September 17, 2008

Silencing Dissent and Hushing Up Scandal


Two items recently crossed my desk. The first was an article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post written by Matthew Wagner entitled "Haredim move to silence 'treif' music". It was about a movement to ban musicians who produce or perform any music which the Guardians of Sanctity and Education deem inappropriate. Musicians playing such music would be banned from playing in wedding halls, their CDs would be banned and their concerts disallowed.

The other item was a breaking news piece from JTA indicating that Rabbi Benzion Twerski had resigned from a task force in formation being brought together to deal with sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, also an Orthodox Jew, is establishing the task force to deal with this scourge. Twerski resigned because of the many threats against him and his family made by several individuals from his community.

When taken together these two items suggest such a profound and disturbing conflict regarding the current goals of the Orthodox world, of which I am a member. If music is so important, is not the emotional welfare of members of the community even more so? How can music be a threat and abuse not be? While some may argue that this is not the message to be learned, that the insular community is seeking ways to deal with the sexual abuse problem discreetly, it is clearly not so when someone as prominent and discreet as Twerski can be so horrifically threatened. But, he is not the only one to receive threats. Apparently so have musicians. The canceling of a recent concert is evidence of this.

IN MY work I too have received threats, most recently for suggesting that the rigid shidduch approach to dating seems not to be working. What this approach has accomplished in recent years is to increase rigidity and unrealistic demands for a spouse; rates of domestic violence are increasing and so are the divorce rates.

There seems to be little balance left in the Orthodox world. There is no allowance made for harmless pleasure and those who abuse are given a free pass. Those who attempt to stand up are threatened.

Still there is a commandment that states "V'chai bahem"; we should live by the rules. That command, however, requires that the rules are such that one can live according to them. Additionally, we have lost sight of the adage "yesh chochma bagoyim," there is knowledge, as well as arts and music, among the nations of the world that is meant for us to share. I believe that is why much of our liturgical music comes from a host of sources including the church. And our great rabbis have not simply accepted it but enjoyed and encouraged this music.

When I look at the increasing rigidity that these events objectify, I think of how we are pushing people away instead of bringing people closer to the core values of Judaism. I also reflect on the experience of Ayan Hirsi Ali, currently a member of the Dutch Parliament, reared as a devout Muslim who was forced to evaluate the oppressiveness of her religion. She became a vocal critic of the religion to the point where she has had to go into hiding. At the end of the day, she may be the model that our children follow if we do not find a way to balance the needs of our society with those of a firmly religious leaning. Pushing people too hard will only force them to push back.

To suggest that the decisions of a few vocal individuals make are the only correct approach and allow them to steer us away from doing what must be done is simply illogical. Every society has its ills. So does ours. We must find productive ways to deal with these ills if we are to survive.

Originally published by MICHAEL J. SALAMON.

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