Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lo Tosifu V'Lo Tigrau - A 1a7b Perspective

The Objective of the Subjective Adjective

I wrote in a previous post that many people do not know how to think. I can imagine that some readers may have been offended. "What, me? I don't think? Who are you kidding? I think about everything under the sun."

Well, firstly, allow me to apologize and say that I certainly do not mean to offend anybody. Perhaps, I should have been clearer. I should have used some modifiers: "Many people do not know how to think objectively" or "Many people do not know how to think analytically".

There, I throw in a modifier (an adverb, in this case) and it looks much different. Now I have only offended half as many people.

Choice of words is important. It takes a trained eye to notice when something is extra or missing. Of course, for those of us with a learning background, this is rather elementary. The entire structure of drush is the art of noticing what words or letters needn't be here or what should be, but isn't. Thus we are told that every time the Torah throws in the word את it is including something. Meforshim notice that it says "V'Eileh Shmos" and "V'Eilah Hamishpatim" and they say that "Vav indicates an appendage to what was previous". But in last week's Parsha, it says "Eileh HaDvarim". There is no "vav" (see Ohr HaChaim). They notice that at one point in Tazriah it says the leprosy is in "Ohr b'saro" - the skin of his flesh - and at another point it is in "Ohr habasar" - the skin of the flesh (see Bartenura, Negaim 2:1). Of course, one of the most classic examples is where HKBH commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and Chava said, "not to eat from it and not to touch it." It's a small change that made a big difference.

And so, our Parsha - Parshas V'Eschanan tells us לא תספו על הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם ולא תגרעו ממנו we must not add or subtract from what I have commanded you...

It's clear that the simple meaning of the pasuk implies not adding to or subtracting from the mitzvos. Especially since those are the next words in the pasuk. But some commentaries (see Kli Yakar) offer a more exigetic meaning: Do not add to it so as not to detract from it. Kol HaMosif Goreah! Whoever adds things that do not belong, diminishes it's true context. And, whoever subtracts from what is true, augments its context.

This is what we call manipulation and it is the heart of a different art. The art of propaganda. Propaganda means influencing perceptions by distorting the facts. Putting too much emphasis on what is not significant and overlooking what is. I wrote about it in Chapter 8 of 1a7b where I discussed Korach's tactics to inflame the masses against Moshe. He did not say anything untrue, but by leaving out a few details (as I pointed out in a footnote on page 198), he paints a rather sordid picture. The spies used the same tactics. They did not say anything untrue but we all know- it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

In the anti-Torah, anti-Chareidi propaganda war, modifiers can make all the difference. A strategicly placed modifier, or the absence of one can change the entire picture. One of my jobs is to notice when these things happen and to point them out so we can learn how to read between the lines and see the true picture. So, if you will allow me, I will present a number of examples that I have come across in my work where both a single added modifier or one that was intentionally omitted, can give the whole situation a different slant.

Example 1 - Added subjective adverb

This comes straight out of my book and it's on page 126. Here I am commenting on a story related by Noah Efron in his book, Real Jews:

Soon after the war, I flew El Al to the United States. I was squeezing back from the bathroom through a crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews noisily praying in front ofthe emergency exit, when a flight attendant caught my eye and, smiling slyly,whispered in Hebrew, "You open the door, I'll push." I smiled back and found myseat.

Although it was not the focus of quoting the passage, I did comment in a footnote about one extra word. The word noisily. Here is what I wrote:
This adjective (Note - it is really an adverb; both I and my editors were sleeping on the job) is very telling. As it lends nothing to the story, it only serves to cast aspersions on the activity and, thus, to compromise Efron's claim to objectivity. I have both observed and participated in these "crowds" and I can attest to the fact that the participants typically make every effort not to raise their voices, that they can be barely heard above the din of the jet engines even at ground zero and that virtually no uninvolved passengers are even aware that the prayers are going on – unless they need the bathroom.
In this example, the adverb did not effect the story much, but, aside from its truthfulness being at issue, it betrays the sympathies of the teller and compromises his claims to objectivity.

Example 2 - Omitted adjective

Here is an example of the Lo Tigrau side of the coin. This comes out of Noah Efron's book as well but, as of yet, has not made it into mine. On page 60 of his book, Real Jews, he writes:
But the Jerusalem that produced Ginsburg is gone. To celebrate his wife's seventieth birthday, Ginsburg took her and several friends on a walking tour of the Jerusalem of her youth. When they went to visit her old school, a haredi vandal doused them with a bucket of water from the rooftop, because one of the women wore a sleeveless shirt. A couple in their seventies. They cannot even walk around what used to be their city. It is ruined.
Hmmm. Something doesn't seem right here. Where is there any indication that they cannot walk around what used to be their city? It seems there was a problem because somebody was sleeveless. If nobody was sleeveless, they can walk as much as they want. So, who says they can't walk in their city? They just can't walk sleeveless in their city. Efron seems to have forgotten to mention this one little detail. The fact that they are in their seventies he does not hesitate to remind us again. (BTW, Efron is a great great great nephew of the Bais HaLevi - the first RYBS- and is no total am haaretz. Why should he think there should be a cutoff date for tznius?) But in the course of that 5 word sentence, he forgets all about the sleeveless. And why is the Jerusalem that produced Ginsburg gone? Who says that she was able to walk around sleeveless 60 years ago? I tend to doubt it. Efron is wrong. Jerusalem is still here. It's Ginsburg that changed.

So let us rewrite his passage and insert this one little missing word:
They cannot even walk around sleeveless in what used to be their city. It is ruined.
Loses a bit its pizzaz, don't you think?

Example 3 - Added subjective adverb

The next two examples will touch on to an issue that I have been writing about extensively in my recent posts, the Mehadrin bus lines and the commotion that has been stirred up over them. Believe it or not, I have not committed myself to declaring a firm position on the issue though my inclinations are quite obvious. All that I have written to date is that those who deliberately obstruct the implementation are at least as guilty of incitement and Chillul HaShem, if not more so, than those who try to enforce it.

That said, I wish to comment on one of the news items that described one of the "celebrated" bus-brawl incidents. This is the Oct. 20, 2007 incident on the 497 Beit Shemesh bus as reported in the Jerusalem Post. The news item reads as follows (I italicized the keywords):

A haredi woman was attacked on a Beit Shemesh bus by five haredi youths Sunday for refusing to move to the back of the bus, police said.

SEPARATE SEATING for men and women on Egged bus lines is becoming more prevalent as haredi families increasingly move to outlying areas.

The woman, who was seated at the front, asked an IAF soldier to sit next to her for protection. The attackers then turned on the soldier.

"They started beating me murderously," the soldier said in an interview.

The midday attack on the Egged 497 bus culminated in a clash between several dozen haredi men and police. During the melee, the suspects fled and the rioters were dispersed by police.

There were no injuries reported in the incident, but the tires of a police vehicle were punctured.

This article genrated over 100 Talkbacks. As to be expected, most of them were comments suggesting all kinds of places the chareidim should "go back to". But two of them caught my attention, and, I must say that I am a bit ashamed that I did not notice this myself. These 2 Talkbacks relate to the quote from the IAF soldier about being beaten "murderously":

99. Hareidi BashingHzev - Israel 10/22/2007 10:52

I do Condemn the actions of these hooligans - but still stand astounded by the outpouring of hatred against chareidi world ! Reading the article it says : "There were no injuries reported in the incident" so how does that fit with the previous line "They started beating me murderously". This just serves as another example how some rare events - with no real injury - about chareidim can bring out all this hatred whereas the daily violence in the secular world can fill this website every day again

Notice the term "rare events". We will talk about that a bit in the last example. Here is another similar one:

81. No injuries were reported, Why Was a Haredi Woman Sitting With Men? Even weirder than the last hoaxEfox - United States 10/21/2007 20:43

Yes the last one was a hoax with everyone else on the bus not noticing and the American Woman not being able to ID the men, but this one is different. This woman is supposedly Haredi but didn't act like one, yet there was clearly chaos when the police arrived, but no one was hurt? Just what kind of an attack leaves no one hurt?

I didn't write these Talkbacks, folks, and I am not claiming that any incident is a hoax. But they are valid points which do indeed indicate that these incidents do not always fit the print.

Example 4 - Omitted adjective

In this final example, I will actually critique a passage from a "friendly" source. Here, I feel that the lack of a qualifying adjective is very misleading. This comes from the Jewish Observer article by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum that I commented on in an earlier posting. Rabbi Rosenblum was saying that there are deficiencies in the universality of the chareidi impulse to reach out to non-chareidim. He qualifies this remark with this line:
There are segments within the diverse chareidi public to whom it does not occur to weigh the impact of particular behavior-burning garbage cans, stoning cars, assaulting women sitting in the front of the bus- on the perception of Torah and Torah Jews in the world.
Though his point is poignant and well taken, and I agree fully that these types of incidents should be avoided as much as possible, I still took Rabbi Rosenblum to task for helping to foment this negative perception. What bothered me was the unmodified use of the term "assaulted". I do not think it is an accurate term. The prevalent dictionary definition of the term assault is: attack - verbal or physical. Although technically it is not limited to being one-sided and unprovoked, this is the overwhelming connotaion in regular usage.

Since I began my work in June of 2004 I have been monitoring the news on a daily basis, gathering relevant items and storing them in a digital scrapbook. To date I have found three documented incidents of "assaults" on buses - one involving Naomi Ragen in July 2004, one involving Miriam Shear in Nov 2006, and one involving this unnamed passenger in Oct 2007. That is three incidents in more than 3 years and none since. Moreover, as any faithful reader of my Blog knows, I have analyzed these incidents. My findings are that 3 out of 3 cases (that comes to 100%) involve women who were "urged" (I do not know how politely) to relocate and steadfastly refused. At least 2 cases involved "religious" women who knew exactly where they were (I have a feeling that the JPost description of the Oct 2007 woman as Haredi was a mistake, but that says a lot about their credibility) and one where the woman expected trouble. Since these are the only incidents in over 4 years now that resulted in an "assault", I reach the conclusion (based on chazaka) that this needless defiance had something to do with it. When no one was obstinately defiant (note the modifier), there was no "assault".

What is more significant is, technical definitions aside, I am not sure if these cases can even be termed "assault". They are altercations that escalated into physical activity but the details are vague. When the situation came to blows, I cannot even see clear evidence of who hit first. All I have is the "victim's" report, and they all contain some "confessions". I think a confrontation is a more accurate term. In other words, when Wile E. Coyote pounces on the Roadrunner (or tries to) I would call that an assault. But when the Jets and the Sharks are having a rumble, that's a confrontation (or, perhaps, a mutual assault).

Of course, the non-chareidi world insists on viewing it as a flagrant assault and when a chareidi publication adopts this terminology, it does nothing to dispel this distorted (modifier again) perception.

Therefore, I maintain, that in the name of accuracy it would have been in order for the text to read "assaulting defiant women sitting..." or perhaps "confronting women sitting..." His point would stay the same, but he would be telling a truer story.

And with this I conclude my sermon of Lo Tosifu V'Lo Tigrau. These little nuances are inserted into the account to give it more flavor. But candying it up only masks the real flavor. I am just amazed at how many people take these things at face value. In my experience, noticing these distortions actually assists me in seeing the real truth. It doesn't come naturally but it is not too difficult.

All it takes is a little practice.


G said...

These little nuances are inserted into the account to give it more flavor. But candying it up only masks the real flavor. i am just amazed at how many people take these things at face value. In my experience, noticing these distortions actually assist me in seeing the real truth.

Fair enough.

Has anything like this ever struck you when it was done so as to be pro-chareidi but was not the truth?

G said...

In addition:

Example 1:

He states that they were davening noisily, you state that this is unlikely.

Okay, why is your opinion of any more value than his?

Example 2:

"So let us rewrite his passage and insert this one little missing word:

They cannot even walk around sleeveless in what used to be their city. It is ruined."

Not quite, if you want to be totally up front about having the sentance written in perfect honesty then it should read as follows-

They cannot even walk around sleeveless in what used to be their city without being doused with water for dressing in that manner. It is ruined.

Regains a bit of its pizzaz, don't you think?

Example 3-


Example 4-

As you say, this has been beaten to death from all sides.