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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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There was one crucial stone left unturned in Elizabeth Kratz’s resonant and comprehensive “Don’t Guard Your Tongue? TMI and the Confessional Personal Essay” (October 19, 2017): It’s so easy for us to get caught up in thoughts of “How can this author share such private information?” that we neglect to ask ourselves the more difficult question of “How am I going to change my own thoughts and actions now that I’ve read this?”

This is highlighted by both of the examples referenced in her op-ed:

In regard to people sharing personal heterim of not fasting on Yom Kippur: Instead of causing people to abandon traditional halacha in favor of “Rabbi Facebook,” on the contrary! People who might have fasted and suffered in silence and loneliness will now gain the strength to approach their doctors and rabbis to ask these questions, rabbis who read these accounts will gain more empathy that will help them answer shailot with sensitivity and wisdom and healthy people will be a little more careful before glibly wishing their friends to “have an easy fast.” In my opinion, these types of “confessionals” fall into the same category as exposing abuse or discussing suicide—breaking our silence by sharing personal accounts of these matters can ultimately save lives.

In regard to the no-longer-religious woman taking her son out for pizza: If the conversation remains focused on “How could she feed her kid non-kosher pizza and then tell the world about it?!?!” then we lose our own lesson of how to relate to friends and family who abandon religious practice. Do we try to understand their pain and alienation as they grapple with living something they no longer believe? Do we show love to them whoever they are? Do we respect their choices? Or were we so focused on the forbidden pizza that we completely forgot about the rest of the essay?

And if we are worried about the son being confronted by his friends in yeshiva, this is a perfect opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our own children about how to react when we discover sensitive information about someone we know. That way, this woman’s son and others like him will never have cause to be embarrassed by thoughtless comments and questions.

In short, maybe a particular “confessional” should never have been written, but we took the clickbait and read it anyway. Now what are we going to do with the experience? Instead of condemning the author of a personal essay, can we use that energy to grow in a positive way?

Aviva Oppenheim

Fair Lawn