Is J-Blogging Over?

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Animals in the jungle follow different behavior than those on a farm. And soldiers in combat interact differently than when they are at home. The rules of social relations vary as the venue changes.

Blogs have changed over the past few years and the rules of the jungle have changed. One of the mainstays of Jewish blogging, Chaim Rubin who has been blogging about Jewish music since 2003, recently threw in the towel over this. In his farewell message, he explained his reason for retirement. The change in the world of blogs has forced him to abandon his style. He now has to restrain his opinions, even when he expresses them respectfully, because his subjects will inevitably contact him to complain about some detail. He writes (link):

It’s not as easy to write openly and honestly what you feel about things any more. Back in the glory days of blogging people were so excited to see fresh and honest opinions they flocked to blogs. But today there are consequences for every word written and people will hound you and take you to task for your opinions.

I know what he means and I think he is making a very valid point. Blog posts are opinion pieces. In the old days, before blogs became more mainstream, you could express your opinions freely. If I thought a rabbi wrote an article demonstrating ignorance and dishonesty with sources, I showed that it was the case (albeit with nicer words). I can’t do that anymore. The old blog crowd had thick skins. The new blog crowd includes people who are highly sensitive and will complain.

Instead of criticizing ill-conceived articles, I usually just ignore them because otherwise I will get an angry e-mail from the author or one of his students. Then I will get an e-mail from one of his colleagues asking me to reconsider his arguments with a more open mind. Who has time for those discussions? Even if I am wrong, people are allowed to be incorrect every once in a while.

While I could ignore the e-mails, sometimes they come from people who are too important to ignore — people I respect highly for one reason or another. And some people even call me at home or at work, trying to make me squirm until I change my post. Who wants that? (For the record, I find those calls so off-putting that I usually become entrenched and refuse to budge. A phone call is the best way to get me to refuse your blog-related request.)

But what are we complaining about? The success of blogs in general and our blogs in particular. What all this really means is that blogs have become a part of serious conversation in the community and we have to reflect that new circumstance. If people are complaining about your writing, it is because they are reading it and taking it seriously. And with greater circulation comes greater responsibility. We aren’t in the jungle anymore and we have to behave accordingly.

Blogs haven’t died but they have changed. And you have to make the choice to either change with them or, if you cannot or will not, bow out of the picture. Chaim Rubin chose to retire. I’ve chosen to walk that fine line, to balance my right to voice my opinions with my responsibility due to wider readership.

Blogs haven’t died; they’ve grown up.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

One comment

  1. I’ve been blogging for a couple years, albeit not nearly as long as you! [Just started a new blog, folks, and thanks R’ Gil for your comments!]

    I don’t see the problem with the comments. I think of it as an honor and privilege to get thought-provoking comments, particularly from people I respect. Here’s a person who wants to engage in an open and thoughtful dialogue…with me! If the comments are stupid, then the person is subtracting credence from his own arguments. As for trolls who poison the dialogue in one way or another, I’ll admit that can be difficult, but they can be deal with through a number of means: You can refute their every statement (if one has time) have a fair comment moderation policy (like R’ Harry Maryles), delete them when they’re over the line, or – -if your blog format allows you to — ban them.

    We obviously may not have time to necessarily respond to every single comment, but I do think we have a duty to our readers to allow comments in and discuss the more trenchant objections, so there’s a *real* Dialogue.

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