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Of all the things that weary my soul so much these days, top of the list is the modern tendency to look for reasons to be offended.

It’s part of that poisonous web of political correctness that’s being woven around all human interactions, where people can’t make jokes anymore, they can’t just be ‘them’ any more, they can’t ask honest questions, they can’t say what they really think, what they really feel.

Why not?

Because that might offend someone.

I’m not cheerleading for nasty language, or insults or put-downs, by the way, not at all. Onaas devarim, or negative speech, is a very big deal halachically, and we Jews have so many rules governing the proper way to try to communicate with other people.

But the halachot governing speech are a million miles away from the political correctness that’s poisoning modern communication, and making more and more of our daily interactions a burden and drag.

The first one is dealing with personal attacks and put downs on people themselves, which is clearly a function of bad middot, and is something that needs to be addressed.

But the second is an attack on ideas.

Political correctness is trying to shut down the discussion of ideas, the free exchange of knowledge, the challenging of assumptions, the ability to enable people to think for themselves, even if that’s sometimes awkward and imperfect.

We can’t discuss whether ‘feminist’ and ‘orthodox’ goes together, because that might offend someone. We can’t say that there shouldn’t be so much emphasis put on externals because that might offend someone. We can’t suggest Israel is the best place for Jews to live, or that Palestinians who fire rockets at civilians in Israel, or shoot small Jewish children, or stab Jews to death just because they are Jews are terrorists, because that might offend someone.

And so, the list of possible offenses grows longer and longer, and the topics that it’s safe to talk about grows smaller and smaller, and the ability to communicate in a real, sincere way totally dries up, because it’s just safer that way.

And it’s not just a ‘society’ problem or a ‘community’ problem, it’s also – very much – a family problem, a parent and child problem, a husband and wife problem.

We can’t ask non-observant seder guests to bring something to say at the Seder because that might offend them… Our kids can’t tell us that we’re bothering them, or annoying them, or upsetting them, for fear of offending us… We can’t tell our spouse that we suspect they are drinking too much at the Kiddush club on Shabbos, or working too hard, or not behaving correctly in case we offend them.

And they probably also feel they can’t tell us, that we’re too bossy, to selfish, too self-pitying, too demanding.

The list of potential egg shells goes on and on, and so it’s easier to just stay plastic, stay in the comfort zone, and to keep pulling that fake smile tighter and wider.

If you play by the rules of the politically-correct crowd.

And thank God, I can’t do that.

I make mistakes, I’m not always as tactful as I could be (supposing that tact can actually be learnt and developed), I sometimes phrase things a little OTT – but I prefer that a million times over to being too scared to speak to others, too scared to write anything real for fear I might offend someone.

Modern discourse has become so plastic and superficial because we’re all just waiting for that first mentally-disturbed ‘snowflake’ to start throwing a public hissy fit because they were offended by something we said – or didn’t say – or something we did – or didn’t do.

And that fear of not measuring up to politically correct perfection is keeping us all tongue-tied, repressed and miserable.

Or at least, almost all of us.

Thank God, there are still a few people out there who are bucking the trend, and saying what needs to be said. Rabbi Bassous in Golders Green is one of them. Rav Berland in Jerusalem is another.

But it’s certainly getting harder and harder for the average person to speak freely in the world, and to discuss and debate the ideas and assumptions that really need airing out. And so, my soul is getting more and more wearied by all the interactions that have to be so carefully policed in case I offend someone, chas v’halila¸by saying something they disagree with or don’t like.

But I’m not giving up.

At least, not yet.

Every diss is a diamond. So I’m willing to keep getting insulted if it means I can try to keep moving things forward, and to keep doing my bit to stop everyone turning into not-so-fantastic-plastic.

But sometimes, staying real is really hard work.

Picture the scene:

After five years of exhaustive research, you finally decide that you’re going to start eating vegetarian. You’re not a militant animal rights’ activist, you just think that it’s much healthier and better for your body to cut out things that moo, bleat, baah and squawk.

Let’s say you’re sitting there, in the school canteen, when someone enters the room who really believes that vegetarians are unnecessarily limiting themselves, and what they consume. I mean, how else are they really going to get all the B12 vits they need, if not from something that moos, bleats, baahs or squawks?

That’s a fair point perhaps.

But, does it then justify the ‘militant’ meat-eater marching up to the vegetarian, and berating them for their unnecessary and unhealthy restrictions on what they eat?

Would it justify the militant meat eater trying to slip a furtive slice of bacon in their vegemite-spread bap? Or telling them that they were being served vegetarian sausages, when really the sausages were totally meat?

What do you think?

Who do you think is being more intolerant and narrow-minded, in this example?

Now, let’s picture another scene. Let’s say a kid has a peanut allergy. You know, peanuts – those little brown things that so many people can still happily consume, and that would otherwise be a fairly nutritious and delicious part of a healthy diet.

But not for the kid with the peanut allergy. If that kid gets a whiff of a peanut, that could shove them head-long into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Let’s say another kid simply loves peanuts to bits. In fact, all they want to eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no-one can get them to eat anything else.

So now, which kid’s ‘intolerance’ is meant to take preference, here?

The kid with the allergy, who can’t tolerate being exposed to peanuts, or the kid who can’t tolerate eating anything except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

If the canteen decides to get rid of all the peanuts and ban them from the school, does that make them ‘intolerant’? Or, if the school decides that it’s not fair on the other students to have to miss out on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, is their decision to tolerate peanuts on the premises correct?

Let’s make it sharper: let’s say that the peanut allergy parents are mamash pushing for peanut-free premises as they are hugely worried about what could happen to their kid if, God forbid, he should eat one, or even just inhale the scent of a peanut.

Let’s say, the peanut butter and jelly parents are mamash pushing back against this decision – because otherwise, what is their kid going to eat?! – and they write an angry letter decrying the school’s intolerance of peanut eaters.

They are right to say the school isn’t tolerating peanut eaters, aren’t they?

That makes the school intolerant, doesn’t it?

And that intolerance must be bad, mustn’t it? Because isn’t all intolerance awful?

What if the school says they won’t tolerate bad language. Or smoking. Or drug abuse. Or bullying.

That’s shockingly intolerant, isn’t it?! That’s limiting the pupils freedom of expression, isn’t it? And that must be bad and narrow-minded and un-egalitarian.

Mustn’t it?

Let’s take another example.

Let’s say, a man wants to come to work wearing just his underpants. Let’s say, he works in a very mixed, regular office where there is a fair sprinkling of old and young, male and female coworkers.

And this man wants to sit at his desk wearing just his underpants.

Should that be tolerated, by the management?

Let’s say, he has a serious case of trauma from when he was forced to wear a bright orange bell-bottomed paisley print trouser-suit (with a belt) when he was a kid in the 70s. And now, he just doesn’t like wearing clothes very much. Now, he just feels way more comfortable only wearing his underpants in public.

What would the preachers of tolerance proclaim about this case?

What would be the right thing to do? To let this man wear his skimpy undies in the office because he has serious trauma from orange flares, or to put the well-being of the rest of his office-workers first, who really don’t want to see ‘Mr Jones’ sitting there wearing just his grey pair of flannels?

Now, let’s start to switch these examples up, to make them a little bit more religious. Instead of a vegetarian, let’s have someone who eats strictly kosher badatz, or someone who doesn’t eat gebrochts on Pesach. Is it right to tolerate their strange ideas of food? Would it be right to try to force them to eat not-kosher food if they came to visit you in your home? Would it be right for them to try ‘force’ their kosher food on you, when you come to visit them?

Let’s say, instead of a peanut-free school canteen, we’re talking about a hospital in Israel. Is it ‘intolerant’ to stop hospital patients from eating chametz on Pesach if they want to, or is it ‘intolerant’ to the patients who do keep Pesach, to render the hospital totally chametzdik?

Whose distress is going to be greater? Whose life is going to be more seriously affected?

Now, let’s switch the man in his grey undies for a woman in a sheer, see-thru blouse and miniskirt. She likes to dress like that, she’s liberated, it makes her feel happy to come to the office in skirts so short, she may as well just be sitting there in her underwear.

So what, she’s making other people feel uncomfortable? So what, she’s going against the accepted dress code for the public space that is an office? Surely, its intolerant to expect her to wear more clothes?

What if you have a woman who insists on shaking hands with men, and a man who really doesn’t want to shake hands with the woman. Is he being ‘intolerant’? What if it’s the other way around? What if you have a man who just loves giving big, over-friendly hugs to his female colleagues. What if you’re a woman, and you just don’t want that guy touching you (or even, breathing the same air.)

Are you being intolerant?

What if, you can’t stand anyone shaking your hand, or kissing your cheek, because you have a strong aversion to chemical fragrances and perfumes, and even the smallest whiff of hand soap, or aftershave or deodorant makes you throw up? Now is it OK, for you to intolerantly refuse to shake hands, or kiss cheeks, with another person?

For once, I’m not going to try to wrap this post up in some neat conclusions. The point I’m trying to make here is that we’re all different, we all have different likes and dislikes, different needs, different beliefs, different priorities. It’s like the proverbial two old people in shul, one of whom wants the window open because he’s boiling, and the other who wants it shut, because he’s freezing.

Who’s right, in that example? Who’s wrong? Which one is being intolerant in the wrong way, and which one is being intolerant in the right way?

If you’re also feeling hot, you’ll go off on the guy who’s trying to close the window. If you’re also feeling cold, you’ll explode at the guy who’s trying to open it. Your view of what’s happening will be colored by your own experience, and your own preferences.

Unless God set down a clear commandment saying Thou shalt not open the window on a day where it’s below zero, all you have to go on is your own common-sense and empathy for where the other person might be coming from. If these things come to the fore, then you’ll sit down with Mr Hot and Mr Cold and try to find a way where both people’s preferences can be accommodated as much as possible, without making one of them ‘the baddie’.

Sadly, in the politically-correct mess we currently find ourselves in, God long since stopped being an arbiter of right-or-wrong for most people; common-sense is at an all-time low, and empathy – where you really make an effort to at least understand the other person’s point of view, and to at least concede that you might not be 100% correct about everything, all the time – is similarly missing from most people’s equations.

And man, are we feeling the lack.

There’s a Talmudic dictum which states:

He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.

I’d like to reframe it somewhat, as follows:

He who is tolerant of the intolerant ends up being intolerant of the tolerant.

And if you look around, you’ll see that playing out all around us.

 

[1] I have no idea why anyone would actually want to eat this, but so many people from America like it, there must be more to it than meets the eye.

Sooooo, that last post I stuck up about ‘Standing up for God’ sparked off quite a discussion in the Levy household. My husband read it and told me: ‘That’s a bit strong.’

(If you know how Brits speak, you’ll know that this was a very dramatic statement to make.)

My husband is my biggest cheerleader generally, and my biggest supporter. And occasionally, he’s also my biggest critic. That’s not a bad thing, as I don’t pretend to be perfect, and without an editor policing my writing, it’s very possible that I can make errors of judgement in my posts and say things that would be better left unsaid (at least, by me.)

So I took his misgivings seriously, and we started to have a huge big discussion about whether I should be writing about that sort of stuff on Emunaroma. By the end of our long, stomach-wrenching conversation (because I was on shpilkes for a whole half an hour that I’d maybe just made a huge error of judgement) we came to the following conclusions:

1) My husband is very conservative, with a small ‘c’. (This was not a chiddush.)

2) Not for the first time, I’d shocked him by writing about things that many people believe should be left alone (again, this was also not a chiddush.

When I started writing about personality disorders three years’ back, we had the same discussion. And 15 years’ ago, when I was writing articles about corrupt figures in the orthodox world who were embezzling money from their charitable organisations, we had the same discussion.)

The irony is, in many ways I hate writing about all this potentially hyper-charged stuff because it literally keeps my stomach churning for days from anxiety that I’m doing something wrong by broaching these subjects. But God keeps pulling me back to the controversial stuff, no matter how hard I try to stay away from it all.

Which brings me neatly onto point number 3:

3) By the end of the discussion, it was clear to both me and my husband that God is actually very happy for people to be writing posts like the one I stuck up on Emunaroma last week. Far too many real issues are being squashed and sidelined in 2015, because of political correctness and nebulous concerns about offending people by telling uncomfortable truths.

Once we’d spent an hour drilling down to the foundation of what was really going on, it really boiled down to self-interest: my husband was worried that me going out on a limb by writing about gay marriage could potentially lead me into some choppy waters, and cause me unnecessary aggravation.

He’s seen me get mixed up in controversial issues before, and it’s not been a fun thing for either of us.

Aww, God bless him.

But there’s far more going on here than just what would suit me. Of course I’d prefer to write articles that bring me universal adoration, a huge (paying…) fan club and no concerns or issues whatsoever. But as a friend of mine put it so nicely, when God gives you an ability, that best way of saying ‘thank you’ is to use it the way God intended.

So the long and the short of it is, that I think I’m going to write a few more articles explaining why gay marriage is such a huge, pivotal issue for believing Jews, and why it really goes to the heart of whether you believe you’re really just an intelligent animal, or a Divinely-created spiritual being.

And then once that’s out the way, I can start posting up fluffier stuff again, that’s much easier to ‘like’ on Facebook.

To be continued…

Someone told me that the US has just legalized gay marriage across the whole country. That same someone (who lives in the USA) told me that she had a feeling she’d be moving to Israel sooner rather than later (even though she hasn’t been here for years) because “Once you start messing around with the 7 Noachide Laws, that has a way of diminishing God’s love for your country.”

I know reams and reams is probably being written about this landmark decision of the US Supreme Court. I’m not going to add to all the speculation with this post; what I DO want to talk about, though, is how important it is at this stage in Jewish history for us Jews to stand up for God.

When I moved to Israel 10 years’ ago, it was a little ahead of the first ‘gay parade’ in Jerusalem. Back then, I was still working for the British Government as a ghostwriter for Ministers, and one of my best clients (in terms of how much work they asked me to do for them) was the Women and Equality Unit.

But in terms of what I had to write for them, it was the most drecky, horrible job ever. In just one speech, I’d have to laud women who rushed back to work as soon as their kids were born (the ‘women’ bit); praise muslims for having 6 wives (the ‘equality’ bit), and then also toss in at least one comment about how great and wonderful same gender relationships were (more of the ‘equality’ bit).

And bizarrely, in that ultra politically-correct environment where any notion of ‘right and wrong’ had gone completely out of the window, no-one seemed to notice how all these ideologies were completely at odds with each other, out there in the real world.

I hated those speeches.

I hated the feeling that I was selling-out my soul and my beliefs just  to pay my mortgage – but of course, that’s exactly what I was doing because back then, the Women and Equality Unit paid me very nicely to turn those things around for them.

It was part of the equation of being a religious Jew in galut, or exile.

So we moved to Israel, and all the fuss of the gay parade broke out here, and I kind of watched it a bit bemused, over to one side. My Israeli rabbis were encouraging me to take a stand, and to sign petitions against it, and to register my displeasure. And part of me really wanted to do that stuff – but the other part of me was far too scared of dong anything so UN-politically correct, because, well, political correctness was a central plank of my career and bank balance.

Or so I thought at the time.

So I felt very uncomfortable, but I did and said nothing.

Fast forward a decade, and a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Firstly, I actually went and researched the issue about why spilling seed is so bad, spiritually, for my old writing gig at breslev.co.il. You can check out those articles HERE.

To sum it up, whenever a man spills seed that has no chance of impregnating a woman, (however slim that chance might be), the millions of souls contained in that ‘seed’ get trapped in the realm of evil, which then sucks all the spiritual strength out of those souls, to pursue its own evil agenda in the world.

Scary stuff! And a concrete explanation of why gay marriage, and why promiscuous self-pleasuring lifestyles really are destroying the world.

The other thing that happened is that I gave up my career, and went through a patch of ‘being’ instead of doing that lasted for quite a few years. In that time of enforced career failure, my ego took quite a beating, and I started to realize more and more that God is running the show.

God is putting food on my table (or not…) God is paying my bills (or not…) God is responsible for my successes in life (I’m ready when You’re ready, Hashem).

That understanding helped me to start shifting all the political correct brainwashing out of my system, and to stop worrying that if I stood up for what was right, in whichever way God expected that of me, that I was going to lose my cred, career or bank balance. I anyway lost all of those things, which was a very painful process, but now I see it has a huge upside:

I got out of spiritual galut.

I can say GAY MARRIAGE IS REALLY BAD, and not care about the consequences of making that statement.

But if I was back in the UK? Or still working for the Women and Equality Unit? Now, you’re talking about a huge moral test – and the chances are high that I would probably fail it.

The decision by the US Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage is both a huge test, and a huge opportunity for God-fearing Jews. Anyone who can stand up for God is effectively proving they’re out of slavery, out of exile, out of bondage to foreign beliefs and political correctness. Anyone who can’t (and man, believe me that I know that there’s bills to pay and tuition to cover) – is stuck, spiritually, in a very bad place.

A place where God is missing, and man’s desires and animal-self is ruling the roost.

So the choice is simple, but also incredibly profound: Stand up for God and protest gay marriage in whichever way you can.

Or stay in spiritual exile.