Tuesday, August 28, 2012


In the previous post, Walking Away from Judaism, many of the commenters took the post to be about Judaism's own standards, and began heated debates on the subject. While interesting, it was not the focal point of the post, nor was it what was being driven at. 

Growing up, I was always told that Jews were honest, good people. I was told this by Jews, but I was also told this by gentiles. They trusted the Jews, because we were trustworthy, and we were honest. We would treat them fairly and treat one another fairly. This was still true as I got older, too - it was the Jews who would tell cashiers if they were given too much change, it was the Jews who would go out of their way to help others - whether the person being helped was Jewish or not.

Today... this is simply not the view. When numerous people were defending criminals in the Orthodox community in a situation I was directly impacted by, it was the gentiles who had lost tens of thousands of dollars from those criminals who were the biggest menschen about it. Others have told us similar stories of Jews acting horribly, while the non-Jews involved performed well beyond the call of duty. The gentiles in the first story not only were incredibly kind and pleasant, meeting up with some of us afterward and being genuinely great people, but they even went beyond and tried to help a couple people who were struggling to find something to get a job. Meanwhile, in the community, people told those struggling that they should be thankful a criminal gave them a job for a year. Another friend was upended from a teaching job in a Jewish day school where he was performing wonderfully, because an administrator was rubbed the wrong way. Another administrator said it wasn't right, that he would fight for him... so the school held his own job over his head. He kept quiet. The only one to speak up? The non-Jewish general studies teacher who worked with him, who wrote a glowing recommendation, noting that what was being done was just wrong.

What happened? When did our community become so... horrible? We used to have standards of decency; expectations of how people act, a dedication to honesty and integrity, and an understanding of what the best way of doing things was. Now, we have nothing - no standards, no expectations, no honesty, and certainly no good approach of how to do things. We cannot continue in the direction we are going, or there will be nothing left worth salvaging. When, indeed, did we become so horrible? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?

I don't have a solution. But it certainly needs to start from within - we need to care about our standards. We need to care when people don't live up to them. People can't simply ignore the negative issues that surround them constantly. The more people speak up about the little things, the more it may begin to have an impact on all issues. It's time to start living up to our own standards.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Walking Away From Judaism

The last few months - perhaps years, but in particular the recent months - have been very trying for the average Orthodox Jew. Depending on one's views, a person may have spent the recent months justifying the massive expense for a gathering about an undoubtedly serious issue, defending the views expressed at said gathering and/or reconciling them with other serious conflicts, commenting on the sad article by a divorced man and his ex-wife whose dedication to his learning over working ultimately led to their divorce, and perhaps defending the stance of a major Jewish organization regarding how they feel molestation accusations should be handled - or criticizing all of the above. Or, perhaps some balance of both. No matter what one's opinions, there is no way to get around that these are the major topics of discussion in today's Orthodox world, and to argue any of these points is difficult, tiring, and perhaps most of all, depressing.

My mother was in a few months ago to visit my grandparents, and we discussed briefly how some Rabbonim feel that molestation cases should first be reported to Rabbonim before seeking out the secular authorities. My mother (who is a ba'alas teshuva from the 60's) was moderately aghast, and said something along the lines of "If a Rabbi would get up and say to me that I should report my kid being molested to him instead of the police, I'd hang my hat on the whole religion and walk away." I didn't have the heart to note that it was the spokesperson of one of the largest Orthodox organizations, the Agudah, which made this statement as an official Agudah edict, though she will upon reading this piece.

Her comment, however, makes a person wonder: Why, indeed, are we still clinging to Judaism?

A friend commented recently that she hates it when people say not to judge Judaism by the Jews: "A huge part of Orthodox life is the society we create around ourselves. We are meant to be part of the community." As such, it is impossible to just ignore everything that goes on and pretend as if it doesn't exist, as if it doesn't affect our day-to-day lives. Our children's schools are shaped by these issues, our home lives are shaped by them, and each of these issues ultimately shape how our communities are structured and how we interact with one another and with the world at large. Molestation is not merely an issue of children being horribly abused; it is an issue of what our priorities are as a community vis-a-vis interaction with secular authorities, how to balance protection of children from a suspected molester with the protection of adults from false accusations, how we weigh status, how we interact with our own communities, how we view someone who has committed horrible acts in the past moving forward, and how we view safety in general.

It is not enough to say that we should concentrate on worrying about ourselves while ignoring the actions of others. While understandable as an individual viewpoint, this passive approach has been a quiet failure for the Jewish community as a whole, as the actions of others do affect us. When a molester is protected for whatever sake, what does that show about how we value life, innocence, and our children? When dishonesty and theft are ignored, their actors praised - even at supposedly 'insignificant' levels - what message does that send to the hard-working majority, or to the next generation? When people hear about the latest wrong and simply shrug their shoulders, resigned to the idea that "well that's how it goes", without making a conscious effort to avoid patronizing, socializing, and rewarding those who act contrary to what is right, what does it say about us as a community?

What does it say about us as a people, as a religion, when we seem to spend more time justifying all we do that is wrong than being able to point to anything we do that is right?

It is easy to say that it is Elul, and a perfect time for a plea for action. But we shouldn't need Elul to wake up to what we're doing, to see where this is heading! We shouldn't need a special reason or push to do what we're supposed to be doing already. It's appalling that we don't speak out against all the issues that plague us as a community. It's despicable that we shrug off dishonesty like it's common, even if it is - especially if it is! - and it's pathetic that we still have sizable groups in the community who defend molesters; who don't care how they get something so long as it's a good deal for them, or who don't care about how a store acts or how a person made their money; and though we're decades into discussing the subject, who don't understand why so many kids are running off the derech. Maybe if we turned our backs on the people doing wrong, instead of on those trying to do what's right, we'll find that our community returns to one of happiness, of greatness, and of Godliness. Let's get it together for the simple reason that that's what we're supposed to do.

Otherwise, what are we clinging to?