Jewish Lessons for the Age of Social-Media Shaming

August 2, 2021 | Meir Soloveichik
About the author: Meir Soloveichik is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel and the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. His website, containing all of his media appearances, podcasts, and writing, can be found at

Lamenting our current era of “cancel culture” and online mobs, Meir Soloveichik turns to the work of two outstanding Jewish figures of our times: the former prisoner of Zion, and current Jewish leader, Natan Sharansky, and the late British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

Today, Americans are not hunted by the KGB, nor do we come close to enduring the terror and tyranny that marked Sharansky’s childhood [in the Soviet Union]. Yet Sharansky himself suggests that . . . much of America leads a masked life, one in which we feel forced to hide what we truly believe, who we truly are, for fear of social ostracization, or, worse, professional or personal retribution, for offending the wrong people. . . . We are bowing to the power of the online mob.

Sacks, meanwhile, focused on the lack of any idea of forgiveness in our current culture of censoriousness:

[In our day], mistakes made by young people have been used against them years later. We have seen expulsions, school acceptances withdrawn, jobs lost, lives ruined because of an irresponsible comment someone made on social media years before, as a teenager. In our current environment, no apologies for fallibility are accepted, and no allowance is made for the maturation process.

“What happens when an entire culture loses faith in God?” asks Rabbi Sacks. I’ll tell you all that’s left. All that’s left is an unconscious universe of impersonal forces that doesn’t care if we exist or not. In the other direction, all that’s left is a world of Facebook and Twitter and viral videos in which anyone can pass judgment on anyone without regard to the facts or truth or reflective moral judgment. And by the time the person accused has had the chance to explain, or the truth has emerged, the crowd has already moved on. They’re not interested anymore. And what happens in an unforgiving culture? In an unforgiving culture, the people who survive and thrive are the people without shame.

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