'OBSERVANT READER' RESPONSE: CHAPTER 1
Not to Generalize…But
Generalizations become generalizations because they contain a substantial element of truth. So do stereotypes; in contemporary fiction and drama, the authors use these larger assumptions to draw the outlines of family dynamics, character, establish points of confluence and conflict, and create an illustrated counterpoint, a 3-dimensional set for the action of the story.
On lumping all members of a group together in terms of dress and behavior, one can only say that to an extent, in a larger sense, this is also a very human reaction. We all jump to our own conclusions of people based on their appearance, behavior and the company they keep. We think “he looks like a gangster, and dresses like a gangster, so he’s probably a gangster, and I should move to another subway car.” Unfair, yes—but a truthful human reaction. But substitute the word “chasid” for “gangster” and suddenly you’re being unfair to all Orthodox Jews.
The double standard works in both directions: when the outwardly Orthodox see a man not wearing a kippah, the assumption is that he’s not Jewish. If they find out he is Jewish, they assume that he is not knowledgable. (The same bias exists for Jewish women who wear pants and are therefore assumed to be secular and ignorant of traditional Judaism.)
That’s the basic level. If you encounter someone who is outwardly affiliated with one group, your tendency (however unfair) is to assume that the person you’ve met is a representative of that group. The problem emerges when you consider that inside the outward affect of affiliation with a group, each person is an individual, capable of individual choices—admirable and reprehensible and everywhere in between.
In Israel, I once met a pious-seeming man who wore a kippah, and based on that outward affect, made an assumption that he could be trusted; within an hour, it became clear that he was more sinner than saint. If that had been my first interaction with an “Orthodox kippah man,” I might have been turned off to all overt expressions of Judaism, assuming that such outwardly Jewish men were inwardly two-faced and untrustworthy. Especially in such cases of religious hypocrisy, wherein someone advocates a strictly religious lifestyle and behaves in a most immoral and unrepresentative manner; this kind of experience can teach the observer that most basic of human and literary lessons: that things are not always what they seem to be.