If the mystery buyers of the muckraking anti-Orthodox website Failed Messiah aimed to silence the online airing of Orthodox dirty laundry by shutting down the site, their plan has backfired.
The controversial, aggressive, sometimes unfair and utterly indefatigable writer behind Failed Messiah, Shmarya Rosenberg, announced in February that he had sold the site to an unknown, untraceable company called Diversified Holdings and would no longer blog. Failed Messiah hasn’t posted a news item since late February, lending credence to speculation that Diversified Holdings plans to end the site’s reporting on the wrongdoings of the Orthodox, or even to kill Failed Messiah entirely.
Yet instead of silencing online criticism of the Orthodox, the apparent death of Failed Messiah has spawned two new muckraking sites that aim to carry on Failed Messiah’s work.
Call them Sons of the Failed Messiah.
“We would like to uncover what [Rosenberg] did not have a chance to get to,” wrote the anonymous authors of one blog, which calls itself LostMessiah, in an email to the Forward. “A community is only as good as the worst of its members.”
The author of the other Failed Messiah spawn, a former commenter on Failed Messiah’s comment pages now blogging as Chafraud-Depravitch, wrote that carrying on Rosenberg’s work was an act of defiance. “Continuing is important because it shows that attempts by Orthodox interests to cover up a news source…may instead result in proliferation, not censorship, of the information,” the blogger wrote.
Both Lost Messiah and Chafraud-Depravitch are anonymous projects. Neither of the sites would identify its authors to the Forward. Rosenberg told the Forward that he didn’t know who was involved with either of them, but he didn’t think that he had a personal relationship with any of the new bloggers.
“I think that anyone who wants to report or aggregate or whatever they’re doing, it’s a good thing,” Rosenberg said.
Of the two sites, Lost Messiah appears to be the more ambitious, better-staffed operation. It has been posting regularly since February. Its tone is less strident than Failed Messiah’s, and its writing less fluid, but the site’s interests are similar: corruption, sex abuse and fraud. It has posted frequently on the developing corruption allegations involving ultra-Orthodox businessmen and the New York City Police Department.
“We hope to be a resource for law enforcement and other investigative personnel, including the press,” Lost Messiah’s administrators told the Forward. “We have highly skilled researchers and multilingual help.”
The administrators said that they were a loose group with members in the United States, Australia and Israel. They declined to provide any further identifying information.
“Some of us are observant. Some are not,” the administrators wrote. “We cannot tell you, however, the details.”
The other new Failed Messiah emulator, Chafraud-Depravitch, posted vigorously throughout February and March, mostly on sex abuse and the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic group, but has not posted since late March.
“I never fully appreciated the effort Shmarya Rosenberg put into his blog until I tried to run one,” the blogger told the Forward. He said that although he had stopped posting after the emergence of Lost Messiah, thinking that it had filled the vacuum created by the loss of Failed Messiah, he planned on starting to post again soon, perhaps with help from other former Failed Messiah readers.
The Chafraud-Depravitch blogger declined to provide his name, but said that he lives in Southern California and that his children attend Orthodox yeshivas. He said that he had been a regular commenter on Failed Messiah but the new owners of the site had begun to delete his comments. He saw his new site as a place for the community of readers that had formerly gathered around Failed Messiah to regroup.
“I think it’s important for Jews to have a place where they can bring attention to issues important to them and their communities without being censored or shut out,” he wrote.
Rosenberg, for his part, said that he is not tracking the new blogs closely. “I’m honored that people want to do it,” he said.
Rosenberg said that even though he misses the daily contact with his readers, it is a relief not to have to run his own site anymore.
Whether or not Rosenberg is paying attention, his emulators are keeping him in mind. “We hope that [Rosenberg] knows that his departure from the scene is not for naught,” the Lost Messiah administrators wrote.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.