How I dealt with the Agudah and Blogs

When I first heard about the Agudah coming down on blogs, I was a bit surprised. I had a real urge to take a picture of one of the local “Agudath Israel” funded schools buses and Photoshop a bumper sticker that read “I BREAK FOR BLOGS”. While I would have found my creation quite humorous, it would not have been very Uberdox. I felt that a more direct and menshlikeit approach would be better than just blogging about how the “Agudah is picking on bloggers” (plus my kid enjoys riding the bus home from school, thanks to the Agudah).

Below is a the text of my letter to Rabbi Shafran and his reply. All in all, I was glad that I chose to directly address my concerns and I was pleased with the reply. I actually left him a voicemail thanking him for his email to me. I hope that someone will post an accurate and non-biased report of what will actually go down at the convention.

November 2, 2006

Dear Rabbi Shafran,
I’ll start off by thanking you for taking a few minutes to read this. I’m sure you’ve gotten a headaches worth of email and phone calls concerning the recent Yated article about the upcoming convention, which quotes Rabbi Zweibel as saying that:
“In recent years, though,” the Agudah leader observes, “due to a variety of factors, the authority of daas Torah has been significantly undermined, even within our own chareidi circles. Most troubling has been the proliferation of Internet ‘blogs’ where misguided individuals feel free to spread every bit of rechilus and loshon hora about rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, all with the intended effect of undermining any semblance of Torah authority in our community.”
I agree this is a major problem. I’m happy to see that it is being discussed at the Agudah convention. I am concerned though. As someone who is a “blogger”, I am worried. I’m familar with all the reasons why certain blogs are totally anti-daas Torah and, in fact, do nothing but promote chillul Hashem, sinas chinam, and a complete lack of respect towards rabbonim. I agree that those blogs are harmful to klal Yisrael.
There are blogs out there that are, in fact, similar to what is produced by Am Echad. Insightful, sensitive, timely approaches to important issues (although they are not was well written as what you write). Some blogs, such as are geared toward the baalei teshuva community and allows Torah observant Jews from across the world to discuss, learn and grow in their yiddishkeit.
I, personally, blog under my own name. I have an average of 40 readers per posting and if I was to stop my blog, I wouldn’t be missed by too many. I hope that in the Agudah’s effort to intelligently and thoughfully deal with the issues that Rabbi Zweibel has mentioned, the end result is not a complete campaign against blogging as a whole. There are plenty of ehrlich frum yidden who learning, davening, give tzedaka, teach, and help raise the next generation of Torah Jews, and happen to blog, as well.
Thank you for your time and if you feel this message should be passed along to others, please do so. I will not be able to attend the convention, but might try to join the Midwest convention. If you feel I should share my views with Rabbi Kalish or others within the Agudah leadership here in Chicago, please feel free to make any suggestion to me. Thanks again and have a great Shabbos.

Neil Harris
Chicago, IL

Dear Mr. Harris,
Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful letter. I personally agree with your sentiments and will share your e-mail with others, including Rabbi Zwiebel. I think I can assure you that Agudath Israel has no complaints against blogs like yours — my own essays are occasionally posted on at least one responsible blog, Cross-Currents. There can be no question that much good is being accomplished by the web-presence of responsible, intelligent frum people… any criticism of blogs from us, as a careful reading of Rabbi Zwiebel’s statement should show, is clearly aimed at the irrresponsible and destructive ones. Again, thanks for writing, and much continued hatzlacha to you, in your blogging and in all else.
Good Shabbos,

21 thoughts on “How I dealt with the Agudah and Blogs

  1. Ezzie

    All right, but that doesn’t really say much. I think the question is, why the focus on blogs as opposed to any other medium? In every medium, there are people who are irresponsible, people who are destructive. What is this focus on blogs about, and what kind of backlash against bloggers will be created if people misunderstand such statements or apply it too broadly?

  2. Lady Delish

    Are you really that naive? They will throw the baby out with the bathwater if necessary, its been done before. Personal opinion is way too dangerous. And Im probably the epitome of what they frown upon.

  3. Neil Harris

    I was also worried about backlash for fellow bloggers, like you.

    As to why “blogs”? I can only guess that blogs are a medium that are easily accessable to me most people, considered sources of ‘reliable’ information (just ask NEW YORK mag or the NYT), and one can be reveal things without disclosing their identity.

  4. Ezzie

    That comes back to common sense a bit. Thinking people understand that an anonymous blogger is as trustworthy as a Reuters photographer; those who don’t understand that will always find whatever conclusions they want to, regardless of blogs.

  5. Pragmatician

    Ezzie? Isn’t reuters a highly biased against Israel?In which case I rather believe an anonymous blogger.

    Neil-I like you letter, you attempt to make them see thaT ‘blogging’ a a whole is not a bad thing.But as with internet, it’s easier to ban everything than to educate the public.

  6. Rafi G

    Neil – that was a well-put letter you sent. I am not sure I understand the reponse, though. His description of irrsponsible and destructive blogs makes me wonder what he is referring to?
    Any blog that criticizes aguga or the frum community for actions is irresponsible? or only blogs that get out of hand like UOJ and failed messiah types? What about blogs that openly discuss principles of faith – are they irresponsible and destructive?

    Is there anything to be gained by Agudah coming down on such blogs anyway? Anybody blogging anonymously and in this irresponsible fashion will not be stopped just because aguda comes out with a statement against. They will not listen and anyway nobody can stop an anonymous blogger from posting with peer pressure (the greatest tool the frum community has to enforce its decrees).

    If the frum community would be more open to dealing with such issues (referring to issues dealt with in these various blogs) fairly and honestly, there might not be such a backlash on the internet.

  7. Akiva

    It’s a nice try. However, everything about the response says “we don’t get it”. This isn’t unusual, there’s a vast group of businesses that haven’t gotten it, and they’re sitting there wondering where their customers are while Amazon and eBay grow at 30% a year.

    Would you do business with a bank that didn’t have a web site to check your account? I wouldn’t, and I changed banks because from one with a poor web site.

    Today, an MP3 on record, or a cell phone, or a pocket video camera, is capturing every shiur (except on Shabbos) and it’s being shared. Good news, Torah spreading! Bad news, the maggid shiur has to be a lot more careful in what he says because he never knows who’s going to hear it.

    Some time not so long ago, the gedolim were legends that lived far away and weighed in on issues months old via letters. Some time some people still think it is, you could call the gedolim and pass questions to their secretary, and get an answer in a day or two, and you could call around about it. Today the actual words of the gadol can be sent around the world in minutes, or real time. Good news, get it instantly. Bad news, no editing on live communications.

    Once, not so long ago, anyone with a community problem had to raise it to the rav, or beis din, or gadol, who could ‘manage’ it. Or, the person could just go grumble in the corner and maybe get a few other souls to pay attention.

    Today, the Eye that Sees and the Ear that Hears is mimic’d in every cell phone, digital camera, and mp3 player. The Book that is Written is mimic’d and can be written to by all and read by all.

    In theory, we believe that Hashem is listening at this level and have a Fear of Heaven, dreading what it will be like to stand before the Beis Din shel Shamayim and see our life replayed before the Judge.

    It seems to me that if one truly has Fear of Heaven and acts so, then one will have no fear of the mp3 recorder, digital camera, video camera, web site or blog.

    Rather than hid away and pretend the information age and internet age isn’t upon us, they should be setting up a free facility for every rav to be posting every shiur, dvar torah, and shabbos message. “The Daf Yomi blogs”, where every one of the hundreds of daf yomi shiurim are recorded and placed, “The Parsha Blogs”, “The Halacha Blogs”, etc. Take all their coordinated Torah and spread it!

    Do they fear the darkness won’t recede before the light? Or is it an admission of dark places they don’t want illuminated?

  8. Jewish Blogmeister

    The fact that the agudah has an issue with bloggers is fine with me. Not everything the agudah does is solid gold and not necessarily agreed upon by major poskim. A good example would be the 5 peice band Takanah which many rabbanim were not in favor of.

  9. Neil Harris

    Everyone is bringing up great issues. I think that once we get a report of what was actually said, then out discussion will be a little different. I’ll try to post whatever I can find out tonight about what was actaully said that the convention.

  10. Anonymous

    The problem is that they paint with a broad brush in public even if some individual Agudah representatives are more nuanced in private communication. The average reader of Rabbi Zweibel’s published statement would understand it as an attack on the medium and not just on those blogs like “UOJ” that are disrespectful.

    IMO, this is a persistent issue with many Agudah pronouncements.

    I’ve rewritten Rabbi Zweibel’s statement as I wish he’d have issued it. My changes in italics.

    “In recent years, though,” the Agudah leader observes, “due to a variety of factors, the authority of daas Torah has been significantly undermined, even within our own chareidi circles. One issue has been the sprouting of some Internet ‘blogs’ where misguided individuals feel free to spread every bit of rechilus and loshon hora about rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, all with the [intended] effect of undermining [any semblance of] Torah authority in our community.”

    Then, I’d add something like the following: “Blogs and blogging are not for everyone, but there are benefits to this medium as well. In addition to looking at the pitfalls, the session will also address the positive sides of blogging, how blogs can you used for kiruv, chizuk, and harbotzas hatorah.”

  11. a reader

    I think they only mean about blogs that get out of hand like UOJ and some others. And I agree about cracking down on it.

  12. grose

    Chevrah, there is a problem with blogs, and I’m sorry if not everyone can see what it is. When a person speaks, people take it with a grain of salt. When people publish written words, newspapers take a certain amount of responsibility in verifying (not always) and deciding moral issues before publishing. Blogging is a cross between the two – the weight of written words with no responsibility attached to it. Another thing: blogging is a hit-and-run kind of thing. Can I sue a blogger for libel? yah, but not in the same vein as a writer of a newspaper. Can I pinpint who an anonymous blogger or commenter is? No – so remarks can be made that are false and libelous, with no recourse and no way of stopping it. Most blogs end up in the most shameful of Motzei Shem Rah, as if those bloggers and commentators never picked up a Sefer on Shmiras HaLashon. Worse, each blog has the ability to be picked up and used against us. There is a prophecy of the times preceding Mashiach, where our destroyers will come from within our own camp. No one like to think that he will be a destroyer, but putting certain accusations out there is exactly that. In Germany, there was a woman reformer who saw some of the ugly side of some Jews. She began printing it up. This was legitimate horrors. And she was told not to do so because it would harm more than it would help. She, too, chose to ignore the rabbis and kept printing every isolated horror case. End result: Her articles and exposes were used widely by the Nazis a few short years later as “proof” of why Jews are corrupt. She then said, alas too late, how right the rabbis had been to tell her to end horrors quietly, rather than splash it out where those who would like to use any excuse to hate us can find it.

  13. Neshama

    This is the same “reply” they gave to all queries, and by the house lawyer too, so you know they knew it was coming and had to formulate their type of reply.

    The same way the written word can express less than positive comments, the sum total of the words can also cover up something that is deliberately being side-stepped. One definition of syllogism is: a subtle, specious, or crafty argument

    I think the blogs are good and bad (as everything in life is inherently that). It is ‘the good’ that most of us conscionable people are interested in. That some blogs expose questionable issues – means that they need to be researched to find out whether they are true or not. Such disclosures can in fact better the community by letting everyone know that they need to be more conscientious and more truthful (as if there is such a thing as more truthful).

    I for one think that if there is a ‘ problem in kashrus’ we the people can fidn out about it. If there is a problem with a Rebbe or a Yeshiva, parents should know. Issues should no longer be swept under the rug!

    A little light dispels darkness.

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