Crime of Silence: Passivity Vs. Political Correctness

by

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict… (Dorothy Thompson).”

“In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic displaces the passive (William Bernbach).”

Having become increasingly committed to Torah Judaism, a woman once lamented in bemusement: “Rabbi, will my moral conflicts ever end? I had hoped, in embracing Judaism, to no longer struggle with issues of moral substance.” After all, is that not what Judaism is about? Yet, it had not turned out that way in the least,” she proceeded in exasperation, “To the contrary; my struggles have become considerably amplified.”

Was the woman right? Do our struggles with right and wrong ever end? Does it ever become obvious how do deal with aggression? Is the fine line between justice and revenge ever clearly defined? Will we ever be certain when to be passive and when to react, and how forceful a reaction is appropriate?

Will we ever know, with unequivocal certainty, when to protest and when to bite our tongues; when to bestow love and when to apply discipline? If these issues have dogged man in the past, the challenge is that much more intensified in our age of political correctness.

While the origins of political correctness is rooted in noble intentions, like so many other good ideas, its benefit was short lived.

Political correctness has been quickly pushed to a counterproductive extreme; whose purpose is to avoid offending anyone. Offending someone has become the ultimate evil to be avoided at all cost. The result of this new creed is not more civil debate, but rather no debate at all. The latter is robbing society of fundamental freedoms.


When we don’t debate issues we become uninformed, as a result someone else ends up making decisions for us. Through freedom of speech, our founding fathers encouraged debate on important issues, keeping thereby government in check and steering clear from the slippery slope that leads to socialism, communism, and total dictatorship.

Yet political correctness forces people to conform to specific politically motivated behaviors and social values or face social or legal sanctions. It is an attack on our freedom of speech and thought enforced by a mob of self-righteous social engineers.

While it‘s good to be as tactful and respectful as possible when debating, it doesn’t mean we don’t debate sensitive issues. There are some things that need to be debated, and it is inevitable that some people will be offended. It is usually because these are issues of moral standard, and when someone’s moral integrity is questioned, they often become angry and ultra-defensive. It is these issues, however, that need to be debated most, because they deal with the very moral fabric of our society.

Another, equally if not more, harmful effect of political correctness is passiveness, or even passive aggression.

Passive aggression is marked by an abusive form of behavior that is inflicted through inaction rather than through action. The passive aggressive may never express anger, at least on the outside. He may have been taught that anger is unacceptable. Hence he goes through life stuffing anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to his victim in an under-handed way.

“Passive-aggressive people are like snowballs with rocks inside,” says Tamara Hall, an educational consultant who gives presentations about this complex disorder to schools and businesses. “They come at you soft, but they’re not. They can do a lot of harm.”

Passive-aggressive hostility is so subtle, says Dr. Wetzler PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, and author of Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man (Fireside, 1993), the skilled practitioner is often in a good position to deny it’s even there – blaming you for the inevitable confrontation that results. You blow up; he remains calm. Suddenly you seem like the aggressor. Maybe even to yourself. The incredible final straw is when you apologize to him.

One need not be a rocket scientist to perceive a connection between passive aggressive behavior, on the one hand, and the unreasonable suppression of self expression – stemming from man’s essential human compass – imposed by societies upon the human spirit, on the other. Such restriction of expression will inevitably instill a sense of passiveness, at best, or worse even, the destructive passive aggressive trait.

While the destructive and evil nature of certain forms of passivity may not be fully understood within modern culture, which is seemingly far more obsessed with political correctness, the Torah has identified this hideous character trait way back at the very beginning of the inception of Jewish tribalism.

Yaakov’s daughter, Dinah, we read in this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, ventured out into the city of Sh’chem, when Sh’chem, also the name of the crown prince of the city, abducted and violated her and kept her hostage.

“Now, Dinah – the daughter of Leah whom she had borne to Yaakov, went out to see the daughters of the land. Sh’chem, son of Chamor the Chivite, the prince of the land saw her, and he lay with her, and he violated her… Yaakov’s sons arrived from the field when they heard; the men were distressed.”(Vayishlach 34: 1-7)

Chamor, the governor of the city, proceeds to approach Yaakov, informing him that his son Sh’chem was infatuated with Dinah and desired her hand in marriage. In response to this occurrence Yaakov’s sons slyly agreed to the proposition, providing that all the men of the city would circumcise themselves. Upon the urging of Chamor and Sh’chem, the Sh’chemites agreed to the proposal. What follows appears to be extremely bizarre and highly disturbing.

“And it came to pass on the third day, when [the people of Sh’chem] were in pain, that two of Yaakov’s sons, Shimon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each man took his sword and they came upon the city confidently, and killed every male.” (Vayishlach 34:25)

How are we to understand this seemingly out of control madness? Sh’chem was offered a peace treaty with Yaakov’s family, on the condition that all Sh’chemite males would agree to be circumcised. The condition was met.

Is this the lesson we are meant to take from our great Biblical role models? Does their behavior reflect the holy religion to which they belonged? The holy religion to which we belong?

The question becomes even stronger: Shimon and Levi are referred to as “Men” in this narrative. Our sages calculate that the two were thirteen at the time. The Torah’s use of the word “Man,” assert the sages, is in order to inform us of the age at which Jewish boys become responsible for Mitzvos. Since they were thirteen at the time, it’s clear that at thirteen years old boys are already considered men. A Jewish boy hence celebrates his bar mitzvah, his Jewish “coming of age,” when he turns thirteen.

The choice of placement is seemingly disturbing. Is this the best context from which to derive our children’s moral and religious maturation? Is an episode like this truly the best place to learn about accountability and responsibility? What are we to answer our children when they ask us about the very first bar mitzvah boys? Let us take a closer look at what really took place here.

Imagine a person coming home from work to find out that his sister had been abducted and violated. Words could not describe the grief, the anguish, the humiliation.

Now consider that the abduction took place in broad daylight, in front of the eyes an entire community and that not a single person said a word or lifted a finger to help. Moreover, imagine that many Chivites had aided and abetted while the rest stood and watched. We have here what amounts to an entire population complicit in a hideous crime!

“The world is a dangerous place,” said Albert Einstein, “Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

“This was not a crime committed by a single individual, but rather by an entire community”, says Reb Yosef B. Soloveitchik, “If one commits a crime and the community doesn’t ostracize him; if one preaches bigotry and hatred and the community does not condemn him, or try to isolate him, or doesn’t try to eliminate him: a conspiracy of silence is just as bad as a conspiracy of action.”

“This happened in Germany. Do you think that all the Germans were Nazis? Oh no, I lived in Germany for so many years. They’re very decent people. I never encountered in Germany, at the University, not a single instance of anti-Semitism, in relationships between professor and students, between students. What happened? It happened only that they tolerated it. And if you tolerate it for a while, so finally Hitler converted an entire people, an entire nation, into a nation of Nazis. Tolerance towards evil is just as bad as evil itself. The Rambam says (M’Lachim) this concept of Areivim Zeh La’zeh, that each is responsible, the individual for the community, and vice versa the community for the yachid, this is a universal principle. How many anti-Semites were there in Germany in the 1920’s? A small group! But no one actually tried to eliminate them. No one ostracized them. Not even the Social Democrats. They just said tolerance. If you practice tolerance you have to allow Hitler to preach the extermination of the Jew and so forth and so on.

The Rambam says in chapter 9 of Hilchos M’Lachim: Mipnei Zeh Nischayavu Kol Baalei Sh’chem Harigah. That’s why the Sh’vatim (tribes) executed the Baalei Sh’chem. Because Sh’chem committed an act of robbery, of kidnapping, and they saw, and they knew about it, and they have not condemned it. So any questions you want to ask, address it to the Rambam…

Yaakov did not condemn it morally, he only said it is impractical. It’s taking too much risk. He did not condemn it on moral grounds; he condemned it solely on practical grounds.”

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”—Dante Alighieri

It must be furthermore realized that Sh’chem was a man of nobility, the prince of an entire parish. News traveled fast, and before long Dinah’s continued abduction and violation was the talk of that region and beyond, yet there was still no justice, still only deafening silence.

“I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation,” Proclaimed Elie Weisel “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Okay, so what about the law of the land. What about going to the authorities for help? Sorry but Sh’chem is the highest authority in the land; Sh’chem is the law.

Shimon and Levi perceived the dreadful nature and magnitude of the crime that has been perpetrated. They were disturbed to the core of their souls, they hence took action despite the grave risk involved. They would rather die trying to save their sister than live knowing that they did nothing to help rescue her.

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves,” argued Edward R. Murrow.

In the above light it is rather well understood why Shimon and Levi did what they did. They were concerned with the audacious un-protested crime perpetrated against humanity and its evil ramifications, rather than with political correctness. That is the lesson for us in all times and all places: The evils of government are directly proportional to the tolerance of the people.

The lesson is so important and apropos that it is specifically from this episode; Shimon and Levi’s selfless stand, that we derive the age of bar mitzvah.

Today’s youth are often defined as passive and indifferent. Passion and zeal are for fanatics, and words like responsibility and accountability often ring hollow. Self-sacrifice has been replaced by self-worship. Even atheists are dwindling, outnumbered by apathy and indifference.

The time has come to reclaim our youth. We must dream of – not dread – raising children with moral courage and the willingness to sacrifice. If youth is the engine of the world, then responsibility and sacrifice is the fuel that drives the engine.

If we want our children to rejoice instead of mourn their heritage, we must ignite the spark within them. If we want their hearts to beat with faith in G-d and a love for mankind, we must import Shimon and Levi’s fire. If we want our children to care and share and look beyond themselves, we must impart in them the image of the first bar mitzvah boys; we must become a living example.

In doing we will recapture our youth and with them the future of the universe, making it a true dwelling place for its Almighty creator, with the coming of the righteous Moshaich BBA.

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