Sunday, July 12, 2009

Embarrassed to Be a Religious Jew

I am really getting tired of this. One Chilul HaShem after another keeps coming out of this community. And it seems to be doing so with increasing frequency.

Last week there was yet another expose by Fox News of a Charedi business man with the ethics of an alley cat - a man who made a career out of cheating his clients. This news segment was broadcast to millions of people who watch the news on this channel in New York.

And once again, we have the Edah HaCharedis calling for a ‘peaceful’ protest against Chilul Shabbos. Of course it was anything but peaceful. Protesters threw rocks at the police. As if the Edah didn’t know that was going to happen.

The media is having a love affair with this kind of news. They thrive on religious people doing things like this. Not because they hate religion or God. That is often the refrain one hears from defensive Charedim who are in a state of denial about their problems. The minute they see a media piece that is critical of Charedim they cry bias!

The reason the media focuses on it is because it is news when a religious person upon whom we should look to as a model of Godly behavior does things that is a model of the devil’s behavior. It is a contrast between expectations and reality that makes it news worthy. Of course after a while the public perception of devout Jews as people whose entire purpose is to serve God changes to one of primitive savages - along the lines of the Taliban.

This is not the media’s fault. It is the fault of a community that has created these people. That news like this is reported so often lately shows that it is not a tiny minority but a fairly sizable minority.

I am at a point where I am embarrassed to wear a Kipa in the street. Most non Jews and secular Jews don’t distinguish between Charedim and Modern Orthodox Jews. To all but the most sophisticated among them we are all either religious Jews or secular Jews. It reflects on all of us even if it only one segment that is predominantly involved in this kind of Chilul HaShem.

Certainly Modern Orthodox Jews have their own problems and they are not entirely guilt free of this kind of behavior. But the predominance of Charedim cannot be denied. Nor can this predominance be blamed on a Charedi bashing media attitude. Certainly not a TV station whose secular producers hardly know the significance of a black hat. I do not recall a single news report about a Modern Orthodox Jew doing anything remotely resembling what that Charedi businessman did.

What is the cause of this problem? I have stated my theories in the past most of them having to do with Chinuch that is overly focused upon on ritual law rather than the civil law - Bein Adam L’Makom versus Bein Adam L’Chavero.

But there are obviously other factors – all of which I believe I have touched upon in the past. Consider the following:

(The) Netziv (says) that man can become so enamored of engaging in the service of God that he becomes swept away and convinces himself that his God service is so important that it supersedes his obligation to perform other, more mundane mitzvot…

Perhaps the most obvious of the UO (ultra-Orthodox) deviates are the famed Burkha ladies of Ramat Beit Shemesh. In the name of tznist, they have adapted a lifestyle that is the embodiment of what the Netziv meant when he said that over obsession with one mitzvah inevitably leads to under performance in other areas. Do we need any further proof than the repeated reports of abuse and neglect emanating from this community?

Or take the stone throwers and garbage burners of Jerusalem. You can dismiss them as a fringe element, but I fear that they are a growing gang of young men who have discovered that force is an effective means of acquiring one’s ends. Can any of us be sure that the violence that they employ against the police will not translate itself into violence within their families and communities? Is it possible that the apparent increase in reports of abuse within the UO community are the result of the increased levels of violence that this community uses to accomplish their goals? Is there not a co-relation between the Va’adei ha-Tznist and the tactics that they use and the ever increasing numbers of kids who are off the derech inside these communities?...

It is important to remember that when I am prepared to be moser nefesh myself, I have created a Kiddush Hashem. However, when I demand that someone else be moser nefesh, I am a rotzeach!

Increased radicalization is a dangerous strategy, for it can lead to an equivalent reaction on the side of those who perceive themselves as victims. Of this I am confident that the rabbinical leadership is well aware without my two cents of advice. I am less confident, however, that the internal consequences of radicalization are being considered and therefore raise the flag in the hope that it will be noticed…

Rarely have I agreed with an article in Cross-Currents more than I do now. I urge that it be read in its entirety. Rabbi Dovid Landesman has written what I consider to be a landmark piece on an issue that is plaguing the Charedi world. He has even suggested that OTD kids and family dysfunction is part of that equation. This is a Charedi blog - approved of by no less a Charedi leader than Rabbi Yaakov Perlow who sits at the head of the Agudah Moetzes.

If Charedi leaders now approve of these words - words I have myself penned in the past - that is a big step in the right direction. But it is not enough to just allow critiques on a blog. We need that leadership to be writing these words themselves. While I consider Rabbi Landesman to be a great writer and thinker - he is not considered a Gadol. It is those who are considered Gedolim that need to act – as Rabbi Landesman suggests.

In America it would be a huge step forward if for example at the next Agudah convention the theme could be the one Rabbi Landesman writes about. Condemnations should come without the usual apologetics. There is no room for apologetics because that just opens up the door for more of the same.

In Israel the kinds of problems created by the Edah will not be altered by condemnations of other Israeli Gedolim. The Edah HaCharedis has no truck with anyone but themselves when it comes to these issues. They do whatever they want irrespective of what other rabbinic leaders say.

The right way to deal with them is to call for a boycott of products that carry the Edah Hechsher. Not by me. That would be meaningless. It would have to be people like R’ Elyashiv and all the major Poskim and Roshei Yeshiva. And they should do it in unison as a group. If that happens - it will hurt Edah in the pocket book. They are not going to ignore that! If there was ever a reason to have a boycott, this is it!

I want to be able to wear my Kipah proudly again!