Culture, Mishegas

Lamed Hei

In today’s Forward:

Scurrilous barbs and sharp-tongued insults are routinely tossed back and forth through cyberspace from one Jewish blogger to another, appearing in long threads in the sections reserved for reader comments. The invective often revolves around political stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with bloggers on the left and on the right painting one another into corners and caricaturing one another’s beliefs.
“Because of the challenging views I’ve expressed with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’ve been called a Zionazi by Left-wingers and a self-hating Jew by Right-wingers,” Daniel Sieradski, founder of the blog Jewschool.com, wrote in an e-mail to the Forward. “I’ve had people write that I, personally, am why the Holocaust happened.”
In recent months, Sieradski said, he has begun editing reader comments on his blog to keep the conversation civil. But his first attempt at reconfiguring Jewish blogger etiquette came in 2005, when Sieradski, 28, launched a campaign to lift the language out of the gutter. “Jewish Bloggers for Responsible Speech Online” invited Jewish bloggers to insert a photograph of the Chofetz Chayyim, a 19th-century Lithuanian Jewish scholar who redacted the religious laws governing speech, on their Web sites. The picture would then link to an explanation of the edicts against speaking negatively of others, known in Jewish law as lashon harah. The move, Sieradski said, grew out of his frustration over verbal skirmishes with a competing Jewish group blog, Jewlicious.com, founded by David Abitbol. Dozens of Jewish bloggers have since added the link, Sieradski said, but Abitbol’s operation is not among them.
Abitbol, a 42-year-old Jerusalem resident, said that to adopt a code of speech for the Jewish blogosphere would tamp down the free and open debate that gives it its zest. “There’s a lot of testosterone on the Internet, a lot of swagger,” he said. What makes “the blogosphere interesting is the fact that it is dynamic and anything can happen.”

Full story.

4 thoughts on “Lamed Hei

  1. I’m glad this story was published. As some of you know, I no longer post comments on blogs that don’t adopt a comments policy.
    I was recently attacked in an vicious and personal manner by a thinly-veiled “anonymous” party with an ax to grind, on a Jewish blog. This was startling because I am pretty noncontroversial in general and rarely post anything anywhere.
    It was a great lesson, of course, in understanding how people use technology these days to be malicious. I had fallen behind; three way calling feels like an old, sweet memory.

  2. Jewlicious has not adopted Jewschool’s comment policy because, as I am sure Dan will admit, Jewschool has not always lived up to the standards regarding Lashon Harah set out by the Chofetz Chaim who is displayed in the Jewish Bloggers for Responsible Speech Online graphic. I am not sure anyone in the blogging world can as even truth is no defense against Lashon Harah.
    I prefer an approach that allows the market to decide and Sarah’s case is an example where that worked. Someone had written a comment against her on Jewlicious that was extremely nasty in a very personal way. Yet the response of the public at large was extremely supportive of her demonstrating clearly that the initial commenter’s statements were false and based more on hatred and bile than on anything substantive or real.
    Anyways, see you at ROI120!

  3. dave, it’s not about living up to the ideal, it’s about positively supporting one another in our communal pursuit of that ideal. the chofetz chayyim’s image is not a seal of approval, it’s a reminder to strive towards the ideal. there is, after all, a reason the man found it necessary to redact the laws of shimart halshon in the first place. he’s there to give us a kick in the pants, not to self-aggrandize.

  4. Dan I know that your motives were pure and well intentioned when you set up the campaign. But, I am afraid that the possibility might exist blogs are, by the Chofetz Chaim’s definition, the greatest facilitators of Lashon Harah ever. I haven’t exactly figured it out yet… on the one hand you don’t want to allow people to name call others, but on the other hand it’s a slippery slope. How does one draw the line between what is offensive and what is simply a strong repudiation/disagreement? I can ell you also that I don’t have time to police the comments. By the time I saw the comment attacking Sarah for instance, many people had already risen to her defense – which is how things ought to be. The free marketplace of ideas is the most efficient way for good ideas to develop and for bad ideas to be disposed of.
    In conclusion, The reason for my not joining the campaign was not because I disagree with the values it represents. It’s not because I have a preference for testosterone and swagger. It’s because I believe in free speech and I would hate to insult the Chofetz Chaim by proclaiming my support for a standard I know none of us lives up to.
    The forward article states that “The picture would then link to an explanation of the edicts against speaking negatively of others, known in Jewish law as lashon harah” and yet the there is no such link. Maybe if there was then this campaign would make sense to me – one where we urge people to try to be as respectful of others as possible. But there’s none of that. So until then I support my fellow Jews by giving them a forum where they may freely discuss their ideas without having to worry about making it past some kind of filter.
    But again, I think your intentions were stellar and you may want to think about tweaking the campaign a little so that it can be more effective.

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