My Nom De Plume Exposed
Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde
Starting about twenty years ago, I and a friend occasionally used a pseudonym to write about matters of halacha and Jewish public policy. The views expressed were not reflective of an overall joint ideology, but we wished to write together on some matters where we shared a common interest. This pen name — Hershel Goldwasser — had a literary career for about 15 years, and included letters to the editor to various Torah publications as well as other blog comments, publications and emails; he ceased writing substantively a few years ago. We even joined a professional organization that interested us and which we had considered actually joining, and participated in their email list. No malice was ever intended and our participation was always intended to foster vigorous conversation about ideas and approaches to halacha that we thought needed to be addressed. Nor was this a deep and dark secret – many people knew about this pseudonym including some e-mail recipients. My eldest son reminded me that I used to occasionally sign his homework that needed to be returned to school with “Hershel Goldwasser” as a joke.
All of this stopped a few years ago, as we both just outgrew this form of intellectual writing without attribution and we both understood that this conduct was no longer appropriate.
Recently, someone started posting and emailing others using this pen name in a variety of forums. While the irony of having a pen name stolen is at some level worthy of a smile, I am now concerned that this pen name is being used to falsely attribute to me ideas that truly are not mine. In fact, nothing written in these recent past under this name is by either one of us.
On Wednesday, April 10, 2013 a reporter called me out of the blue and asked if I was behind this pen name. I felt that I had no choice but to temporarily deny any involvement until I consulted with my writing partner. He still wishes to remain anonymous. The next day I contacted the Hirhurim blog to arrange for a statement on the matter to appear next week. The published story on Friday preempted that. It was both silly and a mistake for me to lie to the reporter, and I hope I have learned from that.
I do not think I want to get into a spitting match with anyone, so I just share my basic explanation of what happened. My general rule in life is to justify the good things and apologize for the mistakes and I continue that here.
- It was an error of judgment on our part to join any professional organization. We did so in an era in which membership was not verified at all and no fee was charged, but it was still something that my own rabbayim would not approve of and thus I regret. I am truly and genuinely sorry for this.
- Stories that were told using that pseudonym were all stories that one of us had heard as a child from a generation of torah scholars now gone; the stories about Rav Moshe are particularly so.
- I regret the occasional “sock puppeting” but it does not seem extremely harmful and is quite common. With hindsight, I am sure that this was a mistake, too – but anyone who has read the comments section of the Orthodox Jewish blog world knows that they are very harsh and unkind. I erred by sometimes saying something nice or validating in order to change the conversational tone. I do regret it.
- Writing on torah matters through a pseudonym is an old practice and done for a variety of reasons. In Halachic matters, the practice is cited approving by the Magen Avraham. Many have done this and I see no need to apologize for it. Professor Marc Shapiro once told me that a list of such figures includes the Ben Ish Chai and many others; all greater than me. He also called my attention to the book Otzar Beduyei Hashem by Shaul Chajes, which is an exhaustive list of individuals who used pen names. Finally, Shapiro informed me that the Aderet published a book anonymously, and included his own haskamah to the book (referring to himself in exalted language). My friends have told me about several contemporary talmidei chachamim who regularly write under pseudonyms. Many secular writers have done such as many can see as well.
- There were many fine reasons for creating this pseudonym, and this one was suggested to us many years ago. Basically we were told that given the level of unpleasant discourse in our Orthodox Jewish community, some things just need to be said pseudonymously.
But yet, it does strike me as somewhat inappropriate for me, and I particularly regret joining any professional organization pseudonymously.
I publicly express here my apologies to those who were deceived by my pseudonymous writing.