To the editor:
My morning started out very badly. I hadn’t slept well, and rose early for my first Zoom appointment of the day. As I gulped down my coffee, the day immediately became much worse. I opened my laptop to the Forward and read, “Why I am Risking a $15,000 fine by hosting a yeshiva in our basement,” submitted by Anonymous.
The fact that some people are indeed risking not merely a fine but the lives of their dear children, their respected neighborhood teachers, their beloved parents and grandparents is good reason for an article about this topic. But it should be one written by a journalist who is reporting on this illegal activity within the Jewish community. Not a personal essay by “Anonymous.”
A reporter could certainly interview Anonymous and report on his concerns and self-righteous justifications for running an illegal school in his basement, possibly causing harm to frontline healthcare workers, stressing the New York medical system and causing untold harm to the larger community.
A reporter could write about the conflict that Anonymous might feel about flouting the Talmudic dictum, “Dinah d’Malchuta Dinah” — that is, the laws of one’s country of residence are to be followed.
A reporter could write about the ways that this flagrant disregard of the health and well-being of the larger community is a trigger for finger-pointing at the more observant Jewish community and fresh fuel for the fires of antisemitism which don’t really need more fuel at this moment in history.
A reporter could write about the Jewish concept of “Chillul HaShem,’ causing God’s name to be desecrated, which I imagine will be one of the consequences of this post by Anonymous.
If someone wanted to write an anonymous essay about why they are committing fraud while working for a Jewish social-service agency they don’t like, I don’t believe you would wish to publish the story in that format. If someone wished to write an anonymous essay about their participation as a Jew in the white-supremacy movement, I hope that you would send a reporter to check out the situation. If someone wanted to write an anonymous story about why child abuse is permissible if your child disobeys Jewish law, I don’t believe you would publish it.
I appreciate all you do to bring thoughtful content to the Jewish world. I looked at your posted rules for submitting to Scribe, the section where this essay appeared, and they include a request that writers not “submit material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate.”
I leave you to judge your own standards.
We are in difficult times. Please use better judgment in distinguishing between excellent journalism and just getting more “clicks” for irresponsible anonymous posts.
—Nechama Liss-Levinson, PhD
‘Anonymous’ yeshiva scofflaw should not have been published