Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On Criticism of Criticism: A Critique

This blog contains many posts that are critical of various aspects of charedi society. In part, this relates to the subject matter of the blog, rationalist Judaism, since many of the flaws in charedi society are directly related to its non-rationalist approach. In part, it also reflects my own personal frustrations, not so much as a result of the ban on my books (which I even partially justify), but more as a result of living in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

A number of people have criticized these criticisms. They have said that it is lashon hara, divisive, anti-achdus, etc. To quote one commentator on the previous post: "How is it 'Rationalist Judaism' to try and cause more sinat chinam, more strife, more distrust, more hatred, spread lashon hara, or motzi sheim ra, what possible good can come from this inciteful, hateful blog - wouldn't it be better to keep your thoughts to yourself, think about ways to make things better..."?

It is certainly unhealthy to be obsessively focused on criticism. However, these critics of the criticism are not always on the right track. Often, they are charedi loyalists who are deeply uncomfortable with people exposing problems in charedi society. It's not criticisms of others per se that make them speak up - they would never dream of speaking out against charedim who criticize non-charedim. They only object to criticisms of charedim.

Alternately, or in addition to the above, some people simply do not appreciate that many non-charedim are genuinely being harmed by various aspects of charedi society, and want to see change. The purpose of these posts is to try to bring that change about. Yesterday's post about the Beit Shemesh school controversy is a case in point. Non-charedim in Beit Shemesh are very much affected by the charedi mayor and municipality. We wish to draw attention to the problems in order that they should be fixed, and also so that people should be better educated about which sector of society to support politically and align themselves with.

(Some people wondered why it's such a big deal for charedim to take over half of a secular school if there is adequate space for them. But this has to be seen within the context of the situation, which is a charedi takeover of Beit Shemesh. I had a secular colleague who lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh from its inception as a mixed neighborhood, and then charedim moved in and started harassing him for driving on Shabbos, to the point where he eventually had to move. Then there are the attempts to enforce tzniyus, often to an extreme standard, and all the hatred against non-charedim in certain local papers. And there is the vandalism against Israeli flags, which is never condemned by charedi rabbonim. And so on, and so forth. In the run-up to the last elections, Rav Aharon Feldman of Ner Israel campaigned for Abutbul in a local shul, that had originally been founded as a moderate Anglo shul, and said that there is an opportunity to turn Beit Shemesh into Bnei Brak. Is it any wonder that the non-charedi population feels that they are being run out of town and don't want their school to suddenly be forcibly seized and partially taken over?)

Some people think that criticism of charedim is contrary to achdus. But as I stressed in an earlier post entitled "What Is Real Achdus?", true achdus does not mean simply speaking nicely about everyone and avoiding criticizing anyone or drawing attention to anyone's flaws. Rather, it means genuinely sharing responsibilities and concerns. If one sector of society is acting in a selfish or harmful manner, it is not a lack of achdus to criticize this behavior. Those who attempt to suppress such criticism are enabling this behavior to continue.

Perhaps the most extreme and absurd example of someone who professes to care about achdus but who is actually simply trying to suppress criticism of charedim is the mayor of Beit Shemesh, Moshe Abutbul. Take a look at the following astonishing video about the takeover of the secular school yesterday. As a reminder, this was about how the day before the school year started, and without any prior discussion with the school, and against a background of years of highly inflamed tensions due to hostile acts against non-charedim, Abutbul had half the school forcibly taken over by a charedi school and erected an eight-foot wall in the playground such that the children should not see each other. The very end of the video features an interview with mayor Abutbul, in which he claims that this is "an act of integration that will enhance love and brotherhood in the city of Beit Shemesh"!!! Words fail me.

 

Related to all this, see the new very important guest post at Cross-Currents, "A Plaintive Cry (Or Two) For Understanding."

33 comments:

  1. "It's not criticisms of others per se that make them speak up - they would never dream of speaking out against charedim who criticize non-charedim. They only object to criticisms of charedim."

    This is, of course, beyond obvious. Substantive criticism sometimes has merit, but criticizing the act of criticism itself, never. No matter whether its called "loshon hora", "anti-achdus", or whatever, it is always - not almost always, but always - selectively applied by those wishing to suppress dissent, and must be summarily rejected. Frankly, I'm somewhat surprised that you even posted this.

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  2. >> The very end of the video features an interview with mayor Abutbul, in which he claims that this is "an act of integration that will enhance love and brotherhood in the city of Beit Shemesh"!!! Words fail me.<<

    What fails you? I have not seen any rational objections to allocating empty space of the school to the girls school who had to study in a caravan other than "unesthetical" wall. Given not tznius dress of the pupils and their parents, I am not surprised they had to erect the wall. When charedim are trying to open a yeshiva in a secular neighborhood it is usually met with violent protests of locals. The Ramat Bet Shemesh secular school is in entirely charedi town and yet they have a nerve to complain that the building will be shared.

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    1. This is disgusting, but let me point out two things:

      1. Immodestly dressed people walk in the streets too. What is your "plan" for dealing with them?

      2. This is a girls' school. Presumably they can cope with seeing a little skin on girls their age.

      The objection to the wall is not that it is unaesthetic. It is that it exists, period. There's no excuse for it, sorry.

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    2. Today's JPost revealed that mayor Abutbol did speak with minister Peron a few days before the wall was erected. Peron offered caravans for the girls school. So, the claims that the issue was the erected wall is outright lie. Seculars and they bedfellow Peron did not want to share the school building with Haredi girls even before the major took actions.

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  3. In the run-up to the last elections, Rav Aharon Feldman of Ner Israel campaigned for Abutbul in a local shul, that had originally been founded as a moderate Anglo shul, and said that there is an opportunity to turn Beit Shemesh into Bnei Brak. Is it any wonder that the non-charedi population feels that they are being run out of town

    The non-chareidim will lose. Beit Shemesh is a lost cause. The tipping point is long since passed.

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  4. R. Slifkin - I (a MO non-Israeli Jew) agree with almost everything you say about Chareidim, and think that they are (probably permanently) injecting many problems into Judaism and Israel. However, while I have not criticized your posts on these topics, I agree with those who do to a fair extent. I come to this blog hoping for interesting articles on Rationalist Judaism, which you used to write. But now mostly the blog is a political blog, with only passing reference to rationalist judaism. If you want to have a political blog, or a personal thoughts blog, fine; you should make one. I may read it from time to time. You could then have three blogs (zootorah, rationalistjudaism, rslifkinsthoughts). But why must this blog, which has so much potential for presenting and discussing "exploration into the rationalist approach to Judaism" have to spend so much time discussing Jewish politics? It's not that I disagree with your comments about RBS, etc.; it's that it isn't Torah, isn't Rationalist Judaism, and for a non-Israeli like me, is needlessly depressing. So while it could be useful, it doesn't live up to the blog title, and is turning off people like me.
    I have read your argument that "many chareidim read this blog and perhaps it'll help them to change". Well, if they still read your blog, it must be because they're specifically looking for such articles, since that's all you ever post now. And if they're looking for such articles, you can just as well put them on a different "personal thoughts" blog and they'll read them there; they don't need to be here.
    Perhaps you've run of new material concerning rationalist judaism (I don't mean that in a bad way - you've already said so many useful things here), and therefore have less to say about it. Fair enough. But I'd rather have fewer -but more relevant posts- then just anti-chareidi posts. [Of course, I'd rather have more posts, and that they are all interesting posts on rationalist judaism. But I'm willing to settle ;) . Y"K is coming up - why not discuss the problem of all those prayers to angels, and to the "attribute of mercy" that we attrociously squeeze in during ne'ilah? After all, Judaism has historically regarded avodah zarah to be halachically problematic....]

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  5. To highlight my point even more: the "antithesis" of Rationalist Judaism is not Chareidi judaism. Rather, it is mystical and kabbalistic Judaism, which is rampant in modern orthodox circles as well (even in ones that are not chareidi-leaning). To bolster the rationalist cause, it is not enough to attack chareidim - they're just the extreme form, and aren't coming to rationalism any time soon. Rather, you need to convince the MO Jews that Judaism isn't only about magical amulets and spells. Because if we fail to do that, the future of Judaism is one filled with only the uneducated, since in a few generations, all those who believe in science will be turned off from Judaism and probably wind up atheists. And that future is a future where chareidi judaism is the only judaism. And that saddens me all the more.

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  6. Again nothing wrong here. Why is having that wall a problem and why are mentioning Secular as if speaking about some ethnic group? People make choices, those who lead a "secular" lifestyle are in violation of the Torah and Haredi Jewish parents obviously would like their to be a separation (wall included) between their children and what is seen or can be seen across the wall. In this video for example you see inappropriately dressed women (and if you ask me why I saw it, I am not Haredi but I understand their attitudes especially on this issue), and who is to stop the teachers from dressing that way? On top of that they seem like they are Russian (and can hear them speaking Russian) and very likely goyim as well. Many of the Haredi parents don't want their children exposed to these things 1) inappropriately dressed female teachers setting bad example 2) boys and girls together 3) Maybe the way they behave as well and the language they use and other such issues.

    If the secular children and parents don't like it, perhaps they can take the (former) Haredi schools and have this be a total Haredi school with no walls.

    Moshe.

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    1. "On top of that they seem like they are Russian (and can hear them speaking Russian) and very likely goyim as well."
      Granted that some Russian olim are non-Jews, but most are not. Do you think that we should relate to all Russian olim as if they were goyim?

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    2. Wow. "Very likely" goyim? What is your problem? Not that's there's anything wrong with being a goy- Hashem did make a few billion of them, he must have a good reason- and not that it's the fault of Russian part-Jews that their ancestors intermarried (or even said ancestors' fault), but even more, well over 70% of Russian Israelis are fully and halakhically Jewish. This includes many of my family and friends. You, sir, are motzi la'az. Par for the course, I guess.

      The Charedim, by the way, choose to live in a Middle Eastern country, and particularly a city that can get pretty hot in the summer. (They don't call it Beit Shemesh for nothing. :-) I kid- it's actually named for a Canaanite god, but whatever.) If they can't stand the occasional glimpse of skin, they can lock themselves up, put on blinders, move to Tzefat or Jerusalem or the South Pole, or try to effectuate change in society, But they don't care about other Jews, not really. A wall it is.

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    3. So? I am Russian speaking as well. Doesn't mean I can't recognize the many goyim that were imported just for the votes to the secularists.

      Moshe .

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  7. I am waiting for the Condemnation of this violence!!!!! OH ! right its only Chareidim that cant .I wonder if they were spitting at the girls there or just chasing them around with their sledge hammers.

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    1. There was no violence whatsoever against the charedi girls.

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    2. there is Exactly the same violence as there was at the Orot school. There was No violence there either except for screaming at the girls ,which is Exactly what is going on here!!!!

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    3. "clarity" - very dishonest. Blatantly so. The only "violence" was against the wall, a physical object. There was no violence against any people here, although the police very nearly started their Beatings For Uncooperative Jewish Citizens routine but managed to hold themselves back this time.

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    4. There is no screaming at the girls here. There was daily screaming and cursing at the girls at Orot.

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  8. "In part, this relates to the subject matter of the blog, rationalist Judaism, since many of the flaws in charedi society are directly related to its non-rationalist approach. In part, it also reflects my own personal frustrations..."

    Basically, you are grabbing at anything that might slightly relate to the purpose of this blog to enable you to vent. But why? Can't you see that most people don't actually care about turf wars in a small town in Israel? We come on here to be challenged and educated by the rationalist approach to Judaism. So what if people who are not rationalist act in a way that you don't like? It's only barely relevant and just plain boring. Would you really be happy if people jump ship and join the rationalist/MO/zionist side simply because they see some low class peasantlike israeli charedim acting like barbaric fools? Why not convert us with the sheer intelectualism of rationalist Judaism? (I personally connect deeply to mysticism and respect rationalism but kinda know that neither of them are more intellectually compelling than pure occam's razor atheism, and yet I am passionately frum, because how lame would it be if connecting to G-d and living a spiritual life could be ruined by a bunch of brainy philosophy! )

    The point that I, and I imagine most of the people who have stopped reading your blog (or who still do but are mostly bored) am trying to make is this: You have such a unique niche, one that you are known for around the world. If you would curb the urge to vent here and instead annoy your wife with that stuff (like the rest of us who don't have blogs do) then you will once again have a top quality Jewish blog (even worthy of charging for, but let's face it, we're a bunch of Jews, we're not paying to argue).

    We're all saying it out of respect for the high quality posts, scholarly articles and meticulously researched books that you have written. Don't become (in the eyes of the public) a cynical, personal POV macher when you can be so much more.

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  9. If all you superstars of rationalism are so much more qualified to run a blog on rationalist judaism which will stick solely to the topic at hand and never veer into that "Un-Torahdik" politics stuff, (because we all know haredim, the true paragons of Judaism, aren't interested at all in politics and have no involvement therein, and the Torah has no political issues in any of its parshiyot) then start your own blogs and you'll never have to read another page of Slifkin's. Until then, what business is it of his, what YOU prefer to come to his blog for? He writes a blog for whomever will read it and for himself, and the fact that you want the blogger to write only on certain topics or be a tool of yours to satisfy your needs is an all-new level of chutzpah.

    The ghetto mindset of "politics isn't Torah" or Judaism-as-Religion-only is very irrelevant when you are talking about Israel, where politics will determine the future of the Jewish nationhood and all the daily issues and national character, and it's happening at the micro level within Bet Shemesh. How is it not Judaism?

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    1. There is nothing "ghetto minded" about being interested in thought provoking ideas and interpretations of Torah more than communal zoning issues. No one said that it is not Judaism, only that it relates less to Rationalist Judaism that many other topics. And

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    2. Perhaps telling the blog owner what he should write about is chutzpah. But that isn't the point. I don't normally tell R. Slifkin what he should write. However, this particular article is about cricisms about his criticisms. It is therefore quite relavent for me to comment my view on such criticisms, and whether there are additional merits to them. I don't think R. Slifkin is opposed to comments on his articles pertinent to the subject matter. And that's what my comment above is.

      I certainly am not as knowledeable or capable of running a rationalist judaism blog as R. Slifkin, for whom I have great respect. But if we're discussing cricisms of the current blog topics, I don't see how it is chutzpah for me to give me 2 cents on a blog where discussion is welcomed.

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    3. Perhaps telling the blog owner what he should write about is chutzpah. But that isn't the point. I don't normally tell R. Slifkin what he should write. However, this particular article is about criticisms about his criticisms. It is therefore quite relevant for me to comment my view on such criticisms, and whether there are additional merits to them. I don't think R. Slifkin is opposed to comments on his articles pertinent to the subject matter. And that's what my comment above is.

      I certainly am not as knowledgeable or capable of running a rationalist judaism blog as R. Slifkin, for whom I have great respect. But if we're discussing criticisms of the current blog topics, I don't see how it is chutzpah for me to give me 2 cents on a blog where discussion is welcomed.

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    4. I disagree with your view on _ and these are the reasons = not chutzpah.

      You shouldn't write about topic xyz on YOUR blog and only write about abc because I like it better = chutzpah.

      Get it?

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  10. Although I also feel that R'Slifkin is exaggerating the issue with the school in Beit Shemesh, I think that it is a display of extreme chutzpa to complain that he is not writing the kind of material that someone might want to see. No one is paying for reading this blog and no one has any right to demand or expect any particular content whatsoever. If you don't want to read the blog, so don't, but don't tell the blog owner what he should be writing,

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  11. R' Slifkin addressed any form of perversion of Judaism, not only the mystical. The argument of "whoever has the greater need can take whatever belongs to someone who needs it less" that is advanced by people who claim to be Torah Jews in defense of these actions is anathema to Torah.

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  12. Rabbi Slifkin can write about whatever he likes, and his points in this post are cogent. On the other hand, I too like when he writes more about rationalism and the intersection of Torah and zoology.

    There. I have now criticized my criticism of criticism of a critique of criticism of criticism. :)

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  13. I think I may have left out one "of criticism" in my last post. If so, please edit it in since I can't. I think it is critical. :)

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  14. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzSeptember 3, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    I think that the blog is wonderful and that all of these issues are important
    I'm wondering though if theer are aspects to criticize regarding "rational judaism" as well.
    Or for example - extreme positivism (e.g. Yeshayahu Leibovitz) which is often portrayed as "rational" as opposed to mystical. Is it really more rational to state that we do the mitzvah because God commanded us and we would recite the telephone book instead of tefilllt if God commaned us to do so (to quote Leibovit'zs famous statement exemplar of extreme positivism), rather than stating that we perform mitzvot because doing so "moves things" in the cosmic spheres?

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  15. No one is telling him what to write about, only expressing why we think the blog is veering off track from it's intended goal and it's potential greatness. And really, chutzpah? It's a blog that is almost always being critical of someone or something, I don't think now is the time to get all high and mighty.

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    1. But no one else is making the point that "Being critical of something is chutzpah." (I certainly don't think you can make a blanket condemnation like that of any and all criticism). Several people have just made the point that: "Telling a blogger what he should or should not write about on his blog is chutzpah." Big difference. No offense to you. Perhaps you gain more from his other type of writings, and that's fine. But I just don't see how it is a reader's place to direct the blogger. At least this latest comment of yours is much more general "veering off track from intended goal and potential greatness" suggests you are looking out for R. Slifkin's best interest, but on the other hand, if it's his blog, isn't he the one to determine its intended goal rather than the readers? Just because it has a byline at the top doesn't mean it will be strictly limited to that. And I think it's clear that Rabbi Slifkin has clear goals in writing the posts that he does. He must feel those goals are important while you are either unconvinced, uninterested, or don't recognize the goals involved. And that is fine.

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    2. There were comments on the previous blog entry claiming that RNS's critiques were bad / lashon harah / counter productive etc. because they focus on the negative.

      Personally, I appreciate these blog entries where RNS comments on current events. I'm seeing that irrational philosophy about Torah, Rabbis, and Judaism plays out as irrational and unfortunate behavior in derech eretz. For me, this is the most relevant type of issue possible for the blog.

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  16. Let's take stock of where we are now:

    Student V criticizes old time fan for criticizing various commenters for criticizing those commenters who are criticizing R. Slifkin for posting what they think is uninteresting criticism of those who criticize as counter-productive his criticism of Charedim. If I'm counting right, that's seven layers of criticism. A new record!

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  17. Whoops Mike S. beat me to it. Well played, sir...

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  18. Something that I think warrants clarification: in Rav Slifkin's view (and the view of rational, reasonable people in general) "achdus" means "sharing joint concerns and responsibilities".

    But in the chareidi view, "achdus" has no such connotation. Rather, theirs is the same view of "achdus" that was espoused by the Soviets and totalitarian regimes the world over: "achdus" consists of absolute adherence to their doctrines/dogmas (in the chareidi case, mindless obedience to their "gedolim") and ruthless suppression of dissent (it's a breach of "achdus", after all!).

    So when chareidim criticize Rav Slifkin for breaching "achdus", it is not that they are somehow misunderstanding or failing to grasp Rav Slifkin's very reasonable definition of the term, it is simply that that definition (i.e., sharing concerns/responsibilities with non-chareidim) is fundamentally--and tragically--incompatible with the chareidi worldview.

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