Isn't It Lashon Hara? Do I Have Noble Motives? And What Do I Hope To Accomplish?
In the last few days there have been an increasing number of criticisms of my posts which criticize (or, as they call it, "bash") various aspects of charedi society. "It's lashon hara!" "You have impure motives - you just hate charedim, because your books were banned!" "You're just preaching to the choir, what can your blog accomplish?!" I've addressed these criticisms in several comments over the years, but I thought it would be useful to have a single post with a thorough response.
"It's Lashon Hara - it's forbidden!"
No, it isn't.
Relating negative facts about others is permitted when it is beneficial. It is extraordinary that the works of the Chafetz Chaim, intended to make the world a better place, have often been used to make the world a worse place. Sometimes it is people not giving over harmful information about a shidduch, sometimes it is people not reporting dangerous behavior in a rabbi, sometimes it is people trying to quell frank and important discussion about social policies. The Torah's principles of speech are supposed to improve society.
(See too this post: "When Lashon Hara Is A Mitzvah")
"You have impure motives - you just hate charedim, because your books were banned!"
The notorious ban on my books was indeed a deeply upsetting experience for myself and my family, more so than you can imagine. I wouldn't wish such a thing on anyone (well, maybe on a few people). But it also had some tremendous long-term benefits for me, which means that I am very grateful that it happened. And it was an immensely educational experience, and one that motivated me to learn about, and teach about, the rationalist-mystic divide, along with both the correct approach to rabbinic authority and its abuses. I don't think that's a bad thing. As it happens, I have a lot of sympathy for the ban on my books, if not for its execution, and I wrote what is probably the best defense of my opponents.
A much bigger impact on my feelings towards charedi society has been made by living in Ramat Beit Shemesh for twenty years, at the forefront of the clash between charedi and non-charedi elements of society, and seeing first-hand the effects of the problems. You don't have to have had your books banned in order to feel strongly about the problems of charedi society - plenty of other people both outside and inside charedi society feel the same way. Even charedi ambassador Jonathan Rosenblum has written about how charedi society is unsustainable and threatens the rest of Israel.
But, for argument's sake, let's say that I have impure motives. So what? What matters is the truth and value of what I write, not my motivations for writing it.
"You're just preaching to the choir, what can your blog accomplish?!"
This blog reaches a wider range of people than is commonly thought, and has effects in all kinds of ways.
First of all, there are people with strong charedi ideology who read my blog because they despise it and just want to know what the "enemy" is saying. Obviously nothing that I write will immediately change their minds. But it does plant seeds, which can sprout later. Some of my closest ideological friends are rabbis who used to despise and denounce me as a heretic, before they gradually came to terms with the fact that what I write is actually true. (I don't hold any hard feelings against them - the Nosson Slifkin of twenty-five years ago would also have despised this blog, because it would have made him feel so uncomfortable.)
Second, there are plenty of people in charedi society who read my blog and like it! They agree that there are problems which need to be exposed and addressed.
Third, even people who are not part of charedi society are connected to it in all kinds of ways. And there is enormous influence from charedi rabbis and educators in non-charedi circles and institutions. It's important for people outside of charedi ideology to understand the reality of it, and its problems, rather than the ideological distortions and fake picture of charedi society presented by its representatives and media outlets. Whether it's a matter of selecting educational institutions for your children, choosing which causes to support, or deciding how to evaluate rabbinic guidance, it's crucial to be informed of the issues.
Over the years, many people have written to tell me about how this blog has helped them in various ways. If you're one of the people who have benefited, or who otherwise see a benefit, please write a comment describing this. (And it would be wonderful if you could show your appreciation by supporting the Biblical Museum of Natural History, which educates tens of thousands of people - including the most insular charedim - about the relationship between Judaism and the natural world, in an entirely non-controversial, positive and universally-appreciated way! Click here to donate.)
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