Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Hear You...

Chareidi people are nice. They are generous. They are giving. They are welcoming. Obviously, as we all know, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, barring unusual circumstances, my experience with individuals in the chareidi community has been positive and pleasant.

Yet at times one encounters statements from the chareidi world that belie such sensitivity. Remarks that reveal an antagonism that seems quite at odds with the kind and accepting impression they give off. Sometimes those statements are couched in editorials that cleverly mask their derision. Other times the contempt is so blatant that one can't help but be shocked at the brazenness of the affront. Most of the time, those who are charged with presenting a chareidi perspective to the outside world are savvy enough to know how to make their points without insulting anyone (or any institution) outright. For example, writers such as Jonathan Rosenblum or Avi Shafran, whom you will usually find in publications such as The Jewish Observer or Hamodia, or occasionally in non-Orthodox organs. But at times, one can read comments from chareidi writers that are practically dripping with condescension. In publications like Yated (in their articles, editorials, and letters sections) or on blog comment threads from anonymous figures, one can read statements that are anything but accepting. On the contrary, they are mean-spirited, exclusionary, offensive, smugly superior, and contemptuous. They consistently insult anyone or anything that falls outside the rubric of their narrowly defined daled amos of halacha. It can be a person, maybe a rabbi, a teacher, or a public figure who's the target of their scorn. It may be an institution, such as a school, shul, or organization that will find itself under attack. It may even be a practice that is being adopted (or already is the accepted norm) in some communities which will be the focus of their ire. But whatever it is, there is so often a tone underlying the writers point that bespeaks a truly ugly sentiment.

Let me make myself clear. I have no problem with the fact that they disagree with some things. Even many things. In my humble opinion, every group is entitled to draw its own lines where it deems fitting (within reason of course) and is entitled to present its case to the public as much as is necessary to further its cause. I have no truck with people disagreeing and/or arguing.

But why do they have to always be so negative? So disrespectful? So self-righteous?

I was reminded of this tendency when reading a blog post on the well known chareidi mouthpiece Cross Currents. That blog used to be on my regular blog reading list, but I stopped reading it ages ago after I found my comments being censored and I got tired of reading put-downs of other Jewish denominations. But recently I was pointed to this blog post about a woman who was hired as the spiritual leader of a shul in NYC. On the DovBear blog, Krum as a Bagel wrote a response to the CC post, and in the comments section there were a few people who made the following statements:
"What is it with Menken and Cross-Currents? Why are they continuously so mean spirited?"
"90% of Cross-Currents is nasty, smarmy rhetoric. Really, it makes me sick to identify as a frum Jew after reading a typical Cross-Currents post. So full of hate and spite for anyone not exactly like themselves."
Similarly, on a frum discussion board on which I lurk, I often hear incredibly offensive comments made about those who are supposedly less frum, or frum in a different way than what is deemed acceptable. To be fair, it's not that there's usually an overall anti-"less-frum" sentiment from these people. Generally, their view of those outside their community can probably best be described as patronizing pity mixed with a guarded suspicion. The latent hostility usually rises to the fore when an issue catches the public's attention and they feel a need to clearly draw the battle lines, to set the record straight about who the enemy is, and why they are so. It's obvious that on this particular list, because those participants think that they are in a closed, members-only club consisting primarily of like-minded people they feel less inhibited to fully speak their minds, and it's not uncommon for people to really let out the full brunt of their antagonism. (Believe me, it ain't pretty.) Oftentimes their tirade is just senseless ranting, clearly based on nothing more substantive than their emotional biases, and I can't help picturing them as if in some stereotypical caricature - bug-eyed, shouting incoherently, flailing their arms wildly, trying to warn the world of the impending doom. But other times their words are so virulent, so belligerent, that it's truly an upsetting thing to hear.

In countless lectures, seforim, blog posts, dvar torah sheets, op-ed pieces, blog comments, and most of all, in the private discussions heard only by those granted entry to the inner sanctum of the chareidi world, one constantly hears such sentiments: Negativity. Scorn. Derision. Superiority. Condescension. Dismissiveness. It is frequent, it is widespread, and it is very, very deeply rooted.

I said above that my experience in the chareidi world was for the most part positive. But that's all on a very personal and direct level. On a communal level, I had plenty of negative encounters when I lived in that world. Granted, no one actually directly attacked me for being less frum, but that was only because I was smart enough not to show that side of myself to those who would be bothered by it. But throughout those years that I wore the black hat there were plenty of attacks aimed at me - by my peers, by my rabbeim, by my roshei yeshiva, even by my family - they just hadn't yet realized that I was part of those groups they were condemning. And truthfully, I hadn't fully acknowledged it to myself either.

But inside, deep down in a part of my heart that I was afraid to face, I cringed when I heard their mockery. In that dark and lonely corner of my soul, I knew that I was that person they were taunting. That was me. I hated myself for it. I tried my utmost to eradicate that part of me from my self. I denied it for so long. But throughout those years, as I listened to their sarcastic sneering, I gradually understood that they were not just deriding those on the outside. Their barbs were aimed at me.

I was the one that didn't want to learn Torah day and night all my life.
I was the one who wanted to be lax about halacha.
I was the one who wanted to partake of the secular world.
I was the one who took shortcuts when no one was looking.
I was the one who valued this world over the next.
I was the one that wanted to shirk the yoke of God.

I, and so many others.

So, to all you Yated subscribers that think that anything outside of your strict and distorted version of Judaism is such a terrible violation of all that is sacred...

To all you frummies who look condescendingly at those not as committed as you are...

To all you Yaakov Menkins, who think that anything outside your community's practices have no place in Judaism...

To all you Toby Katz's who constantly and consistently attack those who aren't up to your religious standards...

To all you Lakewood Yid's who don't want to ever make any compromises...who want a Judaism that is trapped in some non-existent past...who think that God wants us to live in a restrictive, confined ghetto, idyllically shuckling over our gemaras, obediently following whatever our gedolim tell us to, viewing the world and Judaism through the eyes of a third grader...

Well, I hear you all loud and clear. The message you're conveying is unequivocal: There is no place for me in your world.

Undoubtedly, I expect that you'll immediately deny this, but it's true. Because this is who I am. I cannot be the type of Jew you demand I be. So is there a place in your world for me to be the sort of Jew who I am?

I didn't think so.

38 comments:

The Hedyot said...

All you well-meaning commenter's, please spare me the lecture about how not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, how MO can be right for me, how I shouldn't look it as black and white, etc. I've heard it all already a trillion times. You're all correct. I agree. No need to spell it out again.

Dazed and Confused said...

Hey Hedyot,
Just a brief, gratuitous comment to say I really appreciate your posts, and they resonante strongly with my own experiences. Thanks.

aviel said...

i see what u are saying

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I think i know somewhat how you feel. Sometimes people like that attack me and my MO brethren; but even when they aren't, when they, for instance, are making throwaway insults in the middle of a dvar torah aimed at Karaites, Reconstructionists and the Reform, i get paranoid that I'm the next thing on their list.

And i also don't understand what drives people to be so negative. I mean, i'm negative about some things that are outside my narrow world, but not *everything*.

Larry Lennhoff said...

As someone who left the conservative movement for Orthodoxy on good terms, I'm upset whenever I hear such delightful sermon topics as 'Zimri, the first Reform Jew'. Ocassionaly when the tirade is delivered on a personal level I want to take the speaker aside later and say 'You know, you are talking about my mother, and her parents, most of my friends from high school, the congregants at my former C shuls, and a host of other people I know and you don't. Please make the attack on ideas you disagree with, and not condemn people to Gehinom. Leave that to Hashem.'

But for now I feel my position in the community is too fragile to do so. In this I am much less than my mother, who will attack racist comments even by her closest friends and relatives, rather than remain quiet for shalom bayit.

Anonymous said...

Just because Krum says that Menken was being "smarmy" doesn't make it so. Read his post. The NYJW was doing its typical thing about how ORthodox are really just Conservatives waiting to happen, and Menken (like Student) said sorry, it isn't so.

I've never been censord on CC, but they've corrected my typos before posting.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

The Hedyot said...

> Just because Krum says that Menken was being "smarmy" doesn't make it so.

Right. He's like that regardless whether or not anyone points it out.

Anonymous - Forget about this specific CC post. This is not about one stupid post. Don't you understand that it's about something much more pervasive?

Ahavah bat Sarah said...

You should hear some of the posts on the women's newsgroups - especially when someone is moving to a new state. They have to find a new neighborhood, so they burn up the internet looking for reassurance that the place where they're thinking of buying a house is near a shul where everyone's ffb and not bt. Heaven forbid they should have to associate with former conservatives, reforms, or whatevers. It's a fate worse than death.

Irviner Chasid said...

Such hypocrasy.

Baal Habos said...

DH, I once heard a Rabbi explain it thus. He compared "Torah Jews" mission to a missle shot to the moon; off my 1 millimeter on Earth, off by a million miles when near the moon. That's why they consider everything thats not 100% censored and in sync with their narrow interpretation as being "krum".


Nice post and well stated.

Kyaroko said...

I personally don't think you need to find a place inside Judaism in order to be yourself, but this might interest you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstructionist_Judaism

Ben Avuyah said...

Yes, well spoken, the only place for you in charedi orthodoxy is as a project, a nare do well who can be taken under the wing of more shtark bochurim for reprogramming.

SilverRav said...

Your right, if thats your attitude and you dont want to change it, there isnt a place for you there. Same as if you said, I believe strongly in eating meat and I dont have any intention to change that you wouldnt have a place in a Vegan club. So thats your choice. Dont expect people who have strong principles and dedicate their lives to them to have to accomadate you. If you dont like it and you choose to do otherwise, you have free will and the results of your actions are between you and Hashem. Whats your point?

The Hedyot said...

> Your right, if thats your attitude and you dont want to change it, there isnt a place for you there....Whats your point?

Well, I think one of my points is simply that it’s totally hypocritical to complain about people leaving yiddishkeit, or about a kids-at-risk crisis, when you are the one that is essentially telling them to leave! Yes, I know that no one actually says "Leave! We don’t want you!" but that is the unexpressed message being conveyed, isn’t it? What you’re saying is that as long as people don’t fit into a very narrowly defined set of norms (of thought, behavior, dress, speech, etc.) then you don’t want them to remain in your community. So why then do you bemoan the fact that people are leaving?

The Hedyot said...

Another point I think I was trying to make is that many people don’t necessarily want to leave it all. They just want a more enjoyable, less restrictive, more fulfilling Judaism than what is offered for them in the chareidi world. Essentially what they want to be is what the chareidi world condemns non-chareidim for being. But you’ve spoiled that choice for them by demonizing it endlessly.

Irviner Chasid said...

You do realize that you are doing the exact same thing that you are acusing these people of doing.

Anonymous said...

No, the MO has a place in the charedei world. When commenting about someone who has left religious charedei life "He could have still been religious (but) modern " exact quote.

The Hedyot said...

> You do realize that you are doing the exact same thing that you are acusing these people of doing.

Firstly, I’ll concede that maybe it is the same thing. I don’t think it is, but maybe you’re right. However, even if it was “the same”, it’s not the same because I'm not representing a religious viewpoint. I'm not speaking in the name of God or Judaism or Torah. No one is going to hear my view as anything more than my own perspective, and I don’t claim it as anything other than that. That’s one reason I don’t think it’s the same.

Secondly, claiming what I am doing is the same thing as what I’m accusing them of is like saying that those who excoriate Nazi’s are doing the same as how the Nazi’s vilified the Jews. Please realize I am NOT comparing anyone to Nazi’s! It just seems an apt model for comparison of the relationship. Yes, I know about Godwin’s Law...

Yes, I am intolerant of those who I feel are intolerant. Does that make me the same as them? I don’t think so.

Ezzie said...

I'm not going to pretend I agree with everything in this post, and I'll note that I find certain parts (specifically the comments you quoted others saying) as pretty hypocritical. However, a nice chunk of this post was excellent, and one need not be irreligious to appreciate and understand it.

To this day, friends* and others I know will make 'insider' comments to me, mocking those who do certain things or are a certain way - not realizing that I am exactly that way. That most religious Jews I know are, let alone those that are not religious. That they do more to turn people off Judaism in those few moments than they could get back in a couple years of working in kiruv. People are incredibly stupid, incredibly thick-headed, and incapable of relating to a POV other than their own, and therefore they are intolerant - not realizing the damage they cause.

* - My friends and rabbeim have actually generally been very good, as I went to more 'middle-of-the-road' places (save 1/2 a year). Had there been more like the type from that 1/2 year, or like you seem to have experienced, I probably wouldn't be religious.

Izzy said...

Similar to a few other comments here, there are FFBs, Rabbis, and others that I look up to that have said some (to my mind) incredible things.

I have had to talk to my children (my sons mostly) about how the racist comments by their rebbes at school are wrong and racist, while having to walk the tightrope of not instigating them to be chutzpadik against their rebbes.

Personally, I was not drawn to yiddishkeit based upon its ethical teachings, but upon its philosophy, so, I can overlook these lapses relatively easily. But, I can imagine someone who expects the highest ethical behavior, and that person hears racism, sexism, anti-goyism (for lack of a better term), hears about perverts and wife-beaters in the "frum" community, that person will have a strong challenge to staying in the community.

The Hedyot said...

> Dont expect people who have strong principles and dedicate their lives to them to have to accomadate you...

Like I said in my post, I don't care that you choose to live the way you do. I don't mind disagreement. But is insulting and denigrating everyone not like you one of those principles that you're so dedicated to?

It's sad that you think that living a committed torah life requires that you behave this way towards those not like you.

Koznitzer said...

Well said!

But are MO's happier than UO's? Perhaps. the less social approbation to torment one, the happier one will be, I guess. Anyway, I hope that you are happy in your chosen path.

Certainly the CC gang seems to thrive on a toxic, corrosive unkindness.

Jerusalem Joe said...

great post hedyot.
as a secular Jew in Israel i have come away from my contacts with orthodox people feeling exactly the same way.
yes they will be nice and polite. they will even go out of their way to help you - as long as they think there is a chance of you making tshuva and joining them.
but i have never yet encountered an orthodox jew here who can accept the fact that a secular jew is a legitimate way of life, and that we are really, human beings with equal standing to orthodox jews.
all the time, in the background what i feel is the condescension, arrogance, and bigotry you described so well. all they time they are smug - like they know everything and i as a secular jew have no knowledge or experience worth learning.this is simply infuriating.
if it weren't for this attitude, israeli society would be a completely different place.

The Hedyot said...

I was just listening to an interview with Slifkin done by Dennis Prager. They were discussing the issues of his book, and when they took questions from the listeners, an Orthodox rabbi called in to challenge Slifkin's positions. Most of it was on point (albeit a bit dogmatic in his opposition), but then he says (26:42), "...Maimonides did believe in the creation of Adam, despite the lies that Rabbi Slifkin purports to say." Why the mean-spiritedness? Lies? Why can't he just say I have a different understanding? It's just another example of the offensive way differing viewpoints are expressed by chareidi people.

Yes, I know it's only anecdotal, but I found it curious how such an example was put right in front of my face right after I write about such behavior.

YeshivaGuy said...

You may be an ex yeshiva guy, but it must have been Yeshiva of flatbush. Can't believe a guy who horvered over a gemara and toisfos would speak this way.

The Hedyot said...

YeshivaGuy - Wake up and smell the coffee. There are thousands of people who have spent years in top yeshivas who are no longer frum.

(And no, it wasn't Yeshiva Of Flatbush.)

The Hedyot said...

I should probably modify that to hundreds instead of thousands. I still think that there are probably thousands of ex-frum people out there, but probably ony a few hundred of them went through top yeshivas.

The Beadle said...

Your post rings such a familiar bell with me, I was almost convinced that I had written it myself and forgotten that I had done so.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

You may be an ex yeshiva guy, but it must have been Yeshiva of flatbush. Can't believe a guy who horvered over a gemara and toisfos would speak this way.

Oooooh, nice go dissing Flatbush.
I can't believe a guy who hovered over gemara and tosafot would speak this way.
Oh wait, i can.

Anonymous said...

"Can't believe a guy who horvered over a gemara and toisfos would speak this way."

Well why not?

DH I think you missed the point in responding to this. It's not that some ex yeshiva guys aren't frum. That could happen for lots of reasons. Your point was addressed to what happens when they're not hovering over their gemaras, and what their (or at least for some of them) gemara learning sometimes leads to. I don't see any inconsistency between hovering over a gemara, and saying what you said.

Nor do i see why people object to your saying it. If there's a problem in the Charedi community, wouldn't charedim want to recognize it.

Another anon

Anonymous said...

Hi DH,

I don't know if you're still looking at comments on this thread, but let me say a big thank you for opening up this window on your struggles. That's the main point. Other little thoughts follow, from someone who leans religious (egalitarian/pragmatic/Cons.) but similarly has no place in the world you have left.

1. You've made me appreciate the MO families I know that much more, where the relatives range from attending shul once a day to once a year-- aside from some strained moments about having paper plates available, family unity trumps debates about piety with those folks.

2. In reading about your family's reactions (or wonderings), it shows a lot about how much you really do give a darn!

3. Dunno if this will seem Too Weird, but I've heard some friends talk about extremes of religious zeal being like an addiction-- something that blinds people to their other responsibilities, makes them unavailable, etc... Not meaning to condemn, just to see if that fits with your experience.

Best wishes,

Anonymous Jew By Choice

The Hedyot said...

Thanks for the feedback.

mevaseretzion said...

Perhaps if work on middot were as emphasized in yeshivot (all yeshivot, I mean) as sincerely as the study of torah, we would not have this problem.

The greatest lack in our education at yeshiva and yeshiva high school is that because of one's abilities in learning or torah knowledge, the rabbis have a more forgiving attitude towards the middot-faults in that person.

What a shame. But we can fix it.

Anonymous said...

"The greatest lack in our education at yeshiva and yeshiva high school is that because of one's abilities in learning or torah knowledge, the rabbis have a more forgiving attitude towards the middot-faults in that person.

What a shame. But we can fix it."

Wish it were that easy. It's gone on for a long time, and I don't see it changing. All the incentives in the systemfavor ability to learn Gemara, except when nepotism is involved.

(Uh DH, isn't it time for another post.)
Another anon

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog... can you fill me in on where you work, live, went to yeshiva, grew up?

The Hedyot said...

> ...can you fill me in on where you work, live, went to yeshiva, grew up?

No. I like my anonymity.

Roman said...

I remember back when I was still Frum-but-looking-around I heard about a phenomenon in Israel where there are communities of Ashkenazi Jews who ate kitniyot. It was brought up in a class I took as an example of how halacha and minhag adjust to times and personal biases of those who practice them. In my shul there was a guy who I barely knew, but he was very yeshivish and came over tome to say good-bye on account of his leaving for Israel to learn in Mir or something of the sort. It was right before Pesach and we were talking about various issue and somehow the aforementioned practice came up in the conversation. I brought it up as a benign and curious point. His response was: "Just tell me where they live and I will make sure they are all put in herem quickly!"...One more pebble to tip the scales.