Friday, February 05, 2016

Farewell Shmarya Rosenberg

Failed Messiah creator, Shmarya Rosenberg
There has been a lot of discussion about the departure from blogging world of Failed Messiah creator, Shmarya Rosenberg. He announced that departure in a lengthy farewell post earlier this week.  The news was greeted with a variety of responses ranging from glee to sadness. My reaction was somewhere in between those two extremes ( of my Centrist traits, I guess). On the one hand I strongly objected to the vulgarity he allowed on his blog. I felt that using profanity detracted from the serious issues he often reported on. On the other hand those issues needed to be reported so that they could be corrected.

Two of the issues that I think he covered most was sex abuse and white collar criminal activity in the Orthodox world. Although he did not limit his reportage to the Charedi world, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of it was about Charedi misdeeds. He both reported on them and often said some very nasty things about them.

For this he was treated with angry resentment by the Charedi world. He was seen as someone whose agenda was to smear the world of Charedim as much as possible. And that he would go far and wide to find negative stories about them looking under every rock, in every nook and in every cranny (Whats a cranny anyway?) to find dirt and heap it on them - to the glee of all the Charedi haters that frequented his blog. 

He did not disappoint. He took every opportunity to smear that world. Though he denied it, saying  he was just the messenger… and the real villains were the miscreants he wrote about, I tended to agree with his critics about having an anti religious agenda. That his reports were true, does mean he didn’t find a sense of satisfaction in sticking it to them. 

I once had an offline conversation with him during the early years of my blogging ‘career’. I found that the real Shmarya Rosenberg was a complex individual who believed he was fighting for justice. But whose view of religious Jews turned sour based on an experience he had when he was a Lubavitcher Chasid (having become one from a formerly secular life).  As an idealist, he was disappointed that a just cause which he strongly believed in was not taken up by Chabad. That left him disillusioned and he left Lubavitch. And I believe that’s why he named his blog Failed Messiah. He is now completely secular.

I will speculate and say that this experience explains his antipathy towards Orthodox Jewry – and why he focused so negatively on it. I don’t think Shmarya is a bad man. I think he is fact still idealistic. But his views have been tainted by life’s experiences and perhaps (again - I admit speculating here)  without even being conscious of it, he focused on the negative parts of the Charedi world – and to a lesser extent – on Orthodoxy in general as a sort of unconscious vendetta.

Shmarya became the poster child for what’s wrong with the internet. At least the blogging portions of it. He was reviled by the Charedi world for his muckraking. Understandably so.Some of his posts were really ugly. But some were simply reporting what was in the media, exposing the abuse and corruption in the world of Orthodoxy that exists at levels far beyond what we would like them to be. 

On the other hand the Charedi world needed some muckraking. That’s how we all achieve consciousness about the wrongdoings. Some of it by various religious leaders. These people had to be exposed, lest what they did  would go unnoticed and unpunished – being swept under the rug for the sake of image.  

Hiding misdeeds from the public by covering them up or explaining them away with faulty rationalizations and excuses always makes things worse - when they are ultimtely uncovered. Exposing them to the public and the consequences to the miscreants and the community from which they come can have a salutary effect that will lead to change. And if that change is not forthcoming or coming too slow, publicizing that can help expedite it.

So at the end of the day, Shmarya performed a service – despite what I believe was at least in part, a smear campaign based on a subconscious anti Orthodox  agenda. Truth – even if spoken by people with bad intentions, is still truth.

The stuff Shmarya dealt with is some of the same stuff I deal with. I have been accused of some of the same things Shmarya has, including being a Charedi hater and basher with same agenda as him, only with a more polite way of doing it. I have been threatened by one prominent Charedi (obviously not one of my fans – but a reader of my blog) with his own public smear campaign against me. He never ended up doing that. But he still believes that I am no better than Shmarya in that regard.

In the sense that I want to expose and publicly condemn bad behavior, I am the same. But to say that I am a Charedi basher is just plain wrong. When I write about these subjects, I have no agenda other than to ‘clean up shop’ and to let the world know that there are Orthodox Jews that condemn bad behavior no less that any ethical person would. It is to make people aware that not every Jew is crook or deviant. Those images fuel all of the antisemitic canards against us. 

Not only am I not a Charedi hater or basher - I have often said that the vast majority of Charedim are fine people with the same values that any ethical individual has. That the miscreants are a tiny minority of the whole. But that the miscreants -  because of the high profile media coverage – make us all look bad. So I report and protest as an Orthodox rabbi to make the point that just like these acts are seen as bad by all good people, so too do religious Jews like me see them that way.

Interestingly, many people consider me Charedi based on some of my recent posts. I am not Charedi. But I am not insulted by being thought of that way. I am flattered. Because I have nothing but respect for the vast majority of these idealistic Jews even though I have some Hashakafic differences with them. Much of their behavior actually inspires me.

Some people say they will miss the hard core muckraking that Shmarya was so good at. But I am not one of them. Because I will not let go of my own determination to shout out wrong doings in the religious world. It may not come in the same form as Shmarya’s.  But it will come - when I feel it warrants public condemnation.

I will however say that Shmarya’s blog did some good despite the fact that he was so reviled by the Charedi world. He exposed things that needed exposure so that they would be properly dealt with rather than being swept under the rug in a business as usual fashion.

I believe that despite his obsession with the misdeeds of the Orthodox world - deep down Shmarya Rosenberg has a Jewish soul. And now that he’s leaving the blogging world to help the poor, I wish him success in the new endeavor.

His blog will continue under new ownership. Based on their first post, the new owners sound more like me than Shmarya. If that is the case, I obviously wish them much success.