Sometimes I wish I could go back to my high school days, the days before existential crisis wracked my mind, the days when issues of faith and belief were no brainers. Those days before I started reading philosophy and anything that put my Judaism into question. Sometimes, just for a moment I wish I were part of a community like Satmar, where my thought process, reading materials and way of life was strictly guided by community standards and expectations. I was reading an interview with Chaim Potok the other night where he spoke of what it may have been like had he remained within Orthodoxy and he waxed poetic on the very concept of living without the freedom of thought that he only was able to experience once he left orthodoxy.
Deborah Feldman is a media whore who lied about something so gruesome as a litle kid being murdered and she deserves to be taken down and run out of town, but she did do something very important for the frum community. I am pretty sure that, some of those who read about her actually stopped to think about what she was saying for just a moment instead of immediately branding her as a chillul Hashem (which I completely understand) The frum community has this amazing filter that basically brands anything as a chillul Hashem if it tries to provide some sort of questioning of the things we hold dear.
One of my biggest issues with the frum community is it’s unfortunate way of looking at anyone who disagrees with them. It’s very similar to the super liberal folks out in San Francisco, everyone loves everyone else until something irks them. The frum community is an even more interesting place nowadays because so much of it is social, or aesthetics. When someone asks me whether or not I can do such and such a thing, I almost always respond with a technically or realistically or socially answer. For instance I was trying to explain the other night to someone that when someone tells me they converted through the conservative movement, I always look at them as Jews. This in itself is an extreme view for anyone calling themselves orthodox, because 99% of the orthodox community does not hold that conservative conversions are valid, yet I have no idea whether they are valid or not – but I still don’t sit there and say “yes you may have converted, but you are not Jewish” in all honesty, conversion used to be a much simpler process and it’s hard to tell what actually does the deed. I have also noticed that, just like it used to be, the lines between orthodox and conservative are blurred, because almost every young rabbi I meet coming out of JTS is modern orthodox that holds of conservative theology.
Deborah Feldman really shot herself in the foot, in a similar way that Sara Hurwitz did. Sara Hurwitz was the first orthodox woman rabbi, yet she failed to fully cover her hair and that’s where she went wrong. We can probably debate for years on whether or not hair covering is required halachically, or merely a periodical custom that was backed up in a simple line about embarrassing a sotah. Regardless, it is one of the fundamental ways that frum people judge each other. Most will acknowledge that black hats are hogwash, but it’s rare to find someone who says the same of fully covered hair. Feldman could have a bestseller on her hands, yes it will influence those who hate us (if they hated us already, it probably doesn’t take much to incite them) but prior to learning of her stupid recklessness by proposing asinine conspiracy theories about someone who shouldn’t be talked about in such ways, she has ruined it for everyone.
Now, no one will learn anything because the lies perpetuated in one of the stories will be spread about as if the entire book was false. Even if the entire book is false, it touched a raw nerve and you may have noticed that the mainstream media is fascinated with fundamentalist Jews and don’t think for an instance that we are not fundamentalists. The riots in Israel andthis thing on Oprah are bound to spark curiosity so you can look for more behind the scenes published works in mainstream media and eventually someone may actually decide to learn from it rather than instantly put it down and cry chillul hashem.
The thing that everyone on the other end of the spectrum, the non-frum and non-Jews seem to misunderstand is that you can be an ultra orthodox fundamentalist and very happy. I have no doubt in my mind that living an insular, fully devoted to religious life is something which people don’t want to change. One of the mistakes many people who are calling “all” the chassidim ignorant or closed minded are making is that many of these people have it way better off than we do. They don’t live a life of sex, drugs and money or materialism, stress over college, good careers or whatever else we “modern orthodox” Jews do. Ignorance may be too strong a word, but it truly can be bliss. You have this tight knit community that takes care of its own, as long as they stay within the realm of their religiosity – there is no more abuse or scandal than any other tight knit fundamentalist community. The same people whop lump all Chassidim and Charedim into groups of people they hate are just as ignorant as racists, homophobes and anti-Semites. Neither I nor anyone who didn’t grow up Chassidish can ever truly know what it was like.
If you really want to read a good book that takes an inside and less negative look at Chassidim I would recommend Hush, which looked at abuse, but was funny, insightful and much more truthful.
Find out more about Chassidim on 4torah.com