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You've probably heard about Miriam Anzovin, a formerly Orthodox young woman posting Daf Yomi videos on TikTok. She does this in an irreverent style that includes obscene curse words. Rather unsurprisingly, this has led to criticism. Perhaps more surprisingly, this criticism has been met with some furious and very strange counter-criticism.
In some cases, those who criticized the obscenity-laced videos were told that they are misogynists who are only against Anzovin because she is female. No doubt there are indeed some people who are opposed to Anzovin for that reason, but aside from the fact that the particular people issuing the criticisms were most definitely not against women teaching Torah, this was just absurd. Like, people couldn't possibly be genuinely against using profanities in teaching Torah?!
Others argued that it is a free society and nobody has a right to shut anybody down. This was equally strange. Nobody was trying to "shut anyone down" - how could that possibly even be done? But just as in a free society people are allowed to post videos with obscenities, so too others are free to protest it. The counter-critics are equally trying to "shut down" the critics!
Another counter-claim was that the Sages themselves sometimes cursed each other or used colorful language. This counter-claim was odd because it was said by people who themselves would most definitely not be okay with adopting all the social norms of Chazal's society. As everyone acknowledges, times change.
Still others, including at least one journalist, claimed that there is absolutely nothing profane in using irreverence, profanity, and sexual innuendo, because that is just the social norm. I found it remarkable that this journalist did not see the hypocrisy of making this claim in an article in which he quoted Anzovin as saying "dips--t" and "f–k" - without writing out these words in full. He acknowledges that such words are not appropriate for the JTA, yet he can't see any reason that they would not be appropriate for Torah study?!
When I mentioned these points, someone naturally responded that I was the hypocritical person here, since I didn't like it when my own writings were banned for being disrespectful. But this is not true at all. I objected to the (false) claim that there is no Torah tradition of reading Genesis non-literally or of saying that the Sages erred in science. I most certainly accepted that in charedi society, this approach contradicts social norms of respect, which is why I willingly withdrew my books from that society.
Anyone who claims that there is nothing irreverent about using obscene language, even in today's society, is simply being dishonest, certainly with others and perhaps even with themselves. If you want to believe that Judaism does not require reverence, go ahead, it's a free society. However, many of us have an extremely reasonable case to make that Judaism always has and still does require reverence. And we will object to those who claim otherwise.
(For further reading, see Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, about the value of respect).
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