Monday, 28 November 2011

The Definition of Censorship - Doublepluscharedi

There has been lots of discussion in the blogs and on Twitter recently of schools "not encouraging discretionary internet use" even for their students' parent, burning cell phones in a Chareidi Israeli yeshiva, and most recently the "war on technology" implied by some speakers at the Agudah convention.

In Britain, as reported by the Jewish Chronicle, the great organ of the British Jewish community, and as commented on by Geoffrey Alderman, the great organ of the Jewish Chronicle, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has published a dictionary that omits any problematic words. I hope to get access to the dictionary at some point, and write a fuller post on some of the words that are missing, but as Alderman notes, a child would look in vain for the words "homosexual" and "prostitute".

This is, quite simply, the most horrific story I've ever heard of coming out of the Charedi world. It's one thing to try to limit people's access to ideas and information, but as Orwell made abundantly clear in his masterpiece 1984, the truest form of censorship is when one seeks to limit the very vocabulary with which they can discuss and disseminate ideas and information. If one has no knowledge of the word "homosexual", it surely follows that one cannot be homosexual! (One can be "gay", but only in the way that is a mitzveh gedoileh.) No bochur will ever visit a prostitute again, because he won't even know that such a thing exists! This is as preposterous as it is disturbing.

This is surely the logical, indeed the inevitable result of the totalitarian trend within the Charedi world. And just as we are encouraged to do when reading 1984, and Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 (and so on), we have to stop and wonder exactly how the redactors (if that's not too dirty a word), the "team of Charedi rabbis" knew what to censor. To illustrate the point, and in conclusion, I will quote that great British Jew, Christopher Hitchens, who in a speech on free expression (with transcription, quoted below) related the following anecdote (often quoted, but here I think particularly apt):
About the censorious instinct: we basically know already what we need to know, and we’ve known it for a long time, it comes from an old story about another great Englishman – sorry to sound particular about that this evening – Dr Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, complier of the first great dictionary of the English language. When it was complete, Dr Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him. Of the nobility, of equality, of the Commons, of the Lords and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London who attended on him in his Fleet Street lodgings and congratulated him. 
"Dr Johnson," they said, "We are delighted to find that you’ve not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary." 
"Ladies," said Dr Johnson, "I congratulate you on being able to look them up."
Hat tip IfYouTickleUs, who has a photo of the back cover - particularly amusing is the claim that "Pronunciation guides show the correct way that words are to be spoken".

P.S. That Samuel Johnson story is all very witty, but on second thoughts I also want to repeat the classic (British?) joke about censorship and obscenity:

What is obscene?
Whatever gives the Rabbi Judge a hard-on.

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