Designated Drivers


by Doron Beckerman

Clearly, the J-blogs have arrived. No event of any significance escapes their scrutiny. Public discourse is shaped, often even created, by those possessing a keyboard, internet access, and a way with words. Unpoliced and unrestricted, the information superhighway, shared by the cautious, the reckless, and the intoxicated, is not going away.

A crossroads is rapidly approaching. Perhaps, nay, likely, we are already there. And there are weighty decisions to be made. A wrong turn spells disaster.

To the right lies a path of passivity, where no questioning or criticism is tolerated, no mistakes acknowledged or allowed for, and frustration is kept in check for the sake of maintaining the status quo. One problem with this, is, of course, the hit counter. A more critical problem – it isn’t healthy. Input from the layman is critical to proper decision-making, and sometimes the best ideas come from them.

I ask the indulgence of the J-blogs – Code Violation #11230 ahead. I am, alas, excerpting from an ArtScroll biography. In the book about Rav Pam zt”l, it is recounted that “[w]hen Mr. Drew returned to America, he visited Rav Pam and suggested what was to become known as the “Kesher Tefillin” Project. Whenever an American Yeshiva student becomes Bar Mitzvah, his family has the opportunity to accomplish a very significant Mitzvah in honor of the occasion by purchasing a pair of tefillin for a Shuvu student. Rav Pam was overjoyed by this suggestion.”

Sara Schneirer, founder of Beis Yaakov, was not a Moetzes member either.

Besides, the status quo may need some fixing.

To the left lies a future where the Torah leadership of the Jewish nation has been completely undermined and discredited. Their mistakes held under the microscope, magnified, and determined by the bloggers to be fatal. No longer can they be trusted to lead, and the best course is Ish Hayashar B’einav Yaaseh. Let each man do what is right in his own eyes.

Taking this turn means adhering to, or adopting, a philosophy of Torah leadership having no inherent value. It is only when they are proven correct that we accept their authority (if ever), but when they are not, maybe after some sort of three strikes rule, then, plainly, the very concept of Torah leadership, in any practical form, is to be jettisoned.

I do not believe this to be the will of the Torah. People familiar with some of my posts on my defunct blog will recall the story of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish in Bava Metzia 84a, where Rabbi Yochanan is completely impervious to pleas from his sister to spare Reish Lakish’s life. Reish Lakish ultimately passes on, and Rabbi Yochanan is inconsolable over the loss of his study partner, due to his inability to properly clarify his learning.

R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz, in an essay titled Kavod Harav, explains that the reason for Rabbi Yochanan’s seeming callousness was due to the severity of Reish Lakish’s apparent undermining of Rabbi Yochanan’s honor. No, not the personal affront. “The severity of impinging on the honor of the Rabbi is not on account of the honor due the Rabbi per se, but is primarily because the negation of the influence of the Rav. When the Jewish people are not careful regarding the honor due their sages and elders, it is as if they have no sages and elders at all.”

R’ Chaim continues by quoting a Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 11:8) – “Rabbi Akiva said, Israel is compared to a fowl, just as this fowl cannot fly without wings, so Israel can accomplish nothing without their elders.” Therefore, the entire existence of the Jewish nation is imperiled by undermining the Torah leadership.

R’ Chaim concludes with a lament over the situation as it was in 1973, and surely it has not improved since then.

Take the current imbroglio over the Rabbi who allegedly allowed cheating on taxes and gezel Akum. (I strongly emphasize that this is alleged, and those surrounding the Rabbi vehemently deny that these are his positions.) Those who have spoken up about this, say that they consulted with their Roshei Yeshiva who allowed for publicizing this issue. People have commented on various blogs about it, some with their names attached, others anonymously. I respectfully ask here: I don’t understand why it is deemed necessary for people who are not at all considered equals of this Rabbi to act as jury and judge. Torah leadership demands that other Torah leaders take such a stand publicly, not k’tanim. This sort of thing seems to be killing us and may very well destroy us. I realize that Nearim Pnei Zkeinim Yalbeenu is one of the signs of the pre-Messianic era, but that does not mean that we need to institutionalize it. The licenses of those taking this path should be revoked.

Even if we were to disregard the Torah’s outlook on this issue, there is simply no viable alternative to Torah leadership. Who else has any authority to affect any widespread constructive change? No J-blogger, or conglomerate of laypeople, has that kind of clout, even in theory.

Straight ahead lies a path of responsible partnership, where Torah leaders are not undermined by ridicule, open disdain, or even disrespectful disagreement. Correspondence should not be made public without explicit consent, tempting as it may be to get the scoop. Bloggers pining for particular courses of action should certainly state their case, but I believe that actual calls for adherence should be channeled through Torah leaders, whatever camp they may come from. There are lines of communication to all the English-speaking Torah leaders, both in the US and in Eretz Yisrael. I do not think it appropriate for any blogger who is not a Torah authority to be determining practical public policy, whether on Klal issues or how to relate to particular incidents relating to individuals.

People may ask a whopper of a question on this essay. Shouldn’t Gedolim be issuing statements like this? Aren’t you issuing a call for public policy here, in defiance of your own suggested guidelines?

Yes, I am. But only because asking for respect for Torah leadership is, perhaps, the one public policy vehicle the K’tanim should be driving.

[Rabbi Beckerman is a Rebbe at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim]

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Doron Beckerman
6 years 4 months ago

In light of a discussion I have been participating in with a blogger, I want to add the following:

I am not under the impression that the blogosphere is a monolith. In addressing the J-blogosphere as a whole in my essay, the intent was for each blog to make their own Cheshbon Hanefesh as to whether they comport, or want to comport, with the suggested guidelines. I do not think that they all violate these guidelines, which is plainly obvious. I thought this was clear enough by stating that “The licenses of those who take this path” as limiting… Read more »

Shalom Rosenfeld
6 years 4 months ago

My amaaratzus is showing! How embarrasing!

There’s the Sholom Aleichem story of the women who asks her neighbor about the large copper pot she’d borrowed: “first of all it was small, second of all it wasn’t copper it was iron, and third, what do you mean borrowed, it was mine all along!”

The Gemara is Bava Basra 60b, regarding R’ Yishmael ben Elisha (who a few years back had served in the Temple on Yom Kippur and had G-d ask him for a blessing, and a few years later, had his son and daughter taken by the Romans); afraid I can’t… Read more »

Chaim Wolfson
6 years 4 months ago

Reading this post reminds me of a story my brother-in-law once told me. He was learning in an out-of-town community kollel, and one of the people who use to stop by the kollel was an old man who was born in the town of Navardok. He told my brother-in-law that as a young boy he had once heard the Chofetz Chaim speak. It seems that with the deterioration of the communal structure in the aftermath of the first World War, many parents — this man’s included — began sending their children to Polish “gymnasiums” (i.e., public schools). The Chofetz Chaim,… Read more »

Chaim Fisher
6 years 4 months ago

Rabbi Beckerman,

Of course ideas can be untrue and still attractive.

But how do you block one without blocking the other? Any editor is going to have a huge negia to block ideas that disagree with him because in his opinion they are indeed “untrue.” Well, that’s surely wrong.

Attractive and untrue ideas almost always get pounded down by the end of a blog. And I’m not talking about smearing leaders or other lashon hara, which surely can be stopped by posting rules right at the start.

Don’t forget, the idea that the blogger is criticizing can also be untrue. … Read more »

Bob Miller
6 years 4 months ago

Regarding the comment by Shalom Rosenfeld — July 6, 2009 @ 11:28 am :


Can you propose a counter-model grounded in “the Talmudic theory on this subject” as you see it that will give practical guidance for effective Jewish leadership today, taking our current resource people (leaders, followers) into account?

Doron Beckerman
6 years 4 months ago

R’ Shalom,

The story of the Bnei Beseira has many interesting applications (such as willingly passing the mantle of leadership to someone who knows even one Halachah more than the incumbent sages; not to belittle lesser lesser Battei Din; Hanhagas Haklal may depend more on Mesorah than Sevara – see Meiri there (Pesachim 66a) for all of this).

In the case of Hanach etc., there are particular parameters to the story. The Bnei Beseira (and Hillel) were intentionally deprived by G-d of a particular tidbit of Torah knowledge that they certainly knew. (See Yerushlami there) In terms of determining practical Halachah,… Read more »

Shalom Rosenfeld
6 years 4 months ago

“there is simply no viable alternative to Torah leadership. Who else has any authority to affect any widespread constructive change? No … conglomerate of laypeople, has that kind of clout, even in theory.”

Um, there’s a little Gemara in Pesachim about the reigning Bnei Beseira being clueless, but “hanach lahem l’yisrael, im lav neviim hem, bnei neviim hem.” (Loosely: ‘Leave the ordinary Jews to their own devices; they may not be prophets, but they’re close.’)

Or the one in Sanhedrin; Raban Gamliel, having seen his world shattered and destroyed by the Romans, says he would have the Jewish people… Read more »

6 years 4 months ago

I don’t agree with previous comment writers that this is a difference between the modern and chareidi worlds. I think that the modern Orthodox world had (and has) as much respect for leaders, not only Rav Solovetchic and Rav Kook but also Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach (all Zichronam Tzadik Livracha).

The difference is the leaders. The Torah tells us that it’s fine to question leaders and hold them up to high standards that they need to meet. Bnos Tzlafchad questioned Moshe Rabbeinu, Neshei Lemesh questioned Adam HaRishon. Gedolim need to admit to being human, Gedolim… Read more »

Shades of Gray
6 years 4 months ago

“The chareidi world is heierarchical where the modern one is largely egalitarian; the chareidi world has strict parameters as to what is admisable as a valid argument where the modern one is more open. etc. There is very little common language. Even common terms such as Torah, Yira’a, Kavod Shamaim have VERY different implicit meaning for members of these communities.”

I agree one can emphasize the differences, and the past few years of the bans have emphasizsed that.

However, historically, different groups within Orthodoxy have come together when they’ve seen that outside threats are more potent than what internally divides them.

Also,… Read more »

Bob Miller
6 years 4 months ago

Much of what passes for information in our media and on the web, and in community gossip, falls into the range between misinformation and disinformation. It has become really hard to judge the quality of information being circulated; it’s as if some anti-Chofetz-Chaim has created the perfect environment for lashon hara and motzi shem ra. Scurrilous rumors can be created and disseminated and take effect long before the victims can respond. The villains in this can dress and behave outwardly just as we do, but they have a concealed (sometimes not-so-concealed) vicious streak. This problem is… Read more »

6 years 4 months ago

When imbalances existed in Jewish society of the past, movements of tens or hundreds of years arose to gradually rebalance society after generations of suffering. The chassidic movement, women’s education, organized yeshiva education – Jewish societal problems solved in lifetimes or multiple lifetimes.

Now perhaps in an age of communication, where information travels between disparate communities in minutes, the klal is no longer so content to sit and suffer while waiting for a gilgul before improvement. Similarly, the rabbaim of France can’t ban the Rambam while the rabbaim of Egypt have him leading their community – as people talk every day… Read more »

Doron Beckerman
6 years 4 months ago


Hesitant as I am to get into another debate with you, since, as very evident from the A.Y. Karelitz thread, we apparently barely speak the same language, and have different scales on how to evaluate facts and ideas, I’ll give it a shot.

There is a difference between an opposition criticizing and an opposition undermining. Politicians understand this well – only where that line is drawn is different in a situation where the opposition hopes to get elected and ‘trow out dem bums’. That is the crux of the essay.

If you are saying that Torah leadership has no inherent value in… Read more »

Neil Harris
6 years 4 months ago

R Beckerman,
I think that the current trend of lack of Kavod to “the very concept of Torah leadership” is typical of a generation (sadly my generation, those born b/t 1963-1983 who grew up in a society that promoted questioning authority. In American society where everyone is entitled to an opinion, some feel this is a heter to attack Gedolim from the safetly of their keyboards. Hopefully my children’s generation will see the error of this.

6 years 4 months ago

like it or not, the charedi street [the only one relevant—since when you talk about charedi gdolim, it is their minions who must follow; obviously other factions in Orthodoxy must follow the norms of their own communities] has spoken , or maybe been spoken for.

the current tech world, with 24 hr news cycles, and instant blogging, must accelerate the reaction time to breaking norms in our society. whereas in the past the Gdolim had a great luxury of time [ie they could in effect ,when in doubt ,shvu v’al taasu , and see what happens in other segments of O… Read more »

6 years 4 months ago

Rabbi Beckerman’s essay is not only true of blogs, but of online Jewish news services as well that allow readers to post comments. The comments at times are classics of loshon hora, rechilus – you name it. They have become gossip groups where commentors freely insulty each other, gedolim and anything else they see fit. Allowing comments in such a way is lifnei iver and I for one have banned myself from viewing such websites.

So although, some healthy dissent may be worthwhile, unfiltered, anonymous forums, where inappropriate speech is commonplace, is not valuable. Thankfully, this blog is exemplary in its… Read more »

6 years 4 months ago

Dear Rabbi Beckerman,

A small quibble if I may to a very thought provoking article. In bothe the cases you mention, Mr Drew and Sara Scnerir, the principals seem to have placed their very valuable ideas in front of Torah authorities for approval rather than posting a blog somewhere abd forcing the issue from the bottom up.

Chaim Fisher
6 years 4 months ago

I would like to question the implication here that somehow bloggers are having too much influence and power. Why? Blogs don’t have power; ideas have power.

If some am haaretz with little background writes a fantastic svorah and other people like it, great. And if he writes silliness then nobody’s going to pay any attention to him.

Even in the highest shiur the guy in the back row is allowed to ask a question. That’s the whole point of yiddishkeit. We start the dalet kushiyas with the littlest child; in beis din the lesser rabbonim ask first.

6 years 4 months ago

Look, the primary source of blogging which undermines the leadership of various gedolim through blogs is the modern orthodox community. There are no Chareidi bloggers out there that are engaging in the kind of blogging which you critisize here.

What you need to understand is that you are appealing to a value that simply does not exist in this community. Leaders do not rise in the modern orthodox community due to people seaking legal authority or communal authority. Leaders rise and fall based on their ability to address in their Torah the underlying spiritual issues of the community… Read more »

6 years 4 months ago

Doron Beckerman said”

“Take the current imbroglio over the Rabbi who allegedly
allowed cheating on taxes and gezel Akum.
(I strongly emphasize that this is alleged,
and those surrounding the Rabbi vehemently
deny that these are his positions.)”

When are Orthodox Jews going to stop buying and reading
“Jewish” newspapers like the one which published
the slanderous article that Doron Beckerman refered to?

6 years 4 months ago

A loyal opposition, I think, is something leaders would value. When I read the blogs, I get the sense of a call to the entire community to function at its best? Does that not come across to the others on this blog?