Friday, October 12, 2007

Frum Grass Root-Level Discussion

I was very happy that Rabbi Horowitz opened for discussion on his website, the topic of the correct balance of open discussion in the charedi world. The following are my thoughts stimulated by two of his questions:

What percentage of the members in our community would feel “safe” to sign their name in a letter to the editor if they are writing about a subject that they feel passionately about?

Part of that issue is that we live in a close-knit community, and perhaps people do wish to be stopped on the street with questions about their personal views. But I think to an extent, it is a reflection of a fear of being criticized. What can be done about that fear, to the extent that it is based on reality?

When speaking about creating a "safe" environment for people to express themselves, whether in the media or in person, the difficulty is that one needs to satisfy people with different needs. Different communities have their own boundaries of what's "elu v'elu", who are Gedolim, and what's part of the Mesorah. Whatever differences(and of course there are similarities) exist within Orthodox groups, a given publication will need to create a line representing what's no longer acceptable, and one needs to accept that line, just as one needs to allow new publications to cater to those who don't find a voice within the given publications.

Nevertheless, within a certain acceptable range of "eleu v'elu" there can be room for more tolerance. It is not that I disagree with someone who may have a "frummer" opinion than me, but rather I think that there is sometimes room for the disagreement to be expressed with more tolerance. I am speaking now of disagreements even within what we call the "Charedi World".

"Are discussions of matters that affect our community helpful even if they do not result in swift, obvious positive change?"

The key is to be as positive as possible, whether of the community, or it's leaders. Even when discussing a problem, one can do it in a way which is not totally negative. Besides protecting oneself from criticism which will detract from one's message, it is also a correct thing, in of itself.

R. Yisrael Salanter says that an individual needs to know his strengths, which are the means to accomplish in this world, and similarly, a community's strengths can help it overcome its weaknesses. The problem becomes when one thinks that a given community, or a hashkafa, has only strengths or only weaknesses.

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