Sunday, June 26, 2016

Aish Issues Apology for Controversial Meme, FB Users Still Angered

  On Friday, June 24, 2016, right before Shabbat in Israel, ultra-orthodox kiruv group Aish HaTorah's Facebook page posted an internet meme that quickly spread to 160 shares and a multitude of comments chastising them for their insensitivity over the 25 hours that was unable to monitor their Facebook page. The story was picked up by internet sites including Frum Watch and The Friendly Atheist during the hours that Aish's page lacked supervision. Aish has since removed the meme and issued an apology stating: apologizes for the graphic that was posted before Shabbat. The meaning of the Talmudic quote was meant to inspire people NOT to remain silent in the face of evil. Given the photo and lack of context, we regret posting something that contained an alternative offensive meaning. It was not our intention; we goofed.
  While many were quick to forgive the massive, well-funded international organization for their "goof," others were less than thrilled with their apology. Commenter Miriam Lichter wrote:  "I'm sorry but saying we goofed is not a sincere apology. This picture obviously was a trigger for many women who experienced something awful in their lives and the word 'goofed' minimizes and trivializes their experiences. Try for something a little more sincere."
  Others shared her sentiments.

  Lisa Klayman Blonder, who had commented several hours before Ms. Lichter, stated "I don't think saying you goofed on a mistake as huge as the one you posted on Friday is an apology. Goofed is for a tiny insignificant error, you error on Friday was much larger than that!" 
  It seems obvious that Aish just wants this fiasco to go away. Commenter Yardena Winegust asked Aish "Also, why don't you mention what message you accidentally conveyed?" did not post a reply.
  Controversy erupted again when Yehuda R. Rabinowitz suggested that Aish have 24/7/365 monitoring of their site, and that anything less is irresponsible. While one commenter dismissed the error because of Sabbath observance,
Facebook user Mona Boeger explained that "Arutz Sheva is also Orthodox but has people in diffrrent (sic) countries run the web site during Shabbat because of the time difference, Aish is large enough to do the same. People were triggered by this photo, some probably revictimized. Sorry, they need to be more responsible!" Sexual abuse survivor Olivia Bender responded:
I was revictimized by that photo. I saw it commented to please take it down. I went and cried in my room and remembered the gag around my mouth. Trying to scream and it coming out muffled sob.... my comment was an excuse for them yes. But i prayed about it. I know that they have the best intentions. And they didn't mean it the way it came off. They also apologized. I expect no person, no company to be perfect. But they were sweet to apologize. Because i didnt even get that much from the people that hurt me in the first place. Im sorry if this was a bit much for you. But you just don't know. Walking in forgiveness and understanding that sometimes its better to just forget. Especially when you actually got an apology.
While Ms. Bender may be quick to forgive, she cannot possibly speak for everyone.
  Aish HaTorah is an outreach group that seeks to recruit young people to ultra-orthodox observance and can be found on college campuses and in areas with young professionals. Because they deal with non-orthodox people on a regular basis, they have a certain level of responsibility to be
aware of not just the goings-on in the frum world, but the complexities of the non-orthodox world. They dropped the ball on this one, making people question just how much this organization actually cares for its followers and potential followers. Gone are the days when potential BTs (baalei teshuvah/returnees to observance) can simply be wooed with the local kiruv rabbi's knowledge of baseball players or rock music. Like the Jewish parable that discusses the results of the spread of gossip in terms of the impossible task of trying to gather the scattered feathers of a ripped feather bed, Aish will never be able to gather all of the feathers of pain that their irresponsible posting has caused.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

Updated with the following comment photos. Some of the comments defending Aish are very disturbing and seem to be from Aish supporters.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Outrage Ensues After Aish HaTorah Posts Controversial Facebook Meme

 On Friday, June 24, 2016, the ultra-orthodox Aish HaTorah kiruv group's Facebook page posted a meme stating that "Silence equals consent" along with a picture of a young woman covering her face. Facebook users immediately exercised more than silence, berating the international outreach group for lacking sensitivity and common sense in posting a picture and quote with no context that evokes thoughts of rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and unwanted sexual contact.
  Readers of the Facebook page expressed their immense displeasure with Aish's post, rebuking them for a lack of sensitivity. Those knowledgeable in Talmud tried explaining the original post. Commenter Yardena Winegust wrote "One translation says "silence is regarded as admission" and then added "Shame on you. The choice of image, and choice of quote is exceptionally triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault." Others tried to be understanding of this horrific blunder. Shana Aaronson stated "Please remove this immediately. I assume (hope) that this was not your intention but this quote translated like this, especially together with this picture, is irresponsible, insensitive, triggering, and outrageously inappropriate." Commenter Meranda Prediger wrote:
This was very poorly thought out. In fact, I dare suggest it was not thought out at all. The quote relates to moral conduct and the need to stand up for what is right as saying nothing is the same as supporting. This image, combined with the quote and no further explanation inserts the wrong context. It is a very dangerous image as is right now.
(More comments can be read in the pictures on this post. Click to enlarge each section.)
  This PR disaster is more than just a little mistake on social media. It's indicative of a clear lack of understanding of the world outside of Aish's religious bubble. In a time when images on social media spread like wildfire, Aish has shown that they are not at all in step with the world outside of their community--even though it is the people of that world who they are trying to recruit. Scarier still is that Aish HaTorah serves as an umbrella for groups like MEOR Maimonides Leaders Fellowship which exist on college campuses throughout the United States. A mistake of this magnitude doesn't just reach a couple of people on Facebook. It travels back to college students and their parents--who are possible donors to Aish's many programs. It travels to people who will now be wary of Aish's mission, and it travels to people like myself--who are critical of ultra-orthodox kiruv.
  While many users called for the outreach group to remove the picture immediately, the picture remained posted (and, at the time of this post, is still online), most likely due to the onset of Shabbat in Israel, where it assumed the post was made.
  Update: Thank you to Hemant Mehta, at the Friendly Atheist, for writing about this and quoting this blog. At the time of this update,'s post has been shared 160 times and remains posted.
  Update 2: At the time of this update,'s Facebook page had been updated with an apology reading: apologizes for the graphic that was posted before Shabbat. The meaning of the Talmudic quote was meant to inspire people NOT to remain silent in the face of evil. Given the photo and lack of context, we regret posting something that contained an alternative offensive meaning. It was not our intention; we goofed.
While I'm not a fan of Aish HaTorah, I'm relieved to see that they had the sense to issue an apology after posting something that was so hurtful to so many. A screen shot has been included at the end of this post. Click the graphic to enlarge.