Monday, September 15, 2008

Some of My Best Friends Are…

Jonathan Rosenblum’s recent article Think Again: Getting To Know You, Jerusalem Post, September 4, 2008 tried to present a kind and caring image of segments of the haredi community. Towards the end of the article he referenced a heart warming incident that occurred between him and a chiloni leading him to the conclusion that “many of the nicest people and most generous people I have known were not religious” It sounded like “some of my best friends are….” Substitute the word “not religious” for Jews and the ADL would be screaming foul play! Substitute “not religious” for “African American” or “black” and the Rev. Al Sharpton would be on your door step! Rosenblum’s remark, innocent as it might seem was quite revealing.

While Jonathan Rosenblum, in earnest, wishes to portray the haredi as more compassionate and more open and welcoming, the article wreaks of condescension regarding the chiloni community. Even the language used for outreach, “kiruv”, is a condescending term. Kiruv in the outreach community implies that like the “white man’s burden” of the 19th century colonialists, the haredim are also burdened with the responsibility of bringing “enlightenment”, to these pitiful souls.

Implicit in the kiruv message is an absolute lack of respect toward the chiloni community. Respect ought to mean that while haredim don’t necessarily approve of a chiloni’s lifestyle or lack of religious practice, they ought to respect their right to live as freely as they please. Respect ought to mean that even though a chiloni has chosen to live independent of any halachic system we are nevertheless still brothers and ought to stand together. Respect ought to mean that we accept the right of all people to live as they wish without judging them. Respect ought to mean that while we don’t endorse the books you read we won’t dismiss them as unworthy to be read. Respect ought to mean that while we would like you to become familiar with our religious values and culture we would also want to become familiar with yours without the fear that something awful and sinful might corrupt us.

Rosenblum claims that there are two opposing trends within the haredi world. “On the one hand, there are those whose entire focus is on… erecting barriers to the outside world… and there are those… willing to share their joy of “Torah life” with the broader Jewish society”. Both however share a common denominator – a negation of the chiloni community. The only difference between these two world views is a tactical one.

When study and dialogue between these two communities are on an equal footing with mutual respect, sharing in each others cultural and intellectual experience then will the shofar not only usher in a New Year but trumpet in a new age.