Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pre-Halloween Kiruv Zombie Apocalypse

Don't judge zombies by zombies.
     I can count on many hands the number of people who, at some time or another, in an attempt at kiruv, have said to me "don't judge Judaism by Jews." Usually this response comes in the course of a conversation in which we're discussing why I, after joining the world of orthodoxy, decided to go back to my secular life. There are many, many reasons why I left, but as soon as I mention topics like the lack of acceptance of BTs (baal teshuvas/the newly religious) or the bad behavior that runs rampant in many communities (speaking badly about non-Jews, non-whites, non-orthodox, people in other sects of both orthodox and non-orthodox Judaism, sexual abuse, emotional blackmail, agunot--women whose husbands won't grant them a Jewish divorce, sexism, hypocrisy, etc.,) the line that is delivered, as if on cue, is always "don't judge Judaism by Jews." (Strangely, this statement may be one of the few things that most kiruv professionals have in common.) While I do agree that groups should not be judged by the actions of some of their members, after hearing about so many negative stories, it's understandable (not justifiable) how people might end up doing just that.
     Let's take pop-culture's appropriation of zombies for example. In films, cartoons, comics, and literature, we read about people rising from the dead and often following the direction of a sorcerer or head zombie. They feast usually on the flesh or brains of the unsuspecting. Most would-be victims see a zombie and run, hide, and/or try to protect others from certain death. Now, imagine if there was this one zombie who said to people "hey guys, this is wrong. You can't judge all zombies based on these experiences. Don't judge zombies by zombies." Would people stop running and hiding? Would they suddenly start thinking that the zombies coming towards them are just looking for friendship? It sounds like a ridiculous argument because we accept that zombies don't really exist, but, as with anyone, if we grow accustomed to bad behaviors, we often become conditioned to expect those behaviors. Such conditioning often leads to distrust and fear on one hand, and an unwillingness to overlook the bad, in order to see any good that does exist.
     So, if we're not judging Judaism by Jews, then how are we judging it? Let's go back to our zombie analogy. So, let's say you were a zombie and you left zombie culture to become a non-zombie. "Well," a member of the zombie community says to you, "you should come back. Don't judge all of us because some of us eat brains, have a lack of communication skills, (we're conversing right now, are we not?) have pale gray skin with unhealed wounds, and a one track mind." The zombie pauses while you process. "I actually used to be a film student/singer/photographer/physicist/surfer before becoming a zombie. I don't eat brains. In fact, I'm a vegan. I'm not like the other zombies. And I know many others who aren't like those other unscrupulous zombies out there." Of course, that doesn't mean that one should drop his/her whole life and become  zombie for the first time, or even go back to being a zombie if one was previously a zombie. A good idea would be to take an independent look at zombie culture and do my own research. Should I let my new very unzombie-like friend try to convince me that his zombie'ism is really not like that of the other zombie'ism that I may have experienced?
     Now, not every zombie is going to be like the ones you meet on the street in the dead of the night. And that's fine. There are a great many wonderful zombies out there. But the thing is this: just because this nice guy is a zombie and thinks it's fabulous, doesn't mean that you should change your whole life to become a zombie. Just because he's having a great time, and he's happy and it works for him, doesn't mean that you should quit your degree program and walk around with your arms outstretched, scaring the life out of people. You can have a great time at his house eating that vegan dinner but you don't have to become him. Just because he doesn't think you should judge all zombies because of the actions of some zombies, is still not a justification for adopting his lifestyle. "We don't all eat brains. Why don't you be a zombie who doesn't eat brains, like me?"
     Not everybody wants to be a zombie. It would be great if kiruv professionals would realize that, just like becoming a zombie, not everyone is looking to become orthodox, either.

7 comments:

  1. I just left a lengthy comment that got eaten up by Blogger. I can't be bothered to recreate it, but here's the gist:

    1. Your argument would work using a Borg analogy as well (if you're a Star Trek fan)!

    2. Judaism is a religion that emphasizes community. It's possible to be a Christian or a Buddhist in isolation (much of their monastic practice is based upon the idea), but it's impossible to be a Jew in isolation. Community and a communal support infrastructure are mandatory.

    I have no problem judging Judaism by the Jews. The Jews are Judaism.

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  2. I met devout Muslim this summer who said the same thing. The frummie Muslims say the same thing. "Don't judge Islam by Muslims." This is how idealists in fundamentalist faiths rationalize their crappy societies.

    No offense, of course.

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  3. The analogy would be better if you used The Sorceror's Apprentice from Fantasia, you know, the one where Mickey Mouse uses the sorceror's hat to conjure up two magic brooms to full the cistern for him. The brooms continue to dump water into the cistern refusing to stop even as the castle is flooded and won't listen to Mickey when he tries to stop them.
    Don't judge Judaism by the Jews. Most of us, especially our leaders, get it quite wrong. The messenger's idiocy does not change the message.

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  4. And what message is that? Do tell...

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  5. You lost me a bit with the zombie example.

    I would, however, respond to the "don't judge Judaism by the Jews" comment as follows:

    1. Is the bad behavior something that is related to the religion itself in any way, or is it more a function of a particular culture/place/community?

    2. How is the bad behavior treated by the religious leaders? Is it condemned or encouraged by them? How do other religious leaders respond to the religious leaders who condone the bad behavior?

    3. What happens to those who do speak out against bad behavior?

    4. Are there internal divisions within the religious community when it comes to bad behavior?

    5. If Judaism is not defined by the Jews, do they acknowledge that it is possible to lead a life in keeping with Jewish values - possibly to a greater degree - without being surrounded by a (problematic) frum community?

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  6. Kiruv people are s—m bags. They use deceit and subterfuge and mislead people. Why do they do it? Because deep down they need to convince themselves of their own f—ked up choices. They are afraid of their own reasonable doubts and use their students as the guinea pigs in their own frum experiment. They need the inspiration, and you the student are their cocaine.

    Tell them to go f-ck themselves. Tell them they are liars. Tell them they are afraid to tell the whole story: to you, to their kids, to their community.

    They will never criticize the frum community: they are afraid to. They figure, as long as my kids aren’t getting fondled and raped, who gives a f-ck? It’s the other guy’s problem. My family is all that I give a f—k about. I won’t say s—t. Such cowards. Such cowards – worthless.

    Keep fighting the misleading c—k suckers.

    Choosing to be kosher is fine -- but these cowards are afraid of learning anything that they believe will weaken the high they are feeling about what they were taught by their indoctrinating ravs. And they certainly won't come clean to their students.

    Fight indoctrination, manipulation and the suppressing and distorting of outside information. Fight, fight, fight.

    Good luck,

    T

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  7. There is one major difference between zombies and the Jews you speak of. Zombies are meant to eat human flesh - it is part of their makeup. Jews are not supposed to act in the ways you mentioned. And if they do, they are making a mistake and should be held accountable.
    But the bigger problem is this. I actually agree with your whole premise that the best place to judge Judaism is by the Jews. However, you are taking a very small percentage of the Jewish community and judging the entire Jewish community based on that. I'll give you an example. My brother is in the lead-generating business and he was looking to buy leads from someone. He asked for a sample of 5 leads to see if the leads are actually worth something. This person told my brother that he has to buy a minimum of 100 to sample them. He explained to my brother that we all understand that out of 100 leads, there will be some (could be even 30-40%) that are not valuable. What if the 5 sample leads I give you are part of the worthless group? You will never buy all 100. And that is not fair business.
    If someone gave you a stack of 100 dollar bills and said, "These are for you. Some of them are counterfeit, but some are not." Would you throw out the entire pile because of a few fakes? Wouldn't you take the time to figure out which ones are real and which are not?
    It is the same over here. The horrible stories we hear in the news (and they truly are horrible) are such a small percentage of the Jews. And it is unfair to say that Judaism is bad because of them. It is similarly wrong to say that all baseball is bad because of a few players that used performance enhancing drugs.
    I'll say it this way - if you want to find the bad Jews, you will find them. If you want to use them as an excuse to shun Judaism, let's both be honest, that''s all it is - an excuse.

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