2008 A World of Fear
Chananya Weissman
March 7, 2008, The Jewish Star

There was a very interesting letter to the editor published recently in Yated Ne’eman. This is not a newspaper that is famed for providing a forum for the exchange of diverse ideas – which is to be expected, considering the community it represents doesn’t really have a diverse range of ideas. That’s what made this letter interesting.

The reader was responding to a previous letter-writer, known to us as “Name Withheld”, who advocated for young men to invest time in “parnassa training” so as to enable them to support themselves and those they are directly responsible for. The reader applauded this letter-writer’s “courage” (though it is hard to find the courage involved in withholding one’s name), and proceeded to share her own thoughts on the subject.

In short, she strongly questioned how and why it has become acceptable for parents and grandparents to work 60 hours a week, neglect their retirement, mortgage their home, and contribute their social security money so young married children and grandchildren can remain willfully unemployed. She further questioned how and why it has become acceptable for mothers to be forced to leave their children in the care of babysitters so they can be the sole breadwinner, and why a young woman’s desirability as a potential wife is often strongly linked to the financial status of her parents. She concluded, thank God, that “something is wrong with the system”.

I would have been mighty impressed if the writer proceeded to sign her name and leave it at that. But she did not. She became apologetic. “Understand that I am not an outsider looking in,” she continued. “I am one of you.” After demonstrating this by describing her fealty to Torah study, she reiterated that “our world, notwithstanding its sacred and pure intentions, has become dominated by something crass and impure – money.”

She signed the letter “Devoted but Doubtful”.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, why is it necessary for one to assure a sacred and pure community that she is “one of them” to have her thoughts taken seriously? Those who are intellectually honest will welcome timely criticism regardless of the source. One does not have to be an Israeli to criticize Israel, one does not have to be an American to criticize America, and one does not have to live in Bnei Brak to criticize the kollel-centric way of life.

In fact, those who are not intimately connected to a certain community may have a clearer perspective than insiders. Just as an outsider may be biased by ignorance and resentment, an insider may be biased from a narrow perspective and the fear of realizing that his world is corrupt.

Thus, by seeking to ingratiate himself with her audience, the writer indicates that she does not expect her fellow members to accept feedback from anyone but “their own”. This is interesting, because the kollel-centric world has no compunctions about criticizing and often delegitimizing those who are not “one of them”. That’s standard fare.

Even more troubling, however, is the message this writer sends by remaining anonymous. The message goes something like this: “Despite the fact that my thoughts are sincere and heartfelt, I am afraid to identify myself. Despite the fact that I am one of you, I am afraid to identify myself. Why am I afraid to identify myself? Because deep down I know that if you discover who I am you will exact retribution upon me and my family for even questioning the party line, let alone disagreeing with it. You would disgrace me, ostracize me, and discriminate against my immediate and extended family when they search for shidduchim. Therefore, I cannot sign my name.”

I can only speculate why someone would want to be part of a society that she believes would readily destroy her for daring to seek its improvement. Then again, I can also only speculate why the many peace-loving Muslims we hear so much about choose to live with terrorists. These are questions for psychologists.

One thing I do know is that this sort of anonymity is the norm in the “frum community”. The price of citizenship in this community is silent submission. The culture that some people have created (I will not include myself by saying “we”) is one of fear; expressing an opinion that is not on a short list of approved opinions is a crime punishable by all manner of social discrimination. To be safe, most people choose not to have any opinions at all. They defer to “Da’as Torah”, even though precisely who is privileged to have an opinion of his own, who isn’t, where and when this nebulous group became infused with Da’as Torah, and precisely how far its parameters extend has never been clarified for us, and those who probe this matter risk crucifixion.

Some people call me courageous for expressing opinions that are unpopular in some circles. I’m not courageous; they’re cowards. Furthermore, I believe that those who live in mortal terror of not getting a shidduch if they are exposed for being an actual human being are agnostics at best. The same people who talk so much about “bitachon” are the most likely to resort to all manner of deviousness and suppression of their true selves “for shidduch purposes”. Where is God in all of this? What does God want?

A community that implicitly and explicitly intimidates its most thoughtful and sensitive members from expressing their feelings is not one that can rightly be referred to as “frum”. A community that is not open to criticism from even “their own” is not one whose intentions are “sacred and pure”.

Those who feel compelled to remain anonymous no matter how benign their message is are wimpy, and those who do anything whatsoever “for shidduch purposes” are godless folk. When push comes to shove, their actions demonstrate louder than their words that they believe the yenta next door decides who will get married and to whom. They believe that they must be untrue to themselves and their beliefs to succeed, and refer to this deception of themselves and others as hishtadlus. Godless folk.

Furthermore, those who base important life decisions, such as which school to attend and what career to embark upon (or no career at all), on “shidduch considerations”, fear their neighbors more than they love themselves and their children.

You can quote me on that. I sign my name to it.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is afraid of God, not his fellow Jew, and sees no room for both. If you contact him at admin@endthemadness.org, please do not be afraid to identify yourself.