web analytics
November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Hypersensitivity

I don’t expect thinking Muslims to object to a reasoned critique of Islam.
Joyce Carol Oates, has been mangled online and in the press because she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic—Egypt—natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?”

Joyce Carol Oates, has been mangled online and in the press because she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic—Egypt—natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?”

I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day, standing in front of a painting by an artist I much admire, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (not as good as Caravaggio, but a close second). The painting, entitled “Tobias and the Angel,” is based on a weird story in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. Briefly, Tobit is a member of the tribe of Naftali exiled by the Assyrians to Nineveh. Horrible things happen to him. He gets blinded. His son goes off to try to collect a debt, and the angel Rephael sends him on a journey to Media to help a widow called Sarah who is possessed by the demon Asmodeus. Tobias is attacked by a fish as he crosses the Tigris. The angel tells him to use its innards to scare off the demon. He rescues Sarah and, back home, uses the miraculous innards to cure his father’s blindness. Tobias and Sarah marry, and they all live happily ever after. Not really the sort of book you’d expect to find in the Tanach, and it isn’t.

In the gallery the caption reads, “Based on the Biblical book.” My hackles began to rise because it might be in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, which include the Apocrypha, but it is not in ours or in most Protestant Bibles either. Couldn’t they get it straight? Then I got worked up about their calling it the Old Testament, for us primitive old fogeys, as opposed to the shiny New Testament for the good guys. And then I thought, “Am I crazy to get worked up by such a trivial issue?”

A few months ago a friend in London involved me in a complaint he sent to the director of the National Gallery about a painting called “The Rich Man being led to Hell“ by David Teniers the Younger, in which the rich man is clearly painted as a Jew complete with kipa and beard, not to mention exaggerated features. The director replied amenably, and tried to put it in the context of the painter and his time. But I did think a few lines added to the blurb might have put the portrait in the context of say “The Jew of Malta”, “The Merchant of Venice”, or indeed “Oliver Twist”, not to mention “Der Sturmer”.

If I am so hypersensitive, why am I so surprised when other people are? I have always been very quick to take offense at any perceived slur against my religion and my people, even if I am myself amongst the first to criticize them when they are wrong. Doesn’t Proverbs say, “Better the wounds of a friend than the sweet talk of an enemy”? Perhaps it was growing up in England where in my youth Jews and Judaism were indeed regarded as not quite acceptable. We were still called Christ Killers, Jew Boys, and Yids and were accused of being devious, rich, unpatriotic foreigners who should “go home”. Except, of course, many Brits didn’t want us to go “home” either!

Yet whenever people made fun of religion in general, pompous vicars or duplicitous priests, I enjoyed the fun. Jewish humor is predominantly self-critical and makes fun of God, Moses, rabbis, and the lot of us. But as society has changed we have been forced to become much more sensitive towards those who suffered from racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, indeed any kind of discrimination.

This weekend the doyen of American writers, Joyce Carol Oates, has been mangled online and in the press because she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic—Egypt—natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?”

Some of the criticism has been that Ms. Oates might have mentioned other factors such as social, economic, and historical. It was not fair to blame religion only. But why are some religious groups more prone to sexual assault and violence against women? Might it mot be, in part, because of religious attitudes? We can all see that within religions there are extremes and fanatics and bad guys as well as good guys. If people set themselves up as spiritual leaders, we have every right to expect them to behave as such and take responsibility. Toleration of corruption or distortion must be excoriated. That, after all, is our tradition. The prophets, Mussar, and Torah require self-analysis, self-criticism, and self-discipline.

The Zimmerman affair is polarizing American society. One side argues that one must respect due process. The other argues that the victim was black and that proves discrimination. But it was Martin Luther King who fought discrimination like no other, yet called on black society to ask itself why its proportion of criminals and single parent families was so much higher that other minorities. In other words being sensitive should not prevent one asking questions.

So despite my hypersensitivity I do not get angry over reasoned criticism of Judaism (or of myself). I don’t expect thinking Muslims to object to a reasoned critique of Islam. Is this insensitive? No, I don’t think so. Religious leaders or authorities should expect criticism over mistakes or poor judgments. The Ethics of the Fathers declares, “Nagid Shmey Avad Shmey. [A Name Made is a Name destroyed.]” If you set yourself up above the crowd, you must expect scrutiny and criticism.

If American politicians like Spitzer and Weiner, who lost office through their own sexual misdeeds, choose to run for office again, they must expect the scrutiny and explain why they should be trusted with high office. They cannot be treated with kid gloves. It is not insensitive to challenge them about their past behavior. I recall John Profumo who in 1963 lost office against a background of sexual impropriety. But then he lived a life of good deeds, modesty, and charity. We all have choices. If we take the high ground, we must expect to have to defend it.

Of course there is still racism, anti-Semitism, and anti a whole lot of others. The Supreme Court opened up a debate over preferential treatment for minorities. New York is arguing over police profiling. All sides are getting their oars in openly and blatantly. That is the beauty of robust, open, contrary debate.

In Britain and Europe, where state broadcasting systems affect the narrative and in practice dictate the manner of debate by imposing a wet blanket of political correctness and bias, it is much harder to find a fair, open, and honest hearing of a contrary point of view. Just read Melanie Phillips’ blog to see what it’s like to try to offer an alternative narrative.

The USA also contains different states with different laws and different biases. Some are pro-business and some are pro-union. Some impose State taxes, some do not. Some allow gay marriage , others reject it. If citizens do not like one state’s laws, they can move to another. The freedom to insult in the USA often surprises Europeans. But in the end I believe its brutal openness is healthier. In other words, being sensitive ought not necessarily to mean you cannot say what you believe is right. If I am hypersensitive I need to get over it.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

4 Responses to “Hypersensitivity”

  1. Thank you for your clear and necessary statement. It brought to mind another area where distinctions should be made and aren't: state documents that lend themselves superficial dignity by using Germanic fraktur font and "A.D." with dates. When I received my state license for a Jewish marriage, it insisted I married in the year "anno domini" – 'of our lord'. I notified the State that I was not married in the year of their lord, but of Mine, and suggested they eliminate "A.D." This fell on deaf ears, of course, since no bureaucrat knows or cares what "A.D." means and loves the archaic Germano-Christian look of pre-printed official documents.

  2. As it turns out, there are over a billion Muslims in the world; there are also over a billion Christians in the world. There are maybe 12-13 million Jews.

    The points of conflict which we have with Islam are territorial, but not doctrinaire. Jews lived with Muslims for 1000 years in some countries with little friction at all.

    We should confine our criticism of Islam to its interference with the rights of Jews to live in peace in Eretz Yisrael. The rest of their agenda and life is beyond our area of concern.

    We, as Jews should recognize that as smart as we might be, and as all-knowing as we might think we are, there are areas where we might be well-advised to keep our opinions to ourselves. Muslims' treatment of women is not our battle, and we shouldn't even try to fight it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You are really a pompous ass. Why don't you educate yourself before spraying your ignorant opinions as if you are marking your territory?

  4. Anonymous says:

    It's too bad that your article is so much more about yourself than about the abuse of Joyce Carol Oates. You truly miss the point. Oates is being attacked by feminists and other American leftist-progressives. Feminists are a single-issue lobby, caring only about abortion. They do not protest the horrific treatment women endure in Islamist countries; instead, they persecute women like Oates who do protest such crimes.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
President Obama overlaid against photo of Jonathan Pollard.
The Hidden Reason the United States Won’t Release Pollard.
Latest Indepth Stories
Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Chaim Koren presents his credentials to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, at the presidential palace in Cairo.

Egypt’s al-Sisi is in an expansionist mood. He wants Israel’s permission to take over Judea and Samaria.

Looters in Ferguson wore masks to avoid being identified -- but the kafiyehs worn by some provided a clue to possible identities.

Cries of justice for Michael Brown drowned out any call for justice for Police Officer Daryl Wilson.

got your back

Cloistered captain Obama, touts his talents and has the temerity to taunt Bibi,his besieged ally

Former PM Ariel Sharon succinctly said, “the fate of Netzarim (Gush Katif) is the fate of Tel-Aviv.”

“What’s a line between friends?”

Unrest in YESHA and J’m helps Abbas and Abdullah defuse anger, gain politically and appear moderates

A “Shliach” means to do acts with complete devotion and dedication in order to help bring Moshiach.

The pogroms in Chevron took place eighty five years ago, in 1929; the Holocaust began seventy-five years ago in 1939; the joint attack of Israel’s neighbors against the Jewish State of Israel happened sixty-six years ago… yet, world history of anti-Semitism did not stop there, but continues until today. Yes, the primitive reality of Jews […]

“We don’t just care for the children; we make sure they have the best quality of life.”

“Why do people get complacent with the things they’re told?”

Arab opposition to a Jewish State of any size was made known by word and deed in the form of terror

Operation Moses: First time in history that non-blacks came to Africa to free blacks from oppression

As Arabs murder and maim Jews, Jordan’s leaders bark the blood libel of “Israeli aggression.”

Perhaps attacking a terrorist’s legacy broadly and publicly would dissuade others from terrorism?

R’ Aryeh yelled “Run, I’ll fight!” Using a chair against terrorists to buy time so others could flee

More Articles from Jeremy Rosen
putin napoleon

Obama’s incompetence, the way his naive worldview and credulity have made a fool of him, are equally frightening

Rashid Khalidi

The Ramaz School was wrong to refuse to allow Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian apologist, to speak to its senior students.

Imagine you take your family somewhere where there is no such thing as a day off.

Pascal’s famous wager was that it makes sense to bet on God.

The Talmud (Eiruvin 96a) mentions that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, wore Tefilin and no one objected.

We’ve known that you can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements.

The religious world needs to fight back constructively.

There is a dichotomy between personal, private prayer and public communal prayer.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/hypersensitivity/2013/07/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: