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.