Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some Posts Removed

We have removed some posts and edited others because we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the subject matter. The situation in New Hempstead will play itself out in the coming weeks. Our commentary is superfluous. We have decided to let events play themselves out as they will. We will take no further public position on this subject, but will continue to offer commentary on other subjects which may be of interest to our readers.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Problem With Charismatic Religious Leaders

We often hear about "charismatic" religious leaders. There is nothing wrong with charisma per se, but when it is cultivated by rabbis, it is sometimes for the purpose of gaining weak-minded devotees, people ripe for manipulation and exploitation. Often a charismatic religious leader will effusively praise and flatter others in order to gain their confidence. With practice, the leader perfects his style and through trial and error learns how to better control others. Eventually, as he gains followers, the charismatic leader becomes convinced that he is a great person. He will confide to his closest followers that he is a "king", or "Messiah". The charismatic leader is smart enough to not make such statements except to his devotees. This phenomenon is not confined to Jewish leaders. David Koresh, of Waco Texas, Rev. Jim Jones, of poison kool-aid fame, and others who have led their followers into tragic situations, have all made claims of kingship. What is strking is that the same phenomenon exists in certain segments of the Orthodox Jewish community. Just like the Poison Kool Aid drinkers of Jim Jones fame, the Jewish followers crave the closeness of their leader to the point where they give up their own independent judgment and rational thought. These followers, more often than not, suffer from psychological and emotional deficits. They experience themselves as incomplete, as lacking something internally. They find wholeness by becoming close with a charismatic leader who in turn praises and flatters the follower. The charismatic leader, in turn, has a deep need to be worshipped by others. These leaders and followers exist together in a sick cocoon of symbiotic emotional leeching. Each has given up some important element of logic and rational thought. The leader becomes more and more convinced that he is above the rules that apply to lesser people. He rationalizes that he has carte blanche to do whatever he wants with other people. This usually translates into sexual and monetary immorality and exploitation of his followers, who, after all, exist in this world solely to bring pleasure to the G-d like leader. The leader is usually smart enough to confine his predations to his followers while presenting to the outside world a more "normal" image.

As dangerous as the leader may be, however, he is danger mainly to his followers. They may submit to his sexual depravities, or turn over all their money to him, or commit crimes and go to jail for their leader. In extreme cases, they may kill themselves or others if commanded by the leader. But to the outside world, it is the followers who pose the great danger. Unlike the cagey leader, the followers do not see a need to exercise restraint when dealing with the outside world. In fact, they may view outsiders as enemies who need to be taught a lesson. The followers often function as mindless goons on behalf of the leader.

Since the follower has sacrificed his independent judgment in order to more completely follow his leader, he becomes a dangerous instrumentality in the hands of a desperate leader.

Which brings us to our tragic situation in New Hempstead, New York. The situation in New Hempstead is one of a leader with a small but dedicated group of fanatic followers. These people will believe anything their Rav says to them, and will not hesitate to strike out at people designated as an enemy. They will believe the most outlandish things fed to them by their Rav. For instance, they believe that their Rav's present troubles are the result of a conspiracy to bring him down. What is unanswered and even unasked is, "Why in the world would there exist such a conspiracy and who could possibly be behind it?" Over the next few days and weeks, as the drama plays out in New Hempstead, it makes sense to avoid provoking the followers. Who knows what orders they have received and what acts they would commit to protect their close relationship with a man who has told some followers that he is a "King".

Jewish Idea Now Open for Guest Posting

The Jewish Idea Blogspot is now accepting comments from anyone who wishes to post here. You may post anonymously if you wish. The site had previously accepted posts only from registered members, but those settings have been modified to accept comments from all readers. Welcome to The Jewish Idea and stay tuned for interesting, informative and stimulating news and commentary of interest to the Jewish community.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Jewish Idea Blog Now Open!

I am pleased to commence publication of "The Jewish Idea" blog. In this space, we will examine ideas and events that shape the world, from a Jewish perspective. No subject is off-limits. No news story will be censored. We have an inherently "Orthodox" perspective here, but the blog is open to everyone.

I am starting this blog in part because many of our "frum" newspapers have unacceptable levels of censorship. Many others lack journalistic integrity. Often, local papers are owned and edited by people with purely self-serving political agendas. Typically the agenda is to flatter local politicians in the never ending quest to gain favor with them. The reason: the editor hopes that the local government official will then obtain government grant money for the editor of the paper or his supporters. So, you end up with a newspaper that is full of cynical praise for politicians, but no real news. Unfortunately, many regular "frum" people, who mean well, get it in their heads that these self serving organs of local organizations are "kosher" newspapers and rely upon them for news.

That is just one problem with local Jewish newspapers. Another problem is that some of the more "frum" papers are afraid to publish anything that a reader may decide is offensive, regardless of how insane the standard for "frumkeit" is taken.

This is an initial post. We will be posting more in the near future. In the meantime, if you have any current news, or opinions about events in the Jewish world, please post it here. More later, and welcome to "The Jewish Idea" blog.