The Cowards Of The Jewish Blogosphere

When a Hasidic Jew is caught wearing a plastic bag in a plane, they’re there.

When a group of anti-internet Jews gather in a stadium, they’re there.

When Jews in Mea Shearim wear blurry glasses to help them avoid eyeing the ladies, they’re there.

Who are they?

They’re the “Easy Target Brigade”.

The Easy Target Brigade, as I’ve come to dub them, are the Jewish writers, bloggers, and news outlets that consistently attack orthodox Jews doing ridiculous things.

Often, these folks are branded as heroic.  As fighting for just causes and rationality and other generally nice sounding things.

I don’t think they’re brave.

I think they’re cowards.

Why?  Let’s take the Hasidic Jew wearing a plastic bag on a plane as an example.

A few months ago, a Hasidic Jew was captured on camera wearing a protective sheet of plastic over himself on a plane.  This image instantly became an internet sensation.  Its viral origins were on Reddit, but it eventually spread to places like the Huffington Post and Gothamist.

Eventually, it became clear that he did it because some rav somewhere told him that since he was a Cohen, he needed to do whatever he could to avoid the possibility of coming in touch with the impurity of dead people.  Even in the air.

Pretty crazy, I suppose.

Throughout this whole saga, the Easy Target Brigade swooped in whenever the opportunity arose to attack, “condemn”, and generally malign this fellow.

This Hasidic Jew, one out of thousands of other Hasidic Jews who travel on planes and never wrap plastic over themselves, was a perfect target for the Brigade.  Why?  He had the two elements that make a perfect “easy target”.

1.  He couldn’t fight back.

No Hasidic Jew that is wrapping himself in plastic is sufficiently equipped to respond to bloggers or even news outlets.  The dude has surely moved on with his life, uninterested in the secular world’s judgment of him.

2.  He was being obviously ridiculous.

It’s nice to have somebody that won’t fight back, but what is even more important to the ETB is someone (or someones) that everyone in their audience feels equally angered by.  This person represented something everyone in this camp loves to attack: the silly Hasidic Jew whose extra religiosity makes him (in their eyes) a fanatic.

The advantages of attacking those who can’t fight back, and going after someone everybody agrees is wrong are huge for a blogger or news outlet.

First of all, the topics like the man in the plastic bag and the Asifa are hot topics.  They’re topics that boil people’s blood, and that they love chatting about on social networks.

So, by picking to write about these topics, these bloggers are guaranteed success.  They could just write a title like, “Why The Asifa Is Stupid!” or “Ultra-Orthodox Jews Wearing Glasses To Blur Women?  What?!”, attach a picture, and literally fill their article with gibberish… and they would still receive at least 100 Facebook shares.

Secondly, since the targets can’t fight back, there is no one left who is interested in challenging them.  Even the people that have a problem with the way the ETB write don’t want to be seen as favoring people with bags over themselves or anti-internet.

Thirdly, if no change happens, if they don’t accomplish anything with their writing, they aren’t blamed.  Because, well, what do you expect from the fools they’re attacking, right?

And so these bloggers are hailed as heroes.  Fighters for justice!  Warriors!

And of course, they’re anything but.

They’re cowards riding a wave of anger to more hits, more Facebook likes, more noise.

It’s possible that, in theory, they hope that their writing might actually make some real change.  Maybe they went into this whole thing with starry eyes and hopes of transforming the world in which they saw so much darkness.

But instead, they’ve allowed themselves to be taken in by the social media bubble.  The world of onlookers and cheerers-on who applaud every low blow, every easy attack with cheers and whistles like audiences in Roman gladiator matches cheering for the easy death of the weakling.

Like vultures, they circle their easy target and swoop in while the maggots get their own bites in the meantime.

The interesting thing about all this is that it reveals our own fractured culture in sharp relief.

For example: when a radical Muslim blows up a building, other Muslims are quick to argue loudly and strongly that terrorists don’t represent all Muslims.  They point out the billions of other Muslims leading healthy, normal, non-explosive lives.

And rightly so.  Bravely so.  Hurrah hurrah, good for them.

When certain Jews, or groups of Jews, do things everyone condemns, big or small, fanatic or otherwise, very few Jews stand up in unity.  Instead, the Easy Target Brigade dominates the headlines, further reenforcing the idea that there are “sicknesses” and “viruses” in the Jewish community that must be eliminated, and oh G-d, we’re all in danger.

That’s not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t all try to change things, or that there aren’t problems in the religious community.

But what these folks are doing is creating a bubble of agreement.  Their audience is people that have no ability to enact change because anyone with that ability is ostracized and maligned by them.  If you aren’t an EBT, you are considered one of “them”; the enablers.

And so their cycle of ineffectual arguing stays closed, not changing a thing, and, in fact, making things worse.  Further dividing people.  Further enforcing a world of “us and them”.

That’s not bravery.  That’s not fighting for justice.  It’s a vacuum.

The Jewish community deserves better than the cowards.  Here’s hoping that more brave bloggers and writers come to fore.  Writers that know that change happens by affecting people from the inside and not the outside.  That are interested in creation and not destruction.  That know you can only fix the wrongs in communities by bringing people together, not breaking them apart.

The only way we’ll beat the EBT is with a different brigade.  A bigger, stronger brigade.  A brigade of unity and ahavat Yisrael.

May the day come soon.

  • agree…and this doesn’t just apply to the jewish community…but many many instances where it is easy to bully and ridicule and feel good about oneself…while destroying pieces of humanity that are required for enlightenment and understanding and acceptance…

  • That is something I’ve noticed with dismay as well. It’s like ants to food – so much swarming and tsk tsking. I think it’s good to have conversations about what could be improved in our communities, but it doesn’t really come across that way when there are dozens of comments simply condemning and mocking certain religious practices without any concrete or practical suggestions for an alternative.

    Thanks for being part of the other side.

  • Dina Neuman

    Well-said!

    Another couple of points to add to your wonderful post:

    People tend to be friends on Facebook only with like-minded people. So they post their little self-congratulatory crap-fest and all of their like-minded friends click “like” spontaneously. We are fast becoming a world in which we are surrounded only by those who share the same opinion, and this is unbelievably dangerous.

    Also–as a further take on your very true point about choosing an obviously ridiculous target; in general, no one takes a stand anymore. They post things that declare “Share if this cat is precious!” or “Like if you are Against Child Abuse!” Easily agreeable for the bad or for the good.

    Thanks for being awesome and calling them all what they truly are.

  • Well-said!

    Another couple of points to add to your wonderful post:

    People tend to be friends on Facebook only with like-minded people. So they post their little self-congratulatory crap-fest and all of their like-minded friends click “like” spontaneously. We are fast becoming a world in which we are surrounded only by those who share the same opinion, and this is unbelievably dangerous.

    Also–as a further take on your very true point about choosing an obviously ridiculous target; in general, no one takes a stand anymore. They post things that declare “Share if this cat is precious!” or “Like if you are Against Child Abuse!” Easily agreeable for the bad or for the good.

    Thanks for being awesome and calling them all what they truly are.

    • “People tend to be friends on Facebook only with like-minded people. So
      they post their little self-congratulatory crap-fest and all of their
      like-minded friends click “like” spontaneously. We are fast becoming a
      world in which we are surrounded only by those who share the same
      opinion, and this is unbelievably dangerous.”
      Eerily similar to, say, one guy getting blurry glasses, and then all the guys in the neighborhood just have to have them, too. Even the most liberal and educated among us can lose perspective if we only surround ourselves with like-minded people.

  • I don’t expect Muslim groups to apologize for terrorists, but I do expect them to have discussions among themselves about the increasing radicalization of some segments of some Muslim communities and possible ways to limit that. Likewise, I don’t see anything wrong with discussing the radicalization of some segments of some Jewish groups.

    These issues are broader than you make them out. The airplane guy is a loner, that’s not worthy of discussion, in and of itself. But if you wanted to use that incident as a springboard to talk about the increasing ways in which some segments of the frum world seem to adopt a rabbi’s suggestion without any independent thought whatsoever, that is a topic worthy of consideration. Similarly, discussing orthodox men who blur their glasses is not interesting in terms of discussing a fringe bunch of loonies. However, a discussion about the increasing perception of frum men as sex-crazed animals who can’t stand the sight of a woman on the street or a young girl in a magazine without running off to sin, is a topic worthy of consideration.

    • Miriam Esther

      I’m not sure why we have to discuss whether another person wants to blur their vision to avoid doing something they deem as inappropriate ….. when did we become judge and jury to everyone else’s actions? if one does decide to appoint oneself as judge and jury over others, it would probably be best for all involved if the true intentions were determined and not just supposed …. for example, i don’t believe that men are blurring their vision because they are afraid of their subsequent actions ….. i believe they are blurring their vision to protect the sanctity of their neshama which they work hard to improve …. if an inappropriately dressed woman is passing, would it be better for him to tell her to dress more modestly? that would only incite those who feel they have a right to do as they please ….. on the other hand, if he blurs his vision, he protects his neshama and doesn’t require anyone to change what they are doing ….. but those looking in would rather see him lower himself to their standards ….. so i think we should start the ‘broader conversation’ with why are others so interested in forcing the ‘fringe bunch of loonies’ to comply with their standards …..

      • those aren’t the only two options: harass women to dress more modestly or wear blurry glasses. Men are not animals and they can protect their neshamot and still manage to look at women at the same time. Those that can’t- they are the aberration and should not become the norm.

        • wow… so since NY City has now acknowledged that women have the right to go in public spaces without a shirt on… you would say that men should be able to manage walking down the street without staring at a bare breasted woman on the sidewalk… because now that has become the new norm in “modesty.”

          I’m sorry, but your view of how Hashem created sexuality is more likely the true aberration here.

          • Uh, most people’s standards of modesty are not based on the minimums permitted by law. In fact, I’m really not aware of any people in my secular or religious circles who think that bared breasts are the new norm in modesty. So I’m not sure what you are going on about.

          • Mikhal-Sarah Gordon

            Even some of us women have difficulty protecting our neshamas and don’t want to be exposed to some things that others find ordinary and unprovocative. Each person has their own temptations, their own difficulties and their own ideas about how much protection they require.

            The fact that YOUR circles are modest is great. Lucky you. Not everyone has modest people around them, and not everyone is able to avoid all the immodest people around them. For me, visual things are not as much of a problem as things that people say to me, or around me, such as launching into a discussion of BDSM at Shabbat kiddush.

            Fortunately, I can walk around with ear buds in and avoid a lot of it without the blogosphere going nuts about my fanaticism. Except, of course, on Shabbat. I’ve never been a man, so I can’t directly compare, but I do react to some visual things, and most men tell me they react more strongly to visual stimuli. Science seems to agree.
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15004563
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2739403/

            But please, enlighten me, because I experience undesired sexual reactions to things that don’t phase others, am I also an animal and an aberration? You know, not everyone who experiences an unwanted sexual reaction feels in any danger of acting upon it….we can control our actions, what we can’t control is the effect it has on our minds and moods.

            But, UM, thanks for judging everyone sarcastically whose experiences differ from yours.

  • great article, to the point and true in every sense, but I don’t think u will get lots of hits on it though

  • A good rule of thumb is “Don’t feed the trolls.” They go away eventually, although I fear the Easy Target Brigade will always exist, if only for the one or two people that actually believe they are doing good for the world.

    • I think my point here is that these people aren’t seen as trolls, and are even “mainstream” voices. I didn’t give examples, which maybe is why it’s confusing, but I think if people look hard enough they can see what I mean.

      • Agreed. It’s up to news consumers to decide what’s actually worth following and what isn’t…Unfortunately you also have people that believe everything they read.

  • I don’t necessarily begrudge anyone their echo chamber but i think its important that you called it what it is

  • The True Cowards of the Jewish Blogosphere:

    Those who want to stifle debate and make sure everything always looks pretty.

    • As I’ve said numerous times, this isn’t about stifling debate, about not arguing, or trying to make things look pretty, has v’shalom. The people making this point are giving a false dichotomy. This is about simply HOW to discuss these things and WHEN and, most importantly, WHY.

    • MochinRechavim

      IF it wasn’t for the internet and blogs Reb Fink, you would just be an average Joe Rabbi. Accusing half the Jewish world of being “almost” Pagan Idol Worshipers on Lag B’Omer makes you an internet sensation with lots of Facebook likes. Its great because those excited interweb users would never pay shul dues to hear you complain about this kind of stuff in person on shabbos from behind a lectern. Do you really believe that your soul descended from below the Throne of Glory to spend your entire life exposing flaws in the Ultra Orthodox world via the internet? Somehow revealing their flaws makes you feel a little more normal as you try to justify your Goyish leanings? Dancing around a fire is grounds for apikorsus but shaving your beard off and eating chalav stam is totally normal right? I am sure Chazal, Rishonim, even late Achronim are rolling in their graves as you mentioned on your blog. Thanks for showing us how ugly the world is.

    • MochinRechavim

      A Chasid once broke his matzah in half for the afikomen at the seder of the Tzemach Tzedek. Unable to verify which side was in fact larger, the Tzemach Tzedek commented, “A great one who needs to be measured, is smaller than the small one he is measuring himself against.” It is easy to expose, mock, insult, hate, and vilify our fellow Jews on the Internet, myself included as Elad reminded me tonight. The question remains, is “Ahavas Yisroel, V’Ahavta L’Recha Kamacho” limited to when its convenient, or does it reach even the Jews who do things that go against everything we represent? We must look into ourselves and find these very flaws that need rectification. This doesn’t mean to ignore the problems and issues, but if we realize that we ourselves are not perfect then maybe our criticism can become more constructive and loving.
      Ha Yom Yom for 12 Sivan “Cherish criticism, for it will place you on true heights.” Thank you Reb Elad

      • Psh! Wow, beautiful, shkoyach! I was just trying to moderate the site, but I appreciate your deep thoughts. Makes me realize what this whole thing was about in the first place. Really beautiful, thank you for sharing your special thoughts and not taking what I did personally.

      • Awww. What happened to your deleted comment? I thought you wanted a piece of me.

      • MochinRechavim

        My comment to you that was deleted was rude and offensive. Most of all it was the truth. The problem is the truth hurts, and the internet lets us ignore the truth. The internet lets us spend hours or even days 1 uping each other for the whole world to see. I learned something last night as I typed out an epic comment to put you in your place and realize two things through Reb Elad deleting it. The first thing is that you will never change your views, especially on the internet. The second thing is that even if I am successful at exposing you as A, B, or C, am I really a better person from it? Is it something I can put on my resume or share at my Shabbos table? Aggressively attack a Jew via the internet because they don’t have the same outlook as I is on par with the sinas chinam of the churban beis hamikdash. I would appreciate a response from my comment that was not deleted though.

  • AYZ

    Interesting point of view.

    I don’t agree about Muslims. While we expect Muslims to come out against the extremest it is not the same as the bag or the asifa. No one, Jewish or not cares when Muslim women cover their entire face or if they wouldn’t allow internet at their homes. The extremest we care are those who intend to/kill us.

    When did being judgmental become a part of Judaism? Of course to the rest of the world our asifa is as interesting as Amish people living like medieval times or an Indian worshiping the deities. Point being, while our practices is as interesting to the outside world as ‘lehavdil’ other extreme religions and communities, we should be the last to judge.

    It does not matter if we believe the internet is bad or if that cohen was required to wear a bag. What is important is that they feel that way and they should be allowed to do whatever they want in any way they like it.

    When a “normal person” wakes up and decides what he would like to dress (or not to) that morning, he has no fear that someone out there will make fun of him. Why would a Chassidish person be any different?

    Some bloggers are so quick to defend the constitution when it comes to the internet, they totally ignore those same rights within the ultra orthodox community.

    We are Jewish people and should be proud of it. If you are ashamed of the Jewish person next to you, think of how embarrassed you were when your parent showed up at school. We are one nation comprised of sefard, ashkenaz, eastern, western, israeli’s and what not with one common denominator, we all serve the One and Only Hasham! Be proud of yourself and stop worrying about others and we’ll have shalom, peace.

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  • I commend you for this post. Thanks for standing up for the truly brave, who fear not the backlash of what others think, because they hold steadfast to their belief in Torah, Hashem and Eretz Yisrael.

  • Hezbos InYour Backyard

    Thanks for this post! Well said.

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  • Boris

    these are the people were are supposed to look up to for whats moral and right and just in this world. this are the people who supposedly represent morality and the Jewish people. and they put themselves into plastic bags , i say judge them even harder . Judge them for destroying our believes in any kind of God and morality. I guess that’s even a sin on their part. And I say all of this to their face . So judge them even harder till they either become moral ,or shave their pais and beards before they preach morality

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