I've been wondering recently, whether MY should allow or discourage using different Jewish titles in usernames, in particular rabbi and similar. As on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog, it gives a kind of false credibility to the given user and her/his posts, which we might want to avoid. It's not pervasive on the site, but I have seen a few misunderstandings. I'd be curious to hear your opinion.
Hi I imagine I am the one being spoken about here and I think I know the incident to which you are referring. Let me add my 2 cents.
When I first joined this site, I had to pick a name, and my general internet name is Dr. Kaii. In about 15 seconds of thought, I figured it would be a good idea to change it to Rabbi Kaii because I am actually a Rabbi (and NOT a doctor - long story that does not involve deliberate deception), and it is a Jewish site.
In retrospect, for reasons unrelated to your question, this may have been a stupid idea, potentially putting up barriers to my acceptance in the community, borne of a brain that could perhaps develop some more socially-aware patterns of thought, and I am considering changing it. I will be watching this post to help with that decision.
However, your question about "false credibility" is hard to understand. The point is, we can't verify peoples' titles, so it can't be a question about deception or false credibility (those would have to be positively identified, and we don't have a great way to do that). I can hear more of an argument from the side that it lends a psychological "air of authority" where authority is unprovable, and therefore could add authority unfairly. I find this is also true in real life though:
- If you meet a person who says he is a Rabbi in a random setting, that title is also unprovable, short of asking him for his smicha certificate, or doing a background check (which you'll only do if you need to, like if you are hiring him, or planning on relying on his halachic rulings)
- Just because someone has passed an exam in issur v'heter only proves he is moderately learned in the fundamentals of the halachic process in a small area of expertise. It doesn't say at all that he is necessarily more learned than anyone else. There are many very learned people who do not pursue smicha and they could show up 99% of Rabbis in a shak v'tarya! Conversely, there are many Rabbis who aren't very learned, clever, experienced or wise.
Yet we don't discourage use of the term "Rabbi" in real life :)
Another point that might be made, is that if a random username says something incorrect, then it's not as bad as if a Rabbi says something incorrect - the lay man is much more likely to think the mistake is correct in the latter case. This is a serious concern, but again, it's also a serious concern in real life. If a Rabbi finds himself hiding the fact he is a Rabbi because he's worried that he will say something wrong... I don't know what to say. Every person who uses the title Rabbi needs to be serious about Torat Emet, and willing to take on the responsibility.
It could also be a source of resentment - who do you think you are (especially because humility in one's learning is a thing). I'm not sure we should take into account the latter (although perhaps, personally, I should) as we should presume the best in people. Don lechaf zechus. Can't really police people's emotions, anyway.
Yet, my thinking in choosing this name at the time still generally stands:
- I am a Rabbi, so I am telling the truth,
- There are probably loads of people who use the title Rabbi here (turns out, I was wrong on this, however it's a site about questions on Judaism, it's not inappropriate or surprising that there are some Rabbis here)
- There's nothing wrong with being a Rabbi and in fact it is something I am proud of and see as an overall positive statement in general
- The site has a big fat disclaimer to not trust answers on this site as halachic rulings
- Common sense would lead most people to still judge the content of my words, my arguments and my sources as the authority, not my title - a good rule for life, not just stack exchange!
There are users here with names that are the same as big Rabbonim e.g. "Ramchal" (not actual example, but similar is found). There are also people who put pictures of themselves in a shul, or wearing a hat or tzitzit and that is also an "unprovable" claim that they are a frum Jew, likely to know what they are talking about. I'd say that this would probably also have to be discouraged if the title Rabbi is to be discouraged, but I am open to hearing other opinions. I am against this, due to my final point on the above.
So my opinion, summed up, is that the only real tool we have to measure someone's value as a source of knowledge is the words he writes, not his user name, title, profile or avatar. This doesn't seem to be wishful either, we have the capacity to measure a person's wisdom in this way, quite naturally. Anecdotally, I haven't detected any advantage, personally, to having the title Rabbi. People are quite aware who the really learned people are here, and for those who don't, the disclaimer on the site, as well as giving people the benefit of the doubt to recognise wisdom/shtus (high and low quality answers) when they see it, should be all that's needed to get out of this problem. We are blessed with very learned and hard working moderators, who have already given their opinion on the matter as well, stating that they will open investigations and change usernames if they have suspicions of genuine deception. Everything is covered.
Note, if someone explicitly states "trust me, I am a Rabbi" or similar, especially in a discussion, that kind of thing is already against the rules of the site. Nobody and no answers here are meant to be relied on.
Thank you, and I do apologise if I am the source of any trouble in result of my questionable username. I'm not sure the incident in question was because of the title by the way (although it did fuel some of the problem, once it began), but rather it was a specific case of dispute in philosophy.
I very much welcome hearing what people think on any of the above, and encourage people to comment. I am personally struggling with this question and am not fixed in my thinking and open to changing my mind if a good argument can be made.
EDIT: On the other hand, there's an argument that we should encourage people to state their credentials. I understand the discussion here, and those points stand, but on a less rigorous level, it would be nice to at least have some sort of connection to people's credentials on this site.
There are some clearly very learned people here, but we just know them as "plony" and "bloggs". They might actually be a Rosh Yeshiva, and if we knew that, we'd have context, one that would bring balance and order to our opinion of them, and that would be useful in quite a lot of things, including helping us judge favourably, helping us gauge where they are coming from, how much of a pinch of salt we should take their answers etc. When they are wrong, or let their emotions get the better of them, or some other foible, the context would be valuable, as when it's a completely anonymous screen name, it becomes much harder to know how to deal with that.
I know I'm not being crystal clear on this more fuzzy point I am making, I apologise.