Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On 'The War on Entertainment'

Naive that I am, I had thought the war against entertainment had been won some time ago. I am wrong. New victories would seem to still lie ahead, and only recently new battles have been won.

Several weeks back a columnist in The Jewish Tribune (the UK's indigenous orthodox Jewish weekly) penned a piece, that for the first time ever I could agree with. He noted that the orthodox community now considered all non-totally religious entertainment as something to keep away from. Something to protect the children from. As an illustration he talked about the annul Zeirim show that he used to act in. This was an all 'kosher veyoisher' play and even Rabbonim would attend (something I did not know). No play has been put on for the last twenty years, the reason being the radicalisation of the potential market. To be economically viable such shows need people on seats; and people do not come to these things any more. Bearing in mind the massive growth of the orthodox community in London this is quite an achievement!

Many people have hailed the piece as courageous and the breaking of new ground. Some of the British blogs have posted about it most notably The Shaigetz. (By the way Mr Shaigetz your style is becoming less and less accessible. Soon we will all need a degree in English lit to be able to understand your prose!)

Two London stories, both occurring subsequent to the said article, confirms that the warrriors of turbo charged conservatism have not lost any of their strength. The first concerns a Stamford-Hill kosher grocery store that had opened on the long winter Motzoei Shabossios for the past twenty years. A couple of weeks ago the storeowner announced that he was not going to do so any longer. His Rebber had called him to say that he should keep the shop closed. Motzei Shabbos is after all a continuation of the real thing. One doesn't want to spoil it by mundane activities like shopping. Admittedly a small story, but in our context, I think, a relevant one.

The second is a very big story with enormous implications. You can read about it on the Stamford-Hill based blog, Frummer. Make sure you read the comments as one of the main protagonists (Meilech Landau) has commented informatively several times.

Basically a talented chassidesher (bobover) man organised a Yiddish language play to be held in a hall over Channukah. The important thing to bear in mind is this; the play was to be for children and in Yiddish, the story chosen carefully, for a chassidisher audience. Mixed seating doesn't even come into question, and due to language barriers guaranteed to attract only Yiddish speakers, so no chance of mixing with and heaven-forbid learning from 'modernerz'.

Last week the Jewish Tribune (Thursday evening) announced it, but by Friday the play had been pulled. Several menahalim (headmasters) of chadorim banned their pupils from attending. Once one menhael does so, so do all the others and soon it was apparent that the show would be a 'box-office' flop. The play's organiser realising he would be left with an enormous bill cut his losses and cancelled.

This is an even bigger story because it involves children. Many had had purchased tickets and are now more than disappointed. It certainly will be the big discussion point amongst children this Chanukah. What message will they take from this saga? Some won't care; for some it will be another reason why they will grow up disillusioned and live lives in a manner that dosen't reflect their upbringing; and for some this will be a lesson in an extremism that they will advance even further when they reach their mid-teens.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Right Wing By Default (Revised)

Chareidim also have a professional class. They also have what we call on this side of the Atlantic ‘the chattering classes’. Many of them have had the advantage of a good secular education. Some of them have gone to some of the best universities of the land. Most of them though are ‘born again charedim’, and in order to prove their chareidi credentials, try desperately to err on the side of right wing bigotry. For a free and true representation of their positions on important matters look no further than the web-log Cross Currents. Make sure you have a bowl close at hand as the urge to puke can become overwhelming.

Cross Currents is important. It is not just another blog. It is the chareidi worldview translated into English. It is the chareidi worldview for the common man. The leaders of chareidi Jewry (‘The Gedoilim’) do not write the articles that get posted on Cross Currents, but the posters on Cross Currents certainly represents correctly the views of the said ‘Gedoilim’. When the story of modern chareidi Jewry gets written in one hundred years time, Cross Currrents will be a primary resource for ascertaining what motivated and moved chareidi Jews of the 21st century.

Cross Currents is right wing. They enthusiastically support capital punishment, and from reading some of the posts this week one gets the distinct impression that they would love to see public hangings in the town square (its ‘torahdik’ after all) – and for adulterers too. I suppose it would make a suitable family outing, as they also hate the ‘entertainment industry’ and its immoralising effect on public values. Anything George W Bush does fills them with childish excitement, and by extrapolation they are pro-torture, pro Guantanamo Bay, pro-war and pro all the other excesses of the said president. When speaking about Muslims and Islam they lose all restraint, and although they have no sensible solution to the Palastinain issue, they opposed the Gaza-disengagement with vigour, not even shirking from making comparisons to Nazi Germany.

I could go on but I want to make my own comparison to Nazi Germany. There is a little known, but important story that is relevant here. During the 1930’s there were instances of orthodox Jews that thought that Hitler had some good ideas. They supported his return to pure Germanic values. They thought his ideas on homosexuality, gypsies and ‘coloured’ people were not far off the mark. Many of them felt that the big enemy was atheist Marxism. Hitler would sort that out. Hitler would also act as a bulwark against the tide of capitalist values that was sweeping across Europe. Some even thought that Hitler could stem the tide against that ungodly thing called democracy. In short Hitler was right wing and so was Orthodox Jewry, and therefore why not support him. (For those of you who think that all this is too fantastic I invite you to read this book. It’s all in there)

I think it’s pretty sad that a right wing dogmatic worldview is the default perspective of a ‘choreid’. Its sadder that they have not learnt from the big mistakes of the past.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Some Advice for 'Also A Prat'

So also-a-prat reads Winston’s book and bursts a blood vessel. He stamps his foot and throws the toys out of the highchair. Next come the minced meatballs, mashed potatoes and mushy peas splattered all over the kitchen floor. Not very nice.

Oy! I have some advice for you young man. Get a grip. You’re yelling that loud, the whole world will soon know about your infantile temper-tantrums. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Lets get things straight then. You as a Chosssid can spend the last six months doing nothing but telling us about the uncultured, unthinking and unstimulating community you live within. You put time and effort into posting all kinds of unflattering tales that reveal the stinking side of a Chassidic lifestyle. Week after week you take pride in portraying yourself as some chosen enlightened one. But when Winston dares writes a book, based on a sociological study she has undertaken as part of a doctorate, you have the chutzpah to accuse her of starting a ‘blood libel’. (You’re words not mine).

You then go on with a very silly critique of her book that tells us far more about your own lack of understanding, of the very community you yourself come from, than of any bias on Winston’s part. Oh yes suicide. I forgot that. You’re probably right there. But I can even explain that. Not now. I’m sorry; it’s not a subject I want to go into just yet, so you will have to wait.

You’re undisciplined outburst has shown us that you still have both feet firmly within an inward looking and narrow minded community. Yes you listen to the radio (in the car only, wow) but just like any member of these ‘close-knit ’ communities, you think criticsm is fine as long as it’s self-criticism, but lo-and-behold the outsider who dares express words of negativity. Those outsiders are perpetrators of a ‘blood libel’; they have an agenda, they are in there for the money.

I shall now tell you why you have attacked Winston with such venom. Listen carefully. It’s because she is a woman and Chassidim are sexist, because she is an academic and Chassidim are anti-knowledge and because she is a secular Jew and Chassidim hate the guts of (real) secular Jews.

Read that last paragraph a few times now. Breath deeply. Get over that initial urge to strike back. Then read it once a day for a couple of years. Think about it. Let it sink in slowly. Try and understand what it says. Bit by bit you might begin to appreciate that certain values are so ingrained within your system that it might take a generation (or two) to root out.