Why do some people assume false identities?

One of the by products of the internet, is that it is easier to hide behind a screen and comment. This presents a challenge. I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t succumbed on rare or not so rare occasion to issuing an “Anonymous” comment, or a comment from “Yogi Bear”. That is one level. A lower level is when you imitate somebody else’s identity, and the someone else actually exists. This is clearly far more insidious, because not only is one hiding their true identity, or assuming a fictitious identity, they are pretending to be someone else. This is clearly universally unacceptable.

Academics, in particular, face perhaps more pressure to hide behind a screen. Gone are the days when an academic was free to express their opinion on any matter, especially those in which they have expertise, without fear of repercussions. Furthermore, the newly focussed environment of publish or perish has created its own unnatural Yetzer Hora for academics.

I vividly recall a fellow PhD student who had managed to publish about ten academic papers by the time he was ready to hand in his PhD. I had published 2 Journal papers and 2 Conference papers, and I thought I had been doing well. I recall looking at some drafts on his desk, and perusing these. What I saw was the “one” result, recast in different and deceptive ways, and sent to different forums, where neither forum would be aware of the other, let alone previous papers ostensibly in that area. I thought he was engaging in an academic fraud. My view was shared by other PhD students, but we didn’t say anything.

Bravely, when he went to submit his PhD, the checks and balances were applied, the University refused to allow him to submit his PhD, despite that he had ten publications to his name. His supervisor was oblivious and also at fault, no doubt.

Pressure builds on intelligent people. They have important things that they want to say, and they await reaction with a sharpened pen to defend themselves or their standpoint. They often find it more difficult to remain silent. The bubbling of the intellect is a force that sometimes forces its way through.

I am reminded of the story about R’ Chaim Brisker ז’ל, which was repeated in real life again by his Yoresh in genius and chesed, the Rav ז’ל. Both were profoundly attached to Emes in the purest sense. Their egos and academic genius were a clear second to Emes, truth. When they had both given a profound shiur that was roundly commended, they both had the integrity to front the same crowd, and declare

“What I said yesterday was wrong (faulty)”

This is an ethical value derived from an attachment to Torah. That’s not to say, of course, that others are unable to be similarly ethical without having learned Torah, but for the Soloveitchik family, abhorrence any  of falsehood was in their DNA. At the end of the day, one could argue, what would it have mattered. Unless someone proved that there were errors in the R’ Chaim or the Rav’s logical analysis  one might be tempted to “let it go” and take the attitude “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything”.

Academic life has changed enormously. While once we could pursue what was of interest to us, and do so with all the tenacity (and sometimes vitriol) we could muster because we believed in what we had written, today, elements of government ineptitude have imposed themselves on many academics. These budgetary pseudo-justifications are premised on dubious metrics and so-called “quality” outcomes, most of which are simply untrue.

Academics will now often not speak out, for fear of upsetting their line manager, or someone higher up.  They may accept papers that they should not have accepted for ulterior motives. They often adopt the attitude of “you do me a favour and give me a glowing reference, and I’ll do likewise”. This has happened because they are now under the same KPI-driven system which in essence is anathema to a free intellect that finds expression best when they are unencumbered. An obsession with metrics and management layers has introduced an unnecessary bureaucratic yoke.

Witness the growth of a metric system designed to measure one University against another, and one academic against another. Frankly, in most cases, I and most others find these metrics faulty, inconclusive and game-playing. There are academics I know who have written a seminal paper that appears as a standard reference in every text book, and are otherwise not considered “influential”. Yet, there are others who have published hundreds of papers, and if one tried to summarise in one paragraph what they had contributed to the field, it is too hard because it can’t be written down.

I have met and had dinner with Rabbi Professor Michael Broyde. He is a  quiet and unassuming gentlemen who portrays almost no ego. I found and find him to be committed to Torah-learning in a profound way. Yet, he was identified in a recent imbroglio and caught sock-puppeting over a number of years by using the alias of “Rabbi Hershel Goldstein”. The part of his sock-puppeting that disturbed me was the alleged praise by Hershel of Broyde’s essays or comments. This aspect reveals a man who either  has a low self-esteem or is full of himself. I suspect the former based on my observation.

That he has been suspended from the Beth Din of America is appropriate. I would like to think, though, that in time, he will return there, after Teshuva. If HKBH accepts Teshuva when it comes from the heart via action, then so should we.

I hope his University doesn’t come out too viciously in dealing with his actions. Yes, he did the wrong thing, and yes, he should be counselled.

I do not, however, want to see the disappearance of Rabbi Broyde from the landscape of Torah learning and academia over these issues.

He hasn’t stolen from or abused anyone. He made some very poor errors of judgement. This can be corrected. He isn’t the first or the last. Consider: John Locke, Voltaire, Lawrence Sterne, Benjamin Franklin and many more. Raphael Golb is a more recent example.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

13 thoughts on “Why do some people assume false identities?”

  1. Not Rabbi Hershel Goldstein but Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser. Please do not misrepresent the identity of the sock puppet. You know that Golb is going to jail. RMB violated one of the ten commandments. Aww. Let’s just forgive him. Such a nice guy.

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    1. Thanks. I’m not sure of the D’Orayaso parameters of not telling a lie, but even so, surely someone who has indulged in sock puppeting and hasn’t actually defamed or hurt a PERSON can do Tshuva? As I have intimated, I believe that Rabbi Broyde is an honest man who has academically self indulged and now is suffering accordingly.

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  2. Good work confirming that “when you imitate somebody else’s identity, and the someone else actually exists,” this is “clearly … insidious” and “universally unacceptable,” because this is a way of “pretending to be someone else.” This is the basic reason it is unacceptable to engage in satirical Internet impersonations of the kinds listed in the Raphael Golb appeal pleadings, and posted online at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/public-source-references-to-critical-or-satirical-impersonations.pdf

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/more-public-source-references-updated.pdf

    Let us hope the New York Court of Appeals confirms that this form of “speech” is illegal, and that Raphael Golb serves six months at Rikers Island and lives to tell of his experiences there, so that he might serve as an example to all others who engage in such reprehensible “stirring up of controversy” concerning plagiarism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, museum exhibits, and related topics.

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      1. I don’t know if you are a softy, but you seem to disagree with the distinguished vice provost of Yeshiva University and, indeed, with all the other distinguished members of the Jewish community of New York who have stood behind this jail sentence without any form of protestation — and, needless to say, without any inquiry into whether the injunction against mesirah was respected in this case, where an orthodox Jew filed a complaint against his fellow Jew, testified against him in criminal court, and has quietly acquiesced in the jail sentence.

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        1. Interesting that Mesirah wasn’t mentioned by anybody. I don’t know lots about that case. I tend to view Jail in the context of protecting society from someone and/or helping someone realise the enormity of what they have committed so that they can become a changed person. There is also the effect or ramification of one’s puppeteering. In the case of Rabbi Broyde, unlike other instances, I don’t think his posts caused someone to waste time and/or resources, that is, indirectly cause monetary loss. We are meant to look at what is being argued in the context of Torah conversations. Whether it is Broyde or a pseudonym ought not matter unless the pseudonym was respected and considered some quasi Daas Torah. I don’t see that in Broyde’s case. I’m not excusing him. I’m trying to understand what he did, and put it into a context. I recognise others will disagree.

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  3. “He hasn’t stolen from or abused anyone. He made some very poor errors of judgement. This can be corrected. He isn’t the first or the last….”, what if you heard a person (not a lawyer…) saying in defence of a person, that tried to kill another person but failed, by aying: “he didn’t kill anybody, he only tried, He made some very poor error of judgement, He isn’t the first or the last, he will do Teshuva”, would you agree agree with this type of deffence?

    your type of defence is not much different from the defence of the members of the Shas party in Israel of Aryeh Deri, a Shas government minister who was charged and found guilty of excepting bribes: “all the Israeli government ministers are excepting bribes”.

    Yes, they all do it, and people will continue to do it, but there are different rules for different people, some get another chance, but people that their behavior should be an example for other don’t get a chance, and they are out with the first strike.

    הקדמת הרמב”ם למשנה

    וכאשר השלים כל מה שהדיינים צריכים לו התחיל אבות. ועשה כן לשתי סבות, האחת… והסבה השנית כדי להשמיענו במסכתא זו מוסר כל חכם מן החכמים ע”ה כדי שנלמד מהם מבחר המדות, והדיינים זקוקים להם יותר מכל אדם, כי אם לא ילמד ההמון מוסר אין הדבר מזיק לכלל, ולא הזיק אלא לעצמו בלבד, אך אם לא יהיה הדיין בעל מוסר ומנומס הרי הוא אובד ומאבד את העם בנזקיו,

    רמב”ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ה הלכה יא

    ויש דברים אחרים שהן בכלל חילול השם, והוא שיעשה אותם אדם גדול בתורה ומפורסם בחסידות, דברים שהבריות מרננים אחריו בשבילם, ואע”פ שאינן עבירות הרי זה חילל את השם, כגון שלקח ואינו נותן דמי המקח לאלתר, והוא שיש לו ונמצאו המוכרים תובעין והוא מקיפן, או שירבה בשחוק או באכילה ושתיה אצל עמי הארץ וביניהן, או שדבורו עם הבריות אינו בנחת ואינו מקבלן בסבר פנים יפות אלא בעל קטטה וכעס, וכיוצא בדברים האלו הכל לפי גדלו של חכם צריך שידקדק על עצמו ויעשה לפנים משורת הדין, וכן אם דקדק החכם על עצמו והיה דבורו בנחת עם הבריות ודעתו מעורבת עמהם ומקבלם בסבר פנים יפות ונעלב מהם ואינו עולבם, מכבד להן ואפילו למקילין לו, ונושא ונותן באמונה, ולא ירבה באריחות עמי הארץ וישיבתן, ולא יראה תמיד אלא עוסק בתורה עטוף בציצית מוכתר בתפילין ועושה בכל מעשיו לפנים משורת הדין, והוא שלא יתרחק הרבה ולא ישתומם, עד שימצאו הכל מקלסין אותו ואוהבים אותו ומתאוים למעשיו הרי זה קידש את ה’ ועליו הכתוב אומר ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר.

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    1. R’ Dovid, I read what you wrote, and what the Rambam said. Unfortunately, on the scale of things that are happening around the world at the moment, I tend to view his act as an indulgence or similar. It is appropriate that he not be a Dayan. I wrote that. It is appropriate that he take reformative action. Having said that, he didn’t cause monetary loss or cause favour to anyone, as per the case you quote with Shas. Note though, that Rabbi Broyde hardly fit the Rambam’s definition of a universally loved and respected Rabbi. He was roundly condemned by right wingers who disparaged him because of his Torah views (not sock puppetting). He has been a controversial figure, no doubt. I have enjoyed reading many of his analyses, and it is my wish that he take corrective action, and that should he do so, we enjoy his contributions to the Halachic literature, in the future.

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      1. I think we are somehow avoiding the full reality of the situation here. “Hershel Goldstein” is not only a pseudonym chosen by Rabbi Broyde; it is also (correct me if I am mistaken) the name of a resident of New York. Therefore, under the precise terms of the statutes under which Raphael Golb was convicted, Rabbi Broyde committed “criminal impersonation,” because he “used the name of another to obtain a benefit.”

        In fact, he may also have committed “aggravated harassment,” another of Raphael Golb’s alleged crimes, because he may have sent certain pseudonymous communications with the intent to “annoy” to certain individuals. That is the precise word in the statute under which Golb was convicted of this crime; and, as made clear in that case, the jury has the right to decide, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether someone intended to annoy someone else by sending a message online.

        To be clear, I am not saying that Rabbi Broyde committed a crime. I am merely saying that we are not thinking about the situation with sufficient clarity.

        Now I have spent a good deal of time looking, but I cannot find, on the Internet, writings of any member of the orthodox community opposing or condemning the prosecution of Raphael Golb. The only articles I find arguing that Golb did not commit a crime are written by a former prosecutor named Scott Greenfield, who has a blog called “Simple Justice” but is not orthodox as far as I know; and there is also this somewhat nuanced account, to which there seems to be no reaction at all in the orthodox community:

        http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/121361/dead-sea-scrolls-go-to-court

        At any rate, none of this seems to bode well for Rabbi Broyde. I do not believe he will be arrested and charged with crimes, because he did not (as far as I know) accuse any distinguished academics of “intellectual antisemitism,” as Golb did, and he did not engage in wrongful satire of an influential member of the orthodox community, as Golb did. But according to the rationale of the Golb case, one would expect that there would now be a clear sense that if any of Broyde’s communications came through the wires of New York, he may even have committed a crime.

        P.s. for Golb’s pseudonymous accusation of “intellectual anti-Semitism,” the effect of which on the criminal court jury can only be imagined, see this article:

        http://web.archive.org/web/20080430220643/www.nowpublic.com/culture/did-christian-agenda-lead-biased-dead-sea-scrolls-exhibit-san-diego

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        1. P.s. it should also be pointed out that further pseudonymous “satire” by Raphael Golb is available here:

          http://charlesgadda.wordpress.com/dead-sea-scrolls-exhibit-misleads-public-july-2-2007/

          One can easily understand why the Internet authorities in New York decided that this way of using a fake name to lodge reprehensible accusations had to be stopped, through the full use of every applicable legal provision. All I can say is, one must really hope Rabbi Broyde did not use his sock-puppets to engage in any type of satire online, especially by email, which is taken very seriously now by the police in New York.

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        2. I think that the fact that there are multiple Hershel Goldvasser’s in existence is not important unless one of these has been identified or targeted as the author of those posts. I have yet to see a complaint from any Goldvasser. That’s not to interpret NY Law. I am not a lawyer. I have been attempting to place Broyde’s sins in an academic context. That being said, it seems that the plot is yet to play out, and what might have been “just” a Goldvasser, may be bigger than that.

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  4. The part of his sock-puppeting that disturbed me was the alleged praise by Hershel of Broyde’s essays or comments. This aspect reveals a man who either has a low self-esteem or is full of himself. I suspect the former based on my observation.

    You may need to add hypocrisy to the list based on what has been reported on a blog called Frum Follies:

    http://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/broyde-criticized-internet-pseudonyms-before-his-were-exposed/

    Broyde Criticized Internet Pseudonyms Before His Were Exposed
    04/16/2013
    Michael Broyde along with all the faculty of the rabbinical faculty of REITS at YU were sent a serious satire about the OU and YU abuse scandals a few days before Purim, this year. The sender who used the pseudonym Purim Torah got a series of replies from Rabbi Michael Broyde (RMB). Broyde made it a point to refuse to respond because the sender was using a pseudonym. Below are a few of his choice words.
    I have absolutely confirmed that these quotes came from Michael Broyde.

    Purim Torah,
    You are trying to voice an opinion about matters, but your opinion is not of much value because your identity is unknown. Anything serious and of value is not hidden behind the veil of anonymous nonsense. Sign your name if you wish to join the conversation.
    MJB

    Purim Torah,
    If you want to be part of the solution, you need to step forward and take a position. Otherwise, you are part of the problem of those who stand by silently. Do not think you can vindicate yourself of your responsibility to do the right and proper with anonymous rants? Stand up and be counted. Or, you can tuck your tail between your legs and get out of the kitchen — but anonymous posts are no help at all.
    MJB

    Purim Torah,
    You hide who you are and what your agenda really is. Transparency starts with you, if you wish to be a participant.
    MJB

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