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.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.