Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

A blogger whom I follow recently posted that, due to news coming out of Israel and certain events making headlines in America, he was "embarrassed to be a religious Jew." It was the second time in two days I had read such a statement, and it disturbed me greatly.

This awful sentiment is the result of the constant attention and amplification given to these scandals. Yes, these scandals are despicable. Their perpetrators are guilty of the worst sin possible, desecration of the Holy Name. Yes, these scandals are embarrassing. Those of us who are law-abiding citizens of Halachah pay the price, too, in public perception.

Nevertheless, the constant, sometimes exclusive, harping on these dirty deviants demonstrates the utter disaster that many Jewish blogs have become. Rather than being sources of inspiration and introspection, most of these blogs simply serve to depress and alienate. The unceasing barrage of bile and vindictiveness leads their readers, and their creators, away from Yiras Shamayim rather than toward it. People read and read and read this stuff until they throw away their yarmulkas in disgust.

But that's not how it should be. Mussar—particularly in our generation—should be about building up, not tearing down. Every time a religious-looking (notice I said "looking") Jew lands in the newspapers for evil behavior, I too am embarrassed. But rather than hide, I stand up. It makes me want to keep my yarmulka on, to mount a counteroffensive, to show the world—both Jewish and secular—how a Jew is really supposed to behave.

Unfortunately, however, any input on these blogs that's designed to bring insight, or even a bit of even-handedness (after all, not all scandals are created equal), to the conversation is met with dismissal at best and character assassination at worst. Essentially, these bloggers seem to be saying, "If you're not with us, you're against us." You are said to be sweeping the problems under the carpet, and deemed an apologist.

With that in mind, there are a few points that ought to be made.

One, there is absolutely no statistical evidence that the behavior of religious Jews as a group is worse than that of the general society, or, in fact, not significantly better. Empirical evidence, as demonstrated by newspaper headlines, says less about Orthodox Jewish behavior and more about how newspapers operate. Newspapers aren't interested in fair play. They are only interested in selling papers. To that end, "Man Cheats and Steals" isn't a headline. "Rabbi [or Priest, for that matter] Cheats and Steals" is.

To believe that media scrutiny is an accurate barometer of behavior patterns, is to believe that athletes, politicians and celebrities are more likely than the rest of society to beat their wives, cheat on their taxes, use illegal drugs, engage in illicit sexual behavior, and shoot people. It is also to believe that plane crashes, which are always reported in the paper, are far more common than automobile accidents, which are not—unless there is an athlete, politician or celebrity involved.

Second, the Jewish blogosphere is not consistent. Its righteous repulsion is reserved for a certain segment of Orthodox Jews, i.e., those who happen to be of the beard-and-black-hat variety. This only betrays the blinders of their bias.

The recent Bernard Madoff scandal involved a very prominent Modern Orthodox man, who was president of his Modern Orthodox shul, and head of the investment committee at the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva Universtiy. He has been charged with civil fraud by New York State, named in countless lawsuits, and has had his picture in the paper for months.

What sayeth the bloggers to this scandal? Barely a peep.

Third, there is a startling inconsistency in this group's trust of the media, which is vexing to the point that it can only be described as bipolar. The very same Jews who go apoplectic over the media's slanted coverage of Israel, trust completely that very same media when they are covering stories about Orthodox Jews. If certain people want to base their opinion of the frum world according to what's reported in the media, then, in fairness, they should base their opinion of Israel according to what's reported in the media as well.

Only they don't. Bloggers who throw fits, charging the media with bias and distortion, when news organizations refer to Israelis as a callous cabal of colonizers, stealing Arab land, violating Arab civil rights, and shooting Arab children—these same bloggers embrace whatever negativity the media reports when the subject is ultra-Orthodox Jews.

I'll say it again: Every time a frum-looking Jew creates a chillul Hashem it is a tragedy of great depth and proportion. But to think that such behavior is disproportionately occurring within the frum world because of the disproportionate number of media reports simply reflects a naive view of how the media work. The publication of stories, even a lot of stories, is not a condemnation of the whole community or an indictment of its values.

Which isn't to say that we should ignore these stories. We must face up to them and seek to restore our collective reputation. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is very good at doing this in a positive, productive way. But, in many quarters, the conversation long ago degenerated from constructive criticism to a scorched-earth policy. We can and must do better.

13 Comments:

Blogger The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

An excellent post. I would just make one clarification - Bernie Madoff isn't Modern Orthodox. In fact, he's not Orthodox at all, he just gave a lot of money to YU.

Thu Jul 16, 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger CJ Srullowitz said...

Right. But I wasn't talking about Mr. Madoff; I was talking about __________.

Thu Jul 16, 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Not Brisk said...

I didn't know you had a blog. Luley dimistafenah, I see your points.

Fri Jul 17, 01:24:00 AM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

I heard that there is a prophecy that during chevlei mashshiach, some religious Jews will be despised amoung other things happening in the world, like financial collasp etc.

The question is why all these diff events? The answer I heard is because Hashem wants us to turn to Him and call out to Him for our redemption

Fri Jul 17, 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger LB said...

Granted. More criticism is warranted elsewhere. Nevertheless, much of the criticism you refer to has to do with the reactions to events. These reactions were witnessed firsthand by many, b'reish galei. Reports regarding the authorities' decision that led to this reaction are but reports, of course.

In any case your term "frum-looking" Jew is especially apt, for the disregard for mitzvot ben adam l'chvero on this level (and I am not saying who or how many do so) as far as I'm concerned, renders someone not frum. And that is what someone "embarrassed to be a religious Jew" in this regard knows not what he speaks.

Mon Jul 20, 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

I agree with you so much on this one, you explained it perfectly.

Reminds me of one of the "Inspired" videos, where it says the way you can be mekarav someone is by doing good, not to push and shove on a line in the grocery store, but just by being a mentch.

Rather than degrade others for their behavior, we should just show that there are good Jews out there, and show what the Jewish people are really about.

Tue Jul 21, 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Baruch said...

ClooJew, you know what strikes me as fascinating? Not once in the haredi-run yeshivas I went to (one which was focused on kiruv krovim and the other on kiruv rechokim) did I ever hear any rabbi or frum bochur complain that one shouldn't be bashing the Modern Orthodox, Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chabad, et al. Yet, in the J-blogosphere, I always hear haredim complain that they're picked on (ever check out the haredi blogs and what they have to say about the Modern Orthodox?). The reason haredim are outnumbered here is because, in general, they really shouldn't be looking at blogs (http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2007/12/28/blogistan/). Also, at this point, it seems to many (including the blogger you're referring to) that the haredim are the future; a majority group which does not allow criticism of or disagreement with its leadership will find that laypeople will find other venues asides from the Jewish Observer so as to criticize and will use said venues extensively, perhaps more extensively than if they were allowed to criticize in the first place.

Does the blogger you're referring to overdo it? Yes. Does he not focus enough on the Modern Orthodox? Yes. But if nobody else is going to do it, do his criticisms have a place? Yep. I think people are dan lekav chov when they say he hates haredim though.

(Your article was picked up by Matzav.com; shkoyach.)

Tue Jul 21, 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger CJ Srullowitz said...

Baruch, thanks for your comment. I agree.

And thanks for letting me know about the Matzav pickup. They didn't notify me. I'm not sure whether to be flattered, or to sue for copyright infringement.

Perhaps both.

Wed Jul 22, 01:42:00 AM  
Blogger Proud MO said...

A big difference between the two groups is that when someone who is MO messes up and does something wrong, the MO world usually doesn't try to defend his actions. They will admit that he did something wrong.
Now, take the chareidi world. You have kids smuggling drugs into Japan? No, they were set up because they're too trusting. A mother is abusing her kids, because she's mentally ill? No, it's all lies. She didn't pull out the feeding tube, it fell out on its own. Yeshivos are covering up sexual abuse? No, it's all a bunch of lies.
I don't know whether it's the truth or not. However, to automatically assume it's all lies, and riot in the streets over it is wrong. At least realize that Jews can mess up too. Even chareidi ones.

Wed Jul 22, 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

CJ: just letting you know that I tried e-mailing you and it's giving me a mail delivery system error, so here's a link to the schedule.

Wed Jul 22, 05:51:00 PM  
Anonymous some one said...

They were set up and thought it was antiques. Yes some Jews out there do and sell drugs. But these guys are innocent

Wed Jul 22, 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Lady-Light said...

Well written & erudite. I agree with your "frum-looking Jew" assessment. Problem is, that is exactly on what the emphasis is on: looking and outwardly acting frum, and judgement accordingly on physical appearance, NOT on mitzvot bein adam le-havero .
I get very depressed when reading about the fraud and other crime committed by religious (so-called, but seen by the world as such) Jews. It really is beginning to feel like chevlei mashiach are here...

Sun Jul 26, 02:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

Sat Mar 13, 03:48:00 PM  

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