Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Masterful Analysis of a Troubling Issue

Chasidim - Do they not care what the world thinks of them -of Jews?
He nailed it! Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s post on Cross-Currents expresses my views almost to a T on an issue that has been troubling me for a long time. Which is how the Chasidic world view themselves in contrast to the outside world - and that they present themselves to the world in a manner that seems to not care how they are perceived. Thereby constantly embarrassing the rest of Orthodox Jewry; often causing a Chilul HaShem in the process.

Rabbi Adlerstein was reacting to a 3 part series about Chasidim by Elizabeth Llorente on Fox News. His ‘verdict’ was that the Fox presentation showed the most overtly religious Jews among us behaving deplorably. Not because of any reporter bias. That, he said was pretty much unbiased.

I touched upon this after seeing the first of that three part series last week… and had a similar reaction. Only Rabbi Adlerstein said it so much better than I did – in a clearer and more detailed way. Rather than paraphrasing, I am going to do something I rarely do: excerpt heavily from that post… and let Rabbi Adlerstein speak for himself (I urge readers to read his article in its entirety at Cross-Currents): 
Elizabeth Llorente had the luxury of telling it like she saw it… As an outsider looking in, she was not unfair. Some in our community will yell – as they always do – “anti-Semitism” whenever crimes and misdemeanors are discovered – oblivious to the fact that everyone today is fair game. The screamers have convinced themselves that the core goodness of our community is so obvious and manifest, that only a hater would fail to see it. How we wish that were true…! 
(Llorente got some things wrong…. and some quotes may have been taken out of context or edited unfairly with possible bias). Be that as it may, what viewers and readers saw and read contained some disturbing sequences, regardless of how they got there. This series was not just another article in one of myriad journals. Fox News is big. It is where a plurality of this country is most comfortable getting their news. The images it creates will linger.
The airing of extremely harmful ideas about part of the Orthodox community in the most public of forums leaves the rest of us with unenviable choices: either defend the indefensible, or declare that they are not us. One strikes at our sense of truth; the other at our connection to other observant Jews, with whom we disagree about many issues, but with whom we share the most important things in life – our commitment to Torah and mitzvos. 
At least three destructive notions emerged:
1. The best defense that the Hasidim came up with against the charge that they are gaming the system of government entitlements is that it is entirely legal. This is true. It is a deeply flawed system, and many groups take advantage of it, all staying within the limits of the law. There is nothing illegal in doing a better job than most groups in filling out the documents, so that yours get approved.
But there is also nothing illegal in those others learning to hate you – in feeling that they have become patsies whom you are conspiring to divest of as much of their money as you can. Are they expected to simply accept that it is their tax dollars that are keeping your system afloat, and feeding its growth, generation after generation? Have we Jews forgotten that we are more vulnerable than all of those other groups who are doing the same, but are not going to pay the same price?
What do we think happens when the following is projected on the screen in bold, large font letters, are allowed to linger?
The average yeshiva graduate: •speaks little or no English, •has few or no marketable skills, •earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, •marries young and has many children, and •is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.
50-70% of Hasidic Jews are on public assistance…
What is everyone else thinking? Have we forgotten to be mindful of what others think? Are we shallow enough to believe that what is legal is necessarily ethical – or wise marketing for ourselves? 
2.  Hasidim were portrayed as dismissive and contemptuous of everyone else. They acknowledged their isolationism as justified by the threat of the alternative: a world of drugs, crime, and no values. Now, some of us would debate whether or not the problems they point to – arguably present in parts of the non-hasidic world – are the only colors on the palette that should be used to paint a picture of what is outside.
Can anyone, however, think that it is a good idea to tell millions of people, “You are worthless failures at conducting yourselves like human beings. Only we have it right. That’s part of the reason you shouldn’t object to supporting us. Pretty obvious, sucker, no?”
Viewers saw absolutely no minimal regard or respect for people outside the community. Here is how the on-screen spokeman dismissed opponents of the expansion of eruvin to new areas: “If these little towns want to putz around with racism, no problem. We have and we shall overcome them. … They’ll be running for cover, because the lawsuits will be coming…These are none other than racist low-life bastards.”
3. The contempt that the spokesman showed for others included casual racism – the very racism he attributed to others. He reported on an attempt to mix Jewish kids with non-Jewish kids at an event in the same school district. He pointed with pride to the fact that none of his kids had ever heard a particular four letter word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet. On the other hand, the “Latino” kid kept liberally describing things he didn’t like with a different four letter word, prompting the spokesman to pull his team after a half hour, declaring that the game was over. Our side was not going to run the risk of being contaminated by the other.
But any point he scored in showing the innocence of the Jewish kids was offset by attaching a label-of-origin to the offending party, displaying animus for an entire group. 
Rabbi Adlerstein contrasts this with an introspective article by Shlomi Gil in Mishpacha Magazine. One which I too had dealt with not long ago. Mishpacha took a hard look at a serious problem and did not sugar coat it, or make excuses. They dealt with the unvarnished truth openly and honestly. I pretty much agree with Rabbi Adlerstein’s assessment here too. Which can be detected in my own piece on it.

Fox presented a pretty damning picture of a world in ascendancy. It is no secret that the population of the Chasidic world increases exponentially (there’s that word again) every generation – increasing its numbers more than any other segment of Jewry. It is not unreasonable to assume that with the decline of the non Orthodox population numbers  Orthodox Jews will at some point be the defining component of Jewry in this country. Chasidim like the ones in the Fox series will be the largest segment.

I shudder to think of that. What was portrayed in this series might just be the way all observant Jewry will eventually be seen. And turn the perception of Jews in America from being the most admired people in the country to the most hated. Sadly, I do not see anything to indicate otherwise.