Thursday, August 23, 2007

Challenging to Repair vs. Challenging to Destroy

by Akiva from Mystical Paths.

We are a people of tradition, as the Torah specifically says, "a stiff necked people". Mesorah, the chain of transmission and tradition, has been a key part of Jewish survival.

This method has its faults. It picks up some cultural context and transmits it the same way. So the information of how to conduct Passover includes not only the strict halacha, but family customs (the ways of the seder), recipes, and local foods that are appropriate and inappropriate (which may not be local anymore). Much of that makes sense, but some doesn't.

Similarly, Judaism can be very selective about adapting to the modernity of the moment. Some tools, for example a phone or a microwave oven, are quickly adopted without issue. Others, ones that have greater potential for societal or cultural damage, are treated very carefully, sometimes rejected, partially accepted, carefully controlled (for example, TV and now, the Internet).

And of course, though in many ways much more of a close society, it's got plenty of problems. Some are very different from the countries in which we live, such as communal balance between Torah learning and working, others may be similar (though we may hope or, occasionaly, pretend, in less quantity that the surrounding culture), such as (G-d forbid) adult abuse of children or spouse abuse.

Over the years I've been involved in blogging, especially with DovBear, as a reader and commenter of about 3 years, this has been an excellent forum for those discussions. While indeed, we probably wouldn't get up in synagogue and argue about whether kitnios makes sense, here it's a rousing discussion. And, G-d forbid, when there's word of authority abuse of position for terrible misconduct, these forums are a valuable tool to arouse public awareness.

But of course, there's a danger in being the watchman all the time. It's proven behavior science (yes, science, see the book Blink! by Malcom Gladwell) that those who spend time in roles that require a negative outlook, or even just spending time making unpleasant facial expressions, actually generate negative feelings, depression, anxiety, a negative outlook.

I've been surprised during this guest posting spree, and over the past week or two as well (where I've paid a bit of attention to DovBear that I haven't in about 6 months), that the tone here has turned. No longer do I find an honest and open (and heated) discussion of custom or halacha or history or authority issue. No, rather I find a full force attack.

This used to be a forum of argument for the sake of heaven and enlightening entertainment. I rarely agreed with DovBear, and disagreed with many of the commenters, but would not have been the slightest bit uncomfortable davening next to DB or (most) of the commenters.

No longer. This no longer seems to be a place to discuss, challenge, and argue, with respect for Yiddishkeit. Now it seems to be a place to make fun of, degrade, and denigrate orthodox Judaism.

And that's sad. Our world is poorer for loosing that honest discussion. And our world is harmed by the negative face that has developed in it's place.

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