Challenge to All Anonymous Voices

By Yoel Finkelman

[Editor’s Note: As mentioned a few days ago, Dr. Yoel Finkelman submitted a thoughtful but challenging reaction to an earlier piece that spoke of an anonymous Torah Voice. Others will certainly disagree, but I firmly believe that we fail in our mission if we cannot listen to tough criticism couched respectfully. We need either to refute it, or to concede and change when problems are pointed out to us. The best criticism often comes from people outside our arba amos. I hope to find the time in a few days, BEH, to pen a response, unless readers beat me to making whatever points I plan to make.]

Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,

Once again, I find myself impressed with your writing and with your recent post about the significant Torah personality who took his community to task. A young observant man, an amateur boxer and Israeli champion, refused to take part in a Shabbat weigh-in and was disqualified from an international tournament. Rather than appreciate the mesirut nefesh, some lambasted him for ever getting involved in boxing. That Torah personality challenged the community’s small-mindedness and lack of bein adam lechaveiro. He boldly insisted that God has granted people different skills, that not everybody must follow the same path, and that the contemporary Orthodox community must be broader and more accepting. ”How could they believe in a one-size-fits all Yiddishkeit that left no room at all for individuality of expression?”

With all my genuine appreciation of the willingness to raise this issue, I feel compelled to respond to one aspect of the piece, namely that the Torah personality in question chose to remain anonymous. Why the need for anonymity?

The answer to that question, as you suggested to me in as more private forum, is bit of an open secret but I will try to spell it out briefly. Kanaim (zealots) can make life difficult even for leading rabbis who show signs of moderation. Leaders and laypeople are both afraid of the conformity and groupthink. It is more of a headache that it is worth to rock the boat. Frum people feel pressure to say that they think things different from what they actually think.

In trying to make sense of this, I begin with a few assumptions. First, this individual leader’s anonymity is not an isolated example, but typifies a broader phenomenon. Fear of kanaim or what the community will think push people not to say what they really think, to say it anonymously, or even to say that they believe things that they do not believe.

Second, this phenomenon is more widespread in the yeshivish and Haredi communities than it is elsewhere, in part because the communal solidarity which encourages strict observance of Torah and mitzvot comes bundled with at least some signs of enforced conformity. One could quibble about whether this is endemic to the community or merely common, but it certainly exists more broadly than the community should be comfortable with.

Third, the phenomenon is not confined exclusively to leaders and rabbis, but extends to laypeople as well. Simple balebatim also prefer to keep some of their criticism of their own community to themselves rather than risk social censure. I believe that there is adequate evidence for these assumptions, but due to space considerations, perhaps we should leave them for another time. Still, this raises a series of questions, questions which I think critical for the yeshivish and Haredi communities to address.

• What are the religious and social consequences of a community in which people think one thing and say in public that they think another? How does that affect communal health, individual piety, and personal psychological well-being?

• What is the actual role of the rabbinic leadership? How much are they leading and how much are they being led? To the extent that they are being led, who is doing the leading: the most responsible and mature segments of the community or irresponsible and immature kanaim?

• How does this affect education and parenting? Young people are bloodhounds for hypocrisy, and they will pick up the slightest gap between what we say and what we believe or how we act.
• How does that affect the concept of mesorah? We tell our students and children that we believe in and follow the Torah, given from God on Sinai and passed along lovingly, with utmost care for its truthfulness and honesty, from generation to generation. Then, we do not pass along to those very students what we believe the Torah says and wants.

• To what extent do these limitations on public discourse effect social change? At a top-down level, how often do leaders have a clear vision for where they want to the community to go but silence themselves? At a bottom-up level, which lay leaders and potential institution builders have decided that new and potentially valuable initiatives are not worth the price?

• What does one do with the gap between the da’as Torah ideology, according to which, Jews must listen to the great rabbis and a reality in which those rabbis cannot speak freely? Rumors abound about highly politicized askanim who influence what the gedolim hear, who they meet, and what public statements they put their names on. These rumors may be true or false, spot on or exaggerated, but in either case, public trust — if not in the gedolim themselves then at least in their public statements — can only erode.

I’m not in a position to answer these questions, in large part because I am not a member of the yeshivish and Haredi communities in which they are more acute. (My own Modern Orthodox and religious Zionist communities suffer from many problems of their own, but less from public pressure not to say what you think.) Still, I hope that my own place as a concerned outsider can articulate those questions clearly and encourage those communities to think about them broadly and deeply.

Still, I want to end with one sobering thought. The gap between what people think and what they say certainly contributes to young people who leave the community, whether for more liberal Jewish communities or for complete nonobservance. To borrow a theme from Rav Kook, I would venture a guess that the people most likely to become alienated from the community for these reasons may be the most sensitive, visionary, and idealistic of our youth, the ones who demand from themselves the highest truths, the loftiest attainments, and the deepest honesty. They make the same demands of their community, and they may be the ones most quickly to see through the gaps between theory and practice. And they are the ones whom Orthodoxy can least afford to lose.

With respect and appreciation,

Yoel Finkelman

Dr. Yoel Finkelman is a lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry at Bar Ilan University and teaches Gemara and Jewish Philosophy at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem. He is author of Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy.

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47 comments to Challenge to All Anonymous Voices

  • Bob Miller

    If there is a wall of silence, how can the group investigate the nature of that silence, and how can the group coalesce to restore true Torah values? I’m afraid that observations and advice from professionals or others outside the group, however helpful, will only make the most troublesome insiders dig in to reinforce the myth of their own perfection.

  • L. Oberstein

    This is a very thoughtful piece and makes a cogent argument. I have often bemoaned the stupidity in my mind,at least, whereby participants in this and other conversations feel a need to hide their identity. It is not as if they are hiding some deep,dark secret and fear exposure. I could sign my name with some “handle” but choose to say who I am . Why are most of the others so afraid? What can happen to them for expressing an opinion? This is very evident in the letters to the editior sections of Mishpacha, hamodia,etc. where the most innocuous comments are not signed. It is as if the minhag is never to reveal your identity when expressing any opinion or comment.
    Part of the answer is fear of social ostracism and especially fear that your daughter won’t get a shiduch if you are a little off the path in your hashkofos or behaviors.
    I want to pose a question to the broader audience. Based on your experience, when a person feels alienated from the chareidi world or the dati world, do they become Modern Orthodox or not frum. I think the later is more often the case,certainly in Israel. If you are told that any deviation ,like believing in Slifkin’s heresy (I am being sarcastic) is as bad as eating ham you cooked on Shabbos, then why settle for Dati lite, go all the way. When we lose our children, we don’t lose them to Open Orthodoxy (helevai) but to non observance. Maybe I am mistaken.
    I hope the people who respond to this article on anonimity have the guts to sign their names.

  • Baal Habos

    This is a slippery slope if I have ever seen one. If we are led to believe that our Rabbonon are afraid to speak their minds because of kannaus, how do I know where to draw the line? Maybe they also admire Rabbi Slifkin? Maybe they really approve of college? Maybe they even approve of other heterodox branches of Judaism? What has become of this generation.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Isn’t this brilliant? We have sober responses from Bob Miller and Rabbi L. Oberstein. Then we have someone called “Baal Habos” wondering if people are really afraid of kanayim… if he’s not afraid, why no name?

  • Josh Kahn

    There is a big difference between whether it’s appropriate to speak anonymously in an internet forum and whether it’s appropriate for leaders to express opinions anonymously. In one situation, the credibility of the speaker matters, and in the other, the comment typically just stands on its content alone.

    If a commentator on an internet site feels more comfortable – for whatever reason – expression an opinion anonymously that doesn’t make much difference. The comment is either well informed, insightful or otherwise useful… or it is not. Few readers know the speaker, so the identity is mostly academic. Personally, I have occasionally commented anonymously on various sites. I find I have to worry a lot less about my language choice, whether someone will be offended, or whether I have to refrain from giving examples that may reveal overly personal details. I do find that signing comments adds a bit more credibility, but most people don’t know me, so I believe my comments mostly have to stand on their own.

    If the commentator is a leader however, an anonymous comment is often a red flag (although not always – there are sometimes good reasons for a leader not to be candid). As Dr. Finkelman points out, it is a sign that the leader is not really leading, which is a grave issue. A leader’s job it to steer the community in a better direction, even if it’s unpopular.

    The bottom line: If someone on this site wants to comment anonymously, we shouldn’t be biased against the comment.

  • cvmay

    Honestly, I would like to reread and absorb the thougths of Dr. Finkelstein before responding to his post.

    In responce to the commentors, Why go for anonymity?? IMHO when signing your name (your real name)on any article, letter, post or verbal statement you must have the guts and integrity to stand by an opinion. You must have facts, basis and proofs. Or even an opinion that you feel is worth ‘fighting’ for!! When people tell me I read your letter to editor and disagree…I answer with ‘that is the reason it is signed, do you want to discuss or talk about your thoughts?’. In most cases, they answer “No, just I disagree” ?????

  • Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Menken: I appreciate the irony, and, as for myself, I always post under my name. But it is one thing for a “Baal Habos” to post aanonymously, another thing for a prominent rabbinic leader, whose task after all is to LEAD, to do so.

    As for the source of the fear: I, like Dr Finkelman, am an outider. But my admittedly outsider and anecdotal impression is that a main source of social control here is the Haredi shidduch system. After all, a rabbinic leader might be wiling to take some heat personally for expressing non-conventional views, but how can he harm (“shter”) the chances of his children to make a “good” shidduch.

  • Reb Yid

    To Rabbi Oberstein:

    What you are saying also points to the fact that those in the open Orthodox/modern Orthodox world have far more in common with active, involved Conservative Jews than with haredim and chasidim, which is what draws the former into its orbit at a much greater rate than the latter.

  • Yitzchak Katz

    This is a slippery slope if I have ever seen one. If we are led to believe that our Rabbonon are afraid to speak their minds because of kannaus, how do I know where to draw the line? Maybe they also admire Rabbi Slifkin? Maybe they really approve of college? Maybe they even approve of other heterodox branches of Judaism? What has become of this generation.

    PS Yaakov Menken: would it really matter if he signed it Yitzchak Katz, Moshe Schwartz, or Barry Goldwater? Are you personally acquainted with every generic name?

  • Micah Segelman

    While I agree this is a problem I think there’s an important point to consider. This isn’t the story of a leader who thinks one thing and is afraid to express this thought to anyone. It is quite possible that he shares his true feelings with his students, congregants, colleagues (like he did with Rabbi Adlerstein), etc but decided that wider publication will hinder his efforts. Should leaders express all of their views to just anyone or should they strategically plan how to achieve their goals? Were major changes in American society say, like the civil rights movement, accomplished by leaders who put all of their cards on the table from the outset?

  • Baal Habos

    R’ Menken, I should not be surpised that you totally and completely miscronstrued my words. My intent would have been clearer had I not tried to be be respectful; what I was hinting at and what I should have said is “What has become of leaders of this generation”.

  • Pini Schmeltzer

    Given the way that zealots and social pressure impact the Gedolim, it makes me wonder whether the Gadol is not a “King without a Crown”, a “Melekh Evyon.” it also makes me wonder whether there is any basis for listening to a Gadol since the zealot is most probably not a great Torah personality and I have no reason to follow him since I am not a zealot in my understanding of Torah.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Baal Habos has now completely proven the point which I intended to make, which is tangential to this post, and to his intended comment. I didn’t “misconstrue” his words, “If we are led to believe that our Rabbonon are afraid to speak their minds because of kannaus…” is a direct quote. I realize that wasn’t his main point, but he was dismissing fear of reprisal while simultaneously hiding behind anonymity, and speaking with quite little respect for the person with whom he disagrees (“I should not be surprised that you totally and completely misconstrued…”). An interesting paradox, is it not?

    And it completely answers Yitzchak Katz’s rejoinder. *I* don’t know who Yitzchak Katz is, but he does, and his email address at least suggests that it’s his real name. And I think his self-knowledge, exactly as cvmay suggested, leads him to write with the expectation that someone, somewhere, may expect him to stand by his opinion and the manner in which he expresses it.

    I was going to write about this. R’ Yoel Finkelman’s post simply came around by coincidence!

  • Baruch Dov

    Rabbi Menken –

    I have to agree with Professor Kaplan on this one. You cannot possibly compare a commenter to a blog, who for any one of a wide variety of reasons prefers anonymity (as I do), to a person in a position of leadership who sees a gravely wrong trend in his constituency but is afraid to come out publicly to condemn it. If the leaders are afraid to speak out, then we have no leaders.

  • Neil P

    I am drawing from my own observations and my experiences of living in a FFB-Yeshivish community my whole life (as opposed to a FFB-MO or FFB-Chassidish which have their own nuances and challenges). I had a conversation with a friend who was telling be about her friend who does not tell shadchanim about the fact that she watches TV/movies and is also afraid of being judged by the guy whom she may like about it. While it may be troubling for her own relationship prospects that she does so, what is more troubling to me is that how could this person feel committed to a lifestyle which is not of her own choosing?

    It made me think about how when you have a person who plays the game in order to look and seem the same as everyone else and how they are are cowed into compliance. I went to a lecture last year where a prominent social-psychologist spoke about how people choose goals for themselves and goals are chosen for them, and its relation to compliance. When I choose my own goals in my life, I by nature have to be very committed to those goals and have thought them through. My commitment to them is greater (although the psychological mechanism of how people implicitly choose is still muddied at best). However, when goals and lifestyle are chosen for me, I do not have the same goal-commitment and my compliance will only be perfunctory. This speaks to the fact that the Baal Teshuva community in general, has a more committed relationship with G-d, albeit with their own challenges.

    Relating this to the most recent Klal Perspectives issue, we cannot be a community to be modeled or a community which can make a lasting impact if we do not choose to be religious and a people to be modeled after. If we are a one-size-fit-all lifestyle, we as individuals will not be committed. You cannot engage the world if you yourself are not engaged. If the main thrust of existence is compliance for individuals AND leaders, it does not bode well for our continued existence as a committed community. What Rabbi-Dr Finkelstein’s response article was getting at is that the focus on conformity or lack of permission to be one’s own self, squashes the people who have the talent to affect positive change and lead. If only the yes-sayers, kanaim, and power-hungry join the public service sphere (re: askanus), we will only see a further denigration of communal observance and engagement.

    [Another example to this phenomena was referenced in the now-popular 538-blog where he talks about how an organizational culture of rewarding yes-saying may have had an influence on Mr. Romney's campaign.]

  • joel rich

    From the Sparknotes on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible:
    The Crucible is set in a theocratic society, in which the church and the state are one, and the religion is a strict, austere form of Protestantism known as Puritanism. Because of the theocratic nature of the society, moral laws and state laws are one and the same: sin and the status of an individual’s soul are matters of public concern. There is no room for deviation from social norms, since any individual whose private life doesn’t conform to the established moral laws represents a threat not only to the public good but also to the rule of God and true religion. In Salem, everything and everyone belongs to either God or the devil; dissent is not merely unlawful, it is associated with satanic activity. This dichotomy functions as the underlying logic behind the witch trials. As Danforth says in Act III, “a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.” The witch trials are the ultimate expression of intolerance (and hanging witches is the ultimate means of restoring the community’s purity); the trials brand all social deviants with the taint of devil-worship and thus necessitate their elimination from the community.

    To which I would add Edmund Burke’s insight which I have always believed is amita shel torah: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do (me-or say) nothing

    KT

  • ben dov

    This goes to show how important it is to know Rabbanim personally. Do not rely solely on real or alleged public pronouncements.

  • Daniel Wiesel

    The focus of the commentators to this post on the comparison between a leader making an anonymous statement and an anonymous comment seems misplaced. A better analogy would be to Rabbi Adlerstein’s willingness to post under his true identity and the “anonymous Torah Voice” who is unwilling to reveal himself.

    A separate point: Dr. Finkelman’s argument that kannoim can make leaders live’s “difficult” is revealing. Leadership, especially of Klal Yisrael, has never been easy. Even Moshe Rabbeinu labeled us an “Am K’shei Oref.” We are not an easy group to lead, which is precisely why we need strong leadership. A leader who can be manipulated by a kannoi should not attempt to lead.

  • Yaakov Menken

    I actually agree with Baruch Dov that the two types of anonymity cannot be compared; but to me it’s clear that the person who uses anonymity as a shield from behind which to launch his arrows is vastly more harmful. It shields him from self-reflection, humility, and careful judgement, with sufficient consistency so as to lower the level of discourse on many an online forum. I am going to write about that type of anonymity, still.

    As I do not know Rabbi Adlerstein’s source or the website in question, my conjecture is as speculative as anyone’s. But here is a possible scenario for your consideration.

    Let us imagine for a moment that any “normal” charedi person, the type who might listen to Rosh Yeshiva X, already knows that a young man who refuses to participate in a sporting event on Shabbos — especially one who trains for years for the opportunity to participate, and then gives it all up rather than simply step on a scale on Shabbos — deserves nothing but praise. He’s done a Kiddush HaShem, plain and simple.

    I also guessed the third reaction, reading Rabbi Adlerstein’s article at the time. I would, in fact, speculate that a disproportionate share of this third type of comment, on the website in question, came from anonymous writers. These are not normal people. I can’t think of anyone in my “yeshivish” neighborhood (ok, not true. maybe one. or two…) who might even think that way.

    These are people who are “frummer than the Gedolim” (except in their own warped minds) and if Rosh Yeshiva X doesn’t agree with them, that is proof ipso facto that Rosh Yeshiva X isn’t a true gadol!

    So again, anyone who might possibly listen to Rosh Yeshiva X already knows that the young man in question did a Kiddush H’. And the R”Y was decrying the fact that there are so many anonymous meshugayim with such a sick and distorted view of Yiddishkeit. But were he to say so by name, he knew well that (a) no one who would listen to him needed his opinion in order to be convinced, and (b) the same meshugayim would now take to the anonymous comments, k’darkam batumah, to tell the world that R”Y X sees no difference between boxing and sitting in Beis Medrash! [And trust me, that's exactly what they would do.]

    So putting his name to the comment would serve no positive purpose whatsoever, expose him to abuse and increase bizayon haTorah in the world. So do you really think it would be appropriate or worthwhile for him to make the comment by name?

    Just a thought.

  • Noam Stadlan

    In this past week’s parsha Moshe doesn’t think the people will listen to him, but God sends him anyway. The Rambam in Hilchot Yosodei haTorah tells us we don’t have to give try to convince someone who will not be convinced. However, what is at stake here is not giving tochacha

  • Dovid Goldman

    I don’t have answers to the excellent questions Dr. Finkelman raises in the wake of his analysis of the anonymity that concerns him. However, I would like to suggest an alternate analysis in place of “the fear of kannaim.” While I don’t doubt that there is some truth to the “fear of kannaim” explanation, I wonder if there is not a larger, thornier consideration.
    In a word (and an alliterative one at that), that consideration is unanimity. One of the great strengths of the American yeshivish community, which I submit is nothing short of miraculous, is the lack of (public) machlokes (which takes on added import in the wake of the HaPeles/Yated split currently playing out in Israeli Charedi politics). Let’s imagine for a moment that three or four members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decided that the uniform message of full-time kollel was not sustainable, that it was leading to impossible financial pressures and that too many young men (and their marriages) were not being well-served by it. Let’s also assume that at least several other leading gedolim, along with countless individuals throughout the yeshivish world, were thoroughly convinced that this was borderline heresy (in other words, forget about the kannaim). Setting aside what we wish would happen, what actually would happen to the yeshiva world if they made this position public?
    The answer is that it would likely be torn apart. Like it or not, the uniformity of daas Torah seems to be woven into the fabric of the community. If daas Torah can diverge about something important, many can be expected to conclude, it loses all its authority. How can I ever know which side is right? Even worse, the pride of “we follow daas Torah” – so central to the very identity of so many – is undermined if not lost completely. One can only imagine the fallout..
    Yes, my example is a big one. But there’s no point in making waves about a boxer – and just chipping away at daas Torah – if you are not planning to stake out a meaningful position about greater issues, as well. The argument for anonymity thus becomes: our community is not built for machlokes about fundamentals. We have succeeded as miraculously as we have because those who didn’t agree with the party line stuck with it anyway. We’re better off with unanimity that works than with diversity that doesn’t.
    This does not only apply to the gedolim either, as the principle of daas Torah depends on the unquestioning support of the community. The local Rav or the influential voice either subscribes to daas Torah or he doesn’t – and his community needs to know which it is. While some rabbanim have the diplomacy skills to cast new ideas within conventional frameworks and to successfully “dance at both weddings,” it is hard to fault those who are afraid that if they try, they will fall flat on their faces – even without kannaim waiting to pounce at the slightest misstep.
    That being said, I believe there are ways to solve this conundrum, and, in fact, I believe our survival as a community urgently depends on us figuring them out asap (including for many of the reasons raised in Dr. Finkelman’s series of questions). Even more, I am fortunate enough to participate together with Rabbi Adlerstein in Klal Perspectives, a journal whose goals include providing a forum for diversity of opinion. I write simply to raise the possibility that “gadol hashalom” is a more substantial factor for many choosing anonymity than fear of kannaim, and that it needs to be respected as a legitimate consideration for community leaders in particular to keep in mind.

  • Avi Burstein

    R’ Menken, unfortunately, your portrayal of how “normal” chareidi people react would be disputed by many people. In my experience, many, probably the vast majority, of “normal” chareidim adopt whatever position they are told is the “Torah True” one to believe. And so, when the people who are supposed to lead the community choose to remain silent, they are allowing the extremists to shape the public opinion, and thereby allow for the problematic view to gain an ever greater grip upon the community. If people like this rav would actually speak up, voice his opinion, and speak out against the extremist view, it would weaken the extremists hold on the community significantly. And it would bring many people who are on the fence to that way of seeing the issue.

    Additionally, I find it most astounding that you propose that a Torah view should be kept silent because it will “increase bizayon hatorah”. Since when does Torah hide from those who would make a mockery of it?

  • Sara Haliczer

    Mr. Goldman, you state that we should worry about greater issues than this boxer who is charedi. I’d venture to guess that to him, few issues are more important.

    The point is that individuality exists. Rejecting all those who don’t fit the mold is destructive of the whole, as many, many don’t fit.

    There is no more weighty matter in the community than whether the community will accept variation, or continue to reject many of its most inspired, talented, creative people. Even, for example, a boxer.

  • Yoel Finkelman

    A thought in response to Dovid Goldman:

    It’s a great thought, but here is an irony. The dynamic you talk about does not work evenly across the board. There is quite a bit of well-known public disputes (Ponovitch, splits in Hassidic groups upon the death of a rebbe, fights about the makeup of the Yahadut Hatorah list for the keneset), but they tend to be at the personal and power-politics level. But when it comes to disputes about ideology hashkafah, the dynamic you talk about comes into play more strongly.

    Ironically, the machloket shelo leshem shamayim (dispute not for the sake of heaven) is more publicly acceptable than the machloket leshem shamayim (dispute for the sake of heaven).

  • Bob Miller

    Is it too much to ask that pressing issues be discussed fully and candidly at high levels and some reasoned consensus achieved before the leadership presents its united public front? If nothing sensitive can be brought up and debated among the leadership because no one will dare rock the boat even in an elite, private setting, we have a serious problem.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Because Avi Burstein uses his real name, it takes only a moment to learn that Avi was born at roughly the same time that I entered the charedi community, and attended YU. From his description of charedi sociology, it seems to me that he has minimal true familiarity with it, but was fed roughly the same things that my Modern Orthodox college peers believed.

    Strongly worded? Perhaps. But how else could one imagine people going in droves to ask their Rabbis what to believe about a Jewish boxer who refused to be weighed in on Shabbos, much less expecting that all their Rabbis will say the same thing? There is no dialogue here for zealots to control, just a Rav distressed that there are such a number of idiots posting to a website.

    As for Avi’s last remark, his description of the nature of the bizayon haTorah means he didn’t comprehend my comment. But, no, for the record, one need not publicly declare which way is north every time some fool says otherwise; were it not so, no intelligent conversation would have time to happen.

  • Avi Burstein

    Minimal true familiarity? If going through a variety of right-wing chareidi yeshivas (Peekskill, Long Beach, and others) myself, and having my entire family and extended family being staunchly chareidi (95% of which live in and have strong associations with Lakewood, Mir, etc., some of whom are even mechanchim themselves in various yeshivish institutions) classifies me as having minimal familiarity then I wonder what would qualify one as being sufficiently familiar.

    In any case, this issue is not about me (and bringing attention to me personally only underscores why people choose to remain anonymous in these forums). My point still stands. From my vantage point, it’s clear that there are tens of thousands of mainstream chareidim in Brooklyn, Monsey, Lakewood, England, and Israel who simply go along with what they are told to believe by those claiming to speak in the name of “Torah”. By ceding the pulpit to these extremists, the moderates are indeed doing significant harm. In fact, I would suggest that the silence of people like this “Torah personality” only increases bizayon hatorah, as it gives greater strength to those who would distort Torah in the most ugly of ways.

  • Shades of Gray

    Below are ideas from three observers of the Charedi world which may shed some light on this discussion(the full quotes are available online):

    In a pro-Daas Torah article published over ten years ago in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Rabbi Alfred Cohen writes that there needs to be more nuance in public discussion:

    “Issues are portrayed in black and white, with no shadings…And yet, on the whole, the Orthodox Jewish community today is blessed with many fine and committed people, who are not ignorant either of the Torah or of secular matters. I think they could handle serious discussions of communal issues, or appreciate in-depth explanations of certain aspects of current hashkafa.”

    However, R. Cohen’s point itself is indeed, not “black and white”(he does prefaces it by writing “some” earlier in the paragraph and brings examples), and one can bring counter examples in such discussions. For example, a current counter-example in this week’s Mishpacha to the anonymity of the “Torah Personality” in the Boxer story which generated this discussion, is an article by Rabbi Henoch Plotnik of Chicago, where he makes the same critical point in a public forum, criticizing a certain boorish attitude following 9/11 as being naive and writes how he was “dumbfounded at the callousness”.

    In an article in Haaretz(“Only in America”, 8/05) described on Cross Currents by Shira Schmidt (“Western Wall and Disengagement”, 8/05) as “fair and accurate” and unusually fair by Haaretz standards, Micha Odenheimer quotes an anonymous Lakewood intellectual regarding some of the book bans(while I would be very interested in meeting this “Lakewood intellectual”, the anonymity of the quote does seem to detract from its power):

    “The leadership is aware that it is walking a tightrope,” I was told by one Lakewood intellectual, whose shelves hold books on Biblical archaeology and the latest scientific theories. “There are many different layers to the Haredi community…Some people are very sophisticated intellectually – for them [insularity] won’t work. But other people need the insularity – they couldn’t handle things that might undermine their faith. So how do you balance a sophisticated worldview with the need to keep things under wraps? This balancing act requires a certain amount of control, to protect the general public from harm…”

    Lastly, in the Summer, 2004 Jewish Action(“Israel’s New Economic Reality”), Jonathan Rosenbloom quotes social scientists regarding the learning vs. earning equation:

    “Those rabbinic leaders are acutely aware of the danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and of a too-rapid transformation leading to the disintegration of the community….In their insistence on incremental change, the gedolei Torah are on solid ground. An entire body of social science literature documents the disastrous consequences of many efforts at social and ecological engineering, and the frequency with which those efforts generate consequences far more grievous than the problems they are designed to cure”

  • Avi Burstein

    By the way, I never attended YU. You’re mixing me up with someone else. In case you didn’t know this, sometimes two different people have the same name.

  • Yaakov Menken

    I guess real names can lead to real ambiguity! I stand corrected on that count, but what it boils down to is that Avi’s “point” remains imagined.

    Having wasted far too much time on this already, I went back to the original article — and its comments — to better understand and differentiate between those who said it was a Kiddush HaShem, those who said he should have been weighed, and those who said he shouldn’t of been doing that anyway, he should’ve been learning. I wanted to analyze how many of those were anonymous, used nicknames that others might recognize, or their real names.

    I came away with a new problem. From what I’ve seen, there is only this one website that discusses what happened. And if that is the website visited by Rabbi Adlerstein’s anonymous rabbinic voice, then I believe said voice wanted to make a critical point, whether or not it was strictly accurate in this case.

    Because as I said before, there is a difference between saying that everyone ought to be learning, and saying that boxing is a particularly bad idea. And I only found a single comment, just one, in which there is even a doubt about which of the two he considers to be the issue. That one individual talks about both — “swinging fists in order to be a better fighter” and “a religious bochur should be sitting and learning.” He says “think of how many tosfots he could have learned” and then goes back to “a sport for meshuganas who have no direction in life but to swing their fists.”

    The other similar comments all focused on… boxing. “There are nonviolent sports, there are also noncompetitive forms of self-defense. Boxing is pretty primitive.” “What’s the object of boxing? To pummel and hurt the other guy.” “To fight in self-defense to protect yourself, your family and your nation is one thing. To fight for glory, money, and fame is NOT a Jewish value.” And similar. It wasn’t about “think of all the Torah he could have learned…” but about how violent boxing is.

    The single comment which seems to discuss both items has five reply comments. One of them agrees with him about fighting not being appropriate. One of them defends boxing from a Rambam. The other three all shout him down for questioning whether a boy should only be learning. And the first of those respondents is from…. Lakewood.

    Whatever others may imagine, it is quite clear that there is no public “going along” with extremists such that the “Voice” had a real need to say anything publicly.

    [Shades of Grey should know that neither Rabbi Alfred Cohen nor the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society would ever refer to the Charedim alone as "the Orthodox Jewish community." It remains my experience that the counter-example of Rabbi Henoch Plotnik is far more typical.]

  • Gershon Josephs

    This problem is not limited to the Chareidi world. I know plenty of Modern Orthodox Rabbis who are likewise afraid to voice their true opinions, in part from fear of the right, but also from fear of their own communities. Of course the topics are different – womens and gay rights, ikkarim etc.

  • kman

    Am I the only one who finds this all amusing? We have an ostensibly right of modern orthodox/slightly chareidi blog, though the majority of the comments are anti charedi. We have two posts and almost 100 comments regarding an unknown ‘Torah Personality’s’ pain, though none of us have any idea who he is. We have much criticism of chareidi leadership though none of us know if that Torah Personality is a leader or just a Talmid Chacham. He supposedly went onto a news website and was pained at some unknown commentator’s comment, though none of us know if the comment was serious (and even if it was, commentators on news sites aren’t known for their brilliance) or cynically meant to evoke a response (like many comments on such sites). And said comment is supposed to represent an entire stream of thought within the chareidi world. Maybe it’s just me, but we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  • cvmay

    “it seems to me that he has minimal true familiarity with it, but was fed roughly the same things that my Modern Orthodox college peers believed”

    Torah Hashkafos are given over by RY & Rebbeim in “schmoozing” discourse, by pulpit Rabbis in their weekly “Shabbos Derashas” and in Shailos vTshuvos seforim. We should be well aware that the last means(seforim) is very selected,,,ex: there are two sets of Reb Moshe’s z”l shailos vtshuvos volumes (plus many others that have questions deleted/voided/ignored). There is usually a set ‘Daas Torah’ that is given over and exceptions are minimal. This transcends both Charedi and Modern Orthodox kehillos.

  • Larry Lennhoff

    Can I ask whether Rabbi Alderstein could go to the Anonymous Torah Voice and ask why he chose to remain anonymous?

    [YA - Why do you think I didn't? Or that I don't know him well enough to know precisely what the answer would be?]

  • Dovid Teitelbaum

    Thanks for addressing this issue. It is great that Cross Currents published this because people must understand this fully. I could have written those exact words from my personal experience with myself and the many rabonim I spoke with. To answer the questions people need to understand this a little better, because the ramifications for these Rabonim are even worse than you think.

    First, lets understand that these Rabonim wont just get heat from some “askonim”, it’s a lot more than that. Once you speak out you are not part of their ideology and you become classified as an outsider, and therefor your voice doesn’t count any more. Your name will get tarnished which will hurt your own reputation. You will loose your own support and what follows is your job as a mechanich or Rabbi. Yes you will get many anonymous supporters, but that won’t help you one bit. The Chareidi blogs are full of anonymous supporters, but that doesn’t do you you any good. The chareidi community are very much shiduch Jews, concerned mostly about their childrens shiduchim. The chareidi papers will never give you a platform and so you are left alone.

    I criticized an event in the Chareidi world that I personally know first hand that many Rabonim apposed, and I felt the heat. B”H I wasn’t effected much and that’s because most of my parent body (I run a summer camp) was behind me with my views. I can tell you with certainty that if my camp was for lakewood boys, I could have closed my doors on the spot. What would I gain having no campers to inspire. I would have been an idiot to speak out. This is a system that needs much help but blaming the Rabbis aren’t going to get us anywhere.

  • cvmay

    Thank you D. Teitelbaum for your accurate assessment. Following is an example not of a Rav, RY or Manhig, but rather a renown speaker who could not take a step outside of the walled room.

    A personal experience:
    In organizing a large Gush Katif gathering for my Bklyn community, I contacted a popular speaker to address the forum. He refused and advised me to call, “Rabbi B. Wein, Rabbi H. Schechter, etc. types of personalities” since they are more suited to the issue at hand. Fine….the evening was a success, money was raised and awareness was highlighted anyway. Approximately 3 weeks later, the Agudah awoke to the Gush Katif matzav and this popular speaker was the main feature at their gathering. I called to discuss this whim change and he stated, “I was not prepared (& even feared) to take a step out of the ‘norm’ and put my parnassa, honor, respect on the line”.
    When questioned, ‘Do you have any personal principles or thoughts’? – there was a deafening silence.

  • Mike S.

    Dovid Goldman wrote: Let’s imagine for a moment that three or four members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decided that the uniform message of full-time kollel was not sustainable, that it was leading to impossible financial pressures and that too many young men (and their marriages) were not being well-served by it. Let’s also assume that at least several other leading gedolim, along with countless individuals throughout the yeshivish world, were thoroughly convinced that this was borderline heresy (in other words, forget about the kannaim). Setting aside what we wish would happen, what actually would happen to the yeshiva world if they made this position public?
    The answer is that it would likely be torn apart. Like it or not, the uniformity of daas Torah seems to be woven into the fabric of the community. If daas Torah can diverge about something important, many can be expected to conclude, it loses all its authority. How can I ever know which side is right? Even worse, the pride of “we follow daas Torah” – so central to the very identity of so many – is undermined if not lost completely. One can only imagine the fallout.

    If, indeed, the yeshivish community can only be sustained by falsely claiming that all talmidei chachomim agree about all important issues, how can it truly be a Torah community? The seal of HaKadosh Baruch Hu is Emet. Further, we are all familiar with machloket among the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim in all sorts of areas of halacha and hashkafa. Who in the yeshivah world does not know that the Gr”a and the Magen Avraham disagree about z’manei t’filla. Or that the Maharsha”l thought that writing the Shulchan Aruch wasn’t such a good idea? Do you really think the yeshivah world could not withstand knowing that there is machloket among today’s posekim also? Indeed, the yeshivah world all know it, and the attempt to pretend otherwise only leads to cynicism and disrespect for Gedolei Torah.

  • joel rich

    r’dt,
    I think most of us understand the dynamic. The additional rationalization is, if i speak out i will lose the ability to make even modest change’. At some point though we must remember Edmund Burke’s insight : All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    KT

  • Daniel Adler

    There is a time for anonymity and a time to be forthright about whom you are. Rather than stating my own opinion, I quote:

    “Various publications opposing our call for secession from the Reform community of this city have already appeared under the cover of anonymity…I consider it my duty to announce…that 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.”

    S. R. Hirsch, March 27, 1877 (CW, VI p. 198).

    That is a very clear and cogent statement. However, can you guess who the anonymous author of the The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel was?

  • L. Oberstein

    Let me point out another side of this discussion. If one opens his mouth ,he can get into big trouble. I know of several examples where orthodox rabbisk learned and believing talmideit chachomim have taken positions that are not those of his yeshiva ,either by sitting on a panel with hetrrodox rabbis or publishing articles not 100% politically correct and other rabbis have pounced on them, caalling their teachers and mentors demanding that their semicha be revoked, that they be expelled from the Vaad Harabbanim of their city. This stifles anyone with an open mind and intimidates and frightenes most rabbis. Is it possible that there can be more than one correct approach to issues, that someone who doesn’t toe the party line can still have a right to open his mouth and not be hounded by those who object to his views. I recall that the Rambam was treated that way. Who says that every position that was advocated in the past is sacrosent?

  • Shades of Gray

    I am reminded of a hard-hitting article by R. Eli Teitelbaum Z’L, which was clearly balanced in favor of emunas chachamim. R. Teitelbaum was “unafraid and strong”, as Abie Rotenberg wrote in a musical tribute to him performed at “The Event” in Madison Square Garden, and had little patience for “kannoim”. The American Yated might have edited out some of the parts below, quoted in full on Cross Currents(“How to Criticize in Elul”, 9/7/07), but, to its credit, printed most of the article advocating the concept of a “A Kosher Alternative” :

    “In every generation we have the likes of Doeg and Achitofel who misled great people such as Shaul and Avshalom with falsehoods and lies that caused them to try to kill Dovid. Doeg even succeeded in getting Shaul to kill all the Kohanim in the city of Nov. This shows how falsehoods can be spread, how easily they are believed, and the terrible damage that can result. Even the greatest of the great are vulnerable to such camouflaged slander and can be misled by advisors they trust…Today, too, we have self proclaimed agitators and charlatans who have nothing to do with their time but to go around to our leading Torah sages and try to convince them that separate-seating concerts are a threat to our Yiddishkeit and to ban them”

  • Ss

    I believe that is the thought that counts – not the person expressing it. Hence I mostly post anonymously. Indeed, it has been my experience on occasion that when I express a thought publicly it is deliberately disregarded – regardless of the merits – because the perception becomes: who is this guy to disagree with Rabbi so and so …. One of my favorite stories concerns a big posek who clearly got it wrong and hung up on me when I ( very respectfully and privately) challenged his p’sak – - only to have his shamash call me back days later to apologize and correct the p’sak. However, those instances are relatively rare, thus, unfortunately, leading me to the conclusion that sometimes it is better to hide behind the cloak of anonymity and work behind the scenes and indirectly in the hope that people of influence can be “persuaded” to make the right decision – especially if they believe, or better yet can be made to believe, that their decision was made on their own without regard to what others (like me without “pedigree”) may have suggested .

  • Crazy Kanoiy

    People are speaking up. Not everyone remains annoynomous. Read any number of thought provoking or challenging articles in Klal Perspectives or Cross Currents. The great divide of American Chareidi Judaism has already begun. One segment trends towards greater radicalization and the other towards moderation and discourse. The zealots currently have the upper hand but their push towards further unheard of chumrahs will only further the alienation that many feel from them.

  • lacosta

    food for thought—

    i saw on another site a commentor who brought up , the whole modus operandi of official haredi-dom is daas tora .
    this sheds light that daas tora is limited to a certain size square box , that minority opinion automatically becomes off-the-derech.

    lehavdil, dissents in supreme Court cases are recorded , and some become at some point majority opinion.

    for those who are skeptical about the whole daas tora concept , this raises the question as to whether daas tora a priori can only select from certain socially acceptable options.

    [one recalls that even the gadol hador , rav steinman , when opining on the Tal law , was forced to withdraw this type of daas tora for precisely the life-and-limb risks referred to by other commentors. so who makes daas tora - the gdolim, or the thugs?]

  • Dr. E

    In this discussion, any mention of Kannaim and Rabbanim being fearful, has to be defined.  In Eretz Yisrael (and to a much lesser extent in America) , Kanaim conjure up a certain image.  Radicals throwing bricks and burning dumpsters.   Sure, that might exist in some places.  But, there are more subtle and pervasive forms of radicalism which exist in the Chareidi world.  And this is ironically propagated by the very Internet which they have yet to openly come to terms with.

    I think Dovid Goldman makes a valiant try to be melamed zechus.  While there is some degree of merit to the unanimity theory, it plays only a small role in this phenomenon.  His alternative explanation may also play out more so in some out of town communities than in the big city.

    It really boils one’s sources of validation and dependencies on a system.  Without getting too conspiratorial, many Rabbanim are dependent on the system.  Their children and grandchildren are educationally, socially, and financially dependent on the system. ["System" can be broadly defined as wherever the wind is blowing within the balance of power in the Chareidi world.  In Israel, the power centers are Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim; in America, it is in Lakewood.]  No one wants to be shunned or put into (Internet) cherem.  After all, kids need to get into the “right” schools and find the “right” shidduchim.  Wives still need a good sheitelmacher and help with carpool after she has a baby.  So, there is a lot at stake.  And savvy Askanim know how to manipulate this reality.  So, for an insider to publicly render a disappointing opinion about the Chareidi community, when it is about some previously unknown Dati Leumi boxer is simply not worth it.  Participating at an event beyond what is sanctioned by the system (as one of the comments mentioned) regardless of the substance of the cause, is also not worth it.  While the DL and Centrist communities are not without their issues, the relative independence from their systems allows for greater critical freedom of speech.

    Ironically and perhaps not coincidentally, Dovid Goldman chooses the highly  improbable scenario of someone on the Moetzes calling out the Chareidi community for its perpetuation of the unsustainability of Kollel–the elephant in the room within any intellectually honest analysis of community viability.  That reference sort of proves my point.  Beneath what has been built up as an apparently  powerful facade of quantitative triumphalism, is a very fragile underbelly of financial dependence and social interdependence.  The first casualties of this crumbling infrastructure (which generates much discussion) have been both adults and kids who want out.  A percentage among the disillusioned might become Chareidi Lite, with some combination of Yeshivish externality and cynicism (but in some measure still dependent on validation that will get their kids into school or find a shidduch).  A small number end up as Centrist or MO.  Others opt out altogether.   The Chareidi world needs to come to grips with the fact that while Halacha is a Jewish value, conformity is not.

    Being a confident free agent without living an existence perpetually tethered to the prevalent source of validation definitely allows one to speak his or her mind.  However, it can be a lonely place where few want to be.

  • Dovid Teitelbaum

    I would like to elaborate a bit on what Dovid Goldman was addressing as this is another part of the puzzle. Whether this is a good thing or not is up for debate but as far as I know Aguda was created to unify the power of orthodox Jewry more than anything else. What this meant was that there should be one voice to the outside world as to our needs. Politically this makes a lot of sense. How large of a variation was possible to join becomes very difficult because you would always have the extremes on both sides that would pull out if the other end is a part of the coalition. To think that everyone on the moeztes agrees on hashkafa is ridiculous.

    Throughout my childhood, every Shabbos I sat next to Rav Moshe Sherrer, who I think many would say was the last real leader orthodox Jewry had. I overheard many conversations he had with my father of the frustration Rav Sherrer had trying to make peace within the moeztes. I think he felt it was vital that a uniformed statement was given out.

    IMHO the reason today you barely hear anything from the Moeztes is because there is no one powerful enough to bring them together. The idea that the “gedolim” agree on everything is the furthest from truth, although its very possible that they won’t speak up so as not to cause a machlokes within. 2 Jews, 3 opinions, is an understatement when it comes to Rabbinical authorities.

  • PFW

    “This is a slippery slope if I have ever seen one. If we are led to believe that our Rabbonon are afraid to speak their minds because of kannaus, how do I know where to draw the line? Maybe they also admire Rabbi Slifkin?”
    The irony of this line… oy. The roshei yeshiva in America were forced by the same kanoim Rabbi Finkelman is talking about to toe the Slifkin line. There are three or four American roshei yeshiva that were totally into the ban, but at least three real gedolei Torah that I know about signed or wrote letters against Slifkin solely due to kanoi-ist pressure. It’s no secret that Rav Shmuel doesn’t think it’s kefira, and I won’t reveal the other names I know about. IN FACT IT WAS THE VERY REVELATION OF THESE FACTS TO ME BY A VERY TRUSTED FRIEND (who has impeccable sources) that led to the EROSION of my own commitment to the charedi party line and ideologies. I hope I can still be counted among those with yiras shomayim. But I’m fed up with our community. Sorry. Look at the historical evidence and use your own brain: most of what Slifkin said was said by many great Rishonim and Acharonim. Yes, I too once believed that there were only 2 or 3 controversial sources, and that they were probably ‘mezuyaf,’ and they are a ‘daas yochid.’ Guess what: Not True.