DovBear reflects on the upcoming Agudah convention and the anticipated address regarding bloggers. Based on the advertising (as reported by Orthomom), it seems that the speech is being framed as a bloggers vs. Torah Authority showdown.
As DB points out in his post, there are many, many more pressing issues that could be dealt with at the convention than bloggers. I don't think I need to repeat what those issues are (and I think he left off a few good issues as well); we all know what the strengths and weaknesses of our Orthodox communites are. What I would like to focus on is the issue of blogging and the question that is asked by the advertisement "Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority? "
Of course, to state that the "bloggers" have any opinion is like saying that "New Yorkers" are in favor of a particular opinion... the bloggers are a diverse crowd with diverse opinions. Are there some bloggers that have "declared open season" on Torah authority? Probably. The fact of the matter is that the J-Blogosphere is a very diverse crowd, covering the range of opinions from extreme chareidism to atheism - and just about every stripe in-between. There are bloggers that are very supportive of today's gedolim, some that are mildly supportive and some that are outright antagonistic. Stating that "bloggers" are bad because some of them are anti-Torah is like stating that books are bad because there are books written by athiests. The answer, of course, isn't to ban the medium - it's to educate people to be able to discern what information is worth listening to and internalizing and which information should be ignored and left to wither and die in the marketplace of ideas.
The blogs really first came to prominence, of course, with the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books. Sure, there were some blogs around before then, but the ban was the first event where the J-Blogosphere played a major role in the public perception of Rabbinic authority. Since blogging is all about the disemination of information and not about restricting it (if I didn't want to diseminate information, I just wouldn't blog), naturally the bloggers tended to side with the people who were against the ban. Of course, there were some bloggers that were pro-ban; again, the J-Blogosphere is not a monolithic entity with group-think. Since the ban represented the supression of information, most of the J-blogosphere was against it. That was the start of the "blogs are against Torah authority" meme.
Most of the bloggers I know, however, do have respect for Torah authority. Heck, the fact is that many of the J-bloggers are Orthodox - they keep Torah U'Mitzvos, they learn daily and they believe in the Creator. When I have a halachic question, I go to a rav, as do most of the J-bloggers. By doing so, we show an a priori commitment to Torah authority. If we didn't, we wouldn't daven, keep kosher, etc.
But when one asks the question "Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority? " one has to define a few terms. Just like the term "bloggers" is not as straightforward as it seems, so too must one define the terms "declared open season" and "Torah Authority."
What is "Torah Authority?" Does it mean that I have to follow what's written in the Shulchan Aruch? Does it mean that I have to follow the pronouncements of any rav? Does it mean that I have to believe counter-factual information because a rabbinic authority of the past or present declared it to be true? Does it mean following rabbinic advise in halachic matters? Or do I need to consult them on which investments to put in my 401(k) plan? What is "Torah" and what consitutes "Authority?" Is Torah all-inclusive of every aspect of my life? Does it go as far as what hechsharim I have to follow (or reject)? What about which lulav and esrog I buy for Succos? Whether a woman uses oil or candles for Shabbos lights? Whether or not I should smoke or drink? Which model car I should buy (does V'Nishmartem M'od L'nafshosichem dictate that I *must* buy the largest, safest car?). What magazines can I subscribe to? Which radio stations can I listen to? At what point is something no longer within the realm of "Torah" that that particular activity isn't under the "Authority?" Or are *all* activities within one's life, from the moment one gets up in the morning until one goes to sleep at night, considered "Torah?"
What is "authority?" Does that mean that I have to blindly follow the dictates of rabbinic leadership in anything that is deemed to be "Torah?" Am I allowed to even question, whether publicly or privately (i.e. to myself) the reason for the decision and the factors that went into it? Do I have to submit totally and unequivocably, or is it merely a recommendation (in areas that aren't strictly halachic). If I ask a rav for advice on how to handle a family matter, but in the end I go against his advice for whatever reason, is that going against "Torah Authority?"
And lastly, what is "declared open season?" The term, of course, originates from hunting, where certain animals could only be hunted within a specific time of year (their season). When the time of year came for a specific animal, the season was declared open and hunting could begin.
Of course, no one at the Agudah thinks that the bloggers are literally hunting people in "Torah Authority" positions with guns as a hunter hunts a large animal. But the question does imply a destruction - hunting is a destructive activity - even if done for utilitarian or ecological purposes. Are we bloggers being destructive to "Torah Authority" (however it is defined)? I don't think so. To say that we are declaring open season on Torah Authority is like saying that we want to put Rabbis and gedolim out of business. However, for most of us, that's simply not the case. What we want is leadership - true leadership that is responsible to the Torah as well as to the people. What we want is not just rabbinic decisions, but the ability to understand them as well. When a ban is published on the works of Rabbi Slifkin because he states the world is older than 5,767 years, it's not enough to simply say "it contradicts the Torah, therefore it's bad and banned." You have to be able to address people's questions and concerns. Don't just tell me it's wrong - tell me why it's wrong and how you plan to explain away scientific evidence to the contrary. It's akin to a rabbinic pronouncement of "there's no elephant here" while standing under the big top at the Ringling Brothers circus.
The bottom line, of course, is that the J-blogosphere, like the telephone, is here to stay. People will continue to express their opinions, as they always have, whether it be in a telephone call to a friend, a letter to the editor of a newspaper, or a speech in a public forum. The J-blogosphere is simply a new forum that is available for people to express their ideas. If they don't want to enter this forum directly, then the best bet to maintain Torah Authority would be to educate people; giving them critical thinking skills to be able to determine what information is worth keeping and what information should be discarded. Simply hiding from the J-blogosphere only makes matters worse for them - they are, in effect, abdicating the platform to those who truly do wish them harm.