שאם ישמע אדם דבר שאינו הגון יניח אצבעו באזניו -בבלי כתובות ה:א-ב
Bar Kafra expounded: What is the meaning of the verse “And you shall have pegs (yated) among your tools”? (Deut. 23:14) Do not read “your tools” (azeinecha) but rather “your ears” (oznecha) such that if someone were to hear something inappropriate, he should plug his ears with his fingers (B. Ketuvot 5a)
I had barely taken a few steps in the apartment upon returning from Chicago when Roommate Yonah asks me if I had been following the big news on the blogosphere. Apparently, the Israeli newspaper Yated Ne’eman printed more missives directed against Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) where Roommate Yonah is currently finishing smikha. This of course led to several discussions, points, counterpoints, and of course the expected flamewars.
During my time off I had intentionally minimized my web surfing, so I was blissfully ignorant of this whole brouhaha. My initial reaction when Yonah summarized the happenings is exactly how I feel right now:
To be perfectly blunt, I just don’t care.
In other circumstances I would not waste the time and energy in continuing this discussion, but I do feel that a meta-analysis would do some good. Specifically, why is it that Yated’s editorials are so important to so many people to warrant such outrage?
The simple answer is just that people don’t like being insulted in any context, especially regarding one’s spiritual beliefs (and possibly inherited traditions). When insulted and rejected on such a personal level, it should not be surprising to find people react defensively. But this is only a partial explanation since there are many occasions when we or our faiths are insulted and yet we ignore those insults without incident.
First, there is the issue of giving undue respect to the authors of the editorials and letters. I have a theory that the impact of insults and criticisms (and conversely compliments) is proportional to how much we respect our tormentors. For example, a five year old teasing “you’re stupid” can be disregarded more easily than hearing those same words from your professor or boss. The difference is obvious; we are more concerned with how our professors and superiors view our intellectual acumen than a random immature brat.
Religious attacks are no different in this regard in that we only will be sensitive to attacks from those people whose religious beliefs we value or respect. What I do not understand is how Yated would deserve this level of acknowledgment. While there could be a reasonable debate as to which hashkafot are “acceptable” in Jewish thought, it appears that Yated failed in not only presenting a rational argument but did not bother to do rudimentary fact-checking in the interest of determining exactly what YCT represents. People who would criticize as such – both in terms of argument and evidence – would ordinarily not be considered a “bar plugta” deserving of a response.
Herein lies the second issue in that sometimes even absurd positions need rebutting. When the Niturei Karta people infamously participated in the Iran Holocaust Conferencethere was a near-universal outcry and even public protests. These were not done out of respect for Niturei Karta, but to demonstrate that their positions were fanatical and outside the bounds of the Jewish community.
But for whom were these protests staged? I doubt that any member of Niturei Karta would look at the throngs of people holding placards and consequently reverse his positions, and I suspect that the protesters had no such expectations. Rather, the statement was made for the uninformed people who could be influenced by the Niturei Karta’s presence or more importantly a reaffirmation of one’s own beliefs and to demonstrate solidarity in their own common cause.
When Yated publishes such editorials, they do so for a readership which demands little by way of journalistic evidence to justify existing religious prejudices. In a similar vein, YCT promotes its hashkafa not to convince the Haredi community of their legitimacy but to reach out to those who would be receptive. What makes these flamewars particularly pointless is that in the exchange people forget that they will not convince people who are predisposed to their own opinions, especially when the argument is as juvenile as “yes, you’re koferim” and “no we’re not – you’re the koferim.”
Despite the general need for more religious dialogue, we also have to realize that sometimes it is more useful not to engage in certain conversations. While YCT supporters could be justified in defending the institution, they ought to realize that not much will be gained in a confrontation but instead would be better served by focusing their energies on those whom they have a chance of influencing.
As for Yated, those who are predisposed to disagree with their opinions have a Talmudic suggestion for a more appropriate response.