I met Michael a while ago, before he had his own blog, via a comment he left on mine. A conversation followed, then emails. Here is someone who never runs out of ideas and references if you wish to dig into a subject. Thank you Michael for your contribution, and for being the youngest participant in this series.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I grew up in Silver Spring, MD (the suburbs of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area), and grew up as a committed but mostly non-observant Jew. When I was 16 years old (specifically, the summer of 2004), I began becoming more observant, culminating in my becoming Modern Orthodox. Since my high graduation in 2006, I’ve spent the past four years learning in yeshivot in Israel.
What is your religious background (if any)?
As I said, I grew up “committed but mostly non-observant.” My family would do things like a hold a seder on Pesah and have a Friday-night Shabbat meal, and go to religious services on Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur, but other than that, we didn’t “do” very much. On the other hand, because my mother is a convert (she grew up as an Evangelical Christian and converted first Reform and then Conservative), she was ideologically very committed to whatever she did do or believe, and so I was raised with a very strong Jewish identity, even if it was represented very little in actual ritual practice. I was raised to believe very strongly in what Judaism is and what its purpose in the world is – “ethical monotheism” and tiqun `olam and such – and that I was Jewish and was supposed to marry Jewish.
When and why did you decide to make aliyah?
I remember sitting in computer science class in either seventh or eighth grade (2000/2001 or 2001/2002)– I forget which – and thinking to myself, “Well, G-d gave us the land of Israel, and He’s letting us return, so nu – what am I waiting for? I’m making `aliyah!” Of course, what I had to wait for was my high school graduation. By the way, keep in mind that this was some two to four years (depending on when during seventh to eighth grade you count) before I became observant (in the summer of 2004).
Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?
I live wherever the educational institution I happen to be attending is located. I lived in Jerusalem for three years (attending Machon Meir), Petah Tiqwa for half a year (attending Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tiqwa), and I plan to be living in Ramat Gan soon (for Bar-Ilan University). As for my reason, I feel that it is where G-d intends us to live. The Torah repeatedly tells us to keep the mitzvot “when you enter the land into which I am bringing you,” and the Gemara says that anyone who lives outside of Israel is nearly guilty of worshiping idols; that’s enough to convince me!
When and why did you start blogging?
Let’s see…the timestamp on my first blog entry is 26 January 2009, so I guess that’s when I started blogging! I started because I kept posting long notes on Facebook, and someone told me to open a blog, so I did.
Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?
Not particularly. When I started the blog, I’d just post whatever happened to be on my mind at the time (whereas I had previously posted onto Facebook whatever was on my mind at the time), and that’s pretty much what my blog still is. I have no themes, no agenda, nothing. I just post whatever is on the top of my head.
To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?
My blog affects the global perception of Israel extremely little, I’d imagine, and only slightly more than my blog affects the global perception of China or the ground beef industry. I get very few readers, and still fewer of those readers spend more than literally a few seconds on my blog (according to Google Analytics). Furthermore, I do extremely little (if any at all) hasbara (defense of Israel), because that’s just not my thing. I have strong opinions on the justice of Israel’s actions – at least as far as I believe it ought to concern the rest of the world – but I think Alan Dershowitz and the WZO and whoever else is out there can do a better job of doing PR for Israel than I can. (The Israeli government itself, on the other hand, seems to have hired sea slugs to do its PR, because monkeys were too expensive.) Most of my discussions are more “preaching to the choir,” involving issues of Modern Orthodoxy or Israeli politics for those “inside” the circle. In fact, the same way I don’t hasbara, I also don’t try to present Orthodox Judaism to non-observant Jews. I’m simply not a propagandist; I have neither the aptitude nor the stomach. I’m more like an academic who analyzes issues and subjects for those who are already relatively involved and knowledgeable in the cases at hand. Some people are good at arguing persuasively and putting glitter and rainbows all over their words, to convert the uninitiated, but I’m better at talking verbosely about minutiae with a preponderance of scholarly footnotes.
What post(s) are you most proud of?
Oy, I’ve written so many, and I don’t know where to begin! Well, off the top of my head, I’m proud of what I’ve written recently about libertarianism, and of my posts on that subject, the most developed I’ve written have probably been Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla’s Right to Assess Tzedaqa and Judaism, Democracy, and Health-Care Reform: A Reply to Dr. Jonathan Tobin.
I’m also proud of an article I wrote and had published elsewhere, A New Hearing on Kol Ishah. I can mention that article because when it was published, I made a brief mention of it on my blog. 😉
Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy.