The Chazon Ish’s Advice for Columnists

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17 Responses

  1. Dov Kay says:

    I agree with everything you write. However, the PR lesson being taught could be found in any decent PR manual or, I daresay, by resorting to common sense. I don’t see the point of invoking the great Chazon Ish merely to prove that one should exercise common sense before opening one’s mouth. Common sense does not become more cogent just because it is practised by great people, and I do not believe it does great people credit to cite their common sense, as if we should be surprised.

    It is also somewhat ironic that it is the Chazon Ish being used as an example of moderation, given his well known praise of kana’us (extremism) and denigration of moderation as a mindset. Perhaps only a Chazon Ish could know when extremist behaviour was called for, which would explain why his acolyte needed to have his speeches vetted, and why this leaderless generation should just stick to common sense.

  2. Shmuel Bergenfeld says:

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but is putting Reform “siddur” in quotation marks, implying scorn and derision for Reform Judaism, a very good example of “evaluat[ing] every word in terms of the ultimate goal??”

    Then again, being that you are a spokesman for the Agudath Israel, your criticism probably applies to yourself as well 🙂

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    All of the negative examples in this column were motivated by anger and lack of respect to their targets.

    One method to avoid this is to take the Chazon Ish’s dictum to heart and consciously judge the effect of each word on every possible audience on every public occassion (from speaking in the Knesset to commenting in a blog). This is difficult because it makes it impossible to speak spontenously and passionately.

    Another method is “Heve Dan Kol Adam Likaf Zchut”, judge everybody favorably. If you assume that people are doing bad things because they are evil, you will naturally be angry and have to fight your evil inclination to avoid expressing this anger. If you assume they are misguided and trying to do their best under mistaken assumptions, you will have a more respectful attitude and be more likely to convince them, or at least people who are neutral.

    Of course, this does not apply to clear enemies such as the Hamas or Al Qaeda. However, nobody in the Orthodox camp wants to go “Eliyahu” on Reform Rabbis, complete with a show off on Mt. Carmel and subsequent slaughter (I Kings 18). Opponents deserve a respect that enemies do not.

  4. L.Oberstein says:

    Once again Jonathan has shown that he is the right person to explain Chareidim to the outside world. If only his American Democratic values were shared by more people in our world. The stridency and deprecation of the other person’s opinion is too much fun, it seems, for many of our speakers and writers. It is to Rabbi Sherer’s lasting credit that he kept the Agudah in the US one group and didn’t let it split like in Israel. maybe we can be so altruistic here because it doesn’t involve all the money that is tied into Israeli politics.
    Rabbi Berel Wein has been saying for years that we should stop writing these stupid articles exposing how devient Reform is. Now, the Conservative Movement is about to impload due to their total disavowal of halacha when they allow gay marriages ,etc. It is the end of Historical Judaism and the start of neo historical Judaism. By that I mean, they no longer can claim any relationship to halacha except in a way that insults halacha and those who take it seriously.
    However, that being said, I think there are enough honest Conservative Jews to argue the case.We don’t need to put in our two cents and make them martyrs.

  5. Rabbi without a cause says:

    As a darshan I can offer a resounding AMEN to these comments.

    More, as a parent I must agree as well. How many times do we try to convey important ideas to our children, but accidentally add other ideas or actions that serve to distract from, and weaken, the key message?

    In my experience, all speech is a form of chinuch, and the rules that apply to one apply to the other in some measure.

  6. Joe Fisher says:

    On the other hand the Gemorah in Avoda Zara recommends that we make up nicknames that are davka sarcastic, not just euphemisms, for Avoda Zara. The laws of lashon hara recommend that in some circumstances it is advisable make fun of someone who publicly denies the Torah.

    And Rashi in Beraishis says HaShem wrote ‘naase…Adam’ even though ovdei avoda zara could indeed claim it was evidence for them. BeDavka.

    So. How scared do we have to be of our enemies? I would distinguish between forums. It may be a mistake–not an aveirah!–to tease reform clergy to their faces. But maybe it is okay to make fun of them on our own fora. We can’t be afraid to oppose what we do not believe in just as much as we support what we do believe in.

  7. HILLEL says:

    The net effect of your article is to preclude any hard-hitting ridicule of the Reform and Conservative movements.

    This would be a tragic error, since many ignorant Jews think that those groups represent Judaism.

    The MALBI”M on Mishle specifically advises the use of ridicule when addressing a purveyor of foolhardy ideas, in order to show the audience that those ideas are not to be taken seriously.

    The Chazon is, according to your article, specifically allowed this to be done when “there is a duty to protest.”

  8. Jewish Observer says:

    How would we have thought we should be behave if not for this “chiddush” of the Chazon Ish?

  9. YM says:

    Of course the Chazon Ish should be credited for stating what some consider “common sense”. This is a sense that is unfortunately not so common. I try to follow these words at meetings at work.

  10. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I think that the nature of any response depends on the forum. As Rabbi Rosenblum points out(I can cite other examples as well), history has proven that ad hominem attacks, or derisive remarks in general, detract from the strength of one’s position. Orthodox spokesmen are then left putting their energy into defending ill-conceived remarks made, instead of dealing with the issues and advancing arguments. Mocking avodah zara has its place, but rabbonim familiar with the secular world should advise writers or speakers when it is appropriate, and when it is not.

    In debates in the secular world, if a person makes derisive remarks about a person or a position, then they lose points in the audience’s eyes, because it makes their argument look weak, even if it is in fact not. Hella Winston indeed criticized such less than intellectual critiques of heterodox theology in a New York Times Op Ed this past April.

    I think that we can do better than just using derision against heterodox movements. Torah is called Toras Emes(Torah of Truth), and its superiority is strong enough to allow us to make intellectually rigorous arguments for it. When showing weaknesses in heterodox theology as well, our arguments can be made without resorting to derision.

  11. The Hedyot says:

    Your sentiments are much appreciated, however the reality of the situation is much less clear. So many of those who would do well to heed your advice can easily counter with examples from Rabbinic leaders where they proudly displayed their acerbic wit, mocking their opposition with as much gusto as they could muster, displaying an almost admirable indifference to the potential fallout from their statements.

    In addition, they can also point to the notion that many people feel that vocally protesting a wrong is imperative even if no constructive effect will be achieved, merely for the goal of not allowing oneself to be desensitized to the situation. They feel that one must not remain silent in the face of an anti-torah position or situation, even if their protestations have no effect on the situation.

  12. Jewish Observer says:

    “I think that the nature of any response depends on the forum.”

    take it a step larger. the decision to perform any action at all should be made within the context of the “end game”; i.e. does it get you closer to your goal, whatever that is. I agree with the poster who said that this piece of common sense is not that common, and that the CI should certainly get credit for stating it. my point is that once we hear something like this that makes good sense, it should become obvious and we should assimilate it as common sense. Then we won’t have to come on to treating it as the “guidance of a godol”, which is not as potent a stimulator to our own behavior as something we ourselves feel in our gut to be true.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    It’s especially harmful to the cause of truth when claims made in its name against its enemies are exaggerated or not backed up by careful research.

    I’d like to extend the discussion to inter-Orthodox matters. How much ink and how many pixels have been wasted in making stereotype-ridden, nonsensical, even childish points against one another while we collectively face some really daunting threats.

    The idea that we can shame someone into better behavior by throwing out crude epithets was probably flawed even in the good old days.

  14. ja says:

    We should all try to remain aware that blog posts and comments on the internet are public and can be widely disseminated and are occasionally mined by journalists. The potential audience is very diverse.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    “The idea that we can shame someone into better behavior by throwing out crude epithets ”

    – you are obvisouly right. no one could have ever thought that better behavior would be the outcome. it is clearly about the need, justified or not, of the epithet thrower to do his thing

  16. Avigdor M'Bawlmawr says:

    To those who say we must protest a wrong, indeed, but who said it must be out loud? Sometimes it is enough to protest to one’s self, or a friend. When must it be public? That takes a chacham, and one must always be on guard for lashon hara “l’toeles.” If it gives you pleasure to say it instead of pain, perhaps one is not speaking l’shem Shamyim. Don’t we all the Agudas HaRabbonim debacle of a few years ago? Most secular Jews don’t understand the differentiation between Judaism and being Jewish. Famously, the comedian Billy Crystal, made public comment about it, to the effect that the orthodox had written him off as a Jew.

    When I think of powerful and effective tochachah, two famous stories of the Chofetz Chaim come to mind. I’ll just allude to them here, for brevity’s sake, assuming they’re broadly known. The first with the yeshiva bochur in Radin who was caught smoking on Shabbos. The second with the cantonist at the inn. In both cases, the Chofetz Chaim conveyed tremendous ahava, love, to the one to whom he was giving rebuke. Perhaps we, who couldn’t dream of such ahavas Yisrael, might try this in our own small way.

  17. Baruch Horowitz says:


    I agree with you. That’s why I think that ideally there should be a non-internet forum in the broader Charedie and Orthodox communities where grass-roots discussions can take place. The forum should be open to a very broad spectrum of opinions.

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