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C’mon–Take Off Your Blinders

Rabbi Grossman, if you read my posts, you would see that I have no problem condemning Orthodox violence. I have done so many times before on this blog and in other publications. Nor am I, nor have I ever been interested in apologizing for any form of violence.

Regarding your claim that I am defensive about condemning violence: Huh? I don’t know where you got that from, maybe you are confusing me with a different Rabbi Stern.

If it makes you feel better, I would like to tell America: “I condemn Orthodox violence.”

All that I am saying is that I am bored silly with clichéd liberal statements about Orthodox Jews being violent. I have no problem repeating things and saying the obvious but not when such comments and statements become blinders preventing people from dealing with other issues. Your comments are at best obvious and at worst a blinder. Personally, if I was a conservative rabbi, I would asking myself why Orthodoxy has been so successful in the past 20 years while my own movement has not.

What you fail to address is the real story, which is that more Jews are becoming Orthodox. Why don’t you take a minute and try to understand that phenomenon and the allure of more right-wing Jewish groups. Is it, as Rabbi Waxman says, because of certainty? Maybe. Perhaps it’s because Orthodoxy offers peoples answers in their lives?

You see, Rabbi Grossman, it is very easy to beat up on Orthodoxy. God knows how many times I could do it every day. What is more interesting and ultimately productive, however, is trying to understand Orthodoxy and its cultural logic.

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wojo cohen

posted January 8, 2007 at 8:24 pm

The issue is not violence/extremism per se, but the hashkafa which informs it. Below is a copy of an (unpublished) article of mine on this topic, which minces no words and places the problem in a wider perspective. begin article: WHAT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE? The Jack Abramoff political corruption and bribery scandal has highlighted a deep-seated problem that, if not addressed fully, may well become for Orthodox Judaism what the tragic clerical sexual abuse scandal was for American Catholicism. A casual attitude toward rules, law and other people has become one of the earmarks of Orthodoxy, especially of the non-Modern variety. Think about it: * In Israel this attitude has characterized the behavior of the religious settlers on their illegal outposts, brazenly defying Israeli law at places such as Amona. Some settlers claim to have no allegiance to secular Israel, but to the establishment of a theocratic State of Judea. These antics have roused such ire among the public-at-large so as to lead to the creation of the slang term settlerorrists (mitnakhablim). * Also in Israel, the ultra-orthodox insist upon entitlements such as welfare benefits and exemption from military service, despite their non-acceptance of Zionism, and of a State whose presence is perceived only as a cash cow to be milked dry. This approach may best be summed up in the Yiddish expression tzaddik in peltz – i.e., a righteous man wearing fur – he warms himself with no concern for the world around him. * Here, in the United States, in his study of Postville (Harcourt, 2000), Stephen Bloom provided numerous examples of the incivility of the Lubavitchers toward their Iowa neighbors, literally acting as if the latter did not exist as human beings. They drove like maniacs, never fixed their mufflers, never mowed their lawns or even bothered to obtain building permits. Not surprisingly, their Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse got into trouble for environmental regulations when it dumped its salt-laden effluent into a local river. (In the spring of 2006, an investgation even uncovered abusive treatment of the facility’s largely undocumented workers.) But why care about other people – they re just goyim! * As detailed by Samuel G. Freedman in his Jew vs. Jew (Simon & Schuster, 2000), frummies in Beachwood, Ohio, behaved much the same way toward their non-frum Jewish neighbors. Freedman keys on a pattern replicated elsewhere: Ultra-Orthodox Jews customarily settle in the same neighborhood, and by their sheer numbers, wind up controlling it. They send their children to parochial day schools, and therefore see no reason to support public school bond issues. Inasmuch as they vote in a bloc, the result is the defeat of these bond issues and the subsequent decline of the public school system in their district. This bravura lack of acknowledgement of the needs of any larger community extending beyond their sprawling shtetl generates antagonism and bitter animosity on the part of both Gentile and non-Orthodox Jewish neighbors. Irony of ironies, this type of conduct is actually imitative – can you say, assimilatory? – of an insidious, more general development in American society. As former President Carter has noted, contemporary fundamentalism is characterized by superiority, exclusivity and narrow-mindedness. Consider, for example, the current proselytizing scandal at the Air Force Academy. Putting aside for the moment the obvious Constitutional issues, it was incivility at its worse: you simply do not use an institution intended to train military officers for all of us as a place to promote one s own particular brand of religion. What about the other people there? There are Christian fundamentalists, especially in the South, who firmly assert that God is on America s side and the rest of the world – other people – be damned. (The political equivalent is the Bush Administration policy of unilateralism in foreign policy and governing to the political base in domestic affairs; not to mention the exclusion of Congress from the decision-making process in both.) A grisly reflection of this approach is that while U.S. losses in the Iraq War are tallied, Iraqi civilian casualties were not even publicly acknowledged by President Bush – until December 2005. Sad to say, is it any accident, then, that Abramoff is both frum and a crook? Why view the government as anything except a tool to enrich oneself? There is an elective affinity between the anti-government/anti-public service mentality of the Republican Party and its attraction for Christian fundamentalists and Jewish frummies. Why care about other people? It is no coincidence that in his e-mails Abramoff referred to his Native American clients as troglodytes, idiots and monkeys – i.e., as non-people, individuals who do not matter and only exist to be exploited. Modern civilization is marked by differentiation: separation of family from work, church from state, religion from science, and above all, by civility, a code of behavior that allows individuals to deal with other people who are different. Civility means smooth interaction, good manners, white lies, biting one s tongue -in a word, hypocrisy; or if that word seems too harsh, misrepresentation. (The cover-all Hebrew term for this is shalom bayit.) That is the price we must pay for not flying at one another s throat. All the modern fundamentalist movements – Christian, Muslim or Jewish- reject differentiation, and, in varying forms, civility. Whether they know it or not, the Bible-thumpers, Jihad Joes, and fervent fringes-fondlers are all davening from the same ideological prayerbook. Humility-challenged and intractable, they comprise the axis of ill-will. There is indeed a clash of civilizations going on, but it is not between Islam and the West, but, rather, between the forces of cosmopolitan civility (muscular, not wimpy), on the one hand, and the faith-based fanatics and their political water-carriers, on the other. Contemporary Orthodoxy finds itself in the forefront of these battle lines – and right now, the yetzer ha-tov (good inclination) needs all the help it can get.

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david toub

posted January 8, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Rabbi Stern, with all due respect, I would have to agree with both Rabbi’s Grossman and Waxman. As someone who was schooled in a Lubavitcher Hasidic shul as a teenager, I certainly agree that the majority of Orthodox Jews, whether modern orthodox of hasidic, are not fundamentally violent. However, as a secularist who has a particular interest in religious fundamentalism among our coreligionists and other faiths, I believe there is ample evidence that fundamentalism, whatever the underlying faith, has produced multiple examples of violence, none of it necessary. Fundamentalism, whether represented by certain Hasidic groups (e.g. Satmar, Bobov) or Christian dispensational premillenialists, begins with the idea that there is one “true” faith that should be strictly interpreted. One problem with this idea is that it lends itself to a comparison, such as “my faith is real, yours is not.” Hence, the Inquisition, violence among different hasidic sects in Brooklyn, discrimination against Masorti, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewry, violence between Sunni and Shia, etc. We appropriately are appalled when we hear of violent acts undertaken in the name of Islam. Yet, we seem to rationalize away similarly horrendous acts by Orthodox Jews. In the case of Dr. Baruch Goldstein (and as a physician, I am repulsed to use the term “doctor” in this context), his attack (which was similar to the suicide attacks we appropriately condemn by some Muslims) was rationalized away as an act of heroism near the time of Purim against a faceless Palestinian enemy. The official explanation was that Goldstein was a madman. The truth may have been neither—as Gershom Gorenberg has posited, Goldstein’s act was one of strict rationalism for someone with very fundamentalist beliefs in martyrdom and the hastening of the end of days. In any case, there was a memorial set up to Goldstein in a small cemetery in Kiryat Arba, right next to Hebron, books such as ‘Baruch Ha-Gever” were written by fundamentalist rabbis praising Goldstein’s name as a hero, etc. None of the orthodox rabbis in Kiryat Arba or environs has ever, to my knowledge, condemned Goldstein’s act. And let’s not forget what led up to Yigal Amir’s murder of Rabin. Terms like ‘din rodef,’ ‘din moser,’ and ‘pulsa da nura’ were common in the run-up to the Rabin assassination. Had Amir not received a halachic ruling that his act would be acceptable, he has stated that he would not have shot Rabin. He has never expressed remorse, other than his regret that he was not able to also assassinate Peres. Again, this is not to imply that orthodoxy = violence. But there is a fundamentalist streak within any orthodox faith that can easily be perverted into violence. All faiths should condemn violence, whether done in the name of religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc.

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posted January 8, 2007 at 11:37 pm

Rabbi Stern What you fail to address is the actual real story, which is the numbers of Jews leaving Judaism is significantly greater than the numbers who are returning to Orthodoxy.

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Rabbi Shael Siegel

posted January 9, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Rabbi Stern- The focus shouldn’t be on orthodox Jews, but rather on the fundamentalists or rigorists who tend to be intolerant of other belief systems. Rigorism is found in Judaism, Chritianity and Islam. As soon as you beleive in the superiority of your faith the others are automatically demeaned. Violence follows as evident in Joshua leading us into Canaan etc. There is little difference between Milchemet Mitzvah, Jihad or the crusades. If the fundamentalists in Isael had more political control Israel would probably be suffering from proportionately more violence due to the Taliban mentality of these rigorists. Dismissing the violent fringe within the fundamentalist community is unfortunately indicative of your tacit approval. Furthermore, why the hype on baale teshuvah. I’ve observed them for years and I’m not all that convinced that orthodox Judaism is their last stop!

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posted January 13, 2007 at 5:57 am

I agree that extremeism is the real problem.However,since we Jews expect ourselves to be perfect as far as fairness,I think in practice this is not something that human beings can attain.Therefore,to pick out Jews as the only ones who are having extremeism,is to pick ON Jews. Face it,human beings,even Jews,are not always going to be 100 percent fair,and perfect the way we want to be. Yes,we are very imperfect,too,and we are going to have extremeists.Just accept it,and do not say”Jews are the only ones I expect to be absolutely perfect,and not have the faults of other people’s’,and other religions.”We are NOT perfect!!I do not care what the law says,reality is the real law of the world. Jews are pray to the same stresses,demands for survial,ect.,that other religions and races face.Thus,it is very understandable that some of us will become extreme.Just try to understand them,before you condemn them. Hey,you Liberals seem to understand “lax” or non-religious Jews very well,and accept them. Even atheiest Jews you accept.So,why not Orthodox and extremeists also?? Try to be more understanding of your fellow Jew.You expect us to be very understanding of your positions.and you.

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Chana Silverman

posted January 14, 2007 at 6:04 pm

I was not raised Orthodox. My parents where secular. In the process of researching my roots I have choosen Orthodoxy, but only after attending and being a part of many other synagogues. (Moved a lot). My roots are Ashkenazi, but my favorite shull has been an Orthodox Sepharidic shull. The warmth of the people and the in-depth teaching was a delightful find for me. (Not to mention the food)! Having moved again I thought I would try Chabad. I was nervous knowing so little about Chabad. I did not think I would be accepted. I knew I would have to drive to services. Gotta live where I can afford to. Again I was delighted with the warmth, and the emphasis on devotion to HaShem. Not only was I accepted I have been elevated. I have found Chabad Rabbi’s to be impassioned for Hashem and the Torah and yet kind and thoughtful of others. No dry lifeless speeches in a Chabad service! As a woman I find the respectful boundries between the sexes to be elvating and honoring. I am really enjoying being a Jew and have claimed Chabad Orthodoxy as my own. I also appreciate the loving acceptance of all Jews regardless of level of observance. (Even gay -if the life style is not flaunted). My own personal acceptance of observance as I am able has given me a deeper sense of peace. Inner peace. A Chabad Rabbi said in a class if you have not been raised Orthodox you are not required to be observant. tho it is encouraged. There is an understanding that such life style changes are very difficult for some. There is no forcing of anything on anyone. They know their culture is an expression of their traditions and that their traditions have become their laws in some instances. But I have found that they are accepting of all levels of observance and know if you have not been raised in their traditions they are understanding. This is my experience. After reading what others have said who have left Orthodoxy, for what ever reason, maybe my experience is unique. I do not know. I do know there is room for us Jews in any synagogue and we will find what we need and want in a shull, a Rabbi, a congregation somewhere. I have learned tolerance because I was not raised to believe any certain way is the right way and add some years of maturity to that and I can say I have seen so much goodness in all the people I have met in all the places of Jewish worship I have been. One of my favorite Rabbi’s is Reconstructionist. He and his family are very observant. We shared a common enjoyment of the Greatful Dead. I think that is what I like about Chabad – they are the “hippies” of Judaism – loving, accepting, non judgemental, and mostly not materialistic – fun loving happy people. I do not understand this slaming of each other in words or in actions. It is beyond me to comprehend. Even the” intellictual babblings” explaining the why of “Orthodoxy” sound a bit contrived and sort of self justifying – no need for it. We need to give each other space to be – to grow – in RESPECT for what ever branch of Judaism choosen. As for the physical violence it is a shame we must all bear, it is impossible to understand or justifiy. They are the weaker ones among us acting out their hurt and anger for whatever reason and we can rant against them as much as we want but we will not produce change. Shalom All

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 15, 2007 at 2:32 am

Oi! I find it very disturbing to read through these comments and to view the stance that Orthodox equals observance. Those who are not born Orthodox are not required to be observant? What?! I’d like to know where in the Torah this command is given. And where in the Torah is Israel sectioned off into classifications and labels. Tolerance?! What? This is also not found in Torah. Show we where it is, and I will take back what I just said. Do any of the 613 mitzvot suggest mere tolerance? Doesn’t it teach us more? Did our Sages teach tolerance? Didn’t they teach us more? Growth? In what? A branch of Judaism? Well, I ask what about the Torah and knowledge of HaShem?

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 15, 2007 at 3:19 am

Rabbi Shael Siegel made some excellent points. I would like to add on to this comment, “As soon as you beleive in the superiority of your faith the others are automatically demeaned.” Is it belief in the superiority of your faith? I don’t know about this. Isn’t the root of the issue “supeiority of the self”? The self has to become exhalted over other people.

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posted January 15, 2007 at 3:26 am

Let’s circle back to the point that R’ Grossman and R’ Stern are circling about. In fact, Rabbi Stern, violence among the Orthodox against those who believe differently than they is no new phenomenon, and while it is not common, it’s not rare either. Wojo Cohen really did say it best. The world view of certain Hareidi groups does lead to the threat of violence.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 15, 2007 at 2:06 pm

No. It is not uncommon. Humans, in general, have become quite prone to this type of behavior. Wojo Cohen’s comments speak something different to me–clash of civilizations.

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Chana Silverman

posted January 15, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Hey Jane – honestly heard it from a Rabbi – if not raised Orthodox – observance not required – not meaning Torah commandments not valid – meaning patience with you to catch up and choose to be observant in your own time and with your heart in it first. Don’t forget there is the spirit of the Law and the letter of the Law. Yes, – I think Orthodoxy equals observance. And to the observant Orthodox I have met in Chabad, their observance equals their passion for the Torah and HaShem. How do I know this? By the love with which they embrace their non-observant fellow Jews. Ya – it is possible to experience spiritual growth in any branch of Judiasm – true some are not much more than social clubs, but who are we to judge what prayer or what portion of Torah may strike a nerve and inspire faith in HaShem, or inspire ethical conduct. We are not the ones to sit in judgment.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 16, 2007 at 2:45 am

HaShem requies the heart, Chana. The way you say you have been embraced by Chabad is how I have been embraced by folks at a URJ associated synagogue–Reform. I faced a Beit Din and immersed in a mikveh to convert–with help from a Reform Rabbi. I don’t regret it not one bit! They have been more help and support to me than any one has ever been in my entire life. I do not feel hindered in being as observant as I can be. And I don’t imagine any of my shul family putting an obstacle in my way either! I chose very carefully between three synagogues. I lean more toward Conservative, but that shul didn’t have a Rabbi. If they did, I still don’t feel that was were I belonged. I don’t think it was an accident or a coincedence I am where I am. Just when I was searching for a rabbi, that is when our Rabbi was hired! I came back to this shul to meet him! And BINGO! I found my Rabbi and my community–my family. Any one of us can go through the rituals and the observance, but if the heart isn’t there…well… I study a lot of Breslov and Chabad material too. I am very welcoming of all Jews, regardless of what movement they are attached to or if they are secular. But, I do not mix well with someone snubbing their nose at where I am. After all, I have great love for my shul family and my Rabbi is a good teacher. And there is only one Israel! Shalom, Grethel Jane {Gretta is my nickname; my Hebrew name is Geulah bat Avraham}

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Chana Silverman

posted January 18, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Dear Jane – Beautiful post – thank you!

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 19, 2007 at 4:48 pm

:) Shalom!!!, Chana. Shalom.

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