Sunday, September 20, 2015

Isolation from the Culture Doesn't Work

What kind of Chinuch produced this obscene gesture?
Is this what isolation from society brings? An obscene gesture?! (See photo) I would not be posting this picture if it weren’t a matter of public record having been posted in the New York Post. It is a violation of my rules to use profanity in any way. But now that it is out, I have to publicly protest what this fellow did; make sure that everyone knows what it is I’m protesting; suggest what the problem might be; and a possible solution.

Obviously most Chasidim wouldn’t do this, nor would they even know what it means. That’s because they live isolated lives and wouldn’t have any way to learn such gestures.

Or do they? Well, obviously some do. The young Chasid in the picture didn’t just think it up on his own and know what it means.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he found out about it on the forbidden but increasing utilized (by Chasidim) internet. What he apparently did not learn is what a Chilul HaShem it is when a religious looking Jew who is the midst of a religious ritual makes an obscene gesture to a member of PETA.

Now I am no fan of PETA. I think they are a group of misguided people that think they act on behalf of the humane treatment of animals. In some instances they are right to protest obviously inhumane treatment. But in other cases they simply go too far in what they consider inhumane treatment. And worse – the tactics they use to achieve that goal.

In this case a member of PETA was protesting the practice of Kaparos. This is a ritual whereby one takes a  live chicken wave it over his head; while reciting words to the effect that the chicken should be in his (or her)stead for the punishment from God they deserve for sinning over the past year. They then throw the chicken on the ground after which they slaughter and either eat it or donate it to charity.

This custom is frowned upon in the Shulchan Aruch as it mimics an ancient idolatrous practice (Darkei Emori).  What most Orthodox Jews do in the modern era do is use money in lieu of a chicken and then give it to charity.

But the practice has been resurrected in our day (for some reason) and many Orthodox Jews (mostly Chasidim) do Kapros with a chicken. I personally abhor the practice as I still see it as mimicking ancient idolatrous practice - and I am also uncomfortable throwing the chicken on the ground. That said, I do not think that chicken suffers if used for Kapporos. When it is thrown on the ground it lands on its feet.  So there is no harm to the chicken until it is slaughtered. PETA would like to stop this practice. 

While I agree with the goal, I don’t agree with the motive. Nor their tactics. But what I disagree with even more is when a religious looking Jew responds to a misguided but perhaps well in intended member of PETA with one of the most universally recognized obscene gestures in the world. Nor should Kapaors with a Chicken even be done in public as seems to be the case here. (I wonder if it’s even legal to do that.)

If there was ever an argument for better Chinuch, I’d like to know what it is. I do not accept the argument that this is an exception to the rule –or that this is an immature teenager. That might work in some cases. But this fellow is obviously involved in what he believes is the sublime Mitzvah of the season, working diligently to help his co-religionists do what they believes is an important component of Teshuva.

It is unlikely that it would be someone that would be an OTD adolescent Chasid or even one at risk. It is very likely that this is a mainstream Chasid -albeit a teen. That he thinks he’s standing up for God by using an obscene gesture can only mean his education was faulty. And I’m talking about his religious education, not his ‘nonexistent’ secular education.

What a Chilul HaShem!!!

If there is a lesson here, it is that insularity does not work. Somehow the general culture seeps in. That this community pretends it doesn’t,  just makes matters worse – since that ends up ignoring the problem.