Judaism and Bigotry

18 01 2007

 At my school, there is one person who was raised in a non observant family, and has become observant since coming to college.  We both think that’s all wonderful, and we’re glad he’s found a meaningful connection to Judaism.  I’m was also someone who was not planning on being orthodox and after a lot of study and thought decided to convert orthodox, so I understand the appeal, I understand to some extent why he is doing what he’s doing. 

 What I don’t understand is the attitudes he’s picked up since becoming observant.  He has become the stereotypical Jew who thinks that everyone who is more observant than he is is a fanatic, and anyone less observant is a heretic, and vocally expresses those opinions to anyone who will listen, and many who would rather not. He’s informed me at least once, if not more, how he thinks I should be converting, and has told another friend that he doesn’t think she deserves to convert.  He has criticised people in the Hillel morning minyan for wearing a tallit before they’re married, which is, in point of fact, normative practice, rather than what he is doing, which I believe is Chabad practice (Rabbi Donin, the author of To Pray as a Jew said that “Most halakhic authorites […] find no justification for this custom [waiting until marriage to wear a tallit]” (pg 30) so clearly there is no problem with what the Hillel guys were doing, and the one following the minority opinion was in fact the one raising the vocal criticism of the others present.) 

Even that I could pass by on the grounds that he was trying to have a discussion of the different opinions, and didn’t realize that he sounded like he was attacking people who practiced differently, but he also launches diatribes on people who arn’t observant and tries to bully them into becoming so.  What baffles me most is the people who helped him become observant have exactly the opposite attitude.  They welcome anyone, what ever level they want to be involved at, whatever they do or don’t do Jewishly.  I have never heard them say anything that implied that people who weren’t observant were bad, or needed to change what they were doing.  Sure, they would bend over backwards to help you if you came to them and wanted to do more, but until then, everyone is welcome as they are, as much as they want to be there.   Where in that atmosphere did he find these attitudes that he’s picked up along with his observance? 

The other thing he’s picked up on is this general dislike of all people who arn’t Jewish.  I’ve seen him go through a room of people, and introduce us all to his friends as either Jews or goyim.   Upon hearing that the Chabad rabbi at my school had dropped off food for someone in the hospital just before shabbos, his first question wasn’t about the health of the person, but was instead whether that person was Jewish or not.  His conversations are peppered with words like “shiksa” and “the goyim”, and despite many attempts to explain to him why that’s inappropriate, the best we’ve gotten out of him is the acknowledgement that “maybe using ‘shagetz’ would be a bit offensive”

 Is this just him, or is is a more general trend among people who become more observant?  I worry if this is part of a larger tendency within orthodox Judaism, rather than just an outlet for his own bigotry that was present before he became orthodox.  And he’s become so wrapped up in Judaism there’s nothing about his personality that’s at all separate from it.  What happened to the person he was in high-school, the things he was interested in there?  Other than continuing to explain why he’s wrong, or just ignoring him, what can I do to try and improve the situation?  Suggestions would be welcome.





2 responses

18 01 2007

Emily is happens both ways..take a look at this I posted a while ago yidwithlid.blogspot.com/2007/01/american-jews-cant-we-all-just-get.html

19 01 2007

You’re absolutly correct, the judging other people’s observance is something that happens in all branches of judaism, not just orthodoxy. I guess it bothers me more coming from someone who identifies as part of a group that I am (almost in), since it paints me with that same brush, even though I’m as much a target of what he’s saying as anyone else is. I rarly see it from the other side, since all my friends at college (while they’re all conservative or reform) have no problems with the choices I’m making, or if the do they have the sense not to pick fights over it.
And I think what bothers me most is his diparaging attitudes towards non-Jews, since while I can think of a positive spin to put on his intent in what he says to other Jews about their observance, I can’t think of a simalar rational for repeatedly refering to me and another girl as shiksas.

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