An Unorthodox Controversy
May 22, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

In February, author Deborah Feldman spoke with xoJane's (and Metafilter's own) hermitosis about the backlash she experienced from the Hasidic community in the days leading up the release of her tell-all memoir "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots." Today xoJane granted another Hasidic woman from the interview post her own rebuttal to the original article, "What Women's Media Needs to Know About Chassidic Women," in which she defends her religion against feminists and "poor Deborah Feldman" sympathizers. Metafilter's own hermitosis responds in the comments.
posted by Avenger (214 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a fascinating conversation, but I'm not seeing hermitosis's final response. Is it possible it was deleted?
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:08 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not seeing hermitosis's final response. Is it possible it was deleted?

I had to click the "load more comments" button a bunch of times before the anchor link would work.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:11 PM on May 22, 2012


Am I missing something? hermitosis = tom blunt?
posted by odinsdream at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2012


They use Disqus for their comments, I think some browsers don't play nicely with it. Here is my comment:
Oh I remember you. You're the "Chaya" who commented all over my interview with Deborah Feldman running damage control over what you perceive(d) as lies and unfortunate misapprehensions w/r/t "the truth about Orthodox Jewish life."

Why can't your story and Deborah's story be equally true, and equally exemplary of the kind of opportunities that your religion creates for women? Why are you so afraid of acknowledging the problems in your community, to the point of attempting to discredit or dismiss people (including victims of abuse) who step forward to share their side of the story?

I actually believe most of what you say, and I do respect everyone's right to live the way they choose, but the frenetic and eager-to-please way in which you present your case to a mostly secular audience who won't know any better -- as if you yourself are not an extreme exception in so many ways (especially with regards to your high level of education) -- repulses me.

But it's all some big misunderstanding, right? Right. I'm disappointed that xoJane decided upon this (and you) as their way of providing a dissenting voice to follow the Feldman interview.
posted by hermitosis at 2:15 PM on May 22, 2012 [21 favorites]


I was pretty grateful to xoJane at the time for running the piece in its entirety (others I tried wouldn't touch it at all because of the subject matter) and I thought the comments that it drew -- waves of Hasidic people showing up to repeat the same baseless attacks that Deborah had just described -- perfectly illustrated the point of the story.

If I'd known that xoJane would revisit the subject in this particular way, I never would have come to them with the story. xoJane is basically staging a cockfight for web hits, and I'm bummed to be a part of it.

(But why should anyone ever listen to me? I'm from a "dysfunctional family" with a history of "mental illness," so my experience of these events can't possibly count for anything. Right?)
posted by hermitosis at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2012 [29 favorites]


Yikes, that is a quite the example of a community closing ranks and circling up.

Thanks for sharing!
posted by Slackermagee at 2:20 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter's own hermitosis responds in the comments.

Whoah, "chaya" got served.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:21 PM on May 22, 2012


> All you need to know is that the practice of not touching your husband when you're on your period and then immersing in a mikveh is awesome.

I can see how a nice sauna can be awesome, but the practice of not touching your husband when you're on your period is awesome too?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:22 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


See: "While men in traditional Orthodox garb filed into Citi Field as steadily as a never-ending line of ants approaching an anthill…" Um, where have I seen Jews compard to insects before? Oh, wait, WWII.

Oh for G-d's sake, woman. Way to prove that you super-religious breed of us Jews are paragons of sensibility.
posted by clockzero at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


One of the weaknesses of Chaya's comments, in my view, is her attempt to distinguish Hasidic sexuality from "puritan" "ascetic" "anti-sex" Christianity. As I or any other graduate of a Christian high school can tell you, the "sex is God's wonderful exciting gift to be enjoyed exclusively within marriage" line is completely standard for contemporary American Christians.

Also, I share clockzero's sense that even observant Jews should think carefully before Godwining their argument in the first paragraph.
posted by sy at 2:28 PM on May 22, 2012 [14 favorites]


Response in the comments from Deborah Feldman:
Well, well, well. Poor Deborah Feldman here. I would love to debate you on all of your assertions but for now I will make one point. For months, you and many others like you who felt offended by my decision to share my personal experience attacked me on the grounds that I was trying to speak for all Hasidic or Orthodox women. However I refrained from using pronouns such as "we" and "us" - a phenomenon your article is peppered with. Do you really believe you have tapped into the communal consciousness of all Hasidic women? Especially the majority of Hasidic women, who did not grow up on the liberal fringe, but were deliberately prevented from even achieving a high school diploma? Yes you are indeed a lucky exception. The day you start fighting for all Hasidic women to have access to the privileges you enjoy is the day you will become my hero.
posted by hermitosis at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2012 [35 favorites]


Also, I share clockzero's sense that even observant Jews should think carefully before Godwining their argument in the first paragraph.

On the other hand, Jezebel Nazi is a pretty cool band name.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:33 PM on May 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


When your friends go to India to learn how to meditate and come home "leading spiritual lives" and suddenly won't go out for barbecue with you, you think it is cool.

ha ha ha what
posted by Greg Nog at 2:40 PM on May 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Didn't Feldman get called out for lying in the book? Failed Messiah posts
posted by Melismata at 2:41 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Annnnnnd then a MAJOR Deborah Feldman piledriver further down. (I won't copy/paste the comment here, it's really long).

Sorry, I should stay out of this now. It's very frustrating.
posted by hermitosis at 2:42 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Link isn't working; can you tell me the name of the commenter, or something? Thanks.
posted by Melismata at 2:51 PM on May 22, 2012


Wow, found this in the comments. It's a gem:

From "LeAnn":
(1) I think many would consider your remark about "faith communities" to be incredibly insulting and offensive. For the record, Judaism, as the specific example, is not faith-based and Jews do not live lives "about accepting a certain worldview based on non-proven beliefs." Judaism is a religion of scholars, historians, scientists, professors, doctors, kings & kingly advisors, etc. for thousands of years. There is nothing that Jews do without cause, no beliefs they hold without specific evidence, and no practices they perform that are not sourced to nearly the beginning of mankind.

...
Judaism, as the specific example, is not faith-based

Okay, so if we wanted to quibble about the dual nature of Judaism, I'd be fine with that. Sure. It is an ethnic identity as well as a religion. Done and done. No controversy there.

But... the rest of that comment then goes from plausible to O_O! in only a handful of lines. Yowza!
posted by jph at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2012


Judaism isn't faith based in that being a Jew is more about what you do than what you believe while you're doing it. (Add all sorts of caveats.) And there are causes, in the sense that rabbis have argued and decided that this is what you should do. But that isn't what the comment said at all.

Links to comments are entirely useless for me, as they don't actually link to anything in either firefox or chrome.

(In fairness, I thought that the book Unorthodox was boring and not terribly well written.)
posted by jeather at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2012


Link isn't working; can you tell me the name of the commenter, or something? Thanks.

It's another by Deborah Feldman.

Didn't Feldman get called out for lying in the book?

Feldman has been called out for lying about every pretty much every detail in the book at least once, but to my knowledge nothing has really stuck. Some of these claims are true or rooted in truth, but don't really have a bearing on the veracity of Deborah's main points. For example, Feldman's often criticized for not mentioning in the book that she has a sister (she's spoken publicly about her decision to respect her sister's privacy by omitting her from the book). Members of the Orthodox community have been clinging to little bits like these and spreading them to try and discrediting her altogether.

Many people would do or say anything to kill this book. It doesn't mean they're all wrong and she's 100% right about everything, but it's definitely something to consider when you start picking through the responses to it.
posted by hermitosis at 2:58 PM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here is the "MAJOR Deborah Feldman piledriver" in the comments that hermitosis referred to above. It is indeed long, but I thought it was worth reposting anyway for the people here who are having trouble seeing the comments:

Alright Chaya.
You said you wanted to hear more, so here it is.

First off, it is my understanding that you are a ba’al teshuvah, which translates as a “returned to the faith.” Please correct me if I am wrong. If you are indeed a woman who chose to become religious, than you have grossly misrepresented yourself in this article by choosing to omit that tidbit of information. As you well know, most women who are born into the Hassidic community do not have the privilege of choosing their religion, especially not a particular brand of it. In fact, lack of personal choice is one of the most difficult aspects of growing up Hasidic, I would say, based on MY personal experience.

Secondly, I believe you belong to the sect of Hasidic Judaism called Lubavitch, or Chabad. The same sect who runs a worldwide PR machine designed to bring lapsed (or fried) jews closer to Judaism. In fact, I have an Uncle who is quite prominent in this sect; he was the deceased Rabbi’s (the same you claim to be the messiah)treasurer. He has a family of seventeen children, my cousins, whom I interacted with somewhat when I was growing up. So I often heard the statement “it’s okay to lie to bring a Jew closer to Judaism.” Which explains why the Chabad Jews who went on Oprah denied the existence of gayness within their community even as my dear friend Chaim Levin was writing about the horrific trauma he underwent at the hands of Chabad Ex-Gay therapists.

If you do indeed belong to this sect of Chassidic Judaism, let me stop you right there. Chabad broke off from the world of Hasidic Jews when they declared their Rabbi the next Jesus. Yes, they are waiting for a resurrection, or a second coming, whichever, and woe to the Lubavitcher Chasid that claims otherwise, as I’ve heard from some who were severely beaten in punishment. Unlike the rest of Hasidic Jews (Satmar being the largest sect, and the umbrella under which smaller sects such as Pupa,Belz, Vizhnitz, Bobov, etc sometimes reside,) Chabad is not rabidly anti-zionist, anti-education, or anti-women. And the reason they are none of these things is because it would make it difficult to present an attractive case for the secular Jew to return to the faith. But for these reasons, Chabad has been soundly rejected by other Hasidic sects; in fact Satmar and Chabad have had a longstanding feud ever since the “messiah” fiasco began, and when I was growing up I was told it was better to be a goy than to be lubavitch.

So here you are, ostensibly Ba’al Teshuvah, having chosen to join Chabad Judaism, making claims on behalf of women who were born into much more extreme societies that you know very little about. Let’s start with your first claim. You say “we” are not imprisoned. You say you are free to snort coke and wear skinny jeans and no one will hurt you. First of all, I’d like to point out your stinging condescension in using those two activities as your examples, as if that is all secular people engage in. Yes, you poor things who don’t have religion in your lives, all you can hope for is a life of drugs and promiscuity. So you are implying that although you have the “choice,” obviously, the secular life can hardly tempt you, because you have reduced it to those two things.

In response I will tell you about some of the things I felt deprived of as a Hasidic woman, for if I listed all I’m sure I would exceed the limits of your patience. And surprisingly, coke and skinny jeans are not very high on that list.

Driving: Hasidic women are not allowed behind the wheel
Education: Hasidic women do not receive high school diplomas. The word college was censored from our textbooks.
Dating: Hasidic women are not allowed to get to know their prospective spouses, or choose between a selection. They are assigned one future husband and are permitted to meet them once or twice, for a short and supervised period, before the wedding.
Sex Education: I was never taught about sex or sexually transmitted diseases
Privacy: The Rabbis and Mikva Attendants had to be involved in the most intimate details of my private life, including but not limited to the stains on my underwear.
Lack of Birth Control: Hasidic Women are not allowed to make decisions regarding reproduction
Safe Circumcision: I was not allowed to attend my son’s Bris, nor was I permitted any input as to who was to perform the procedure or the manner in which it was conducted. Thank goodness it wasn’t my baby that died of herpes or had his bandages wrapped so tightly they cut off all his circulation.

I could go ON and ON, and will at length if you ask me to, but for now here are those examples. Now let’s talk about choice.

Say I chose to drive, or to get an education, or stop showing my underwear to a rabbi, or stop shaving my head, or stop allowing some strange woman to inspect and touch my naked body… Say I do any of those things that aren’t allowed in the Hasidic community.

Here are some direct consequences:

Excommunication and Ostracism. People who used to call themselves your friends are suddenly gossiping behind your back and want nothing to do with you. Your family declares that they are ashamed of you and no longer invite you to their celebrations. The Rabbi threatens to have your kids thrown out of school. Your husband’s boss threatens to fire him. I could go on.

So yeah, we have a CHOICE.

Your second point:
“We like ourselves the way we are.”

I’m really glad to learn that you are happy in the spiritual life that YOU CHOSE, but please don’t try and pretend that you can see into the minds of every Hasidic woman that puts on a happy face on the street. I was one of those woman who knew it was in my best interest to appear happy and content at all times but in no way was I feeling “happy with the way I was,” so please, at the very least, don’t speak for women like me.

Your third point:
“We find our husbands attractive.”

Ummm, it’s a little TMI but Congrats on finding your hubby fuckable. But you have no idea how other women feel about their husbands in bed. We may be under pressure to say that we feel great and love having sex with bearded dudes, but I personally hated the carpet burn and never found the Hasidic “look” charming in any way. Yet I felt compelled to say I did. So good for you, but your assertion is completely irrelevant and subjective.

You say Jewish law prohibits marrying someone you’re not attracted to. If that is the case, I never heard it mentioned growing up. Certainly no one asked me if I found my husband attractive. Perhaps you mean that Talmudic saying about how a man should look at his wife before he marries her to make sure she doesn’t repulse him? Now THAT sounds familiar. However , this point is moot because there are many Jewish laws that the Hasidic community COMPLETELY ignores (as even Rabbi Shmuley Boteach attested on Dr. Phil) while there are countless other contradictory laws that Hasidic Jews have elaborated and distorted beyond recognition. Your claim that this law exists does not mean that it is still in application. So yes, I know that in the Ketubah it states that my husband is obligated to satisfy me sexually, but I also know the language used in that case is allegorical, and never mentioned. I can’t think of one case in the Hasidic community where a woman felt safe enough to complain that her husband wasn’t sexually satisfying her. Just because its written in Aramaic on a document doesn’t mean it’s a cultural priority.

Your next point: Judaism is the original sex-positive culture.

If that is the case, I never knew it. Hasidic Judaism is NOT sex positive. My husband and I were taught to keep the lights off and not to look at each others genitals. We were told sex was for procreation only. So whatever Talmudic or biblical grounds you have for that claim, I will remind you again that Hasidic Jews do not necessarily adhere to the laws they find inconvenient. As you can see, they rallied against the internet because they found the idea of easily accessible hook-ups and porn threatening; sexual release and satisfaction was always considered a threat in my world because it would lead to greater and therefore uncontrollable desire. My husband was told that the more sex he had the more he would want it, and then he wouldn’t be able to control his ejaculations anymore. After a wet dream, he would be beside himself with guilt, and immerse in a ritual bath as penance.

God likes it when a married Jewish couple has sex? (I like the way you claim to know what God likes.) Do you mean He likes it when they have sex during permissible times, like the nights women ovulate?

And just so you know, Hasidic people don’t have the monopoly on fidelity. Secular people know how to be loyal in a marriage. In fact, I know more adulterous Hasidic Jews than I do secular ones. Perhaps all that repression? Nah, can’t be.

Where are we commanded explicitly by God to get naked to shag, as you say? Please, if you’re going to make such wild claims, bring some evidence? I was told it was only necessary to roll up my nightgown.

Your fifth point: The mikvah is awesome.

Really? Because it wasn’t awesome for me, and many of my friends. Us women would freely discuss how much we dreaded that monthly visit. I had a friend who would pretend to bleed much longer than she actually did just so she could postpone her visit.

You really think it’s credible to say that all women would love to visit a public swimming pool where they are inspected naked by a post-menopausal stranger and immerse in warm water shared by hundreds of other naked women of all ages, some of them unknowing disease carriers? You may say the word “impure” has a “different” meaning for you, but for most people it sounds exactly like it’s literal meaning, impure. You may have been convinced otherwise, but there are plenty of women who aren’t willing to swallow that cheap explanation of “it’s SPIRTUAL impurity not physical.” How is that better???

All I need to know is the premise is awesome? Wow you really are a media professional, telling me “all I need to know.” Actually no, I need to know what makes it so awesome for EVERY Hasidic woman in every community, because I NEVER got that, in my five years of marriage.

Also, the cervical cancer thing. Squaring the circle much? Don’t pretend that the laws of niddah were created to protect women from cervical cancers. What you are doing is taking a fact that arose centuries after these laws were created and fitting it into your theory. The great thing about being secular is that we can protect ourselves from cervical cancers and STD WITHOUT having to follow a set of rabbinical laws. One doesn’t follow the other.

And being told to stick my finger in my vagina twice a day and inspect the cloth for stains that may need to be show to a Rabbi is NOT the opposite of sexual repression. It creates a negative relationship between women and what should be considered normal, healthy bodily functions and parts. My menstrual emissions are not some gross matter to be analyzed for its “purity” status by a bunch of pervy dudes (because, yes, you are a perv if you look at women’s underwear and vaginal fluids all day long, sorry.)

In conclusion… You say that Orthodox men were slammed, and therefore you, as an Orthodox (Or Hasidic, I can’t figure it out?) woman felt slammed as well. I’m so sorry you felt slammed. I don’t see how you made that connection. But if you did feel personally attacked, I’m so sorry. I commend you for finding the spiritual life that fit your needs and I am so glad that you are enjoying it. However, please refrain from making claims on behalf of Hasidic women you have never met and know nothing about. I may have made delicious kugel. I may have been strong. But I most certainly was that girl, pushing a stroller, but waiting to be liberated.
posted by kyrademon at 3:01 PM on May 22, 2012 [102 favorites]


"Education: Hasidic women do not receive high school diplomas. The word college was censored from our textbooks."

Unfortunately this probably applies equally to the men in the Hasidic community as well.
posted by PenDevil at 3:05 PM on May 22, 2012


Fun fact: Jewish law prohibits marrying someone who you're not attracted to.
Does anyone know what she's referring to here?

Also, as I understand it, if a man rapes a virgin, he then must marry her. Does the "not allowed to marry someone who you're not attracted to" thing override this, if the woman is not attracted to her rapist?
posted by Flunkie at 3:15 PM on May 22, 2012


As you can see, they rallied against the internet ...

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Hold Massive NYC Meeting At Citi Field To Protest Internet.
posted by ericb at 3:35 PM on May 22, 2012


O SNAP

that was indeed a piledriver
posted by Hoopo at 3:36 PM on May 22, 2012


Thanks for the post. I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Feldman and she is genuine and clever. I'm sorry she has to go through this particular set of criticisms, although she's handling it like a champ.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:51 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get the point of engaging this conversation. It's a cult. Who's mind is going to get changed with this? It's going to be nothing but a shit slinging contest between people whose minds are already made up
posted by spicynuts at 4:00 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm blown away by how unflappable she is during her confrontation with the M.C. for this reading in Brooklyn.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:10 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who's mind is going to get changed with this?

Maybe there's that one woman who reads her story and, in a private moment, feels less alone or less trapped, more ready to make a similar move to freedom. Feldman's escape can lend hope to others, regardless of what religion they have been enslaved by. Hope is an important thing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:14 PM on May 22, 2012 [19 favorites]


I don't get the point of engaging this conversation. It's a cult. Who's mind is going to get changed with this? It's going to be nothing but a shit slinging contest between people whose minds are already made up

Well, I found it interesting, even though it's troubling to know that there are people in the 21st Century — in a first world country, no less — who have managed to hang on to some of the most ridiculous ideas of our philosophical infancy.

I hope people who do feel trapped by their community read it and get out. Life is tough enough without the bizarre guilt trip of being taught to hate your own humanity.
posted by deanklear at 4:16 PM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't get the point of engaging this conversation. It's a cult. Who's mind is going to get changed with this? It's going to be nothing but a shit slinging contest between people whose minds are already made up

As the "piledriver" comment says (and holy crap, WHAT a retort), the Chabad sect is actively trying to bring "stray" Jews into their fold. And of course, there's also the fact that freedom of religion is trumped by secular laws on human rights, in the US anyway. So I think engaging, and in so doing bringing to light the inner workings of this sect is an important act to take.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


the Chabad sect is actively trying to bring "stray" Jews into their fold.

That's exactly why turning over the megaphone to someone like Chaya is such a terrible editorial decision. The piece is pure propaganda.

I mean, we are talking about a site whose managing editor covers topics such as the correct shade of lipstick to wear while deep-throating a banana, and "I'll Try Anything Once: Going Blonde,"* so I don't think their standards are really up to dealing with issues like these. I wrote a letter to Jane Pratt just now saying as much.

*I wish I was making these up.
posted by hermitosis at 4:35 PM on May 22, 2012


Well don't leave us hanging - what is the correct shade of lipstick?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:42 PM on May 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


All jokes aside, kudos to you for taking the time to rebut her. I think "equal time" can be a poisonous idea in the media, especially when that time is being shared with certifiable cultists, and it's a shame a lot of the retorts are relegated to the comments' section, but yeah - good on you.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:45 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


If then the women who live happily within this environment are content, whey then do so few say anything whatsoever about those rabbis who are known to molest their charges? There has been two articles about this recently in the NY Times. One rabbi does speak up and he is scorned and threatened by those who "close ranks" so that nothing becomes public and molesters go along without punishment.
posted by Postroad at 5:10 PM on May 22, 2012


I mean, we are talking about a site whose managing editor covers topics such as the correct shade of lipstick to wear while deep-throating a banana, and "I'll Try Anything Once: Going Blonde,"* so I don't think their standards are really up to dealing with issues like these

Don't forget the whole "I Use Plan B as Birth Control" hullabaloo. I wrote xojane off after that, because they were either outrageously dumb or trolling on purpose, and I didn't care to spend my time on a site that allowed for either.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everything I know about orthodox jewish women comes from the crime fiction of Faye Kellerman, but the account of being an orthodox jewish women that chaya provides seems consistent with the fictional character of Rina Lazarus.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:45 PM on May 22, 2012


Ultra-Orthodox Jews Hold Massive NYC Meeting At Citi Field To Protest Internet.

Why does this remind me of Grandpa Simpson's appearance in the newspaper story, Old Man Yells at Cloud?
posted by jonp72 at 5:50 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


deanklear:Well, I found it interesting, even though it's troubling to know that there are people in the 21st Century — in a first world country, no less — who have managed to hang on to some of the most ridiculous ideas of our philosophical infancy.

For every group on the fringe of any religious or political spectrum, there's always another group that thinks the first group is a bunch of pussies the don't go far enough.
posted by dr_dank at 6:21 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deborah Feldman's family was apparently part of Satmar, while Chaya is apparently part of Chabad. Satmar and Chabad are poles apart, at least from their own perspective, anyway. Satmar are (one of the groups) in Williamsburg who wear the fur hats and frock coats; Chabad are the guys in stetsons who go around asking people if they're Jewish. It's plausible that women within these groups would have very different experiences, but it's even more plausible that different women within the same community would each have different experiences. I think commentators here and on xoJane are wrong to dismiss their point of view.

As for Ms Feldman's account, this article in the NY Daily News and the pages it links say that fundamental parts of her narrative aren't true: she wasn't abandoned by her mother as a toddler; her mother apparently left when Deborah was sixteen, and her mother retained custody of Deborah's younger sister. I can understand omitting a family member from the narrative, but this doesn't justify the changes in dates or the family circumstances. There's also an unpleasant story about a kid who was mutilated by a psycho, but apparently it wasn't a kid, wasn't a mutilation, but was actually a suicide. I think her book lacked basic fact-checking.

Finally, there's a lot of unpleasant bigotry in this thread and the ones over on xoJane. I especially dislike the way alternative points of view are dismissed. Hermitosis, I'm calling you out for your "waves of Hasidic people showing up to repeat the same baseless attacks that Deborah had just described". They are recounting their own experiences. They are not Deborah Feldman or, apparently, each other. You sound like an anti-Vaxxer going on about how doctors all repeat the same message. Get a grip.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:37 PM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't get the point of engaging this conversation. It's a cult. Who's mind is going to get changed with this?

There are many people (and bloggers!) in various stages of separating from the orthodox community who are involved in this conversation. The organization Footsteps is a group that helps such people by connecting them up (since leaving a tight knit community which is involved in everything you do is very isolating.) I should add, since people think "cult" and dehumanize the people involved, that there is also much positive to be said about the orthodox community, even Chabad (which, I understand, is split on the issue of their previous Rebbe being the Messiah and didn't get along with the Satmars before this became an issue despite what Deborah said in her "piledriver" comment.)

If you really want to know more about the orthodox communities, I recommend the book Boychiks in the Hood.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:48 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just popping back in to clarify. By 'engage' what I meant was 'argue'. As in, attempt to reason with the author of this piece in the comments or as in Feldman coming back to re-engage in this article. I certainly beyond a shadow of a doubt believe that pieces like this being published can be helpful for those on the inside. It's the attempt to engage in a debate that to me seems futile.
posted by spicynuts at 7:28 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you really want to know more about the orthodox communities, I recommend the book Boychiks in the Hood.

Currently I live about a 2 minute bike ride from one of the biggest communities in the world. In the past I used to cover one of the bigger upstate NY (Orange County - Kiryas Joel) communities as a news cameraman. I think I'm pretty well versed in them.
posted by spicynuts at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but I side with Chaya on this one. Hating religion and assuming that it's all anti-woman is so reflexive and so metafilter, it makes me happy to see someone cheerfully contradicting that notion.

I love ya Herm, but I'm so not with you on this one.

L'chaim!
posted by Afroblanco at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but I side with Chaya on this one. Hating religion and assuming that it's all anti-woman

Where the hell are you seeing that?
posted by spaltavian at 8:29 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hating religion and assuming that it's all anti-woman...

What? How is Chaya's "poor Deborah feldman" in any way pro-woman? Blech, that was straight up disgusting.

I wish the conversation had occured in somewhere other than xoJane.

The whole thing was weird.
posted by OsoMeaty at 8:34 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sorry, but I side with Chaya on this one. Hating religion and assuming that it's all anti-woman

Where the hell are you seeing that?


Colour me confused as well. A little clarification, Afroblanco?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:10 PM on May 22, 2012


Finally, there's a lot of unpleasant bigotry in this thread and the ones over on xoJane. I especially dislike the way alternative points of view are dismissed. Hermitosis, I'm calling you out for your "waves of Hasidic people showing up to repeat the same baseless attacks that Deborah had just described".

Deborah described the psychology behind dismissing her as the product of a "dysfunctional family" and being "mentally disturbed." People showed up to repeat those accusations as if they had not read the interview (indeed they probably did not bother). We are talking about people who threatened to show up at her book release party and throw rocks at her, who think that she is trying to bring about a second Holocaust. Are these the people whose point of view you'd like me to investigate more closely?

I'm sure the people running the "Blog dedicated to expose the lies of Deborah Feldman and reveal the bias of her publisher Simon & Schuster" that you linked to have the REAL SEKRET TRUTH about Deborah, and we are all too gullible to see what's in front of us. Congrats on solving the mystery!

I don't understand who you are calling a bigot. Deborah, who still identifies as Jewish? Me, who has worked for many years for multiple Jewish nonprofit organizations? As far as I'm concerned, you're gambling with your front teeth here.
posted by hermitosis at 9:43 PM on May 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


<>How is Chaya's "poor Deborah feldman" in any way pro-woman?

Not only that, it's dismissing claims of abuse -- both personal, and endemic throughout an entire culture.

You know what's not pro-woman? Raping women. Keeping women dependent on a culture that "encourages" them to have as many babies as humanly possible. Discouraging women from becoming educated. Warning women that leaving your community means giving up custody of their children forever.

Afroblanco, I don't care whether you're with me or not. But pretending that Chaya's whitewash story (however cheerful) is the reality for Hasidic women is pitifully naive. I'd say you're better than that, but at this point, I know few people who aren't.
posted by hermitosis at 9:49 PM on May 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Pretty much nothing "Chaya" said was pro-woman. Her op-ed was poorly written and badly argued: while she tried to disprove Feldman's points, she only revealed the weakness of her own suppositions.

There is absolutely nothing that is "pro-woman" in Chaya's screed. Afroblanco, you are a long-time poster, and someone who I think is amenable to women's rights, so I'm disappointed you'd make such a flippant and dismissive comment.

Here's the thing: many dominant religious are indeed anti-woman. This is not a new revelation. Furthermore, a sect of a religion is not representative of that religion. Finally, if you really believe that "Chaya" and people like her are pro-woman, the issue is larger than our current disagreement.
posted by nonmerci at 10:02 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oof, redundancy. Regardless, I think this is an excellent FPP and I'm glad to know that women like Deborah Feldman exist. Because seriously--it's hard to overcome the prejudices of one's gender, but it must be so much harder when one belongs (for all intents and purposes) to a cult.
posted by nonmerci at 10:06 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hermitosis wrote: Deborah described the psychology behind dismissing her as the product of a "dysfunctional family" and being "mentally disturbed."

Both of those things might be true (I think the first one is certainly true) and it wouldn't affect the validity of her account. I totally acknowledge that she had a miserable life and I very much hope she's happier now. Anyway, no, I don't see any reason you should investigate anyone's point of view, especially people who allegedly threatened her. None the less, when someone says "I'm a Hasidic woman and I feel fine" you shouldn't dismiss her viewpoint out of hand.

As for the "REAL SEKRET TRUTH", surely the date of her parents' divorce and so forth are on the public record. Surely the accounts from her neighbours must be given some weight. There are a bunch of things in her story that are simply contradicted by external facts. But none the less, as I said above, I accept that she had a miserable life. I just don't see that accepting this means that I should uncritically accept the rest of her story.

I don't understand who you are calling a bigot. Deborah, who still identifies as Jewish? Me, who has worked for many years for multiple Jewish nonprofit organizations?

I didn't say that you're a bigot. I said that dismissing other people's experiences because of their cultural identity is a bigoted thing to do.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:51 PM on May 22, 2012


Joe in Australia, why does the date of her parents' divorce have any bearing on the veracity of her account? Are you at all familiar with how memoirs work? You realize, I hope, they are often quite literary and thus liberal with the "straight facts"?

I'm really confused as to how inconsistencies in "external facts" would render her telling less true or, by extension, meaningful. It seems clear to me that I could write a novel which details my experiences with my family, and while I might leave out their names and other identifying features, the 'truth' of my narrative would remain. How is this different? A memoir or autobiography is not an encyclopedia article.
posted by nonmerci at 11:06 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno. Basically, I've been in a number of threads that concerned Orthodox Judaism, and I'm really tired of people referring to that faith as an "awful, woman-hating religion". Just tired of it. And tired of people bashing religion in general.

Look. I was raised Conservative Jewish. Judaism -- and religion in general -- never did a goddamn thing for me. I consider myself an atheist. But I'll be damned if I'm gonna call out anybody's religion and make blanket statements about it.

And actually, Chaya's blog post -- except for the Mikvah stuff, which I can't really speak to since I'm not an Orthodox Jewish woman -- sounds pretty plausible. Why are you so willing to assume that all Chasidic women are miserable?

Anyway, all things considered, I don't really have a dog in this fight. But the very idea that most Chasidic women don't hate their lives -- why do you find this so hard to accept?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:21 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


The idea that a population of women who are actively discouraged or otherwise unallowed to get an education are unfulfilled or "hate their lives" is a no-brainer for me, personally. This is to say nothing of the post-menstural vagina-probing.
posted by nonmerci at 11:27 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Personal insults won't help this thread become anything but a trainwreck or make your position clearer. Hermitosis, if you can't comment here without losing it, maybe you need to come back to it later. Everyone, please try to keep a cool head.]
posted by taz at 11:38 PM on May 22, 2012


Why are you so willing to assume that all Chasidic women are miserable?

I don't see where anyone is saying that. But I understand, because this is a conversation I've been having with my Orthodox friends since even before I ever heard of Deborah Feldman.

The Deborah Feldmans out there don't think everyone is miserable and oppressed, but they're extremely concerned with the people who are -- the ones who have slipped through the cracks and feel lost and powerless. As she observes in our interview, the ones who feel otherwise have no shortage of support really.

The Chayas of the world know that not everyone is perfectly happy, but think the most important thing is to prevent their way of life as healthy, happy, and normal. It's PR. Chaya knows about the Deborah Feldmans of the world, and can give you a different reason why things didn't work out for each and every one of them, the poor things.

The only reason I side with the Deborahs is that if it was left up to the Chayas, we'd never hear from the Deborahs at all, ever again -- their accounts would be stricken from the record as an anomaly. Instead, they are held up as a recurring symptom of institutional negligence -- if not outright persecution, in some cases.

Anyway, all things considered, I don't really have a dog in this fight. But the very idea that most Chasidic women don't hate their lives -- why do you find this so hard to accept?

That's right, you don't have a dog in this fight, because as a male Jewish person of whatever type, Hasidic or otherwise, you enjoy privileges that any Satmar woman could scarcely ever dream of having, and which most would shun (out of fear of themselves being shunned) if they were offered. Even so, Feldman repeatedly points out that she knew many women she knew who lived perfectly functional, happy lives within that community. I have no reason to disbelieve her. It's the ones who feel they have no choice that are at stake here.

I hate knee-jerk religion-bashing on MetaFilter too, but this ain't that.
posted by hermitosis at 11:39 PM on May 22, 2012 [31 favorites]


Sorry taz, I'll try again.

I didn't say that you're a bigot. I said that dismissing other people's experiences because of their cultural identity is a bigoted thing to do.

Bless your heart, Joe. I'll keep that in mind.

Dates on divorce records aside, did you know that Deborah Feldman's mother is a lesbian, and that she left the church because of her difficulties in coming to terms with her sexuality? Have you heard of the film "Trembling Before G-d," in which Orthodox gays and lesbians share their stories? If you'd read Deborah's book, you'd know that she didn't know anything about where her mother had gone to, or why, until she watched this movie... and saw her mother's name in the closing credits. That's right, she then rewound the movie and discovered that her mother was one of the women who shared her story with the filmmakers.

Imagine that all of your life people have told you conflicting stories about why your mother was gone, and then discovering as an adult that those same people had essentially driven her away. Imagine finding that out from a movie. That's the level of deception we're talking about here. So pardon me if I don't lend much credibility to "accounts from her neighbors," who can only benefit at this point from anything negative that people choose to believe about Deborah Feldman (or her mother, for that matter).

Anyway, you see what a rabbithole you're going down here. I welcome you to read as critically or as uncritically as you see fit.
posted by hermitosis at 11:42 PM on May 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hermitosis wrote: Imagine that all of your life people have told you conflicting stories about why your mother was gone, and then discovering as an adult that those same people had essentially driven her away.

Is that true, or is it part of the semi-fictional narrative? Because it looks as though her mother actually left when Deborah was 16, and she initially sought custody of Deborah as well as her sister. The younger sister stayed with her mother; I don't know why Deborah didn't. You might ask her about that.

Have you heard of the film "Trembling Before G-d," in which Orthodox gays and lesbians share their stories? If you'd read Deborah's book, you'd know that she didn't know anything about where her mother had gone to, or why, until she watched this movie... and saw her mother's name in the closing credits.

I don't think that's true either. When I Googled the movie title and her mother's name I came up with this article from the Jewish Week:
In addition, Feldman falsely claims that her mother is listed in the closing credits of the 2001 documentary about gay Orthodox Jews, “Trembling Before G-d.”
As it happens the movie and its credits are available online. I don't see her mother listed either.

Anyway, as you say, this is a rabbit hole. Deborah is certainly lying about a lot of things, but not about having been miserable. I hope she's happier now.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:53 AM on May 23, 2012


Your being pretty selective Joe.

About her mother, from the Jewish Week " My mother may have lived within its bounds, but there was a time early in my life that she no longer adhered rigidly to the Satmar way, and was emphatically not living with me, or raising me. As a child I was often the pawn being pushed around by those fighting a bigger battle, and although my family dynamic didn’t always make sense to me, I knew which adults were in charge, and my mother wasn’t one of them.”

As for the Film, Trebling Before God, almost everyone in the film is hiding their identity in some way. Whether her mother's name was actually in the credits in less important than whether she was in the film and I don't see anyone denying that is true.

It's kind of interesting that the response is a very well crafted PR response by a highly educated media professional who was clearly able to make her own choices in life. She left out as much as Deborah got wrong, but I don't see anyone writing a blog to research her life.
posted by PJLandis at 2:06 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


PJLandis, that is what I mean by bigotry. As far as we know Chaya is telling the truth, but you still accuse her of leaving things out. In contrast, people here bend over backwards to defend Deborah Feldman's account even though we know that she is lying about major life events: they say it's only a memoir so it doesn't have to be true; she left bits out to protect her family; don't look at the lies, look at how she must have felt. But it turns out that the supposed basis for the feelings are themselves lies!

Similarly, you accuse Chaya of "crafting" a "PR response", even though we know nothing very much of her background or the skills she used when writing her essay. In contrast, Deborah Feldman has a professionally edited book, distributed by a major publisher. Surely this is a million times more likely to have been "well crafted"? Especially since the publisher's defense is that it's only a memoir, so it doesn't actually have to be true? I think that was a shameful response, by the way.

Finally, look at what you're saying here: Whether her mother's name was actually in the credits in less important than whether she was in the film and I don't see anyone denying that is true.
I didn't make the claim about the credits; Deborah did. Her claim has apparently been refuted but you are so committed to her justification that you're making up a new claim on her behalf.

I have no idea whether her mother is in the film or not. I linked to part of the movie online; perhaps you would like to watch it and see whether her mother appears in the film but not the credits? And if it turns out that she isn't in the film, will that change your mind?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:09 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating story; thanks for posting it, Avenger.

As far as we know Chaya is telling the truth

Um, not clarifying that she's a convert to Chabad and not someone born into Satmar and then speaking as if her experience represented all Hasidic women hardly counts as "telling the truth" in my book. Seriously, Joe in Australia; that's some grade-A level deception right there.
posted by mediareport at 4:00 AM on May 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Chaya definitely presents her story as a highly educated woman who works outside the home as normal within the Hasidic Jewish community. Is it common for women in Deborah's community to go to college? Is it common for them to work outside the home? I'm not being bigoted by noting that her story is at odds with everything I've ever learned, including meeting Orthodox Jewish men in school, about women in many Orthodox Jewish community. It is strange that she presented her story as being mainstream in Orthodox Judiasm.
posted by PJLandis at 4:47 AM on May 23, 2012


It's not strange, PJLandis, when you see her essay as a PR strategy. The fact that she somehow fails to mention that none of the women she claims to speak for could ever get the education she got, while gushing on and on about the joys of forced menstrual inspections and sex with bearded men, speaks volumes about her honesty.
posted by mediareport at 4:57 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wasn't actually calling her a liar, I believe she is very happy with her life in an Orthodox Jewish community and I'm sure most others probably are too. I just don't see why they need to attack someone who wasn't happy and decided to leave.
posted by PJLandis at 5:00 AM on May 23, 2012


As far as we know Chaya is telling the truth, but you still accuse her of leaving things out.

I'm accusing her of that as well. If she was raised Orthodox, she would not have been allowed to go to a university without being shunned by her community; She's likely a convert after the fact. To answer her question of "Would I wear a pair of skinny jeans and snort coke in a disco? No. Why?" it's because if she did, she would be ostracized by everyone she knew and would lose her family, just as she would if she decided to go out in a short sleeve shirt or go out by herself to go bowling. "Nobody is going to stop me"- she's conflating being physically restrained with being cast out. It's extremely dishonest.
posted by Challahtronix at 5:02 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Really don't want to get too deeply into this, but I suppose I can say with some authority:

Satmar women have virtually no chance of attending standard university. There are (here in Brooklyn) Jewish schools, which offer classes that are separated by gender, and which Satmar women will attend. My understanding is that the majority of subjects offered are purely practical, so the odds of a full liberal education are close to nil. They'll most likely be studying education, graphics design, or something else which will allow them to work within the community (although not necessarily from home).

The larger challenge is that the majority will be married by 20, with that having been their life plan, so college is a afterthought.

This is separate from the argument re: general treatment of women.

In Chabad, women can and do go to (usually local) colleges, although the Jewish option mentioned above, as well as SUNY etc online courses, are common.

Nobody in either Satmar or Chabad will claim that we are one and the same. However, we are both seen to the wider world as 'Hasidim,' so when painted with a wide, negative, brush, we're likely to defend ourselves.

The Internet 'asifa' mentioned above is a fun example... The faux-outrage in Chabad at not being invited was funny, because we disagree with banning technology for its bad, rather we try to harness it for good. But we weren't invited, and people made a big deal about.... Then they invited us, and we (as a community) didn't go... Yet we're still the 'Orthodox Jews' who manage to sell out Citi Field for the first time this year.
posted by mhz at 5:33 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would presume that there are very few women or men raised within Satmar who have gone to college. I understand that in principle it's discouraged within Chabad as well, but in practice it's pretty common for both boys and girls to go college. Mind you, neither Chabad nor Satmar are representative of Hasidic life in general; the general case is probably somewhere in between. The best demographic data I could find via Google says:
There are 565 men and 389 women aged 25 and over who have a college education or higher in Crown Heights. There are just 260 men and 148 women with a college education or higher in the over-three-times-as-large Williamsburg community. There are only 250 men and (somewhat surprisingly) just 208 women who are not high school graduates or the equivalent in Crown Heights. There are 2499 men and 2638 women who are not high school graduates or the equivalent in Williamsburg.
FYI: Crown Heights implies Chabad; Williamsburg implies mostly Satmar.

I don't know whether this data is at all reliable, but it should give some comparative idea of the communities.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:34 AM on May 23, 2012


This is what was written in the Spanish version of Marie Claire, which has been translated into English for a post on Deborah's tumblr site:

"Some years later she recognized her mother’s voice in a documentary, ‘Trembling before God’, about the intolerance that the gay community endures under orthodox groups. Deborah found out that her mother was gay and lived on her own. She visited her, and they have resumed contact currently."

I wouldn't be able to recognize Feldman's mother by sight or voice, but I haven't seen any serious claims that she was not involved with the film, as Joe in Australia seems to believe.
posted by hermitosis at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi all,

I figured I would weigh in here, and provide some missing information. First of all, I was misquoted in that article about my mom being in "the credits." She was not in the credits, as she wouldn't have been credited for the two minute interview she did, the full length of which I saw in the special features reel. Here is where the Jewish Week got the facts wrong. However anyone who knows my mom, and has watched the movie, can attest that she does appear in it for a brief period.

Secondly, let's talk about my mom's divorce. My mother was able to live in the U.S. thru a greencard she received by marrying my father. When she separated from my father, she was threatened with deportation by my family, who then also proceeded to withhold a civil divorce from her (which prevented any legitimized custody battle and turned it into a personal war.) So my mother was separated from my father for over a DECADE, during which time my father remarried TWICE, according to religious law. So technically he was a bigamist. When I became an adult she was finally able to attain a civil divorce, after her citizenship had been established.

A divorce record says nothing about a marriage in the hasidic community, a group NOTORIOUS in New York for withholding divorces from women. It took me quite a while to achieve mine, and I had to kick and scream and use whatever leverage I had. My mother certainly wasn't in that position, with the threat of deportation hanging over her head.

Any other questions?

Deborah Feldman
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 6:25 AM on May 23, 2012 [44 favorites]


No question right now, just a welcome and a kudos for being very calm in the midst of a heated thread. (It gets that way around here sometimes.) Brava and welcome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi, Deborah. The thing about the credits appears in your book (on page 220 according to Amazon) which is probably where the Jewish Week got it from. I might like to take a rain check on any questions (it's very late here), but thanks for offering to clear things up.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to ask one thing:

Is there truly a Hasidic community, a single group to which you can ascribe the notoriety of withholding divorce?

I ask because Chaya is not addressing any of the issues. What she is doing is separating herself, and her sect, from the one you grew up in. The implication that you were able to avail yourself of the same freedoms as she is/was is not fair, and I think she's ignoring that defensively.

The particular point you make about divorce is not, as far as I know, universal to the Hasidic community.

I'm not beyond believing it is the way it is in Satmar, but please qualify the statement. It's horrible enough in its truth, it certainly not necessary to add to it.
posted by mhz at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2012


MHZ,

Actually I can ascribe that notoriety to all ORTHODOX jews as well. The Dean of Columbia Law School as well as the President of the NY Women's Bar Association can both attest to the extreme difficult of attaining divorces on behalf of Orthodox and Hasidic women in the state of NY. Example: Amy Neustein case, lasted a decade in the 80's, she lost.

Just so you know, the "GET" or religious divorce, is legally protected in the state of NY for precisely that reason, although that doesn't always apply more than theoretically. If you google Gitty Grunwald, you get a good idea of how divorce plays out in the Satmar community (kidnapping and more such horrors) but even in the rest of Orthodox society, binding arbitration agreements are signed before marriage that agree to take all divorce and custody matters to rabbinical courts that are completely sanctioned (meaning they have full legal jurisdiction) by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This means that if a rabbinical judge decides that a woman doesn't deserve a divorce because she is not deemed spiritually humble enough, it can be withheld on cultural grounds. But the biggest atrocity occurs when a Hasidic or Orthodox (like Amy Neustein')s woman has her children taken away from her because she won't raise them as rigidly religious as their father might, and the U.S. court system recognizes this decision in the name of multiculturalism.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


I figure you can't have a religion in which men daily thank their deity that they weren't born women and not have some pretty serious misogyny built in.

Of course, I have yet to see any old religion that isn't pretty much misogynist to the core. All the Abrahamic religions have misogyny built right in, with Catholicism, Judaism, Islam as the major offenders. Some Protestant sects try to ignore the misogyny and even have women as priests, but they're the exception not the rule.

Hinduism, and even Buddhism both have significant misogyny built in.

I suspect that in the US we tend to pay more attention to the misogyny in Judaism than to the misogyny in Catholicism because of the tribal aspect and frankly because of the clothing. Groups that dress in a way that stands out well, stand out. Opus Dei following Catholics dress like everyone else. Orthodox Jews don't.

The more religious, and therefore more misogynist, Jews tend to congregate in smallish geographic areas that stands out in the news, especially when they use their concentration to force through laws to their religious benefit. Like the NYC group that managed to get a bike lane shut down because they didn't like the clothes women riding bikes wore. That tends to draw attention and get people who otherwise might not care into things.

Catholics, even of the more virulently anti-woman variety, tend to be more widely dispersed geographically so they don't have the clout to pull off stuff like that.

Deborah_Feldman "binding arbitration agreements are signed before marriage that agree to take all divorce and custody matters to rabbinical courts that are completely sanctioned (meaning they have full legal jurisdiction) by the U.S. Supreme Court. "

Yeesh. That's awful.

I've been opposed to binding arbitration for a while anyway, it seems ripe for abuse even in a purely secular context. But allowing an explicitly misogynist religious court to make legally binding decisions seems even worse than letting for profit "courts" settle credit card disputes.
posted by sotonohito at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2012


I've heard of the Gitty Grunwald story, and it's a horror.

But I still don't think it's fair to ascribe that to the entire Hasidic (and now Orthodox) community. Marquee cases, all Satmar, aside, I've never heard of it. And divorce is common enough for me to have heard of it.

I know of shared custody with parents who divorced over changing religious commitment, so there's my anecdotal bit.

I also know rabbis who, NYS law notwithstanding, require a separate pre-nup agreement equating a divorce with a get, and vice versa.

I can't argue that Orthodox Jewish law gives all of the power in divorce to men, but in practice, I just don't see it playing out that way. I've not known any story, at all, like the ones you mention, happening in Chabad. So, again, while Chaya is not addressing the issues within Satmar, she is feeling attacked because of the fact that she is a Hasidic woman, and doesn't feel that that pretty big group should be bunched together.

I've had this conversation with Satmar acquaintances, and the fundamental differences in the way we regard 'the outside world' are amazing. I disagree with a lot of Satmar practices and policies (go ahead, read through my ask.mefi and mefi posts), and certainly with the suffering which results. But unless you're willing to go ahead and and drop an asterisk every time, and say Hasidic *(excluding Chabad,) or just go ahead and disregard hundred of years of history and say Chabad is just not Hasidic (as kyrademon implied), we're gonna take offense when we're lumped together, and try to clarify our stances.
posted by mhz at 7:47 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chabad has it's own set of problems that it would like to ignore, namely ex-gay therapy, sexual abuse, intimidation and exploitation of immigrant converts and BTs, divisiveness and violence about shomrim/shmira and whether or not the Rabbi is the messiah etc. So when we are talking about problems within the Hasidic world, yes we are talking about Chabad too. Most of my ex-Hasidic friends are former chabadniks, who describe horrific abuses and corruption. So no, you will not get an asterisk from me.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 7:52 AM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The entire attitude of saying "You don't speak for everyone! Not everyone had it so bad!" -- that response doesn't do anything to actually solve problems or help victims of abuse. If your main fear from Feldman's writing is that outsiders will think less of your relatively innocent community, then thank You-Know-Who that that's all you have to worry about.

People are trapped in awful lives they didn't choose. Saying "Well, that's sad for them, but my life/community/sect is great!" is not compassionate at all. The reputation or public perception of Hasidism can take the heat. It's taken heat for hundreds of years. Men, women and children who have suffered deserve more concern than the public image of Hasidism.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:06 AM on May 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


Chabad has its own set of problems, absolutely. I'll certainly give you the first two, and tell you that my own experiences are the opposite of the next two. I don't see how you can possibly group the last three together with the first four, which are attacks against the most vulnerable in the community, which is what this entire conversation is about, with the last three, but whatever.

I'm not going to argue that there is little acceptance, especially in the older generations, of homosexuality. While there has been sexual abuse (this just in: our community has sickos too!) I don't think it's covered up.

But you're addressing not my point, which at no point was meant to disregard your suffering: by implying that your experiences were the universal 'Hasidic' experience, you are implying that other women, who proudly wear the title 'Hasidic' [not Satmar] and feel the support of their families and communities, are somehow blind.
posted by mhz at 8:07 AM on May 23, 2012


I never implied that my experiences were the universal hasidic experience, EVER. My goal was to show that my experience is just as legitimate as Chaya's and that there is an entire spectum of experiences between and around the two of us. What Chaya did was misrepresent herself (by omitting identifying info about being chabad and BT/returned to the faith) and then claim to know about ALL CHASSIDIC WOMEN. Whereas I use pronouns such as 'I' not 'we' and speak only about myself and others like myself.

My point was never to prove the universality of any experience, but to point out the problems and fight whitewashing and PR. Chaya's essay does terrible damage in that it denies all the injustices and abuses that are being committed against innocent people within Hasidic communities every day. Had she written a personal essay about how she came to choose her specific brand of spirituality and why it makes HER happy I would have had the utmost respect for her. Instead she fell into the classic PR trap of "let's pretend it's all perfect so we don't look bad." The day people like you and Chaya start advocating for reform and change within Hasidic communities is the day I will have respect for your opinions.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 8:15 AM on May 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


overeducated_alligator, I hear you. The people suffering, trapped, are in a horrible situation. And I know that separating my group from another does nothing to help, and if people think that it's a smaller problem because of it, if it somehow decreases awareness, then it's a bad thing to do.

But you have to be coming from a pretty amazing place to have the moral authority to say that everyone in my community should be okay being disparaged. And nobody pretends that life is all peaches and roses in our community. But every time, every time!, someone makes a particular false claim about a group I'm in, when it's laziness stopping them from qualifying it, I'm going to defend myself.

I did not get involved in this conversation to start when it first hit metafilter a few weeks ago, because it does no good to deny any of it. It's true, and if the details weren't exactly true for Deborah, they're true for someone else.

It was after Chaya's answer that I joined, only to say where she may well be coming from.
posted by mhz at 8:16 AM on May 23, 2012


Whenever I see these types of conversations, I always drift off into the fantasy of a species on a lovely planet who learn to use their minds and live without the scourge of organized religion. Once homo sapien sapiens start blathering on about what "God" wants, I want to hurl. And dig this - I'm not an Atheist.
posted by dbiedny at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, Deborah, for saying you implied it. Maybe just the way I observed it being inferred by others.

And yes, there's clearly a huge spectrum of experiences, and yes, yours is probably more important to be known, because people are suffering. And yes, she should not be implying, and certainly not lying, that all is good.

But this thread here devolved into people calling into question the possibility that she could have gone to college, etc, and still be accepted into a Hasidic community. That's simply not true, and many people are inferring it from stories where Hasidic is used as the catch-all it simply isn't.
posted by mhz at 8:21 AM on May 23, 2012


Here's some interesting history and discussion of internal Satmar haredim/Kiryas Joel power struggles as narrated by the Kings County Supreme Court in 2007. (Note that in NY, the Supreme court is actually the trial and intermediate court. The high court is called the Court of Appeals.) There's been some subsequent activity, but after some brief browsing this decision seems especially useful as a backgrounder.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:25 AM on May 23, 2012


Tangentially, I'm Jewish (non-observant) and half Hungarian on my fathers side. If I recall correctly, both of my grandparents families were from Satmar or near it. (I can't recall which was which.) Both had a pretty unforgiving view of the culture....When Chabad proselytizers hear this is makes them twice as insistent...like I'm a special prize....always funny. Sorry, the family passed up the Original Flavor, a while back.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:30 AM on May 23, 2012


Former Modern Orthodox Jew here. I just want to emphasize how universal it is for those who leave Orthodoxy -- even Modern Orthodoxy -- to be dismissed as mentally ill or coming from dysfunctional families. Best case scenario is that they assume you left for the bacon and premarital sex.

I can confirm that Chabad is a sect wholly devoted to PR and missionary work. It's not just something that they do on the side, but the very focus of their leadership.

I lived in a Chabad house for a short time in college, and I witnessed how that Chabad rabbi and his wife operated. They pulled in as many Jews on campus as they possibly could, first to their house every Friday night with free food and (more importantly) free booze flowing liberally. They presented a completely nonjudgmental front and offered Judaism as something tolerant and wonderful. Once they started seeing repeat customers, though, they'd start working on them. They particularly went after students with poor social skills and few friends. Start getting them to follow one rule, then another. Eventually, they convinced some to become fully Orthodox and started giving them the real deal in private. Oh, they preach tolerance in public, but in private, the rabbi's wife would tell female students about how she gave up her promising career in music -- indeed any career -- when she became Orthodox. In private, when she knew they would go for it, she would tell them about all the other restrictions that are conveniently left out of the public narrative.

I'm in touch with literally hundreds of former Orthodox Jews, some Modern, many Hasidic (we have online groups now!) and many of them have stories like Deborah's. But many others have no dysfunction in their pasts OTHER than Orthodoxy. Some have been estranged from their families and even their children.
posted by callmejay at 8:39 AM on May 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


I can attest to the same process callmejay describes. Preach tolerance first, amend later. I have spent plenty of time in various chabad houses myself. Ask a chabad rabbi what he thinks about ex-satmars... you probably won't receive an answer. It's a target they haven't been trained to aim at; none of the usual BS works on an ex-Satmar so they just ignore us completely. They know we won't fall for the initial scam.

I have argued with many chabad rabbis and shluchim (missionaries) about this issue. I say ex-satmars should be just as welcomed if they really preach acceptance for all. But they feel we are a threat to the fresh meat they'd rather attract. It's hypocritical for chabadniks to claim they are better than satmar, then completely ignore the ex-satmars in their missionary work. If that was the case, they should be bending over backwards trying to show the satmars the true TORAH way.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 8:44 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yup... I think the rest of this thread after my "engage" comment pretty much proves my point. Nothing but shit slinging. How woukd the above conversation in anyway help a girl/woman stuck in such a situation? Seems like it would do nothing but prove her fear that she's got nothing but hate and anger from both sides waiting for her outside the protective confines of her culture. Sad.
posted by spicynuts at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2012


You think Deborah's radiating hate and anger toward girls who want to explore life outside the Satmar community? How so?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:26 AM on May 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure what spicynuts is referring to, but I can assure anyone looking for help getting out that there are active, welcoming, diverse groups of OTDers* out there as well as several organizations who exist to help people like you. Feel free to contact me by MeMail.

OTD stands for "Off the Derech," which means "Off the path." It's kind of a reclaimed term for how they refer to us.
posted by callmejay at 9:35 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pretending that the tone of this particular conversation (which has mainly been prettty civil) or that debates about religion in general will have more of an impact on Satmar women than the actual support and outreach that await them outside their community is pretty silly. I think that it's patronizing to imagine that their poor minds couldn't withstand Deborah answering a few questions here about her own beliefs and experiences...
posted by hermitosis at 9:59 AM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


...or that they wouldn't be very interested to hear them, even if they disagree.
posted by hermitosis at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2012


It's been mainly pretty civil because Taz stepped in.
posted by spicynuts at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2012


Oh, g-d, we're not gonna start slinging shit about when shit was slung, are we?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't get the point of engaging this conversation. It's a cult. Who's mind is going to get changed with this? It's going to be nothing but a shit slinging contest between people whose minds are already made up

How do you know this? People change their minds all the time. It is a mystery to me why people make this kind of claim that they don't. Maybe in the specific sense of two religious groups going at it, maybe very few people are going to change sides. But the audience for this debate is not an ingroup-one and these articles are contributing to all sorts of people's opinions, including people who have really never encountered the religious groups in question. So why on earth would anyone not want to correct misrepresentations they see when these arguments are out here for all the world to read?
posted by BibiRose at 10:23 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not only is the audience important, but I've personally seen people "in the cult" change their minds as the result of an argument with those who left. It's rare and it takes a while when it does happen, but it does happen.

Civility is overrated anyway. Most of the time it just helps the powerful.
posted by callmejay at 10:27 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


If changing a mind through arguing is rare, then why use that tactic at all? why not try something that would work better?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on May 23, 2012


I don't know of anything that works better.
posted by callmejay at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2012


A post has been created in MetaTalk about this thread. Welcome to Metafilter, Deborah Feldman. Hope you'll stick around for a while.
posted by zarq at 10:39 AM on May 23, 2012


Having grown up ultra-Orthodox, one thing that I can attest to, in terms of what keeps many people within the fold, is the element of what I guess you could call complacence.. Imagine having your whole life planned out for you: what and where you can eat, whom you can associate with, what you have to do every day, every week, etc. It probably sounds mind-numbing to those who haven't grown up with it or joined at a later point, but in some sense, it can be quite comforting to not have to make major philosophical life decisions because those decisions have been made for you by a bunch of rabbis and texts. Combine that with a really strong sense of a global community, and you can see why for many people questioning Orthodoxy isn't really something that would necessarily come to them by themselves.

That said, the same complacency makes things quite difficult for those who do have a problem conforming. As others have said, when someone chooses to leave the community, there's often a sense of "Why would do that? Can't you just play along? You must really like sex and drugs and bacon," rather than an acknowledgment that living with intellectual integrity is something important in its own right. In my experience, anyway.

I wonder sometimes if the reason that some people become Orthodox is the relief that comes with not having to think critically anymore, with having a set of beliefs and practices that you can master and call your own, no matter how bizarre or esoteric they might've once seemed.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:49 AM on May 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jay: your experience to the contrary, I find civility works quite well, personally.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say civility can't or doesn't work and I tend to be civil myself. My point, perhaps badly made, is that the ideal of civility is often used to quash debate, debate which might have proven useful. It's quite common for people who criticize religion (or government or a school administration or a company) to be dismissed as "uncivil" or "angry" or "hateful," legitimate grievances completely ignored.

It's Derailing 101
You've Lost Your Temper So I Don't Have To Listen To You Anymore

This one is particularly effective because it really pushes home a sense of futility and hopelessness to the Marginalised Person™. Remember they should never get the impression they can win one of these arguments, because you should be consistently implying that there was never anything to argue over to begin with.
If you’ve been following the steps correctly so far, by this point any reasonable person is going to be feeling pretty angry. This anger could lead to them being more aggressive and abrasive. The Marginalised Person™ has possibly even decided that you’re simply too obnoxious to waste patience on and is venting their sense of frustration.

This is when you whip this step out!

You can use it to disregard everything they’ve said to you and just not deal with the issue, in particular ignoring your prior behaviour that led to the anger. Conventions of social conduct hold civil discourse as the ideal at all times. When people get angry, it gives you a convenient “out” without having to concede to any of their objections or acknowledge their pain.

Furthermore, with this one you can make it seem as though you were ready and willing to listen, but then they ruined it. This way you can leave them with the sense that if only they’d been a good little Marginalised Person™ and toed the line, then they may have won someone over to the cause!

It just adds a particular distaste to the whole affair that no derailing should be without!
posted by callmejay at 11:02 AM on May 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Civility is overrated anyway. Most of the time it just helps the powerful.

Bingo. One of the best ways to avoid addressing the meat of an argument is to take vocal offense at the way the argument is being made. There's always something to be picked at. If that fails, the argument itself can always be labelled as "offensive". Meanwhile, nobody's talking about the points made or the situation at hand, both of which are clearly less important than having yet another meta-argument about whether "incivil" people should be allowed to bring them up...
posted by vorfeed at 11:07 AM on May 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also active in this thread and in the general response to Ms. Feldman are "Your Experience Is Not Representative Of Everyone," "Unless You Can Prove Your Experience Is Widespread I Won't Believe It," "I Don't Think You're As Marginalised As You Claim," and even a little "Aren't You Treating Each Other Worse Anyway?"
posted by callmejay at 11:08 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


vorfeed: " Bingo. One of the best ways to avoid addressing the meat of an argument is to take vocal offense at the way the argument is being made. There's always something to be picked at. If that fails, the argument itself can always be labelled as "offensive". Meanwhile, nobody's talking about the points made or the situation at hand, both of which are clearly less important than having yet another meta-argument about whether "incivil" people should be allowed to bring them up..."

Chalk me up on the side that does not see why people can't be polite to one another here, and discuss this situation like civilized human beings. The ruder we are to each other, the harder it is to have a productive discussion.
posted by zarq at 11:24 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


My point, perhaps badly made, is that the ideal of civility is often used to quash debate, debate which might have proven useful. It's quite common for people who criticize religion (or government or a school administration or a company) to be dismissed as "uncivil" or "angry" or "hateful," legitimate grievances completely ignored.

Ah, okay. I think I'm looking at things from the other end: while I do agree that yeah, sometimes there are people who play the "I'm going to accuse you of being rude to get out of this conversation" card, there are also people whose version of "arguing" actually is genuinely rude (Westboro Baptists is an obvious, albeit extreme, example), and thus it's no surprise that people would want to avoid engaging in dialogue with them.

I suspect you've had a few too many run-ins with Boys Who Cried Rude, so to speak, while I for my part have had a few too many run-ins with The Genuinely Rude. The truth is, as ever, somewhere in the middle where we're both part right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


BTW, this film (Kickstarter link) looks like a potentially interesting take on joining and leaving Orthodoxy.
posted by greatgefilte at 11:41 AM on May 23, 2012


I suspect you've had a few too many run-ins with Boys Who Cried Rude, so to speak, while I for my part have had a few too many run-ins with The Genuinely Rude. The truth is, as ever, somewhere in the middle where we're both part right.

Good analysis.
posted by callmejay at 11:44 AM on May 23, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: " I suspect you've had a few too many run-ins with Boys Who Cried Rude, so to speak, while I for my part have had a few too many run-ins with The Genuinely Rude. The truth is, as ever, somewhere in the middle where we're both part right."

That was well said.
posted by zarq at 11:51 AM on May 23, 2012


Thanks, gents.

So I guess the next question, if the problem is one of "some people accuse their detractors of being rude to get out of an argument vs. other people really are rude," then: what do you do then?

For my part, I just continue to be civil (or, at least, to not be one of the Genuinely Rude). Because I may still get people who accuse me of being rude nevertheless, but if I really am being civil, at least I know that their accusations are coming from their own head as opposed to my actions, and the third-party observer is going to agree with me on that. So I may not have convinced The Guy Who Cried Rude, but I may have convinced The Guy Who Was Just Watching.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on May 23, 2012


So I guess the next question, if the problem is one of "some people accuse their detractors of being rude to get out of an argument vs. other people really are rude," then: what do you do then?

i_aint_even_mad.jpg

Barring that, I remember cortex was once faced with similar accusations, and his response was something to the effect of "it'd be great if we could talk less about how I'm feeling and more about X. To that end," and so on. Neatly closes the subject and points out "hey, I see what you're trying to do and it won't work" while allowing the discussion to continue.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:10 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I try to maintain a basic level of civility, but there's only so much energy that I'm going to put into being Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Since The Guy Who Cried Rude isn't concerned with your behavior so much as finding an excuse to derail you, it's more important to just stay focused than to preempt his every possible objection... which I have failed at in this very thread!
posted by callmejay at 12:24 PM on May 23, 2012


So I guess the next question, if the problem is one of "some people accuse their detractors of being rude to get out of an argument vs. other people really are rude," then: what do you do then?

You point out that being "rude" does not invalidate an argument, whether the rudeness is genuine or not. I can see why people choose not to engage with the genuinely-rude, but that's different from engaging with the rudeness rather than the argument, or from declaring that the content of the argument is inherently rude. For example, the arguments of Westboro Baptist et al are easy to counter, such as they are -- flapping our hands about how rude they are and how-dare-they etc actually gives them a pass on that, along with attention their argument doesn't deserve. Groups like these would have little or no power without the idea that politeness is more important than reality.
posted by vorfeed at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


See also: dismissal of 'angry' blacks and 'hysterical' feminists. It's an extremely common tactic.

Indeed, in a heavily loaded argument it's probable that the people involved will perceive the other side as unreasonable, precisely because the other side's version of 'reason' doesn't match up with their own. Pointing to anger, rudeness, etc, is just a way of providing a _reason_ for that perceived unreasonableness, and thus a convenient way to ignore the opposition.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:02 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: " So I guess the next question, if the problem is one of "some people accuse their detractors of being rude to get out of an argument vs. other people really are rude," then: what do you do then?"

Focus on what's important. Address other people's concerns politely and then return to focusing on what's important. Drag them back to the crux of the problem.

I watched my son do something really interesting this weekend. He's four years old, and his sister's the same age. She's playing quietly with a toy he wants. He picks up a toy she likes to play with, walks over to her and says, "Here you go. You can play with this!" And then takes the other toy out of her hands as she reaches for his alternative. Totally pulled a switcheroo on her without her realizing.

I watched him do it two or three times before she caught on and said, "No!" He tried doing it to me, too.

The Satmars seem to feel that if they can cast doubt on small, mostly-meaningless details, they can conceivably cast doubt on everything Feldman says. Then they can ignore and dismiss her more devastating accusations. "Nothing to see here, but here you go. You can play with focus on this!"

I posted this in the meta:

At the end of February, Jesse Kornbluth of headbutler reviewed the book. He then received a number of emails from people within the Satmar community about it. He posted a followup that included this:

"What's fascinating to me in all this is that the Satmars only want to engage on the smallest points:, like where Feldman went to school and the technicalities of her mother's divorce, I've received not a word of protest about the conclusion of my review, which was, I thought, the most damning:
"The real issue is sex. Not the act, but what it signifies --- male control of women. That old story. We see it in far too many places; dehumanizing women is a key component of fundamentalist cults, from hardcore Muslims to certain Republicans.

Men who oppress women --- they say they love them, but it seems more like they fear and hate them --- haven't been taught that sex is our reward for making it through the day. Like their women, these men have been sold the idea that sex is just for procreation. No wonder they feel like they're the ones who are oppressed.

There are claims in this book that Hasids have disputed. I can't tell what's true. But I'm sure of one thing: Men who can't live equally with women aren't worth living with."
Why didn't the Satmars take me on about the blatant sexism that oppresses both women and men in their community? I can only conclude this: It's a problem for Deborah Feldman --- not for them"

posted by zarq at 1:03 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm....not sure what you're getting at.

I was only responding to callmejay saying "I don't think civility works," but he was saying that because he was coming from a position of "fuck it, I've seen too many people go all 'oh you're just being insulting' rather than engaging in an argument and that sucks." From my perspective, though, it looked like he was saying "fuck being nice because that's wimpy" because I've seen too many discussions go south when people try to 'argue' by saying 'you're stupid and what you believe in makes you ignorant and you all think the same thing,' and I know that that doesn't work either because it just makes them look wrong and mean.

But, we actually both explained our perspective, and both realized "oh, THAT'S what you meant, okay I think we're both on the same page then," and everything was great. Which is actually kind of how I wish a lot more discussions went on here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:06 PM on May 23, 2012


I've been quietly reading along within this thread, as well as the one in MetaTalk. And there was some point in my head that I wanted to argue, but couldn't really make it concrete until I read something that Zarq said over on MeTa. And, so, here's my opinion on this situation.

From what I've read, it does not ever appear that Feldman is trying to speak for Hasidic women as a whole. Yet, lots of orthodox Jews are very, very upset at her words. They're blaming her for saying that all women, all children, are faced with these kinds of problems. It doesn't make sense that the backlash would surround a rally of "not everyone is like that!", when 'everyone' wasn't brought into the picture by Feldman. The public, however, is viewing Feldman's story as a blanket truth for everyone involved in the faith. It doesn't make sense to me to get upset with Feldman, not for how she's portraying something, but for the way her article is being interpreted.

Even Chaya realizes that this is the main issue, to some extent. She addresses, first and foremost, how Women's Media is quick to take one incident, one account, a collection of accounts, whatever, and then spread it over the entire community like an evil black cloud of truth, that is real for everyone regardless of anything.

TL;DR: When the public assumes any amount of individual accounts speak the whole truth for a larger group, you can't really blame the messenger.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:06 PM on May 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Whoops, that last comment was to vorfeed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:06 PM on May 23, 2012


The problem with judging arguments on civility is that you can say the most horrible things and stay within the bounds of civility.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:52 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


....Perhaps we all have different definitions of "civility," then, as I would disagree with that premise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:55 PM on May 23, 2012


What I'm getting at is this: whether a given argument "works" can be an interesting discussion, but it is not a replacement for discussing the issue itself, in all its civility or incivility. As zarq points out above, Feldman's opponents seem to be too busy playing referee to actually address the meat of her argument, and I see this all over the internet -- points which approach controversial topics are too often ignored or dismissed in favor of a meta-argument about how the topic should best be approached (which amounts to "never", since subsequent discussion is likely to be deflected into this same meta-argument).

In all actuality, metafilter is both heavily moderated and quite civil. We should be able to talk about controversial issues here, so the fact that we often forgo that in favor of talking-about-talking-about-(some)-controversial-issues is a shame.
posted by vorfeed at 2:26 PM on May 23, 2012


FirstMateKate: It doesn't make sense to me to get upset with Feldman, not for how she's portraying something, but for the way her article is being interpreted.

Me either. I've been following the comments here since yesterday and I'm finding this whole subject interesting and fascinating. Also shocking in the details of insular jewish communities like this repressing women. I commend Deborah Feldman for having the bravery to defend herself publicly.
posted by Catblack at 2:38 PM on May 23, 2012


What I'm getting at is this: whether a given argument "works" can be an interesting discussion, but it is not a replacement for discussing the issue itself, in all its civility or incivility.

Ah, gotcha.

In all actuality, metafilter is both heavily moderated and quite civil. We should be able to talk about controversial issues here, so the fact that we often forgo that in favor of talking-about-talking-about-(some)-controversial-issues is a shame.

I agree; but it should be noted that I most often see such conversations come up when someone is either getting closed to or has crossed a line in a discussion and gotten heated themselves, and other people in the thread are advising them to take a deep breath and dial it back a scoche maybe -- and often the first person then retorts that being civil is a fools' game, and off we go. We often get it right, though, you're right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:38 PM on May 23, 2012


Here we go again.

On the problem of abuse: well-known in the community, but rarely discussed. Harry Maryles (runs the blog emes v-emunah, "truth and spirit"), an Orthodox Rabbi, has been trying to get people to speak up about sexual abuse and to stop shrouding it (throughout the Jewish community). I don't agree with him all that often, but he has my eternal respect for that.

Okay, so if we wanted to quibble about the dual nature of Judaism, I'd be fine with that. Sure. It is an ethnic identity as well as a religion. Done and done. No controversy there.

On Judaism as a faith-baised religion: Judaism isn't faith-based in that believing/not believing isn't key. In fact, ideally, you should KNOW God rather than BELIEVE him (e.g. logic versus belief, with logic prized), and many Jewish philosophers deny that "Jewish theology" even exists--until recently, it was Maimonides 13 Principles, plus or minus mysticism as you saw fit. Discussing the nature of God Himself was mostly a waste of time, and this tendency increased post-Holocaust.

Secondly, Judaism is predominantly a religion of correct action (orthopraxy), not correct belief (orthodoxy). Doubting is fine, breaking Shabbos less so.

About Chabad being messianic: Feldman's portrayal is not entirely fair, but it is true that considerable numbers of Chabadniks, to this day, believe that the Rebbe was/is/could have been the Messiah. I can't say how overwhelming the numbers are, as I haven't seen any recent data.

About Chabad and outreach (kiruv): true. I know 2 people who became intense Chabadniks in my city. That said, Chabad events tend to be overwhelmingly "students getting drunk at Shabbos, then they go outside and go to a club and use their cellphone." A Chabad Rabbi in my... region caused a serious fracas when it was found out that he was suggesting that intermarried couples convert, without kabbalat mitzvot (accepting the yoke of the commandments--remember, orthopraxy!), so the 'evangelism' line is drawn firmly at Jews. That said, Chabad will usually accept people-who-are-trying-to-convert.

About Satmar: Well known as being a very stringent sect. Women shave their head after marriage, lest one strand be visible otherwise. Etc. ETc. Very woman unfriendly. Famously, a Hasidic neighbourhood in Jerusalem (with a strong Satmar presence) will throw rocks and glue at you if they don't feel you belong. I do not doubt that Ms Feldman had a horrible time there, and I refuse to attack her account.

About Orthodoxy versus Ultra-Orthodoxy versus Chassidim/Hassidim: Imagine a spectrum, with Satmar on the left and Reform on the right. As you move to the right, 'denominational' (terrible word) differences start mattering a lot less to you (your Reform shul does X instead of Y? Not to my taste, but OK!), but at the left, they are huge (you eat gebrokes on Passover? That's a problem!). "Hasidim" ("pious ones," a sarcastic name given by their opponents, refers to the people) and "Hasidism (the movement) are mystical Jews who tend to follow Rabbinic dynasties. Haredim (often translated as 'ultra-Orthodox') usually means the anti-mystical Mitnagdim ("opponents," of Hasidism). These two groups hated each other for a very, very long time, and their practices still tend to be very different. These people Did Not Take The "Jewish Enlightenment" Well (1800s), and their general reaction to modernity was "hell no, we won't go." This extends to their current viewpoints, and why they wear clothing from the 'old country' (the bekishes and shtreimlach), to signify that they follow the old ways.

Then you have 'mainstream' Orthodox, whose approach to modernity is 'it ain't evil, but it ain't necessarily good, either.' They might go to secular universities to get jobs (I know a Rebbetzin, a Rabbi's wife, who is a great programmer), but tend to stay within the Jewish educational system. They probably won't have much in the way of secular media in the house. Beards tend to be trim (you can 'trim,' but not 'destroy'). Women tend to drive. Family sizes vary greatly.

Then you have 'modern Orthodox,' which is all about reconciling modernity and orthodoxy. TVs in home? Maybe, it depends. (A certain hockey-obsessed Rabbi I know has one for sure). Women probably have secular degrees, or moderately useful/pragmatic degrees from Jewish universities (the New York stereotype is 'speech pathology'). On the liberal end of the spectrum, modesty standards are relaxed, but they still tend to be strict about things like kashrus and Shabbos (as opposite to modern Orthodoxy's next-door neighbour, Conservative Judaism, who isn't necessarily AS concerned--although this varies a lot in the US). Family sizes tend to be small.

Chabad is Hasidic. It is also very unlike most other Hasidic groups. A thorough appreciation of technology, but only of Jewish media. Globalized and hip, but strict and still going through tumult over Schneerson's death.

Flunkie: for the love of God and all things holy, do not start pulling Bible quotes out of the air unless you're willing to learn the Gemara on that line as well. There is a HUGE, HUUUUGE body of literature that defines Jewish laws (if you can read it in 7 years of daily study, you're considered to have done well!), most of which cannot be derived from the Bible itself. Orthodoxy claims that this second, Oral Torah was given to Moses, and passed down orally until problems with the Romans necessitated writing it down. (If you want, the first bit of the Pirkei Avot lists the supposed oral lineage.) So you really can't understand the Jewish understanding of the world by pulling out Bible verses and going 'fuck they are barbaric.'

The halacha on that passage, by the way, is "no, the girl--or her father--can decide against the marriage." The Gemara passage is Ketubot 40a.

About Orthodox dating: And in non-Hasidic, non-Haredi groups, physical attraction is deemed important. Here's how shidduch dating works (as opposed to Hasidic arranged marriages): you go to a matchmaker (no fucking Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl, so help me). You hand in your 'shidduch resume,' which lists everything about you (what schools, what Rabbis, what neighbourhoods you want to live in, what's your stance on X, Y, Z, what you're looking for), then the shadchan (matchmaker, 'shad-hhhhan') sets you up on dates. (Meanwhile, every Jew for 50 miles is also looking to set you up on dates). The first date is usually 3 hours of talking about everything--how many kids, etc.--and is a general compatibility/romantic potential/attractiveness test. Then you report back to the shadchan, and if both parties OK another date, another date happens. Then you have more dates that involve talking about everything, and everything, and everything. (If you're very modern, one of these might wind up being a 'tfillin date,' so called because the fellow has to bring his tefillin over for the next morning, as he won't be at home--hint, hint). Engagement and marriage happens when you've both decided.

Recently, lots of Jewish orthodox dating sites have popped up (sawyouatsinai, frumster, etc.), which attempt to cut out the shadchan. Chabad has one of its own, as well. Most Hasidic and Haredi groups, however, ban the internet or heavily censor it (check vosizneias for your 'just barely allowed to use the internet' perspective), so they do in-person matchmaking, arranged marriages, or special video conference calls that boast of being able to include the singles' parents. (Check the comments there--almost uniformly negative).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:40 PM on May 23, 2012 [29 favorites]


flibbertigibbet, thanks so much for thoroughly clarifying the situation.

And this: "(no fucking Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl, so help me)." made me laugh out loud. :D
posted by zarq at 3:47 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, again: my post does not serve to diminish or deny anything Deborah Feldman has stated (my statement about her stance on Chabad being 'not entirely fair' was about how messianic they were in her original response to Chaya's article, not about potential abuses or corruptions of the system, and was merely a quibble). I thank her for taking time to comment here, and I wish her the best.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:23 PM on May 23, 2012


I figure you can't have a religion in which men daily thank their deity that they weren't born women and not have some pretty serious misogyny built in.
Is this referring to something specific? An actual prayer that they're supposed to do daily? If so, what is that, please?
binding arbitration agreements are signed before marriage that agree to take all divorce and custody matters to rabbinical courts that are completely sanctioned (meaning they have full legal jurisdiction) by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That... shouldn't be allowed.
Flunkie: for the love of God and all things holy, do not start pulling Bible quotes out of the air unless you're willing to learn the Gemara on that line as well. There is a HUGE, HUUUUGE body of literature that defines Jewish laws (if you can read it in 7 years of daily study, you're considered to have done well!), most of which (...)
Ummm, it was a question (actually two). Maybe you could try answering it instead of telling me not to ask it? I'm aware of the existence of non-Biblical stuff, I'm just not familiar with it. What specifically is she referring to when she says the law says you must be attracted to the person you marry, and how, if at all, are other instructions like "you must marry this particular person" fit into that?
posted by Flunkie at 4:55 PM on May 23, 2012


Deborah, if you're still reading this I'd like to ask:
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on May 23, 2012


From what I've read, it does not ever appear that Feldman is trying to speak for Hasidic women as a whole.

It's not made clear that she isn't, either, as I recall the book; I recall it implying that her story is true (not in the literal details) for a large majority of women in her community, and it not being clear about what community it was (all Hasids? just Satmar?)

I could be wrong about the book; it was clearly aimed at someone who isn't me. (That said, I will probably pick up another book by her.)

Is this referring to something specific? An actual prayer that they're supposed to do daily? If so, what is that, please?

Yes, it's an actual prayer, said daily. The similar one for women is "Thank you for making me as you saw fit.
posted by jeather at 5:00 PM on May 23, 2012


I just want to emphasize how universal it is for those who leave Orthodoxy -- even Modern Orthodoxy -- to be dismissed as mentally ill or coming from dysfunctional families.

eh. That is very much not my experience as someone raised Modern Orthodox (went to Jewish day schools K-12, prominent & involved family in the community, etc) and who detached from it all after I started college and left to do other things. I didn't really get shit for it, and certainly was not shunned or treated poorly.

But I also don't harbor any ill feelings toward Modern Orthodoxy or my hometown community (unlike a lot of "off the derech" folks I know). I just didn't feel moved to be religiously observant, and so I stopped when I became an adult and moved out of my parents' house. I go through some of the motions when with my family during holidays without complaint, and then move on. Leaving the fold is not universally that dramatic or traumatic.
posted by lullaby at 5:29 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Joe from Australia,

As far as I know none of the women I went to high school with went on to further their education. I believe a small percentage of them (somewhere around 10%) went on to hold jobs like teaching (allowed) wig-styling (allowed) clothes-making (allowed) and similar occupations.

The way Satmar works financially:

There are a few major industries (construction, construction supplies, gemstones, real-estate flipping, b&h(!), and more) that are run by prominent and powerful hasidic Jews. These companies employ lower-ranking, less powerful hasidic Jews, and pay them a weekly "off the books" salary that is deposited not in a bank, but in a gemach. A gemach looks like a non-profit free-loan society on paper, but is essentially a bank for Hasidic Jews with which to launder money.

Because hasidic Jews don't make their money "on the books" they don't pay taxes, and they are eligible for all sorts of funding because of their large families. The Hasidic community has an organization specifically designed to target all the possible funding programs and write the approriate grants necessary to milk them dry. They also have people who will assist members of the Hasidic community in applying for these grants and programs in such a way as to prevent them from being rejected.

They justify this attitude with the Torah. The torah enjoins them to act honestly and ethically, but Hasidic Jews claim this law only applies amongst their own. The government is the GOYish enemy and it's alright to deceive them.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 5:40 PM on May 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Deborah, thanks for the response. About the finances, is this something you know, and if so, how is it that you know it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:26 PM on May 23, 2012


Because when I lived there, I worked as a teacher, I was paid off the books, and put my money in a gemach, etc. Everyone I knew did the same.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 4:09 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for answering questions, Deborah, it's much appreciated, especially when the topic is so personal and heated for many people. This bit:

The government is the GOYish enemy and it's alright to deceive them.

... reminds me of the attitude of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints cult. It'd be interesting to do a study on the shared tactics insular groups use to manage and interpret their unavoidable interactions with modern life.
posted by harriet vane at 5:05 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem I have with Deborah_Feldman's statements here, and her interview in xoJane, is that while she has a problem with other Hasidic women making statements for all Hasidic women when they only have their own experience to go on, she continually makes statements that imply application to all Hasidic sects, when she only has her own experience within Satmar to go on. This is like extrapolating from one's own experience in the CIA to every "government agency."

Let's look at the damning list of what "Hasidic women" are not allowed to do:
Driving: Hasidic women are not allowed behind the wheel
Education: Hasidic women do not receive high school diplomas. The word college was censored from our textbooks.
Dating: Hasidic women are not allowed to get to know their prospective spouses, or choose between a selection. They are assigned one future husband and are permitted to meet them once or twice, for a short and supervised period, before the wedding.
Sex Education: I was never taught about sex or sexually transmitted diseases
Privacy: The Rabbis and Mikva Attendants had to be involved in the most intimate details of my private life, including but not limited to the stains on my underwear.
Lack of Birth Control: Hasidic Women are not allowed to make decisions regarding reproduction
Safe Circumcision: I was not allowed to attend my son’s Bris, nor was I permitted any input as to who was to perform the procedure or the manner in which it was conducted. Thank goodness it wasn’t my baby that died of herpes or had his bandages wrapped so tightly they cut off all his circulation.
None of these items are true of Lubavitch Jewish women. My Lubavitch female friends drive. They receive high school diplomas. They are educated post-high-school. They date multiple men before choosing one to marry. The ones I know teach their daughters about sex (if on a delayed schedule compared to the usual secular one that I will be using with my daughters). I know more than one who has taken birth control, as a personal decision in order to time the arrival of children, including one who did it in order to get her BA beforehand. They DEFINITELY are present at their sons' brises, and they choose the mohel.

I thought maybe the issue was that D_F did not consider Lubavitchers to be Hasidic. But in response to a comment here that she should make that distinction more explicit, she wrote, "when we are talking about problems within the Hasidic world, yes we are talking about Chabad too."

She should stop talking about "Hasidim" and start talking about "Satmar," because that's what she's familiar with -- just like Lubavitch women should defend Chabad, if that's what they want to do, and not suggest that they have insight into D_F's very different experience.

I guess I should clarify that I'm a secular Jew, with a non-Jewish father and a non-Jewish husband (and several children who are either one-quarter or 100% Jewish, depending on who's doing the calculation). I hope this absolves me of the accusation of being part of the "waves of Hasidic people showing up to repeat the same baseless attacks."
posted by palliser at 6:20 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


palliser, I don't see anything in what you wrote that constitutes an attack, period.

One thing I'll say from interviewing Deborah and attending a bunch of her events -- she uses the word "Satmar" a lot. She does discuss Hasidism and refers to her upbringing as Hasidic, but she seems to very consciously pepper her speech with things like "in my community" or "the women of Satmar," etc.

I think it's a big challenge to be able to speak clearly and specifically about exactly who you're talking about 100% of the time, because so much depends on who you're speaking to. Many of the people who read Deborah's book may be unfamiliar with the concept of Hasidism altogether, meanwhile it's also being devoured by people who are Jewish or who are Hasidic themselves.

Deborah tends to speak mainly in terms of her own experience, although clearly she has observed much, and shared stories with a great many people from all sects and in various states of contentment within their religious communities. The fact that someone of her age has been able to navigate this subject so successfully across so many media blows my mind.
posted by hermitosis at 6:41 AM on May 24, 2012


Palliser, if you go back to the original comment you quoted from, you will see that I prefaced that list with the phrase "Here are some of the things I felt deprived of." I suppose you convenient overlooked that significant qualifying introduction.

That comment was written in response to an article in which every sentence was started with WE. I wanted to make it very clear that I was not a part of that collective WE that Chaya was so arrogantly referring to, because yes, she is certainly guilty of the accusation you would lob at me, of blatantly trying to speak for all chassidic women by FAILING to identify herself as Chabad in an attempt to deceiver her audience as to her credibility. Had she bothered to add her own qualifying introduction, which might not have included some salient details of her life (such as she formerly identified as QUEER but joined a Hasidic sect notorious for ex-Gay conversions, or that the wife of the man she is now married too was bitterly shunned and abused by her community) but at the very least stated her basic status as a Hasidic woman, and refrained from using collective pronouns, I would have had no reason to respond except to tip my hat in respect.
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 6:52 AM on May 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/24/living/orthodox-internet-rally/index.html

In response to all this hullabaloo...
posted by Deborah_Feldman at 8:06 AM on May 24, 2012


Deborah_Feldman: " A gemach looks like a non-profit free-loan society on paper, but is essentially a bank for Hasidic Jews with which to launder money."

I know you qualified this, but I'd like to emphasize to anyone reading this that most Jewish communities that use a gemach system probably do so honestly. They provide short-term loans of money, items or both, without charging interest and without breaking the law. A gemach can provide financial assistance to people in need, may loan medical equipment for use in an emergency, or simply loan out items for a one-time event -- say, extra chairs for an at-home wedding. Any member of the community may apply.

Gemach have advantages to Jews that a banking institution can't offer. Among them, no interest is being charged on any loan. (Jews aren't supposed to In most cases, the recipient does not know the donor. (One of Maimonides eight principles of charity.) The system lets people ask for assistance privately, without dealing with extensive credit checks and paperwork. and allows others to perform acts of charity more easily and support their fellow Jews in need -- both are religious requirements.

They're most frequently used by orthodox Jewish communities. However, this past December the NYTimes profiled a rabbi who runs a gemach in Atlanta for his non-Orthodox congregation
posted by zarq at 8:33 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry. Should have proofread. The sentence fragment in my last comment: "(Jews aren't supposed to" should be (Jews aren't supposed to charge interest of their fellow Jews. It's forbidden in Leviticus.)
posted by zarq at 8:36 AM on May 24, 2012


I must admit, I find it disturbing that Leviticus is being used as a behavioral guide.

How do Orthodox Jews rationalize ignoring the stonings and condemnation of homosexuality? If the book is divine, or divinely inspired, who are we to pick and choose what we like?
posted by PJLandis at 8:46 AM on May 24, 2012


PJLandis: " How do Orthodox Jews rationalize ignoring the stonings and condemnation of homosexuality? If the book is divine, or divinely inspired, who are we to pick and choose what we like?"

I know a number of gay orthodox Jews, but no Hasidic ones. They've all dealt with extensive homophobia and battled some unbelievably offensive stereotypes. Friends with a young son have found that there are families who refuse to let their children play with him. It's sad, and pathetic.

My impression is that homophobia is quite common throughout Hasidic communities. See the aforementioned movie, Trembling before G-d. Also Wrestling with G-d and Men and the nasty dustup when Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer, former principal and dean of Flatbush Yeshiva High School, outed himself and resigned. That "scandal" devolved into predictable, massive community homophobia in Brooklyn.
posted by zarq at 9:11 AM on May 24, 2012


If the book is divine, or divinely inspired, who are we to pick and choose what we like?

That's a very non-Jewish way of talking about religious texts.

Of course, as it turns out, many (most?) Orthodox Jews just so happen to choose the condemnation route. But it's not because there is no other way to be religious and Jewish, it's because they are homophobes.
posted by jeather at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


PJLandis, this goes back to what flibbertigibbet was saying to Flunkie before. Notably: "do not start pulling Bible quotes out of the air unless you're willing to learn the Gemara on that line as well. There is a HUGE, HUUUUGE body of literature that defines Jewish laws (if you can read it in 7 years of daily study, you're considered to have done well!), most of which cannot be derived from the Bible itself."

If an Orthodox Jew were to, say, observe another Jew violating the sabbath and take it upon himself to stone the violator to death, there is no Jewish authority who would consider that morally acceptable. The death penalty in the Torah is much more complex than that. Talking about Leviticus being used as behavioral guide among Orthodox Jews and taking it completely literally is missing most of the picture.
posted by lullaby at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


How do Orthodox Jews rationalize ignoring the stonings and condemnation of homosexuality? If the book is divine, or divinely inspired, who are we to pick and choose what we like?

Centuries of "Oral Law." All punishments in the Torah are to be carried out only by Jewish courts, and Jewish courts were known for hardly ever executing anybody by raising the standards of conviction so high as to be nearly unreachable.

That's how they rationalize ignoring the stonings. Rationalizing the condemnation is much harder. Many OJs don't bother and simply accept that God thinks homosexuality is an abomination. Many others take a "hate the sin, not the sinner" approach, which goes hand-in-hand with either "gay is a choice" or "everybody has temptations towards different sins." A more liberal approach (within OJ, but on the leftward fringe) is to say that Leviticus is referring only to anal sex.

It's tricky, because to be considered Orthodox, you really can't question that God Himself wrote Leviticus. So there's really only so far they can rationalize.
posted by callmejay at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think claiming that you need some kind of special education to understand the book is ridiculous. If your copy doesn't include those stonings, please enlighten me, but my King James definitely exhorts me to stone people for murder in almost exactly the same language used to encourage stoning for many things I'm surprised god even decided to mention.

Either it's the word of god, or it's not, I don't see why the Jewish authority agreeing or disagreeing changes whether a book written by, or on behalf of, god condones the behavior or not.

In some way they are choosing certain passages over others, or interpreting some as literal and others as metaphorical, I'm just wondering if there is a guide or if it's simply by fiat.
posted by PJLandis at 11:14 AM on May 24, 2012


I think claiming that you need some kind of special education to understand the book is ridiculous.

You're not just claiming to understand "the book," though. You're claiming to understand what Orthodox Judaism really requires. And reading "the book" isn't going to do that, because "the book" isn't the only text believed by Orthodox Jews to be divinely inspired.
posted by palliser at 12:15 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Palliser, if you go back to the original comment you quoted from, you will see that I prefaced that list with the phrase "Here are some of the things I felt deprived of." I suppose you convenient overlooked that significant qualifying introduction.

I don't get it -- "I felt deprived of driving. Hasidic women are not allowed behind the wheel" is not supposed to be a general statement about the rules for Hasidic women, in addition to stating how it made you feel? I think that's exactly what those words mean. I do understand what hermitosis is saying about how it's near-impossible to speak about the issues you're addressing without occasionally lapsing into more general language than is strictly accurate. But rather than getting defensive when these over-generalizations are pointed out, it might be worth just acknowledging that and trying to make distinctions where you can.
posted by palliser at 12:29 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But rather than getting defensive when these over-generalizations are pointed out, it might be worth just acknowledging that and trying to make distinctions where you can.

Again, I don't think the problem here is the fact that people are pointing out over-generalizations. The problem is that people are picking nits regarding the over-generalizations rather than addressing the problem of sex-based inequality, which does seem to generally apply among Hasidic Jews even if the exact parameters of that inequality may vary.
posted by vorfeed at 12:46 PM on May 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


PJLandis: "In some way they are choosing certain passages over others, or interpreting some as literal and others as metaphorical, I'm just wondering if there is a guide or if it's simply by fiat."

"By fiat" is... really, really not the Jewish way. And Judaism is not as literalist a religion in the sense you seem to be implying. Most Jews don't believe the Torah is the literal word of G-d. But even those sects that do still believe it must be interpreted by Jewish scholars, who then teach those lessons to others.

There's an old saying. Two Jews, Three Opinions. There are have literally been volumes of Jewish jokes written about the fact that as a people, we can't agree on anything. I KNOW it sounds like a stereotype, but this one is OH, SO TRUE: we seem to love to debate and argue and be skeptical about every issue. This is an idiosyncracy that extends to most if not all aspects of our religion, no matter your level of observance. The texts that interpret passages in the Torah are massive tomes. Studying and learning from them takes many years. Plus, as palliser mentions, there are texts that Orthodox Jews specifically believe to be divinely inspired. So they also have to be considered when you're trying to determine meaning.

Anyway, you asked about a guide. Each major sect of Judaism, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, has their own umbrella organizations that take positions on different issues and determine what emphasis they want their member synagogues and organizations to place on various rituals and traditions.

The Reform movement has the Union of Reform Judaism.
The Conservative movement has the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The Orthodox movement has the Orthodox Union.

So for example, for its member synagogues, the URJ de-emphasizes ritual, while emphasizing the importance of spiritual, social and ethical issues. It acts as a guide.

Here's where it gets hairy: a synagogue can choose whether or not they want to be a member of their umbrella organization. If they remain unaffiliated, they can still call themselves Conservative (or Reform, etc.) This allows them to modify their own rules and regulations as they see fit. There are Jewish schools which are governed by the URJ, the OU or the USCJ, and those that are pluralistic and not affiliated with a particular movement. Pluralistic schools teach a modified curriculum, and try not to step on anyone' toes. Because they probably have Jewish kids as students from homes of every level of religious observance. And there are sects within sects and some of them have their own umbrella organizations! The Reform movement has a few, as do the Orthodox. And each of them emphasize different values.

What sort of values? Let's take gay marriage as an example: The Reform movement is in favor of it. Rabbis can officiate at gay weddings. The Orthodox movement is against it, mostly. Rabbis shouldn't officiate at gay weddings. The Conservative movement is... um.... well, they can't agree on whether rabbis should or should not officiate. At all. 700 member synagogues, and to find out if your local Conservative synagogue will perform a gay marriage, you literally have to ask the rabbi.

Not only that, but every religious Jew maintains a specific level of observance. I personally keep a kosher home. Which means I have separate dishes and silverware for meat and dairy. But I only have one set of pots and pans. Some Jewish homes separate them, too. I only buy kosher meat, but it doesn't have to be "glatt" kosher. And I don't pay attention to whether my dairy is kosher or not. If a cheese isn't marked kosher, I don't care. This wouldn't be considered the "proper" way to keep kosher by the Conservative or Orthodox movements. But it works for me and my family. And no one is allowed to attempt to force me to change that.

Also, I don't observe the Sabbath. I don't go to synagogue every Saturday or at all on Fridays. I don't do a lot of things that other Conservative Jews do. But I go to a Conservative synagogue and identify as a Conservative Jew. No one pressures me to be a better Jew or to be more observant. In fact, I'd be highly offended if they tried. My religion, what I believe and how I choose to live my life are no one's business but mine.

Metaphorically-speaking, Judaism accepts that we are all on a path of sorts, and different people are at a specific place on that path. It's our responsibility alone to traverse it.

So as a people, we Jews are hard to pigeonhole. Each sect believes differently, emphasizes and diminishes the value and importance of certain traditions. Take a single prayer and ask a rabbi from each movement what it means, and you'll get a bunch of different opinions. As Jews, we are supposed to take that information and not follow it blindly but rather, thoughtfully draw our own conclusions.

Why aren't we stoning people anymore? Because we (even the Orthodox) don't follow our religion blindly.We think about every aspect of it, debate it to death, and then the rabbis decide what they think is appropriate for us. And then non-rabbis make their own decisions. This process happens a little less in a more tightly structured environment, like an Hareidi community. But it still happens.

I'm sorry this is so rambly. But does it make sense?
posted by zarq at 1:10 PM on May 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Couple of other things... all that I mentioned above about the umbrella organizations? It only applies to American Judaism. Also there is a major, recognized geographic, cultural division between Jews, too. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Each with their own liturgy, rituals, traditions, halacha (rules) and cultural emphases.

It's complicated. :)
posted by zarq at 1:23 PM on May 24, 2012


It sounds like you've got a man-made tradition to me, defined by different people as their conscience deems fit.

Why even bother with the Torah as anything more than historical fiction and good advice?
posted by PJLandis at 1:25 PM on May 24, 2012


Oops, not "good advice"...just advice.
posted by PJLandis at 1:30 PM on May 24, 2012


Either it's the word of god, or it's not, I don't see why the Jewish authority agreeing or disagreeing changes whether a book written by, or on behalf of, god condones the behavior or not.

OK. Step-by-step:

1) As far as Orthodox Jews are considered, the Gemara does not constitute changes, merely explanation for the relatively short Torah that was given to Moses, directly by God, at the same time as the Torah.

2) There's a principle in Jewish law that, if a debate happens, majority rules (derived from Exodus 23:2, and Deuteronomy 30:12). There's a famous debate in the Talmud (the Gemara I was discussing above).
Rabbi A says, "Seriously guys, I'm right here. I know I'm right about this."
Rabbis B-Z say: "Well, we disagree, so tough."
Rabbi A says, "I'm so right, I'm going to cause miracles to happen to prove my rightness."
Rabbis B-Z: "Nice miracles, but: Meh."
Rabbi A: "And I will call down God to agree with me."
Rabbis B-Z: "Hey God. You wrote that majority rules IN THE TORAH, and that after Sinai the law will not come from Heaven. We win."

And God was so delighted that his children bested him with his own covenant (not "instructions to humans," but "covenant") that he laughed with joy.

3) I'm just wondering if there is a guide

Yes. There are a few famous interpretive schemas (most famously, the semi-lost 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer, the 7 rules of Hillel, and the 13 rules of Rabbi Ishmael) for determining how to interpret the Hebrew. And here I emphasize: THE HEBREW. Not the KJV (good god do I hate the KJV in so many different ways--it's translation of John 3:16 is so old that it is no longer an accurate translation, and it has whales flopping around in Jerusalem's ruins instead of jackals). They differ in specifics, but are broadly the same--Ishmael's 13 includes Hillel's 7 explicitly, for instance, and the later 6 could be seen as amplifications of Hillel's 7. Here is an unfortunately terse description of Hillel's Seven rules, as unfortunately most of the extended descriptions are from websites that I don't trust (and especially Messianic websites). A lot of these rules need some basic knowledge of Hebrew and its root system to understand WHY the homonym/synonym thing makes sense, for instance, whereas it would be pure madness in English.

In short: there are distinct rules that Orthodox rabbis have to follow when making a ruling on something, and when interpreting the text if they are a 'congregational/lectern rabbi' (who gives dvar Torahs, speeches/lessons on the Torah, to a congregation).

These rules are so important that Artscroll, the current leader in Orthodox publishing (by a mile), has the full text of the 13 rules in the morning prayer service. It's so important that Artscroll wants you to say the full text of the 13 rules every damn morning. (That said, Shacharis is already extremely long, so that's one of the first things to go).

4) Why even bother with the Torah as anything more than historical fiction and good advice?

You're taking a non-Orthodox POV and applying it to Orthodoxy, and wondering where things are going wrong. This is pretty much what people like SOME Reform, and most Reconstructionists, believe.

This isn't like Protestant religiosity, with the famous 5 "solas" (bible alone, faith alone, grace alone, Jesus alone, God alone). In fact, it is in many ways the opposite: Sinai (both written and oral) and the people (halakha, the Law, means nothing if not for the people engaged in acting out the Law); faith and acts (you have to follow the Law), "grace" doesn't really exist, and "Jesus" is obviously a no-no. "God alone" is a toughy, since a famous heresy is the "two powers in Heaven" heresy (Alan Segal has a great book about that, by the by, but it's fairly technical), but God is not just up in Heaven, chilling. He's invested in the world, even if he's withdrawn from it.

It's a whole system, and you can't understand the system by looking at the Bible, especially in translation (sorry to say it). Orthodox beliefs in the Bible ain't got nothing to do with Christian literalism as you understand it.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 1:37 PM on May 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, thank you Zarq for your thoughtful responses. I've attended enough Bar/Bat Mitvahs, Passover dinners, and pestered my friends enough to get a good idea of what the average, liberal Jewish tradition is in Eastern PA at least. It's interesting to hear about Orthodox Judiasm.

Raised by atheists, I find it strange how people interpret "divinely" inspired texts because I don't see any way to determine if one or the other interpretation is right without using reason and conscience but that kind of diminishes the meaning of divinely inspired if it doesn't have a specific meaning, literal or not.
posted by PJLandis at 1:42 PM on May 24, 2012


The problem is that people are picking nits regarding the over-generalizations rather than addressing the problem of sex-based inequality, which does seem to generally apply among Hasidic Jews even if the exact parameters of that inequality may vary.

Fair enough. I will certainly not defend Hasidic Judaism on the grounds of sex-based equality! I find their justifications for sex-based distinctions in religious roles to be completely unconvincing. I just think that it's understandable that any member of that group will want to lay inaccuracies to rest. Assuming you're American, you could maybe agree, for instance, that "America is racist," but might also bristle if you heard that statement supported with extrapolations from smaller groups of Americans to the whole that you knew were not really fair. This despite the fact that the underlying substance of the message is true and important.
posted by palliser at 1:58 PM on May 24, 2012


America is certainly racist, but you won't find any support for racism in the US constitution today, and what support that once existed has been removed and is no longer considered canonical. I think that was an excellent move. Why can't religious people get together and reject those portions of their divine books that support discrimination against women or homosexuals?
posted by PJLandis at 2:06 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Assuming you're American, you could maybe agree, for instance, that "America is racist," but might also bristle if you heard that statement supported with extrapolations from smaller groups of Americans to the whole that you knew were not really fair. This despite the fact that the underlying substance of the message is true and important.

Sure, but I try not to do that. Because America is racist. Generalizations which don't apply to everyone in a group can be problematic, but when you're talking about a group which creates and enforces policy I think it's vitally important to look at the actual outcome of the policy, not at whether all individual members support it. "Laying inaccuracies to rest" is fine, but it's hard not to notice that these kinds of arguments are (in the case of American racism as well as this debate) often used to keep people from examining the actual consequences of group actions.

When intentions count for more than outcomes, it's all too easy to have a system which is "not racist" despite widespread institutional bias and racial inequality. After all, "it's not fair" to call America racist unless every single citizen means to be racist, right? IMHO this line of argument is incorrect: it is perfectly fair as long as the American system is racist.
posted by vorfeed at 2:20 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


After all, "it's not fair" to call America racist unless every single citizen means to be racist, right?

No, my point was that it's fair and true and important to say "America is racist," but that supporting evidence for that proposition could be more or less fair and accurate, depending on what it is.

Similarly, it's fair and true and important to say, "Hasidic Judaism is sexist," but supporting evidence for that proposition can be more or less fair and accurate, depending on what it is.
posted by palliser at 2:27 PM on May 24, 2012


Why can't religious people get together and reject those portions of their divine books that support discrimination against women or homosexuals?

I don't seem to understand what response you would want here. The question can be boiled down to "Why do religious people who base their lives on a certain text believe that God wrote their holy text, and that said text is therefore unchangeable because the text itself declares itself to be unchangeable?" (or even more simply, "so, why are religious people religious?") and I'm not quite sure how to answer a tautology.

Some do do what you say. Some do it within the bounds of the text. Some reject the texts. Some don't bother. "Different people believe different things, and behave differently" is, after all, a fairly simple concept.

Or, to put it differently:

1. Thomas Jefferson is not God.
2. The Constitution had an amendment process baked into it; the Bible, explicitly not (Deut 4:2, and since Judaism believes there can be no more prophets, that won't change).

(Gemara and Rabbinic debates do not constitute 'change' or 'amendment' in the eyes of Orthodox Jews. If there was no debate, Jews' heads would have exploded when planes and cars entered the historical scene. Like, ex.: there is NO INSTRUCTION in the Bible on how to slaughter animals appropriately; yet, the Bible instructs Jews to slaughter animals "in the way which I have told you." Thus, go to gemara, and there it is--it's stuff like that that make Orthodox Jews consider the Gemara to be the 'other half' of the Torah).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 2:32 PM on May 24, 2012


PJLandis: "Also, thank you Zarq for your thoughtful responses.

You're welcome!

I've attended enough Bar/Bat Mitvahs, Passover dinners, and pestered my friends enough to get a good idea of what the average, liberal Jewish tradition is in Eastern PA at least. It's interesting to hear about Orthodox Judiasm.

There are a few Mefites who are either currently or formerly Orthodox. Several have weighed in, in this thread, and they're all usually fantastic at explaining Orthodox perspectives, because they were raised in it. When it comes to that stuff, I can and do speak in generalities. But they're way more knowledgeable when it comes to the details. I'm greatful that flibbertigibbet has weighed in. I always feel I should tread on eggshells when it comes to defining Orthodox beliefs, even in general terms.

Raised by atheists, I find it strange how people interpret "divinely" inspired texts because I don't see any way to determine if one or the other interpretation is right without using reason and conscience but that kind of diminishes the meaning of divinely inspired if it doesn't have a specific meaning, literal or not."

I understand. I've struggled with the concepts myself.

We can look at this a little differently, if you like. To massively simplify: The Mishnah are a set of 63 books which codify the teachings found in the Torah into a system, or codex. The Gemara are sort of like extensive rabbinic discussions and debates that have been written down. There are also Midrashim, which are commentaries on specific scriptures. These supporting texts take years to study and understand. They're like the most comprehensive resource of cliff's notes, footnotes and addendums you've ever encountered. So that's why when someone asks a reductive question about a specific, small section of the Torah, it can be hard to answer definitively.

Just because a text is thought to be divinely inspired doesn't necessarily mean it has a single, set meaning or way of being applied to everyday life.
posted by zarq at 3:43 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


PJLandis, I think you have the impression that since Orthodox Jews don't see the Bible as a set of rules for daily life, they must see it as sort of inspirational-but-not-binding text. I'd say the relationship between Jewish law and the Bible is more like the relationship between USAn law and the USAn Constitution: there is a direct relationship between the two, but it's historical and developmental as much textual. I mean, even if someone living in 1788 imagined that the Federal Government might have the authority to prohibit the private use of marijuana, they would never have guessed that the source of that authority is its power to regulate interstate commerce. And yet it is.

So when you say "Why don't Orthodox Jews execute gay men on the authority of Leviticus?" the answer isn't that the commandment is disregarded; rather it's seen as part of a whole legal structure involving a court system, court officials, rules of testimony and so forth; and that court system is tied into the national apparatus which includes a central court (the Sanhedrin) which derives its authority partly from its official role supervising the Temple in Jerusalem. That court hasn't sat for capital cases for around 2,000 years and, in the absence of the Temple, will not be sitting any time soon.

So a major problem for Jewish jurists adjudicating Judaic duties is that their courts effectively have no power of compulsion other than social and communal pressure. That pressure can be quite severe, but it only exists while someone is within the community. If someone walks away (which is not a trivial thing for that person, of course) there's no way to subpoena them or issue a warrant for their arrest or whatever. This doesn't mean that the laws themselves are inapplicable - Zarq mentioned the prohibition on charging interest, which is a very real issue for Orthodox Jews in the business world. But this is because they're following the laws out of religious conviction or social pressure, not because someone can come and arrest them for committing a religious crime.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:57 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is completely the wrong thread, but we've already gotten off onto similar topics, so I'll risk an off topic question of my own.

I've got a fairly good idea of how Christianity came to it's various rules, laws, etc. There's even some decent documentation for some of the major turning points. Mostly we see various religious counsels made up of highly regarded or high ranking Christians who would get together and issue a statement of what the official Christian rules were.

Did many/most of the significant changes from what is in the Torah happen long enough ago that there isn't any real clear record of the process, or are there extant records of the debates, votes, etc?

For example, take the mixing of milk and meat. All the Torah says is that you can't boil a baby goat in the milk of it's particular mother, but it's gone a bit beyond that very narrow prohibition and now includes some Jews keeping two complete sets of cookware and tableware so as to make sure that no meat product is ever in contact with anything that once touched a dairy product.

Other narrow prohibitions (mixing wool with linen for example) remain narrow and didn't get expanded into a general prohibition on all mixed fabrics. Or even forbidding people from using needles that once pierced linen to pierce wool.

Are there records of the debates, the form those debates took, etc around? Or was it sufficiently long ago that no one really knows the particulars? Are Rabbi Whatever's arguments from BC 472 at the Great Debate of Wherever recorded? Is the vote on the matter known? Or is that lost to entropy?

I'm not particularly asking what the rationale behind the decisions is, but more whether the process that produced that rationale was historic, or pre-historic.
posted by sotonohito at 10:01 AM on May 25, 2012


Why can't religious people get together and reject those portions of their divine books that support discrimination against women or homosexuals?

Individuals in their own observance already do. All the damn time.

If you're talking about rejecting it across the religion as a whole, that's more of a difficult prospect, because you're talking about several million people (no matter what religion you're talking about) who all have very different opinions on those issues to begin with. And some of those people are perfectly comfortable keeping those portions in. The more people you have, the harder it is to come up with a universal opinion.

Actually, that raises a question of my own - I've often seen the "well, why can't religious people get together and just do this" question before, and I'm curious when exactly it has EVER in the history of the world happened that you could get several million people together and just change something far-sweeping just with a snap of the fingers like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on May 25, 2012


> when exactly it has EVER in the history of the world happened that you could get several million people together and just change something far-sweeping just with a snap of the fingers like that.

Not exactly a snap of the finger, but the closest I can think of is Högertrafikomläggningen, back in 1967. Probably a good 2 million drivers.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2012


Benito, in the article you link it still says hat that incident required a couple years of contentious discussion back and forth, required a national law being passed, and still yielded several accidents. And that incident was only about deciding which side of the street to drive on.

Asking several million people to instantly change their minds about a weightier issue is going to take considerably longer, I'm afraid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


@EmpressCallipygos Well, not so much a snap of the fingers, but it's happened several time in religious history.

The Protestant Reformation, for example, involved several million people deciding relatively quickly that the entire history of Christandom was incorrect and that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church did not, in fact, apply to them.

On a lesser scale we have the introduction of the Church of England and the change of millions of British Catholics into Protestants in a very short period of time.

Both Luther and Calvin individually declared that loaning money at interest was not inherently sinful, and in short order there were Protestants practicing the same usury they had previously used as an excuse for pogroms against the Jews just a few years prior.

More recently we saw millions of Americans (mostly in the South) change from being opposed to interracial marriage on religious grounds to deciding that God didn't really care that much.

Or the sudden shift in the LDS when it was declared that black people could be priests and millions of Mormons switched from believing they couldn't literally overnight (though presumably the problems BYU was having with sports boycotts and the Mormon expansion into Brazil contributed significantly to "God's" sudden change of heart).

I think the more top down religions have an easier time with that sort of sudden change. All it'd take is one Pope saying that contraceptives are fine and the Catholic position would shift. Trying to get the Baptists to change their minds is harder because there's no hierarchy.

I note though that among the non-hierarchical religions simply changing the laws of a place has a way of changing religious doctrine quite quickly and effectively. Millions of Baptists did give up on the doctrine that interracial marriage was sinful within only a decade or two of Loving.
posted by sotonohito at 11:28 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, that raises a question of my own - I've often seen the "well, why can't religious people get together and just do this" question before, and I'm curious when exactly it has EVER in the history of the world happened that you could get several million people together and just change something far-sweeping just with a snap of the fingers like that.

Vatican II

Executive Order 9981

人間宣言 (ningen-sengen)

Religions and other large organizations -- in some cases, thousands of years old -- have actually changed their traditions on a dime. And on preview: of course "asking several million people to instantly change their minds about a weightier issue is going to take considerably longer", but that doesn't mean it can't happen on a time-scale which does approach "a snap of the fingers", historically speaking. I'd argue that American Protestantism has seen a tremendous amount of change just since the 1980s, for instance, much less the 1880s.

Also, people can leave organized religion and/or form new ones, which is probably the most applicable way that the like-minded can "get together and just do this". We're even seeing this now with Christianity, as increasing numbers of young people reject the faith as a direct result of the changes in American religion during the last few decades.
posted by vorfeed at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: " Actually, that raises a question of my own - I've often seen the "well, why can't religious people get together and just do this" question before, and I'm curious when exactly it has EVER in the history of the world happened that you could get several million people together and just change something far-sweeping just with a snap of the fingers like that."

This happens in Judaism somewhat often. Much more in the Reform sect, which is more flexible and open to change. However, those changes don't happen overnight -- usually over a generation. Gay marriage. Organ donation. Female rabbis. Jewish feminism in ritual and spirituality. Etc. To some extent the reform movement has also embraced interfaith marriages and patrilineal descent. Basically, the umbrella organizations I mentioned in a comment upthread make a ruling and it is either rejected or slowly adopted by member synagogues and their congregation. It may then spread to unaffiliated congregations, too. It's even perfectly possible for an unaffiliated synagogue to spearhead a change that gets picked up by others. From an education standpoint, religious day schools and high schools affiliated with a particular movement may adopt the change into their curricula. So change comes from the top down, and the ground up, so to speak.

Worth noting that the Reform movement's willingness to change has been strongly criticised by Orthodox Rabbis for decades. They claim that such rapid reversals or alterations of policy are an indication that the Reform movement doesn't know what it stands for. And they say that its extreme malleability is diluting the faith. In this respect, the movements are two extremes, often in opposition.
posted by zarq at 11:53 AM on May 25, 2012


More recently we saw millions of Americans (mostly in the South) change from being opposed to interracial marriage on religious grounds to deciding that God didn't really care that much.

The challenge was about "rejecting those portions of their divine books that support discrimination". I was asserting that it happens all the time, and you have thoughtfully provided an example. I got the sense that plandis was talking about a universal, across-the-board kind of change, or an altering of the text itself, as opposed to a schism or a re-interpretation of an existing-and-preserved text.

And for the record, when in the past it has been pointed out in religious threads that "there are religous people who reject the discriminatory talk in their religious texts and live differently," the response is that that's somehow not good enough.

So again, what is it the dissenters are hoping to see here? Individuals or smaller groups splitting away when they individually or in a group decide they don't like a given element of their faith? That happens all the time. Individuals or smaller groups staying in the faith but ignoring those passages and living a more compassionate path? That also happens all the time.

So that being the case, what is meant by "rejecting those portions of their divine books that support discrimination" that isn't already happening?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on May 25, 2012


sotonohito: " Did many/most of the significant changes from what is in the Torah happen long enough ago that there isn't any real clear record of the process, or are there extant records of the debates, votes, etc?"

Sort of. Although I don't know if you'd call it a clear record. See this comment I made upthread, next to last paragraph. Wikipedia has an abbreviated description of the Mishnah.

Judaism has never had a Christian-style hierarchy, with a Pope, bishops and cardinals. It had and has a court system and legal structure that governed Jewish communities. So when the Mishnah was compiled, much of it was the codification of legal discussions, disputes and rulings as they applied to the contents of the Torah, explanations of what positions on certain issues different learned rabbis took, as well as a variety of commentaries and rabbinic discourse. It is divided into six sections:

Zera'im (seeds) - laws of agriculture
Mo'ed (set times) - laws of holidays and Sabbath
Nashim (women) - laws of marriage, divorce, and vows
Nezikin (damages) - civil and criminal law
Kodashim (Holy things) - ritual sacrifice and offerings
Tahorot (purities) - laws of ceremonial purity
posted by zarq at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


....Yeesh. I sounded rather more strident than was necessary. Sorry about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2012


Actually, it was a great question, even if it was intended rhetorically. I actually thought you were right, and was just being cute with the Swedish example. But these are some great examples that people giving. I've also read recent polls that say after Obama's statement on gay marriage attitudes among African-Americans have massively changed.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2012


Actually, it's not quite intended rhretorically. I really would like to get a clarification for what plandis meant by [that long thing that I don't want to type out again], because as many people have pointed out, such a thing is happening already.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2012


@EmpressCallipygos I didn't see anything strident in your comments.

And as it happens I agree, as anti-religious and anti-theistic as I am I don't deny that there is some real progress (in some places, in some religions) happening. We're seeing it as people abandon the more vitriolic of the Evangelical Christian churches.

I think part of the problem is that among many of my anti-theist/anti-religious fellows there is hope for a formal announcement of some sort, some official church issuing an official change of policy (as with Vatican II, or the LDS and black people), while for the majority of Protestant sects it's more of a democratic process. The bigoted churches don't change their minds, they just lose members to less bigoted churches and quietly close; and in the short to medium term stay open with an ever more bigoted and louder but smaller population which also helps create an illusion that there isn't any change happening.

Plus, of course, impatience with the time the process is taking. Take same sex marriage for example. As a history geek I know that "overnight" in political, social, and historic terms means "over the course of a couple of decades". But as a person who hates injustice it's agonizing seeing how long my religious fellow citizens are dragging out their decision to drop their bigotry and let the progress that everyone knows will happen sooner or later happen.
posted by sotonohito at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2012


Thanks, Sotono.

For my part, I sometimes get a bit frustrated that, despite the fact that there are theists who do shy away from the "hard language" in scripture and refuse to incorporate it into practice, a retort to that point that I often see in discussions on religion is "but it's still in the Scripture, and if you believe one thing from it you have to believe it all, don't you? So you just deciding that you don't believe in discrimination doesn't count!"

It comes across as a rejection of the fact that some theists are doing the very rejection of such hard language that you're describing as a good thing, and it it does make me sometimes get all, "look, what is it you WANT from us, huh?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


So that being the case, what is meant by "rejecting those portions of their divine books that support discrimination" that isn't already happening?

I'd be a lot more sympathetic to this argument if discriminatory religions weren't oppressing people, up to and including people outside their religion. As it is, "individuals or smaller groups staying in the faith but ignoring those passages and living a more compassionate path" are still lending tacit support to groups which contribute to the problem. Sometimes the support is even explicit: in my experience, religious moderates/liberals are often among the most vocal opponents of "attacks" on their religion, despite the fact that they agree with the general complaint.

There's a widespread idea that organized religion can be bad enough to selectively ignore, but can never be bad enough to abandon. Daniel Dennett called this belief in belief, and in many ways it's more of a problem than religious fundamentalists are -- without the idea that belief in [insert religion here] is vital and can be nothing but fundamentally good, fundamentalists would have very little power. This is exactly why American fundamentalists made such an effort to rebrand "Christianity" as a single religious bloc... an idea which would have seemed odd even forty years ago, but is often defended even by liberal Christians today.

As sotonohito points out, I think we're finally seeing a backlash against belief-in-belief, but we're also seeing tremendous resistance to that kind of change, and I think it's likely that we'll end up with half-measures rather than a serious re-evaluation of the role of religion in society. The latter is exactly what I'm hoping to see here, so I can't support the idea that it's enough if some theists reject "hard language" -- that's just the tip of the social-effects-of-religion iceberg.
posted by vorfeed at 12:59 PM on May 25, 2012


@EmpressCallipygos I think part of that is the simple fact that there **IS** some pretty ugly stuff in [insert holy text here], and while some sects might have a tradition of ignoring that ugly stuff, other sects don't. And both sects agree that [insert holy text here] is a very important book filled with very important information and rules. To us on the outside the main difference is that conservative religious types can use a very straightforward interpretation to reach their (bad) conclusions while the liberal types have to go into an amazingly convoluted interpretation to reach their (good) conclusions.

A liberal Christian interprets the Bible to say that same sex marriage is fine. A conservative Christian interprets the Bible to say that same sex marriage is not fine.

There's two problems here. The first is that the conservative Christian has a much stronger, or at least simpler, case. There's lots of very anti-gay stuff in the Bible in simple, easy to understand, terms. The liberal Christian has to twist the Bible through a complex array of historic perspectives, views on translation, taking some very vague "ya'll be nice" type verses as trumping the ugly verses, etc.

The second, bigger, problem is that by agreeing with the conservative Christian that the Bible is a worthwhile book for determining moral issues then they inadvertently strengthen the conservatives. Dawkins talks about this a lot, the idea that the very existence of moderate religion strengthens radical religion, and many on my side (including me) tend to agree.

I do think that so long as a person is part of a sect that embraces [insert holy text here] then there is going to be a problem with the ugly parts, and that they are (willingly or no) giving rhetorical cover and even encouragement to the sects that embrace and love the ugly parts.

What we want, ultimately, is for the nice people who are religious to admit that [insert holy text here] has nothing of value to say and that trying to hold on to it is counterproductive.

I don't think that's very likely to happen, but you did ask what we want.
posted by sotonohito at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: " The second, bigger, problem is that by agreeing with the conservative Christian that the Bible is a worthwhile book for determining moral issues then they inadvertently strengthen the conservatives. Dawkins talks about this a lot, the idea that the very existence of moderate religion strengthens radical religion, and many on my side (including me) tend to agree."

This sort of breaks down as you move out of Christianity and into Judaism.

For example, my religious beliefs are directly at odds with much of Jewish Orthodoxy. There are strains of Jewish Orthodoxy that outright don't recognize my religious sect as Jewish. Heaven forbid I were Reform -- they're practically considered an abomination. A couple of different Orthodox Jews have told me to my face over the years that I'm committing another Holocaust by not attending an Orthodox synagogue and raising my kids as whackjob fundamentalists. They can go stuff themselves. It's not their place to criticize. I'm staunchly pro-choice, feminist, pro-equality, pro-gay rights, pro-science, anti-dominionist, pro-skepticism, anti-blind faith, anti-oppression and anti-intolerance. I don't vote for anything simply because my religion tells me to.

So when Dawkins talks about the mere existence of moderate religious sects strengthening radical fundamentalist ones, I do not see how it applies to me. Nor, I daresay, to quite a few other Jews and especially many Reform Jews. We're not edge cases. We're not supporting Church institutions that divert money to radical causes. We're not justifying the Orthodox existence. The Orthodox can't (and don't) point to us as an expanding population that supports their beliefs. We are separate and apart.
posted by zarq at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


@zarq liberal Christians could and probably would say much the same. Heck, one of the things the more conservative sects of Christianity get into is arguing about who is, and is not, a real true Christian. Catholics and Mormons are the perennial targets for accusations of being non-Christian (though as Catholicism becomes more of a force for political conservatism the fundies seem to hate them less), but liberal sects get their time as the target too.

But if a liberal theist agrees that [insert holy text here] is of value and is something that needs to be studied and applied to life then I'd say they are, inadvertently of course, contributing to the problem.

Because [insert holy text here] always has the really ugly, bigoted, stuff. By agreeing that [insert holy text here] is of value, even if your version of its value involves convoluted logic to do away with the ugly stuff, then it adds to the general cultural idea that [insert holy text here] is something worth considering as a guide to life and a generally important thing.

Once we're at the point of dueling interpretations of [insert holy text here] then from my POV we've already lost the argument. The interpretation of the fundies has just as much claim to validity as the interpretation of the liberal sects, and it's generally a lot simpler and straightforward.

If your sect of Judaism says that [insert holy text here] is interesting from a historic standpoint but it has nothing to do with anything real or significant and while studying and debating it is a good mental exercise doing the same with Twilight or the collected X-Men is of equal value then I'd agree that there's not even any inadvertent bolstering of the fundies. But if your sect argues that [insert holy text here] has any particular value, that there is something special about it, that it is particularly applicable to life and there is special merit in it that is not contained in a similar study of The Lord of the Rings then I'd say we're into dangerous ground.

It isn't necessary for the fundies to like the liberals, or vice versa, for for the liberals to inadvertently grant legitimacy to the fundies. All it takes is agreement that [insert holy text here] is of special and particular value.
posted by sotonohito at 2:32 PM on May 25, 2012


I'm a little confused here. Am I sposed to use EMACS or VI?
posted by roboton666 at 4:46 PM on May 25, 2012


Hmmm. I guess I'm heretical there too. I prefer neither, I use NetBeans when I'm coding and Libre Office or Scrivener when I'm writing.
posted by sotonohito at 1:55 PM on May 26, 2012


M-x burn-the-heretic
posted by vorfeed at 2:22 PM on May 26, 2012


I think part of that is the simple fact that there **IS** some pretty ugly stuff in [insert holy text here], and while some sects might have a tradition of ignoring that ugly stuff, other sects don't. And both sects agree that [insert holy text here] is a very important book filled with very important information and rules.

Well, then, I would posit that your disagreement is with specific sects that hew towards literalist interpretations of scripture rather than the religion as a whole, yes?

What we want, ultimately, is for the nice people who are religious to admit that [insert holy text here] has nothing of value to say and that trying to hold on to it is counterproductive.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" isn't a valuable concept?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2012


"Love thy neighbor as thyself" isn't a valuable concept?

Not unless you enjoy being a perpetual victim. I prefer reciprocal altruism, a.k.a. tit for tat with forgiveness.

That said, I think the point is that there's nothing keeping us from championing ideas like "love thy neighbor as thyself" without organized Christianity and/or the-Bible-as-a-holy-book. The idea that The Book Itself has sacred value is orthogonal to the value of individual messages like "love thy neighbor as thyself". Even the figure of Christ is orthogonal to the trappings that have been built up around him -- the Jefferson Bible is a great example, as are the millions of people who claim no membership in any church, yet admire Christ as a figure of wisdom rather than divinity.

In short: if you want to defend religion, it's not enough for religious concepts to be valuable -- you've got to explain why we should treat them as sacred. If not, then it would seem to be just as easy to get the value without the religion, with no "ugly, bigoted stuff" attached. It's worth noting that Western civilization has long since done this with all the gods save a few; Zeus and Odin still matter, even if they are not sacred to most. And to bring things full-circle, nearly half of American Jews are secular, and the figure is similar for Israeli Jews. I particularly like this quote: being an atheist, one has to search even deeper, perhaps, for Jewish meaning. And I have found that Jewish meaning, but not in the belief of a supernatural, not in the belief that we are rewarded or punished by our good and bad deeds, but because over the 4,000 years or so of the Jewish experience, certain values have emanated.
posted by vorfeed at 2:58 PM on May 31, 2012


That said, I think the point is that there's nothing keeping us from championing ideas like "love thy neighbor as thyself" without organized Christianity and/or the-Bible-as-a-holy-book. The idea that The Book Itself has sacred value is orthogonal to the value of individual messages like "love thy neighbor as thyself". Even the figure of Christ is orthogonal to the trappings that have been built up around him -- the Jefferson Bible is a great example, as are the millions of people who claim no membership in any church, yet admire Christ as a figure of wisdom rather than divinity.

Alright, I have an analogy/metaphor/what-have-you for you to consider.

There is the old saw I'm sure you've heard, that "there are only seven stories/plots in the world." These are stories whose framework has been written about before, and will be written about again. And yet, people continue to write new variations on those stories, and -- more interestingly -- people continue to prefer one version of a given plot over another. And yet, we don't try to discourage the people who like one version from liking it, and to instead like a different version, nor do we discourage people from continuing to write new expressions of those themes.

With me so far?

So that stands to reason that, for a given person, one form of expression of a concept resonates more than another one. For that person, the preferred expression of that concept is the ideal. Trying to tell them that "no, this other author's take is better" or "why not just respond to the plot as a standalone concept" just won't work; it won't be the same as reading about it in their preferred literary take on that concept.

So then, might the same not perhaps be true of religious concepts as well as literary ones?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:53 PM on May 31, 2012


Nothing about having "a preferred literary take on a concept" means you have to treat it as sacred.
posted by vorfeed at 4:24 PM on May 31, 2012


That said, I think the point is that there's nothing keeping us from championing ideas like "love thy neighbor as thyself" without organized Christianity ...

I don't think anyone here said that. But since you raise the matter, are there any atheist groups that champion ideas like this? Or explicitly atheist organisations devoted to doing good? You might say that atheists can do good deeds without working in an explicitly atheist charitable organisation (and I would agree) but does atheism inspire people to do good?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2012


I'm happy to report that the Jewish Conservative Movement has finally gotten off their collective rears today and passed a ruling in favor of gay marriage. Details. So my above comment is thankfully outdated.

It took them long enough.
posted by zarq at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2012


But since you raise the matter, are there any atheist groups that champion ideas like this? Or explicitly atheist organisations devoted to doing good? You might say that atheists can do good deeds without working in an explicitly atheist charitable organisation (and I would agree) but does atheism inspire people to do good?

The primary "atheist group that champions ideas like this" is Secular Humanism, although not all atheists consider themselves to be humanists. Atheism is not necessarily a positive value system -- it's just a lack of belief in god(s). Thus, I'd say that the opposite of "religious charities" isn't "atheist charities": it's "secular charities", of which there are tens of thousands.

That said, there are plenty of explicitly atheist charities. The Foundation Beyond Belief supports five selected secular charities each quarter; SHARE collects funds for disaster relief; the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers provides support to atheists in uniform and fights for the separation of church and state in the military; the American Humanist Society runs Humanist Charities; SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, and LifeRing provide a free, secular alternative to faith-based addiction treatment; the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science funds scientific education and disaster relief... and last but not least, the Kiva Atheists are the top-ranked team on Kiva, giving over three million dollars more than the second-ranked team, "Kiva Christians". Search for "atheist charities" if you need more.

Also, Bill Gates runs perhaps the largest philanthropic organization on the planet, giving over 1.5 billion dollars per year to help humanity. He's not religious. Warren Buffet, who gave the Gates Foundation billions in Berkshire Hathaway shares, isn't either.
posted by vorfeed at 10:54 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


AskMe on secular child charities. Included: Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, UNICEF.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:05 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a list of some of the higher profile secular charities, but it's a bit US-centric.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:13 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't accept that the existence of secular charities is a counterweight to the suggestion that religion inspires people to do good things; it's very likely that religious feelings are positively correlated with support of all charities,not just religious ones.

My point was that religion inspires people to do good things. Furthermore, it provides a structure for this inspiration, which is why so many public hospitals and so forth were founded by religious organisations. I don't see the same impetus or structure arising from atheism, although I suppose secular humanism is a sort of counter example.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:17 PM on June 2, 2012


Nothing about having "a preferred literary take on a concept" means you have to treat it as sacred.

But for the people who prefer that particular take on a concept, can you see why THEY would treat it as so important that you may call their devotion to it "thinking it sacred"? It wouldn't be sacred to you, say, but can you see why it may be something THEY are devoted to?

And it also sounds like you think all religious people regard their religion's texts as wholly sacred, which also may not be quite the case you think it is.

My point was that religion inspires people to do good things. Furthermore, it provides a structure for this inspiration, which is why so many public hospitals and so forth were founded by religious organisations. I don't see the same impetus or structure arising from atheism, although I suppose secular humanism is a sort of counter example.

Joe, I think it's a dangerous thing to use the "religion inspires people to do good things" argument, because it sounds like you're saying "and atheism doesn't". And that's not so, I don't think. In my experience, whether a person is inspired to do good things doesn't hinge so much on whether they're religious, so much as it hinges on whether they were brought up to believe that doing good things is in itself a good thing.

Also, "doing good things" can be prone to a lot of interpretation; there are those people who say their religion "inspired them to do good things" who are acting out of their own self-interest ("I'm giving all this money to Charity so God will REALLY love me!"), and I don't think it's fair to slight the person who donates to charity "because it's just plain good to do, you know?" So I don't think that getting into the "inspiring good deeds" poker game because that has a lot that could go wrong with it.

Although, for the record - one thing that touches me tremendously about human nature as a whole is the fact that, in the whole of human history, there have been only TWO faiths or philosophies, religious AND secular, who have not included some kind of law of reciprocity; Satanism and the World Church of the Creator (WCOtC is a religious take on white supremacy). Aside from those two, every single other philosophy, ethics code, or religion has expressed a value for "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And I find that profoundly encouraging, and a sign that the whole question of religion/no-religion is actually more about perspectives on something we all kind of agree on than about whether one group has a Lock On The Truth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on June 3, 2012


But for the people who prefer that particular take on a concept, can you see why THEY would treat it as so important that you may call their devotion to it "thinking it sacred"? It wouldn't be sacred to you, say, but can you see why it may be something THEY are devoted to?

And it also sounds like you think all religious people regard their religion's texts as wholly sacred, which also may not be quite the case you think it is.


My point is that thinking a book is sacred isn't necessary to derive great value from it, so I do understand that not all religious people regard their texts as wholly sacred, and that things might matter to other people without mattering to me.

Although, for the record - one thing that touches me tremendously about human nature as a whole is the fact that, in the whole of human history, there have been only TWO faiths or philosophies, religious AND secular, who have not included some kind of law of reciprocity; Satanism and the World Church of the Creator (WCOtC is a religious take on white supremacy).

This is a mischaracterization of the beliefs of the Church of Satan (much less "Satanism", which is an umbrella term for many different groups, both extant and imaginary). Members of the CoS may not revere the Golden Rule, but they do follow a law of reciprocity, as this page makes clear: a Satanist should react to the treatment given by others by responding to them in the same way, or "do unto others as they do unto you". That's definitely a law of reciprocity, and in practice it functions as such (fascinating two-part interview!) It's not original to LaVey, either. He cribbed much of his book from Ayn Rand among others, and his general outlook is based on ethical egoism, which is a good example of an ethical philosophy which does not include some kind of law of reciprocity.

I could buy the idea that the act of reciprocity (a.k.a. tit-for-tat) is itself a near-universal trait, as it also appears in our closest animal relatives, but that's not the same thing as suggesting that the Golden Rule is. The GR is a particular form of reciprocity, and the the idea that these are the only two faiths which ever had rules which would seem to break its "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" paradigm is odd. Many faiths have permitted or even required reciprocal acts of vengeance -- "an eye for an eye" is a good example, as are sagas written about cycles of revenge. Likewise, ethical codes which explicitly called for vastly different treatment for different kinds of people were (and arguably are) widespread. Few societies treated their slaves as they themselves would like to be treated, nor were caste systems uncommon... and if the World Church of the Creator's different rules for white people and others can be said to negate the Golden Rule, then I don't see how these don't.

I think there's a danger in making sweeping statements about the limits of human behavior. The truth is that we don't know much about the full scope of religion and/or ethics in the ancient world, much less in human prehistory; ethical traditions which may have lasted for thousands or tens of thousands of years could be entirely gone, and we'd never even know it. Looking for common ground is one thing; assuming that "we all kind of agree" on things is quite another.
posted by vorfeed at 6:39 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


My point is that thinking a book is sacred isn't necessary to derive great value from it, so I do understand that not all religious people regard their texts as wholly sacred, and that things might matter to other people without mattering to me.

...So, if you accept that things might matter to other people without them mattering to you, then what is your concern about people who REALLY are devoted to something you're not? You say that you "understand" that things might matter to other people without them mattering to you, but at the same time you say that you don't understand why some people have to hold some things sacred. To me, that sounds like, "yeah, I get that some people like things I don't like, but WHY do they have to like those things?"

This is a mischaracterization of the beliefs of the Church of Satan (much less "Satanism", which is an umbrella term for many different groups, both extant and imaginary). Members of the CoS may not revere the Golden Rule, but they do follow a law of reciprocity, as this page makes clear: a Satanist should react to the treatment given by others by responding to them in the same way, or "do unto others as they do unto you". That's definitely a law of reciprocity, and in practice it functions as such (fascinating two-part interview!) It's not original to LaVey, either. He cribbed much of his book from Ayn Rand among others, and his general outlook is based on ethical egoism, which is a good example of an ethical philosophy which does not include some kind of law of reciprocity.

Will read your links later (I'm jet-lagged), but wanted to clarify that I was getting my data from this site. As they explain here, they define "Satanism" as the movement founded by Anton LeVay, and they also take pains to point out that it is a form of reciprocity; however, it's one that's very different from the one found in other faiths.

And I admit I was simplifying greatly; they do indeed do a good job of clarifying that the Church of Satan isn't all nihilistic or anything, and that they do indeed acknowledge that LaVey said that one should treat people with kindness if they've treated you with kindness. However, in their discussion, they hold LaVey's reciprocity ("I'll be nice to you if you're nice to me first") as being of a different sort than what is found in every other faith ("I'd like it if you were nice to me, so I'll be nice to you first").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 PM on June 3, 2012


...So, if you accept that things might matter to other people without them mattering to you, then what is your concern about people who REALLY are devoted to something you're not? You say that you "understand" that things might matter to other people without them mattering to you, but at the same time you say that you don't understand why some people have to hold some things sacred. To me, that sounds like, "yeah, I get that some people like things I don't like, but WHY do they have to like those things?"

I never said I didn't understand why people hold some things sacred (where sacred means "important" rather than "inviolable", at least). I said that asserting the sacredness of religious concepts is not necessary in order to derive value from ideas like "love thy neighbor", and I stand by that. If an idea can stand on its own merit, then it is valuable whether it is considered sacred or not, and if it cannot then lending it that kind of respect can be a problem, as sotonohito pointed out.

As for LaVey, the problem is that "I'll be nice to you if you're nice to me first" does not describe the maxim in practice, at least not as I understand it -- it's about responding to good or bad actions in kind, not about prohibiting the free application of kindness or refusing to act until someone else does ("Satanism advocates practicing a modified form of the Golden Rule. Our interpretation of this rule is: "Do unto others as they do unto you"; because if you "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and they, in turn, treat you badly, it goes against human nature to continue to treat them with consideration. You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but if your courtesy is not returned, they should be treated with the wrath they deserve"). Sans the overly theatrical phrasing, that old askme standby about "enforcing boundaries" comes to mind...
posted by vorfeed at 10:18 PM on June 3, 2012


p.s. I knew which site you must have been to the moment you mentioned Satanism and the World Church of the Creator together -- as far as I can tell, religioustolerance.org seems to have invented/originated the "fact" that these are the only two religions to reject the Golden Rule. The only relevant Google results for "world church of the creator" satanism golden rule are that site and sites which quote from it, for instance. Does anyone have another cite for this?
posted by vorfeed at 11:05 PM on June 3, 2012


I said that asserting the sacredness of religious concepts is not necessary in order to derive value from ideas like "love thy neighbor", and I stand by that. If an idea can stand on its own merit, then it is valuable whether it is considered sacred or not, and if it cannot then lending it that kind of respect can be a problem, as sotonohito pointed out.

....Not sure why you're making this point at all, then, to be honest, as I don't think everyone says "we should be good to each other because the Bible says so", and the ones who only do so as an injunction of their sacred texts are actually people who are quite simple, to my mind. If you're responding to my quoting the "Love thy neighbor", then my point was somewhat different - you had made an assertion that there was nothing of value in sacred texts whatsoever, and that was a response saying that no, there was.

As for LaVey, the problem is that "I'll be nice to you if you're nice to me first" does not describe the maxim in practice, at least not as I understand it -- it's about responding to good or bad actions in kind, not about prohibiting the free application of kindness or refusing to act until someone else does ("Satanism advocates practicing a modified form of the Golden Rule. Our interpretation of this rule is: "Do unto others as they do unto you"; because if you "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and they, in turn, treat you badly, it goes against human nature to continue to treat them with consideration. You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but if your courtesy is not returned, they should be treated with the wrath they deserve").

It strikes me, though, that the reciprocity you describe is more re-active than pro-active, which is where I think the distinction lies. I mean, yes, it's very good advice - you don't want to continue to be nice to people who are being shits to you. But to my mind, the LaVey statement still advocates holding back and seeing how others treat you first before you return in kind; whereas the traditional role of reciprocity advocates initial behavior.

And I'm not surprised that the OCRT site was the only one you found for that statement, as to my mind it's one of the only comparative religion sites on the Internet that even INCLUDES Satanism in its discussions. (In other words -- yeah, the reason I think that that was the only site you found was because every other religious site on the internet ignores Satanism altogether, and unfairly to my mind.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:03 AM on June 4, 2012


Sorry for my delay in responding to this. I haven't been online much the last few days and when I was here, I got caught up in a Meta covering this topic.

sotonohito: "But if a liberal theist agrees that [insert holy text here] is of value and is something that needs to be studied and applied to life then I'd say they are, inadvertently of course, contributing to the problem.

Because [insert holy text here] always has the really ugly, bigoted, stuff. By agreeing that [insert holy text here] is of value, even if your version of its value involves convoluted logic to do away with the ugly stuff, then it adds to the general cultural idea that [insert holy text here] is something worth considering as a guide to life and a generally important thing.


This seems like a very simplistic view. If it has bad things in it, we shouldn't be paying attention to it at all? The US constitution once explicitly advocated slavery. It also contains the Bill of Rights. Should we ignore the entire document? Is there no room for thoughtful consideration? For drawing one's own conclusions?

So yes, my religion says that the Torah contains lessons which we should follow. It does not say that we should do so blindly or accept them unquestioningly. Judaism also does not say we should view the Torah as the ultimate guide to life, the universe and everything, removed of context from everything else in our lives. And finally, while the text itself is considered sacred to some Jews, every single sentence has been debated and beanplated for centuries. Most parables within the document are considered to have multiple interpretations, and even a few contradictions.

Once we're at the point of dueling interpretations of [insert holy text here] then from my POV we've already lost the argument. The interpretation of the fundies has just as much claim to validity as the interpretation of the liberal sects, and it's generally a lot simpler and straightforward.

Yet the breakdown of liberal / moderate Jews to fundamentalists is something like 95-5, or lower. Numbers of Orthodox Jews in this country range from 7-12%; but not all Orthodox Jews are fundamentalists. Compare this to similar numbers for American Christianity, which are more like 70-30, or perhaps even 65-35.

Why do you think that is?

Also, I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'simple and straightforward.' Jewish fundamentalism is more structured. More about rigid beliefs than adaptive ones. But it's not really simple or straightforward.

Anyway, I don't believe dueling interpretations are necessarily a bad thing. I also don't think you can take a religious faith which has spent more than 2 millennia of intense debate and deep introspection into its rituals, principles and teachings and come up with a simple result. But people's mileage may vary.

In addition, people are capable of justifying bigotry and hatred in innumerable ways, not just through religion. I agree we shouldn't be giving fundamentalists excuses. But I'm not convinced we should be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, either.

If your sect of Judaism says that [insert holy text here] is interesting from a historic standpoint but it has nothing to do with anything real or significant and while studying and debating it is a good mental exercise doing the same with Twilight or the collected X-Men is of equal value then I'd agree that there's not even any inadvertent bolstering of the fundies.

This is a reductio ad absurdum argument.

But if your sect argues that [insert holy text here] has any particular value, that there is something special about it, that it is particularly applicable to life and there is special merit in it that is not contained in a similar study of The Lord of the Rings then I'd say we're into dangerous ground.

It isn't necessary for the fundies to like the liberals, or vice versa, for for the liberals to inadvertently grant legitimacy to the fundies. All it takes is agreement that [insert holy text here] is of special and particular value.
"

Sorry, I don't agree with this. To repeat myself, there is no way that by being a Conservative Jew, I'm in any way responsible for the actions of Jewish fundamentalists. Or for that matter, Christian ones.
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2012


you had made an assertion that there was nothing of value in sacred texts whatsoever, and that was a response saying that no, there was.

I didn't say that, sotonohito did. I agree that there are valuable ideas in religious books, just as in all books -- what I meant is that I don't think this justifies holding books sacred.

It strikes me, though, that the reciprocity you describe is more re-active than pro-active, which is where I think the distinction lies. I mean, yes, it's very good advice - you don't want to continue to be nice to people who are being shits to you. But to my mind, the LaVey statement still advocates holding back and seeing how others treat you first before you return in kind; whereas the traditional role of reciprocity advocates initial behavior.

I quoted LaVey above, in a statement which makes it clear that LaVeyan Satanists are to use the Golden Rule with respect to initial behavior. This is not some obscure quote from a website, either; it's on page 47 of the Satanic Bible. I think the actual text of the religion should count for more than your own interpretation of three paragraphs on a comparative religion website.

And I'm not surprised that the OCRT site was the only one you found for that statement, as to my mind it's one of the only comparative religion sites on the Internet that even INCLUDES Satanism in its discussions.

I don't mind the inclusion, but I do mind them misrepresenting LaVey's book in order to push an agenda with regards to the Golden Rule. Like I said above, the idea that the GR is universal makes little sense in light of what ancient religions actually did; if Satanism violates the GR because it advocates vengeance, then so do/did many religions, and if the World Church of the Creator violates it because it has different rules for one group of people over another, then so do/did many religions. Vengeance and one-group-over-another were incredibly common aspects of ethical codes throughout the ancient world.

As for philosophy, the fact that anyone can claim "every single other philosophy, ethics code, or religion has expressed a value for 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'" a hundred years after Nietzsche and Stirner is depressing.
posted by vorfeed at 11:43 AM on June 4, 2012


I think the actual text of the religion should count for more than your own interpretation of three paragraphs on a comparative religion website.

I note, though, that a couple comments back you admit to personally working with the LaVey statement "at last as [you] understand it."

I don't mind the inclusion, but I do mind them misrepresenting LaVey's book in order to push an agenda with regards to the Golden Rule. Like I said above, the idea that the GR is universal makes little sense in light of what ancient religions actually did; if Satanism violates the GR because it advocates vengeance, then so do/did many religions, and if the World Church of the Creator violates it because it has different rules for one group of people over another, then so do/did many religions. Vengeance and one-group-over-another were incredibly common aspects of ethical codes throughout the ancient world.

What you say of the Golden Rule is a fair criticism, which I'll address in the moment.

I do respect your feeling LaVey's statements were sort of singled out, but I honestly don't believe that the creators of the OCRT site were trying to do anything other than present facts. I respect that you believe that the OCRT site was trying to push an agenda; however, if it helps to know, for someone who admittedly knows very little about the topic (points to self) the takeaway was that LaVey's rule is not included more for a semantic technicality than anything else; it's not that they said "oh, we want to embrace all the good religions, so let's bend the truth to leave Satanism out"; it was more, "okay, we define reciprocity thusly - can we include Satanism? ....oh, we can't? SHIT, that would have been good if we could...well, we'll try to explain things, but we still wish we could."

As for philosophy, the fact that anyone can claim "every single other philosophy, ethics code, or religion has expressed a value for 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'" a hundred years after Nietzsche and Stirner is depressing.

That statement was my own interpretation of what they say, and I chalk that entirely up to my own barely-adequate and highly flawed familliarity with philosophy. Blame me, not the site's creators.

...And as to the Golden Rule not preventing the early adherants of religions from clobbering each other -- well, yeah, no one's denying that. There is a vast, vast gulf between the ideal and the actual, and there always has been, because human nature instills in each of us the capacity for being cruel and selfish shits. All of us. And all the religion, non-religion, rules, ethics arguments, political affiliations, and guilt trips from mothers is going to ever be able to eliminate that entirely. We all of us will slip up and fall short of the ideals, some in little ways, some in big ones.

But still, even though we will not always consistently live within those ideals, at least we hold them as ideals. We all of us are in agreement on a very broad concept of what we all should be doing, and how we all should be behaving. There are a few outliers, yes, but the number of people who agree on some form of reciprocity as an ideal is what I find encouraging, despite the differences of opinion on how that reciprocity manifests, and despite individual's attempts to justify their being an exception to that rule. I find that often those who try to justify their way out of obeying that ideal get their comeuppance eventually (and I don't mean in some "they go to hell" or any kind of afterlife sense; if they aren't deposed as dictators or arrested or what have you while they are alive, their reputation will eventually be re-written after their death, and their names will be cited as examples of those who were in the wrong).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on June 4, 2012


Sorry, I'm chiming in late here.

EmpressCallipygos "Well, then, I would posit that your disagreement is with specific sects that hew towards literalist interpretations of scripture rather than the religion as a whole, yes?"

No.

Obviously the more literalist types [1] are the more immediate danger, but I regard even liberal religion as unavoidably creating and sustaining the fundamentalists/literalists/whatevers.

Once a group says "[insert holy text here] is the word of God" then people predisposed to a nasty mindset will establish fundamentalism and find and exploit the nastiest parts of [insert holy text here].

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" isn't a valuable concept?"

I should have said [insert holy text here] has nothing of value to say that isn't available in forms not intermingled with nasty stuff and that trying to hold onto [insert holy text here] is counterproductive.

It isn't so much that the Bible contains nothing of value, it's that the value is mixed in with really evil stuff. By saying "this is the word of God" those who want to glorify the evil stuff are emboldened and legitimized. How, after all, can we refute the evil stuff if it's the word of God? Well, we can, but only via an extremely convoluted process that most people don't have the patience to sit through. The people who want to focus on the evil stuff can just quote it straight, their case is a lot simpler and easier to follow.

zarq "Yet the breakdown of liberal / moderate Jews to fundamentalists is something like 95-5, or lower. Numbers of Orthodox Jews in this country range from 7-12%; but not all Orthodox Jews are fundamentalists. Compare this to similar numbers for American Christianity, which are more like 70-30, or perhaps even 65-35.

Why do you think that is?"


Laziness. Judaism's brand of fanaticism involves a lot more discomfort and giving up fun stuff than the fanaticisms of either Christianity or Islam. Christian and Muslim fanaticism tends to involve more denying others fun and less denying yourself fun. Jewish fanaticism certainly involves control of others, but it's coupled with some self denial as well and I think that's a big part of what makes it less popular.

The US constitution once explicitly advocated slavery. It also contains the Bill of Rights. Should we ignore the entire document? Is there no room for thoughtful consideration? For drawing one's own conclusions?

The comparison is invalid, the US constitution is a secular document, and no one [2] claims that deities were involved in its creation. Moreover it's a document that is explicitly modifiable from the outside. As happened when slavery was abolished. So far as I know no major religion involves changes to [insert holy text here] based on a democratic process. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jews can't just get together and amend the Torah to invalidate the ban on, say, eating pork, right? Individual Jews, or even sects, could decide to ignore it, of course but it'd still be part of the Torah yes?

There's lots of use in flawed documents. I'm simply arguing that documents claiming divine authority attract a dangerous sort of mind and give that mind justification for evils that would not be present if society didn't invest those supposedly divine documents with power and authority they don't deserve.

But I'm not convinced we should be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, either.

If I were of the opinion that there was a baby present, I'd find that argument more compelling. As it is I'm pretty sure that there is no baby to throw out. Perhaps more important, the baby/bathwater metaphor is a bad one. It implies that there is something of extreme value present.

I might, possibly, concede that religion has some value. I'm not even remotely willing to concede that it has sufficient value to offset the problems it creates. Frankly I think it's just too dangerous to keep around. There's switches in the brains of many/most humans that religion flips, and a not insignificant fraciton of those people wind up doing horrible things in the name of their religion. Better, in my view, to give up the (minimal if present at all) benefits of religion in order to do away with the (overwhelming and awful) drawbacks.

I view religion in much the same way I view atomic weapons, we *can* build them, but I think they're too dangerous so we shouldn't. Similarly I we *can* believe in religions, but I think that's too dangerous and we shouldn't.

[1] A term I dislike as it is pretty much completely impossible to take the Bible literally, and the so-called "literalists" certainly don't though they delude themselves into thinking that they do.

[2] OK, no one who isn't insane.
posted by sotonohito at 1:31 PM on June 4, 2012


sotonohito: Laziness. Judaism's brand of fanaticism involves a lot more discomfort and giving up fun stuff than the fanaticisms of either Christianity or Islam.

Yes, that's probably true.

Christian and Muslim fanaticism tends to involve more denying others fun and less denying yourself fun.

That's an interesting perspective. One I hadn't considered. I know more about Christianity and less about Islam, so if you don't mind I'd rather speak about the former for the moment, and leave the latter alone.

I completely agree with you that there is a strong authoritarian streak in Christianity, (at least in the large majority of sects) that tries to control what non-Christians can do, as well as their own people. That urge to control those who don't share their faith is largely absent in Judaism. There are a few rabbis who want to legislate their religious beliefs on the world, like Yehuda Levin, but they're total extremists.

However, asceticism in Christianity certainly isn't a one way street -- there's an entire class of Catholic clergy who refrain from having sex entirely, while placing restrictions on the type of sex the laity can have. If you're trying to say that Christians have a double standard, I disagree.

Jewish fanaticism certainly involves control of others, but it's coupled with some self denial as well and I think that's a big part of what makes it less popular.

I agree with this. Jewish fanaticism is mostly oriented towards the members of their own community. There are many aspects of mainstream, moderate and liberal religious Judaism which are an exercise in self-denial, too. Keeping kosher is probably the most obvious example. This becomes more pronounced as you become more religious. (Amusingly enough, as I type this, I'm actually eating a meatball parmigiana hero for lunch. :D)

The comparison is invalid, the US constitution is a secular document, and no one [2] claims that deities were involved in its creation. Moreover it's a document that is explicitly modifiable from the outside. As happened when slavery was abolished. So far as I know no major religion involves changes to [insert holy text here] based on a democratic process. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jews can't just get together and amend the Torah to invalidate the ban on, say, eating pork, right? Individual Jews, or even sects, could decide to ignore it, of course but it'd still be part of the Torah yes?

The Constitution is amendable, not modifiable. One does not change the actual text of the Constitution. However, it can be adjusted or added to with amendments.

An argument could clearly be made that the Torah is also amendable, not modifiable. Through Mishna interpretations, various rabbinic rulings, etc. I'm not a talmud scholar, but I do believe that's a logical conclusion.

While this is not my area of expertise, I believe your last sentence sort of explains one way the Torah can be amended through rulings and interpretations. The sects themselves decide what is and isn't relevant to their group, and their congregations go along with it to varying degrees. The main document remains the same, but we already rely on rabbis to interpret that text, so in that respect it's not strictly a static document which always means the same thing in every situation. So the answer is yes and no, in a way. Rabbinic councils specific to each sect are held, and they come up with a ruling. The process is not democratic. But it is sort of oligarchic. And it can be influenced by what congregations want as well. The Conservative movement chose to recognize and conduct same sex marriages (as I mentioned upthread) because it was an issue for their congregations.

There are also some things that are in the Torah which are no longer considered applicable to modern Jewish life across all the sects, such as animal sacrifice. In each of those cases, the justification has been explained by rabbinic groups as well.

But yes, to answer your question, a sect may decide that something in the Torah isn't important and choose to ignore it, or issue a ruling about it. For example, the Reform sect places little to no value on kashrut (kosher laws.) Keeping kosher isn't specifically in the Torah (it's barely referenced,) but certain foods are banned from consumption. The injunction is to not boil a kid (goat, not person) in its mother's milk, and not to eat certain animals. That's about it. Which is why I love this joke. :)

Even though the Constitution is (as you rightly point out) a secular document, I believe there are valuable parallels that can be drawn.

There's lots of use in flawed documents. I'm simply arguing that documents claiming divine authority attract a dangerous sort of mind and give that mind justification for evils that would not be present if society didn't invest those supposedly divine documents with power and authority they don't deserve.

I agree. I just think we should be careful of assigning responsibility, too.

If I were of the opinion that there was a baby present, I'd find that argument more compelling. As it is I'm pretty sure that there is no baby to throw out. Perhaps more important, the baby/bathwater metaphor is a bad one. It implies that there is something of extreme value present.

To the person following the faith, the document itself may have strong value. I find value in aspects of my religion as a whole, if not necessarily the Torah itself.

I might, possibly, concede that religion has some value. I'm not even remotely willing to concede that it has sufficient value to offset the problems it creates. Frankly I think it's just too dangerous to keep around. There's switches in the brains of many/most humans that religion flips, and a not insignificant fraciton of those people wind up doing horrible things in the name of their religion. Better, in my view, to give up the (minimal if present at all) benefits of religion in order to do away with the (overwhelming and awful) drawbacks.

I used to think that way. Over time, I've adjusted my views on the subject. I have seen that human beings are capable of committing horrific atrocities without justifying them through religious faith.

Ah well. My religion serves me. I certainly don't think it's for everyone, but I do get something out of it -- an introspective, ongoing process. I once mentioned in Metatalk that if I weren't Jewish, I'd be agnostic. In many ways, I approach my religion agnostically. I know my views on many subjects are outside the mainstream even though I self-identify as a member of the second largest Jewish sect in America.

I view religion in much the same way I view atomic weapons, we *can* build them, but I think they're too dangerous so we shouldn't. Similarly I we *can* believe in religions, but I think that's too dangerous and we shouldn't.

I understand.
posted by zarq at 2:48 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


One more thing... I apologize if anyone reading this thread thinks I'm monopolizing it or have derailed it. I usually try to avoid doing so. Our conversation has gone in many directions and I've been finding it fascinating.
posted by zarq at 2:50 PM on June 4, 2012


I note, though, that a couple comments back you admit to personally working with the LaVey statement "at last as [you] understand it."

That was meant as a disclaimer. I don't consider myself a member of the Church of Satan, so I wanted to avoid giving the impression that my own paraphrase of LaVey's ideas was an authoritative statement about somebody else's religion. That said, I am quite familiar with the Satanic Bible and with the day-to-day application of the same kind of ethical rule, and it is not about waiting to see what other people do before you do things, as demonstrated by LaVey's own words. Your "reactive versus proactive" criticism is also specifically refuted in the first part of that interview (with the group's current leader) I linked to earlier.

...And as to the Golden Rule not preventing the early adherants of religions from clobbering each other -- well, yeah, no one's denying that. There is a vast, vast gulf between the ideal and the actual, and there always has been

The problem is that many ancient people did not hold human equality or a lack of vengeance as ideals, any more than the groups religioustolerance.org has singled out do. There was no gap between the ideal and the actual here -- human beings literally encoded in their highest ethics the ideas that some classes of people were less than others, and that vengeance was demanded by the gods or by honor.

the number of people who agree on some form of reciprocity as an ideal is what I find encouraging, despite the differences of opinion on how that reciprocity manifests

Like I said before, reciprocity occurs in our nearest animal relatives, so the fact that it is also a widespread human behavior is not very enlightening. I get why you're excited by the idea, but conflating reciprocity with the Golden Rule and then suggesting that everyone in the entire scope of history agreed with the latter is annoying. We are not "all in agreement on a very broad concept of what we all should be doing, and how we all should be behaving". There's plenty of disagreement about human ethics, right down to its very foundations, and I personally hope there always will be.
posted by vorfeed at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2012


Like I said before, reciprocity occurs in our nearest animal relatives, so the fact that it is also a widespread human behavior is not very enlightening.

I wasn't saying it was enlightening either. I was saying it was encouraging. If you think it's a more accurate way of saying it, I also find it comforting.

I get why you're excited by the idea, but conflating reciprocity with the Golden Rule and then suggesting that everyone in the entire scope of history agreed with the latter is annoying. We are not "all in agreement on a very broad concept of what we all should be doing, and how we all should be behaving". There's plenty of disagreement about human ethics, right down to its very foundations, and I personally hope there always will be.

See, I see that disagreement about ethics as being disagreement on how to manifest this reciprocity, rather than being disagreement on whether reciprocity is or is not a valuable thing. And I too hope that there's disagreement about that -- so long as that disagreement is coupled with tolerance. (Meaning; you'll have people who disagree on how to solve an ethical problem, but rather than having them spend all their time squabbling over who's right, I'd rather they each do their own approach, because maybe they're both right, and they're just each tackling a different facet of a complex problem.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 PM on June 4, 2012


See, I see that disagreement about ethics as being disagreement on how to manifest this reciprocity, rather than being disagreement on whether reciprocity is or is not a valuable thing.

There are important philosophers who've questioned (and denied!) the idea that the Golden Rule is a valuable thing, which is what I've been trying to get across from the beginning.
posted by vorfeed at 8:12 PM on June 4, 2012


I wish you'd just plainly stated it like that, then!

Out of sincere curiosity (because, as I admit, I'm ignorant on the topic), who are they?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:46 AM on June 5, 2012


Nietzsche, for one.
posted by zarq at 4:42 AM on June 5, 2012


Also, a decent argument can be made that Ayn Rand's Objectivism is an anti-Golden Rule philosophy.
posted by zarq at 4:52 AM on June 5, 2012


I'm actually going to also give the OCRT site a more careful re-read, because now I'm wondering whether they actually DO say "every group except these two believes in the Golden Rule," or whether I'm mis-remembering that through a Pollyanna filter of my own devising.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:47 AM on June 5, 2012


I'd certainly start with Nietzsche. His most accessible (and, IMHO, best) book is Thus Spoke Zarathustra (get that translation -- Hollingdale's words are beautiful). From there, try Beyond Good and Evil.

I think Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals would also be a good idea. His Categorical Imperative is superficially similar to the Golden Rule, but his objections to the Golden Rule are quite interesting (and devastating -- it's even been said that they "disqualif[ied] it from future discussion in ethics").

And yes, Objectivism belongs to the larger strain of ethical egoism, which suggests that people should do what's in their own self-interest. I'd read Max Stirner over Rand any day of the week, though. I find it hard to take her seriously as a philosopher.
posted by vorfeed at 11:32 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kant! I forgot Kant.

Thanks, vorfeed. I am only vaguely familiar with Stirner, and unfortunately all too familiar with Rand. Will check him out.

Empress, I haven't read the site, but it might just be that it isn't you, the site got it wrong.

Despite that, if you remove the "all but two" part of your comment, I think it is still pretty accurate. I know that many religions, (and all of the biggest) promote some form of the Golden Rule. But it's also worth noting that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain passages that contradict the Golden Rule in some way -- usually towards people who are not of their faiths. So they carve out exceptions.
posted by zarq at 11:42 AM on June 5, 2012


The site tries like blazes to be as scrupulously "just the facts" as possible, so I'd be more willing to bet that it's me that got it wrong, and interpreted their "most groups say this" and "here are two that don't" as "everyone except just these two".

I do know that the site discusses the very kind of "the Golden Rule gets waived if you're not one of us" kind of exceptions you're talking about, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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