OU Drops Annual Pre-Passover Webcast with Belsky

Rabbi Yisroel BelskyThe OU (Orthodox Union) has been running Pre-Passover webcasts (e.g., 2013 video) for several years with a mixture of lecturing and Q&A featuring their senior poskim (rabbinical authorities), Rabbis Herschel Schachter and Yisroel Belsky. According to their 2013 publicity:

Almost everyone knows the four questions that are read in the haggadah during the Passover seders, but for two OU Kosher poskim (halachic authorities) — Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Hershel Schachter — multiple other questions are asked of them every year during the Orthodox Union’s Pre-Passover webcast, which this year will take place on Tuesday, March 12…… Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, vice president of communications and marketing… notes that “the ever popular OU Kosher Pre-Pesach Webcast listened to by thousands around the world has taken place for several years with specific topics and issues addressed in each; this year questions will be accepted on all issues and concerns involving the Passover holiday.”

This year, the OU’s webinar was just for rabbis and Belsky was not on their panel. According to their web announcement,

OU Kosher halachic posek Rav Hershel Schachter will answer general questions… Rabbi Dov Schreier… will discuss Passover food service standards and policies; and Rabbi Gavriel Price… will address ingredient issues. Rabbi Eli Gersten… will serve as moderator and will respond to other Passover–related questions and concerns.

Conspicuously missing from this roster posted in February is Rabbi Yisroel Belsky. He was also missing from the list of respondents to Top Consumer Questions posted on April 3, 2014.

Why is this Passover different from others?

  • In other years the OU gave Belsky top billing along with Rabbi Hershel Schachter.
  • In other years the OU was eager to have lay members ask Belsky questions.
  • In other years the OU upheld Belsky’s position on Quinoa.
  • In other years the OU glossed over Belsky’s defense of the Lakewood molester, Rabbi Yosef Kolko

The Answer

Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko

Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko

The wise insiders know the answer. The OU is trying to get him to leave without having to actually fire him. In the meantime they are trying to minimize the embarrassment of having him front for them. But it is hard to have Belsky fly under the radar when the controversy about him is out in the open.

Rabbi Heshie Billet, ex-President of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is quoted in the Jewish Week: “The OU has refused to publicly rebuke or take any action against Rabbi Belsky.” Rabbi Billet called on the OU to “publicly condemn his defiance of the rules of the RCA and the OU” which say child abuse must be reported to the secular authorities. “Principles must trump kashrut revenues in a major Orthodox organization’s order of priorities.”

The same article goes on to say,

Insiders acknowledge that no action was taken against Belsky because his kashrut expertise is highly respected in the Haredi community, a major market, and there is concern that if he were to be terminated or publicly called out, some Haredim would look elsewhere for kosher supervision.

Rabbi Dovid Weinberger

Rabbi Dovid Weinberger

However, Belsky’s value in the Haredi market is also plummeting. Recently, thirteen right-wing orthodox rabbis publicly rebuked Belsky for defending Rabbi Dovid Weinberger who was forced out of the rabbinate because of sexual misconduct. These rabbis in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway were so furious that they cancelled fundraising events on behalf of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath where he is a Rosh Yeshiva. Insiders report the cancellation cost Torah Vodaath over $200,000. Torah Vodaath will not recover the loss unless Belsky apologizes or resigns. Even Lakewood is in the process of reinstating the father of Kolko’s victim. This is the father that Belsky accused of being a molester. Belsky is now turning into a liability with the very constituency he was hired to placate.

The question is, not whether Belsky will be forced out of the OU but when and how. The OU can stand on principle and force him to resign by threatening to fire him. Alternatively, they can keep him on and wait until Belsky is forced out of Torah Vodaath or Torah Vodaath itself loses more stature and money because they tolerate him. If Belsky apologizes for defending Weinberger, the Torah Vodaath money problems will go away. But the OU will be hard put to explain why Haredim were willing and able to get him to back down, while the modern orthodox let him continue to defend Kolko.

I believe that Belsky’s downfall is inevitable. I suspect that the OU Kosher division’s CEO, Rabbi Menachem Genack, has reached the same conclusion. But he is trying to have the best of two worlds: Belsky’s departure without conceding he erred in keeping him on and without retaliation by Belsky. If Belsky is fired he will probably retaliate by claiming he refused to go along with some kashruth problem. Whatever his flaws, Belsky is not timid. The question is whether Genack has the fortitude to take him on or whether he will be left holding the bag as the last one to dump Belsky.

 

UPDATE 4/24/14: See the Quinoa-Kitniyos Conundrum by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz on the Ohr Somayach website for an excellent summary of the halachic debate. See footnotes 21-24 regarding the OU’s position.

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6 thoughts on “OU Drops Annual Pre-Passover Webcast with Belsky

  1. you missed an important part of the equation:i”m not taking a stand either way because i “m not privy to all the details, the important part that R’B’s son in law is very wealthy and generous, Tora Vodaath would never fire him anyway since he is a highly regarded rosh yeshiva, but they and the ou would also alienate one of the biggest yeshiva benefactors, so your bringing up the money issue is probably not something that will sway this

    • I realize Rechnitz of LA has been a big giver to some in the past. What is not clear is how much he now gives to TV. If he only replaces the lost $200k/year it is a wash. In fact it would have to be significantly more since Belsky has important opponents within YTV. In fact one board member offered to buy him out to retire and Belsky refused.

  2. I have enjoyed the past pre-Pesach webcasts. However, I probably would have skipped this year’s webcast (had there been one) pending R. Belsky apologizing for defending Dovid Weinberger without so much as picking up the phone and speaking with the Five Towns Rabbanim and Gedolei Yisrael who have been involved in this case and have verified Weinberger’s guilt beyond any doubt.

  3. “This does not mean that Rav Belsky has in fact changed his position. In fact, this author has heard from several of his talmidim, as well as my father, renowned kashrus expert Rabbi Manish Spitz, who spoke with Rav Belsky directly, that he still personally does not recommend quinoa for Pesach use.”

    From here:
    http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/5390

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