Monday, January 05, 2004

Together We Are Wrong

"We are a family and the loyalty of the family must come before everything and everybody else. For if we honour that commitment, we will never be vanquished – but if we falter in that loyalty, we will all be condemned.”

My father could have written those words. The kehilla is like a family, and I agree with the notion that loyalty to the group is what makes the group strong. I do not agree with the notion that the kehilla’s good is more important than the good of each individual inside it regardless.

Kennedy, when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was being more coherent than when he proudly proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner” which in the language of the common English-speaker translates as “I am a donut”. Had he wished to proclaim affinity to the undivided city he would have said “Ich bin Berliner”. However, in saying that for society to be strong we must be prepared for some sacrifice, he was undoubtedly right. If I had written those words though, I would have written “Ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country.” The difference being that in the singular form I agree entirely.

We do have to suffer sometimes for the good of society but we cannot be forced to. I can decide to forgo the pleasure of revenge upon the man who raped me if I feel that it would be better for my family or the kehilla, but none can tell me that I have to. I can decide to pay a little extra to have glatt meat (a luxury specifically not required by Halacha) or non-shomered butter (no basis in halacha) but nobody can require me to do so.

Where this ugly notion of forced self-sacrifice (a notion similar to coerced suicide) raises its head most often in our society is when those magic words Chilul-hashem pop up. For some reason the powers that be in the Chassidishe world have concluded that if the goyim will see that we are not perfect a chilul will ensue. If they will find out that we are human and fallible we, and all our values, will have been diminished in the esteem of the gentile world. So we farcically hide our faults and hope thereby to have protected our heritage from the critical eyes of “The Goyim”.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth. By and large the Chassidish community is both G-d fearing and law-abiding. We are a compassionate bunch and we try and live our lives in the manner we call ‘tzu G-t und tzu lait’ For G-d and for man’. Where we have faltered is by protecting and shielding the minority who are neither, in the mistaken belief that doing so will enhance our image. It does not! Not only does hiding a criminal, a sex offender, a thief, a wife-basher or even someone who does not want to give a get make those hiding him/her an accessory to the wrong, but it exacerbates the negative impression that outsiders have of us.

I was told by a police constable who was investigating a particularly horrible wife-beating incident in a haimishe family “I know that you people will all gather round and I won’t get anything from you but I have to do my job and ask anyway. I only hope that you will be just as firm in helping this poor lady out.” Suffice it to say I hoped that too. The Beth-Din, in their infinite wisdom were adamant in proving him right on the first half but have not yet got round to the second part.

Oh, and by the way those inspiring words from the top of this post were written by Mario Puzo to be spoken by the very fruitful Pope in The Family.