“I don’t know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don’t know anybody who voted for him.”
– Pauline Kael (Writer for The New Yorker) quoted in the Boston Globe.
The Orthodox Jewish commentariat class on the internet is comprised of many different types of people. There is however one characteristic common to them all: as a rule they are young and they are misfits (yes, I have a mirror :)). Now before you blow your top, allow me to explain.
Most religious Jews have better things to do than comment or post on blogs, particularly people with established families and jobs. Their daily lives are dominated by their many obligations: to said families, religious obligations, careers, etc. Whatever time that remains for leisure activities can be put to much better use then posting on blogs.
Skeptical? See for yourself. Ask around your social circles and see how many of the over-forty crowd comment on blogs. I’ll bet 10%, if that. Then take a look at the ones who do, of any age, and you will find them, almost to a man, to be people who are unhappy with their status in life. Are they bad people? Not at all. Are they all at-risk of going OTD? No. On the contrary, they tend to be among those blessed (or cursed) with sensitive souls and highly developed intellectual capacities. But something is not right. At their core, something “gridget in boich” as the Yiddish saying goes.
Allow me to speculate as to why. For many, it’s source can be traced back to their background i.e. difficult family life, school experiences etc. which may have left a mark on their psyche. For others it is a sense that something is not right, something is out of whack, which can be understood as their soul looking for it’s purpose (G-d) or some other deeply rooted, existential source of pain. Be it as it may, you will rarely find a happy, well adjusted religious Jew taking to the internet to farkoif (sell) his two cents.
Where does that lead us? As we know, birds of a feather flock together. The logical endpoint for those on a quest to find inner peace is to meet up with others seeking the same. Which would not necessarily be a bad thing, except that what could’ve been a meeting of minds to encourage and to elevate, turned into a medium for bringing out the worst in us. Blogs are now the clique in the foyer of the shul, writ large. Instead of functioning to let off steam from the pressure cooker of Jewish life, blogs have turned into creatures of anger and destruction. Add in the powerful tool of anonymity and people feel free to express things they would never, ever, say in settings where their identities were known.
It is probably too late to stuff the genie back into the bottle. So where am I going with all this? There are many innocent taiereh Yidden (dear Jews) who, while not internet junkies, surf the web and come across “heimeshe” blogs here and there. They come away with the feeling that the overwhelming majority of religious, even Haredi Jews are anti-Haredi and overwhelmingly to the left of the Haredi Jewish establishment. It is an earthshattering development to them. They feel as if they’ve been duped, that all their life they’ve been sold a path to follow and it now appears that when given a chance to speak their mind, their peers hate the life they’ve been forced to live.
NOTHING could be further from the truth. The dirty secret is that for every anti-Haredi or cynical pontificator online there are ten Haredim who are quite happy with the direction of their lives and those who lead them. For every biting attack there is a qualified retort, for every criticism a proper and legitimate response. Why aren’t they heard? BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT HERE! What does a Kohen have to look for in a Bais Hakvaros??
Our poor visitor is unaware that he has stumbled into the global convention of misfits, chronic complainers and pessimists known as the blogosphere. He thinks he has before him a respectable forum of serious, accomplished people. Were he to see, up close and personal, whose words he is taking seriously, he would pick himself up and leave, holding his sides with gelechter (laughter). But he doesn’t know that, he doesn’t know the faces behind the usernames. Someone forgot to post a sign at the entrance of Blogland “Now leaving the real world and entering a new one, the world of make believe. Be here all you want to be (but can’t) in real life”.
In this world, people who have done nothing with their lives, not for themselves and not for others, feel competent to take on, as an equal, those of towering accomplishments. In this world the director of a day camp feels his oats enough to challenge Rabbis who spend 6, 8, 10 (!) hours a day receiving people and their tzaros. In this world, a man whose accomplishments can be no more than his blog alone, understands the needs of the world better than heroes of the spirit. People who have been beaten and persecuted for their adherence to their faith take a back seat to his cleverness. In this world, a personal desire becomes correct policy for the nation as a whole. Only in this world, the world of actions without consequence, can people hide their desire to continue doing what they enjoy (i.e. living in the internet) behind a veneer of righteousness and pragmatism. A world whose inhabitants claim to be interested in the greater good, as being so motivated by the “injustice” they see that they must cry out. Do they actually DO SOMETHING to help people? No. But they want to change the world. From their basement. In their pajamas. It is a world from which no good comes out of (except for the Amazon affiliate fees the owners collect).
So the casual surfer, stumbling his way across the web, thinks he has discovered the REAL truth, the dark secret of Klal Yisroel. Dear precious Yid, don’t be fooled. Things are as they always were. They vast majority of shlomei emunei yisroel firmly REJECT the things you read in the blogosphere. It is the permanently discontented few, the ones who are dismissed in shul as “here he goes again” and “that’s just Yankel being Yankel” who have found a new outlet for their misery and are trying to convince you that everyone agrees with them. They’ll use their supposed numbers to back up their arguments and point to fellow bloggers and commentators as proof that “everyone” agrees with them, except for fanatics and extremists. Do they have the data to back it up? No, never. But “everyone” knows they’re right and the truth is, they’re not lying. Everyone THEY know agrees with them. Which is a far cry from the Klal as a whole. Quite ironic for a group who claim to despise group-think.
Bloggers know this even when they won’t admit it. They enjoy the adulation, the praise they get when they churn out another one-sided hit piece and the links and adoring comments start pouring in. The honest ones among them surely know that they are preaching to the choir, but kavod, even false kavod is a great seducer. So they continue, blogging and posting, posting and commenting, hoping to fill the hole in their hearts. Futility personified…
Don’t be fooled again.