By Rabbi Yosef Shubert, Matzav.com
It’s a simple question: Is there accountability?
When will so-called frum websites be held accountable for what they publish and report, and, more importantly, when will advertisers – frum mosdos, organizations and businesses – finally have to explain how they can advertise on websites that regularly contain material and comments that are anti-Torah, anti-rabbonim and anti many things we frum Yidden hold dear?
Basically, the question is: Do we hold everyone equally accountable, or do we just pick and choose when we want to hold someone over the fire?
Let me fill you in on what I am talking about.
To preface this discussion, here’s some background.
Several months ago, a secular Jewish newspaper ran a story that was critical of a particular aspect of the renowned Dor Yeshorim organization, also known as the Committee for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases. The editors, publishers and most of the readership of that newspaper have almost no connection to the frum community, which has been fortunate to utilize Dor Yeshorim for pre-marital genetic screening for the past quarter-century. Most people would never have even known about the article, except that something was different this time. What made this time different was that a supposedly “ultra-frum” website – actually, the site calls itself “Orthodox” – feeling that a controversial story would elicit readers and comments, published the attack without thinking of the ramifications of the laws of lashon hara, rechilus and motzie sheim rah. This, of course, exacerbated the motzie sheim rah, as many uninformed readers decided to comment on something they knew nothing about.
As almost anyone will attest to, the occurrence of births of the numerous fatal, recessive genetic diseases that Dor Yeshorim tests for has been totally eliminated for those who have availed themselves properly of Dor Yeshorim and its testing procedures. But this website, as it has done numerous times before, reported the lies, knowing that a slanderous story about a well-known organization would generate feedback and comments, which is all that matters, apparently, to the anonymous proprietor(s) of the site.
Amazingly, virtually no one took this site to task for posting this story. The lone criticism came in an article by Rabbi Yosef C. Golding of Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society (RCCS), who is a board member of Dor Yeshorim. Rabbi Golding’s article, published shortly after the website shamefully posted the story, provided some background information, which we will present below after we comment on the disgraceful approach of the aforementioned supposedly “frum” site.
WHERE’S THE ACCOUNTABILITY?
As Rabbi Golding states in his article, the posting of the article was clear slander against a responsible, important and respected organization. So where’s the outcry? Why don’t we see anyone taking the website to task for posting lies and fallacies, about a frum mosad no less?
Ah, you’ll tell me, it’s ‘just’ a website, or a blog, run by anonymous people. How can we come out against something like that?
Well, the advertisers on that site are all well-known frum organizations, stores or businesses. They pay for their ads to appear on this site. Either these organizations and businesses don’t know what is appearing on this site – lashon hara, rechilus, nivul peh and more – or they conveniently turn a blind eye, focusing only on their bottom line – how much bang they are getting for their buck by advertising on such a site. The truth is that there’s no excuse either way. The fact that the site posted a story smearing a respected organization in our own community appears not to bother these advertisers. Apparently that doesn’t matter. What matters is advertising a dinner, an event, a sale or a service. The fact that one’s ad appears on the same page as disparaging and vile remarks seems to be a non-issue.
Parenthetically, it might be worth mentioning that much of the opposition found amongst some in the frum community to the internet – specifically websites and blogs – is, in this author’s opinion, due to the depraved nature of websites such as the one we are discussing which has no scruples or morals. A person not well acquainted with various news sites will not distinguish between a site or blog that will post anything and everything as long as it creates ‘hock’ and generates feedback, and a site, such as the one you are now reading, which endeavors to provide kosher news and entertainment while adhering to all laws of tznius and shemiras halashon. The people who visit these sites know the difference, but thousands out there do not. “It’s the internet. It’s treif. End of discussion.” That attitude has been fostered by the site we have highlighted and by other sites and blogs that also stop at nothing when it comes to sensationalism and reporting a ‘scoop.’
WHAT TO DO?
Obviously, the only course of action is to take frum advertisers to task for advertising on sites that do not meet the basic standards of decency for any frum home.
Can you imagine, for a second, if a frum newspaper or magazine printed the article slamming Dor Yeshorim? There would be kol korehs and the paper(s) would be banned. Advertisers would be pulling out faster than you could say boo. Yet here, somehow, the advertisers all just sit back without being held to account for having their ads appear on a site that has demonstrated time and again its inability – or its lack of desire – to distinguish between what may be published and what may not.
Oh, and by the way, no apology was ever issued by the site for reporting the story about Dor Yeshorim. Nothing. Not a word.
It’s about time someone said something. And it’s about time we react.
THE SLANDERING OF DOR YESHORIM
The attack in the secular newspaper on Dor Yeshorim which was reprinted on the so-called frum website was made by the medical advisor of a group calling itself the Jewish Consortium on Genetic Diseases and it centered on Dor Yeshorim’s not releasing confidentially collected information. This consortium lists as its rabbinical advisor, Rabbi Peter E. Kasdan, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanu-El of West Essex.
Rabbi Golding, in his article, writes:
“This fact in itself should have been enough to end the argument right then and there. Dor Yeshorim was founded with the rabbinical backing of almost all major Orthodox factions and adheres strictly to the mandates given by the gedolim of past and present. Dor Yeshorim never will disclose any results of tests taken under anonymity and confidentiality, with the signed consent of those tested. The only time one will find out if he is a carrier of a specific disease is if a potential match is found to be incompatible. This system has worked for twenty-five years for more than a quarter-million members of our community.
“As well-meaning as any consortium may be, they will not, and cannot, demand from our community something that is contrary to the core mission statement of Dor Yeshorim’s rules, as set by its Rabbinical Board, under the guidance of its Medical Board. Dor Yeshorim is in operation to help people with shidduchim, not hinder them. As mysterious as some of its rules seem to be, they were all enacted after much deliberation with Dor Yeshorim’s medical and rabbinic leadership for the benefit of our community. The facts on the ground prove this. In over 25 years of operation, no one has come up with a better system than that of Dor Yeshorim. And it works!”
Most of the attacks on Dor Yeshorim, said Rabbi Golding, stem from its rigidity in not disclosing test results, adhering fiercely to its number-matching system. The secularists insist that we now live in an age when people are mature enough to handle the information without fear of stigma.
To this claim, Rabbi Golding quoted from Harav Uren Reich shlita, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah of Woodlake in Lakewood, New Jersey, who wrote the following regarding this:
“…The truth is that the overwhelming majority of human beings have anxieties and fears that are sometimes irrational but nevertheless govern their decision-making process, and a lot of “gezeiros Chazal” are based on this. This is particularly true in the area of shidduchim.
“The gentile and secular world, devoid of divine guidance, have created a whole body of moral ethics, which places emphasis on patients’ rights and doctors’ duties. We have no need to follow their man-made codes – we have, lehavdil, the holy Torah given to us at Sinai. Patients, doctors and everybody else are to be fairly and morally treated as dictated by Chazal and the Shulchan Aruch.
“The Dor Yeshorim approach (spearheaded by R’ Ekstein) is one of complete confidentiality – every boy and girl is tested at post high school level and assigned a code number.
“The results of the tests are kept in computer records and are not disclosed to anyone (including those being tested).
“When a shidduch is being contemplated, the office of Dor Yeshorim is contacted and given the boy’s and girl’s code numbers, and they are then informed as to whether the shidduch is compatible or not.
“The objections Dor Yeshorim raises about divulging the carrier status of the boy or girl are very realistic, and are reminiscent of many words of Chazal and poskim.”
– Rabbi Uren Reich
Many experts in the medical profession, stated Rabbi Golding, also vehemently disagree with the medical advisor of the consortium, as evidenced by an unsolicited response to the article, sent directly to the newspaper by a noted and respected doctor:
The article adorning the front page of the 26 December issue, “Group Charged with ‘Playing God’ Over Genetic Testing,” presents a biased representation of Rabbi Ekstein, Dor Yeshorim, medical facts and community sensitivities. In addition, the article also overlooks potential financial conflicts of interest as discussed below…
…The claim that Rabbi Ekstein “is playing G-d” is outrageous and factually incorrect as noted above and explained below. Dor Yeshorim provides genetic testing in a community-sensitive manner allowing couples considering marriage to know whether they have a risk of parenting a child with recessive diseases increased in the Ashkenazi community. Examination of the information provided to individuals being tested through the Dor Yeshorim program clearly states that they will not be provided results. They have the choice to obtain standard genetic testing that includes pre and post counseling, if they so desire. However, the article cites critics of this procedure, although Dor Yeshorim is culturally sensitive to a specific group of people who would otherwise probably not undergo testing…
… Lastly, the “National Medical Expert” who charged Dor Yeshorim with withholding information does not have a single peer reviewed publication on Gaucher disease that could be found in the medical literature. In the world of academics, such as the standards at The Johns Hopkins University Medical Center where I trained as a Medical Geneticist, expertise is based on peer reviewed published articles in the medical literature…
… In summary, this article unfairly criticizes an upstanding member of our community and does a disservice to a sector of the Jewish world served by Dor Yeshorim. Both medical facts and potential conflicts of interest need to be presented in an unbiased manner.”
– Robert D. Burk, MD, Professor and Vice Chair Department of Pediatrics, Division of Medical Genetics and Professor, Departments of Epidemiology & Population Health; Obstetrics, Gynecology & Women’s Health; and Microbiology & Immunology,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
In sum, concludes Rabbi Golding, Dor Yeshorim has over 25 years of experience in genetic testing. It has eliminated untold suffering from our midst. It has surely earned the right to ask for the community’s trust in their battle to eradicate fatal recessive genetic diseases. The irresponsible posting of slander is not acceptable.
This article has discussed just one example of how an irresponsible website can spread lies about a reputable frum organization. And the reason we raise this issue now is because the contemptible material found on sites being visited by frum people is getting progressively worse. No one can stop people from visiting sites, because it is done bechadrei chadorim, behind closed doors. But we can demand from our mosdos, organizations, tzedakos and other advertisers not to patronize sites that make a mockery – whether via actual posts or in approved comments on the site – of rabbonim, minhagim, or any other aspects of the greater Torah community.