On “Orthodox Bashing”

Last weekend’s Jewish Week contained an op-ed by Sherri Mandell that seemed to want to make a point about “Orthodox-bashing” but gets seriously detoured along the way.

Mandell begins by citing Noah Feldman’s “freewheeling diatribe against Modern Orthodoxy” and Shalom Auslander’s “public pillory of the Orthodox world” and claiming that the prominence of these pieces of writing are connected to the fact that the most powerful people in pop culture are Jewish.

(It’s good she’s Jewish; otherwise, she might have the ADL breathing down her neck.)

Then she continues her short op-ed with a long list of writers and cultural products, past and present, including Walt and Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, IB Singer, Elizabeth Gilbert, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, AJ Jacobs, and CNN’s “God’s Warriors.”

Mandell seems to be saying that religion is under attack and that Auslander and Feldman are the platoon dedicated to Orthodoxy. People might laugh at Auslander’s book, but she concludes: “In America you can die laughing at the Jews; here [in Israel] you may die for being one.”

I’ve tried to analyze Mandell’s arguments, but it gave me a headache. She’s all over the place, and the more I read the article the more rough and hysterical it seemed. But two points:

1) What’s with that last sentence? Does Mandell believe that Jews in Israel are threatened because of their religious beliefs? Are religious Jews more likely to be attacked in Israel than secular Jews? When it comes to Jewish vulnerability in Israel is there any difference between Sherri Mandell and Shalom Auslander?

2) Shalom Auslander and Noah Feldman were both Orthodox. They’re not sharing their experiences from a position of a priori antagonism to Orthodoxy. This is your example of mainstream Orthodox-bashing? Two boys who were loyal community members for most of their lives until they — justifiably or not — felt like they were forced to make breaks because of who they were.

Whether you agree with their ideas and methods or not, dismissing them as merely combatants in the battle against God (and the Jews) is way too convenient.

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