Saturday, May 15, 2021

Anonymity is an important tool. For good reasons we protect the identity of crime victims, whistleblowers, writers to advice columnists, and those who share their personal struggles with financial challenges, mental health issues, substance abuse and more. We protect the identity of these individuals to preserve their privacy and dignity, while encouraging public dialogue about important issues.

Extending this protection to someone who chooses to randomly and viciously attack leaders of our community (“An Open Letter to My Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Leadership,” Nov. 5, 2020) without any attempt to engage in serious dialogue about the future is extending the most dangerous power of online interactions into the world of print media. A person who declares that “I am righteous, but my Rabbis need to chastise my sinful neighbors” does not need to have his or her identity protected—after all, he or she is perfect and has no need to remain anonymous.

It is tempting to leave this letter with a rebuke to The Jewish Link and a rejection of the advertiser. Yet, the writer chose to publicly attack people whom I respect and who spend their lives in service to our community. This cannot be allowed to stand without a statement of support for our rabbinic leadership.

Two points: 1) The mitzvah of hocheach tochiach et amitecha does not mean “get on your soapbox and preach against sin until no one will listen to you.” This is clearly well understood by our clergy, but lost in the self-righteous zealotry of the advertiser. 2) Our clergy have chosen this moment in history to be machmir on the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh. Our communal response is effective in no small part due to years and decades of building relationships based on trust, mutual respect and shared Torah learning.

Looking ahead, there are serious discussions to be had about our communal response to the pandemic. Mental health challenges and financial ruin are real consequences of the steps we take to hold the spread of the physical health challenges posed by the coronavirus and they need to be addressed. I am grateful for the careful and thoughtful actions of our leadership. The beauty of the partnership, coordination and cooperation of volunteer lay leaders, administrative staff, rabbis and medical professionals that has guided our shuls and schools since Purim is something for our community to be proud of and should give each of us hope for the future.

Richard Langer