Last year, I was mentioned in 49 letters to the editor in this paper. The topic that received the greatest discussion was my article in the July 22 edition, titled “Struck Out.” I thought we could move on. However, Rabbi Schonfeld, in last week’s Queens Jewish Link, wrote on the issue of an orthodox ice skater, Hailey Kops, who is representing Israel at the Winter Olympics. I do not want to repeat my arguments stated back in July. You can look at them online. However, I need to address a few comments made by Rabbi Schonfeld.
Rabbi Schonfeld refers to a charedi ping-pong female player who refused to play on Shabbos. The only ping-pong player I am aware of who refused to play on Shabbos is Estee Ackerman, who went to Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC) for elementary school and Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central), which are both considered modern Orthodox schools.
Rabbi Schonfeld first talks about his public stance and then mentions his private feelings about Kops participating. “I admit that I will root for the young lady.” “I believe that we should be closet admirers.” He made this proclamation in a public forum - a column in a newspaper. It reminded me of Jay Leno when he hosted the Tonight Show and had a segment called “Jaywalking.” He would stop random people on the street and ask them questions. Sometimes he would get people to tell him things that they hid from parents or co-workers. Guess what? Now they know. If Rabbi Schonfeld felt pride and wanted to keep it private, writing it in the paper was not the best way to go.
Rabbi Schonfeld’s rationale for his private belief is that “I still have pride within me as an orthodox Jew.” To me, that is a reason not to support her. If we truly believe in the Torah and Rabbinic law, then we should not be proud of individuals who call themselves Orthodox and publicly violate Jewish law. There are examples of individuals who do give me pride as an Orthodox Jew because they made sure that their religious beliefs superseded their involvement in sports. One is Estee Ackerman, who gave up a chance to make the United States Olympic table tennis team because the tournament was on Shabbos, and the second is the Yeshiva University Basketball team. The Maccabees were able to have won 50 games in a row without violating Shabbos or any other halachah.
I also admire non-Orthodox Jewish athletes. This is no contradiction. The non-frum athletes would not have been religious even if they were not athletes. Their level of religious observance did not change due to being involved in athletics. For these individuals, the fact they publicly state their Jewish faith and (some) do not play on the High Holy Days shows on some level the pride of being a Jew. Moreover, since they are not religious, it will have no effect on the level of religious observance in the Orthodox community.
In contrast, an Orthodox Jew who gets involved in sports - which leads to problems that Rabbi Schonfeld and I have mentioned - has gone down a level in religious observance. Their involvement in sports has decreased their level of religiosity. Also, their conduct will have a negative effect on other individuals who are Orthodox and may lead them to engage in similar activities. It sends a message that Jewish law only matters if it doesn’t stand in the way of a person’s dream.
Finally, Rabbi Schonfeld refers to Rav Meir and Elisha ben Avuyah, who are both mentioned in the Talmud. Elisha ben Avuyah was a great scholar who, as a result an incident, “went off the derech.” Elisha did not lose his Torah knowledge when he changed. The question was whether it was proper to continue learning from such a person. The consensus was to shun him. That is why he is referred to in the Talmud as Acheir (other). Rabbi Meir was on such a level that he could learn from Elisha and be able to eliminate what was problematic. We are not on that level. In any event, this story has nothing to do with the Orthodox skater. It may be relevant to a situation when a rabbi who published books is later found out to have engaged in improper conduct. The question is whether you can rely on or study the books. It has nothing to do with whether we should support a person who is publicly violating at a minimum Rabbinic law and calling herself an Orthodox Jew.
There will be some who think that I am too harsh on Rabbi Schonfeld. I am continuing a tradition as seen in the Talmud. The rabbis disagreed with each other (although I am not a rabbi) and sometimes made comments which some may have felt were over the top. Nevertheless, they respected each other for their scholarship, were friends, and had the knowledge that they had the same ultimate goal. Both Rabbi Schonfeld and I have the same goal on this complex issue. However, we disagree as to the approach.