Thomas Friedman is not my hero – far from it. His Op-ed pieces in the New York Times often turn my stomach but I continue to read his work because he has a position, a voice and a perspective that is important to hear even if I disagree. Let me make it clear – it is not his facts that I have difficulty with, they are facts, it is his interpretation of those facts that cause my discomfort. What I find more significant about Friedman though is the perspective he presents – he knows when and how to state his case and when to ignore the vitriol directed at him from those who differ with him. It is this last point that I admire most about him, his ability to completely disengage from an attacker. I am not yet at his level mostly because I write about things that affect me and my immediate community so I take some of it personally.
What is sometimes most difficult to bear is the critic who, despite having done limited if any research, takes a rigid parochial position and attacks me personally rather than using facts to criticize the substance of what was said. This is not an uncommon position for people who have difficulty entertaining ideas beyond their own. The dissonance created in one’s mind by hearing a different position can be disturbing for some to the point that their rigid adherence to one perspective creates a tension in them that causes them to lash out.
Take for example the history of childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox world. When I first started writing about it I noted that few people believed that it occurred. Even my own father had a hard time believing me when I told him that I was treating people who had developed a variety of Post Traumatic disorders due to the sexual abuse they received at the hands of their relatives, neighbors or teachers. I received death threats from people and I still have several E mails from a representative of a main line Orthodox organization stating that I am a liar and that Orthodox Jews never act in a way that would harm children. I know that the organization this man represents has recently made some coordinated moves to develop a policy to root out abusers that may exist in their affiliated groups, this is their method of acknowledging that the problem exists, but I have yet to receive an apology from those who have threatened me and of course I have not gotten an E mail from the particular rabbi who called me a liar. Just for the record, one of his colleagues called me a Haredi basher in a speech he gave six years ago, but not long after when his child had problems he called and asked if I could help. Of course I did. This individual did ask me for mechilah. I told him none was necessary, it was understood.
I recently wrote a piece entitled Kotel Standoff. Before writing the article I checked with my sources and found that several rabbis, several of whom I spoke with directly, were taking credit for promoting and funding the recent protest against Women of the Wall. One told me proudly that he personally told several of his students to go to the kotel “and make noise” that Friday morning. I also checked with other reliable reporting sources who confirmed receiving the same information. I am told that members of Natan Sharansky’s Board that worked out a compromise with the WoW situation were taken aback, not just by the Court’s decision but also by the mob reaction. Everyone agreed to the compromise but the court’s move gave some an opportunity to act up. I anticipated a reaction for writing about this, I always get one when I write about behavior that is intolerant.
There are a lot of people who feel compelled to react. I respect that. I too react. Many of the E mails I received were highly supportive, a few less so. One pointed out that the Supreme Court did not rule that WoW members could pray at the Kotel. It was a lower Jerusalem court that reinterpreted the Supreme Court and the Jerusalem District court as well as the Attorney General refused action on that ruling. I did not detail that fact properly in the article.
Another critic insisted that I am a tabloid journalist, a yellow journalist, according to him. He has joined the chorus insisting that I am a Haredi basher. If he wishes to align with or take credit for grassroots efforts of Women for the Wall – Kol hakavod, but the article was not about Women for the Wall, an effort to rise up against WoW. The article was not so subtly about the fact that there was a demonstration approved and funded by a mid-level group of Haredi yeshiva and seminary leaders who did not react in a fashion that made much sense to me. In my opinion WoW are somewhat akin to two year olds throwing a temper tantrum. The best reaction to that behavior is a time out not a display of force. That sort of over-reaction only reinforces tantrum like behaviors, as we are seeing now from Anat Hoffman’s planned trip to the US.
The facts are that there are several prominent Askanim out there who take credit for the overt disobedience. It is an absolute embarrassment and much, much more watching Jewish police officers protecting a group of Jews from other Jews. If you have never been caught in the middle of such a situation I can tell you personally it is heart wrenching, to say the least. Some may insist that there was no rioting at the event, unfortunately there was and there is video evidence. If saying so makes a Hareidi basher to him then I guess I am. But I know that I am not. Maybe that is my cognitive dissonance but I think not.