Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Allow Some Space For Criticism. Thanks.

Whenever I criticise the charedi community among friends and family someone will pipe up with the following "Why criticise? Why find fault? There are so many good things happening in the community; why not talk about those."

I find this attitude infuriating. Not because I disagree with the notion that many good and beautiful things happen in our communities. Of course I agree with that, how can one not? It infuriates me because when I am criticising I am focusing on those aspects that are not that good and not that beautiful. For heavens sake allow me a couple of minutes to do that; yes to criticise. When I criticise I am not denying the good and I am not denying the beautiful. But when I criticise I am criticising. Get it? Criticising. Do you not know what criticism means? Well look it up. Criticism is criticism and when I criticise I am criticising. Allow me to finish criticising and then we can go back to discussing the good and the beautiful.

Lots of bloggers are posting about Hella Winston's book Unchosen. I must admit I have not read the book. It is something I still have to do. But I have read book reviews and articles by the author. She does not sound to me as a person with an axe to grind. Rather she sounds (to me anyway) like an academic who has stumbled upon an interesting and unexplored topic as part of her doctorate in sociology. The subject is a difficult one to examine and she is giving it her best. Of course she will make the odd mistake, we all do, but broadly she is approaching the issue as an academic, not as journalist wanting to make a fast buck. (Yes I might change my mind once I actually read the book. Possible but not very probable. If I do you will be the first to know. I promise.)

Anyway, last week I managed to download the Zev Brenner show (a New York based phone in hosted by Zev Brenner), the one in which he interviews Hella (Ester, Esti, whatever). And of course you get the inevitable call berating Hella for focusing on people leaving the community? Couldn't she focus on the many people who are joining the community, the Baal Teshuvah revolution? Isn't that a good enough story. Why focus on the less than good when you could have focused on the good?

My answer:

We must get out of the habit of equating criticsm of a given issue within our communities, to a complete disdain for everything chareidim stand for. I am pretty certain that Hella Winston could speak at length about the many good things that she has seen in our community, about the many happy people, and yes about the Baalei Teshuvah. The two are not mutually exclusive. And listen to the interview. Again and again she makes this point. In her academic life she is focusing on a real story that happens to be unflattering. This is not because she hates the chareidi community but because it is also an important story that needs to be told. In her book she is in the business of exposing the less than good bits of chareidi life. Just accept it. That she has written a book about the 'Unchosen', does not in any way imply that she sees none of the good and beautiful in the community. Of course she sees it. She might well have another book in lined up called 'The Chosen'.

Let me reiterate, the two are not mutually exclusive. One can see beauty but still discuss the less than beautiful. One can see good but still explain the less than good. It takes a brave person to do so.


Blogger Tamara said...

YS, do you think this tendency to view criticism in such stark, black and white terms is part of a larger mindset that views all such things that way?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Ben Sorer Moreh said...

Chas veshooloim!

Everybody is just lining up to join the frum community, nobody is looking to leave.

Nobody has any good reason to question the frum life, certainly not to change their lifestyle.

OK, a few people, but they're really sick and they do bad things and bad things happen to them.

Let's not talk about anyone "relatively normal" who's made "the jump" with any degree of success, otherwise our kids might be tempted to imitate them.

Move along, nothing to see here...

7:55 PM  

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