The term ‘self hating’ is a strong one used in many cultures and communities. A Jew who publicly criticizes Israel or the Jewish community may often be labeled as self hating. Unfortunately labels rarely help anyone because they mask the real issues.
Often real and serious concerns are brushed aside by the use of a label. This is not to say that self hating sycophants do not exist. No doubt they do - as we shall explain. However one must caution that not all disaffected people are self hating and nor should they all be labeled that way.
The real distinction seems to be how one goes about it. The best way to effect change in a community is from within. Those who are sincerely pained by the goings on in Israel or in the Jewish community as a whole would try to use their influence within that community to effect change.
Self hate is only a legitimate label to those who shun the Jewish community or whole segments of it. Such people endeavor to damage Jewish causes from the outside. There are numerous public instances of this.
For example the deeply misguided Jewish woman who stood as a candidate for the fascist British National Party in England, or some of the well known Jewish academics who stand shoulder to shoulder with Hizbullah and Hamas. One might even add the Neturai Karta who have cuddled up with the virulently anti-Semitic Iranian regime and other anti-Israeli groups.
However, recently I have encountered a more subtle form of Jewish self-hate, in the form of so called ‘enlightened’ Jews who refuse to associate themselves with people who practice a ‘backward’ religion.
These Jews are embarrassed by their fellow Jews especially if they are somewhat observant or traditional. They would rather socialize with gentiles. Interestingly, this type of self-hate is found mostly amongst liberal minded secular Ashkenazi Jews.
Since moving to Colorado just over a year ago I have experienced this first hand. It is obvious to all that I am an observant Jew, and most people I meet, Jewish and gentile, liberal and conservative, religious or secular, treat this fact with respect and admiration.
However a few will always make a point of letting me know that they want to have nothing to do with a person who clings to the kind of “backward” and “blinkered” practices and beliefs that I do.
Now, disagreement is certainly a good thing and so is debate. However, it seems amazing that people who consider themselves open minded and liberal should be so virulently against traditional Judaism and its adherents to the extent that they want to have nothing to do with them.
Surely the opposite should be true: The more open minded and liberal one is the more accepting of differences and diversity one should be. There seems to be an inherent contradiction in claiming to be liberal and yet being intolerant of difference.
The conclusion is inescapable: intolerance and bigotry are not symptoms of religion or of secularism. They are born out of human deficiency. Education can help combat these negative human traits, once one identifies them as such and has the will to overcome them. Unfortunately though, many of our brethren are in denial about this.
For our part, religious communities, on both the lay and spiritual leadership levels must try to reduce the sense of alienation some Jews end up feeling. Synagogues and communities must become more welcoming and open so that people should not feel that they must dissociate themselves from the community or hate it because of their concerns and disagreements.
We must make room for all those who feel disenfranchised by our religion to return and re-examine it, to ask the questions and to educate themselves. If we do this, more will feel a part of the process and the desire to undermine fellow Jews and Judaism from the outside will be eliminated.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills
and the author of numerous articles on a whole range of topics and issues, many of which can be found on his website