Sunday, August 02, 2015

Criticism Isn’t Always Based on Bigotry

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
One of the things I have noticed over the years is that people who strongly identify with a given Hashkafa, cannot abide criticism from anyone outside of their community. 

This applies to all groups. In Judaism it includes Open Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionists,  Sephardim, and Charedim – both Chasidic and Lithuanian Yeshiva types. None of us likes our ox to be gored, because we see ourselves as the closest representation of Emes. No matter where we come from, if criticized by someone from the outside, we take umbrage and many in our group see the critic as a bigot against us.

I find that the Charedi world is the most sensitive in this area. The minute someone from outside their group suggests that a particular problem may exist and suggests a possible contributing factor related to them in some way they get extremely defensive. To the point of paranoia. “They are out to get us!”

Case in point. Last week a deranged Charedi man by the name of Yishai Shlissel decided to stab some people marching in a Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.  I don’t think anyone would suggest that Charedi Hashkafos promote these types of actions.  But the minute someone suggest that perhaps there might be  a connection between this man’s actions and  motives sourced in the way that subject is treated in that community, you are called a Charedi basher or the like by members of that community.  But let us look at the facts.

The sense of moral outrage expressed by many Charedim about a gay pride parade in the city of Jerusalem was  palpable. I’m sure that Shlissel was affected by that moral outrage and absorbed it. And he decided to do something about it.

No one is saying that actions were sane… or that all Charedim would do this or even condone it. Of course they don’t... and wouldn’t. But you cannot get away from the man’s motives. Motives that he learned in his community. Can anyone imagine a Open Orthodox Jew doing this? Shlissel probably thought of himself as a modern day Pinchas, fighting the good fight against one of the most severe sins of the Torah. “B’Makon She’Ayn Ish…!”  

Rabbi Yaakov Menken has done exactly this in his latest post on Cross-Currents.  Instead of feeling the outrage most of us do at what this man did, the first thing he worries about is the forthcoming ‘display of bigotry’ against the Charedi world. True, he condemns what happened and prays for the recovery of a victim in an unstable condition. But his primary concern is that people will blame the entire Charedi community for the actions of a deranged man.  Here is how he puts it: 
I am, of course, referring to open displays of bigotry against the Orthodox community. Because if someone uses the actions of a single deranged individual to slander an entire community, to imply that the community somehow supported or abetted the crime via action or attitude, that isn’t fighting bigotry — it’s showing it. 
No one is slandering the entire Orthodox community. But one cannot ignore the distinct possibility that this man’s actions were may have been generated by the kind of rhetoric coming out of his circle. Just because no one else ever did this doesn’t mean it can’t happen again with someone else. 

And as I said in an earlier post, there is not a doubt in my mind that some of the other bad behavior which has taken place by extremists in the Charedi world (or the religious Zionist world) were motivated by attitudes absorbed by them in their community. The message is not that Charedim have to change their Hashkafos. Much as I would like them to they have a right to their views. The message is not that they should change their Hashkafos. The message is that they need to change the way they express them.

Rabbi Menken and a great many others don’t seem to understand that.  All they see is ‘bigotry’. Now I’m sure there is quite a bit of that. And I condemn it. But not every outside critic is a bigot. Some of us just want to see a change in the way they present their message. If that would change then it is possible that under similar circumstances, someone else in the future like this fellow will not be moved to do that.

It would be nice if they could rid themselves of this paranoia and take the criticism in the constructive way it is meant.