By Yochanan Gordon for Matzav.com
There is a famous adage which goes, “Everyone is entitled to their opinions.” In fact, any thinking person has opinions on basically everyone and every experience that they encounter throughout their lives. Given the constitutional rights in America, under the freedom of speech act, not only can we have our opinions on any given matter, we can even impose our opinions on others whether they are interested in hearing them or not.
The Jewish weltanschauung and roadmap for living, especially in a secular world is very different. While the average Amer ican is constantly attuned to and looking after their rights as a citizen of this Country, the Jew lives by a much more refined set of guidelines. We are supposed to live up to the standards set forth by our forefathers and ancestors leading up to our present day and era. To that end the Mishna tells us, that while we as thinkers as well as audible and articulate creations posses opinions on a slew of subjects, there is something to be said about coming across as intelligent beings or like the Torah puts it, “A light unto the nations. In keeping to these timeless lessons we have been taught to calculate our words, to think and rethink something over before we say it or perhaps even publish it. Of this the Mishna says, “The litmus test of intelligence is silence.”
With newspapers and the advent of websites the people have been given an opportunity to speak out. In fact publications and news sites encourage feedback from their readers towards ascertaining its efficacy, as well as towards better catering to the interests and needs of their readership. However, all this having been stated, it seems that there was a time when it was not easy to achieve publication in a newspaper. A quality paper demanded a standard of quality that would have to be met in order for ones opinions to be published. In fact, rejection of an article is not a breach of freedom of speech, because business owners are allowed and are expected to maintain a standard of hierarchy in relation to the common reader.
Throughout my post high school years in Yeshiva, there were six years that I spent learning in Waterbury, Connecticut. As a pioneer in the renaissance of what once was a flourishing Jewish community, we were instilled with the values of community intervention and outreach for young and old on various levels. As a result many relationships were forged only to have ceased a few short years later when the elder members of the community whom we had grown so close to had unfortunately passed on. Some of these individuals had been politically influential throughout their lives in the City and even State levels, to the point where many distinguished elected officials had attended their funerals, even offering departing words of comfort for their mourners.
On one such occasion, following the funeral of a man by the name of Milton Kaddish who had been known far and wide throughout the state of Connecticut, I sat down to memorialize his life hoping to publish my remarks in the local Waterbury Republican. The office of the daily Republican was a minute’s drive from the Yeshiva so upon completion I drove over and hand delivered it to the editorial staff. Completely confident that the article would be published I was shocked when looking through the weekend paper that it did not make the cut. Notwithstanding the sincerity of my words and the justice that it served towards memorializing such a distinguished man for one reason or another they decided to leave it out. As hard as it was to accept at the time, in retrospect it gave me a more respectful opinion towards the newspaper and it instilled within me the drive to one day achieve what I wanted to then but on a qualitatively superior level.
To this end, as writers or aspiring writers with opinions on every major or minor issue effecting our daily lives we have to ask ourselves what would result in publishing an article, letter or opinion piece on any given subject. It’s not about whether or not we have the medium or opportunity towards publishing our thoughts or ideas regularly but rather how we will sound to the public and whether justice will be served as a result. Contrary to popular belief, words are not cheap and G-d gave us the ability to communicate, to agree with or stand contrary to others towards making this world a better place.
Shidduchim and kids at risk have remained hot topics for radio talk shows and newspapers across the Jewish landscape. Round table discussions and weekend seminars have been conducted including professionals in various fields lending their expertise towards finding a solution. As long as people walk away with a renewed sense of hope and a clearer direction in walking its path it has served its purpose. These issues have not been meant to solve over night, in a year or perhaps ten years. But to irresponsibly shoot the breeze for some attention without any substantive goal in mind is perhaps another form of verbal abuse. Spare yourselves the shame and us the bother because nothing will come of it.
To write an article suggesting that Modern Orthodox families struggle most with children at risk is simply ludicrous and unfounded. A recent article which made this proclamation without citing a study or valid support to the c laim is an example of such verbal abuse. The result of such an article accentuates the differences among us while G-d receives pleasure when we look for the underlying similarities and commonalities between us which unites us as one nation.
Recently another opinion article was published consistent with the rights of freedom of speech and expression regarding the pilgrimage of thousands to the gravesite of Rav Nachman of Breslov for Rosh Hashana. There is more substantive evidence to the efficacy of traveling to the landmark on Rosh Hashana then the claim that people are looking for the easy fix to Jewish observance or lack thereof. These are the words of someone clearly ignorant to the Zohar, Kisvei Arizal and thousands of Sifrei Kabbalah and Chassidus who write at great length of the unification of souls that can be achieved at the gravesites of the leaders of yore. The Chofetz Chaim would not have wasted space in his magnum opus, Mishna Berurah to write of the importance of visiting holy gravesites during the ten days of repentance to evoke the merits of our esteemed leaders. How much research was conducted as far as the Gemara of, “Yaakov Avinu lo meis” “Mah zaro bachayim af hu bachaim”, how about the Gemara in Yevamos which states, “One who quotes Torah20from the deceased, “sifsosav dovevos b’kever”. I ask you, us this some sort of charade? Is he dead or alive? If he’s dead as you suggest, why do his lips flutter when Torah is mentioned in his name. Certainly the statements of Chazal supporting the opposition are much more extensive, the point however is, It seems that in the Jewish tradition there is more to life and death than what meets the eye.
My purpose in writing this article is to create an awareness to think before you talk or write. There is nothing with being ignorant as long as you are taking the steps towards fixing it. But to wrongly accuse others as a result of your own shortcoming is criminal.
During these days of repentance before Kol Nidrei and the closing of the gates for the year let us resolve to be better people, learn from each other, become much wiser, more tolerant and understanding and finally usher in the final redemption.
Yochanan Gordon is a Five Towns Jewish Times Senior Accounts Executive.