Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blogging Dilemmas

As I have mentioned previously, I have serious misgivings about this blog. My wife points out that it is a drain on my time and concentration, which could be better dedicated to the numerous essays and books on which I am working. On the other hand, it's a way of sharing ideas and receiving feedback, and many people tell me that they appreciate it.

The method for handling the comments section is especially difficult. It's even more time-consuming and draining on my attention than writing posts. There are already many people who send me questions via email, and now there is another forum for people to engage me in debate. Furthermore, due to my position as public figure who is controversial in some circles, there are a lot of people who wish to challenge me. Some attempt to post obscene insults. Others are mensches, but they are strongly opposed to my approach and views. Some people try to flood the comments section with endless lengthy and repetitive comments. There are so many people who demand the right to debate me, and criticize me if I eventually don't want to continue. And then there is the issue that many of these people do not even comment under their own name, as I mentioned previously. I'd like to see them publish their own views on sensitive matters and open themselves up on their own websites for challenges!

It's very clear to me that many arguments are pointless. Debating the scientific merits of evolution with creationists never gets anywhere. Nor does debating Rashi's corporealist beliefs with people to whom it is inconceivable that such a Torah giant could have been a corporealist. This is what I pointed out after several weeks' debate with Rabbi Zucker, whereupon some people claimed that I was just trying to squirm out of it because I didn't have answers. This charge is easily refuted; Rabbi Zucker sent a ten thousand word critique to Hakira, and I wrote a ten thousand word response to all his arguments. I was not lacking in responses in this blog, just realistic about the futility and endlessness of the debate. A lengthy exchange in a journal is far superior to an endless exchange on a blog, which has no end in sight.

On a post from a few days ago about Rashi, I decided to shut down the comments after over a hundred had been posted. Some people wrote to me to complain; one was a supporter who was worried that it made me look bad. But what am I supposed to do? The debate did not seem to be getting anywhere. Furthermore, the people arguing with me had not even read the two primary texts on which such a debate should be based - R. Moshe Taku's Ksav Tamim and my article in Hakirah. So what should I do? I think that in my books, my lectures (with open question sessions) and this website, I have made it clear that I am ready to publicly discuss my views and defend them, which certainly cannot be said about many of my opponents. But I simply don't have the time for endless arguing, and why should my numerous opponents always have the last word and flood the comments section with challenges?

The internet is a free forum. Anyone can open up a website to challenge my views - there are already sites such as NotBrisk which do that. And if people want to challenge my articles in Hakirah, they can write to Hakirah. But I think that it is impractical and unfair to expect this website to be a forum for all my ideological opponents to be able to endlessly air all their objections to my writings. What do you think?


  1. Sounds like a middle road would be to create a narrow comments policy: for example, you post about topic X, and only publish comments that bring up a new point about topic X or respond to other points. More like curated letters to the editor than blog comments, in a sense making this more like a journal than a blog - which seems to be your aim. Or is it? What do you seek to achieve through this blog as of now?

  2. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I've enjoyed reading your blog for several months now, comments included. Though some of them are needlessly belligerent, or don't seem to want to respond to the real questions you've brought up, these, too, are educational for those of us exploring both these issues and what the reaction to them is in the larger community. The response to something says as much about the person responding as it does about the original writer. Perhaps more. So I'd ask you to stop worrying about this. Ignore the belligerent comments -- they speak for themselves. Answer anything you feel like answering, and to whatever extent you wish. I think you’re doing a very good job of educating those readers out there who are seriously thinking about these issues, and while your longer pieces are the best for this, the blog is what has pointed me, for one, to some issues I'd never considered until I saw them mentioned. All of this is helpful. So thanks for the blog, which opens the door to deeper thinking. No one will become fully educated from a blog, but it's a great beginning.

  3. I agree with you 100%, only debate people who you care to debate. I would not argue with a Christian endlessly about Judaism vs Christianity because blind faith has no ultimate reason. Same with these people. Maybe you should get people to help you with your blog like Gil Student. Maybe someone else can work on moderation. Or, let people post whatever they want, but why should you respond to them. However, that might lead to some really inappropriate comments so maybe just try the first idea.

    I appreciate everything you have done even if, at times, I disagree with you.

  4. Bereshis 21:12
    "Listen to your wife."

    Now, that might sound like something said by someone who wants you to shut up. Not true of me at all! Your blog is one of my favorites. I'm just considering what my wife would want of me.

  5. I meant you should get people to help you on your blog like Gil Student has a bunch of people that help him.

  6. I think blogging is one of the most addictive time-wasters ever invented.

    Toss it.

  7. I agree with you. Stop accepting comments; as a intelligent and influential modern minded rabbi your time is more valuable than responding to an endless stream of anonymous or semi-anonymous comments, whether they agree with you or not. However, this doesn't mean you need to stop blogging. Continue doing so, and just leave a reason up on the blog as to why there are no comments. Those who know you and your works will understand that you're doing the right thing. You've already spent more time responding to your fans and critics than most rabbis ever dream of.

  8. I say the blog stays and the comments go. Unless, of course, you can afford some paid help.

  9. I get a lot from reading and thinking of your posts. But if your wife is advising against it, I'd have to suggest you take her advice most seriously.

    All the best,
    Gary Goldwater

  10. You know I'm a big fan of yours, but I think you should drop the blog. Dealing with blog comments is just too time consuming. (Heck I waste far too much time just reading comments.)

    You get much more bang for your time buck by writing essays in known publications. Take the time from the blog and give some of it to your family.

  11. This is a purely economic issue:

    How much time do you have for this, given that you have other valuable uses for your time?

    Just make some decision about that (1 hr./day, 2 hrs./day, 1 millsecond/yr., etc.), maybe involving your wife, and finished!



  12. An approach I haven't seen mentioned is a "blog hiatus" or "comment hiatus." As in, an experiment to see if suspending the blog/comments is better for your concentration, ideas, etc.

    My one request is that even if you decide to stop posting, to leave the blog up, so that people can find it in the future.

  13. ironically anonymousFebruary 4, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    It's clear that you need to limit the number of comments that you respond to, and suggestions have been made as to how you do that (answer only those comments you feel like answering, preclude all comments) - why don't you just kill two birds with one stone? Make it a policy that you'll only answer comments from people who use their real names. You've been advocating for this for a while. It'll get you closer to what you want, and at the same time will severely limit the number of comments you have to address. And no one will be able to complain that you ignore specific comments that you cannot answer.

  14. First of all, get some return on the blog by adding some monetization (Jewish blog network advertising), ads for your books (to a store that gives you a percent for the link if you don't sell/ship them yourself), and a Donate/Support this Blog button. It may not produce a lot of income, but every little bit helps.

    As far as comments, maybe turn on comment moderation, and then just drop (don't approve) the comments that are inappropriate. In addition, if you don't have time to deal with comments relative to a particular topic or posting, you can (in the Post Options) turn off comments for that particular post. It's ok to have a new post with no comments allowed when you don't have time.

    Don't feel bad about managing your audience, after all we're not paying for this service you're providing.

    If you need some help on monetization, email me at the address on my blog.

    Note a blog is valuable in building your brand - which is what helps sell books and articles.

  15. Thanks to all those who commented supporting my (Rabbi Slifkins' wife) opinion!

    Just to set the record straight though in response to: "Take the time from the blog and give some of it to your family." I feel very blessed to have a husband who spends so much of his time and energy in his family. My concerns about the blog were towards his work!

  16. at least leave your blog up and use it to point to articles or other links of things you deem interesting or important. your scholarship is much valued by many.

  17. > My wife points out that it is a drain on my time and concentration

    Just remember what happened to Adam HaRishon when he listened to his wife's advice!

    Ba-da bum!

    But seriously:

    There are different purposes a blog can serve
    1) Updates on your life - announcements of upcoming lectures, books, etc.
    2) Viscious attacks on your enemies. This is generally time consuming and reserved for people with little to do other than sit at a computer all day searching for dirt to write about.
    3) Sharing nascent ideas, looking for feedback, etc. This is in between, taking time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Used in this fashion, the blog can further your "official work".

    But as I've told you before, you need to focus it on something

  18. One purpose of a blog as far as I can tell is to serve as a central infrastructure around which to form a supportive community (or "tribe" as Seth Godin might call it). This is a valuable asset to have at your disposal.
    As far as the comments - just ignore. You don't have to debate each one (certainly not anonymous ones) and truth is most people (even those who do read the blog) don't even read them anyways.

  19. It's seems to me that the art of writing a well-trafficked blog is to know how often to ignore comments.

    I think you are entitled to ignore even ALL of our comments, as your personal schedule/sanity dictates. To some degree the comments section allows the readers to discuss/debate with themselves, with or without your intervention.

    If you are not already doing this, I would also consider blogging primarily on those issues that your are currently researching for your books/articles, to save time.

    I for one would prefer to be able to read your thoughts/ideas, even if you rarely, or never, responded to comments. The content is that valuable, as a potential alternative to the chareidi take on things.

    Some general posting about the optimal way to communicate with you might be preferred, such as visiting your Torah in Motion classes.

    You might also want to get some collaborators (if there are any) to contribute to your site.

  20. I think that the animal world is fortunate to have both a Rav and, now, a Rebbetzin :)

    Regarding concerns of time and blogging, do whatever is best for you and your work. Someone suggested, above, that you get a volunteer to moderate comments. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz called for volunteers to moderate comments, and works with such a system on his wesite.

    Whatever you decide, best wishes for much hatzlacha :)

  21. Like most of your readers, I appreciate your blog -- as well as your considerable patience managing it!

    My suggestion: Keep posting to the blog (because you enjoy it and it's a public service) but make it clear that your time constraints prevent you from participating in the discussion.

    The only question is whether/how to moderate the comments. Maybe someone you trust could volunteer to filter out obscene or repeated comments??

    Good luck!

  22. Keep the blog going, but disable the comments. Anyone who really wants to contact you can always send you an email.

  23. Building on Akiva's suggestion:

    Maybe you should keep the comments as is, but don't comment in them. Instead, highlight in red the comments you don't like, and highlight in green the comments you do like. Let others know that they are encouraged to challenge the "red" ones.

    Does this sound like a time-saver? (My apologies to the colorblind bloggers!)

  24. If you leave teh blog, pelase don't take away the coomments section. Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's blog has no comment section, and it is a shame beasue often I have questions comments etc.

    Also, artscroll's "blog" has no comment section...

    I would jsut be very strick on moderation and only accept comments that bring a valid point, support, or attack in a civil fasion.

  25. You really have no obligation to post comments - the blog is to share your ideas. People who want to discuss them can do so on their own blogs. Invite them to do so (as long as they credit you for the originating text/blurbs/excerpts). And, as some others have mentioned, you could just post them very selectively - only the best ones get posted, flush everything else. If your goal is to teach, then put out your lesson and let it fly where it will. You can use subsequent posts to clarify and answer really good questions. It's not your job to babysit your "students," so don't.

  26. I'm going to take a contrarian position: Keep the comments section.
    There's something more annoying than posting anonymously and that's someone who doesn't have a comments option. Know why they don't? Because either they feel they're above having to defend their positions or they know they can't. They want to spout off without the annoying consequence of getting feedback that they might have to answer. Do you want to be that kind of guy?

  27. ta'aleh ve'tatzliach be'chol asher tachlit.


    I really enjoy your work and method of thinking an debating. It is very educational and refreshing hearing a normal rationalist perspective. As for the comments - never really cared much for them. I only scrolled through to read your responses anyway!

    Thanks again for all your efforts,
    All the best in either of your decisions!

  29. just disable the comments. it seems like a valid compromise. the readers still get to appreciate your posts, and you don't have to waste time arguing with people who just want to argue

  30. A forum like this provides one with the most likely way to hear something which will challenge their opinion...articulated in a way that one is the least likely able to accept it.


  31. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I think you are right to value your time and to make decisions about the best use of your time. A compromise position might be to close comments after a certain number of comments.

    Hocking is a yeshiva world disease. I feel that you should not waste your time with hockers. Just delete them. I see value in internet anonymity, especially with all the conformist pressures in the frum world. But why should you waste time and have your readers waste time wading through garbage that would never be allowed in a civilized face-to-face discussion.

    I trust you to post critical comments which are constructive, respectful, and advance discussion of the points you made. You are not obliged to answer every argument.

    If you decide to keep your comments section open and unmoderated just post some disclaimer.

    Some bloggers just grant unmoderated access to those with a consistent record of being useful commenters.

    Whatever you decide, thank you for the value you have provided to the community through all your different endeavours (and your Brit accent).

  32. There is a very simple concept here: your blog, your rules.

    As long as you're providing free content, you owe your readers nothing. It is entirely within your rights to allow or limit discussion as you see fit.

    It is also your prerogative to selectively choose which comments to respond to and which to ignore, and to change your preferences over time.

    Looking forward to catching you on Sunday!

  33. 1) Have a Forum where anyone may read, but you must register in order to comment.

    2) Furthermore, you can require people to have their own blog in order to comment on yours.

    3) Appoint a friend or supporter to police the forum for you, and have him issue warnings, delete posts, etc.

    4) Hope to see you Sunday...

  34. Hassidei HaAdmor MeSlifkaFebruary 6, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    Don't hesitate to limit the comments the second they are getting unwieldy.

  35. make a rational decision :-)

  36. Bava Metziah 59a:

    וגו' א"ל רב פפא לאביי והא אמרי אינשי איתתך גוצא גחין ותלחוש לה לא קשיא הא במילי דעלמא והא במילי דביתא לישנא אחרינא הא במילי דשמיא והא במילי דעלמא

    R. Papa objected to Abaye: But people say, If your wife is short, bend down and hear her whisper! — There is no difficulty: the one refers to general matters; the other to household affairs.16 Another version: the one refers to religious matters, the other to secular questions.
    I hope this helps you.

  37. I would like to also support the continuation of this blog and the comments if possible simply because the lack of alternatives. There are many smaller Jewish communities where there is little or no availability of Rationalist Judaism and reading your blogs and listening to your shiurim remain the only way to have exposure to it.

  38. Rabbi Slifkin said:

    "On a post from a few days ago about Rashi, I decided to shut down the comments after over a hundred had been posted... The debate did not seem to be getting anywhere. Furthermore, the people arguing with me had not even read the two primary texts on which such a debate should be based - R. Moshe Taku's Ksav Tamim and my article in Hakirah. So what should I do?"

    As one of the last readers to write comments back to you about Rashi, I may have been guilty of expressing myself a bit too "bizarrely" in some of my criticisms, and if that is the case then I hope you will accept my apology. We should all endeavor to keep the discussions as polite as possible even when disagreeing on the issues (not always an easy task when in the heat of the argument).

    I certainly appreciate very much the way you have been so frank and open with your positions, and the way you have readily shared your knowledge and opinions with everyone in these online forums. Thanks again for the obvious amount of time and effort that you have put into this. Your work and approach is a refreshing breath of fresh air, especially in comparison to the methods of seemingly all of your main opponents.

    That said, only at the end of the hundred plus comments on your latest Rashi blog did you write that those arguing with you should first take the time to read R. Moshe Taku's Ksav Tamim and your (latest) article in Hakirah. This is of course a reasonable, even self-evident, request for you to make. I agree that this is the fair and proper thing to do, so since you made that comment I have downloaded a copy of Ksav Tamim and have ordered the new issue of Hakirah, which I should have done right from the start. Please don’t hesitate to point out what you consider to be required or preferred background material for readers to consider before sending in their comments.

    By the way, I’m very glad I was able to make it to the “Bridge Shul” last Sunday, even though I unfortunately got there late and missed both of your lectures, and was only able to see you for a few moments. I’m presently enjoying your very informative book “Man & Beast” that I purchased there. Again, my best wishes to you in all of your endeavors.

  39. I think it is important to keep the comments because the additional insights and perspectives that people often add are an important part of what makes blogs valuable in the first place.

    Having said that, you have no obligation whatsoever to follow and reply to all of the comments in detail, as you so often do to the great benefit of us all. But you needn't do so.

    Perhaps the best solution is to simply state that due to time constraints you will only deal with comments in a limited fashion, if and when you have the time but no more than that.

  40. Hassidei HaAdmor MeSlifkaFebruary 13, 2010 at 9:46 PM

    Thanks to the Admor MeSlifka and to the Rebbetzin MeSlifka for their enabling this blog to happen in whatever scope is deemed practical. This blog has educational value which some of us do appreciate.


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