Thanks go to two people for making this article possible — to Shlomo Nissenbaum for sending me the link to the Larry Derfner article, and to Ezzie Goldish for filling me in on the correct etymology of “fisking.”
Fisking, or to Fisk, is a blogosphere term describing ruthlessly detailed point-by-point criticism that highlights errors, disputes the analysis of presented facts, or highlights other problems in a statement, article, or essay.
I was previously under the impression that fisking was derived from the computer field, in which the UNIX File System Check Program is called fsck. To “fisk” a drive is to scan it meticulously in search of errors — as you can see, it fits. But the term actually comes from “detractors of British journalist Robert Fisk,” as the Wikipedia explains.
Regardless, the above-referenced article is due for some fisking. After saying earlier that I planned to do so, I was assisted by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, who has submitted his own comments on Derfner’s essay to Mishpacha magazine. You may see his article here after it is published, but in the meantime he permitted me to introduce his points inter alia.
Rattling the Cage: Community of collaborators
What better way to start a needlessly inflammatory article, than a needlessly inflammatory title? I have no idea, of course, if the title is Derfner’s or the JPost editors, but one or the other accuses the entire charedi community of complicity in the murder of the Valis baby.
It’s one thing when the haredim riot to keep a street closed on Shabbat, or to stop archeological digs, or to trash billboards showing girls in bikinis. But when they’re rioting against the police for daring to look into the alleged deaths by child abuse of haredi babies – even when a haredi father has confessed to bashing and biting his three-month-old son to death – that’s something else altogether.
Derfner starts up by dredging up three old battles between various elements of the charedi community and the state of Israel. Never mind that there were two healthy sides to these stories, and that different subgroups of charedim had problems with each. Given the complete absence of relevance of these stories — other than to underscore a context of ongoing disagreement — it is clear that his intent is to rile up those old feelings of distaste, just so we know with whom we’re dealing over here.
And this time, he says, they’ve gone too far. Never mind that the confession was extracted under duress and promptly retracted. Never mind the apparent absence of the physical evidence upon whose existence his entire argument rests. When you’re a secular Israeli writer in the mood for some charedi-bashing, facts are useful props when helpful — and readily ignored if not.
When haredim in Jerusalem instantly turn the young so-called father Yisrael Valis into a hero and victim of a police “blood libel,” and when haredim in Ashdod storm a cemetery and snatch the corpse of a one-year-old girl who allegedly died because her haredi parents didn’t believe in inoculations or antibiotics, this is not “colorful.” It’s not a “cultural difference,” either.
This, instead, is all the proof any reasonable person needs to see that there’s something twisted in the psyche of haredi society. The problem is not just the Valis family in Jerusalem and the Sitner family in Ashdod, it’s the haredi community at large that’s gone to war for these two families against the “evil regime” that’s pursuing them over the deaths of their little children.
On the contrary, it took time for the the tide to turn against the police in the matter of Yisrael Valis. Rabbi Rosenblum and I both recorded initial concern about the evidence of physical abuse — he said that “everyone” thought Valis “was an out-of-control maniac and serial abuser” until we began to learn more.
As Rabbi Rosenblum took pains to mention several days ago, those who took the Ashdod baby’s corpse did so against the will of the local Rabbis and activists as well as that of the leading Rabbis of Jerusalem and elsewhere, including the Badatz. To blame the entire community for this one is akin to blaming every secular Israeli for the anti-Orthodox statements of the now-defunct Shinui party and its head Yosef Lapid (whose departure from Israeli political life we note without regret). So the mention of this second case is simply a calumny bereft of the least note of underlying reason.
Imagine if such deaths had occurred to babies living in normal, mainstream communities. The accused parents would obviously be seen as monsters, or at the very least strongly suspected of being monsters, by everyone. People’s allegiance would go strictly to the memory of the babies.
First and foremost, make sure you understand that charedim are not normal. Everything we’re talking about here is merely one symptom of their underlying abnormality, but the real disease here is charedi — aka “abnormal”, non-mainstream — life, itself.
Note, by the way, that in this article Derfner uses the word “haredi” exclusively to define our community. Not once does he use the pejorative “ultra-“Orthodox that he did in his otherwise complimentary article of two weeks back. I hope Toby Katz, YM and Jewish Observer are taking notes. It is certainly interesting that when he has something nice to say about charedim, he calls them “ultras,” and when he launches a withering, virulent, and remarkably fact-free critique, he calls them “haredim.” There are generous and sinister readings of that switch, but I’ll leave it to others to opine upon it.
How a secular Yisrael Valis would have been viewed, I cannot say. But as Derfner himself is providing us with evidence of the media’s overwhelming tendency to accuse on page one and correct on page twenty-four, it is indeed quite possible that he would have been deemed a monster — whether or not he is, in fact, innocent of any accusation of deliberate harm. I am, apparently, at odds with Mr. Derfner, in that I do not view an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent, and then viewed with suspicion” as a net positive for any community, much less a police investigation with all the adherence to due process of the Salem Witch Trials — as has been alleged here.
Now as for the second case, I don’t think any community would regard a parent who insisted upon homeopathic medicines as anything more than a loving fool. Let’s assume for a moment that these stories about the parents not using antibiotics are true. There was a case in the United States a few years back, in which a judge granted the state permission to treat a child against the will of his or her Christian Scientist parents. They firmly believed the use of medicine was against G-d’s will — and no one thought them to be monsters, even though it took a court order to save their child’s life.
I will also take a moment to digress, in order to question one element of Rabbi Rosenblum’s recent essay about the tragedy in Ashdod. He writes that perhaps “our community is too credulous when it comes to every form of alternative medicine” — implying that “our community” is more credulous than others. I really don’t know what the situation is in Israel, but it is my impression that most of those promoting homeopathic mumbo-jumbo are baalei teshuvah, those who adopted Jewish observance rather than growing up with it [for the record, I’m in this category], who have imported this mishegas (silliness) from the outside. Most of the “regular” frummies go to regular doctors and tend to follow the conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, this means they are the ones still eating oily potato kugels and cholent thick in beef fat, while it’s the homeopathic types most likely to be eating the whole grains and vegetables that doctors now opine are vastly superior. That, at least, seems to be changing.
OK, this is already too long for a blog post — and I’m being called to dinner. I’ll try for Part II by tomorrow, iy”H…