Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ignoramus Anonymous

I’ll delve a little more into the j-blog topic, as it is a theme worth examining, and has important ramifications.

As I have noted in my previous post, grossly generalizing, many of the disgruntled religious bloggers share a somewhat left-to-center ideology, ultra-tolerance, and advocacy for the frum leadership (if such a thing exists) to ‘open up’ or ‘enlighten’ by acceptance of the modern times. In short, many ”frummies“, or rather, ex-frummies, are discovering the sixties: an open-minded compassion to homosexuality, the “liberation” of frum women, dropping the dress code, and many similar concepts are very much the order of the day on such blogs.

Somehow, they seem to believe, it is the rabbis stiffness and refusal to officially endorse TV, the internet, nightclubs and bars that creates most -or many- of our social problems. Of course, this is a rather unfair oversimplification and generalization, but an individual analysis of each entry in each blog is beyond the scope of such a post. What we seem to witness here is a tendency to graze on foreign fields instead of trying to solve the problems within our own society. But just as the rabbis concentrating their efforts on banning the internet and Indian-made sheitels while ignoring far more serious ails in the community, those criticizing them won’t solve those problems by promoting Led Zeppelin and touting different perceived freedoms from the secular world. This especially won’t fly from behind anonymous blogs, whose authors are shadow warriors, whispers in the night. What puzzles me is that many of these writers seem sincere, and write in a serious and respectful way, yet the hide for fear of communal reprisal. But why do they fear being rejected by a society, -or rather exactly that element of their society which they are most critical of- to which they don’t want to belong? Do they want their children to marry people who would refrain from that marriage would they know their prospective in-law is author of such-and-such blog? And if they want to belong to that community but wish to correct its faults, how will they achieve that incognito? And will those problems be solved via the internet blogs which aren’t widely read in their communes?

Apparently there is a broader concern lying herein. The ominous discontent cannot be blamed on communal and leadership crises alone. When one is aware and wary of problems within his community, his leaders and communal institutions, the least logical solution is to pick up fashionable tendencies from contemporary secular society. Yet this is what most disgruntled Orthodox bloggers do, almost religiously. Not only do many of these fads outright run against core principles of Judaism, their acceptance won’t solve any of our problems. Then, an avalanche effect manifests itself; the authors start lamenting the lack of these trends in our communities. I wonder what the acceptance of homosexuality and Arab terrorists have to do with corruption in frum institutions, child abuse, ignorance, white-collar crime, uncontrolled and unsustainable reproduction in certain circles and the establishment’s turning a blind eye to -or outright promoting- these and many other problems?

Truth is, when one starts emulating the ways of The Village Voice, The New York Times and other malicious pseudo-journalistic manifestos, there is something far deeper than discontent with the establishment. The fact that Modern Orthodox youth abandon Judaism in droves testifies to the fact that admitting TV as a family member, allowing children unlimited access to the internet, “liberated” women and interpreting the halocha at will are no solution to anything. The aforementioned bloggers may well face doubts and uncertainty about Yiddischkeit itself. And I can’t blame them. We are sick at the core, and few are willing to admit it. The Orthodox -including the Modern Orthodox- educational systems are out of par both with contemporary society, with Jews surrounded by that society and their relation to each other. To the best of my knowledge there isn’t one Orthodox education system that consistently offers a strong Jewish ideology and worldview that would prepare its graduates to face the real world as strong Jews with a deep and exhaustive understanding their faith and who would stay true to it in face of the secular world’s glittery offers, its traps and pitfalls. It is simply impossible to expect people to toe the line on their own and of their own understanding and agreement by giving them a few one-liners from Mesilas Yeshorim, Rabbi Cook’s writings or Noam Elimelech. This is especially true when the line expected from them to be toed is a specific party line, instead of Judaism per-se, or at least Judaism first and the specific party second. There is no excuse for this even if we are to accept the claim that each group truly believes its own way to be the true form of Judaism.

Some time ago I had a conversation with a “Modern Orthodox” woman, whose father I know well. He is a kind and intelligent person who takes Judaism seriously, and is well versed in halocha and gemora. His daughter was complaining about the rigid interpretation of the Torah in our time: why is it forbidden to flick the light switch on Shabbos, when she’d so much enjoy reading in bed. Nowadays making a fire isn’t such a big deal, after all, and she’s “sure” that that’s not what the Torah meant. I was sincerely baffled to hear that a religious born, raised and educated woman could actually express such thoughts in all sincerity. My initial reaction was to tell her that if she’s really so ignorant she might as well abandon Judaism altogether, or take some “Judaism 101” course, but I just kept quiet. A short time later I was listening to a Genesis track while she was present. Her only reaction was to say that Phil Collins (Genesis’ vocalist) is an anti-Semite. Sadly, I could bring many more such examples, but the main point is that such mentality can be attributed only to poor education and brainwashing by cheap and malicious media. Such shallow and superficial acquaintance with Judaism –and especially Jewish philosophy- while relating to the world at large on an “anti-Semites” and “non anti-Semites” model is unfortunately ubiquitous throughout all variants of Jewish society. Similarly, the bloggers who criticize the Orthodox establishment for their failings and shortcomings, seldom offer viable solutions, and even more rarely identify the core causes of these problems.

Albeit these blogs serve a good cause and many of them are good and entertaining, it is questionable whether they will be the source from which change will emanate – only time will tell. Yet it is sure that if they’d come out of anonymity they would become far more efficient; first, they could freely communicate and coordinate their communication with community leaders and other influential people. Second, they’d reach far more frum people who don’t regularly cruise the web waves. Third, coming forth would unveil the communities’ true attitude towards their ideas –which, in my estimation should be very positive, at least in general terms- and strengthen their position. Fourth, open and respective criticism of our leadership would cease to be de-legitimized, and the mocking and derisory blogs would lose their status and glitter. Last but not least, these blogs’ authors would necessarily have to hold themselves at least to those standards which they expect from our leaders.
The door is open now, and the bloggers’ reaction to these suggestions can be used as a litmus test to find out whether their concerns are truly sincere, or if they only want to grumble from the back row.

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