February 21, 2019

Ashley Madison Takes a Beating But Noel Biderman Stays Cool

Last night JewishJournal.com presented a very special evening.  Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp, the owners of the Jewish Journal, moderated a discussion between AshleyMadison.com Founder and CEO Noel Biderman, and Rabbi Mark Borovitz of Beit T’Shuvah.

It was a fascinating discussion and I am still trying to wrap my mind is around all the provocative and interesting things that were discussed.  Let me begin by saying that Rob Eshman rocks.  He is my boss, but still, I love him.  Not in an Ashley Madison kind of way, but it a respectful way.

He is smart and articulate, funny and brilliant.  It was a tough conversation to moderate as both Noel and the Rabbi had strong opinions and convictions, and were not scared to share them.  The subject matter lends itself to strong feelings, and Rob kept it all together, on topic, and with no punching.

I have got to give kudos to Noel Biderman.  He accepted my invitation to come to Los Angeles to have this conversation, knowing he was walking into the lion’s den.  He has done dozens of these types of events around the country but I think this one a little tougher on him as Jews are tough.

The event was in a temple, with a Rabbi, with an audience that was predominately Jewish, and Noel is a Jew, so there was an underlying feeling of judgment that was palpable.  How could “one of our own”, be providing a service that is so harmful to other human beings?

It is important to remember Noel Biderman did not invent adultery.  He is not the reason people cheat in their marriages.  He is a businessman who has an e-commerce business and when he is not at work, he is a husband and father, who believes in God and supports his family.

That said, his service is, to me, a disgusting thing, and it is hard to not define him as AshleyMadison as he is the face and voice of the company.  I feel a little bad for him that in stepping into the spotlight to make his company a success, he has become a target of hate.

There was hate in the room last night.  You could feel the daggers digging into Noel and it was intense.  I do not like the word hate, do not like to use it, and will not allow my son to use it.  I don’t hate Noel, or hate AshleyMadison, but I was angered by the conversation.

Noel Biderman has a script and he is sticking to it.  He does not feel bad about the work he does, or guilt for his role in helping others break vows or damage souls.  He is a believer in God, and does not worry about any karmic debt he will have to pay for the work of AshleyMadison.

People cheat all day, everyday.  They cheated long before Ashley Madison existed and will continue long after it’s gone, but with 9 million users, that day may never come.  Having a discussion about infidelity and faith is a slippery slope and I felt the group was very harsh on Noel.

By group, of course I include myself.  It’s hard to not like Noel Biderman, and just as hard to separate him from his work.  He is a great looking guy, with a loving wife, two young children, and a great sense of humor.  If I met him under any other circumstances, I would adore him.

Last week I met Ashley Madison’s chief legal counsel as he was in town and Noel thought we would enjoy meeting each other.  I am from Toronto, and they are based there,  we know some of the same people, and have the connection of being Canadians, which is a great thing.

He is a great guy and I am trying to set him up on a date with a girlfriend of mine in Toronto. He is Jewish, educated, adorable, funny and charming.  He also works for Ashley Madison, which is proving to be a bit of a hiccup.  These great Jewish men are tainted by their work.

The feeling with many of the guests was that Noel Biderman is much like a drug dealer.  Providing something harmful, yet getting rich and sleeping well at night while those who are buying his wares, are suffering great harm.  Noel does not agree, or really understand in my opinion.

It’s troubling that he is unwilling to admit, on any level, that what Ashley Madison does is hurtful.  He truly sees it as a service to help people deal with their bad marriages, or even more ridiculous, a tool to help save marriages that are in trouble.  That statement made me want to hit him.

When I shared that I had been cheated on, which I have discussed several times in my blog, he said it was my fault my partner cheated.  When I told him I was divorced, he let me know my son will not amount to much as a child of a single parent home.  These are his opinions and beliefs.

It pushes me to a place where I want to be unkind.  I wanted to jump up and defend my choices, my child, and my heart.  By wanted of course I mean I did.  I was livid and am not sure I was articulate because my words where fueled by anger.  Noel Biderman knows how to push buttons.

I don’t want to talk about Noel anymore because this was never about Noel.  He is a decent guy, making a living, and taking care of his family.  What he believes, or doesn’t believe, is none of my business.  We are different people, and different Jews, and that is okay.

However, I do want to talk for a moment about AshleyMadison.  It is a website that is dedicated to helping people who are married and in committed partnerships, hurt each other, disrespect God, and themselves.  It is a horrible site, providing a horrible message and service.

That said, had it been marketed as a site for people who are simply looking for sex online, it would have still been gross, but somehow not as offensive.  It’s the blatant marketing to married people that is what bothers me so much.  They crossed a line in terms of taste and decency.

Sex happens.  Thank God.  The Internet helps people find sex. The only difference between Ashley Madison and JDate or Match.com, is the marketing.  Match and JDate certainly sell sex, Ashley Madison however, goes one step further and sells sin, which is not kosher.

Would we have been on such an attack last night if Noel had not been one of the tribe?  I’m not sure.  It was interesting to see him talk with the Rabbi about Judaism.  Rabbi Borovitz did a good job of talking about faith and infidelity, but even he got frustrated with Noel’s robotic answers.

While the Rabbi was passionate, Noel lacked passion and was spoke very matter of factly.  I have great respect for Rabbi Borovitz for participating when several well-known colleagues of his would not touch it with a ten foot pole.  He did himself and his congregation proud.

I left the evening feeling more sad than anything else.  Sad that Noel did not seem to mind that his work hurts people.  Sad that he slipped out without saying goodbye.  Sad that his impression of me is that I am hurting my child by raising him in a single parent home.

I will try to not take it all personally, but I must say, having someone judge you in such a way is hurtful.  I imagine that must be how Noel Biderman lives his life everyday, so in the end I feel for him.  As a mother, and a Jew, I must have compassion for him, not hate.

At the end of the day, I am smart enough to know Noel Biderman is not AshleyMadison, and that AshleyMadison is not a service I will ever understand or approve of.  My final words are to Noel.  Thank you coming, and for being brave.  For you and your family, I am keeping the faith.