A Question About Writing
Writing is not the only thing that I do, nor is it the main thing that I do. I suppose that much the same can be said about most writers, but there is a difference – I think – in my situation. My primary responsibility is active involvement in Jewish communal life, notably in yeshiva and day school education but in other areas, as well. There’s no reason to describe this activity because it has scant bearing on what I am writing here, except for the important zone of my life that is called the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School.
I have been president of RJJ – and this is a voluntary responsibility – for thirty-two years and for much of this period the yeshiva and its several schools have taken the lion’s share of my time. Because fundraising is inherent to this job, what I write and especially in the Jewish Week may have an impact on my ability to do what I have to do. My writing is opinion-oriented, at times sharply. I haven’t found this a problem with much of what I have to say, even in such hot button areas that might offend the non-Orthodox and even though some of the funds that I raise come from people who aren’t Orthodox.
The problem that I am attempting to address here is most pronounced when I write about Israel and therefore it is most pronounced in terms of my interaction with other Orthodox. I am a strong believer in Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, something that most Orthodox Jews oppose. There is scant evidence that my advocacy of Gaza withdrawal has resulted in anyone saying the heck with my contribution to RJJ. But I cannot be sure. I am certain that something that I wrote some months ago sharply criticizing those who excused Baruch Goldstein’s murderous attack in Hebron has directly resulted in at least several people deciding that they will no longer contribute to the yeshiva.
Is this an issue for me to consider? Does my responsibility toward RJJ carry with it the obligation not to speak out when there is a prospect that speaking out might hurt the school? Is this a practical question? Or a moral question? Or both?
My raising this matter is at least as much an intellectual exercise as a process that might lead to practical results. I hope that there will be feedback.
Depends. It’s very American to value freedom of speech come what may. It’s more traditional (read: European) to understand that the personal dislike which stems from positional differences translates into dollars.
It’s wrong to not be able to speak out, and I feel for you. But being muzzled may be the biggest part of the sacrifice. It’s one of the reasons people don’t like askonus.
Face it – Like it or not, as a fundraiser and president [aren’t they the same?] you are the face of the Yeshivah to most of the donors. The Bochurim and their parents know that the Roshei Yeshivah set policy. But they’re not you’re average donors. The ones you’re targeting think of you as a model representative of the Yeshivah. With so many causes begging for their limited dollars they don’t have that much time to evaluate each cause separately. When they read something controversial from you, they automatically assume that this is the Yeshiva’s policy and base their decision on that. I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you very likely occurs as a result.
Yasher Koach on your efforts.
It’s a judgment call. You have to weigh the benefits of speaking out on a subject vs. the risks associated with making such a public statement. Not every issue requires one to speak out publicly. However, I applaud you for having the courage to voice your opinion on controversial subjects—and not automatically silencing yourself because of the potential consequences.
In terms of the specific issue of the Gaza withdrawal, I think it’s important to realize that one can support disengagement without compromising on one’s Orthodoxy. Too many Orthodox Jews I know feel that Sharon’s plan is not halachic—and use that argument to support their own position on Gaza. Personally, I have serious reservations about the disengagement from Gaza, but they stem from security and military issues and not halachic ones. Pikuach nefesh is the overriding question: Will the Gaza withdrawal place more Jewish lives in danger or save more Jewish lives? I believe that each side can make a convincing case. I just don’t have enough information about the current situation to know who’s right.
It seems to me that only those who closely identify you with RJJ might decide not to contribute based upon an article of yours, and this is the same audience that is most likely to have decided to contribute in the first place based upon their association with or admiration of you. That, in turn, may quite likely have stemmed from your writing, and an appreciation of your positions.
Thus, overall, it seems more likely that your writing has had a positive impact. The consideration of negative ramifications may give us a reason to think twice before writing a particular piece (I, of course, have the same problem of organizational connection), but I hope more people will decide to contribute based upon appreciation of our writing, than would terminate any past affiliation because they didn’t like what we wrote as individuals.
It is very hard to seperate your RJJ hat from your writer hat, and to convince supporters that RJJ is “theirs” when you may take opinions they reject. You may need to limit your choice of column topics for the sake of RJJ.
Hard hats are needed for good writers with interesting opinions, and hard hats are not always appropriate for PTA meetings and school dinners
Dr. Schick, as the Gemora in Bova Basra 78b says, ahl kein yomru hamoshlim beyitzrom, bo’u venachshov cheshbono shel olom, schar mitzvah neged hefseidoh. In the cost benefit analysis, you have to weigh the benefit of putting your opinion into the marketplace of ideas against the inevitable cost of alienating supporters. For most people, the good they do as supporters of a school would be dispositive. Yours, however, is an influential voice that arises from a lifetime of klal work enlightened and informed by ongoing relationships with gedolim. You speak for a tradition that is endangered by extremism and ignorance. That value of that voice to the tzibbur trumps the needs of any specific mossad.
I can only speak for myself, but my positive attitude to RJJ is in large part due to my association of the yeshiva with you. This is NOT because I agree with all of your articles. It is as much because I sometimes don’t agree with you on any given issue as because I often do. I see the yeshiva as openminded enough to give you free rein, despite being their spokesman, because of your overall good sense. I suppose you might turn off some potential donors who think the function of a yeshiva is to produce robotic clones, and that all representatives of a yeshiva should speak with one artificial voice on all topics of jewish concern, but I imagine that is amply compensated for by attracting a parent and student body who hope that the next generation will be influenced by powerful, engaged people such as yourself.