Friday, July 31, 2009

‘We are Holier than Thou’

One of the problems in Orthodoxy now is the holier than thou attitude of the Charedi world. I see it uttered from time to time by people who will try and divert attention from their own problems by pointing out the problems of others. If I see a major Chilul HaShem done by religious Jews and the problem seems to manifest itself mostly in one segment, I will make a public condemnation of it and call upon those in that segment to take steps to fix the problems. I may even suggest some ways in which they might try and do it.

I do sometimes criticize what I see as missteps along the way but it is all done L’Shem Shamyim. I do not want to see anymore public Chilul HaShem. And yes, sometimes I get very emotional and angry about it. The events of the last 10 days certainly warranted it. Those events all took place within that period - and made a Chilul HaShem. And in each of those cases - those involved were Charedim of one sort or another.

Most Charedim I believe realize that there is a problem and they understand that something needs to be done. Agudah also finally realizes that this problem can no longer be swept under the rug.

But there are some who take umbrage when they are given Musser from outside their camp. They see it as an ‘us versus them’ situation. They will say to a Centrist like me ‘Your community is worse’ so shutup about ours’. ‘You have no right to criticize us until you clean up your own house.’ This is the difference between many in the Charedi world who think like this - and me. I see this as our problem. They see it as a ‘your community versus our community’ problem.

Attorney Benjamin Brafman demonstrated this very well in the anecdote he spoke about at the Agudah gathering last Tuesday night. He was denied his right to lead the prayer service as a mourner by a Chasidic fellow in charge of a Minyan - because of the way he looked. He was not wearing a hat and did not have a Gartel - the extra belt that Chasidim use for prayer.

Had the situation been reversed Mr. Brafman would have surely given that right to a Chasid without any hesitation. Mr. Brafman considers him part of the same Klal – the same people as himself. It is the Chasid in his anecdote that made this artificial division – thus denying Mr. Brafman his Halachic right. This is what certain elements in the Charedi world are doing. They want to separate and divide.

It isn't my house versus their house. It is our house. We are all family. When one brother errs it does not do any good to say that another brother is just as bad or worse. One has to deal with the problem at hand. Many in the Charedi world have a problem with receiving Mussar from people outside their own little space – their own Daled Amos. They refuse to take it from those they perceive to be lesser Jews.

They then try and prove others are lesser Jews by finding as much fault in them as possible and then saying 'clean your own house’. Thus they divert attention from their problems. They see us as the enemy - to be put in our proper places - just as guilty in financial or ethical matters - and worse in ritual matters. They think that only their own people - Unzere - can criticize. Others have no right.

Well, guess what? We ARE ALL 'Unzere'. It's called Klal Yisroel.Instead of trying to divert attention from their problems they ought to be doing what Agudah tried to do. And realize as Agudah did that there is a fly in the ointment of Charedi Hashkafos:

From the Forward:

A “wake-up call” is how a number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are describing the recent arrest of several New York-area rabbis on federal money laundering charges.

The clearest indication of the newly awakened state came at a public symposium on business ethics held in the middle of ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn just a few days after the arrests. Rabbi David Zwiebel, head of the main ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, Agudath Israel, said that the event had not been on the schedule a week earlier. But the money laundering arrests reminded him and other leaders that the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community was facing problems caused by the community’s famous insularity.

“There are a lot of benefits of insulating oneself from the broader culture around us, as we do,” Zweibel told the Forward. “But one of the costs of insularity is perhaps a lack of appreciation of the importance of compliance with secular law. That is a message that is important for people to hear.”

We can quibble over whether it was right to let the Spinka Rebbe - who is about to serve a sentence for his own money laundering scheme - speak or not. Or whether what he said was appropriate or not. But to automatically say with righteous indignation: 'You cannot criticize us because and you guys are worse' is missing the boat entirely. Those who think like this ought to take some sage advice: ‘Take the Truth from whoever states it!’ That means even if it is from someone who is Modern Orthodox.