Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is it the Journalists? Or is it Us?

Illustration from VIN
As  if to underscore my contention that in certain circles there is an irrational assumption about antisemitism (or more accurately anti Orthodoxy) in mainstream America, along comes Ezra Friedlander with a VIN oped accusing the Wall Street Journal along with all other journalists of just that.

What’s his beef? Well, he doesn’t like the fact that they reported on recent scandal involving the NYPD and a couple of Orthodox Jews. Here is how he puts it: 
The media delivers the news by gleefully describing the individuals involved based on their religious affiliation or in the context of their geographical location. This is unacceptable… 
(T)he Wall Street Journal informed us in its very first sentence that the Mayor is facing questions about investigations “that involve supporters in the Orthodox Jewish community.”  Scroll down another few paragraphs and again, it repeats that the investigations involve “members of the Orthodox Jewish community.” 
We are living in an age of political correctness, for better or for worse… Yet for some reason, when it comes to the Orthodox Jewish community, no one feels obligated to even pretend to play by these rules.  Instead, they are delighted to besmirch an entire community just because a lone businessman is in the headlines or is accused of an alleged misdeed.  Suddenly, he is identified by his religion. 
It amazes me that when a Charedi Jew like Mr. Friedlander reads stories like this he immediately sees an anti Jewish motive. Never mind the fact that the Wall Street Journal is about the most pro Israel news outlet in America. 

He is not the first one to make note of anti Jewish bias in the media. Nor is it the first time this accusation has been made.  Every time a religious Jew caught doing something wrong is reported in the media, accusations of antisemitism seem to come out of the woodwork in these circles.

As I have said many times - the insular environments in which some Jews choose to live - combined with the knowledge of a Jewish history filled with the persecution of Jews (reinforced anecdotally by grandparents who experienced it) - results in a virtual paranoid fear and even hatred of ‘The Goyim’. This is what Mr. Freidlander’ message seems to be with respect to the ‘Goyishe Journalists’ And I suppose he includes as well – Jewish Journalists who report stories like these. Like reporters in the Forward or The Jewish Week.

(Interestingly Mr. Friedlander accuses people who use the term 'insular' as using it in a pejorative way. And yet does not deny it. Insularity is something they promote and are proud of.  Insularity is a description. It is not a pejorative.)

Did it ever occur to Mr. Friedlander that the blame should not be put on the messenger? That the blame belongs on the people allegedly involved in the crime – which in this case are high ranking members of the NYPD and some Orthodox Jewish businessmen? God forbid we mention that. No. Lets blame the media for reporting the truth and call it antisemitism. He thinks indentifying wrongdoers by their religion is wrong? I wonder how he feels about Islamic terrorists? Should the media ignore their religion too?

One might go a step further and say that it is actually a compliment when the media identifies wrongdoers as Orthodox Jews - in the sense that it is makes it newsworthy. It is a ‘Man bites dog’ story when an Orthodox Jew does wrong. Jews are expected to be righteous and ethical. When they act that way, it isn’t newsworthy. Reporting it when they don’t makes it an anomaly.

Ironically, on the same day I saw this report – I saw an exceptionally brilliant article by Rabbi Marc D. Angel. It is a must read. I have my differences with him on certain issues pertaining to Modern Orthodoxy. But on this there is absolutely no daylight between us. 

He focuses on the real problem and does not blame any messengers. And expresses ideas similar to those I have expressed here many times. Including the penchant in certain circles to vilify non Jews, non religious Jews, and in some cases even religious Jews that do not share their worldview.  Only Rabbi Angel did it so much more eloquently than I ever have, or could.

The essential point being that we Jews ought to stop seeing ourselves as better human beings than the rest of humanity. That our selection by God as the Am HaNivchar – His chosen people does not detract from the essential Tzelem Elokim that exists in of all of mankind or which we are part.

Rabbi Angel began by reporting on a sermon about business ethics given by Rabbi Shaul Robinson at Lincoln Square Synagogue that elicited laughter from the audience when he asked : 
(W)ouldn’t it be wonderful if people could say that a business venture was absolutely proper because Orthodox Jews are running it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the surest way to attest to the trustworthiness of a business was to say that it was operated by Orthodox Jews? 
Why (asked Rabbi Angel) do we laugh at the assumption that Orthodox Jewish sponsorship guarantees the trustworthiness and honesty of a business venture? 

Referencing Professor Menachem Kellner’s new book,  Gam Hem Keruyim Adam: haNokhri beEinei haRambam (They too are called human: Maimonides’ views on non-Jews) he answers the question. 
Maimonides rejected the notion that Jews are ontologically different from and superior to non-Jews. The Rambam maintains the classic Jewish teachings that stress the common humanity of all people.
I think… it is fair to state that “moderate” levels of dehumanization exist within the Orthodox community. This spiritual infection enables a shomer Shabbat to engage in criminal activity against “the other,” on the assumption that “the other” does not deserve better. Who are “the others?” They might be non-observant or less-observant Jews.
If rabbis and teachers are conveying a religious worldview that posits the innate superiority of Jewish souls—and the innate superiority of religiously observant souls—then it is not a long step to feeling disdain for “the other.” And it is not a long step to coming to justify oneself for improper dealings with “the other.”
The day will hopefully arrive when the reputation of Orthodox Jewry will be so spectacularly honest, that everyone will point to Orthodox Jews as the best models of business ethics, trustworthiness and dignified behavior. But that day will not be arriving soon unless we all do some serious soul-searching about our attitudes toward ourselves and toward others.  
To this I say, Amen.