Leah Bieler

The best advice I never take

When I first started writing opinion pieces, I got one single piece of advice.

Never read the comments.

It’s a well meaning suggestion right up there with “don’t scratch that mosquito bite” and “don’t peek in that bag with your birthday present inside.” It sounds good, but who are we kidding? Some things just aren’t going to happen.

What I have learned to do, nearly all of the time, is to take all the comments with a grain of salt. I try to maintain an awareness that the commenters are almost always talking about themselves, that they come to their reading of my pieces with their own life experience and perspective. The hardest ones to ignore are the attacks on my family, but even those no longer send me reeling as I’m aware of the general level of vitriol that appears tacked on to even seemingly benign articles. It can be startling, to say the least.

Even when I read articles about politics or world events, I generally feel confident that I can anticipate how comments will go, that is to say, how low they will go. There is, strangely, a predictable ebb and flow to the anger and hate, almost as if the comments themselves are their own organism. Until a couple of days ago.

I’m well aware that the feelings surrounding the agreement on Iran are strong, and the stakes high. But what frightens me is not the ridiculous, sometimes disgusting comments I’m reading over the last few days. It’s that no one gets to that point overnight. It reminds me of that moment at the beginning of a marathon when the tape gets cut, and the runners spill out into the street, moving together as one. Or, maybe more aptly, that split second when the water filling the toilet bowl creeps over the top and spills out onto the floor.

Will we ever be able to get the fetid water back in the bowl?

If what these commenters say is really true, if talk is cheap and negotiating for the weak, if others really only understand violence or its threat, if everyone always lies….then where, exactly, does that leave us?
As a writer, if words are meaningless, then I have nothing left to say. As a mother, if my only viable option for relating to others is asserting my power, then presumably my children will pay the price.

I teach Gemara. My library is full of books. Crammed with thousands of years of well-reasoned, thoughtful Jewish argument. Only rarely do they resort to name calling and demagoguery. Mostly, they use logic and historical precedent and an understanding of human nature and Torah, lots of Torah, to prove that their interpretation is the right one.

So here’s what I ask of all of you. Convince me. Without calling Obama Neville Chamberlain, or a Muslim, or an anti-Semite. Without calling the Iranians Nazis. Without calling Bibi a soulless warmonger. Use logic, and historical precedent, and an understanding of human nature, and, if you can, Torah. Tell me why your analysis of the situation in Iran is the correct one without belittling someone else. Name calling is a sign of a supremely weak argument.

You know I’ll read the comments.

About the Author
Leah Bieler has an MA in Talmud and Rabbinics. She teaches Talmud to students of all ages and backgrounds. Leah spends the school year in Massachusetts and summers in Jerusalem with her husband and four children. Sometimes she writes to get a break from them. The children, that is.