Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"They All Look Alike"

A number of years ago I was reading an article by a Breslover rabbi and author (who, incidentally, is the reason that as much as I think Tzvi Fishman and Lazer Brody are absolutely out of their gourds, I can't in good conscience consign the whole sect to the dustbin). The author, R. Gershom, had a very interesting book review which he used as a platform to critique the shoddy and lazy reporting of the Haredi community in secular media, particularly the non-Jewish media. I thought a lot of his points were very good, though I'd like to think that things have improved in the past ten years.

One of the best points made, which I also remember reading in Prof. Heilman's "Defenders of the Faith," where he spent time with Haredi groups in Israel, including participating in pilgrimages with them, was the fact that outsiders see the group as a monolith. R. Gershom writes,


...It is difficult to make an arrest because all the Ultra-Orthodox look alike and they will gang up on anyone, including police, who tried to restrain them... (p. 147)
They all look alike --- Yes folks, he really did say that! We all look alike, even if some of us have light hair and skin, and some of us are dark-skinned, some tall, short, fat, skinny, old, you name it -- not to mention male and female, young and old. But Mr. Pippert does not seem to be able to see us as individuals with distinctive faces -- he can't get beyond the clothes. At least now we know why he lumps all Orthodox Jews together as Hasidim -- because we all look alike to him!

Sounds pretty straight-forward. It was this article, incidentally, and R. Gershom's website in general, that got me more interested in Hasidism and Hasidic history, and which I often try to keep in mind to avoid general stereotyping.

So I couldn't decide whether to be amused or sad when I came across this, posted on, of all places, Breslovworld:
When I got out of my taxi at the airport, I was suddenly thrown from anonymity amongst my own kind in an island of frumkeit in Ashdod, into the cold waters of the outside world, where I stood out like a sore thumb. I was almost the only frum person in a sea of what?.......non-frum Yidden?..... non-Jews? I really couldn't make out the difference because they all looked the same to me.

Charming. This is written by the Rebbetzin of a Hasidic sect in Israel. A Hasidic sect associated with the Breslovers, which has a large proportion of BTs. People that focus on outreach to secular and unaffiliated Jews, and who likely know many personally. The Rebbetzin even mentions growing up with non-Jews in London, so it's not like she's so cloistered.

These are people that, one would hope, would be particularly attuned to the need to go beneath superficialities of dress or fashion, especially since many of them probably have, or continue to struggle, with being labeled as less than frum or illegitimate because they do, or did, things a little differently.

So it is troubling, to say the least, that the Rebbetzin carps on and on about how low and fallen her non-Jewish Jewish quasi-bretheren are:


You would think that having lived most of my life in London together with the non-Jews (even in the same block of flats with them) I would be immune to the realities of the gentile world, but it seems that living and interacting almost totally only with frum people does refine you so that you are hit anew by the decadence of the world outside the frum area.
As I walked into the airport I was struck by the indecency surrounding me, from the advertisements and the shop-window displays to the immodest clothing. And as it all hit me it made me stop - and think - of who we really are.

...
And if we are such a glorious and majestic people is it not sad that those Yidden who have chosen to go the way of the other nations have let go of this splendor; instead they cleave to the dross that glitters but is not gold. They have chosen to sell their birthright as the King's beloved children for a pot of lentils – to look and behave like the non-Jews - and in doing so have let drop their elevated status.

...
But with the pride of being Hashem's chosen people comes a tremendous responsibility; we are Hashem's children, His ambassadors and emissaries, and as such the eyes of the world are upon us. With this awareness we must behave in such a way that we are an example to the people around us.
And make no mistake about it, when a non-Jew does something, however bad, it is accepted and condoned by the world, but if a Yid does the slightest thing wrong, he, and by extension, the entire Jewish nation, are condemned as being a bad and rotten people, and a shame to their heritage.

As an ambassador of Hashem I am careful to dress cleanly, neatly and smartly when I walk the streets, and to behave politely and considerately to those around me. I am careful to be scrupulously honest and meticulous in my dealings with other people as befits someone who should be setting an example to those around her, and I will not demean myself by descending to the level of those who should, but do not want to know better.

I am always aware that I stand out clearly and starkly as a frum Yid and that my behavior and actions are watched and taken note of. Anything I do will be filed away in the mind of the non-Jew (and the non-frum Yid) for future reference, whether for the good or the bad, to be used by them at the appropriate time.

Here's a tip. Comparing non-Haredi Jews to Esau (!) does not win you any friends. Saying that we all look alike does not make anyone want to hear what you have to say. And I don't care how neat your sheitel is; it doesn't help you if you go around acting like a sanctimonious holier-than-thou because all those sluts at the airport have the audacity to show their wrists in public. You're right, Rebbetzin: we're all examples, and you too, especially now that you have an audience on the web. How much love, for one's fellow Jew or human being, period, is there in an essay about how you can barely stand to be around people that are different than you?

Take a step back and look in the mirror, Rebbetzin. You are not doing frumkeit, or the Jews, any favors.

This essay has the full endorsement of the Melitzer Rebbe shlit’a.

Oh Good. And here I was afraid that this snide worldview only extended to the female members of the sect.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I link to this entry from my own blog here. Since Blogger is crap when it comes to trackbacks, I'm leaving you a comment to let you know.