Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Shafran Shmears Responsible Jewish Writers

Posted by Oyster on January 10, 2008

Avi ShafranRabbi Avi Shafran, the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, and sometimes journalist, wrote a crude defamation of Jewish bloggers in the January 4th issue of the J Weekly of Northern California.

In his article titled, “Avoid the untamed jungles of Blogistan”, (why the learned Rabbi thinks that central Asian state suffixes are synonymous with evil is beyond me) Rabbi Shafran wastes no time in comparing bloggers to “swindlers and pornographers”. As a Jewish reader (and commentor) of blogs for 3 years, and as a blogger myself for the past year and a half, I am personally offended by what he wrote.

He throws in some obligatory ‘well, I guess there are a few ok Jewish bloggers out there. Maybe five’ qualifier, but the marks of his broad-stroke brush cannot be finessed away. He claims that, “responsible blogs in the Jewish realm as in the general are decidedly in the minority”. This is so obviously a case of seeing what you look for. As someone who has read many a blog from the J-blogosphere, I can say that it runs the gamut from Torah discussion to Israeli culture. I believe that Rabbi Shafran is so focused on the negative aspects of what he reads online, that he’s willing to slander the good with the bad. You can tell that this is a lashing out at blogs that struck a personal nerve with him, when he writes, bitterly, that these malicious blogs seek to score “extra points for Orthodox Jews and triple score for rabbis”.

What he really fails to see is that blogs aren’t some sinister ideological movement that seeks to spread “evil” (in his own words), but are just another means of communication. This is a classic example of confusing the message with the medium. Hateful and mean-spirited content can be delivered by books, movies, TV, magazines, newspapers, and, yes, HTML documents on computer networks. This is no reason to support the knee-jerk throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater reaction of, “the Internet in general is not a healthy place to hang out in”.

One of the charges that he levels is that these blogs do not uphold the value of avoiding Lashon Hara. I know several Jewish blogs that take this matter very seriously. JewSchool, a left-of-center blog that might not be one of Agudath Israel’s biggest fans, makes a point of invoking the Chofetz Chaim & Rav Soloveichik in reminding its readers that one must show the utmost respect for other writers / commentors, and must avoid Lashon Hara. Oy Bay itself has taken this matter extremely seriously, to the extent of involving both local Orthodox rabbinical authorities and even the police when an especially egregious case of Lashon Hara landed at our doorstep. Perhaps because most of us don’t wear black hats and suits he finds it inconceivable that Jewish blogs could cherish the self-same values that he does?

Rabbi Shafran also underestimates, and under-reports, on the positive aspect of the J-blogosphere. In my own personal life, I had a transformative experience when I met other Jewish bloggers in real life at the Jewlicious Festival in LA. Meeting David Abitbol (jewlicious.com), David Kelsey (the Kvetcher), Esther Kustanowitz (JDaters Anonymous), Rabbi Yonah Bookstein (BlogShul), and others changed my life, and made Jewish writing a passion of mine. That lead me to attend other Jewish conferences, and now I have Jewish friends all over the world. And all from reading a so-called “venomous spider” of a website called Jewlicious.com . And now imagine this effect ten-thousand fold, as similar young Jews around the world interconnect and collaborate online, creating a positive Jewish community that *does* lead to friendships and relationships in real-life.

In closing, Rabbi Shafran writes, “All Jews should be concerned with basic Jewish values such as shunning forbidden speech, [and] refusing to judge others”. Rabbi Avi Shafran would do well to heed his own words, and not write articles that prejudice the Jewish community against Jewish bloggers.


9 Responses to “Shafran Shmears Responsible Jewish Writers”

  1. AaronfromWG said

    Your personally offended? Can I get you a Kleenex. Poor baby.

  2. Oyster said

    Thanks for the tissue, AFWG. I’ll use it to wipe away what R. Shafran shmeared all over me.

  3. DK said

    All too often, Rabbi Shafran is turned to as the voice of the Orthodox. But the Agudah has nothing to do with most of non-haredi American Jewry, whose Orthodox influence was traditionally Modern Orthodoxy, beginning with the founding congregation in 1654.

    My suspicion is that Deborah Nussbaum Cohen of The Jewish Week and others like her turn to Rabbi Shafran as the voice of the Orthodox in order to cast Orthodoxy itself as more monolithically right-wing than it truly is, in order to prop up “Liberal Judaism” through unfavorable, if polite, contrast.

    And what does Rabbi Shafran or Agudath Israel have to do with any of us? Are any of us haredi? Are our target readerships FFB haredim?

    When the LWMO Rabbi Angel or the RWMO Rabbi Weinreb lash out at us or misrepresent us, then I will get all hot and bothered. But Agudath Israel? Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with the vast majority of American Jewry.

    They are the heirs of treife medinah haredism. Do not forget that. Never forget.

  4. rachel said

    letter to the editor? 🙂

  5. Friar Yid said

    The thing I find so amusing is that R. Shafran, as he and his cohorts frequently do, seems to have no understanding that “harmful” speech can go beyond merely what the Chofetz Chaim described.

    Perhaps because most of us don’t wear black hats and suits he finds it inconceivable that Jewish blogs could cherish the self-same values that he does?

    Not to take away from your point, Oyster, but frankly, I don’t see the need to even try to keep my blog up to R. Shafran’s standards, as I don’t respect him enough to want to make sure we match. It’s part of the reason I deliberately DON’T put the C.C. button on my blog- since the C.C. isn’t the source for my ethics or correct conduct, there doesn’t seem to be much point. I’d rather let my words stand or fall on their own.

  6. chutzpaleh said

    I once got really upset about something that R. Shafran wrote… so I called him. And I totally spoke to him about the article. And he was decently respectful of me, though I was definitely speaking his language.

    So that’s an option.

  7. Oyster said

    Cool! I want R. Shafran’s digits! 🙂

  8. […] in The Jewish News Weekly of Norther California. Gotta send a hat tip to my friend Tomer who blogged this on OyBay like… 2 weeks […]

  9. Oyster said

    Check out the above ping-back from ck of Jewlicious. Turns out the Jewish blogger quoted by R. Shafran was none other than ck himself!

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