The frum community is one of the most self-critical communities you’ll ever encounter.
Personally, I have never seen any other group engage in the type of self-castigation you’ll find in frum periodicals or conventions. And even within casual conversation.
And while there are frum people whose knee-jerk reaction is a defensive head-in-the-sand position, many frum people tend to accept any accusations that come their way and apologize, as if they are personally accountable for anything any other seemingly frum Jew has done anywhere on the planet. This happens in face-to-face situations and on blogs, particularly if the frum person seems open and approachable:
- “Why won’t Orthodox men respond to my greeting as I rollerblade by dressed for the beach?!! I mean, this is southern Florida in the 21st Century, ya know!!!”
- “I was waiting in line next to this Orthodox woman and she was SO RUDE!!! Why is that?”
- “Why is it that every time I encounter Orthodox Jews, they [fill in the blank]?!!
Because I also feel outraged and embarrassed when fellow frummies behave in a way contrary to Torah, I used to act out this apologize-appease-assert routine, too.
It took me a while to realize how hypocritical that was of me.
I mean, if a frum Jew was speaking like that, I’d immediately recall all the things written in hilchot lashon hara about how people tend to exaggerate (intentionally or not), how I am obligated to give the benefit of the doubt to both the speaker and the one being spoken about, and not to automatically believe the lashon hara and so on.
And that's when dealing with people who have some awareness of how they should be talking. All the more so, when dealing with people who have no knowledge of Torah in a culture where melodrama, hyperbole, and feelings-as-facts are acceptable and even encouraged.
Fortunately, a few things happened that forced me to realize that I shouldn’t be so quick to assume that the appalled questioner is telling the truth (especially taking into account how Esav hates Yaakov).
The All-Consuming Desire to be Mortally Offended
For example, there was the time I went to visit my parents, who kindly came to pick me up at the airport. As we approached the elevator to leave the terminal, a young woman who'd been going in another direction turned around and came marching over to us and stood next to the elevator, glaring at us. Not sure what was going on and I guess hoping to show that we were no threat to her, I gave her a friendly smile. She just glared at me in return.
My spunky 70-year-old father, who hates wasting even one millisecond of time, planted himself right in front of the elevator doors, his fingers twiddling over his stomach as he stared up at the little floor-number screen above the elevator door. He wore a peaked blue satin kippah, even though he usually wore a kippah only for Jewish rituals, but he wore one now in public because he firmly believed in presenting a united front and wanted to set a good example for his frum grandchildren. (What a priceless grandfather....)
The young woman scuttled over to my father, looking from him to me and my mom and my kippah-wearing kids and back at Dad again, and looked even more furious. She started doing some closed-mouth panting. Getting a bit nervous, my mom and I took a step back and tried to hint to my father to do the same. But he noticed neither our hints nor the outraged young woman.
Finally, the young woman snarled at him, “You had better move back because if you don’t, the people coming out will run into you!”
Now, my father is the type of person that if you try to bully him, he digs in his heels.
So Dad studiously ignored her and didn’t budge.
The thing is, the snarly girl had a point. Those exiting the elevator would not expect a little old man to be standing one centimeter from the opening doors. (Even though our part of the airport was nearly empty at that time and maybe no one would even be in the elevator.)
When Snarly Girl repeated her statement, my mom and I quietly urged my dad to take a few steps back. After thinking it over, he took one step back. Then the elevator opened and two people exited, narrowly avoiding collision with my dad, to which Snarly Girl responded by bobbing her head and smirking as if to say, I knew that would happen! Snarly Girl then slapped her hand on the elevator’s side to hold the doors open. We all waited and looked at her. She glared at us.
Finally, I said, “Please, feel free to go in first.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, I don’t need to use the elevator!” she seethed. “I’m holding the doors open for you! I’m doing everything here for you!”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, hoping that unfailing courtesy would calm her inner beast. (After all, it works with secular Jews in Israel, who were the only anti-religious people I was used to dealing with at that point. But antisemites are obviously different....)
Very uncomfortable, we entered the elevator while she glared at us challengingly, then she removed her hand and stormed off.
Now. How much do you want to bet that she fired out a tweet about the incredibly rude Orthodox Jews she met at the airport, whom she so generously went out of her way to accommodate and who didn’t at all appreciate her activism and sensitivity?
Looking back, I regret having been so gracious toward her. While of course the opposite reaction – bellowing, “Leave us alone, you ridiculous antisemite!” and whapping her across the face with my purse – wouldn’t be appropriate either, being really nice (otherwise known as “appeasement” or "accommodation") to someone who is looking for a fight, who is craving to be mortally offended, is totally useless and even counter-productive.
Who's the One being Truly Offensive?
Another time, a non-Jewish relative asked me why a phrase in the Hagadah was translated as “sons” – weren’t daughters important, too? Knowing that this person relishes any opportunity to become mortally offended, I explained as pleasantly as I could that yes, she was absolutely right; daughters are also important and that it was a faulty translation, which should have read “children.”
She put up her hands as if in surrender and looked away from me at the other people sitting around the table (almost none of whom were Jewish either, although several thought they were), pursing her lips and arching her eyebrows, and said, “Sorrr-ry...I was just asking, o-kay? I mean, gosh” – she gave an exasperated little laugh – “can’t I even ask a question?”
Her twilight-zone reaction left me speechless. And if you're curious, the only person there who jumped to my defense and pointed out that I had responded accurately and not offensively at all, was one of the only bona fide Jews there (albeit not a frum one, but a fellow Jew nonetheless). All the other people who prided themselves on their Liberal values, like righteousness and looking out for the underdog, were completely apathetic.
Another non-Jewish relative attended a family celebration of ours and was very concerned about dressing appropriately according to Orthodox standards, even going so far as to sew herself a new dress according to the standards of tsnius.
Even though no one was telling her to dress this way.
Even though I made it clear there would be women wearing pants there anyway, so no pressure.
Everyone was really nice to her at the simcha (including those who knew she wasn't Jewish). Later, thinking that if she'd gone to such lengths to fit in, it might make her feel good to know that all her efforts were successful. I naively thought that everyone's warmth toward her at the simcha and my attempt to make her feel good would be kiddish Hashem. So I told her that she fit right in and the frum guests didn’t even realize she wasn’t Orthodox (let alone not even Jewish), and that they'd remarked on how attractive and refined she was.
She stiffened, then looked away without replying and I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong.
Later, I discovered that those two non-Jewish relatives ended up bad-mouthing me to each other and other relatives, about how judgmental I was, how I was using religious coercion to get them to be exactly like me, and how I looked down on them because they weren’t Orthodox Jews.
This is despite the fact that I only saw them something like every seven years and really had no opportunity to do all the things they claimed I was. And despite the fact that Judaism absolutely prohibits Jews from proselytizing; so if I was so rabidly Orthodox, why would I go against my own religion and try to force them to become Orthodox Jews?
But all the nastiness explained why, on a visit, a couple of non-Jewish relatives were giving me such a cold shoulder, which had perplexed me at the time. I mean, I hadn't seen them for years, had no telephone or email contact with them, so how could I have done anything to offend them?
At this stage, I’d like to briefly point out that all the behavior I've described above is very common in Personality Disorders:
- the display of martyrdom that no one asked for or wanted, or actively even did NOT want (i.e., “I did all this to help you with the elevator!” “I even sewed my own dress just to accommodate your religious beliefs!”)
- the overwhelming desire to be a victim to the point that others must be made into victimizers at all costs, regardless of their actual guilt or innocence
- viewing nice traits, like approachability and accommodation, as the perfect targets for attack
- rampant baseless lashon hara (or motzi shem ra, actually, because lashon hara is forbidden speech that is true and motzi shem ra is false)
So now, if the questioner is merely curious or genuinely looking to understand, I definitely respond graciously. But if they are self-righteous huffy-pants looking for a victim on whom to pour their mocked-up outrage, I just won’t deal with them.
Baruch Hashem, lots of frum people are waking up to this. Look at the blog posts and comments that basically say, “I’m not so sure Jews killed that toddler. Where are the actual perpetrators? Where is the actual proof?”
Or, “Why did they release a known stabber of toeva paraders not long before a toeva parade?”
Or, "I reject being held accountable for the behavior of someone who looks/claims to be part of our community when I have always been clear and vocal about my moral position."
Or events that prove the point, like the Arab man assaulted by his own clan, who lied to the police by blaming Jews for the assault.
Needless to say, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t criminal “frum” people. There are, obviously. It also doesn’t mean that frum people never cut in line, never double-park, and never try to get half their family in somewhere for free when they really should be paying for everyone.
We all know there are “frum” people like this and there is no need to pretend otherwise.
But we should at least give each other the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are in, which a great many of us have been doing in increasing numbers.
Personally, I feel this is part of the “sifting” that has so often been predicted.
Hashem brings events together to get us to show who we really are and Whose side we’re really on.