How to Judge People

If there’s one thing the Jewish community is all-too often missing, it’s self-criticism. Groups and movements tend to blame other groups and movements for their problems and the problems of klal yisrael.

In turn, there’s little that I respect more than seeing someone give an honest critique of their own.

So kudos to Rabbi Doron Beckerman over at Cross-Currents for publicly acknowledging the recent examples of haredi misbehavior:

Much virtual ink has been spilled in recent months over the acts of vandalism, hooliganism, and general bad Middos of various sub-sectors of Charedi society. One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal, is that these actions show that the values of Charedi society are essentially rotten, and that a total reevaluation of the underlying messages given by the Rabbanim and Mechanchim of the Charedi world is in order. (MORE)

Rabbi Beckerman should also be commended for raising the question about what this says about the haredi world, generally. But he resists the conclusion that haredi misbehavior reflects poorly on haredi ideology.

Following this logic – of extrapolation from the actions of some members of a group to the nixing of its essential values – leads one to wonder how to relate to the values of the Torah itself, in light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tongue lashing of the Jewish Nation. Moshe Rabbeinu, according to Rashi in last week’s Torah portion, tells his brethren that they are cumbersome, brazen people who have no respect for their leaders, as well as insufferable complainers…“Don’t judge Judaism by the Jewsâ€? was certainly part of Moshe’s thought process, or else he would have had to question his entire mission of Matan Torah – which he never did.

So Rabbi Beckerman asks: “How does one go about evaluating values of a religion/society if not by its adherents?”

His conclusion: Judge a people by their leaders.

The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children – the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish and the Satmar Rebbe; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Tuvia Weiss. (MORE)

While, once again, I laud Rabbi Beckerman for his self-reflection, I’m troubled by his conclusions. Where does he think the hooligan-inspiring ideas come from?

Rabbi Elyashiv, for example, has led the charge against “immodesty,” going so far as to establish a modesty court that issues kosher certifications to women’s clothing stores. Is there no connection between this and the individual haredim who take modesty enforcement into their own hands?

In a recent article about Ramat Beit Shemesh, even Israelis from the national religious (daati leumi) sector were feeling the heat over this matter:

The national religious population has been driven out of town. “I am planning to leave with my family very soon,” said one national religious woman. “Every time I walk down the street, I’m frightened. Hundreds of haredim stare at me and scrutinize the way I’m dressed. It is not pleasant to live here.” (MORE)

Finally, I just disagree with Beckerman on a behavioral level. Our identities and ideologies are forged by our social environments. If corruption and immorality exist broadly (and I’m not saying they necessarily do in the haredi community), then yes, absolutely, there is something anti-social about the environment.

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