Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Not So Quiet Riot

There are now two reasons that certain segments of the Chareidi community are rioting in Israel. First, there's the parking lot issue in which non-Jews are being employed by the Yerushalayim municipality to keep a tourist-heavy parking lot open on Shabbos. The second is the recent case involving a mother with purported Munchausen's syndrome whose child was taken into care by social services after it was discovered and confirmed that she was starving and abusing him. As a result, while the hills of Austria may be alive with the sounds of music, the streets of our holy city are filled with smoke from burning trashcans and calls of "Nazis!"
It's so easy to condemn the Chareidi population as a whole, which is happening on many blogs. After all, to us outsiders they all look alike and, let's be honest, we often don't care about making proper differentiations. Does the guy down the street have a black hat on? Well, he's just as guilty as the freak on the news we just saw attacking a police officer, isn't it.
The blog Lulei Demistafina notes some problems with this thinking:
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.
Other than making one significant mistake - Bernie Madoff is not Modern Orthodox, he's not even shomer mitzvos - this post makes an excellent set of points. We would never condemn the entire black community for the poor behaviour of some of their most criminal-minded members. We would never say "All Chinese are frauds" after the lipsyncing incident at the Olympics? But if a few hundred Chareidim riot like animals, well we sit back with a smug look on our face and say "See? They're all like that."
It's at times like this that we have to remind ourselves that while some of our people want nothing to do with us, the vast majority emotionally our brethren. It is also a mitzvah to judge our people favourably. Even as these primitives do their best to convince us otherwise, it behooves us to remember that.


CJ Srullowitz said...

Dr. Ironheart,

Thanks, lulei demistafina, for the plug. One clarification for you (and perhaps I have to reword my post): the MO man I was referring to was not Bernard Madoff, but one of the people who funneled money to him.

Kol tuv.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Ah, point well taken and thank you.