed in recent months to explore solutions to the tuition problem. They came up with the idea of decreasing staff sizes while increasing class sizes and getting parents to volunteer their services by offering the stripped-down curriculum.

“What we’d like to do is build a model for a low-cost day school option and see if this is something that needs to be and can be built from scratch,” she said, or instituted in existing schools.

Flamholz emphasized that Saturday’s meeting is only to gauge interest in further exploration of the concept.

“We don’t know what the right thing is,” she said. “We want to see if there’s demand for this model, and then if there is demand, how it should be implemented.”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah, who has been working with a local initiative to create a communal fund for area day schools’ operating costs, has been meeting with this group of parents about the concept. The idea, he said, is still only that and not meant to detract from existing day-school programs.

“I strongly believe that it is appropriate to explore all available options,” Goldin said. “Having said that,” he added, “this has to be done with sensitivity to the existing day schools to make sure that we don’t undermine the high quality of Jewish education that is already being produced and the financial stability of the existing schools.”

Flamholz has four children at The Moriah School in Englewood, a K-8 school where tuition is an average of $15,000 per child. Bergen County has 12 Jewish elementary and high schools, while many area students travel to schools outside the county as well. Tuition varies by school, and can reach $30,000 per student for one year, if not more. For kindergarten through 12th-grade, parents typically look at costs of at least $200,000 per child.

“This committee is exploring this option and we don’t know exactly what the option is,” she said. “We’re not doing it because we’re unhappy with anything in the existing day schools. If there is a percentage of the population that wishes to have a lower-cost option, I don’t see why we can’t make that possible.”

Rabbi Saul Zucker
Area day schools are the Rolls Royces of the system, said Rabbi Saul Zucker, a Teaneck resident who is the Orthodox Union’s director of day school services. When shopping for a car, he said, consumers have three options: the Rolls Royce, the highest class; a Chevrolet, still a good vehicle but not on the same level as a Rolls; or a jalopy, the bare-bones model that will get from point A to point B.

“The automobile buyer has a choice,” he said. “In the world of day-school education, that choice doesn’t really exist. All of the yeshivot and day schools that service our communities across the country either are or purport to be Rolls Royces.”

These schools have cutting-edge technology, staffing, and campuses, and have earned their high distinction, Zucker added. The tuition crisis, however, began because not everybody can afford the Rolls Royce, he said.

“We had this idea that the Rolls Royce serves a great purpose and must be supported, but perhaps there ought to be a choice of a Chevy for parents who can’t afford a Rolls Royce,” he said. “There ought to be choices just like there are in the car market.”

Zucker has consulted with the Englewood parents group, but emphasized that the proposal comes from the community and not the OU.

He noted such differences as increasing class sizes to 23 to 25 students instead of 15 to 18; one rotating aide for lower grades rather than an aide in each class; fewer extracurricular activities; a five-hour volunteer requirement for parents; and cutting back on the latest technology.

“It’s a school without the bells and whistles,” Zucker said. “The core program at the school will be a quality education with a full complement of Torah studies and general studies.”

Like Flamholz, Zucker emphasized that no solid proposals exist yet and everything remains open to debate.

Four issues must be addressed if the concept is to become anything more, Zucker said. How the school would handle tuition assistance, particularly if it charges less than $10,000 per year, and how to address special-needs education, since those costs are higher, are important mechanical issues. In addition, the community would have to figure out how to avoid creating a class system of “the wealthy school and not-wealthy school,” Zucker said. If the proposal can be implemented in an existing school, he said, it would have to translate into a second track within the school, which could create friction between two sets of students. Furthermore, he said, how to create a positive relationship between “the Rolls Royce schools” and any new school, if deemed necessary, would have to be explored.

Goldin presented the concept at a meeting of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County on Tuesday and asked the rabbis there — not a full complement — to support further exploration. Rabbis who agreed include Shalom Baum of Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck, Steven Pruzansky of Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, Yisroel Teichman of Cong. K’hal Adath Jeshurun of Paramus, Pinchas Weinberger of Young Israel of Teaneck, and Michael Taubes of Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck. The statement of support extends only to further exploration of the idea, Goldin said.

Rabbi Yosef Adler, principal of Torah Academy of Bergen County, declined to declare his support at Tuesday’s meeting. One of the sticking issues in the model, he said Wednesday, was the call for larger classes.

“From experience, the larger the class the less successful the teacher is at reaching students,” Adler said.

Goldin said that he is not acting as an advocate for the concept. Rather, he wants to support the rights of parents to explore all options.

“There has to be a full study of whether or not Bergen County parents are willing to accept such a model,” he said. “Nobody wants to give up on the fundamentals. [The concept] has to be viewed not as threat to the existing schools but as an additional option within the community.”

The day schools face two crises now, according to Zucker. The first, which the OU has sought to address, is increased operational costs. The second is the tuition burden on families.

Several “Continuing the conversation” opinion columns have appeared lately in The Jewish Standard decrying high tuition and even alleging that the high cost of day school is a form of “Jewish birth control” in traditionally large Orthodox families.

“Every day that issue is on my mind,” Zucker said. “The voices of the unborn children are loud to me and we have to do something in response to the voices of those unborn children. The current system just cannot sustain itself.”

The OU held a summit earlier this year with representatives from day schools around the tri-state area to discuss proposals to stem costs. Plans to create a national insurance program for day-school faculty were among the most noteworthy suggestions.

The OU has scheduled a teleconference for April 22 to discuss the program, as well as a “greening” project that could reduce energy costs by at least 20 percent and a presentation to reconstitute printers’ ink supplies that could save $30,000 a year.

“All these things are going to help the schools manage their operating budgets but they will not turn into anything in terms of reducing tuition for the parents,” Zucker said. “In just the past five years, tuition has increased by approximately double the rate of inflation and salary increases. This system cannot sustain itself for the parents.”

Another suggestion from the summit was to create a communal fund, similar to the one Goldin is working on, which Zucker said he planned to present to the RCBC last night. He made clear that such a fund could only help schools lower operating costs. To affect tuition costs, the community cache would need to collect millions of dollars and parents would have the increased burden of paying into the fund on top of tuition.

“The kehilla fund is wonderful for injecting into the schools much needed funds that will help them not be late on payroll, utilities, mortgage, etc.,” he said. “It’s not equipped to reduce tuition in any serious way for the parents.”

Zucker sees only two ways to solve the tuition crisis. One is government funding, which raises issues of separation of church and state. The OU is lobbying within Congress for school vouchers and other options to avoid the conflict, but that solution is still a long way off.

“And the second thing is to have a Chevrolet,” he said — “affordable alternatives not to replace the Rolls Royces but to be in addition to.”

For more information on Saturday night’s meeting, e-mail

ProfK said...

There's a flaw in logic as seen in the statement "When shopping for a car, he said, consumers have three options: the Rolls Royce, the highest class; a Chevrolet, still a good vehicle but not on the same level as a Rolls; or a jalopy, the bare-bones model that will get from point A to point B."

If you are looking to change "car models (yeshiva systems)" there are way more than the three options Rabbi Zucker says are available. If you limit yourself only to those three then you are taking a shortsighted approach to the problem. And calling the Rolls the "highest class" doesn't take into consideration that "gas mileage" is a very real consideration for most people who are buying a car; the Rolls has name brand recognition cachet and is hell on wheels for its costs for maintenance.

A Toyota anyone?

JLan said...


I think you're taking the analogy there a little far. The point was that there is a luxury brand, a middle of the road brand, and a discount brand, and that every school is or purports to be a luxury one and that this is considered the only "acceptable" alternative.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone could make this work (certainly if the ceiling is $10,000), but it will require bigger class sizes. That's the real secret about day school costs- it's largely about class sizes, not about the "double program."

Orthonomics said...

I'm going to get to this tuition story later. There are already letters on the JStandard website in opposition to a scaled down school. Personally I see no option but to try an alternative. . . unless of course we want to wait for a miracle.

Al said...

Jlan, I disagree, it's mostly about administrative overhead. How many schools have a Dean/Head of School, 2 high school principals, and if they do lower grads, 2 or more principals for elementary/middle, or for each, or lower schools. Then add any early childhood administrators.

A public high school of 3000 will have a Principal, and 2 Vice Principals for senior staff. A secular private school of 1500 aggregate might have a Dean/Headmaster that is a fundraising/operations position (relatively non-academic), 2 Principals (high school and elementary, with middle school grades split up), and a couple of Vice Principals as needed across the grade groupings.

Add up the salaries of your Principals, their secretaries, and support costs, and divide it by the number of students. I think you'd find that $2000 of your annual tuition/student dollars goes to Administrative overhead. Secular prep schools (even with higher tuition levels), probably are half that or less.

Dual-curriculum is a dirty word, you should have a curriculum that includes religious, Hebrew (language and Jewish history), and secular subjects, but by calling it a dual-curriculum, we've let the religious side run amok, with no efforts to control costs.

Your really could cut back on the employment of Rabbeim DRAMATICALLY, it simply isn't required for most of the "Jewish" curriculum... Hebrew language, Jewish history (barely taught), and other "mundane" aspects of Jewish education don't require a Rabbi, and we've decreed that Rabbis should be paid well, even if they aren't necessary for the coure.

CAJE degrees that Semeicha is to be treated like a PhD for salary purposes... who here ever had a 6th grade science teacher with a PhD?

If the Jewish day includes 2 hours of "religious" instruction (not just Jewish instruction, but actual areas that need a Torah scholar), a Rabbi should be able to handle four classes worth of children in a single work day. If we assume grades 1-12 (since K is still treated as a transition year in the Day School world), that's 12 classes, even if we segregate by gender in 3rd grade (when students might hit age 9), that's only 22 "classes," and 5 Rabbi-Teachers, and half a day spare to have a Rabbi leading Davinning in the morning and a Rabbi leading Mincha in the afternoon.

Whose Day school has only 5 Rabbis for all grade levels with the associated salary?