Blogging – An Alternative Mission Statement

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A few days ago, Rabbi Menken offered his reasons for blogging, and essentially his raison d’etre for Cross-Currents. I respectfully dissent.

I will beg the forgiveness of readers who turn to these pages looking for some Torah insight into today’s headlines. It is going to take a few posts to formulate and articulate some ideas that have been brewing for quite a while. I hope this will not seem self-indulgent, or the improper use of a digital bully-pulpit. Getting feedback from the readership on which of our visions – if any – is more needed (or how to blend the two) will be valuable to the future of this blog.

Minimally, perhaps some of us will figure out whether we are devoting too much time to yet another distraction taking us away from more important parts of our avodas Hashem (service of G-d). We are in the month of Elul, and now is the time for some serious internal housekeeping. One of the lessons that sinks in each year at this time is that time is not a renewable resource. Every moment is precious, and we will ultimately have to give an accounting for every delicious morsel of it. (The Vilna Gaon explained the oft-repeated phrase din ve-cheshbon (judgment and accounting). The former means answering for our misdeeds; the latter is to account for all that we were supposed to accomplish had we not squandered the opportunity. This second level of scrutiny, said the Gaon, is a more serious cause for concern than the first!) Perhaps we can learn how to blog more efficiently, or even not at all. For all its importance – as I will try to show – we need to prove that blogging justifies time off from learning. (Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l once hosted a group of heavy-hitter philosopher types in his office, keeping them enthralled with his knowledge and depth of their academic field. Not wanting to spend too much time on this meeting, he “arranged” to be politely interrupted so that the meeting could come to an end. When his guest had left, he reportedly remarked (it loses in the translation from the Yiddish), “None of it comes to learning another Tosafos!”) My own excuse is that I rarely write except late at night, when I just cannot effectively concentrate on a sefer without falling asleep. I pray that HKBH either gives me the strength that I should be able to change this, or that He accepts my excuse.

Truth be told, Rabbi Menken’s formulation is closer to the original conception of Cross-Currents, which oddly enough predates the existence of the blogosphere. A good number of years ago, CC’s own Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum and myself paid a call on the Novominsker Rebbe shlit”a while he visited Har Nof. We went intent on executing a full-court press to convince the Rebbe that more should be done to fight the negative stereotypes associated with the Torah world in the popular press. The Rebbe did not need much convincing, and a number of important changes occurred after that meeting. One of the Rebbe’s ideas proved too difficult to implement. He wanted to see a journal, perhaps a quarterly, of well-written Torah thought that would be read by the non-Orthodox. The idea was still-born at the time, but was resurrected when blogging became an instant and inexpensive way to reach instantly beyond all borders. A few of us conceived of Cross-Currents – pushed largely by Rabbi Menken – to make a contribution in that arena. [Note: We did not ask the Rebbe whether to launch an internet site. It is quite likely that he would not have given his blessing to any internet presence.] Cross-Currents was thus born of the need to defend against a steady stream of wrong-minded drivel about traditional Judaism in general, and right-of-center and haredi Judaism in particular.

I no longer blog for that reason, although I still think it a valuable goal. I do believe that there are some even more valuable goals, and that traditional Judaism is even better served in the long run by pursuing those. In a series of posts over the next week or so, I hope to set forth those goals. Briefly, they include global kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s Name), kiruv (outreach to non-observant Jews), teaching Torah, and providing support for one special group of observant Jews caught in the crunch between two worlds. More to come.

Again, I apologize in advance.

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8 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Bob,

    The purpose for most people would be just to have a forum to express themselves. I don’t think that the majority of people need to feel that they are directly influencing public policy in order to feel the benefit of self- expression. I would not assume that most bloggers and commentators on blogs do so in order to influence decision makers(although I could be wrong)!

    However, there also may indeed be a benefit of Gedolim knowing what the Tzibbur is thinking; there is a concept of not decreeing a gezirah which the tzibbur can’t follow. It is therefore important for Gedolim to be in touch with members of the klal. Interaction between the hypothetical group, and leaders may not be absolutely necessary for this knowledge, but it would certainly be a helpful way in gauging public opinion.

    Of course, if Gedolie Torah would actually make their decisions predominantly based on what laymen say, that would indeed be an unhealthy situation! One explanation of the negative phenomenon of the “face of the generation is like that of a dog”, is that leaders look to followers for what they decide.

    Practically, how it would be done–I don’t know. There would probably be a number of practical issues which need to be ironed out(perhaps the group can have three Rabbonim representing diverse hashkafos who would interact with decision makers). Yet, if we assume that members of the blogosphere are discussing issues which are genuine–and I think that there are some underlying genuine issues involved, if one looks beyond some of the excesses of expression–, then in my opinion, a better alternative than blogging should be found to address the needs.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Baruch Horowitz, regarding your comment #6 above:

    If the proposed off-line forum is disconnected from the world of high level decision-makers to allow for candid consideration of new approaches, how would any group consensus on action items get the decision-makers’ positive attention? A disconnect could create a lot of new frustration. So it’s essential to figure out in advance how members of the forum, or spokespeople for the forum, would interface productively with key leaders outside. I can’t see how this could happen while anonymity is maintained; maybe you have an answer.

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I think that some form of open discussion is healthy for the charedi community, as in any society. In secular society, freedom of press, is considered so essential as a check of power and a form of public advocacy, that it is unofficially referred to as a fourth estate or branch of government. Nevertheless, any Torah society, and certainly the charedie world, would not be able to adopt without modification investigative reporting(“muckraking)”, or even an Op-Ed or letter to the editor page with the same leeway as that of a secular newspaper (I am not saying these function ideally in the secular world: think NYT and Israel).

    There do already exist forums for laymen to express opinions in the charedie world. There are Letter to the Editor sections in the Jewish Observer, Yated and Hamodia. The Agudah Convention has roundtable sessions that have served as catalysts for chessed and other projects that have brought important improvement in different areas. However, notwithstanding the fact that these forums try to include the broadest opinions possible, they are limited, because they need to satisfy people on the far Right as well. How can people in the broader charedie world and beyond get their message across, if their hashkafos, opinions and comments, although no less sincere, appear to some to be unconventional, or slightly so?

    Ideally, I think there should be a non-online forum with membership, perhaps a moderated “Hashkafa-Anonymous” club, where laymen can brainstorm and have a healthy outlet to express their opinions, in an honest and open way, for catharsis, or in order to come up with ideas for communal improvement. The second best idea would be a moderated e-mail list like Areivim, which is non-online. Cross-Currents can continue to partially satisfy the needs of this portion of the charedi world, to the extent that the particular topics are appropriate to be raised in a semi-public internet forum. Cross-Currents can also serve (hopefully) as a rhetoric-free forum for exchange of ideas between charedie, modern orthodox , and non-observant Jews.

    The need for a healthy outlet may be so great in some instances that satisfying such a need might prevent a chillul Hashem. In one case, a observant Jew created a documentary, filmed by an Emmy-nominated crew, which received two awards, and was mentioned in more than twenty different secular articles. The problem was that the topic was a sensitive one, and should have been discussed internally. From the Jewish Week:

    …[The producer] says, a documentary may be the only way to put the subject on the community’s agenda. “If there were a forum for the open discussion of ideas in the haredi world, that’s the right place for [discussing] this idea. But there’s no place for it.”

    I do not think that the particular course taken above was correct, but the point is that providing a healthy outlet for constructive criticism, honest expression of ideas and feelings, and brainstorming , can alleviate chillul Hashem that might otherwise occur through blogs or other media.

  4. joel rich says:

    I meant as part of the original postings and it applies to different contributors at different levels.
    KT

  5. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Joel –

    If we didn’t admit shortcomings, we wouldn’t print almost all the criticism we receive.

    Cross-Currents is also a group blog, whose contributors have different leanings. You never know when some of us are actually silently cheering the commenters :-)

  6. joel rich says:

    IMHO if one wants to have credibility they must occasionally admit to shortcomings of their own.

    KT

  7. S. says:

    >He wanted to see a journal, perhaps a quarterly, of well-written Torah thought that would be read by the non-Orthodox.

    I think that’s a great idea.

  8. Joshua Nathan says:

    “I no longer blog for that reason”

    Dear Rav Aldersteein,
    I have to admit that as of late I have not been following Cross-Currents or for that matter most other blogs as well because I feel the time can be utilized for better things. What I am more concerned about is waht seems to be the lack of tolerance amongth the different groups of orthodoxy and it only seems to be worse. There is famous dictum of the Bais Levi that I heard from Rav Ahron Soloveichik which I think if very relevent to the blogging world world. Here is the quote “Not all that is thought should be said, and not all that is said should be written, and not all that is written should be published, and not all that is published should be read.

    I think that if we do not have tolerance for one another then Chas v shlaom where no different then this other people who call themselves religious and show no tolerance at all. Perhaps when you have another meeting with Rav Perlow this problem of no tolerance can be addressed. I look forward to hearing from and if I can be a of any assistance please let me know preferably by e-mail because I am trying to refrain from blogging.

    csiva v’chasima tov

    Joshua Nathan