Generalizations about Generalizations
Are all Charedim/ Arabs/ Jews (insert adjective here)?
(Note - when there are words that are underlined, that means that it is a link.)
Is it legitimate to say that charedim are an economic burden on the rest of Israel and don’t serve in the IDF, or is that an inappropriate generalization? Is it legitimate to say that Arabs steal and want to kill Jews, or is that an inappropriate generalization? Is it legitimate to say that Jews engage in tax fraud, or is that an inappropriate generalization? Is it legitimate to say that the French are romantic, that the British are stiff, that Canadians are polite, that Germans are efficient, that Israelis are dangerous drivers? (Ironically, many people object to only some of the above generalizations.)
Many people make blanket statements that generalizations are wrong. But this itself is a generalization - and it’s wrong.
Certain types of generalizations are indeed wrong. For example, categorical generalizations are (almost) always incorrect. A categorical generalization is to say that since some of group A has attribute X, then everyone in group A has attribute X.
Generalizations are also incorrect when they are overly extrapolative. This can occur in different ways. Sometimes, it’s a matter of extrapolating from a sample that is simply not remotely representative. For example, the Ponovezh yeshivah, for interesting historical reasons, flies the Israeli flag on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. But to say that “Charedi yeshivos” or even “some Israeli yeshivos” fly the flag is incorrect.
In other cases, there may be a significant proportion of group A that has attribute X - and it may even be higher than other groups - but it’s nevertheless still a minority and cannot be presented as representative of the group. For example, if 5% of the general population steal, and in group A there are 20% who steal, then you might want to be more wary of people in group A, but it would still be wrong to say that “group A steal.”
Generalizations can also be highly misleading. For example, it would be true to say, as a generalization, that the staff of the Biblical Museum of Natural History like Marmite, but this has nothing to do with any connection between the animal world of the Torah and Marmite; it just so happens that there are many Brits and South Africans on staff. Likewise, if a particular group is more likely to steal, it could be because they are more ethically challenged, or it could be because they have more opportunities to do so, or it could be because they are more economically desperate (and the group is thus being defined by the wrong parameters).
There can also be instances where generalizations are technically correct, but they can have negative consequences, and they should be avoided. For example, accurate critical statements of generalization about persecuted minorities could lead to further persecution, and therefore should be avoided, unless there is important reason to talk about such things.
But, even after pointing out why so many generalizations are inaccurate or otherwise wrong, there are still plenty of generalizations that are legitimate. If the majority of group A either has or supports attribute X, whereas the majority of the rest of society either does not have that attribute or does not support it, then it is legitimate to say, as a generalization, that attribute X is characteristic of group A. But it must be clear, both to the person making the statement and to the people listening to it, that one is not saying that everyone in group A has attribute X (and this is not always clear to people).
So, for example: To say that all charedim are economic parasites from the rest of Israel and do not serve in the IDF is wrong. There are plenty of charedim who work and contribute to the economy (albeit at a vastly lower general rate than in the rest of society), some of whom even have careers such as medical professionals (albeit generally immigrants and baalei teshuvah), and there are even charedim who serve in the IDF (albeit a miniscule number who are generally charedi “dropouts”). Likewise, even if one doesn’t say “all charedim,” there is a risk that the statement may be interpreted that way.
But it is accurate to say that charedim, generally speaking, are against secular studies for their sons and raising them to have professions, are underemployed, do not serve in the IDF, pay far less taxes and receive far more benefits than other sectors, and seek ways to get the rest of the country to finance their lifestyle. After all, all these things were part of the official platform of the charedi political parties, which received the overwhelming majority of votes in charedi communities.
It’s ironic that so many charedi apologists are uncomfortable about that which charedi policymakers are so proud of.
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