Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Rare Insight

When I was taking psychiatry in school I always wondered about schizophrenia.  If I developed it would my knowing about it change the course of the illness?  It sounds dumb in retrospect but I thought: if I know that there's a disease out there that makes you hear voices telling you to do terrible things and then you started hearing voices telling you to do terrible things, would there be a chance I'd be able to say, "Oh, this must be schizophrenia and the voices are just a symptom of it"?
And that's how I learned about the concept of insight.  One of the problems with schizophrenia is a lack of it.  A person might know all about the disease and be completely comfortable dismissing the other guy's complaints of psychotic symptoms but then turn around and decide that his own voices were, on the other hand, completely real.
A lack of insight isn't unique to schizophrenia, however, or even individuals.  An entire society or culture can have one.  The French don't know they're snobs or that they smell of body odour.  Americans don't know they talk loud and dress obnoxiously when they're on vacation.  If you criticize them for these traits they will generally look at you with a lack of understanding.  No insight.
And then there's Chareidi society.
As the venerable Rav Eidensohn notes, the famous lack of insight that defines Chareidism might just have been broken by a recent article in The Jewish Press:
1. We've chosen, for understandable educational reasons, to withdraw and live in exclusively Haredi cities and neighborhoods, avoiding as much as possible any social contact with the secular.
This is legitimate and understandable, but as a result they don't really know us, amd so they naturally view us as bizarre, in our manner of dress, our behavior, and our language. This creates aversion and alienation. Why, then, we are angry at them for treating us this way?
2. We chose, for educational reasons—although some of us really believe it—to teach our children that all secular Israelis are sinners, vacuous, with no values, and corrupt.
This could possibly be a legitimate view, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular, in return, teach their own children that the Haredim are all primitive, with outdated and despicable values?
3. We have chosen, for the sake of the preservation of Torah in Israel, to prevent our sons from participating in carrying the heavy burden of security, and instead tasked them with learning Torah.
Of course we could not give that up, but why are we outraged and offended when the secular, who do not recognize nor understand this need—or rather most of them are familiar with the issue, but argue that there should be quotas—see us as immoral, and some despise us as a result?
4. We chose for our sons who do not belong, by their personal inclination or learning skills to the group of Torah scholars (Yeshiva bums and worse), to also evade enlistment—including into perfectly kosher army units. And when it comes to the individuals who have joined the Haredi Nahal, we do not praise them, but despise them instead, and we certainly show them no gratitude, while the Haredi press ignores them—in the best case.
Why, then, are we outraged when the secular don't believe our argument, that the purpose of keeping yeshiva students from enlisting, is to maintain Torah study and not simply the Haredim's unwillingness to bear the burden?
5. We chose to teach our children not to work for a living, and to devote all their time to Torah study. Clear enough, but, then, why are we shocked when the secular—who do not consider Torah study an all encompassing value—feel that we are an economic burden on their necks, as a mere 38% of us take part in the labor force, and they hate us for it.
6. We chose not to teach our children any labor skills, and we condemn those who do pursue a profession. As a result our kolelim include all of those who do not belong among the scholars and still prefer not to work for a living.
Why, then, do we complain when the secular feel, and say so with an increasing volume, that we are parasites, living off of their efforts?
7. We chose (for educational considerations?) not to educate our children to show gratitude to the soldiers who risked their lives and were killed or injured for our sake, too. So we do not mention them in any way by any special day or prayer or special Mishna learning that's dedicated to their memory. Moreover, not a single Mashgiach or Rosh Yeshiva ever talks about it in a Mussar Schmooze, and you'll find no mention of it in the Haredi press.
Why, then, are we surprised that the secular feel that we are ungrateful and despicable, and that the reason for our not enlisting is simply because we are parasites, living off the sacrifices of others in society?
8. When extremist, delusional groups behave in ways that besmirch the name of God—e.g. the spitting in Beit Shemesh, dancing during the memorial siren, burning the national flag—our rabbis chose not to condemn them, clearly and consistently ( except for a few faint statements here and there). Why, then, are we explaining away the fact that the secular believe we all support those terrible acts? Why do we insist that their hostility stems from their hatred of the scholars?
9. We've opted to allow our public officials and pundits to curse out all the secular all the time. Why, then, when the secular media treat us the same way, are we offended and cry out that they're persecuting us?
10. The Haredi press will never offer any praise of or express support for secular Israelis who perform good deeds. Why, then, do we jump up and down when we are rewarded equally? And, in fact, while Haredi spokespersons rarely point anything positive about secular society, the secular media often gives positive coverage to Haredi organizations like Yad Sara, Hatzala, Zaka, etc.
11. We would not agree, under any condition, that secular Israelis turn up in our schools to teach our children heresy, and we would have kept them from putting up stands with books of heresy in our areas. Why, then, do we not understand when the secular do not agree that we seduce her children into denying their parents' heresy?
12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don't agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?
Going through this list it's not hard to realize that several of the items aren't just flaws in Chareidism but considered by its adherents to be articles of faith.  It's not just that some of them are obnoxious but that those particular folks see it as their religious duty to be obnoxious.
Here's an example to ponder.  A couple of years ago a group of Dati Leumi rabbonim issued a psak about not selling homes in Israel to Arabs.  The psak was widely denounced by secular Israeli society but also by HaRav Shteinman, now the de facto leader of the Yeshivish part of the Chareidi community.  But here's the problem.  In the same pronouncement where he declared the psak to be wrong he also noted that when it came to Chareidim and their desire for exclusive neighbourhoods things were different because of the special and unique needs of the Chareidi population.
Good for the goose, good for the gander?  Not according to him.
Something like five or six years ago Rav Yonasan Rosenblum wrote an essay describing a trip by secular Israeli students to Auschwitz that had gone wrong.  The students had acted out like wild animals disgracing themselves and their country in the eyes of the locals.  Rav Rosenblum noted that you never hear about that kind of thing happening when Chareidim go out on tours.  Tsk, tsk.
Except that a few weeks later the story broke about a Chareidi boys groups at Auschwitz who did the same thing.
As anyone who has ever attempted marriage counselling knows, the effort is doomed the minute one of the spouses announces that only his/her grievances are legitimate, that only he/she is right and that only the other person has to change.  With insight a person can make tremendous changes but I don't know of any magical techniques to create that insight in the first place.  (If you do, e-mail immediately)
Secular and Chareidi society in Israel are pretty much like that, like two warring spouses.  I saw a grat demonstration of that during a trip there in 1998.  One evening I sat down with some Chiloni friends who, through the course of the evening, explained everything that was wrong with the Chareidim.  The next evening I was sitting in Bene Beraq with Chareidi friends who also took the time to tell me about society's illness.  Secular society, that is.
The sad part about those two nights is that each group had the other pegged perfectly.  Chilonim are very aware of what's wrong with the Chareidim and vice versa.  Yes, there are hate mongers on both sides who will create new grievances just for the sake of a fight but the average guy on each side doesn't do that.  They look over the fence and see what's out in the open.
The problem is that they're so busy looking over at the other side of the fence that they forget to look at their side.  "Is it possible," each side could be asking itself, " that they're right about us?"
Perhaps I am just sensitive to this because, growing up in Canada, I've spent a lifetime listening to the French in Quebec whinging about how they want to be independent but who then announce that Quebec is indivisible when the natives there announce their intention to leave Quebec if there is separation.  The hypocrisy rankles.
And it rankles here as well.  For a Chareidi to announce "I hate Israel, the government is trying to destroy the Torah, has my kollel stipend cheque arrived in the mail yet?" and not see why the average non-Chareidi bristles is exactly the problem we as a nation are dealing with.
But how does one build insight into a philosophy that shuns the concepts as a matter of faith?

1 comment:

Adam Zur said...

i have decided that there are three levels of mental illness. Hardware, software and the actual intermediate zone.
Now if these can affect a group as well as an individual i am not sure. But when you are critical of the Orthodox world in Israel that seem s to me to be more of a problem of software. That is that there are simply ideal that have been taught that are not in accordance with reality and are self contradictory. perhaps the problem of having self contradictory ideas can affect the hardware also . But in general it looks to me that problem is simply that of the orthodox world view has little to do with reality. and it seems to have nothing to do with the world view of the Torah or the Talmud or the rishonim.