Thursday, May 12, 2022

Lufthansa vs. Torah on Collective Responsibility

Everyone, even Lufthansa, acknowledges that they were wrong to prevent all charedi-looking Jews from taking a connecting flight due to the actions of some of those Jews. What they should have done was try their best to identify which people exactly were disobeying instructions and taken action only against those people. Fortunately, there is enough outrage to ensure that this will not happen again, and there's no need to dwell on that here. 

(I would be hesitant, however, to classify Lufthansa's actions as antisemitic. We have to be very careful about using that accusation; if it is used incorrectly, or even accurately but too broadly, then it weakens its power. It was a terrible mistake when people condemned actress Emma Watson of being an antisemite for voicing empathy for Palestinians. And in the case of Lufthansa, the employee herself said she would have done the same with Africans. Punishing all people with distinct cultural identity together for the crimes of a few is wrong, but not necessarily antisemitic, even if the people happen to be Jewish.)

While there is no shortage of people taking effort to address Lufthansa's wrongdoing, the same cannot be said for addressing the problems with the behavior of certain charedi Jews. I initially wrote an ill-advised, mistaken and widely misunderstood post, which I deeply regret, but I will try to do a better job now.

What does Judaism say about collective punishment? As with many things, the answer is not black-and-white. Historically there has been much discussion on this topic, in the context of Shimon and Levi's actions with the community of Shechem, the destruction of the Ir HaNidachas (idolatrous city), the Eglah Arufah, as well as the Plague of the Firstborn. You can find a useful overview of various different opinions at this link. But while specific interpretations of these episodes vary, the underlying values are fairly constant. 

It is generally considered wrong for the innocent to suffer for the crimes of others. (An exception, in both Torah and contemporary international law, exists in cases such as war, where there is no practical way to avoid this.) Accordingly, Lufthansa should not have punished the innocent Jews for the crimes of others.

However, classical Jewish thought simultaneously maintains that not everyone who does not physically commit the actual crime is free of blame. There is such a thing as communal responsibility. Even if humans (as opposed to God) cannot exact communal punishment, it is up to all of us to take on communal responsibility. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure that bad behavior is stigmatized and protested and punished.

Now, let us consider the case of charedi Jews ignoring Covid rules on airplanes. It was extremely disturbing to see how many people strenuously objected to my talking about it. They claimed that it was "lashon hara" or a sign of "self-hating Jews" or even "antisemitism"! 

There are two points to be addressed here: First, is it true that there is a disproportionate problem of charedi misbehavior on airlines? And second, even if it is true, should it be discussed?

With regard to the former, of course it's true. Anyone who denies it has either not flown much with charedim or is being dishonest. No, of course it's not everyone who is charedi. And of course there are also people in other cultural communities that do this too. But it is a much more prevalent problem with charedim than with other groups. 

Every cultural group has its own strengths and weaknesses. Los Angeles is full of junctions with 4-way stop signs, which work great in LA, but which would never work in England or Israel, for completely opposite reasons - in England, nobody would ever move, and in Israel, nobody would ever stop. Dati-Leumi society has an above-average problem with nationalistically motivated violence. Secular Israeli society has an above-average problem with people stealing stuff from hotels in foreign countries. No, it's not everyone, or even most people in these societies who are guilty of these things. But it's a significantly higher proportion than in other societies.

Charedi society in general, and chassidic society in particular, has its strengths - family values, commitment to tradition, enormous intracommunal charitability, etc. - and its weaknesses, which include a widespread disregard for civil law and wider societal etiquette. This is manifest in all kinds of ways. There's the notorious disregard for driving regulations, which I have seen in England, Israel and the US. There's the terrible disregard for engineering regulations, which led to 45 dead in Meron and 2 in Stolin. There's the obvious and very widespread disregard for Covid regulations, which many attempt to ideologically justify. And there's the various problems on airplanes, whether it's not sitting down when instructed, delaying entire flights out of personal misplaced religious prioritizing not to sit next to women, blocking aisles while making a minyan, leaving litter strewn around, faking Covid tests, and not wearing masks. All these things occur much more with charedim in general, and chassidim in particular, than with other groups. These are facts. (You can read some distressing and typical stories here.) 

Furthermore, it's not as though this is a surprising or unexpected phenomenon. The reasons for it are perfectly obvious (and even create a certain sympathy for it). Rules are only followed when one sees oneself as being part of the system which institutes the rules. Charedim in general, and chasidim in particular, do not see themselves as being part of that system. You can even find respected halachic journals presenting views that it's legitimate to disregard civil law and to steal from the state. To some extent, it's a cultural hangover from centuries of suffering when the government really was the enemy. They don't see secular rules as having any authority. Rules are for goyim.

Likewise, they see no need for conforming with social norms. You only conform with social norms if you are part of that society. Charedim, on the other hand, and especially chassidim, follow a general societal model of isolationism. They couldn't care less about what others say, because they consider themselves to be separate from (and above) everyone else. And safety rules are to do with physics and science and experts and professionalism, all of which are very far removed from the chassidish worldview.

The phenomenon is a fact and exists for obvious reasons. But is it wrong to talk about it? Isn't it lashon hara

As discussed in a post titled When Lashon Hara Is A Mitzva, the Chafetz Chaim is probably rolling in his grave at how his teachings have been used to perpetuate serious societal problems. The concept of the prohibition of lashon hara is to make the world a better place. Instead, people use and abuse it to suppress criticism of bad behavior, which thereby results in it being perpetuated.

There are different ways of stopping bad behavior. Ideally, there is a system of Batei Din that executes perfect justice, but in the world in which we live, that just doesn't happen. Likewise, rabbinic leadership accomplishes many things, but is very far from stopping all bad behavior, especially with certain types of wrongdoings. Just as happened with sexual and emotional abuse, the leadership of the charedi and chassidic world is simply not interested in cracking down on the problems discussed here.

So, there are two ways this can go. The rest of us can likewise turn a blind eye and shout "lashon hara" if people discuss it. And the behavioral problems will continue and get worse. And, sooner or later, the wider non-Jewish community will be discussing that which we refused to discuss, and will take actions that we do not like. Just as happened with abuse, and just as happened with the neglect of yeshivas to give their students an education that enables them to get a job. Refusing to publicly acknowledge our problems and call them out does not counter antisemitism - it fuels it.

Alternatively, we can all loudly protest these things, for all to hear. We can pressure Mishpacha and Ami to not only write articles about the terrible behavior of certain Lufthansa employees, but also about the terrible behavior of many people in the frum community. We can create a community which calls out and socially stigmatizes such behavior. In the short run, this may cost us some PR points, and may make some of us uncomfortable, instead of the martyring sentiment of complaining about the terrible antisemitic goyim. But in the long run, that is the only way to cure such problems, and to prevent worse ones.

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44 comments:

  1. Why can't you apologize properly?
    Say "I was wrong".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. Do you think putting up new posts causes people to forget the other one? (Or the many similar mistakes before that one.) Not saying the topic isn't worthy of discussion, but you just totally misread a real life example and used it to engage in anti-Semitism yourself. What you need to do is apologize straightforwardly, without mixing in hedging and excuses. Rushing to "analyze" it with this kind of "well maybe i missed this one, but I'm still right because..." is what a politician would do, not an honest man. A few weeks from now you can revisit the issue, acknowledging that mistakes like yours have to be part of the calculus, and then unburden your soul.

      Gn. Pckls.

      Delete
    2. Lol, the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist is calling RNS an antisemite.

      Delete
    3. I agree completely. As an admirer and assiduous reader of the blog, which I love because it really challenges my thinking and attitudes, I am nonetheless really uncomfortable with this sort of extended chareidi-bashing. There is no real (as opposed to casual, passing) acknowledgement that there are many rationalist chareidim: chareidim who don't conform to the stereotype pushed here so often of the credulous, superstitious, anti-social chassidim. And if the intended readership is the rationalist, more outward-looking segment of the OJ world in which R' Slifkin lives, why not focus more effort on positively critiquing that community's weaknesses and areas for improvement. It's never a good look to be מתגדל בקלון חבירו. Goodness knows, there's a lot wrong with chareidi society that needs to change and improve - but this is not the way to do it. And as far as the previous blog is concerned, as others have noted, this one does not constitute an apology, much less a retraction, other than, grudgingly, for a couple of (unspecified) parts of it; it then simply digs in further, in excruciating length, in bashing chareidim. Critiquing specific chareidi failings (such as the disaster at Meron and the underlying structural problems in chareidi society that contributed to it) is one thing, and is perfectly proper. But this broad-brush bashing of all chareidim as bearing responsibility for the wrongdoings of some, and of thus deserving contumely, has a sour taste to it. I suspect I'll be waiting a while for a similar column explaining how all MO deserve castigation and retribution for not protesting more loudly the mistreatment of Palestinians by some of their co-adherents.

      Delete
  2. Thanks Rabbi, I agree with you wholeheartedly... and thank you with appreciation for all the good work you do for good Jews.

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  3. "And in the case of Lufthansa, the employee herself said she would have done the same with Africans."

    Now ask them about Germans.

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  4. Listen Ash above;
    "...(RNS said he) was mistaken,....
    which I deeply regret...".
    That's not enough for you as an
    apology! How many people apologize that way.They
    formerly say they're sorry
    for saying it without saying
    they were wrong or they felt
    bad about saying it.





    t








    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Mistakes were made".

      He said it was "widely misunderstood", as though other people made a mistake. WE didn't misunderstand anything - he did.

      Delete
    2. If we're nitpicking, he said both. In fact, he said three things, two of them pointing out his faults (1. ill-advised, 2. mistaken), and the third being "widely misunderstood."

      Also, it is absolutely possible to understand the last element ("widely misunderstood") as a criticism of everybody else - and let's face it, it usually is (like "I'm sorry you feel that way"), but coming along with the other two self-criticisms, it's possible that the blog author is sharing that criticism - that he should have written the post better so that it would not be misunderstood. Just a little dan l'chaf zechus :)

      Delete
    3. Yaacov, Ash and "Unknown" would have needed to read three paragraphs in to have seen the apology and recognition of error by Rav Slifkin.

      " I initially wrote an ill-advised, mistaken and widely misunderstood post, which I deeply regret, but I will try to do a better job now."

      "Unknown" highlighting the "widely misunderstood" statement but ignoring "I wrote an ill-advised, mistaken..." part of the comment is disingenuous and calls into question your honesty.

      Delete
  5. This is still a poor take.

    You seem to think two things. The first is that the charedim that misbehaved should be punished and embarrassed. The second is that because some charedim cause issues on planes, it is justified to discriminate against them as a whole. You seem to indicate that an airline would be justified in creating special new rules for them, and that an airline would be potentially justified in denying carriage to all male charedim.

    This is still bigotry. As you stated, it's unfair and illegal to punish an entire protected class based on the actions of some of its members. Halacha does mention cases when collective punishment is allowed, and that's largely irrelevant unless these companies agree to be bound by halacha.

    What you should realize is that people would support Lufthansa if that had refused carriage to a large number of Haradim that didn't wear masks. They would support Lufthansa if they made a rule that any member of a prayer group that blocked aisles when asked to stop would be banned from the airline. There are plenty of actions they could take that would have solved the issue. And writing articles about that would be acceptable and wouldn't be "turning a blind eye to the situation."

    Bad behavior by some of the haredim is going to overlooked due to worse behavior by the airline. If you want to take the sinners to account, it would help to make sure that innocents aren't swept up in the purge as well.

    You're not going to see Jewish publications criticize Jewish behavior if the airline inflicts collective punishment against all Jews. It will only happen when the airlines act fairly and reasonably to stop bad behavior instead of punishing everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The second is that because some charedim cause issues on planes, it is justified to discriminate against them as a whole." Huh? I never said that.

      Delete
  6. The post is also foolish, in addition to everything already said, because it fetishizes "rules". American blacks would still be at the back of the bus if people didn't break rules. Israel wouldn't exist if our ancestors just followed the rules. And don't tell me "free market" either - govt regulations long ago eroded that quaint little concept. Masking requirements are stupid and senseless and are all over the map. Many media outlets celebrated burning buildings and rioting as a form of protest; refusing to abide by stupid nonsense is more peaceful and takes more guts.

    GP

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    Replies
    1. I'm not sure that following safety regulations "fetishizes" following rules. I'm pretty sure that even Rev MLK Jr himself would fully support that Rosa Parks wear a seatbelt, wherever she was sitting. If a law is inherently unjust and discriminatory, then it deserves to be fought. Rules that are made for safety - which, let's face it, most in some way are though a few are simply to help society function smoothly - as long as there is no built in bias, they should be supported and followed. I think you are fetishizing being a rebel.

      Delete
    2. What do you think about the rule that security personnel - TSA or otherwise - need to be able to see one's face and compare it to the picture on the ID? Do you support the rights of women wearing a burka or niqab to be able to board a plane without anyone seeing their faces?

      Delete
    3. Yosef - there is something called "shikul ha-daas". Not every rule is stupid, and not every rule, even if stupid, should be ignored. The mask thing is beyond stupid, is uncomfortable, in many cases is actually dangerous, and completely pointless. Far from any "chilul hashem" concerns, me and millions of other people applaud those who push back.
      Gersh. P.

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    4. Masking requirements are stupid and senseless GP? How many friends parents and neighbors did you bury in the past two years…?? Your statements are senseless and show a lack of intelligence, and morality.
      David Ilan

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    5. Declaring that masking is stupid... is ignorant. GP, you have lost whatever little credibility you may have had.

      Delete
  7. The post concludes: “ We can create a community which calls out and socially stigmatizes such behavior. In the short run, this may cost us some PR points, and may make some of us uncomfortable, instead of the martyring sentiment of complaining about the terrible antisemitic goyim. But in the long run, that is the only way to cure such problems, and to prevent worse ones.”

    This is particularly noteworthy and picks up on the fact that our complaining about our fellow Jews wrongs “in the short run, this may cost us some PR points” (I presume this means stoking anti-Semitism). However, Our calling out such wrongful behavior “in the long run, that is the only way to cure such problems, and to prevent worse ones” is only true if “such problems” and “worse ones” are defined as the wrongful behavior of our brothers and sisters (and of ourselves, when our brothers and sisters are compelled to call us out for such). The goal is to make us act like proper Jews. Even if we (hypothetically and miraculously) were to succeed in preventing Jewish wrong doing, we should not be so naive as to believe it will lead to preventing anti-Semitism. But then again, preventing Jewish wrongdoing is itself a noble pursuit for Jews to engage in.

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  8. You continue to frame chareidim in the worst possible light. You say "You can even find respected halachic journals presenting views that it's legitimate to disregard civil law and to steal from the state." But in your own blog post that you link to, you explain that the journal's logic applies to the State of Israel only, and because in the chareidi view, it is not a legitimate state. Similar perhaps to how a Ukrainian may view the Russian administration in the Donbas. That's a far cry from saying that chareidim believe rules don't apply to them.

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    Replies
    1. Lol, and you think that in Lakewood and Willamsburg Jews do think that the rules apply to them?

      Delete
    2. Rofl. I don't know. But proving that point from a halachic discussion revolving around the legitimacy of the State of Israel just shows bias.

      Delete
    3. First we actually need to see the alleged "respected halachic journals presenting views that its legitimate to disregard civil law and to steal from the state." Is this stated in the well-known context of whether or not דדמ"ד applies in Israel? If the Professor can actually back up his claim - and he never can - he would need to explain what his problem with free speech is. As a newly-minted Academic, he should be encouraging academic freedom to publish.

      Gershon Pickles

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    4. Mr. Pickles, could you please explain how you got from RNS bring able to provide evidence of halachic journals making the statements he claims they make, to that meaning he has a problem with free speech? Aderabba, it's only if there is free speech that you can assume that what someone says or writes reflects what they actually think. RNS is clearly making the assumption that such journals are operating in this framework. Are you claiming to the contrary?

      Delete
    5. Yechiel - you are correct, the leap to free speech was a leap too far, and addarabbah, that's actually a strength of this blog. My comments in that respect, one might say, were "widely misunderstood."

      Delete
  9. Thank you for writing a balanced, nuanced and truthful post about this topic, that calls out rights, wrongs and issues in an accurate way, not overblown, nor overly exculpatory or accusatory in one direction or the other. People tend to take very defensive or reflexive postures on these sorts of issues, but you look at things in an accurate and truthful way you recognize there’s room for praise in some areas, criticism in other, and real and honest improvement when and where it’s needed.

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  10. I have a close friend who works for Lufthansa. There were 6 Chasidim who would not put on a mask, despite repeated requests and warnings. They then refused to identify themselves and switched seats with other Charedi passengers.

    So in the minds of the Lufthansa employees, this group of people protected the rule breakers in their midst.

    In reading the accounts of who was subsequently denied boarding vs. who was allowed to board the connecting flight, the ones allowed to board were seated in other classes, thus not among those who protected the rule breakers, and thus denied boarding were, in the minds of the Lufthansa employees, part of the group who concealed the identities of the lawbreakers.

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    Replies
    1. Not surprised at their behavior protecting the wrongdoers and not surprised at the outcome of collective punishment for everyone seated in that section.
      David Ilan

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    2. Who cares? So they didn't turn in their fellow passengers, so what? Where in there contract with the airline do they promise to assist the flight crew in punishing other passengers?

      Delete
    3. Um, mevaseret, there is a difference between not turning anyone in and ACTIVELY concealing those who were misbehaving.

      But how could seat switching help, anyway? Did they suddenly put masks on now?

      Delete
    4. @Anonymous, "They then refused to identify themselves...."

      If that was actually the problem, they can be more efficient the next time. They'll keep track of the seats of the perpetrators and whoever is there shall be punished alone.

      But the story doesn't add up with Max Weintraub's account. Why wasn't he also warned, if they were? Were they picking on the Chassidim? And why did that flight attendant remain unmasked throughout the flight, setting a poor example as if to say the rules aren't actually serious? And was she not well aware that Chassidim are predisposed to follow her example?

      Delete
  11. Antisemites do not become Antisemites because of being too stupid to not blame a group for individual behavior. We can give them excuses like with the Jew who assassinated the German official and gave the Germans their excuse for Kristalnacht.

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  12. I agree that the primary blame for this incident is the huge chillul hashem caused by the chassidim on the flight. Yes, Lufthansa was probably wrong to ban innocent people, but with such a large group of 150 ppl behaving badly and limited time the flight crew had, I am not sure that it was practical to start pouring over flight manifests. This should be a lesson that we are all judged by the actions of our brothers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you don't know who didn't wear a mask you don't punish anyone. In stores that require masks and even in the U.S. Post Office where it's actually required to wear a mask scores of people don't. When they don’t what happens to them? Nothing. YA

      Delete
  13. When was the last time we heard
    a religious institution or it's leaders apologize for mistakes or
    for not acting when some misdeed was not prevented on their watch.
    Kol Hacovood to RNC.


    ReplyDelete
  14. "Antisemites do not become Antisemites because of being too stupid to not blame a group for individual behavior. We can give them excuses like with the Jew who assassinated the German official and gave the Germans their excuse for Kristalnacht." This was me. YA

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  15. All do respect otally off the ball Rebbe.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Did Lufthansa learn anything?
    https://matzav.com/adl-blasts-lufthansas-non-apology/#comment-2094509

    ReplyDelete
  17. Think if next time they want to go after every Jew frum or not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Think if next time they want to go after every Jew frum or not." That was me. YA

      Delete
  18. I'm sorry, this is probably one of the worst posts you've ever made on here. I used to like this blog but it's just become a place for you to rant about Haredim even when they quite literally didn't do anything. You used to have a point about Haredi society, you getting banned, etc. but at this point this blog is just The Rabbi Who Cried Haredim. When you address actual problems in Haredi society reasonably nobody will listen to you because of posts like this one. You know for a fact you wouldn't be so unreasonable if it were any other group of people

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you Rabbi Slifkin! You have saved and embellished countless spiritual souls.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I suggest readers of this blog read Rationalism v.s . Mysticism
    by RNS for a better understanding and appreciation
    of RNS's viewpoint.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Sauce for the gooseMay 14, 2022 at 10:20 PM

    "Dati-Leumi society has an above-average problem with nationalistically motivated violence."
    Aren't you sugar-coating this just a little bit? Those flag marches on the Temple mount over the holiday almost sparked another war with Hamas! There were endangering the entire country with their religious nationalism. Hardly "above-average".
    No other group is endangering so many Jewish lives on a routine basis as the Dati-Leumi community.
    The entire country has to hold their breath every year on Jerusalem day waiting to see how it plays out. I'm praying there won't be an incident this year.

    ReplyDelete

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