The Upcoming Agudah Convention
I want to talk about the symposium devoted to blogging at the upcoming Agudah convention. Many have expressed concern that they themselves or the Jewish blogosphere will be strongly criticized. (Rabbi Maryles and DovBear, 11/02/06 and comments) I myself look forward to the convention with equanimity. I usually agree with their pronouncements. I know two months later there will be a new issue of Der Yiddisher Vort with tons of photos, which enables me to see what the gedolim look like, how they are aging, as well as the most important question ‘’Who’s a gadol , who’s not.’’
I would not be upset if they singled out my blog for disapproval. I wouldn’t want them to get into a snit, but if perhaps they could say something like, “Evanston Jew, not-so aiy, yai, yai.” When an elephant swats a fly, the fly doesn’t say, “I’m so angry. She should have asked me out for a date.” The fly says, “It’s my lucky day, the elephant noticed me.” It would be a kavod (an honor) to be noticed even legnai (disfavorably). Charedim rarely acknowledge anyone outside their world. Condemnation by an organization like the Agudah would quadruple my charedi readership, which would improve the conversation. In this day and age, and with respect to the Internet, condemnation by political parties and rabbinical establishments would drive traffic to a site. The Agudah realizes that if they say ‘don’t read blog X…X is full of lashon harah ( gossip)’, many will rush to read X. It’s sad but true. Such is life.
I expect the Agudah to say, “Using the internet not for business is forbidden.” It is a waste of time, where one could have been studying Torah. They would be right. The production and consumption of blogs eats up an enormous amount of time.
They will say blogging leads to a depreciation of the gedolim and ultimately the Torah itself. They will disapprove of blogs that do not tow the Agudah line, as they should. The Agudah is a political party with a rabbinic leadership, and like all political parties they are not fond of the competition. Nor should they be. Macy’s doesn’t take out ads for Bloomingdales. Do we blame Republicans for not being crazy about Democrats? When the Agudah invokes Daas Torah, it is, amongst many other things, a way to support the rabbinical leadership’s aspiration for hegemony over the Jewish people. The hegemony can be earned by convincing everyone. In the present context, it would involve stepping into the ring of bloggers and presenting their view point in the intellectual marketplace. I am delighted to see Rabbi Avi Shafran of the Agudah is beginning to do just that. When the option of competing in an open-market is not available, there is the tried and true method of condemning those who are a threat to their hegemony by invoking the sanctity of the Torah. And from the Agudah’s point of view, they are right to do so. They feel the rabbinical leadership that is loyal to their party is worthy of leading the entire Jewish people. Anyone who stands in the way of this goal is a threat to the Torah-true way of life as they understand it.
If the Agudah began inviting critics of its viewpoints to address their convention they would no longer be the Agudah. They would have morphed into a tolerant, liberal organization. Next thing the Conservatives and Reformers will be clamoring to present their points of view, and then what will we have? The League of Women Voters. A pluralist Agudah will lead to their gedolim appearing at RCA conventions. Who knows what will come of that? Help for agunot, kashrut reform, women tefila (prayer) groups. The Agudah of Kattowitz, Marienbard, Wien and the other classic conventions was an organization of fierce ideological infighters. Who could possibly want them to go all soft and liberal? Does Jewish life lack in moderate, pluralist liberal Jews?
I expect special condemnation of those bloggers that are most threatening, even if they raised important and timely issues. UOJ is the leading candidate now that he is no longer posting. It would be a pleasant surprise if they coupled their condemnations with some action on rabbinical sexual predator issues and other areas of rabbinic corruption. The elephant in the room in all the scandals of the last few years is who will control the narratives that shape our evaluation of the rabbinical leadership. Would any political/rabbinical leadership give up control over the story line voluntarily? I think not.
Finally, the Agudah will express concern about young people. They are right. Young teenage yeshiva bocherim don’t belong on the internet blogging sites. They should learn, exercise and hang out. Unsupervised internet use for frum teenagers can lead to no good. My view is that a charedi Jew needs a college education to develop his critical powers so as to discern the quality of the arguments. If that is impossible, he needs some life experience.
As usual, Daas Torah knows what it’s talking about. It is especially astute at knowing what is good for Daas Torah. (Also see my posts of 9/20/06 and 8/13/06)