Rabbi Avi ShafranThe writer is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America. He is also a contributing writer to Cross-Currents, an online journal of Orthodox Jewish thought and opinion.
One hopes that readers here are not part of the population that peruses tabloids like the New York Post. If they were, though, they would have seen a recent opinion piece that called Jews “a small minority of the population… granted special privileges” who “wield power disproportionate to their numbers” and whose “behavior violates the law and infringes on the rights of others.” Wielding “considerable political clout,” and “flexing their political muscle,” they represent “a dangerous trend that has been allowed to fester and grow for decades.” Jews also receive “special treatment” by those in power and deny “the civil rights of [crime] victims.” When criticized, the writer explains, Jews simply dismiss their critics as anti-Semites.
Moreover, the piece reports, Jews represent “a demographic tidal wave” and threaten to become “dominant” in the United States. Warning that it is time to head off the coming misfortune, the writer concludes that our “silence is acquiescence.”
Oh, my mistake! It wasn’t “Jews” to whom the writer, an “activist” named Ben Hirsch, was referring, but rather “strictly Orthodox Jews.” Forgive me.
One wonders, though, how Mr. Hirsch manages to convince himself that there’s some qualitative difference between a generic bigot who offers the public a hodgepodge of sinister insinuations, half-truths, and outright lies about Jews as a whole, and a hater like himself who does precisely the same about an identifiable subset of Jews. Does the dilemma even occur to him?
What provided Mr. Hirsch his latest opportunity to besmirch hareidim and prejudice the public against them were the allegations several weeks ago of disgusting acts in Beit Shemesh. In classic bigot’s style, he parlayed the bad behavior of a few into a tarring of an entire group. He knows his business.
As does another recent op-ed writer, this one in The New York Times. Rabbi Dov Linzer’s business, however, is not bigotry, but the promotion of a new vision of Judaism, one that many find reminiscent of the Conservative movement’s early days. The dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale in the Bronx, an institution championing “modern and open Orthodox values,” Rabbi Linzer was once reported in the New York Jewish Week to have asserted that the Sages of the Talmud were unconcerned with a person’s religious beliefs; that, in the article’s words, “it was Maimonides who introduced the concept that Jews must adhere to basic dogmas, and even he was not consistent in his demands for such adherence.”
Such theological novellae, however, were not the subject of the rabbi’s recent offering. He, too, like Mr. Hirsch, was inspired by the reports from Beit Shemesh. (I add that in addition to the sin of their behavior itself, the alleged Beit Shemesh spitters and cursers bear the iniquity-burden of having provided the Mr. Hirschs and Rabbi Linzers of the world with effective ammunition for promoting their agendas.) But the opportunity Rabbi Linzer saw was to criticize not so much a group of Jews (although he does his share of that too) but rather a concept, that of tznius, or Jewish modesty.
He begins his piece, which ran under the title “Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud,” with the following paragraph:
“Is it possible for a religious demand for modesty to be about anything other than men controlling women’s bodies? From recent events in Israel, it would certainly seem that it is not.”
He goes on to assert that “the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts” lies “squarely on the men.” The notion that women may have a tzenius (modesty) responsibility regarding their manner of dress, he writes, reflects only “a blame-the-victim mentality.” In fact, he informs us, it represents “a complete perversion” of the Talmud. Who knew?
The emergence of such… interesting writing by Jews in the secular media is, of course, disturbing. (Other adjectives occur as well.) It puts one in mind of what Rashi reminded us recently when we reviewed parshas Shemos, that Moshe Rabbeinu had puzzled over why the Jewish People had languished so long in Egypt—until he discovered the phenomenon of Jews acting contemptibly against other Jews. Then he understood.
If any of us are puzzling over why our current exile is so protracted, well, a glance at some op-ed pages can provide the tragic answer.
© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE