Rabbi Zwiebel: A Note About an Unfortunate Article of Slander


By Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

A number of people have called my attention to an anti-Agudath Israel screed that was recently published as an op-ed column in a Jewish periodical. The article defames Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’l, distorts the words of my colleague Rabbi Avi Shafran, and slanders the Agudah. I feel I must respond.

The article insinuates that the Agudah, going back to 1980 when Rabbi Sherer served as president of the organization and continuing still through today, supports Democrats over Republicans to the detriment of our community’s interests, and does so for financial gain. Thus, writes the author, “the late Rabbi Moshe Sherer of Agudath Israel had promised President Jimmy Carter the Orthodox vote [in the 1980 presidential election]. We can only speculate what he got in return for choosing the spendthrift candidate over the moral candidate.”

To anyone who knew Rabbi Sherer, the notion that this legendary Agudah leader who enjoyed the absolute trust of the greatest Gedolei Yisroel would favor a “spendthrift” political candidate in order to get something “in return,” is beyond preposterous and deeply offensive. What is the author’s source for Rabbi Sherer’s alleged promise to President Carter?

And what is his source for the equally startling assertion that Vice President Walter Mondale called Rabbi Sherer to complain about people wearing Reagan buttons on Ocean Parkway, to which Rabbi Sherer supposedly replied that they were disciples of a “fringe rabbi” who had no real following in the community? Whether any rabbonim encouraged people to wear Reagan buttons I do not know, but it’s a bit hard to believe that Vice President Mondale would place a special call to complain about the buttons of Ocean Parkway. And it’s even harder to believe that Rabbi Sherer would denigrate a choshuve rav in conversations with any other people, let alone the Vice President of the United States.

How does the author know the details of these alleged conversations? Were they disclosed in the public memoirs of President Carter and Vice President Mondale? Have any historians of that era written about these alleged conversations? Did Rabbi Sherer confide in him? Did Rabbi Sherer reveal this information at the Agudah convention? Did it get written up in the Jewish Observer? Are there minutes of these conversations in the Agudath Israel archives?

I would venture to say not. I would venture to say these conversations probably never took place. And yet they are cited in the article as confirmed fact, and for one reason alone: to attack the Agudah.

The author intensifies that attack by pointing to one of Rabbi Avi Shafran’s recent articles in which he opines that most Democrats, including Vice President Biden, are reasonable people and generally supportive of Israel. This opinion, in the author’s eyes, constitutes “criminal naivite and negligence at best, cynical manipulation and distortion at worst.”

Further, it proves that “Rabbi Avi Shafran and Agudath Israel were still engaging in their misguided behavior from 1980.” (Just to make sure his readers understand what’s really on his mind, the author congratulates himself for his temperate language in describing the Agudah’s behavior as simply “misguided”; “the alternative,” he ominously proclaims, “is too awful to contemplate” – thereby inviting his readers to engage in precisely such awful contemplation.)

While it is true that Rabbi Shafran serves as Agudath Israel’s public affairs director, he also frequently speaks in his own voice as well, not as a spokesman for the Agudah but as a private individual. His column about the Democratic Party was an expression of his personal views, and cannot be attributed more generally to the Agudah.

But beyond that, it is dismaying that the anti-Agudah op-ed columnist cites Rabbi Shafran’s article so selectively, treating it as a de facto endorsement of Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party. In fact, Rabbi Shafran took pains to disavow any such endorsement. Here’s what he wrote:

“None of the above is intended as a call to support Mr. Biden. There is ample and understandable enthusiasm in our community for President Trump, who has taken a number of steps to show support for Israel. And there are other issues where our stances resonate with the Republican ones. Personally, I am a registered Republican, and have, over decades, most often voted for Republican candidates.

“I’m suggesting only one thing: that we refrain from demonizing either of our country’s major political parties.”

Finally, a word to the periodical that published this anti-Agudah screed: What conceivable to’eles is there in attacking Rabbi Sherer? What heter is there to publicly denigrate an organization that works tirelessly and effectively under the leadership of gedolei Yisroel to promote the interests of the klal?

The writer’s words, were they true, would be lashon hora of the worst sort. As it is, they are worse, a hotzo’as shem ra, an inexcusable slander.






  2. Putting personalities aside, has the Agudah been inclined to support Democrats on the national scene for decades, and, if so, why?

    Are they giving President Trump as much benefit of the doubt as they might have given Presidents Clinton and Obama?

    In a respectful way, this matter should be part of a constructive public discussion.

  3. So many things wrong here:
    Speaking for himself vs. Agudah? Really? Who’s choosing what?
    The orthodox(known as the O’s) are breaking from the main-stream Jews who vote Democrat. Remember who we get are cheese from!
    The WH in general despise the O’s. The same for the ST Dept.

  4. While it is true that Rabbi Shafran serves as Agudath Israel’s public affairs director, he also frequently speaks in his own voice as well, not as a spokesman for the Agudah but as a private individual.

    Personal advice for both Rabbi Shafran and Rabbi Zwiebel:

    Stop this arrangement.

    If someone is best identified and known as as the spokesman for a certain group he should not be making public statements as a private individual.The line between his personal opinions and the groups opinion is ipso facto going to be blurred.

    It would be unthinkable for an American diplomat to write a newspaper column as a private individual. Particularly if he can’t be relied on to convey the state departments view.

  5. Rabbi Shafran has betrayed e”y in his disgusting pro democrat articles every week. I will never support again until they make him retract all the terrible things he’s written.

  6. We are in the month of Elul. Rabbi Zweibel is advocating against slandering Rabbi Sherer and you are taking issue with this?

  7. Agreed. There’s no heter to be Motzee sheim rah as that writer did, especially against someone who benefitted Klal Yisroel so immeasurably.

    However, one thing. The Agudah would do well, and serve Hashem and his nation so much better, if they openly and unapologetically state the obvious: The Democratic Party’s platform is simply anti-Torah. PERIOD.

  8. Outrageous! Why did you not condemn Rabbi Shafran statements? You could have called up the writer to confirm his statements and choose not to do so. To support a senile candidate is so ridiculous. Rabbi Shafran has to apologize or go.

  9. To sum up this “note” in literally a line: What are your sources and, more importantly, how could you?”

    Spare the public a lecture on lashon hara. One who chooses to be a public figure is not above public scrutiny (never mind the arguable halachic fact that nothing which Homnick wrote was lashon hara). Pulling the “[he] enjoyed the absolute trust of the greatest Gedolei Yisroel“ or the Agudah is/was under the the guidance of “Gedolei Yisroel” card is pathetic and, frankly, condescending and deflecting.

    As mentioned above in a comment – don’t either pull the “he speaks for himself” card. You won’t find Kayleigh McEnany penning her independent opinions running contrary to the Trump administration. That too is demeaning, as if the pathetic excuse would pacify American Jewry.

    As an aside, don’t play righteous and beat around the bush, address the author of that article by his name (Yaakov Dovid Homnick) and the publication it appeared in (the Jewish Press).

  10. “… Agudah leader who enjoyed the absolute trust of the greatest Gedolei Yisroel….”
    What is Rabbi Zweibel’s source for this claim?

  11. I believe the combination of
    1. overdependence on the welfare state and
    2. the need to get our fair share of public resources for schools, etc.,
    has given us difficult political choices.
    If we could be more independent, even in our golus, we could put more emphasis on the moral dimensions of the party platforms.

  12. The article from Jay D. Homnick (his typical name he uses) is full of unsubstantiated falsehoods against Rabbi Moshe Sherer and the Agudah in general. Jay clearly represents a non-chareidi view of the world and anti-agudah view of the world – and a non daas torah view of the world. Some of the comments here are incomprehensible. Agudah has always done selfless work for Klal Yisroel and for some reason gets unfair share of criticism from those that seem to always know better then our Torah leaders about what is best for Klal Yisroel. Now is the time for those who care about Yeshivos, Torah, and Hashem to support this wonderful organization who’s only agenda is to further the Torah cause. Those that espouse a view that we can never vote democrat are radical in their views – we would love to do that if possible. However you have to realistic and not only idealistic. Everyone including Agudah makes their viewpoints very clear but recognizes the pointlessness of voting Republican at times – primarily when the Republican has no chance of winning or there are other Torah advantages for voting for the democrat in many cases. That is the daas of many if not most Talmidei Chachomim I believe. The democrat party is horrible today and I personally do not like Rabbi Shafran’s opinions either – and although he does not represent Agudah in these opinions it would be a great benefit for such opinions to not seem to come from someone that is part of Agudah. However Agudah does unbelievable work for Klal Yisroel – does not mean they are delivering packages to your door which seems to be some peoples only frame of reference for “relevance”. They work hard in the background and with Government locally and in Washington to the benefit of Torah. That is why they are supported by Gedolei Yisroel across the spectrum.

  13. We are no longer sheeple. This evil Democrat Party is no longer the party of even Clinton.
    We are voting for President Trump who has accomplished so much in 4 years with hands tied by the faux impeachment reshoyim.
    We will listen to no leader, askan , columnist or macher who tells us otherwise. MAGA KAGA

  14. “one of Rabbi Avi Shafran’s recent articles in which he opines that most Democrats, including Vice President Biden, are reasonable people and generally supportive of Israel. ”

    That is actually a fact and anyone who says otherwise is guilty of Motzi Shem Ra.


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