Saturday, May 04, 2013

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This is an Editorial, Not Halacha

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

DSC01619In this past week’s issue of Ami (Our People) magazine (one of the two weekly English language general periodicals sold to the mass market Jewish Orthodox community world wide – the other being Mishpacha (Family) magazine), Rabbi Yizchok Frankfurter published an editorial that danced around it’s point until the end…

“The necessity that an Orthodox columnist be a lamdan (Torah scholar) and skilled in (Jewish religious) legal reasoning actually exceeds the requirement that he have writing skills…

Since we Orthodox columnists can only…play the role of advocates for a certain position while leaving the final decision to gedolei Yisroel (to the senior religious leadership of observant Judaism)…

Regrettably…the reverse is true.  Orthodox columnists promote their own subjective feelings and findings in place of briefing the public about the dictates (requirements) of halacha (Jewish religious law).”

As best as I can tell, Rabbi Frankfurter is upset that Orthodox columnists, and later in the magazine similar complaints are made about bloggers, are having an influence. 

Apparently voicing concerns of the community, noting social trends, economic events, and other things having communal impact is not appropriate.  In Rabbi Frankfurter’s view, if you’re an Orthodox Jew with a predilection to write you should be either a Torah scholar communicating your point or you’re a writer responsible to pick a Torah scholar and communicate his point.

One might not be surprised to hear I do not agree.

Rabbi Frankfurter and I do agree on one thing.  Orthodox writers and bloggers are having significant communal and religious impact.  Anyone who shares his or her words via newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, tweet, Facebook or other media outlets (old or new), needs to be aware of their potential impact.  Even further, especially via new media routes, such impact can be world wide and affect Jewish communities everywhere.

This, by the way, is a problem among the lamdanim (the Torah scholars), rabbis serving communities and gedolim (leading Torah scholars of the generation).  In the past, the words of the rabbis were for THEIR communities, focused on leading and balancing local problems at the religious level.  Even the words of the gedolim were for their local countries or wider ethnic areas. 

Today when a gadol gives a speech in Ramat Beit Shemesh about not sending your boys to a new school because it offers a bit of secular subjects (math and science) – which may be appropriate for that particular audience in their particular local Israeli ultra-orthodox educational context, that speech is up on YouTube within hours if not minutes, being watch in New York and having impact that may not be appropriate in their context.  When a Sephardi Gadol gave a speech about women not using wigs as a form of hair covering, his message was on target for his sephardi audience in Israel – but resulted in significant marital and business confict in Boro Park when it was transmitted world wide within hours.  And when 30 charedi (ultra-orthodox) Jews misbehave in protesting a school in Beit Shemesh, it’s world wide news even among the non-Jews for a week.

While Rabbi Frankfurter is bemoaning the unintended consequence of Orthodox Jewish writers (and bloggers) having an impact beyond their area of expertise, he may want to equally concern himself about the lamdanim and gedolim (and even just the average charedi guy on the street) having an unintended negative impact beyond their intended area of influence.

3 comments:

josh said...

Good post. Definite problem. Almost everything that Rav Ovadia says is then twisted and published out of context? Specifically the Bayit shel Goyim which was not a statement about the Mafdal but a rhetorical question. Similarly, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu was interviewed during that time, and the reported asked about the issue among other politics at the time and the rav said that they should apologize, etc... and suddenly that 'demand' became the headline.

Yishai said...

The idea that only gedolim have opinions worth expressing is a symptom of an authoritarian ideology, like communism or fascism. It is at odds with the findings of decades of research in political science, which shows that free speech and association -- when anybody can stand up for their own ideas and freely organize themselves to put them in practice -- has far better results than authoritarianism. For example, there has never been a famine in a democracy.

Neshama said...

"...authoritarian ideology, like communism or fascism..." Equal= It's all about "control", your mind then your person. Thinking people should be careful what they read.

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