Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

It's About How Others See You

It's nice to see that Rav David Kornreich was able to take time off from his usual anti-Slifkin crusade to contribute to Cross-Currents.  It's even more interesting to see that even as condemnation of the Chareidi fanatics in Israel grows he has chosen to throw his lot in with Rav Yaakov Menken's "We are not to blame!" campaign.  Rav Kornreich makes the perfectly logical point that Chareidi society, like any other society, is composed of multiple groups and that bad behaviour by one sector does not mean all the others are responsible or equally to blame.  He notes that these fanatics listen to almost no one which makes official statements of condemnation by "Gedolim" meaningless.  Therefore why should the greater Chareidi community be held accountable for the actions of these few that are beyond their control?
I would like to provide an answer to his concerns.
One of the most important lessons I learned in medical school was how to appreciate that people have unique perceptions of situations that can vary quite significantly between folks.  I might think that I have been perfectly clear in explaining to a patient what his problem is and all he might have heard was "Blah, blah, blah".  Consider the dreaded scenario, the one where I tell someone they have cancer, Rachmana litzlan.  I might have a great speech prepared, full of comforting words and copious assurances about the various treatment options and all the appointments I've arranged.  Once the patient hears "cancer" everything else I say turns into an incoherent mumble.  If I don't realize that, if I walk out the room convinced I've done a great job handling the situation I'm fooling myself and I haven't done my job.  The patient's perception is everything.  If they're not happy, I haven't done what I'm supposed to, no matter how great I think my performance was.
Now, to the outside world the Chareidim are one big monolithic group.  It's bad enough that if you put on a skullcap of any kind that people automatically lump you together, how much more so the Oreo cookie uniform?  It's true that amongst Chasidim each can tell which clan the other is part of from the way the hat is styled and worn but to those of us on the outside they all look the same.  A Gerrer chasid who sees a Belzer tearing up the street with a chainsaw in hand might think "Nothing to do with me" but for outsiders all they see is a crazy Ultraorthodox Jew and they'll look at the Gerrer next to him and wonder what he has stashed in his bekishe.
Then consider what the situation is like for those who pay attention to ongoing events in the religious world.  Every week another pashkevil or cherem seems to appear on the streets of Israel.  This is banned, that is condemned and the Heavens shake to their very foundation every day over some new outrage over such nonsense and meaningless things.  But we are still waiting for a fiery denounciation of this ongoing Chilul HaShem.  Not part of your community?  It's never stopped you from condemning someone before.  Indeed the responses from the Chareidi camp that have appeared only seem to cement impressions that the "gedolim" have no real clue what's going on and see non-Chareidi resistance to the thugs as yet another pogrom against them.
For these reasons alone it is imperative for the Chareidi leadership to come out with unequivocal statements of condemnation of the whackjobs in Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim.   The perception from the outside is what matters.  What people outside the Chareidi community matters.  It is not enough, as Rav Kornreich claims, to know that the primitives don't care about pronouncements from Ravs Eliashiv and Sternbuch.  It is not enough to say "Well I can tell the difference between 'my' Chareidim and 'them'".  Too many on the outside cannot and are getting fed up with part of what they see as a big monolithic family covering for and quietly supporting these provocations.  They will not endure this forever.


SJ said...

The haredi leaders wanna keep that us vs. them thing going.

That's what the Israeli riots are about.

That's what chabad & rubashkin is about too by the way.

Keeping people in the fold by making them feel the whole world is against them.

Avraham said...

I really don't mind that the Charedim are showing everyone what evil really lurks in their wicked hearts. To me this is a Kidush Hashem. But it does bother me very much that they use the name of the Talmud to proliferate their lunacy.
I just wish they would do their evil without hiding behind Halacha.
But maybe this is good too. After all perhaps people will begin to realize that what orthodox rabbi teach is are not really teaching Halacha at all but rather they make it up as they go.
Orthodox rabbis have as much to do with Halacha as apples have to do with an Apple-Mac.--or sand has to do with the ocean. Though they touch, there is a difference in essence.

Bob Miller said...

Adam Zur, don't call the whole group wicked. Your attitude is part of the problem.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

So one way of dealing with the issue is by specifically presenting public opinion pieces that offer a different perspective...and that is what at least some charedim attempt to do through a video that was posted on the Nishmablog. See

I also have some comments there about what I think of this.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Avraham said...

I use the word wicked to refer to a group that as a group acts wickedly. This I do though i know there may be some exceptions. If yeshiva people or regular working Jews don't want their name to be associated with chareidim I have not heard of it.
Regular Jews and good yeshivot could easily clear their name by denying any association with the chareidim.
And further I claim that there is a consistent tendency among chareidim to use the Torah for wicked purposes.

Dovid Kornreich (Dr. Jekyll) said...

My question to you is this Garnel: When have you ever heard a leader's condemnation/disassociation from a group's violence ever working? If that leader is strongly associated by popular misconception (or because they are both members of a wider common label) then how does this help?
Does Abbas' condemnation of terror really do any good for any existing peaceful Palestinians? Or do we say to ourselves "Yeah, right. He just trying to save face for the media."

I think it just makes those who know the truth feel good to see it being said in public, but I highly doubt it convinces anyone who is very glad to lump us all together.
Those with an agenda like Naomi Ragen will always twist any public statement that interferes with their preconceived bigoted notions.
Please comment on this ridiculous article:

It shows how futile a public denunciation of the wackos by Chareidim are.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

On one hand, Rav Kornreich, your point is sound.
On the other hand your use of Abbas as an analogy is an apt choice. Yes, Abbas condemns violence in English but he repeatedly endorses it in Arabic once CNN stops paying attention. Now we have reports that the Eida Chareidis is endorsing the "protests" and supporting the fanatics even though its PR people say they don't. What gets said in Hebrew and what in Yiddish, hmm?
The point of public denunciation is not for the Chareidi rioters but for your own sake. You are lumped in with them. Yes I know there's a world of divide between you and them but no one else does, they're the majority and they can cause lots of grief to you because of the fanatics.

And I'll look at the article and let you know what I think, thanks for the tip.

Law mom said...

I also think the analogy to Abbas is appropriate.

Nobody was ever truly persuaded by the "it's not fair to demand that all of us in group x show that we don't agree with the wackos from our group" argument.

Fair or not, it's the question on people's minds. I believe that anyone religious today needs to be prepared to answer the question, "how are you different from the Taliban?" If you shoot the question down by claiming that it's unfair, it doesn't go away - it remains unaddressed and suspicions and stereotypes remain. For a prime example, look at how Ontario's Premier McGuinty tapped into Islamophobia to defeat funding for faith-based schools and religious arbitration in family law cases (and note how both issues ended up harming the Jewish community more than the Muslim one).

Look at how a press release from CAIR differs from stuff that Tarek Fatah writes. You can tell when the message is spin vs. genuine commitment to critique and see positive changes.

I wonder if we'll see any re-examination of wider issues - for example, criticism of the tone and attitude in Rabbi Falk's book on tznius.

Mr. Cohen said...

betzalel said...

There is a saying from another religion "you reap what you sow."

The spitting on 8 year old girls and the Holocaust costumes weren't created in a vacuum. It is the Haredi community's collective responsibility to clean up this mess by creating an environment where such behavior is not tolerated.