The Quality of Ideas

Greg (see Yaakov’s previous post) says: “Overall, this means a net increase in the quality of ideas and dialogue available, but I wonder how long before the censorship and stigmatization common to the traditional, offline Orthodox world sets in to the point where it is no longer worth it to participate in the conversation.”

The raisha (first part of this statement) is a nice compliment. I hope there is truth to it – some thoughtful Ortho discussion would be a breath of fresh air in what looks to me to be a really mixed bag of Jewish blogs used as personal therapy. I don’t claim to be an expert, but from tooling around Jblogs on rare occasions, I get the distinct sense that as a rule Jblogs tend to be frighteningly explosive exorcisms of personal demons – and, like most self-administered surgery, the giblets aren’t pretty to look at. The values of our world and the outside world have been in serious conflict and, the “secular/outside/modern” (lousy words – but you know what I mean) world being as invasive as it is, people are struggling – and people who are by nature passionate are struggling the hardest of all. Maybe a little more structure, a little more self-censorship and deliberation, a little more agenda and a little less baggage (I suppose the difference between the two is thoughtfulness and honesty, for anyone who was wondering) is a fine evolution in the Jewish blogging world. I am not saying this doesn’t exist – Gil Student is a stellar example of serious contribution via blog – but there’s plenty of room for more like Hirhurim.

[By the way – I may be talking out of my Borsalino on this – if so, I do hope people will respond by pointing me to the blogs that they think are making serious contributions. I’d be only too happy to be wrong.]

As for the seifa (latter part of the statement) – actually, I think the opposite is likely. Blogging in my name (even, I suppose, anonymously, although I haven’t done that), I already feel pressured to measure and consider my written words – not so much because of stigma from other Jews but because of a personal sense that words matter; ideas matter. Words can uplift and demean; words can draw people close to G-d or away from Him; words can sanctify His name or, profane His name.

The Internet in general and the blogosphere in particular has no ombudsman, no editor, fact-checker – no limits. Anything we can think of privately, we can now send to the world instantaneously.

But just because we have random thoughts does not mean that they are worthy – just because we articulate them elegantly or cleverly, does not make them true – just because we can memorialize them does not make them memorable – and just because we can publish them does not mean that we should.

My concern is not that we will lose our sense of limitless freedom; on the contrary – my concern is that we will forget our duty to say only that which is worthwhile. When that happens, the real value proposition of our contribution will be at an end.

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9 Responses

  1. A Simple Jew says:

    I appreciated your thoughts on this issue.

  2. Jeff Ballabon says:

    Thank you….I just checked out your blog for a couple of minutes…from what I saw, I’d certainly add you to the list of truly thoughtful contributors in this arena as well!

    Please share with me who else is out there.

  3. Joe Schick says:

    This is an unnecessary and unfair generalization. There are plenty of Jblogs that deal with real issues; to say that “as a rule as a rule Jblogs tend to be frighteningly explosive exorcisms of personal demons – and, like most self-administered surgery, the giblets aren�t pretty to look at” displays ignorance about the Jewish blogosphere and is unnecessarily condescending toward those whose blogs are indeed personal journals you might reasonably be uninterested in.

  4. Jeff Ballabon says:

    Joe – I call it how I see it. I think I was very clear in leaving open the distinct possibility that it is my ignorance – instead of attacking me in a way that is “unnecessarily condescending” and, at least to me, wholly unpersuasive, why not enlighten me and everyone else?

  5. Joe Schick says:

    Jeff, I wasn’t intending to attack you, but to state that while Cross-Currents can be a very worthwhile site, it’s not revolutionary, as there are many interesting sites by Orthodox bloggers. Almost everyone who reads this site is familiar with the others, so in addition to Hirhurim, I’ll just mention two now of the dozens I can think of: American Jewish History by Menachem Butler ( and BlogHead by Miriam Shaviv and Paul Shaviv ( It’s also worthwhile to check out the archives of Hasidic Rebel ( and Protocols (; Protocols also lists hundreds of Jblogs.

    Finally, when I’m not complaining about the Mets, Jets and Nets, my blog’s focus is on issues relating to Israel, Orthodoxy and Jewish politics.

  6. Jeff Ballabon says:

    Now, THAT’s helpful. I am very familiar with some of the blogs you list; unfamiliar with others (I thought Protocols is defunct)…Personally, I claim nothing revolutionary about C-C; I just hope we live up to something I thought Greg was suggesting – the idea that “establishment” involvement adds something.

  7. Joe Schick says:

    Protocols is indeed defunct and Hasidic Rebel has been in an apparently irrevrsible coma for 15 months, but ther archives of each remain and are quite interesting.

    On a different matter, Jeff, I recently argued on my blog and in a Jewish Press column that the exit polls undercounted the Jewish vote, probably by five points or more (Links: ; ; ). Am I right and if so, do Republican leaders know this, or do they blindly accept the 22-25 percent figures?

  8. A. Katz says:

    This blog seems to concentrate on the Orthodox world in relationship to the outside world rather than on the internal dynamics of the Orthodox Jewish world. The personal journal blogs are chronicles of individual struggles to deal with some of the real issues that plague the Orthodox world internally. Many of the personal blogs are written by Hassids and ex-Hassids, but the issues raised resonate across the Orthodox spectrum. Issues include the lack of autonomy and pressure to conform, the increasing numbers who doubt the rigid approach of their communities and even their own faith, the perception of communal leaders as “out of touch,” lack of respect for rabbis and educators, and many similar problems. When these issues are addressed by approved authorities, the commentary is defensive. The suggestions for improvement are addressed to the community, not the leadership.

    In the context of the existing Jewish blogosphere, a blog written by leaders in the community that focuses largely on issues vis a vis the outside world comes across as a cop-out. The personal blogs should be provoking more introspection on the part of the leadership.

    Addressing the internal issues within the religious world requires capacity for deep self-reflection, and a willingness to admit errors and show flexiblity in reconsidering some of the more deeply entrenched trends in Orthodox Jewish communal life.

    “Jblogs tend to be frighteningly explosive exorcisms of personal demons – and, like most self-administered surgery, the giblets aren�t pretty to look at.”

    Lo ta’amod al dam raykha.
    What shall we think of the surgeon who stands by as his friend performs self-surgery and pontificates about organs that are pretty to look at, and only pauses in his lecture to exclaim on what an awful job the unskilled layman is doing?

  9. Greg says:

    I feel very strongly that having some accountability is important when blogging. It’s part of the transparency that needs to exist in order to make blogging credible and pertinent. What I was referring to was people feeling unable to express their thoughts on subjects for fear of stigmatization as reprisal. Any time I engage in dialogue with another blogger, I sign my name and leave an email; I’m not trying to take potshots and do a hit and run, I want to discuss, and making myself accountable forces me to think about what I’m saying. But if my kids are going to get kicked out of school because I debate theology with someone online, it’s stymies the dialogue and makes the process not worth it.

    As for those spouting off without thinking, I ignore them, just as I would in real life. You can’t stop them. I only talk with those that I think have something to offer.

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