Friday, December 26, 2008

The Sins of the Fathers

There is a marvelous essay by Rabbi Gil Student on the issue of blogging which I highly recommend. I believe it touches upon all of the aspects of this genre of communication. It is very thoughtful and examines the pros and cons honestly and forthrightly. It is truly a must read for all who participate in any way in the blog world – whether as a blogger, commenter, or reader. And it is a counter to the hyperbolic rhetoric of those who unconditionally condemn bloggers and blogging outright.

Blanket condemnations and bans are indeed the modus operandi of some of the more extreme rabbinic leaders on the right. Instead of the nuanced and balanced approach of more moderate Charedim - and the rest of Orthodoxy - they will just condemn the entire enterprise. And though they will admit that there is a something to be gained even by their own constituency, on some blogs - they nevertheless believe the down side is so bad that it justifies a total ban. ‘It isn’t worth it’ - is the claim made about the good side since the bad side is so vile and the dangers so great.

I have said many times about modern technology like the Internet - that it is not the technology that is evil but the application of technology that can be and often is. And even though I too – just like the most right wing of Charedim – believe that the pure vileness, level of porn, or heresy available on some blogs is very dangerous to certain individuals – it still does not justify dismissing the entire medium – any more than any other technology that can be misused should be dismissed.

Rabbi Student makes a valid comparison to telephones. They can be used for extremely bad purposes including such things as phone sex… or the promotion of heresy. Just to cite one example: A phone call to one of those 900 phone sex numbers can very easily be made by an adolescent in the privacy of his own bedroom. Should we ban telephones? No Gadol would say that.

There was one line in his essay that really troubles me. And it is very telling about the extent to which those who would ban bloggers are willing to go:

The mashgiach in Lakewood said that there should be no room in yeshivos for the children of bloggers. I kid you not.

The Mashgiach would deny my son entry to his - or any – Yeshiva. This is Torah?! This is what the Mashgiach feels is beneficial to the Torah world?! ...that the sins of the fathers should impede the education and Chinuch of their children who are in no way responsible for what their fathers or mothers do?! Who is he really punishing here? Not me. Not even my son. But Klal Yisroel itself.

The Torah world would be a lot poorer if the great potential of the children whose parents they do not approve of were denied the opportunity to learn in the great Yeshivos. Despite my objections to some of the things going on there, and my differences with their Hashkafos there is no doubt that the level of Limud Hatorah is very intense. The depth and scope of the Torah learning in these Yeshivos is tremendous – unparalleled in modern times. How dare anyone suggest that the children of bloggers be denied the opportunity to learn Torah in that environment – in that way?

What if that child is the next Rav Moshe or Rav Aharon Kotler? By denying someone with great potential the ability to learn Torah in an institution like Lakewood he is denying the world the benefit of that person’s potential. Does he think that bloggers' Hashkafos will ‘rub off’ on the children? Often the children of the most Modern Orthodox – and blogging - Jews become the most Charedi of Jews themselves, even before they enter the big Yeshivos. Why punish the child for the sins of the father – especially when the child himself may even agree with the very Hashkafos that such bans are trying to promote?

I think it behooves the Mashgiach of Lakewood to re-think his attitude. I am not even asking him to repeal his ban – although I strongly disagree with it and think he should. I am simply asking him to stop punishing his own constituency by denying potential Gedolim to learn in his Yeshiva just because he disapproves of their fathers.

They may very well have the potential to become the rabbinic leaders – Gedolim – we need, that are so sorely lacking in our day. Because by denying them their Torah learning, he denies it to Klal Yisroel their Torah. And this is not what a Mashgiach of a great Yeshiva should be doing.

This is not to say that one cannot become a Gadol unless he attends Lakewood. I have yet to see a Rav Moshe emerging from there. And the argument can be make that Gedolim like Rav Moshe don’t need Lakewood to achieve what they did. But denying a great school to a potential Gadol would be like denying the next Albert Einstein entry to Harvard. And that would be a disservice to mankind.

No matter how great one’s potential in any filed is or how unnecessary formal education might have been to great people in the past, denying potential ‘greats’ entry to the great schools for reasons unrelated to their potential is wrong and counterproductive.