In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review December 24, 2007 / 15 Teves 5768

Anonymous Blogs

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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Can I make up a fantasy identity for my blog?

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I'm thinking of starting a blog, but I prefer to remain anonymous. Is there anything unethical about an anonymous blog?

A: There is nothing wrong with using a fake identity, as long as the people you talk about also have fake identities. Many bloggers write anonymously and when they write about their workplace or their neighborhood, their coworkers and neighbors are also anonymous — false names are used, composite characters are created, and so on. In this way no real individual is faced with a situation where he has nowhere to turn to respond to statements made about him.

If you use your real name and talk about real individuals, there is nothing inherently wrong with this but immense care is needed. One obvious concern is saying things that would reflect badly on your friends, or even your enemies. According to secular law a negative statement is libel or slander only if it is false, but according to Torah law derogatory statements are forbidden even if they are true, unless there is some compelling interest in their disclosure and they don't cause disproportionate harm to the subject of the statement.

This prohibition is learned from the verse, "Don't go about as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:16). However, we see from the verse itself that not only negative speech is implied; the simple sense of the verse seems to speak about a common gossip, who goes about revealing everybody's private affairs, even if they are not necessarily shameful. The Ibn Ezra (and other commentators) connects the word talebearer or gossip (rachil) with the word peddler (rochel): "The wandering peddler buys from this one and sells to that one, and the gossip reveals to this one what he heard from that one."

An innocent friendly blog is okay if these boundaries are kept, but as soon as it becomes anonymous the safeguards against abuse are breached. A person who objects to his mention on the blog is limited in his ability to respond. The most he can do is send a response to the blogger. If the identity is known, there are other possible responses such as a discreet or third party discussion, avoiding the person, etc.

We find an interesting parallel to this idea in the laws of evidence in Jewish law. Testimony given in court is never considered slander; an evident explanation is the strict rules of procedure. Any testimony must be publicly stated in the presence of all litigants, and a right of reply is guaranteed. This corresponds in some ways to a blog in which the author is identified and a right of reply is granted to anyone who feels he has been wronged by a post — as blogging ethics dictate.

Conversely, Jewish law establishes very strict boundaries on the reliability of hearsay evidence, and one key reason is the lack of a known responsible source for the information. The Talmud tells us that sometimes a rumor is given conditional credibility, pending a thorough legal clarification. (One example is if it is widely reported and assumed that a person is already married, they aren't allowed to get married pending clarification.) However, the passage then gives strict conditions for the kind of "rumor" we credit: "Not a mere passing rumor, but rather where we ask: Where did so-and-so hear? From so-and-so, and him from so-and-so, but since they have traveled away." (1) In other words, we can sometimes give limited credence to hearsay reports, but even this is only when we can trace the exact source of the story. Each link of the chain must have a name and an identity.

So any statements that are both anonymous and unsubstantiated are almost by definition gossip. They will never be reliable enough to be believed, and there is no equitable way to refute them. Yet they will be believable enough to cause suspicion and concern. Even if your statements are actually true and constructive, they are still improper because they are unsubstantiated. The authoritative work on forbidden speech, Chafetz Chaim, states that even these statements are forbidden if they are not believed, because they are perceived by the listener (or reader) as slander. (2)

The blog world provides a very important forum for discussion of important topics. Even when controversial statements are made, when they are made with full responsibility and identification there are generally good safeguards to ensure that a fair defense can be mounted. Of course there is still a danger that once information is revealed it can't be concealed, but at least when a person bears personal responsibility for his statements there is some degree of reluctance to reveal private information.

Likewise, even the unpleasant side of our everyday existence can sometimes have important public interest, but this can be achieved in an imaginary neighborhood or workplace with a reasonable but not identifiable resemblance to your own.

However, the ethical line is drawn when a blogger hides behind an anonymous identity is used to disperse irresponsible and unsubstantiated statements about real people.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian, Talmud Gittin 89a (2) Chafetz Chaim I 9:3


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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


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