Monday, January 2, 2012

Our Inalienable Right to Spit on You

It looks like it's going to be one of those days when I can't stop posting.

Whatever It Is I'm Against It posted on Saturday about the latest wave of ultra-Orthodox protests in Israel, defending ultra-Orthodox men's right and duty to spit on eight-year-old girls who dress immodestly. This morning I took a look at the Jerusalem Post article he'd linked to, and it was fascinating for what it showed about the way people react when they're criticized for their bad behavior: they obfuscate and they lie, and they can be quite shameless about it. I almost titled this post "Where Are the Adults?" because as I've noticed before, adults regress to the age of about three in such circumstances.

So, first, the protesters put their children on the line. The kids (and some nominal adults) were dressed in prison stripes with yellow stars of David, and apparently many other protesters wore yellow stars on their frock coats. The symbolism, of course, was that the "secularists" were Nazis, and the ultra-Orthodox were poor suffering victims about to be carted away to the gas chambers.
“What’s happening is exactly like what happened in Germany,” said one man wearing a yellow star, who gave his name only as Moishe. “It started with incitement and continued to different types of oppression. Is it insulting that we wear these stars? Absolutely, and it hurts people to see this, but this is how we feel at the moment, we feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish.”
Don't you remember your history? German Jewish men were spitting on German Jewish girls for dressing like whores, and the Nazis started with incitement against them, so they were prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which they wished and ultimately six million were killed. Yeah, I remember now ... As Whatever It Is I'm Against It said, "assholes like these would have been complaining to the Gestapo that the women weren’t forced to sit in the back of the cattle cars."

(In reality -- just in case my sarcasm is too subtle -- many of the Jews the Nazis killed weren't even observant, let alone orthodox; the Nazis weren't interested in such subtle distinctions. German Jewry was mostly quite assimilated, and the assimilationists -- who often despised "stereotypical" Jews with their hats and beards and forelocks -- were shocked when they learned that the Final Solution was going to "solve" them too.)

Moishe's remark echoes the rhetoric of reactionary Christians in the US, who view the existence of people who practice different forms of Christianity as an assault on their freedom of religion. (For that matter, it echoes the rhetoric of Nazism, which also presented itself as a defense of Christian and Aryan civilization against the Jewish threat.) He forgets that the fuss is over some ultra-Orthodox men who want to prevent other Jews from observing Torah in the manner they wish, by harassing and assaulting Jewish women and girls who don't meet their standards of observance. The same pluralistic society that allows them to observe Torah as they wish requires them to allow other Jews the same latitude, but they've made it clear that freedom of observance is only for them. They demand toleration, but they refuse to tolerate anyone else.

(Still, this raises questions. Suppose the haredi concluded that Torah required them -- as it does -- to execute adulterers. Would they be entitled to demand that they be allowed to do so, in the name of religious freedom, as long as they only executed adulterers in their own community? But it's an academic question, because we've already seen that they wouldn't stop there. They might "begin slowly", but eventually they would insist on policing everyone in Israel, haredi or secular, Jew or gentile.

(And I've made it relatively easy by choosing an extreme example. What about conservative groups, Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu, in the US? Should they be allowed to raise their children as they wish in every particular? If Quiverfull Christians believe that girls don't need education, or only very minimal education, to carry out their God-ordained role as helpmeets and baby makers, does their freedom of religion trump their daughters'? What about the Amish? I don't have ready answers for such questions. They arise in any pluralistic society.)
Angry crowds also followed uniformed police, shouting at them and calling them “Nazis.”

“It’s like how it started with the Nazis – very slowly,” American yeshiva student Salomon Hoberman said, defending the use of the yellow stars.

“They’re separating us from the Jewish people because we’re following the way of the Torah. They hate us because we’re going the Jewish way.

And there’s only one Jewish way.”
Notice how Hoberman muddies the issue: clearly there is more than one Jewish way, since not all the Jewish people follow his. If only "his way of the Torah" counts as Jewish, then his sect is not being "separat[ed] from the Jewish people" by other Jews: they're separating themselves from pagan secularists who claim to be Jews but are not. (There is ample biblical precedent for that move, by the way, both in the Tanakh and in the New Testament. If that juxtaposition sounds odd, remember that Christianity began as a Jewish sect which claimed to be the one true Jewish way.) Conservative American Christians use the same ploy, maximizing the number of Christians when they want to claim this as a Christian nation, but minimizing it when they want to impose their one Christian way on others: then every other Christian way becomes apostasy.

To be fair and balanced, I'll adduce another example, closer to home for me: gay groups that want to maintain 100% gay purity, excluding not only heterosexuals but bisexuals, who would sap their precious bodily fluids with heterosexual cooties, causing respectable Homo-Americans to turn straight.
... Shimon Levy, a young haredi man from a veteran Jerusalem family ... asserted that “the hatred and incitement being directed at us because we do not want to take on the ethical standards of the secular [community] is simply intolerable.”
That's a three-year-old talking. They're picking on us for no reason at all! We didn't do anything ... except, yeah, we spat on some little girls, but it was their fault for dressing like whores! It's not fair! They can dress like whores, and we're supposed to just stand here and take it like it was all right! Do you think it's all right for these sluts to walk around and stick their bare faces in our faces like kourveh? You probably do. You probably go to whores yourself. You hate me, you want to kill me for no reason at all! You're a Nazi!

I don't suppose these reactions are "genetic", as knee-jerk and cross-cultural as they are, but they do seem to come easily to human beings. We can unlearn them, though, and we'd better do so.