Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Jerry Haber is Not Hershel Goldwasser

On Friday it was revealed that Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde -- according to Haaretz, “arguably the single most prominent young Orthodox rabbi in America” -- had created an electronic “sock-puppet” known as Rabbi Herschel Goldwasser.  Goldwasser (a persona initially shared with a friend whose identity Rabbi Broyde does not wish to divulge)  had written pieces, commented on other's’ pieces, and at times offered praise for Rabbi Broyde. He had even joined the forum of a rival rabbinical organization.

Rabbi Broyde has expressed regret for the clandestine forum membership but doesn’t see what’s wrong with “writing under a pseudonym”.  According to the interview in Haaretz

[R. Broyde] defended the practice of adopting a false name under which to publish articles or books, citing examples as varied as Orthodox rabbis, Lewis Carroll and Stephen King.

“Presenting an idea independent of the author is not a deep problem. Sometimes you want people to examine ideas independent of the person who said them,” Broyde said. “It’s not unethical to use a different name.”

Asked if he considered it lying, Broyde said, “I don’t view writing under the name Hershel Goldwasser as lying. It’s a technical untruth, so I guess you can call it lying. But it’s a well-accepted social convention.”

Rabbi Broyde is not guilty of lying; but he is guilty of geneivat da’at/ deception, which is not a “well-accepted social convention.”  “Hershel Goldwasser” is not really a nom de plume because  nobody could know that it was a nom de plume.  Compare this with Samuel Clemens and Asher Ginzberg, who never concealed the fact that they wrote as  Mark Twain and Ahad-Haam, respectively. They wrote under a pen name, but they made it clear that it was a pen name. That’s the social convention

Had Rabbi Broyde chosen a user name like “Rabbi Akiva” or “Moshe Rabbenu” or “Moses Isserles,” the other readers would know that there is something afoot. And so he deceived the readers with a sock puppet.  Even though some of the deception may have have been harmless and merely puerile or in poor taste, it hardly becomes a prominent cleric.

Had Rabbi Broyde said, “Only under a pen name can I articulate positions that would seem heretical in my community,” I would be a bit more understanding. But he has given those of us who write under bona fide pen names an undeserved bad name.

Since my first post on the Magnes Zionist blog six years ago, I have written as “Jerry Haber” (without the quotation marks), and now I am publishing in print under that name. If you want to understand why I publish under a pen name, just read my profile. I never concealed that “Jeremiah Haber” was a pen name, and while some people had problems figuring out the real guy behind the invented persona  (much to my astonishment), at least they knew that Jerry was invented. Until recently, you had to click to find out the real guy; now he has his picture and name up there.

There are good and bad reasons for writing under a nom de plume, but it’s only deception when nobody knows that it’s a nom de plume. Rabbi Broyde should have called a spade a spade: he wrote under an invented alias to throw his readers off the scent.      


Anonymous said...

i first came across your blog a few years ago, and I remember reading the bio and thinking "there's no way there's two people who fit that description."

a former student

Jerry Haber said...

Dear baperipheriya,

I read your blog, and your posts are so beautiful. For the sake of your nostalgia, I read them on my smartphone walking back from the Dupont Circle metro stop

Please keep chronicling your journey. I will put your blog on my blogrole, fwiw.

A former student? What a blessing to hear that....

Anonymous said...

Nostalgia indeed! I think the last time I ran into you (and the other Dr. Manekin) was just around there.

thanks for the kind words, and the blogroll link! No real danger that I'll stop writing, I'm more worried about losing track of my schoolwork/research . . .

It sounds like you may have figured out who I am- I try to balance it so my friends have no doubt, but future employers will have to sweat a little to make the connection (but clicking on the link to my twitter account clears things up).

Jerry Haber said...

It wasn't hard to trace a post (that you had reposted) to the original, SM!

If you get to Yerushalayim this summer, drop me an email

Adam Shear said...

You will recall that circa 2009 in Jerusalem I told you that I had figured things out and you burst my bubble by explaining that everyone knew. And the part that I should have been able to figure out (why you chose Jerry Haber) I didn't.