Monday, October 26, 2009

A Godly People

He is right. In a Cross-Currents post, Rabbi Avi Shafran contends that most Orthodox Jews (The Daily Jews as he calls them) are decent people whose daily actions constitute a Kiddush HaShem. This means that when encountered by irreligious Jews or non Jews they are admired and thus sanctifying God’s name.

I don’t know the statistics here but I suspect he’s probably right. Most Jews do the right thing and make good impressions upon others. Rabbi Shafran gives a personal example of that.

Interestingly, he noted his initial reaction upon being told by a non Jewish merchant that he recognized that Rabbi Shafran was a religious Jew and that he had experiences with them - was apprehension. ‘What now?’ …he might have thought. The news about misdeeds of Jews (both religious and otherwise) has so pervaded the media recently that the list seemed endless. Rabbi Shafran was waiting for yet another proverbial shoe to drop.

It turned out that his fears were misplaced. This merchant was highly complementary of his dealing with religious Jews. Rabbi Shafran was quite relieved by that. But his initial reaction illustrates that our image is severely tarnished – even in the eyes of one of our greatest defenders.

Rabbi Shafran goes on to say that most religious Jews are indeed conscious of who they are and what they represent. And generally go out of their way to make a good impression. That is the norm. As I said, I think he’s right.

The problem – as he points out - is that the media doesn’t pay any attention to that. And that too is understandable. The media by its nature does not report on the norm. They are not going to write or broadcast a story about people being nice to each other on a daily basis. That is not news. What they do is report on the anomaly. The individual who is outside the norm doing the unexpected: A Grand Rabbi scamming the system – that’s news. A group of rabbis laundering money – that’s news. Yeshiva Bachurim transporting drugs - that’s news. Violent rioting by Chasidim in Meah Shearim – that’s news.

So in spite of Rabbi Shafran’s assurances that we are a good and decent people - that does not change how we are currently potrayed and being perceived. The image is negative and recent events have reinforced the negative stereotype of Jews as greedy people with shady dealings. Or as violent and primtive savages.

The fact is that there has been a spike in bad behavior by religious Jews this past year. Repeated stories about wrong doings buries any good news about ourselves. The public therefore does not factor that into our image. Public perceptions about us are badly tainted by the Bernie Madoffs, Ezra Merkins, Spinka Rebbes and Yoelish Krauses of the world.

The Cross-Currents post immediately preceding Rabbi Shafran’s (a must read) places things in proper perspective - at least as far as one aspect is concerned. It suggests the reason why we are in the present state. The post by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is based on a sermon given by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore. As Rabbi Adlerstein point out the problem can be summed up in three Yiddish words. Es Kumt Mir. I am entitled to it. It is an attitude of entitlement in our day that has destroyed us. How we got to be that way is worthy of a major scientific study. But that is how many of us think. Those who have cheated the government feel they had a right – perhaps even an obligation - to do so.

But that doesn’t explain everything. There are a group of ‘religious’ Jews whose daily actions are the opposite of what Rabbi Shafran reports. They do not see their daily actions as viewed by others as a Chilul HaShem. They see them as a Kiddush HaShem. They believe that they are protecting the honor of Shabbos… or Tznius. Any and all activity in that regard constitutes sanctity.

This is the Meah Shearim mindset. It can clearly be seen via an interview with Yoelish Kraus conducted by Rabbi Yair Hoffman and presented in VIN. Rabbi Hoffman challenged Mr. Kraus to explain why the actions he advocates are not a Chilul HaShem in that it chases away any non observant Jews. His answer is There is no chiloni that can say that he has not heard of Shabbos. There is therefore no Chilul HaShem in violent protest. They are Rishoim who will in any case not repent.

It should be noted that Eida Chareidis Vice President and Av Bais Din of the Eida Chareids Bais Din, Rav Moshe Sternbuch stated categorically that Yoilish Krauss has no connection whatsoever with the Eida Chareidis. But despite this disavowal I believe that Kraus’s thinking represents the mindset of that community. That’s the only way one can explain what goes on there.

This is what we are up against. We are fighting an uphill battle – waging war on greed in one sphere and ignorance another – both serving to undermine our standing in the world as a Godly people.

So even though Rabbi Shafran is right about most Jews we cannot afford to sit back and relax while patting ourselves on the back. I for one will continue to speak out against evil Chilul HaShem every time it is reported in the media. Hopefully others – more prominent than I - will too. The more public and unequivocal condemnation of violent people, violent acts, and unethical behavior – the better.

We must take a stand for what is right and oppose what is wrong. Those who act against those interests should be loudly and forcefully ‘outed’ and condemned. It is only when we eradicate this kind of behavior that we will be rightfully be able to reclaim our mantle as kingdom of priests and a holy people.