Nov 18, 2010

Who We Look At

I am reading a book of "wisdom, stories and inspiration" on the parsha which is a translation of an extremely popular book in Hebrew which is based on the writings, shiurim and conversations with a certain popular rav in Eretz Yisrael.  I won't say the name of the book because of a story that I just read that I want to discuss here.

The story is that when secular Jews (as the book refers to them) would come to visit this rav, his rebbetzin would not welcome them personally.  She would remain in her room saying, "You, the rav, are compelled by your position to meet and talk with them.  I, on the other hand, am not obligated.  In that case, I do not even wish to see their faces!"

What a shocker! Obviously this was included in the book to reflect well on the rebbetzin and to serve as a lesson for us.  But the anecdote doesn't say they were evil people, just that they were irreligious.  It is true, we should not look at evil people and it's disturbing when frum publications include pictures of evil people.  But these visitors were presumably men who did not have the benefit of a religious education, not wilfull sinners!

What a contrast to the book I am presently rereading, "Holy Woman" about Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer and her husband a'h.  He was a Satmar chassid and yet he loved all the Jews he encountered (and didn't encounter).  He sought out irreligious Jews in order to have a positive influence on them and he and his wife welcomed anybody who came to their home, no matter their level of religiosity or manner of dress.

Will the real Judaism please stand up!

Nov 11, 2010

Dirty Laundry part 2

The author responded with:

Where does the Torah NOT say to hang out our dirty laundry? Have you ever read Sefer Devarim? Even Parashas Bereishis? There is never any attempt in Judaism to hide ourselves from the truth of our condition and, if we are in need of repair, to change.

Yes, I have, baruch Hashem, seen payoffs from the issues that my stories have raised. Read this week's ... for a very poignant letter from a reader about how healing it is for her to read ...[name of book] 

...[name of book] brought about actual social change, which is very gratifying. If you are, indeed, sincerely arguing in favor of NOT hanging out dirty laundry, how do you propose change? How do you suggest introducing healing and developing new paths?

And I'm sorry that you find the line, "If it helps just one person, it's worth it," tiring. Firstly, there's no such thing. People are so interconnected that if one person is helped, the effects can spread to thousands. Secondly, since we are so very much the same it is nearly impossible for something to resonate within one single person.

To which I said:

Let me get this straight - you are comparing a fictionalized serial to our G-d given Torah?! (insert shocked face emoticon)

You have learned from Torah that it is a worthy activity to point out our flaws. Hmmm. Yeshaya said, "And in the midst of an unclean nation I dwell," and he was punished. As the tzaddik and prophet he was, surely he wasn't ch'v gratuitously badmouthing the Jewish people, and still, he was punished.

A new chamber of zechus was created by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev for seeking the good in the Jewish people and highlighting it. As the tzaddik he was, he was well aware of the mitzva of rebuke and surely fulfilled the mitzva, and yet, he teaches us to look with a "good eye" and be sure to speak well of our fellow Jews.

The focus of many laws associated with Shemiras Ha'Lashon is to avoid any derogatory remarks about one another. So indeed, not only is it not recommended that we "air our dirty laundry in public" (defined as publicly discussing personal affairs that could cause embarrassment or distress), we are enjoined to do the opposite.

In today's climate, society finds it laudable when people "tell all." This immodest attitude has crept into frum society so that people address audiences and write articles telling quite personal stories about themselves, their marriages, their lives. It's extremely popular because we find it fascinating to hear about other people and their adventures, especially when they share (too) personal details. And some people become so immersed in even the made-up stories that incredibly, a woman wrote to Mishpacha saying that a particular installment ruined her Shabbos because she was so distressed by the conduct of fictional characters!

The exception to all the above is l'toeles (for positive benefit) as defined by the Torah: to fulfill the mitzva of rebuke, for example.

I have noticed that people seem to think that discussing a problem is practically synonymous with having done something concrete to solve it. Reading about a problem, whether in a fictional or non-fictional article might make people feel good if they are grappling with that problem. Is that a valid t'oeles? I can hear where it would be valid if this person went to consult with someone and part of what they are told is that they are not alone. But I'm not convinced that presenting our foibles (and worse) to a general audience is beneficial. What consideration, if any, is given to the possibility that it will pull people down, that it will expose them to ways of life that they never considered?

There is the chilul Hashem aspect too. Do we need the "outside world" hearing how we "beat our chests" and admit our sins?

I am disappointed that you delegitimize another point of view by denigrating it as "burying heads in the sand" rather than being open to hearing that this view has some merit even if you don't think the merits are sufficiently weighty. It sounds like you think that R' Levi Yitzchok was ch'v a Pollyana.

As to how to make positive changes in our society, what did we see done in the past, over the millenia? We saw great people addressing audiences, in person or in writing, and exhorting them to observe mitzvos and avoid sin, inspiring them to love and fear of G-d. We see movements like Daf Yomi and Shemiras Ha'Lashon promoted by individuals who had the siyata dishmaya to succeed, changing frum society. I know of no positive social change that has resulted from frum fictional serial stories. I'm sure you're convinced they have been the catalyst for change but until I hear what those changes are and am convinced that nothing negative resulted, I view fictional serials for what I think they are: entertainment, diversions and/or kosher soap operas. Some frum writers insert some Torah messages but I believe that the ikar is the story. When the ikar is the Torah message, the writing is usually not particularly entertaining like in the "older mentor-young seeker" literary technique which has been used a number of times, because the writer is focused on the Torah message and not as much (or at all) on developing the story and characters.

P.S. As for non-fictional articles about sensitive issues that are purportedly written for the public welfare, there is reason to be exceedingly cautious. There is evidence that bringing certain issues (anorexia, depression) to the fore has increased harmful behavior, not minimized it.

See a previous post of mine on this subject called "Increase the Light" from Dec. 6

Nov 8, 2010

About "Hanging Dirty Laundry" in Public

I had an interaction with someone who writes popular novels in installments for a frum publication.  She decries what she calls burying heads in the sand rather than facing reality and coming up with solutions and sees nothing wrong with public discussion of frum society's ills.  On the contrary, she thinks that fictional writing is a good way to call attention to problems that ought to be addressed and that it deals with these problems.

My initial response to that was:

My question is, what evidence do you have that writing about our flaws will help remove them? Do you truly think that people with the flaws you write about will read your story and say, "Hey, I better fix that problem in myself!" Have you gotten any feedback over the years from readers who did that? Or have you gotten feedback from readers who told you that after reading about a certain problem (not in themselves) they decided to take action to correct it?

You ask, "Is it scandalous to admit that there are problems in our communities?" My question is, is there virtue in talking about our flaws? Does it say anywhere in our Torah literature that vidui of our collective sins should be broadcast to the public? Or, is it rather, as I have learned, talking about the negative strengthens it and focusing on "light" and the positive, strengthens that.

By calling attention to these issues, are you aware of specific steps that were taken to rectify them that can be credited to fiction? How about that can be credited to non-fictional articles?

If writing about abuse in a fictional story "deals with it" by actually helping anyone I'd like to know about that.

And I hope I'm not going to hear the tired line, "If it helps just one person, it's worth it," because I'm not convinced that's true.

It's One Year!

It's one year since I began posting here.  Happy anniversary to me :)

Thank you to those who have posted comments and thank you everybody else for visiting.

Nov 1, 2010

Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry - A Doctor's Revelations about a Profession in Crisis

I read a fascinating book about psychiatry written by a practicing psychiatrist who, as the book flap says, exposes deeply disturbing problems plaguing his profession.  He writes about how psychiatry is mostly about prescribing drugs these days, with all the troubling consequences that entails, and has largely forsaken talk therapy.  This is because they will earn far less doing therapy than by prescribing drugs.  He says if he did therapy, he could see one patient an hour and he would earn about $70/hour.  He typically saw three patients an hour, for years, and he made $180 an hour (factor in expenses and he made closer to $130 an hour).

He writes about how they treat symptoms after determining that the patient exhibits an arbitrary number of signs that match a supposed disorder.  They spend fifteen minutes on a patient and don't bother finding out about the patient's life.  He shows how DSM diagnoses are not particulary scientific, and tells us that the number of possible diagnoses has increased from 182 to 263.  Unbelievably, a committee votes on deleting what is considered old-fashioned disorders and voting in newfangled disorders.

What he says backs up many things I have believed about the profession but I am no authority; he is! So when I read that a practicing psychiatrist says there is no proof to the chemical imbalance theory of depression, I say wow! I have read numerous articles over the years in frum and not Jewish media that speak about a chemical imbalance with the same confidence we reserve for the sun rising in the morning!

He says the scientific literature contains thousands of papers proposing neurobiological theories to explain PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders but these theories remain unproven! He says, "the shocking truth is that psychiatry has yet to develop a convincing explanation for the pathophysiology of any illness at all."

Even as I was amazed by the honesty of the author in showing the major flaws of his profession, I was shocked that he still goes through the motions.  How pathetic to drug someone when their problem is clearly loneliness or unhappiness with their job.  As a colleague of his put it, "Most of the people I see have misery and unhappiness rather than major depression.  They are miserable because of problems in relationships or difficulties coping with their life's circumstances."  She doesn't drug them.  She makes half of what a full-time psychiatrist in private practice makes because she does talk therapy instead.

There is a chapter on how drug companies market their drugs to psychiatrists.  Oh boy ... it's so crooked that the author, who started out innocently working as a paid drug endorser for one of these drug companies, stopped working for them despite the great pay ($30,000 - and this is aside from his private practice) and perks because he realized he was selling his soul and was no longer willing to do so.

It's a readable book for the layman and I highly recommend it.  Time that more people realized that "the emperor has no clothes."  Our health, mental and otherwise, is at stake!