Here below we are publishing for the first time, portions of our Aug. 3, 2008 letter to David Zapolsky, Vice-President and Associate General Counsel of Amazon.com, who banned our book, Judaism Discovered: A Study of the Anti-Biblical Religion of Racism, Self-Worship, Superstition and Deceit.
According to Amazon.com, the book was banned for sale by Amazon on the basis of a complaint by Rabbi Shaul Praver. This is Amazon’s allegation. We have proceeded based on the assumption that this allegation is substantive.
The following seventeen words attributed to Rabbi Praver appear on the back cover of Judaism Discovered:
‘Shalom L’chovod Reb Michael: There is no question in my mind that you are a Talmid Chacham.’
End quote. (A ‘Talmid Chacham’ is a scholar respected for his learning, specifically, his knowledge of the Talmud).
Dear Mr. Zapolsky
…Rabbi Praver did indeed make the statement that this writer is a Talmid Chacham in an e-mail of June 5, 2004. His e-mail of June 5, 2004 was not marked private or confidential; nor did it in any other way convey or connote an understanding that it was private or confidential e-mail. It is therefore in the public domain.
As evidence, I have the original source of the transmission of his June 5, 2004 e-mail across the Internet, from Rabbi Praver’s aol.com account to my own e-mail account, and I provided that evidence to Amazon.com’s employee, Mr. Adrian Garver, on July 30, 2008.
Furthermore, in an e-mail to this writer of June 12, 2004, Rabbi Praver repeated his assessment that I was a ‘Talmid chacham.’
You affirmed in your Aug. 3 e-mail the decision by Amazon.com’s Adrian Garver, that because I quoted Praver’s statement, Amazon.com will not sell the book which contains the statement.
You further state: ‘…In this case, as is obvious from the correspondence of both Mr. Garver and of Rabbi Praver, our decision to suspend sales has nothing to do with the content of your book. Rather, it stems entirely from the fact that an individual whom you claim endorsed your book alleges that the endorsement misstates or portrays his views in a false light.’
I have never claimed that Rabbi Praver ‘endorsed’ my book and you will not find any such claim anywhere in Judaism Discovered. The word ‘endorsement’ is a term you have concocted. In fact, we published the statement that he made without comment of any kind.
I quoted Rabbi Praver accurately. That is a fact. Your opinion that the quotation ‘portrays his views in a false light’ is hearsay, and what is more, it is partisan, in favor of the notion that Rabbi Praver’s personal feelings should have greater weight than a book’s right of freedom of press at Amazon.com. Hence, sales of my book at Amazon.com have been obstructed.
Your claim that ‘intellectual property rights’ are at issue here is a red herring. Praver did not copyright his correspondence. As noted, e-mail that does not bear a notice or other delcaration that it is private or confidential is public domain, and therefore we had the freedom of press right to make it public in the book Judaism Discovered.
You have suggested that you are are an objective judge of this case and that you support freedom of the press for controversial books, such as my work, which is critical of the religion of Judaism. Yet your decision, as well as the actions of Amazon.com in this case, contradict your rhetoric.
I have hundreds of quotations from rabbonim living and dead in the text of Judaism Discovered, extending from the era of the Ta’nnaim through contemporary responsa and the issur v’heter of contemporary poskim. With regard to my use of quotations from contemporaries, not all of it has been published before. Some of it is being published for the first time and is premised upon or derived from lecture notes, conversations recorded or reported, and yes, correspondence.
If each one of the rebbes among the living whom I quote is granted what Amazom.com has granted to Rabbi Praver, the option of exercising a veto power over my book based on their personal allegations regarding the truth, falsity, ‘good faith’ or ‘bad light’ of my citation of their statements, then a book as highly contested as mine will have no chance of ever being sold by Amazon.com.
If this is actually Amazon’s criteria for book-banning, then any person who feels they were misquoted or slighted by a book sold by Amazon.com can, by contacting Amazon.com, have sales of the offending book halted. In that case, thousands of the books Amazon sells can and in fact will be halted as soon as the many Christian clergymen and Muslim imams who believe they were misquoted or slighted by an author in a book sold by Amazon.com, contact Amazon.com to convey their grievances.
In fact, I do not believe that any such preposterous policy obtains at Amazon.com. What I believe is that you have accorded special privileges to Mr. Praver that permit him to interdict a book of comparative religion that had previously been offered for sale by your company.
You dismiss my concerns as ‘nonsense.’ It seems to me that you are the one spouting nonsense by granting to Rabbi Praver the power to embargo Judaism Discovered because it contains the observation he made stating that I was a Talmid Chacham, and consequently, the publication of his statement supposedly portrays him in a ‘false light.’
Does it really need to be pointed out that Rabbi Praver should not have the world’s largest bookseller acting as his personal advocate…? If Rabbi Praver feels that the statement which he made, and for which he should be enough of a mensch to take responsibility for, is false or libelous, he should make his case before our courts here in Idaho, where the book was published.
Instead, he has sufficient clout that he can use Amazon.com to stop the sale of a highly controversial book which is deeply offensive to the religious sensibilities of Talmudists, based on his private ipse dixit.
I am sorry that you regard the legitimate concerns of an assailed author as ‘frankly offensive.’ I can assure you that there are tens of thousands of lovers of freedom of inquiry who will share this author’s outrage over the fate of Judaism Discovered at Amazon.com
It will also be patent le-chol mi she-yesh lo moach be-kodkodo, and to many informed readers as well, that the level of knowledge exhibited in the pages of Judaism Discovered is indeed indicative of an author who is a Talmid Chacham. Rabbi Praver in his 2004 correspondence only stated the obvious. Having made that statement of fact is, I think, to his credit. He should not be ashamed of it. He was far-sighted and astute enough to initiate a dialogue with this writer regarding my views of the Torah SheBeal Peh based on his stated perception of my level of knowledge.
I do not believe that someone of Rabbi Praver’s stature would have have initiated a lengthy correspondence with an am ha’aretz who couldn’t make kiddush even if the text was in front of him….It was because he recognized that I was learned that he troubled to engage this writer in a dialogue to attempt to align my views in accordance with his own particular theology. I do not see how this portrays him in a bad light. He does besmirch himself however, when he attempts to use Amazon.com to evade the consequences of his statement. What is more egregious is that Amazon.com has made itself a party to his evasion by going so far as to ban a book so that a rabbi’s wounded feelings can be assuaged.
I am putting you on notice, Mr. Zapolosky, that by your affirmation of Mr. Garver’s ban on the sale of my book, it is you who is harming the reputation of Amazon.com. Your ban on the sale of Judaism Discovered is a betrayal of Amazon’s previous, well-deserved reputation as a bastion of freedom of inquiry and speech and I doubt very much that when the reading public learns that Amazon.com has issued to an author what amounts to a hazmana from a Beit din, that they will sit still for it.
On behalf of all marginalized, proscribed writers and apikorsim, I intend to publicize your contemptuous dismissal of my legitimate concerns, as well as Amazon.com’s unjust and disgraceful ban on Judaism Discovered.
End quote from the letter to Amazon executive David Zapolsky
At least one question remains: is Amazon’s rationale for banning Judaism Discovered (seventeen offending words that supposedly make a rabbi look bad), actually just a pretext for keeping the highly revealing contents of the book away from the public, thereby preventing it from garnering a high sales ranking at Amazon, which could in turn lead to national publicity?