On Wednesday, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach alleged that Hillel at NYU refused to co-sponsor an event with Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor. Rabbi Boteach also leveled a series of charges against Hillel at NYU and the atmosphere on campus.
In a letter addressed to Hillel shareholders, President Eric Fingerhut defended Hillel at NYU and its director Yehuda Sarna. Fingerhut characterized Boteach’s article and allegations as “sinful speech” and argued that Boteach misrepresented the facts and “deliberately created this false impression” that Hillel at NYU was anti-Israel.
“This is, therefore, doubly damaging as it not only spreads false information about this specific event, but also spreads a false and libelous view of the work of Hillel at NYU,” wrote Fingerhut. “It is downright shameful.”
The letter can be found in full below.
Dear Friends and Supporters of Hillel,
I wanted to share this note that I sent to Rabbi Yehuda Sarna today regarding the shameful and false attack against him by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Many of you have seen the article and I must emphasize that it is the clearest example of lashon hara (sinful speech) that I have seen in a long time, and certainly the most egregious example I have seen from a religious leader.
Here is my note:
First of all, I hope your health is improving. Get well soon because we need you back on your feet doing the outstanding work you do as the esteemed Executive Director of the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU. Refuah shlemah.
I wanted to express my full support for your leadership at NYU. I have just reviewed the correspondence between Rabbi Boteach and you, as well as his recent column. I am personally aware that you have been in close touch with the Israeli ambassador’s office regarding an appearance at NYU to be co-sponsored by Hillel, and that you told Rabbi Boteach about this planning. I am personally aware that you shared with Rabbi Boteach your concerns about scheduling conflicts with his planned event, and responded respectfully to each of his demands that you abandon your plans in favor of his. Rabbi Boteach surely knows that his column would be interpreted to mean that you and Hillel did not support an appearance by the ambassador at NYU. In my view, he deliberately created this false impression, which is tantamount to lying. In addition, he surely knows that this false accusation, coming at a time when anti-Israel activities on campus are a growing concern, would inflame all Jews who worry about the response of Jewish organizations on campus. This is, therefore, doubly damaging as it not only spreads false information about this specific event, but also spreads a false and libelous view of the work of Hillel at NYU. It is downright shameful.
His is a very cynical ploy and perhaps he will succeed, but at great cost. He is attacking people who share his love for the Jewish people, for the state of Israel, and for Jewish life on campus. This is plain to see to anyone who reads the correspondence.
Please let me know if you receive any further inquiry about this matter. I am more than happy to talk to anyone who has concerns.
Maimonides provides a litmus test regarding whether something is or isn’t lashon hara. He states, “Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon hara.” In Leviticus (19:15), it is written, “Lo telech rachil b’ameicha” … “Do not go about as a talebearer among your people. This is the basic prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara.”
If you have any questions, please contact my office and we will be pleased to provide you with the facts.
Eric D. Fingerhut