Friday, October 16, 2009

Not in My Shul!

During my stay in Ramat Bet Shemesh I had the opportunity to go to the shopping center there many times. One store I passed by had a sign asking people to not enter it unless dressed according to the Tznius standards of the community. And they listed a couple of specific requirements.

Now people may do as they please when it comes to their own property. So these people had every right to make that request. I have no idea however how they respond to customers that violate those rules. My guess is that they do nothing and service them as they would any other customer. They simply are trying to maintain a standard they consider important.

People have a right to have community standards and request that outsiders honor them. The question is how far may we go to enforce those standards?

What if someone comes along and violates them? What should the response be – if any? What if a Reform Jew drives into Kiryas Joel - a Satmar enclave in New York- on Shabbos? Or a secular woman walks into Meah Shearim neighborhood wearing sleeveless shirt and a pair of blue jeans? Or a modern Orthodox woman in Jerusalem decides to sit in the relatively empty men’s section of a Mehadrin bus where the women’s section is over-crowded?

Do we have a right to protest? And if so to what extent do we have that right? And in what manner may we do so? Should possible negative fallout be considered or do we just insist on maintaining our standards at all costs? How much of a protest do we make to outsiders when they enter our domain and violate our standards?

In my view - the answer to this and similar questions is that we should not protest it at all unless we are absolutely certain that the violator is doing it on purpose to cause problems. Sometimes people just don’t know or understand and need to be educated. And sometimes even if they do know the community standards they may have some justification in violating them anyway.

The one thing no one should do is react the way individuals in a New York Shul did – as demonstrated in the following true story sent to me by Yossi Ginzburg. This story paints a picture and this picture is worth a thousand words. Here it is in its entirety:

We need to learn and to teach "Yesh koneh Olamo" and the opposite.

I teach Baalei Teshuva at MJE on Wednesday evenings. After yesterdays learning, Brian (a BT in-process & adjunct professor at the New School) told me the following, which he witnessed:

Astoria, Queens, has a small synagogue led by a Rabbi Shaulson. The congregation is quite small, including several Baalei Teshuva, some converts, an Israeli or two, and at least one self-righteous black-hat probable alcoholic.

A few weeks ago on a Shabbat morning during services, an unfamiliar face walked in - a woman, carrying a large pocketbook on her shoulder. She quietly sat down near the back.

The "very frum" guy took umbrage at her sporting a bag on Shabbat, and started to make an issue of it at once. He claimed- loudly- that it was an outrage and disrespectful to enter an Orthodox shul in an area without an Eiruv carrying anything, and certainly not a pocketbook which presumably had "muktze" in it. He made a bit of noise over the issue, until two men in the shul started to try to quiet him down, leading to even more fuss.

Eventually the rabbi interfered and stopped the discussion.

At this point, the woman stood up and made the following announcement: I am not religious, and never have been. My husband died last night, and he requested that he be cremated. I recall hearing that Judaism doesn't allow this, and came here to ask the Rabbi about it, being his desire conflicts with Judaism as I have heard. But you guys have answered my question already with your behavior, so never mind.

And she walked out.

What a lost opportunity! Let's all at least learn from it!