Another Perspective…. A Different Voice -Are we Targeting Hasidim?

Note to our readers:

We are often accused of taking a one-sided approach to the issues involving the Hasidic (Chasidic) community, of ignoring that there are two sides to every story and of crossing the line from factual information to hate speech. For that we apologize. It is during those times when you will see breaks in publication.  There is a fine line between opinions and facts and the message they send (perception is everything) and it is not always walked as cleanly as it should be or frankly as intended.

Here at LM we admire with significant emphasis, those like the Rabbi from New Jersey who commented on prior pages of this blog. His comments are important in the debate of how a community can live together, religious and non-religious, Jew and non-Jew together in harmony.

It takes courage to speak out.

We admire Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone (mentioned in the article below) for his tutorials and opinions or Chabad.org, some of which have graced our pages, whether we agree with them or not. We most admire people like the nurse, Blima Marcus mentioned below, who has gone on a virtual crusade to “debunk vaccination myths”. We don’t express our admiration enough.

We take issue, however, with the belief, expressed below and in the continuation of the Algemeiner article, that it is acceptable for an entire community to be groomed to study ancient texts. While their knowledge, ability to understand and parse out the details of the Jewish texts, and carry that kowledge to the next generation is, indeed, important; it cannot be to the exclusion of all else. Many of these people do not speak the language of the land, and we feel there is no legitimate excuse for that. If that same Jewish scholar is going home, having 9 children and then expecting non-religious, secular or non-Jewish members of society to foot the bills for those 9 children, he is imposing his religion on others. There is a fundamental unfairness to the rest of us, which perpetuates resentment and hate. Those who get angry and resentful should be understood in the context from which that is generated as well.

There must be a balance struck between study for the sake of study and contributing to the economic and financial continuance of that society. In the United States, we refer to the greater US. When living in London we refer to the greater UK and when living in Canada, we refer to the greater Canada. It is all well and good to be a scholar, but when you take money from society to study, you breed resentment. This blogger, for one, would love to return to study, a government and philosophy student who spent years editing translations of the scrolls of Elephantine Island for a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But it is unrealistic to do so if a family must be fed, taxes must be paid and children must attend school. We are not living in a vacuum.

Within the writing of some of the most scholarly rabbis, there was a clear understanding, if not an outright demand of the Jewish people, that we be self-sufficient. However we chose to establish our society, the religion demands that we not rely on others for support. When religion starts to encroach upon the lives and livelihoods of others, it is an imposition and unacceptable. To deem those not religious as not even Jewish or as lesser humans, which can be found in multiple teachings throughout the religious (and perhaps fundamentalist Jewish world – yes… every religion has its kooks), then the balance gets tipped and damage is done.

We, with admiration, agree wholeheartedly that there must be a way forward that provides for mutual respect, mutual tolerance, global sensitivity and a measure of love for those notable people on all sides of the debate and political divide. We thank Algemeiner for the published opinion and those highlighted within the article. 

We ask that you please read the Algemeiner article below and that you consult its original sources.  It tells a different story then most that grace our pages, but one that should be read without a passive indifference or active criticism.

With respect, LM 

Stop Picking on the Hasidim

The Orthodox Jewish community of New York is under attack. In just a few days, a 63-year-old Hasidic grandfather was beaten with a brick, another was made to strip off his yarmulke at gunpoint, a gang attacked a truck, and more. Then a shocking campaign video was posted by Republicans in Rockland County, depicting Hasidic Jews as a threat to their fellow Americans.

Those behind the video refused to apologize, and as The New York Post revealed, they had deviously plotted their modern-age blood libel months in advance.

These unmistakably antisemitic attacks are not sui generis in nature. On the contrary, the NYPD found a 101 percent increase in antisemitic hate crimes compared to the same period last year. With their distinctive black and white uniforms and visible religious head coverings, the Orthodox make an easy target for physical violence and societal prejudice.

As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at Chabad.org, puts it, Hasidim “are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”

The fact is that the Orthodox are growing extremely fast. With 70 percent of Jewish-Americans assimilating out of religious existence, these “black hat” communities (I refuse to call them “ultra-Orthodox”) will reportedly soon constitute 25 percent of Jewry in the entire nation.

An example of the way these people have recently been picked on is the public reaction to the measles crisis that recently swept New York. With a health ban that was placed only on yeshiva schools, many began to blame the Orthodox for not vaccinating their children. Never mind the fact that most of the schools with unvaccinated students weren’t even Jewish, or arguably that the common denominator between those who refuse vaccinations isn’t religion but being white, rich, and well-educated.

Regardless, by painting the vaccination crisis in New York as an Orthodox Jewish issue, the national conversation is skewed away from the reality that nine percent of Americans (30 million people!) are reportedly anti-vaxxers. Furthermore, it is an Orthodox nurse, Blima Marcus, who is leading the way in teaching healthcare clinicians how to effectively debunk vaccination myths for the American public.

The problem is that this bias leads directly to the short-sighted and dangerous “us vs. them” mentality that pits public opinion against minority groups. In her New York Times article “Is it Safe to be a Jew in New York?” Ginia Bellafante points out that the societal intransigence to take action against the blaze of anti-Orthodox bigotry stems from stories like these that carelessly stoke the “existing impressions of backwardness.”

I believe the flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Deborah Lauter, previously of the Anti-Defamation League, to run the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. They should follow the advice of Elan Carr, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, who recently remarked that fighting antisemitism must include “philosemitic education” about positive Jewish contributions to society.

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, arguably the most politically active Hasidic Jew in New York City, laments the ignorance surrounding the contributions his community offers the general public. “I think most New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that our non-profit, United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg, provides social services to anyone, regardless of religion, race, or creed.”

Although most of Niederman’s clientele are Hasidim, he advocates for fellow New Yorkers of all backgrounds who are referred to UJO. “We help anyone who walks in the door,” Niederman says, “it could be food stamps, housing assistance or whatever else they need.”

This public service ethos is derived from Jewish spiritual theology, which places a moral mandate on its followers to engage in “Chessed,” colloquially translated as “acts of loving kindness.” As Professor Jack Werthheimer writes in his article “What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox,” the Orthodox have made “Chessed” into an “art form” by creating hundreds of aid programs, known as “Gemachs” — a Hebrew acronym for “Gemilut Chasadim,” literally, “the giving of loving-kindness.”

In the marketplace of ideas, cultural contributions from these most visible Jews should be cherished and protected as a national resource. In these communities, young men are expected to dedicate their post-high school years to studying at Kollelim, yeshivas of higher learning, where they pour over the ancient texts from morning until night. The purpose of this higher education model isn’t to obtain a degree but to engage in study for its own sake.

To continue reading in Algemeiner click here.

Chuzpah and the Absence of Shame, Bringing the World to its Knees

When I do or say something that I regret, I feel shame. I am aware that I have let myself down, and that I should have done better. Shame and regret are good emotions — so long as they encourage one to do better. Shame is a condition of a healthy relationship with other people and with God. The response to wrong actions or wrong speech, according to our tradition, is to identify the mistake, to own it by confessing it to God, and to vow to do better in the future.

Yet I am concerned that even in our most Orthodox of communities, too few people exhibit a sense of shame.

It is never pleasant writing about the moral failures of the Orthodox world, because there is so much that is good and wonderful in it. But there is sadly another side. We are exhorted not to speak ill of people, but that never stopped the prophets from speaking out against our moral failures.

There have been and are too many cases of Orthodox or Haredi Jews in Israel, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, convicted of financial, sexual, or political crimes. And too rarely have I seen any outward show of shame. It is no comfort to me that this is also the case in every single other religious, social, or national group around the world.

If the prosecuting agencies are secular or non-Jewish, they will be accused of bias, antisemitism, and double standards. And sometimes that may be the case. But not always. And if the felons or the organizations they are involved with have done good things — charitable, educational, or financial — they often will be excused (as if that in some way whitewashes their actions).

When convicted felons are turned into heroes or paraded as victims, I feel very uncomfortable. There is a long and dishonorable tradition of Haredi law breakers who claim they were unfairly victimized, even though they knew full well that they were breaking the law. They often salvage enough of their ill-gotten gains to hand out largess on their release, and are treated as heroes or victims. This is hardly a Kiddush HaShem (giving Judaism a good name).

It reflects very badly on our religious values, and it is not the sort of behavior we should be proud of.

And this pattern of behavior is indicative of a much larger problem. There is a culture in certain Haredi circles of a blatant disdain for the law. And even if it starts with disrespect, even disdain for non-Jewish law, it often ends up by taking advantage of other Jews. In Israel recently, a convicted sex felon was welcomed into the home of arguably the most revered Haredi rabbinic figure. And another rabbi convicted of sexual abuse was treated to VIP status at a well-known site of pilgrimage — as if this is a perfectly normal way of behaving. Too many well-known public figures — and even rabbis — serve jail time for offenses. I don’t need to mention names. Then they emerge as if they have done nothing wrong, and life goes on as normal.

This issue has been taken up by the admirable and gutsy rabbi Natan Slifkin on his blog www.rationalistjudaism.com.

At the root of the problem is a lack of a sense of shame, bushah in Hebrew. Maimonides, in his Book on Repentance, describes the demeanor of a someone who repents. He should “be modest and of humble spirit … admitting his errors.” A while back I read a great blog on shame by Jeremy Brown. I recommend his website too, which is more specialized.

In the blog I am referring to, he quotes the Talmud in Nedarim 20a on the line in the Torah (Exodus 20:17), “The awe of (God) should be upon your faces.” This refers to shame which shows on our faces. And it means that shame leads to a fear of sin. From this the rabbis learnt that it is a good thing to be embarrassed. Note how the Hebrew conflates embarrassment with shame. The Hebrew term, Boshet Panim, literally translates as shame-faced.

The Midrash Tanhuma calls the opposite of Boshet Panim — Azut Panim — arrogance. The Mishna in Sotah says that chutzpah and an absence of shame is what brings the world to its knees, and only Divine Intervention in the form of Elijah can redeem it. Perhaps that is why some people campaign so hard for the messiah to come now.

TO READ THE REMAINDER OF THE ARTICLE AND THE RELEVANT COMMENTS, CLICK HERE.