My latest essay, “Stuck in the Middle” (and, yes, I’m quoting the Stealer’s Wheel song on purpose), appears in Tablet Magazine. To summarize: coming from a family of typical American Jewish Liberals, I moved into a community of Orthodox Republicans. And I refuse to blend in with either herd.
Anyone, I’m kinda hoping that I offend someone. I’m even hoping for a little hate mail. Is that normal?
5 thoughts on “Is it wrong that I’m kinda looking forward to some hate mail?”
This post was quite interesting. I have a number of thoughts on these matters, both Jewishly and as a conflict-avoidant person.
First, I was surprised to read that a shul would allow a layman to get up and just start saying whatever he wanted in the rabbi’s absence. In the interest of providing divrei Torah consistently, it may be a good idea to search for a “sub” to fill in on those Shabbos mornings. Second, the Torah itself is apolitical; it’s for all Jews, regardless of affiliation. Although the Torah is meant to govern all areas of life, it’s wrong to use it to justify bashing other people with whom one disagrees.
You raised a number of “hot-button” issues in your discussion. Although I probably differ with you on most of them, I do think it’s important for one to back up one’s opinions with facts and evidence. (This practice, by the way is Jewish tradition, as evidenced by the Gemara.) Yes, I have heard people on various parts of the political spectrum get upset without citing facts, just spewing insults. Yes, I have read well-written opinion pieces that strove to support a thesis with factual evidence and then scrolled down to the comments and seen nonsense: emotional, pejorative-laden remarks that did not directly address a single point in the writer’s article. It’s sad to see that many people simply do not have opinions (and modern political campaigns often bank on this reality, by relying on quick imagery followed by visceral emotional responses).
In addition, it is important to respect, and to be willing to maintain friendships with, those who disagree with you. Why not have a civil discussion about a topic, simply presenting your side of an issue and listening respectfully to the other person, without trying to win over the other person? Have the discussion and find out what makes the other person tick. My wife and I recently hosted her brother for Shabbos. Somehow, one of our discussions led into the topic of drug legalization and its effectiveness in combating overall drug use. Although there were disagreements on the issue (and, yes, facts can be presented to bolster one’s positions), we did continue to agree that we all love each other deeply.
I have a good friend who has brought up these issues of civil discourse and respecting others in the books that he writes and in his speeches. He’s spoken at political forum-type events where he has disagreed with another person on a panel while remaining that person’s friend.
Television is to blame for many ills, in my opinion, and a loss of civility is one of them. TV reduced humans to 2-d cutouts who have no depth, who can be insulted and disrespected without consequence. Prolonged exposure can weaken one’s sense of respect for the human being. I’m not saying that this phenomenon is universal; however, in a TV-watching society, many find it easier to lump individuals into categories and to view them as labels or caricatures rather than people. When the U.S. had longer attention spans, members of opposite political parties argued vociferously in Congress and then went to the same Little League games to watch their and each other’s kids play together.
But we frum Jews (supposedly) don’t watch TV! True; however, we need to be careful not to get caught up in the polarization and “us vs. them” mentality that’s sometimes found in Jewish communities. Justify assertions with facts, or strive to find those facts. Remember that humans are complex and multidimensional. Yes, have opinions, even strong ones – but be ready to back them up when questioned, and to answer without raising your voice or insulting the other person – despite disagreement.
In 1994, I remember seeing a university classmate bemoaning that the Republicans had won many electoral positions. He flipped through the campus newspaper with annoyance and complained. Then he found something that mentioned student. Democrats and said, “At least there some good people left.” Wow. Despite his education, he couldn’t resist painting all of one party with one broad brush and all of the other party with a different broad brush. What would he say about the 34% (or so) of Americans who are unaffiliated with either party?
All that being said, don’t feel badly about not fitting into a particular box. Yes, there are arguments that can be made on both sides of issues; the highest form of tzedakah is to help another person become independent of tzedakah, yet a person in very dire straits may need a temporary welfare payment to help him/her get back onto his or her feet. So, no, these issues are not simple. Yes, it’s wrong to demonize or to try to destroy those who disagree with us. No there’s nothing wrong with failing to “fit in.” I don’t fit into a grouping so easily, either. (“You WRITE for CHILDREN? But you’re male, and you’re an engineer, and you have a job!” “You speak grammatically? But you’ve been to yeshiva!” “Oh, you do/don’t feel this way/that way about XYZ? But some of your shirts aren’t white, and I once saw you not wearing a hat! And you can speak Hebrew!”)
Just live, and be the best version of yourself. Politics is not that important anyway. Respecting others is very important.
Wow! Thanks for detailed and reflective comment. I think that part of the problem is that if/when we let ourselves feel bad about not fitting into the box or sticking to the decisions we made based on logic and research and reflection. Like you said, respecting others is very important. We should make sure we do that and ignore those who don’t…which is really just self-respect, in a way.
I agree that we must have the internal fortitude to stick to our guns, even when others in our crowd don’t see things as we do or haven’t made the same decisions. In our community, this may take the form of being afraid to say that one’s kids attend Yeshiva Y instead of Yeshiva X, when everyone else in the room lauds Yeshiva X as being “the best”, and you’ve already done all the hard work to determine that – rationally – your kids are better off at Yeshiva Y.
We once had a Shabbos meal guest who said that he aspired to become a police officer. When we didn’t react with shock and dismay, he said that he was surprised; he usually gets asked whether he’s crazy or drunk. OK, so not many observant Jews go into law enforcement; so what? For him, it may make a lot of sense. Another guy (jokingly) spoke sheepishly when telling us he worked for the – gasp – Democrat Brad Sherman. So, yes, self-respect demands that whoever you are, you stay capable of supporting your own decisions and unafraid to be yourself – whether you lean right or left, more strict about specific mitzvos, less apt to take on stringencies, an eruv user, an eruv shunner, etc.
One more comment: People sometimes make a big fuss about the language used to refer to their (or others’) opinions or positions. And the manipulation of language can become a big deal. Once I heard a radio personality (when I listened more often) say that she had, years earlier, worked for CBS. There, she was not allowed to use the phrase “pro-life”; they required her to say “anti-abortion activist” instead. She argued with her management vehemently, yet they wouldn’t budge. People like to call their perspectives “pro-X” rather than “anti-Y”; after all, who’s upset about the innocuous word “choice”?
An columnist in a Jewish magazine recently referred to a three-letter word that he refused use or write (obviously he meant “gay”). Again, what’s wrong with a synonym for “happy”? In that magazine it’s fine to use a convoluted phrase instead, but among others it may be hurtful.
The point of all this: Whatever your position, be aware of who your audience is or conversation partners are, and use words that don’t upset them.
Thanks again for another thought-provoking column.
I’ve also drifted along the politcal spectrum and don’t like to tie myself to one party, although my experience is that UK politics is very different to US politics (for one thing, it’s all shifted further left and things like gun control and abortion are just not issues here). I can share your frustration at political parties and I too get annoyed when people say that “Torah values” are the monopoly of a single party (that’s another UK/US difference: we have more than two parties). The right/left division is a product of the French Revolution, a little over two hundred years ago and policies have changed back and forth in the meantime, but as Orthodox Jews, we see Torah values as timeless – why should they correspond eternally to one party?
I don’t know that wanting to get hatemail is normal, though! I certainly wouldn’t want it. I think some people do though. I’m sure some politicians and media pundits think that if they don’t get a certain amount of hate mail, their message isn’t getting across.
Thanks for the comment and also for giving us the British perspective.
When I write about personal things, I get very touchy over the hatemail. But when I write about big, less personal issues, and I’ve got facts and logic to back me up in any debate, I feel like shouting, “Bring it on!”