Friday, May 24, 2013

What is Wohlberg Thinking?

I was just searching the intertubes for any updates of the Broyde scandal, when I came across this recent sermon by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. I don't think I've ever met him, and I remember one of my NYC congregants talking positively about his sermons - and recommending that maybe I should self-promote like he does. Well, while I am terrible at self-promoting, I also refrain from it from a deep belief that it is against kavod-ha-Rav & kavod-ha-Torah. Also, most of the people I know who indulge in self-promotion are either (1) looking for a job (a rationale we can all support) or (2) are not good people. It's a yellow flag, mos' def'.

What's not good about it? Again, aside from the people who need to self-promote in order to eat, the others who indulge do so to feed different appetites. Generally they possess an itchy ego that will not ever be scratched enough. As Avot 4:1 states: "Rebbe Tzadok says... Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig." In my studies on Avot, I try to analyze each statement as if it were prescriptive or descriptive, i.e. whether the Sage is teaching an observation or advice. In this case, R'Tzadok could be saying "if you use Torah to dig it will lead to bad things" based on his perception of how that plays out, or he could be saying "according to Tradition, Torah mustn't be used like an adze, were it not for this law, you could adze away."

Either way, I am wary of the adzers, and people like Boteach, Schneier (pere du fils), and a bunch of the goobers on Tina Brown's list of fame, are guilty of digging their effigies with Torahs as shovels.

I didn't know if Wohlberg is on this list, but the first paragraph of his sermon popped the yellow flag to orange, at best:
The recent behavior of two rabbis caused me to email one of our synagogue’s “wise men,” Searle Mitnick, and ask him if it is possible that I am the only moral Orthodox rabbi in the world? It took Searle a while to respond, but his response was: “You may be the only one left standing.” Yes, I’m still standing!
One could argue that his last line shows he's being jocular or sarcastic. That don't hold up, I'm afraid. Because if you EVER hear anybody asking his question "am I the only moral rabbi?" you should run away to hide your children while holding your wallet.


Again, I don't know him, so maybe he's so self-deprecating that he doesn't know he's coming across as dangerously arrogant. However, as the rest of his essay shows, he possesses questionable moral reasoning skills. Examples:

1. It's facile to compare Broyde to the rest of the rabbinic scandals. While I don't know what exactly Broyde did, I have said for many years that guilt must be determined through due process. The slavering jaws of internet journalists and anonymous commenters on blogs does not substitute for real evidence. What Broyde did does not actually make sense to me - he actually has real talent, unlike regular fabulists - and that means I need to hold judgement. When the RCA and Emory Law School conclude their reviews of his behavior, I will be able to feel secure in knowing his fate. Wohlberg doesn't think this way, probably because he can't.

2. I say this because he decides to compare the rabbinic scandals to the Boston bombers and their guilt. [Buzzer]

3. The rest of the sermon is equally facile and equates the possession and usage of a quote book with research. It's also aggressively triumphalist. And, hey, I remember giving weekly sermons, and I know there's nothing better than telling the audience they are better than everyone else. But I was cheap to do it, and so is he.

4. If I needed any further proof of how low Wohlbgerg thinks, its from this "proof":
I recall a wonderful comment from Dennis Prager. He said that when his child was 4 years old, he was playing one day in the playground and another child, a 7 year-old, came along and for no reason hit his child and knocked him down, and bashed his head on the pavement. The 7 year-old’s mother came over, picked up her child and said to him, “What’s troubling you, my darling? What is it that’s making you feel so hostile?” And Dennis said, “I knew immediately that this mother must have gone to graduate school, because only a person who went to graduate school at a Liberal Arts college could say to a child who is beating up another child ‘what’s troubling you, my darling? Why do you feel so hostile?’ Anybody else would have given that child a frask, and said, “Behave yourself!” But not if you buy into the liberal perspective on life!
OK, let's review what's wrong with this. Well, simply put, I myself have a graduate degree from a liberal arts college - in Sociology nukh - and while it didn't train me to coddle bullies, it did train me to recognize terrible arguments.* Do I really need to elaborate on how stupid Prager's comment is? I mean, anyone who actively supports the Republican party and their cruelty, brutality, and bullying cannot claim moral dudgeon.**

And if Wohlberg calls this story "wonderful," then I really have all I need to know about this clown.

* Note: Attacking higher education has officially become a 'yellow flag' - it's not a good sign.
** The irony is that Prager's story illustrates his own behavior - the mother in the story isn't a liberal, she's a selfish solipsist.  And people like Prager attack other's for behavior that is perfectly OK when they do it - especially bullying.

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