My mother, of blessed memory, sold cosmetics for over 50 years. She was the proverbial saleswoman who could sell anyone the Brooklyn Bridge. She could convince anyone to do just about anything. Our family still jokes about the household item she put up for sale, that wasn’t the kind of thing anyone would buy, and yet she sold it. At her funeral, my son expressed his hope that now that she was in Heaven, she would convince Hashem to send the Messiah quickly. (I guess that has been a harder job for her than selling cosmetics.)
Me? I’m the total opposite. I’m not good at convincing people to do things; I don’t recall ever being able to sell anyone anything. I’m just not aggressive enough, assertive enough, whatever the correct term is. But for some reason, I feel deep down that a BT is “supposed” to be able to convince other Jews that a Torah lifestyle is best.
A tragedy occurred recently in my extended family. It was not a death; that could happen to anyone. It was a terrible series of events that “should not” have happened in a religious family – but it did. Even now, as I write, I am still in pain, still stunned and numbed by the shock, trying to put my thoughts into coherent words.
Besides the pain and shock, though, there is another thought that keeps surfacing: How will the non-religious people that I know view a Torah lifestyle now? These people were Torah-observant, and yet this terrible thing happened. I have already gotten comments from one non-religious person, to the effect that if they had not followed the Torah’s command to do thus-and-so, then this tragedy would not have happened.
We know that human beings are fallible. Despite the Torah’s prescriptions, we are going to fail sometimes. Some failures will be trivial; some will be as serious as this tragedy. But how can a BT convey that to the non-religious world, while still maintaining that the Torah’s laws are ultimately beneficial? How can a BT even convey it to himself or herself?
We are reading about Avraham Avinu and his many tests. Each of us has tests; but I am not Avraham Avinu, although I am his descendant. My world and my family’s world has been shaken. How to sweep up the pieces?
One Torah benefit I can point to is the supportive communities, both for that part of my family and for myself. When someone has experienced a tragedy, Torah-observant people rally round the person and support them in countless ways. Besides the fact that we are a merciful people, the Torah commands this support.
But for the rest of it, the whys and the wherefores, it is a hard “sell” at this moment.
You’re not having a real problem with the quality of available information. You’re having cognitive dissonance. There’s a difference. The evidence is readily available to anyone– the difficulty accepting it is entirely in your head.
For the record, the Israeli organization National Council for the Child reported a 30% increase in reporting of sexual abuse from the Israeli Haredi community in recent months– this was covered in the Jerusalem Post. If the Jerusalem Post’s reporting, the records of NCC and organizations like Ohel don’t persuade you, then you can look to frum sources like Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Moshe Heineman, both of whom have acknowledged the problem in the US.
The evidence is there, and it’s readily available. The only question is whether you’re more comfortable ignoring the fact that there are Jewish children being harmed than you are with accepting the possibility that your cherished notions about rabbis and frumkheit might not be 100% accurate.
I’m having a real problem with the quality of available information about the Chareidi communities. I’m not impressed by what the general media and blogs say about their community problems and I’m also not impressed with what their own media say.
It appeared to me that you were taking this all at face value, as so many do, which set me off. If you have reliable sources on the point we have been discussing, please let me know what they are by email (ask the moderators).
“So which part of your information on this comes from your inside knowledge as an Orthodox Jew and which part from general media or blogs?”
Actually, Bob, it’s a mix. My review of media information (as well as information published by organizations like Ohel) provided much of the information that I have. My experience in the Jewish community has given me enough background about how things work (or don’t work) to evaluate the credibility of the various sources I’ve reviewed.
If you’re asking me whether I’m claiming to have been personally abused by a rabbi, the answer is, no.
I’m really losing sight of what your point is– are you trying to argue with me? Do you disagree with something that I’ve said? Have you got an opinion that you’d like to share?
Or, perhaps you simply have trouble with saying “you’re right.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if sexual molestation is about as common in the hareidi world as the secular world. After all, everyone, secular or not, thinks molesting children is wrong. Even someone who doesn’t believe in absolute, G-d given morality has a lot of moral baggage to overcome before making the decision to hurt a child. In other words, a secular person and a hareidi person who feel the desire to molest children are in more or less the same situation in terms of inner morality.
OTOH, I do think it’s fair to say that many things are more common in the secular world. Rape, for example, if only because most rape is “date rape” and involves drinking, and most religious youth will not find themselves in that type of situation (drunk and alone with a guy/girl, that is). Murder, because we’re not from a community where “honor” requires carrying a knife. Cheating on a spouse, again because of opportunity, and because in my experience there’s a not-so-small portion of the secular population that sees cheating as the natural right of an unhappy spouse. Etc.
Police stats show that religious communities have rates of violent crime that are much lower than the average. It’s hard to prove anything about most types of crime, though, because there’s always the well-known argument “well it happens, but they don’t report it.” If someone is not open to believing that the religious actually do live, on average, more moral lives, there’s not much to do about it.
I asked you above (November 2nd, 2007 12:40 #5) “Dave, what is your level of knowledge about Chareidim or Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Judaism? How much of it is from the general media or blogs?”
Now, you’ve said (November 5th, 2007 10:26 #7) you are an Orthodox Jew. You’ve also said (November 5th, 2007 18:21 #17) “If you’d like some more info on sexual abuse in the Haredi community, try “googling” a few relevant words. There’s even a documentary coming out on the subject (”Without a Voice”)…I will say that I would be very, very surprised if, after three minutes’ worth of serious on-line research, you were not persuaded that there is a ‘problem.'”
So which part of your information on this comes from your inside knowledge as an Orthodox Jew and which part from general media or blogs?
If you’d like some more info on sexual abuse in the Haredi community, try “googling” a few relevant words. There’s even a documentary coming out on the subject (“Without a Voice”). I’m not claiming that there’s more of this in the Haredi community than elsewhere (although I’m certainly not prepared to claim the contrary, either). I will say that I would be very, very surprised if, after three minutes’ worth of serious on-line research, you were not persuaded that there is a “problem.”
Yacov– I agree that personal moral failings “should not” be common among Orthodox Jews. Except that Orthodox Jews are, like Reform Jews, Buddhists and Anglicans, humans, and subject to the same failings as our fellow humans.
ok, the truth is that I read a bit into phyllis’ post. I assumed the “terrible series of events” to be some related to personal moral failings, which “should not” be common among orthodox jews. sorry for being presumptuous, she could have been talking about any sort of tragedy. my point is that I believe that in an aggregate sense, moral failings that lead to tragedy are less common among orthodox jews, although we certainly have work to do.
sorry again for the presumption.
Lately, there’s so much out there of “Group A does B”, or “Problem C is especially associated with Group A”, with no substantiation.
Didn’t you say above that among Chareidim “Sexual abuse is also a big problem” ?
We know what a big and terrible problem it can be for its victims, but what prompted you to imply that it’s a big problem specifically in that group?
“I’m no more pleased with his generalities than with yours.”
You’ve hardly been even-handed with your disapproval. By the way– what generalities did I make?
I’m no more pleased with his generalities than with yours.
I never claimed “that the listed items other than poverty afflict Chareidim disproportionately.” On the contrary, I merely stated that they afflict Haredim (or, if you prefer, Chareidim), which, in fact, they do.
If you read what has been written above, you’ll see that my comment was in response to Yacov’s assertion that one could “presume that in an aggregate sense [any tragedy] occurs far less often in the frum world than outside of it.”
I responded by saying that poverty is disproportionately high in the Haredi community, and other tragedies occur there as well. I pointed out that Yacov’s apparent belief that frumkheit saves one from tragedy is simply unsupported. Had I wished, I could have gone further and pointed out the disproportionate impact of the Holocaust on religious communities of Jews.
Now, you want to argue that I haven’t proved that a particular set of tragedies strikes the Orthodox community disproportionately. With respect, I need offer no such proof in order to win this point, as it is completely irrelevant. The burden of proof still lies with Yacov on this one, or, if you’re inclined to come to his defense, with you.
I have found that whether things are going seemingly well or when things are not, it is best not to feel obligated to explain deep matters to non-frum family members. While some may welcome an explanation (as their pintele yid is quietly curious to know how tragedy could befall someone who is SO religious), most of my family has no interest in hearing what the Torah has to say. I have found that an all-inclusive personal attitude works best. No “them” and “us” when it comes to Yiddishkite. Observant or not, if I treat them as I would anyone in my own frum family, they seem to appreciate it.
I recently had my parents in for a few weeks’ visit. My father picked up my now tattered copy of “Garden of Emuna” (Rav Shalom Arush translated by Lazer Brody). Now, my Dad grew up with no Jewish connections, not even a Bar Mitzvah. After reading a few chapters, he expressed how impressed he was at what he read. He asked that I send him a copy of the book…a real shocker for me, indeed. This book has answered many questions that he has had for many years that I could not seem to explain to his satisfaction. For those of us who have close relatives who “just don’t understand” what we’ve all gotten into…I highly recommend this book. When seemingly bad things happen, Rav Arush/Rav Brody offer good insights and council that all can appreciate.
Back to the topic—
Now that I know your situation, Dave, I respectfully ask you to support your assertions with provable facts.
You wrote, “Moreover, in most cases, Haredi poverty is a direct function of their religious choices (i.e., not holding jobs, having large families, etc.). Sexual abuse is also a big problem. Disease can be a problem, as can birth defects (smaller gene pool).”
Exactly how do you know that the listed items other than poverty afflict Chareidim disproportionately?
I meant comments, not emails above!
Dave, no offense meant, but I took your general negative tone in recent emails to mean that you were on the outside looking in. I should have realized things are not that clear-cut.
“Dave, what is your level of knowledge about Chareidim or Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Judaism? … Is the level high enough for you to credibly comment on related topics?”
I am a shomer shabbos Orthodox Jew. I live in an Orthodox Jewish community. I keep strictly kosher. I would respectfully submit that I have as much right (and a high enough “level of knowledge”) to comment on it as anybody.
If you disagree with something I said, Bob, by all means take a stab at refuting it. I think you’ll find that challenging an idea by casting aspersions on the person who offered the idea is the functional equivalent of yielding your point.
When my sister became engaged to her Conservatively-converted husband, my (at-that-time)husband forbade me to take my four young sons to their wedding, which was to take place in my home town. My sister felt she’d be too humiliated that her own nephews would not be at the wedding and decided to relocate it to the city she’d be living in instead. I had encouraged her to keep it in our hometown, that I’d look like the bad guy (or my husband certainly would),and I’d figure out how to deal with the “How come the frummy son-in-law was too good to come to the wedding?” She relocated anyway. A few years later my mother passed away. My philandering (now ex-)husband showed up for the funeral but stayed not one day for the shiva, and did not come the following year for the hakomos matzeivah. Needless to say, my parents’ non-religious friends had many things to say about the converted son-in-law who stood by my sister’s side and the frummy son-in-law who left me stranded.
Those with the comments didn’t feel negative towards orthodoxy by virtue of my ex-husband’s actions. Those actions merely reinforced tightly held biases on their parts to begin with. My romance as a new BT (as Dave described) had worn off years before, and I felt I had enough to deal with without having to explain to anyone that Orthodox Jews are not above experiencing, feeling and falling in the same way as any human being can. And, like Dave, I’ve had my own issues with Orthodoxy to deal with as life forced me to look at how I needed to deal with my own disappointments and subsequent just going through the motions of doing the mitzvos, certainly a major “yeridah” from my early highs, hopes, and dreams of what my own Orthodox family would look like. That’s been another journey for another column.
But, I once again have to agree here with Dave, that I’m not sure it’s my job to convince other Jews that Orthodoxy should be their spiritual path. Especially at times when I was grappling with my own path. Each person has his/her own spiritual journey to go on. As I learned from the 12-Step group I was compelled to join during one of my son’s drug-using years, I’m powerless over the actions (and thinking) of others. I can only live my own hopefully honorable life and work on dealing with myself. If someone else learns from my own experiences, than so be it. But I can’t single-handedly turn around the impressions of the people who aren’t that well-disposed towards the Orthodox to begin with. They may have other occasions to reexamine their belief systems. But first things first, I need to look at my own.
Phyllis, I hope you get through this difficult time with the ability to look at how you can grow from your pain. I finally chose to work Step 3 from my 12 Step program: i.e. “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of G-d as we understood Him”. Through my secular program (which in no way contradicts my religious beliefs; in fact, Rabbi Abraham Twerski strongly endorses and encourages participation in 12 Step programs) I learned to have a better relationship with Hashem and much more peace with my Orthodoxy.
“Making pronouncements about the frequency of a problem of which, by your own admission, you know nothing is, at best unhelpful, and may be quite counterproductive.”
Dave, what is your level of knowledge about Chareidim or Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Judaism? How much of it is from the general media or blogs? Is the level high enough for you to credibly comment on related topics?
“Whatever this tragedy is, and may G-d protect us from any more in the future, I can presume that in an aggregate sense it occurs far less often in the frum world than outside of it.”
Sorry, but that’s utterly preposterous. You can’t say “I don’t know what the tragedy is, but all tragedies happen to frum people less than to non-frum people.”
Poverty is a tragedy. Some 50% of Haredi Jews in Israel live below the poverty line. You think the level is higher in the Israeli secular community? Moreover, in most cases, Haredi poverty is a direct function of their religious choices (i.e., not holding jobs, having large families, etc.). Sexual abuse is also a big problem. Disease can be a problem, as can birth defects (smaller gene pool). Making pronouncements about the frequency of a problem of which, by your own admission, you know nothing is, at best unhelpful, and may be quite counterproductive.
Whatever this tragedy is, and may G-d protect us from any more in the future, I can presume that in an aggregate sense it occurs far less often in the frum world than outside of it. It’s not that “these things” don’t happen to Torah observant people, it’s that they happen far less often. Because of our own shortcomings, that’s currently all we can boast, but it’s not nothing, that’s for certain. We can and should do better, but isolated tragedies are hardly cause for doubt, just invitations to chizuk..
We can’t analyze this on the assumption that our present world and our present life are the only considerations. To attempt (on our level) to understand aspects of justice, we need to include olam haba, gilgulim, and other Jewish concepts in our scheme.
In the end, the support you’ll get from the community is certainly a positive. Balancing that, however, is the fact that you’ll never get an explanation for the question of “Why Hashem Made This Happen” beyond “we can’t see the big picture, but it’s all for the best.”
There are different ways to approach the whole question– the primary OJ method (mentioned above) is to say that God controls everything, that everything, including this, is for the best, and that, if we can’t understand it, that’s just our shortcoming. I don’t much care for this, as it sounds like a cop-out.
Another (my preferred method) is to say that not everything that happens is what God “wants.” Sometimes, bad things happen without our deserving them because of someone else’s choices. Freedom of choice implies the possibility of injustice.
Maybe it’s not really the job of a BT to convince every other Jew to be a BT also. In my own case, I have enough trouble and uncertainty myself that I’d be a bit hypocritical to go out and try to get everybody else to live the same way. Sounds like you might have the same problem.
Take a step back, and think about where you are. The Torah has lots of good things in it, and the Orthodox community is certainly an incredible support mechanism. But when the romance of the new BT wears off, you’ll find that many of the original questions you’ve had really don’t have such good answers.