Sunday, July 04, 2010

Goyishe Kop - Or Thinking Jew?

I am disappointed but not surprised at an op-ed in the print version of the Yated Ne’eman (unavailable on-line). Avrohom Birnbaum a self styled Charedi Jew has accused modern Orthodoxy as a whole (he admits to exceptions) of thinking like a Goy. He says modern Orthodox Jews have a Goyishe Kop – a gentile brain.

He laments the fact that Modern Orthodox Jews did not follow in lockstep with Charedim on various complex issues of the day and uses Sholom Rubashkin’s travails and the Slonim/Supreme Court dispute as examples of how Modern Orthodoxy thinks like a Goy in contrast to how the widely disparate world of Charedim united in a proper Torah view of those two events.

He correctly observes that all Charedim united in support of a fellow Jew who is in trouble and reffered to it in the sense of ‘We are all Rubashkin’. The same thing with Slonimer Chasdim in Emanuel and the Israeli Supreme Court: ‘We are all Slonim’.

Birnbaum blasts Modern Orthodox/Centrist Jews for taking stridently opposite positions on those issues siding with the anti Charedi forces against Rubashkin and the Slonimer Chasidim of Emanuel.

But this is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. And it emphasizes the differences between us. Mr. Birnbaum sees this as a black and white issue. This mindset is typical to a large - and perhaps a majority segment of the Charedi population. A segment to which Mr. Birnbaum apparently belongs. To them almost everything is boiled down to black and white: If one is not with us, they are against us. He thereby condemns us by using a word that he considers a pejorative: Goy. He thinks that we think like Goyim and not like Jews.

That - in and of itself is very telling. If one thinks like a Goy – he is must be wrong.

That is patently false. Not every thought a non Jew has on an issue is wrong. In fact non Jews are often quite right on many issues. Motivation on those issues is based on values similar to those of the Torah or a sense of social justice that does not contradict the Torah at all – but compliments it.

The Jewish people may at times have different ideas about justice but in many cases our views are the same. To use the term Goy in a pejorative sense says a lot about the author’s attitude toward non Jews. He doesn’t think much of them. And we all know what that leads to.

Are we to accept his values about non Jews here? Or should we weigh their attitudes and positions - judging each one independently? I think the answer is obvious. I would say that one must look at what all men of good will say and evaluate it in the light of Torah and not use pejoratives like ‘Goy’! That – as we have seen all too frequently - can only lead to bad.

Let us next analyze the Charedi response to the two events he refers to.

Charedim saw Sholom Rubashkin as a Jew who was worthy of emulating. ‘We are all Rubashkin’ – as if he were an innocent man wrongly convicted of a crime - a sort of latter day Dreyfus. We all know the truth is otherwise. He was guilty of the crimes he was accused of. This is not emulative behavior. In no way should we be declaring: We are all Rubashkin. We are not.

And yet as thinking Jews we all see that a great injustice was done here in sentencing him to a 27 year prison sentence. Not even his worst detractors thought that was fair. There is a difference between saying ‘We are all Rubashkin’ and realizing that man who committed a crime was nonetheless sentenced far too harshly. Is that thinking with a Goyishe Kop? It is. It is the same Goyishe Kop as the six attorneys general who thought so too. Does he disagree with those six Goyim? I don’t. My Yiddishe Kop agrees with them.

Modern Orthodox Jews do not think in black and white terms. We think! We analyze and come to our conclusions that way. Our views are nuanced and reflect consideration of all factors. We are not ‘all Rubashkin’ nor should we be. But at the same time we can empathize with his predicament and express outrage at his unfair sentence.

The same issue is true with the Slonimer Chasidim of Emanuel. Mr. Birnbaum says ‘We are all Slonim’. This was indeed the clarion call of all Charedim who protested the Israeli Supreme Court decision to jail Slonimer parents in Emanuel who tried to circumvent the court order to integrate.

Charedim came to see this as a mainfestaion of government interference in Torah education – much as was the case in Czarist Russia. The evidence they said clearly showed that this was not a case of ethnic prejudice but a case of judicial interference in Torah education. So siding with the Slonimer parents was seen as siding with Torah - while siding with the Supreme Court was seen as siding with anti Torah forces. Black and white. You are either pro Torah or anti Torah. Whose going to control things in Israel Torah law or secular law? This is how the entire event was characterized by Charedim.

That Modern Orthodox Jews did not see things his way does not mean we side with anti Torah forces. We side with the Torah too. But we saw things differently. We clearly saw elements of discrimination and saw the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision as having absolutely no nefarious anti Torah motive. The purpose of the court decision here was based on their desire to eliminate ethnic prejudice. Not to eliminate Torah. Prejudice is rampant in segments of Ashkenazi society – secular and religious. There is no denying it.

To claim that Slonimer Chasidim are the only Chasidim in Israel that are not prejudiced is ridiculous. There was prejudice involved despite a Sephardi presence in the school. The claim that this was all about religious standards and not prejudice - using the presence of Sephardi girls in that school as proof that there is no prejudice does not prove that at all.

It only shows the lengths some parents will go to be accepted into what they think is a good school. They were willing to allow their children to jettison their own Sepahrdi customs and take upon themselves extreme religious stringencies just so their daughters could have the privilege of what they saw as a superior education and improved social situation among the ruling class

Prejudice remained. The religious Jew who brought suit and his Rabbi - R’ Yaakov Yosef -saw it clearly and so did the courts. One can quibble about the rights of parents to discriminate in any way they wish – if one is a libertarian – but cannot quibble about the existence of anti Sephardi prejudice.

Contrary to the Charedi view the court was not motivated at all by a desire to undermine Torah education. It is clear to me that the court’s motivation was the desire to eliminate ethnic prejudice. Not to undermine the Torah. But Charedim declared the exact opposite. They saw an insidious plot to undermine Torah education.

I disagree. And I am not Slonim. I will have nothing to do with their negative attitudes against Sephardim or their religious stringencies.

It is truly a shame that Mr. Birnbaum sees the two worlds in a black and white way and cannot see an honestly different perspective that is Torah based. To him it is all black and white. No shades of gray. That may make his decisions on issues of the day a lot easier to make. But it doesn’t make them right. He ought to re-think his entire attitude. Achdus need not be limited to airport Minyanim.