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.