Sunday, January 30, 2022

TikTok Hipokrisy

You've probably heard about Miriam Anzovin, a formerly Orthodox young woman posting Daf Yomi videos on TikTok. She does this in an irreverent style that includes obscene curse words. Rather unsurprisingly, this has led to criticism. Perhaps more surprisingly, this criticism has been met with some furious and very strange counter-criticism.

In some cases, those who criticized the obscenity-laced videos were told that they are misogynists who are only against Anzovin because she is female. No doubt there are indeed some people who are opposed to Anzovin for that reason, but aside from the fact that the particular people issuing the criticisms were most definitely not against women teaching Torah, this was just absurd. Like, people couldn't possibly be genuinely against using profanities in teaching Torah?!

Others argued that it is a free society and nobody has a right to shut anybody down. This was equally strange. Nobody was trying to "shut anyone down" -  how could that possibly even be done? But just as in a free society people are allowed to post videos with obscenities, so too others are free to protest it. The counter-critics are equally trying to "shut down" the critics!

Another counter-claim was that the Sages themselves sometimes cursed each other or used colorful language. This counter-claim was odd because it was said by people who themselves would most definitely not be okay with adopting all the social norms of Chazal's society. As everyone acknowledges, times change.

Still others, including at least one journalist, claimed that there is absolutely nothing profane in using irreverence, profanity, and sexual innuendo, because that is just the social norm. I found it remarkable that this journalist did not see the hypocrisy of making this claim in an article in which he quoted Anzovin as saying "dips--t" and "f–k" - without writing out these words in full. He acknowledges that such words are not appropriate for the JTA, yet he can't see any reason that they would not be appropriate for Torah study?!

When I mentioned these points, someone naturally responded that I was the hypocritical person here, since I didn't like it when my own writings were banned for being disrespectful. But this is not true at all. I objected to the (false) claim that there is no Torah tradition of reading Genesis non-literally or of saying that the Sages erred in science. I most certainly accepted that in charedi society, this approach contradicts social norms of respect, which is why I willingly withdrew my books from that society.

Anyone who claims that there is nothing irreverent about using obscene language, even in today's society, is simply being dishonest, certainly with others and perhaps even with themselves. If you want to believe that Judaism does not require reverence, go ahead, it's a free society. However, many of us have an extremely reasonable case to make that Judaism always has and still does require reverence. And we will object to those who claim otherwise.

(For further reading, see Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, about the value of respect).


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46 comments:

  1. Anyone who claims that there is nothing irreverent about using obscene language, even in today's society, is simply being dishonest, certainly with others and perhaps even with themselves.
    =======================
    I have to at least partially disagree with you on this statement. There are substrata of society (at least in the US) where certain "vulgar" words (where is George Karlin when we need him :-)) are considered as all purpose wild cards, as in "pass the ------ salt"

    It's certainly less in corporate america now then when I entered the workforce. I vaguely remember one meeting where someone said - cut the ------ cursing, X is here and he doesn't appreciate it :-)
    KT

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    1. I'm pretty sure that even people who say "pass the ------ salt" wouldn't say that word if they were visiting a church. Or if they were in a job interview for a prestigious job.

      Delete
    2. A friend of mine once said to his father, "Pass the ***** cornflakes". His father answered, "We don't have that brand. They don't have the O-U."

      Delete
    3. Or if they were in a job interview for a prestigious job.
      ============================
      On Wall Street at a certain point in time, it was considered an important mark of macho in some quarters.
      KT

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    4. Indeed, I wouldn't think that she would use those words at a job interview unless it was for a job that required the use of curse words. The language we use is signaling behavior. Like our clothing and our body language. It signals to others what we're about and what we're not about. My assumption is that the people who don't like her curse words (or any other part of her project) are not her target demographic. Tales of the righteous and gematria do very little for me. But I'm totally okay with those among us who do connect with that. Just not my cup of tea. To come down so hard on her work is silly in the best case scenario and arrogant in the worst case scenario. The lady has people's ears; that counts for something. For the length of these TikTok videos there are people who tuned in not only for the fun of them but also because the ageless story of Torah study draws them in. That's wonderful. Either you 'know-betters' put up something even more compelling or get out of the way of someone who's doing the Holy Work of getting people to study Torah.

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    5. It is pretty clear that the words she is using lacks any sense of respect, reverence or sensibility so when you teach others Torah in such a manner you may be losing way more than you are gaining because the words of Torah itself are being disrespected.

      Delete
  2. Much ado about nothing. I asked a Chabad teen about TikTok. He told me it is for stupid people who are not smart enough to handle Facebook and Whats App.

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  3. You conclude that using four letter words in a "daf yomi shiur" and other obscenities, is "disrespectful" and that "judiasm requires reverence".

    Listen, when it comes to issues about charedi ideology, and other things, you don't hesitate to let loose and you use strong terminology.

    In those cases there are always comments from people who disagree with you.

    But now we have an issue where I imagine anyone who is orthodox would agree is extremely disgusting.

    I'm sure many pious Jews the world over would agree that she forfeited her share in the afterlife, assuming she still has one, (which seems unlikely)....but all of a sudden you are more measured in your response.

    It just goes to show what you are most passionate about. And it's not about authentic upkeep of Judiasm.

    And by the way, did it ever occur to you....at least as a remote possibility....that some people may have not been aware of Mrs.-curse-the-Talmud, and that now they might search for it and watch it, or maybe even ch"v enjoy something so repulsive to any scincere Jew?

    Maybe, just maybe it would have been better NOT to post this? Or is blog click rate the most important thing in your world?

    Finally, I flipped through some pages of your book. To me, as an outsider, the writing was not with due reverence...an undertone of hostility toward various Torah greats seemed to leap off the pages. That was my opinion and I still stand by it.

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    Replies
    1. Great, you stand by your opinion. Can you back it up with an example?

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    2. Not a remote possibility. Never heard of her before and thanks to Rabbi S I'm off to check it out!

      BTW, for those with Netflix there is a fun (and educational for those with an interest in etymology and language in general) series - History of Swear Words with Nicholas Cage narrating.

      Delete
  4. In professional (American) football, the NFL provides footage on its website of players being "mic'd up", so you hear their reactions to the game live. It's practically expected that the players are going to use obscenities. But the NFL bleeps out the curse words!

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  5. I think she's great! She's already been doing the Daf for two years. As far as I'm concerned there's only upside to the this, ie getting some young people turned on to learning Talmud. Of course I get why some folks are perturbed. And they are free to merrily scroll along or bitch and moan if that's their desire.

    As for obscenities, that's pretty subjective. Language evolves, something you should appreciate :), it is also subjective societally, temporally and geographically. There are words kids in Israel say commonly which appalled me when I first moved here. The "f" word is becoming mainstream, yes it still has some shock value, but much less than even 10 years ago. 50 years ago you couldn't say the word pregnant in mixed company.

    And let's not forget that the chareidi obsession with not saying certain words related to female anatomy has literally killed women.

    Jonathan Haidt's concept of respect is multidirectional. People should respect why some like her and why some don't. That's what Haidt's "moral matrix" is all about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The "f" word has less shock value than 10 years ago. But it is still most definitely considered a disrespectful word - by *everyone*. The Tiktoker would not use it in a church, or when applying for a job with a prestigious company.

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    2. It definitely still has some shock value, like I said. For everyone? Not close.

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    3. I'm not sure how you could be comfortable with someone who says the following about the talmudic sage R' Huna in the name of R' Chisda:
      "Oh my G-d, what the actual f*ck is wrong with you, you misogynist ageist dipsh*t."

      I doubt you would be ok if someone gave a hesped on one of your family members and spoke that way or if someone got up in your Beit Kenesset and spoke that way about your Rabbi.

      Dont pretend you are ok that type of speech. It certainly wouldnt become "mainstream" in the Beit Kenesset or Beit midrash unless our morals have fallen so low.

      Delete
    4. I think it's contextual. I'm OK with it in the context of what she's doing on Tik Tok. I doubt she'd talk like that at a funeral or in shul.

      As for my family members. You don't know me very well. ;)

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    5. "I'm not sure how you could be comfortable with someone who says the following about the talmudic sage R' Huna in the name of R' Chisda"

      Certainly thought this many times about some of the current crop of so-called gedolim.

      Delete
  6. If she was fat and ugly she would never have attracted so many followers. Same thing if she did not curse. So basically she uses profanity and esthetic to publish her opinions. Nothing to be proud of.

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  7. Bravo Rabbi Slifkin, a good opinion from you! I criticize the bad, now I will praise the good.

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  8. Interesting to know if Miriam Anzovin was formaly orthodox (ie currently otd) or not. In a Forward article she is billed as non-orthdox. Whatever, the fact that she is leaning daf yomi and that she cares is sociologically pretty interesting!!!

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  9. This aside from the main absurdity; she is an open atheist that does the dad daily:

    https://www.jewishboston.com/read/an-atheist-does-daf-yomi/

    The secular sentimentalists are so freakin out to lunch. As if their brand of Jewish pride will propegate anything. She is just piggybacking off Orthodox Judaism without the continuity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL nothing can be more out to lunch than having an imaginary best friend!

      Delete
    2. Well, maybe along the way, she'll have a change of heart.

      המאור שבה (=שבתורה) מחזירו למוטב

      There's a story about Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch and his students, where a person used to hang out in their company, and make fun of their eccentric ways of praying and whatnot. They thought at first that they should throw him out--but, on the other hand, why does he insist on coming and hanging out in their company? Doesn't he have any better way to spend his time?

      Eventually, their patience and tolerance paid off, and he became observant.

      Delete
    3. @ACJA (I think): Really? You still buy into the new atheist anti intellectual stuff?

      Delete
  10. Profanity tends to diminish verbal precision. Use of an epithet is less precise than use of a descriptive word such as inconsiderate, mran or whatever. In certain circumstances, profanity is a reflexive response that can become hard to control. Although I rationally see the downside of profanity, I still struggle to curb if not break the habit.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Not sure why you wrote this post. What's the purpose.

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    Replies
    1. He has written so many incorrect things lately, he finally had the urge to write something correct.

      Delete
    2. Agreed. The way people come out of the sewer to defend sewer language should be surprising, but isn't.

      From what I hear, in certain areas populated by what are colloquially referred to as "white trash" talk peppered with epithets and cuss words really is just how people talk. Upstate New York was singled out in particular. But the person I hear this from has young children and has been working on himself to talk less like this, because he doesn't want them continuing this "tradition."

      This woman, who as others pointed out, would have zero audience were she not physically attractive, left the derech, is a declared atheist, and talks this way on her streams solely for the shock value. I read one of the recent articles (in JPost), which had numerous embedded videos. Despite the temptation, I refrained from watching a single one. I'm sure they are quite amusing in some way, but there are better and cleaner ways to be amused than listening to trash talk mocking and demeaning the Talmud.

      As a related aside, I heard, with some authority, that Chinese-owned Tiktok pushes degeneracy in the West, but in China itself, all the videos that are promoted encourage clean and healthy living free of filth like this. I would not want to live in China, where the culture is brutal and cruel, but we should be mindful of what is going on here.

      Delete
  13. Women are not supposed to learn now you know why.I already wrote this elsewhere and the reply was Christine Hayes is also a woman and can learn better than any man. So it is to him ailu v'ailu meaning you have a choice how to learn. I also agree it is ailu v'ailu but not in the same context as he meant it.

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  14. Rabbi Slifkin, what are you trying to accomplish over here?
    Don't you know there are plenty of people doing that type of immature reading of the Bible as well? You want to ask them if they talk like that in church? They don't GO to church.
    Do you intend to write a piece on 'The Jews Are Coming', too?
    Seriously, what do you want?

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  15. "Formerly Orthodox" - These words mean this is NOT a case of a woman teaching Torah.
    The assumption that ANY criticism of her is inherently some kind of misogynistic patriarchal attack is inherently dishonest, but in this particular case especially so.

    "Others argued that it is a free society and nobody has a right to shut anybody down. This was equally strange. Nobody was trying to "shut anyone down" - how could that possibly even be done? "

    These days we live in a brainwashed society. There is the narrative and then there is all else. Young people are taught that anything going against the narrative is immoral, cruel, racist, sexist, etc and must be shut down and censored.
    To this mindset, naturally, if you are criticizing the narrative, you must be trying to shut IT down. Because that's what they do to their opponents. (And don't forget, shutting down the absolute truth and only acceptable way of thinking is sacrilegious!).

    It is not just charedi society that has problems.

    And yes as one commenter said above, she is famous because of her looks. And that's how social media works.
    Tiktok, even moreso than other platforms, is cancer.

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  16. If it wasn’t irreverent, she wouldn’t be doing it. The whole idea is to ‘bring a whole new view of the Gemara’, at least according to her opinion.
    The idea that ‘at least it gets people to learn Gemara’ is just ridiculous. There is no value to learning Gemara when the Gemara’s words are not taken seriously. If the question is, ‘which Amora is out of his mind’, that is not learnig Gemara. It’s ike piling up Seforim on the floor, standig on them, and saying ‘at least it’s Seforim, not Ecyclopedia Brittanica’.
    Of course, an irreverent view of the Amora’im is nothing new. We have many people who consider themselves the equals of the Amora’im and Tana’im for that matter. Those people are equally irreverent to the words and personas of the Amora’im and Tana’im.
    I only heard of this person from the protests against her. Perhaps the protests were not such a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  17. While one can take issue with the crude vulgarity, the Gemara does quote Rav Chisda as using strong language in his reply to Rav Huna bar Chinnina. Although I have to say that to the ears of someone my age the video is unspeakably crude, perhaps it is accurately conveying the sense of the passage to a generation younger than my kids.

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  18. I'd rather learn from a serious rabbi. She drops the f-bomb. She also makes a joke out of talmud study.

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  19. Why learn Torah from an atheist? Rabbi Mizrachi is way better.

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  20. It's a sin to use curse words. She shouldn't swear but of course as an atheist she has no morals and ethics so what did you expect!

    ReplyDelete
  21. 1) It is worth noting, regarding swearing, that it's not at all clear that our swearing is like their swearing- some have pointed in this comment thread to the Netflix series, I'd point to Melissa Mohr's "Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing"- but regardless, swearing used to involve a lot more in the way of religion than it does now.

    2) To that end- it's worth noting that the place everyone is talking about in terms of her swearing (Moed Katan 9b) actually has R' Hisda using God's name (or at least, a way we'd refer to God) in outrage- whether it's "by God!" or something else, it's arguable that what R' Hisda is doing there is every as outraged and laden with offense and irreverent as anything that Miriam Anzovin said in response.

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    Replies
    1. Regarding point 2.

      Do you really believe that?

      "By God!" is arguably every bit outrageous and as laden with offense as "what the f***, you misogynistic ageist dip****"??

      It is difficult for me to accept this as an argument in good faith. Just my opinion.

      Delete
  22. No hate to her as a person, or to her project which I see as having potential, even if I personally disagree strongly with some, not most, of her videos.

    This is way over sensationalized. The articles I've seen are promotion rather than journalistic reporting.

    In terms of her current offering:

    The woman has a grand total of twenty one-minute videos since the start of the daf cycle. A couple of random takes for each mesechta.

    You can learn everything she's ever said on the daf in one sitting.

    Even assuming that every one of those shiurim count as one of the 70 faces of Torah it's laughable to portray her as a pioneer making the daf accessible to millennial.

    She's produced the equivalent of one or two YouTube videos.

    There are men and women from every Jewish affiliation who have dedicated their lives to teaching all jews regardless of age, sex, gender, and level of religiosity.

    There are people who teach more gemara to classes of unaffiliated millennial's daily.

    If someone recording a couple of videos on TikTok gets these amazing write-ups, I'm looking forward to see the praise that JPost is going to heap on kiruv workers and couples on campus who have sacrificed financial comfort and years of their lives to connect with millennials, teach them Torah, welcome them into their homes on shabbos and make them part of their lives.

    In terms of her impact:

    These articles are out of touch with reality. She has a few thousand followers, less than ten thousand.

    That might sound like a lot, but in TikTok land that doesn't even register on the radar.

    To even be considered a micro- influencer on TikTok you need at least 50,000 followers.

    You know how you get a few thousand followers on TikTok?

    You open an account.

    That's because of how globally and randomly TikTok pushes out videos.

    There's no way to control who is being shown your videos and with a global audience it's inevitable that people will follow you for many different motivations.

    Are these papers so out of touch with the modern media landscape or are they being intentionally native?

    It's honestly surprising that she doesn't have more followers. Among other reasons, because courting controversy is one of the most effective TikTok growth strategies, as it leads to engagement in the comments which leads to TikTok pushing the video to more people.

    In terms of who she is impacting:

    There is no way of knowing if her followers and viewers are millennials or even jewish. That is not something that TikToks analytics allow you to check.

    Sure you might think, who else would follow her, but with a global audience, you'd be surprised.

    On tiktok you find @p00lguy with millions of followers who posts videos of himself cleaning his pool. My guess is that the majority of his followers don't own pools.

    People choose to follow accounts on Tiktok for many reasons and they're not always what you would assume.

    Besides for which, at least at the moment, followers on TikTok is more a vanity metric than anything else. TikTok opens to the "for you" page.

    If you follow someone that doesn't mean that their posts will get shown to you. It only means that they might show up if you go to the "following" page. Something which I'm pretty sure no one ever does.

    Basically, whether you think she's amazing and the Bal Shem Tov of today's generation or whether you think she's the devil incarnate, there is not really much of a story here(yet) to get worked up about.

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  23. 1. The Sages and even rishonim sometimes used colorful language towards each other, one towards another of comparable level. They did not use it towards sages of previous generations and towards those who were commonly known as much greater then them.

    2. It's true that definition of which language is colorful and which is not changes with time. Some things go worse, it's completely understandable and somehow acceptable. But a Torah scholar and true Jew is expected to improve the level around him/her, not simply float with the stream going down.

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  24. "When I mentioned these points, someone naturally responded that I was the hypocritical person here, since I didn't like it when my own writings were banned for being disrespectful"

    Last I checked, you weren't calling to ban her, as you yourself say here. People have a real inability to grasp that people can criticize in good faith without calling for government or mob action. (Perhaps because lots of people *do* indeed only criticize in that way.) It's a reflection of our times, but not a good one.

    "which is why I willingly withdrew my books from that society."

    I'm curious; how would one accomplish that? Pull them from certain stores?

    ReplyDelete
  25. She is clearly a bit insecure and attention seeking. Her popularity has ballooned recently so to be even more "edgy" she has resorted to the lowest form of entertainment, f-ing and blinding.

    To corroborate the above, note that I messaged her on twitter complimenting on her videos and asking for her background - which she happily provided to me - "Sure. Raised orthodox in a Ba'al Teshuva family, got my degree in Judaic studies, currently OTD. That's me!" She also said "Thank you so much, so glad you found them funny"

    But when i very politely suggetsed she omit the profanity, she BLOCKED me on twitter

    Very insecure and sad

    I wonder where this will end up. She will get more edgy and more daring, and almost certainly will end up making an epic Chilul Hashem

    ReplyDelete

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