Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Speech Doesn't Mean You Should Say It All

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

I recently had a debate with someone over Naomi Ragen's books. I maintained that they are essentially a chillul Hashem. He maintained that they have value.

Now, I'm all for free speech and I believe people have the right to write whatever they so desire. I also abhor cover-ups or any sort of denial of problems within the Orthodox Jewish world. The first step to fixing problems is admitting they exist and I firmly believe that if there are problems within the Orthodox Jewish world that need fixing (and a quick perusal of the J-blogosphere indicates that there most certainly are), then we should be talking about them and dealing with them and trying to fix them, not hiding them between the couch cushions so that the outside world won't find out they exist.

And maybe, the first thing that needs to happen is that Orthodox Jews need to admit that they are not immune to the problems that plague the rest of the world, that just because as a community we try to live within the dictates of Torah does not mean that we live in a utopia.

But I still don't like Naomi Ragen's books. And partially I don't like them because they are so vitriolic. The anti-Charedi agenda is so strong that you have to wonder why she's doing what she's doing. But more than that, her books are novels, NY Times best-selling novels. They are made-up stories that give an altogether negative portrayal of the Charedi community. If I wrote novels like that about Conservative Judaism, I would probably get lots of hate mail.

I don't affiliate myself with the Charedi community (see posts below on how I don't fit into any box) and I don't think it's perfect. But I know that there is a lot of beauty in that world, a lot of total and complete dedication to Torah that is hard to find elsewhere. And some of Ragen's problems with the Charedi world are 100% valid and any attempt to fix them would be a noble effort.

But Ragen isn't trying to fix those problems--or even expose them to the people that could fix them--with her books. Instead, she is exposing (and exaggerating) all the negative aspects of the Charedi world to people who have no contact with it, to people who will take her word for it and assume that Charedim are awful, repressive, and oppressive people.

I think it's Ragen's right to write such things, but I can't understand for the life of me why she would. She may subscribe to a different brand of Orthodoxy than Charedim, and that's totally legitimate, but I don't understand why she would use her voice to vilify another branch of Orthodoxy--not to fix it but just to make other people hate it.

I think the same is true of all the problems being exposed in all realms of the Jewish world right now. I was just horrified by some of the issues and problems I read about on the blogosphere that are being dealt with (or not dealt with) within the Jewish world. There are problems--large and horrifying and awful problems--that must be dealt with. But let's not use blogging as yet another forum to throw unmasked criticism with no hopes of solution. Let's remember that problems or no problems, all Jews are our brothers not our enemies.


At 5/18/06, 2:58 PM, Blogger Out of towner said...

Eli7 don't be fooled by the blogosphere, though of course problems exist they are not as pervasive as teh blogosphere will lead you to believe. Blog entries are similar to newstories in that they tend to focus on what is newsworthy. To be newsworthy something must be out of the ordinary. A newspaper may publish a story about a traffic accident but it would never publish a story about the millions of people who made it to work safely this morning -that's not news.

BTW I identify with not fitting into a box. I took an online survey of whether I was left wing, modern orthodox, right wing m.o., left wing yeshivesh, or right wing yeshivesh, and the test's response was that I am a "Huh?"

At 5/19/06, 11:28 AM, Blogger Scraps said...

V'imru: Amein.

Great points you've made.


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