The desire to write this post has been building up for quite awhile.
The first time I wanted to write was when I heard about the incident of a woman being beaten up for not moving her seat on the “special” Egged lines for Charedim. For those of you not familiar, in some Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods there are busses where the men and woman are supposed to sit separately, the men in front and the women in back. This is supposedly because of the increased sensitivity to modesty in these neighborhoods. A woman refused to move to the back of the bus, and a man decided to beat her up for it. My first reaction was to write it off as one violent person, but I became very angry when none of the Rabbis in the Charedi world came out publicly against what happened (with the exception of Rabbi Horowitz, who lives in America). The laws of modesty, even for those who follow them to the extreme, do not preclude men looking at women in a public place – whereas the law of how one person should treat another is pretty clear – beating someone up is prohibited! Where is the common sense?
The second incident that almost made me write was when the story broke about Rebbetzin Keren, a very charismatic Orthodox woman who wears shawls, extra layers of clothing, and covers her face completely. She does so for various reasons, one of which is that she thinks this practice protects people in her neighborhood – although it did not protect her children from her emotional and physical abuse. What I found so appalling is how many women followed her in these practices (the layers of clothing, not the child abuse). Covering your face, and wearing many layers of clothing, is not normative practice in Jewish law, even in those Jewish communities that are very strict about modesty. Not only is the practice bizarre from a halachic point of view, but if defies common sense. If one layer of clothing covers your body, what does 7 do?
This past weekend I read an article in the Makor Rishon newspaper, (here in Hebrew)and I felt that I had to write. It seems that there is a woman, Sylvie, that started what is called the “Sheetat HaMegeirot” (the drawer method). I don’t really understand the method from the article, but it seems that how you organize (or in most cases, don’t organize) your possesions is a clue to problems you may have. Working with a counselor on organizing your things and analyzing yourself is supposed to help you in general, and in your spiritual growth. It seems that this method has become very popular, but the leader is somewhat of a nutcase. According to the article she compares herself to Moshe Rabbenu in importance, she verbally abuses her students and sometimes makes them wait for hours for a lecture, and she comes between husbands and wives. She has a theory that a man can have both a “physical wife” and a “spiritual wife” and she claims to be a “spiritual wife” to one of her student’s husbands. She even told her that she is holding him back and should leave him.
This woman is clearly off her rocker. What amazes me is the number of students who follow her. Where is their common sense? I understand the draw of a charismatic speaker – I enjoy them myself. I also can understand the emotional satisfaction that you can get from feeling part of a group that is working on a worthy goal, especially if there is personalized attention thrown in. But I cannot understand how people can think that they can learn about spiritual growth from a person whose personal characteristics are deformed.
What makes me angry and sick at heart the most though, is the Hilul HaShem (desecration of G-d’s name). I can imagine that there are people out there who may have some exposure to Orthodox Judaism, and may be thinking of taking on a halachic lifestyle (following Jewish law). What can they possibly think when they hear these stories?
So, here are my two cents (or, more appropriately, two shekels). You don’t have to give up your common sense to be an Orthodox Jew. If a Rabbi or a leader asks you to do wierd things, educate yourself! What he is asking may not be part of halacha at all. The more you learn the more you can discern. If someone who is teaching you turns out to show some troubling personal characteristics, or discourages you from asking questions and getting sources, find another teacher!
Don’t let the crazies make a mockery of my religion.