Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Talking truth to distorted stern Judaism

Disclaimer: I’m not talking about anyone in particular. This is more a warning about a certain type of people than about any one person.

You might know or get to know them. In the media or from close-by. Who? Men who just became prominent and ultra-Orthodox very fast.

Some of them can be highly intelligent, highly motivated, putting a lot of enthusiasm and energy into their religious studies and activities, hugging their kids more, beginning to lead prayers, holding sermons. All very impressive – until it goes wrong. And even before something goes wrong, if you carefully observe, a lot is off already. They seem fake. They are fake.

Suddenly you and others notice, they’re always telling the congregation that it is (“we are”) no good, must throw all nuance by the wayside, must try harder, and they look so serious when they speak. Seldom a smile.

Worse, more and more, they will explode. “Those Jews/people are mediocre, and those are fake. I know because I was one of them.”

I’m going to list here arguments to stop or counter such rants and help the bystanders who believe them. Maybe the new saint won’t listen to them. But at least, the onlookers might understand that what they hear from him is distorted, not Judaism. This is especially important because (other) bullies will use their quotes to intimidate (and estrange) more people.

Below I amassed counterarguments that I want to have in my head, ready to be quoted, when I would witness such a tirade.

The text of the below subheadings is in the second person but the rest is in the first-person plural; because, how could we try to correct someone on subjects that we didn’t examine in ourselves first?

Show Empathy First

Let’s not beleaguer bullies with principles and ideals. First, let’s show some interest in where they are, how they feel, and what they think. Like: your Dedication, Sacrifice, and Enthusiasm are Admirable.

I would start with one or more friendly compliments to make clear that I’m not launching a personal attack. He’s not the issue. Not token niceties but real validations from the heart. But then, I would speak truth to power.

Don’t Destructively Malign Jews

We are not allowed to speak ill of Jews. It’s simply forbidden.

If it’s true what we are saying, it’s forbidden. If it’s (ever so slightly) exaggerated, it’s even more forbidden. This infighting, outbursts against other Jews, hold, by far, the largest collection of worst sins. The more people are in a group of Jews we malign, the worst our sins become. The more prominent the persons we condemn, the worst it is. The more we victimize others, the more G^d will be on their side against us.

If we truly believe that our form of Judaism really is better (for others), let us make it look attractive. When the restaurant is good, people will eat there. But trashing others in order to look better in comparison does not work in the long run. We look very bad when we trash other Jews.

Our negative words about others show that we don’t really feel secure about ourselves, our beliefs, or our actions. We need to look at our doubts and insecurities and find deep answers to them. Only that will calm us.

When we slander others, their sins go to us, and our credits go to them! We’re not allowed to provoke slander on us, but when someone attacks us verbally (or with a dismissive gesture), we’ll profit big-time in the afterlife.

Ban Anger from Your Heart

Being angry feels energizing but is no proof of us being right. Worst, it is proof that we are wrong. Ager is like idolatry because we seem to believe that things should not go the way they go. The universe should obey us. Anger shows that we don’t believe that G^d is running the show (well).

Judaism is very clear about that and has no excuse for it (except when our life is literally in direct physical danger).

When we can’t say our opinion sitting down, speaking in our normal voice while smiling, we are probably saying things that lie outside of Judaism.

The greater rabbis understand that the reason to talk to a group is to help people, not to put them or others down or frighten them.

One of the problems with anger is build-in into many languages. They pretend that others (or situations) can make us angry. That is not so. Never. Any anger in us we generate ourselves. As long as we blame our circumstances, we cannot help ourselves (on both meanings of the word).

It’s not enough to control our anger (most of the time). We need to totally uproot any source in our minds for fury. Someone keeping in his anger, ready to unleash at any time/person, still looks very scary.

NB: Bullies aren’t immoral people believing it’s honorable to attack more vulnerable people. They are survivors of a violent upbringing, still feeling under attack. They see themselves as weaklings who need to defend themselves. It totally escapes them that the victims or yore have turned aggressors in them.

When we’re not sure if we are/someone is a bully (at heart), ask someone around us/them who is easily picked on – they can tell us easily.

You Don’t Have Jewish Free Speech

If we erroneously claim a right to say whatever we want or comes out of our mouth, others may take the right, no: feel obligated to stop us. Some things are needlessly destructive, hurtful, cruel, evil, or objectively wrong to say. If we want free speech, we may enter therapy. No guarantee that, even for money, every therapist will let us rant limitlessly, but we can try.

Appreciate Being Imperfect

Let’s not try to be perfect. Setting a goal to perfect ourselves is enough.

Nobody likes perfect people. Also, if we’d reached perfection, we’d better write our last will. Because then the reason for our existence has stopped.

Only G^d is perfect.

Be Truthful

G^d’s seal is truth. Falsehood can never be part of Judaism.

We could feel small but when we make a broad breast, any humble statement (‘I include myself’) rings hollow.

We need to prioritize seeing, befriending, and listening to honest people.

It’s quick and easy to put on a white shirt, dark suit, velvet kipah, and black shoes. But, real change is rebuilding our character. Without painstakingly working on the inside, we’re just fooling others and ourselves.

Don’t Focus on ‘Them’

When we point fingers, typically, one finger points at others, our thumb at G^d, and three digits point back at us. Let’s be careful before we point.

The Torah addresses ‘You,’ not: ‘Them.’ Judaism is not for ‘Them’ but for us. Let’s stop telling others what to do. Even if, for the form, we include ourselves. If a congregation needs to be rebuked, it should be done by the person who is best liked among them, not necessarily the most learned.

When we get more distant from people, we get more distant from G^d. This is the opposite of what the Evil Impulse may tell us.

We can’t truly love G^d while hating His favorite children (people).

Refrain from Passing Judgments

G^d treats us the way we treat others. When we are harshly judgmental toward others, the Heavenly Court is gathered to give a harsh judgment about us. Do we really want to expose ourselves to that?

G^d also calls our bluff. When we claim to be ahead of others, He will check if we live up to our claim. Do we want to invite such a check?

Contain Your Passion

It feels nice to be on fire, but the fire must be contained to serve us all.

Moses picked Yehoshua as successor, not Phinehas. While the latter got a Divine seal of approval for his actions, but our strongmen cannot go around killing people.

The Torah’s roads are roads of pleasantness and all her paths are paths of peace.

Have Mercy

About sternness and mercifulness, we can say three Jewish things. We must balance them. And in the end, we must emulate kindness far more than strictness. There is such a thing as ‘undeserved Divine Grace.’

The ending of the first blessing of our main prayer ends in praising G^d for being the Shield of Abraham, the Patriarch who perfected lovingkindness. It doesn’t end with: Shield of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That comes to teach us that even an absolute ‘no’ must come from kindness.

Stand-alone sternness is a major distortion of Judaism. If it is a good idea to have a stern frightening G^d Who needs to be appeased (like a moody idol), that has been plentifully practiced by other Monotheist traditions.

G^d loves us. To forget that comes from assimilation to non-Jewish ideas.

We should emulate G^d. And when we’re harsh and grumpy, we give G^d a bad name, which is probably the worst sin.

Sometimes, G^d’s ways seem harsh. His expectation of us is that we then plead for mercy, and not collude with it. Israel means: Taking on G^d.

Walk the Golden Mean

In general, Judaism wants us to walk the golden mean. Two exceptions are anger (needs to go altogether) and arrogance (we are allowed to keep a sliver so that we have some self-esteem).

For the rest, generosity and stinginess need to be balanced, seeking work and seeking time to relax need to be, being a good example for others and emulating others should be, saying yes and saying no, etc.

We can seem zealots to others but we need to walk OUR middle road.

People who encourage us to grow crooked, out of whack, are not friends. They do Satan’s work. True friends balance us, calm down the fanatical person, encourage the fearful, see and value the secret giver, etc.

Those who try to slow us down are not our adversaries. They are the ones who may keep us inside mainstream Judaism.

Believe in People

In Judaism, we stress that, with G^d’s help, (jointly and cumulatively), we can, we must be able to improve ourselves and the world.

Let’s stay away from portraying ourselves as totally inept and that G^d would have all the power. That’s Noach, who didn’t believe in people. Abraham understood that G^d will follow our lead. We decide.

Appreciate Diversity

Great, when our brand of Judaism feels superior, but not everyone is like us. Not everyone has the same talents as us. Not everyone has the same challenges and needs as us. And not everyone must follow the same path to perfect themselves and the world. One of G^d’s signs of greatness is that He created different people with one mold. We need to respect diversity. It was in Sodom that individual variations were outlawed.

Diversity guarantees we can always find others around us to balance us.

Let’s cite opposing valid opinions to acknowledge that not one size fits all.

Have Humility

Growing and nurturing our own humility is a major point in Judaism. Torah is like water. It streams to the lowest point. An arrogant person understands nothing and should shut up and try to listen for a change.

We need to be extra careful not to talk disparagingly about Jews who have more accomplishments to their name than us. Before we trash their books, how many books did we write? Before we trash their leadership, how many people did we lead? And how well were they received?

There is a distinct difference between ego and dignity. Dignity stays, even when we are in the nude. The difference shows in if we are friendly to the powerless. Ego enjoys grabbing attention. The remedy is to make space for others. It may take time before we get it (in both meanings of the word).

The Data is in the Details

We should develop a big vision and try to understand the big picture. But this should be built on detailed knowledge. Sweeping generalities, full of inaccuracies, devoid of real facts, show but ignorance, not sophistication. Those who don’t really know their subject may give shallow ‘proofs’ for their positions, miss nuances and differences, paint with too big a brush. We should not join ranks with those who see everything as oversimplified.

Let’s not claim to know exactly who’s a total saint and who’s wholly evil. Often, things or people aren’t that clear-cut black or white. It smacks of contempt for humankind in general to trash many of us. Especially, when we’d frequently generalize that ‘people’ are [something derogatory].

Quality scholars don’t insult others they disagree with. Instead of stepping on them, they show why their own positions are valid and valuable ones.

Honor the Past

We must not throw stones in the well we drank from. When we go from one community (Gentiles, Jews in another country, secular/religious, with different accents/customs) to the next and see that as an improvement, let’s not trash the people (including our past selves) in the former group. Don’t curse the Egyptians. At least, our stay was good enough to help us survive and realize we needed to move on. It was all for the best.

Be Happy

Doing the Commandments happily is not an embellishment. We sin greatly unless we’re continually happy with our calling. Gratefulness is mandatory.

Happiness is also a good protection against being or feeling angry, stingy, arrogant, selfish, fearful, impatient, lonely, powerless, pessimistic, etc.

***

Recently, I ran into a person like this who abused our meeting with a 10-minute rant. So, I wrote the above to be prepared a next time.

Sure enough, the next time I saw him, he attacked me. He got all red in his face but tried to seem calm. I smiled at him and said: I’ll talk to you when it is more convenient for you and gave him a friendly pat on the back.

In the ensuing group meeting, after a minute, he again started maligning certain Jews. I immediately said: Jews aren’t allowed to speak ill of other Jews. That was it. It stopped the abuse cold in its track. Thank G^d, lacking an audience, he left. Nothing helps as well as a clear, calm, prepared head.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (https://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/studies/des-and-psychological-health/), born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX, among his over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". His second daily active less tame blog, to which one may subscribe, one may find here: https://mmvanzuiden.wordpress.com/ or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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