I am proud that my children attend a Modern Orthodox yeshiva and receive an education that I never had. I am proud to be involved in my local Orthodox community and synagogues. Eating kosher, observing mitzvot and being religiously involved has grown increasingly important to me in recent years. Owning a public relations agency, I have always been keenly aware of being in the public eye and how the obligations to be forthright, honest, and not to cheat, steal or lie are important values on which to base our lives.
Watching some of the activities within “religious” communities, both first-hand and in the media, I am disheartened. It is not enough to dress the part, or merely practice those outward exercises, such as fervent prayer and study of Torah, but it is also important to live a life that exemplifies what it means to be Jewish.
The Gemara says that a potential convert once came to Rabbi Hillel and asked to be taught the entire Torah while Rabbi Hillel stood on one leg. Hillel responded, “What is hateful to you do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.” Through these words, Rabbi Hillel showed us the essence of being a Jew. The violent Haredim we see in Jerusalem/Beit Shemesh, the flag-burning Neturei Karta, and Levi Aron or any rabbi who molest children are unequivocally not acting Jewish.
Does God ask us to spit and curse at an 8-year-old girl, as she walks to school, because her arms are showing? Is God pleased that a female soldier who defends Israel is called a whore for sitting on a bus with people who rush to judge, but run from defending the land God granted his people - the very land they live in and live off?
The sickening demonstrations of Haredi children dressed in outfits reminiscent of the Holocaust, with “Jude” patches or yellow stars to protest what they see as persecution by the secular Jews constitutes a new low point. Six million Jews were butchered by the Nazis – how dare anyone equate a civil struggle in a modern democracy with the Nazi killers? The subjugation of women in those communities, the blocking of women from the ballot boxes, the abuse of those who don’t practice as they do, the shoving of a living baby in a carriage in front of a bus to stop it from moving all echo the intolerances for which we atone every Yom Kippur.
The religious Jewish world needs real leaders – honest, courageous, and pious people who will confront the vulgar, violent, dishonest and immoral amongst us. Press releases are good for public image – and it is good that Agudath Israel says such behavior “is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish behavior.” But how about a real effort to confront these matters in front of the camera, or where it is really needed, in the yeshivot and synagogues where these people learn this behavior? That will do more than any press release, as actions speak louder than words.
We need some form of honest and transparent Jewish courts to police our religion somehow. Just as certain communities rightfully shun those who refuse to provide a Get, shouldn’t there be punishment for the “religious” scoundrels?
For all the rabbis who interpret Jewish law today, isn’t it more vital to safeguard our values in an open and authentic way?
While we see attempts to spread Sharia law through the Middle East and shudder to think what it would mean if we were to find ourselves living under those rules, we fail to see the subtle similarities within Haredi communities. While Jews and non-Jews alike see religious Jews desecrate the name of God, religious leadership needs to be concerned about “Judaism.”
Being religious means being a good person, being honest, being decent, and caring for others, as well as donning Tefillin, eating kosher and studying Torah; the latter, however, does not cancel the need for the former. If these are the people that represent Judaism, who will want to identify with it?
I pray for the day when all Jews can live up to the standard of Rabbi Hillel, but as a Jew, I expect it from those who claim to represent the most Orthodox or religious among us.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and author of best-selling PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” available for purchase here.