Thursday, December 25, 2008

Should We Post About Extreme Customs?

In my post on (what I thought would be fictional scenarios of) segregation of the sexes, ZachM made an interesting comment that I felt deserved a response.

Here is Zach's comment:

Please, everyone, we know that these aren't rational approaches, do not make sense, and are completely abhorrent, but only some of us know that it is not the norm. Living in a modern orthodox community, i have been privileged to live with common sense, a strong sense of values, and equality and I truly believe that these are the sentiments of most Jews--not the crazy separatist views portrayed by those ultra-orthodox (though i do not like this designation, as it makes them seem more right, when all they are is ridiculously extreme and wrong); however, many especially *outsiders* looking in do not know this! Imagine how we Jews look to others who see posts like this! If i did not know that this was a small minority, i myself would be turned off of Judaism! Please, everyone, in your posts we could avoid a huge Chillul Hashem by pointing out that these outlandish customs are just that--outlandish--to the rest of the Orthodox community!

I'll admit off the bat that Zach has what is potentially a valid point: that people who read about the customs of some of the extreme (or even not-so-extreme) fringes of our society may be turned off to Judaism and may just dismiss us as a bunch of provincial, backwards kooks. However, I do have to disagree with Zach. I think that it behooves us to actively make the point that these customs do *not* represent normative Judaism. If we fail to do so, and simply hope that people who are "on the fence" about becoming frum aren't going to find out about the extreme fringes, we are doomed to failure -- because they will eventually find out. In today's day and age, where information flows freely, they will hear about the people who demand separate seat buses, or who beat up girls who walk through "religious" neighborhoods anyway. It's up to us to actively bring to the fore the fact that these people *do* exist and that they are *not* a part of normative Orthodox Judaism.

The Wolf

UPDATE (12/26 7:22am): Apparently, I misunderstood ZachM's point. He agrees with me after all. My apologies for misreading your comment Zach.

The Wolf


ProfK said...

I agree Wolf that we need to post about these extreme actions, and yes, part of the reason is so that those who are looking at us and perhaps looking to join with us see that normative Orthodox Judaism is not what these extremists are practicing. But we also need to post so that the extremists themselves see that their actions are open to discussion, that they are not cowing us into silence. They need to see that there is strength in our numbers. So many of their actions are carried on in public; it is, therefore, in public that we need to decry these actions and condemn them.

ZachM said...

Yes!! Wolf, that was exactly my point!!! I don't know if you misread it or if I miswrote it, but that is what I was saying!!
We need to bring these practices to people's attention but we MUST point out that it is NOT normative Judaism!!! I was not criticizing you, Wolf, but many of the commenters who tell horror stories with no disclaimer, whether in tone or explicit!

ZachM said...

I feel I need to add: I'm sorry for being unclear. I meant to say specifically we DO need to bring these to light, but we also MUST clarify that these customs ARE the fringes, so people know that most Jews are not like this. You do a wonderful job (IMHO) of this, Wolf, and you command much of my respect for the way you go about it.

Pesky Settler said...

I read ZachM's reply and interpreted his request to be that while we should expose some of the more fanatical practices as being fanatic and not normative practice, we should do so with a very clear caveat stating that this is an extreme, fanatical practice and many Orthodox Jews do not practice nor agree with it.

BrooklynWolf said...


I'm sorry. Apparently, I *did* misunderstand your comments. Glad to see that we're on the same page.

Thank you for the kind words.

The Wolf

Nice Jewish Guy said...

I have to say that while I agree wholeheartedly with Wolf & Zach, I think that these extreme practices are in fact becoming normative Orthodoxy, if they aren't already in some areas. The definition of "normative" is:
1. of or pertaining to a norm, esp. an assumed norm regarded as the standard of correctness in behavior, speech, writing, etc.
2. tending or attempting to establish such a norm, esp. by the prescription of rules: normative grammar.
3. reflecting the assumption of such a norm or favoring its establishment: a normative attitude.

What is normative is defined by those doing it and influencing others. I read somewhere (on another blog or comment, I think) that these extreme religious observances are vert effective from an 'evolutionary' point of view; those who adhere are accepted into the community and reproduce, while those who don't adhere are ostracized and leave the community, and flounder because the restrictiveness of their former communities never equipped them to survive outside of it. Kiryas Joel is a prefect example. But it bleeds over into more leftward communities where things have been sliding progressively to the right, like Brooklyn, Far Rockaway, etc.

I think we need to redefine what 'normative' is so that these extreme practices don't find their way into regular practice.

Jeff Eyges said...

To what Nice Jewish Guy said, I'll add that in previous generations, this behavior would have been aberrant. Over the past several decades, however, the number of Hareidim has grown to a point at which they now constitute the majority of Orthodoxy. In addition, the Modern Orthodox have cultivated the unfortunate habit of regarding Hareidi Judaism as somehow more "authentic", and have communicated this attitude subliminally to their children, with the result that they are now losing young people to them, diminishing the ranks of MO even further.

The Hareidi world is collapsing, for many reasons. Within a generation or two, it will be gone - and when they go, they're taking Orthodoxy with them. I am not frum, so it isn't really my problem - but, if you care about the continuity of your belief system and way of life, you have got to try to take Orthodoxy back from them, before it's too late - if it isn't already.

Lion of Zion said...


"But we also need to post so that the extremists themselves see that their actions are open to discussion, that they are not cowing us into silence."

to the contrary, consider what it means that this very discussion is taking place on an anonymous blog with anonymous commentors.

-suitepotato- said...

It doesn't matter that people are anonymous. The volume of the posts and content are what matters first. The needed second step is encouraging it within your own community where you aren't anonymous.

Shooting the breeze outside shul (in warmer weather if you're in the northeast)? Bring up some of the extremist nonsense. Talk about it. Those who keep abreast of things by reading blogs need to then bring the conversation to those who don't.