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How Confident Are You That What You Are Reading is True?

on Thursday, February 23 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

In his book “Other People’s Money and How Bankers Use It,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Shining a spotlight on an issue can expose and reveal corruption, dishonesty, fraud or abuse that otherwise might go unnoticed, ignored, or even excused.  Brandeis wrote these words well before the Internet was a thought in anyone’s mind and he likely could not have even dreamt of the sunlight it would shine and the accountability it would generate.

The capacity for instant access to information also makes us better informed, allows us to think more critically, and empowers us to ask crucial questions that make us safer, healthier, and stronger.  If you want to know more about your doctor’s education, read reviews of your landscaper, or see what your child’s teacher posts on Facebook, the endless information is now just a click away.

Brandeis was absolutely correct.  Sunlight is indeed a great disinfectant.  The internet has sanitized our world in wonderful ways by holding people accountable for their behavior, choices, actions, positions, and writings.  But what Brandeis didn’t mention is that unfiltered sunlight can also be harmful, toxic, and cause cancer.

There has never been a greater vehicle to disseminate lashon ha’rah, gossip and slander, than the internet.  Lives have been literally destroyed because of false accusations, innuendo, distortions, and untruths.  Once upon a time thoughts, ideas, and opinions were only printed if they had merit and were deemed worthy and carefully screened by a publisher.  Journalists had to vet their stories and fact checkers confirmed all assertions before an article went to print.  While the system wasn’t perfect, the result was authors gained credibility and readership based on their education, expertise, experience, and peer review.

Today, anyone with internet access can publish his or her ideas and opinions and even his or her version of facts with no expertise or credentials and with no consequence or accountability.  Readership and popularity are often a function of salaciousness and sensationalism, not truth and accuracy.

In his book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, Thomas M. Nichols elucidates this concept: People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.

All of this places an enormous burden on us, the readers and consumers of information, to be vigilant and judicious before blindly accepting everything we come across in print, online, or in person.  Especially in the information age, we must ask ourselves, who is the author or speaker of these words?  What authority or credibility do they have?  How does what they are saying match up with what I know about the person, place, or issue being discussed?  Is there another side to this story?  Do I have all the facts and information to draw a conclusion?

This week’s Parsha contains the instruction – mi’dvar sheker tirchak, distance yourself from falsehood.  The Gemara (Shabbos 55a) tells us that God’s signature, his insignia, is emes, truth.   To be Godly and God-like one must have ferocious loyalty and fidelity to the truth.  Exaggerating, distorting and bending the truth distance us and alienate us from the Almighty.

The great Chassidishe Rebbe, Rebbe Zushia explains the verse, “Mi’dvar sheker tirchak” as: Mi’dvar sheker – as a result of lies and falsehood, tirchak – you will become distant from Hashem.  To be close with and in the footsteps of God, truth must be our stamp and our signature.

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 74) writes that the Torah does not include the obligation to “distance” ourselves when it comes to any other mitzvah or law.  When it comes to lying, it isn’t enough to be committed to the truth and devoted to never lying, but one must distance themselves completely from lies and from liars.  He writes that not only is the one who lies accountable, but the one who listens to lies, who provides a platform, or who explicitly or implicitly allows the liar to spread his or her lies, is also answerable.

The Chinuch speaks in strong terms about one who lies: “Falsehood is abominable and disgraceful in everyone’s eyes, there is nothing more disgusting than it, and curses come to the home of those who love it. Therefore the Torah exhorts us to greatly distance ourselves from falsehood, as it says, ’distance yourself from falsehood.’”

Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, wrote in Mishlei (18), “maves v’chaim b’yad lashon, death and life are in the hand of the tongue.”  Perhaps his wisdom can be amended today to read death and life are in our fingertips on the keyboard.  Not everything appearing in our inbox or on our Facebook timeline are authoritative or even true.  Just because someone rants about a bad meal or poor service he had at a restaurant doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out.  Just because someone got his or her thoughts posted to The Huffington Post or The Times of Israel doesn’t mean he or she is a journalist or someone with a command of facts, the definitive position, or even a reliable perspective at all.

The burden of making sure that the internet functions as a disinfectant and not as a toxin is on the readers and consumers of its content.  We must be judicious, careful, and extremely vigilant, not only in what we write, but as importantly, in how we process and accept what we read.

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When the Bullies Go Low, BRS Goes High: A Sad Update on Matthew Kelly and Boca Raton Synagogue

on Thursday, February 16 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

At so many points during this past month, I have not known whether to laugh or cry.  As I was assaulted with emails, texts, voicemails, social media campaigns, and numerous videos spewing outrageous and hateful lies, I laughed out loud because of the ridiculousness, preposterousness, and absurdity of what was being said.  When I read and heard about the “special place in hell reserved for me,” how I “dishonor the memory of those killed in the Holocaust,” how nobody should marry my children or come within four feet of me, how I should “be fired and thrown to the garbage” by my community “yesterday,” how I am the biggest rasha, wicked person since Korach,  among many more charming comments, I mostly laughed.

When my wife was harassed, chastised, and instructed to be more like the wife of Ohn ben Peles and stop her wicked husband, I laughed a little less.  When a video posted to Facebook challenged, how could Rabbi Moskowitz repay God in this way after his prayers were answered and he was cured from cancer, I stopped laughing.

And then I got a letter from Matthew Kelly, the speaker around whom this invented scandal erupted, and not only did I no longer laugh, I cried. I literally shed tears.  He writes (see the complete letter at the end of the article):

Dear Rabbi Efrem Goldberg,

It is with a profound sadness that I write to you today to inform you that I have decided not to present to your community this coming Sunday.

Over the past month, at an ever increasing rate, I have been receiving phone calls, emails, social media messages, and You Tube video messages warning me not to come. To summarize, I have been accused of being an “anti-Semitic idol worshipping missionary bozo.”

This harassment at first felt like a simple disagreement between people who love God. As this hate campaign continued it has grown in quantity, disrespect, and intensity: disagreements became harassment, harassment became bullying, bullying turned into threats lightly veiled as warnings, and finally, the warnings became all out threats. But woven into every message I have received is fear not courage, and hate not love. What we do out of fear should always be questioned and discerned. What we do without love always has a lesson to teach us.

At first, my concern was for your safety due the hateful words that were directed towards you, but it is now very clear that there is a dark cloud over my own safety. As a result, I no longer feel that it is safe to appear and speak at the Boca Raton Synagogue this weekend.

These critics have lied, taken extreme positions, refused to be distracted by the facts, and promoted the defamation of one good man, and another who is striving to be a good man. You are the former, Rabbi…

It is perplexing that such criticisms were leveled at you and me, given that my presentation was to be in the area of professional development. For more than two decades I have been speaking to people of all faiths and people with no faith. I have spoken to groups of politicians, school children and college students, and the Fortune 500 business community has welcomed my presentations with open arms. In every instance, I have been respectful of the audience and tried to exercise the emotional intelligence necessary to avoid alienating or offending anyone.

But the critics in this situation seem to have focus exclusively on my spiritual convictions, and have attacked me in a way that I would never dream of attacking someone else.

We have so much in common and it pains me that I would be falsely accused of seeking to dissuade the people you lead from the beauties of Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth…

The individual and his followers who launched and relentlessly promoted this campaign predicated on lies will undoubtedly feel victorious and that they triumphed in what they have explicitly called their “holy war.”  They will surely say they prevented a chillul Hashem by stopping a missionary from speaking “in front of the holy Torahs.”

But here is the thing – Matthew Kelly is a motivational speaker and business consultant and while a proud practicing Catholic, he is not a missionary to the non-Catholic community.  The truth is they have not prevented a chillul Hashem, they have perpetrated one.  They have not “won.” God’s honor has lost.

Through their absurd campaign, the critics who have spread lies, slander, hate, and threats have also ironically spread more of Christianity’s teachings, tenets, and texts to the Jewish community than Matthew Kelly ever has or would.  Through their campaign they have achieved exactly what they illegitimately declared Kelly was going to do – they have driven Jews further away from Judaism.

Civility, derech eretz, disagreeing agreeably, and speaking with dignity are hallmarks of Boca Raton Synagogue and core values of our community.  That is why my BRS colleagues and I have taken the high road.  We have not responded to one nasty or threatening post, comment, email, or message.  We refuse to get down in the mud and lower ourselves to the level of those behind this campaign of lies and distortions and that will not change.

Our BRS community slogan, proudly embedded in our logo and displayed on every single piece of literature the shul produces, is “Valuing diversity, celebrating unity.” Our derech eretz statement, which sets forth our expectation that people in our community communicate their diverse views respectfully and appropriately, is prominently displayed in our bulletin every single week and referenced regularly in sermons, classes, and writings.

This entire “scandal” was manufactured by people outside of our community who have an axe to grind.  While a few have inquired what this is all about, literally not one member of Boca Raton Synagogue has objected to Matthew Kelly speaking or has questioned our judgment or the judgment of our rebbeim to whom we turned to for guidance on this and other matters.

That is why rather than engage these individuals, our response is to affirm our BRS values and dedicate ourselves even harder to promote them in our community and beyond.  In response to this massive chillul Hashem, we will be holding an event centered around civility and derech eretz that I know will prove to be unforgettable.  We look forward to a phenomenal turnout, a clear rejection of the methods and language that has been directed at our community, and a strong commitment to create a community and culture that allows for principled disagreement and debate but insists on respect, dignity and honor.

The people who sought to make my life miserable employed an age-old tactic – bullying.  They tried to bully not only me, my wife, and fellow BRS rabbis, they bullied my rebbeim with harassing phone calls, they bullied the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to reject my conversions, and even tried to bully an Israeli newspaper to run a story on us.  They called on thousands to “disrupt the program and the synagogue” and have attempted to bully our members to fire us or demand we resign.  They must be held accountable for their bullying and their tactics and I hope the broader Jewish community will condemn them and marginalize them.  (For starters, please contact the website that hosts these vile videos and demand all of Yosef Mizrachi’s videos be removed – https://www.torahanytime.com/#/contact-us)

Before the seminal moment of revelation at Sinai, before God gifts us His precious Torah, He says, “If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a mamleches Kohanim, a kingdom of priests, and a goy kaddosh, a holy nation” (Shemos 19:5-6).  Our national mission is to be a people that sanctifies God’s name.  Each time we recite Kedusha, we reaffirm that pledge – “nekadeish es shimcha ba’olam, I am committed to sanctify your name in the world.”

It is not a coincidence that when the Torah warns us “V’lo sechalelu es sheim kadshi, we must not ever perpetrate a chillul Hashem, it immediately enjoins us, “v’nikdashti b’soch b’nei yisroel,” instead we must be dedicated to sanctifying Hashem’s name.  Rabbeinu Yona writes, the only antidote to chillul Hashem, the only repair to the devastating damage it leaves in its wake, is to fill the void with Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem’s name.

Eliminating bullying and the chillul Hashem that ensues begins with ourselves, our interactions, our digital footprint, and our way of interacting.  Sadly, due in part to social media and in part to other contributing factors, bullying and boycotting are becoming the new normal.  Otherwise kind, good and thoughtful people are unintentionally engaging in bullying and likely don’t even realize it.  When you have a bad meal at a restaurant and you rant about it online and call on your friends not to go there, you are bullying.  When you spread unsubstantiated rumors about local businesses and contribute to conflict, you are bullying.  When you look down on, are cynical about, or condescending towards, those who are not exactly like you religiously, politically, demographically, or in any other way, you are a bully.  When you are insensitive or cruel in your interactions with your spouse or children, you are a bully.

We are each responsible not only for how we speak but for the type of speech we tolerate within our space. Space can mean our Shabbos table, it can mean at the water cooler, and in this moment in time it most definitely means on our social media platforms. When we remain “friends” with toxic people, when we allow hateful and vitriolic comments, we are guilty by association. While there is much we should tolerate, bullying, hate and disrespect are not among them. Our Torah websites must not be platforms for chillul Hashem, our Facebook walls must not be podia for negativity, and our Shabbos tables must not be spaces for lashon hara, gossip, slander and hurtful talk.

Not stooping to the horrifying level of those who have sought to contaminate our community with their venom is not enough.  We must negate their bullying with kindness.  We must offset their grand chillul Hashem with marvelous displays of kiddush Hashem.  We must drown out their negativity with positivity.  We must silence their incivility with a viral campaign of derech eretz and respect.

If we each take responsibility to improve ourselves, to be more pleasant, and to sweeten one another’s lives, the light will dispel the darkness of this unfortunate episode, we can realize our mandate to be a goy kaddosh, a holy people, and we can, in fact, be Hashem’s treasured people.

mathew kelly letter

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Visit Chalutza and Witness the Fulfillment of God’s Promise

on Thursday, February 9 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Related imageWhatever one’s politics or perspective on the evacuation of Amona may be, the pictures and videos of Jews pulling other Jews out of their homes and Shul were indisputably heart- wrenching.  Though the circumstances were not identical, the images were reminiscent of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and the painful evacuation of 10,000 Jews from their well-established communities.

Over Sukkos, my family and I participated in a one-day JNF tour led by Yedidya Harush, a young man who grew up in Gush Katif.  When there was a call for settling the Sinai, his parents moved there, only to be later evacuated from their home in Yamit.  They later settled in Gush Katif, responding once again to the call for settling a specific region of our ancient homeland.

In 2005, having now been asked to settle twice and subsequently forced to move, one might have expected the Harushes to move from Israel altogether, or at least retreat to another community with great anger, resentment, and disappointment.  But, rather than be disillusioned and disaffected, Yedidya, and many of those forced to give up their homes, responded very differently.  He described how they went to the government and said, “We are devastated by your actions and couldn’t disagree with them more.  Nevertheless, we want to know what you need us to do next. Where do you need us to go and what area needs settlement now?  What is our next mission?”

The government immediately pointed to Chalutza, an area located in the remote corner of the northwest Negev.  This area of the desert, which borders Gaza, Egypt, and Israel, had never been inhabited, settled, or farmed.  In fact, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were negotiating, Barak offered the area of Chalutza to the Palestinians.  Arafat took one look at the vast sandy desert and turned it down, claiming nobody could possibly make it blossom or bloom or produce anything of value there.

This statement brought to mind a maxim I’m fond of: “If you say it can’t be done, you’re right—YOU can’t do it.”  Arafat was right that he and his people could not have made the desert bloom.  However, Yedidya and other modern-day pioneers are not ordinary.  With vision, dedication, eternal optimism, and a deep sense of mission, over 100 families have already built new homes, founded magnificent communities, and planted acres of growing organic crops, all sitting amidst sand dunes and desert.  And 30 new families are scheduled to move into temporary homes and found a third town of Shlomit, in the Chalutza region.

Like many, I had been mistaken in thinking that JNF was only about planting trees, blue tzedaka boxes, and planting more trees.  That day, visiting numerous JNF projects, including the revamped Ammunition Hill, the indoor bomb-proof playground in Sderot, and a tour of Chalutza, we began to realize what JNF does and how indispensable it is to Israel’s past, present, and future.

JNF has supported Chalutza’s growth from the very beginning by clearing land for housing and farming, purchasing temporary prefabricated homes, laying basic infrastructure, and paving roads. As the region grows, it has been instrumental in providing social, medical, and educational services.

I have come to love, admire and support JNF because they are apolitical, uninterested in staking political positions, or directing policy.  Instead, they are singularly invested in helping residents across the width and breadth of Israel, by providing crucial assistance to the new Gush Etzion visitor center, Nefesh B’Nefesh, lone soldier programs, and so much more.  Look at a JNF map and you will see projects everywhere, with no lines being drawn to differentiate or distinguish between parts of our homeland.

It is so appropriate that we host a JNF weekend at BRS specifically this Shabbos as we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, but not for the reason you may think.  True, JNF is invested in planting trees and forests in Israel, but even more it is involved in planting and building communities, reuniting the Jewish people with and through our precious land.

R’ Eliyahu Kitov, in his Sefer HaToda’ah, writes regarding Tu B’Shevat, “It is customary to eat fruit which comes from the Land of Israel… The reason for the festive mood of the Rosh Hashanah of trees is that the 15th of Shevat bespeaks the praise of the Land of Israel, for on this day, the strength of the soil of the land is renewed.  When the soil of the Land of Israel renews its strength to give forth its riches, the people of Israel who love the land and yearn for it, also rejoice.”

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) says, “There is no clearer indication of the ‘end of days’ than the blossoming of the land of Israel, as it says in Yechezkel, ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and bear your fruit for My people Israel when they are about to come.’”  Rashi explains that there is no greater sign of the redemption than when the land gives forth succulent fruit.

On the fourth day of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1901, a Viennese journalist named Theodor Herzl stood up and made a passionate plea to create a fund that would purchase land in what was then Palestine.  The motion passed and the congress resolved that a fund, to be called Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael), should be established and that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole.”

A visit to Chalutza is not a favor to its residents, though it does provide great moral and material support.  It is an opportunity to witness the fulfillment of God’s promise – that after 2,000 years of barrenness and desolation, our people would return to our land and our land would return to yielding its precious fruit and produce, something it had held back from doing for over two millennia.

Tu B’Shevat, long celebrated in exile with the hope and longing of returning to the Land and seeing it transformed from rocks and sand to green and lush fields, is celebrated today with the fulfillment of that promise and prophecy.  It is not a coincidence that many of Israel’s major institutions chose Tu B’Shevat as the day for their inauguration.  The cornerstone laying of Hebrew University took place on Tu B’Shevat 1918, the Technion on Tu B’Shevat 1925 and the Knesset on Tu B’Shevat 1949.

As we mark our annual JNF weekend this Shabbos, it is an opportunity like Yedidya to ask Israel, what do you need from me?  What is my next assignment to advance the mission of the Jewish people and how can I do my part?

This Shabbos, make a point of eating fruit of the seven species of Eretz Yisroel and celebrate how fortunate and blessed we are to be living in a time in which Tu B’Shevat is not about longing for the opportunity to return to our land, but having the privilege and chance to do so.

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Victimized by Fake News: Setting the Record Straight on Matthew Kelly Speaking at BRS

on Tuesday, January 31 2017. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Fake news warning signFake news doesn’t distinguish between parties or victims.  At the end of his term, former President Obama bemoaned the explosion of fake news and current President Trump has referenced the phrase often since entering office.  This month, lawmakers introduced two bills that would legislate schools to teach students how to distinguish fake news from the real thing.

Wikipedia describes “fake news” as websites that “deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain.”

Thousands of years ago, the Torah warned us of fake news, only it called it a different name – lashon hara, wicked gossip and slander.  The Torah warns, “Lo seilech rachil b’amecha, do not go about as a talebearer among your people.” (Vayikra 19:16) Why is talebearing called rechilus?  A rachil is a peddler, one who goes door to door, but instead of selling encyclopedias or Girl Scout cookies, the rachil is peddling fake news and slander.  Rechilus is a particularly insidious form of gossip, as the perpetrator seeks to make slander go viral.  The Gemara (Erchin 15b) cautions us about the grave danger of rechilus and warns that it destroys three people – the peddler, the recipient, and the subject.

Sunday morning, I woke up to fake news about myself in my emails, texts, Whatsapp messages, social media feeds, and every other form of communication.   When my phone lit up with people calling me, I quickly learned it had been sent around the world.

HELP!!!!!!!!!! Chilul HaShem being made!!!!  Am Israel we have a kehila of over 1000 Modern Orthodox Jewish families in danger and they don’t even know it.  The leadership at Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida is bringing The #1 Catholic MISSIONARY in the World to speak about the purpose of life…Reasoning with Rabbi Efrem Goldberg at the leadership has failed. They think that this guy is not coming to recruit PURE JEWISH SOULS and will just motivate them, putting his missionary work aside for the day…Am Israel, We NEED YOUR HELP. Call the Gdoley HaDor, your local Beit Din, local Rabbi’s, Jewish KIRUV Organizations, and anyone else that cares and get these naive leaders to stop this before it’s too late.

Don’t be surprised about Heavenly punishment from the Creator when His Name, His Torah and His people are being desecrated.  If you care about saving jewish souls from Christian/Catholic Missionaries then please share this.

This message was soon followed by a barrage of emails such as:

Mr.Amalek, why would you invite such a rasha to speak? You’re not afraid of your judgement day when you’ll leave this world? acting like you’ll be here forever. Full of ga’ava. Zero yirat shamayim. Busha vecherpah. Erev Rav amalek you are!

Posts and comments, including “How dare you call yourself “orthodox,” “May Hashem have mercy on you for making his children go off the derech,” and “we should call you Father Efrem” soon followed.

Like fake news, this was and is a propaganda campaign instigated by an individual whose intent is to mislead and goal is to cause havoc.  To set the record straight, here is the rest of the story:

Last year, after a discussion regarding marriage counseling, a well-respected therapist in New York, whose Torah observance is unimpeachable, sent me a book about relationships titled “The Seven Levels of Intimacy.”  The book included no references to religion and was excellent, worthy of its status as a New York Times bestseller. I looked into the author, Matthew Kelly, and found other brilliant, secular material he authored, as well as his professional web site referencing the forty companies on the Fortune 500 list who are his clients.  He is an internationally renowned motivational speaker and consultant who is sought after around the world.  We invited him to give a seminar at Boca Raton Synagogue and he graciously agreed.

If you Google Matthew Kelly you will find that he is also a devout Catholic who is proud of his religion and dedicated to teaching its principles and values.  He is not a pastor or a priest, has never engaged in missionary work to convert Jews, and has clearly delineated separate intellectual disciplines, including different web sites that distinguish his professional profile and career from his personal religious pursuits. Study his business website (http://floydconsulting.com/) and you won’t find any reference to religion.

The agitators of the campaign against me would have you believe that a missionary has been invited to share his religious beliefs and convert our members to his faith.  They give the impression he is speaking on Shabbos morning, in front of the holy ark and is being provided a platform to “make people go off the derech.”

Here is the truth – Boca Raton Synagogue invited Matthew Kelly to give a talk on a Sunday evening in our social hall.  Part of the arrangement was that there would be no reference to religion and that his talk would be consistent with the secular motivational speeches he regularly delivers in business forums.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Kelly had no issue with this at all, and was on the same page as the shul regarding the subject matter of his presentation.

To be clear, I recognize that not all communities are as open as ours in inviting diverse speakers.  I respect those communities who would not invite Matthew Kelly or any other non-Jew or even a non-observant Jew to address their members.  That is their standard and their choice and we would never challenge them or judge them for it.

However, I feel it is perfectly within halacha and Jewish values for us to have extended this invitation.  Recognizing my personal bias, when the fake news campaign struck, I sought the counsel of two of our generation’s greatest poskim, one in Israel and one in America.  After providing the exact facts I’ve presented here, both felt there was absolutely no reason to cancel Mr. Kelly’s appearance provided that he was not speaking about religion which, again, he isn’t.

While I would never provide a platform for another theology in our Shul or invite our members to possibly be convinced by it, it is interesting to note that the biggest critic of our hosting Matthew Kelly held a three-hour debate with a professor of Christianity who freely shared his views, religious beliefs and theological arguments inside a holy synagogue and repeatedly recited the name of a foreign deity.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ6ZIMPm-KE&app=desktop)  Our rabbis teach (Kiddushin 70a) kol ha’poseil b’mumo poseil, whoever invalidates another, does so with his own flaw.

Lest you think Boca Raton Synagogue has engaged in a radical departure from the rest of the Orthodox community by having a non-Jewish presenter who holds beliefs different from our own, consider that Agudas Yisroel of America has hosted the following speakers at its dinners: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, a religious Muslim-American, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a proud Catholic whose son is a priest, Senator Cory Booker, an outspoken proponent of same-gender marriage, and then-Rep. (now Director of National Intelligence nominee) Dan Coates, a devout Presbyterian who drew parallels between his religion and ours, among others.  Of course, the obvious explanation for their presence is they were invited to speak about something other than their beliefs that contradict our own. They had vast resources of wisdom and inspiration to offer beyond their faith. The same is true with Matthew Kelly.

Perhaps a closer analogy is the great Stephen Covey.  Search the words Stephen Covey and Torah and you will find countless pages of Jewish web sites quoting Covey’s famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” in the context of Divrei Torah.  Examples include chabad.org, klalperspectives.org, aish.com, torahlinks.org, torah.org, ou.org, and jewishpress.com, to name a few.

Undoubtedly, if orthodox synagogues could have afforded Covey, they would have eagerly hosted him to deliver his famous, revolutionary motivational and productivity lectures.  And guess what: Covey was a practicing member and leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  He authored several devotional works including: “Spiritual Roots of Human Relations,” “The Divine Center” and “6 Events: The Restoration Model for Solving Life’s Problems.”

It is legitimate to have a different opinion from mine about the choice of inviting Matthew Kelly to address our community.  It is not legitimate to spread fake news, share only part of a story, distort the facts, and slander a community.  I am proud of the sizable amount of shiurim and Torah learning our shul offers, and of the many visiting scholars and world famous Roshei Yeshiva who inspire our BRS community regularly.  We care deeply and unconditionally about the spiritual growth and well-being of our community and would never compromise or risk them.  We would never proceed with this program without the support of our poskim, true gedolei Yisroel.

The Torah has a specific prohibition regarding listening to gossip and slander, and in fact, our Rabbis teach that one who accepts such speech and communication is worse than the one speaking it.  The burden is on us not to accept everything that enters our inbox or our ears as truth, accurate or the whole story.  We must be discerning in distinguishing fake news from the real thing and should be especially careful and cautious when we know the subject being spoken about and he or she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Make no mistake, like fake news stories, a systematic campaign has been organized by a person with an agenda.  He has employed grossly unethical, deceptive, and nefarious tactics that are unbecoming of any decent and honest human being, let alone a true yirei shomayim.

I can’t pass legislation that educates how to distinguish fake news from the real thing.  However, I can ask for your help to share the truth, stand up to boorish bullies and not let the peddler instigating this episode to successfully peddle his slanderous wares.

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