By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
NOTE: I posted a poll (which is located on the left side of my homepage) asking readers to vote/comment about the level of dialogue in our community on matters of importance to our community. Please feel free to take the poll and comment. Y.H.
I recently posted a column on this site titled Is Everything a 10?, which discussed the role religious Knesset members played in ‘changing the clock back’ in Eretz Yisroel six weeks before the rest of the civilized world. In it, I made the case that we ought to be very selective in the use of our growing political clout and not needlessly irritate secular Jews on matters that are not of paramount importance to our community.
As my website is open to (unfiltered) comments, an individual named Mark wrote a few thoughtful and respectful comments on that thread, (an excerpt of which appear in italics below. Click here for his comments in entirety) taking me to task for publicly airing my thoughts on this matter in an area where, in his view, there was little chance of any positive ‘take-away’ from my article. Mark encouraged me to reflect on the how my writing adds wind to the sails of those who bash charedi society by noting that I have become the “Favorite Rabbi” of bloggers.
I have been extraordinarily preoccupied with a Yeshiva Darchei Noam project over the past months and never fully responded to Mark’s comments, aside from a few short posts on that thread.
But with the gift of the quiet time that two, 3-day Yomim Tovim provided, I have given a great deal of thought to what Mark wrote. I decided to respond in a more formal manner by writing a Mishpacha column or two on the subject of whether or not we ought to have ‘an open press’ in charedi society. Time permitting, the first essay should appear 2 weeks from this Wednesday, and according to my arrangement with Mishpacha, it will be posted on this website only after the issue hits the newsstands.
Here are excerpts from two of the comments that Mark posted in the past 3 weeks:
… precisely because I hold your kids at-risk work in such high esteem, I am deeply disappointed by this article and similar ones that you've posted on your site. When you first raised the subject of kids at-risk, I recognized that you must have agonized deeply over the need to go public about this problem in out midst. You wrote about how you spoke to Gedolim and they supported your efforts although it would give the Charedi public a black eye. The costs of not doing so were too great and you had no choice. It was painful for me to accept but as a mechanech of sorts I understood the need and accepted it as I do a bitter medicine.
Over time you have used your forum and your standing in the community to raise awareness about other issues. Sometimes I agree, oftentimes I find myself disagreeing with you [the Israeli teen story where my experience tells me otherwise etc.]. None of that is the issue, however. What is very troubling is the fact that you've now become the resident critic of Chareidi society. You write often about things that you don't like/agree with and rarely are you positioned to do much about it.
What we're left with is criticism that is not likely to elicit any meaningful change at all. Are you certain that you are justified in causing that? Is the price really too prohibitive if the issue is left unchecked? You may disagree, but I think you're definitely not giving the matter sufficient thought.
Put it this way - when you're referred to as the "favorite rabbi" of a blogger known as DB who is a mocker of all things "Chareidi", that ought to give you pause. It should make you think twice about whether your words will be used to "build up" or "tear down." When HM quotes you to further his smear campaign against Chareidim, you might want to stop and rethink your approach.
I understand that this is a busy time of year for year as it is for all of us and I hope you'll take the time to reply more fully when ….
My point was that you must be very careful with every word you write and utter because like it or not, your words can often be misconstrued and used to generate tremendous Chilul Hashem. "Not your problem" you say? That doesn't fly. "Echad Shogeg V'echad Meizid B'chilul Hashem." [See Meshech Chochmah on Haftorah of Shuvah Yisroel for some frightening analysis of this problem]
What troubles me is that lately you've taken on the role of the "town crier" which not only diminishes the effect of your earlier efforts in the area of Chinuch, but more importantly flies in the face of your earlier example. I have seen you write articles pointing out innumerable flaws in Chareidi society [not just those limited to the Ten problem] and of course, there is no follow up. There is no one to address the problems [assuming they're all as real as you believe.]
This is in my humble opinion irresponsible and disappointing. Rather than generate effective change [something that I'll be the first to admit takes hard work, patience, time, resources] many of your articles generate nothing more than a steady cacophony of Chilul Hashem and negativity toward the Charedi world, which for all its flaws, has many more positives than negatives. They're picked up by the many blogs dedicated to Charedi bashing [which whether or not they're "legitimate expressions of pain" is irrelevant as you must know because they do an incredible amount of harm] and your words and sentiments are taken well out of context.
I believe that you, more than anyone, are aware that societies don't just change overnight. Change is a slow process and more often, change is not indicated so much as improvement or modification. Articles that overly generalize [as many of your recent ones do] and cut across large swaths of Charedi society [you can't honestly think that all elements of Chareidi society are alike - every sect of Chassidus is different as are Charedim from EY and the US as are Mosney and Chicago etc...] are largely pointless as far as eliciting change.
That is why I requested, and continue to request that you limit your efforts to the area of chinuch which is an area in which you are poised to make a difference. You have an infrastructure that can generate meaningful results. Random sprinklings of criticisms can't and won't have that effect although they'll certainly gain you a fan-following from the "letzonei hador." I have noticed that you are on exceptionally good terms [or so you give the impression] with some of the more egregious offenders [think DB - and I allow for the fact that you may have considerations that I'm not aware of] but I'm sure you know that a typical Charedi who sees you venerated by a person such as DB and [by all appearances the good will extends in both directions] will not take your words to heart as much as they would if you appeared to be more aligned with their best interests.
In the meantime, I have devoted the ‘weekly poll’ on the homepage of my website to the topic of ‘free press’ (it is on the left side; please vote and post your comments). At the same time, I ask the following questions to our readers:
1. Do we have a ‘free press’ in our charedi community? Are issues that are of paramount importance to our community discussed freely in public forums, such as our newspapers?
2. Is a ‘free press’ permitted by the Torah?
3. Are discussions of matters that affect our community helpful even if they do not result in swift, obvious positive change?
4. How, for that matter, does effective change take place in the Torah community?
5. What percentage of the members in our community would feel “safe” to sign their name in a letter to the editor if they are writing about a subject that they feel passionately about?
6. Is Mark correct that earning the respect of the bloggers is a sign that I ought to ‘do teshuva’ or is it a sign that the “unspoken-for majority” respect charedim who have the courage to openly discuss the real issues we face. (UPDATE: For the record, please note that Mark in no way wrote or even implied that I needed to 'do teshuva'. His comments were all respectful and appropriate. I took his words 100% with the koved rosh that they were written. I wrote the quote 'do teshuva' tongue-in-cheek. Y.H.)
I would greatly appreciate your comments, as I feel that dialogue is very valuable. Quite a number of my friends sent me emails suggesting that I remove some of the negative comments posted on my website as it an insult to my kavod (honor) for me to leave them there. I respectfully disagree. I feel that we need far more straight talk – not less.
Monsey, New York
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