Perhaps more importantly, I believe in trust.
I think that one of the most important qualities to develop with children, parents and friends is that of trust. Trust is based in truth. Trust means that I will tell you the truth and you will tell me the truth, that you will not play me or lie to me, even if you think it is for my own good. Trust means that you will not betray me. Trust means that I can respect you because you are honest with me and I am honest with you. Trust means that I will not manipulate you and you will not manipulate me.
This is trust.
The hardest thing to forgive another is a breach of trust. How can you forgive that? You thought that person was someone you could respect and who respected you, someone who would keep his promises and his word, who would not betray you. And now he has. How can you return to where you were?
My father once mentioned that those people who grew up in a situation where they could not trust their parents- for whatever reason- it does not have to mean that their parents were cruel, but perhaps they played "jokes" at the children's expense, they made promises they never intended to keep- have a much harder time when it comes to connecting to God. It makes sense. A child believes what you tell him. A child believes you. You have an awesome amount of responsibility and power; if you lie to a child, he will remember, and he will learn not to trust you. I know this for myself and I especially know it because of my siblings.
My parents have never lied to us. They never make a promise that they do not keep; in fact, they try not to promise at all. We have some relatives who once came here and told my siblings that they were "going to take them to Disneyworld" and would "buy them a car when they grew up." My siblings took it very seriously and my parents were upset with the relatives. My parents don't like lies or promises that are not fulfilled.
In terms of the religious world, trust and honesty is extremely important. The person who is worthy is a person who is truthful, not a person who lies. And this brings us to the idea of distortion for the sake of practice.
I did not realize this before, but distortion for the sake of practice occurs on both sides of the religious spectrum. To wit, we have websites like:
1. Frumteens. The Frumteens Moderator is an extremely "Orthodox" Jew who perverts, misquotes and misuses Torah in an attempt to convert everyone over to his position and point of view. He is very sneaky and very misleading because oftentimes his proofs are correct but they are quotes taken out of context or they completely ignore the validity or existence of other opinions. He also censors the content on the website; if anyone tries to put up a post in which they describe the validity of other opinions, he does not allow it. This leaves teenagers with the impression that nobody has the ability to argue with the Frumteens Moderator and his opinion is the last word on the subject.
Frumteens distorts Torah for the sake of practice. He wants children to follow the Torah and more specifically to follow it in a certain way; it is for that reason that he distorts it and misleads others. He means it for the good. He means it in order to bring others closer to Judaism and to following the laws in the way which he sees as being halakhically right. It is for this reason that he deliberately makes no reference to many other valid opinions.
2. Negiah.org. This is a new website put out by the OU and NCSY in order to promote abstinence among Jewish teenagers. The problem is that the site is an exercise in scare tactics. There are frightening stories about people who have had sex as teenagers and regretted the experience, the various ways in which having sex as teenagers can mess you up and spoil you and hurt you. This site features such gems as:
- And no form of birth control protects against the non-physical effects of sexual activity. Guilt, worry, regret, shame, depression and other emotional consequences remain the same, regardless of any contraceptives that may be used. (source)
Rabbi Josh Yuter has an excellent analysis of the site on a whole (and includes links to other posts and bloggers who have pointed out reasons as to why the site is problematic.) Read it.
People somehow feel justified in distorting the truth in order to get results, in our world, for the sake of having more people conform to the Orthodox ideology and movement.
I can understand the desire to have people do the "right thing." I can understand that if you believe premarital sex to be a sin, you won't want teenagers to engage in it. I can understand that if you believe Modern Orthodoxy to be one of the prime contenders for the most evil faction in the universe, you'd stress all its negatives and forget to bring the positives to the form. I can understand all of that, and I see why people do what they do, why they distort and mislead and even lie- all of this is meant to ensure results.
All of this is meant to manipulate and con people into doing what you want them to do.
I don't believe in this misinformation. Firstly, I think it is morally wrong. Secondly, I think that the people who engage in it underestimate the intelligence of a teenager. We have the internet, the world at our fingertips. We can look up the sources, we can look up the alternatives; we probably know lots of people who engage in premarital sex and are quite pleased with their lives. So I would argue that this doesn't even help others.
But the core issue is that of trust.
If I know that you are lying to me in an attempt to manipulate me, that you are falsely presenting information or at the very least concentrating upon one side of the story to the utter exclusion of the other side of the story, why would I have any respect for you? Why would I respect your organization or the ideals you stand for? I wouldn't. Because I don't trust you anymore.
Distortion for the sake of practice is wrong. You will not gain people and have them join your cause if you lie to them. You mean well- that is clear. But lying gains you nothing.
How would I organize such a site? Obviously, I have much more respect for the mind of a teenager. I believe in giving people information. So I would work through the halakhot involved (objectively, not with an obvious slant) in a clear and logical manner. I would also quote all the statistics (not selectively chosen ones- I don't mean to intimate that theirs are, only that all of theirs focus on the negative effects). In effect, I would dedicate a website to information and then allow people to make their own choice.
That is because I believe it is the morally and intellectually honest way to go about it. You cannot lie to people. To quote, if you don't want kids to have sex before marriage "don’t lie and tell them that the reason they shouldn’t is because condoms are ineffective. You’re spreading dangerously false information that can actually increase the likelihood of Jewish kids contracting sexually transmitted diseases, which can pose a serious risk to their lives."
It comes down to halakha. The reason that we do not have sex before marriage is halakhic in nature. All these other reasons that are offered are feel-good reasons (don't have sex because it will mess with your brain, you're more likely to commit suicide, and so on and so forth). But that's not the reason. The reason is halakhic.
And that is what we ought to teach.
It's the same reason I despise the kiruv movement that advocates for Shabbos by describing its feel-good nature (Shabbos is a wonderful time to rest, to have fun with friends, to hold get-togethers, to relax, etc.) This feel-good reasoning would not have worked for my grandfather, who came to the United State and would have to had quit his job every week because he would not work on Saturday. The reason we rest on Shabbos is halakhic. It has nothing to do with how it makes you feel.
You may, if you wish, provide reasons in addition to halakha. You may say that Shabbos has a side-effect, as it were, of allowing peace and relaxation. But that is not the core reason and to suggest that it is (as many do) is distortion for the sake of practice. It is what I saw at my first highschool, at Templars, where all things were distorted so that we would practice them, where information was deliberately withheld or manipulated so that we would follow. Where the attitude was that "more than one opinion [on the matter] is confusing for a teenager." That's the justification, you see, that they're helping you by lying to you and manipulating you.
It is strange to realize that such distortion is not confined to the ultra-Orthodox world, as I had initially thought, but rises in the Modern Orthodox world as well. It is like the Rabbi who redefines the meaning of shomer negiah in order to ensure that his students will keep something. I was not there and don't know how he explained the matter. If he did claim that his suggestion that a girl "shouldn't put herself out there" and shouldn't "touch for the first couple months" constitutes halakha, I would be appalled.
People respect the truth; they don't respect lies. I believe that it is far better to explain the halakhic nature of prohibitions and allow people to understand the logic behind them than to incorporate lots of imaginary reasons into why we act as we do. Of course, the problem then arises- we need people to have a respect for halakha. After all, if they don't respect halakha to begin with, knowing what the laws are makes no difference.
How does one cultivate a respect for halakha? That is an important question. As far as I know, this can only be achieved through study and exposure to a true Judaism. What to do about people who are not raised with the opportunity or desire for such study? I don't know. I only know that trying to scare them into obedience is not the answer.
I believe this is demonstrated by the following quote from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik:
- The problem with the American Jew is that he is not sensitive to Torah values. He must understand that human happiness does not depend upon comfort. The American Jew follows a philosophy which equates religion with making Jewish life more comfortable and convenient. It enables the Jew to have more pleasure in life. This deemphasizes Judaism's spiritual values. What the rabbi should do is to somehow expose the Jew to proper Torah Judaism. This cannot be accomplished by preaching and sermonizing. Many times, as I know from my own experience, they accomplish precisely the opposite. [emph mine]
However, by exposing the American Jew to Torah Judaism you will touch his heart. Once he is sensitized, the American Jew is brave enough to respond to the moral challenge. The American Jew has heroic attributes and is much more courageous than the Lithuanian or Polish Jews were. The American Jew will have the courage to seek the proper alternative once he understands the demands of Torah and mitzvot. That is the meaning of the passage in the Amidah: "Restore us, our Father, to Thy Torah; draw us near, our King, to Thy service" [Daily Prayer Book, trans. Phillip Birnbuam, p. 86.]
~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, volume 2, page 18
If we want to effect any change, it starts with honesty and with truth. It starts with understanding. It does not start with lying or manipulation or confusion or misleading others in an attempt to con them into keeping the mitzvos. It does not start with scaring people away from sex or alternatively scaring them away from boys or indeed, scaring them away from anything. People will realize, one day, that you lied to them. They will have friends who have sex and who are fine and who laugh at the horror stories you have fed them. The first time they sin, when the lightning strike does not come, they will realize that you were lying and dismiss anything else you have to say because of that.
No. It is much harder than this. It is all much harder. Truth is always harder.
You must cultivate trust, and trust means that you do not lie.
The Judaic leaders and teachers I respect do not lie to me or try to utilize feel-good arguments to get me to keep something (tznius, for instance- apparently tznius has the ability to make you feel amazing, did you know?) They do not distort the truth for the sake of practice. They rely on truth and believe that practice will follow once those listening have achieved a true understanding.
That is the approach that I respect and try to follow.