As an admirer of Rabbi Shafran and his objective viewpoints, I was somewhat disappointed by his response to a recent incident. At a press conference, a noticeably Orthodox Jewish reporter asked President Trump a question about anti-Semitism which the president interpreted as insinuating negativity about himself.
Rabbi Shafran did not take issue with the president’s off-the-mark interpretation. He aimed his words at the frum reporter.
Rabbi Shafran, himself a long-time successful shtadlan, correctly outlines key facets in successful shtadlanus. The reporter in question, however, is not serving at the request of senior Rabbanim and lay leaders in the position of shtadlan. A for-profit, frum media outlet felt that its clientele would be best served by this individual’s unique position as part of the official White House press pool. Every frum person in the spotlight needs to be aware of the attention he attracts, and I concede that his unusual position may make communal leaders nervous. The fact is, though, nothing he did seems to cast the frum community in a negative light.
The reporter was eager to be included in the White House press pool and be called upon at a press conference. Yes, he is not a shtadlan but a reporter from a frum media outlet. He was not wearing conventional dress. I daresay that his clothing choices reflected more on his own personal professionalism and preferences than the entire community (which already includes people very close to the president). Certainly, nothing the president responded indicated displeasure with the reporter’s dress. He gave a lengthy preamble making it abundantly clear that the president is not considered anti-Semitic by him and his acquaintances. Why does Rabbi Shafran think that was a bad idea? It was a long and stressful press conference, and the president should have taken two aspirin and a long nap, because it is clear that he completely distorted the intent of the reporter.
Suppose the president had been in a different mood and responded in a completely positive way that left the community feeling warm and reassured. Would Rabbi Shafran have felt the need to criticize the reporter’s lack of experience and wisdom?
I therefore think that it is incorrect to use this incident as a lesson in proper shtadlanus. The correct lesson, I believe, is to realize that now more than ever, we are privy to the workings of lev melachim b’Yad Hashem. We must realize that no matter how polished our individual and collective public relations skills are, some things are completely out of our hands. At any time, any interaction is subject to being distorted and taken out of context, especially in today’s climate. We must therefore make sure our interactions with each other are positive and respectful, and worry less about the mood swings and misinterpretations of the political leaders.