Anti-Semite, Self Hating Jew, or Critical Observer?

Kol B'Isha Erva blog
December 10, 2013

I was interested to read a story in The National Post that talked about a Montreal blogger, Pierre Lacerte, who won a libel lawsuit filed against him by hasidic businessman, Michael Rosenberg. Rosenberg alleged that Lacerte’s blog content amounts to anti-semitism. In his blog, Lacerte speaks out against the perceived illegal and unneighborly acts of the Outrement orthodox Jewish community.

Lacerte lives across the street from the hasidic synagogue Michael Rosenberg attends. In 2007, Lacerte complained about the synagogue’s activities to the mayor at a city hall meeting. His public complaint drew the wrath of Rosenberg and others, prompting their first lawsuit, which ended in favor of Lacerte. It was this 2007 lawsuit that prompted Lacerte to start his blog documenting the misdeeds of the Outrement orthodox community.

As I read this article, I immediately thought of Shmarya Rosenberg’s blog, Failed Messiah. A former Lubavitch baal teshuvah, Shmarya has been exposing the foibles of the worldwide Jewish orthodox community since 2004. Shmarya is on a mission to give Jews the stories behind the stories. He believes in the power of information, and the right of religious Jews to make their own choices on the basis of that information. Shmarya claims to regularly receive threats to his physical well being because of his blog. Despite the threats, he is committed to exposing the underside of the Jewish community, and revealing details they likely won’t get from their community leaders.

Initially, I likened Lacerte to Shmarya so much, that I assumed he was another disgruntled Jew, railing against his religious brethren. When it was pointed out that Lacerte is not Jewish, suddenly my perspective changed. Is he an anti-semite? If I do consider Lacerte to be a racist, what does that say about Shmarya?

Does Failed Messiah get a pass in the anti-semitic department because it’s written by a Jew? Is Shmarya a self hating Jew? If so, is it his right to be self hating, while a non Jew has no right to hate on Jews? Are we allowed to hate on our own communities, but not allowed to hate on those of other people? If Shmarya’s focus was exposing scandals within the non Jewish community, would he be considered a racist? If Lacerte’s focus was to rant against his own non Jewish community, would it be permissible analysis from an insider? Are we only allowed to critique our own religious or ethnic groups, or be labeled as prejudiced?

In the Jewish world, Shmarya Rosenberg is considered either a hero or a heretic. One of my blog readers expressed their disapproval that I have linked to Failed Messiah articles in some of my posts. They felt that by using Shmarya’s posts as background material, I was rendering my blog irrelevant, because he is so biased against the religious community. While I read his posts with that bias in mind, I don’t think that the stories he posts are irrelevant. Shmarya was among the first Jewish online activists committed to exposing abuse in the orthodox world. While his blog isn’t always a bastion of responsible reporting, (in the race to be “first to report” some of his sources seem less than credible), he has brought attention to many legitimate scandals.

So, where is the line in the sand drawn? What makes someone an objective critic exposing abuse for the welfare of the reader or a bigot who reports bad news to push their own biased agenda? Can someone be both a stakeholder and an impartial analyst?