What is the Point of This Blog?

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In less than four years, this blog has grown from a minor blip on the radar (I got 6500 hits in the first six months) to a substantial, engaging community of interested and interesting people (I get 6500 hits a day sometimes). Reflecting on my time as a blogger, I can see how my voice has changed, adjusted, and adapted to meet varying needs and wants as well as my (somewhat fluid) views on Torah and orthodox Judaism.

If you look back at the articles from 2008 and 2009 you’ll see that they are a bit different than the articles I write these days. Not significantly different, just different enough to notice. But as I grew in my rabbinic position at Pacific Jewish Center, and journeyed through law school, and learned more Torah, and accumulated more experiences I found a voice. But this voice was not just my own voice. It was the voice of many Jews from every single kind of background that I have come in contact with through the last few years. (Similarly, many people are comfortable in my shul, while they are not comfortable in other orthodox shuls.) I am not saying I speak for everyone or even most people. Rather, there are enough people who find their own voice coming through the words when they read this blog.

It was never my intention to create controversy. It was never my intention to bash or insult large swaths of people. That may happen from time to time but that’s not the goal. In fact, I would rather do without it.

Yet, I do find myself the target of criticism, usually from the charedi side of things, but often enough from the more liberal communities of orthodox and non-orthodox Jews. As a committed orthodox Jew, I recognize that I am easy pickings for more liberal Jews. But the criticism from the charedi side is more significant and has a greater impact on my reputation and career. I would therefore like to clarify and explain a few things to set the record straight.

My goal with this blog is to increase kavod shamayim and kiddush Hashem. My goal is to nudge orthodox Judaism just enough to be more inclusive, more welcoming, and more attractive, to non-orthodox and to orthodox Jews. My goal is to inspire positive change that is permissible within the context of halacha. My goal is to facilitate conversations about the issues that are important to orthodox Jews and to everyone else. My goal is to increase communication between all people. My goal is to inspire people to find their voice within orthodox Judaism. My goal is to provide positive Jewish experiences to as many people as I possibly can.

Sometimes this means talking frankly and candidly about flaws in our communities. Sometimes that means challenging our leadership. Sometimes that means asking questions that deserve good answers. Sometimes that means finding ourselves in strange alliances with people who seem so far from our beliefs. Sometimes it means disagreeing with people far greater than me in Torah and with much more life experience than me. Sometimes it means making mistakes.

Am I a troublemaker? Should I be banned or excommunicated?

I honestly don’t think so.

The style of orthodox Judaism that I try to endorse and promote is a similar style to that of my rebbeim, my grandfathers and my father. My rebbeim never told me not to ask question and challenge. I was taught to respect the words of great rabbis and I do. But respect does not mean blind adherence. Sometimes it means challenging. After all, if their words are to be revered and respected, their words should be scrutinized as well. And if the forum was a newspaper or magazine 50 years ago, the forum today is the Internet. I apologize if people think the Internet is a moshav leitzim and a place where it is impossible to have a serious conversation. I think that has been disproved a million times over.

My family tradition has always been to be activists and involved in community growth. My grandfathers were engaged in the secular world, formally educated, and also great Torah scholars and influencers in the broad orthodox Jewish community. The Internet is a natural place for this kind of work to take place in 2012. I get emails, messages, calls, texts, comments, and snail mail, acknowledging and thanking me for this blog. The correspondence comes from every type of Jew and from all over the world. The Internet makes this possible. This blog is a community and it is new kind of community that didn’t exist 15 years ago. That doesn’t make it wrong.

My hope is that by creating this space for important conversations we can all make our claim in the future of orthodox Judaism. We all have a stake in it. We all can have our voice in it.

There is a method to the madness. I try my best to invite good discussion whether it is on the blog comments, on Facebook (there’s almost always an equal, if not better, comment thread over there), the coffee rooms, or at your Shabbos table. I try very hard not to cross the line of impropriety. Reasonable people may disagree over where that line is. But I do have a line and I do try to stay on one side of that line. (The safe side.) I welcome criticism and suggestions. Those of you who have reached out to me know that I respond to your positive emails and your negative emails.

I think orthodox Judaism is great. We have stories of unbelievable heroism and leadership in our communities. Many people are living beautiful orthodox Jewish lives. There are books that have been written about these people and their stories. I don’t think I need to reiterate how much goodness exists in our communities but I will do it anyway. Go to any orthodox Jewish community. You will find open homes, open hearts, and disproportionate virtue and charity. We are getting some things right and when we are doing well it means we are doing incredibly well. We can sit back and enjoy how awesome we are or we can try and tweak the things that need to be addressed.

My point is that I am not trying to destroy anything. The things that it may seem like I am trying to destroy are really just what I believe to be cancers that are destroying us a people. Sometimes chemo is the only solution. Whatever is being attacked, is being attacked with the ultimate goal that the body come out stronger and healthier than it was before the problems were attacked. Sometimes the conversations get a bit heated. Passion should not be confused with disrespect. Passion means that the writer cares. Sometimes I write objectively but other times I write persuasively and it is those times that passion can be misunderstood.

I remain committed to the ideals of passionate orthodox Judaism. I want Judaism to thrive. I want it to grow. I want more people to find joy and satisfaction in orthodox Judaism. These are my goals as a person and a rabbi. These are the same goals that I have for this blog.

Thank you all for making this blog a fun and education place to gather together on the Internet. I hope this post explains at least a little bit about what I trying to do over here. It may seem like it has no rhyme or reason or that I am just trying to push buttons. In fact, there is a rhyme and reason and while I trying to push buttons, the buttons are the ones that I hope will bring improvement and increased vitality to orthodox Judaism.

I hope that if you are a reader of this blog and encounter people who criticize me or the things that are discussed here, this post will be able to quell their fears and reassure them that we are all on the same team. I truly believe in a future where we can all get along and everyone can find their place in orthodox Judaism. I am just trying my best to leave a little space for the out-of-the-box thinkers and non-conformists. We need all types in Klal Yisrael. Let’s just make sure there is a place for everyone.

Classically, Judaism believes that there is good and evil potential in everyone and everything. Nothing is intrinsically good or evil. The Internet presents us with incredible opportunities and tremendous power. If we are to ignore it and pretend it does not exists we may be wasting a great Heavenly gift. A place on the Internet full of fruitful and thoughtful discussion is a kiddush Hashem. I endeavor to make this blog just such a place. It may not make everyone happy all the time, but I am hopeful that we can agree on mutual goals and ideals and our meeting of the minds in those places allows for the kind of productive discussion on this blog and on many others.

We don’t want to be the problem. We just want to be part of the solution.

  • Point of this blog? To engage my mind when I’m bored at work.

    • Bishvili nivra hablogosphere

  • Bethany Mandel

    I don’t always agree with you. But I always appreciate your well-thought out and well-argued approaches. It is clear you only have the best of intentions when you write. To me anyway.

    • I appreciate that. Thanks.

  • On a more serious note, I too, want to thank you for this blog. You have a unique voice and you really think about the issues and you write in a very accessible yet intelligent manner. Yasher Koach! Please keep on doing what you’re doing.

    • I will try. Thanks for reading and for your support.

  • Be Seven

    You should put this entry at the top of your “Required Reading” list. Beautiful! And kol ha kavod to you, Rabbi Fink!
    P.S. I hope becoming a lawyer isn’t going to result in your giving up your pulpit. The world needs more rabbis like you. We have plenty of lawyers.

    • Good idea. Thanks.

      I do plan to continue as a rabbi for as long as I can.

  • Sam

    Rabbi- I was on your RJX/Jam trip to Israel back in 06 (wow time flies!) We haven’t spoken since but I thoroughly enjoy your blog and the conversations that build in the comment section of your facebook page. Just a quick note to say thanks, and that I’m still here! Keep doing what you’re doing- You are a refreshing voice in a sometimes overwhelming world.

    • I remember you Sam. Thanks for checking in. And I appreciate your kind words.

  • Doni Joszef

    Well said, keep it up

  • Anonymous

    I only read your blog because we had the same rebbi, if you had a different rebbi I would hate you and your blog.

    • Anonymous

      LOL. Is “who’s your Rebbi?” the new “who’s your daddy?”

    • Obviously.

  • rwoj

    this article seems to be a response to critisism from someone that you are scared of or in a position of power over you. the articles you write ALWAYS have a negative tone and always leads to comments from people that write the most negative and simply mean things against jews from all sects of judaism. i dont think you give a fair shot to the other side of your argument and you write things that you know to be misleading and many times against halacha and not consistent with the person you quote. its always along the lines of “look at the dumb thing that some rwoj person said or did and let me show you how wrong they are” you never write just a positive article without any negative connatations its always negative and sometimes some positivty just to help you with your goal of getting people to trust everything you said. i think that just the comments written are enough of a reason not to have a blog they are almost always lashon hora. your facebook status about rav schorr says it all. i know that you dont like to admit that this is true but exposing dirty laundry always in every case is a bad thing. we all know that bad and immoral things happen in the frum community but its certainly not worse than in any other community and definetly doesnt outweigh the amazing good.
    just food for thought……………….

    • I don’t think you know what the word “always” means. You used the word “always” twice. “Almost always” once. And “never” once as well.

      How seriously can I take a comment that is so clearly factually inaccurate.

      And where’s your sense of humor? A little joke about Rav Schorr breaking Twitter is funny. Hardly disrespectful. Please. Lighten up and get a grip.

    • Anonymous

      Here is some more food for thought. You write a comment full of hate to @efink:disqus and violate every halacha of motzei shemra possible, all under some kind of moral authority. I coined a term for people like you, the moral mafia!

  • rwoj

    and how sad will it be that all that will come out of my previous post will be the spelling and grammar mistakes i made. try for once to read it and take the good out of it and not only the things that you dont agree with

    • Huh? Have I ever dismissed comments for lack of spelling and grammar?!

  • AnonymousForNow

    Hi Rabbi Fink.

    I wanted to say that I really appreciate your blog as well. I appreciate your tone. I appreciate the exact point that you made above: that this is an Orthodox blog that is both respectful of Rabbis as well as respectfully challenging too.
    I have been reading the Jewish blogs for several years now, but yours is the first one that my wife has starting reading on her own as well – please take that as a huge compliment.
    Please G-d I will make it to your shul in California one day.

    Thank you again.

  • yeshivabachur

    “The criticism from the charedi side is more significant and has a greater impact on my reputation and career.” This offhand remark is one of the most honest, important statements I have read in a while. I would suggest that Modern Orthodoxy is losing its way — and losing a number of its most dedicated followers — because it is being held hostage by the Orthodox right.
    It reminds me of a terrific speech by a very well known Modern Orthodox rabbi about women’s role in tefillah…. His final conclusion was “Yes, many of these things are permissible and may well be beneficial over time, but does it need to start under my watch??”
    I cannot speak for others, but when I read or hear comments like these, my stomach turns. For the sake of “Unity” our community is missing opportunities. And who are these people who are holding our Rabbinate hostage? One only has to pick up any newspaper to see that their own houses are not in order as measured against any moral guidepost.
    In short, Modern Orthodoxy is suffering badly from a leadership shortage caused — at least in part — by fear of charedi strong-arming. And we will lose many people as a result.
    Kol Hakavod for speaking up honestly and respectfully. We need a lot more voices!

  • Keep fighting the good fight. You’re healthy for Judaism. I think it says somewhere in the Torah: “Haters gonna hate.”

  • James

    I am someone who has severely criticized you here in the comments in the past when I thought you totally violated halachos of lashon hara and more and went very overboard in your zeal.

    You admit here you made mistakes. That is refreshing to hear.
    Reading your post, I bet if we met and got to know each other we would pretty much have the same hashkafos and totally get along. I also think the charedim are sometimes way too closed minded and I am charedi.. I just think that in the past you crossed way too many lines which lacked kavod chachamim. Ask, ask, and ask some more. I do all the time on gedolim and rabbanim. Just think 17 times before blowing them off, and with chutzpah, esp. in public. Usually,999 out of 1000 it will be wrong to write in public against gedolim and rabbanim.
    Good luck on the bar!

  • Want to give a thanks for the writing for your blog now. I was confused before about the writings. Almost clear now. I got anger that time. Have you seen this video goo.gl/Fvyjz . It helped me get over my internal anger!

  • Noam

    AHH well college will do that to guy.