7

We have about a dozen posts that cite, as a contemporary authority1, a prominent Rabbi who was a respected posek at the time the posts were written, and who has since been convicted of abusing his rabbinic position to hurt many people and is now incontrovertibly (to my knowledge) a subject of disgrace in the Jewish world. Should we do anything to these posts, or those that cite other authorities who have similarly fallen from grace?

Some possibilities:

  • Delete the post.

  • Edit out any parts of the post that rely on this rabbi's authority.

  • Edit out any parts of the post that rely on this rabbi's arguments or citations, too.

  • Edit the post to include a link to the rabbi's Wikipedia page.

  • Edit the post to include a footnote saying that this Rabbi has since been disgraced.

  • Add a comment encouraging the author to rewrite the post.

  • Nothing.

Does it matter if the post is about a subject matter related to the rabbi's crime?

Does it matter whether the fact and interpretation of the rabbi's misdeeds are controversial? What standard of certainty/proof would warrant taking such actions?

What level of severity of misdeeds would warrant taking such actions?


1. I'm not averse to naming him and discussing his case here, to whatever degree necessary. However, I think I've described the case well enough for the purpose of this question, and I'm hoping that this post will generate guidance for both dealing with this case in particular and for evaluating any similar cases.

  • This topic is important. I think that there is no line in the site, so we cannot decide what to do. There are multiple tendencies – kouty Feb 27 at 14:55
11

Don't edit or delete. We are not in the business of deciding who is a legitimate rabbi. Cite your sources and let others evaluate their value. After all any source is better than no source.

If you want to comment suggesting an improvement, go ahead.

  • 1
    Are you opposed to editing in WP links or historical footnotes, to aid readers in evaluating the source? Surely you wouldn't be opposed to editing old posts that cite an uncontroversial authority, to add links to that authority's WP entry, right? – Isaac Moses Feb 27 at 14:32
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    @isaac I oppose any edit that treats that rabbi differently from any other. – Double AA Feb 27 at 14:50
  • What about in cases where the cause of disgrace is relevant to the answer or the rabbi's authority on the topic of the answer? Since the disgrace was not known at the time, the original poster did not include that qualifying information. But perhaps now that it's known, that qualifying information should be added to the post – Daniel Feb 27 at 17:49
  • @Daniel you can suggest edits to the OP in comments – Double AA Feb 27 at 17:57
  • what if, in @Daniel 's situation, the OP is a deleted user? – Y     e     z Mar 8 at 15:15
6

I can see this situation turning into a hot political issue. Let's keep Mi Yodeya a neutral community where people of all persuasions can safely ask and answer questions.

I also see little gain from spreading further the disgrace of an already disgraced Rabbi. Mi Yodeya is an open forum, and we reach out to Jews and non-Jews from all over the world and of all persuasions. Further publicizing this unfortunate situation is pure Chillul Hashem, and I wonder if the benefits outweigh the gains. Posting links to a tragic Wikipedia page in multiple locations all over the site may well cause more harm then good.

4

I would add to DoubleAA's answer, that although the MY community is "not in the business of deciding who is a legitimate rabbi", the poster may want to edit the post so it doesn't say/imply anything unintended. From the poster's perspective, this may no longer be a legitimate source at all.

I think a comment would be appropriate.

"[E]ncouraging the author to rewrite the post" (from the question) might be a little strong; perhaps something like "X is no longer considered a reliable posek by many; you may want to consider this in your post." with a link to relevant information, and maybe a link to this question.

2

I mostly agree with DoubleAA's answer. I think that we should not be in the business of deciding who is a legitimate rabbi.

I would propose an exception to DoubleAA's rule of doing nothing for the case where the cause of disgrace is relevant to the answer or the rabbi's authority on the topic of the answer. Since the disgrace was not known at the time, the original poster did not include that qualifying information. Now that the information is known, it should be added to the post. For example, if a rabbi was later discovered to have encouraged the consumption of non-kosher food, a sentence should be added to any answer citing the rabbi on the topic of kashrut explaining that the rabbi was later found to be an unreliable source on this topic after the post was published. If the original poster is still active on the site, a comment could be added asking him/her to update the post. Otherwise, another user may use his/her discretion to edit the post unilaterally.

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    They said lo bashamayim hi, and they brought every vessel that R' Eliezer had ever declared kosher and destroyed it. Then they went on to excommunicate him, and on that day a third of the olive crop, a third of the wheat crop, and a third of the barley crop were smitten. This answer is a good compromise: breaking the doubtful vessels was immediately tied to his error, but going beyond that was apparently too much for heaven. To even break the vessels (edit the answers), though, we need a clear, commonly-agreed ruling on the problem, not personal opinions. This must be an extraordinary case. – Monica Cellio Feb 28 at 2:07
  • @MonicaCellio Agreed. This post is designed for cases like the one described in the OP: "who has since been convicted of abusing his rabbinic position to hurt many people and is now incontrovertibly (to my knowledge) a subject of disgrace in the Jewish world." – Daniel Feb 28 at 2:57
1

I don't think there is a need to do anything with posts that cite such rabbis. Consider that there are two possibilities: Either the correct answer to a question changes because the rabbi was disgraced, or the correct answer does not change.

If the correct answer does not change, then the post is just as fine as it was before — if it was correct before then it's still correct now, and if it was incorrect before it's still incorrect now. If the correct answer does change because of the rabbi's disgrace, then the post would simply be an example of an incorrect answer. We don't modify posts that contain incorrect answers; we downvote them, comment on the wrongness, and post more correct answers.

If the second possibility is true, and the correct answer changes because of the rabbi's disgrace, you may want to note in a comment that the answer became incorrect due to the rabbi's disgrace.

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    I don't think correctness is the appropriate concept to apply in this case. It's possible to improve a post even if it's already correct – b a Mar 1 at 10:44
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    @ba Indeed, generally, the quality we're driving for is "usefulness." A rabbi's disgrace may make an answer based on him less useful or may make adding information about his disgrace a way to upgrade it's usefulness. Generally, we edit someone else's post to make it more useful, in various ways, unless that isn't consistent with their intent (e.g. adding "PS This answer is wrong.") – Isaac Moses Mar 1 at 11:17
  • @ba That's true regardless of whether the post quotes a disgraced rabbi or not. – Alex Mar 1 at 17:19
  • @Alex Hence why correctness isn't the relevant criteria here – b a Mar 2 at 20:32
  • @ba My point is that it is irrelevant whether the rabbi was disgraced. If his disgrace doesn't affect the answer then there's nothing that needs to be done, and if his disgrace does affect the answer then it's like any other answer with a problem (where we don't removes problems). – Alex Mar 3 at 0:33
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    @Alex, we will unilaterally edit spelling mistakes, incorrect or missing references, unclear language, jargon, or other deficiencies that reduce the usefulness of the post, and that we can fix without breaking the intent expressed in the author's version of the post. – Isaac Moses Mar 3 at 8:41
  • @IsaacMoses But disgraced rabbis don’t fit any of those categories. – Alex Mar 3 at 11:12
  • @Alex I think that such cases raise the question "Can I make this post more useful without violating the intent expressed by its original author?" – Isaac Moses Mar 3 at 12:20
0

It is an important question. Many write one cannot learn the Torah of such a rabbi (see e.g., here).

At a minimum going forward one could have a policy that such rabbis' Torah cannot be quoted here. The same way we don't quote heretics. There would need to be some official criteria, e.g., rabbis which official associations of rabbis have criticised or excluded, or who have been condemned for their actions.

But I wouldn't engage in backwards editing. It can easily become a slippery slope.

  • I expect that trying to create forward-looking a ban policy could result in a slippery slope as well. – Isaac Moses Feb 27 at 16:10
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    You may want to contribute an answer to judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1573/759 – Double AA Feb 27 at 16:11
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    The first lubavitcher rebbe was strongly condemned by the greatest rabbis of his generation. He gets quoted around here a bunch for better or worse – Double AA Feb 27 at 16:12
  • @DoubleAA I hear you but not for sexual harassment and the like I would assume or the issues described in the first para of the OP – mbloch Feb 27 at 16:13
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    Just for heresy and mutilating tradition. Which is worse when it comes to trusting their Torah? – Double AA Feb 27 at 16:16
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    @DoubleAA good point, here's the slippery slope – mbloch Feb 27 at 16:16

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