Rabbi Brackman’s arguments are not convincing

Rabbi Levi Brackman, in an article in Yediot (reproduced below) is at best attempting to be Melamed Zechus (find some merit) in the alleged misrepresentations by Rabbi Broyde, and Rabbi Metzger. Using the argument that authors such as the Rambam or the Ba’al HaTanya didn’t cite their sources is not convincing. There is a world of difference between Halachic excursus and philosophical writing. An argument could be mounted that Rabbis could have listed each of their sources in a bibliography, even without referencing them in the text. It was not the norm then, though, to do so. Rather, one either quoted directly, or in the introduction, listed the main sources. It might well be true that the ideas expressed may have been devalued if all sources were explicitly footnoted. Not withstanding that, I don’t see the parallel to Rabbi Broyde’s case.

Could one imagine the Rambam extolling the virtues of his Moreh Nevuchim by falsifying a letter from a non-existent Rabbi? Could one imagine the Ba’al HaTanya justifying his ideas by penning a letter under a pseudonym, praising his work and providing additional proof of his ideas? I’m not sure I could imagine that.

I do understand that Jews in particular have a terrible habit of looking at who is saying something as opposed to the veracity of their argument. Ultimately, it is this phenomenon, which has given rise to the practices of the Broydes of this world. Rabbi Metzger’s case is entirely different. Although it is a work where he collects halachic opinions, I do think that in the cases where he quotes someone word for word, that he should footnote each such case. I have his Miyam HaHalacha at home. He was never considered a Posek of note, and I bought it some 20 years ago for two reasons:

a) He sat near me at Kerem B’Yavneh

b) It was a nice compendium, especially before the world of the internet.

I think that Rabbi Brackman has made a contribution in his article, but he has failed to defend Rabbi Broyde in any shape or form, in my opinion.

Here is the article. What do you think? I once wanted to prepare a shiur on this topic based on האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם … and ask what about the גניבה … alas, like many things buzzing around in my head, they don’t see the light of day (yet) while I’m gainfully employed as a University academic and find myself neuronally spent by nightfall.

Rabbinic plagiarism and scholarly integrity

There have been a number of serious scandals recently involving rabbis who have been less than honest when it comes to their scholarly work. First, Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim was forced to resign because he plagiarized work from multiple authors, including famous post-modern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard.

Hot on the heels of that controversy, we in America had the scandal involving Rabbi Michael Broyde, a senior rabbi and rabbinic judge on one of America’s top rabbinical courts. Rabbi Broyde misrepresented himself in order to gain entry to a rival rabbinic organization, the International Rabbinic Fellowship (of which I am a member). He also used fake names to write letters and comments to bolster ideas he was disseminating. Broyde, like Bernheim, was forced to resign from his position as rabbinic judge at the Beth Din of America.

Stolen Literature?

Even more recently, an article in Israeli daily newspaper Maariv accused Rabbi Yona Metzger, the chief rabbi of Israel, of plagiarism in his book “Mayim HaHalacha.” Metzger maintains his position as chief rabbi of Israel.

So what is it with rabbinic plagiarism and scholarly integrity?

Being truthful about the origins of any idea is a Jewish value. The sages tell us that “whenever something is repeated in the name of the person who originally said it redemption is brought into the world” (Avot, 6:6, Nida, 19b). Yet citing a source for an idea is not seen as obligatory within Jewish tradition.

Hidden ideas

The great medieval Jewish codifier and philosopher Maimonides, for example, is somewhat loose with quoting his sources. In fact Maimonides himself admits that many of the ideas he brings are not his own, yet he balks at giving the proper attribution to the original sources of the ideas. In explaining this position Maimonides says that “there is no evil in this, and I am not glorifying myself for what a previous person said because I have already admitted to it” (Introduction to Shmona Perakim).

Maimonides goes on to give the main reason he does not reveal the names of the sources he brings. “It is possible that, had I brought the name of this person (who originally said the given idea, the reader) who does not find (that name) palatable, will lose the (entire idea and will see) negativity in it and will therefore not understand (the larger concept). And since my intention is to benefit the reader, to clarify for him hidden ideas within this tractate, I saw it fit not to cite my sources.”

Not all medieval Jewish scholars believed that this was the correct thing to do. One prominent example of this is Jacob Anatoli (1194–1256) who disagrees with Maimonides. In the introduction to his book “Malamad HaTalmidim,” he says that he will even cite non-Jews, specifically Michael Scot (1175–1232), from whom he heard “words of wisdom.”

His reasons for citing all his sources are as follows. First, he does not want to bring glory to himself by using “borrowed vessels.” Second, he says it is important for a wise person to see wisdom for what it is and not write it off just because it originated from a source they don’t like. He adds that if Moses saw it fit to quote a gentile, Jethro, in the Torah, he should follow that example in his books. Finally he says that he follows the way of the Torah which is to always give attribution to his sources.

Yet, many authors have followed Maimonides lead. Here are two prominent examples of this, both books that have had a large impact on modern-day Judaism. The classic Chassidic text “Tanya,” written by Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), borrows heavily from the ideas of medieval Jewish philosophers, specifically Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed,” but from many others as well. He writes on the opening page that the book “has been gathered from holy books and authors,” yet he does not cite or credit the actual “holy books and authors” he takes ideas from.

The classic Mussar movement text “Chesbon HaNefesh” by Menahem Mendel Levin (1749–1826) seems to have taken entire concepts from Benjamin Franklin without any acknowledgement or citations whatsoever. I surmise that both of these authors, Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Menahem Mendel Levin, shared Maimonides’ concern that if they divulged their sources, the ideas would be devalued in the eyes of their very conservative religious readers. They therefore intentionally kept the sources of their ideas a secret.

In fact Jacob Anatoli, who insisted on citing all of his sources including those that came from non-Jews, had his worked banned by prominent medieval Jewish scholar and Talmudist Shlomo ben Aderet, also known as The Rashba (1235–1310). It is possible that other later scholars took note of this and decided that it was better if they hid their sources rather than have their work potentially banned and derided by the masses.

In the final analysis we have two competing values here. Concern that the idea be accepted to the reader and academic and scholarly integrity that insists on citing every source. When academic integrity causes the reader to become prejudiced towards the ideas presented, Maimonides is willing to compromise and not cite his sources. Jacob Anatoli, conversely, would like to educate the reader to see past the person saying the ideas and judge the ideas for what they are. He is not willing to compromise academic and scholarly integrity because readers may be too shallow to do this.

Literary tactics

It seems that the view of Maimonides dominated over time. We therefore have books like the “Tanya” and “Chesbon HaNefesh” by Menahem Mendel Levin which obscure the sources of the ideas they contain, and have thereby obtained a much wider ranging readership and influence. Is this dishonest? Maimonides would argue that because a book is written for the benefit of the reader, as long as hiding the source of the ideas is positive for the reader it is acceptable. Others disagree.

There is however, another element to all of this which is pseudepigrapha, where a book is attributed by its author to a more prominent figure from the past. A classic example of this is the Kabbalistic work known as Sefer Yetzirah which was attributed to the Patriarch Abraham. Although it is clear that Abraham did not write the book. In addition, many argue, in my view convincingly, that the magnum opus of the Kabbalah “The Zohar” is pseudepigraphical and was not actually written by the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Shimon bar Yochia in 70 EC. There are many other examples, like the commentary on Tractate Nidarim that is attributed to Rashi (1040–1104) but is known to have been written by someone else. Yet the importance of these works and their respectability has not been diminished in the eyes of most people.

One may argue that the reason pseudepigrapha was an acceptable literary tactic in previous eras was similar to why it was permissible to quote ideas without citing sources. Authors of important works used these tactics as a way to get readers to take their ideas seriously. They would either hide their own authorship or hide the sources of the ideas they presented, whichever worked better for the particular text and subject matter, in order to get the reader to take the ideas seriously. It was then up to the reader to either accept or reject the ideas based on their own merit. In other words, the value of disseminating ideas was seen as paramount, and scholarly integrity was secondary in importance.

All this brings us back to the recent scandals. It is first important that I make it clear that I am personally strongly opposed to any type of plagiarism or scholarly forgery in all its forms. In this sense I side with Jacob Anatoli. However, when taken from a historical perspective, the matter is far from clear.

If Rabbis Broyde, Bernheim and Metzger employed unorthodox literary strategies as a means to disseminate ideas that would otherwise not be accepted by their audience, they are standing on strong ground in doing so. Whilst I do not like it, if such a crime truly warranted their firing from their positions of prominence, there are bookshelves full of classical works we should be throwing out with them.

Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life

On intellectual fraud and prison

The concept of prison and Halacha is an interesting one. Certainly, their purpose is different to that of some Western systems. That’s not to say Halacha doesn’t recognise prison systems. Ultimately, the Law of the Land is the determinant (provided the prison isn’t some racially motivated institution as it has sadly been throughout our History.

 

In the context of the Broyde scandal, some commenters have been firm that those who commit a “large” intellectual fraud should serve time. In the end, that is a matter for judges and a particular set of laws. One thing is certain: if one’s actions result in or potentially would result in harm to another person, there can be no lessening of the seriousness of the misguided action: do the crime, suffer the consequences.

I thought this article, reproduced from University World News would be of interest.

And no, this is not a plague, nor is it a rod for those who don’t want to send their children to University to use as justification that University is an Olom HaSheker. Humans are humans are humans.

Scientists sent to prison for fraudulent conduct

Geoff Maslen

Every year around the world, scientists and other researchers are found to have committed various acts of fraud, often after they were discovered to have manipulated research findings. But rarely do they suffer any more severe punishment than being dismissed and, occasionally, having their reputations irreparably damaged in the media.

Sometimes, though, a fraudster is actually sent to jail – as happened last month when a British scientist was convicted of scientific fraud after falsifying research data. Steven Eaton became the first person to serve time under the UK’s 1999 Good Laboratory Practice Regulations and was sentenced to three months in jail.

Eaton had tampered with data from pre-clinical trials of an anti-cancer drug while working at the now-closed Edinburgh branch of US pharmaceutical company Aptuit.

The BBC reported that in handing down the sentence, Sheriff Michael O’Grady said had the fraud not been discovered, Eaton could have caused cancer patients “unquestionable harm”.

The case began in 2009 when the pharmaceutical company noticed irregularities in Eaton’s data while conducting quality control procedures.

The company notified the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency which, after conducting an investigation, found Eaton had been falsifying results of experiments to make them appear successful as far back as 2003.

Ivan Oransky, a clinical assistant professor at New York University and co-author of the blog Retraction Watch, which collates notices of retractions and scientific fraud, said it was unusual to see researchers jailed for professional misconduct.

Oransky said that in the past five years, the US Office of Research Integrity had found more than 40 researchers guilty of misconduct but only two had served any time in prison.

One was Eric T Poehlman, a scientist in the field of human obesity and ageing, who was jailed for six months for falsifying data in a grant application. He also published fraudulent research alleging that hormone replacement injections could serve as a therapy for menopause when it had no proven medical benefits at all.

Another researcher to face a term in jail was Luk van Parijs, an associate professor of biology at MIT’s centre for cancer research. He was sacked for misconduct after fabricating and falsifying research data in a paper, several unpublished manuscripts, and grant applications.

In March 2011, Van Parijs pleaded guilty in a US court to making a false statement on a federal grant application. The government called for a six-month jail term because of the seriousness of the fraud, which involved a US$2-million government grant.

After several prominent scientists, including Van Parijs’ former post-doc supervisor, pleaded for clemency, Van Parijs was sentenced to six months of home detention with electronic monitoring, plus 400 hours of community service and a payment to MIT of US$61,117 – restitution for the already-spent grant money that MIT had to return to the National Institutes of Health.

In another instance, in 2010, an anesthesiologist named Scott Reuben was sentenced to six months in prison for healthcare fraud. This followed the revelation that he had fabricated data and had committed “related misdeeds” in six drug trials.

Reuben, a former chief of the acute pain clinic at a medical clinic in Springfield, Massachusetts, was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, to pay $361,932 in restitution to the drug companies that funded his research and to forfeit $50,000 in assets. After serving time in prison, Reuben had to undergo three years of supervised release, the Justice Department said.

These researchers, however, remain among the few of an undoubtedly large number of crooked scientists to face a court and be punished for their crimes.

Rabbi Broyde saga appears to have gone from bad to worse

My defence of Rabbi Broyde in the context of understanding why some people assume pseudonymous identities may be misplaced. Time and evidence will tell.

See the article (reproduced below) by Steven I. Weiss at the Jewish Channel.

A new investigation by The Jewish Channel suggests a deception related to Rabbi Michael Broyde’s academic work that academic ethics experts say would represent a much greater breach of academic ethics than the revelations from a previous investigation published by The Jewish Channel on April 12.

The Jewish Channel has previously revealed that Rabbi Michael Broyde — a prominent rabbi who was reportedly on the shortlist to be chief rabbi of England and is a law professor at U.S. News & World Report’s 23rd-ranked law school at Emory University — created a fake professional identity, Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, that Broyde used over the course of nearly 20 years. The Goldwasser character joined a rival rabbinic group and gained access to its members-only communications, to argue with other members of that group under the fake identity, to submit letters to scholarly journals that in some cases touted his own work, and engage in other scholarly deceptions.

But a second identity uncovered by The Jewish Channel might have gone farther down the road of academic misconduct than did the Goldwasser character. The second identity, claiming to be an 80-something Ivy League graduate and Talmud scholar in 2010, alleged he’d had conversations with now long-dead sages in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The alleged conversations were used to produce a manufactured history of statements from long-dead scholars that buttressed an argument that Broyde had made in a highly-touted article published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Broyde, in a later publication, subsequently quoted this second identity’s alleged findings as further proof of his original argument.

The consequences for Broyde in creating the Goldwasser character have been greater in his role as rabbi than in his role as a law professor. Broyde has already taken an “indefinite leave of absence” from his position as a judge on the largest rabbinical court in the United States, as well as from his role as a member in the rabbinic professional association with which it is affiliated. The president of that rabbinical group, the Rabbinical Council of America, has called Broyde’s conduct “extremely disturbing.”

But whereas numerous rabbis have explained to The Jewish Channel that the requirements of a rabbinical court judge include having a reputation for unquestioned integrity and honesty, several academic ethics experts have explained that the standards for university professors are different. Broyde’s conduct revealed in The Jewish Channel’s previous reporting thus far is less clear as a violation of academic standards for professors, these experts say.

However, if Broyde created this second identity and alleged historical evidence, that would “clearly be false scholarship” and “clearly require disciplinary review,” according to Professor Celia Fisher of Fordham University, where she is director of the Center for Ethics Education.

Broyde’s conduct as Hershel Goldwasser could be “defensible” if it was used “to stimulate discussion or even controversy,” said the director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, Professor Teddi Fishman, but “Making up a supposedly real person to prop up one’s own positions does just the opposite and undermines scholarly integrity.”

Broyde did not reply to multiples e-mails or to multiple voicemails at both his office and mobile phone numbers requesting comment for this story.

Another Character

This second identity involves a 179-page article by Broyde published as a special supplement of the scholarly journal Tradition in the fall of 2009. A prefatory note to special supplement expresses thanks from the editors of Tradition to two entities, one of which is Broyde’s employer, the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, where Broyde is a senior fellow. The two entities “funded this special supplement, thereby enabling Tradition to publish a worthy article that we would not otherwise have been able to print because of considerations of space,” the editors write.

Broyde’s article generated significant controversy within the Orthodox rabbinate and in Jewish scholarly circles for its detailed historical argument suggesting that the dominant view of past rabbinic sages was that married women might not need to cover their hair in public in order to conform to Orthodox Jewish law.

Tradition received multiple letters in response to the article, both supporting and opposing Broyde’s argument. Two of the letters supporting Broyde’s argument aroused editors’ suspicions about their authenticity.

Someone claiming to be David Tzvi Keter wrote one of those letters to Tradition from a Gmail account, establishing a biography in which he claimed he had “moved to Israel in 1949 after graduating from Columbia,” and that he then went on to learn at one of the most prestigious yeshivas in the world at the time, Jerusalem’s Etz Chaim yeshiva, under a major sage of the time, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer.

The Keter character then goes on to provide a history in which he gathered the oral testimony of several prominent sages of the mid-20th-century on the topic of women’s hair covering. His letter provides their comments 60 years later to add them to the historical record Broyde had been analyzing in the Tradition article.

After Tradition declined to publish the letter, Broyde succeeded in getting the letter published on the Orthodox Jewish scholarship website Hirhurim. Broyde then wrote a follow-up to his Tradition article at Hirhurim, in which he responded to critics and cited the Keter letter as one of three “additional sources that support my position which have come to light since my article came out.”

Finding David Keter

The Jewish Channel has been unable to find any evidence of David Keter’s existence.

Columbia University has no records of a student named David Keter in the 1940s, nor does it have a record for any student having an English version of that name, David Crown, in that era.

The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, founded in 1951, as “the primary support organization for immigrants to Israel from North America,” has no record of David Keter in its database. According to a director of the organization, Josie Arbel, “in the early years [membership] was very inexpensive & automatic,” and “all olim [immigrants] arrival info from the Jewish Agency went into our database.” However, it’s possible that someone from 1949 never made contact with the organization, despite the relatively few such immigrants who were in Israel at the time of the organization’s founding.

All but one of the four men named David Keter listed in Israeli phone directories going back to 2003 told The Jewish Channel that they were born in Israel. The family of the David Keter who could not be reached told The Jewish Channel that he died more than 8 years ago, and was also born in Israel.

The only public record The Jewish Channel could find of a David Keter who was not born in Israel was a 1961 Hebrew newspaper article about a lawyer and yoga aficionado who had just emigrated to the country from the United States. The article said that the David Keter who was a subject of their article had changed his name from Isaac Dowd. Columbia University has no records of an Isaac Dowd attending Columbia University in the 1940s, either.

Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna told The Jewish Channel that new immigrants to Israel were frequently featured in the English-language Jerusalem newspaper of the time, The Palestine Post. A search of the online archive for the newspaper produced no mentions of anyone with the last name of Keter.

The Jewish Channel was unsuccessful in trying to get government sources to determine whether David Keter ever received a national identity card, which Israeli law requires every resident of Israel over the age of 16 to carry at all times. Without more identifying information about Keter, the sources said, a search could not be completed.

No One Home

The Keter character provided a fake home address to Tradition editors when they sought to engage him in follow-up correspondence to his original letter.

After Tradition editors initially became suspicious of the Keter letter, they reached out to Keter on January 11, 2010, asking for an address and phone number to contact him. The Keter character wrote back eight days later, apologizing for the delay in response, which he said was because “I had what they tell me is a mini-stroke and I am only now able to read email at all.”

Keter responded with an address and phone number, but Tradition’s editor, Professor Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University, did not recall doing anything with this information.

The Jewish Channel investigated Keter’s phone number and mailing address in 2013.

The phone number Keter provided to Tradition in 2010 today leads to a message that it is a non-working phone number. The Jewish Channel has been unable to obtain records for the phone number going back to 2010 to determine who, if anyone, once held that number.

Regarding Keter’s alleged address, while the Keter character’s letter claimed to have lived in Jerusalem in the mid-20th-century, he responded to Tradition’s 2010 e-mail inquiry by saying “I live in Maalot Tarshisha now, all the way up north, in 16 Shlomo Hamelech.”

That address the Keter character provided to Tradition consists of two lots. According to property records obtained by The Jewish Channel, the current owners of the two lots have owned those properties since 2002 and 2007. Owners of both properties told The Jewish Channel that they have resided there since their purchases and have never met anyone named David Keter, nor any man living in the area who was Orthodox or born in the United States. A next-door neighbor who told The Jewish Channel she has lived in her home since 1996 said that for as long as she has lived in her home, no one named David Keter, nor anyone born in the United States or who is an Orthodox Jew has lived nearby.

The small town of Maalot Tarshisha, population 20,000, consists mostly of secular Jewish Russian immigrants, with an additional 20% of the population being Arab. The head of the local religious committee for the time period Keter claimed to have lived there, Michael Hazan, told The Jewish Channel that he’d never heard of a David Keter.

Connections With Broyde

Unlike the Hershel Goldwasser character revealed by The Jewish Channel in an earlier investigation, the David Keter character does not claim to know Broyde — but Broyde did claim to have spoken to Keter.

In the months after Tradition chose not to run the Keter letter in January 2010, various outlets were publishing responses to Broyde’s controversial article.

In September 2010, the Jerusalem-based Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin sent a response to the proprietor of the Orthodox Jewish scholarship website Hirhurim, Gil Student, that was critical of Broyde’s article, declaring in part that “Rabbi Broyde’s core position…is untenable.” Henkin told Student that he had originally sent the letter to Tradition, and that the journal had not published it.

Student forwarded Henkin’s letter to Broyde before publishing, and Broyde replied “I have no problem with this — just make sure he knows that Tradition will certainly not publish it if you do.” Broyde then brought up the Keter letter, asking “Can I send you in a more favorable letter to the editor that Tradition declined to publish? Can you publish that also under some section of letters tradition [sic] did not publish?”

Upon Student’s assent, Broyde then forwarded the Keter letter to Student, explaining that he had obtained it when the editor of Tradition “sent it to me as an FYI.” Broyde then requested, “Please do publish it.” The Tradition editor, Carmy, told The Jewish Channel that he has no record of sending Broyde the letter from Keter, but that he regularly deletes old e-mails and that “I had no reason to keep it from Broyde.”

Student wrote to Keter’s e-mail address asking for permission to publish the letter, and Keter replied less than two hours later, writing “That is fine with me. It is an incident that is more than 50 years old now.”

In the days after The Jewish Channel’s investigation of Broyde was published on April 12th of this year, Student specifically asked Broyde whether Keter was a real person. Broyde responded that Keter is real, as Broyde had personally spoken to him by phone.

In a later conversation, Broyde told Student that Keter had given Broyde access to Keter’s Gmail account, and that Broyde had edited Keter’s original letter before sending it to Tradition.

Gmail accounts, unlike the Hotmail account used by the Goldwasser character, do not include the Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses of those sending messages from Gmail in their metadata.

How Could Keter Exist?

Student published Keter’s letter on Hirhurim in September 2010, and soon thereafter heard from readers, including editors at Tradition, about the factual concerns regarding Keter’s letter.

The overall biography for Keter is extraordinary. He claims to have graduated Columbia University in the 1940s, an era when being an Orthodox Jew in an Ivy League school was extremely rare, according to Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna. “You still had quotas in the 1940s,” Sarna said in a phone interview, where rules existed such that “Jews are not more than 10 percent [of those enrolled as students], usually less, at top universities, and of those Jews, the vast majority tended to be non-Orthodox, since it was especially difficult to be an Orthodox Jew on most Ivy League campuses.”

Keter then claims to have moved to Israel in 1949, just after Israel’s war of independence and before many of the basic government services — including immigrant absorption — had been established in the Jewish State. “Back in 1949, aliyah [immigration to Israel] from America was highly unusual,” Sarna wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Channel, adding “Orthodox American college students were no exception to that rule.” Sarna noted that “many of whose who did make aliyah returned after a few years,” because “Israel was a third-world country in 1949, and Americans did not find living there easy.” Sarna concluded that, “I am not aware of any precise figures concerning American Orthodox olim with college educations, but I suspect that you could count their numbers on your fingers and toes.”

Once in Israel, Keter claims to have studied at one of the most prestigious yeshivas of its era, which would usually require years of high-level Talmud study instead of schooling on secular subjects at an Ivy League University. While Meltzer’s yeshiva “certainly had taken American students” in the first half of the twentieth century, “they would tend to be people who went to Yeshiva Etz Chaim in America or another yeshiva, and then gone off,” instead of having gone to university.

Asked about the possibility of an Orthodox Jew doing all of these things — attending Columbia University in the 1940s or earlier, then moving to Israel in 1949, and studying in Meltzer’s yeshiva — Sarna answered in the phone interview, “Whoa, that’s unusual.” Sarna added, “I’m not going to say the facts are impossible,” but “I would ask a lot of questions.”

That such an exceptional figure would then never be heard from in the field of Jewish scholarship, until he wrote a single letter 60 years later, struck many scholars contacted by The Jewish Channel as extremely odd.

Presenting a New Narrative

The story Keter relayed also struck editors at Tradition as odd. The premise of the Keter letter as a response to Broyde’s article is that, while learning at the exclusive Jerusalem yeshiva under the sage Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, “I was engaged to a woman who would not cover her hair and I spoke to the Rav Meltzer about this matter at some length.”

Keter relates that Meltzer was initially dismissive of Keter’s inquiry: “He told me that it was better not to marry someone who would not cover her hair.” But Keter was able to get the sage to refer the question elsewhere by citing the power of love: “After I told him that I really loved this woman and wanted to marry, he graciously gave me permission to speak to three of his students, Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, Rabbi Elazar Shach and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.”

“So off I went” to meet those rabbis, Keter declares.

Keter’s letter then cites responses from Gershuni and Auerbach that are broadly consistent with what the historical record reveals.

Where Keter’s letter goes into completely new territory, and the portion which Broyde cited in a later publication, is in Keter’s testimony about Shach. “[I]t was Rav Shach who startled me with his halachic [rabbinic legal] view,” Keter wrote. After discussing the issue in detail, “Rav Shach told me that it was better to be strict on this matter, but one who was makil [lenient], yesh al ma lismoch [he has what to rely upon].”

It is this paragraph about Shach’s attitudes that Broyde cites in an article on Hirhurim, declaring that “a recollection by David Keter of a conversation he had with Rav Shach,” is one of three “additional sources that support my position which have come to light since my article came out.”

A Story That Couldn’t Have Happened

As improbable as scholars find the overall narrative of the man named David Tzvi Keter, the letter itself contains a false detail that suggests Keter’s story is untrue.

Scholars suggest it was extremely unusual that an Orthodox Jew would have attended Columbia University in the 1940s, and indeed Columbia University has no records of this man. They also find it extremely unlikely that a man who was so well-versed in secular learning that he could attend Columbia could also develop the Talmudic skills to be immediately accepted into an exclusive yeshiva just after graduating college.

But the stories about the new history provided by Keter raised questions, as well. Scholars questioned whether the chronology suggested by the letter was consistent with recorded history, and whether the historical statements Keter provided were reflective of the long-dead rabbis’ actual attitudes — especially those regarding Shach.

And indeed, in one detail in the letter, Keter includes a historical inaccuracy that reveals his narrative could not have happened as Keter claims it did. The author says he “moved to Israel in 1949″ before his rabbinic adventure began. All four rabbis Keter claims to have spoken to were in Israel then, but Gershuni left Israel for the United States shortly thereafter, in 1950, according to a 2005 memorial book edited by Itamar Warhaftig, Afikei Yehuda.

However, the conversation with Shach that Keter relates could not have happened until 1952, two years after Gershuni left Israel.

Keter tells of Shach saying that “his wife had not covered her hair in Europe or while he was learning at Etz Chaim,” but that things changed for Shach when he became an instructor at a different yeshiva. “Now that he was at Ponevitch she certainly did cover her hair,” Keter claims Shach said. Shach only started teaching at the Ponevitch yeshiva in 1952, according to a 1989 biography of the rabbi by Moshe Horovitz, HaRav Shach Shehamaphteach Beyado.

Gone

In October 2010, Student, the Hirhurim editor, gathered various of the factual objection to Keter’s letter and asked Keter about them in an e-mail. Student also mentioned in the e-mail a result of Student’s correspondence with editors of Tradition after he published the letter, that a nephew of a Tradition editor then studying in Israel wanted to meet Keter.

Student, trying not to appear accusatory, concluded, “I apologize if these request [sic] offends you. You have already been generous with sharing your experience and any further information you give is at your discretion.”

Keter never replied.

Why do some people assume false identities?

One of the by products of the internet, is that it is easier to hide behind a screen and comment. This presents a challenge. I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t succumbed on rare or not so rare occasion to issuing an “Anonymous” comment, or a comment from “Yogi Bear”. That is one level. A lower level is when you imitate somebody else’s identity, and the someone else actually exists. This is clearly far more insidious, because not only is one hiding their true identity, or assuming a fictitious identity, they are pretending to be someone else. This is clearly universally unacceptable.

Academics, in particular, face perhaps more pressure to hide behind a screen. Gone are the days when an academic was free to express their opinion on any matter, especially those in which they have expertise, without fear of repercussions. Furthermore, the newly focussed environment of publish or perish has created its own unnatural Yetzer Hora for academics.

I vividly recall a fellow PhD student who had managed to publish about ten academic papers by the time he was ready to hand in his PhD. I had published 2 Journal papers and 2 Conference papers, and I thought I had been doing well. I recall looking at some drafts on his desk, and perusing these. What I saw was the “one” result, recast in different and deceptive ways, and sent to different forums, where neither forum would be aware of the other, let alone previous papers ostensibly in that area. I thought he was engaging in an academic fraud. My view was shared by other PhD students, but we didn’t say anything.

Bravely, when he went to submit his PhD, the checks and balances were applied, the University refused to allow him to submit his PhD, despite that he had ten publications to his name. His supervisor was oblivious and also at fault, no doubt.

Pressure builds on intelligent people. They have important things that they want to say, and they await reaction with a sharpened pen to defend themselves or their standpoint. They often find it more difficult to remain silent. The bubbling of the intellect is a force that sometimes forces its way through.

I am reminded of the story about R’ Chaim Brisker ז’ל, which was repeated in real life again by his Yoresh in genius and chesed, the Rav ז’ל. Both were profoundly attached to Emes in the purest sense. Their egos and academic genius were a clear second to Emes, truth. When they had both given a profound shiur that was roundly commended, they both had the integrity to front the same crowd, and declare

“What I said yesterday was wrong (faulty)”

This is an ethical value derived from an attachment to Torah. That’s not to say, of course, that others are unable to be similarly ethical without having learned Torah, but for the Soloveitchik family, abhorrence any  of falsehood was in their DNA. At the end of the day, one could argue, what would it have mattered. Unless someone proved that there were errors in the R’ Chaim or the Rav’s logical analysis  one might be tempted to “let it go” and take the attitude “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything”.

Academic life has changed enormously. While once we could pursue what was of interest to us, and do so with all the tenacity (and sometimes vitriol) we could muster because we believed in what we had written, today, elements of government ineptitude have imposed themselves on many academics. These budgetary pseudo-justifications are premised on dubious metrics and so-called “quality” outcomes, most of which are simply untrue.

Academics will now often not speak out, for fear of upsetting their line manager, or someone higher up.  They may accept papers that they should not have accepted for ulterior motives. They often adopt the attitude of “you do me a favour and give me a glowing reference, and I’ll do likewise”. This has happened because they are now under the same KPI-driven system which in essence is anathema to a free intellect that finds expression best when they are unencumbered. An obsession with metrics and management layers has introduced an unnecessary bureaucratic yoke.

Witness the growth of a metric system designed to measure one University against another, and one academic against another. Frankly, in most cases, I and most others find these metrics faulty, inconclusive and game-playing. There are academics I know who have written a seminal paper that appears as a standard reference in every text book, and are otherwise not considered “influential”. Yet, there are others who have published hundreds of papers, and if one tried to summarise in one paragraph what they had contributed to the field, it is too hard because it can’t be written down.

I have met and had dinner with Rabbi Professor Michael Broyde. He is a  quiet and unassuming gentlemen who portrays almost no ego. I found and find him to be committed to Torah-learning in a profound way. Yet, he was identified in a recent imbroglio and caught sock-puppeting over a number of years by using the alias of “Rabbi Hershel Goldstein”. The part of his sock-puppeting that disturbed me was the alleged praise by Hershel of Broyde’s essays or comments. This aspect reveals a man who either  has a low self-esteem or is full of himself. I suspect the former based on my observation.

That he has been suspended from the Beth Din of America is appropriate. I would like to think, though, that in time, he will return there, after Teshuva. If HKBH accepts Teshuva when it comes from the heart via action, then so should we.

I hope his University doesn’t come out too viciously in dealing with his actions. Yes, he did the wrong thing, and yes, he should be counselled.

I do not, however, want to see the disappearance of Rabbi Broyde from the landscape of Torah learning and academia over these issues.

He hasn’t stolen from or abused anyone. He made some very poor errors of judgement. This can be corrected. He isn’t the first or the last. Consider: John Locke, Voltaire, Lawrence Sterne, Benjamin Franklin and many more. Raphael Golb is a more recent example.