The late, lamented Rabbi Sacks zt”l, had recently often expressed concern that the “willingness to listen respectfully to those with whom we disagree has been lost today” because “the only way we avoid error [is] by allowing dissent of voice.” He protested “the mischief of denying a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them.”
I have therefore been disappointed to see letters to The Jewish Link asserting that certain opinions or questions should be wholly censored and not printed, whether as letters, articles or even ads. This approach is not consistent with American principles, nor Jewish traditions, of open debate. This includes the recent letter from Estie Holland (“A Note on Paid Ads” November 19, 2020) calling Mr. Distenfeld’s ad a “chillul Hashem,” and other efforts to suppress any questions or debate about whether empirical science supports certain local pandemic restrictions, even those restrictions that go above and beyond the recommendations of the scientists at the CDC and New Jersey’s health agencies.
At this point, to me the larger issue is not even the extra restrictions—though these are important because of their mental health impact, particularly on the young. The larger issue is the communal suppression of any discussion or debate over important communal issues. The Modern Orthodox world likes to consider itself more supportive of critical thinking, more scientific and less reflexively deferential to authority. Yet this has not been borne out in the current crisis.
Ironically, the letter cites Mr. Distenfeld’s assertion that schoolchildren are not significant COVID transmitters as an example of irresponsibility because it did not quote support from licensed medical practitioners. Space does not permit me listing here all the epidemiologists, tracing studies and national school systems that agree with Mr. Distenfeld’s assertion, but perhaps it may suffice to note the recent New York Times article headline: “Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists Say” (Oct. 22, Updated Nov. 11). Should the New York Times also be pressured to suppress such irresponsible views?Dan Barenholtz