On Being Attacked by Sharks
Why do I allow such vicious critics on this forum?
This past Shabbos we had a rabbinic couple over for a meal. During the meal, it transpired that they both read this website. And they told me that they were absolutely horrified. Not by my posts, but rather by the vitriol of certain people in the comments section who obsessively attack both me and my writings. (For those who receive this by email, note that if you visit this page online, there is a little speech bubble at the end of each post, which you can click on to read comments.) Another person wrote to me as follows:
Bloody hell. I put a toe into the shark-infested waters that are the comments section of your blog, and I'm done. How do you deal with all that hate being thrown at you? You must be an energy monster, feeding off the vitriol. Seriously, do you enjoy engaging with these people?
Actually, by nature, I am extremely sensitive. Eighteen years ago, when I was thrust into controversy with the ban on my books and my refusal to capitulate, I found the insults and curses and slander that were publicly cast at me to be greatly upsetting, to put it mildly. It was an awful experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone (well, maybe on some people). I found it less stressful to swim with actual sharks.
But a person can get used to anything. The first time you’re called a kofer, it’s horrifying; the second time, it’s jarring; the twentieth time, it’s funny. After a few months of being relentlessly called an am ha’aretz and heretic and rasha and being put in the same category as pedophiles(!) and so on, those words lost their impact. And so I got to develop a rather thick skin to that sort of thing.
Of course, there are still things that upset me. A while back, someone wrote here that I am an “evil ugly apikores.” I was a bit shocked; I thought to myself, “Ugly???” Fortunately, later that day, I was walking past the parrot in the museum, which we exhibit as an example of the type of creature upon whose beauty, the Gemara says, you should pronounce a beracha. It stared at me with a beady eye, and (I promise this is absolutely true) it solemnly said, “Baruch she’kacha lo be’olamo” (“Blessed is the One who has such things in his world”). At least the parrot doesn’t think that I’m ugly!
No, but, seriously folks, there are indeed some things that still upset me. When people misrepresent my views, that is extremely frustrating. And I did find it disturbing when the commentator here who goes by the moniker “Mecharker” recently called me a Sonei Torah U’Mitzvos. So, you may wonder, why do I allow such comments to appear on my website?
Well, first I’ll tell you what the reason isn’t. It’s not because I believe in free speech. Not that I don’t believe in free speech, but free speech does not mean that people are free to say whatever they like on my personal website - it means that they can freely set up their own website for that! Rather, I allow it for different reasons.
One is that I think that most sophisticated people (which hopefully describes my readership) realize that such nasty put-downs say a lot more about the person expressing them than they say about me. It demonstrates that these people either represent a culture that doesn’t care much about bein adam l’chavero, or that they are extraordinarily triggered by what I write - which likely means that they are insecure about their own positions and perhaps deep down they fear that I am correct.
A second reason is that while the principle of free speech doesn’t mandate me to allow such people here, I still feel uncomfortable banning people. One of my frustrations with charedi society is how it tries to suppress criticism and challenges from both people outside and inside that society. I take pride in the fact that while my revered rabbinic opponents would never allow themselves to publicly receive criticisms or even unscreened questions, I allow such things here. I think that allowing for such challenges makes for a healthier discussion.
Another reason is that while I am something of a perfectionist, I’m obviously not immune from making mistakes, especially with such a large and rapid output of material. Having people who are utterly obsessed with finding my mistakes and amplifying them helps me be more careful to avoid making them. It also means that mistakes which do slip through will be caught and I can correct them before using the material elsewhere. For this reason, I value having such zealots here.
Still, as mentioned, certain people do go too far. In addition, some readers feel that the abusive language lowers the standards of this forum and should not be allowed. (Note that with the new Substack platform, there is no option of comment moderation; all I can do is ban specific people from commenting.) In order to get a better idea of how the readership feels, perhaps you can vote in this poll:
Thank you for your input!
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