Welcome to the new Torah Musings, an online periodical of Orthodox Jewish law and thought published every weekday. Torah Musings is a place for the vibrant exchange of ideas, where scholars, rabbis and laypeople engage with Jewish law, thought and texts.
Longtime readers of the Hirhurim-Musings blog may want to know what has changed and why. The key principle is that henceforth Torah Musings is a periodical and not a blog. The differences between a website/periodical and a blog are mainly in emphasis, not necessarily in function. However, taken together, those distinctions create a very different experience.
What To Expect
Overall, the changes are intended to sustain a higher level of conversation, the kind that the blog had at its high points. The key methods for achieving this are adding more excellent writers, maintaining content-specific conversation and ensuring more consistent and responsible decision-making about the website. To be more specific, here are the highlights of what has changed:
- Content – Other writers will take a prominent place on the new website. In the past, I was the primary writer and guest writers occasionally joined. Now, other writers—some guests and some with regular columns—will provide the majority of the content.
- Dialogue – In the past, the majority of conversation was through comments and only occasionally with an essay written in response. While responses (previously called comments) will still play a role in the new website, they are being deemphasized in favor of full length essays explaining readers’ views. We want conversation that is thought out, not off the cuff. More on comments below.
- Decisions – In the past, I made all the decisions about what to publish and other policy decisions, often based on ad hoc consultation with advisors. The new website has an editorial committee charged with making those decisions. More on that below.
In summary, the focus of the website has moved to the content. Readers are encouraged to participate by responding substantively and topically or by submitting essays of their own. In that respect, responses (comments) will be heavily moderated—the word “draconian” comes to mind—to ensure that they add to the discussion of the essay and reflect responsible internet ethics (please see the Response Guidelines, which will be strictly enforced, even regarding news items). Additionally, a Submit Content tab has been included in the top menu to encourage reader participation in the exchange of ideas.
The website now has three sections. Journal contains essays reviewed by the editorial committee. Magazine essays have not been reviewed. As you will see, only I will be adding to the Magazine section. It allows me a greater degree of deadline flexibility. The third section is The Blatt, which will contain enhanced News & Links as well as other miscellaneous commentary. The editorial committee is only directly responsible for the Journal section but will be making policy decisions about the entire website.
Because of its importance, I will list the members of the editorial committee (which is expected to change over time). The inaugural editorial committee consists of: R. Basil Herring, past EVP of the RCA; R. Micha Berger, internet guru; and R. Moshe Schapiro, of the YU library. I thank these three extraordinarily talented individuals for agreeing to take on this formidable task.
Some changes you can expect in the old regular features: 1) Steve Brizel’s Parashah Roundup will be transformed into a daily feature, as part of the News & Links, 2) Joel Rich’s Audio Roundup will continue as in the past but with a slight facelift, 3) News & Links will have more commentary, such as why I find a particular link noteworthy, and will have daily (perhaps multiple per day) posts rather than weekly, 4) R. Ari Enkin’s schedule no longer allows him to contribute weekly. He will remain as Halakhah and Comment Editor and will contribute guest essays, as his schedule permits, 5) There will no longer be any announcements or advertisements. The website’s only source of revenue is Amazon referral commissions, which will help pay for website expenses. An Amazon search function is included in the sidebar, 6) The website is now independently hosted by a fee-based service, not by any organization as in the past.
We will have many new features, some of which are not yet ready to be unveiled. Expect more regular contributors on a monthly basis, including from prominent experts on various subjects. Some of the contributors are already listed in the About page. This is a very exciting part of the new website, which will become obvious as contributions are published.
One other minor, symbolic change is that the website’s clock now follows Jerusalem time to demonstrate our priorities. I may be in the west but the heart of my website is in the east. Please set your watches accordingly.
Why The Big Changes?
As you can see from the website statistics I have posted for the last three years, guest writers generally provide the most well-received articles. The take-away is that multiple voices are appreciated and, perhaps, that my writing quality declines as I am forced to write quickly and frequently. The question I faced was how to increase the participation of a wide variety of high quality writers whose contributions can fit this website’s religious worldview and will be welcomed by this website’s readership. I gathered some advisors and reviewed every aspect of the website from top to bottom. After putting together a proposal, I conducted a reader survey in May that confirmed nearly every conclusion we had reached. The survey respondents were all over the board but here are some general majority views:
- Most readers have a strong yeshiva education and expect sophisticated analyses.
- The vast majority of readers never or rarely comment (97%) and a surprisingly large number do not read comments at all (43%).
- Readers want more halakhah, hashkafah and commentary on timely issues.
There are, of course, many more lessons to be gleaned from the survey. I studied the responses carefully, although I recognize that I cannot, and will not try to, please everybody. Over the past few months, I experimented to see what works and what does not. These lessons were also part of the planning. I expect to learn more as we get started and find our stride.
My goal is to write less (but better) and let more qualified and varied experts speak on issues. This website should be a place for a meeting of the minds, a central location for mainstream Orthodox thought.
We will experience some growing pains and I ask for your patience as we learn what works and what does not. Not everyone will be happy with the changes, particularly those accustomed to a freer commenting regime. As I and others observed many times over the past year, we seemed to cycle through the same debates repeatedly in a time-consuming and unproductive manner. This website is no longer the place for those frustrating discussions. While I thank all those who have participated in the blog, if we want to have productive conversation we need to change the paradigm. That is what we are doing. We will no longer judge success by number of comments or pageviews but by measures that value communal or intellectual importance and contribution.
We have a number of incredible projects underway which will be important contributions. Please wait and see.