We Need to Be a Little Kinder

A paraphrased comment from out there in the blogosphere:

I’d love to see the perspective of someone like “Esther” at Beyond BT, but I personally would hate to see someone who is more of a moderate be vilified and maligned.

Based on some of the more vocal and vehemently opinionated comments I’ve read on the (otherwise enjoyable and interesting) BBT blog, that is what would likely happen.

77 comments on “We Need to Be a Little Kinder

  1. I asked Rabbi Welcher about whether a person who has renounced Judaism should be allowed to post comments. He didn’t feel there should be a blanket rule against it, but it would depend on the comment.

    He also pointed out that there are two questions here:
    1) whether a person is classified as a Tinok She’Nishbah
    2) whether a person is classified as a Mumar (a Jewish apostate)

    Just because a Shabbos descrator is not designated as a Tinok She’Nishbah, that does not mean that he is necessarily classified as a Mumar.

    He also related a conversation he had with Rav Eliyashav where Rav Eliyashav may have backed off slightly from his “There are no Tinok She’Nishbah today” psak in regards to some parts of the world outside of Israel.

  2. …As for my uncle, however, no one knew what to say. Kaddish for a father is a chiyuv, but not for an uncle, certainly not if he had questionable beliefs.

    I ended up “only” giving tsedaka and learning for him, alav HaShalom.

  3. Facinating thread. May i share my 2 cents?

    I recently discovered a strongly related perspective of the Posek HaDor (R’ Eliyashiv) within my community of Slonimer Chossidim, whose B. Midrash is located a stone’s throw from the Posek’s. It came about as I asked a major T. Chacham in our Community about whether I could / should say Kaddish for an uncle who just passed away and had no children and was never educated with any Judaism close to Orthodoxy. Actually for many years he was apart of a couple of Reform Temples out of inertia. But in his later years he abandoned all denominations and preferred to identify as a generically non-religious, but self respecting Jew.

    The T. Chacham related what happened many years earlier when the father of an Isreali BT who had become a Slonimer was niftar (died).

    This BT wasn’t sure if to say Kaddish because his father professed atheism. So he asked this T.Ch. who then asked the Posek. The Posek told him that since that father lived in an area quite exposed to Orthodoxy and Kiruv people, his atheism is not innocent but presumed to be apikorsis and thus no Kaddish should be said!!

    Bkitzur, the disraught son had trouble with this and somehow within the ensuing conversation reflected on a few Jewish things he recalled his father doing, like eating Matza on Pessach.

    A few days later the T. Ch. saw the Posek again and related the new info. The Posek reacted with a start: “WHAT? He ate Matzah every Pessach?? It must be he was LYING that he didn’t believe! Of COURSE the Kaddish should be said…”

  4. Good question. I don’t know if it would be a different question, but its certainly an important factor, because I would assume the heter of entertaining him in your “house” depends on the value of helping him vs. the effect on others.

  5. David, I’ll ask my Rav. How important do you think is the “I’ll never change my mind” quote to the question. If the person had not said that, would it be a different question?

  6. I have seen the light and mellowed out. Someone else may now have to be judgmental or something.

  7. David, Is his opinion on the subject contrary to all Torah opinions? Can you be a little more specific when you say that his atheism definitely determines his perspective on the issue at hand.


    The case was that a self professed atheist, from a shtark Yeshivishe background, who advertises his abandon of observance as total. He posted comments on another blog (listed on the sidebar here). He insisted that nothing anyone could say would make him change his mind about religion.

    He expressed an opinion that the majority of baalei teshuvah become frum because they had psychological problems that led them to seek changes in their painful existence. I think it’s clear he looks at the baal teshuvah movement with jaundiced eyes because of his choice in rejecting religion.

    Other posters on the blog challenged the person who runs the blog as to why he allows a self professed atheist to comment, and brought halachic sources. They challenged him to ask a posek about it. I don’t know if he did or not, but the question remained in my mind. Is it permitted to provide a “soapbox” for a mumar (apostate) in your “house,” if this person indeed be such?

    David shalheim , have you thought about that last question before typing it ?
    Especially your point about tinok shenishbah. This loophole is not as non applicable as you suggest.

    I wonder how my great-great grandfather managed to get all ten letters of “Schallheim” through Ellis Island! I’ve rarely met anyone that could spell it.

    Here’s what lies behind my question. Please read carefully, the following is an intense halachic treatment of the subject:

    A publicly non-Shabbos observant Jew is termed a mumar (apostate); there are severe halachic ramifications. One reason to say he’s not a mumar is to apply the principle of tinok she’nishbah (a child captured by the non-Jews).

    Rav Elyashiv told me there’s no such thing as a tinok she’nishbah today, except a Jew who grew up in a completely closed society with no access to the outside world. He defines tinok she’nishbah as someone who has no idea of the existence of the Jewish people and Judaism. Today, in America and Israel, for example, that simply does not exist.

    Apparently, according to Rav Elyashiv, the idea that a person’s chinuch wasn’t right for him, or his religious parents brought him up wrongly, or the anti-religious media, or whatever, would not make one a tinuk she’nishbah.

    (Obviously, it would be a reason to understand his choices and sympathize with him, but it doesn’t fit the definition of tinuk she’nishbah).

    Thus, a person who grew up religiously, or a person who was exposed to Judaism and became frum, and is now an atheist and does not keep Shabbos in public, would certainly be a mumar (a Jewish apostate), with all the halachic ramifications that implies, such as prohibiting non-boiled wine he touches.

    (BTW, it’s clear from the Shach and Chazon Ish that a mumar has to actually touch the wine, i.e., put his finger into the liquid, to make it ussar, not just lift the bottle and pour! A non-Jew, however, may not pour the wine for a Jew. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz says this is halachah l’maaseh. Many people, actually many rabbis, do not know this).

    On the other hand, the Chazon Ish writes (Yoreh Deah, Hilchos Shchitah, 1:6) that a person who grew up in a non-religious home *is* comparable to a tinok she-nishbah, and is considered as a Yisrael in every regard, unless he has undergone the complete measure of proper efforts to bring him back to Judaism, as determined by a Beis Din on an individualistic basis, and he rejected it. Otherwise, we assume he would return if he was approached the right way.

    I said, “so he’s [the Jew who went off the derech] out of the category of tinuk she’nishbah, at least according to most definitions” because, once a person was frum and then rejected it, we can assume he’s intentionally a mumar and not an “oneis” (not on purpose) like a tinok she-nishbah.

    There’s room to be lenient according to what the Chazon Ish writes, because you’d actually have to convene a Beis Din to decide if he’s intentional or not, but I don’t know if what the Chazon Ish wrote is halachah l’maaseh. One talmid chacham told me that it is not, and that the Jerusalem community follows the ruling of Rav Elyashiv in this matter.

    The American community seems to lean more towards the Chazon Ish’s definition that a person growing up in a non-religious home is a tinok she-nishbah.

    Of course, in regards to kiruv, we follow the view expressed by the Rambam, in his day, in reference to the Karaites: we have to make all the efforts necessary to bring the not yet religious closer “with chains of love.”

  8. Well, Steve, that is a very, very broad statement by R’ Yaakov, isn’t it? Like you I agree with the BBT Twins but the challenge to their approach per Bob seems to be when is it beyond chilukei deos.

    That’s why they have a posek on hand.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with Mark and David’s approach to this issue. I have been going through Emes LYaakov ( R Yaakov Kamenetsky ZTL) on the Parsha lately, In Parshas Vaechi, RYK points out that chilukei deos and machlokes is healthy and that no one sector, let alone any person, should think that it has a hashkafic monopoly. ( Parshas Vaechi. s.v. Heasfu).

  10. Who, m-m-me, Jaded? Uh, no. No, general and vague is good. And then some.

    As to the use in commerce requirements under the Lanham Act, we’ve gone as far into the matter as I will go for free.

  11. Bob, the Rabbis are not going to come up with a set of general commenting guidelines for Beyond BT. A specific question on a real situation is a different story.

  12. Mark Frankel at
    January 9th, 2008 16:53 58
    said my question was “too general”.

    It’s my question, and I’ll ask if I want to!

    Seriously, I don’t see why it’s not answerable.

  13. JT, I don’t mind being edited either, if I go over the line!

    It’s no knock on our great moderators if I want a little more “meat” on the topic at hand.

  14. Bob Miller , I’m not sure how to type this ,but sometimes your comments can easily be misconstrued as somewhat mean. and I mean this in the kindest of ways.
    You might want to weigh your choice of sentiments and sentences on the mean ó meter before submitting.
    Especially with the choice of word combinations and clear references.
    I’m pretty sure you’re not as mean as some of your comments connotate just a tad. And if I think hard enough we probally have agreed on a thing or two in the past.
    Also I can’t believe your secondguessing and cross examining Mark Frankel of all people. What is wrong with you. Rabbinic advisor insights you yearning for ? have you ever checked our esteemed rabbi horowitzs site. Its not what one would classify as narrowminded and limited with the viewpoints. What exactly are you arguing about and against ?
    Please don’t ruin any meaningful messages and points you might have by dressing them up in pleather outfits of haughtiness.
    And matching condescending platitude plated jewelry.
    That’s even worse than the hypothetical wolves running around in sheeps clothing that you’re worried about.

    Ron regarding the
    Comment way back in the beginning of this fun thread about trademark registration for “tent o’ torah”
    (If its the “use in commerce piece of regulation your concerned about …… ).
    One interesting sidetrack skid on “use in commerce” , the actual literal definition one for “commerce” according to the merriam Webster dictionary is “the exchange of ideas opinions sentiments social intercourse……” so in that sense of the word commerce, “tent Ó torah” would probally qualify for trademark rights and certainly for the bona fide intent for use in commerce as in exchange of opinions sentiments ideas and reprimandings.
    Another avenue would be to examine the objectives and motives. Would the profit of reward in the world to come be a factor in providing goods and services like for the sake of gd activities and or dishing out torah knowledge would this qualify as use in commerce with the actual profit being provided by a third party namely gd. Supposedly anyway.
    Lots of ways to twist around this use in commerce thing. I’m sure there are ways to prove spiritual profits are just as tangible as monetary profits too. “tent ó torah” is a great name for a pub that does gemara n jagermeister. midweek get togethers too.

    And when you say “psychedelic bull in a china shop ” and bitter ffb with chips on shoulders ” its unclear just exactly who you are referring to. Would it be considered less than kind to request that you be just a tad more specific. Do these psychedelic bulls ever turn into the “wolves in sheeps clothing” Bob Miller refers to , when they are shopping in the china shop or are these psychedelic bulls just ordinary educated china shop shoppers during the holiday season but not especially merry even when offered the red bull ènergy drinks for à segula and small fee.
    Or maybe these bulls have been shopping too often in those fake antique stores rampant in the city. And have acquired a whole new perspective and way of shopping in an educated knowing yet respectful way. If fake china and plastic chandeliers are stripped apart for authenticity verifying this should not be misconstrued a general knocking and smashing of authentic merchandise.

    David shalheim , have you thought about that last question before typing it ?
    Especially your point about tinok shenishbah. This loophole is not as non applicable as you suggest.

  15. NB — I keep wanting to say something about the title of this post not being “We Should be Little Kinder” but I haven’t seen the tantrum yet… quite. But why waste a good line?

  16. David, Is his opinion on the subject contrary to all Torah opinions? Can you be a little more specific when you say that his atheism definitely determines his perspective on the issue at hand.

  17. Mark,

    Here’s a question that bothers me:

    Let’s say a self-defined atheist that became a BT for a while and then rejected it or was born frum and left observance (so he’s out of the category of tinuk she’nishbah, at least according to most definitions) wants to post comments on the things discussed here. Not that he’s coming to argue against the existence of G-d, he just wants to express his opinion on the post. He is loud and clear about being an atheist, and it definitely determines his perspective on the issue at hand.

    Have you asked about such a case?

  18. Here goes:

    What, if any, content-related rules should be applied to determine if a submitted comment should be published on Beyond BT or not?

  19. Since when is explaining important principles akin to micromanagement? I really am open to their persuasion about the topics in this thread.

  20. Bob, you’re going to really have to trust us on this. We’ve discussed these types of issues numerous times with both of our Rabbinic advisors. They consistently want more acceptance and tolerance for those who don’t fit the main stream.

    Here’s a little primer on community work. The good Rabbis in our communities can not possibly do all the projects that they would like. Therefore they empower others that they trust to manage projects that they approve and are willing to put their names on. They don’t micro manage, especially on a project where the output is online for all to see and they certainly know what is going on.

  21. Mark said, “If it wasn’t a resounding yes to all of the above they would never have put there names to Beyond BT and let us carry on without day to day oversight.”

    I trust you, Mark, but we’d benefit from seeing their reasoning in their own words.

  22. Gevald, the problem with this whole discussion is how it’s bringing self-absorption to new and mehuder levels. True mussarniks, we are! I mean, this is already one of the great navel-gazing locales on the Judeosphere — and I take full responsibility for my role in that (mine! ME!) — but I just have to state, for the record, and because perhaps someone not already acquainted is looking in today, the following:

    We are well aware how self-absorbed this entire conversation sounds. We know it precisely because we are incredibly self aware people, okay?

    Okay, now, back to our discussion — what color was my navel, again? ;-)

  23. What specific issue.

    Should we be nicer?
    Should we be more accepting?
    Should we be less judgmental?
    Should we try to keep people as close to Observant Judaism as practical?
    Should we provide a place for people struggling with their Judaism?

    If it wasn’t a resounding yes to all of the above they would never have put there names to Beyond BT and let us carry on without day to day oversight.

  24. Bob Miller said: “However, when they are posed to try to send us back into our pre-teshuva void, that is not OK. Yeah, I know we’re not mind-readers, and so on, but we should have enough on the ball to make distinctions.”

    Perhaps Bob but, then, why is it that many of us are making different distinctions than others?

  25. I’d like to get this blog’s rabbinic advisors to weigh in on this issue in an article.

  26. I agree, we need to make distinctions, but I think reckoning the intention of the questioner is a lot harder than you are suggesting, Bob, and not only for us the questioned… and not only as it applies to this moment in our lives, the life of the questioner, and the lives of the hundreds of people who read BBT and never comment at all.

    You are right, we have a responsibility to everyone involved. Abdicating it is not the answer, but fulfilling it is not so simple, to my mind.

  27. Ron,
    Up to a point, “dark questions” are OK if they come from someone who feels Judaism could provide the answers. However, when they are posed to try to send us back into our pre-teshuva void, that is not OK. Yeah, I know we’re not mind-readers, and so on, but we should have enough on the ball to make distinctions.

  28. The phrase “wrong thinking” is a little troubling, but there’s no question that a person is affected by his environment and there are all kind of ways a person can be influenced, including by “engaging” with what we may describe as unhealthy outlooks. Yet we are also enjoined to “know how to answer a heretic” — and frankly some of the people we (including myself) are urging kindler, gentler treatment of are indeed schlepping things into the house that are not so good for us.

    I guess the question to some extent depends on what we think BBT is. Is it an island in thought, where no dark questions interpose? A firm place on which to stand while we traverse a broader universe of thought and discussion that we all know is out there? Or just part of the big, slushy mix?

  29. Another big issue is that we sometimes judge people, even those who are not yet observant or who are formerly observant, as people from whom we have nothing to learn and as people with no potential for growth or change.

  30. The truth is we would prefer not to edit the comments at all and we never change them without the writer’s permission. Sometimes we will send one back for a tone-down and sometime we will delete one that is over-the-top.

    To me, a big issue is how to allow for the expression of a greater range of BT paths. Although we may have personally chosen a very different path, if a person is making sincere efforts to get closer to Hashem, how can we not recognize and support their efforts in any way we can. I think we’re collectively under-performing in that particular area.

  31. Thanks Fern, we’ll send you a bill.

    Just so everyone knows, the majority of the time that comments hit moderation is due to some quirks in our filtering software. The blog is not set for every comment to hit moderation.

  32. Some seem to get their chizuk by injecting disbelief into our discussions. Since we can never know 100% where anyone is coming from, I’d be satisfied if heavy-duty editing cut out the more toxic stuff. If anyone objects to posting their comments under such conditions, that’s their problem.

  33. 1. Of course we should all try to write something that is “nice” from the get go and not rely on moderators to catch “mean” comments.

    2. Don’t BBT site admins already moderate the comments to some extent? I just liked Bob’s idea of getting the commenter involved in the editing process because then it’s not “commenters vs. modertators” it’s “all of us working together to use the best speech possible.” Involving the commenter also gives him or her the benefit of the doubt as opposed to assuming that the commenter had bad intent.

    3. I will gladly pitch in to help defray the costs of tripling David and Mark’s BBT salary. ;-)

  34. I agree with Ron; however, if we all are going to try to resolve to be a little kinder, “we” should include all of us, even those who question the premises of this weblog, ie basic halacha.

    PS – Loved AJ’s comments!

  35. It’s a tough dilemma. The site is really more of a support group than an open discussion. We must be honest about that. So then the question becomes, at what cost do we extend support to people who seem to course through here with all the delicacy of psychedelic bulls in our china shop — but who actually want to be better “thems” and to hang out with people who they believe are doing something right, or at least something good?

    There are in fact bitter FFB people who find some degree of Jewish chizuk rubbing shoulders with the likes of us, yet still come with massive chips on their shoulders. I can’t see tossing them out, either by decree or by abuse within the comments. But, again, that line has to be drawn. Bob and I would draw it at different places. I would only urge that so frequently, things, and people, are not what they seem… not even to themselves.

  36. Fern,

    It’s a great idea. Only you’ll need another ten moderators!

    I guess if we’re going to be kinder we have to moderate ourselves.

  37. I like Bob’s idea of moderators editing those comments that need it, but giving the original author the chance to say “yeah, post that with the edits,” or “no, on second thought, I’d rather not comment at all.”

    It is sometimes hard to know how other people read the “tone” on a comment made on the internet. I know I personally wouldn’t mind if a moderator told me that my comment could be taken the wrong way and made a suggestion about what I could say instead to still get the point across, but in a nicer way.

  38. I’m pointing out that your detection system may be getting a false positive reading — seeing a wolf in sheep’s clothing where there really is a sheep. I hope you would agree that your impressions aren’t infallible. That is why we’re commanded to give people the benefit of the doubt — because even when we’re sure we’re right, we still could be wrong.

  39. Many of us BTs and others have put things that are near and dear to us on the line. For example: family who won’t talk to us because we did not attend their intermarriages. When certain posts are made that on one side, disparage the very difficult choices we made, and on the other side say that, for instance, maybe we need to be even tougher on our families and therefore further distance ourselves, it is hard to not respond with some emotion and conviction.

    These certainly can result in heated debates and may be interpreted as “not nice” but I think that is the nature of what we face every day. OTOH, no one should take personal shots at anyone.

  40. I think I’m able to to see sincerity where it exists—and it generally does exist. I also detect a few wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  41. Bob, you are ascribing motivations to those commenters you don’t care for, that may not in fact be their actual motivations. Please remember that you can’t know what is in someone else’s heart and why they do what they do. Perhaps you misunderstood what they meant. Perhaps you understood them correctly but their motives are very different than you imagine. It’s important to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s important to respond respectfully.

    To me it seems that some of the commenters you say are trying to “proselytize here for their current anti-Orthodox views” are actually struggling hard with issues of Teshuva and observance. I don’t see them as trying to proselytize; on the contrary, I see them as wanting to be convinced to change their minds, because part of them really does want to observe Mitzvot.

  42. Isn’t there a possibility that by hearing from (presumably) former-BT’s, we might better understand our own weaknesses, and where we need improvement? Not specifically as BT’s, but as Jews. As one who often seems to be under observation by the moderators, I don’t mind, because my view – emphasis my – is that this is a friendly, open forum to discuss releveant issues. Otherwise, the moderators could just post the articles and eliminate the capacity to comment.

  43. I think it makes sense to address the points made and where necessary to go the extra mile and assume that the person making the points is struggling to come closer to G-d at some level. Every one of us was PreT before we were BT and BBT.

  44. This sounds and may be unkind (gasp!) but I have no use for comments here by those who have given up on being BTs, or possibly never were BTs, and are now trying to proselytize here for their current anti-Orthodox views. In keeping with the drift of this forum’s policies, should I now ignore comments from these sources or should I pretend and write as if their authors really are BTs and their pieces really deserve consideration?

  45. David S,

    Yes, that was a particularly distressing thread (I think it might have been the only one that we actually had to close comments on). There were comments there that, in retrospect, should not have been let through. However, most of the comments there, although some may have gone to far, were aimed at protecting others. Mayb e that’s the point, even when we mean well, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

    Rav Miller could say things that I couldn’t because, well, he was Rav Miller!

  46. Hear, hear.

    Dunno if I’d have gone with kinder per se; more inclusive of opinions that are different from ours even if we disagree. And I know that the problem is not the site, but some of the louder comments. B’hatzlacha! :)

  47. Hey, I just noticed the name “Expanding the Tent o’Torah” has made it to the banner on top.

    Way to go, Ron.

    I also pledge to try to be kinder.

    One thing sticks out in my mind, though, and maybe I’m not remembering the whole picture well, but it seems that more vehemence is directed to those expressing “extreme” positions here than “moderate” ones. I’m thinking specifically of the “Looking at Intermarriage” post.

    It just seems to me that if one were to cut and paste a paragraph from one of R. Avigdar Miller’s books, for instance, it would be vilified in the blogosphere in general and on Beyond BT in particular. But aren’t those views at least as equally fit to be included in the Tent o’Torah? Shouldn’t they also be greeted with kindness?

  48. I personally find some of the sarcastic comments hardest to handle. And usually the sarcasm is throughout the reply, and it seems that it would be impossible to modify without rewriting the piece.

    I don’t have a problem with someone disagreeing strongly with another’s comments, as long as he’s polite. This is a discussion blog, not a hug-fest, and just as one person is entitled to his opinion, so is another. However, the more emotion-laden comments are disturbing.

  49. I’d help with the campaign but apparently I’m otherwise occupied fomenting avoda zara and leading Jewish youth astray

    sigh. . . . .

  50. Mark Frankel asked “Would the commentors give us blanket permission to soften the tone of all comments which need it?”

    I see 3 basic categories of comments as received at BT Central:

    1. OK as is
    2. OK with minor revisions
    3. No way

    I think the commenter should have a chance to quickly view a significant revision proposed by the moderator, in case he/she would rather not post it at all as revised. Minor revisions should be immediate and at the moderator’s discretion.

    Example of major revision:

    “You, clueless dweeb, turned my previous comment inside out.”

    “Im sorry; perhaps you have not understood my unclear language.”

  51. As Archie Bunker once said “I’m always nice!”

    (I have to stop proving my BT credentials)

  52. Esther is the not real name of another blogger who voiced similiar sentiments about the sometimes rough nature of our comments.

    As BTs we really should know of the need to make the Tent of Torah bigger and that includes letting people express themselves, even if we don’t agree with them. We can voice our disagreement as gently as possibly, when necessary.

    As an individual and as I moderator, I will try to make Beyond BT a kinder and gentler place.

    Would the commentors give us blanket permission to soften the tone of all comments which need it?

Comments are closed.