Goldman’s career choice tested his Sabbath observance. One time, he was covering a conference, and as Friday’s sunset drew near he resorted to writing with a pencil rather than a pen, rationalizing that it might not be considered “permanent writing” and therefore something forbidden by the Sages but not by the Torah. He later consulted with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, religious leader of Lincoln Square Synagogue, regarding this issue and other conflicts he faced as an Orthodox journalist. Rabbi Riskin told him he had gone too far in deciding to write with a pencil on Shabbat, and that Goldman should call him whenever such an issue would arise in the future.
When it came to doctors, Rabbi Riskin reasoned, halachic authorities allow many exemptions to Sabbath observance, and it’s possible that certain allowances could be arranged for a journalist as well. Goldman didn’t agree with Rabbi Riskin’s proposal; his aside that “Besides, the rabbi wouldn’t pick up his telephone on Shabbat when most of these situations arose” struck me as lacking serious consideration.
Even if the rabbi wouldn’t pick up the telephone, there are situations that could be foreseen, and for which the rabbi could be contacted before Shabbat. Eventually, Goldman could have learned what to do in such a situation, and calling the rabbi would have become less of a necessity. Goldman’s ultimate decision to “be my own rabbi” has always sounded almost sacrilegious to me. After all, there is an obligation to consult with qualified halachic authorities. “Make for yourself a rav” exhorts the Mishna in tractate Avot.
While I didn’t agree with all of Goldman’s personal decisions, his book served as an important influence. The idea that a Jew can play an active part in the world, while still keeping fealty to his or her religious values, plays a large role in Goldman’s philosophy, and has affected mine. My conviction at age 17 that I ought to attend Modern Orthodox yeshivot (Yeshivat Hamivtar in Israel and Yeshiva University in New York) was influenced by Goldman, as was my decision to choose journalism as a career. While I agreed with his Modern Orthodox philosophy, I disagreed with his willingness to make halachic compromises. I was determined to follow in his steps while refusing to eschew any of my religious values.
Writing for the Yeshiva University Commentator presented me with a different type of religious dilemma, one that remains with me today and has swayed my decision to postpone a career in journalism to pursue study toward rabbinical ordination.
I conducted interviews of several public personalities on campus for the newspaper, and in the midst of my research learned that two of them were using student money for illicit expenses. Lashon hara is forbidden regardless of the media via which it is conveyed. After weighing the pros and cons of revealing the negative information, I decided to print whatever they had told me, with the disclaimer that they might be lying, and to leave out any negative information I had on them. An editor, I don’t know who, removed the disclaimer, perhaps because he felt it was unnecessary, and my article made it into print filled with probable lies. It was up to the students to decide if they thought what they were reading was accurate.
The Orthodox journalist weighs several values when writing an article. On the one hand, there are facts the public has a right to know – ignorance of those facts can result in harm to individuals and the community as a whole. On the other hand, the risk of harming pople in the process looms large. The issues faced by the observant Jewish journalist are unique and numerous.