Sunday, November 12, 2017

An Insulting Response

Elana Maryles Sztokman
I must have really struck a raw nerve. A while back around the time of Rosh Hashanah I had written what I believe was an open gentle plea to my cousin, Elana Maryles Sztokman, asking her to reconsider her choice to become a Reform rabbi. A Choice she made in a very public way. To which I responded in the same public way. (Had she asked me privately I would have responded to her privately.)

That was recently followed by what can only be considered a tirade against me in 2  Facebook posts.  She considers me guilty of ‘blind hatred’ and ‘Sinat hinam’.  I would only ask anyone who believes those were my intentions – or worse - to read (or re-read) my original post to see if they have the same reaction. Her post generated comments that are among the most hateful I have ever encountered.

Let me be clear. I have no ill feelings towards my cousin. Not even after her reaction. I have supported some of her positions in the past – which I made l clear in my post.  Something she chose to ignore in her reaction to it.

For the record, I believe she thinks she’s doing the right thing for the Jewish people. I also believe that could not be more wrong about that. Why that is – is beyond the scope of this post. I have dealt with this issue at length. Many times.  For purposes of this post, I will just say that we disagree and that I too believe I am doing the right thing for the Jewish people. I just want to address her November 8th belated response and her subsequent response to comments I made there.

Aside from ‘blind hatred’ and ‘Sinat hinam’ Elana accuses me of being arrogant. I am not arrogant by nature. Believing in the rectitude of views that are widely held by the vast majority of  Jews across virtually the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy is not being arrogant. I am entitled to believe what Elana is doing here is a serious breach in Orthodoxy. A view that is not unique with anyone that has a clue what Reform Judaism has always stood for. It is not ‘Chutzpah’ (as she says) to say that.

In my post I asked her to consider her family heritage... a family that would no doubt have been very opposed to what Elana is doing. She said the following in response to that: 
(E)very time women seek to follow our own minds and our hearts, there is someone there to claim that we are actually owned by others, by our ancestors, by an abstract community, by some kind of other-worldly obligation. Wow, I am so done with that. 
I responded in a comment that by saying that - she trashed her heritage. Perhaps I exaggerated. But certainly I did not say that she should be ‘owned’ or ‘obligated’ by them – as she suggests. Only that she should consider their views. Saying she is ‘done with that’ means that she no longer values what they believed. Which generated my retort – exaggerated though it might have been.

But Elana did back pedal a bit and responded in 2 Facebook posts to my plea to consider what her ancestors would say. She suggested that after ‘having a conversation with their Creator’, they would now approve of what she is doing.

I’m sorry.  Elana has no way of knowing what that conversation would be like or what her ancestors would say based on it. And neither do I. No human being can know that. All we can do is look at how those ancestors lived their lives – and surmise what they might have said based on that. 

I can say without fear of contradiction that her grandfather, David, a founding member of Agudath Israel of America would not approve of any of his grandchildren becoming a Reform rabbi. And I believe the same thing is probably true about her grandmother, Beatrice Maryles Fink. 

Elana wrote a beautiful tribute to her back in 2013. Therein she said the following: 
Beatrice Maryles Fink, z”l, who was a woman ahead of her time. She was one of a handful of Orthodox Jewish women who, in the 1930s, studied at Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and received bachelors’ degrees…
They were as religious as they were serious about their secular learning, and despite many contrary stereotypes, they had no problem attaining advanced degrees while remaining fervently Orthodox…
(S)he married my grandfather, Cantor David Maryles, z”l, who apparently was proud of having a smart wife.  
I completely agree with Elana about this. Elana said she was proud of her grandmother precisely for breaking stereotypes while remaining fervently Orthodox. I am too. I wonder, though, if Elana sees the irony in this comment now that she has decided to become a rabbi in the Reform movement. I find it highly unlikely that a woman that remained fervently Orthodox would approve of her granddaughter becoming a Reform rabbi. 

Elana also accuses me of using a ‘toxic trope’ in asking why she didn’t answer my questions in her response. I admit I used the word ‘question’ inappropriately. I meant that she did not respond to the plea made in my post. I think she actually knew that. And yet she proceeds to attack my character. She implies a nefarious anti woman intent into a word that I mistakenly used.

Does she really believe all those things she said about me… and the things said about me by those commenting in her post? Why has she chosen to - not just ignore those comments but to even agree with them? She should know from my writings that I am nothing like that. And yet she allows this trashing go on uncontested. Is this not being Motzi Shem Ra?

Elana tells us how much more dedicated to the Jewish people she is than me. She pays taxes in Israel and sends her children to the army. I actually applaud her for that. In this sense she outshines me. I live in Chicago and do neither of those things. But there are other ways to be dedicated to the Jewish people. Hopefully I qualify for some of those.

The fact is that I have sided with Elana when I thought she was right. For which she thanked me publicly. (e.g. - an incident on an airplane in which she was made to change her seat.)

I am not anti woman and support the advances women have made in society. I even support the advances women have made in Orthodox Judaism (such as the advent of Yoatzot – of which Elana’s sister is one) and I credit feminism for those advances.

Even though I disagree Elana’s version of feminism, I have never asked her to publicly reconsider it, wrong though I think she is. But becoming a Reform rabbi is a horse of an entirely different color. That crosses all lines. You cannot be Orthodox and Reform at the same time. Even if you remain observant - as some Reform Jews are.

I am dismayed at Elana’s response and the comments it continues (as of this writing) to generate. I can only surmise that - as I noted above - I must have hit a raw nerve. I doubt that this post will change the hearts and minds of the people commenting on Elana’s Facebook posts. But I do hope she at least reconsiders her own unfair comments about me.