Jun 30, 2010

Anonymous Blogging: Woe is Me ...

I sure hope I don't get blasted for this post, but here goes. 

Listen, I get why people blog anonymously. At least, I get why some people blog anonymously. Some people are honest in their fearing for the future of their family, their children, shidduchim, etc. It's hard sometimes to be completely "out" in the sense that everyone knows who you are and can link your face and your name to all that drivel you spill out on the internet every day (a joke, folks), but some people do it purely to be able to get a rise out of people. If you have no name and no face and no community, you can say whatever you want, no matter how far on the fringe it might be from your beliefs, and you can watch mostly innocent folks prowling the internet freak the heck out. Good for you. Except not.

There are blogs I respect for maintaining anonymity, like DovBear, who I'm pretty sure lives in a very frum community and I'm pretty sure is a really great guy who just wants to be able to ask questions and talk about things without the fear of someone claiming he's off the derech or on his way there. Although I don't always agree with the anonymous blogging, I get why he's doing it. For me, I think anonymous blogging is sort of a cheat, a way to blast whoever you want, whenever you want, and you won't face any repercussions. At the same time, everyone out there will take what you say with a grain of salt because to be honest people need to know the face behind the curtain. Look at the Wizard of Oz or that episode of Family Guy with the man-eating fish. But DovBear? I'll let him slide. He's making it work, and he's honest about what he does; he isn't a thrill-seeking shock jock (and if he is, boy he has me fooled).

The reason I'm writing this blog post is because there's a new shock-jocking anonymous blogger on the web, and, well, to be honest I'm a little concerned. This new blogger is a rabbi. An Orthodox rabbi. With a congregation for which he is at the helm. His blog? The Orthoprax Rabbi. Okay, fine, what's the big deal? Well, he says, and I quote from his first blog post, "... while my congregants are all Orthodox, to varying degrees, I am not. I don’t believe in any of it. I am an atheist. I personally don’t keep much of any of Jewish law."


He goes on to talk about how his congregants all like him, how he got a contract extension, etc. That his gig is just a gig like any other gig (comparing it to being a plumber, of all things), and that belief is not important for his job.

What? Are you serious?  Why become a rabbi if you're not preparing yourself to lead a congregation, both spiritually or functionally. They don't want someone to answer black and white questions with some textbook answer, they want a spiritual guide in their rabbi. It's why they hire you.

Listen, this guy can believe whatever he wants and do whatever he wants behind and in front of closed doors, but I have a serious -- SERIOUS -- problem with the fact that he's blogging anonymously, dragging his unknowing congregation through the mud with him. Do his congregants (who all like him!) know how flippant he is about his Judaism (or lack there of) and his disregard for his congregants' well-being on a PUBLIC BLOG?!

I'm guessing no. I'm also guessing that this guy doesn't give a rat's you know what about his congregation, their spiritual well-being, or the future of his children (who he mentions) in the big, fat Jewish world. It's depressing.

If you're going to be flippant and disrespectful to a community who you say likes you, but who probably doesn't know that you're an athiest or how openly willing you are to express yourself and how completely unimportant your job is to you, then blog publicly. Have some self-respect. I guarantee that your community wouldn't like you -- the real you -- as much as you think. Especially if any of those congregants are looking for a spiritual guide (which they are).

Rabbi, if you don't like your job, if you don't believe in it, if you're only doing it for a paycheck, then get a new job, don't take your congregation down and don't mislead them. We all have our moments of questioning, but you seem to have made a big decision to just not search, to not care, and to just dish out black and white answers without any feeling, passion, or self-respect. So go become a lawyer, a plumber, just don't taint your congregation because you're having a spiritual drought.

You, sir, are what's wrong with anonymous blogging. Internet: Take note.

(Hat tip to several folks for also blogging on this, including but not limited to, ADDRabbi, The Rebbetzin's Husband, and Adventures in Jewish Thought.)


Bethany said...

Imagine wondering if your own rabbi's house is Kosher. They have no idea that it probably isn't. Wow, there's so many things to say about this.

Bethany said...

Okay, now that I've thought about it for a minute.

I kind of understand why he stayed a rabbi. It's the only kind of professional training he's got. It's a recession. I get it.

It doesn't make it right. And he knows it. This blog is his way of repenting. He might just feel like he's showing off - but nobody would risk their jobs, families, community, if they were just showing off. He knows what he's doing is inherently morally wrong. You don't have to have religion to have morals. I think he knows that.

G6 said...

You're assuming that this guy is for real.
I am reserving judgement on that...

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Bethany It's a good time to go back to school. I think that it's a greater negative thing that he's staying a rabbi and misleading a congregation that assumes he is guiding them spiritually than it is to back off and say, listen, I'm not into this anymore. Heck. He's probably qualified enough to go teach Judaics at a public university.

@G6 He's very adamant on his blog that he's for real. Very for real.

G6 said...

@Chaviva -
I'm sure he is adamant.
But sayin' it just don't necessarily make it so ;)

Bethany said...

He might feel like he has no other career options, so he might as well stay where he is. Fear & laziness. Not excusing it, believe you me.

Risa Tzohar said...

Well, he certainly got our attention!
I am really against anonymous blogging. While anonymous blogging allows the blogger to be more 'honest' and lets them be unrestrained I find it dishonest. If you know that what you are going to say is offensive, detrimental or dangerous - just don't say it. If it's too personal, it doesn't belong 'out there' either. If it's fiction, just say so. If not, keep it to yourself.
In Pirke Avot it says that if we bring things (quote them) in the name of the one who said them we bring redemption to the world. The opposite is true of anonymous blogging.

Reiza said...

I completely agree with you that the rabbi you mentioned IS one of the things wrong with anonymous blogging. I just wanted to point out that some of us do it for other reasons.

As someone who blogs fairly anonymously, I just want to point out that some of us do it moreso for safety reasons.

I have children that I want to protect. I want to protect myself too. We've been interviewed in the paper at times and we had someone who disagreed with us call us up and harass us non-stop. We had to get the police involved. All she needed was our name and location.

I worry about opening myself up to a larger audience.

Gina at The Feminist Breeder has a stalker who has done some pretty scary things too. She still blogs openly, but that kind of thing scares me.

There is definitely an allure to being able to blog openly, but it scares me too.

YC said...

He is a snake oil salesman!
Selling stuff he does not believe in.
There is no defense for that.

If he actually were a snake oil salesman people would demand their money back. His congregation should make the same demand.

In the movies they would string him up- not sure they do than anymore unless he is a rabbi in Texas.

Nosson Gestetner said...

He's no longer anonymous, he was identified in a comment thread on Harry Maryles' blog.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Nosson I just scanned the comments thread ... where was it revealed? I don't see it. He deleted a bunch of the comments, too, for privacy. Email me? kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com.

shualah elisheva said...

@yc: if this were in texas, we'd likely string him up with those tzitzit in which he doesn't believe.

i would like to point out that there are liberal streams of judaism which are more in line with this rabbi's line of thinking. why can't he seek a bimah there?

the deception is highly disconcerting. and i agree with you, chaviva: the fact that he has now slandered his shul in the process is just as upsetting.

Jack Steiner said...

I don't have a problem with anonymous blogging, but then again I am a semi anonymous blogger.

I also am not going to judge Orthoprax Rabbi. Lack of faith/belief can change over time- can't say that it will or won't with him.

Lack of faith doesn't mean that he is a bad rabbi. He may be a real talmid chacham. He may provide his congregants with incredible leadership. We don't know.

And as was said above he may not know what to do with himself. So, for now he may be working through some issues before making a decision.

Rabbi Michael Tzadok said...


If you know who it is, he should be outed. As DaasTorah put up on his own blog recently,
Rabbeinu Yonah(Mishlei 24:28): Don’t be a gratuitous witness of your fellow man – ...This principle is stated in Berachos (19a), If you see a talmid chachom sinning at night, do not suspect of him of sinning anymore by the day because he will surely have repented by then. Since he has the reputation of a person who is fearful of sinning and he is upset and regrets that his lust overcame him. However if the talmid chachom is in fact a wicked person who is mistakenly thought by the people to be righteous – he is not only to be criticized to those who know how to keep quiet – but in fact it is a mitzva to publicize his deeds until they are well known to the public. That is because severe harm occurs when wicked people are honored because he will turn many away from the proper path and denigrate the honor of the righteous and encourages sinning. There is in fact profanation of G‑d’s name by honoring the wicked because some people will be aware of the sins the wicked do and will concluded that there is nothing wrong with sinning and that it doesn’t lower one’s stature (Yoma 86b)

IF the guy is not keeping kosher, or basic halachot and FEEDING PEOPLE from his home and issuing "psak halacha" the spiritual damage he is doing to people is immeasurable. If it is not a hoax and it is a real person, every effort should be exhausted to discover his actual personality and expose him, before he can harm and defraud more people.

Daniel Saunders said...

Wow, if nothing else, this guy has really got the J-blogosphere talking!

I posted my views on the subject here and here.

As for anonymous blogging, I can't condemn it, as too many people need to be anonymous to protect themselves and their families or even because they need the veil of anonymity to overcome their lack of confidence in their writing skills. But I can't stand trolls who use their anonymity to stir up trouble - but there are non-anonymous trolls too.

shualah elisheva said...

i guess i should add to what i posted previously:

i have no problem with anonymous blogging until it actively causes harm to others.

it's one thing to say your piece and get your opinion out there. i can appreciate the need for anonymity there. after all, i've written anonymous articles. sometimes that's the best way to have your say and protect your family.

that said, once anonymity starts to become a cover for deception, it's gone too far.

and i would also agree that dovbear is a prime example of anonymous blogging done correctly.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Jack I think you're being too loose on this guy. It isn't a lack of faith, it's ZERO faith, ZERO belief. Would you want this guy leading your congregation?

I mean, I'm a religious Orthodox Jew who converted and chose this religion/culture/existence. If this guy was leading my congregation, inviting me over for dinner, etc., and I found this out? I'd feel so misled and violated.

David Tzohar said...

If people are unwilling to identify themselves and take responsibility for what they write they should keep their thoughts to themselves. Anonymous blogging leads to the worst sins of lashon hara, hottza'at diba, and all of the negative aspects of misuse of the divine gift of human expression which is part of the tzelem elokim which distinguishes Man from lower forms of life.
I cant express the disgust I felt as I read the orthoprax "rabbi". I can well understand the need of this fraud to hide behind a pseudonym

David Tzohar said...

If people are unwilling to identify themselves and take responsibility for what they write they should keep their thoughts to themselves. Anonymous blogging leads to the worst sins of lashon hara, hottza'at diba, and all of the negative aspects of misuse of the divine gift of human expression which is part of the tzelem elokim which distinguishes Man from lower forms of life.
I cant express the disgust I felt as I read the orthoprax "rabbi". I can well understand the need of this fraud to hide behind a pseudonym

SJ said...

Anonymous blogging is a fundamental aspect of free speech. Step out of the ghetto and deal with it.

As for Orthoprax Rabbi? Just totally brilliant. Do what orthodox jews do best, push people away who may disagree AT THE MOMENT instead of bringing them back in a friendly and explanatory manner.

The human mind is subject to change. There's no rule that he's going to be an atheist forever. And, how do you know that he gives answers outside the bounds of halacha? My understanding is that he doesn't.

The fact that people who dissent from orthodox judaism feel a need to stay anonymous is a sad commentary on the orthodox community.

SJ said...

To be honest Chaviva, as a convert, you should have some more respect for jews who are natural born who may have a crisis of faith at a particular moment.

Being so quick to write off someone who don't believe at any particular moment is extremely unhelpful.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@SJ Plenty of converts have crises of faith -- that's why so many end up converting beyond Reform after they've settled so firmly in Reform Judaism (I'm a key example of that). They also have crises of faith after living frum for years (I know converts who also go through this). I'm not saying I'll never have a crisis of faith -- it's natural. It's when you DENY that and declare yourself flippantly to be the rabbi of a huge Orthodox shul as an atheist. I said, very firmly, in my blog post that this guy can believe whatever he wants -- I have no problem with that. Some of my best friends are athiests, agnostics, and completely secular Jews and Christians. The problem arises when this man is meant to be a spiritual leader for a congregation. It shakes me that this man is having people to his house, advising people, and dishing out halakic rulings (no matter how true to the book they are) when he doesn't himself believe. It seems like a huge farse.

SJ said...

And what evidence do you have that he gives rulings and advice that are out of the realm of halacha? YOU HAVE NONE. All you have is speculation and bias. To be honest you and multiple bloggers and commenters for that matter owe the man an apology for this whopper of a loshon-hara.

Perhaps befriending him and telling him why you believe and do what you do is a better strategy than a god damn inquisition.

A rabbi is a human being no more or less fallible than anyone else.

God is love. One can act as a reflection of that and bring people closer to God. Alternatively, one can demonize the lost; and they be lost forever.

Anonymous said...

Wowzer (so NOT a British expression, but hey)!

I am stunned with regards to this rabbi (assuming he is for real). Now as you know from your own experiences, there are different stripes of rabbis all over the place, but this, this is something else.

I feel rather insulted and I'm not Orthodox. Which just goes to show that there are things that are acceptable and things that are not which ain't so different between us as some might think.

I think of a rabbi's task as being a vocation, not *just* a job.

I am incoherent on this....


E-Man said...

Now I know how to get over a 100,000 hits after just starting a blog. Dang it, why didn't I think of this??

Jewish Ideas Daily said...

Your perspective is an interesting one. All the other posts you referenced talk about the idea of an atheist rabbi. Interesting to see you deal with this from the perspective of internet etiquette. Thanks for this post!

Dom Hirschfeld said...

Question: "Plenty of converts have crises of faith -- that's why so many end up converting beyond Reform after they've settled so firmly in Reform Judaism." Where is the backup for this statement. I don't think it's true at all. If anything, I think the majority of converts become less religious, and only a small amount take the Ortho-Plunge. The latter group still yearning for the comfort and "promise" that whatever brand of Christianity the adhered to gave them.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Dom There is no formal research on this, but I know a *lot* of converts, and most of them have had more than one conversion. In fact, I know few converts (who converted in the past 10 years) who have settled on where they began. I am one of those people.

Dom Hirschfeld said...

Oh. I thought this might be evidence-based rather than opinion. Interesting. I know about 10 converts, 8 Reform. 2 Conservative. Most are gay so Orthodox rejected them even though they were willing to go through the intense conversion. This rabbi, atheist or not, is Jewish and will always be Jewish. These converts are only Jewish from religion. In your opinion, if you converted and then became an atheist, would you still be a Jew?

Let's look at this Jew as a brother and treat him as a brother and not judge him so harshly. As the Torah (BH) reads: Do not judge people or you will end up just like them.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Once you convert, you're always Jewish, period. In fact, I've blogged about the discussion in the Talmud that the convert who goes off the derech is not at fault -- his or her community is held accountable. The community must help keep the Jew on the derech!

As for this Jew, and viewing him as a brother, sure thing. He's Jewish. He's part of the community. And I'm not judging him -- I'm lamenting what he's doing to his community.

JIDF said...

Due to the amounts of harassment and death threats we receive, we understand why some folks who work against real antisemites and Islamic terrorists would want to protect their identity and families.

On another note, how do we know this anonymous "Rabbi" is, in fact, a Rabbi?

Anonymous said...

Chaviva I know where you are coming from.
However I met a rabbi who is very much like him.
I asked for help on an urgent and important topic and for an unknown reason he was very mean with me.
I felt like he did not believe in G-d. So maybe this rabbi blogger does exist.
Or maybe he doesn't, maybe he is fabricated from the tale of Rabbi Israel Tolli. This we will never know.
However, what we know is that it is our duty to be Torah Jews and be an example to others. Yes there are or there will be people who you'll see or meet who are off the derech or going off the derech, but your responsibility is to be an example to them and all the other Jews. All the best.

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