Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is the Agudah upset about "good" blogs too?

I wasn't sure if I was planning to post about the topic at the upcoming Agudah convention about blogging. As many people pointed out, the Agudah really isn't the pulse of any community anymore. The convention really is as much or more about networking and shidduchim as it is social responsibility. It isn't the momentous gathering of and about the community many presume it represents. I say that not as a dig at the Agudah, but rather to point out simply that the community it is thought it speaks for, American chareidim, are not accurately reflected by one entity.

It has already been covered here, here, here and here to mention only a few places. Orthomom was the first to post the title of the talk, as printed in a Hamodia ad: ...Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority?

But then Wolf posted on the topic and pointed out that its ludicrous to speak of "blogs" as a single entity anymore than to speak of books as an entity. There are good books and bad books. Good blogs and bad blogs.

While I agree, his post caused me to think more about what is objectionable about blogging. I think that unlike books which do not necessarily share a relationship, blogs do. For one thing, they are interactive. Even if the content is highly controlled (and approved) doesn't the blog link to other blogs? Even if all of them are approved, doesn't at least some of them link to ones which aren't? Even if none of them do, what prevents commenters from linking to their own blogs, which may not be approved? What about the fact that many people access new posts through aggregators like Jrants or Jblogosphere or JewishBlogging? Or through Google blog search? And if you click that last link, you'll see I had searched for the word "Torah." The first result as of this posting is called "Reading the Torah as Wisdom, Not Law." The second result is "Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values" on a different blog. It is very possible that the second post is something which, what I shall term Agudists for convenience, would love, maybe even print out and leave a pile in their shul. But the one right before it? Ay yi yi yi yi. And I haven't even mentioned content.

That is the point: the mixture. Even that which they'd generally consider good contains admixtures that would and does shock them. Everyone thinks Hirhurim is great, right? But even there in the comments you'll find people saying things that would literally make some people nauseous. (Putting aside the issue of a young man independently publishing his "musings" as he sees fit, which is simply an issue for Agudists.)

I can recall reading a book about peshat and derash which really didn't contain anything that untraditional. It was just in erudite English and by a person with a fancy, untraditional name who had a resume I would have considered suspect at the time. But I felt illicit. I felt lightheaded, even guilty and was sure I shouldn't be reading it. (It was a while ago.) To someone who is not used to things they have developed a sensitivity about even slight deviations, to say nothing about major ones, are shocking beyond belief.

Not that this is the Agudah attitude per se, but remember that there are people who wouldn't learn Torah from a sefer printed by specific publishing houses! Hypersensitive or not, even that which seems prima facie unobjectionable in the blogosphere is positively laced with what they think is hemlock. The best of it is still the worst of it.

In a way this is similar to the objection to `Torah U-Madda.' Yesterday Hirhurim posted a thought by R. Elhanan Wasserman. Now, R. Wasserman was known as one of the greatest critics of Yeshiva University. He repeatedly refused invitation from R. Dr. Bernard Revel to give a shiur at RIETS. Yet according to Hirhurim the thought in his post was given at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminar in Berlin, where students needed to get PhDs as a condition for receiving rabbinic ordination, where source criticism of rabbinic literature and philology were part of the curriculum, where even the Deutero-Isaiah position was taught by one instructor. This same seminary was actually looked down upon by Lithuanian rabbis. Why would R. Wasserman oppose RIETS more than that institution? Someone pointed out to me the simple explanation that I should not have overlooked: he objected to the idea of a Yeshiva University; to the fact that the same institution which granted academic degrees also granted rabbinic ordination. In other words, the mixture. Of course.

Agree or not, you can't just make them realize that some are good and some are bad. That would be projection onto them.

If I may borrow a graphic, here is Greg of the wonderful Presence's banner.

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