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.
* 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.