Internet talkbacks and the third Temple

How come nice people forget all restraints when they comment on internet?

Dr. Berel Dov Lerner,

Dr. Berel Dov Lerner
Dr. Berel Dov Lerner

What is it about the Internet that brings out the worst in us? We have all heard of rabbis worrying that the Internet exposes people to pornography. Have you noticed how it also seems to cause a form of temporary insanity during which normal human beings begin to express themselves in a fashion more appropriate to drunken brawlers?

The comments section following Arutz 7 articles are headed by the following announcement: "We would all like to enjoy our talkback space. 'Out of control' comments that are spared from polite company and are saved for the anonymity of the internet will be rejected. Thanks." Unfortunately, anyone who reads the comments on a regular basis must realize that there are no teeth to that rule. (It's not clear to me how much control the website can have over Facebook comments),

As soon as some Arutz 7 readers get in front of the computer screen and keyboard, their brains are instantly wiped clean of everything they have ever learned and held dear about central Jewish values such as dan lekaf zehut (trying to view other people's actions and words in a positive light) derekh eretz (respectful behavior) hakarat hatov (gratitude) ahavat Yisrael (love of fellow Jews) and lashon hara (the prohibition against evil speech).

 A prominent rabbi who has taught Torah to thousands of students is reported by Arutz 7 as saying something a reader disagrees with? He instantly becomes a "so-called-rabbi" an "ignoramus" and an "erev rav" (the "mixed multitude" which left Egypt together with the Israelites and who were responsible for some instances of Israelite backsliding). A political or military leader who has devoted his or her entire life to the State of Israel and the Jewish People says something a reader does not quite agree with? The leader or military hero becomes a "self-hating Jew" or a "Nazi."

This sad predicament came to my attention once again last week.  Arutz 7 posted an item reporting how the prominent Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini had criticized a decision allowing Jews to build a home in Kfar Shiloah (Silwan, an area below the Old City Walls where Yemenite Jews lived in homes purchased in the 19th century until the British evacuated them and Arabs took over the properties, ed.) .

He was concerned that when Jews take up residence in a neighborhood populated by Arabs it generates unnecessary tension. Of course, Yemini's view is highly controversial and would be rejected by the majority of Arutz 7 readers. I immediately foresaw a storm of hateful comments on the horizon.

As someone who has devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to fighting anti-Israel propaganda in the news and social media, I found the idea that people might demonize Yemini especially disturbing. Anyone who follows Ben Dror Yemini's writing knows that he is a major champion for Israel and Zionism in their battle against BDS, the radical left, and the anti-Israel NGOs. He has even published an entire book, Ta'asiyat Hashkarim (The Industry of Lies( to exposing and refuting the falsehoods of anti-Israel propaganda. While I do not agree with him on all points of politics, I realize that it would be simply ridiculous to suggest that he does not have the state's best interests at heart.

Fearing the tone of comments that might be written in response to the article, I quickly posted the following message: "Before cursing out Ben-Dror Yemini, please recall that there is probably no other journalist in the world who has fought as tirelessly against BDS and against the campaign of the extreme left to delegitimize Israel. That doesn't mean that you should agree with everything he says; it does, however, mean that he deserves the respect of everyone who cares about Israel and the Jewish People."

Unfortunately, my efforts were of little avail. A few readers eventually came to understand that they could disagree with his stance without claiming that he was some kind of sub-human monster. Others were bewildered: why did I care if this journalist was publicly cursed and slandered on the comments page of Arutz 7?

One commenter wrote, "Are you related to Ben-Dror Yemini or what? You must be either that or a leftist yourself in order to be defending HIS STATEMENTS!" Of course, I had never actually defended Yemini's stance on Kfar Shiloah; once again the Internet had managed to clog the brain of someone who is no doubt perfectly intelligent in the regular course of life. There was much worse to come. One person wrote (in reference to the picture of Yemini accompanying the article) "just looking at that "UGLY PUNIM" is enough to convince that this person should be in an institution wearing a white coat with sleeves tied behind in the back". Another called him "Another left wing, anti-zionist, brain dead idiot." Not to be outdone, yet another reader wrote that Yemini was, "Another Islomo-Fascist ugly demon who is a vile supporters of the evil IslomoNazi bastard-demons."

These commenters' love for Eretz Yisrael is so great that any suggestion that Jews should avoid settling certain parts of it throws them into a blind rage ...However, for many of them that love is not quite strong enough to induce them to leave their homes...and make aliyah!
My efforts to protect Yemini's good name elicited their own responses. One person suggested I was "a Leftist ***Now adherent or an anti-Israel NGO devotee and he just spouts the right ... verbiage to suit you. I suggest you get a life. Ignoramus, Moron."

There is one very funny thing about all of this. These commenters' love for Eretz Yisrael is so great that any suggestion that Jews should avoid settling certain parts of it throws them into a blind rage during which they forget any standards of proper speech and logical argument. However, at the same time, for many of them that love is not quite strong enough to induce them to leave their homes in Florida, New York, and Ontario and make aliyah!

Summer is upon us and we will soon enter the annual period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Once again, as occurs every year, we will read and hear over and over again Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook ztz"l's famous declaration that if the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam (baseless hatred) the Third Temple will be built thanks to ahavat hinam (baseless love).

This year, let us all take his message to heart and remember that the Internet is not a Torah-free zone. The commandments of ben adam lehaveiro (between a person and their fellow) continue to apply in cyber-space.

Note from Arutz Sheva: If anyone reading this op-ed is embarrassed by comments they have posted on Arutz-7 via Facebook,  let them be reminded that they may edit or delete those comments at any time.

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