What R. Samson Raphael Hirsch Would Say About Comboxes

Like most blogs, we allow anonymous comments. Recognizing their necessity doesn’t mean that we have to like them.

Those who strongly hate them will find the following snippet refreshing. It is part of the short note to readers that introduced the publication of Rav Hirsch’s response to his chief adversary regarding Austritt – the secession from a community structure that gave any kind of credence to Reform. (R. Hirsch was a strong advocate of the halachic need for pulling out of such a structure, while R. Seligmann Baer Bamburger of Wurzburg disagreed.)

Any replies written anonymously or signed with a fictitious name will not receive any consideration from me. One who lacks the courage to sign his true name to his views must be aware that what he is saying is meaningless and that he therefore cannot expect others to take notice of it.

Let the anonymous gnats buzz happily in the sunny meadows. I certainly do not want to spoil their pleasure.

(Collected Writings, vol. 6, pg. 198)

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35 Responses

  1. tzippi says:

    I wish I could remember who said this, for some reason I’m thinking R. Marcus Lehman, that if one uses a pseudonym it shouldn’t be out of whole cloth but have some connection to one’s name, persona, etc.

  2. lawrence kaplan says:

    Dr. Bill: I am sorry I misunderstood what you were referring to. My apologies

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Some publications also seem to use initials in place of a woman’s first name (such as in their bylines in articles). Do they that feel a woman writer would not be believed?

  4. L. Oberstein says:

    On a tangentical note, what is the history of not printing a female’s picture? Isn’t it a chassidic thing, Satmar, Ger,etc. It seems to be the norm nowadays with no pushback from the regular yeshiva world.

  5. cvmay says:

    rtw
    It was quite unusual(if ever)for a published Letter to Editor to appear in the Jewish Observer without a signed name.
    People consider the ‘Letters to Editor’ in the Yated, wonderful entertainment. Why change the best feature by requiring names? BTW, this is business AKA Olam Hazah decision, please do not throw the DAAS TORAH card into this…..

  6. rtw says:

    Cvmay:
    The Yated and the Jewish Observer don’t/didn’t follow said policy of Time, US News & World Report, etc. So we know what the Daas Torah opinion is, who cares about the editors of journals in the olam hasheker?

  7. Bob Miller says:

    “When Newsweek published a letter to editor of mine years ago, not only did they call for verification, they also sent me a COMPLIMENTARY ISSUE.”

    Recently, you could have bought Newsweek itself for little more than that, namely, one dollar, which is the price for which the Washington Post sold it off a few moths ago!

  8. cvmay says:

    R. Loberstein,
    Many well-known publications, Time, US News & Report, Times newspaper will never publish letters to editor without name, address and at times inquiries. When Newsweek published a letter to editor of mine years ago, not only did they call for verification, they also sent me a COMPLIMENTARY ISSUE.

  9. dr. bill says:

    Prof. kaplan writes: “Re Austritt: Dr. Bill is wrong. Rav Hirsch initially supported the (Orthodox) status-quo communities in their desire — CONTRA the Maharam Schick– not to have to affiliate with the nation-wide Orthodox organization.”

    Prof. Kaplan, I cannot find any line where you would asssume that I was talking about events POST establishment of two organizatins in Hungary, neolog and orthodox and the status quo congregations! I was refering to RSRH’s involvement (including a anonymous letter that were written) during the period of debate over the original effort to establish a single organization via the government’s originally convened Congress. In that period, Hirsch appears, at least in Prof. katz’s book more insistent on separation than the Ketav sofer and in all probability the Maharam Schick. See for example, the main paragraph page 146.

    the debates over status quo congregations, as you are undoubtedly aware, involved not a common organization with the neologs, but whether a congregation could choose to remain unaffiliated with BOTH the neologs AND the orthodox. Maharam Schick, i believe, was opposed to a variety of orthodox congregations (both chassidic and more modern I seem to remember) maintaining a status quo position independant of the orthodox organization. I did not remember or make ANY referece to RSRH’s position (or make reference to maharam schick’s position) in that era.

  10. rtw says:

    Regarding the comment by Chaim Fisher October 6, 2010 at 1:49 am: We’re trying a little to hard to compare today’s situation to that of mid-19th Century Germany. Rav Hirsch ZT”L was against anonymity used as a tool to send this particular heated discussion off the tracks. He tried to head this off because experience had taught him he had good reason to expect it.
    Bob, that comment applies excellently to R. Adlerstein’s initial post!

  11. lawrence kaplan says:

    I am not against all anonymous blogging. But bloggers who post anonymously have a special responsibility, in my view, to moderate their criticisms. Alas, it is generally the other way around.

    Re Austritt: Dr. Bill is wrong. Rav Hirsch initially supported the (Orthodox) status-quo communities in their desire — CONTRA the Maharam Schick– not to have to affiliate with the nation-wide Orthodox organization.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    Sforno says that since he works for a yeshiva, he has to be anonymous. I really do understand it. My good fortune is that my boss, Rabbii Naftoli Neuberger zatzal, humored me all the years and let me have and express political or ideological personal points of view without it affecting my position one iota. If I were representing the yeshiva, I always followed his guidance and expressed the policy of the organization, but not to the extent of muzzling my personal views.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    I have long abhored the custom of hiding behind a pseudonym . It is not only on blogs but in letters to the editor to frum/heimishe publications. In some issues, most letters are not signed. There is something in our frum culture that makes people afraid to reveal their names, but I don’t really get it. What are they afraid of? Ayn Horah, shiduch problems, etc.? Bloggers who are anonymous are in a different catagory, they are supposidly more worldly than the “Upset housewife” . Sometimes the most rediculous statements are signed by “Ben Torah” “Choshuveh Yid”,etc.It would be better if we could change it but I guess it is beyond repair.

  14. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by Chaim Fisher October 6, 2010 at 1:49 am:

    We’re trying a little to hard to compare today’s situation to that of mid-19th Century Germany.

    Rav Hirsch ZT”L was against anonymity used as a tool to send this particular heated discussion off the tracks. He tried to head this off because experience had taught him he had good reason to expect it.

  15. rtw says:

    R. Adlerstein, had you said that some anyonymous comments irk you, bseder. But you were providing encouragement for people who “hate” “anonymous comments” generally.

    But I would agree with applying the Hirschian line to R. Schwab’s anonymous response to R. Dessler on Torah im Derech Eretz. His point of view would have carried much more weight at the time if people had known who exactly was disagreeing with R. Dessler. But he was responsible for taking “no responsibility in seeing the arguments through the debate that should follow.”

    Btw, this is the only blog I comment on with a pseudonym. Why? Long story.

  16. Yitzhak says:

    R. Adlerstein writes:

    “there was little that was controversial [in the Nineteen Letters], other than a few items about Rambam)”

    I believe there are statements about Kabbalah that are also controversial.

  17. Yitzhak says:

    From a note of Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s from nearly two years ago:

    “I should add, I will not respond to anonymous communications. As I view such traffic as inappropriate. Intellectual engagement entails reciprocity of exposure. To criticize others behind a shield of anonymity is to my thinking craven and unworthy of a scholar or talmid hakham.”

    This provoked a robust discussion of the propriety of anonymous comments in scholarly discussion, which, IIRC, touched on the contradiction in R. Hirsch raised above (the comments to the note do not seem to be available).

  18. yitznewton says:

    To clarify my response to Raymond’s read of Austritt: Hirsch’s force in the Austritt-rejection came not because he was against the modern per se; rather, he was against the sheker of Reform – which, appearing to share space with the emes of Torah, is the most dangerous type of sheker. Forgive me for trotting out this overused warhorse, but it’s such a good indicator – he had no problem praising Schiller in florid terms with the same mouth he used to blast Reform, and exhort people to stay away from that institution. It should be noted here that he explicitly calls for avoiding only the institution, and not the individual (innocent, non-leading) followers of that movement.

  19. yitznewton says:

    To Raymond, well, indeed, Hirsch was ultra-ultra, but not isolationist, which is why contemporary folks have such trouble understanding him, as I see it. He speaks in the most powerful and uncompromising terms – but his content and message is not at all what we hear today from our powerful and uncompromising Torah speakers. I’m not sure what you mean by traditional commentary; he brings many classical sources, but also freely interprets Chumash to his own understanding. For example, he explains the “new king” in Egypt at the beginning of Shemos to refer to a small regime that overthrew the existing monarchy, and used the Israelites as pariahs to leverage their taking power. The Egyptian people liked us, and would not have turned against us were it not for this coup. (Sound familiar?)

    People looked at me funny when I said over that peshat, presumably because it’s AFAIK totally original. He is (in)famous for his position that agadah is the opinion of individual Chachamim, and after all honoring the Chachamim and their greater wisdom is said and done, subject to our embrace; not binding, not a cohesive whole (more in the Maharal/R’ Moshe Shapiro vein), not all from Sinai. This may not be a unique position, but it is certainly “modern” in the sense of “something more liberal than the outlook of the Yeshiva world today.”

  20. cvmay says:

    Right on, Rav Adlerstein.

    Anonymity has grown so powerful, that response cards for simchas are mailed back with the words ‘Yes, we are coming’??? (now, who may this be is the question). Regarding some of the above comments, when Rav….. comments on any issue—why should the assumption be that he is the spokesman for his Yeshiva, organization, etc.? Preface the opinion with the words, “My personal opinion is”. If a person is lacking the courage, perseverance, knowledge, to state a view that may not jive with the majority–then write it in a personal journal.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Is it safe to dare publicly inquire about the handlers of gedolim who are known to filter inputs?

    Or to inquire about those gedolim who are not aware that they’re being handled (bad – demonstration of ignorance concerning those most trusted and closest) or aware (worse – complicity)?

    Is being handled evidence of a flaw in a gadol’s Daas Torah?

    Or is it FGINDTO: Filtered Garbage In, Nonetheless Daas Torah Out. What about midvar sheker tirchak?

  22. Chaim Fisher says:

    Rav Adlerstein: cynicism and character assassination are not the fault of anonymity. Direct and unfair attacks are very frequently made by people who do sign their names. In fact, many anonymous posts are direct defense against such “top-heavy arbitrary authority,” as you so clearly write. Cynicism and character assassination are wrong and quite often prohibited by the Torah. Signed and unsigned.

    Debate follow-through is a great point you make. Thank you. From now on, I’m following up like a Labrador!

  23. Raymond says:

    My Rebbe, Dennis Prager, has a policy of throwing away any letters sent to him that do not have both a name and return address on it. That is one way to discourage any hit-and-run type of comments made against him.

    As for Rav Hirsch, I get the impression from some of the comments above that some people think of him as being modern in his outlook. Yet in their practice, Hirscheans are about as ultra-Orthodox as they come, and Rav Hirsch’s insistence on keeping completely separate from non-Orthodox forms of Judaism is certain not the attitude of somebody modern. Even his Torah commentary is quite traditional in approach, so how exactly was he so modern? I admit I am skating on thin ice here, as I am quite an ignoramus, but I welcome people’s feedback on this subject.

  24. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I don’t disagree with several of my critics here. Anonymous comments are justified at times – especially in communities top-heavy with arbitrary authority. The anonymity of many other comments, however, is a literary form of guerilla warfare, however. The commenter strikes, and then vanishes. Anonymous commenting is often a cheap way to make a point and then take no responsibility in seeing the arguments through the debate that should follow. When you add cynicism and character assassination to anonymity, you compound the problem.

  25. Aaron says:

    Didn’t the Rambam say to accept truth no matter the source?

    The context and content of a comment is all that matters. A source should only serve as a positive or negative coefficient concerning the weight of the posted comment.

    Would we be better as a society without whistleblowers who only hide behind anonymity due to ample evidence or thuggery by the opposition?

    The anonymous anti-government pamphleteering in the American colonies and on Democracy Wall of Beijing should be retroactively condemned and dismissed? Samizdat in the USSR?

    Suppressing anonymity helps those in power who’d eagerly flush many truths down the memory hole.

  26. yitznewton says:

    Despite his very “modernish” Torah in Derech Eretz positions, RSRH was quite radical in his views on separation. In his home town of Frankfort, about 20% of the ORTHODOX community joined him in completely separating. SRH’s descendants actually supported RYCS and the separatist community in Israel.

    I don’t think “modernish” outlook should necessarily suggest for or against Austritt. Modern doesn’t mean weak! He held strongly of his own position, and strongly against the Reform position (and also strongly against what he describes as the burnt-out Orthodox status quo). So yes, he was quite outspoken about Austritt, which is a forceful rejection of sheker, not modernity. The question that I still have: was Austritt for him a reaction to a perceived threat, or an ideological position required of a Torah Jew? My limited readings on Austritt suggest the latter, but I don’t know.

  27. Neil Harris says:

    “rtw” beat me to making the same comment regarding Ben Uziel. :(

    How does the initial anonymous publishing of THE NINETEEN LETTERS fit into the quote from Rav Hirsch?
    This has bothered me for over 20 years.

    [YA – If it has bothered you that long, I will venture a guess (besides the obvious answer that he changed his mind as he got older!).

    R Hirsch’s quote took aim at people who hid behind their anonymity to avoid criticism of their controversial – and sometimes unsubstantiated – claims. He published Nineteen Letters anonymously not to avoid controversy (there was little that was controversial, other than a few items about Rambam), but out of humility. Nothing wrong with humility for a young man. Rav Hirsch opposed cowardice, not humility.]

  28. Simcha Younger says:

    — So the anonymous comments on blogs are to be considered ‘meaningless,’ like gnats buzzing in the meadows?

    The piece was not an argument to ignore the influence which anonymous people do wield, but influence is unrelated to the legitimacy of the argument and the imperative to engage in debate.

    The unpublished comments, of course, have little to no influence.

  29. dr. bill says:

    I just finished reading a fabulous book – A House Divided – a history of schism in Hungary and Germany during the 1850 – 1880 period. Prof. Katz shows the attempts by RSRH to influence events in Hungary. Two observations: 1)Both Maharam Shick and the Ketav Sofer appear somewhat more willing, under reasonable conditions never met, to entertain a “common organization” with the Neologs in Hungary, positions probably best reasonable described as somewhere between those of R. Bamberger and RSRH. 2) Relative to this post, do you want to guess who is strongly suspected to have contributed ANONYMOUS position papers on the subject of separation in Hungary?

    Despite his very “modernish” Torah in Derech Eretz positions, RSRH was quite radical in his views on separation. In his home town of Frankfort, about 20% of the ORTHODOX community joined him in completely separating. SRH’s descendants actually supported RYCS and the separatist community in Israel.

  30. rtw says:

    An anonymous fellow using the pseudonym “Ben Uziel” wrote The Nineteen Letters.

  31. anony... er, yitznewton says:

    Well, I would make a distinction with responding to a blogger sharing his/her thoughts, and responding to a rabbi making official or quasi-official pronouncements of public policy. For example, if R’ Elyashiv, ke-ve-yachol, would blog that Crocs are unrecommended or assur for Yom Kippur or Tisha b’Av, then of course an anonymous objector could be told to sail on. Not to diminish the stature of the CC authors or any other bloggers, but to me it seems to be writing of a qualitatively different nature – notwithstanding the seriousness of the issues, most blogs are discussions of opinion, not fora for the molding of public policy.

  32. Chaim Fisher says:

    So the anonymous comments on blogs are to be considered ‘meaningless,’ like gnats buzzing in the meadows? Think so at your peril. Anonymous bloggers wield immense influence beyond their spheres. That’s why people who disagree with them are so mad at them.

    During the time of Hersh an anonymous blogger did not have immediate and free access to sites with millions of viewers an hour. Ma she’ain cein today.

    More on this subject. I sat on the bus today with a member of a group that I believe to be very dangerous to our people. I oppose this group on blogs because I want to help Clal Yisrael go the right way. Does he need to know that, as I help him with his problems? And do him favors? really not at all. by staying anonymous, I can help him one-on-one, and still fight the movement that he agrees with in the minds of others. Is that a sin? come on. I help him, and I can still disagree with him. That’s not called lack of yashrus. That’s called tact.

  33. Bob Miller says:

    On this controversial topic of Austritt, I’m sure Rav Hirsch was anticipating some scurrilous (anonymous or pseudonymous) comments. In a moderated blog, these are typically not posted to the blog, but these do waste the time of the moderators. Only they can decide if it’s not worth their trouble to cull the bad stuff out.

    Incidentally, I read that his antagonist, Rav Bamberger, was not opposed to Austritt in principle, but believed it was not appropriate for Frankfurt am Main at that time. The general community organization had by then proposed some concessions to head off secession. Part of the debate revolved around the sincerity and sufficiency of the concessions offered.

  34. sforno says:

    I always comment anonymously. I work for a world-known yeshiva, but would not want anyone to think that my comments reflect the views of the yeshiva or roshei yeshiva.

  35. I have to use a pseudonym at the behest and consideration of a certain prominent Rosh Yeshiva who felt that my real name should not be associated with my blog. Nonetheless, I still stand by everything about which I write, and would not say that I am “hiding” behind a pseudonym. In fact, I seem to have built an “alter ego” on the internet where searching “Reb Chaim HaQoton” yields more results on Google than my real-life name does.