Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bloggers vs. Conformists Redux

In this week’s 5 Town’s Jewish Times there was a Letter to the Editor from Rabbi Ginzberg, whose article I (and many others) criticized last week. The letter was meant as a response to the, “phone calls, email, and letters,” R’ Ginzberg received following the publication of his article.

Instead of admitting that he had made some indefensible statements, R’ Ginzberg instead offered a “clarification.” What is fascinating about what followed is how it contradicts the original article. In last week’s article R’ Ginzberg made it clear that he considered blogging an invalid venue for expressing opinions, bemoaning the fact his friend had chosen to write a blog post rather than deliver a speech at the Agudah Convention. He accused bloggers – all bloggers – of not being “doers” (whatever that means).

In this week’s letter R’ Ginzberg backpedals furiously, praising those “wonderful Yidden who truly care about Klal Yisrael and … offer suggestions and solutions… using their real names.” He has changed from claiming blogging is always the wrong way of expressing one’s opinions to claiming that blogging ANONYMOUSLY is the wrong way of expressing one’s opinions. He accuses those who use pseudo-names of “hide[ing] like cowards behind their computer screens.” Yet there is no acknowledgment of this change of policy. Nor does he mention either the anonymous bloggers who were instrumental in bringing long-ignored issues to the community’s attention or the social sanctions that would be leveled against bloggers who discussed controversial topics under their real names.

He decries those who dare attack community leaders, and ends by expressing the wish that those who sincerely want to help the community “join together in unity and offer positive chizuk to each other, not bitter attacks.” It is unfortunate for him that not everyone shares his implied vision of limiting the discussion of the areas in which the community needs improvement to leadership-sanctioned topics and those involved in the discussion to people vulnerable to their society’s reaction against them.

Is using a pseudo-name so that your neighbors don’t know your opinions cowardly? Maybe, but in the real world the reaction of your community to your controversial opinions is a real concern. Given the choice between anonymous bloggers forcing positive changes or the community continuing to ignore serious problems because no one is brave enough to risk his family’s standing, R’ Ginzberg would choose the latter. I think most bloggers and those affected by less-than-pristine elements of frum society would prefer the former.

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