Standards, Comments, and Chabad

I wonder if the editor would comment on this blog’s rules of acceptable discourse. Without prejudice either way on the claims being made, I wonder if the charges being made were leveled at charedi/mo movements or their leaders, whether they would have been allowed.

Joel raises an important point that more than deserves a response.

I’m one of the editors, and I can’t figure out the rules myself! (There is no one editor. Several people have editorial privileges, and usually whoever gets to the moderation desk first makes the decision, often asking the others when there are questions.)
We are long overdue on a formal protocol for comments. There are some rules we all agree upon:
1) There should be no obvious violations of hilchos lashon hora and rechilus (laws of impermissible speech). (Yes, we do ask shaylos; no we are not perfect.)
2) We avoid comments that attack generally accepted hashkafic principles within mainstream Orthodoxy. (Only Dennis gets to do that, and only when debating me 🙂 )
3) We delete (or edit) comments that use demeaning and fighting language, racist references, or comments that will lead to chilul Hashem in the general population
4) We do allow criticism – even strong criticism – of charedi or centrist Orthodoxy. We would not allow criticism of a named leader of any mainstream Orthodox group. Criticism of Chabad was tolerated on this thread; we would not have allowed insults of the Rebbe z”l himself.
5) I have been pushing to change the rules further, and make the comment section hew closer to the line of ezines, in which it is not there to facilitate back and forth between readers, but where only comments that say something new and insightful would be published. I don’t know how popular that will be with other contributors.

We did stretch the rules for this thread, and allowed comments far more vituperative than we would normally tolerate. I have a long friendship with Rabbi Eliezrie; I believe him to be a vital and reasonable link to the Chabad world. He has shared many of his talents with the non-Chabad world in the past (such as instructing and guiding figures in major Orthodox groups in the fine art of dealing with media) , and is as much a meshichist as I am a Reconstructionist. I wanted him to hear the voices of the non-Chabad world with the dampers off; I wanted him to take off his gloves and mount a vigorous defense. I certainly don’t agree with all his points, but he (and some of the commenters of like mind) has done a good job staking out a different position.

Why is any of this important? Elsewhere , Harry Maryles has come up with his own somber assessment of this thread. “If the cross-currents comments section is any kind of barometer about what the Torah world is thinking, Lubavitch is in big trouble whether it realizes it or not. The Torah world has all but rejected them. Not necessarily by ostracizing them or excommunicating them. But by almost totally ignoring them… and virtually everything they do. Which is a lot.” This would be a tragedy of epic proportions; if there is any chance at all that he is correct, it would behoove people on both sides of the divide to try to do something about it, rather than just crow with delight about how righteous they are and how evil the others can be.

I remember an exchange of words many years ago between Rav Schach z”l and the Rebbe. Remarks by the latter were seen as so offensive to the recognized Gadol Hador of the Litvishe world, that a protest rally was organized, with the anticipated participation of thousands of yeshiva students. Rav Gifter z”l was one of the prominent organizers. When Rav Yaakov z”l found out, he phoned Rav Gifter and told him that if he, Rav Gifter attended, that Rav Yaakov would not. His absence would doom the entire enterprise.

Rav Yaakov explained that Rav Gifter was a capable and fiery orator. He feared that Rav Gifter might do such a good job, that it would drive Chabad to separate entirely from the Torah world, and he did not want to see that happen, chas v’shalom. Rav Gifter agreed to pull back; the rally was redesigned as supporting the honor of the Torah, rather than protesting against Chabad.

I grew up with the standard yeshiva attitudes towards the excesses of Chabad – among people who had no trouble citing example after example. It is likely that my contempt for meshichistism is way above average; I have a very warm regard for Dr. David Berger. On the other hand, I have personally seen too many genuine, fine yidden in Chabad – with lots of Ahavas Yisrael, not just Ahavas Chabad – not to be impressed by the good. Still, I run the risk of disapproval of good friends who are disappointed that I could say anything that would soften public resolve against the problematic aspects of Chabad.

But there has to be a limit. We cannot tolerate that Chabad should move away from us, or that we marginalize them to the point that we de facto become two separate communities. I hope that this exchange can mean more than venting on both sides. I hope that Rabbi Eliezrie can take some of the depth of feeling about Chabad (some of it coming from very respected members of the community) back to his compatriots, and get them to realize that there is a problem out there; I hope that some on the other side have learned that there are legitimate grievances on the other side as well. Perhaps a few of us can continue talking to each other.

Es achai anochi mevakesh.

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8 Responses

  1. mycroft says:

    One of the reasons that your blog has credibility is that until now, at least in my commenting experience, you have been relatively open to comments–even those that disagree with most of the contributors ideas.

    BTW the story about R Yacov and Rav Gifter is a classic one of the approach of Rav Yacov-one that unfortunately is not often that much today.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    One of the unique aspects of this blog is that it is open to a full and free discussion, even if the premises of the authors are challenged from other halachic and hashkafic views. IMO, it would be a disservice to your readership if a litmus test of a “chiddush” or the equivalent was adopted and enforced. Some of the best “chiddushim” emerge only after a give and take , evaluation, questionning, rejection and holding in abeyance of a particular POV that is the format of any Beis Medrash or the study of any Blatt Gemara as opposed to the rarified intellectual atmosphere of a library.

  3. mb says:

    Very well said. A refreshing approach.

  4. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein mentions “ezines”, a word coined by the hi-tech community for electronic magazines. This post would be what’s termed in cyberspace “meta-blogging”, or blogging about blogging.

    In the August post of “Blogging: An Alternate Mission Statement”, Rabbi Adlerstein lists a number of purposes for Cross Currents and solicited reader feedback. The last item in the list was “providing support for one special group of observant Jews caught in the crunch between two worlds”. I am not sure what this refers to, but besides kiruv(outreach) and Orthodox/Charedi hasbarah(public relations), I see the following three purposes and goals benefiting internal Orthodox concerns, in JBlogging in general, and CC in particular:

    (1) Bridging the RW/MO divide. Dr. David Luchins has termed the American/Israeli relationship as a sharing of “complementary” rather than “identical” interests. Similarly, both sides on the RW/MO divide, as shomrei Torah u’mitzvos, have complementary and mutual concerns which they have in common and share.

    (2) Providing an intellectual home for, and a giving voice to the “moderate yeshivish”, who are either refugees from the recent shifting(sliding ?) to the Right occurring in the Charedi world, or feel that their interests are not sufficiently taken into account in the charedi press, which caters to the “multitudes” or to the “kannoim”. Obviously, the term “shifting to the Right” is a subjective one, and some would instead term the phenomenen “spiritual growth”.

    (3)Relationship with the charedi Establishment(eg, Agudah and other unofficial leaders). Here too, there are complementary interests, as in biological mutualism. While it might not be acknowledged publicly, I believe that many in the RW leadership will privately acknowledge that the their publications do not fully or primarily cater to those on the outer orbits of the charedi world, or those sitting on the RW/MO divide. As of yet, however, no print publication has been created for this group of people.

    Officially, the internet doesn’t exist in the chardi world, but nevertheless, to ignore the blogosphere’s existence would be to hold up a white flag to those who are hostile to the yeshiva world. The reality of blogging and various recent controversies have changed the way the Establishment needs to relate to the grass-roots.

    It is in the best interests of the charedi world to have dialogue and open communication with the grass-roots, as some problems may be due to miscommunication, or may represent non-core issues where there may be able to eventually be some change on the charedi side. As I have mentioned on other blogs, bloggers should not feel that it is a beracha levatala(futile effort) to communicate with the RW leadership. Even if there is limited change which can occur in the short-run, communication and mutual understanding is always healthy, as Rabbi Adlerstein writes here concerning Chabad.

    Whether or not the Establishment engages the blogosphere directly, or creates other forums like e-mail groups or private meetings, in my opinion, it is in everyone’s best interests that grassroots bloggers, including both idividuals on the outer orbit of the charedi world as well as people on the Right of Modern Orthodoxy(and perhaps the Left as well), maintain some type of communication with the Charedi Establishment or unofficial leaders.

  5. mycroft says:

    For a change I agree with Steve Brizel and Baruch Horowitz. I would add that I personally have enjoyed the give and take on cross current. If I recall correctly the few times that I have submitted something and it has not been posted-I received a personal e-mail for the reasons why not. I may not have agreed with the reasons -but the courtesy of a thoughtful reason meant a lot to me. I wish that Rabbi Shafran could be encouraged to come back for a few posts.

    Selfishly, I agree with Baruch Horowitz’s last paragraph-one would probably describe me as MO-but among other things I usually go to some shiurim via satellite. I would love to communicate with speakers via e-mail-but sadly I have been unable to find their e-mail-as opposed to YU rabbeim-who one can find their e-mail on the internet and I have on occasion commented and received at least polite replies and often substantive responses.

  6. Moshe Schorr says:

    Baruch Horowitz gives one of the reasons for Jblogging as follows:(2) Providing an intellectual home for, and a giving voice to the “moderate yeshivish”, who are either refugees from the recent shifting(sliding ?) to the Right occurring in the Charedi world, or feel that their interests are not sufficiently taken into account in the charedi press, which caters to the “multitudes” or to the “kannoim”. Obviously, the term “shifting to the Right” is a subjective one, and some would instead term the phenomenen “spiritual growth”.

    I would say that “spiritual growth” applies to an individual. OTOH “shifting to the Right” is on an organizational level. So they cannot be used interchangeably.

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “For a change I agree with Steve Brizel and Baruch Horowitz.”


    I obviously don’t recall everything that you’ve written, but I think that any disagreement we have had, is more in terms of balance, and in how much weight to give to two opposing sides in complex issues. I think that’s what’s behind many disagreements in general, and the JBlogs in particular. If issues would be black and white, there would be no point in discussing them.

    In “Burning down our own neighborhood — Reconsidered”, Rabbi Rosenblum mentioned this point as well:

    “Nevertheless, if an issue is worth writing about at all, there are usually two sides to it…”

    (Ironically, I don’t see two sides on that particular issue, but I guess I should be true to my principles, and attempt to understand those quoted in the article who think that the issue is more complex than the way that I see it.)

  8. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “…as opposed to YU rabbeim-who one can find their e-mail on the internet and I have on occasion commented and received at least polite replies and often substantive responses.”

    You have to realize that anyone who communicates by e-mail is taking a risk in trusting you , or anyone else, that their private communication will not be made public(I hope I am not discouraging the people who do e-mail you!).

    Rabbi Adlerstein has written in October, 2005 that “there are simply no secrets left. The “bird of the sky” that will inevitably “carry the sound” (Koheles 10:20) has sprouted digital wings. In the age of the internet, everything that is ever uttered becomes a matter of public record, and is never forgotten”.

    Occasionally, when I have the opportunity to meet a “moderate” Rav/leader/Torah personality and it is feasible, I sometimes try to talk to them about various nettlesome issues of our day. However, the first challenge is to convince them that I am asking sincerely, and will not breach the confidentiality of a private conversation by publicizing it. If this concerns rabbonim when speaking in private “off the record”, how much more is it a concern in documented e-mail !

    Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn has some good advice regarding live conversations, and mentions the above point as well (“problem is to convince them that you are trustworthy with what they divulge and that you are a good listener…”).

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