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Book Censorship at Mount Scopus College

November 1, 2010 – 4:41 pm143 Comments

"Dancing in the Dark" book coverAmid claims of censorship at Mount Scopus College concerning the book Dancing in the Dark, we asked Mt Scopus principal, Rabbi James Kennard, as well as the book’s author Robyn Bavati, to write about their perspectives.

Rabbi Kennard provided us with the following statement:

Dancing in the Dark, a polemic which gives an inaccurate, one-sided and fanatically negative presentation of Jewish life, with a clear agenda of disengaging young Jews from Judaism, is not a book that is appropriate, in my judgement, to be in the library of a Jewish school, in the same way as thousands of other titles are also not provided. It is therefore not available in the Scopus library and never was. No books were “removed from the shelves” nor is the book “banned from the school”.

Ms Bavati’s account of the controversy is below:

In mid June, the librarian from Mount Scopus College asked me to come to the school during Book Week in August to discuss Dancing in the Dark with the Year 9 students. The book, a young-adult  novel published by Penguin in February 2010, tells the story of a Jewish girl who ultimately rejects an Orthodox lifestyle in order to pursue a career as a dancer. When Rabbi James Kennard, the school principal and himself a strictly Orthodox rabbi, found out about the scheduled visit, he rang me to say that he had ‘some concerns’. He came to my house one evening to discuss them, and said that although he was looking forward to welcoming me at the college, he had a problem promoting my book at the school because, although he hadn’t read it yet, he understood that its “anti-religious” content was “antithetical to the school’s modern-Orthodox ethos.”

I explained that the book is not anti-religious, but anti-coercion, pro-choice, and pro-tolerance. It doesn’t vilify religious people; nor could it be said to incite hatred towards religion or anyone choosing to live a religious lifestyle. In fact, many Orthodox readers have told me they felt it presented a well-balanced view of religion, and portrayed the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community in a respectful, sympathetic and authentic manner.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Kennard said he did not want to promote a book that doesn’t represent the values and principles of Orthodox Judaism, according to which the Orthodox lifestyle is the only ‘right’ way for Jews to live. He therefore suggested that I visit the school to discuss my writing, but ‘not mention the book’.

I told him that if I were a parent at the school (which in fact I was – at one point all three of my children attended the college), I’d be very upset to think that the school was employing that kind of censorship (to which he replied, “I don’t care what the parents think; my job is to uphold the policy of the school”). I suggested that if he didn’t agree with the viewpoint expressed in my book, he should challenge rather than suppress it.

The librarian then suggested she facilitate a discussion between him and me, so that he could air his concerns in front of the students.  We both agreed to this, and the discussion took place on August 25th, as planned.

The Rabbi (who had by this stage read the novel) claimed that I had presented religion in a purely negative light and rendered all the religious characters nasty and objectionable. This is simply not true. He also pointed out perceived ‘inaccuracies’ in my portrayal of the Charedi community. For example, my fictional Charedi school only goes up to Year 11, whereas Melbourne’s actual Charedi school does have a Year 12. It is quite true that the school presented is not an exact replica of the school to which he was referring – Dancing in the Dark is a work of fiction. However, in broader terms, the portrayal of a community whose members censor books, don’t watch TV or go to movies, and where there is segregation between the sexes, is entirely authentic.

At the end of the session, I urged the students to read the book and make up their own minds. Rabbi Kennard concurred. Yet after the session, when I asked the librarian how the students had been responding to the book, she admitted that they had been unable to borrow it from the school library, as although five copies had been purchased, Rabbi Kennard had refused to allow them to be placed on the shelves. Now that she’d heard him agree with me that the students read it and judge for themselves, she thought perhaps he’d changed his mind. She suggested he write a statement expressing his own view of the book, which could be placed at the front of each copy, so that the students would know that he did not condone it. But he did not agree to this suggestion, and still refused to allow the books to be put on the shelves.

I am puzzled as to why he agreed to the discussion in the first place. Surely there is little educational value in students hearing a debate about a book they are subsequently unable to borrow from the school library.

Mount Scopus College has a reputation as an excellent school. Indeed, it topped the state in VCE results last year, with 70% of students achieving ENTER scores of over 90. The school prides itself on being inclusive and broad-minded, and it caters to the larger Jewish community, the vast majority of whom are not observant.

On the college website, the school claims to “…provide…Jewish learning, values and experiences, within a Modern Orthodox and Zionist framework, that enable each student to make an informed choice as to the meaning of their Jewish identity.” (Italics are mine.) It also claims that it “supports and promotes the principles and practice of …freedom of religion, freedom of speech and association, the values of openness and tolerance…” I imagine these latter values are the reason many parents choose Mount Scopus for their children. But if, as the censoring of my book suggests, these values contradict the values of modern Orthodoxy, the college should not be claiming to promote both. More importantly, if such censorship is being practiced, surely the parents have a right to know.

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143 Comments »

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    Scopus always was in a predicament by virtue of the fact that it is an Orthodox school in a community that is mainly Orthodox in name but not in practice. That is, it is a school whose ideology can be construed as being at odds with the beliefs of the community to which it caters(ie. The broader Melbourne Jewish Community).

    However, part of the issue is that parents who send their children to Scopus do so thinking that it’s ideology is the same as their’s and then they complain when the school actually stands up for what it believes in. Admittedly, part of this issue arises from the fact that, in many instances, Scopus does not demand strict upholding of its stated ideology(atleast when I was there). Part of the issue also has to do with the fact that parents want to send their children to an Orthodox school, but do not really appreciate what that means.
    I say this not to criticise the school, rather I think that it does a good job at balancing the situation in which it finds itself in order to accomodate as many people as possible without violating core principles and in order to expose them to some kind of Jewish Orthodox education.
    I am glad though that in some instances the school decides to make a point and stand up for what it believes, in order to ensure that people don’t forget what the school is about.

    (having not read the book, I’m not sure that this is the issue to tackle.)

  • Sandra Saks says:

    Dancing in the Dark is a well written book of fiction. In not allowing the book to be in the school library – I believe will encourage the students to rush out an obtain it (which is good for the author). More importantly,I wonder about the message being sent out to the students. Yes, we must protect our young people from so many dangers that are out there, from pornography, cyberbullying and a general overdose of computer usage. Teaching respect for individualism and learning to be proud of who we are are priorities. But, reading books is so vital and also reading a range of different types of books; and yes, they may contain different opinions to the belief system of a school principal – but we shouldn’t be afraid of challenges.
    Sandra Saks

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Gremlins at play. I thought I commented.

    [Eds: Sorry Mandi, your comment was wrongly caught in our spam filter]

    I question the wisdom of not allowing the book in the school library.The school is entitled to refuse to facilitate students reading a book which in the opinion of the school leadership offends the philosophy of the school. But on balance I dont think high school age students need much protection from ideas. And generally I think I would apply a far more liberal standard to which books are OK than I would to videos/films – on the basis that reading as a process allows and even promotes critical thinking in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen with the far more passive process of watching something on screen.

    As others have said, this will only whet appetites to read it…

  • Mark says:

    Hi
    If the book is not “banned from the school” as Mr Kennard writes above then why were the 5 copies bought by the school not available to the students?
    Can you really defend a religious position by banning debate. Maybe in Iran but is that a Talmudic approach?

  • Sharon says:

    I am glad my kids are not subjected to this level of thought control.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    Dancing in the Dark may be a technically well written book, however, on reading it I was amazed and shocked by the the slanted and shallow view of the Charedi community it presented. Rabbi Kennard is 100 % correct in that it does deal with the issue of disengaging young Jews from Judaism and is very negative about observant Jewish life in general.
    I found myself increasingly annoyed by the unreal and biased perspectives of both the Charedi and the Mizrachi communities that was presented in this text. On one hand, the Charedi communities are for the author, fanatical and unfeeling in their adherence to Jewish learning and halacha. She completely misunderstands and disrespects the warmth of their family life and strong community ties and ignores their acts of chesed and care invested in each individual in the community. Instead she comes across as cynical and mocking of them and does not miss an opportunity to present them as parochial and two dimensional cardboard cutouts of real people.
    The Mizrachi community fared little better. They were presented as religious hypocrites. The protagonist’s cousin merrily trots out to see her ‘religious charedi cousin’ dance with a number of non Jewish dates and wearing very fashionable immodest clothing and then all of a sudden meets Mr Jewish Right and is practically overnight in long sleeves and full on religious. Of course the Charedi girl is set for stardom and fame on the dance stage and her Charedi mother comes to see her dance. This text is fiction from beginning to end. There are no families even remotely similar to the one presented in the novel; thank G-D, in real life.
    Most Mizrachi families would not give their daughters the freedom that this young woman’s cousin was supposed to enjoy at an early age and further more they would actively educate them against that sort of behaviour through their home life and schooling.
    The characters were clearly very shallow and there was not much effort at reflection or any progression except in the case of the cousin and then clearly it was unrealistic and unbelievable.
    The whole novel I felt needed a complete rewrite. The author failed to develop any empathy for the charedim and her contempt for them was all too obvious. She also did not treat the Mizrachi community with much more respect. I can fully understand why Rabbi Kennard would not want this book on the shelves. As a Jewish educator I am sure he wants to give the students in his school a far more positive perspective of orthodoxy than this book presents. One would hope so. If I was a parent paying Scopus fees, you could be sure, I would demand that my child was given a far more balanced and positive approach to Judaism than is presented in this novel.
    I was teaching in High School for some time and I will never forget the two students in a year 10 class of mine at McKinnon Secondary College in 1993 around Rosh Hashana. Of about 22 students about 12 were Jewish and I was not coming in for the last couple of days of term because of Rosh Hashana. So I told my class as I had been told to do, that the class would be collapsed into another class and we needed to know who would be there. I had two students who were Jewish who put their hands up to say that they were coming in. I kept them back at the end for a few minutes and just out of interest asked them if they celebrated the holiday. Maybe I was wrong to do so, but I was curious. So I can still remember the pitying look that the the young girl gave me as she tossed her head and looked at me in a rather condescending manner as she said, ‘We are,’ another head toss of her shoulder length hair and a sigh,’We are cultural Jews. We have a family dinner at Rosh Hashana. Only one night.’ Her friend, a tall thin boy then added,’Yeah we don’t do the prayers and the other stuff.’ They both looked at me. I do not know if I was supposed to give them some sort of speech about the joys of keeping the holiday in an Orthodox fashion or to condemn their lack of spiritual connection. I think I smiled rather foolishly and shrugged ok and told them to make sure they read Julius Caesar in full as I really could not set them work to do on the days I was away for a Jewish Holiday where one should not be working.
    A text like Dancing in the Dark would only confirm in the minds of youth like minded to the young couple above, negative religious stereotypes. I was disappointed. I had expected more of the text and the author.

  • Shaw Moore says:

    I wonder what kind of vetting procedure Rabbi Kennard has for all the other books in the library. Has he read them all to make sure that they conform to his worldview?

    In the current age where information is so freely available and accessible, the only possible outcome in this scenario is the Streisand Effect – ‘in which an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.’

  • In only a matter of seconds one can find the book on the Internet and order a copy. Most kids at Scopus could afford a copy, or get their parents to buy it for them. The web site for the author’s book is here, just for starters.

    A school is a place of education. If a school cannot instil the values it feels appropriate into its students then it has failed its charge.

    I would encourage the school to set the book as required reading and then offer the academic tools for the students to understand the book from a perspective of the school’s values. Engage healthy debate and dialogue.

    The worst situation for the school is to pretend the book doesn’t exist, or to censor the students from knowing about it. As the author said, that will create the situation where they’ll definitely end up reading the book, and it won’t be discussed from the school’s perspective.

    Educate the students intelligently. Don’t treat them as fools.

    Michael.

  • Correction, in saying “As the author said …” I meant Sandra Saks.

  • Anonymous says:

    We all know that dancing leads to sex. It is an obvious connection, reading about dancing leads to reading about sex. Surely, that cannot be permitted at Mt.Scopus College.

    McKinnon High maybe, but not @ Scopus !

  • frosh says:

    Let me start by disclosing that I haven’t read the book (although I now naturally have an intention to read it), and that I have never met in person Ms Bavati nor Rabbi Kennard.

    However, it has been conveyed to me by someone I consider to be a good judge in character that Rabbi Kennard is largely man of principle. This does not mean that I or anyone else necessarily should agree with all his principles, but a person of principle is something to respect nonetheless. I believe that even in Ms Bavati’s account of the details, this is also conveyed, as she quotes Rabbi Kennard as saying “I don’t care what the parents think; my job is to uphold the policy of the school.” Again, one doesn’t have to agree with the sentiment to respect a commitment to a principle.

    I also have no reason to suspect Ms Bavati’s character. Ms Bavati and Rabbi Kennard’s accounts of the fact do not necessarily contradict each other. Rabbi Kennard truthfully claims that no books were ever removed from the shelves, while Ms Bavati also has a reasonable perception that since the school already was in possession of the books, not placing them on the shelves is equivalent to removing them.

    The only real apparent difference in their accounts is not in the factual, but in the perception of the content of the book – namely the portrayal of the frum community.

    How is it possible that they can have such a massive difference in their perception of the book’s content.

    As Ari Silberman has pointed out, Rabbi Kennard is frum man at the helm of a ostensibly frum school which is actually catering to not-so-frum students from not-so-frum families. Given this situation, and the fact that the setting for Ms Bavati’s book is the local frum community, then I think this would make it ripe for what social psychologists call the Hostile Media Effect (or Hostile Media Phenomenon), a highly robust phenomenon. This where people who identify strongly with object or subject of a piece of mediated communication perceive that communication as being hostile to the party they identify with, whereas a neutral person would be far less likely to have this perception. The Hostile Media Effect is catalysed by a perception that the audience of the communication would not identify with the object or subject in the same way as they do.

    In this case Rabbi Kennard naturally identifies with the frum community, but would fairly perceive that his student body would not identify so strongly. According to the theory, Rabbi Kennard would then perceive the content of the book as hostile to frum Jews, whereas a neutral audience would be far less likely.

    Having said all this, even if I am wrong, and Rabbi Kennard’s perception of the book is no different to what a neutral person would have, I would still argue against censorship being the best way to deal with such a problem. I find myself in the unfamiliar position of strongly agreeing with Michael Barnett (see his above comment).

  • rivqa says:

    I wish I could remember whether we had Chaim Potok in the library at Beth Rivkah… but I can’t. However, I certainly remember borrowing from the school library, and indeed studying, many books that directly opposed the school’s philosophy.

    It probably would have been smarter for Rabbi Kennard to use the book as a springboard for open discussion. I wonder how many Scopus students have ever had a real conversation with someone from the Charedi community?

    Putting a book in a library is not an endorsement, but as already mentioned banning it will guarantee it’s widely read — but not discussed in the school context. An opportunity lost.

  • LP says:

    a debate of principal v principle?

  • James Kennard says:

    Thank you, Frosh, for suggesting that I’m a man of principle. I’m very honoured to be given that accolade and hope that I live up to it.

    My view on the polemical nature of the book is formed because of its numerous and gross inaccuracies; the scores of arguments against religion in general and Judaism in particular that it puts into the mouths of its characters set against the complete absence of positive, attractive, arguments in its favour (the author told me that she had never heard any, which is astonishing) and the applauding of dishonesty and deceit as a means to get what one wants.

    If the book were really “pro-choice” and “pro-tolerance” it would have shown how the Charedi world has good parts and bad parts (and not ensure that even the few mildly positive reference to Charedi life are qualified by something odious); how Judaism has good things and bad things, and how the alternative – in this case the world of ballet – also has good and bad aspects (is it responsible to tell teenage girls about ballet with no mention of eating disorders?). It would have shown the character influenced by arguments on both sides, and maybe would have one character sincerely choosing one way, and another sincerely choosing the other (and not just hypocritically wearing sleeves to accommodate the boy she fancies). It does nothing of the sort.

    To use the excuse that “it’s fiction” won’t wash. Can we do a thought-experiment and imagine a work of fiction about a girl growing up in a real Jewish community (set in a real neighbourhood) which is dedicated to greed and usury, and how the girl embraces the non-Jewish world and its ethic of kindness and caring? Or let’s try a novel about a black community and “their evil ways”? Would that be justified as “fiction” or would the liberal left (of which I call myself a part, by the way) demand its removal? Would Michael be happy for a book of “fiction” depicting gays as child molesters to be on our shelves? I wouldn’t.

    My objection to the book is not that it fails to accord to my worldview and it’s absurd to suggest so. In the library there are hundreds of books in that category – indeed in this school students are exposed to a myriad of ideas with which I would personally take issue. My objection to the book is that it’s a bad book, giving students information that is wrong, and relying on their ignorance to deny them an informed choice.

    As for “thought control”! I wish!! (That’s a joke!)

  • Daniel Baker says:

    Rabbi Kennard,
    The Mount Scopus Library stocks ‘Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth’, a work of pseudo-science by Evangelical psychiatrist Jeffry Satinover. It’s a book that claims to expose ‘the social power homosexuals have gained’, and argues the anal sex leads to cancer. This is a vitriolic text that condemns the ‘evil ways’ of queer people, gives ‘information that is wrong’, is ‘polemical’ and contains ‘numerous and gross inaccuracies’ (using your phraseology). It is true that this text was brought into the library before your appointment as principal. But how do you justify the exclusion of some texts based on their (alleged) inaccurate and offensive content, but not others which are equally, if not more, detrimental to the values of ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-tolerance’ that you claim to advocate? In this context, it is very difficult to accept your claim that you are in any way generally concerned with texts that distort truth, rather than with those only that ‘fail[] to accord to [your] worldview’.

  • anonymous says:

    Since when is Mount Scopus the Taliban?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Thanks Rabbi Kennard for the comments. Having chosen to send our kids to Mt Scopus, an Orthodox school, we accept that there are things which we have implicitly signed up to and generally I try to support that.
    This is not an easy one – the school has a clear and stated ethos and if the book undermines that, it’s problematic.
    On balance though I think that stopping kids from having access to ideas and divergent views – even if the medium is not very good as seems clear to you here – is not a great approach.
    It’s a shame it wasn’t possible to use the opportunity to instead suggest other books too, to provide a balanced view of religious life – which I think is lacking for many kids from secular or even traditional families.

    In any event I appreciate your openness in responding in this forum, as I’m sure other parents do.

  • James Kennard says:

    Daniel,

    The book to which you refer is not in the library. I don’t know when it was removed but it’s not there now. Good to agree that there are some books that have no place in a school library.

  • Daniel Baker says:

    I’m glad to hear it, Rabbi, but I take it from your comment that you were not the driving force behind the removal of this text from the library. So my concern – that, notwithstanding your ‘liberal left’ (as you say) rhetoric, your interest in censorship extends only to texts which upset your own sensitivities – remains. Moreover, to clarify, my point was not that ‘Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth’ or any book necessarily should should be removed (I do not want to discuss my own view on the ethics of censorship), but rather that its presence (and even, it seems, the fact of its ‘mysterious’ removal) exposes the selectivity of your concern for tolerance and choice.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Strangely enough, I find myself agreeing with just about everyone on this.
    As you’ve suggested Frosh, the differing views do not necessarily contradict one another.

    As leader, both moral and spiritual of the school, Rabbi Kennard is well within his right, nay his obligation, to disallow something, anything, from within its walls if he feels it poses any sort of threat to the students.

    Ms Bavati’s book most certainly, and purposefully, although not necessarily maliciously, paints the orthodox community in an extremely negative light.

    For some Mt Scopus students this may be the first time they have read anything on the ultra orthodox, or, worse, may stand to reinforce an already inaccurately formed view. (Others have had what to do with other sectors of the Jewish Community and may be better positioned to view the text in a more fictional light.)

    However, this goes to the root of a more pressing issue- that of an often ‘presumed sheltered and backward’ religious community.

    Having attended Beth Rivkah my whole life, I found when I arrived at Yavneh in Year 11, that a view of Beth Rivkah girls existed, which painted them/us as naïve, ‘meshugeh frum’ and totally sheltered from the real world. (Often we were referred to with comments such as, “you know, like the Adass or Beth Rivkah kids”.)

    This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Beth Rivkah, as a school, is and always has been a very mixed bag of people from all walks of life, orthodox and non-orthodox, with all students having an inherent awareness of each other’s differences.

    I think Rivqa’s point is by far and away the most helpful. Her suggestion that this book, in its somewhat accurate, somewhat inaccurate, although definitely unhelpful depiction of the Orthodox community, be used as a springboard for further discussion on the matter is certainly one worth considering.

    In fact, it could be said that the book and its surrounding controversy could be a marvellous opportunity to debunk and discuss issues regarding our understanding and experiences of one another in our sub-communities.

    While I agree that perhaps the students be granted the chance to read the book and make their own intelligent decisions about its content, I also feel that it is extremely important and far more valuable that it be done responsibly with the proper guidance.

    As Rabbi Kennard has suggested, if there were ‘alleged fiction’ books on child-molesting gays or evil black communities, surely everyone (or hopefully everyone) would take serious issue with this, and at least suggest that these works are presented to the students in the strongest terms possible as works of realistic but possibly dramatized fiction.

    It becomes EXTREMELY important to discuss the context of the work in a study session where the students and teacher can explore to what extent, if any, the content is valid or accurate.

    Daniel Baker, the book you mention is certainly not a pleasant one, and reads similarly to some of the vitriole on this site presented by certain religious fanatics.

    Oddly enough, though, Dr Satinover takes issue with homosexuality probably for similar reasons to why Ms Bavati takes issue with some spheres of orthodoxy. (Although one is clearly presented as non-fiction and the other as fiction, both stand to misrepresent a demographic with potentially damaging consequences.)

    In both cases I would think that using it to ‘workshop’ ideas around ‘what is truth?’ would be a helpful way of being able to show students that there are differing views on a variety of lifestyles, not all of them are pleasant but it is important that they understand where and how theses ideas evolved.

    This way they can form their own opinions having been properly informed in a supported environment. This seems like something all parties would want.

    (Btw Rivqa, Yes, Potok was certainly in the Beth Rivkah library!)

  • The Castillan says:

    As a side note to this discussion, I wish to point out that Scopus is not an orthodox school. The school’s founding documents make no such claim. Perhaps there in oral Gemarah to this written Mishnah, but orthodoxy must not be the lens through which claims/truth/values are assessed at, by or for Scopus.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    I find myself in the position of agreeing with Ms Rose and also Rabbi Kennard makes a brilliant point here.

    “Would Michael be happy for a book of “fiction” depicting gays as child molesters to be on our shelves? I wouldn’t.”

    Could not agree more.
    And again he says it well.
    “My objection to the book is that it’s a bad book, giving students information that is wrong, and relying on their ignorance to deny them an informed choice.”

    Precisely. The text is subjective and promotes the author’s agenda through out the book. The characters do not progress and the main character uses deceit and dishonest means to achieve her goal. It is very ‘me, me’ and she does not have many redeeming features.
    A really good text reflects and delves into issues with far more gusto and courage than this book does. Characters change and develop strength of character ans well as maturity. Sadly this will not be a classic, as much as the author may wish it to be. It is far too self centred a text for that.

  • Eli says:

    The decision by Rabbi Kennard to have this book omitted from the shelves of the school is hardly what some posters consider censorship.
    All societies set boundaries of what they find acceptable or not. We delegate these in most cases to Governments, committees and individuals in many areas of subjectivity concerning areas such as Art, Literature and most forms of media. The law is also an example of where we as individuals relegate our concepts of justice to institutions and judges.
    For the most part we do this with the confidence that those that make the decisions on our behalf will do so based on an understanding of the moral middle ground and with the intention of protecting the ethics of the society they have been chosen to represent.
    The principal of a school has the same franchise.
    There will always be times when the choices made by those we elect (or employ) are not viewed as representative of some or even the many.
    Over a period of time our values and morality as society shift. Sometimes slowly and on occasion dramatically. There will always be subjects which fall on the periphery. When that happens and the subject matter is of importance to some, there will be accusation, insinuation and slur.
    But let’s not get carried away. Thankfully we live in a country and a time in history when we as individuals and groups can protest and signal our concern to those that hold positions of deciding our standards. That the goal posts may have moved. That their compass maybe off. Or in cases like the one here regarding the value of a particular book, we can beg to differ.
    Rabbi Kennard made the correct decision based on his position in the school and with reference to his principles.
    That some may disagree is evident.
    To that end we always have the choice to elect or employ someone else when the time comes.

  • Lin says:

    I have read the book and I have a young adult daughter. It seems glaringly obvious to me that the merits of this book are not what the discussion is about. It does sadden me that Rabbi Kennard has cast such dispersions on a well written, lovely book that opens up the Haredi world and the world of ballet to young persons who may know nothing of either. The coming of age issues dealt with are handled with care and sensitivity. There is nothing polemical about this book at all!
    I cannot say the same for what is happening now. I was flabbergasted to learn that this book is being censored. You can use all sorts of euphemisms but the net result is still censorship. And that is very worrying in this day and age. Michal Barnett put it much more eloquently than I can. We of all people will be aware how insidious this form of censorship can become.

  • Sharon says:

    So much discussion about choices, freedom of information, individual opinions and access to both sides of the debate.
    Children growing up in the Charedi community will not enjoy any of these ‘rights’. They will have no access to learn about the outside world, (no tv’s, films, magazines or newspapers). They will have all contact with non orthodox teachings and philosophies banned by parents and communities who have likewise had all information suppressed. They won’t be having lively philosophical arguments about anything not written in the Tanach – except how they are going to get the bill through the Knesset in Israel to ensure they get paid for studying at the Yeshiva all day and having lots of children!
    Ok, I haven’t read the book (yet) but I can’t think of many positives about the Charedi that should be included either!
    I think we’re over protective of ‘our own’.
    I know I’m going to cop it now!

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    @ Sharon
    I read your opinion and wonder if you would know what a Charedi person really thinks? You have the same shallow impression of them that Dancing in the Dark presents. It must be delightful to be so knowledgeable and to be honest if you think they are missing out on anything because of their lack of TV, magazines or newspapers, then you are wrong.
    I have not bought a newspaper for years and bought one today purely to have a look at the Melbourne Cup horses and to read about Bart Cummings. He at least has achieved something spectacular. Too often the mainstream media is so full of the filth, immodest ads and frankly quite sensationally bad news, that one feels soiled by having to read it.
    You can get news on the internet and without the offensive ads and other things that come with the newspapers these days.
    Just because others can dip their heads into the sewer doesn’t mean I have to. In fact this site, Galus is beginning to feel like a sewer too. I should probably go back to Farmville and harvest my blueberries and collect the chook eggs. It is far safer and healthier.
    I am sad for the Charedim and for the secular Jews who so misunderstand them and their lifestyle. The lives of the charedim are far more fulfilled and happier than anything I have seen out in the secular world, as a Monash Uni student, as a teacher both in Israel and Australia and teaching in country NSW – that was an eye opener into hell, small country towns and the vileness of insular secularism has to be experienced to be believed. There hatred simmers below the surface and strikes out at anyone who is the least bit different or not a local.
    Charedim are far more balanced and they are protective of their society and its values. Conceit has little value for them.

  • James,

    Why was it necessary for you to bring the vile analogy of homosexuals = pedophiles into this discussion.

    As a ‘respected’ member of the Jewish community I would hope you had more tact and sensitivity than that.

    I would hope you realise the danger of what you wrote. An educator in the USA just resigned for making some tactless remarks about gay people.

    Michael.

  • frosh says:

    Michael,

    Your above comment is either disingenuous, or highlights a failure in comprehension on your part. I’ll give you give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume it is the latter.

    Rabbi Kennard clearly used the analogy as an example of something that ought to be offensive to everyone, and thus was demonstrating a principle that there are some books we should all agree do not belong on the library shelves.

    Please do not continue to distort, wilfully or otherwise, Rabbi Kennard’s comments.

  • Mark says:

    To Ilana Leeds
    I must disagree. The mainstream media is generally not full of vile filth and conducts its properly. Our society has advertising standards that are enforced and your narrow minded views are similar to the Ultra=orthodox mentality that I find offensive. I have never found myself aroused reading The Australian over coffee in the morning. We live in 2010 and thankfully the world has moved past the times that you yearn for. In the olden days (or the current Ultra-orthodox times) women are second class citizens with no more responsibility than lighting Shabbat candles & keeping a kosher home. I do not believe that Ultra-Orthodox are balanced (Rabbi Ovadai Yosef is a good example of an Ultra-Orthodox leader who is bigoted, un-balanced and offensive) and how can shutting yourself off from all the information in a society allow one to be informed enough to make a balanced decision?
    This debate is far from a sewer and is the openness that our community needs. Does the Ultra-orthodox community have so little to offer that they need to block out the alternatives?
    Lets all rejoice in the modern world that we live in and participate in sharing all the ideas.

  • Marky says:

    Yep, let us rejoice with the modern world. Drugs, rape, murder, spouse bashing etc. The ultra orthodox community must also be enlightened to this modern world to keep up with the times as in their communities there is too little of these worldly recreations.

  • D G says:

    Here’s where I’m lost:

    I’m confused as to where either Rabbi Kennard feels Ms Bavati labeled her book a definitive treatise on Jewish Orthodoxy. The book deals with the internal struggle of one (1) girl who is part of one (1) family and feels she must choose between a career path she loves and a religious tradition that forbids it.

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Ms Bavati’s depiction of life as a Charedi Jew is utterly unrepresentative of the mean experience. Was anything written in the book utterly beyond the realm of possibility? I do not think so. She portrays one child’s poor experience with one particular instance of a family practicing their own interpretation of Charedi Judaism.

    I attended Mount Scopus for 13 years. During my time there, there was no institution that did more to turn me off any kind of religious Judaism. The entire School’s approach was driven by a top-down, fanatical devotion to going through the motions of faith. It was as if someone had re-written “Be Strong and of Good Courage” to “Fake it till you make it.”

    Mount Scopus practiced a watered down version of the very same coercive religion that Rabbi Kennard claims is present in Dancing in the Dark. If Rabbi Kennard is serious (as I’m sure he is) about fostering a new generation of believers, he may want to consider fundamentally re-examining the Scopus approach to faith based education rather than selectively re-enacting chapters of Farenheit 451 at the library.

    – D

    P.S @Ilana Leeds

    Wow. Just wow.

  • D G says:

    @Marky

    If you think spousal abuse, rape and murder do not occur in insulated religious communities, you’re sadly mistaken.

    – D

  • Marky says:

    You missed the last few words of my post “there is too little of these worldly recreations”. Where did I say it does not occur? A visit to Dr Lieber or Dr Lew may help your eyesight :-)

  • D G says:

    I guess I assumed you’d be able to parse ‘do not occur’ to mean ‘do not occur in numbers roughly equivalent to those of other communities in similar circumstances.’

    With that said, I’d really rather not get into round #2119531 of ‘Does religion make you a more moral person’ at 1:25 AM on a Wednesday morning.

  • Anthony,

    Michael,

    Your above comment is either disingenuous, or highlights a failure in comprehension on your part. I’ll give you give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume it is the latter.

    Rabbi Kennard clearly used the analogy as an example of something that ought to be offensive to everyone, and thus was demonstrating a principle that there are some books we should all agree do not belong on the library shelves.

    Please do not continue to distort, wilfully or otherwise, Rabbi Kennard’s comments.

    Why are you defending James Kennard here? He made the comment, and my response was addressed to him. I would expect a response from him, not you. But so be it.

    What James Kennard did not categorically state is that there is no connection between “gays” and child molesters. He wrote “depicting gays as child molesters” and said he would not put a fictional book about this topic on his shelves. The actual statement has the capacity to associate gay men with child molesters.

    You take me for a fool Anthony. I resent that. I find this particular topic most distasteful and unnecessary to discuss.

    I expect James Kennard to state why he felt it necessary to bring the topic of gays and child molesters into this conversation. Any why address it to me? I did not bring up the topic of homosexuality.

    I contributed to this discussion in the hope that I could add some value to it, and somehow I have been made the target of an unwarranted attack.

    Michael.

  • Marky says:

    No, I also do not want to get into an argument re if religion makes one more moral. Especially looking back at the horrors and corruption of the inquisition, crusades and the like.

    It’s just a fact that in the Jewish ultra orthodox community, violent crime, drugs etc. are rare, especially compared to the general populace. There are those who would like to enlighten them with new modern “ideas”.

  • Kovi Rose says:

    I grew up in a fairly religious household, in the centre of the aptly named “Jewish Ghetto” of Caulfield, and attended Jewish schools all of my life. Starting at Yeshivah, then moving to Yavenah, and spending the majority of my school life (4th Grade onwards) at Mount Scoput; a fine school which i believe thoroughly deserves its #1 VCE ranking from 2009. As i moved to Scopus, my eyes were opened to the wider Jewish community and to the notions of religious beliefs presented in a purely tradition and modernised manner. At this stage my religiousity slowly began descent into secularism and for the majority of my final year at school i was barely observant of shabbat or kashrut (this coming from practically Lubavitch household). Never, at any point in time, did i feel as if the curriculum of the school – nor the contents of the library for that matter – were pressuring me to become less adherent to nor less respectful of, my faith.

    Now being at the end of my year in Israel and preparing to return briefly to Australia before making Aliyah, i can safely say that i understand my religious identity as a traditional Jew.
    This comes from countless hours of deliberation, research, discussion and personal experiences; and not from one lecturer, book, movie or other text.

    Our world has entered a new era of heightened respect for minorities, egalitarianism, and general open-mindedness.

    Rabbi James Kennard, though we had our ups and downs in our former Prinicipal/Student relationship, i always respected and admired you.
    However, i cannot condone (within reason) the censorship of any books in the library of our education facility (A.K.A. school).
    It would be a slippery slope leading from mild censorship, to totalitarian control.

    The relevance of my personal story is that, in my eyes, there are so many more important ways the Jewish community could be preserving its traditions and religious nature. Education starts at the place where the heart is, and a good home (like the one i was brought up in) with open-minded parents; something which is guaranteed to provide the youth of the Melbourne Jewry a great start on their road to religious tolerance.

    A book by the name of Fahrenheit 451 was recently introduced to me, and i feel as if its message strikes at the heart of this discussion. The book centres around a futuristic society were all books are burnt for the supposed good of humanity.
    Rabbi Kennard, in you’re similarly utiliatrian attempt to disallow the reading of this “polemic injustice”, do you perhaps think that you are doing more damage than good?

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    Oh dear Mark. So little knowledge of the orthodox community and so little credit given to the many wonderful men and women in the Orthodox and Charedi communities who are quite private people and do not go around beating a drum to say, here I am, look what I am doing, aren’t I wonderful? That sense of humble achievement and modesty is quite a foreign concept in this day and age.
    There is far more to being Charedi than what you have described below and is your shallow perspective of religion and religious Jews. Never mind. You have your path in life and we and others have theirs.
    “women are second class citizens with no more responsibility than lighting Shabbat candles & keeping a kosher home. I do not believe that Ultra-Orthodox are balanced (Rabbi Ovadai Yosef is a good example of an Ultra-Orthodox leader who is bigoted, un-balanced and offensive) and how can shutting yourself off from all the information in a society allow one to be informed enough to make a balanced decision?”
    Your view is totally subjective and while I might be saddened by your impoverished perception of religious Judaism, I am not surprised. You are brainwashed by the contemporary media to believe that your freedom of expression and lifestyle is new and innovative. It is not. Many pagan societies and even in the Sodom and Gomorrah the societies were imbued with the principles and a values that you hold dear.

    I am sorry that you ‘ have never found myself aroused reading The Australian over coffee in the morning.’ try the New Idea or Herald Sun. I actually never thought that the idea of reading a newspaper was the arousal of one’s animal self. I have never really read a newspaper with the intention of having sex with it. I am missing something here, I guess I am in your paradigmatic universe. Hamodia is actually a good newspaper and you get informative articles without the distracting pictures of half naked men and women and all the sexual innuendos used to sell products to a gullible public. You actually do get news undiluted and clearly written. Try it but I will guarantee you will not be overwhelmed by sexual feelings. Unless it is the smell of printer’s ink that gets you going.

    Thanks @ Marky
    I think you understand totally where I am coming from or going….

    “Yep, let us rejoice with the modern world. Drugs, rape, murder, spouse bashing etc. The ultra orthodox community must also be enlightened to this modern world to keep up with the times as in their communities there is too little of these worldly recreations.”

  • Yoram Symons says:

    Before beginning I wish to disclose that I am a relative of Robyn Bavati.

    Censorship is its own moral prerogative. Its use in any form ultimately stems from the belief that there are some ideas that are unacceptable. The moment that one accepts that there are unacceptable ideas, you immediately close off an avenue of consciousness, an avenue of thought. This is why censorship is a reprehensible activity and its use always acts to suppress thought.

    People here have commented that there are some stereotypes we would find objectionable and therefore have no objection to their censorship. Some comments seem to suggest that the State’s inherent right to censor ideas is an entirely justifiable power. The fact that this argument has found resonance on these pages is indicative of the highly insidious nature of the censorship mentality.

    Should we ban books that present blacks, gays or any other group in a negative or racist light? Should we ban an idea that we don’t like?

    The argument for censorship of any form is ultimately framed in terms that ideas that may lead to dangerous actions need to be suppressed. It is an argument in favour of self-preservation at all costs, but this needs to be properly weighted. If self-preservation comes at the expense of the total freedom of ideas then we are implicitly recognising that our right to life exceeds the rights of all to think.

    Is the right to life really more valid than the right to think?

    Judaism, in its deepest principle, has been a champion of thought; especially deep abstracted thought. The very concept of a singular, non-corporeal deity is in its very nature both a product and function of abstracted thought. Abstracted thought cannot be done unless we think, and to ban entire areas of thought because we don’t agree with their conclusions is an irrational behaviour for one who recognises the essentiality of thought.

    Abraham’s primary activity in the history of monotheism was not so much to recognise the truth of the monotheistic concept, but to recognise the untruth of the prevailing polytheistic paradigm and have the courage to think beyond it. Monotheism was thus grasped through an act of conscious thinking. Thinking is the key to understanding God; the ability to think and break down paradigms of thought is the very core of Monotheistic belief, as only by breaking down thought structures can one begin to comprehend a deity whose existence is totally abstracted from the realm of human understanding.

    Is “Dancing in the Dark” an accurate portrayal of Chareidi life? Are the accusations it makes fair?

    These concerns, however, are fundamentally irrelevant to the proposition to censor it. “Dancing in the Dark” is a work of fiction, it is not claiming to be a factual or even unbiased account. It is fiction and therefore a function of the writers’ emotions expressed within a narrative framework. It is not the duty of fiction to be unbiased.

    Mt Scopus has not banned the book, but they have banned it from their library. This is an act of censorship, and if we accept the value of free thought as being an ultimate prerogative, then there can never be justification for this. To refuse to put the book on a reading list or on a curriculum is entirely justifiable. That would be an endorsement of the book’s message, and to not censor does not mean that one must endorse.

    But a work of published fiction, by a Mt Scopus alumnus, dealing with the local community, based on that alumnus’ emotional impressions of the community in which she lives and in which this very school is located certainly deserves a place in the school library! It is the library, not the curriculum. The store of knowledge, not the actively utilised pool of knowledge.

    Judaism may have dogmas, but behind its dogmas is an irresistible urge to break dogmas and smash idols. The journey of the Jewish people through history is the journey towards deeper and more comprehensive understandings of the Truth, deeper and more comprehensive understandings of the Ultimate Reality and how we relate to it.

    When a school bans a book from its library it is sending a clear message to its students – there are ideas out there that we do not want you to know about, that we do not want you to think. To educate children that there are ideas that they are not allowed to be exposed to cannot possibly further the goal of Judaism as the journey to understanding truth and leads to the most severe corruption of consciousness.

    While this approach may serve to preserve the dogmas of Judaism as they are currently understood, it is antithetical to the nature of the Jewish program. Mt Scopus will not be raising any Abrahams with such a mentality, and raising Abrahams should be a goal of Jewish education.

    Yoram Symons
    Program Director
    ARC

  • D G says:

    “It’s just a fact that in the Jewish ultra orthodox community, violent crime, drugs etc. are rare, especially compared to the general populace. There are those who would like to enlighten them with new modern “ideas”.”

    Just a small note. The statistics used to generate those conclusions are based on filed police reports. Religious communities tend to be distrustful of secular policing and prefer to deal with these issues internally through their own forms of arbitration and punishment. This makes gathering accurate statistics notoriously difficult.

    I would also make the argument that comparing crime rates in relatively insular communities to those of the large cities in which they’re located is probably unjustified. If a community attempts to minimize it’s contact with outsiders, a more accurate comparison might be to compare the crime rate to a rural town with roughly the same population.

    I’m not suggesting that there’s no difference whatsoever in the rates of crime between religious communities and secular ones, but it may not be as large as you believe. Anyway, I think the issue would make for a fascinating criminology research product, especially if undertaken by a Haredi (for example) with whom the community would feel comfortable discussing such issues.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Yoram – well said!

    I have struggled with the tension between the school’s prerogative not to facilitate students (who are not children) reading a book which may reinforce an unbalanced view of religious life , and a high degree of discomfort about what is, however you cut it, a form of book banning.

    You draw a helpful distinction between excluding the book from the curriculum, which of course is acceptable, and excluding it from the library, which in my opinion is not.

    I have spoken to lots of friends over the last few days about this – none of us were ever stopped from reading anything. I had an English teacher who didn’t quite discourage me from reading Ayn Rand when I waxed lyrical about that discovery – but who encouraged me to think a little more critically about what I was reading. And funnily enough a friend told about how his mother found him reading Das Kapital and urged Rand on him. (clearly we’re kind of …old)

    I’d love to find my kids reading Rand or Marx! Better than watching Family Guy.

    I agree Yoram – no ideas should be taboo or out of bounds for young adults. It doesnt feel right.

  • Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Kennard claims that he doesn’t want the book in the Scopus library because it’s a ‘bad’ book. However, he told the author he didn’t want to promote it before he had read it. Therefore, his objection could not have been based on whether it was a ‘good’ book or a ‘bad’ book, as he had not yet read it. Someone must have told him the book was unsuitable for a Jewish school. I wonder who that person was.

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    As Yoram Symons has done, I, too, before I start, would like to disclose that I am related to Robyn Bavati. Robyn is my sister and Yoram, my first cousin once removed.

    I am not entering into this debate for the purpose of commenting on Robyn’s book save to say that I and all our family wish her well in her writing career and we look forward to the successful publication of many more of her books.

    I would like to ask a question of you, Yoram, so that I can understand your reasoning.

    In your post you wrote: “….but they have banned it from their library. This is an act of censorship, and if we accept the value of free thought as being an ultimate prerogative, then there can never be justification for this.”

    Taking your argument to its logical conclusion, do you hold that the Scopus library should have “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” on its shelves?

    If not, then does the above extract from your post need some qualification and, if so, what?

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Yoram Symons says:

    An interesting point.

    There is no doubt that any serious Jewish library with a mission to understand the historical and cultural experience of the Jewish people should have copies of both Mein Kampf and the Protocols. These books form an integral part of our recent history and to deny this fact would inhibit one from understanding our history.

    This is not to say that a Jewish library should necessarily specialise in antisemitic literature, however, works that have had such profound historical effects should be required material.

    How could any serious inquiry into antisemitism or recent Jewish history proceed otherwise?

  • Geoff,

    Allow me to offer a response to your question.

    If a student wants to research antisemitism or similar and they can’t find a particular book in a school library, they’ll go to a another library or supplier that has it.

    Why shouldn’t a school stock a book that will help further educate a student?

    Any book, as a tool, should be used wisely, but I don’t see a reason for a library to ban any book unless it somehow contravenes the law in lending it out.

    It may be that certain books require an ‘appropriate use’ form signed before they can be borrowed, so they understand that it contains potentially harmful content.

    Michael.

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Hi Frosh,

    I have a bone to pick with you.

    I have just noticed that the “dugma” allocated to my cousin, Yoram Symons’ posts appears to be the Holy Ark of the Covenant replete with the “Kruvim” and the “Badim” whereas I have some nerdy green alien representing me!

    I’m burning with envy!

    Any chance of reversing the two?!

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Geoff, below the comment box is a link to registering a Gravatar. That is where you can set your icon associated with your postings, linked to your email address.

  • Michael Susman says:

    I’m an ex-student as scopus and although i now consider myself an atheist I have always thought that i would send my kids to scopus for high school. I believed it was right to give them the opportunity to experience a jewish education and let them decide for themselves what they wanted to believe. After reading the comments made by the rabbi there is no chance i will be doing that.

    Firstly, clearly this wasn’t a text-book about the laws and customs of a certain group of Jews, it was about an EXPERIENCE of jewish life, one that isn’t innately correct or incorrect. Just as there are hundreds of books talking about positive jewish experiences surely having one book with the other side of the coin isn’t going to lead to a mass exodus from faith.

    Secondly, as much as i hate you use this argument, where do you draw the line? I really hope the rabbi will respond to this question: If you believe that any book that conflicts with modern orthodox ethos (presumably that the torah is the word of god etc.) should be removed from the library will you refuse to stock Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’, considered by many to be the MOST important science book ever written because it doesn’t ‘mesh’ with the idea that the earth is 6000 years old?

    Thirdly, the librarian’s idea of having a slip in the cover that provided the reasons why you don’t condone the book seemed like a very intelligent way of going about this issue. You have the opportunity to engage your students on an intellectual level and ask them to truly assess how they view their own jewish experience. Either, you didn’t think they were capable of making up their own minds or you were so scared of what they would see that you didn’t want them to even consider it. Either way, it’s a sorry state of affairs.

    Regards,
    Michael Susman

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Michael

    Two of our three children are at Mt Scopus and we have generally found the school to be progressive and open. Our sense is that questioning and critical thinking on all things – including Jewish topics – have been accepted and encouraged. That wasn’t always the case in the early years of primary school but the reason for that is no longer applicable.

    Rabbi Kennard is as others have suggested, a very principled man and while I clearly don’t agree with him on this issue, I certainly respect his integrity.

    I suggest you speak to a range of parents and students before making up your mind about the school -and Rabbi Kennard – based on this one incident.

  • Felicity Burger says:

    Rabbi Kennard is by no means prohibiting students from reading the book, he is well aware that they are perfectly able to purchase the book outside of school.
    The school caffeteria does not offer pork in order to allow students to make their own decision regarding what they eat, so too the library should not offer reading material that blatantly negates the values and ideology of the school.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Mandi:
    I graduated before Rabbi Kennard was around so this is my only experience of him and it has clearly left a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps this is an isolated incident but I can’t see how someone whose attitude is to deny critical thinking could possibly be challenging students in the correct way. I am sure he is a very principled man but that’s not always a good thing, one can stick to principles that are not for the good of others and I believe this to be the case here. If he truly believes that the only way to have a fulfilling life is total immersion in Judaism surely his principles would guide him to cut off other options for his students but frankly that isn’t fair to them is it? I’m not saying all religions should get equal time at a Jewish school but have progressive can you be when you don’t even let kids ask the question ‘do I want to be jewish?’. The ironic thing is that I think if they let kids ask that question then the answer would be ‘Yes’ more often than it is now.

    Felicity:
    The pork analogy is an unfair one as we both realise that some kids wouldn’t be able to eat any food if that were the case. This book will in no way taint the others in the library, in fact it will enhance them as surely you can agree that a broad education provides the greatest opportunities. Also, we’re not talking about reading propaganda from World War 2, we’re talking about a book descibing one person’s experience. Not every book that describes a life of happiness that doesn’t include Judaism is anti-semitic or ‘negates the values and ideologies of the school’. A novel that describes someone’s happy life as a doctor in no-way diminishes the life experience of a lawyer and if you were a lawyer, who was happy to be a lawyer, that felt satisfied in their life as a lawyer, I’m guessing you wouldn’t be considering a change of career just because you read about a doctor’s experience.

    I think the point that’s being missed in all of this, and I find it to be quite a disturbing one, is that if you really think that reading about someone’s experience of a different lifestyle is going to all of a sudden convert your child to a life of atheist debauchery then one of two things is happening:
    1) Your teenage child is so incapable of defining themself as a person that any idea different to their own will instantly persuade them or;
    2) Your teenage child doesn’t actually want the lifestyle that you’re forcing on them. Think about how unhappy you’d have to be as a Jew to read someone else’s experience of not fitting in as a Jew, thinking that it isn’t the life for you and deciding to change because of it. Surely, if your child isn’t happy being a Jew as a parent you MUST want them to realise that. Either that or it’s more important to you that they grow up in your image. If that’s the case your kid has more to worry about than just books.

  • frosh says:

    Michael,

    I assume Rabbi Kennard used this example as he wanted to use an example that you could relate to. That is, he wanted to demonstrate that there are some books that both you and the Rabbi would agree should not be in the library.

    Now in a single week, you have both trivialized the Shoah and trivialized homophobia. I should add that previously, you have also trivialized child abuse, but supporting the notion that “teaching children about religion is child abuse.”

    It’s a shame. I thought your first comment on this thread was an excellent argument against censorship. There was no need to try to score extra poins through distorting the words of others.

  • Anthony,

    Lucky I don’t post my views about you.

    This is the second of your blogs that you have attempted to discredit me by posting a misrepresentation of my views on religion.

    This is not the forum for discussing them and I ask you, now for the third time, to desist from bringing my personal views on religion, as inaccurately as you have, into discussions on this site without my permission.

    Got it?

    Michael.

  • frosh says:

    No problem Michael.

    I’m glad to hear that you have repudiated these views.

  • What is the purpose of you taunting me, and so disrespectfully? Are you trying to score a scoop?

  • frosh says:

    Michael, I have no intention of taunting you or trying to cause you any pain. That’s not the kind of sport I’m into.

    I deeply regret if I have made you feel that way. If I was overzealous in vigorously arguing a point, and that has hurt your feelings, then again I am sorry and this was not my intention.

    Feel free to email me if you wish to discuss further.

  • jenny says:

    i loved the book dancing in the dark.All i can say is you should all get a life ,get out a bit.We all have our own minds and can decide what to read or not.

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Hi Yoram, sorry for taking so long to respond but I’ve been a little busy at work.

    The question I posed to you was whether your somewhat blanket statement in your first post was justifiable, or should be qualified. For ease of reference, your statement was “….but they have banned it from their library. This is an act of censorship…. there can never be justification for this.”

    In inviting you to consider whether your blanket statement should be qualified, I gave you two examples to consider, namely Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. You deftly avoided expressly qualifying your blanket statement by cleverly embracing the two examples I gave as in fact suitable for the Scopus library! I hasten to add I have no quarrel with your believing that those publications should be at Scopus. That is not my focus. What it means though, is that the examples I gave were, at least to you, inappropriate.

    What I therefore still wish to test is whether your blanket statement withstands scrutiny (such that it needs no qualification), but this time giving rather more difficult examples which, hopefully, will not give you the scope to sidestep my question by embracing my own examples as appropriate for the Scopus library!

    In pressing the point, I am somewhat encouraged by what appears to me to be a tacit acceptance, on your part, that some qualification is indeed called for, even if you were not prepared to make that concession expressly. That tacit acceptance arises from your statement that “works that have had such profound historical effects should be required material (for inclusion in the Scopus library)”. While I indeed agree with that general principle, it appears, reading between the lines, that you sensibly hold that the opposite is also true, namely that works that do not have historical relevance or, I might add, any other relevance to the education of school age children, should not be required material in a school library.

    My examples this time are: The Kama Sutra. Back copies of Playboy magazine and other explicitly pornographic publications. Manuals showing how to build bombs and murder people. Racist and anti-gay publications (the list is endless, that’s the point).

    Do you still hold that your statement needs no qualification?

    Just a reminder that if you respond to this, my “second bite at the cherry”, you should not respond with reference to Robyn’s book. As I stated at the outset, I am not entering into this debate to comment on her book and am not inviting any comment as to whether it should or should not be included in the library at Scopus. This debate has gone well beyond that particular publication as I think you yourself observed in your first post.

    One last point which is not addressed specifically to you, Yoram. Participants in this debate should think carefully as to whether the term “censorship” should be applied to the school’s decision not to stock any particular publication in its library. The term has, I think, been all too easily and readily used throughout this debate and insults those who have lived under totalitarian regimes which really did practice censorship.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Michael Susman says:

    “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.” – Bertrand Russell

    Get over yourselves, we’re not talking about ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’ or hardcore pornography. We’re talking about Billy Elliot in a Jewish setting. If the Rabbi weren’t so fearful of any idea that didn’t fit with his clearly static worldview that he wants to avoid it completely. Grow up Rabbi Kennard.

  • Saul Lukin says:

    I’d like to start by pointing out that Rabbi Kennard is in fact a Rabbi and therefore deserves a greater level of respect than is being offered in this forum by some. You might not agree with his views or recent actions, but this does not excuse the lack of respect that is being demonstrated.

    Rabbi Kennard is not ‘banning’ this book because it disagrees with his worldviews. I believe Rabbi Kennard would encourage all of his students to discuss and intellectually consider their stance on religion and how they choose to involve it in their own lives.

    The book is biased to a view that does not give any importance to Religion. It does not discuss the internal struggle between religion and one’s passion. Rabbi Kennard stated that the book is “inaccurate (and) one-sided”. One would never learn from a text book that only discusses a single point of view and this book does exactly that. I believe that it is for this reason that Rabbi Kennard does not permit the book to be placed in the school’s library (note: it is not banned from the premises)

    If ‘Dancing in the dark’ were to truly delve into the struggle between religion and one’s passions or demonstrate sadness for the religious sacrifice ‘Ditty’ made or even acknowledge the positive aspects of religion and Judaism, yet land at the same conclusion then Rabbi Kennard’s view might be different. If this book were to provide an appropriate platform for religious introspection and intellectual growth, then it would be on the shelves.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Firstly Saul, respect is for people who are deserving of respect it is not simply owed to them because of their occupation. A noble gravedigger deserves more respect than a crooked doctor. Obviously, I’m not calling the rabbi crooked all i’m saying is that it is not an gauranteed to him by his job. Secondly, how can you possibly compare a textbook to a work of fiction. I’m sure Harry Potter shows some inaccuracies about life in England but that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of banning. The book discusses one character’s EXPERIENCE of a community, that experience can’t be correct or incorrect, it is simply not a question of fact. Let me ask you this, if there was a book that talked about a child’s experience of being molested by a priest on the basis that it paints ALL priests in the same light? It’s ludicrous to think that just because one book has one experience of one community it’s going to instantly confuse 13 years of Jewish eduction and growing up in a Jewish culture. One would hope that students would be intelligent and thoughtful enough to consider whether or not one character’s experience was relevant to their own life. I assume that any kid who wasn’t sure if it was a correct portrayal would discuss it with their Jewish studies at a minimum (remember the librarian suggested that the rabbi insert a slip explaining that he didn’t think it was an accurate depictioin and he still didn’t want the book).

    Honestly, I don’t think the biggest victim in all of this is Ms Bavati. I’m sure as someone who is proud of her work she would love it to be available at the school she decided to send her kids to but really she isn’t the one I worry about here. As I mentioned in my previous post I just find this whole thing to be a very sad indictment on the amount of respect that the rabbi and parents are giving their kids. I can assure you that if my parents told me I wasn’t supposed to read a book because it didn’t paint an EXPERIENCE (please remember we’re not talking about historical facts) in the light that they see it, I would be horribly offended.

  • Yoram Symons says:

    This is indeed turning into an interesting exploration. This is a really good way to actually evolve an idea and a position.

    Obviously, sticking to an absolutist position like the one I made is never going to stand up to every single scrutiny and objection. That’s the philosophical danger of unequivocal positions, although they make for excellent rhetoric.

    I am a huge believer in rhetoric in its most technical and philosophical sense.

    A writer is forced to rely on the mechanism of language to convey feeling and emotion, and since the mechanics of philosophical analysis are fundamentally incongruent with unquantifiable emotional qualities, these emotive qualities rendered as argumentative positions will always be rendered absurd or untenable within a philosophical-analytical framework.

    This is not to say that emotions are not truth. They just can never be truth from within the paradigm of analytical thought.

    So lets get past the philosophy. Obviously there will cases that break the general rule and therefore the general rule will need qualification of some sorts.

    Lets now try to figure out what I’m really trying to get at and why my post took the form of an emotional-rhetorical polemic. That is – what core emotion am I trying to convey?

    I state that Censorship arises from an internal moral prerogative and this moral prerogative fundamentally divides knowledge into safe and unsafe, or acceptable and unacceptable, kosher and treif etcetera etcetera.

    My position could thus be framed as follows: In an ideal universe, there would be no such thing as safe and unsafe, acceptable and unacceptable, kosher and treif etcetera. It would be unity. Since, however, we don’t live in a perceivably ideal universe, we need to introduce these binary categories in order to make sense of reality.

    My gut, and this is only my gut, feels that the move to censorship is extolling this state of affairs. Its like an act of pride in this bedi-eved situation. That Judaism’s first and foremost position, its fundamental ideological lechatchila should be to help the ideal universe manifest, and then begrudgingly accept the current bedi-eved state of affairs.

    So how does that translate to a position on censorship?

    Thinking is at the heart of the human experience. If we accept Descartes’ formulation (which we don’t have to), thinking IS the human experience. And here thinking needs to be broadly defined as the activities of consciousness. Not simply thinking in the narrow analytical sense, but the experience of engaging the world through consciousness.

    Humans become humans, behave as humans, fundamentally ARE humans because we are entities of consciousness.

    More so than any other form of oppositional dichotomisation that I can think of, censorship places consciousness itself under siege. Dividing actions into permitted and forbidden, or food stuffs into kosher and treif, or the dichotmisation of many other categories is not as frontal an assault on the nature of human-ness as is a dichotomisation of what one can think about.

    The policies of a Jewish school are, in the perceptions of those bound and affected by these policies, the policies of Judaism itself. When a Jewish school actively and publicly engages in censorship, there is an implicit notion that Judaism itself promotes and believes in censorship.

    Now obviously, in the sense of halacha l’maaseh, Judaism accepts and engages in forms of censorship, as does every single legal system currently in existence. However, beyond the level of halacha l’maaseh, on the level of Judaism’s ultimate program, within the paradigm of its fundamental taamei mitzvoth, what is Judaism’s view on censorship?

    In my personal estimation, the fundamental ethos of all of Judaism is the evolution and advancement of consciousness. The example I gave of Abraham utilising conscious thought to arrive at Monotheism was invoked for its iconic status within the cosmology. However there are numerous other examples and this ethos – of Torah as a force for the advancement and evolution of consciousness within the Universe – lies at the heart of my argument and response. That’s the emotional truth I was attempting to convey.

    Could one find m’korot to dispute such a view? Certainly. Will I be able to defend my position against each and every single one that could be thrown up against it? No. It changes nothing. This is my position. It is core faith. It arises directly from my experience of the world and my experience of Torah.

    This is the value of rhetorical writing. It is not about presenting an internally logical and consistent system. Anyone who has studied epistemology knows that such an attempt is inherently impossible. Rhetorical writing is about helping an audience to feel the same emotion that you do – to share in one’s own emotional truth.

    What I wanted to state was a vision of Judaism that places the evolution of consciousness as the central value.

    Will there be times when we have to use discretionary powers to limit conscious thought? Yes! That is the nature of the bedi-eved universe; a function of the fact that at this point in the Universe’s history consciousness has only evolved so far.

    But what we should be striving for, what Judaism’s essential teaching is and what institutions of Judaism’s fundamental creed should should be – is that the freedom of the mind is the ultimate value.

    Yoram Symons
    Program Director
    ARC

  • D G says:

    I’m sure the good Rabbi was sniggering, along with the rest of the world when the Vatican decided to go on a righteous crusade against the ‘Da Vinci Code’ for painting Christians in a bad light. Likewise I’m sure the Rabbi would think it absurd for Christian schools to ban Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

    He would say that banning them shows a desire to reinforce ones faith at the expense of shutting out the world. I’m sure he would argue that a ban only draws more attention to the issue, and turns it from a mild curiosity into treasured samoizdat.

    Nothing in the book is so egregiously wrong as to be utterly beyond the realms of possibility. The mining community didn’t ban Billy Elliot because it failed to spend half the time depicting the camaraderie of blue collar shaft work and a union card.

    The message of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ is that life among a tightly regimented religious community is difficult for someone whose passions lie outside what that community considers acceptable. The Rabbi’s argument would have more merit if Ditty had led a mass exodus of Haredi children from the lifestyle and the book culminated with her and all her siblings smugly repudiating the lifestyle of their mean old father.

    Instead, Ditty loses access to her family almost completely. She ruins the marriage prospects of her beloved siblings. She’s ostracized from her community and her father will no longer have anything to do with her. If anything, Dancing in the Dark is a message to children that they should consider carefully the price they’ll pay for following whims and fancies.

  • Gedalia says:

    There are compelling arguements in this discussion on both sides.

    I congratulate Rabbi Kennard for standing up for the values of his school. I think he is right in effectively saying that the destructive forces of Judaism are welcome to be read by those who wish to consume them, but they don’t belong on the bookshelf of a Jewish school

    At the end of the day this is a book of fiction. The copies would probably sit on the shelf and collect dust for the most part, and there are probably other books in the library rife with negativity and inaccuracy.

    I never went to a Jewish day school, but I went to a shule cheder. One of my prizes, a book on Jewish law, was recollected and replaced because the book referenced reformist views that did not conform to Judaism. I learnt a lot from that experience as a young child – most essentially that not everything that is published is appropriate, and I shouldn’t believe everything I read.

    So too with this book, there is a lesson in davka saying – don’t pollute your mind with ideas that cultivate negative Jewish experiences.

    I don’t beleive this is about the free marketplace of ideas. You won’t (or shouldn’t!) find a Jewish school library that contains books that promote belief in other religions, justification of anti-Semitism etc etc (I will resist invoking Godwin’s law). So why should books be tolerated that characterize Jewish people in negative ways, or have undertones that lead the reader to despise Jewish people.

    No, I have not read the book, but base that conclusion on the comments made on this page. No, I will not read the book, as I would rather spend my precious reading time engaged in a positive experience that envelops the beauty of Jewish tradition. There are too many people out there who use fictional outlets to vent their own misgivings about their Jewish identity. The author is welcome to harbour her hatred of charedim. I would rather not have my mind polluted by fictional negative stereotyping regardless of whether it may or may not be reflective of reality.

  • A. Kahn says:

    Gedalia, I think you meant to say that the book was replaced in your shule’s cheder as it referenced views that didn’t conform with your cheder’s view of Judaism.

  • Marky says:

    So does that mean that if someone Jewish suddenly declared that belief in jc or belief in the holy cow is part of Judaism, then that conforms with Judaism, but not with my view of Judaism?

  • A. Kahn says:

    Marky, Of course not, if that’s not how Judaism is defined by you and those around you! Seriously though, what is Judaism? Do only Jews practice Judaism? Who has the right to define what is conforming and what isn’t? Are only “Jews” Jewish?

  • D G says:

    @Gedalia

    “So too with this book, there is a lesson in davka saying – don’t pollute your mind with ideas that cultivate negative Jewish experiences.”

    This boggles my mind. How can a person truly consider themselves a devout Jew if they dismiss anything that describes ‘negative Jewish experiences’ as “pollution.” It seems to me that if a person had no questions about the strength of his or her own devotion, they would be more than capable of reconciling the idea that someone might have a negative experience with a certain type of Judaism under certain, very specific circumstances.

    “I don’t beleive this is about the free marketplace of ideas. You won’t (or shouldn’t!) find a Jewish school library that contains books that promote belief in other religions, justification of anti-Semitism etc etc (I will resist invoking Godwin’s law). So why should books be tolerated that characterize Jewish people in negative ways, or have undertones that lead the reader to despise Jewish people.”

    There are Jewish characters in this book who are hypocritical. There are Jewish characters in this book who are mean. There are Jewish characters in this book which act in a manner that draws antipathy from the reader. None of the above makes the book anti-semitic.

    The Godfather is not an anti-semitic book (or film) just because all bad people in it are Christian. Pulp Fiction is not an anti-Christian film just because the two hitmen recite prayers as they work. Fiddler on the Roof is not an anti-semitic play just because aspects of their lives come off as less than appealing.

    After a 5000 year history, Jews should be capable of reading a book of teenage fiction that depicts the story of a child with a very specific dream feeling oppressed by the conservatism of her household without their heads exploding. Until we as a people have the maturity to look at a story with negative Jewish characters and negative Jewish experiences and say, “Yes, this too is possible,” can we truly call ourselves the people of the book?

    “No, I have not read the book, but base that conclusion on the comments made on this page. No, I will not read the book, as I would rather spend my precious reading time engaged in a positive experience that envelops the beauty of Jewish tradition.”

    That’s your choice of course, though you’ll forgive the rest of us for treating your opinion on a book you haven’t read with due skepticism. You’ve formed an opinion on the text based on a heated discussion about its banning, in part from the opinions of people who have just banned it.

    “There are too many people out there who use fictional outlets to vent their own misgivings about their Jewish identity. The author is welcome to harbour her hatred of charedim. I would rather not have my mind polluted by fictional negative stereotyping regardless of whether it may or may not be reflective of reality.”

    Again, I would only ask who it is that has ‘misgivings about their Jewish identity’ in this discussion. I would argue that it takes far more confidence in ones Judaism to engage with it critically than it does to ignore any and all information that might in any way foster doubt as ‘pollution’ even if that information reflects reality.

    Kind Regards,
    Dmitry

  • Marky says:

    A.Kahn writes: “what is Judaism? Do only Jews practice Judaism?….Are only Jews Jewish?”

    Of course not! Everyone knows that the hindus and seiks in the Punjab are all Jews. And that the cannibals in New Ginea- with bones through their noses-all practice Judaism. Why would you question something so blatantly obvious??

  • Cassie Bancroft says:

    Dancing in the Dark is an inspirational book/novel that invites us, as creative, artistic thinkers and beings to go outside the box, left of center. The notion that one decides that an outlet for any person’s artistic or general outlet in life to be shadowed is appalling. Having such power as a principal does not give you autocratic rights, to say this book is immoral.

    Kids need to branch off and grow into their own. As artistic and independent being in society, create a life for themselves, not be a homogenized sheep, as it were. I speak as an aspiring Jewish artist, also as a friend of the Bavatis’. I also speak as seeing what happens when overprotective, dictator-like actions hurt the growth of students, children, and so on.

    I hate to be bias, and politics is a huge part of my family, but surely justice should come to play a part, this book-banning is unjustified and uncalled for, thus shadows a student’s growth and free-thinking, creative mind, showing options outside of being a doctor or a lawyer. Why not let them see the conflicting option of the arts industry? it may open their eyes to something magical and exciting.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    I am writing my own textual analysis of this book and submitting it to the AJN because I am fed up with the hype here. It is a seriously flawed piece of literature. I know that my analysis will not be published because the mods here have a real agenda.
    I guess on reflection what Rabbi Kennard could have done,(I am not so bold as to state should have) would have been to have a discussion with a senior class on the literary merits of the text and why it is flawed from both a literary and Jewish perspective.
    I found when I read it and was quite enraged at the unfairness and the bias of the author towards the charedi community and the way Linda of the ‘modern Orthodox community’ was portrayed.
    The important thing in a fiction text is still to create a protagonist that your audience feels for and also the antagonists also need to be more than cardboard cutouts of someone’s perception of members of certain communities.
    I nearly needed nexium for a few days after reading this text. It gave me heart burn on a number of accounts.
    1. The author’s characters are not believable nor are some of the events.
    2. She portrays members of two of Melbourne’s Orthodox communities both falsely and superficially. (in fact I would say, despite being told she has Charedi rellies, she is not close with them or understands them and their communities.)
    3.It was clichéd.
    4. Her main character indulged herself in many ways and even in all this was a superficial person in that she follows her own desires to dance, bugger the rest of her family, is deceptive and definitely is acting against the idea of kivod Av ve Im. How much more inspiring to have a character who finds a way to dance within the boundaries of her Orthodox community. Where is the personal growth and development of this character and what of her family? What was the author’s real intention?

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    I must admit, as a Scopus graduate, I believe Rabbi Kennard’s decision to remove the book from the library is completely justified. To call it censorship is bordering on the ridiculous. The library contains many books that present other persectives on orthodox Judaism (for example Chaim Potok’s books), but no School or educational institute is required to hold every book that is published. As Geoff Bloch accurately points out, in all societies lines are drawn at some point and education can never be, by definition, totally “uncensored”. Parent’s need to understand that the School represents a certain ideaology and that the School should educate the students accordingly. This however does not mean that students cannot or should not be exposed to different idealogies at home. I urge all parents who believe the book will be educationally beneficial to their children to go out and buy the book and ask their children to read it. They can then discuss it “critically” around the dinner table. Parents may find this more rewarding than logging online here and posting their comments on an issue that is so insignificant :).

  • D G says:

    Scopus Graduate:

    “To call it censorship is bordering on the ridiculous.”

    It’s almost the literal definition of censorship. It is removing a book from a library on the basis of not liking what it says. I’m not suggesting Rabbi Kennard is burning the Library of Alexandria or anything, but it’s still censorship.

    “The library contains many books… …“uncensored”.”

    I guess the issue many of us have is Rabbi Kennard doesn’t seem to have drawn a ‘line’. He’s drawn a circle around this one particular book. Many of us also feel that if a line is to be drawn, it should not be at a piece of teen fiction. Rabbi Kennard is essentially saying that this book is significantly more harmful to the children at Mount Scopus than any other book in the library. So harmful in fact, that children wouldn’t even be able to read it without having their mind warped.

    “Parent’s need to understand… …accordingly.”

    No one’s suggesting that Scopus should put this book on the curriculum (though given that my year level spent several classes analyzing the profound symbolism of cat vomit in Philip Hodgin’s Dispossessed, they could do a lot worse).

    “This however does not mean… …table.”

    I could not agree more. However, my question is why the school feels it lacks the facilities or resources to similarly engage in a discussion of this novel. A scenario whereby a student reads this book, has questions and brings them up in class or in a private discussion with the school Rabbi or a Jewish Studies teacher strikes me as exactly the kind of engagement Mount Scopus should be encouraging.

    “Parents may find this more rewarding than logging online here and posting their comments on an issue that is so insignificant.”

    Taking a few minutes out of my day to scribble a few words here doesn’t cripple my ability to function as a member of society. Nor is this discussion any less significant (in my view) than rehashing round #5121 of the “is Andrew Bolt a great thinker?” argument going on in the other trending topic on Galus at the moment.

  • Marky says:

    “spent several classes analyzing the profound symbolism of cat vomit”

    Looks like I will be skipping my supper tonight..

  • Adam Aflalo says:

    Scopus Graduate:

    Perhaps the most troubling for me is that Rabbi Kennard expressed concerns and prevented the books from being placed on the shelves, before he had actually read the book. It seems clear to me that this cant possibly be a well thought through decision, since he can have considered the positives in allowing the book’s circulation without such a basic understanding as that.

    Secondly, there seems to be little credence to the argument that the book should be banned since it only presents one view (that of the author through her portrayal of the characters). That it the very essence of literature. There are many examples of this, including a number of books which I studied at Scopus such as The Quiet American through its pejorative portrayal of America’s intervention in Vietnam, or the shocking book Dispossed referred to by DG. Another is Shakepeare’s Macbeth who through guilt, suffering and fate warns the reader about the dangers of regicide.

    Perhaps Rabbi Kennard was attempting to attempting to avoid a scandal and hence providing publicity for a book which he was trying to discourage? I would suggest that attempt failed.

    I would like to add that as a principal Rabbi Kennard has made some excellent changes at Scopus, but this one I can’t agree with.

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Adam,

    I appreciate your concern but believe it is not relevant to this particular matter. Rabbi Kennard has simply made a decision that this book does not serve any particular postive educational purpose that is consistent with the idealogy of the School. The book has not been “banned” – let’s try not to exaggerate. Again parents are free to disagree and purchase the book for themselves and their children to read. As principal, Rabbi Kennard needs to constantly make “educational decisions” which can easily be labelled as censorship. And that’s what we pay him for! If the School was just a warehouse of information with no idealogy or opinion on matters, I would want a full refund of my school fees (for my schooling as well as my childrens). Whether I believe the book is educationally beneficial or not is not at issue. The School has a duty to provide its perspective on Judaism and I reserve the right to provide my children with a different perspective at home. I think that’s the whole issue.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    I have sent this article into the Jewish News which like this site probably will not publish it. But here goes anyway.

    ‘Dancing in the Dark ‘Literally
    Recently there has been quite some controversy over Rabbi James Kennard’s decision to not put the fiction text ‘Dancing in the Dark’ on the shelves of the Mount Scopus Library. While many do not agree with his decision and even his reasons for doing so, it is the responsibility of a school Principal to nurture and guide the minds of those in his care in ways that are in keeping with the school ethos.

    Mount Scopus is above all a Jewish Day School which strives to educate the next generation of young Jewish people in ways that will engender a positive and sincere approach to all sectors of the Jewish community. While the majority of students at the college are secular Jews and have much more freedom of reading and viewing material than both the Chassidic and Charedi sectors of the community, it is still incumbent upon those educators at Scopus to ensure that the library shelves do have a majority of texts that are positive about different groups within the broader Jewish community in Melbourne or elsewhere.
    The problem with ‘Dancing in the Dark’ is that it is a very one sided polemic that portrays the Charedi as well as the Mizrachi community in quite a negative light. Both Jewish and non Jewish readers do come away with a very flawed perspective on these communities if the reader is to take the characters in the text at face value. The richness, the depth of faith and the traditions of these communities are brushed aside in the author’s struggle to bring to the fore one young girl’s desire to dance above all else, in that she deceives and betrays her family in order to gain what she wants. Her parents are not portrayed as real people but as religious fanatics who are blinkered. Yes, there are probably a few individuals in every religious community who these characters momentarily could be seen as a true representation of the way they might act on some occasions. However the human being is a far more complex creature. It is this complexity that Robyn Bavati has failed to show and it is this lack of depth and complexity in the novel’s characters that I personally as a writer have problems with.
    Novelists have a responsibility to their audience and to their characters to try to portray them as sensitively and as honestly as possible. I question Bavati’s perspectives of the Jewish Charedi communities from my viewpoint as a person who has seen many sides of the fence. Let me explain.
    I grew up in a non Jewish environment. I have Jewish ancestry on both sides of my family but I do not know my mother’s background as I did not even know she was illegitimate until I was twenty six years old. My decision to convert was taken many years before I came before a Beth Din to formally present myself for the process. My mother’s anti Semitism delayed my decision as I had to decide whether it was ‘to spite her – as she was sure it was- or whether it was my true path and whether I was willing to take on all that it entailed.
    On the way I dealt with my own tests, one of which was to struggle with giving up someone who I had a deep affection for in order to travel the path that I had decided on in 1980 when I first bought my Hebrew English dictionary and started learning Hebrew myself at Monash Uni as well as availing myself of the Jewish books in the stacks at the library.
    I met an Israeli in 1984 and our relationship progressed and when he returned to Israel, we agreed that I would come to Israel in 1986. While I was working in Australia to save money I continued to study and it was in the course of my reading that I came across a translation of the tractate dealing with forbidden relationships. I realised that he was a Cohen and a member of the priestly castes which my future status as a gioret or convert would make us forbidden to each other to marry. He did not tell me as it probably did not mean that much to him or he was even unaware of the full implications of it. That is the problem for a Jew with a basically secular education which does not plumb the depths of Jewish traditions.
    I was frankly quite shocked while living in Israel in 1986 to understand the depth of the passionate antipathy between the dati’im – religious and the hiloni – secular communities. I naively supposed for many years before 1986 that in Israel all Jews were one big happy family. The divisions shocked me and I have always despised the lack of achdut or unity among us both in Israel and in the Diaspora. There are many who do work at lessening this and the Lubavitchers as well as others in the secular and religious communities work hard to dispel this.
    To cut a long story short, I had to struggle with the decision to give up this relationship which was quite deep and to get back on my path. Once I made that decision there was no turning back. Why am I saying this? In order to show that even if one wants something very much, one needs to consider the impact on those around you in the present as well as in the future. For us to go ahead and continue a relationship with someone whose linage as Cohen or priest would be broken with an illegitimate marriage – our sons or grandsons or great grandsons would never be able to make the Biracat Cohenim and their marriage prospects would be tainted forever. Desiring something is not enough grounds for it to be attained. One has to consider the consequences of that desire and the impact of a course of action on others.
    After I left Israel I did something which would ensure that he would not see me in a very positive light and there were reasons behind that too. It was a way of cutting ties completely because there could be no turning back. If one believes in G-D truly there are always reasons for things happening. The purpose is to understand it.
    My main concern with reading Robyn’s book is that it does not do two communities justice nor show the very positive qualities embedded in the makeup of people in those communities. The heroine does not have many positive character traits. She lies and she betrays to get exactly what she wants and to buggery with anyone else. There is no reflection or honesty on her part and if we are to view everyone else through her eyes, the overall attitude is very negative, anti religious and worst, essentially anti-Jewish. Only a staunchly secular person could have written this text which so lacks understanding of a religious perspective on living.
    My concern is also the non Jewish audience reading this text will take it as a factual representation of the Melbourne Charedi community and that is a pity. I sincerely wish Robyn had spent more time and effort on the characters and given a deeper portrayal of the Charedi family. Ditty has no qualms it seems about what she is doing and her family is depicted as oblivious to her. Most Charedi families are very aware of their children and where they are standing. They are not distracted by TV, Ipods and other entertainments from their children’s chinuch. Personally while the idea is a good one, I feel the book should have been rewritten and restructured and the ending could have been changed to show Ditty as a much more rounded and mature character.
    This text will not stand the test of time and I do wish Robyn well in her writing career and hope she goes on to write better texts. She owes it to herself and her community.

  • D G says:

    Ms Leeds,

    There was a lot in your essay I found issue with, but I’d like to pick up on one particular part that I see as central to the entire debate.

    Let’s for the sake of argument accept one of the central premises of your article above, and posit that Dancing in the Dark is a book that is ‘negative’ about a group in the Jewish Community. That wasn’t my interpretation of the text at all, but it’s obviously the place you and the Rabbi are working from.

    You then write:

    “While the majority of students at the college are secular Jews and have much more freedom of reading and viewing material than both the Chassidic and Charedi sectors of the community, it is still incumbent upon those educators at Scopus to ensure that the library shelves do have a _MAJORITY_ of texts that are positive about different groups within the broader Jewish community in Melbourne or elsewhere.” (Emphasis mine)

    In a way, this sums up a lot of what we (those who disagree with the ban) have been arguing all along. We are not suggesting that Rabbi Kennard should flood the shelves of Mount Scopus with literature that depicts negative experiences with Judaism. We’re not even suggesting that he insist upon a 50/50 balance of positive and negative views.

    However, what you and Rabbi Kennard seem to be pushing for is not Majority/Minority, it’s exclusivity. You have stated that you feel the library should stock ONLY books that promote a positive view of Judaic experiences. We feel that’s counterproductive, and that ‘negative’ depictions can help enrich the faith of believers by forcing them to confront within themselves the difficult questions faith brings with it.

    Regards,
    – Dmitry

  • Michael Susman says:

    I completely agree with your Ilana, we want all our young Jewish kids to say enlightened things like: “No I feel discriminated against, because I am not allowed to hold the view that homosexuality is deviant sexual behaviour, which it is.” – Ilana Leeds. As you’ve shown by your amazing understanding of the modern world your ideas on where we should draw the lines of education are clearly well informed and well reasoned.

    As a side note Ilana, if you’re worried about how the Jews are being perceived you might want to reconsider a lot of what you say on the internet because I guarantee you that you’re doing A LOT more harm than a novel ever could.

  • S.Z says:

    I’m a Jewish 16 year old who does ballet, and i felt this book was AUTHENTIC and whether it put the charedi community in a bad light or not, how else would one expect the community to react when if a young Jewish charedi decided to become a ballet dancer?!?!

    Do you expect them all to be dancing for joy, thanking hashem for giving their daughter a love for a sport where women wear leotards and are lifted up by men on stage in front of the public? get real.

    Did the working class english get annoyed when Billy Elliot was released? And what about Chaim Potok’s, ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’?

    This book could easily have been a biography. Why does the Jewish community always have to condemn anything relatd to art? this is one of the reasons my religion frustrates me so much. It’s good literature. It’s about a little girls wish to dance despite her situation. You don’t think that if this were to happen in real life the Charedi community would act any differently?

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Michael you are completely out of line here. The issue is not my personal views (to which I might add I am entitled and I have at not time instigated harm to a group of people and nor am I likely to)on the LIFESTYLE of a certain group of people.
    Completely separate issue. The issues here as I perceive them and I am more than willing to admit I may be wrong) are
    a) whether Rabbi Kennard has a right to ‘control’ for want of a better word the reading material available to students in the Mount Scopus Library or whether he should bow to the wishes of more ‘liberal minded’ parents and make a wider variety of texts available. Should we be questioning what will ‘Dancing in the Dark’ add to the students Jewish educational experience? Very little I am afraid. There are many other texts that an argument could be created for inclusiveness in the library and to be really honest I would not like a non Jew to pick up that text and judge the Melbourne Adass community on it. Think about it for a moment.
    b)And on another level is it literature? Not really. Read it with an unbiased mind and I think it will come up lacking the essential elements of a literary text. I don’t have any personal axe to grind with Ms Bavati. I think with another novel or two under her belt she will be a better writer. That is not to say she is not a good writer, but she will gain from this and the mistakes she made with this novel, she should improve on with the second.
    She is not Dostoevsky yet or even a Patrick White or Gertrude Stein. I would rather have students read deep and good literature than any book published about Jewish experience written by a Jewish writer just to be loyal. You have to rationally examine a text and understand its merits and its flaws.
    My views on a topic, even misrepresented as they have been and the fact that some idiot thinks I am conducting a one woman war against the homosexual community (even if it were true) are NOT THE ISSUE HERE.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Actually, it is very much related. My argument, and i’m sorry if it was too subtle for a literary connoisseur such as yourself, was that this is an issue of evolving. Your quotes are typical of views that are outdated in society and it would be incumbent upon Scopus to teach kids that, despite what is said in the Torah, that homosexuality isn’t an abomination. In the same way it is unfair to students like ‘S.Z’ above to pretend that ways of life outside of strict religious belief don’t exist or are in some way to be ashamed of. Clearly S.Z has a passion that provides a conflict with her belief, how much more powerful would it be if she were taught a way to have her faith and still be able to fit into modern society in way where she feels actualised. The point is Ilana, people these days realise that there are lifestyles outside of the strictest interpretations of the Torah, clearly from your story you were able to experience different parts of life, how dare you say that others don’t deserve the opportunity to explore other parts of themselves.

    Your posts are rife with self-righteous contradictions. Just another fun little example:

    “Dancing in the Dark may be a technically well written book however, on reading it I was amazed and shocked by the the slanted and shallow view of the Charedi community it presented.”

    “b)And on another level is it literature? Not really. Read it with an unbiased mind and I think it will come up lacking the essential elements of a literary text.”

    If you’re going to blatantly contradict yourself for the sake of making points you might want to consider not doing it on the internet, it has a tendency of making it possible to look back at what you say.
    PS: Ms. Bavati’s book is actually getting great reviews, google it yourself and find out

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Michael,

    I think your arguments are becoming too personal. Let’s try to avoid attacking people personally. By all means state your opinion and reasons etc, but not by way of trying to discredit the person. Remember, respect the person, argue the point!

    I personally don’t agree with you or with Ilana. As I mentioned earlier, I believe Rabbi Kennard has every right, nay a duty to make a decision as an educator as to whether the book will serve any particular positive educational purpose. Obviously, in this case he doesn’t.

    On a different note which you raised, I also do not believe that the school should be teaching that homosexuality is acceptable. Remember it is in theory an orthodox school. And although most of the students are secular, the parents sent their children to an orthodox school for a reason. The opinions you mentioned may be more acceptable in a reform school. However, this doesn’t mean that parents cannot teach their children different ideals and perspectives.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Would you teach evolution scopus graduate? It is clearly contrary to the orthodox creation story, if not where do you draw the line?

  • A. Kahn says:

    Marky, I’m glad you think have this all figured out. Tell me. Since you know who is NOT a Jew, how is a Jew universally defined?

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Michael,

    I think the two issues are very different. One consists of a moral judgement, the other a scientific “theory”. Don’t have to time to elaborate and this isn’t the forum either. In any event, the main point of my post was to mention that we need to be careful to respect the person we are disagreeing with.

  • Michael Susman says:

    I used that example because it was more clear cut than homophobia. Your point was that archaic homosexual attitudes should be taught because they are in keeping with orthodox belief. If you don’t like the example I gave perhaps a better point would have been ‘why stop at not accepting homosexuality when several San Hedrin condone the stoning of gay people, perhaps we should teach that is ok too, since it is in keeping with the orthodox belief that you think should be maintained.’ I’m not saying all this to disparage Judaic belief, the reason I brought up homosexuality in the first place is the real people who suffer from close-minded views are the kids like S.Z. She has a clear passion for something that can bring her a lot of joy and Scopus should be helping to cultivate those passions, teaching her to find her own way in life, not pretending and door that doesn’t lead to the strictest religious life doesn’t exist. The weird part of all this is Scopus has dancing available for students, it has plenty of opportunities outside the realm of the most religious Jewish sects, why the Rabbi decided to remove a book that celebrate those opportunities.

  • Michael Susman says:

    those opportunities is a mystery to me*

    Sorry, typo

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Michael,

    I understand where you are coming from, but don’t think the Rabbi removed the book because it celebrates alternative opportunities. As you quite correctly point out, the School encourages these avenues and therefore it is highly unlikely that this is the reason. I assumed the reason was because of the way it portrayed religious Jews as fanatical, archaic and repressive (I haven’t read the book but from the posts here it seems like this is what the book did). If the book had portrayed another people (for example blacks) in this light, I am sure all of us parents would be keen to remove the book from the library so the School does not appear to condone unhealthy and unhelpful racial stereotypes. I assume this is the Rabbi’s reasoning and it sounds reasonable to me.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Michael
    You obviously do not understand that something can be technically well written, yet lack a balanced viewpoint or depth of character exploration. I do not use Google as my oracle and to be honest I really do not care one wit what someone else thinks about the book. I have read it myself and have my viewpoint. Why should I take on someone else’s viewpoint? Only of course, if I am so brain dead I can not formulate my own analysis and opinion of the text that I have read and have to rely on someone else’s. I am no such animal. (sheep bleep bleep baa baaa)
    My post is no where near as self righteous and pompous as yours. I allow that there may be other opinions. I just dislike the perspective of the Charedi community given and you will find that very few of the Adass people will actually feel flattered by the book’s depiction of their values and lifestyle. But of course what do you care about them and how they are portrayed because they are probably all fanatics in black kapotes, with white socks and wearing dead squirrels on their heads to an ‘enlightened Jew’ like you who knows everything, has experienced everything and is just so knowledgeable that no one could tell you anything new. You know it all.

    My advice to you is to please read the book and stop relying on Google and attacking me for the sake of a bit of an argument. It is always easy to cross swords with and attack a damned jumped up ‘goy’ who has dared to think she is good enough to convert to an “elite club” which is what a lot of secular jews like yourself think Judaism is. Well for some of us, it goes far deeper. It is not a coat that is taken on or off at will and it is not whether you wear a head covering or not. It is about respect for G-D and your fellow human beings. The text lacks respect. End of story.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Michael

    Please take what I am going to say like a mature adult.

    I used that example because it was more clear cut than homophobia. (This is not about homosexuality and please do not hijack the post and stop bullying)
    Your point was that archaic homosexual attitudes should be taught because they are in keeping with orthodox belief.
    (Don’t you mean anti? Why are you so incensed if someone does not agree with homosexual behaviour?)

    If you don’t like the example I gave perhaps a better point would have been ‘why stop at not accepting homosexuality when several San Hedrin condone the stoning of gay people, perhaps we should teach that is ok too, since it is in keeping with the orthodox belief that you think should be maintained.’
    (I do not think that there were any Sanhedrin that condoned the stoning of gay people or anyone for that matter, whether they are gay, women, adulterers, murderers or thieves (oh sorry they cut their hands off or is that the Taliban, now they do stone gay people and to be frank believe it or not, I would not and do not approve and would be the first to protest because that is not what I condone for any person or animal or whoever in this world. Nasty business.)

    I’m not saying all this to disparage Judaic belief, the reason I brought up homosexuality in the first place is the real people who suffer from close-minded views are the kids like S.Z.
    (How much do you care for kids like S.Z, really or are you using her to make a cheap point?)

    She has a clear passion for something that can bring her a lot of joy and Scopus should be helping to cultivate those passions, teaching her to find her own way in life, not pretending and door that doesn’t lead to the strictest religious life doesn’t exist. The weird part of all this is Scopus has dancing available for students, it has plenty of opportunities outside the realm of the most religious Jewish sects, why the Rabbi decided to remove a book that celebrate those opportunities.

    (You have got to be kidding me, Scopus dancing??? Dreadful, dreadful, I mean how dare they have dancing in a secular school oh , oh deary me, deary me, how dreadful, pass me the water, oh oh oh I think I am going to faint… dancing, dancing dancing, oh my G-D.
    I want to let you into a little secret Michael, you must not tell anyone though. Promise you won’t tell anyone? And they also have dancing at Yeshiva on happy occasions and sometimes at shules other than at Simchat Torah when people dance all night. Can you imagine that? These ‘repressed, uptight’ Charedim actually do dance. Isn’t that a shocking piece of news? Hummmm

  • D G says:

    Scopus Graduate,

    By your own admission you’ve not read the book, and are making judgments about it based on a thread where people hold extremely partisan views about its contents.

    Reading through this thread, I can only imagine what kind of image you have in your head as to the contents of this book. As a rational adult, you must understand that it’s unlikely that Penguin published a vicious attack on Judaism to warm reviews from dozens of critics.

    I’m not going to pretend that reading Dancing in the Dark endeared the Charedi characters in the book to me. However, it is ironically the utterly paternalistic attitude on display here with this ban that is the most egregious fault of the books Charedi characters in my eyes.

    Further, as has been admitted above, nothing in the book is unrealistic to the point of being impossible or even improbable. No one has yet been able to successfully argue that being a girl with a passion for ballet dancing in a Charedi community wouldn’t be an extremely difficult position.

    There’s a criticism that Dancing in the Dark didn’t do enough to balance Ditty’s trials and tribulations with the ‘wonders’ of a Charedi households togetherness and purity. Setting aside for a moment that most people would find the notion of comparing family lives naive and offensive, one has to ask oneself, is that really the perquisite for not being banned from the Scopus library? Is anyone under the illusion that there wouldn’t be three hundred books with those messages surrounding Dancing in the Dark on the Scopus shelves? Are we assuming that Scopus children only read one book a year, and if so, isn’t that a far bigger concern?

    Keep in mind, it’s not that Scopus didn’t buy the book. Had Mount Scopus simply chosen not to purchase the book, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. However, in this case, the library staff (those paid and qualified to make the decision) purchased multiple copies, only to be big-footed by the Rabbi.

    Rabbi Kennard certainly had the ‘right’ to make this call. In fact, to some extent I accept the argument that it’s his job to do so. However, much as he has the right to make the call, we in the broader community have the right to criticize his decision. If the controversy stirred up over this issue brings even a moments pause to the next religious leader as they decide whether to ban a book, progress will have been made.

    – Dmitry

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Sorry it left out that Beth Rivka has dancing at the school for girls. Shhhh don’t tell anyone!

  • D G says:

    Ms Leeds,

    I feel you are equating respect with veneration. The book is respectful of Charedim but does not treat them or their way of life as beyond being incompatible with one particular little girls dream. It _is_ possible to be a Charedi and be unhappy. It is possible to feel stifled by the conservatism of a heavily religious community. A work that says otherwise may be more palatable to the Charedi community, but it’s far less honest.

    Also with the greatest respect, the constant references to how victimized you are and how everyone from the AJS to Galus Moderators to apparently secular atheist Jews are out to get you are beyond tiresome.

  • Percolated Coffee says:

    Extending S.Z’s argument, one can only imagine if the book was about the Charedi community’s reaction to a person coming out as gay. A small sample of that type of scenario can be found in this true story from New York about a man called Danny:

    http://www.dayenu.org.au/rl2008.08danny.htm

    Would *that* book be allowed in the library?

    Oh, and a good name for such a book would be “Black Becomes a Rainbow” but that title is taken.

  • Marky says:

    A.Kahn writes: “how is a Jew defined”

    Without Torah there would be no Jews or Judaism. So whatever is a Jew or Judaism according to the Torah. Any changing of that is like j.c., the holy cow, hindus and Seikhs and the cannibals in New Guinea with the bones through their noses, being defined as Jews or Judaism.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    @ D.G.comment

    ‘is possible to feel stifled by the conservatism of a heavily religious community.’ yes I would agree that it is not for everyone, just as some lifestyles are not for others. I will not be more specific here because it will start another vilification session.

    I quite agree that we need to take a balanced viewpoint. My posts are often heavily moderated and selectively as the moderators do not want to have the whole story presented but only partially. It is a trick of the trade used when you want to defame and destroy someone. You only take selective sections of posts and out of context. That proves readers with a slanted viewpoint which is what this book has done magnificently.
    Why is it ok to bash the Orthodox continually, especially Charedim and not see that in many areas they had valid points.

    I feel threatened by people who feel I should be walking around half naked, dropping swear words into my conversations,sleeping with anyone who feels like sleeping with me (it is rude to refuse advances I was told by someone because that is a form of discrimination) otherwise I am depicted as an ‘uptight religious nutter.’ I think it is liberating and a freedom to own yourself and value yourself enough as a human being not to have to succumb to that sort of emotional and psychological blackmail and to value yourself enough and your privacy not to have to give in to the immoral corrupt social mores of today’s contemporary world. I am glad I am ‘behind the times’ so to speak.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    @ D.G

    You really make me laugh with this post. What does AJS have to do with this and did I even mention them or Atheist secular Jews? No! So stop making up things about me to fit your perspective of me. You do not know me but seek to project your own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity on to me. You are probably a moderator seeking to further alienate people from me by misrepresenting me and stating this and then denying my right of reply.

    ‘Also with the greatest respect, the constant references to how victimized you are and how everyone from the AJS to Galus Moderators to apparently secular atheist Jews are out to get you are beyond tiresome.’

    I do not perceive myself as a victim, but your pathetic attempts to make me one are indeed laughable. I am just smart enough to see through them for what they are. If anything you are a victim of your own self hating projections. Get over it and get on with it. Stop looking for people to hate under rocks or pebbles. You will develop a complex if you are not careful.
    If I could deal with an ex husband who was a charismatic, manipulative self hating Jew and who did have a problem with the fact that I was a gioret,(in retrospect I believe he thought no born Jewish woman would want him and therefore he had to settle for a ‘goy’ but secretly resented the fact and took that out on me as if it were somehow my fault. If I could deal with that I can deal with your insideous insinuations and those of others)
    I can deal quite competently with you and your hatred of me thank you very much.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Scopus Graduate:
    “I assumed the reason was because of the way it portrayed religious Jews as fanatical, archaic and repressive (I haven’t read the book but from the posts here it seems like this is what the book did).”

    As D G points points out:
    “No one has yet been able to successfully argue that being a girl with a passion for ballet dancing in a Charedi community wouldn’t be an extremely difficult position.”

    From S.Z’s own experience:
    “I’m a Jewish 16 year old who does ballet, and i felt this book was AUTHENTIC and whether it put the charedi community in a bad light or not, how else would one expect the community to react when if a young Jewish charedi decided to become a ballet dancer?!?!”

    My point was simply that whether or not it the book represented the Rabbi’s experience of a Charedi community he isn’t a female who aspires to be a ballet dancer. The entire purpose of fiction is to allow us the ability to step into someone elses shoes and experience life from their perspective. A woman growing up in a Charedi community whose life ambition was to be a ballet dancer would be to find it ‘archaic and repressive’, in the same way it would be to a homosexual person or someone who was really passionate about evolutionary biology. The book discusses the tension between different parts of Ditty’s life and her journey of self-discovery. As i said several times in previous posts the story is about her EXPERIENCE of being within a community that has certain expectations, whether you think those expectations are right or not, no-one posting in favor of removing the book has said that this experience wouldn’t be realistic. Frankly, if you think that paints the community in a bad light it says more about the community than the author because the one thing everyone agrees on here is that a Charedi community wouldn’t be happy if a girl within that community wanted to be a ballet dancer.

  • D G says:

    Hello everyone,

    I write this in the few moments I have left before they come for me.

    Already I can feel them drawing closer, their black clad forms leaping from roof top to roof top.

    I was one of them, but I failed in my mission and now they come for me.

    Galus Moderators.

    Unstoppable, merciless and legion, they form just one small part of a global conspiracy. A conspiracy to silence Ilana Leeds.

    We are but one link in a huge apparatus that spans the globe, dedicated to this goal. Our agents at the Australian Jewish News intercept her articles, our secular progressive Jewish allies disagree with her positions on the forums. Our moderates, pour over her every post in an effort to make her look bad, and thus keep the sheer power of the truth she scribes from cleansing the world of evil.

    The Galus Moderators come for me now, for I have, through my foolishness exposed myself as a member of their dread cult. I can only hope that in the few moments I have before I am dragged off to the fortress where they plot the demise of her for being a “jumped up ‘goy'” I am able to warn the world of this great danger.

    OH GOD THEY’RE HERE!! NOOO…

  • rachmonis please gentlemen says:

    well gentlemen. that may be so. so maybe show some rachmonis here, and let it go.

  • Anonymous says:

    To Ilana,

    You may not perceive yourself as being a victim but whne I read many of your posts I perceive you to be a person who is a victim.

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Michael,

    Again, I appreciate your comments but disagree. Just because an experience is possible, does not make it fiction necesarily appropriate for a school library. I think the decision Rabbi Kennard made is certainly not clearly right or wrong and any body who thinks the issue is clear cut does not appreciate the difficult role of a principle. All I ask you to do when considering the question is imagine it was a different community that was portrayed in this light – for example a child being raised by homosexual parents and the disgust he faced when seeing his parents together, the “unnaturalness of it” etc. Certainly such an experience is quite possible – nevertheless I do not believe that such literature has any place in a school library. In a public library yes, in a University library yes, but not in a School library.

  • Michael Susman says:

    I get your point Scopus Graduate and to some extent I agree but there’s a very key difference. If it was a school where every kid there grow up with homosexual parents I would think trying to help them make sense of that experience would be priority #1. I guess the point i’m trying to make is that it would be naive to think that there aren’t several scopus students who feel like their Jewish family is limiting their opportunities in life and have difficulty reconciling the expectations of their parents and their own path to discover themselves. As I said in previous posts (and D G also pointed out) no-one has said that Ditty’s experience is by any means not representative of the reaction of a Charedi family so I simply don’t get the logic of trying to pretend that tension doesn’t exist. I think it shows a lack of respect to the students to think that they can’t look at an experience (that everyone here concedes may be similar to what several students experience) and decide for themselves how they feel about it. As has been mentioned several times it’s not like the book was prescribed reading and the librarians actually suggest an insert explaining why the Rabbi didn’t feel it was representative so it’s not exactly like it was being forced upon students.

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    I think we can just agree to disagree. I understand your points and I think they are certainly one valid side of the picture. However, I still believe the Rabbi’s decision is reasonable and understandable.

  • jr says:

    I find it bemusing and somewhat hypocritical that Ilana Leeds in her very interesting life story, did to her mother/parents in real life what Ditty did in Robyn’s work of fiction i.e. disobey her mother’s wishes in order to pursue her own life choices.

  • Nathan Cherny says:

    Having recently read Dancing in the Dark, it appears to me that Rabbi Kennards comments decribing its as a “a polemic which gives an inaccurate, one-sided and fanatically negative presentation of Jewish life, with a clear agenda of disengaging young Jews from Judaism” are a gross misrepresentation.

    The book is prefaced with a disclaiemer that the issues depicted in the book are not typical of the Jewish world, or even of Haredi scociaty.

    The plot adressess the conficts beween the expectations of religious family life and personal aspirations. The plot explores the legitmacy of seeking out a persaonal path, when that path may be different from that of ones family. It plays out the issues of divided loyalty to family, to traditions and to self.

    I live in Jerusalem and work closely with the Haredi world on a daily basis. I have no romanticization about the many idiosynratic cultural norms within the various heterogenous sects. I concur with the author in her inputation that many of these idiosyncratic norms are opressive, sometimes cruel and potentially harful.

    These criticisms are valid. They are part of the divide that exists between varous streams of Judaism today.

    Ultimately, the decsion by young people as to how Jewish or how observant they will be will be a deeply personal decision.

    Exersises in thought control, such as the banning of books will likely alienate rather than inspire the students of Mt Scopus to participate in rich Jewish lives.

  • Media Mutt says:

    Mazal Tov Robyn, you’ve made page eight of the Jewish News this week.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    @Anonymous

    To Ilana,

    You may not perceive yourself as being a victim but whne I read many of your posts I perceive you to be a person who is a victim.’

    Excuse me while I continue to roll on the floor laughing myself silly because you have just proved my point. It is your perception of me as a victim that is a problem.
    Get over the pity syndrome and you will see that I am a real person, content in who I am and where I stand religiously (although I would like to be even more stringent in my adherence to Halacha and performance of mitzvot and improving my character because to be truthful that is what real religious Judaism is about. I also by the same token recognise that there are many paths to G-D and we are where we are supposed to be for a reason.
    People like my ex and others who tried to dissuade me from my performance of mitzvot and religious practice are the ones who need help. They are the ones who denigrated me for being who I feel comfortable being and who could not cope with the fact that someone from my background would ‘choose’ to be someone they felt uncomfortable being.
    I am quite happy and even though there are things like my financial situation and work situation I would like to change, (and I am working on it) I am comfortable and secure in the knowledge that Hashem’s gives us all lessons in life that we need for our character development and the refinement of our neshomas. There are many gilgulim and this is only one of them. We need to focus on the tasks given to us in this life time and do them to the best of our ability. Life is too short to have lasting quarrels with others over matters of no consequence.
    We need to work at our own self perfection and to insinuate that someone is a victim just because they do not live according to the laws as seen from your personal perspective is absurd.
    You are only a victim if you choose to be. Others can try and make you a victim, they can slander you, bully you, demote you, denigrate you and fire you, but eventually if you are patient and work hard, Hashem gives you justice. It just might take a while.
    I taught kids to defend themselves against prejudice whether they were indigenous, gay, just plain different individuals whatever, because who you are as a person is more than colour, race, gender, culture. It boils right down to ‘loving your fellow being as yourself’ which is in effect a call to love yourself, because if you can’t love yourself, how then are you able to love others and that love is not dependent on individual preferences for sexuality or physicality. It goes much deeper and is on a spiritual level of identifying the aspect of our own humanity in self and others, if you understand what I mean and honouring it.
    Shalom and have a great day. My ‘HOT’ writing of thoughts for the day are at an end. Now to work or study.

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    Has anyone read this book? Seems to have gotten very favourable reviews and sounds like it provides a more realistic and balanced expression of a girls experiences in a frum community (negative as well as positives).

    http://www.amazon.com/Hush-Eishes-Chayil/dp/0802720889/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289440933&sr=1-1

  • frosh says:

    Scopus Graduate,

    Once you factor in postage, you’ll find that book costs less if you buy it from here

    http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780802720887/Hush/?a_aid=GalusAustralis

    ;-)

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    @ Scopus Graduate
    do you want my copy? I will leave it at Cafe Amalaya for you. Pick it up from there. Just leave me a name to leave it for. Make it up if you like.

  • D G says:

    @Scopus Graduate

    Based purely on the synposis, it’s hard to understand how you feel that book paints a nicer picture of Charedim…

    Unless you’re off the opinion that the idea of conservative parents not letting a girl dance is more terrifying than a community coming together to suppress allegations of incestuous rape…

  • Scopus Graduate says:

    D G,

    If you have a look at the reviews and the Authors note in the book, you will understand. I am not sure if it paints only a wonderful picture of charedim (and I don’t think that would be realistic either) but rather paints them in a more balanced way. Obviously, it raises the problems she faced in that community but also describes the community as warm, generous and very charitable. All communities (our community as secular Jews, the mizrachi community, charedi community and basically every community that exists) have positive attributes and negative ones. The book is autobiographical and therefore appears to be a lot closer to the mark than dancing in the dark. But by all means, read the books and judge for yourself.

  • D G says:

    @Scopus Graduate

    You really confuse me.

    You’re willing to base your opinion of one book based on online reviews, but not of another? I also don’t understand what you could possibly say about the richness of Charedi family life etc that would make me go, “Oh, well that balances out the concealment of incestuous rape then!” I may be on the fringe here, but a community that unites to prevent a little girl speaking out about incest and rape isn’t going to get a pass from me, no matter how wonderfully together they all feel at the Shabbat table.

    For the record, these were the first couple or reviews for DitD I found on google:
    http://bookworm-megs.blogspot.com/2010/03/review-dancing-in-dark-by-robyn-bavati.html
    http://www.aussiereviews.com/article3111.html
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7948635-dancing-in-the-dark
    http://wordsonpaperya.blogspot.com/2010/11/review-dancing-in-dark-by-robyn-bavati.html

    I literally can’t find a bad review. Nor can I find a single positive review where the reviewer said anything remotely like, “Robyn Bavati paints a horrific picture of terrible culture.” Universally, the reviewers (most of whom appear to be non jews) state that she paints a fascinating picture of a rich culture.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    @ D.G

    That is just the problem D.G. Non-Jews reading that sort of text and taking it as gospel is one of the inherent dangers. At least Chaim Potok was bit more balanced and scholarly although he had quite a interesting errors like the famous double bed.
    You would be surprised at how many misconceptions about Jews and Judaism there is out there in the broader community. Not everyone is open minded and liberal in their approach to differences. I remember sitting in a staffroom and reading the paper in a corner when I got sick of some rather vitriolic anti Israel and anti Jewish sentiments being voiced. So I looked up and joined the discussion by telling them firstly, I was a little offended by some of the comments bandied about in error about Jews and Israel, then gave my opinion for what it was worth and stated that I spoke for myself but my views were in no way representative of the Jewish community as there were a wide range of views from different people as would be in any community.
    I don’t speak for the Jewish community and some would say ‘Thank G-D for that” :-) but I do have my opinion and it is a valid one for which I have my reasons. I don’t ask people to share it, only respect that I have a right to hold that opinion.
    I do not like the book because for me it represents an attitude to the Ultra Orthodox and the Mizrachi community that I feel personally is false and misleading. It would have been better that the book was not published.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Sorry, it is too early in the morning, that should be

    ‘You would be surprised at how many misconceptions about Jews and Judaism there are out there in the broader community.’

    I should really leave posts when I am over tired in the draft section of my files until the morning, when I can edit in the clear light of day.

  • Nadine says:

    hi
    all this publicity good and bad is great for the author. so the rabbi says they wont have 1 copy in the school library but at least 50 people will have gone out and bought the book after all these comments here and in the ajn. so this hoohaa is great for the sales. who needs the library, the author is doing well out of this one regardless!!

  • GG says:

    Ilana Leeds wrote:”This text is fiction from beginning to end”

    Well, duh! That’s the whole point! This book is a novel about young girl who wants to be a ballet dancer. It is not a PR mission for the Chgaredi, and it is not about the Charedi community. The Charedi form the family and religious background against which the girl’s story is played out.

    I have read many kids books about kids who want to dance, or paint, or become something different from their family background.
    Inevitably the family, whether they are Charedi, or stiff-upper-lip AngloSaxons, are seen as unsympathetic because that is part of the conflict in the story, and the centre of the story is the child who wants to achieve their dancing/artistic goal. NOT the Charedi or other characters.

    It seems that, apart from anything else, some people have a lot to learn about the construction of fiction and story-telling.

    I have not read the entire book, but in the portion I did read, the Charedi just came across as -gasp! PEOPLE!. Oh, the humanity!
    And the girl herself came across as someone who was conflicted about her family and the choices she needed to make.

    The last time I checked, Charedi people were human, with all the little foibles that go to make up people (many of who end up in a book to perform a function) not saintly cardboard cutouts.

    If a Charedi girl dates boys wearing immodest dress and then marries a Jewish boy and reverts to religious dress, then that’s one of the pathways of life. Teenagers do deceive their parents, they do hang out with people from other groups but often end up marrying those most like themselves, so this situation in the book is perfectly plausible.

    A work of fiction is supposed to be filled with characters who push forward the storyline, and are ideally interesting. If Charedi want to push a particular view of their community by implying that girls don’t deceive their parents at this very basic level, that there is never a conflict between faith and one’s personal ambitions, I for one would find it incredibly hard to believe.

    Growing up has challenges, and a lot of fiction writers battle with the decision of what to present in their books and how to make it believable. The fact that this book deals with a Charedi background in modern life is one of its point of interest.

    Now I really must finish off those last two chapters…

  • GG says:

    “Why are you defending James Kennard here? He made the comment, and my response was addressed to him. I would expect a response from him, not you. But so be it.

    What James Kennard did not categorically state is that there is no connection between “gays” and child molesters. He wrote “depicting gays as child molesters” and said he would not put a fictional book about this topic on his shelves. The actual statement has the capacity to associate gay men with child molesters.

    You take me for a fool Anthony. I resent that. I find this particular topic most distasteful and unnecessary to discuss.

    I expect James Kennard to state why he felt it necessary to bring the topic of gays and child molesters into this conversation. Any why address it to me? I did not bring up the topic of homosexuality.

    I contributed to this discussion in the hope that I could add some value to it, and somehow I have been made the target of an unwarranted attack.”

    Jeez, Michael, overreact much?
    Are you unfamiliar with the concept of someone using an example to make a point in response to a copmment of yours?
    Are you unfamiliar with argumentation that broadens the scope of a discussion that then return to its original point? That’s what Rabbi K was doing, and you have completely missed the point, choosing instead to create a completely imaginary attack on you.
    How self-centred.

    Incidentally, there have been gay men who have been child molesters. Oddly, enough many men who are NOT gay have been and are child molesters. Women, too have been and are child molesters. Are you saying that a gay man can’t be a child molester? That’s ridiculous.

  • GG says:

    D G says:
    November 10, 2010 at 11:41 am
    Hello everyone,

    I write this in the few moments I have left before they come for me.

    Already I can feel them drawing closer, their black clad forms leaping from roof top to roof top.

    I was one of them, but I failed in my mission and now they come for me.
    Galus Moderators.

    Unstoppable, merciless and legion, they form just one small part of up ‘goy’” I am able to warn the world of this great danger….

    OH GOD THEY’RE HERE!! NOOO…”

    LOL! Fabulous!
    Now you must write a book about an adolescent DG who seeks to escape the entrapment of his tribe the Galus Moderators who do not wish him to become a self-actualising commenter on the web.
    What encryption strategies will he have to devise to be published electronically?
    How will he stave off the inevitable discovery by his cohorts and their disillusionment with his 13 year old self that wishes to become adult?
    And how will he evade his Nemesis the Mistress of Leeds, the sole guardian of the Secret of Encryption that will enable him to escape his past and embrace (but not in a gay way) his golden future????

    Tune in for a thrilling sequel in the not-too distant future.

  • GG, have you heard of “Don’t think of an elephant!” ?

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H
    @ GG maybe you wish they would come for you! Maybe you hope they would come for you. Sadly I doubt anyone will come for you, despite your belief in your own desirabity….
    Do you want me to ring RARA, oh sorry, they only go out to regional Jews or Jews living in far flung reaches of Australia.
    When you stand so far from your fellow observant Jews, only YOU can make the steps that bring you closer. The rest of us, we are all too busy doing the right thing, we don’t have time to chase after you and yours. You have to find yourself for one and bring yourself into the light.

  • GG says:

    Ilana, the “come for you” statement was a quote from DG’s comment.

    Do try to read things properly or I shall have to conclude quite unflattering things about your powers of comprehension.

    Michael Barnett, I am always eager to discover new sayings about elephants, but will require footnotes for this one!

  • GG, read about “Ironic Process Theory”.

    The point I was making, originally, and with this psychological reference, is that it was mischieveous of James to have used the example he did, in the way he did it.

    By way of comparison, how would you feel if, instead of the example that was given, James said this:

    Would Michael be happy for a book of “fiction” depicting Jews as money grubbers to be on our shelves? I wouldn’t.

    I’m sure you can work out why I took exception to what he did.

    To answer your earlier question, by way of reference to this example, anyone is capable of being a money grubber, not just Jews, however there is no evidence that Jews are any more likely to be money grubbers.

  • frosh says:

    Michael,

    If Rabbi Kennard had written that, it would not have bothered me in the slightest

  • Frosh, that was just an example, perhaps a weak one. There may have been a better way to convey my point. Either that or you have a particularly thick skin. Calling Jews money grubbers doesn’t seem to harm people that much though.

    That aside, the more important issue is that there are certain stereotypes that are best not propagated, hence my use of the “elephant” device.

    The harm in propagating these stereotypes is that there are people, such as some who post to this site, who believe them, and then propagate them to their posses, amongst which are people who struggle to understand and reconcile their sexuality because they are led to believe that if they are gay they will become child molesters.

    I need to state, as my point may have been lost earlier, that I don’t feel it was necessary to have a “gay” example used by James in response to my initial comment. I posted a message on here as Michael. I am not just gay. I am many things, and I certainly understand the world in more than just terms of sexuality. I found it objectionable that a distasteful example relating to sexuality needed to be used in this conversation about a topic of book censorship.

    No, I didn’t overreact, as GG suggested. I responded. When people attack Jews, as is the topic in your current piece by Deborah Stone, people respond and at times they fight back. So when people attack gays, in one way or another, I respond, and at times I fight back.

  • Marky says:

    GG writes “I am always eager to discover new sayings about elephants but will require footnotes for this one!”

    I would have thought that elephants have massive FOOTnotes. You can’t miss ‘em..

  • James Kennard says:

    I’ve resisted the temptation up till now to respond, and please note that I am not planning to respond again to anything that will be written hereafter, but I just have to point out to Michael that I DID write

    “imagine a work of fiction about a girl growing up in a real Jewish community (set in a real neighbourhood) which is dedicated to greed and usury”.

    “Greed and usury” is the same as “money-grubbing”.

    James Kennard

  • GG says:

    Marky – only when they’re in the butter.;)

  • GG says:

    Michael B,
    How would I feel about the example you presented here? Completely neutral, as it happens. I disagree that Rabbi K was being mischievous in his presentation of the “homosexual” example, and think you’re making way too much of it. He was simply illustrating a point in a perfectly straightforward fashion.

    I do think it is a pity the DitD book is not in the Scopus library, and do think Rabbi K should have read it before deciding anything about it.

    Many people recommend/criticise books. If it is up to the Scopus principal to select books for the library, or if it is up to him to make the final decision, then he should at least read the book to understand exactly what is being banned/ not stocked.
    That is my only concern.

  • D G says:

    I suspect a lot of Galus readers might be wondering why those of us posting on the DitD side of this issue are bothering. Certainly I don’t think any of us is optimistic enough to believe that Rabbi Kennard will reverse his decision.

    While I can’t speak for anyone else, I would describe my own goals as threefold:

    1. Highlighting the fact that the banning of a book is not a decision to be taken lightly.

    I can’t claim to be intimately aware with Rabbi Kennard’s thought processes prior to the banning of this book, but it certainly appears as if this was not a decision treated with adequate gravitas.

    By all appearances, Rabbi Kennard overruled the library staff and banned DitD without having read it. To do so to a critically lauded book, already enthusiastically green-lit by the librarians whose job it is to make these decisions is an extraordinary move and should not be made without extensive consideration.

    One could of course argue that Rabbi Kennard has far more important things to do than spend time debating and pondering the banning of such a book. I agree wholeheartedly and invite the Rabbi to leave these decisions in the hands of the librarians he employs to make them in the first place.

    2. Arguing against the precedent of banning a text because it portrays bad Jewish characters, rather than the Jewish character as bad.

    A number of posters above, and to some extent Rabbi Kennard himself, have argued that DitD has no place in the Mount Scopus library because it sends the wrong message. What troubles me here is that the book does not attack Judaism as a whole or even the Charedi lifestyle directly (though it does challenge it, in places), but rather depicts how the traditional rebelliousness and quest for individuality of an adolescent might look within the context of one particular family and community.

    DitD is a coming of age story that takes the side of the protagonist against conservative traditionalism. That’s a theme to be found in innumerable tales, many of them proudly displayed by the Mount Scopus Library. I protest the notion that writing a book in which a person has a negative experience within Judaism is the same as writing a book which is negative about Judaism.

    I would argue that a school as frankly secular as Mount Scopus cannot follow the closed community route of attempting to censor or conceal. If we accept that Mount Scopus has a duty of care to the Judaism of its students, then we should push for more books like DitD in the Scopus library and more discussion, debate and analysis. Equipping students with the intellectual tools to incorporate stories of negative experience into their broader understanding of Judaism from an early age seems the better course. If you must, consider it a form of immunization.

    3. Praising a book of young adult fiction that is, by any standard, an infinitely more thought provoking work than the Twilights or Vampire Diaries that currently haunt (pun intended) the young adult shelves of bookstores and libraries Australia over.

    DitD is, despite what some above have written, an excellent work that’s been warmly received by critics and the public. It’s well written, well paced and even includes a twist or two. Further, it’s the debut work of a Jewish author. Setting aside issues of ethics and propriety, banning it is a shame from a purely literary perspective.

  • Confused says:

    D G I don’t really know what you expect of people who pride themselves on never having passed Kohlberg’s first stage of morality development (this normally happens before the age of 10) and are therefore clearly incapable of the critical thought required to understand this issue.

    [Eds: Please don’t comment using multiple pseudonyms within a single thread. It creates the appearance of a false concensus].

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    @ GG sorry GG I only skim here as this is light stuff without too much weight. I stand corrected. I realise that it was DG who wants the men in black or is it white coats to come for him. May all his dreams be realised in a kosher way.

    I do not have time for more than flying visits to the humour pages.

  • nm1955 says:

    Rabbi Kennard, For 8 years I lived in Ripponlea and I was a neighbor to the charedi community. At first I was ignored, but perhaps because I was friendly, interested in Judaism and could speak Yiddish fluently, they started to talk to me. I am a teacher and soon some of them paid me to tutor their children in basic numeracy and science. I became a guest to many families for Shabbat and Yom Tovim and although I myself am not religious I found many of them to be truly warm.

    Children often confide in their tutors and over the years I was witness to many charedi teenage rebellions, tantrums, hidden television sets being found, pages ripped out of text books, bans on radios and newspapers and so on. At first it surprised me, but I thought … live and let live.
    Consequently, Rabbi Kennard, it was abundantly clear from the first page, that Ms Bavati’s book was an authentic portrayal of many families in the charedi community. The story was fictional, but not the community. So, why all the fuss? Why the concern?

    You are correct, of course Rabbi Kennard, that some of the pivotal characters in the story are portrayed negatively, however in any story of a teen rebellion or any coming of age story, one would expect there to be ‘the strict parent’ character. With every such story there are ‘difficult’ people. For you to suggest that Ms Bavati’s book is ‘bad’ because it portrayed many charedi characters in a negative light, is simply not to understand that what makes a good story is the conflict caused by these objectionable characters. Or are you unaware that it takes all takes all types to make a community, good and bad? I don’t think that Ms. Bavati set herself up to “represent all sides’ of the charedi community, telling a story set in this community. I found her portrayal of these fictional characters and the dilemmas they faced to be most sensitively written.

    If you are concerned about protecting the reputation of the charedi, Rabbi Kennard, don’t bother! They are proud of their lifestyle choice and beliefs so you don’t need you to defend them. Many would disown their own daughters for much less than what Ditty did and would tell you so themselves.
    Or are you saying that a charedi girl can have no passion for the secular Arts? You don’t believe that these children are so puritanical that they cannot possibly dare lie to their parents over a secular pursuit, do you? Are you suggesting that they ‘are different’ to the rest of us? A charedi girl cannot chose for herself? A religious girl cannot choose to leave the religion?

    Or is it that what you cannot accept Rabbi Kennard that the children of Mt Scopus College could possibly think for themselves? “Oh my goodness! My students will read Ms Bavati’s book and they will all run out and become goyim or even worse dancers!” I thought as a principal you should be promoting the intelligence of the students in your school, not portraying them as fools who cannot think for themselves. I don’t need to remind you that Mt Scopus College students are achieving astronomical ENTER scores and that these students have exceptional clear thinking skills.
    Or are you questioning the intelligence of the parents, Rabbi Kennard? We all admit that the vast majority of parents of the students are not observant and that they would have no concern at all over this book. Even the majority of the religious parents would have no problems with their children reading this novel.

    Or do you question the intelligence of your staff? You certainly have insulted the poor librarian. How embarrassed she must have felt when she discovered that you questioned her ability to choose an appropriate novel. After all she had simply actually read the book and gone to listen to the author speak before judging it. Fancy being so naïve to actually read a book, before judging it suitable or not! My goodness how did those students of your college get those high ENTER scores with that misguided librarian at the helm? She obviously had been moved enough by the book to order five copies for the school library as well as invite the author to speak to a year nine class. How did you chose such irresponsible staff?

    What I don’t understand is why you took the extraordinary length of speaking to Ms. Bavati before even reading her book? Or is it your rule to contact every new author your school librarian recommends, even before you have read the book yourself? “Who was the mystery informant who ‘tipped you off’ to this ‘bad’ book? Why don’t you not reveal this influential person who is making curriculum decisions, such as choice of library books, ahead of your own librarian.

    When you debated Ms Bavati at the college, all the students and the librarian reported that you had agreed that ‘they should read the book and decide for themselves’. You then instructed the librarian not to put the book on the shelves.
    To say that the book was never on the shelf and therefore you haven’t ‘banned’ it is simply semantics. Who are you trying to fool? Are you insulting us, the readers now? To insist that the book is not ‘banned’, but that the five books your librarian bought can simply not find their own way to the shelves is simply a distortion. Did she buy them to decorate her office?

    I’ve been pondering your motive Rabbi Kennard. … What could it be? Hmmm…
    A powerful religious member of the school board influenced you?
    Embarrassment? Do you feel this book exposes the true nature of the religious community?

    Overreaction?

    Arrogance?

    I don’t know Rabbi Kennard, but what I am sure is that many charedi girls are reading “Dancing in the Dark” secretly in their bathrooms right now.
    Censorship never works!

  • Marky says:

    Boy!! To publicly hang, cut and quarter someone and accuse him of possibly this and that just because he didn’t allow just ONE book-which is freely available for whoever wants to read it-is ridiculous.

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B’H

    Thanks Marky took the words right out of my mouth or from my pen

    @nm1955

    I don’t know Rabbi Kennard, but what I am sure is that many charedi girls are reading “Dancing in the Dark” secretly in their bathrooms right now.
    Censorship never works!

    Yeah they will probably find it is not such a good book and put it to good use wiping their bottoms with it when they have finished. They would not want their parents finding them reading such silly literature. There are plenty of better books.

  • Michael Susman says:

    Like yours Ilana?

  • D G says:

    In any discussion surrounding literature, I find it’s useful to note which side of the debate is implying that the work in question is best used as toilet paper.

    Likewise it’s useful to note which side is attempting to rephrase the question as some kind of personal attack on an individual, so as to then rise that individual’s defense with the full force of righteous indignation.

  • melina smith says:

    It’s a right- wing school and teachers know, that it has been that way for years with all due respect to the rabbi that’s why it’s a business with all the other religious schools in Melbourne.

    Now please would he consider watching “The Slap” when it is shown on the a..b.c next year as it portays the ethnic middle- class of Melbourne that includes the Jewish diaspora.

    That is one to watch out for! Ouch!

  • melina says:

    by the way this is a cool blog along with the “sensible jew” site that has paved the way for progressive judaism whatever that means this day and age!!!

  • Marky says:

    You need to use comma’s, so we can understand. Yes, there is one at the begining of your first post, but even that seems out of place.

  • melina says:

    Thanks Marky ,internet and time restraints don’t allow me the luxury otherwise. sorry about that!!!

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