Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Are walls to protect our ignornace?

I used to believe that there was very little difference between the Religious Zionist / Modern Orthodox world and the Charedi world. I used to believe that all Orthodox Jews were in agreement on almost all major theological issues (Truth of the Torah, Obligation to Keep Halacha, etc), the differences were only on smaller (but still significant) issues which tend to be exaggerated, particularly Zionism and approach Secular Education.

Over recent years I have come to realize that the gulf between Charedi Judaism and religious Zionism / Modern Orthodox / Centrist Judaism is far deeper than the question of whether you say Halel on Yom Ha'atzmaut.

This point was hammered home by an article in Forward "Gentiles at the Gates". I cannot understand what the author was trying to say. She tells a story about a friend who had a daughter that was taught in school that Only Jews have suffered Genocide. This is a silly statement for anyone to make, especially a school teacher, especially when anyone with even a minimal knowledge of current events or world history would know that it is false.

Sure enough, the daughter Googled "Genocide" and discovered that she had been lied to in school and there were many other examples of genocide. 
What happened was this: Chani, Miriam’s 16-year-old daughter, was writing a report on the Holocaust, and Miriam, putting the little ones to sleep, gave Chani permission to search online. The teenager typed in the word “genocide,” and there in front of her eyes was a Wikipedia entry with phrases like “Rwandan genocide,” and “Armenian genocide.” So Chani, knowing there’d been only one genocide, the Holocaust, Googled the word again, and a few frustrated clicks later she found that the Internet’s mistake was even greater than she realized; now there was something called the Sudanese genocide, too. And when she clicked on it, photos appeared, taken days earlier, that showed Sudan’s genocide up close. Up very close.

This is a classic example of a "teachable moment". The mother or teacher could have sat down with the girl and discussed how Judaism approaches the concept of Evil in the World. They could discuss the difference between the Holocaust and other types of Genocide, they could explore ways that we as Jews and as Human Beings can try to make this world a better place.

Instead of seizing the educational opportunity, the family threw out the computer and tried to restore a state of ignorance.

Miriam immediately shut off the computer, but Chani had gone into shock. When Miriam wasn’t looking, she searched obsessively for the genocides of the past century: Sudan, Rwanda, Armenia, Serbia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Guinea. Miriam realized this only two weeks later, when she checked the browser history. But by then Chani had questions, questions about God, misery and the stunning discovery that Jews, after all, held no monopoly on suffering.
It was a betrayal devastating to her faith. Up until that evening, Chani had known with certainty that only Jews really suffered, because we are the chosen people. The rest of the jealous planet, therefore, wanted to destroy us because they hated our morality.

It was a traumatizing ordeal for a devout Jewish mother, watching the daughter she’d lovingly raised to care only for her own show the same compassion for others.
Eventually Miriam had had enough. She wanted her daughter back. She wanted the pious Chani who cared deeply but for the right folks, who had a generous heart but clear priorities. She wanted the girl for whom the world ended where her knowledge did, and who did not care about what she was not supposed to know. The computer had done a terrible thing: It had allowed her child to encounter humanity up close, eye to suffering eye, and in the deceiving light of that reality, it was impossible to properly tell the superior from the inferior. Agony looked the same everywhere.
Miriam tried explaining it. It wasn’t that others didn’t suffer, she said, but that we suffered more, and for better reasons. They because of sin, we because we were chosen.
So Miriam threw out the computer, as her rav advised her to do. Though a return to ignorance was difficult, he explained, nothing was impossible. The gates of repentance were always open, and with time, they hoped, her daughter would forget about a country called Sudan and its suffering.
The Rav's advise - instead of learning about the world and appreciating G-d's role in it, maybe we should move back into a world of ignorance and darkness.

It is no wonder that the daughter abandoned her parent's lifestyle. How could anyone stay with a belief system that answers questions by trying to shut out reality.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

What's sad is exactly what you noted.
Despite the plethora of genocides in history, the Holocaust remains unique in nature and scope. A sensitive and educated parents could have sat down and taught the child about how much cruelty there is in the world and how lots of people have suffered but also about how our suffering was different. What a lost opportunity.

MiriamS said...

Oversimplification of charedim. And Judy Brown is no longer charedi, possibly no longer Orthodox:

Michael Sedley said...


I suspect that you are right and many details in the article are exagerations or not accurate.

However the fact that the article was published in a Forward shows that it is not totally removed from the Charedi mindset, at least in some communities.