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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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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?”

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.


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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.

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