By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
This past Shabbos morning, a deranged man shot a congresswoman and her constituents in Tuscon, Arizona. The media quickly blamed the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh in particular, and conservatives in general. The local sheriff charged with guaranteeing the public safety went on the air and blamed incendiary talk radio for the actions of a lone lunatic.
Liberal media out to demonize the political right aren’t deterred by the facts. No matter that their claims stretch human credulity to the breaking point. They will pounce on every opportunity to advance their agenda – no matter how irrational and absurd their assertions are.
Liberal bloggers and journalists have for days been blaming Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin for something so far removed from them that the connection is ludicrous. That their narrative is totally contrived is obvious to any thinking person.
Yet the stoking of public fury against right-wingers continues. Think about it: an insane person carries out an act of lunacy, and automatically, the knee jerk reaction is that right-wingers are all crazy. They are violent. They are murderers. Their right to speak and run for public office must be stripped from them. They should be banned from public discourse and the marketplace of ideas and opinions.
Tarring The Frum Community With One Brush
A similar campaign to disparage frum Yidden in the religious Jewish media has been underway for some time. Cloaked deceptively in a religious veneer, using Yiddish names and faces, the relentless disparaging of the Torah community by anonymous bloggers, and certain publications, is diluting the power of Torah and halacha among religious Jewry in our society.
Many of the individuals who habitually undermine our community’s values using purported “news reporting” are emboldened by the built-in anonymity of the internet. They prey on the public’s weakest tendencies. These people, if identified, would draw scorn for their outrageous character assaults and gossip-mongering. They would be pitied for how far they have drifted.
Yet, these people, by virtue of their access to the public through a so-called “religious” blog, have the ability to promote their agenda.
The high cost of publishing once restricted people from foisting their misguided agendas upon an unsuspecting public through the printed word. Slick, colorful publications that would entice a broad range of readers are simply very costly. The internet, though, is free. Anyone can post their views on the internet and have the public read them at no charge.
Thus, the purveyors of daily doses of scandal and morbidity are able to draw in a wide circle of unsuspecting readers. A person surfing the internet for interesting tidbits and “hock“, satiates his appetite for shallow entertainment without much effort.
Taking Aim at the Frum Community
Unaware of how they are being manipulated, these surfers easily fall prey to a dangerous and cynical mischaracterization of the frum community. They once rightfully viewed frum people as an upstanding group with a few rotten apples. They knew that you can’t impugn the character of an entire community because of the actions of a few.
But after being exposed to a steady barrage of gossip, depicting one religious person after another as a lawbreaker, one’s attitude naturally becomes poisoned. Malicious speculation regarding the motives of rabbis and other community leaders, as well as entire groups, casting them as hypocritical or irresponsible, compounds the outrage.
On these blogs, religious leaders are consistently vilified. They can do no good. Regardless of what they do, their actions are twisted and portrayed as evil. When that fails, their motives are questioned and they are portrayed as corrupt, willing tools of strongmen.
The people who write, post and comment on the insidious blogs are upset about the way frum Yidden help each other. They are disturbed by the growth of the frum community. It drives them crazy that yeshivos are burgeoning and so many people are learning in kollel. They can’t stand to see so many of us black-hatters. They are jealous of our successes. They can’t stand that we only drink cholov Yisroel and are meticulous in our observance of mitzvos. They look to find fault with us as a way to pump up their own self-esteem.
So, instead of improving themselves and raising their own standards, they tar all frum people with one brush, dismissing an entire group as schemers, crooks and molesters, people lacking mentchlichkeit and decency.
A Form of Addiction
Each day, unsuspecting surfers are fed gossip packaged as “news reports” – story after story about how someone wearing a black hat or a shaitel turns out to be a conniving crook. Those who seek to protect the kedushah of their followers are called control freaks. Tzedakos that raise and dispense millions of dollars to the poor are lampooned. People who take principled stands are mocked. The only ones spared are those who contribute nothing to the betterment of Am Yisroel.
Unwary people digest the propaganda without analyzing what they are reading. They perceive themselves as doing nothing more than shopping for news, but, in truth, they are choosing to give an ear to the worst form of gossip, and end up passing on the slander in shul. The worst part is that they may not even realize to what level they have sunk and therefore see no reason to change.
How else could reasonably intelligent, well-meaning people immerse themselves in this vileness?
Their minds seem to be on automatic pilot. They sleepwalk through item after item of half-baked, childish vitriol without realizing what they are reading and the destructive effect it has on their thinking.
It’s time to expose this pernicious trend for what it is and how it is slowly destroying the outlook and hashkafos of many well-intentioned, good-hearted frum Jews.
It’s time to take off the blinders and identify the practice of mindlessly surfing for gossip in the guise of “news” as a form of addiction.
The most effective way of reversing the corrosive effects of this practice is to give oneself a healthy dose of reality in real time. Take a trip to Lakewood one day. Walk through the town. See the people and how they live. Go into a bais medrash and sit down. Hear the symphony of Torah as it is studied by thousands. Listen to the rise and fall of voices probing the texts whose ancient truths are as relevant today as they were centuries ago.
Look into the eyes of yungeleit around the country and see the meaning of happiness. Listen to a Torah discourse and hear a depth of perception of Torah that survived the worst nemeses of the Jewish people.
Stand outside the largest yeshiva in the country at the beginning of seder and observe hundreds upon hundreds heading towards their respective botei medrash, ke’ish echad beleiv echad, to accept the Torah anew and to plumb its depths.
Think of how your grandparents would have felt had they beheld such a sight and had they been able to take comfort in knowing that the Torah they loved would one day flourish again.
Try to imagine what the millions who were swept away in the terrible destruction would say if they could stand alongside you and absorb the scene. If only they could see the world of Torah rebuilt, sanctifying and nurturing Klal Yisroel, who would be able to count their tears of joy?
Our response to those who seek to destroy our way of life must be to reaffirm our sacred values, to learn more Torah, and to learn with more hasmadah and fervency. Our response must be to be kind and considerate to our neighbors, Jew and gentile, and to make a kiddush Hashem by who we are and how we live.
We have to do more to prove that we are upright, upstanding and outstanding. That means rejecting double standards and shortcuts in integrity. We must take pains to be consistent, scrupulously honest, and fair in all our dealings. We must never skirt the law or act in a way which can be misinterpreted to our discredit.
When another Yid is in trouble, we must rally to support him. When we see an injustice, we must do everything in our ability to rectify it. When confronted with cases of abuse, we have to stop the perpetrators immediately. When children aren’t accepted into schools, we must band together and lobby forcefully for the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We should not be tolerating corruption or deviation from our hallowed traditions in any area of public life.
An Unparalleled Way of Life
Our way of life is the best known to man. It is divine. It brings joy and fulfillment to those who follow it. We cannot permit it to be trampled upon. We cannot promote through our patronage of their sites and publications those who make an art form out of ridicule and cynicism.
We should be so disgusted by their trampling what is dear to us that we shouldn’t need anyone to tell us to give them short shrift. If someone publicly trashed our parents, we wouldn’t reward them by patronizing them. Those who ridicule all that we cherish should be treated the same. Not because anyone told us to ignore them, but because we are so revolted by what they are purveying, we choose on our won to boycott them.
People who twist halacha or mesorah should not be given a platform to ply their wares. Media outlets which place authentic, accepted norms of halachic ruling side by side with the drivel of usurpers and reformers should not merit our attention.
Our response to them should be uncompromising. We have to be able to exercise enough self-control to shun their writings. For when Chazal forbade the reading of apikorsus because of the corrosive effect it has upon a person’s psyche and kiyum hamitzvos, they didn’t differentiate between intelligent and theological treatises and writings that are imbecilic and inane.
Lessons from Yesteryear
The Maskilim succeeded in turning away tens of thousands from the path of Torah through the very same type of propaganda invading our community today. They vilified rabbonim such as Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector who dedicated their lives to the betterment of the Jewish people. They portrayed Rav Yitzchok Elchonon and others like him as wild-eyed fanatics controlled by radicals.
In beautiful, poetic rhymes, they mocked rabbonim as caring not a whit about the people’s financial situation. They portrayed rabbonim and roshei yeshiva as being out-of-touch and driven by a desire to deprive the populace of a good life.
Men with beards and the outward appearance of shomrei Torah umitzvos used the written word to foment hatred for traditional Judaism. Motivated by sinas chinom – greed, jealousy and hatred – and with hearts full of malice, they cleverly portrayed themselves as the open-minded heroes battling the close-minded leaders. They painted themselves as the honest fighting the unscrupulous and unethical. They utilized their superior writing talents to ensnare thousands of yeshiva bochurim by promising them a life of blissful fulfillment.
By the time they were unmasked, they had conquered not just souls, but leadership positions and much power. And they accomplished their goals and won converts to their campaign by using the same kind of subterfuge and character assault eating away at our community today. It was the slow drip-drip of nefarious and tainted half-truths that succeeded in softening up the masses.
While we must stand guard to protect ourselves and our families from the vile filth which fills the internet and the general media, that is not enough. Just because something sounds frum and people we know read it doesn’t mean that it has a place in our homes.
Are there problems crying out for solutions in our community? No question. We have to motivate the people of fine character, steeped in Torah and mussar, to rise above the masses and join forces to find common ground and productive solutions. We should empower them to offer constructive criticism. We should support these people and motivate them to work for the klal without fear of being maligned for their actions.
More than anything, we must make it very clear that those whose goal is to fuel divisiveness in our community, those who take aim at our leadership and impugn the character of recognized gedolim, roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, askonim and plain gutteh Yidden, will be exposed and shunned.
I wish to reiterate that my only involvement with this site is the posting of my column, all rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.