Scandal + Wrongdoing = PR Nightmare

Sadly, people make wrong choices. Some choices that our observant brothers and sisters make seem to be brought to light in blogs, print, radio, and TV. From sexual misbehavior to financial misrepresentation to a break in trust with kashrus…we see it all, these days. While different forms of media, both Jewish and non-Jew, expose these terrible events within our communities, for me, as an observant Jew, it’s a public relations nightmare.

I, who has chosen a path of ethical and religious life, am often bombarded with questions from both non-religious relatives and non-jewish friends.
“How could a religious person do such a thing?”
“Isn’t a Rabbi a holy person?”
“Don’t you answer to a ‘higher standard’?”
“Is this what you’re raising your kids to be like?”
“Doesn’t your Torah teach you ethics?”

I’ll stop. You can probably think of half a dozen other questions. What do I do? How do I respond? I don’t really have the answers. I’ve told people the standard, “Don’t judge a religion by the people” line, but that really doesn’t cut it.

The truth is that we all have to answer for our actions. The concept of reward and punishment is fundamental to Judaism. When I’m finally judged, the excuse of, “At least I didn’t pass off non-kosher chicken for kosher,” doesn’t really matter. We are judged against ourselves and our potential.
Does anyone have any other ideas about how do deal with these issues?

14 thoughts on “Scandal + Wrongdoing = PR Nightmare

  1. Lakewood Venter

    There is no easy way to deal with this, the fact remains that whenever a member of the orthodox community does something wrong, the entire community gets looked at in a bad light.

    Fortunately, it works the other way around as well. When an orthodox Jew makes a Kiddush Hashem, and does something extraordinary and nice it earns the entire community points in the eyes of the world.

    It is just our actions that make people judge us, our words alone are uselees, so don’t even bother explaining anything away….

  2. Lvnsm27

    Firstly, I would respond that the Torah does teach ethics and people just need to choose to follow it. And sometimes people choose not to.

    Secondly, I think the only way is for people to get together and try to solve the issues.

  3. Rafi G

    I always respond (not that it helps) that frum people are human too. Just because we strive to live a higher standard does not mean it will always be so. We have temptations just like anybody else, and sometimes we succumb to those temptations.

    Yes, we should be doing better and yes people will always pick on the singled out experience they witnessed/read about, but people should understand that human beings, no matter how great they might be, are always succeptible to falling to their temptations and no matter how religious one is, he is not immune from such pressures.

  4. Pragmatician

    The best way to deal with them is by giving the best example possible.
    Teach the children to give up a seat on a crowded bus to an older person.
    On the other hand I’ve notice that many goyim are predisposed to anti semitism and no matter what the Jews do or don’t do, they’ll hate us anyway.

  5. Harry Maryles

    In some cases it’s just plain bad parenting. Many of the wrong doers were just raised without certain values. This is paretially the fault of an educational system that is light on Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero.

    We need more Rabbi Meir Shapiros.If every school had one of these as their principal, perhaps things might change for the better. It won’t solve the problem of bad parenting entirely, but it would be a good start.

  6. Jerusalem Joe

    as a secular jew in israel i can tell you that highlighting orthodox misbehavior is a favorite past-time.

    one reason is that observing jews are so high-minded and arrogant, so sure that the fact that they are observing halakha makes them almost divine, and that a secular jew is only half-human compared to them.
    i have seen this attitude in many meetings with orthodox people, even when the contact was on a friendly basis. always i felt the assumption (occasionaly made explicit) that something was wrong with me, and that the observing person i am with is somehow morally superior to me.
    that is really annoying!

    so, is it any wonder that there is such an over reaction to orthodox misdeeds?

    and to your question: just say the truth – religous people are human beings. they are not morally superior. they are not better in any way than anybody else. they chose to deal with their problems by observing halakha, but that does not assure them success by any means.
    and most importantly – try to stop the mispresentation of observing jews. if you do that, then this won’t be an issue.

  7. Neshama

    What is wrong with:
    “Don’t judge a religion by the people”?

    Some of us do a remarkable job of it. Just read Jonathan Rosenblum’s article in the issue of HaMishpacha Magazine (engl) right after the Lebanon war where he documents the amazing things ordinary Jews did to help their fellow Jews.

    Jerusalem Joe said it wisely: “religous people are human beings.” – some are morally superior than others, and the others are still trying to live up to it.

    After all, do we say all cath….s are bad because of what some pr….s did?

    It is not the religion that defines the person, it is the person who defines his own ethics.

  8. Just Joe

    I’ll throw one out there. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Just because someone takes on the external characteristics and self-identifies with a particular group of people, that doesn’t make him the official spokesperson for that group.

    The visible elements of religious observance are the easy ones because they are quantifiable. Either the person wears a hat or he doesn’t. Either she covers her hair or she doesnt.

    Being a good person, and a light to the nations is a lot harder to do, because it comes from within.

  9. Neil Harris

    “The visible elements of religious observance are the easy ones because they are quantifiable. Either the person wears a hat or he doesn’t. Either she covers her hair or she doesnt.”
    In some communities in the States, while covering one’s hair is a halachic issue (based on my understanding), there are decent honest people who happen not to cover their hair that are just as ehrlich as anyone else.

    The truth is that if you look the part, then you need to play the part, Joe.
    Thanks for your two comments.

  10. Bob Miller

    There are people who dress the part and outwardly act the part who never really got with the program. We only have limited ability to detect them.

    If a problem is widespread, I would hope we could point to community efforts to remedy it.

  11. Anonymous

    jerusalem joe: I’ve heard that sentiment from a lot of non-religious jews – and I really question how much of that attitude is real vs. how much of that attitude is projected onto religious jews by their non-religious counterparts.

  12. Neil Harris

    Jerusalem Joe said:
    “always i felt the assumption (occasionaly made explicit) that something was wrong with me, and that the observing person i am with is somehow morally superior to me.”

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten the same vibe from people who don’t use the eruv in my neighbood (we use the eruv).
    Tolerance and respect are key in all relationships.


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