Contrasts are wonderful things, helping to clarify that which was previously unclear — or obfuscated. Here is one example that might have led to confusion, until the media thankfully cleared it up.
Way back in history there was an event — you may have heard of it — called the asifah, held in Citi Field, to address the challenges of technological intrusions in our lives. Before it even took place, the Wall Street Journal reported that the event had “drawn a series of sharp attacks” including “for its cost, criticized as extravagant at a time when many families are struggling.” Then, while the asifah was in progress, a few score individuals gathered nearby in a protest whose motto was that “the Internet is not the problem” — whatever that means.
Competing for attention with this group was another one, 15 or so individuals, upstanding citizens all, dressed as — and grunting like — cavemen. No, really. It was an effort, you see, to point up how pre-modern all those silly folks at Citi Field were. Many if not most media reports reported on the first protest, and some did so about the latter one, too. A few of these reports even granted roughly the same coverage to these as to the unprecedented gathering of between forty and fifty thousand people at two stadiums with impeccable decorum for a discussion of serious communal challenges.
As it happens, a mere fortnight later, another major gathering took place in theNew YorkJewish community: the Israel Day Parade inManhattan. I have no figures on its cost, but it’s fair to assume that with its tens of thousands of marchers and scores of floats, it, too, cost a few dollars.
And it, too, featured protests, in this case by right-wing groups protesting the inclusion in the parade of a group that supports the boycott of goods produced byWest BankJewish settlements. So far as can be ascertained, however, there were no protests about the event’s cost or about the focus on Israel when there are more pressing communal issues to address. To the contrary, when asked about the charge that groups supporting anti-Israel boycotts should be barred from marching, the response of the parade’s director was that “[t]hese are definitely tricky issues that we should debate and discuss in the community, but our sense is that there are values in putting that aside for the day.”
And how did media coverage of the parade look? Reading the JTA report, for example, one wouldn’t know any protests occurred at all. Yet its post-asifah article not only covered the protest there, but helpfully reminded readers that the gathering “came after a series of reports in [the press] about haredi intimidation of victims of … abuse who have gone to the police to report their haredi tormentors.”
The Forward newspaper, on the other hand, did indeed focus on the Israel Day protests — with a story headlined “Protesters Make Little Impact on Parade.” Its opening sentence read: “Despite an aggressive and widely distributed campaign of protest e-mails, only a cluster of demonstrators showed up to oppose the [parade’s] inclusion of several dovish groups among those marching June 3.” In other words, the point of the piece was specifically to ensure that readers knew that these protesters’ “impact on the parade was minimal,” and that, as the parade director put it, “[w]e just saw countless smiling faces, both in the parade and on the sidelines.”
Yes, contrasts are wonderfully clarifying things.
THEY’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND AMERICANS Pity the heterodox movements in Israel. Just as they were shifting into high gear in celebration of the Israeli attorney general’s decision that the government should begin funding the salaries of heterodox religious functionaries, along comes Rabbi Chaim Druckman, a leader in national religious circles in Israel, to rain on their parade. On a visit to New York, he was asked by the Jewish Week to comment on the decision, to which he responded:
“I have nothing against the state giving pay to people who do something for other people…. But you don’t speak here about rabbis — they are not rabbis and the state realizes they are not rabbis because they will get their salary through the Culture Office and not the Minister of Religious Services…. They should be equal and get paid — different people who help others also should be paid — but as individuals who are working and not as rabbis.
The reason this is particularly disturbing to those in the heterodox–Jewish Week orbit is that, as the paper notes, Rabbi Druckman holds “progressive views on other matters.… Until earlier this year, he served as director of the state’s Conversion Authority that educates candidates for conversion to Judaism, including many immigrants from the formerSoviet Union.”
Although one might think that because he is in sync with the religious left on so many other issues, his right to dissent on this one would be respected, apparently that’s not the case. The rabbi is to immediately fall in line with the lockstep thinking on the left, or else face reactions like that of one bigwig at the American Jewish Committee:
“[W]e should be saddened that a figure of such renown and esteem has such poor understanding of the dynamics of American Judaism and especially its religious pluralism. It is a double affront given the fact that most American Jews identify with the non-Orthodox Judaism.”
In other words, the response is two-fold. First, there is the language of emotion — “an affront” — rather than the language of reason. “How dare he?!” rather than, “Here’s why he’s wrong.” Second, the rabbi needs to be educated — perhaps at a Chinese-style reeducation camp? — to correct his “poor understanding of the dynamics of American Judaism.” His views, after all, can’t possibly derive from anything other than that, can they? Isn’t it so very obvious that whether a clergyman inIsraelwho rejects the central tenets of historic Judaism should be legally recognized there is dependent on “the dynamics of American Judaism”?
Now, if we’re looking for a fellow who truly does understand those dynamics we apparently need search no further than Richard Jacobs, the newly minted head of the Reform movement. Here’s how the article quotes his take on Rabbi Druckman’s remarks:
“We don’t agree on who is a Jew and who is a rabbi. But the State of Israel doesn’t decide that here. Here all the streams [of Judaism] work together and deeply respect one another inAmerica.”
What does he mean in saying we don’t agree on “who is a Jew”? He can’t possibly intend to recycle the old, unconscionable canard that the Orthodox delegitimize non-Orthodox Jews, can he? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he must mean that we disagree on whether patrilineal descent or Reform conversions make one Jewish. And yet, “all the streams [of Judaism] work together and deeply respect one another inAmerica.” How, then, are we to rate his understanding of the “dynamics of American Judaism”?
Finally, in the comment section, one of Israel’s top Conservative clergyfolk weighs in with a “bomb kushya” of his own: “And shall we say that the Orthodox rabbis who receive their salaries through the Ministry of Religions are not rabbis because they are paid by the office that pays Imams?” The answer, which most any on-the-ball cheder yingel could provide, is that the Ministry of Religions oversees all faith communities operating inIsrael and funds their respective religious leaders’ salaries; the Culture Office — by contrast — funds modern dance, pottery making, and now, heterodox rabbi-wannabes.
If it’s any consolation, I actually agree, as I’ve written here before, that heterodox leaders indeed ought to be paid in full by the Ministry of Religions, just as the Shomronim are: as a distinct religion that bears a faint resemblance to Judaism and many of whose members — although fewer and fewer as time goes on — are Jews. True, this would require a difficult suppression of ego and an exaltation of reason over emotion, but what won’t a Jew do to make a living?