Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Beloved is To Me

A friend of mine grew up "out-of-town" in a small Jewish community. Fortunately for him and the community, it is also home to a well-known tzaddik and talmid chacham. When I first met him, and he introduced himself and told me where he was from, I said, "Oh so you must know Rav So-and-so."

"Yes," he responded. "But what's better is that he knows me."

My new friend was proud that he knew this rav, that he davened with him, attended his shiurim, asked him shailos, walked home with him from shul. But what pleased him more was that the rav also knew himhis background, his family, his strengths, his challenges.

I think of my friend as we find ourselves in the middle of Elul. We are taught from a young age that Elul stands for "Ani ledodi vedodi liI am to my beloved and my beloved is to me." We know how to translate the words, but do we really know what they mean? Do we understand and appreciate the underlying sentiment?

On its surface, it sounds beautiful, a lovely notion. But it has all the passion of a Hallmark anniversary card.

What does it mean "My beloved"i.e., God"is to me"?

My son, a die-hard New York Yankees fan (I know, I know. Another parental failure), is friends with another teen whose father's business brings him in contact with many high-end clients. One of those clients was none other than Mariano Rivera, the great closer for the Yankees and arguably the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

My son's friend arranged for Mr. Rivera to autograph a baseball for my son. To say that my son was elated would be an understatement. Then the possibility arose that my son might actually get to meet the great pitcher. He was beside himself with nervousness and excitement. What would he say? What would he wear? Would he play it cool, try not to act too excited, or would he likely lose himself and gush all over the former Yankee?

Alas, the meeting never occurred (not yet, anyway). But it got me to thinking about my out-of-town friend.

Imagine my son, lost in a crowd of Yankees fans and in walks Mariano Rivera. People swarm around him, thrusting Sharpies along with various objects and pictures for him to sign, peppering him with silly questions about his most memorable game or what his favorite city or flavor of ice cream might be. Just then he turns and spots my son on the other side of the room. He cocks his head and gives a quick wave, then, calling him by name, heads in my son's direction. "How are you, man? How've you been?"

Mariano then proceeds to pepper my son with questionshow is yeshiva going? how does he like his rebbe this year?making it clear that Mariano knows my son well and is genuinely interested in and concerned for him. Everyone watching is astonishedand not a little envious. It's not just that my son knows Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera knows my son.

How cool would that be? And how much cooler would it be if he had no idea that Mariano Rivera knew that much or cared that much about him?

This islehavdilwhat we mean by "Ani ledodi vedodi li."

God is not just simply aware of our existence, ready to sit in judgment of us for our deeds and misdeeds of the past year, viewing each of us as just another random Jew among the entire Jewish people to look after, another blip in the grand scheme of things.

No. That's not how it is at all.

God is our beloved. God is our biggest fan. God is genuinely interested in and concerned for each of us, individually. He knows each of us personallyour strengths, our weaknesses, our challenges, our achievements. He is rooting for us. He wants us to succeed.

Elul is the month designated to repair and enhance our relationship with God. "Lo bashamayim hi." God, even in his Awesome Omniscience, is not distant. God is right here in our living rooms. He wants to be close to us. He wants a relationship with us.

Let's take advantage of God's wishes and ensure for ourselves a sweeter new year.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In Praise of Ordinary Jews

Years ago my chavrusah walked into the beis medrash one morning looking sad.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

It seems that over Shabbos, my chavrusah’s family had invited over a guest. My chavrusah’s father was very involved with one of the kiruv yeshivas in town and was constantly bringing over the boys for Shabbos meals. These guests usually told very colorful stories about how they became frum, what life was like before they were frum, what life is like now that they are frum.

Every person forges his own personal path back to Yiddishkeit, but this particular Shabbos, their guest gave an interesting twist to his story—one that disturbed my chavursah greatly. Unlike the classic baal teshuvah, this man had grown up in a frum home, actually a frum home in the very same town in which my chavrusah and I grew up, lived and learned, the very same community that housed the baal tesuvah yeshiva in which he was currently enrolled. He went, as we had, to the local yeshiva and had been frum for the first fifteen years or so of his life.

But as he got older he began to veer away from tradition. It began, as it so often does, with minor indiscretions—sleeping through Shacharis, forgetting to bentch—but eventually mushroomed into something much larger. By the time he was old enough to be on his own, he had moved out of his parent’s house, moved away from the religious community, and started to live the life of a full-blown “shaygetz.”

He was interested in the entertainment business and got some work at a radio station. He knew he hit the bigtime when he was hired to work on the most famous—and most degenerate—morning radio program in America. That show introduced him to the depths of depravity. He drank, gambled, took drugs, and became sexually reckless.

“I was as far from Judaism as a person could be. Even farther—because I had once been religious and abandoned it,” he told his hosts.

But then one fateful day, he woke up. He recognized that he had it all, he did it all, he could do it all again, but it wasn’t enough. All the things he thought would bring him happiness, failed to provide that happiness. Worse, he was miserable.

And so he began his journey back. Eventually, he ended up one of the finest young men in the yeshiva , and because of his background, catching up was easy to do. He was even able to tutor and serve as a role model to others, showing them how to learn gemara, how to understand halachah. He was one of the brightest stars of the yeshiva.

Everyone at my friend’s family’s house was amazed and impressed by his story.

Everyone except my chavrusah, that is. He just got depressed. “Here I am,” he told me, “a twenty-something year old yeshiva bochur. I’ve stayed in yeshiva. I listened to my rabbeim. I’ve learned. I’ve behaved. I never went off the derech. Never took a vacation from religion. But nobody is wowed by me. Nobody is impressed. Nobody wants to hear my story. This guy goes off and does every aveirah a person can think of, and comes back to a hero’s welcome. I behaved, and I get nothing.”

“So you feel like Nemuel,” I said,

“Who?” he asked.


“Who’s Nemuel?,” he repeated.

“That’s my point,” I said. “From Parshas Pinchas. Nemuel.”

“Who is he?”


Nemuel is listed as one of three sons of Aviram, the grandson of Reuvein, son of Yaakov. Nemuel had two brothers. No doubt, you’ve heard of them: Dasan and Aviram.

Ask any yeshiva bochur—better yet, ask any elementary school yeshiva student—Who are Dasan and Aviram? They will tell you. Terrible people. Awful people. Among the worst Jews in history. Moshe’s nemeses. Always challenging, mocking, threatening Moshe Rabbeinu!

But ask, Who is Nemuel? No one knows.

I picture Nemuel as a fine, if average, Jew, encamped in the midbar with the rest of his sheivet, listening attentively whenever Moshe Rabbeinu addresses the people, doing the mitzvos, studying Torah, collecting his mohn, observing the Shabbos.

And yet no one’s heard of him. Sure, the neighbors were aware that he had two shady, good-for-nothing brothers. Perhaps it made shidduchim more difficult for Nemuel’s daughters. Perhaps Nemuel had to work extra hard on his middos and be meticulous in his observance so that no one would think he was “one of them.” Nemuel was no doubt embarrassed by his brothers’ behavior. Maybe he tried to speak to them about it once or twice, to no effect. For Nemuel, life went on. He did the best he could. He struggled just to be “average.”

Recently, the Jewish journal, Klal Perspectives, devoted an entire issue to the challenges of being a “poshutehbaal habayis. But “The Simple Jew is Not Simple,”as Rav Menachem Zupnick titled his essay. The “simple” Jew has a lot on his plate: religious obligations, financial obligations, family time and community commitments all weigh on him and vie for his attention. One would think that anyone who even comes close to this standard would hail himself a hero, even if no one else will.

But that doesn’t seem to happen.

According to several of the author-contributors, this “average” baal habayis—this Nemuel, as it were—feels a sense of underachievement; he feels second-rate. Rav Herschel Welcher contends that “almost uniformly, baalei batim seem to find themselves falling short, and feeling the lesser for it.”

Rav Zupnick agrees:
I find it unimaginably painful when a baal habayis confides in me, in a clearly deflated emotional state, that he is unable to identify anything meaningful that he has done in his life. He observes how he has failed to achieve greatness in Torah and yiras shamayim. He is neither a talmid chacham nor a tsaddik. He can discern in himself no major, tangible achievements in any other realms. His despair is authentic and profound. Though I understand the disappointment he is expressing, I find it almost unbearable to hear of such low self-esteem coming from a person who invariably leads a life saturated with Torah and mitzvos and dominated by and acute awareness of Hashem’s existence. Nothing meaningful in his life???
This attitude must change. The “average” frum Jew has much to be proud of.

“By any objective standard,” the editors write in a preface to the journal,
the observant baal  habayis is a true hero. In fact, he is remarkable in simply retaining a commitment to Torah and mitzvos while navigating the spiritual perils of today’s workplace, and the external social pressure and influences. But that is only the beginning. The baal habayis also confronts overwhelming demands, while addressing his numerous responsibilities. The financial expectations of the Orthodox home far exceed those of others, in light of the expenses of large families, Shabbos, kosher food and Orthodox community home prices, all in addition to the cost of parochial schools, camps and seminaries. As a committed ben Torah, the baal habayis also faces the pressures of finding adequate time for daily Torah study, davening with a minyan and being involved in chesed and community needs (including attending simchas and fundraising evenst). And, of course, there are the all-important, yet very time consuming, obligations as a husband and father.
In Jewish life, then as now, we have our great men and we have our villains, but we also have our Nemuels, the quiet heroes.

Here’s to them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Response to Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein

"We, as a community, are losing talented teachers. Some never go into education. Others burn out quickly, feeling unappreciated. Our schools are forced to hire teachers with no training or experience, just to have a warm body in the room. We are losing talent to business, law, occupational therapy and high-tech."

These are the words of Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, published recently on the Cross-Currents website. In a cogent and heartfelt essay, she prescribes nine ways to enhance our yeshiva education system by improving the lot of teachers.

Much as I agree with the merit of Dr. Klein's points, I'm afraid they don't stand a chance. The underpayment and under-appreciation of teachers cannot be assessed in a vacuum. Its root causes are deep and dogmatic. Consequently, unless those causes are nullified, or at the very least, mitigated, the result will be the same: teachers will continue to be underpaid (though not necessarily under-appreciated).

Modern American Chareidi society creates several conditions which, combined, result in the problems Dr. Klein addresses. (Understand clearly that I am not judging the wisdom of the Chareidi model; Gedolim whose ankles I do not reach have endorsed it. I am merely stating what is factual.)

Modern American Chareidi Society presumes that in a perfect world all men should be learning Torah full time. This is not what happens, of course; eventually most men do go out to work. However, the very premise that all men should be learning Torah full-time leads to a yeshiva system that significantly limits the secular education those men will later need to earn top-paying employment positions. This limitation starts with the undermining of secular studies at the elementary and middle school level, continues with a paucity of secular studies at the high school level, and ends with the absence of secular studies at the college level. There are certainly exceptions of varying degrees to this generalization, but as a generalization it is accurate.

Next, the average American Chareidi, who does go to work, will nevertheless delay entry into the working world for several years, which will be spent in kollel. When he does enter the workforce, he does so with a family already in need of significant support, but with job prospects that, on average, are not commensurate with the income he requires to address that need.

Meanwhile, his wife will have been working from Day One of the marriage. She will have got a better secular education and may very well have gone to college. Nonetheless, her secular education is not generally on par with that of the top tier of American earners, and she, as a rule, will not enter the "professions" or climb any corporate ladder. She will train for and take a job that allows her the flexibility to simultaneously raise a family—which she will be expected to do. She is both breadwinner and homemaker.

This couple will go on to have, on average, seven to eight children, all of whom, in addition to food, clothing, and shelter, will require a private school education. They will then educate those children along the same lines that they were educated: "Torah only" for the boys; dual roles for the girls.

Expenses for these families exceed—and often far exceed—their income. In the good old days (the 1980s and 1990s) grandparents and parents stepped in to fill the budgetary holes. Today, those grandparents are dead, the parents are now the grandparents (with upwards of forty grandchildren), the largesse is less large. For many, the family money is gone, having already been spent.

Stepping into this picture is a discussion about tuition. Many financial frustrations are unfairly taken out on the yeshivos under the banner of "the tuition crisis." But the fact is that tuition is the only big line item on a family budget that is subject to negotiation. Don't pay your mortgage, ultimately (and, yes, I know that can be a long time), you will lose your house. Don't pay your utility bills and your heat, water, phone, etc. will be turned off. But tuition—that's a little flexible. You can ask for a break, you can delay payments, you won't necessarily see your children thrown out of yeshiva over a bounced check (although those grounds, too, appear to be shifting somewhat).

The yeshivos are under enormous pressure. They must educate children in both limudei Kodesh and limudei chol (however sparingly), over the course of a ten-hour day, and do so on a budget funded by tuition payments that their parents cannot afford and often resent paying. There's only so far that the fiscal math can bend.

So teachers get underpaid.

When teachers get underpaid, only the most dedicated want to become teachers. When fewer people want to become teachers, those who do so are deemed less capable. Alongside the attitude Dr. Klein cites—"Those who can't do, teach"—is Dennis Prager's comment that anything associated with children is considered childish. This, he claims, is why Western culture has devalued the status of Motherhood. This is less true in the frum community, but not so foreign to us either. When was the last time you saw a chosson's seventh-grade rebbe be his Mesader Kiddushin? The rosh yeshiva is always asked—even if the talmid's relationship with his rosh yeshiva is tenuous, and even if his seventh-grade rebbe was the one to really ignite his passion for learning.

Was the seventh-grade rebbe even invited to the chasunah? Few yeshiva bochurim dream of being a seventh-grade rebbe.

All of Dr. Klein's suggestions are good ones—and are usually implemented in what she calls "the generally better paying Modern Orthodox institutions." But there's a reason for this. The Modern Orthodox institutions have a parent body that does not follow the matrix outlined above. At the end of the day, apples-to-apples, they have more money.

But in the righter-wing yeshivos, her suggestions cannot readily be implemented because the funds simply aren't there. And as long as the yeshivos continue to promote and propagate the very conditions that lead, ultimately, to fewer funds, the results will be the same.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bogus Bias

Secular society is becoming less and less tolerant of gender distinctions of any kind. So it is no wonder that Amanda Bennett, a columnist for the Washington Post, took offense that an Orthodox Jewish man refused to shake her hand at a business function. Rather than accepting this incident for what it wasa religious safeguardshe chose to frame it as gender bias.

In fact, she did see it as a religious choice but nonetheless viewed it as "toxic." Here's the quote: "Why are biased acts against womeneven religiously motivated onesconsidered so much less toxic than biased acts of any other kind?"

To be sure, Orthodox Jewish men aren't necessarily doing their part to smooth over the awkwardness of rebuffing a woman who puts out her hand for a polite handshake. While there are poskim who have ruled to accept a handshake from a woman, when offered, rather than embarrass her, there are perhaps a greater number of poskim who consider any physical male-female contact absolutely assur, some even mi'De'oraisa,

Nonetheless, headlines are rarely helpful.

When international flights are delayed by men who refuse to take their seats because they believe sitting next to a woman is Halachically problematic, it's hard to find sympathy. One must wonder (a) if these people spoke to legitimate poskim, being that this is a new problem that doesn't seem to have occurred in previous decades, and (b) why these issues were not worked out prior to walking onto the plane five minutes before takeoff.

So though I will admit that there is a measure of entitlement and irresponsibility behind the demands of these so-called "ultra-" Orthodox Jews, the reality remains that they are acting out of nothing more than religious principle. If a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Baha'i, citing religious principle, refused to take his seat on a flight, my guess is that most Jews would be more sympathetic. But when it comes to witnessing other Jews doing the same, their judgment is clouded by a differing view of Halachah. Rather than satisfy themselves with a simple rolling of the eyes, they cannot resist unleashing their vitriol on our offending brethren.

But even tolerance of the religious principles of others falls away when it butts up against sacrosanct gender issues. Ms Bennett wonders, "Would such blatant behavior be treated merely as a social choice, a courtesy issue or an awkward airline customer-service problem if the targets were anyone other than women?" What if someone refused to shake hands with blacks? she asks. Or Jews?

Here, she makes two errors. One, equating the separation of genders with the separation of races and religions. Two, that this separation is somehow equal to "targeting" women.

As to the first error, although society is quickly moving to dissolve any and all barriers between the sexes, this transformation is not, and may never be, complete. We still do have gender segregationbathrooms, changing rooms in department stores, even certain gyms and gym classes. Yet, we do not tolerate racially- or religiously-segregated bathrooms or gym classes. So the equation of race and religion to gender is inaccurate.

As for the second error, this is not about "targeting" women (I find that suggestion offensive). When it comes to maintaining space between the genders, women do it too. Many Orthodox women refuse to shake hands with men who offer them. When the female cashier at the kosher bakery puts my change on the counter rather than handing it to me directly is she "targeting" me? Am I supposed to feel shunned and inferior because she is avoiding incidental touch? No and no.

Liberals have trouble wrapping their heads around this. Gender separation of any kind is seen as patriarchal and offensive. Their orthodoxy revolves around the dictum that "separate but equal" is "inherently unequal." But that Supreme Court ruling discussed race, not gender, and was specific to "educational facilities." It says nothing about bathrooms and handshakes.

Though some may take gender segregation to an extreme that many do not condoneno one ought to condemn it either, certainly not for something that it isn't.

At the same time, while everyone is requiredand entitledto follow his or her own poseik when it comes to the sensitive and crucial topic of gender separation, the mitzvos of "Ve'ahavta lerei'acha kamocha" and Kiddush Hashem do not simply fall away. Being machmir means strictly adhering to the entire corpus of Halachah. Doing so may require advance planning and quick thinking on one's feet, but if that's what's required then we best get to it. Especially if there's a plane to catch.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Shabbos Treat

"Trick or treat!"

I looked at the boy. Under the ghoulish zombie get-upwhite and black facepaint, tattered clothes, ragged wigwas my sweet, polite seven-year-old neighbor. He is Jewish.

I was disappointed. Though I couldn't blame him for sharing in the morbid rituals of the day, I  wished more for him than this awful excuse for a holiday.

Don't misunderstand. Having been born, raised and living in the United States, I have few qualms about American holidays. I even, lulei demistafina, look forward to some of them: July Fourth, with its barbeques and fireworks; Thanksgiving, with its parades and turkeys.

But Halloween simply disgusts me.

A holiday ostensibly created to honor the dead has somehow morphed into a celebrationeven glorificationof all things macabre. And it seems as if no one can wait for the celebration to begin; the preparations come earlier each year. I had just taken down my sukkah when I began to see the makeshift graveyards popping up on my neighbors' lawns. Clouds of synthetic spiderwebs enveloped the shrubbery. Spooky cats and jack-o-lanterns sat by the doorsteps. I find these customs gruesome (though, in fairness, a tombstone that reads "R.I.P. Van Winkle" elicits a chuckle).

Years ago, when we moved to our current house, I instructed my children not to answer the door on Halloween. I did not want to create a potential chillul Hashem by turning down the neighborhood kids' requests for candy. At the same time, I'm not interested in participating in pagan rituals.

I was raised in a heavily Orthodox community, and I recall just one time that trick-or-treaters rang my parents' doorbell. But I expected that in my new community, which is more mixed, that there might be significantly more foot traffic up the steps to my front door.

I needn't have worried. Apparently the local kids are aware of, and perhaps even sensitive to, our religious differences. As a rule, they don't come. But this one time...

Which brings me back to my neighbor. It was Friday night, October 31. My family was sitting at the Shabbos table, about to make Kiddush. The doorbell rang. I froze. My kids froze, looking at me. "What do we do?" said one. "I think they can see us through the window," said another. So I went to the door and opened it.

"Trick or treat!" said the ghoulish Jewish kid.

I immediately had an idea. I smiled at him. "I will treat you to something very special," I said. "But you have to come inside." He followed me to the Shabbos table. My kids smiled at him. "Do you like grape juice?" I asked?

"Um, yeah," he said, though I suspect he liked Snickers and M&M's more, and would have even settled for that vile holiday staple: candy corn. But I would give him none of that.

"Okay here's the deal," I said. "I'm going to say a special prayer. You listen and say 'amen.' Then you can have all the grape juice you want." He sat between my two boys, heard kiddush, and got his grape juice, which he gulped down. He stood up to leave.

"Good Shabbos," my son said to him.

"Good Shabbos," said the zombie before heading out the door and returning to his rounds.

So this kid had come into my house and seen the lit candelabra. Close by were two loaves of strangely twisted bread. And by their side, a tall goblet of blood-red wine, over which I, wearing my ceremonial black hat, had just chanted an ancient invocation.

I hope he wasn't too spooked.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

How The Grinch Stole Chanukah—and How to Get It Back

We have this argument, er, discussion every year.

“Why can’t we get Chanukah presents?” my children want to know.

“Because,” I explain, “there’s no such thing as Chanukah presents.”

“But all our friends are getting Chanukah presents,” they protest.

“Maybe you need other friends,” I suggest. This suggestion, as usual, does not yield anything productive. The conversation devolves to the point at which I silence everyone by threatening to move the family to Lakewood.

“But so many people give Chanukah presents. Is there really no source for that?” my wife asks innocently.

“Sure there is,” I inform her. “It’s called Christmas.”

My son, burgeoning talmid chacham that he is, tries a different tack with me. There is a mitzvah, he insists, to buy your children presents for all holidays. True, I admit, there is such a mitzvah, but it only pertains to the shalosh regalim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, where there is the command, “Vesamachta  bechagecha—And you shall be happy on your Festivals.” Those gifts usually come in the form of new shoes or a tie. Besides, I remind him, when was the last time he protested not getting a gift for one of the regalim? Furthermore, I chided, what about Purim? I have yet to be asked for a Purim present.

Giving gelt, on Chanukah, yes. That seems to be a long-standing practice, though how it initially came into being is subject to much conjecture. But gifts? Nuh-uh.

Before Chanukah, I listened to a fascinating shiur by Rav Moshe Meiselman, shlit”a, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem. He referenced the gemara in which Chazal asked Hashem to eliminate the yeitzer hara for avodah zarah, and Hashem acquiesced. The Medrash in Parshas Noach says that, with idolatry eliminated, the people of the world needed something through which their spiritual needs could be met. Ideally, the Torah should have filled that role. But because the Jews weren’t fully faithful to the dictates of Torah, they allowed Greek culture to be introduced throughout the world (via Alexander the Great’s conquests) and missed the opportunity to spread the “light” of Torah to the nations. Instead, “Christianity—a corruption of Torah—filled the void.”

Every year, the Chanukah lights are rekindled to remind us that we must see the world through the lens of Torah and not through the lens of foreign cultures. And yet, here we are, two thousand and some odd years later, and we wish to introduce into Chanukah a Christian minhag of gift-giving. The irony is too much to bear!

But perhaps we can turn the tables.

In researching the custom of Chanukah gelt on, I came across a sefer, Leket Hachanukah (Jerusalem 2010) by R. Menashe Ben Zion Cohen, in which he tells the following story about Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch: “One time, after lighting the Chanukah lights, he turned to the chasidim who were around him and said, ‘Now is an eis ratzon and everyone can ask for whatever he wants for his avodas Hashem.’ The chasidim asked, each one his request.”

Here’s how I picture the scene: an elderly, saintly-looking man with a snowy, white beard, sitting by the Chanukah lights, as his chasidim line up and approach him, one by one, with an individual request for Chankah.

Hmm… Why does that sound familiar?

A little historical digging turns up the fact that Rav Mordechai died in 1810. More digging turns up the fact that although Santa Claus—or an ancestral precursor of him—may have existed prior to the eighteenth century, the popular shopping mall version of Santa, who takes gift requests, “has been credited to James Edgar, as he started doing this in 1890 in his Brockton, Massachusetts department store” (

I don’t know if James Edgar knew of the Chassidim of Lechovitch. I don’t know if there were any Chassidim at all in Brockton, Mass. (20 miles south of Boston) in 1890. I don’t even know if there were Jews there at that time. However, it’s not impossible to imagine that somehow he took the idea from Rav Mordechai’s followers.

So for now the rule in my house remains, No Presents. However, if my kids want to go to the mall and ask the old man with the white beard for a present to help them achieve their avodas Hashem, perhaps there’s room to be meikil.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nom de Plume: A User's Guide

When I was in my early twenties, I approached Rav Shimon Schwab zt"l, and told him I aspired to be a writer but worried over the possibility of being attacked for any controversial opinion I might have. His response was simple: Use a pen name. He told me that he had done so himself early in his career.

The recent controversy embroiling a certain respected rav and posek is saddening, but also instructive to anyone who hasas I haveused a pen name. Like many areas of life, there's good anonymity and bad anonymity. Good anonymity includes the desire to be left alone in shul, to avoid having your employer question your commitment to politically correct social beliefs, to keep your children from being thrown out of your yeshiva of choice. Bad anonymity is a tree to hide behind, so that no one can trace the mud you're slinging.

The following is a guide to writing under a name that (so far) no one knows is you. These simple rules should help you stay out of trouble.

1. The views expressed herein are your own. The anonymous author can remain anonymous as long as his views are a true reflection of his thinking and beliefs. Never write anything that you wouldn't own up to if (or, more likely, when) it catches up with you. There are many valid reasons for expressing views anonymously. Not truly holding those views is not one of them.

2. Nothing personal. The anonymous author cannot attack others. Ad hominem attacks must be sacrificed on the altar of the pen name. It's only fair. A man (or woman) has a right to be confronted by his (or her) accuser. In fact, I would argue, even to simply comment on someone else's behavior from behind the veil of anonymity is inappropriate. The best use of a pen name is to stick to issues and stay away from people. The only exceptions, perhaps, are public figures (the president, the prime minister, Donald Trump).

3. I.D., please. It should be made clear, as much as possible, that you are using a pen name. I originally began commenting and blogging under the name ClooJew. When I started publishing articlessome of which made their way into printa request was made for my handle to "grow up." So I abbreviated ClooJew to CJ and added a last name. I have never hidden the fact that I use a pen name. Only once has it been the subject of controversywhen I had a piece published on Cross-Currents, whose policy it is to not accept pieces from anonymous authors (which I didn't know at the time). I emailed the editor to "remind" him that I use a pen name, and he washow to put it delicatelynot happy. The piece was already set to run, and so it did. I apologized, but was still banned from further publishing on that site (though only as an author; I have commented many times on that site since then).

4. Historical accuracy. If you don't want to share details of your life, don't. But if you do, then they ought to be details of your lifenot the "life" of your fictitious alter ego. For example, I am an actual Phillies fan; that's not simply my blog's favorite team while the "real me" roots for the Mets. Or, Heaven forfend, the Yankees. The above story about Rav Schwab is true. It happened to me. When I was in my early twenties.

Again, the simple rule of thumb is this: If someone were to flip a switch and suddenly everything you published would appear under your true name, viewed by friends and family, neighbors and colleagues, would you stand by every word as truthful and representative of your opinion? If the answer is yes, you're good to go.

If the answer is no, maybe you have a good novel in you. I'm sure the fiction section at your local library would love to have you.