Sunday, June 03, 2012

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A Jewish Blogger Comes Out

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

[ Submitted to Mishpacha magazine and Ami magazine in response to articles for their Parshat Nasso issues regarding the Internet Asifa held in the U.S. the previous week. ]

I learned this week from various religious Jewish paper publications that I’m lazy, that I’m focused on lashon hara (literally evil speech but meaning spreading bad information about others) and gossip.  And that definitely, without a doubt, I’m responsible for wasting of time.

I was informed this by and as a result of the biggest Torah unity building event of the generation, the Internet Asifa, held in the US last week.  The Asifa was announced as a way to alert the less well informed in Jewish religious circles on how to properly approach the Internet, given it’s seedier sides and easier access to items of moral danger.  And no one with any reasonable moral sensibilities would disagree with that.

Instead of the announced approach, the videos uploaded to the Internet and live posts from the event show 40,000 ultra-orthodox Jews being lectured by group of elderly senior rabbonim for 6 hours in Yiddish (and occasionally English) about how the Internet, as a tool, is simply EVIL.

They have pronounced that as Jewish blogger and user of the Internet, I should not be allowed to pray in synagogue, my children should be thrown out of yeshiva (Jewish religious school), and I’m definitely going to hell or at least in for a tough time when I’ll come to stand before the Beis Din shel Shamayim, the heavenly court of judgment after the end of my life.

As I ponder my fate, I thought a bit to the past of Judaism.  I wondered how the rabbonim reacted to the arrival of a past newfangled and possibly dangerous communication tool… the printing press.

Prior to the arrival of this device of information dissemination, Torah seforim (holy books on topics of Judaism) and prayer books were hand written by scribes on parchment.  The shaliach tzibbur, the synagogue prayer leader, was an absolutely required function because he was possibly the ONLY one in the synagogue with a written prayer book - literally hand written.  So he called out the order of prayers, fulfilling everyone’s obligation to cover the full detail of the prayers – which must have been a challenge without actually having access to a text.

The whole reason the sages instituted the reading of the Torah Monday’s, Thursday’s and on Shabbos Kodesh was so the congregation would become familiar with it – having no access to copies of their own!  A learned Jew was one who had memorized his prayers and maybe read through the Torah once.  And access to and knowing Gemora (at all), that was a talmid chacham.

What happened when the printing press came along?  Suddenly the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) role wasn’t really necessary.  People could get a chumash (a Torah in book form) and read the Torah any time they wanted.  Even worse, anyone could come along and PUBLISH, they could disseminate their Torah ideas far and wide!  Who would control the outflow of Torah?  Who would make sure only kosher ideas were published???

Something always struck me about our mesorah, our chain of Torah, but more specifically about our chain of seforim – our chain of holy Torah books.  Besides the Tanach (the holy Torah, the navi’im – prophets, and kesuvim – the holy books such from Shlomo HaMelech and from Ester and Mordechai), we have the Mishna, then nothing for 100 years, then the Gemora, and then nothing for 300 years.  Then we get the Mishneh Torah and the Tur, another 100 years of nothing, Ramban, another 100 years of nothing, then the Shulchan Aruch.  And besides these major works, we have almost 2,000 years of nothing!

All of Judaism before the printing press comprises about 35 “works” (that today we publish in about 100 volumes).  That’s 2,000 years of Judaism, 2,000 years of rabbis and Torah learning that’s represented by…35 works.  Where are all the holy seforim?  Where’s all the Torah insights, and transmitted traditions, and insights from Har Sinai?  Where’s even some history of communities, understanding of minchagim (customs)?

The simple answer is: too expensive to preserve (have a book hand written by a scribe), or even if it was written it was too expensive (in time, money, and effort) to disseminate, to spread far and wide.  So even if someone went to the great expense of having a holy sefer written, with time and generations the few copies were lost.

On Tisha B’Av we read a kinah (a lament) about a horrible event of the Inquisition, the burning of pretty much the complete Torah library of the COUNTRY of SPAIN – it was 400 copies of the Talmud.

And yet a mere 200 years later, following the arrival of the printing press, there’s over 10,000 different Jewish holy books available and hundreds of thousands of copies of those books in circulation. 

We can imagine the Torah leadership of the day being stunned by this new invention.  Will the synagogue survive without everyone HAVING to come to hear the prayers since anyone can now pray without being led?  And what if any old rabbi can publish his Torah thoughts?  Will there be a thousand completing Codes of Jewish Law?

And yet not only did Judaism survive, it thrived with the new tool!  Everyone could pray well.  Though it was still expensive, the availability of holy seforim and Gemora’s meant everyone who wanted to learn had the possibility of doing so.  And as HebrewBooks.org shows us, over that 400 year period of time our learned scholars created over 50,000 different Torah seforim!

A brief side note.  My father in law, a”h, was a talmid of Ponevetz in Lithuania.  The whole great pre-World War II Ponevetz yeshiva had an average of 1 gemora book per 10 talmidim (simply due to the cost versus the poverty of the Jewish communities of the time).  The students would gather around the large gemora, sitting from all angles while learning a page together.  EVERY Torah student of that generation could read a page of Gemora from ANY ANGLE, and my father-in-law would demonstrate this later in life in the Chevra Shas as he would lean across the table to point something out in the commentary the other person was reading, pointing it out upside down.

Today Judaism faces a new tool.  It’s a powerful tool, as a friend wrote me, “it’s a very sharp knife.”   Suddenly any Jew can easily and quickly share Torah thoughts, or emunah thoughts, or communal thoughts.  It’s DISRUPTIVE (to use a business and technology term).  Those who used to complain quietly in the back of the synagogue can complain online to the whole community or even to all of Klal Yisroel.

This new tool opens new opportunities for business and commerce.  It opens new avenues of communication, as families spread between the U.S. and Israel can stay in touch and see each other (video).  It offers life enhancement abilities, with tools for avoiding traffic real time and tools for keeping up to date of the status of a full range of family and friends in a quick and easy way.

It also offers far too easy access to negative moral materials.  Materials not easily available inside our religious communities are now available in our homes and in the palms of our hands.

It certainly is the role of our gedolim, of our Torah leaders, to measure the dangers of such moral effecting problems and to lead our community in directions to avoid and mitigate such things.  And with the Internet Asifa, we were hoping for exactly that.

Instead our leaders are making such comments as “I don’t write off the bloggers as leitzanim and reshaim, because they will be judged..after 120 years”  (translation – I don’t need to condemn the bloggers, they’ll pay in the heavenly court), when they are making such comments it shows they have no clue what is out there.  Contrary to a further statement, “the Moetzes is a homogeneous group of the most intelligent empathetic individuals – all great talmidei chachamim – and they grasp all aspects of an issue right away”, the Internet is not an issue you “grasp all aspects of” without actually investigating it.

Even further complicating it, it keeps changing significantly every 5 years.  As significantly as moving from Lycos to Google, from eBay to Amazon, from GPS to Waze, from Desktop to iPad…to Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram and Pinterest, to… ??? 

Today there are tens of thousands of Jewish bloggers.  Here’s the key point our leadership making those statements has failed to understand about bloggers: Bloggers are passionate!  They care, deeply and powerfully.  They invest significant time and effort to publish quality material every single day.  For free – no subscription, no sales, no income.  These are people who care, people who are driven – exactly the kind of people that, when directed and encouraged properly build up communities and improve the Klal.

Some are rabbonim sharing their Torah, and they’re impacting hundreds of thousands of Jews literally around the world.  Some are Jewish musicians sharing their music, uplifting spirits and providing Jewish music for all generations of Jews.  Some are community activists doing chessed and solving problems, involving others, sharing solutions, asking for help and ideas.  Some are immigrants to Israel, sharing the love of the Holy Land in stories, in pictures, in experiences.  Some are doing Israeli Hasbara (PR), and have literally had such an impact that they’ve changed the way Israel itself does hasbara!

And yes, some have an ax to grind.  They’ve encountered negatives within the Torah community.  Some have been hurt, religiously so and even criminally so.  Some are out to try to fix it, to make it better. Some are out to express their anger and pain, having been turned against their brothers by evil hiding in the guise of Torah – the klipah suckling off the light.

That can be painful and even damaging.  Yet maybe, as a community, having the light shined into some of the seedier sides of the religious community is not a bad thing.  Maybe for those who don’t act as if there is an Eye that Sees and an Ear that Hears will act properly when other’s are watching, realizing that there’s a smartphone that videos and it get’s uploaded to Youtube.

So my dear friends of the Asifa, your goals were laudable.  But what happened???  You could have harnessed a new world of passion and communicative power.  You could have provided moral direction and communal focus for those who use the new medium.  You could have directed Blogging, Facebook and Twitter for good.  The power that would have had, the influence that would have created!!!

But no.  Instead we must ask, are you ok with children being thrown out of school because their parents need a parnosa, or they want to save 1/2 the time of their commute to work, or they want to stay in touch with their parents across the world?  Are you ok with people being given a choice of being able to manage their schedule in their pocket instead of paying for a secretary or having to leave their chassidus?  Are you ok with people being demonized because they want to share Torah around the world or stop evil within our communities?

(Mishpacha Magazine) “(regarding the child abuse and molestation issues) the question is, if the fact (bloggers) have created some degree of change is worth the cost.  At the very least, it’s rechilus, lashon hara, and bittul zman.  That’s a high price to pay.

You know what’s a high price to pay?  OUR CHILDREN being ABUSED.  Our children being MOLESTED.  And the VICTIMS being made to pay an additional price for not just taking it.  And if that costs a little time or rumors, well that’s a SMALL price to pay! And if it was dealt with in a KOSHER manner by the establishment, you wouldn’t have people feeling the need to shout about it.

But that was not enough.  You presented the core of your issue, “Then there is the damage wrought to the hierarchy of Klal Yisroel.”

Power and Control. 

Periodically Judaism, yes Torah Judaism, reinvents itself.  This happens when cultural, societal, or traumatic changes happen and the previous “hierarchy of Klal Yisroel” isn’t serving the needs of the current society.  Chassidus.  Mussar.  Brisk.  Kollel.  Daf Yomi.  Teshuva/Outreach organizations.  Chabad.  Each, which today we consider part of Torah m’Sinai (the continuous chain of mesorah) came as a new thing, a revolutionary thing.

Yes, the Internet has moral risks.  It also has tremendous value.  It’s a tool, one that specializes in disseminating information, not unlike the printing press with the addition of being two way.  It would be nice, it would be a tremendous blessing, if our rabbinic leadership showed us the way to FOCUS it for it’s incredible positive potential and advised on the ways to avoid the negative, provided good guidelines for safe, kosher and effective use! 

Instead you’ve given this response.  Yet while you were crying about it being evil, you told the story directly.  Sacrificing our children to be abused is more important than potential negative rumors about a yeshiva or that might affect a Torah organization.  Hashem yishmor!

We will not sacrifice our children on the altar of Moloch, even when it’s cloaked in the language of Torah.  Nor will we bury our heads while our brothers are crying for a good word of Torah or emunah on the other side of the world.  Nor will we condemn ourselves to poverty when a tool to enable parnosa sits in front of us.

The internet is a tool, a very powerful one.  It can be used for good or for ill.  I, for one, will use it to the best of my ability for good.  Because I’m passionate about doing what I can for the good of my community, which now reaches to all Jews worldwide, all of Klal Yisroel. 

Before the printing press, the works of almost every Talmud Chacham, every Gadol Torah, was LOST.  It was simply too expensive to publish (have a sefer hand written) and disseminate (have copies made).  With the printing press tens of thousands of seforim could be published, and thousands of copies could be made.  That provided us with a library of 50,000-100,000 holy Torah works.

Today we can share any Torah thought with a click, learn with a rabbi on the other side of the world, record every shiur (Torah lesson) to play later (MP3), share it with our friends with a click, and upload every Torah lecture to Youtube – all with practically NO COST.  The Torah inheritance of the next generation is going to be the millions of individual Torah lessons preserved and disseminated via the Internet.

I am Reb Akiva, a Jewish religious blogger at Mystical Paths – mpaths.com – Jewish blogging for the past 8 years with over 2,000,000 readers.  I say that number not to, G-d forbid, impress anyone.  Rather to point out the amazing reach that can be achieved.  Why should those 2,000,000 readers not be hearing the Torah of the gedolim???

My dear holy brothers of the Asifa, I do not write for your approval or to avoid your disdain.  I have a rav, a Rebbe, and I stand with my blogging before HaKodesh Baruch Hu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He).  Rather I write to you out of ahavas yisroel (love of your fellow) and concern for Klal Yisroel…

Please do not let your Torah be lost forever.  Please don’t let your relevance be lost to the new generation.  As one of you stated “it’s hard to get your message out when (your magazine) closed down and you have no web site”.  Why?  Why in this generation of communication tools is it hard to get your message out???

Join the discussion, share your Torah, provide your positive direction for use of this tool for the benefit of Klal Yisroel. As my friend wrote me, this tool is “powerful, you bet, sharp, you bet, dangerous, you bet, repairable, you bet.  But the souls of the millions of people whom we help make the risk worthwhile.”

My dear holy brothers concerned with Klal Yisroel, what do you have to say?  I would be happy to publish any such responses.  Because with this tool I’m happy (and can afford) to get ALL Torah out.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rabbi... Just wanted you to know..we are all listening and reading. We appreciate the Work of Torah you do for all of us. It IS life changing, and we Thank HaKadosh Boruch Hu for all He is doing for all of us to learn of His Truths that have been hidden away for too long.

Thank you Rabbi.
angela

Neshama said...

B"H He is the One behind the changes we are all witnessing. HKB"H is moving His children to return to His Land, our Yerusha. HKB"H is begging His children to reach out, each one individually, to Him, davening, pleading and begging to bring our redemption, to eradicate the Yetzer so we, His children, can serve Him on the Mountain.

Kol HaKavod Akiva. Spoken by a passionate Eved HaShem.

[PS It's amazing the effect of the Land, Air and direct Hashgocha Pratis on all of us Jew who have moved back home. Our priorities are being refined. We are awakening from a long, long, galut stupor.]

Commenter Abbi said...

I don't read you regularly, but I urge you to consider editing your post title. "Coming out" usually refers to revealing oneself as a homosexual.

Batya said...

You've done great chessed with your blog.
I think there are halachik problems with these rabbinic announements, as dangerous as the internet I'd say.

Jesterhead45 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesterhead45 said...

Despite growing up in a traditional Jewish home, I did not know much about Judaism and had questions that neither my parents and religious relatives nor my local Rabbis gave satisfactory answers to, being told to merely recite in a language I did not understand and do things by rote without asking questions, one memory that stands out from that period when I was little was when an elderly Rabbi from Israel came over and said to the congregation at my local Shul the following, “television, evil box, throw it out of window!” While the Rabbi despite his limited English was ultimately correct by the time I was all grown up (at least when it comes to the media inciting against Jews / Israel), it is a miracle that I was not forever turned off by Judaism like others I know (that tragically are now predictably deciding to marry out).

Personally, I am forever grateful to the internet for being the catalyst that renewed my desire to learn about Judaism, which strangely enough came about inadvertently from reading up on various non-Jewish series that happened to feature Jewish ideas and concepts that up to then nobody bothered teaching me about such as the Sephirot, Adam Kadmon plus the Four Worlds, Ein Sof, Geulah and Gilgul Neshamot, etc, that would ultimately inspire me to learn more from the Jewish / Moshiach blogosphere, become involved with Jewish Outreach (such as Aish, Chabad, Ohr Somayach, etc) as well as having pretty much all of my questions answered from various Rabbis and continuing to learn (as well as practise) more than I ever would have had the insular Asifa been around when the internet first appeared years ago.

I am not the only Jew who has learned more about Judaism and grown to value it thanks to the internet and it really speaks volumes that those who condemn the internet as a great evil are the same people that would rather have me and many others go off the Derech, further ostracize fellow Jews, embrace poverty / insularity, possess little to no common human decency and covering up child abuse / molestation in order to maintain their hold / power over Jews as if they and the sell-out secular oikophobic Jewish leadership are two sides of the same coin.

While it is not my place to pass judgement, do those Erev Zeir-types seriously believe that Heaven will validate their actions when especially in light of the scandals they are unwilling to tackle within their own communities, their motivations for banning the internet are far from altruistic?

It is worth mentioning that some Rabbis believe the internet to be a modern-day version of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which like pretty much everything in this physical world can be used for both Good and Evil… the internet is no exception and that is something the Asifa-types would do well to remember.

Shiloh said...

It's so dangerous when any group, even those under the guise of Torah want to censor the internet. Their purpose is to advance "Torah"in their own distorted ideology. The control of new scholarly works will be at the forefront as those in control don't want Jew, nor Goyim to learn what is true, only learn what is their tradition which may be in many cases completely contradicting the Torah and Tanach.

If they hold the truth, which they don't for fear of information which is out of their control, they would have no fear of the internet, biblical scholars and archeologists who are daily showing the immense error we think is the truth.

It's too bad Jews from all walks are fearful of anyone who is not on their specific derech and can show their derech is contradicting the Torah. We all believe in the Truth, it's just that we really don't want it, nor truly research our beliefs enough to prove whether or not they are true. Censoring the internet will only further ensure we never reach the truth thus delaying the geulah.

So be part of the probem or the solution. It's up to us, sadly our history has proven the latter.

Shiloh said...

I just wanted to add, if the one annointed by G-d showed up, and he used the internet to get his message out, the controllers (the rabbi's) would quickly censor all or redact much of his message. Think about who truly is the problem in delaying the geulah and you all want to run to them for advise. Wake up sheeple.

Anonymous said...

I am a Hasidic (non-Chabad) ba'al teshuvah, I've been one for 15 years, first learning about the world of ba'al teshuvah yeshivas and Orthodoxy in my college's computer lab which had access to the early internet and the "Yeshiva vacation" announcements of what would become torah.org. I can understand banning TV, but banning the internet is like banning the printing press, it is a very bad idea, and it makes me wonder if I should even remain "on the derech" if it means sentencing my children to a life of Amish-like existence and poverty; which is nowhere perscribed in the Torah.

Rav Nati said...

So look the burden of what is treif is on us, the consumer! So we need to really check out the Dyanim, espeacially in australia and of course Cha-bad, all the Rabbeim, shochtim moelim and rebbe's of chedars to make sure they are "nonsmoking non-molesters, non-extortionist, guttons before we use they services

Shiloh said...

Nice comment Nati, don't forget the drunks. The problem is where to begin and who shall do it. One way like you mentioned is not to use their services or in otherwords ignore everything that comes out from them. Only this way maybe things can begin to change.

Anonymous said...

Where it says do not use internet for good in this event? It is all about filtering the internet, and there some kosher filters allows you to listen Torah.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the burning of the Talmud happened in Paris, France, and not in Spain (that was burning of Jews and crypto-Jews in the inquisition).

rap said...

you are comparing the printing press as the communication tool of its time, with easy access to
pornography, access to children without supervision,
and other really really traps made by satan.
you can't compare todays internet as a communication tool, and the printing press 400 years ago. there was no danger to slaughter your soul by printing a religious sefer.

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