Sunday, July 05, 2009

Inflammatory Discussion**

In another disappointing Cross-Currents piece, R' Doron Beckerman of OJ seems to attack bloggers as a whole for attempting to force their opinions on Jewish communal public policy, stating simply
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.
What R' Beckerman seems to miss throughout the piece, in which he implies that bloggers are trying to do away with Torah leadership and create constructive change on their own while ignoring Torah leadership, is that his base assumptions are completely incorrect to begin with. Moreover, it is some of the side comments he makes which are particularly grating to people who are paying attention.

At one point in his essay he discusses a recent (/current) situation where a Rav allegedly stated that cheating on taxes is muttar. After explicitly noting
Those who have spoken up about this, say that they consulted with their Roshei Yeshiva who allowed for publicizing this issue.
he decries their doing so, arguing
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.
Skipping for a moment the backwards view that someone could be "better" than others, and that non-Torah leaders are "ktanim", who is acting as jury or judge? People are disseminating information about an incident that they - and their rabbonim - find to be important. Where is the Torah leadership that R' Beckerman is referring to regarding what happened? If it is false, as some have claimed, then have the Rav publicly state that cheating on taxes is assur. Have other Rabbonim come out and make such a statement. It is very easy to defuse the situation with a clear statement, much as is the case in other situations. Where are the lines of communication to gedolim that R' Beckerman claims exist? When people seek out their own Rabbonim, that apparently is not good enough; what is?

R' Beckerman notes the obvious flaw in his piece at the end:

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.

Sadly, not only does his conclusion not satisfactorily answer his second question, it doesn't address the first one whatsoever. Where are the gedolim? Why isn't there any leadership? Why are the only statements from gedolim filtered through kol korehs on mostly irrelevant issues which R' Elyashiv acknowledges have little impact?

R' Beckerman seems to misunderstand what people are trying to accomplish when they write about issues which are troublesome in the frum community.* The objective is not to throw off the yoke of Torah and to replace Torah leadership at the head of our communities. It is to call out for a strong Torah leadership which acts in the best interests of the community at large. Someone named Chaim Fisher commented on Cross-Currents very simply:

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.

The ideas on blogs which are attracting attention and picking up momentum are ones which are resonating with a struggling community looking for ideas and assistance on issues which matter in their day-to-day lives. The gedolim are being presented with a plethora of ideas and some really excellent discussion on every subject; they merely need to step up and lead from a place where people know it's a) coming from them and b) demonstrate that they understand the issues and possibilities being presented before expressing what they think will work and why.

People are looking for Torah leadership to help implement the ideas and solutions necessary to turn things around. Where is it?

* I'm excluding deliberately inflammatory and contrarian blogs, whose only objectives seem to be hits, money, and attention. It's quite easy and proper to ignore such blogs.

** Note: The title of this post is Inflammatory Discussion because of how the Cross-Currents piece came across. What is particularly hard to determine from the piece is what R' Beckerman expected to accomplish other than start an inflammatory discussion on blogs about blogs, including posts such as this one. Perhaps he truly felt compelled to post much as one might feel compelled to respond as I have here, but that is difficult to believe in light of comments such as the implications that people aren't willing to shift to the right because it's a problem for "the hit counter", or the poor joke about violating J-blog ettiquette by quoting from an ArtSctroll biography. The snark is unnecessary and uncalled for if the objective is to point out what one views as a serious flaw.

Finally, if R' Beckerman had simply been dan l'kaf zchus on what most bloggers write about these subjects for he could have easily understood that his own throwaway lines actually summed it up perfectly:
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. [...]

Besides, the status quo may need some fixing.