Friday, September 12, 2008

Religious Bullying - "You are a shaigetz, I am a tzadik"

One of the spiritual dangers of being religious is the use of assumed moral/religious superiority as a club or debating tactic. "You can't question that because it part of the mesorah [ said with great indignation]" Who are you to disagree with the godol/rebbe hador?" "Only people with weak faith [latent kefirah] asks those types of questions [said with a sneer]." "You need to do teshuva for making such a statement [said with great self-righteousness]." "Only baalei teshuva ask those type of questions." "Why of course I am speaking lashon harah - but it is l'to'eles since they are so krum[i.e. against the mesora]."

I recently was discussing this issue with my chavrusa [he is also a psychologist]. Why is there such joy dumping on group X and such strong and sometimes vicious reaction when one of our own is criticized - or even worse if c.v. we ourselves are criticized - by an outsider. BTW I admit I am also a perpetrator on occasion.

Furthermore why is it so resented when we try to stop one of our own dumping on an "outsider" and why is there often a very hostile reaction when we criticize our own community - especially a rabbi or rosh yeshiva or community practice. [e.g. what happened with Rabbi Dr. Twerski]

Besides the agreement that this phenomon exists perhaps what disturbed both of us was the realization that neither of us had had much such success in 1) making our acquaintances aware of this phenomenon [of course we all know that "others do such things"] 2) having any positive influence on the activity while it occurring. I am not talking about the halacha of tochacha but rather ego building and defensive - at the expense of being ehrlich.

Perhaps the issue is that religious bullying is satisfying as a substitute for meaning in life. Assuming spiritual superiority over others is a substitute for our own spiritual strivings. Focusing on what we need to do to grow is very hard. It is much easier - especially when validated by one's own group - to focus on what is wrong with everyone else. Being part of a group [mob] is very satisfying.

Suggestions welcomed.

This is an intersting example I published in Daas Torah I page 202

There are some rabbis who want to dominate their students more than is appropriate and they assert that whoever has been a student even as a child is forever subordinate to them and can never disagree with them in any issue. They claim that this is true even if the student has become their equal or even their superior in learning because they assert that the main factor is where the relationship started not where it is now. They furthermore assert that even if the rabbi has clearly erred or behaves incorrectly, that disagreeing with the rabbi is the same as contradicting G‑d and other such claims. The answer to this that even if the student is forever subordinate to his teacher as these rabbis assert, nevertheless is quite obvious that that is only in relationship to honoring him by standing up for him or ripping his garment irreversibly in mourning for him. However, concerning matters of Heaven e.g., he saw his teacher err in Halacha which is a chilul HaShem—there is no requirement to honor his teacher. This can readily be seen in the many examples in the gemora such as the events with Rabban Gamliel (Berachos 26b)…


  1. Dear Rabbi Eidensonn,

    You have raised a very important point. Right or wrong, I will be the first to admit that there is a degree of illicit thrill in engaging in a debate criticizing others. It is a yetzer hara that can become destructive if it isn't controlled.

    It is possible that part of this is motivated, similar to what you have said, from a sense of personal dissatisfaction with one's own spiritual growth. It is a way of compensating for one's own failures, by "making up" for them by focusing on others.

    This can also be a major factor in parenting, teaching, and kiruv. How many of us, on some level, hope to raise our children/students to be free of our own spiritual flaws, even when we have, to some degree, "given up" on ourselves?

    I would emphasize that I am not talking about gross, concious, motivations, but subtle, almost subconcious, aspects of our motivation.

    It is obvious that, whatever one's feelings about issues involving other Jews, one's primary focus must be one's own spiritual responsibilities. Spending too much time criticizing others, even if the criticisms are valid, is not spiritually healthy.

    This is a concern I have had for myself. While I don't regret anything in particular that I have posted, I also don't feel that it has been the healthiest thing for me on a personal level.

    The truth is that normally I wouldn't have time to particpate as heavily as I have over the past several weeks. For medical reasons (recovering from spinal surgery) I have basically been an invalid for the last two and a half months. I have not been allowed to go to work or do most of my normal activities. So I have gotten drawn into this kind of heavy-handed discussion without quite planning it out.

    Baruch Hashem, the doctor says that I can go back to work early next week. So my participation will probably drop off substantially. (I'll still be around though.)

    Despite what I have said above, and some of the frustrations inherent in this kind of discourse, I have found these discussions to be both stimulating and informative.

    A kesiva v'chasima tovah to all.

    Lazer A.

  2. Lazer A - glad to hear that things are going better for you.

    Greatly appreciate your participation. Hopefully you find time to continue.

  3. "This is a concern I have had for myself. While I don't regret anything in particular that I have posted, I also don't feel that it has been the healthiest thing for me on a personal level."

    For a while I felt that I had become too wrapped up in the "save the world via the daattorah blog" mentality. I stopped checking it for a while because I felt it was becoming unhealthy for me personally.

    Lazer A. I am happy to hear that you are able to go back to work. Gmar K'siva v'chasima Tova to you as well.

    I have learned a great deal from your posts and I really hope that you will post when you can. I appreciate that you have used your recovery time to post to this blog for the benefit of all of us.

  4. Excellent post, imho. You may also want to take a look at the Meiri on Avos ch.5:19, and perhaps post it ? I think you'll find it interesting.

  5. המאירי על מסכת אבות פרק ה משנה יט
    (יט) כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים כו' יש לתמוה איך ראוי לומר על מחלוקת שיתקיים והרי עכ"פ לא יתקיים אלא אחת מן הדעות שחלקו עליהם ומילת מחלוקת כוללת הב' צדדים ואין ראוי לומר דהמחלוקת יתקיים ומ"מ יראה לי שאין מחלוקת מיוחסת רק למשיב על הראשון ר"ל כשהאחד מתעורר לעשות איזה דבר ואומר ראוי שנעשה כך או שישאלו לו איזה ענין ויורה עליו שהוא כך אין זה מחלוקת אבל כשהשני ישיב ויאמר מה שאתה אומר שהוא ראוי שיעשה אינו ראוי או מה שהורית אינו כמו שהורית אלא בהפך זה מחלוקת ונמצא שאין המחלוקת כולל אלא אחד מן הצדדים והוא המשיב על הראשון ואמר שאם זה השני משיב וחולק שלא בדרך קנטור ונצוח אלא להודעת האמת סופו שיתקיימו דבריו כי האמת יעשה דרכו אבל כשאינה לשם שמים אלא דמשיב וחולק דרך קנטור ונצוח אין סופה להתקיים אלא שיתקיימו דברי הראשון וכ"ש מחלוקת שבדברים אחרים והכונה שיתעורר האדם להשתדל בהעמדת האמת ולחלוק על כל הבא לבטלו לא יגור מפני איש ואפילו על כל מקנטר ילך לדרכו ו[י]עשה כרצונו והגדיל ופירש בה ואמר איזו היא מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים [זו] של הלל ושמאי שהיה אחד מורה הוראה והשני חולק עליו להודעת האמת ולא לקנטר ולא לנצוח ולכן נתקיימו דברי החולק כשהיה האמת אתו ואיזו היא מחלוקת שלא לשם, שמים זו של קרח ועדתו שבאו לקנטר על משה רבינו ע"ה ועל הנהגתו מדרך קנאה וקנטור ונצוח ולא נתקיימה עצתו ושולח ביד פשעו:

  6. shloime said...

    Excellent post, imho. You may also want to take a look at the Meiri on Avos ch.5:19, and perhaps post it ? I think you'll find it interesting.
    Can't figure out what he is trying to say - what did you find interesting in this Meiri?

  7. The reason for bullying is actually quite simple.

    A self-assured person who is confident in his beliefs does not bully others. He doesn't need to because the existence of competing points of view doesn't affect his own. He knows what he believes and why, thus he is not threatened by others.

    A person lacking self-confidence, on the other hand, maintains his position by smashing down the opinions of others. Perhaps he's a Jew-by-rote, or perhaps he's a baal teshuvah who only has a simpllistic, superficial education. To such a person, the idea of competing philosophies is threatening. After all, he wants to be right and many people erroneously believe there's only one way to be right which means that either his way is right or the competition. But admitting he's wrong is not something he wants to do. Better, then, to smash the opposition than to debate it and possibly have to change his mind.
    People often note that Rav Moshe Feinstein is far more accepted and liked by the Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi communities than any Chareidi "Gadol" today. This may be why. Rav Feinstein, zt"l, was asked questions and answered them to his best ability. Today the Chareidi leadership demands that its authority and viewpoints be accepted by any Jew who wants to call himself "observant", effectively declaring that there is only one way to be properly Jewish. And to question this "Daas Torah" (not to be confused with the best-selling book with the name title) provokes violent responses, probably because of the reasons I noted above.

  8. The bullying is an expression of an internal struggle that is aggravated by the victim of the verbal aggression. The struggle could be uncertainty about the truth, or lack of spirituality, as suggested, but also one who feels compelled to defend what he rationally knows to be undefendable, will likely resort to verbal violence.


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