Chaya Lester

A eulogy for lost truth within the Torah community

A flood of extreme conspiracy theories is driving painful wedges between us – we have a responsibility to speak out when we see them

We are in the middle of an era of unprecedented upheaval, fury and dissent to the point of violence. But underneath the loud boisterous anger and arguments, we are also – and predominately – in an era of mourning.

Obviously, we are mourning the physical loss of loved ones to this relentless virus. We mourn the financial losses and terrifying instabilities that accompany it. The psychological toll of these losses is beyond measure. That deep-seated sorrow is generating much of the current political upheaval.

And yet beyond those physical losses we are also mourning the metaphysical loss of truth. Truth is a fragile creature. We have seen it twisted, manhandled and quite frankly, slaughtered like some sort of a choice sacrifice. On the altar of what? Fear and fear-based thinking. On the altar of fear without facts. In short, on the altar of conspiracy theories.

Conspiratorial ideas no longer seem to be merely whispered along the fringes. Rather they are increasingly becoming the dominant narrative in many pockets of the Torah community. Even more concerning, they are very often shared in the context of Torah teachings and wisdom.

Just a cursory scroll through my morning Whatsapp feed reveals how insidious this thinking is in the Torah world. There are postings of Torah classes celebrating QAnon theories about how Trump is a world-savior who will lock up the wicked of the world on January 20th. Other classes share beliefs that the powerful and rich of the world are killing babies and drinking their blood. Not to mention that there are global pedophile rings run by politicians and celebrities. One Rabbi warns that taking the vaccine will make you gay. The list goes and on.

There is a flood of such posts coursing through the Torah world daily.

Because of these wild ideas we are witnessing the most mournful fractures in our communities. Friends are being lost, not to the bodily disease of Corona, but lost to the co-morbidity of CONSPIRATORIAL thinking. So many of us have watched with a sense of helplessness as beloved friends and family around us wander into the dark valleys of conspiracy theories…and just never come back. Or worse, they take others along with them.

Simultaneously, we are mourning for Torah. How many of us have lost respect for and trust in our teachers? Countless Rabbis, Rebbetzins and upholders of Torah have veered into that dark valley of conspiratorial thinking…leaving us wary, worried and protective for the light of Torah that we so cherish.

The pairing of Torah teachings with conspiratorial thinking is a chillul Hashem of the highest order. It is a travesty of God’s name. It needs to be checked…and checked publicly.

Conspiratorial thinking is part of an illness. Just like Coronavirus, our times are calling for us to face this illness courageously and to innovate ways to heal it. We can not heal it by ignoring it and hoping it goes a way. We need more active inoculation.

We must forge paths of healing; based not on our surface furies, but on our bedrock of care, compassion and shared values. It may seem like an impossible paradox, but our speaking out – yes, even in harshness and in boundaries – that speaking out is also an expression of our care. Our care for the vulnerable among us and the vulnerable within us.

Over the past months we have witnessed repeatedly as the light of Torah fell into the dark vessels of conspiracy theories. How can we redeem the lights of Torah that have been so sullied in recent months? How can we bring standards, facts and Jewishly-sourced clarity to the table?

We need not only eulogize the death-toll of truth in the Torah world. We can still be a part of saving it, redeeming it. We do this by taking the responsibility to RESPOND. I adjure any like-minded Jews out there to take the time and care to respond when you see extreme conspiracy theories shared in Torah forums.

Just as the breeding ground for conspiracy thinking has been in social media; so too the battleground against it needs to occur in social media. Like-minded Jews, use your online voices to stand up against this troubling tendency in our communities. Share this article….Better yet, create your own.

Truth is not dead. It is in our mouths to be spoken back into vitality.

May we actively resuscitate sanity, clarity and facts in our spiritual circles and beyond.

In the words of Rav Kook: “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.”

About the Author
Psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, wordsmith, performance artist & Co-Director of Jerusalem's Shalev Center. Chaya lives in the heart of Jerusalem with her husband R'Hillel & their 4 energetic children. Read more pieces like this in real-life book form:
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