Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The J-Blogosphere: Good for the (Frum) Jews?

Lately it seems as though every New York media outlet I read has something to say about subjects related to shidduchim or other topics of frum interest.

DISCLAIMER: I do not identify as frum; I identify as Conservadox, which is American for confused. Nevertheless, I have frum friends, and I read frum blogs, and I have common sense, so I think that I can sketch this out broadly. Please let me know if anything seems horribly off-key.

First, there was the New York Jewish Week article in which one of my favorite bloggers, Bad4shidduchim, aka Bad4, was profiled. I think that the article failed to capture Bad4's wit but was otherwise pretty positive. Bad4's regular posters, some of whom know her personally, agreed. Then, taking her shidduch article to a paper that some people actually pay for and read, the same journalist who interviewd Bad4 wrote a more general article for The Wall Street Journal called "Single Jewish Female Seeks Stress Relief." That article highlighted some of the less pleasant aspects of the shidduch process (all of which the writer seems to have gotten from reading Bad4's blog, but who in journalism cares about attribution?), including that there are more dating gals than guys, which creates: 1) a series of women who can't marry and are considered old maids at 25; 2) really demanding "learning boys" and their even more demanding mothers, who sometimes insist on interviewing the "girl" before they will let their sons interrupt learning to date her; and 3) male "serial daters" who can and will date women as young as 18 for years because they can, and because they are afraid of making a mistake and ending up divorced. I am skeptical about the last one, since what 18-year-old would date a 30-year-old? As far as I understand it, 18-year-old girls are considered quite marriageable, and 30-year-old "bochurim" are considered, at the very least, weird. Anyway, the seemingly insane degree of background checking and labeling that goes on before the first date is also mentioned.

Charedi/yeshivish bloggers' reactions to The Wall Street Journal article seemed to range from "yeah, that's us," to "yeah, can you believe that's us? G-d help us." MY reaction was, Isn't this bad for the Jews, at least for Jews who participate in the shidduch "System"? And what about the Jews, like me, who are considered "Orthodox" by their non-Jewish friends--and some of the Jewish ones as well--because they are Shomrei Shabbat, and they don't live in New York, and people are ignorant? Now, instead of asking me whether I am going to have a million (read: 3) kids, since I can't use birth control (yes, I have gotten that question), people will ask me whether I put my boyfriend through a CIA background check before our first date. (Oh, yeah, JDate has that extra James Bond application).

Does anyone think that shidduchim would have made it into The Wall Street Journal without the J-Blogosphere? I don't. The J-Blogosphere provides too many research-free opportunities for journalists to get quick articles before their deadlines (on posts from Bad4 overlapping with subjects in the article, see here, here, and here).

I would also like to point out that, where I live, I have a number of out-of-town Modern Orthodox, Conservadox, and Conservative (labels are helpful sometimes) friends who read Charedi/yeshivish blogs and discuss them at Shabbat meals. By "discuss," I mostly mean that they say, "Can you believe these crazies?" Favorite non-shidduch internet proof of craziness usually centers on issues of: kashrut (keeping kosher), tznius (modesty), and chumrahs (customary stringencies that many people, including rabbis, now treat as halakhah, Jewish law) in general. When I say kashrut, I don't mean actually keeping kosher; I mean water-filtering, avoidance of raw fruits and vegetables even without the CDC scare, and Chalav Yisrael. By "tznius," I don't mean wearing long skirts and long sleeves; I mean Israeli "mehadrin" buses, Israeli women in burkas, and total separation of the sexes before marriage. By chumrahs, I mean what FrumSatire calls "the chumrah-of-the-month club." I think that's self-explanatory. I wouldn't know about 90% of these "crazy" things without the J-Blogosphere. I try to avoid these conversations, but they are going on. I predict that this Shabbat, the New York article on the woman who left Kiryas Joel will be the J-Blogosphere-inspired topic of conversation.

I know that Jews have found ways to hate each other for millenia without the help of the Jewish Blogosphere. (And in case anyone wants to accuse non-Orthodox Jews of hating the Orthodox for the fun of it, let me assure you that it's mutual. If I had a dollar for every time I read a hateful comment directed against Conservative and Reform Jews on a blog, I could drop out of grad school and eat bon-bons all day. These discussions also take place at dinner tables and would continue to occur even without the J-Blogosphere).

I also know that the J-Blogosphere provides much-needed outlets for frustrated people to express their frustration and anger, often at their own communities. The Charedi/yeshivish community, of course, is not monolithic: there is a silent majority that wants change, just as there is in every community. And I firmly believe it's their business, at least in the US. The taxpayers don't pay guys to learn full time, and people are free to leave.

But will it really remain their business if they are broadcasting it to the (at least Jewish) world?


Shira Salamone said...

I can't say boo about airing Jewish dirty laundry in public, since I, myself, am guilty as charged: One of the main reasons why I started my blog was that I needed a place to kvetch (complain) about my local synagogue and rabbi with impunity. I suppose I would have to say that blogging, like any other form of public communication, has its downside--there's always the risk that someone will borrow your words and/or thoughts for their own purposes.

I'm not willing to give up blogging, though (at least, not at this time). Not only is my blog a good place for me to rant, it's also brought out my creative side. I've always thought of myself as more of an editor than a writer, but I seem to have a few things to say that I'd like people to hear.

J said...

Don't worry, we don't have to talk about J-blog related stuff at lunch this week!

katrina said...

Shira--I'm not saying that people should stop blogging. As they say in grad school, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. It's just something I've been thinking about.

elf said...

I know what you mean, K, but my main reaction to this was to shrug. That's the modern world, right?

Jack said...

I try not to take any of it seriously.

badforshidduchim said...

I would say boo about airing dirty laundry in public. I found the WSJ article a tad offensive in that way. It seems to me that the only people who really have a right to kvetch about things in the orthodox Jewish community are those who are affected by it. Why bring it to public attention in the WSJ for a few bucks?!

That said, a blog is slightly different. People pick up a newspaper and read it cover to cover, absorbing what the newspaper offers them. For a blog, though, you have to go look for it. Or follow a link to it. It isn't fed to you the same way.

If someone is reading blogs about Orthodox Jews, then they have a previous interest in it.

However, it behooves bloggers to remember that there are non-members reading their blogs. Blogger tend to complain and emphasize the negative in their community. Reading through most blogs, you can wonder why these people are even affiliated if they find it all so offensive. And that includes my own blog.

Eliyahu said...
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