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


  1. regarding anorexia and bulimia. Interesting because I had a friend in sem who was bulimic.
    she told me it started at the age of 12 when she was being teased about her weight and was called fatty. She read somewhere about making oneself throw up to loose weight so she started doing it. So I guess she did pick up the idea from somewhere.

    Perhaps the solution is to make PARENTS aware without involving the children too heavily.
    On the other hand there have been cases where friends picked up on others having a problem and got them help only because they were aware of the signs.
    So what's the proposed solution then. We have to have the knowledge but too much knowledge is harmful. what then?

  2. I'm not sure what the solution is. I am just concerned that the zeal to "be open" and "do away with stigmas" is hurting us more than helping us, at least in certain areas.

    There have always been sensitive topics that adults know about and children deemed not ready for. Maybe we in the frum world should be rethinking what should be said and what would be better left unsaid. "There's a time to be silent; there's a time to speak."

  3. An older friend of mine was shocked when years ago, her husband warned her son about sexual abuse before sending him off to yeshiva. She wanted to know why it was necessary to tell a 15 year old boy such things. Her husband explained that this problem is practically as old as the human race and that when children leave home they must be warned and prepared. Today children are explained about child abuse by labeling body parts as traffic lights with red being areas that on one can touch.
    The approach of not warning children or teaching them how to stay safe has not worked. Many children have been severely and even permanently harmed by the fact that they could not even discuss what happened with their clueless and silent parents.

  4. That father sounds wise. I think he did the right thing (actually, I think he should have said something on the matter many years earlier).

    Very different than talking to classes of high school girls about eating disorders.

    In short I think the difference is: the father was warning his son about people with evil designs and the need to be careful. With the girls, there is nobody out to get them. The warnings are too easily internalized as suggestions by impressionable teenagers who want to be thinner.