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Orthodox Blogger Bullies

Last week, something sad happened in the Jewish blogosphere. A major, inter-denominational Jewish voice who happens to be a publicly proud Orthodox convert was silenced due to online bullying by fellow Orthodox bloggers.

Longtime blogger Chaviva Galatz, formerly the Jewish blogosphere’s Kvetching Editor, has essentially deleted her blog, removing years of back posts that delved into her personal journey as a Reform then Orthodox convert. Why? Because another Orthodox convert blogger, Skylar Curtis of the You’re Not Crazy blog, and various commenters decided that Galatz was (actual Orthodox craziness alert:) bringing shame upon other Orthodox converts by telling the truth publicly about her life, her observance, and her feelings surrounding her own Judaism.

Uniquely for an Orthodox blogger, Galatz shared the detailed joys and sorrows of her emotional journey through conversion(s), Jewish learning, marriage, divorce, joining and leaving a traditional community, and inter-dating. Along the way she spread a not inconsiderable amount of Jewish love, kindness, open-mindedness, fair-handedness, and most of all, friendship, nationally across the Jewish blogosphere–and across denominational lines. For Galatz, Klal Yisrael was defined by the crowd of souls present in person or in spirit at Sinai, not as defined by the increasingly arbitrary and misguided strictures of organized American (and increasingly batshit crazy organized Israeli) Orthodox religious leaders.

I’ve blogged many times about Orthodoxy’s attitude that it somehow controls and/or is the only valid interpretation of Judaism. (See especially: Free to Be Jew and Me.) That is, of course, bullshit. But to the most small-minded of Orthodox, like Curtis and her cohorts, it’s obvious fact. And Hashem help you if you deign to disagree. Actually, if you disagree and you’re not Orthodox, I’m sure Curtis couldn’t care less. In the eyes of Jews like that, you just aren’t Jewish.

If you’re Orthodox, however, you’re squarely in the target sights of Orthodoxy’s self-appointed bullies. There is no want of a better term here, either. I’ll let the situation back that up. For the past several months since unexpected circumstances forced upheaval in Galatz’s life, she has been the recipient of online and offline (including blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, etc.) of pointed, judgmental, fear-mongering messages from other Orthodox Jews–including Curtis–begging, blasting, criticizing, shaming, and, in some cases, name-calling Galatz in a very sick attempt to get her to live her life quietly.

Mind you, not to live her life differently–just to live it quietly. For such Jews, it’s okay to go “off the derech” (Orthodoxy’s extraordinarily loaded term for a Jew who stops following the absolute letter of the commandments)–as long as you don’t let others know about it. Why? So that you don’t bring what such Jews conceive of as “shame” onto your community, your family, and for Curtis (who has been very publicly vocal about this point), onto other Orthodox converts.

The hypocrisy in that attitude speaks for itself and has nothing to do with living a Torah-inspired life. Neither does the judgment with which such sentiments are usually shared (as if the person sharing them is Hashem and not human), nor the fear and self-suppression they seek to engender in others. Or, really, the fear under which Jews who share such opinions must spend their days living, themselves. How sad.

But more than that, how fucking unacceptable. Those who bullied Galatz off the Internet have acted far from Jewishly here. You want to talk about shame and illegitimacy? I happen to think any Jew who would attempt to bully any other Jew into living their life as a silent automaton in order to make themselves feel somehow safer or more legitimate in their own Jewishness is about as far from Judaism as you can get.

Skylar Curtis, this means you. Congratulations on your recent Orthodox conversion. In my eyes, you were already Jewish since you had already converted Jewishly in a different denomination. Also in my eyes, your online bullying makes you a lot of things, but, Jewish is not one of them. But I will tell you what one of those things is that I think you really are.


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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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33 replies

  1. I have been an on-and-off reader of both the blogs in question. I have even had off-line contact with both ladies in the past. For all that, I have no dog in this hunt. (I use the word ‘hunt’ advisedly for it’s tone and sentiment.)

    Personally, I have only one take-away message in mind from all this painful and saddening expression. Many, Many Things Just Don’t Belong In Public.

    In a traditional Jewish perspective (yes, that tainted and damned Orthodoxy…) tzniut is a highly misunderstood and misapplied notion. Yet among our greatest and deepest spiritual figures, tzniut was a value and behavior that characterized them. What is tzniut? It may best translate as ‘privacy’. The Hebrew root means ‘hidden’ or ‘preserved/guarded’. The oldest Jewish notions of self-respect, dignity, and humility all have to do with a measure of privacy. Mystically, we learn this notion from God Himself (Herself? Itself?). Who is truly more private than God? I daresay, by the way, that if we consider some of the most admirable non-Jews as well as Jews, people really worthy of emulation for their health and integrity and solid character – we will often find on re-consideration that they have a measure of privacy about them. They are sensitive and selective about who enters their personal lives and how far they allow them to do so. This is also what gives their personal relationships a special character. Not everyone is allowed in, and not everyone is allowed in as far or as much.

    Kedushah, loosely translated as holiness, connects with tzniut/privacy. The Hebrew root means to create a unique or exclusive relationship or bond. The connection between a measure of privacy and developing sanctity is quite strong. We most associate holiness with those moments and relationships that are least public, partly by their virtue of being impossible to articulate or share openly. Think of the deepest, closest moments of approaching God in prayer and meditation; but think also of the bond between human husband and wife, which we also refer to by the term ‘kiddushin’.

    From I see here and elsewhere, the blogosphere is an environment that too easily facilitates tossing these ancient and worthy Jewish values aside. Present discussion and diatribes included. This isn’t new, by the way. The development of a popular press in print and the use of pseudonyms had the same effect.

    I’m not taking sides here. I would just like to point out that to this outsider, it appears that dignity, restraint, modesty, humility have all gotten sorely compromised here. In a word – tzniut. The real stuff. The only take-away lesson I’ve learned so far is that we should really restore some dignity and privacy in our lives, including our (paradoxically) public lives. And of course – if we don’t, we have no control over the consequences.

    Please excuse me for sounding preachy. I just think this element was missing in the conversation. Now back to your regularly scheduled diatribes and screeds.

    1. Thank you for posting this. I’ve wanted to touch on the issue, but I haven’t had the time to even begin. I hope that your words are heeded.

    2. Mordechai, there are many frum bloggers out there who publicly blog about intimate details of their lives and opinions. However as born Jews, they can do this without major repercussions. Is there one standard for tzniut for born-Jews as opposed to non-Jews? Can born Jews, even frum ones fall short of the Torah standard publicly while gerim cannot? If the answer is “yes”, then we should re-examine if gerim truly have equal status in Klal Yisrael.

  2. I read both Skylar and Chaviva’s blogs and I admire their unique stories, experiences and advice. With all due respect to Mike, but I do not think you presented Skylar’s views accurately in your post, and from what I have known and read of the issue between Chaviva and Skylar, I do not think most of your criticism is earned.

  3. I guess I am just a little confused as to why you are going after this girl with so much gusto. I’m also confused as to why you are using this as an excuse to dig into Orthodoxy and make blanket statements about those who affiliate with the Orthodox movement. We only have your words and the blogs to go by here. Perhaps there is more than we have not seen? I personally follow both Chaviva and Skylar. I read the comments that have since been removed. They were on the harsh side, I will give you that but I don’t think they merit what seems to be an attack on Skylar.

    I read through those two links and fail to see what they have to do with anything. The first seems to be Jews and Non-Jews talking about the perceived dark view of Skylar’s blog. If you see it as dark that may be a matter of your perception. I’ve never seen it that way. It’s matter of fact and to the point. That is it’s purpose. The second link is..well..I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s completely inappropriate.

  4. These posts all make me feel sad. Having had ups and downs in my own beliefs and observances (and having dated a non-Jew while remaining frum), I feel like I have lived both women’s journeys over and over, but at least I didn’t have to do it in public.
    Chaviva is on a very hard road, and will get where she is going not in a matter of weeks, but over an entire lifetime. Ditto Skylar.
    Meanwhile, it is less than helpful for us to jump in and judge them from moment to moment, especially since those judgments will be mainly based on our own preconceived notions and biases.
    I will continue to read whatever both women have to say. As a Jew by birth, and as a frum human being, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from their journeys, wherever they may lead.

  5. AJ Brody: “At least give her a chance to respond.”
    Alon: “Can we see this email? It would be nice to see Skylar’s response?”

    Curtis responded on her own blog. Those interested can read her post there.

    Thren: “FYI, this comes across as less a social duty to call out bullies and more as a grievance with Orthodoxy.”
    Dena: “I’m curious why this is being turned into an Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox issue?”

    More specifically, I have a grievance with Orthodox bloggers who go out of their way to discredit other Jews of any denomination using their Orthodox beliefs as a justification for doing so.

    Bethany: [In reference to Curtis’ final post on Galatz’s blog before the blog was taken down] “That was the ONLY comment that Skylar made. She made no judgements on Chaviva’s observance – she simply stated that she shouldn’t be speaking so much lashon hara about her ex-husband and his new wife. Get your facts straight.”

    I invite you to do the same. As I wrote in the Jewish By Choice discussion forum covering the deletion of Galatz’s blog yesterday, Curtis had a longstanding history of criticizing Galatz. After a particularly pointed round of argument and bullying a few months ago (around autumn or so), Curtis systematically went through the comment threads on Galatz’s blog and deleted many of hers out of fear of being “tainted” by her comments even appearing on the blog of an “off the derech” Orthodox convert. This was before her Orthodox “re-conversion” was complete, and she was afraid her beit din would stop her conversion for being associated with a blogger such as Chaviva. Among the comments she deleted were several telling Galatz how she was potentially ruining the lives of other Orthodox converts by not keeping silent about her life, how discredited Galatz would be as an Orthodox Jew by calling Orthodoxy into question through blogging her questions, doubts, and disagreements, and how Galatz should suffer in silence for the good of others.

    In one comment (which became the subject of a post on Curtis’ own blog), Curtis went as far as saying that positive things like love, compassion, and joy were secondary to necessary Orthodox community limitations aimed at keeping up appearances and it was too bad that people (i.e. like Galatz) might be hurt by those limitations, but that’s just how it was in Orthodox Judaism and (essentially) how dare any newcomer to Orthodoxy rock the boat. Skylar was very outspoken about all of this, too. You are aware of this, as you were also outspoken in several of those same comment threads.

    Finally, this is not the first time Curtis has been publicly criticized based on her online opinions dour view of Orthodox life and judgmental nature. See:

    Skylar’s Rather Dark View of Orthodox Conversion

    Probably the last word on Skylar and You’re Not Crazy but you are Judgmental

    1. This is true. I remember reading these comments on Galatz’s blog at the time, and being so disgusted that I stopped following Curtis altogether.

  6. The usual suspects from Curtis’ blog have come out of the woodwork to bitch at me here in comment form. Like I said, my blog is not a democracy. Feel free to fawn over Curtis on Curtis’ own blog with the same ferocity you called out Galatz on Galatz’s blog. But your molly-grubbing isn’t being published here. I never said this was a debate. Just like Curtis, on my blog I get the last word.

    I will, however, respond to selected comments received from this group in digest form later today.

  7. Michael, what do you think you’re doing by constantly writing about how “crazy,” “small-minded,” and “bull shit” the Orthodox and their beliefs are? No one’s oppressing you, that’s not self-defense.

  8. Mike,

    I agree with the majority of your points, and in fact I’m a bit disappointed that you beat me to the punch, as I’ve been working on formulating a blog post like this one for nearly a week.

    However, I would have preferred that you not criticize Orthodoxy/Orthodox leadership/Rabbis whatever you want to call them. In fact I think it is actually a bit counter to your overall goal… At least I assume that part of your goal is to not only call out the person(and I think it was more than this one) who did this, but as well to spur other people to actually do something about it.

    As an Orthodox person, and Rabbi, and an Israeli one at that, I found your post somewhat insulting, and it made reconsider, however briefly, my own defense of Chavi. Personally I think that, at least a little bit, you overacted and castigated an entire group of people whom you don’t seem to have many dealings with, as much as Skylar was spreading hysterics about the plight of gerim and how one person can bring it all down. What you both have in common is that you both decided to target the Israeli Rabbinate, which like I said is disappointing.

    To hopefully set aside the fears of a revocation(as if that were possible) of a geirut, or a Israeli Rabbinate denial of all American Geirim, let’s actually put the original issue into the proper perspective. The Rabbinate wasn’t against anyone in particular’s standards as much as they were against the absolute lack of universal standard(whence they will accept Reform and Conservative conversions, at least for the purposes of Aliyah, but Orthodox one’s are more difficult). As there is no universal body governing Orthodoxy in the US(quite a unique situation) and thus setting minimum standards, you had everything from people slaving for seven years and needing to join Lev Tahor in order to get a geirut, to some Messianics who paid a good deal of money and got dipped in Denver Co swimming pool. Yes I know I am dealing with the two extremes of the spectrum, but it was those extremes that caused the Rabbinate to seek out a group/organization with whom they could work in the US for consistent minimum standards, hence the RCA.

    So whatever fear mongering went on, and continues to be perpetuated by the paranoid and hysterical, that was the only reason. That issue is now resolved(I have personally discussed this with Rav Amar), and the Rabbinut here sees no reason to reopen it. So please, I understand your want to defend your friend, I feel the same way, but don’t drag people into it that have no legitimate or illegitimate qualms

  9. Shalom al yisrael – peace unto Israel. I urge you to think before you write and practice patience and love.

  10. “How can you make such negative blanket statements about an entire group of people and not recognize it as bigotry. ”

    Eva, I first needed to stop laughing before responding to this amazing gem you shared above. Because that’s how Orthodox Jews write/talk/blog about non-Orthodox Jews all the time. But in your community’s case, it’s always ok, because Orthodox Jews are always right, and non-Orthodox Jews…aren’t Jews so who cares anyway.

    Try again.

  11. This morning I received a comment from Curtis denying most of what I wrote, including a large section apparently copied directly from selected comments left on Galatz’s blog, and justifying taking a fellow blogger to task (her vs. Galatz). The irony of a similar justification (me vs. Curtis) was lost in the comment, however.

    No thanks. I never said this was a democracy. If Curtis wants to respond, she can feel free to use her own blog to do so.

  12. I followed both blogs for a while – and when that issue came up I really couldn’t help but wonder why Chaviva Galatz was discussing such intimate details of her life – and then even more bemused by the fact that she didnt want to hear criticism. If you live your life in the public then you should expect the public to comment.

    I saw Skylar Curtis’ comments on the blog, and really did not think that they were so bad. She definately did not frame her comments in a light that you have portrayed her as. And both your comments and other comments on your blog have probably done terrible damage to her.

    People who want to document every part of their life in the public sphere both those issues that should be private and those that could be public – need to realize that the world is going to comment on those issues – there may be positive comments and negative comments but there is going to be comments.

    What you have done on this blog is played a terrible hand of scapegoating – of which the consequences could be far greater than someone removing their blog.

    Perhaps the shamefull that you end your blog could also be applied to you and the people commenting?

    1. I approved this comment to point out the fact that this is exactly what I am calling Curtis out for doing to Galatz. And I don’t care at all, in any way, whatsoever, if that offends the precarious glass house of systematically, self-assuredly always-more-important-than-everyone-else traditional Orthodox community mores behind which Curtis–or anyone else–hides.

      No, two wrongs don’t make a right. But, much like Curtis, I’m not apologizing, either. If my post calling out Curtis for her actions has a negative effect, there’s a great, though not retroactively applicable fix for that:

      Don’t be shitty to others on the Internet in the first place.

  13. Sorry, just had to comment again. I just got SICK at reading You’re Not Crazy’s blog titles for the last week or so. Seeing them in context of this development is disgusting. They can’t be coincidence, can they?

    1. Well here’s the other piece of it. Lashon hara is a big part of this here, and I am fully aware it cuts both ways, especially in terms of the ferocity and ad hominem nature of my blog post. However–and it’s a big one–the urge to avoid lashon hara is a major reason why behavior like Chaviva experienced is rarely called out. Certainly rarely called out with as much fervor as the original behavior. I considered not naming Curtis in this post.

      But as far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to put yourself out there publicly with your opinions on your blog, and then use your public pulpit to bully others, then you’re not above being publicly called out, yourself. I’ve certainly been called out before, and I totally own that fact. Jewish or not, it goes with the blogging territory. It would be nice if we could all interdenominationally get along. Some of us do. Probably many of us.

      That said, the prophets of our tradition had no problem calling out other Jews over shitty behavior. Neither do I.

      1. So… Her lashon hara was bad but yours is ok? Skylar welcomes comments and criticism because she shares her opinions on her blog, but Chaviva does not? Skylar’s posts, which can only possibly be kind of construed as critical of Chaviva (despite the fact that she was never named or hinted-at) are bullying while your vitriolic, libelous, offensive screed constitutes an appropriate form of discourse?

        There is nothing on Skylar’s blog that in any way criticizes, names, or otherwise “bullies” Chaviva. Chaviva made the decision to share some very personal, very sensitive aspects of her life on her blog and opened it up for comments. She was apparently hurt by the feedback she got and decided that she no longer wished to share the details of her life with the world. This seems like a smart decision for her and I hope it gives her the privacy and time to heal that she needs. I think we should stop acting like she owes the world this blog and like her decision to take it down was anyone else’s but her own.

        1. You were one of the commenters on Chaviva’s blog that I didn’t name in my post. But as long as you’re here, I’ll be very direct. Your Orthodox social mores don’t apply here. Unlike Chaviva, I don’t find the rules which you’d like the whole Jewish world to follow valid. So, you know, stuff them. While you’re at it, you can also stuff the attitude that it’s perfectly OK for someone to emotionally bully someone else, but it’s not ok to be called out for said behavior.

          To me, your ilk represents the worst of Judaism: let others suffer, bring them to suffer if necessary, if and when it suits my own religious needs, then wrap myself in a cloak of alleged piety to deflect blame or consequence. If Orthodoxy works any better than this, I have yet to see it reflected on the Internet.

          And as a fellow Jew, I’ll be damned before I’ll bow down to your community’s self-proclaimed halachic primacy on the Internet or anywhere else.

          1. Well, please to go right ahead and name me. I disagree with the way in which she chose to share certain aspects of her life. Disagreeing does not equal bullying. I am still grateful for the tremendous work she has done to support the community and I have told her as much.

            I take exception to your lumping me or anyone else in with what you are presenting as orthodox belief. How can you make such negative blanket statements about an entire group of people and not recognize it as bigotry. Claiming oppression does not justify hate-speech. So, if you’ll excuse the expression, kindly climb down off the cross and maybe try building a few bridges instead of dumping gasoline on other people’s.

  14. I checked my blogroll before Shabbat last week and was surprised when one of the links–the link to a web goddess’ site nonetheless–was broken.

    Now I know why.

    And it’s not the only thing that’s broken, as you have stated so eloquently . I knew Chaviva had been receiving comments on her blog, but I had no idea Skylar was involved. I’ve lost a lot of respect for her as a result.

    Bullying in all its forms is unacceptable. Do you mind if I repost this to my blog with all due credit to you?

  15. And Mike, my mind goes to this…

    When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.

    These words apply to Skylar Curtis… Congratulations you have become the oppressor out to silence voices… Soldier on Chaviva. Fascists like Skylar never last forever, a voice that is not afraid to speak truth, sooner or later will always win.

    1. Really? You’re actually using that parable for an internet discussion. I mean you brought in the Nazis right away. This is possibly the worst use of “they came for…” since Bea Arthur used it in order to talk about how HOward Stern was being mean to her and how she felt bad for laughing when he did it to other people.

      There’s a Nicki Minaj song that applies to you – you might have seen. It’s not Superbass.

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