Monday, June 5, 2017

Judging the Judges – Part 1: Court of Public Opinion

Author’s note – The new series of posts that I have been writing from after Pesach (starting May11) was originally intended to discuss the issues of Agunahs and recalcitrance. It was inspired by the May 10 post that appeared in Emes V’Emunah concerning a woman named Zvia Gordetsky. The previous two posts were meant to provide the context. Although I still intend to follow through on this subject, I felt compelled to digress and discuss a side issue that is touched upon in that post. This sidetrack grew into a very long post that I must split into two or three parts. Here is part 1.

In the Foreword of my book, I wrote that in the course of my project I am wearing “three uniforms”. This means that I am assuming three types of roles. One is that of an educator, the second is that of a rabbi or preacher, and the third is that of a legal advocate – a defense attorney. Accordingly, most of the blog posts that I have written are in the capacity of at least one of these roles.

Of these roles, I would say the most challenging, and perhaps most fulfilling one, is that of the defense attorney. It is also the least glamorous. The defense attorney defends those that currently stand accused. Even if final judgment has not yet been passed, the accused is usually already seen as guilty in the eyes of the prosecution and, consequently, in the eyes of the spectators. The defense attorney’s job is to sway a public opinion that may already have dried and hardened.

My first and primary “client” is chareidi ideology, behaviors and conventions. Essentially, this was the entire theme of my book. As such, I defended the entire chareidi community (link) after Rabbi Harry Maryles publicly accused us of fomenting “divisiveness” (link). I also defended (link), when he accused us of creating a “world of chumros” (link). I defended the Kollel system (link) after criticisms by Rabbi Harry Maryles (link) and Rabbi Wein (link) about a "dependency class". I defended our approach to geirus (link) during a country-wide outcry after Rav Avraham Sherman nullified the geirus of a woman who never observed any mitzvos whatsoever and challenged the authority of Rav Druckman (link). And, of course, I defended the advent of Mehadrin buses (link) after it had been attacked by almost everybody (link).

I defended individual chareidim or chareidi sympathizers from personal attacks such as defending Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky (link) after being needlessly maligned by Rabbi Maryles (link). Likewise, I defended Rabbi Aharon Feldman, shlita, (link) after his book was criticized by Rabbi Maryles (link) and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Z”L, (link) and I defended an anonymous servant of the Herzeliya rabbanut (link) after an attack by Rabbi Maryles (link). And don’t forget Sar Yaakov Neeman, Z”L (link) – after his speech was criticized by Rabbi Maryles (link). I even defended Bibi Netanyahu‘s child allowance increase (link) after he was criticized by my personal friend, Sam Ser (link).

All pro bono.

Like an honest-to-goodness defense attorney, I even went so far as to “defend” some “indefensible” miscreants such as the callous thug who took on Miriam Shear (link), Elchanan Buzaglo (link), and even one or two accused seksual offenders, on the grounds that the accusations were largely unproven (link).

Trust me, they are all acts of love. As they say in the world of sports: one doesn’t usually score points while on defense.

I do this because, contrary to all appearances, I harbor a tremendous amount of ahavas Yisroel. To understand it better, just check out my “Xenophobia” post.

And I do it for another reason which is exceedingly selfish. I firmly believe that if one makes a career out of being dan l’kaf zechus, then when he goes Upstairs to face din v’cheshbon after his 120 years, he can expect to be handled in a similar fashion. Likewise, for one who makes a career about pointing out the flaws in others, real or imagined, this is, R”L, what he will be met with when his turn comes.

I sure know in what kind of courtroom I would prefer to be when my time comes.

I have noticed in the blogosphere and in the world at large, people are very quick to pass judgment on others. Obviously, “judgment” in this context means pejorative judgment. Everyone who does so feels qualified to do so.

But when a judge condemns a person, what is he doing?

He is proclaiming that the accused should not have done what he is being convicted of doing. The judge is making a statement that if he were in the exact same position, and if he were faced with the exact same trials and tribulations, he would act differently. The judge feels that he is above this kind of behavior so he is entitled to judge the miscreants.

As a rule, I do not feel qualified to judge others. (That’s why I am studying to be a Toen and not a Dayan!) Parshos Yisro gives us a few guidelines on what qualifies a judge. I don’t really meet any of them (especially the “sonei betza” part). And Pirkei Avos gives us some more. One of the main ones is:

אל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו.

Do not judge your fellow until you stand in his place. This is, until you can stand in his shoes. Until you know where he is coming from.

It is on this basis that I found it so easy to stand up for the alleged miscreants that I have defended. I can see things that others don’t see because I will look where others don’t look.

You see, things look very different when we look at the whole picture. Yet most self-appointed armchair “judges” don’t care to look at the whole picture. They only care to look at what they are shown. In all of the cases that I have dealt with on my blog, the only side to show anything is the accuser; always nothing from the accused. So, a prudent judge ought to promptly recuse himself from passing judgment because he doesn’t really know the whole story. But, this doesn’t seem to happen much on the blogosphere.

We all know there are two sides to every story. I think there are really three sides. There is the accuser’s side, the accused’s side, and there are the “forensics”. The forensics are the details we can learn from external sources such as the physical evidence, the environment, the “scene of the crime” (or lack thereof), or the fact that “you claim that it happened two weeks ago at the ball game but the Yankees were in Kansas City that week!”. It provides the context. There is always some context but, despite this, so many people are ready to pass judgment just on one side. It’s enough for them.

Usually, it’s enough for me as well. Because even when I only hear the accuser tell his (or her) side, when I listen carefully, I usually hear some startling confessions. From the accuser!

So let’s now briefly review some previous episodes and then move on to the new current episode which is the focus of this multi-part post.

Episode 1 – Miriam Shear

One of the earliest battles I took on when I opened this blog in 2008 was to confront Miriam Shear. Miriam Shear, a 50 year old tourist at the time, is a very strong-willed woman and not afraid to stand up (or sit down) for herself. In any case, she was very adamant to ensure that there should be no lasting legacy to the idea of segregated Mehadrin style buses on the Kosel (or any other) line. Unfortunately for her, some other folks (who were actually living in Eretz Yisrael) were equally devoted to upholding the Mehadrin status.

Her mesiras nefesh was put to the test on Nov. 24, 2006 when her resolve escalated into a full scale brawl on the No. 2 Kosel bound netz bus originating in Har Nof.

Her side of the story can be read HERE.

In addition to her claim of complete innocence and to have been wronged and victimized during the incident, she shamelessly alerted the whole world of her plight “after she forwarded an e-mail detailing her experience” as well as stating her case to the secular Israeli media (Haaretz). In this way she was publically accusing her alleged attacker(s) (it started with one person and seemingly escalated to about four). Thus, she propelled the whole issue of draconian Mehadrin buses and chareidi thuggery into the “court of public opinion”.

Understandably, the alleged perpetrator did not turn himself in; so he was tried in absentia. The world predominantly took her side and supported her story and position. As such, the chareidi world and its endeavor to minimize ta’aruves was thoroughly and publicly vilified. Her cause gained the sympathy of numerous righteous Jews such as Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and RabbiHarry Maryles. We must do away and be apologetic about these “tznius-patrol thugs”!

I judged the story differently. My initial post aimed at pointing out her culpability in the incident can be read HERE.

I wasn’t totally alone. In her follow up post Enough is Enough she mentions that others, albeit a clear minority, echoed the main points of my post:

While the majority of the 3,000+ emails I received were supportive and even congratulatory for my refusal to be bullied by a group of mutineers on a public bus, there were nevertheless a significant enough minority who felt that I had erred for various reasons. The most common was that I should have behaved as a “bas melech Yisrael” and could have avoided all of the ugliness if I would have just been a little more compliant. A few even went so far as to condemn my response to the initial spitting (“you should have just gotten up and moved to the back”).

Perhaps the fact that her email address is (or was):  tipped us off.

Although I also pointed out these “errors” from her own account, she conveniently omits that in addition, she expressly indicated that she was looking for a fight (she calls it a “heated verbal exchange”).

Still, every reader seemed to concede that she was attacked by a group of tznius patrol thugs (“group of mutineers”) who were acting unjustifiably violently regardless of whether or not she was in the right. They are guilty!!

I didn’t agree. Aside from the details that I wrote about in my first post which others also noticed such as: (1) she intentionally chose that seat, (2) she had had altercations in the past and was expecting more (i.e., she was looking for a fight), (3) she ignored the other women who implored her to move to the back and she certainly did not do it of her own accord, etc., all of this from her own account  – I also noticed something else that nobody else seemed to notice.

It’s what I called earlier “forensics” (or "context").

This incident occurred on the No. 2 Kosel bus that is designated for neitz hachama. I am not sure where it was holding on the route but if the bus was relatively empty, it was at one of the earlier stops, but probably not the very beginning. Regardless, this incident definitely occurred at 4:30-5:00 in the morning.

Who is going to be riding the bus to the Kosel at this hour? - some restless tznius-patrol shababniks (mutineers) who are looking for action? At 5:00 am?

Sorry, but these guys don’t start work that early.

Friends, the people who go to the Kosel for neitz on a daily basis are special people. They are very holy Jews. They are very committed to a life of kedusha. They deny themselves earthly comforts (such as a full night’s sleep) to maintain their level of kedusha. They are not violent. These people are no thugs. Please make a note of it.

Now let’s do a little  מגיע למקומו.

Initially, it was a single individual that confronted her. Not a group. She indicated that there were other empty seats. So let’s say the bus was half full and now this fellow comes up and sees a half full bus which is only going to get fuller with all of the women in the back and one lone kitty sitting where the men would like to find seats. Just one.

I am sure there were quite a few empty seats around her because none of the men are going to sit next to her and preferably not behind her or across from her. Thus, she was inadvertently consuming a lot of prime real estate. So, as the bus continues, more men will come and they will not be interested in looking at her. Where are they supposed to sit? Next to her? Across from her? In the back with all the women? She is already forcing the men into very awkward positons.

So now this Israeli sincere neitz-hachama-devoted fellow gets on and takes all of this in. What would you do?

I don’t mean what would you do if you were Rabbi Harry Maryles or Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz. I know what they would do. What would you do if you were a sincere Israeli Yerushalmi Jew, brought up on Yerushalmi principles who is devoted to a life of kedusha and to daven neitz at the Kosel on a daily basis?

Think about it.

One last thing. I wrote a follow up post where I brought up these issues. In that post, I went a step further in the מגיע למקומו department and I speculated for numerous reasons, that this fellow may not have been a Western minded Ashkenazi as is myself along with Rabbis Maryles and Horowitz and most everyone else who surfs the English language Internet. Perhaps he is of Sefardi background where the rules of engagement between men and women are much stricter than ours? Yes, this is mere conjecture, but it is at least even odds. And, if this is so, I posited, what on earth gives Miriam Shear or Rabbis Maryles and Horowitz or myself or anyone else in the blogosphere the right to even attempt to pass judgment (on a very observant Jew) based on our Western standards???

As long as we are not told in the media what this fellow’s background is, it behooves us to take all possibilities into consideration, does it not?

Because, not only are we cautioned from judging our fellow man until we know where he is (מגיע למקומו), we just as much need to know where he’s been – where he’s coming from.

Let’s move on to the next episode.

End of Part 1...


Hannah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yechezkel said...

To Hannah...

I regret that I felt the need to delete your comment. It was at best Lashon Hara and more likely Motzi Shem Ra so I could not allow it to stand. To my recollection only once in the past did I resort to this step.
Please feel free to comment again if you have something of substance to say.


Hannah said...

He still does it and advertises it ... my comment wes 100% kosher... that rabbi is not... unless you show he is allowed to to this..