I have long argued that the Jewish community has allowed itself to be treated in ways that other communities would never tolerate.
Far too often we fail to push back against the tide of unfair behavior aimed at us – a tide that rolls in from so many directions it can be overwhelming. Most often the target is the State of Israel, which is subject to regular onslaughts of unfair and biased coverage in the social, political and media spheres.
Israel, for example, is constantly held not just to a higher standard, but an impossible one. I need only remind you of Israel’s recent wars in Gaza
where the Jewish state was admonished for providing basic security for its citizens while Hamas was given a pass for initiating the conflict, repeatedly violating cease-fires, and targeting Israeli civilians while using their own as human shields.
There is also the equally severe sin of stereotyping and generalization. Critics of the Jewish state will harp on sins of an Israeli individual, such as the despicable, deadly burning of a Palestinian home a few years ago, when in reality those lone-wolf attacks, which are a disgrace to all that Judaism represents, say little of a government that dedicates itself to the rights and safety of Israelis and Arabs alike.
There is no dispute that drawing upon one particular case to judge a general whole is both unethical and logically groundless. Yet, no matter how blatantly such unjust arguments are made against the Jewish community and Israel, they don’t seem to fade.
A recent example of such stereotyping appeared in The Washington Post
just a few weeks ago. It was penned by a rabbi.
In an article protesting the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decision to reject testimony on Jewishness from 160 American rabbis, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, who was on the list, launched an attack against not just the rabbinate, but Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community as a whole – a broad term he uses interchangeably with the narrowly defined institution of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate.
For the record, I am absolutely against the blacklist, which rightly received widespread condemnation. It’s an embarrassing mistake that seems to have been carried out by a low-level bureaucrat. But Rabbi Steinlauf made things worse by launching a general attack against the ultra-Orthodox that uses unacceptable stereotypes.
Alarmingly, he based much of his polemic on a single experience he had at a Shabbat lunch when he was 19. By “much,” I mean nearly half of his 1,200-word article.
Written in memoir-level detail, Rabbi Steinlauf’s decades-old episode centers around the time he was invited into a small apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem for a Shabbat meal, where he hoped to catch a glimpse of the “sweet, haimishe world” of his ancestors.
What he got, however, was far from that. The ultra-Orthodox man who’d invited him in went on some sort of screed about how the Jews deserved the Holocaust for such sins as eating non-kosher, desecrating the Sabbath, or even for their failure to regularly check their mezuzot. Rabbi Steinlauf was rightly shocked.
When he saw his name on the recent list, he was brought back to this first encounter with ultra-Orthodox Jews, when he discovered that theirs was a world “predicated on a fearful worldview that treated everything – even our fellow Jewish people – with the deepest mistrust.” That sentence was meant to reflect not only on the man with the troubling views, but the ultra-Orthodox community in general. If you think that’s quite a broad judgment to draw from a single experience, you’re right. It’s what we call a stereotype.
I have no problem with Steinlauf challenging Israel’s rabbinate, and I obviously agree that the ideas espoused by the man who hosted Rabbi Steinlauf at his home were disgusting and abhorrent.
What I fail to see, however, is the connection between the two.
Whatever Rabbi Steinlauf heard that day was a fanatical, insane fringe opinion that in no way represents the Orthodox community.I have just completed a Holocaust educational tour of Eastern Europe and Poland and have come face to face with the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that I never dreamed before. The idea that the “sins” of European Jewry brought about the Holocaust is an abomination to Jewish thinking and one to which I have devoted two books to refuting, including my recent The Fed-Up Man of Faith. It is an opinion held by the most discredited extremists and deserves no mention in an op-ed claiming to represent the views of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate, certainly not in one published in as prestigious a place as the Washington Post.
If Gil Steinlauf wants to try to influence Israeli policy, he can. He can write op-eds in Israel’s papers and express his logic through whichever outlets he can. But to bring up the singular story of a crackpot in Jerusalem who served him cholent and use it to draw conclusions about an entire community or institution is stereotyping, pure and simple. The Jewish community, as a whole, ought to reject it.
After all, if someone were to criticize the American-Islamic community based on the acts of the Boston-Marathon bomber, for example, they’d be rightly called an Islamophobe. If I were to direct this article about Steinlauf’s piece against the Conservative Jewish movement as a whole, I’d be harshly accused of generalizing, too.
How then, could a man speak of Israel’s Orthodox community in a leading, national paper and base much of his argument – over 600 words’ worth – on something he heard from a single, unhinged man who held no official position of leadership whatsoever.
The Holocaust was the greatest crime in world history. The guilty were the German Nazis and their allies and all those who looked away. Any religious figure that dares blame the victims is an abomination to Judaism and its values.
Fortunately, those who do so are marginal, embarrassing cranks. Let’s not impugn the reputation of religious Jews through the actions of a few fools.The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including Kosher Sex and Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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