Those who follow the news may sense that we have entered an era of rampant stigmatization, where no one is immune. Indeed, the current atmosphere in Israel today is reminiscent of the period following Rabin’s murder. Many in the media repeatedly denounce the entire hareidi sector and are happy that the hareidim were “justly punished” and exiled to the Opposition.
Hareidi leaders, in turn, attack the National Religious community and claim that we all hate hareidim; that we all hate the Torah; and that we all declared war on the hareidi public. Even in our own community, many resort to sweeping generalizations about the hareidi public.
Yet, we - the members of the National Religious community, who remember what happened in the wake of Rabin’s assassination and know a thing or two about collective accusations and undeserved allegations - must learn to distance ourselves from stigmatizations and sweeping generalizations. However, many – including the media – continue to make these broad generalizations, and who can swim against the tide? Does one even realize when one has adopted a herd mentality?
I believe that there is no better time to reflect on our enslavement to public opinion (in general, and our attitude to the hareidi public, in particular) than Pesach and its inherent call for freedom. This is the season to seek freedom and liberate ourselves from the stigmas attached to entire communities - even by our own doing.
We must think maturely and pragmatically, while analyzing each case on its own merits. We must be free to examine a person or a community’s actions without prejudging them. Most importantly, we must have the freedom to develop tools and a healthy awareness, which will allow us to determine whether our thoughts are truly our own or whether they are still bound by iron chains to the sweeping generalizations and stigmatizations that we have unwittingly adopted.
There are several important layers to this discussion:
There is a raging debate in the media about the hareidi community, its share of the “national burden,” etc. Together with our students or children, we should study this debate and its impact on our own views. Did we reach our opinions in favor or against the hareidim in general (and their place in the government, in particular) after carefully examining the relevant issues? Or, are our opinions enslaved to various columns, programs, and other media outlets?
Moreover, is it true that there are no hareidim in the IDF? Does each and every secular Israeli serve in a combat position? Is there such a thing as a completely homogenous community?! Are there no hareidim who contribute to the State? Did we all murder Rabin...?
Finally, does the media or “public opinion” shackle our ability to think objectively? What can we do to earn the right to freedom of thought?
Slaves to Prejudice
In addition to our preconceived notions about hareidim – impressions that are frequently enslaved to images and stigmas – we should also talk to our students about other areas where we allow biases and prejudices to cloud our view of reality. When we encounter a secular Jew, do we make up our minds about him before exchanging a single word? Do we have strong opinions about a member of a minority group before learning who he is and not just what he is?
And, within the National Religious community itself: Do we not make assumptions about a person’s nature and religiosity – after a quick glance at the size and style of his kippah, how many earrings she sports, or other external signs, which may be significant but do not tell us anything about the overall person? When we hear where someone goes to school/serves (army vs. national service), do we immediately “know” everything there is to know about him or her?
Furthermore, we can also be enslaved to things which have nothing to do with our attitudes toward other people. For instance, we can take a look at our opinions about labels, favorite pastimes (or those that are considered to be “nerdy”), our tendency to judge other people by their cellphones (or the phones they wish they had), and even the way we serve Hashem. Did we choose a hassidic approach – or any other approach – because it is “trendy,” or because it is what we really chose?
In conclusion, we must figure out how to become bnei chorin (free men), who are not enslaved to prejudices conceived by others. After all, one who is enslaved to a prejudice does not realize that he is enslaved, because he is enslaved…
"יש בן חורין שרוחו רוח של עבד, ויש עבד שרוחו מלאה חירות; הנאמן לעצמיותו – בן חורין הוא, ומי שכל חייו הם רק במה שטוב ויפה בעיני אחרים – הוא עבד."
“There can be a free man whose spirit is the spirit of a slave, and there can be a slave whose spirit is infused with freedom. One who is faithful to his individual uniqueness – is truly a free man, and one whose entire life is only concerned with that which is good and pleasant in others’ eyes – is a slave.” (Rabbi Avraham Kook, Olat HaReayah 2, p. 245)