2018 Letter on Please Print My Name
Chananya Weissman
The Jewish Press

I was flattered that the Jewish Press cited an article of mine from more than ten years ago (Please Print My Name, available on chananyaweissman.com) before announcing that the paper is changing its policy to allow anonymous letters. If the paper feels this is the right decision from a business standpoint, it is not my place to disagree; every publication must keep its readership happy. If, however, the change was made strictly on philosophical grounds, then I urge the management to rethink its decision.

My words are easy to dismiss, but my article quoted our great teacher Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch, whose view cannot be so easily dismissed. I share his words again: [I]n view of the seriousness and significance of the issue, I consider it my duty to announce, in connection with the open letter printed below, that any replies written anonymously or signed with a fictitious name will not receive any consideration from me. One who lacks the courage to sign his true name to his views must be aware that what he is saying is meaningless and that he therefore cannot expect others to take notice of it. Let the anonymous gnats buzz happily in the sunny meadows. I certainly do not want to spoil their pleasure. (Collected Writings Volume 6, page 198)

Surely R' Hirsch knew the Rambam and subscribed to the idea that we should accept the truth from whomever it comes. He was a paragon of truth. Yet it was this very truthfulness that led R' Hirsch, and those who admire him, to scorn anonymous letter-writers.

What would our Torah study be like if all our Sages who often expressed controversial views chose to remain anonymous? If we really believed that we can separate the person from the opinion, it shouldn't matter. Yet anyone even marginally versed in Torah understands that the source of an idea is of critical importance to our evaluation of its significance. Indeed, the Gemara often goes to great lengths to clarify the true source of a teaching, and does not content itself simply to analyze the idea. It is true that wise words that come even from ordinary people are taken seriously by the Gemara even, at times, wisdom from non-Jewish sources but the source factors heavily into the critical process.

Indeed, this is how it should be. Would the Jewish Press argue that it is irrelevant if an idea comes from a Rosh Yeshiva or an ignoramus, to the extent that we don't even need to know who said what? A scholar can make a mistake, and anyone can come up with a good point, but one's expertise and qualifications or lack thereof need to be known when evaluating any opinion, not to mention possible biases and agendas.

The editorial asked whether a Lakewood resident who follows Rav Aharon Kotler but has a more positive worldview about the founding of the State of Israel should advertise his belief. Why not? Would a great man like Rav Kotler be personally threatened? Would any reasonable person with integrity find this unconscionable? If the students of Hillel and Shamai could disagree about fundamental laws of purity, yet still marry into each other's families, why must we break our small community into tiny factions, divided by every disagreement big and small, and erect iron walls to insure no one with a slightly different opinion sneaks inside? Are we so insecure that we cannot bear the mere presence of someone who thinks a bit differently, to the extent that such a person and his family must be destroyed?

I would understand the need for anonymity if a resident of North Korea wanted to write a letter against his government, or if someone in a Muslim country wanted to suggest having Days of Calm instead of Days of Rage. Attaching one's name to such a controversial idea would void one's life insurance policy. Should expressing a contrary view about the shidduch world, or Israel, or Donald Trump, or most anything else in the Jewish Press require the same anonymity for the sake of pikuach nefesh?

If that is the case, then the problem is far greater than evaluating the worthiness of the opinion. It means that our community is run by bullies, thought police, enemies of the Torah, and enemies of truth. It is no wonder that many of our brightest youth become disaffected with the community and go "off the derech". I would suggest that many of them have simply come to the conclusion that our community, for all the wonderful attributes it does have, is largely off the derech, and it is hard to disagree with them. If someone who states the obvious about the shidduch world that it is a corrupt and broken system will be blackballed from shidduchim, and if someone from Lakewood decides that Israel is God's will after all would be treated like a pariah, then I can only wonder why we should want to be part of such a society. Because aside from the terrible fear and bullying it's swell?

One final thought. Many years ago a Rosh Yeshiva told me that he agreed with my crusade about the shidduch world, but asked me not to quote him. His private support did not influence a single person. The only consequence was that I lost respect for him. This Rabbi had quite a following, and his open support would have seriously helped the cause. Because he chose to remain anonymous clearly he didn't want the tzorus his words are meaningless. No one reading this paragraph will value his anonymous support, nor should they. They can just as easily question whether it really happened, or whether I made it up.

We find inspiration from stories that are true, even though a fictional story can have the same moral message. We remember articles many years after they are written because a real person stood behind his controversial words. I challenge letter-writers to believe in their ideas enough to stand behind them. I challenge the community to make it safe for them to do so.

Once again, please print my name.

Chananya Weissman