Virtue shaming

The virtue-shamers want to live but not let us live. They seek not just to cancel people but to erase G-d from society, Op-ed.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky ,

The touch of Torah
The touch of Torah
Rogatchi

Is it time to take a stand?

A British Court ruled last week against an actress who was fired from the production in which she appeared because the lexical archeologists found a comment from her Facebook page several years ago that referred to homosexuality as a sin. For that breach of today’s immoral norms, she was fired and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in attorney’s fees for the prevailing side.

Welcome to the world of virtue shaming, the attempt to denigrate, harass, persecute, cancel and eliminate any person who adheres to traditional morality. It is unacceptable, it has to stop and it will only stop when good and decent people begin to fight back and call it what it is.

Meanwhile, a saner American court last week ruled in favor of a college professor who refused to refer to a male student as “Miss,” for, among other reasons, the offense to his Christian beliefs. The Sixth Circuit Court decided that Shawnee State University improperly sanctioned him on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds. Simply put, a professor – by extension, any person – cannot be ordered by any official body to defy reason and common sense and refer to a male as a female or vice versa. If it were otherwise, the court reasoned, “a university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of G-d, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as "comrades." That cannot be. This professor, now authorized to sue his university, was also the victim of virtue shaming.

How did we ever reach this stage when virtue shaming dominates public discourse? Intimidation of traditional Jews and Christians is rampant, threats and boycotts abound, and rational discussion is impossible.

Thus it has become objectionable, even deplorable, to speak favorably of a two parent family, of children having a father and a mother, of G-d creating a male and a female, and of the moral norms that guide such relationships. Those moral norms have been the underpinnings of Western civilization. They are being eroded because virtue shaming has become so extant that good and decent people have internalized that they must be doing something wrong. So they cluster in small groups, hide their professions of faith, keep it amongst themselves, endure the deluge of cultural offerings that disparage the beliefs they cherish – or just surrender.

The external censorship is appalling enough; what is worse is the self-censorship, the tap-dancing around truth, common sense, and time-honored traditions in order not to run afoul of the gods of decadence and amorality. The ideals of “live and let live” and even of tolerance have been turned on their heads.

The virtue-shamers want to live but not let us live. They demand tolerance for themselves and revel in the intolerance they direct at others. They seek not just to cancel people but to stifle any discussion of morality. They seek to erase G-d from society, unless it is a god of their own making that, somehow, endorses whatever they want to do and whatever norms they want to abrogate.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast that involved a discussion by an Orthodox rabbi and his son who had declared himself a homosexual and married. The objective was to enable other families to learn how to deal with this “trauma,” as the father described it, and that goal is fair and important enough. But the moderator at the beginning ruled out any discussion of “the theological implications or policy considerations” of these relationships. In other words, there was to be no discussion of Jewish law, Torah, sin, right and wrong, morality, or the effect of such relationships on the individual or the Jewish community.

That is fine per se; there can be parameters to the discussion of any issue. The problem is that no one is ever allowed to rule in any discussion of “the theological implications or policy considerations” of the same sex lifestyle, its practitioner’s place in the Torah world and the problems of same sex marriage. Such discussions are deemed inherently insensitive and repugnant.

Consequently, traditional voices that deem homosexual conduct a sin and same sex marriage harmful to society on both religious and secular grounds are always drowned out. There is a pervasive fear of speaking about Torah morality, the ideal family unit, proper and improper conduct. We no longer heed the Talmudic dictum (Masechet Sotah 47a) of “smol dochah v’yamin mekarevet,” push away with the left hand and draw near with the right. Rather than dochah or mekarevet, we are only told to be mekabel, mekabel, mekabel – we must accept, accept and accept, and never is to be heard a discouraging word.

We are informed by the practitioners of virtue shaming that we are not allowed to speak about sin, overcoming certain predilections or tendencies, or the explicit prohibitions involved – and those who speak about them are insensitive, causing pain and suffering, potentially killing people, and driving them away from the community.

We are told that we have to accept everyone on their terms (except people of faith) and that we are guilty of something if traditional values remain divinely ordained and thus meaningful guideposts to our lives. We are accused of being judgmental if we speak of marriage as the precondition to intimate relationships or parenthood. That too is virtue shaming.

But of what do we have to be ashamed? Nothing at all.

Here, in Israel, the Noam Party is routinely labeled as “extremist…radical…anti-LGBT…anti-Reform,” etc. It is a handy but duplicitous way to characterize its platform, which essentially promotes traditional Torah values, and avoids actually discussing what those values are and their merits. A recent article in Jerusalem Post was typical, castigating Noam for “seeking to amend government protections for women” without even attempting to explain how and why they would want to do such a thing. Instead the article mostly featured invective, diatribes and tirades – and absolutely nothing from a Noam spokesman.

I have no idea what their objections are. The journalist did not feel it was relevant to include in the article. It related somehow to UN Resolution 1325 (on which an Israeli law is based). Perhaps it was the demand in the Resolution to mainstream women in combat? I have no clue. Some feminists objected to the Resolution as it portrayed women as “perpetual victims.” Maybe that was it? I don’t know. The article was both a poor example of journalism and a perfect example of virtue shaming.

Is opposition to women in combat an opinion that is now beyond the pale of public discourse?

Is opposition to same-sex marriage an opinion that is beyond the pale of public discourse?

Is support for traditional marriage and the family, or recognition of the obvious reality that there are two genders – male and female – opinions that are unworthy of public discussion?

If so, then any Jew who faithfully adheres to the Torah is subject to virtue shaming, and its consequence: attempted silencing.

Here is how to end virtue shaming: every time it happens, call it out for what it is. Make it a new category of victimhood in a world that loves victims (almost as much as it loves catch phrases). When you hear it, or it is directed against you, tell your critic (actually, yell at your critic)

“Stop virtue shaming! Stop criticizing people who love the Torah, embrace its morality and try to live according to its precepts.”

Sensitivity is a two-way street. Those who do not hesitate to trample on the feelings of traditional Jews have no special claim to sensitivity, and especially not when they engage in virtue shaming.

We have values transmitted to us by G-d. We are proud of them. We try to uphold them. Let us not allow ourselves to be shamed by those whose newfangled values are currently in vogue but whose day will also pass. Let’s call out virtue shaming every time it happens, and it will stop.
And the world will be a better place for all.
Rabbi Pruzansky is an attorney, was a pulpit rabbi in the United States for 35 years, resides in Israel and is the Israel Representative for the Coalition for Jewish Values.


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