Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A truly horrifying metaphor


This film about the rise of Nazi Germany was about the ways that a divided people can fall prey to a cruel, despotic tyranny--one that is literally self-destructive.
But we're doing the same damn thing.
When I was still in San Diego, I thought there were Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, with a few Humanists, Renewals and Reconstructionists thrown in just to keep life interesting.   And then I moved to Boro Park.  I had been here scarcely two weeks before I started joking that Brooklyn was the only place in the world where you could have two Jews in a mixed marriage.  Suddenly, the overarching category of Orthodox became further divided into Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Left-wing Modern, Right-wing Modern, Centrist, Agudah, Young Israel, Mizrahi, Haredi, Chassidic, Misnagdic, Yehivish, Litvish, Lubavich, Belzer, Telzer, Bobov, Spinka, Satmar, and on and on and on.  We have, instead on One Judaism Under G-d and Torah, a thousand variations all clamoring to be right!  We have separate shuls, yeshivas, newspapers, and even kosher standards for these groups!  And, by looking over our shoulders at hemlines, hechshers, and affiliations, we're beginning to lose the point.
Case in point: Last night, during my study session with Chavie, she read me a story that was supposed to be inspiring.  A photo processing lab in a Charedi area would stay open late every Friday.  Rather than noisily confronting the business owner, a rabbi decided on a kinder, gentler approach.  Dressed in his Shabbos finery, he went into the store, warmly introduced himself, and invited the store owner to his home for Shabbos.  The man was so moved that he and his family became shomer Shabbos.
Yeah right.
Actually, the real story, according to Chavie, was that the rabbi DID walk into the store in his Shabbos finery, sat down, and began reciting Tehillim.  The store's customers, realizing how late it was getting, began to leave the store in droves, and the store owner had no choice but to lock up early.  I explained to Chavie that this approach had the potential to backfire.  Hugely.  See, the rabbi wasn't shedding tears over the store owner who would never know the beauty of Shabbos.  He was just annoyed that he had to walk past an open store on his way to and from shul.  What did the the rabbi think the store owner would do--rush home and bench licht?  Or mumble about the "damn frummies ruining his business" and go home to watch TV?  Was the community more concerned about a Jew breaking Shabbos, or that THEIR Shabbos was being disturbed?  If the rabbi HAD opened his home to the store owner, then there would have been no Shabbos breaking at all, and they might have made a new friend.  Chavie said, "I never thought of it that way."  Of course not.  As the video showed, truth is obscured in favor of the despotism that is Daas Torah.  By compartmentalizing our fellow Jews into so many separate groups, it is impossible to see that "the other" has both feelings and a legitimate viewpoint.  And, because there is no access to literature, secular media or the Internet, there is no way to break out of that mindset.  But, as the video showed, the only outcome of this mindset is self-destruction.


  1. Think of a painting. The various images and colours contrast each other but come together to produce a picture. That is how Judaism is supposed to work.
    One thing I love about visiting Israel is the variety of Jews I meet. White, black, all the different accents, it's amazing and it really enhances my sense of how complex and beautiful the Jewish nation is.
    Diversity isn't the problem. Failing to recognize that the other's guys approach to God is sincere even if it's different is the problem.

  2. I know the problem isn't diversity. The problem is insisting that "MY path is right, and YOUR path isn't even Judaism." It makes us extremely vulnerable.

  3. I am just curious (and you don't have to answer), but how did you end up in Boro Park? It just seems like an odd fit.

  4. It's a long story, which I will eventually post.


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