Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Birthin' Babies: 'Orthodox Jews Don't Care About Their Children'

Dateline: Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

In a story first reported in Haaretz, and then syndicated to the BBC, Yahoo, and, among other places, the Fort Mill Times (it's a South Carolina paper), a toddler was left behind at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv as her parents and four siblings boarded a flight to Paris. By the time the four and a half year old girl, roaming around a duty-free shop, was found by an Israeli policeman, the flight was in the air. The parents were informed by a stewardess, according to Haaretz, forty minutes into the flight, that they had left their daughter on the ground.

The left-leaning and often anti-religious Haaretz was unusually restrained in their coverage--only intimating that the girl's family is 'ultra-orthodox.' Sarit Ben Eden, the officer in charge of the departure area, Haaretz reports, bought the crying girl an ice cream cone; the latter had become sufficiently composed to inform the officer that she only eats food with strict orthodox supervision (Badatz hechsherim). Subsequent accounts in the syndicated press, however, include due mention of the toddler's 'ultra-orthodox' background. A post by 'Jane' on the Haaretz 'Talk-Back' gives insight into the world-wide fascination with the story. Jane's post--'That's What I'd Call Too Many Children'--implores: 'If you can't keep track of them it's time to stop birthin' babies.' Anyway, everyone knows, as Jane implies: 'not only do the ultra-orthodox children have too many children, they don't even care about them!'

I'm not going to try to explain or justify what happened. Perhaps the parents were anxious about their departure from Israel, overwhelmed by their eighteen bags and their return to France; perhaps they had arranged some buddy system among their children, and there had been a failure of communication. Even though we've sometimes had a hard time keeping track of our children (as recounted in these pages), I can't fathom leaving one of them behind in the departure lounge (and then snacking peacably on airplane pretzels until given the news by a stewardess!). It's unimaginable to me.

But as much as I'm not interested in apologetics for the parents, I'm also not interested in a diatribe against the media's anti-orthodox prejudice. I'd rather think about why we are so compelled by stories like this one. It probably has to do with the kind of thinking that literary critics associate with synecdoche--which is an expression through which a part of something comes to stand in for the whole. By looking at a supposedly representative part, I claim to be able to make generalizations about the whole. So the story of the hapless French couple becomes a synecdoche for all orthodox parents: 'you see they have too many kids! and the ones they have they don't even care about!'

Stories like this help us keep our pre-conceived notions about people we'd prefer not to know. They are the urban legends--which the quantitative methods of sociology (and the statistics course I never took)--would tell us not to believe. But the stories are widespread, and it's not only stories about the orthodox: there are corresponding stories about other communities as well, stories which are the means by which one community or sector retains its prejudices about another. The 'horror' story of the 'secular promiscuous adolescent,' for example, which gets great play in some circles in Israel, comes from the same psychic place as that of the 'indifferent ultra-orthodox parents.' Though totally different in their content, the stories serve a similar function--insulating from any real knowledge of people who are different. Both stories serve as cautionary tale and modern allegory, ways of transforming people--sometimes whole communities--from their complex realities into cartoon characters. To be sure, sometimes these stories are true in the particular, but they are rarely representative--they are rarely synecdoches--in the ways which some like to claim. What if all secular people are not immoral hedonists? what if all ultra-orthodox are not irresponsible and indifferent to their children?

Imagine: we'd have to re-think. And once we re-think--who knows?--we might see things differently.

4 comments:

Spinal Muscular Atrophy - Shira Fisher said...

Bill I find it funny that a Phd in philosophy is trying to explain how the media works. I'm sorry you have to stoop to such low levels. Most newspapers are written at a grade 6 level. IF you want to read intelligently written or more grammatically challenging journalism you have to turn to the wall street journal or maybe the NY Times and then you might be at a grade 12 level. As you well know news papers for the most part aren't about journalism they are about selling advertising and making money. The largest circulating newspapers in the world are gossip newspapers. I'm sure there are mostly wonderful Haredi families and most don't loose their children but this is an extreme case of bad parenting and I guess worthy of tabloid journalism. As far as Haredi folks wanting to meet others whom are not Haredi I doubt they really want to know secular people. Anyone who reads these stories and holds whole groups of people responsible for one families poor parenting skills is, well....I don't think I need to say more on that. Child abuse is wide spread everywhere and this should be the real story. From neglect to physical abuse unfortunately there are laws that protect adults and the family pet more than children.
Israel has terrible conditions for children that grow up in poverty and the same is true here in Canada. I recently read a quote here in Canada:

"Make no mistake; physical punishment may very well communicate "stop this immediately" but it also communicates "I am bigger and stronger than you, which means I have power over you and can hurt you if you do not do or act as I say." We have policies in place that most people support to guard against bullying in school, in the workplace (because adults don't like being hit, yelled at, or belittled, either), and we have laws that protect us from assault and violence. These laws are accepted as warranted and useful. We also have laws in place to guard animals from abusive behaviour.It is only fitting then that we provide our children the same rights and pay them the same respect we do the household dog and cat." - Melanie Barwick, PhD., C.Psych

Forgetting a child in the situation we read about in the paper is nothing more than child abuse in the form of neglect.

Brad (Shira's Dad)

Yaakov A. Mascetti said...

Bill I totally agree with you. For this reason I trust we will all make more of an effort to avoid reasoning on the basis of archetypes and synecdoches - The haredi, The secular, The zionists, "Ishmael," "Esav" et al., even when certain commentaries on the Torah invite us to do so... Reality, if there is such a thing, is certainly closer to a mound of sui generis individuals, which we struggle to agglomerate into categories and groups. Your initiative is admirable and worthy of praise. Yshar koach!

Yaakov A. Mascetti said...

Darn, I forgot Amalek...

HUNG SO LO said...

AN UPDATED TREATISE ON THE NEED FOR A SEMITIC MODERN MASTURBATION MENTALITY


By Rebbe Moshe “hung so lo“ Rabeynu, March 23, 2009
comments

CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS MUST BE INCULCATED AS TO THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION IN THE ATTAINMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF A HEALTHY MIND AND A HEALTHY BODY! PENT UP SEXUAL FRUSTRATION IN CHILDREN HAS NEVER BEEN HONESTLY AND ADEQUATELY DISCUSSED AND DEALT WITH IN JEWISH DISCOURSE AND DOCTRINE. MODERN LIFESTYLES AFFORD INDIVIDUALS THE PRIVACY AND HYGIENIC FACILITIES NECESSARY TO MASTURBATE IN A PRIVATE, DIGNIFIED AND SANITARY MANNER. ONE CAN WELL UNDERSTAND THE IRE THAT WAS AROUSED BY MASTURBATING INDIVIDUALS FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO WHEN AN ENTIRE LARGE FAMILY LIVED TOGETHER IN A TENT IN AN ARID LOCATION. NOBODY WANTED TO HAVE A WAD OF FLYING JISSUM HIT HIM IN THE EYE OR LAND IN HIS HUMUS. WATER WAS SCARCE AND ONE HAD TO WALK , SOMETIMES LONG DISTANCES, TO THE WELL TO GET IT, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL. UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IT WAS A CHOICE OF WATER FOR DRINKING OR WATER FOR WASHING EJACULATE OFF OF ONE’S HANDS. THIS IS WHY THE EARLY SAGES WERE SO VOCIFEROUS IN THEIR CONDEMNATION OF MASTURBATION. WE JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A HORNY BUNCH AND, IF THERE WEREN'T THESE SEVERE STRICTURES AGAINST MASTURBATION AT THAT TIME, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ERRANT CUMSTAINS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THE SMELL OF FRESHLY RELEASED JISSUM WOULD HAVE WAFTED FAR AND WIDE, EVEN WITHIN THE HALLOWED HALLWAYS OF THE SACRED TEMPLE ITSELF. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. IF PARENTS TODAY STRESS THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION TO THEIR CHILDREN, THEY WILL HELP LESSEN THE OCCURRENCE OF STDs, AND UNPLANNED PREGNANCIES. SCHOLARSHIP LEVELS WOULD INCREASE DRAMATICALLY WITH THE RELEASE OF PENT UP ADOLESCENT EJACULATORY TENSION. .WHAT PARENT HASN’T FRETTED AND WORRIED OVER THE MOODINESS AND SURLINESS OF HIS ADOLESCENT OFFSPRING? THERE IS REALLY NO MYSTERY AS TO WHY THE LITTLE BASTARDS ARE ACTING OUT SO WILDLY. THEIR HORMONES ARE CAUSING THEM HIGH LEVELS OF DISCOMFORT AND FRUSTRATION. INSTEAD OF MAKING THEM MASTURBATE FURTIVELY UNDER THE BEDCOVERS IN A NIGHTLY GUILT- RIDDEN FRENZY OF PENT-UP SEXUAL DESIRE, THEY SHOULD BE GUIDED TO A CIVILIZED AND GUILT-FREE MASTURBATORY REGIMEN. IF NECESSARY, PARENTS SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AS TO THE PROPER METHODOLOGY FOR THIS ACTIVITY AND FOLLOW UP AND MAKE SURE THAT THEIR CHILDREN ARE MASTURBATING REGULARLY AT AN OPTIMUM FREQUENCY. KEEPING A MASTURBATION DIARY COULD BE A VERY USEFUL TOOL IN MAINTAINING THE PROPER SCHEDULE. EVERY PARENT SHOULD ASK HIS CHILDREN ON A DAILY BASIS, "DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MASTURBATE TODAY?" OH, OF COURSE, THE CHABADNIKS AND THE FRUMNIKS AND THE HAREDINIKS WILL YELL OUT, "BUT RAMBAM SAID THIS, AND RASHI SAID THAT AND RABBI AKIVA SAID THIS, AND THAT, ABOUT THE EVILS OF MASTURBATION." PROBABLY ALL THREE OF THEM WERE MASTURBATING WHILE THEY WERE WRITING THESE STRICTURES, ANOTHER CASE OF "DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO". WE MUST NOT CONTINUE TO LET OTHERS DO OUR THINKING FOR US UNDER THE GUISE OF DIVINE REVELATION AND RELIGIOUS EXPERTISE. WE CANNOT LET BACKWARD LOOKING ZEALOTS WITH THEIR ARCHAIC, OUTDATED AND ANACHRONISTIC MORALISTIC MISCONCEPTIONS CAST THEIR PALL OVER THE HEALTH-CONSCIOUS MASTURBATORS OF THE WORLD. SHALOM AND ZEI GEZUNT!

Rabbi Rabeynu is available for additional advice and discussion on HTTP://theyeshivabucher.blogspot.com