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A Jewish magazine is testing an unusual solution for toxic internet comments

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It's a mitzvah!

Want to comment on a story on Tablet magazine's website? You'll have to pay. The Jewish "daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture" is testing a new monetization method that scans like a modern day Indulgence: to leave a comment, you must select and pay a rate: $2 a day, $18 a month, or $180 a year.

It's a mitzvah!

"[T]he Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion," writes Tablet editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse, "sometimes allowing destructive — and, often, anonymous —individuals to drag it down with invective (and worse). Instead of shutting off comments altogether (as some outlets are starting to do), we are going to try something else: ask those of you who'd like to comment on the site to pay a nominal fee — less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation."

Those who don't wish to pay the fee, Newhouse notes, can still comment on the site via its many social network channels, or contact the site directly via e-mail. In a throwback to paper magazines, a handful of those missives will be published weekly in a Letters to the Editor section.

Curious about the choice of rates, I contacted my wife via Gchat for an explanation:

WHAT!
THAT IS AMAZING!
you know why it's $18 and $180 right
18 = chai in Hebrew
each letter in the hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. chet is 8 and yud is 10, those are the two letters that spell "chai" and they add up to 18
chai means life
so it's a mitzvah to give money in increments of 18
or that has 18 involved
on bar/bat mitzvahs most gifts are like $36 or some such
b/c that's double chai
i LOVE this. they're basically making you pay to be an asshole

There is, of course, an argument that charging for comments is kind of classist, and that $2 a day for the minor privilege of leaving feedback on a single website invites only those with cash to burn to participate in the conversations on the site. But that's part of a larger conversation about the perceived right to comment freely on privately owned website. Anyway, now at the bottom of a Tablet post readers will find this explanation of the commenting policy:

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal-and, often, anonymous-minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee-less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at letters@tabletmag.com. Each week, we'll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

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