Monday, June 06, 2005

The responsibilities of being a Jewish blogger: Chaverim Kol Yisrael

By nature, I’m a blunt-spoken individual. I prefer to be point blank in expressing my opinions, to “brazen it out,” as I often put it (or, as many people would say in rather ungrammatical slang, to “tell it like it is”). But being an egalitarian member of a traditional Conservative synagogue—and, especially, being a member of its Ritual Committee for roughly half of that time—has taught me the necessity of expressing my opinions in a tactful, diplomatic, and respectful manner.

Much to my surprise, I’ve found these “tact lessons” very helpful as a blogger. When I first started my blog, I assumed that I would be writing exclusively for those interested in the opinions of “a tallit-and-tefillin-wearing woman,” and that I could say whatever I wanted in any way I chose. But, very shortly after I started my blog, I happened to be reading another Jewish blog in which the blogger used a Yiddish word in a post—and stated, in no uncertain terms, that anyone who couldn’t understand that word didn’t belong on that blog. I was so thoroughly offended that I clicked right back to my own blog and immediately added the words “welcoming the entire Jewish community” to my masthead. Then, I had to consider the implications of what I’d added. Following the dictate of Hillel, I was not about to do to others what I had found hateful when it was done to me—I would not go out of my way to offend the more-traditional visitors whom I’d just welcomed. So I decided that an attitude adjustment was in order: I would not change my opinions in the least, but I would be judicious in my choice of wording, publishing those opinions in tactful, diplomatic and respectful language.

That decision has paid off in spades. I have never had a “flame war” (an exchange of insults) on my blog—I’ve never even had to enforce my official policy of deleting insulting and/or disrespectful comments, because none has ever been posted here. But what’s even more important is that I’ve attracted comments from readers at vastly different points on the “observance spectrum,” ranging from totally non-observant and/or “still learning” to non-denominational, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative (and various combinations of the aforementioned), and Modern Orthodox. I may even have welcomed a “yeshivish” commenter or two. (Having participated in “Olam haBlog” since August 2004, I’m getting better at this “Orthodox classification” business—I think “yeshivish” is right of Modern Orthodox but left of chareidi.) I have hosted the most fascinating, informative, and respectful discussions on even the most controversial topics. I hope that those who are new to my blog will find the respectful differences of opinion expressed in these two posts and their comments to be good examples of the type of discussion that I encourage here: See my Tuesday, October 14, 2004 post, “Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities,” at and its companion, my Thursday, October 14, 2004 post, “Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities, part 2,” at .

Last Shabbat (Sabbath), we chanted Birkat haChodesh, the Blessing of the New Month, welcoming the upcoming month of Sivan, which begins tomorrow night at sundown. That blessing includes the words “Chaverim kol Yisrael, All Israel (the entire Jewish People) are friends.” Many of you have become not only my long-distance chaverim (friends), but my chevruta, my study partners, as well. I hope that you will help me honor the upcoming holiday of Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), Z’Man Matan Torateinu (the Time of the Giving of Our Torah), the holiday that most celebrates Jewish learning, by continueing to study together with me.


Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Your blog has been an oasis of civility and intellectual discourse.

Did I just write that?

Anyway, I know that we come from very different worlds, but I feel very comfortable discussing issues with you because of your menchlichkeit.

What, don't know what that means?

Tue Jun 07, 12:16:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice. This is my first look at your blog but I'll continue to follow it.

My father always objected to the translation of "Chaverim kol yisrael" as meaning we are all "friends." He says in this instance "chaverim" means we are bound together, connected. "Chaver" means to join. So it is more a statement of necessary unity -- "united we stand, divided we fall" -- than of friendship. (This from my Dad, a known curmudgeon in his klal.)

Wed Jun 08, 08:50:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Welcome aboard, Mirty!

I like your father's interpretation. We Jews are, indeed, all bound together.

As for you, PT, that's what I get for being HTML-illiterate: Where's that roll-eyes emoticon when I need it?

On the other, I can't resist the challenge. "Mench, mentsh, mentsch" (and any other spelling you can think of): A Yiddish word meaning, roughly, a decent human being. Therefore, "menchlichkeit" (again, various transliterations): A Yiddish word meaning, roughly, the state or act of being a mentsch, a decent human being.

Thanks for the compliment, PT, even though it came with complications. :) Oy, what a research project you got me into! Now I have to kill myself looking for that quote in Pirke Avot (Verses [Ethics] of the Fathers).

Ah, here it is (quothe she, 10 minutes later), in chapter 2, verse 6: "Hu hayah omer (He [Hillel] used to say) . . . u-vamakom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil lihyot ish (and in a place where there are no decent human beings, strive to be a decent human being.)"

Well, what do you know?--Looks like you did a mitzvah (much to your probable surprise, in this case, and to mine, as well): You made me study! :)

Wed Jun 08, 09:30:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you have an interest in Jewish music, the band "Mah Tovu" has a song of that particular Hillel teaching (on their album "Only This") --

u-vamakom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil lihyot ish (and in a place where there are no decent human beings, strive to be a decent human being.)"

I first heard it after the Abu Ghraib pictures were published, and it occured to me that Abu Ghraib was the quintessential example of a place where there was "no decent human being" and it was incumbent upon any moral person who found himself there to be the exception.

Thu Jun 09, 08:14:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jack, welcome to my blog! I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

Thu Jun 23, 08:48:00 PM 2005  

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