Thursday, August 17, 2006
Blog, Blogger, Bloggest
I must admit, until very recently I was quite unfamiliar with the whole blog notion, let alone j-blogging. But through an interesting turn of events, I realized that among the wide array of free internet services, the free blogging sites earned a seat of honor, which has brought about a flurry of Jewish blogs. From personal diaries to jokes to news and assorted information to collectibles, it's all there. Yet the vast majority of Jewish blogs deal with the authors' grievances, or at lest some dissatisfaction, with the orthodox 'establishment', i.e. prominent Rabbis and batei-din, community leaders and the frum media. Whether and how justified these grumblings are depend vastly on the individual author and the reader's perception thereof; yet it is undeniable that there is indeed a grassroots wave of dissatisfaction - and a yearning for change - of the frum leadership from within the orthodox community.
The common denominator of these blogs, even the more intelligent and serious ones, is a certain aspect of the authors' mentality: a claim to an open mind, a rather superficial acquaintance with Western culture, and a leaning to centrist-moderate outlook on current events, as well as their perception of their world and the world at large. This is especially true to the blogs authored by ex-Hassidim or incognito-blogging Hassidim. Examples include bemoaning the war's claim of innocent Lebanese lives despite the author's taking Israel's side, or taking the grotesque and tasteless Brooklyn-style furniture for "a chair taken out of a French museum" (the author was deriding the Hassidim's obsession with covering those brute "masterpieces" with thick, child-resistant plastic). This is in fact nothing but a mental "nouveau-riche" state, in which a formerly schtreimel-enclaved soul discovers the other side of the street, causing his disc-changer to contain Pink Floyd, Eminem and Billy Idol at the same time, not realizing that this is the secular equivalent of wearing jeans and a schtreimel, or shorts and a black hat, which automatically give away the "baal-thsuvah" on sight. These bloggers, with all their merits and/or faults are in fact reverse baalei-tshuvah; not in the sense that they abandon Yiddischkeit lock, stock and bagel, but with their misreading and false impression of the "goy" street.
These blogs might have passed unperceived, maybe even unnoticed, by the frum community and its aforementioned 'establishment', if not for the flagrant, confrontational, despicable and outright offensive attacks of the “Un-Orthodox Jew” against it, which recently created a storm in a teacup. The blog started as a vent pipe for grievances with everything that is wrong within the frum community, and quickly escalated to unbriddeled thrashing in every imaginable direction. Outright smearing of venerable Talmidei-Chachomim long deceased followed hammering of frum institutions for frauds and cover-ups, especially of child molestation, all done in a vile, disrespectful and confrontational tone. A chain reaction ensued, as opponents and supporters opened their own blogs, and some prominent rabbis got indirectly involved.
Unfortunately, instead of bringing these important issues to the forefront and open examination by the community itself, the strife played itself out on the internet and the pages of secular media, alerted partly by the “UOJ” and/or someone acting on his behalf. Yet so far none of these issues has been solved nor improved. I may even wander to think that it made things worse: albeit there might be a little more ghetto-wide awareness to institutional dishonesty and child abuse, the vitriolic commentators on the UOJ blog are anonymous, and the author himself still claims not to have been identified; no conviction has been brought about, and the child molesters and their accomplices are still at large. This can hardly be seen as a defeat for the criminals. Yet the UOJ is still vociferating victory, promising to provide more and more child molesters. And whenever one of his targets fails to be at least reasonably falling under public conviction, he leaves the subject and finds a new one. Many rabbis have been named, and then forgotten, without follow up or apology. This not only shreds the UOJ’s credibility, but turns away undecided people, or those who support the cause and oppose the modus operandi. And albeit there may be truth to his claim that without the use of four-letter monosyllables and besmirching revered names no attention would be paid to the issues he raised, the rush to see immediate results vs. slow, painful and not necessarily prompt, visible results have not been correctly weighted. For even in the unlikely event that the criminal-friendly judiciary would convict sexual predators, Mr. UOJ would still be considered the bad guy by the ‘establishment’ as well as the majority of the community. Just as his supporters and alleged supporters comment anonymously, so would they continue to hide their support in person. If bringing change has ever been his intention, Mr. UOJ has failed.
For change is hardly brought about by court rulings – and although this has happened before, it is questionable whether people’s attitudes and mentality really changed as a result. A series of convictions and harsh punishments may deter the individual perpetrator and per consequence decrease the occurrences, but the tribal psyche will not shift gears. Change must be brought from within, from the bottom up to the top. As long as parents are more concerned with a prestigious shidduch for their precious child more than the child’s well being, no court action will stop the coverup and tacit denial, or even worse –acceptance- of such crimes.
And changing an entire community’s mentality doesn’t befall overnight. Apparently anger and patience are traded for each other, and UOJ gave the latter for the former. The amount of responsible and serious blogs however testifies that it is possible to relate to a journal –even an anonymous one- unlike a highway. But it also testifies to something much more important: that there is a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the current structure of orthodox Judaism; that the old walls of the new ghetto don’t retain water; that too many wrongs have to be righted; and that the black clouds aren’t at the horizon anymore. Slowly people not only realize, but even voice their discontentment with the compartmentation/segmentation of our community(ies) and the ills it drags in its path. True progress lies however in peoples’ bahvior, and whether peer pressure or pure reasoning prevails will be determined by the course of their actions; if the way in which schools are chosen, how dating will be approached, and how people relate to each other and different subjects arising in the community will change for the better.
A wise man once said that the toughest battlefield lies in the five inches between our ears. How true this is when multiplied by several millions – especially when those millions are Jews! We must pray and do everything in our power to smooth out those battlefields into one army, despite the deep differences between those battlefields. Unity does not mean unanimity, and equal and identical are very different. Unanimity and homogeny benefit tyrannical dictatorships. True unity is achieved by walking the fine line between diversity and adversity while together, to one goal.