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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

Leah Vincent as she appeared on Katie Curic's talk show.

Leah Vincent as she appeared on Katie Curic's talk show.

For girls, there is a constant emphasis by the teachers on Tznius (dressing modestly). They are taught to dress in ways that are not only in accordance with letter of Halacha but to go well beyond it and dress in ways that are not attracting to boys. They are taught to avoid all contact with them until they are ready to get married. And then a Shadchan takes over. Casual contact with the opposite sex is frowned upon and can ruin a reputation if it happens.

Of course the young men in Yeshivos get the same kind of Mussar, but they hardly have any time to act on it. Although they do in fact think about it. Which was Rabbi Joseph’s point.

There are so many things left unsaid by Rabbi Joseph that could clearly have made a difference in why each made their respective choices. First he does not account for individual differences in intelligence and personality. No two people are alike.

It is also impossible to know how each set of parents reacted to rebellion or even thoughts of rebellion. It is impossible to know the exact precipitating point – the so called straw that broke the camel’s back – that caused Ms. Vincent to reject her religious heritage.

Isn’t it possible to say that Rabbi Joseph had parents who were more understanding and sympathetic to his ‘unkosher’ yearnings while at the same being role models for him to eventually follow? Isn’t it possible that Ms. Vincent had the kind of rigid parents who could not countenance even a hint of rebellion – treating her ‘unkosher’ yearnings with stifling rejection? Perhaps her experiences were similar those Charedi teenage girls who were thrown into the streets by parents described in a series of recent articles in Mishpacha Magazine

I don’t know just how much Ms. Vincent suffered. But it is clear to me that the level of rejection she has made so public is the result of such suffering. And probably a lot of other factors all combining to cause her to depart from the ways of her parents. I’d be willing to bet that Rabbi Joseph – even with all of his ‘unkosher yearnings’ of adolescence – did not suffer anywhere near the way Leah Vincent did.

There are many things that can by themselves or cumulatively lead someone to reject their religious heritage – even under the best of circumstances. Like asking ‘forbidden’ questions about belief; or seeing a religious leader involved in money laundering or tax evasion schemes; or seeing how survivors s of sex abuse (and their families) are treated by religious communities in places like Satmar, Skvere, Lakewood; or even YU; or hearing the kind of ridiculous statement attributed to the Satmar Rebbe in my opening paragraph.

This is not to say that I condone what Ms. Vincent has done in her ‘tell all’ book or in her interview with Katie Curic on her nationally syndicated talk show (now defunct). It is only to say the following: Al Tadin Chavrcha Ad Shetagia L’Mkomo. This sage advice from Meseches Avos (2:5) is as valid today as it was when it was first spoken by the sages. Do not judge your fellow until you walk in his shoes.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

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 hmaryles@yahoo.com.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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