Friday, July 16, 2010

Bashing Charedim

I have often been accused of focusing on the negative aspects of Charedim in the vast marotiy of my writing. I’m afraid I have to plead guilty to that. Many would call that bashing Charedim. To that I plead not guilty.

One might ask how I can reconcile the two. The answer is that by definition one must hate Charedim in order for it to be considered bashing. That usually entails an attitude of venom that permeates the essay and goes beyond the area of critique. And it would also include broad brushstrokes – tarring and feathering all of them for the actions of a few.

I do not so that. I do criticize – sometimes very harshly. But if I were a Charedi I would be doing the same thing. That I look within the overall Hashkafos to try and find explanations for this negative behavior in one or more of their members is only an honest attempt to find the truth and thereby seek a solution. My goal is never to separate but to unite.

But I fully admit that no matter how much I try to be honest and fair – my emotions sometimes get the better of me. I hope that it doesn’t happen too often.

I received a correspondence from a Charedi attorney by the name of Baruch Cohen. He is a very fair minded individual who was raised in a modern Orthodox background. I have spoken with him on several occasions and find that his views on issues that I write about are not all that different than my own. But he takes great exception to the tone of some of the other blogs that are critical of Charedim which he feels go overboard. His thoughts are worth considering and reflecting upon by all of us – including me.

He begins by quoting a recent post by a fellow blogger that said the following about Charedim:

"Some charedim are creating a new religion. A religion that embraces the criminal of the week, that hates working for a living and that condemns anyone who tries to help people make a parnasa. They see schnorring as the optimal way to make a living, they believe in cover ups and lies in order to protect rabbis and riots and violence have now become part of the mainstream. The Avos would not recognize the chareidi religion. Hashem Yerachem."

Mr. Cohen responds:

There are so many things wrong with these kind of statements that it's hard to figure out where to begin. My religion, like yours, does not embrace criminals, does not condemn us professionals who work for a living, does not extol the life of the schnorer, does not cover-up and does not lie to protect anyone, and does not support riots and violence.

He is right. It is unfair to say that Charedim are like this – even if it is qualified by the word ‘some’. I t is obvious from the context that he meant ‘most’. I do not believe that at all. Most Charedim are as Mr. Cohen describes.

Although I often agree with my fellow blogger - his critiques sometimes go too far and cross the line between honest criticism and actual bashing. I say this without any malice in my heart toward him. I accept this critique for myself as well. We should all strive to have a more civil and respectful l tone in our critiques.

Here are some more of Baruch Cohen’s observations - followed by my responses:

Anonymity: One of the checks and balances of good writing, is accountability. An anonymous writer such as yourself has no such checks and balances and can say whatever you want without any fear of reprisal. As a result, you're not bound by fact and evidence, and can take whatever liberties you want. I choose not to consider the viewpoints of people who hide behind the curtain of anonymity, pandering to an anti-Orthodox animus. I would respect your views a lot more if you stopped hiding and made your name known.

I agree. But I also allow for the fact that in certain cases anonymity may be for other legitimate reasons not having to do with a desire to ‘hit and hide’. Nonetheless – it does offer the writer the ‘freedom’ to be as disgusting as he wants with personal impunity.

Second Class Citizen Mentality: You write with a major chip on your shoulder that the MO community is somehow less of a Kehilah than the Yeshivish /Chareidi community, and as a result of such an inferiority complex, you lash out and engage in slanderous generalizations such as the above quote.

I have to part company with Mr. Cohen here. I do not think that serious MO Jews feel inferior to Charedim. The reason many of us are upset and lash out is because we feel a sense of rejection from our Charedi brothers. They consider us to be second class citizens. A little more kindness and acceptance from them would go a long way toward inducing a more civil tone of discourse among us.

Arrogance: You propagate the myth that the MO community is the vanguard of Halacha while the Chareidi/Yeshivish community are the sinners and charlatans as reflected in the above quote. In Viduy we say: "... for we are not so brazen and obstinate as to say before You 'Tzaddikim Anachnu Velo Chatanu' - that we are righteous and have not sinned - rather, we and our forefathers have sinned." Last time I checked, this Tefilah is said universally by all of Klal Yisroel, including the MO kehilah.

It is true that we all do our share of Aveiros – although not necessarily the same ones. I for one do not see Modern (Centrist) Orhtodoxy as ‘the vanguard of Halacha’. Although I am a strong proponent of my Hashkafos and believe them to be the best way to serve God – I fully admit that there are other legitimate Hashkafos who feel the same way about their Hashkafos as I do about mine. Neither is necessarily superior in the eyes of God. It is a matter of Elu v’Elu. We are both L’Shem Shomayim

Condescention: A condescending tone about the Yeshivish community is just an attempt to discredit Charedim as if to say that the MO level of Orthodoxy is the ultimate expression of Yahadus and any religious expression that exceeds or goes beyond the MO level is extremist, phony and fanatical - and should be disregarded. We should all be growing in Yiddishkeit in whatever way we can, and never grow complacent with where we are.

Condescension is never a good idea. And he’s right about growth. But condescention goes both ways.

There are definitely distinctions to be made between real growth and fanaticsm. The question is where to draw the line. Our individual Hashkafic perspectives may draw the lines differently. But there ought to be mutual respect between us. The bottom line is that we could all do better. Whether Bein Adam L’Makom or Bein Adam L’Chavero.

Hypocrisy: The MO community has its shares of criminal convictions for criminal behavior and scandals and it is not immune from Gezel or other wrongdoings. When an NCSY official was convicted of sex crimes, you didn't see the Yeshivish community sensationalizing off the tragedy demanding and preaching reforms. Yet, when a Charedi gets caught doing the exact same thing doing, it becomes the rallying cry by the MO blogger and it fuels your anti-Yeshivish animus.

Wrong-doing by anyone of any Hashkafa needs to be called out. That the Charedi community was silent about it was wrong. They should have been just as critical of it as the MO community was. Heads rolled after that affair. And new precautions were put in place to prevent that from ever happening again.

To the extent that many of us focus only on Charedi sex offenders we too are wrong. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out Charedi wrongdoing just because we are MO. Sex crimes are sex crimes. It doesn’t matter to the victim what the Hashkafa of his or her attacker is. Any time it happens we should all call it out no matter what our personal Hashkafos are.

Toeles: Please show me where in the Sefer Shmiras Halashon is there a Heter to criticize Yiddin and Rabbonim in public (by name) in a blog?

I get this all the time here. I have responded to it in the past and do not wish to belabor the point again. Suffice it to say that there is a Toeles to make a Mach’ah against public Chilul HaShem. And if the individual’s name has been widely publiczed, there is no additional information being given by mentioning it. By mentioning the name it gives the Macha’ah more force. And that may get other people to reflect on their own behavior and thus prevent future Chilul HaShem.

I appreciate R’ Baruch’s thoughts here. I have not included all of them because of my general distaste for lengthy posts. I chose the ones that I believe are most significant as a means for all of us to reflect upon in an effort to improve the relationships between Jews of different Hashkafos - and ultimately to make us all better Jews.

Baruch Cohen's new blog: