Thursday, May 26, 2011

If You Close Your Eyes - It’s Not There

A few days ago I was directed to a new Agudah website that was being operated by Ms. Leah Zagelbaum, Agudah’s new Director of Communications. Its stated purpose was to provide a convenient internet forum to announce various functions and achievements and other news of interest to the public.

I thought at the time that Agudah has finally joined at least the 20th if not the 21st century. I thought that they finally made a decision to use the technology available to them to more efficiently get their message out.

Up until that point they had been refused to use the internet at all since they so disparaged it and discouraged their own constituents from using it. I’m not going to go into all the discussion about the good and bad of the internet and how to deal with it here. I’ve already done that many times. I will just say that I disagreed with their all or nothing approach.

Even though it was banned in Israel because of those evils, Agudah never banned it outright here. They still continue to speak out in the harshest terms about its evils. Agudah also decided that even though they didn’t ban it, they would ‘lead by example’ and not use it at all for themselves.

But the fact is that they realize that most people use it anyway. As is often the case, bans – especially unofficial ones like this are virtually ignored by the masses. Most people including the very people that Agudah preaches its anti internet message to - use it responsibly. I thought they finally realized that there is such a thing as responsible use and that they were going to lead by example in a different way – by having a responsible blog for informational purposes.

But alas, it was not so. Their Director of Communications who I’m sure thought she was just doing her job by creating this blog was told to shut it down. Here is the new message published right on that blog in its entirety (Is there more than a little irony here?):

Agudath Israel of America has received inquiries about a site on the internet featuring information about the organization and its activities.

The site, started a few days ago without authorization by Agudath Israel’s recently appointed director of communications, was established with good intentions, for informational purposes only, and with no interactive capacity. However, in accordance with a decision made years ago by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, Agudath Israel has purposely not established a dedicated web presence. At best, it was premature for the new site to have been established, and it has now been removed pending further direction from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.

I had a feeling that this was too good to be true.

We live in a time where others are getting their messages out with lightening speed – much of it anathematic to the Torah world. One would think that they would like to even the playing field as much as possible. Having a website like this would certainly help.

Agudah realizes that their own constituency uses the internet. They’ve realized it for some time now. When their Jewish Observer was still being published Agudah gave permission to a private party to publish all their articles on the internet in PDF. I guess that gave them built in deniability. They could say it wasn’t them but someone else. They did not see giving permission to others to publish their magazine in full as a contradiction. They had a presence – and they didn’t. That’s called eating your cake- and having it too.

To say that they do not wish to have a web presence is therefore a bit of a spin even if it is technically accurate.

And yet they refuse to use the technology in harmless ways that will only benefit them. I guess getting their message out is not as important as not having an official web presence. This is called the 'stick your head in the sand' approach to Judaism… or the 'If we close our eyes it's not there' approach.

Question for Agudah: How’s that working for you?