Kyle Zaldin

Achdus: What can we learn?

For those of you that don’t know, there’s a little lack of unity and a bit of disagreement in Judaism today. At the forefront of the Machlokes in the Jewish people, are two very different individuals, Rabbi Natan Slifkin and Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Rabbi Natan Slifkin also known as Nosson Slifkin, was born on June 25, 1975, in Manchester, England. Popularly known as the “Zoo Rabbi”, he is the director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh. He is best known for his interest in zoology, science and for his books on these topics, which are controversial to many. Slifkin’s books, which had “cautious references to evolutionary theory”, led to a denunciation of his work by some of the leading rabbinic authorities in Israel and around the world.

The rabbis object to the tone of Slifkin’s work, stating that “even what is not heretical is expressed in a way only a heretic would speak.”  The ban sparked a debate, largely on the Internet which led to Slifkin’s publisher, Targum Press discontinuing distribution of his books. Yashar Books, a smaller Jewish publisher, agreed to distribute them. Rabbi Aharon Feldman and Rabbi Shlomo Miller wrote articles in defence of the ban, and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman gave three lectures on this topic at Yeshivas Toras Moshe, although Rabbi Feldman grants that, even in the opinion of Rabbi Eliyashiv zecher tzadik l’vracha, Natan Slifkin “cannot be called a heretic” even though parts of the books are, in their view, heretical, because “he did follow, at least, a minority opinion.” Thes minority opinions are what Slifkin writes about regularly, on his website, which is an exploration into the rationalist approach to Judaism that was most famously presented by the Rambam, Maimonides.

Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was born on October 30, 1959, in Brooklyn, New York. He is an American businessman and the former CEO of Agriprocessors, a now-bankrupt family-owned kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. During his time as CEO of the plant, Agriprocessors grew into the largest kosher meat producer in the United States but was also cited for issues involving animal treatment, food safety, environmental safety, child labour, and hiring of illegal immigrants.

In November 2009, Rubashkin was convicted of 86 counts of financial fraud, including bank fraud, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. In June 2010, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison. In a separate trial, he was acquitted of knowingly hiring underage workers. In January 2011, his lawyers filed an appeal; on September 16, 2011, the appeals court ruled against Rubashkin. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from that ruling on October 1, 2012. On December 20, 2017, President Donald Trump commuted Rubashkin’s prison sentence after eight years served. The White House wrote the commutation was “encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Orrin Hatch to Nancy Pelosi”, and was “based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community.” A Chabad-Chassid, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin could be called a mystic, well-learned in Chassidus and Kabbalah.

What do these two people have anything to do with each other and more importantly, why does it matter? You see, from the day he was released from prison, Rubashkin has been paraded throughout the world, speaking not about his mistakes, but rather that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and that he experienced a Zos Chanukah miracle directly from Hashem because of his emunah and bitachon. As he explains in his speeches, “We have to know that bitachon is not positive thinking; it’s not what you read about in self-help books. It’s a deep feeling that the Eibershter is with you and that He wants you to daven to Him and to know that He is listening to you. Emunah means believing that everything is l’tovah, even if you don’t understand it. Bitachon is a trust that Hashem will give you what you need.”

Rabbi Natan Slifkin however, has huge issues with this message. He writes, “That’s a very nice explanation of emunah and bitachon. However, it misses out a crucial aspect, which in the particular context of Shalom Rubashkin is glaringly conspicuous by its absence. Emunah and bitachon means that Hashem is in charge of our livelihoods. And the practical ramification of such a belief is that there is nothing to be gained by engaging in dishonest activity. Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon 5) explicitly lists this as one of the differences between a lifestyle with bitachon and one without. The Netziv, [Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Berlin] builds upon this to explain Chazal’s statement that dishonesty in business is worse than sexual immorality. He explains that dishonesty in business reflects a fundamental deficiency in emunah and bitachon. A person who trusts that Hashem is in charge of livelihood will not believe that engaging in dishonest business practices will enable him to make more money. The Netziv further explains that this is why the Torah’s laws about honest business practice are followed by the account of Amalek. A person who engages in dishonest business practices is implicitly denying Divine Providence. And it was the denial of Hashem’s involvement that led to Hashem abandoning the nation to Amalek.” Nosson Slfkin ends quite harshly with these words. “The only speech about emunah and bitachon that Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin should be giving is about how he didn’t have it and suffered as a result.” He also quotes Rav Hershel Schachter, who said: “It’s scandalous. The man is a criminal. The OU warned him for years to straighten up his act and he didn’t listen. He came out of prison and he was drunk on the videos. They’re turning him into the next Lubavitcher Rebbe! The trial was unfair and he didn’t need to be in prison for so long, but he should have been quiet about it.”

Personally, I have to agree with Rav Shachter. In my opinion, both Rabbi Slifkin and Sholom Rubashkin’s responses to this unfortunate tale of events is wrong. It is absolutely no way the business of anyone, let alone someone with a personal vendetta against the Charedi and Chasidic communities, to try to destroy the unity and simcha that happened as a result of this ordeal. On the other hand, to celebrate the release of a convicted criminal, as if he’s a Tzaddik Gamur, is simply wrong. There’s no other way of putting it. The way of fixing this is simple. Reb Sholom Mordechai has to come out and publicly say that he was wrong, that he know’s he did a bad thing, and is truly sorry. in doing so, he will also publicly recognize Hashem’s incredible Rachmanus, mercy, for having the harsh sentence against him commuted. Rabbi Natan Slifkin has to issue an apology, saying that he knows it was wrong of him to publicly attack and slander Rubashkin. I know it’s a long shot and a fantasy, but these statements are something worth fighting for.

About the Author
Kyle Zaldin is a teenage Jewish writer from Thornhill, Ontario. Immersed in the Jewish Day School system since kindergarten at Associated Hebrew Schools, and now at TanenbaumCHAT, Jewish education has always been a big part of Kyle's life. A member of the NCSY Student Executive Board in Toronto, as well as the Aish Thornhill Community Shul, Kyle has continuously used his Jewish values to inspire others. Having grown up in a Conservative Shul until shortly after Bar Mitzvah, and later becoming more observant, he writes and delivers talks, speeches, and other Divrei Torah for Shul and other organizations with the goal of bringing the Jewish people together, regardless of levels of observance and prior knowledge.