Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Discussing The Unspeakable

Recent events have me pondering the following topic -- How to have a discussion when one side believes the other side should not ever be mentioned or when mentioning one side, in and of itself, has consequences.

Two examples:

1) The recent brouhaha over a Jewschool post about Debbie Friedman. You can read about this here. I thought about whether or not I should bring this subject up at all. The family's response -as well as the fact that this was common knowledge- make me think that there is no additional harm to the family in linking the discussion. That said, personally, I found the Jewschool post offensive. There are appropriate ways and more importantly times to raise these questions. Not during shiva and in clear ignorance of the facts. However, it illustrates the conundrum I'd like to address, which is that there is no way to have this kind of conversation without raising the issue in some way. If the Jewschool blogger's facts had been accurate (they weren't), his point would be much stronger, than if he hadn't used the name.

2) I received an email about a recent post of mine on bans. The email was critical of my position/presentation. It included a request not to post the email, or even portions of it, without permission. Since I make a point of posting critical emails, I emailed back asking permission to post the email and a response. When this writer expressed discomfort with the idea, I offered a right of response as well. Ultimately, my correspondent denied permission to publish on the grounds that since, from their perspective, their position was Torah, it would be impermissible and impossible for me to disagree with it. Go argue with that.

The question I'd like to put out there is this. How can one have discussion on important issues, when one side, for whatever reason, makes even the raising of the topic off-limits? Perhaps, as in a situation like my first example, it can be done while respecting the individual's privacy. However, in matters of public policy, is there really no way to raise questions about the actions of Rabbinic leadership? Personally, I can think of a number of recent examples in which rabbinic action was taken in response to public criticism. In quite a few of these cases, I am convinced that if not for the public nature of the criticism, no action would have been taken.

A short list:

1) The Lipa Schmeltzer concert ban
2) The recent RCA "brain death" paper brouhaha
3) Agudah et al on sexual abuse

So, for those like my respondent who apparently believe in papal rabbinic infallibility... Do you ever think there's an appropriate way to publicly raise questions? If not, why do you grant yourself the right to take a position, if you won't concede that right to your counterparts on the other side? More importantly, if that is your position, why should the folks on the other side even address your concerns?