Gentler, Kinder, Meaner, Leaner Cross-Currents

letter-447577_1280

At least the comments.

Those lofty goals in the title need not conflict with each other. For many, many reasons, we are going to try all of the above, by announcing and implementing new guidelines for the submission of comments.

The guidelines come after a few years of growth for Cross-Currents, and trying to please the multiple constituencies that have found room under our umbrella. The upshot of these new rules is that fewer comments will be accepted. The section will therefore appear leaner. On the other hand, the tone of all comments will change to something more civil than is generally accepted in the blogosphere, and result in a product that is also kinder.

Kinder, but not less critical. The one policy that will not change is that comments entirely critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies we represent will still be published. We believe in a way of life that can survive scrutiny and critique. It will be our job to respond.

Briefly, here are the new guidelines:

• Comments must be civil and collegial, in both tone and choice of words. Shrill language, attack words, excessive negativity and cynicism can be taken to other blogs. The harshest, most trenchant criticism can still be phrased in a more gentlemanly fashion. Close your eyes and imagine that you are in the Oxford Debating Society of a century ago. Ask questions, rather than pontificate.
• Comments should contain some new information, criticism, contrast, etc. Comments that simply express agreement or disagreement and do not add to the discussion will not be published.
• Opinions that take aim at what are regarded as among the essential principles of Torah faith will not be published.
• Opinions that take aim at people generally acknowledged to be Gedolei Torah will not be published.
• Opinions that include what the editors believe to be halachic errors that might mislead readers will not be published.
• We will generally not publish comments that serve to direct readers to the websites of the commentors themselves, or their brothers-in-law who were commissioned to write on their behalf. This will hold regardless of the quality of the linked website. We do not want to have to differentiate between the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Please remember that we are all over-worked volunteers who have multiple careers and occasionally try to lead normal lives as well, such as saying hello to our families and gemaros. If you notice inconsistencies in the way these policies are implemented, that is because a) there are multiple editors who independently say yea or nay to comments as they come in, b) some sleep-deprived editor ran out of coffee, or c) someone made a mistake. It happens. We apologize.

We look forward to more interaction with our readership, all of which aims to increase kavod Shomayim.

The Editors

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22 Responses

  1. David Farkas says:

    Great line regarding the the endorsements from advertisers!
    A kinder, gentler cross-currents is a worthy aspiration. Comment sections can get pretty rough. But I’m wary of preventing discussion re Gedolei Torah and Ikarrei Hatorah. The very reason for disunity in the Orthodox world is because of an inability to agree who or what belongs in these categories. To prevent debate on these issues is perforce to prevent debate on anything that matters.

  2. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “The last time I looked, the Rambam counted 13 essential prinicples”

    Truth to be told, I am literally at my wits end after the latest development in the Science/Torah controversy(hameiven yavin), so I’m relieved that CC, at least, isn’t shrinking the Limits of Torah Theology any narrower than the Rambam’s principles, or put differently, beyond what was previously acceptable,in at least parts of the Torah world, regarding the Science/Chazal issue. Kol hamoseif gorea.

    “With time at a premium and a shortage, as Rabbi Adlerstein ably noted above, I opted to simply ignore the postings”

    I always learn from Rabbi Shafran’s postings, and hope that he will reconsider commenting, time allowing. On a related note, I happened in a different thread last week, to have touched(indirectly) on an Agudah issue, and I hope that I was fair in doing so, which has always been my intention.

    Regarding the actual post, I say, why not try out a new format? Perhaps all sides will find a “gentler, kinder” format more beneficial. The blogosphere is the ultimate free-market and democracy(some would call it an “anarchy”), so anyone is free to develop a different format as a competing product, if they can sell it.

    I trust that I have said enough, so as to not to be deemed merely a “comment that simply expresses agreement”. :)

  3. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    a) the world is perhaps billions of years old, b) the historical accuracy of chazal even when dating events within a few hundred years of the time the position was taken can be questioned, c)chazal were limited for the most part to the science of their times, d) modern literary analysis can shed new light on Tanach, etc. I could go on but they announced my flight from tlv. I assume all are still acceptable.

    The last time I looked, the Rambam counted 13 essential prinicples. Without taking a stand on any of the items above (many readers know my personal views, which may or may not coincide with the views of other contributors), your comment was acceptable. CC will resist all pressure to shrink the list (nothing personal, Dr Marc Shapiro, but they are useful benchmarks!)or expand them (statement made “in the name of” various GT will be routinely dismissed, as per their own instructions, unless verified at the source). :-)

  4. dr. william gewirtz says:

    “Opinions that take aim at what are regarded as among the essential principles of Torah faith will not be published.”

    The above need some clarity. a) the world is perhaps billions of years old, b) the historical accuracy of chazal even when dating events within a few hundred years of the time the position was taken can be questioned, c)chazal were limited for the most part to the science of their times, d) modern literary analysis can shed new light on Tanach, etc. I could go on but they announced my flight from tlv. I assume all are still acceptable.

  5. Gary Shulman says:

    Pravda is a good newspaper. Is their slogan also,”All the news that’s fit to print.”?

  6. Micha says:

    As we put it when moderating our email lists over at aishdas.org (yes, that’s a plug), “tone, not content”. Very rarely do we reject a post because of content. Far more often it’s a problem with how the point was made.

    In any case, if I were a halachic decisor, I would prohibit following most blogs as they are moshavei leitzim. People sitting together scoffing, employing sarcasm, and in general convincing each other to think less of the community that aspires to follow the Torah and the ways in which they try to meet those aspirations.

    It damages one’s service of G-d by tunneling under the intellect and prejudicing it. Far worse than visiting out-and-out heretics’ sites.

    -micha

  7. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    “Opinions that take aim at people generally acknowledged to be Gedolei Torah will not be published.”

    This standard should apply for ALL rabbis, not just Gedolei Torah.

    “Most of the writers are representing/ defending Charedi ideology.”

    I’d still like to see a guest essay by Rabbi Marc Angel stating his position on geirut issues. As an important communal leader he is entitled to be given the opportunity to respond the the criticisms that have been leveled in this forum.

  8. Toby Katz says:

    •”Opinions that take aim at what are regarded as among the essential principles of Torah faith will not be published.”

    Depending on the tone, I think you might not want to stick to this too consistently, because it will discourage even thoughtful and honest contributions from non-Orthodox readers. Perhaps as an alternative you might want to consider a policy something like: do publish comments that “take aim” at essential principles of Torah faith, but only when one of the C-C writers has the time and inclination to post a (polite, of course) rebuttal or alternative way of looking at the issue.

    As I understand it, our goal is to further the love of Torah. Obviously, allowing hateful and spiteful comments does not further this goal. But OTOH, sometimes posting challenging and questioning comments may indeed foster open, honest discussion while still helping us achieve our primary goal. It’s a delicate balance, I know, between maintaining a tone we want and also encouraging a broad range of readers to participate.

  9. another Mordechai says:

    Dear HoRav Adlerstein,

    I apologize for my misguided question (in comment #1, above) and I commend you for so beautifully and clearly responding to everybody’s questions (in comment #13).

    May HaShem please bless you in this and all of your endeavors.

  10. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Although I had resolved (although without a neder) many weeks ago to no longer participate, as I previously had on occasion, in the Cross-Currents message board postings, I am breaking my intention here, at least for now, to explain why I made that decision.

    I have always responded to personal communications sent directly to me as an Agudath Israel spokesperson (or just as a fellow Jew) – even when they are intemperate, as long as the writer seems not to suffer from any actual mental illness (I mean that in no way facetiously; those of us in public life do occasionally receive missives from tragically afflicted people).

    But I began to notice in the Cross-Currents comments a good amount of postings that showed the writers had not actually read the essay on which they were commenting (since they seemed to gleefully attack things I had not written); that they simply wanted to vent some unexplained animus for Agudath Israel, and I seemed a convenient portal for the same; that they wished to impugn my integrity, or that of others: or that they saw the message board as the next best thing to a personal blog.

    With time at a premium and a shortage, as Rabbi Adlerstein ably noted above, I opted to simply ignore the postings. If I felt I needed to suffer some abuse (my dear father, after all – may he be well – learned in a Novardhok yeshiva, although I have never seen in him or others of similar experience anything like what the popular jokes describe), I could always take a glance at any of a number of unsavory blogs whose proprietors specialize in attacking Agudath Israel, the Gedolim at its helm, or (l’havdil bein godol likoton) me. I didn’t want to think of Cross-Currents as such a venue.

    And so I’m happy to see that those who operate it have seen the need to gently reorient the comments board toward its rightful purpose: furthering spirited but respectful discussion and providing useful information. I don’t know if I’ll change my resolution to avoid becoming involved in discussions of my essays – the time factor remains daunting – but I do look forward, now that the guidelines have been put forth and will presumably be enforced, to checking out the comments. So that I might learn something from those who care to share their thoughts there.

  11. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    1. Didn’t you publish a list of similar guidelines less than one year ago?

    Not that we recall.

    2. I would like to see all authors of articles here interact with the commenters by posting their own comments in response. Some already do this regularly, but others do it rarely if at all.

    It’s not for lack of will, but lack of time. Some bloggers commit chunks of time to their writing. Ours had to be individually cajoled into participating, and then reassured that interaction with commenters would not be demanded. Nonetheless, some of you have often done a good job hunting down some of us and interacting personally. (Best place to get me is after Mussaf on Shabbos, if you happen to be in LA. Or London, next Shabbos.)

    3. As regular readers here know, I am not Orthodox. While I don’t preface every comments with “in my intermarried, yoresh-geheinom opinion”, I do mention this when appropriate.
    If X is a essential principle of the Torah faith, obviously it would be rude to come here and say “X is wrong”. But may I still say “I don’t believe in X”, and when challenged explain why when it is pertinent to the discussion? Without that, it would be hard to discuss things without pretending to be somebody I am not – which goes against my principles.

    It depends on whether the intent of the post is to gain a cyber-pulpit to preach non-belief in X, or to challenge the readership to provide clarity and cogency about affirming X. I don’t recall seeing a comment of yours that matched the former, rather than the latter.

    4. Your post accidentally deleted: “And of course, we will hold ourselves to the guidelines of civility and collegiality as well.”

    We certainly should. What the editors cannot promise is to be the guarantors of that pledge. Most of our senior contributors are established writers. We tell them about our vision, but we don’t censor their contributions. We will have to leave it to you to let them know (in a civil and dignified manner – even if they are not!) if they have crossed lines.

    5. Can you also consider not publishing comments that cast aspersions on the individuals who write articles and the spirit in which they are written? Calling a writer “a shill” or “arrogant” simply because you disagree with his position, should have no place on this board.

    That is fully our intention.

    6. Will the moderators contact commentors to let them know why their comments were rejected?

    Regrettably, time again is the barrier. It would be very helpful and menschlich if we could, but it would probably mean having to shut down.

    7. …Comments entirely critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies we represent will still be published. We believe in a way of life that can survive scrutiny and critique.
    Unfortunately this is where I feel that Cross-Currents is somewhat disingenuous. Most of the writers are representing/ defending Charedi ideology. But the Charedi press – Yated, HaModia, the JO – does not ever print letters that are critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies they represent.

    Cross-Currents is not a haredi blog. What all of our writers share is the desire to bring a Torah perspective to contemporary events. The most important goal is to show the contribution that Torah thought can make, to insiders and outsiders. It aims to be a place that both (at least internet-using) haredim and right-of-center non-haredim are comfortable. We don’t want our readers to have to wade through bashing of the Satmar Rov, R Aharon, Rav Kook , or Rav Soloveitchik. Some of our contributors are clearly haredi, some clearly not, and some caught in between. That should all be irrelevant. We are not “owned” by any orientation. What the house organs of any sub-group within the Orthodox world do with criticism is not our concern. Here, you can criticize – as long as you are constructive and polite.

    8. Dear Editors: Do you endorse Lions for Lambs, a Robert Redford film currently being advertised on your website?

    Of course not. Nor, alas, does Robert Redford endorse us. Like everyone else out there, we don’t endorse advertisers. We do endorse their checks before we deposit them. Yes, we do have limits.

    9. Opinions that take aim at people generally acknowledged to be Gedolei Torah will not be published.
    ——in what way will one be allowed to point out a source of disagreement with what a GT has said? ultimately everything in O judaism is tied to something some GT said or wrote? thus anything that disagrees with either the US or israeli Moetzet opinion is anti-GT. could one still say eg R GT is out-of-touch because of his gaboim, etc or is that ad hominem?

    Not sure. Much depends upon the tone. Chazal tell us to be heedful of gachaltan shel Chachamim. That is good advice. “Disagree” is a strong verb to use regarding people whose Torah knowledge reduces the rest of us to quivering midgets. You might be better off using questions than declarative statements. Pointing out that some other Gadol had a different point of view should always be acceptable.

  12. Moe says:

    Moshe S,

    I don’t think Chareidi Press is indicative of Chareidi ideology as you’re presenting it. Much more discretion is used before something goes into print media. A blog, and the internet in general, has the benefit of being revised or commented on at a later time. That allows the writer to be slightly more liberal and open to comment. Now, if you talk to Charedim themselves, and their leaders, you’ll notice that they’re generally very open to criticism. I don’t know that they’re any less open than other cultures. Don’t judge their ideology based only on what they print in their papers.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Moshe S.: Most of the writers are representing/ defending Charedi ideology. But the Charedi press – Yated, HaModia, the JO – does not ever print letters that are critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies they represent. So while the Cross-Currents writers may be open to criticism, the society that they are defending is not.

    Ori: Either that, or they are trying to change their own Charedi society to be more open to criticism. They are probably more free to annoy people than a paper newspaper that has to keep up its circulation to survive.

  14. lacosta says:

    •Opinions that take aim at people generally acknowledged to be Gedolei Torah will not be published.

    —- in what way will one be allowed to point out a source of disagreement with what a GT has said? ultimately everything in O judaism is tied to something some GT said or wrote? thus anything that disagrees with either the US or israeli Moetzet opinion is anti-GT. could one still say eg R GT is out-of-touch because of his gaboim, etc or is that ad hominem?

  15. Gedalia says:

    Dear Editors: Do you endorse Lions for Lambs, a Robert Redford film currently being advertised on your website?

  16. Moshe S. says:

    …Comments entirely critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies we represent will still be published. We believe in a way of life that can survive scrutiny and critique.

    Unfortunately this is where I feel that Cross-Currents is somewhat disingenuous.

    Most of the writers are representing/ defending Charedi ideology. But the Charedi press – Yated, HaModia, the JO – does not ever print letters that are critical of positions taken by our contributors and of the Orthodox center to right-of-center ideologies they represent. So while the Cross-Currents writers may be open to criticism, the society that they are defending is not. This makes the notion of Cross-Currents somewhat suspect.

  17. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Do these new regulations come with a “grandfather clause”? :). Also, will the moderators contact commentors to let them know why their comments were rejected, so they can resubmit them in a “kinder and gentler” form? Heated comments often reflect deeply-held convictions that are certainly worthy of discussion. It would be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  18. Mark says:

    R’ Adlerstein,

    Yasher Kochahchem! [Sorry – I couldn’t help but express my agreement with these new policies. :>)]

    May I make one more suggestion which I’m not sure is included in the list above? Can you also consider not publishing comments that cast aspersions on the individuals who write articles and the spirit in which they are written?
    Calling a writer “a shill” or “arrogant” simply because you disagree with his position, should have no place on this board. Accusing him of “blatant dishonesty” and miscontruing his words and meanings are so unrefreshing to read and out of place here. I tuly hope you stick to this policy like glue and err on the side of caution. There’s enough places on the web where people can behave immaturely and get away with it.

  19. zalman says:

    Your post accidentally deleted: “And of course, we will hold ourselves to the guidelines of civility and collegiality as well.”

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    As regular readers here know, I am not Orthodox. While I don’t preface every comments with “in my intermarried, yoresh-geheinom opinion”, I do mention this when appropriate.

    If X is a essential principle of the Torah faith, obviously it would be rude to come here and say “X is wrong”. But may I still say “I don’t believe in X”, and when challenged explain why when it is pertinent to the discussion? Without that, it would be hard to discuss things without pretending to be somebody I am not – which goes against my principles.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    I would like to see all authors of articles here interact with the commenters by posting their own comments in response. Some already do this regularly, but others do it rarely if at all.

  22. another Mordechai says:

    Didn’t you publish a list of similar guidelines less than one year ago?