Rabbi Yeshayahu Rotter, owner and chief editor of the scoops and news site Rotter.Net, died Tuesday tonight in his home in Haifa. Rotter suffered from heart and other severe health issues.
Medical personnel who were called to his home called his death after a lengthy effort to resuscitate.
Rabbi Dr. Yeshayahu Rotter was born to a Haredi family in 1953 and grew up in Haifa. He studied in Ponevez and Chevron yeshivas in Jerusalem. Was ordained by the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Served as an officer in an IDF armored unit. Completed his doctorate in Jewish philosophy at Boston University and earned a BA and an MBA from Yozmot College.
Rotter.net is perhaps the most popular news sites in Israel. It was founded in 1997 by Noam Rotter, the late rabbi’s son, when he was only 12 years old. The site’s scoops section is fed by its many users, with an edited version as home page.
Rabbi Rotter set the gold standard for fearless journalism that, nevertheless, did not cross the lines of good taste. Over the years Rotter ignored censorship requirements, using only his own sound judgment regarding what to publish and what to block.
A community of citizen journalist developed around the site, serving both as news gatherers and as harsh critics of dishonest or self-serving items. The site has maintained its good reputation and its popularity because of its unabashedly democratic spirit.
Maariv offered a long selection of his statements over the years, as a kind of interview with the late rabbi on his adventures in news-gathering:
The Internet: Just as you can’t do without your eyes, but must guard your eyes at all times, so must you relate to the Internet. It is indispensable, but you must protect your eyes.
Scoops: A scoop by nature is a “preliminary report.” On the one hand, it has a huge impact, but on the other hand there’s a risk that the report is partially or completely false. Anyone who reads a scoop on the Internet, knows it can be inaccurate or even not correct at all, and yet they all relate to scoop as news until it is refuted. The Rotter scoop forum moderators have developed a sixth sense to tell what are the chances that an item is correct and when it is better to delete it immediately.
Hits: The site ranges from 50 thousand to more than 100 thousand visitors a day. This number varies depending on the news. During the Second Lebanon War, a quarter million people from all over the world visited Rotter.net every day.
Credit: A few years ago I wanted to check the level of originality of Rotter.net stories. I was noticing that news which appeared first on Rotter appeared shortly thereafter in other papers without attribution. Even more annoying was to see how journalists, having seen a report on Rotter.net, calling the story subject and then running the story as if it had been theirs from the start.
Well, I issued a devastating piece of false information about an incident that occurred at Megiddo Junction. I wrote that the terrorist who was shot by the IDF and taken to hospital at that junction had AIDS. It was a complete lie, and I waited to see what would happen to the story. The very next day, Alex Fishman ran it in “Yedioth Ahronoth,” complete with detailed information.
As a result, the soldiers involved in the incident had to undergo testing for AIDS, and I was embarrassed by how much information coming out of Rotter.net immediately become near-official stories of major newspapers. So I realized the danger and significance of such information. It never happened again. This is my first time sharing it publicly.