Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde
Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and is a dayan in the Beth Din of America. He has authored many articles on the topic of get meuseh and written a book on the agunah problem.
More than a decade ago, I was giving a large public shiur in a shul on a topic I had just written an article about (I think it was about celebrating Thanksgiving) and, when it was over, a person approached me, smiled sweetly, and told me that “I was much less impressive in person than in writing.” In truth, I was taken aback by the remark, but over time, I have grown to understand the truth of the observation. My primary method of sharing my understanding of many different aspects of halacha is in writing, and I do that better than I do almost anything else. The written word, I have discovered is more precise, elegant and fine tuned than any other method of communication available to me.
On April 23 2012 I wrote a short article entitled “Protesting Without Coercing” on a topic related to coerced divorce (see here) and this article was subject to a mean spirited ad-hominem by Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn (it can be found here). Like much of the dialogue that occurs in our community, his reply is short on substance, but full of vile language. I suspect that I could write a full blown reply if I wanted to but, as I have told many, I do not expect to reply further. My friends have been befuddled, and I write this public letter to explain my decision not to reply further and to be silent.
First, these types of polemical replies – full of words like “slither,” “brazen” “bald lie” and “completely wrong” – almost always misunderstand (accidentally or blinded by zeal) my writing in a significant way. Polemical writings aiming to score points almost never are connected to tight reasoning or an honest assessment of the strength of their own case. This type of writing then becomes a tool to attract hits on the internet and not to discover the truth of Jewish law.
Second, I have little desire to fight with another Torah scholar over whether he is right or wrong in a particular case; the discerning reader has seen two views and can figure the matter. It is better that I should be mochel any kavod hatorah that ought to be mine than to respond in a way that undermines kavod hatorah generally. I try to respond to all those who have written to me, publically when written to in public, and privately when written to in private: That is the give and take of Torah, and it is what makes halachic Judaism authentic. There is no failure in kavod hatorah when responding to criticism. But the name calling and vilification found in the matter at hand makes it hard to respond other than in kind, and doing so undermines the general principles of kavod hatorah. I simply cannot bring myself to diminish the honor of Torah.
My third reason is more selfish. My time is precious, particularly since it would otherwise be used for progressing in personal Torah learning. If I were to stop my learning and respond in kind to this letter, there certainly would be a response to my reply, and the volleys back and forth would continue in a very non-productive way. It is better that I should continue to learn and grow in Torah than to roll in the mud in an endless volley.
So, I have come to the conclusion that I am better off being silent. I hope the silence can be heard clearly.
Was I hurt by this type of reply? Of course. Do I wish articles with this type of tone would not be written? Certainly. Is this tone good for our community? For sure not! Should I reply? No. So what will I do? I will cry on Tishah Be’av, mourning for what has become the nature of Torah discourse within our frail Orthodox community, and understanding better why the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed.