Friday, December 21, 2007


Boro Park Pyro (ak"a "Steg" and "King o' the Goblins") recently had a post describing a discussion that he and his hevruta had with some racist yeshiva bahurim. The Pyro and his hevruta challenged the bahurim, and kol hakavod, yasher koah, and kudos to them for that.

More interesting to me was Kylopod's comment on the post. Interesting because his reaction to Orthodox racism, when he's a witness to it, is very much the same as mine:

When this kind of thing happens to me, I don't feel outrage anymore. I'm beyond that. I've developed a sort of weary cynicism about the whole matter.

I'm still outraged by it. But what I actually do about it is what Kylopod does.

I can't stand that so many Orthodox Jews are bigots, but for me it's a personal thing. Every time I hear a racist remark from a frum person, and how natural they make it sound, as though it were so obvious that everyone present should agree...

Indeed. I used to go to shalosh se'udot at my shul. I stopped after a while for the reason Kylopod describes: "Nobody here but us Orthodox Jews, and we can speak freely, and obviously we're all in on the hilarious jokes we're about to share."

...I think to myself, "Why am I hanging out with these people?" Nowadays I rarely challenge it directly unless it comes from a friend, but I make sure never to make it seem like I'm agreeing with them.

That's what I do too. "'Why am I hanging out with these people?'" Good question. Another question is whether this passive non-agreement is a satisfactory substitute for active disagreement. I don't know Kylopod's answer; to me, it's completely unsatisfactory. If we heard that some other group had a bunch of members who were openly bigoted--the bigotry might even be anti-Semitic--and the nonbigots just sort of kept quiet and didn't actively agree with the bigots, how would we feel about it? Would we let the quiet nonbigots off the hook, or would we do some pious tut-tutting about how the nonbigots have an obligation to disapprove? And if these quiet non-Jewish nonbigots have an obligation to object to bigotry, don't we as well?

And what are we to make of this anecdote?

Gerald Blidstein recalls the following conversation with R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik: "I remember that in Israel there was a real problem, do you save a gentile on the Sabbath? One evening during this time I was with the Rav [Joseph B. Soloveitchik] and he said 'I have been in Boston many years and I always rule that one saves the lives of gentiles, because if we don't permit this, they won't save our sick ones.' I asked him if this reason satisfied him from a moral standpoint, and he replied, 'No, from a moral standpoint it does not satisfy me.'" (Marc B. Shapiro, Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg 1884-1966 [London: Littman, 1999], 182-83 n. 47, citing Gilyon [Heshvan 5754 (1993)]: 25) (bracketed material in Shapiro)

Should we be satisfied with the Rav on this point? Why didn't he give what he would have considered a morally satisfactory reason? I understand why some of us don't want to be socially ostracized or don't want to be confrontational. I understand why a young man on a rabbinic track doesn't want to jeopardize his career. I don't understand why a leader and innovator like the Rav was so timid (perhaps this is the wrong word--comment, please, if you disagree with it) about making what he himself would have considered a morally satisfactory statement. Dare we assume that it was OK because he was the Rav, and if he (being the Rav) did this it must have been OK? It's tragic that such a person hedges on this, and it makes me worry for Orthodox Judaism. I honor Blidstein for asking the Rav this question.

I would hate to see us Modern Orthos treat the Rav the way ArtScroll treats hareidi "gedolim." But that horse may have left the stable long ago. Which is another topic.


Kylopod said...

Don't think I haven't considered that goyim living among genteel anti-Semites experience the same dilemma. You can always get on the high horse and say you have some moral obligation to rebuke every racist you meet. But it just isn't very pleasant. For me, making racism a subject for debate doesn't feel right to me, regardless of what side I'm on or how good a debater I am. It might be the right thing to do in some cases, but it leaves me feeling drained and dirty no matter what the outcome. But I never "nod along" to these conversations. Saying nothing does not automatically signal agreement, even if some people make that assumption.

Yerachmiel Lopin said...

Kylopod, you say, But I never "nod along" to these conversations. Saying nothing does not automatically signal agreement, even if some people make that assumption.

I disagree. Silence is tacit consent. I will readily admit I have been guilty of it. Yes I have surrendered because I wanted in for some reason or because I was just to weary or it felt futile because no one would listen to me. But the more often racism is challenged the more defensive it gets. That is all for the better. At least racists won't be as confident. Perhaps they may shut up because they are intimidated.