Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Will the Agudath Israel go Cyber?

The previous posting included the comment:

"(E) Personal sentiment: It would not surprise me in the least if, within the next few months or years, the Agudath Israel of America erects a website. I leave it to those in the pari-mutuel profession to assign particular odds to particular time frames."

Some further discussion of this and related matters occurred during Shabbat, so I will now expand upon it. I also have gotten hold of a generally-addressed missive dated 11 June 2009 from Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the Executive VP of Agudath Israel, regarding the its Jewish Observer magazine. The letter includes the following passage:

" [G]iven the harsh economic realities of our times, and the proliferation in recent years of a number of other worthy publications that cater to the Torah community, we believe the time has arrived to do some fresh thinking about The Jewish Observer -- its format, its content, its role in serving the community today."

The letter goes on to say that publication will be suspended for a few months while the Jewish Observer gets reinvented, and beseeching the loyal readership's patience and understanding.

Fair enough!

If you have spent Shabbat in Bnei Brak in Israel, you will know that among the first matters to be attended to after Havdalah is the announcements, over the loudspeakers, of the names of those who passed away during Shabbat (statistically speaking, at least one can be expected on any given Shabbat). Such a method of communication suffices quite well for Bnei Brak, and might conceivably suffice for neighborhoods such as Borough Park or Crown Heights. Agudath Israel's symposium last Tuesday drew from a wider area than the individual neighborhood in which it was held. In other words, the bullhorn announcement method that works so well in Bnei Brak would not have sufficed to get the word out in time. And, I am informed, the Agudath Israel did use e-mail to publicize its symposium, and did make sure that certain websites got word of it as well.

Historically, the rabbis have always received technological innovations with great suspicion. This is not to say that the rabbis did not understand the technical aspects of the innovations, nor that the rabbis didn't use the innovations. But the rabbis, quite appropriately, have always been concerned about the effects of the technological innovations upon society in general, and the Jewish community in particular. The printing press, for example, caused much consternation among the rabbis when it first came out, but the rabbis eventually embraced it, but not without placing caveats and restrictions upon its use. To this day, books written on religious subjects often have one or more rabbi's imprimatur letter in the prefatory material.

Reading between the lines in Rabbi Zwiebel's letter, the Jewish Observer is now suffering from competition from the Internet. AI and its affiliate rabbis have pronounced many restrictions upon the use of the Internet, and indeed, have branded it as evil. And now, having made such pronouncements, they will have to find a way to use the Internet's positive attributes while avoiding its negative attributes to whatever extent is possible.

Also, there are some conflicts within the AI itself. Specifically, there are conflicts of style and philosophy between the Chassidic and the other religiously observant. And while the factions usually tend to manage their differences quite well, there had been a certain degree of pandering to the Chassidic faction by the others over the years.

And now, AI is a troubled organization that needs redirection to its core values and purposes. On account of the misbehaviors of some individuals from amongst its constituent groups, AI has, in many respects, morphed from an organization advocating statutes and administrative rules which are friendly to the observance of Jewish rituals and the safety and well-being of religious Jews, to an organization that scrambles to cover up the indiscretions of its wayward brats, and/or implore the prosecutors and judiciary for leniency towards the same. Zwiebel understands that the organization he leads has been distracted, and must refocus on its core values.

My rhetorical question: If the Agudath Israel of America can hastily convene a seminar on a few days notice, why does it need a few months to think about what it is going to do with its Jewish Observer publication? Fundraising may well be part of it, but I strongly suspect that it may have more to do with convincing the anti-Internet factions of the need to redirect the organization's public affairs agenda, including, perhaps, the necessity for an Agudath Israel website.

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