Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A few posts about the VIN Ban (#4)

Fourth in a series. Read the first one here, the second one here and the third one here.

The V.I.N demand letters may have contained falsehoods, and they may have made misrepresentations about the "Vad Harabanoim" -- but were they harassment?

Read the rest of the post after the jump.
The letters at least one V.I.N advertiser as received contain what seems like a veiled threat. It reads "we hope that your company will not be mentioned their as being a company that are not in compliance with the kol koreh."[sic] As threats go, this one is quite weak. The "vadharabonim" barely qualifies as even a paper tiger. The names of its members are unknown, and being mentioned at a meeting of nameless strangers hardly seems frightening.

However, we have been told by at least one recipient that these words (and some others which are categorically similar but which I haven't been authorized to publish) were indeed taken as threatening. The reason why has to do with the peculiar psychology of the Orthodox Jew and the peculiar pressures he faces.

Short of physical harm, or financial ruin, what an Orthodox Jew fears most is damage to his reputation, and some, perhaps, fear this most of all. If your reputation has been tarnished, your life changes. Your friends look at you differently, your business suffers, and you're put at a serious disadvantage in the competition to get your children admitted to schools, or married to suitable matches. (this happens among non-OJs, too, but our community is so much smaller, and a clean break and a fresh start is nearly impossible)

For all our strictures against slanderous talk, Orthodox Jews whisper. They murmur. They say things like, "We can't be sure about him", or "He's not one of us." And these labels have a way of sticking. For all our talk about hard work, we're also quite lazy, and we're most lazy of all when it comes to matters of the intellect. We don't research subjects, or challenge conventional wisdom. We take authorities at their word, and trust tradition or the version of the facts we heard in school (this, by the way, is why so many Haredim hate my blog: It uses traditional sources to show that the tradition isn't quite what they thought it was).

We also trust gossip. We sit at sholashudis, or at the mikva, or on the comment sections of blogs, and we dish freely, and un-repentantly. And what we say about each other, like the labels we attach to each other, has a way of sticking, of following us through life, of causing doors of opportunity to slam shut.

I can imagine a legitimate businessman feeling a shiver down his spine as he read those words. "we hope that your company will not be mentioned their as being a company that are not in compliance with the kol koreh." [sic] I can imagine him saying to himself "If people are led to think that I am out of compliance with the teachings of our Gedolim I will be ruined." I can see him worrying about the participants at the meeting. What if one of them is my shul Rabbi? What if he is one day asked to recommend my son for a spot in a yeshiva or my daughter for a wedding match? What if he lets people know to stay away from my store, or to avoid my products? Such things happen. And surely standing up for V.I.N, and continuing my advertisements isn't worth the risk that these threats and this vaad might have some teeth.  [This, incidently, is what gives the desire to ban V.I.N its shred of validity. Their posts and comments do, at times, engage in gossip, and this gossip is harmful and destructive.]

By this way of thinking, the letters are harassment, and the threat they contain is no different from a mafia goon saying, "Nice windows. What a shame if something were to happen to them."

Now, there are two sides to every story, and the vaad wishes to make it very clear that they were not engaged in harassment. While we were corresponding yesterday, "vad" said this
we want to very clear we condone [sic!] any body who would be involved in such an activity from a legal stand point and from a Torah side and we don't think that there is an once of emes in that .its all fabricated and a lie.
what may have happened that an advertiser may have been asked and shown the kol koreh and instead discussing diplomatically the issue , they answer is we were harassed .and went and made a tummul

to be continued.

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