Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Deriding Black Hatters

One of my many goals in life as a Jew is the unity of the Jewish people. All Jews share the heritage of the Torah which is what defines us as Jews. That heritage belongs to all of us as was so eloquently stated by newly elected Kenesset member Ruth Calderon when speaking about her love of the Talmud. For those who choose not to follow all - or even any Halacha they are nevertheless fully Jewish – Af Al Pi SheChotah, Yisroel Hu.

Among those of us who are observant - unity should be natural. There should be a very strong common bond no matter what our differing Hashkafos are. I often say that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We are all Shomer Shabbos and Yom Tov. We all keep Kosher. And we all eat Matzah and do not eat Chametz on Pesach. 

But if one were to look at the enmity between religious Jews of differing Hashkafos one would think we live on different planets the residents of which are enemy alien creatures. Unity is the furthest thing from our minds.

Which brings me to a very poignant article by Yael Farzan published yesterday in The Observer - Yeshiva University’s student newspaper.  Let me say at the outset that I agree with her. She laments the fact that there is so much bias against the ‘Black Hat’ (Charedi) community by members of her own Modern Orthodox community.

What precipitated her article is an experience she had on a recent Friday night. During a conversation with a group of friends someone slipped a derogatory comment about Charedim that generated derisive laughter from the other members of the group. She cringed!

I for one am happy to see a natural reflex like that from a Modern Orthodox Jew. It shows me that there are people who indeed believe that what unites us is greater than what divides us. The laughter from others in her group is unfortunately a more common reaction. If not overtly then covertly. This is nothing but pure prejudice for no reason. Laughter is not criticism. It is a form of expressing one’s feeling of superiority over others. And it shows an attitude that is so ingrained that no one there – other than the author of this article – gave it a second thought. It is just a given - natural part of their worldview to look down at the Charedi world.

This is wrong. It is as biased as is being anti-black. Which as Ms. Farzan points out is the furthest thing from a Modern Orthodox Jew’s worldview.  The typical Modern Orthodox Jew would be appalled (rightly so) if someone used a racial epithet against a black person.  If a crude racist joke were made there would very likely be no laughter -  but righteous indignation. As there should be.

But when it comes to one of our own, there is no such thing. Laughter is the appropriate response to an anti Charedi or anti Chasid joke.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Charedi or Chasidic. We can disagree with them on Hashkafic issues or be critical of some of their choices. But we must never deride them or think less of them as human beings or Jews just because of Hashkafic differences.

I criticize the Charedi and Chasdic world all the time. But it is not a criticism of their lifestyles or their Hashkafos. Even as I believe that my worldview is the correct one, I concede that there are others  who see things differently than I do… seeing their own worldview as the correct one. In the spirit of Elu V’Elu we should just agree to disagree and respect each other’s views and lifestyles as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others.

So if a Charedi has a large family, or wears a black hat, or sees the goal of Jewry expressed only in terms of Torah study, or does not see any value in the study of Mada, or even chooses to live his life in isolation, sheltered from all outside influences - that is his right. It should not detract from the sense of unity that observant Jews have.  We are all believers in the Torah and the obligation to follow Halacha. And we all fail sometimes in those goals, whether it is Bein Adam L’Makom or Bein Adam L’Chavero. Our commonality should supersede any differences between us.  We should respect those differences even as we disagree with them.

Anyone of us who therefore smirks at derogatory Charedi or Chasidic comment or laughs at a derisive joke ought to be ashamed of themselves. 

The only legitimate criticism of anyone should be in behavior that is a Chilul HaShem. It doesn’t matter what the Hashkafa of that person is.  Even if we speculate – as I sometimes do – about the reasons for some bad behavior stemming from what is perceived as a flaw in the way some Hashkafos are carried out - that does not mean that an entire group should be looked down upon or that the entire Hashkafa is wrong. Criticism should be looked at as a means of trying to rectify a flaw, not as a ‘put-down’ of the entire group.

To the extent that some of my more critical posts generate comments that are sarcastic and contemptuous toward the entirety of  Charedim or Chasidim I apologize. It has never been my intent to do that. My intent is to improve, not to deride.  And yet some of those posts bring out the worst in us.

I should add that is not a one way street. The behavior of many Charedim and Chasidim towards Modern Orthodox Jews is just as bad. The exact same essay in The Observer could have been written about a group of Charedim in the ‘back of the Beis HaMedrash’  mocking Modern Orthodox Jews. The things being pointed to are different. As are the reasons for their sense of superiority. But the attitude is the same.  And my critique would be exactly the same.

But I fault Modern Orthodox Jews more than I do Charedim.  Not because our jokes are meaner. I have heard equally scornful comments from both groups about the other – albeit in different ways. But as Ms. Farzan points out - Modern Orthodox Jews are supposed to be the open minded ones. The tolerant ones. The ones who try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. It’s time we acted like that about our own.