Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Very Depressing

I'm sure you've probably noticed that over the last month or so I've been posting more infrequently than I used to. Over the last three months of 2009, I haven't had a single month where I put up ten posts.

I suppose a large part of the "blame" for this comes from the fact that I've just found the news that comes out of the Jewish community so... depressing... of late. Whether it be this scandal or that scandal, or some group of zealots trying to force their (usually distorted) version of Judaism on everyone else, the simple sinas chinam (baseless hatred) that comes out some camps, or the various "crises" -- real and manufactured -- that plague our communities, and a dozen other various little things -- it's all just depressing -- and it gets tiring seeing the same things happen over and over. One would hope that we would learn from our mistakes. But that doesn't seem to happen with us -- we merely blunder along from one disaster to another and lurch from one crisis to the next. And it's very depressing.

We are a splintered people, who seem to be flying further and further apart as the days progress. This group doesn't trust this hechsher, this group doesn't like that group's geirim. This one's bais din isn't good enough for the other. This one's definition of tznius isn't good enough for the other one, to the point where people are beating women in the street. This group's for the eruv, this one's against it. This group says that people who work aren't really keeping the Torah, that group says that communities who learn all day aren't living a proper life. And on and on. There's no unity among Orthodox Jews anymore -- to say nothing of the fact if we add in non-Orthodox Jews as well... and it's very depressing.

The press constantly reports on our misdeeds.* It seems like it's almost a weekly occurrence that you hear of a story in the mainstream press about a rabbi who embezzled or otherwise stole money, or molested a kid, or otherwise betrayed the trust of the community. It seems like we hear story after story about segments of the Jewish community trying to impose their standards on non-observant Jews or non-Jews, or trying to run roughshod over the rights and/or sensibilities of those same people. Yes, nothing truly illegal was done with regard to the Williamsburg bike lanes, or the East Ramapo school board, or any of the other cases -- but they still paint us in a very bad light... and it's very depressing.

We no longer seem to have any leadership. Sometimes our leadership acts wrongly and rashly -- without attempting to discern the facts before issuing rulings and bans. Sometimes our leadership is manipulated into acting a certain way by community zealots -- proving to all that they are not, in fact, leaders. Sometimes our leaders have strong convictions but are afraid to express them** for fear of being labeled "fake gedolim," once again showing that they are not true leaders. And, what's worse, the prospects for true leadership are very dim. Not because there aren't capable people who may be able to do the job, but because we are so fractured as a nation that one group won't accept the authority of another group's leadership -- no matter how capable and learned the person in question may be***. Most groups will only accept "their" leader and anyone outside those daled amos is either outright passul (unfit) or else just second-class. And it's very depressing.

We're a community that seems to look for ways to make our lives more difficult. Not content with merely preventing teenage boys and girls from meeting, we have so overly complicated the shidduch system that it's almost a miracle anyone actually manages to get through the system and get married. We make our economic lives difficult by not only demanding a yeshiva education (K-12) for our sons and daughters**** but then complicating it by making a year or two of learning in Israel practically de riguer. Far too many of us play "keeping up with the Jonses" when we just simply don't have the financial capability to do so. We make our communal lives more difficult by demanding that now every possible policy have "Da'as Torah" behind it and an array of rabbinic approbations. We seem to have surrendered any notion of independent thought, reducing us all to merely actors who must follow pre-ordained scripts in every aspect of our lives no matter how minute. And it's very depressing.

We've become a nation of self-appointed judgers. This one's kids can't play with the other one's because they're not of the same group. This woman must be bad -- her skirt is only at the knee and she's not wearing stocking in ninety degree weather. This yeshivish guy must be an idiot to decide to call his Rebbe and ask for advice on personal life matters. This one doesn't eat only cholov yisroel, that one doesn't wear the right type of hat by davening. This one wears a colored shirt, that one wears only black and white. This one davens in a shul where the mechitza is only seven and a half feet high, that one davens in a shul where they sing more of the davening, this one davens in a shul where the rav wears a knitted yarmulke. This one's cousin went off the derech, so there must be a problem in the family, that one's uncle is on the derech, but doing time in Otisville. This one's kids go to a co-ed yeshiva (does it even then qualify as a yeshiva?) and this one's goes to a yeshiva where secular studies are a joke. We can't have this girl in our school because she's a Sephardi. We can't have that boy because his father doesn't learn six hours every day. We look at our fellow Jews and find them wanting for not following our own derech -- too far to the left or the right and find fault (and, yes, I too have been guilty of this) and look down on them with disdain. And it's very depressing.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers to any of these problems. I really wish I did, but I don't -- and nor do I think that anyone else does. And that, too, is very depressing.

The Wolf

* I'm not saying that our misdeeds should be kept hush-hush.

** Yes, I'm well aware of the irony of an anonymous blogger taking leadership to task for being afraid to express their convictions -- but then again, I am NOT a community leader and I don't have the same responsibility to the community that they have.

*** I've always had a pet theory regarding Moshiach. I've always felt that a sure sign that someone is Moshiach is that he's able to get all Jews to agree that he's the leader. If anyone can do that, he *has* to be Moshiach.

**** I'm not saying that this is a bad thing either.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Remember that on the Yom HaDin you will not be asked what you thought of the rabbis who stole or the pedophiles at the local yeshiva. You will be asked: Did you do your best to be a good person? Isn't that enough to keep each of us busy for the next few decades?
Do we have flaws as a people? Um, yeah, a few. But sometimes it's hard enough for each of us to remember that ultimately we each have to be the best person we can be without worrying about what the other guys are doing.

#2 said...

Wow! I think this is a gfeat post on all of the negative issues facing Orthodox Judaism today.
We really need some answers.

G*3 said...

It is depressing.

I think that if people, in general, could learn to live and let live and not be afraid of ideas different than their own the world would be a much better place.

Devorah said...

I agree with you, it's very depressing, and it's enough to turn us all off our own religion.
I think you just inspired me to do a posting of my own about it.
Keep writing, because we need good blogs now more than ever.

ProfK said...

You're so right that it is depressing. Not much out there happening to give chizuk that things are going to get better either.

Shiloh said...

Very good post. I beleive that haShem is our only hope. He, blessed be He is breaking us. As far as the Mashiach is concerned, as the late Rav Kaduri stated, he will be accepted by the non-religious Jews and the religious will have a very hard time with him. I think haShem is sending what we need, not what we think we need.

I hope haShem opens the doors soon. He sends the answer before the problem appears. I think we have not hit the bottom yet to reveal the solution. Keep blogging and don't fret

G6 said...

Wonderful post.
A testament on its own as to why you must continue blogging....

Baal Habos said...

(Skeptic hat off).
What's terrible is that the people in my frum circle aren't even cognizant of the issues at more than a superficial level. I.e. They see Tropper simply as a sex scandal involving a Rabbi; without even being aware of issues such as Slifkin, Geirus, his close ties to the "Gedolim", etc. Judaism is burning while everyone is fiddling with Strawberries.

G6 said...

"Judaism is burning while everyone is fiddling with Strawberries."

That is profound.

Baal Habos said...

Well it's a bit paraphrased , a take off of Rome Burning, while Nero fiddling. But I'm OK with profound!

G6 said...

Baal Habos -
I'm well aquainted with the quote, which is why I found your version so incredible :D

Anonymous said...

I almost never post anonymously, but this time I must. I'm a middle-aged man with a family who's been frum for 30 years. I share all of your angst and am too deeply pained by this storm that's enveloped us.

The underlying cause of all this, IMHO, is extremism. This may be of little comfort, but it's not just us. Yes, we have our extremist Chareidim who try to force their standards on everyone. We have our extremist MO's who have no tolerance for anyone to the right of them. We have our extremist RZ's who burn down mosques and are will to sacrifice everything for their messianic views. And on and on.

The broader world is suffering from this too. There are extremist Moslems, who are wrecking havoc everywhere. There are extremist liberals who are trying to destroy the moral fabric Western civilizaiton. There are extremist environmentalist who would throw the entire world into poverty to advance their agenda. And on, on.

Seems more depressing no? But it's not. Because when you look around, when you look under all the extremism, which really only comes from a minority of people. You see people, regular people. People who want to live, to love, to be happy, to eat, to have shelter. People who care about others. People who want to be cared about. Scratch the surface and that's who's there. And they are Moslem, Jewish, Palestinian, white, black, women, men.

In life I've learned that you can learn more from those who behave badly. You can learn who not to behave, how not to think, and how not to treat other people. It's changed my life. I never yell at people I work with, because I have a boss who does. I don't judge other people's religious behavior because I hate being judged by others. You get the idea.

I've also learned that we, as Jews, are no different than anyone else. That's evident from all the examples you brought. We have no genetic edge over anyone. We're not "chosen" to be better than others. The rest of humanity are not props on the stage of our existance.

We were "chosen" to be messengers. To bring the beauty of Torah to the world. We CAN be better if we properly follow the Torah. And anyone who chooses to join us and follow the Torah can be better too. Anyone. And through our example, when we're doing it right, everyone can benefit.

I don't have the answer for the big problems. All I can suggest is that each of us, who are so affected by what's going, must improve ourselves by internalizing how NOT to be, by rejecting "their" example.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that a well-thought out comment that is against extremism had to be posted anonymously. It's a shame that someone is afraid that anti-extremist views will make him a target or tarnish him in some way.

E-Man said...

This is an excellent post. It states all the issues that Orthodox Judaism faces. I disagree with those who say each one of us should look at ourselves and try to be the best we can be. Although this is true, if everyone does this, who will stop the crazies? How will we unite Judaism by ignoring the problem? The people who care about Judaism need to form organizations that fight against these corrupt organizations and policies.

For example, I am not sure if anyone is familiar with the Gemorah about Rabban Gamliel (I think) who was the first one to be buried in his tachrichen (what garment, kitel). There was a huge problem back in the day, everyone was going broke throwing funerals. Many people went into debt and wasted all of their money because everyone was trying to outspend everyone else when it came to burying their loved one. Rabban Gamliel saw this huge problem and how it was destroying the community. He announced that when he died he wanted only simple clothes that were cheap and that is it. No more of this being buried with gold, silver, expensive clothes, etc.

Rabban Gamliel stood up to a major problem and saved the financial state of all of Israel. We need someone, or an organization, that will do similar things. An organization that bans child molesters when some communities try to protect them. An organization that protects Geirim from being deemed unfit. An organization that can figure out how to make Jewish education affordable. So on...

We need people to stand up and lead, not just give piskei halacha. That is important, but Judaism needs leaders. We can not just sit and work on ourselves, we need someone to grab the reins and lead. Preferably someone who is not involved in scandals and immorality.

The biggest problem is the fact that so many sects of Judaism (within orthodox Judaism) try to delegitimize one another. This has got to stop before anything can be accomplished. Why do the gedolim, on all sides, allow this?

Jewish Atheist said...

I agree with anonymous. The extremists have taken over. And the non-extremists are so scared of looking not holy enough that they don't do anything about it. Stop looking to the so-called gedolim to the right of you as if they are somehow superior. They are not. Their take on the religion is worse -- both morally and factually.

It's time for the MO and Orthoprax to step up and stop cowering at the thought of being thought of as less-than by the extremists. Newsflash: they already think that way of you, just as you already think that way of the Conservative and Reform movements.

In truth, the further left you go, the more moral and more truthful the religion gets. You know, deep down, that Conservatives are more right about biblical authorship than the Orthodox, and that the Reform are more right about homosexuality than the Conservatives.

The root of the problem is not keeping up with the Joneses, but keeping up with the extremists. Stand up, speak the truth with courage, and do what's right instead of what a bunch of crazy people tell you is right.

Brian said...

"The underlying cause of all this, IMHO, is extremism."

The underlying problem is discrepancy between false philosophies and reality. The increasingly negative consequences of greater, more consistent adherence to a philosophy is a sign that it is fundamentally wrong.

"In truth, the further left you go, the more moral and more truthful the religion gets."

That's because there's less of it!

Different communities have the same conversation "Judaism says A, scientific and historical evidence indicate not A, but B. How much scientific ambiguity allows us to keep Judaism, and how much textual ambiguity makes it safe to drop the Torah belief?" Having to make this judgement call will *inevitably* lead to endless schism and judging others as irrational or heretical. Part of making that decision is a *rejection* of alternate approaches.

Incidentally, I'm not impressed by the ability of liberals professing different religious beliefs to get along. They actually have the same core belief - secular tolerance - and are religious when it doesn't interfere with that. I support tolerance, but it's much easier without pretending to know what a creator of the universe wants everyone to do.

Anonymous said...

I honestly could not have said this better myself. Makes me wanna look for something else... a truer Truth.

G*3 said...

If it's any comfort, at least we're all sane. :)

sara maimon said...

Yes but what is the underlying cause of extremism?

I believe it is simply a backlash, a backlash against the almost certain knowledge that religion as we know it- as the total system that had all the answers dictated from above- is coming to an end.

This is not to minimize the potential damaging effects that a backlash can have.

Ari said...

Excellent post, and mostly excellent comments, esp. from anon 4:51 and Baal Habos.

Mikeskeptic said...

This post resonates with me just as it does with the other commentators here. I don't see it as a bad thing though that orthodoxy is showing some cracks at the seams. It's pretty much what one would hope to see if one were looking for signs of an impending neo-haskalah movement, as I have been predicting for some time. When the thoughtful individuals who live and thrive in the heart of a community begin to see its value system and social structure as broken, that is a pretty good indicator that the younger generation will begin to stray from the community. We are seeing that now in Flatbush, where the level of observance and community "loyalty" of the 25-35 year old population group is markedly weaker than among the 35-45 year olds. Just to name one data point, Agudah has not made any real headway in getting the 40 and below crowd to become involved despite some real efforts to attract them. This trend will only accelerate.