It’s come to my attention that I am an unusually courageous person. This is something of a surprise to me, but quite a few people claim that it is true. Even more surprising is how I have earned this reputation as a fearless cowboy: I state my beliefs, which include constructive suggestions for how the observant Jewish community can repair some of its imperfections. Not only that, but I actually sign my real name to my writings!
For example, in a recently published article I suggested that daily Tehillim recital at the end of morning prayers might be inappropriate for various reasons, cited several sources supporting this argument, and expressed the hope that we could all deepen our understanding of the rules of prayer so that our prayers might be more readily accepted. I was not aware that the expression of these sentiments required great courage – yet people have remarked to me that they have long felt the same way about the issue, but would never have had the guts to say it publicly.
Apparently the simple act of observing the imperfections of the community, even if conducted with the noblest of intentions, is considered by many to be grounds for severe punishment. This punishment may include social ostracism, loss of employment, and, perhaps most severely, rejection by those supposedly in charge of shidduchim. This last item may be extended to one’s family, so even one who is already married must consider the harm he may potentially cause to others for his reckless act of “speaking out”. Countless observant Jews are deathly afraid of this. I only wish I were exaggerating.
Not long ago a letter sent to a columnist in the Jewish Press sharply criticized the “shidduch process” and many faulty attitudes and expectations that relate to it. The letter-writer closed by asking the columnist to withhold his name, as he still has children to marry off. Could anything be more ludicrous? If he has decided that the shidduch process is so corrupt and deeply flawed, why would he submit to it? Most of all, why would he want a shidduch for himself or his child that can only be obtained by keeping his important convictions secret? Is this a recipe for marital success? Is remaining anonymous and suppressing his beliefs truly a prudent course of action, or the greatest of follies?
Letters commenting on the culture of shidduchim are published week after week, and are invariably written anonymously. Under certain exceptional circumstances it may be necessary to remain anonymous, but nowadays anything more controversial than a chullent recipe is published anonymously. What exactly are people afraid of? That a shadchan who doesn’t share your values won’t set you up with someone who doesn’t share your values? That someone who doesn’t share your values will not be interested in going out with you? Am I missing something here?
If being open with one’s true beliefs will reduce the quantity of dates that are available to him, I cannot believe that this is a bad thing. After all, there isn’t much point in going out with someone who is revolted by your true beliefs, nor would I recommend for both parties to nervously keep their true beliefs under wraps for as long as possible. Deceit is not conducive to a healthy relationship.
So many Jews have adopted various superficialities merely “for shidduch purposes”. But why would anyone want a shidduch who is interested in them based on superficialities, on false assumptions? Why would anyone want to live a lie? And why do we meekly submit when people in the community exert implicit or explicit pressure on us to conduct ourselves in ways that we do not believe in?
When it comes to shidduchim, I firmly believe that there is only One shadchan Who needs to be favorably impressed. Indeed, the average Jew on the street will readily agree that Hashem is fully in charge of shidduchim, and that human agents are nothing more than that. Yet the average Jew also conducts himself in a fashion that indicates otherwise; he will change his very lifestyle to suit presumed social expectations so that the human deities in charge of shidduchim will look favorably upon him. Someone who conducts himself in this fashion is merely paying lip service to the One Above, and is to me nothing more than an agnostic.
The average Jew would be terrified to sign a letter to the editor offering constructive criticism for the community, if he even has the guts to send it anonymously. Aside from what this says about the true bitachon of the average Jew, what does it say about the community? Our Middle Eastern cousins are well-versed in the art of intimidation. Is this the Jewish way as well? Should a well-meaning Jew ever be afraid to express an opinion, even if that opinion is unpopular? Should he have to fear any repercussion worse than being ignored or proven incorrect? Should any trifling expression of individuality or creativity be brutally stamped out?
And at the end of the day, opinions expressed anonymously have absolutely no credibility. An anonymous opinion is nothing more than an orphan idea, a faint wisp of smoke that forever disappears from the mind of the reader as soon as the page is turned. One who truly believes that he is right is proud to stand firmly behind his ideas. If someone doesn’t believe in his ideas enough to associate his identity with them, why should anyone else believe in his ideas?
As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch wrote in 1877 in response to those who criticized him for “speaking out” about Reform Jewry (Collected Writings Volume 6, page 198): “[I]n view of the seriousness and significance of the issue, I consider it my duty to announce, in connection with the open letter printed below, that any replies written anonymously or signed with a fictitious name will not receive any consideration from me. One who lacks the courage to sign his true name to his views must be aware that what he is saying is meaningless and that he therefore cannot expect others to take notice of it. Let the anonymous gnats buzz happily in the sunny meadows. I certainly do not want to spoil their pleasure.”
The urge to remain anonymous indicates a lack of confidence in the merit of one’s ideas, a lack of confidence in Hashem to protect those who act according to His wishes, and a trait of brutality in the community to intimidate people from expressing themselves and being themselves.
I really believe that. Therefore, please do not withhold my name.