In its most recent edition, Ami Magazine has accused Professor Samuel Heilman – a distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College of hating Charedim. I am all too familiar with accusations like this as I am often accused of being a Charedi hater myself. But the truth is that neither I nor Professor Heilman are such a thing.
Professor Heilman was interviewed for the article by Yossi Krausz and despite a fairly peasant encounter where no animus was shown towards anyone Charedi the conclusion was that Professor Heilman nonetheless still hates Charedim.
Mr. Krausz bases that accusation on the fact in his many books and articles on the subject Professor Heilman makes note of the problems in the Charedi world and attempts to explain them from a sociological perspective that is unflattering to them.
But as an expert in the field he certainly has a right to analyze them in ways that he believes to be accurate. Does that make him a Charedi hater – as the blurb on the front page of the magazine would have you believe?
I don’t think so. In fact it is completely unfair to characterize him that way. Professor Heilman is an Orthodox Jew. He is observant of the Mitzvos and is even Koveah Itim – setting aside time daily to learn Torah. What he has done is study the behavior of certain segments of Jewry and drawn conclusions as to why they behave in a certain way and sometimes cause a Chilul HaShem.
The fact is that there are such Jews among Charedim – as there are among all segments of Jewry. There are bad Jews everywhere that make us all look bad. Charedim cannot be left out of the equation just because they claim to be more religious than any other segment. The fact is that the more religious they claim to be the greater the stain of sin is seen upon them.
Whether that stain is in cheating on your taxes, or laundering money, or protecting sex abusers or any other evil – when a Charedi Jew does it, the negative statement made by them is magnified. So indeed they deserve more scrutiny and greater criticism. The damage to the reputation of the Jewish people by the most visibly religious among us is much greater and so too is the Chilul HaShem.
Professor Heilman has suggested sociological explanations for such behavior based on his studies and analyses – using his professional expertise in doing so. That does not make him a Charedi hater. It makes him an honest evaluator of the people he studies.
Even if he errs occasionally in his perceptions and assessments, that too does not make him a hater. Everybody is entitled to be wrong once in a while. That does not mean he hates anyone.
Does he have biases when he makes these evaluations? I’m sure he does. We all bring our biases into anything we say and do, including in the case of Professor Heilman – a sociological analyses of a group of people. But as an acknowledged expert in the field, his views should be valued far more than any lay person’s evaluation. And he should certainly not be accused of being a hater… even if it can be pointed out that he erred in some of those evaluations.
This is what Ami did. They took some of his statements and showed where he was wrong. A mistranslation here – a misreading there. Over reliance on others who weren’t as qualified as he is in studying and evaluating the group. But you can’t dismiss the totality of his work and claim an anti Charedi bias when the facts often speak for themselves. One need not go any further than this blog to see multiple instances of the kinds of problems cited by Professor Heilman in his books… and explanations that run the same way in many cases.
Just to cite one example the article makes mention of the dual way that the Chasidic community relates to their own people and outsiders. They point to a misreading of an ad that promises a 3 million dollar distribution of funds from a Pesach campaign to the poor of Williamsburg while the English translation says it is less than half that amount. Ami points out an error in interpreting the Yiddish and when examined closely the sign reads exactly the same way in both languages.
While that may have been a particular error in that case, I have personally experienced such duality in that neighborhood. One may recall my mentioning in a previous post about reading a sign on the door of a clothing shop in Wiliamsburg’s shopping district on Lee street that said “Closed” in English and “Open” in Yiddish! The duality is there –even if the particular example used by Professor Heilman was mistaken.
I understand the umbrage taken by Charedim at Professor Heilman’s statements. No one likes to be criticized, especially when some of the criticisms are seen as inaccurate. But if they would look in the mirror they might just see a bit of what Professor Heilman saw. These are things which are obvious to everyone but themselves. There is a lot of good about the Charedi world of places like Williamsburg. But it is not all good.
I’m not saying that Professor Heilman is always right. But he isn’t always wrong either. When someone his stature of points out some problems, instead of being so defensive they ought to take note of them and try to fix them. Certainly calling him a Charedi hater solves nothing.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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