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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."