By The Jewish Press Editorial Board
February 22 2006
An anonymously written flier mailed recently to many Jewish homes in Brooklyn, containing lurid accusations of improper conduct against an individual in our community and railing against his employer for not firing him, should be taken as a serious warning of a cancer growing in our midst. The flier not only offers no substantiation of the charges themselves, but also reports uncorroborated - and, it turns out, vigorously denied - comments from the employer, which the flier's unknown author offers as proof of a cover-up.
The mere circulation of the document has caused some, albeit limited, discussion as to the culpability of both the accused individual and the employer - this despite the lack of any evidence or the possibility of any follow-up with the accuser. But if even one person takes this sort of thing seriously, there is cause for concern. Compounding the problem is that the purveyor of this material seems fully at home with the Internet and has spread it anonymously on that medium as well, guaranteeing that it will be seen by all that many more people, both within and without the Jewish community.
Anonymous accusers effectively destroying their targets' reputations, even before the truthfulness of the accusations are ascertained, cannot be the way of Klal Yisrael - and indeed has never been. Certainly it accords neither with halacha nor with common sense. It is precisely for this reason that for millennia we have invariably insisted that those making claims against another take the accused to a bet din in order to determine the facts and, if necessary, the halacha.
On another level, it is hardly engaging in hyperbole to suggest that if the notion takes root that an anonymous purveyor of unsubstantiated charges can get peoples' tongues wagging, then none of us can count ourselves safe. It will enable anyone to exercise devastating power at any time and under any circumstances simply by choosing to do so, for whatever motive.
It was doubtless inadvertent, but the author of the flier makes our point. Thus, the flier recites that "this mailing should not have been necessary," inasmuch as the target and his employer were warned in advance that if the individual either resigned or was fired, "th[e] mailing would be stopped." And on the Internet, the author has declared to one and all that he is about to "uncover" others if they do not accede to his demands. Plainly, this individual is engaged in an effort to fashion a weapon with which to impose his will on Klal Yisrael.
But it is not the excesses of one individual that are of primary concern. As a general proposition, before we even begin thinking about anyone's having gone astray, we must have more to go on than mere innuendo and accusation flung about by nameless, faceless sources. It is incumbent upon each of us to resolve to give no credence to unproven charges and to urge their being discredited on a community-wide basis. That's something that certainly should apply to this particular anonymous accuser.
We would also remind readers that President Bush recently signed into law a statute making it illegal for any person to use the Internet to post anonymous accusations designed to inflict pain and suffering on others. In this instance the anonymous accuser should be aware that if identified, he runs the risk of fine and imprisonment for violation of a federal statute.