Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Orthodox Judaism - is it a cult?


Rick Ross accuses Orthodox Judaism of being a cult

http://www.rickross.com/sg_jewish.html

What makes a religious group a cult?

Experts also have differing opinions about what puts a group into the question mark category. A few give the label to any religious group that doesn’t hold a specific set of doctrinal beliefs. Others say the only reliable dividing line is whether a group obeys the law. A lot linger somewhere in the middle.

Rick Ross, who heads up a religious research institute in New Jersey, is one expert who sees no problem in using the word cult. To him, there’s no reason not to use the term except for political correctness.

“Whether they call them cults, new religious movements or whatever, you see the same structure in behavior, the same structure in dynamics,” Ross said. “Groups that fit this pattern are very often unstable.”

24 comments :

  1. If you read the literature on cults they provide a description including a list of characteristics that are needed to categorize the group as a cult. Accordingly, the term is not one to be used without consideration. Like a Dr, who diagnoses a patient with a mental illness based upon his/her history and symptoms, similarly, one would diagnose a group as a cult if it meets specific criteria.

    There is no question that Orthodox Judaism (and just about every religion for that matter) meets some of the criteria. The only question is does it meet all the criteria. The criteria that it does meet includes the financial strains brought by the group (tuition), cult leadership (Daas Torah), insularity, group pressure among others.

    It should not be so shocking that Orthodoxy has been labeled a cult.

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  2. Whether Orthodox Judaism, has crossed the line into becomming a cult is a good question. Ultimately it seems that it depends on whether individuals take part on account of their own free will, or if they are coerced. here is a good article on primary characteristics of a cult from a secular perspective. This is a also a good bit of information, though from a Xtian persective

    Does all of Orthodox Judaism fit that mold? NO! Are their parts that have already crossed that threshold or that are in the process of crossing it. Yes absolutely. Your own posts concerning riots and inter-Hareidi/Orthodox violence show that.

    Unfortunately as a whole people groups are usually labeled by their most extreme elements. It appears that Orthodox Judaism, or as Rick Ross puts it, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups are now experiencing that as well.

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  3. There is plenty of coercion in certain corners of the Orthodox world. For example, what if your neighbors and friends, who are people of your age and religion, say they won't eat in your house unless you buy meat of a specific Hashgacha, or dairy of a specific Hashgacha?

    To not become socially ostracized many change their eating and purchasing habits.

    Same goes for mode of dress, wig or scarf or hat, what school the children are educated in, whatkind of Kippah, Tzitzit, and so forth.

    Many of these practices are forced on individuals via intense social and communal pressure, whether or not they have an actual basis in Halacha.

    Very very cultish. Judaism is not a cult, but much of frum society is.

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  4. most cults use sleep deprivation, low protein food, mantras, and the inability to ask questions. there is a cult leader who one must listen to and who can change his mind the next day.
    if the Gadol Hador were to say we should eat pork or break the shabbat, no one would listen.
    I wouldn't think orthodox Judaism fits these conditions
    It is the difference between education and brainwashing

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  5. There are definitly some segments in the frum world which are cults. Some segments are the BT/Keiruv organization, specially the Torah Bli Derech Eretz organizations.

    One of them is Kol Yaakov owned by our own Leib Tropper / Roni. He controls his talmidim, forbid them them from being close to their parents unless the parents become observant, controls who the student will date, controls where he would live, what should he do with his life, will tell a BT to leave his wife with two children and will send him to Israel to learn in a yeshiva . If a student dared to refuse being controlled by Tropper, Tropper is so vindictive and will try to ruin their life. We have examples on this blog on the way he treated a convert who sometimes did not wear shaitel (revoked her conversion)
    http://www.jewcy.com/tags/leib_tropper

    or treated a conversion candidate who dared to seek Modern Orthododx conversion ( lied about her that she still believes in Christ)
    http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5769/TZV69aconvert.htm

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  6. Every social group in the world has standards and norms - both behavioral and ideological - that it uses to determine who is "in" and who is "out", and every group enforces these standards through the social ostracism of "violators" of those norms. It is precisely these norms (and the enforcement thereof) that makes one group distinct from another.

    This is true for religions, political ideologies, philosophical societies, fraternities, academic circles, clubs, "high society", fashion designers, high school cliques, and friends who hang out with each other. In other words, everybody engages in this behavior.

    The fact that outsiders may disagree with the norms of a group certainly does not make the group a "cult" (if that term has any meaning in the first place). The fact that some members of a group will conform with standards that they personally disagree with out of "fear" of ostracism also doesn't mean anything. This "fear" is nothing more than the fear of losing the benefits of membership in the group. As long as someone chooses to conform with the norms, this means that the person sees the benefit of membership as worth the cost of conforming.

    In order for the term "cult" to have any real meaning other than "religious group I don't like", there clearly needs to be something more than the fact that they impose norms upon their members and enforce those norms through the ostracism of violators.

    The term "brainwashing" is usually used to describe this unique characteristic. Unfortunately, the entire concept of brainwashing is controversial and may well be a myth. Ultimately, people join cults because they offer them something that they want.

    (Personally, I think the likelihood is that "brainwashing" is a "therapeutic myth", in that it helps former cult members "deal" with the choices they made which they now regret. It is always easier to blame someone else for one's own mistakes.)

    In short, I am deeply skeptical whether the term "cult" even has any real meaning in the first place. As such, it is very easy to apply it to any group one disapproves of - and the accusation is virtually impossible to disprove once it is made.

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  7. A cult is a social group that demands a high level of devotion from its adherents and a moderately closed world view - that we don't agree with. Otherwise, if we do like them they're a religion.

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  8. "In short, I am deeply skeptical whether the term "cult" even has any real meaning in the first place"
    sure some people throw the term around and label groups cults when they are don't meet the criteria.
    The term has legitimacy when we apply specific criteria to a group that meets that criteria. Just like there are labels we use to categorize groups such as frum or non frum which we base on criteria (Kashrus, Shabbos ETC) it is the same with this pejorative label "cult".
    Instead of using the term cult perhaps we could just describe the characteristics and the results of joining or being part of the frum community. Then we would no longer be debating semantics.

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  9. We can't lose sight of the fact that the word "cult" is the root of the word "culture."

    In our modern context, someone is considered to be part of a cult when the rules that are placed upon the members appear to based in nothing other than maintaining the power base of the cult leaders, and not on some legitimately objective philosophy or viewpoint.

    Shulchan Aruch makes it fairly clear what is necessary for Shechita to be kosher. Yet, when a Rabbi gets up and says "Rubashkin is the only reliable Hechsher", it simply cannot be said that no Ashkenazim, Sephardim, or other Hassidim know how to do Kosher slaughter. The only reason to declare "Rubashkin only" is to promote the cult. (as a case in point).

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  10. The only reason to declare "Rubashkin only" is to promote the cult. (as a case in point).
    Or when someone says your Matza's are not recommended because you don't swim in the Kashrus (shark infested) waters.

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  11. Modern Chassidish said "Or when someone says your Matza's are not recommended because you don't swim in the Kashrus (shark infested) waters."

    Exactly the point. Many many viewpoints and burdens are placed on many Jewish people that are only in place to retain the indispensability of certain leaders or institutions.

    When a group of Rabbis oppose the creation of a Hebrew language charter school in the public school system on the basis that it could erode demand for the local Yeshiva (even though the students who would attend the charter school are already out of Yeshiva for financial reasons), this is also cultish.

    So is declaring that only one sect's Mikvah is kosher.

    So is forbidding young Jewish people from socializing in the local pizza shop with the threat of being kicked out the local Yeshiva if they are seen speaking to a person of the opposite sex in a public place (this is not part of Judaism).

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  12. Josh said...

    Modern Chassidish said "Or when someone says your Matza's are not recommended because you don't swim in the Kashrus (shark infested) waters."

    Exactly the point. Many many viewpoints and burdens are placed on many Jewish people that are only in place to retain the indispensability of certain leaders or institutions.
    =================
    When your authority is used to reject the authority of others - where did you get your authority from. Sounds like you are trying to set up your own cult based your own intuitive (or personal) biases.

    You are also espousing the idea that the individual is more important the the group - what is the basis of such a fundamental value and what gives you the right to ascribe it to Judaism?

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  13. Several here run the risk of mistaking cultish behaviour for free choice decisions to align with a segment or sect of Judaism. Kashrut, especially of Matzah(as anyone non-Sephardi would say my matzah isn't kosher), behavioral standards at Yeshivot, and so forth are well within the bounds of a legitimate and healthy sect. You have the ability to choose to be a part of that sect or not.

    The threshold is crossed when methods of "persuasion" become something other than a reward based system, which is where most of Orthodox Judaism is now. You behave a certain way, then you can attend X Yeshiva, that is fine, and healthy as it is the free choice of the individual. However the threshold is crossed when punishment based persuasion becomes the norm. As in if you do not behave in a certain way, your business is firebombed or the local modesty squad pays you a visit.

    The video that was posted as part of the Fear of Chareidi takeover post is an excellent example of the crossing over to becoming a cult. Considering that a Chareidi Rav was handcuffed and beaten in his own synagogue on account of not bending to the pressure of a minority group. That is cultic behaviour.

    Will the world start to view Orthodoxy as a whole as cultic on account of that. Absolutely. The media only reports, and then not always accurately, a societies most extreme elements and events. Thus what is foremost in the psyche of most people when they think of Orthodoxy is those extreme elements and events.

    There are 700,000 Chareidim living in Israel alone. A handful beat a Rabbi, and suddenly there is a violent Chareidi takeover. 1000-2000 riot, and suddenly all Chareidim are united in rioting and overturning a democratic government. These extreme and cultic elements make up less than 1% of Chareidi society, but 99% will be branded as such on account of them.

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  14. modern chassidish said:
    "sure some people throw the term around and label groups cults when they are don't meet the criteria.
    The term has legitimacy when we apply specific criteria to a group that meets that criteria."


    The problem isn't merely that people use the term inaccurately, the problem is that the term has no real meaning in the first place. There is no accepted definition of the term which, if objectively applied, would not include a vast range of groups that no reasonable person would consider a "cult".

    The term has no meaning except as a pejorative.

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  15. Mekubal's distinction between groups that engage in legitimate methods of enforcing social norms and groups that engage in violent forms of coercion is, obviously, very important, and it is deeply disturbing that the importance of this distinction seems to be increasingly lost on some members of the Orthodox community (especially in Israel).

    That being said, violent coercion to maintain loyalty to the group cannot be considered the defining characteristic of (so-called) "cults" without significantly changing the meaning usually associated with the term. The majority of groups that are considered "cults" do not engage in violent coercion. At the same time, using this definition would include other groups - such as criminal organizations and gangs - which are not considered "cults" according to the conventional usage of the term.

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  16. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 3, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    If you read all the links in his site, Rick Ross is NOT including every last Orthodox group but rather based on articles and reports that all are free to read, readers are presented with his findings.

    Rick Ross is not a rabbi, and his own "religion" or religious beliefs, if any, are not known, so whatever he says is not the final word. BUT he does provide an importnat service by offering a serious collection of articles critical of the practices of many groups that go overboard in over-controlling their members and disciples to the point of taking undue advantage of them. This cannot be denied.

    Perhaps it would be wiser to read EVERYTHING he has to say and the links and articles on his site, BEFORE jumping to any final conclusions about him.

    This is a complex issue, and the problem of attacking Rick Ross would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater simply because almost everything Rick Ross reports is, according to to him, "accurate", since he cites articles and books often from the primary sources themselves.

    Any Orthodox Jews who work with or find themselves in the company of non-Jews or with secular Jews, are often faced with this question and "accusation" that to the outsider, all forms of Orthodox Judaism seem like "cults" and it's an accusation that is easy to refute by pointing out the dangers of generalizing and pointing fingers at Orthodox Judaism which has been the only type of Judaism that has survived over the millenia while all other forms and innovations have fallen away over time.

    Just review the examples he lists and it's easy to see that they are NOT typical of Orthodox Judaism:

    Aish HaTorah, a kiruv group, but the links are not about it. The JDL, since when is that an example of "Orthodoxy"? Chabad is controversial, but so were all followers of the Baal Shem Tov, whom the Vilna Gaon placed in Cherem, yet life goes on in the frum world and plenty of people love Chabad for all thet they do. The "Kabbalah Centre", listed twice with "Philip Berg", are NOT "Orthodox", so it is easy to see why based on some complaints against such groups that are involved in recruitment of members, there have been accusations of "cultishness" but it is a far stretch and illogical to then "accuse" the Jewish religion itself that has a rich independent, rational, scientific, and logical legacy, replete with the Talmud and Talmudic sages and thinkers still studied and followed like Maimonides and Nachmanides, Rav JB Soloveitchik of YU and all the hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews who practice as colllge-educated professionals, that are not part of one "cult" as might be the case with other modern-day newly-created groups.

    There are far too many splits and divisions and levels of observance in Orthodox Judaism to worry about what Rick Ross has to say.

    By the same token, Rick Ross is an important voice that should not be ignored, because he does base himself of real-life events that are brought to his attention.

    If there are aspects of "cultishness" in Yiddishkeit that he is pointing to, perhaps it's worth noting like a good piece of mussar from an unexpected source and not to be petty and take offense and cut off one's nose to spite one's face, but rather learn what there is to be learned, do teshuva if need be, and move on.

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  17. "Sounds like you are trying to set up your own cult based your own intuitive (or personal) biases."

    Come on. That's not a fair comment. Posting an opinion is not the same as starting a cult. A cult is a group that has unhealthy interactions with its leader and seeks to control the individual.
    Josh's opinion may not be a psak halacha as you implied. But if I understand you correctly, your view is that one is not allowed to have an opinion unless one has found a halachik source to support that opinion. Am I correct?

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  18. modern chassidish said...

    "Sounds like you are trying to set up your own cult based your own intuitive (or personal) biases."

    Come on. That's not a fair comment. Posting an opinion is not the same as starting a cult. A cult is a group that has unhealthy interactions with its leader and seeks to control the individual.
    Josh's opinion may not be a psak halacha as you implied. But if I understand you correctly, your view is that one is not allowed to have an opinion unless one has found a halachik source to support that opinion. Am I correct?
    ==================
    nope I was simply noting that when someone makes comments as to what the Jewish position is or isn't he should bring a Jewish source.



    Josh said...

    Exactly the point. Many many viewpoints and burdens are placed on many Jewish people that are only in place to retain the indispensability of certain leaders or institutions.

    When a group of Rabbis oppose the creation of a Hebrew language charter school in the public school system on the basis that it could erode demand for the local Yeshiva (even though the students who would attend the charter school are already out of Yeshiva for financial reasons), this is also cultish.

    So is declaring that only one sect's Mikvah is kosher.

    So is forbidding young Jewish people from socializing in the local pizza shop with the threat of being kicked out the local Yeshiva if they are seen speaking to a person of the opposite sex in a public place (this is not part of Judaism).

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  19. Daas Torah said:
    "When your authority is used to reject the authority of others - where did you get your authority from. Sounds like you are trying to set up your own cult based your own intuitive (or personal) biases."

    I am not aware that Judaism sees the disparagement of other authorities as a legitimate basis for maintaining credibility and authority. Is this "might makes right" Judaism?

    Daas Torah further said:

    "You are also espousing the idea that the individual is more important the the group - what is the basis of such a fundamental value and what gives you the right to ascribe it to Judaism?"

    You seem to espouse that the group has the right to make all sorts of demands on the individual that have no basis in Halacha. Does the group have the right to tell me to wear a Borsalino hat, or that my Cholent can only have beef and not lamb in it? What is the basis in Halacha that says that we must forfeit our individuality to the lifestyles and ideas of the group, ideas which have to do with taste and lifestyle, and not halacha.?

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  20. "...the Jewish position is or isn't he should bring a Jewish source"
    Thanks for clarifying.
    Is it really Assur for Yeshiva students to talk to girls? I have not researched this topic. If you have any mareh mikomos I'd appreciate it.

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  21. Josh said...

    Daas Torah said:
    "When your authority is used to reject the authority of others - where did you get your authority from. Sounds like you are trying to set up your own cult based your own intuitive (or personal) biases."

    I am not aware that Judaism sees the disparagement of other authorities as a legitimate basis for maintaining credibility and authority. Is this "might makes right" Judaism?
    ==============
    I am not sure what your education is? Have you have learned gemora? Have you ever read teshuvos in which harsh words are used not only against Reform & Conservative - but also Orthodox rabbis whose positions are viewed as mistaken or dangerous for the Jewish community. Judaism does not have a live and let live attitude. Heresy is a significant issue - see the Rambam's 13 principles of faith. I just find it incredible you can make such an assertion. You might even recall that the Rambam's views were strongly condemned by other authorities. Ramchal was forced to retract his positions. There is even a concept of Zaken Mamre - a distinguished talmid chachom who has clear traditions from his teachers and yet he is condemned to death if he insists on teaching them against the majority of the Sanhedrin. Have you ever heard about R' Eleazar Bava Metzia 59?

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  22. modern chassidish said...


    Is it really Assur for Yeshiva students to talk to girls? I have not researched this topic. If you have any mareh mikomos I'd appreciate it.
    ===================
    The issue of yeshiva students and girls is a complex issue which depends on the level and background of the students and the degree that this leads to trouble as well as the harm to the society. The gemora mentions that there were guards posted on Yom Tov to keep boys and girls from socializing.

    There is no question that it is legitimate to kick out students who go to bars or hang around street corner's talking to girls. You might want to start with Rav Moshe Feinstein's teshuva EH 4:60 In fact if you want to get an idea of the relationship between males and females you might want to look at the topics in my Yad Moshe index p258-262

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  23. modern chassidish said:
    "Is it really Assur for Yeshiva students to talk to girls? I have not researched this topic. If you have any mareh mikomos I'd appreciate it."

    It isn't just yeshiva students. Of course, talking, per se, isn't really the problem. The problem is socializing.

    See Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 21:1 - "It is necessary for a man to distance himself from women very, very much etc."

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  24. Josh,

    Who said you needed to wear a Borselino hat?

    Granted certain groups have taken upon themselves certain dress standards to distinguish themselves, first as Jews and then as religious of a certain stripe. I heard R' Shteinberg refer to it as a uniform. Do we think it is silly that a baseball player will wear a funny hat and funny clothes with team logos stitched across them? Of course not. That is their chosen symbol of identification. To be a Jew, even to be an observant Jew, you need not bat for that specific team or wear that specific uniform.

    As far as Cholent, I truly have no idea what you are talking about. Perhaps there is some extreme sect of Judaism that has a specfic Cholent recipe... if you don't like it go somewhere else.

    Ultimately however one must realize that Judaism is about the Klal. Our Rabbanim have always taught that what any one Jew does effects in some way every other Jew. Mareh Makomot for that are Resheit Hokhma, Shaare Kedusha, Lev David, Mesilat Yesharim, and Derekh HaShem.

    A perfect example of this is the Ramhal. When he was told to cease writing on Kabbalah and the Zohar, and that his books were ossur. He actually began burning them himself. One of his own Rabbanim had to prevail upon him that opinion might later change and that it would be better to bury them. The Ramhal understood in a way that many of us cannot today, that the Rabbanim spoke with Daat Torah, and that all of their ways are L'Shem Shamayim, that they spoke out of sincere concern for the needs of their generation, and thus he was willing to sacrifice his own life's work for the sake of the Klal.

    Within Kabbalah it has been the same. Following the destruction of the Shoah, the Holy Kabbalistic Yeshivot nearly shut their doors. Many for all intents and purposes did, maintaining only small Chevras carrying on the mesorah. The reason being that they understood that the Klal did not so much need Mekubalim, it needed Gedolim in areas of Halacha and Gemmarra, and that it would be better for those whose minds were sharp enough to begin to grasp the lofty concepts of Kabbalah to dedicate themselves to those pursuits instead. Sixty some years later that has changed. With the blessing of the Gedolim not only have the Kabbalistic Yeshivot opened their doors to those who desire to learn within their walls, but yet more such yeshivot have been founded.

    To sum up, part of being a Jew is the suppression of one's personal desires for the sake and betterment of society. This does not mean the exclusion of personal taste or individuality. It simply means putting those things within the proper bounds. There may be groups that take this to extremes but as a whole Orthodoxy does not.

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