Blogistan

letter-447577_1280

There was a time, not terribly long ago, when disturbed individuals bent on broadcasting angry fantasies had only soapboxes in public parks from which to rant. And respectable people knew, if only from the ranters’ appearance, to keep well out of spittle’s range.

Today, though, the very means of mass communication that enables so much worthy information to reach such large numbers of people at the speed of light – the Internet – has also been harnessed to spread madness, hatred, lies and (not a word to be used lightly but here entirely appropriate) evil. And so, close on the heels of the swindlers and pornographers who have colonized so much of cyberspace, have come the gaggle of electronic soapboxes known as weblogs, or blogs.

The writer of a recent article in the Agudath Israel monthly The Jewish Observer expressed chagrin at discovering the nature of many Jewish blogs. Often anonymous as well as obnoxious, some of those personal opinion-diaries, he found, display utter disregard for essential Jewish ideals like the requirements to shun lashon hora (or forbidden negative speech) and hotzo’at shem ra (or slander), to show honor for Torah and respect for Torah scholars. I would have added basic fairness to the list. And truth.

There are, of course, responsible bloggers, in the Jewish realm as in others, writers who seek to share community news or ideas and observations with readers, and to post readers’ comments. Some explore concepts in Jewish thought and law, others focus on Jewish history and society.

But just as an unfiltered e-mail account quickly reveals that the bulk of electronic communications are from people we would really not wish to ever meet in person, so are responsible blogs, in the Jewish realm as in the general, decidedly in the minority. And even many responsible blogs allow postings of comments from people with very different value systems. As one poster on a Jewish blog, “Joe,” noted: “The whole reason people gravitate to blogs with active comment sections is because of the gosip [sic] and back and forth jabs and insults… If thats [sic] not your thing, fine, but anyone who reads or posts on a blog cant [sic] seriously claim that lashon hara bothers them.”

No one knows exactly why the Internet appears to bring out the worst in people, but there is little doubt that it often does. And the cloak of anonymity seems to unleash truly dark, ugly alter egos. As a popular Jewish blog’s founder told The Forward in June, “There’s a lot of testosterone on the Internet, a lot of swagger… anything can happen.”

Like maliciousness and mayhem. Recently, for example, a 13-year-old Missouri girl who was targeted on a non-Jewish social-networking site for verbal abuse by classmates became so distraught that she hanged herself in her bedroom with a belt.

Another recent e-outrage, although with a happier ending, was perpetrated by a Milwaukee teacher who presented himself anonymously on a blog as a critic of the local teachers union. In an attempt to garner sympathy for union members, he wrote that the two youths who killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999 “knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs: One shot at a time.” Only because of the implicit threat of violence, and the resultant involvement of law enforcement, was the teacher’s ruse uncovered. Less prosecutable offenses, although malevolent, misleading and violative of the laws of civil discourse, are, needless to say, of no interest to the police.

And so, many blogs have become showcases for carefully concocted stews of truth and falsehood well stirred and generously seasoned with gall and spleen. The Jewish sites among them like to malign guilty and innocent people alike – extra points for Orthodox Jews and triple-score for rabbis.

On some sites, targets’ guilt is established purely by rumor, innuendo, anonymous accusations and alleged association with accused or confirmed wrongdoers. Innocent until proven guilty? Not in the blogosphere.

Indeed, if a Jewish blog were fully reflective of Jewish values, even those who are actually guilty would not be subject to “open season” maligning. Truth may be “an absolute defense” in American libel law, but not in Jewish law; true statements are precisely the focus of the prohibition of lashon hora. It might strike some as strange, but the Torah teaches us that the evil of such speech is inherent, not a function of falsehood.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the apparent gullibility of so many visitors to those blogs, who, from their own postings, seem ready to swallow any accusation or character assassination, as long as the charges are sufficiently salacious or forcefully asserted. Some of the many adulatory comments posted on offensive blogs may have been planted by the blogerrai-meisters themselves, but many certainly seem to be from other citizens anxious to join in the fun.

Responsible bloggers don’t deserve to be lumped together with the louts and understandably chafe at having their entire enterprise tarred with the sins of individuals. Unfortunately, though, those individuals and their sins comprise the bulk of the blogosphere. Those who counsel avoidance of blogs are no different from those who advise against frequenting dark, crime-ridden neighborhoods. There may be bargains to be had in such locales, maybe even a good library or pizzeria. But they are scuzzy places to spend time in.

The Internet in general is, pace the popular arbiters of societal propriety, not a healthy place to hang out in. That is why many Orthodox Jewish religious leaders have frowned upon its use altogether for recreational purposes. They feel that the windows it opens to every corner of the wider world allow in not only some sunlight but much pollution of the most pernicious sort.

But even if business or other life exigencies require individuals to utilize the Internet, there are dark corners of the Web that are filled with venomous spiders, that pose extraordinary risks and should be avoided at practically all costs. The blogosphere is a particular infested corner.

All Jews should be concerned with basic Jewish values like shunning forbidden speech, refusing to judge others, showing honor for Torah and Torah-scholars. And if we are, we are rightly warned against patronizing the untamed areas of Blogistan. Because, while larger society may hallow the idea of free speech, Judaism considers words to carry immense responsibility. Used properly, they can teach, inspire and elevate. But used wrongly, or recklessly, they can be virtual weapons of mass destruction.

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46 Responses

  1. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “Teens need to let off steam in a harmless way. And it was the blogs that outed a certain person from Torah Temima.” (Comment by Yechiel Cohen — January 17, 2008 @ 1:13 pm).

    It’s hard to argue with your second point, but I disagree totally with your first point. Blogging is hardly a harmless pasttime for impressionable teens if it exposes them to “display[s of] utter disregard for essential Jewish ideals like the requirements to shun lashon hora and hotzo’at shem ra, to show honor for Torah and respect for Torah scholars”. It’s challenginging enough for intellectually mature and discriminating adults to avoid being negatively influenced by some of the trash that finds its ways onto blogs. If teens need to let off steam, let them play basketball.

  2. Michoel says:

    Reb Yechiel wrote:
    “Wrong Wrong. Teens need to let off steam in a harmless way”

    So what were teens doing for the 5760 years before blogs?

  3. Yechiel Cohen says:

    Wrong Wrong. Teens need to let off steam in a harmless way. And it was the blogs that outed a certain person from Torah Temima. I won’t say his name for the sake of his children.

  4. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “And God would reject the arguments of Truth, for it is only in this medium that Truth can develop and emerge.” (Comment by Binyamin — January 3, 2008 @ 8:42 am).

    Binyamin,
    Ah! Now I understand what Churchill meant when he said, “Truth is so precious, it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies.” He was referring to blogs!

  5. Moshe S. says:

    “It points to the fact that no matter how free thinking we are we still seek the approval of JO-types because deep down we know they are onto something.”

    That’s a strange thing to say. So every time someone complains about something, that means that they are deep down seeking their approval?

    This would mean that the JO is seeking the approval of Western culture!

  6. Ori says:

    Bob Miller: Ori, you’d be surprised how how many people read both the JO and cross-currents.com or other, similar combinations of old and new Orthodox media.

    Ori: Good point, thank you. However, isn’t it true that those publications answer different needs? I assume there are people further on the right that read JO and not cross-currents.com. Also, aren’t there people who personally read here who would rather their elementary school age children get a more consistent message until they’re ready for the real world’s complexity?

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Ori, you’d be surprised how how many people read both the JO and cross-currents.com or other, similar combinations of old and new Orthodox media.

    This points to the fact that the divisions we talk about are not as clear-cut as we might think.

  8. Binyamin says:

    Lets assume that Avi Shafran’s main point is correct, but that his argument is wrong. If there were not any blogs, and he was for example presenting this in the JO as an argument against the proliferation of newspapers, the opporutnities for people to respond would be very limited. (Even if the JO somehow printed all the letters they recieve – I don’t know how they would fit them.) And this argument, or any other argument, would go unchallenged in the public sphere, regardless of its merits.

    The internet here contributes by forcing those who are leading to present fully convincing arguments, and to deal with all of the opposing arguments.
    Likewise, an open discussion of Daas Torah or related issues forces the relevant parties to think through the issues very carefully, and does not allow quick decisions, and will not allow them to express their opinion without defending them.(I am not saying that Daas Torah is never judicious, but it has been greatly abused because of the freedom it gives the people recognized as having Daas Torah.)

    The presence of blogs challenging the fundamental aspects of Judaism will force us to better understand why we believe in it. The blogs which find mitzvos unreasonable will force us to comprehend the reasons for the mitzvos.

    And this is why I think the argument here was wrong. The greater evil allowed by the internet is not only accompanied by a greater possibility for good, but it also forces the good the increase its goodness (as it will also force it to drop undefensible and unwanted positions it may have picked up).

    The internet is not the only evil thing in the world – would we also argue that the world would be better without Man, because of the evil he is capable of?
    And I imagine a discussion in the Heavenly Court debating the creation of the internet –
    and Kindness said, let it be created, for it will allow people to help each other better.
    and Truth said, let it not be created – it will be used for publicizing lies.
    and Rightness said, let it be created, for it will be a tool to correct injustice.
    and Peace said, let it not be created, it will be used to create discord and argument.
    And God would reject the arguments of Truth, for it is only in this medium that Truth can develop and emerge.

    (cf. Bereishis Rabba 8:5)

  9. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The JO has two separate tightropes which it needs to walk. First, it needs to cater to those who might be harmed by questioning and open discussion. Binyomin Eckstein is correct that it is not a terrible tayna(complaint) that the JO didn’t allow open discussion of evolution(although R. Elias did respond to criticism), and that is why the normal scholarly and journalistic convention of allowing responses is not always followed(though Professor Heilman’s response was printed, and Levi Reisman’s critique of Orthodox feminism and the recent evolution article both offered additional materials upon request). Also, there are topics which the Jewish Action certainly wouldn’t present as equal and side -by –side. I would like to see the JO, however, have side by side discussions on at least some type of less fundamental hashkafa issue which don’t require an authoritative daas Torah consensus(on the other hand, the JO may have its own style, and needn’t mimic the JA’s format; I liked the spirited back and forth regarding Rabbi Spolter’s Aliyah article, for example).

    The JO’s second tightrope is that it needs to satisfy the hashkafic standards of the right of the Torah world, and presentations by even some Charedi writers, which were presumably vetted, have been subject on occasion to pressures from its own right(which represent a very vibrant part of the Torah world and has its own valid needs). Despite the constraints of these two tightropes, the JO’s editors should be given credit for the its excellent articles, and for the discussion those articles generate in Orthodoxy.

    Within Orthodoxy as a whole, there is a need for appropriate openness. Dr Shapiro is researching the topic of “Censorship in the Orthodox World”, and as an antidote to this, I think all Orthodox circles need to find appropriate outlets for openness. Similarly, while a specific Torah community may have noble and good reasons in editing a picture in a biography, I think that the effects on wider Orthodoxy should also be considered.

  10. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The discussion on this thread is important for two reasons:

    First, animosity becomes animosity(at least in some cases) precisely because feelings are left to fester. While bringing differences in the open has the potential to exacerbate them, there is also the potential for understanding provided that such discussion is done properly.

    More importantly, the discussion on this board I think surpasses that in many conventional publications—Centrist or Charedi, and may for certain issues, be at the cutting edge of the Orthodox world(this is not to say that letters to the editor in print publications are not of value). Although blogs may be more open as far as the scope of topics discussed or comments allowed, it is precisely the restraint one finds here, errors notwithstanding, which especially warrants that it be taken seriously.

    I also feel that it is vital to notice the JO’s efforts and sensitivity; if one is only looking at the negative, a person will never notice positive where it exists. For example, an Orthodox response to Noah Feldman was, itself, recently critiqued in the JO. The article was careful worded, though, and its author gave the benefit of the doubt while criticizing; this type of sensitivity can, and should, be recognized no matter which Orthodox group one affiliates with.

  11. Jewish Observer says:

    “who appointed JO to be anything beyond a mouthpiece of the people who publish it, same as any other publication? If the editors of JO think you’re beyond the pale, can’t you just ignore them?”

    – excellent observation. It points to the fact that no matter how free thinking we are we still seek the approval of JO-types because deep down we know they are onto something. The current JO-type spokespeople may be narrow in their view and less than charming in their approach but lema’aseh they most directly represent those who hold the keys to our mesorah. we may argue that we are not wandering beyond the pale, but we know that they are safely within it.

  12. Ori says:

    Rabbi Natan Slifkin: Don’t express wonder and distress at the Internet bringing out the worst in people, when your official publication of Orthodoxy states that there is no validity to anything other than the Moetzes!

    Ori: Ignorant outsider question – who appointed JO to be anything beyond a mouthpiece of the people who publish it, same as any other publication? If the editors of JO think you’re beyond the pale, can’t you just ignore them?

  13. LAWRENCE KAPLAN says:

    I would like to add to Rabbi Slifkin’s point. when the JO published Rabbi Wein’s extended critique of my essay on Daas Torah, I wrote a lengthy reply, which the JO, not surprisingly, refused to publish. OTOH, to its credit, it did publish my letter to the editor taking issue with Rabbi Perlow’s critique of Rabbi Lamm’s book on Torah U-Madda.

    Binyomin Eckstein: While many jourals, e.g. Commentary, follow a rather strict editorial line in their articles, they are much more open in their “Letters to the Editor” section. After all, fairness requires that an author whose views have been attacked be given a chance to defend himself, leaving the last word, of course, to the autthor of the original article. This is standard editorial procedure. It is NOT the policy of the JO.

  14. Ori says:

    Bob Miller: All things being equal, it’s better to work on a solution than to rehash a well-known, well-characterized problem yet again.

    Ori: Well said. Having said that, is a solution possible? At the end of the day, I suspect that blogs and the Orthodox print media serve different needs that cannot be merged. Either you want the debate, in which case you read blogs where Natan Slifkin comments, or you want to read opinions that are approved by the Moetzes of Agudas Israel, in which case you read Jewish Observer.

  15. Natan Slifkin says:

    Binyamin Eckstein – Surely not every dispute in the Torah world can be likened, even by one side, to that between Chazal and the Sadducees. Yet in the world of the JO, that’s effectively how it is. No dissenting view is ever given voice – whether it is regarding the age of the universe, the legitimacy of engaging in debates with Reform rabbis, or anything else. (This is in contrast to the Gemara and classical Judaism, where dissenting views, when issued by people within the community, were given voice).

    You are defending the JO based on a particular value system – one that denies the concept of freedom of speech, even within the Torah world. But that wasn’t the value system that Rabbi Shafran used to condemn blogs and the internet. Rabbi Shafran was seeking to capitalize on values shared by all Jews, not merely those who believe that the Moetzes are the sole arbitrators of truth. He didn’t say, “Blogs are evil because they promote freedom of speech, which we are against, because we have a monopoly on the truth.”

    In fact, your defense effectively confirms the other point that I was making. If the JO is to be defended on the grounds that they are only bound to present the view of the Moetzes, and any other view (even that of Rav Hirsch etc.) is beyond the pale, then don’t be surprised if a lot of people become very resentful at being written out of Orthodox Judaism! Don’t express wonder and distress at the Internet bringing out the worst in people, when your official publication of Orthodoxy states that there is no validity to anything other than the Moetzes!

  16. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    “Fairness and truth,” in the 21st century, means giving the subject of an attack an opportunity to give his POV.

    Is the Talmud lacking in fairness and truth because it fails to quote the arguments of the Sadducees and heretics in full? They clearly weren’t convinced by the arguments of the Pharisees, were they?

    The answer is that the point of the Talmud is not to give voice to all opinions and let the reader decide. It gives voice to all legitimate opinions in a debate – and that is its truth. (Perhaps the Sadducees decried the Talmud as giving their opinions an unfair shake and started the ancient sadtalmud.blogspot.com). You have been rejected by the Moetzes as a bearer of a legitimate opinion, and the point of the JO is to present what the Moetzes perceives to be “the Torah’s clear truths”, not letters by those engaged “distortions and undermining” of said Torah.

    “Fairness and truth” would demand that when the JO attacks the RCA statement on evolution, they quote it in full, rather than cutting off a critical sentence in the middle and placing a period instead of an ellipsis.

    If that sentence was indeed critical in explaining why the JO’s attack was unjustified, then it was wrong to do so. It could be they went too far in their zeal in attacking opinions that they view to be incompatible with Torah. It’s happened to greater people than the editors of the JO.

    It depends whether the “Fairness and truth” would mean that letters critical of the magazine’s stance would be printed.

    See my first comment above.

    Furthermore, putting my book aside, surely even from a Daas Torah perspective, authorities such as Rav Hirsch and Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman deserve to have their views properly represented.

    OK. But that isn’t the JO’s purpose – it is to present the Moetzes’ views.

    Keep in mind, as well, that this topic’s treatment taking place in the JO is after the advent of blogs, and much of it is in reaction to pieces written on blogs and websites, not the other way round.

  17. Bob Miller says:

    All things being equal, it’s better to work on a solution than to rehash a well-known, well-characterized problem yet again. In the current discussion, that cuts both ways. Rehashed arguments against blogs and those against traditional Orthodox media and organizations are both unproductive, unless workable solutions are brought forward. Making the other guy just like us typically doesn’t work.

  18. Maxwell's Demon says:

    One of the great challenges that faces the Torah world today is our inability to address in an honest and open fashion many of the challenges facing us. Just to take one example out of a zillion: Even in the justly praised Jewish Observer issues on KIds at Risk, not one article dared to address the question of whether structural problems in the community might contribute to the phenomenon — e.g., poverty, family dysfuntion as a function of various structural flaws, including a shidduch process that may be focused on the wrong factors; the question of whether our educational system is inspiring our kids or even built for the needs of 80% of the normal kids which it services.

    Such discussion does not take place because the principal media organs are either in the possession of the most extreme elements in the community, or more frequently in the hands of those who are effectively terrorized by those elements. Even in the most “open” media outlets, the so-called Vaad HaRuchahni functions not so much to pass judgment on the fitness of the views expressed from a Torah perspective, but rather to guess what might arouse the ire of the Hebrew Yated or result in wall posters in Meah Shearim. In the absence of an open press, an alternative samzidat press will always develop.

    But I would go further and argue that the blogosphere, including Hebrew sites like chadrei chadorim, can perhaps serve a valuable function. (I’m speaking theoretically; I know little of the actual sites.) A system in which even limited freedom of thought and speech does not exist harms not only the “subjects” but the “rulers”. For such a system lacks a feedback mechanism — e.g., a free market or elections — that allow the rulers to know what their subjects are thinking about and what concerns them in their daily lives. However unpleasant and unenlightening much of what appears on the blogosphere may strike us, the medium does at least have the potential for providing such a feedback mechanism where none currently exists.

  19. david says:

    The past Agudah convention is a good example of why blogs are so important. The topic was “kiruv”, yet the 2 orginizations most involved in kiruv, NCSY, and Aish were not allowed to present because they didnt represent the party line. Those who make ad hominem attacks on anyone who doesnt agree with them and who run around yelling: heretic! heretic! to any one who fosters a different opinion, only prove the need of blogs. They give a voice to the silent majority, those whose voices have been stilled by fears of retribution, quashed by a rigid ruling cathedocracy. I never cease to be amazed at the double standard of how the trusty missle “loshon hora” is allways rolled out when valid points are made against the powers that be: you never hear that cry when the silent majority is attacked.
    The cry of lashon hora has been used to cover deceit and brush the most egregious of behavior under the rug. As Felix Frankfurter said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. I wonder why Rabbi Shafran is so fearful of its rays.

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob Miller: I don’t want Torah leaders who object to the Web as a medium to be left out of the loop in favor of others; the goal is maximum constructive participation.

    Ori: Why do they object to the Web? If their objection is to having access to everything in the world, including a host of highly unkosher sites, a competent IT person can configure a network for them that will only allow access to a white-list of approved sites. Then they can participate.

    If their objection is that the Web is less hierarchal, and allows people to post their opinions regardless of their level of knowledge or virtues, then I’m not sure there is a way for them to participate. At least, there is no way for them to participate in the kind of discussions we have here. Even a moderated forum will include people like me who are somewhat ignorant and hold heretical views. You can exclude us, but that would also hurt the discussion.

    Or maybe they have a different objection, one that I didn’t think about. If so, what is it?

  21. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Bob,

    A little heavy on the personal pronoun there, no? This isn’t Bob-Currents… yet. :)

    I understand what you’re looking for, but a critique of the JO or Rabbi Shafran’s use of it as support for his article is not out of place, nor is it an example of the “evil” that Rabbi Shafran is talking about.

    If the JO, or the Yated, or the Jewish Week, or the New York Times for that matter, can be shown to suffer for similar maladies, albeit in a more censored version, as the blogs then that goes a long way to undermining Shafran’s thesis. I’m not sure it’s the fairest thing for you to attack those commenters simply because they are not conforming to what your idea of this discussion should be.

    That said, I do have a suggestion. Clearly we’ll never get the bulk of religious leaders to participate in this technology. (Nor do I think we’d want to.) What we, the “responsible” denizens of the blogosphere, can do is to selectively print out articles and comments that we believe those religious leaders with whom we have a relationship can benefit from. I’ve done this with my Rav and he does appreciate it.

  22. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Mark,

    I’m sure you didn’t intend this, but my idea of Jewish leadership, even if just in the Torah world, extends well beyond the Moetzes.

    Reality shows that my argument does “fly”. For instances I know Kiruv professionals who davka look at the worst of the comments on certain blogs to try to learn what’s wrong and what they may be able to do to fix it.

    Yes, there’s a lot of background noise out there, but within that background noise there are voices that shouldn’t be ignored. Maybe the JO needs to shut them out for it’s narrow readership but maybe the openness of the blogs should be the place where these voices need to find a home and where wise leaders need to filter out the important information contained therein.

  23. Natan Slifkin says:

    Binyamin Eckstein –
    If you want to defend the JO and attack blogs/internet from that standpoint – that Agudas Yisrael’s Daas Torah is the sole benchmark – then you would have somewhat of a point. But Rabbi Shafran was speaking about “fairness and truth,” which is a different standard. “Fairness and truth,” in the 21st century, means giving the subject of an attack an opportunity to give his POV. “Fairness and truth” would demand that when the JO attacks the RCA statement on evolution, they quote it in full, rather than cutting off a critical sentence in the middle and placing a period instead of an ellipsis. “Fairness and truth” would mean that letters critical of the magazine’s stance would be printed.

    Furthermore, putting my book aside, surely even from a Daas Torah perspective, authorities such as Rav Hirsch and Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman deserve to have their views properly represented.

  24. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by cvmay — December 31, 2007 @ 1:26 am :

    I may be on target, but not really the target cvmay identified.

    I hope this discussion here can be constructive; if not, it will exemplify the problem of blogging. Casting blame on one Orthodox group or magazine or another is not fair or productive. On some level, we commenters all live in glass houses.

    I don’t want Torah leaders who object to the Web as a medium to be left out of the loop in favor of others; the goal is maximum constructive participation. I want some thought to be given to alternative modalities for communication that will work today and be able to draw in our greatest Torah leaders appropriately. No one said it would be easy. To start, let’s check our animosities, even understandable ones, at the door.

  25. Yossi says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that because a certain blog publishes many divrei Torah, that’s enough reason to read it. I used to read many blogs, but I stopped reading because of what Rabbi Shafran wrote:

    > even many responsible blogs allow postings of comments from people with very different value systems.

    I was very upset to see that even after moderators had tried to edit open comment sections afterwards, you could find lots of loshon hora and hotza’as shem ra in many comments. When a blog with divrei Torah also has anonymous slander in the comments, I’m not sure how on balance that’s a good thing.

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    Michael Feldstein-I think that if someone desires to express their POV on a blog, then the John Hancock rule of signing one’s name should be the guiding principle. However, I think that anonymous bloggers are of two distinct varieties-either using anonymity to mask their fears at being “discovered” or to allow them to post POVs that deserve the same respect as anonymously written books in your local major book store.

  27. Mark says:

    Menachem,

    “Maybe the loshon hora, meanness, deceit, disrespect, etc. are just symptoms of a larger problem and our focus should be on understanding what is causing these people, young and old, to lash out so ferociously at our religion and its leadership?”

    This argument doesn’t really fly for the simple reason that the lashing out is done at all levels and not only toward the Moetzes GT and Torah world. There are blogs bashing any and everything under the sun. There will always be negative people and many have a voice today thanks to blogs and will use it indiscriminately. They’ll peddle rumors, LH, innuendo etc. and that is something that must be avoided regardless of how one feels about the JO’s openness. I believe that was AS point and I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to comprehend.

  28. joel rich says:

    Michael,
    Intellectual honesty requires that I remind you that Hirhurim was run under an alias(IIRC Simcha) for a peiod of time.
    KT

  29. Michael Feldstein says:

    Anonymity is the biggest cause of hate filled speech and inaccuracies that are posted on blogs. Virtually all of the blogs that I read are written by people who sign their name to their blog (Hirhurim, Haemtza), and while I may disagree with them on ocassions, I also have the most respect for people who sign their real name to their posts (Toby Katz, Steve Brizel, etc.). Yes, there are times where anonymity is appropriate and necessary. Howsever, as the Jewish blogosphere matures, I think the blogs that will be taken the most seriously and the comments that will be the most respected will be the ones written by people with real names.

  30. Batya Medad says:

    I run three active jblogs. Two of them are religious-political, and the third is more “personal,” but it also hosts the Kosher Cooking Carnival and is a resource for Kashrut, kosher restaurants and other Jewish things.

    I’m not published by any large mainstream media publication, so my blogs are my contribution to the Israeli hasbara effort.

    You get foul, anti-halachik utterings in all sorts of publications, radio, TV etc, but we can also learn good things from them. We have to use today’s technology for good and not ignore or condemn it, or it will become much worse.

  31. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I’m not sure that the JO (or any established publication)and Rabbi Shafran (or any conventional columnist) can be the most objective observers when it comes to assessing blogs. They represent both the soap box and the man on the soap box, who until the advent of blogs, had relatively tight control over what gets expressed to the masses; certainly in the orthodox Jewish world. Blogs have greatly undermined this control as the threshold for establishing a blog is far lower than what was necessary to start a conventional publication.

    I imagine that there was also an outcry from the “establishment” when, with the advent of the printing press, a similar proliferation of information and ideas ensued. Just as Dr. Gewirtz indicated, time will allow us to integrate this new medium and put it in its proper place.

    This is not to totally discount some of the issues that Rabbi Shafran raised. But what Rabbi Shafran sees problems and dangers are possibly an opportunity. Maybe the loshon hora, meanness, deceit, disrespect, etc. are just symptoms of a larger problem and our focus should be on understanding what is causing these people, young and old, to lash out so ferociously at our religion and its leadership?

  32. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Natan Slifkin:

    With all due respect, the JO is meant, up front, to be a publication in which the opinions expressed are within bounds of the Daas Torah of the Moetzes. I very much doubt the Chofetz Chaim would have allowed “his” newspaper a give and take about positions which he held to be Kefirah, or, alternatively, letters written by people who he felt “distort and undermine the Torah’s clear truths” or write books which contain an “impudent and audacious throwing off of the yoke of the Mesorah and the Chachamim”. Why are we pretending that this is all one big Askan party and the American Moetzes members never really said anything about this? They have! And it isn’t complimentary!

    Are you saying that a critique of blogs which spew whatever they please, unchecked by any Rabbinic authority whatsoever, is undermined by a refusal to publish letters submitted by you, when you have been unequivocally rejected as the bearer of a valid Torah message, by the Rabbinic body which the magazine’s editors view as the supreme Halachic authority in America???

  33. cvmay says:

    B. Miller – you are on target.
    Over the years, the frequent editorials or opinions from Rabbanim (AKA Daas Torah) and/or those representing them through organizations have been guilty of talking ‘AT’ people not ‘TO’ people. Our generations is the ‘questioning & inquiring’ one, and pontificating points of view without recourse has backfired into explosive banter. Since Jewish publications will only publish letters to editor that jive with their personal agenda, many inquiring and disenting voices are silenced. (eg: Two years ago, the Jewish Observer did an overview of the “Gush Katif Disengagement”, JR was the sole writer, when letters were received opposing his stated points (daas torah?), one letter written by R. Yoel Schoenfeld was published, while other strongly composed letters were ignored and dismissed). Therefore, R. Avi Shafran, blogs have become the necesity for thinking individuals, while ‘lashon hara’ & blatant negativity should be avoided. Toras Hashem is expansive and the need for expression & discussion is a healthy component of torah life.

    “will only attract a fraction of the Rabbonim we ought to be communicating with. Because it is on the Web, those who object to the Web as a matter of principle are not part of the conversation”, there are other rabbinic personel that could and should be included in Cross Currents as Rabbi Nachman Kahane, Rav. H. Schechter, Rav. Goldvicht, etc. (plus many more).

  34. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “However, I don’t believe that it is possible to speak about the importance of fairness and truth without recognizing the problem posed by a magazine which never gives voice to dispute and different opinions (even from within the Torah world”

    I recognize and am bothered by the issue of “different opinions”(this is similar to my above comment), and therefore look to other sources for a “breidkeit”(broader horizons) in hashkafa.

    Nevertheless, I myself give much credit to the JO for what I see as recent efforts to satisfy a larger group of people(moving “Readers Write” to the front, article by R. Yehuda Levi on tolerance, R. Moshe Shochet’s letter on contemporary music, as well as other recent examples).

    The JO needs to walk a difficult tightrope between satisfying Lakewood/Kiryat Sefer readers versus Flatbush/Baltimore ones(a generalization of communities, of course) which both have different needs. Based on the constraints which they need to work within, I think they do a great job, even if it doesn’t completely satisfy me(ironically, I’ve provided on this forum many, if not the most, direct quotes from the JO).

  35. Baruch Horowitz says:

    ” The whole reason people gravitate to blogs with active comment sections is because of the gosip [sic] and back and forth jabs and insults….”

    R. Shafran’s article is an important one, which one can benefit from on more than one level.

    The only thing I would add is that a full discussion of the phenomenon of blogs would need to explore fully why people turn to them, and that a solution would create an alternative which substitutes, in a different way, the non-judgmental nature of blogs. For example, someone who is more “intellectually adventurous” may at times have difficulty being part of certain social circles in the Charedi world, where out of the box thinking is not always given sufficient appreciation(kal vachomer, regarding the need for discussions touching on ikkarie emunah, which people may be embarassed to discuss even with a rebbe in private).

    I don’t want to make things worse than they are, and will grant that there are variations within different social circles and communities within the Charedi world. Also, one can network to find appropriate rabbonim–one of my most pleasurable experiences has been speaking to certain Charedi rabbonim who have granted me points and who speak with nuance, which some laymen would reject as “less frum”! Additionally, forums such as this one and Areivim(it’s not my own blog, so I can give it a plug) provide a “non-blogger family” alternative for the “out of box” thinker(although there may still be topics which would be appropriate for more private discussions than those forums).

    I’m not disputing R. Shafran’s focus on lashon hara, or the Jewish Observer’s point that the blogoshere on a whole can be a real and present danger for many Frum individuals. Rather, I’m pointing out that a complete exploration of blogs would explore issues beyond lashon hara and examine how more people’s needs may be satisfied in alternative ways.

  36. Steve Brizel says:

    Unbfortunately, we live in a world where Bnei Torah and Bnos Torah of various outlooks on halacha and hashkafa can discuss their viewpoints-the web and blogs-simply because we do to shul, yeshiva and live dictates that in many cases, the only people that you will talk to will ibvariably have the same POV. Like it or not, disagreements in halacha and hashkafa, often of a very strong nature among Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim, long preceded the development of the Internet. I think that while the net has Tumah and Taharah, the real issue is that of control for a society that does not trust either its adults, teens or young children with any exercise of their free time. Yes, there is such a precedent in that the Chachamim questionned the Kohen Gadol extensively prior to Yom Hakippurim as to his fealty to the Mesorah, but that took place once a year, as opposed to an ongoing basis. It is unfortunately too true but one can compare the views of the Internet and blogging expressed herein with China and find not an awful lot of differences as to the issue of control and content.

  37. Natan Slifkin says:

    “The writer of a recent article in the Agudath Israel monthly The Jewish Observer expressed chagrin at discovering the nature of many Jewish blogs… some of those personal opinion-diaries, he found, display utter disregard for essential Jewish ideals… I would have added basic fairness to the list. And truth.”

    This is quite ironic. The Jewish Observer printed some serious attacks on one of my books, which I believe reflected a lack of knowledge of the relevant sources in the Rishonim and Acharonim, as well as misunderstandings of the issues and distortions of my writings. I wrote several letters to The Jewish Observer in response, which were, of course, not printed. (One of Rav Hirsch’s descendants likewise wrote a letter protesting the JO’s take on Rav Hirsch’s position, which he felt was terribly inaccurate).

    Now, obviously I don’t hold Rabbi Shafran responsible for everything that the Jewish Observer does; I would imagine that sometimes their policies upset him as much as they upset others. However, I don’t believe that it is possible to speak about the importance of fairness and truth without recognizing the problem posed by a magazine which never gives voice to dispute and different opinions (even from within the Torah world), and which attacks people without giving them a chance to present their side of the story.

    And this is where Rabbi Shafran’s point about the evils of blogs becomes somewhat undermined. To be sure, there is much hate and mockery on the Internet (aside from the treif material which is a very serious problem). But it also presents a way in which the other side of the story can be heard, which is vital when official publications refuse to acknowledge that any such other viewpoint exists. Furthermore, with regard to the unfortunate tone of much of what is out there, I think that official establishment voices such as the JO should likewise be shouldering some of the blame. As long as the Orthodox world suppresses and silences Torah views that are not “party line,” it is only to be expected that people will use the internet to express their frustration and resentment. Eizehu chacham, ha’ro’eh es ha-nolad.

    (The letters to the JO from myself and others are posted on my website at http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/jo.html )

  38. Bob Miller says:

    An moderated email discussion group might appeal to some who have computers but object to non-business use of the Web.

  39. dr. william gewirtz says:

    It takes a fair bit of time for any new media to find its appropriate (and inappropriate) uses; so too with blogs. My late father AH used to repeat an old Yiddish adage: “A Naar vayst min nit kein halbe arbit.” You seem to equivocate a bit on whether all blogs deserve to be treated as inhabitants of the same bad neighborhoods. Blogs are in their infancy; as the Rabbis advised “hevai metunim BaDin.” There are clear success models ranging from the old-list server, Mail Jewish, to the more modern Seforim.com and a few like Hirhurim, devoted to a particular POV. IMHO having a single (logical) editor who need not worry beyond his own conscious about “what some might say” and tolerates a reasonable breadth of opinion around a broad POV is likely to spawn success. Even discordant tones are tolerated, because they are actually useful for one confident of their position; one can assume that they are discounted or read with preconceived awareness of their bias. With a narrower POV and/or more ambiguous editorial policy one might consider a different or modified medium.

    Clearly blogs give the sins of lashon haraah an effective new outlet; some of the Jewish blogs, and I use that term broadly, are really outrageous. Others discuss what many would prefer die quietly. Some blogs educate – students ask for clarification; others provide an excellent mechanism for intelligent discussion of issues where multiple POVs are assumed to help arrive at a better viewpoint. View it as the place for prototypes not products. If you think you do not need that feedback, multiple methods for one-way communication might be preferred.

  40. Mark says:

    Gil,

    “I was told that since I have divrei Torah and divrei hashkafah on my blog, it is a devar mitzvah and mutar.”

    I’m wondering whether the posek who ruled this way has ever seen your blog or is just working off your description of it? IOW – is he aware of the many posts and comments that are not related to Torah content [and perhaps border on LH at times] and feels that they’re inconsequential to his ruling or is he unaware of those because he’s never actually spent time on your blog and only judges by what you’ve told him?

  41. Ori says:

    Bob Miller, good point – I didn’t think about the anti-Internet camp. However, if those Rabbis object to the Web, wouldn’t they object to any similar forum, regardless of how it was presented? I assume that the objection isn’t to the technology, but to its social effects.

    What you could do is run a print blog. To do that, have Rabbis write articles, and then circulate the articles to all the Rabbis involved to write responses. After a few rounds of that, mail out the complete document to a wider audience, and allow them to write responses – and then circulate it back to the Rabbis.

    This would be unwieldy and slow, but it would produce something similar to a slow running blog.

  42. Gil says:

    I recently asked a she’eilah of whether I am allowed to give out the URL for my blog on Shabbos, because I frequently get requests for it. I was told that since I have divrei Torah and divrei hashkafah on my blog, it is a devar mitzvah and mutar. I think that is a profoundly different perspective than that given by R. Shafran in this article.

  43. Bob Miller says:

    Ori wondered, “Bob Miller, are you being sarcastic?”

    No, because cross-currents.com, for all its virtues, will only attract a fraction of the Rabbonim we ought to be communicating with. Because it is on the Web, those who object to the Web as a matter of principle are not part of the conversation.

  44. Ori says:

    Bob Miller, are you being sarcastic? It seems that what you are suggesting is pretty much what we have here on cross-currents.com. A blog with moderators that only allow responses that are acceptable in a civilized debate (I was about to write Kosher responses, but then I remembered that my own heretical views are considered acceptable). It would have been good had Rabbi Avi Shafran mentioned cross-currents.com in his article. I wonder why he didn’t.

  45. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    Yes, all true, but…
    “If not for the fear (of government sanction) men would eat each other alive” (Avos).

    By censoring scandals out of the “frum” media, by forcing “Panim Chadashos” and the like out of business, by eliminating any social shunning for malfeasance, we have created a situation where sadly many if not most shuls have ex-cons on the mizrach wall, we have scandals not once in a decade as it once was, but every few weeks.

    In the name of lessening chilul Hashem, it has been instead multiplied, as there are no longer any consequences in the frum community to illegal actions. Let’s not kid ourselves- people who wouldn’t dream of non-glatt meat too often won’t hesitate to lie, cheat and steal.

    The frum world has brought this plague on themselves, by being too defensive. Using clout to force papers not to print articles about Jewish crimes actually abets future criminals by effectively decriminalizing the actions, and if the shul/ yeshiva/ community still honors the individual, why should he hesitate to do it again?

    Attacking bloggers and websites is more of the same. Name names, actually DO something about crooks, abusers, frauds, mesarvim ledin, and these acts will stop happening as much.

  46. Bob Miller says:

    I have this related question:

    For those conscientious Jews who now blog and read blogs for positive reasons and do not want to get caught up in negativity and innuendo, shouldn’t the Orthodox world now provide better types of outlets to present and discuss their ideas?

    This is similar to the need to give Jewish teens venues for wholesome activities; it’s not enough to order them out of poolhalls, etc.