New York – Two days before an extremely popular but highly controversial rabbi is due to spend a weekend lecturing in California, a letter signed by a group of 16 rabbis from four different countries warns Jewish institutions to use discretion when inviting speakers to their premises.
The advisory singles out Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, charging him with having made “misleading” remarks that, even when made with positive intentions, are both “objectionable” and “dangerous.” According to Haaretz , the letter was sent to the leadership at Yeshivas Ner Aryeh, the site of an event this weekend that will feature Rabbi Mizrachi as a speaker.
While Rabbi Mizrachi, who has lectured all over the globe in an effort to raise awareness among secular Jews, has thousands of loyal followers on social media, he is not without detractors.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2h8h45g), more than 800 people signed a petition of protest after learning that Rabbi Mizrachi planned to visit the United Kingdom last winter. The petition alleged that Rabbi Mizrachi has stated that conditions including autism, Down syndrome, blindness and several forms of cancer appear as punishment for improper actions committed either during this life or a previous one.
The letter took issue with statements of that nature by Rabbi Mizrachi, noting that they “reduce complex issues to simplistic and misleading sound bites,” which do “no justice to the Jewish mesorah” and accuse him of presenting “subtle statements of Chazal in superficial and deceptive ways.”
“Jewish institutions must be discerning about the credentials and histories of those to whom they offer the honor of acting as teachers of Torah. We urge all shuls and organizations to act responsibly and take seriously decisions about whom they invite to address their gatherings.”
Among those who signed the advisory were Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz, head of the Beis Din of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Mayer Alter Horowitz, Bostoner Rebbe of Jerusalem , Rabbi Michel Twerski of Congregation Beth Jehuda in Milwaukee, Rabbi Shalom Baum, president of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Daniel Feldman, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, a media liaison for Agudath Israel of America who also signed the letter, noted that all 16 rabbis who affixed their name to the advisory did so as individuals and not as representatives of any congregation, institution or organization.
“It was just felt by many, among them the signatories, that some sort of warning had to be offered to unsuspecting people who engaged him as a speaker,” Rabbi Shafran told VIN News. “There is no personal animus here, chas v’sholom. I do not know the rabbi, and don’t think the other signatories do either. But we have read and listened to some of his speeches, and that convinced us that there was a need to issue a warning.”
Rabbi Shafran said that a letter was sent to Rabbi Mizrachi in an attempt to engage him in dialogue before this advisory was published, but in a phone interview with VIN News, Rabbi Mizrachi said that he never saw that letter.
The advisory contains nothing new, according to Rabbi Mizrachi, and is the work of those who have long tried to discredit him.
“It is the same group of people who have been fighting me for four or five years,” said Rabbi Mizrachi. “It is the same exact thing, every time before a big trip or a big success. Three of those that fight me are on the letter.”
Rabbi Mizrachi said he was not acquainted with any of the other rabbis whose signature appear on the advisory and that his upcoming appearance had no connection to Yeshivas Ner Aryeh.
“I don’t know who these rabbis are,” said Rabbi Mizrachi. “It’s very interesting. It is like someone who makes $10 an hour giving advice to Bill Gates on how make money. I make more than 10,000 baalei teshuva a year. These rabbis never make one baal teshuva and they want to teach me how to make baalei teshuva? It is absurd.”
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Boca Raton Synagogue whose name also appears on the advisory noted that the fact that Rabbi Mizrachi has a large following does not justify making provocative statements in the name of inspiring unaffiliated Jews.
“Being popular and having a positive impact on some, or even many, doesn’t justify misrepresentations of our mesorah and claiming to be the representative of the Almighty and explain his ways,” said Rabbi Goldberg. “It is out of character for this group of rabbis to make such a statement, but we felt our silence makes us complicit to some of the negative consequences of those alienated, disturbed and offended by his approach.”