On my recent trip to Israel, I was disgusted to hear about the abuse of women at the hands of those calling themselves religious Jews. I expect better of my brothers and sisters. I do not wish to hold them to an unfair standard, but I do wish to hold them to the same standard I hold other people – that of being decent human beings. There is no excuse for spitting on little girls and there is no reason to believe you can practice gender apartheid in a Jewish land. If you want to make women second-class citizens, may I suggest relocating to Saudi Arabia?
I wish I could just hide behind the thought that it’s a fringe minority, but Jews have always been judged as a whole and usually judged by the worst of us. Sadly, with the advent of the Internet, anything Orthodox Jews do will be seen by the world at large. One cell phone and a wi-fi link and everything we do is on Youtube to be mocked by the world.
Yes, there is a serious problem in the Jewish world. The line between secular and religious has become a vast chasm of ignorance on both sides. Many seculars call religious self-righteous parasites, many religious call seculars worthless sinners. Both can present numerous proofs for why their side is correct. Both are doomed to fail because such strife has always been condemned to utter futility.
We are forgetting the lessons of the churban Beit HaMikdash, how we were not finished off by Rome, but destroyed ourselves through mindless hatred and zealotry. We bled each other dry through violence and bigotry until we were weak enough for Rome to come in and step all over our broken bodies. Rome did not defeat us – we defeated ourselves. Every side has reasons to believe that they are right, but in the end, rightness carried out wrongly only leads to more wrong.
Some are using their talents to make Orthodoxy more attractive to Jews. The delightful Allison Josephs of “Jew in the City” answers questions about Judaism with a wit and an elegance that makes me more proud to be Jewish. She presents us as rational human beings with intelligent reasons to practice an ancient faith. Her work is so incredible that instead of answering questions myself, I often just link to her videos because they are so much better than me fumbling for an answer.
Others are using their talents to make Judaism noxious in the eyes of others. They insult less religious Jews, trying to make them feel ashamed. They make evil videos mocking Jews who are at a different point in their spiritual journey. They mock anything secular, claiming they are doing it in the name of Heaven. They do not just devalue ideas, they also devalue people. It is an incredible thing to see people so thoughtful with what goes into their mouths, but so hateful with what comes out of it. They call themselves religious leaders, but they are mere frauds who have no love of Israel, and disguise their evil with a mantle of righteousness. They are the modern day Doegs, the beautiful facades with an empty core. They do not teach out of loyalty to their fellow Jews, but for the satisfaction of gaining more power.
When people reach out to them with real problems, they slap them down and mock them some more. Many even insult non-Jewish people, in hopes of proving their Judaism. They are the ones who burn advertisements in Israel, who spit at little girls, who harass women in the street with foul language. They are the tzniut patrol who harangue women just trying to take their children to school. They are simply modern day zealots who seek to restore a terrible and evil form of Judaism.
If that is Judaism, then I can imagine I would prefer to become a squirrel than become like them. I am blessed with the education to know that these people are the flakes on the head of Judaism, annoying and to be shaken off. Many secular Jews are seeing these people and missing the real people, the good and moral ones who love humanity and seek to unite Jews under a common mission.
Behind every off-the-derech person is a zealot, often a teacher who used his or her position abusively and destroyed Judaism in this person’s eyes. I have often advised my friends that it takes a lifetime to build but a mere second to destroy. All the beauty of Torah can be poisoned by a single cruel and humiliating remark, which bruises the person’s heart for years to come.
If we take on the mantle of heaven, we have a duty to be ambassadors for the Torah. Ambassadors for a country may not surrender their countries’ essential mission, but rather must convey it in a pleasant, respectful manner, which raises them in the eyes of others. They are held to a higher standard because they are given a special mission, a mission to represent a higher ideal. It sounds familiar, no?