Sunday, August 26, 2012

What's Wrong with Orthodox Judaism Today

This post has been inspired by a number of recent incidents in the orthodox world, a post by Ezzie and a conversation with Erachet. The title of this post should really be “What’s wrong with the World Today” because the same issues apply to everyone, but I decided to focus on Orthodox Judaism for the sake of space.

From my estimation, the problems all stem from (no surprise here) a lack of communication. There are very few who can honestly claim to understand the hashkafas and other thought processes of someone different than they are. If you are Chasidish, you likely cannot comprehend the understanding of a Modern-Orthodox person. If you associate yourself with YU, you probably are not familiar with the hashkafa of Chaim Berlin. I’m not saying that this is true for everyone; it’s certainly not. However, from my experiences, most people are not familiar with customs, ideals and thought processes outside of their own.

Here’s the problem: people make assumptions. People tend to believe that they know and understand the ideals of others without having done the research. So, if someone or some group were to do something against one of those ideals, of course there will be questions.

Take for example the whole concept of protecting child molesters. **DISCLAMER: What I am about to say in no way defends the actions of anyone involved with child abuse – whether it be the actual transgressors
 or those who cover it up.** I want to start off by making it clear that I hope nobody thinks that there are any logical people who believe that a child molester is in the right. Nobody applauds them for their actions. From conversations that I have had with people, I can tell that they have already made up their mind as to why someone would try to cover these actions up, pay for an attorney, etc. Almost every time this is brought up, someone will say that the reason for all the secrecy is that chas v’shalom someone should think that this goes on in our community.

I will admit that if this is the reasoning, then I would have questions about it as well:
How can you idiots be so blind?
Don’t you see what you are doing to our children?
Can’t you understand that this is destroying the community?

However, this is merely assuming that this is the reasoning. I would like to offer another possibility. It wasn’t too long ago that turning a Jew over to authorities meant that person’s life. This happened throughout Europe and Russia, and I kind of understand the hesitation to turn these people over to the law. They might believe that it would be more beneficial to keep them in the community and deal with the perpetrators in their own way (whether or not we agree with that way), instead of sending them to prison. (I don't want this to be confused with m'sirah - that's not what this is. M'sirah does not apply in a case where a person was completely in the wrong according to the ruling government).

This brings me to point number 2. The assumption is that these people are let loose on society with no repercussions. I don’t think this is true either, and here’s why: I hear about two or three instances of abuse in the orthodox community a year. Nobody can tell me that this is anywhere near the actual total. There are many, many more actual cases of abuse that exist. I have to believe that within a close-knit community such as the ones that under scrutiny in this case, that people know who the threats are and keep their own children away from them as such. Additionally, even though they don’t “talk” about it, this knowledge gets around. I maintain that although we don’t see it, counseling for these people is going on behind closed doors.

Before you get all upset about me being so naive about what actually goes on in one of these communities, I would like you to think about how YOU know what happens. Are you part of one of these communities? Are you a leader of one of these communities? Are you one of the people trying to cover these stories up? Are you basing your issues off of facts? If the answer to two or more of these questions are no, then all I ask is that you begin to be dan l’kav z’chus. This inyan seems to have been completely cast aside here. Hardly anyone does it anymore because there are a few times when you don’t have to be. Judging people for defending someone else is NOT one of them. Again, I am not saying that what I am saying is what happens across the board, but what I am saying is that the possibility for this exists.

Once you have spoken to people about these issues, and have finally fully understood the entire reasoning behind the defense of such people, then, and only then, will you have a right to judge. But that is the main issue at hand: the lack of communication. People need to open their minds to explore other ideals. Why does "open-mindedness" only have to be met by the more conservative? Why do the more liberal not need to be open minded towards others as well?

There are plenty of other examples of how, as a Jewish community there is a lack of communication between sects. We fight because we don’t understand each other, not because we disagree with each other. The way certain people dress, the amount of time spent learning, the stringency of Kashrus – all of these issues we have with each other stem from a lack of understanding. And don’t even get me started on the “Charedim Crisis” in Eretz Yisrael.

I keep saying things like communication between the sects will never happen. We are so caught up in our own lives and values that we have no time to listen to others’. But as Erachet has pointed out, if we keep saying that it will never happen, it never will. Why can’t a counsel with Rabbanim and community leaders be set up? One that will include spiritual leaders and community leaders of all areas of Judaism (even Reform and conservative if possible)! It can happen and the more I think about it, the more it is clear that it has to happen. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue in a downward spiral for a long time.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


It is getting progressively more and more annoying to lead a mezuman. How many people do I need to mention when I b’r’shus? When I was a kid, all was simple: Maranan V’rabanan V’rabosai. That was it. There was no need to ask permission from anyone else. That was probably because I only led the mezuman in school.  When I was in high school, I began adding my father into it when I was at home. Shortly after that, following a few meals at friends’ houses I began to include the head of household. But then it got way, WAY out of hand.
People began to get upset when the m’zamen left out the wife of the person whose house it is. And then, when you start to add in the wife, be sure not to do it everywhere you go, because some people think you’re one of “those” people. You know who you are. After that, it seemed like every single person at the table got added in. “Ishti” is common; “Achi” and “Achoti” have been added, too. And just in case there is anyone still insulted, the end is “Kol ham’subin kan,” even when the one leading has already added in every single person at the table (I’ve experienced this more than once).
As a Kohen, I often get to lead, but G-d forbid someone else does it and doesn’t use “b’r’shus haKohen,”  he is lambasted by the rest of the table for forgetting me. How dare he forget to honor me! What is he thinking? Doesn’t he know how to do this? Once, while I was engaged, I went out to lunch with two friends. One was also engaged. The single guy led the mezuman and said “b’r’shus chasanim d’nanim. New level. And on and on it goes. People keep trying to outdo each other by thinking up newer and newer people to ask permission from in order to bentch.
And I am not immune to this either. I once said “b’r’shus ba’al haSuccah hazeh” on Succos. What’s next? Will someone say b’r’shus ba’al hamarpeset hazeh” at a bar-b-que, or b’r’shus ba’al hasimcha hazeh at a sheva b’rachos in a restaurant? (Actually, it would be ba’alei hasmcha hazeh” lest we leave out the wife.)
The point is that it’s far too much. I’m just going to resort back to what’s in the bentcher. No frills. Just "b'r'shus maranan v'rabanan v'rabosai," like the Lord intended.