The Death of Shame

Watching the implosion of Anthony Weiner for the second time stimulates a few thoughts. His attempted run for Mayor of NYC, bound to be aborted in the near future either by himself or by intelligent voters, is painful to watch. His confessions seem strangely detached, read in a bland tone without obvious expression as if he is on emotional auto-pilot. His wife is similarly pained, although she cannot be shocked except by the extent of the dysfunction of the man she married and assumed was normal.
There was a time when non-Jewish women desired to marry Jewish men, assuming that they would be less likely to stray, deviate, drink to excess, beat or exhibit other signs of aberrant, anti-social behavior. Jewish men without any semblance of loyalty to the Jewish people or understanding of their heritage willingly complied and they too sought out non-Jewish women for marriage. The one bright note in the tragic sagas of Weiner and the similarly intermarried, again running-for-office reprobate Elliot Spitzer is that perhaps non-Jews will re-consider marrying Jews, thereby driving down the intermarriage rate. Jewish men do not seem as desirable as they once were; in fact, these two are embarrassments irrespective of their ethnic origin.
What would possess these two individuals to return to the public eye, run for office, and subject their families and themselves to increased scrutiny knowing that they both have…issues? Certainly both feel a compulsion for public service, presuming that they can do what others cannot do. They must enjoy the publicity, the acclaim and even the occasional criticism – all of which make them feel important. But they have to be particularly obtuse not to realize that they are laughing stocks, notwithstanding that both stood (stand) reasonable chances of getting elected to their respective posts. Part of their success is media-driven: both make great fodder for the media beast because their stories are so salacious. Part of their success is attributable to their faith in Americans as a forgiving, even forgetful, people. And part of it traces to something else that is now endemic to American life: the death of shame.
Shame was murdered when morality was reduced to a lifestyle preference that is completely subjective. There was a time when a married, two parent (male and female) family with children was not only the norm of American life but socially desirable. Today, people boast about families existing in all forms, with different configurations and lifestyles on which any moral judgment redounds to the detriment of the putative judge. The other day I walked past two young women talking in a public place, and overheard one saying “she lives with her boyfriend in a house on the other side of…” and kept walking.
I never heard the end of the sentence, but what struck me was that, not long ago and in my own lifetime, no one would talk that way in a public place, and couples living together before marriage would be discussed in hushed, embarrassed tones if it would be discussed at all. It is still that way, thank God, in the world in which I live, but modern culture, its value system and celebration of all that is different and deviant, can be oppressive at times, and perhaps always. Decadence is so normative it is no longer perceived as decadence.
Misfits like Weiner and Spitzer benefit from that non-judgmentalism, always able to trot out spokesmen, celebrities or acolytes to declare that one’s private life is private, should not intrude on one’s public service, and should always remain a private matter between husbands, wives and their paramours. They can count on people saying “let one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and gleefully point to other similarly-situated sinners who have resumed public roles. One would think that, at least for the sake of their wives and children, they would be better advised to slink off to some obscure job with a low profile and focus on what is truly important in life – family, children, values, reputation, and even – if they chose wisely – divine service. Have some shame, at long last!
There is an ongoing debate on whether or not the wives of these degenerates deserve sympathy. On the one hand, they are both strong, intelligent and successful women who are making their choices with the eyes open even if their heads are not held high. On the other hand, they are doing what they can, under extremely trying circumstances, to keep their families together, and that is most admirable. On the third hand, they both benefit from the prestige that attaches to the prominent politician, and may be willing – as the Kennedy wives were – to tolerate a certain amount of indiscretion in order to retain that prominence. Weiner’s wife, long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, certainly has her boss as a role model. I tend to be more sympathetic than not, especially because they will always go through life with the stigma of “wife of so-and-so who…” and that is not a particularly desirable notation on a resume. And surely they know – as Weiner’s wife seem to know now – that a happy ending will be an unlikely and unexpected coda to their marriages.
What has changed? Society used to pay lip service to the morality of the Bible, so that even people who did wrong at least knew that what they were doing was wrong, as in immoral. Now, the only offense is the personal wrong done to the spouse, which is why her support is crucial to the miscreant’s rehabilitation. But as a society we have lost much – innocence, decency, standards and responsibility. Every lowlife can retreat behind the wall of “personal morality,” and then, as has become customary, wrap himself in the warm blanket of “therapy” which transforms the scoundrel into the victim or patient. If only it were sincere.
We were a better society when the private was kept private, when character was a person’s most cherished asset, when a good name was worth more than money, when a person could watch the news with his children without cringing, when dignity and self-pride actually meant something, when moral standards were objective and widely embraced if not always heeded. Those were the days before the television confessionals of misfits became a daily staple, when politicians and public figures would actually balk at answering questions they deemed “too personal,” and decency, loyalty and responsibility were nobler values than personal expression, freedom of choice, and individual happiness. Those were the days; today, even hypocrisy would be a blessing because it presupposes some objective standard of good behavior.
The Talmud (Masechet Sanhedrin 55a) states that after a conviction for the crime of bestiality (still frowned in our ultra-sophisticated, tolerant society – the last remaining barrier!) both the perpetrator and the animal are executed. But why should the animal be executed, the Talmud asks, it is an innocent beast? The answer is that we do not want that animal to “walk in the marketplace and have people say, ‘so-and-so was executed because of what he did to that animal.’”
There is such a concept of moral pollution, even more harmful than the toxic fumes emitted by Chinese factories. It is deleterious to our spiritual aspirations to have constant reminders thrust into our faces of debauchery and depravity. It is even worse when they are Jews who are intermarried, such sorry representatives of the Jewish people in the general world.
The World Street Journal several weeks ago featured the post-scandal life of John Profumo, who threw himself after his personal downfall into charity and good works for the rest of his life. One longs for that sort of dignity.
Is repentance is possible? Of course – after contrition, being again tested and not failing, and after acknowledging the bad behavior and not just regretting getting caught in the bad behavior. That takes years, not months. That takes humility, not the exhibitionism that is almost a prerequisite to political life.
It would also take the reawakening of shame, whose return would be most welcome to our troubled world.

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14 responses to “The Death of Shame

  1. Many years ago, Anthony David Weiner came to my synagogue boiling with hot anger against people who said he is not Jewish. A few years ago, I was told by an Orthodox Rabbi that Anthony David Weiner is not Jewish. One biography I read about Anthony David Weiner is strangely silent about his mother, which leads me to suspect that the accusers were telling the truth. I do not fault Anthony David Weiner for being not Jewish; I fault him for lying about it.

    What an amazing hypocrisy it is for Anthony David Weiner to complain loudly against people who said he not Jewish, and then marry an Arab!

    One little story about Anthony David Weiner that most people have forgot long ago:

    Many years ago, I was discussing the candidates for a local election with a few friends.

    Weeks later, to our great surprise, the winning candidate was not any of the candidates whose names were know to us; the winner was Anthony David Weiner, who none of us ever heard of before, and none of us even knew that he was a candidate.

    We never figured out how famous leading candidates were beaten by a man who we literally never heard of before until after he won the election.

  2. One might become dizzy whirling around in an aphorismic whirlpool, finding themselves stuck somewhere between the old adage, “We’re going to hell in a hand basket” and Alphonse Karr’s famous quote, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” The question floating to the surface might be, has America now become a shameless (even blameless) society or has the degree of its immorality, or at least its indifference, become more apparent due to the stripping away of generational customs and traditions once believed to be repressive and regressive? I.e., we Americans have always had an element of immorality amongst us; only now the perceived shackles of our fathers’ authority, knowledge, and duties have been removed (freely or unwittingly) to engender unrestrictive “openness,” “dismissiveness” and “quasi-tolerance” not only for our betterment, but to our detriment.

    In the early 1960s, Bob Dylan’s protest song, “The Times They Are–a-Changin’” clearly pointed to social and political unrest of the times, although he surely must not have known the actual extent, duration, or type of change that would occur. Later our government instituted massive new social policies, including unprecedented advances in civil rights. One might recall in the following successive years and decades the changes made within the educational and political spheres of influences whereby began the redefining of social standards and norms with new policy guidelines based on “relativism” and “diversity.” Indeed the times they were changing. Freedom from the past, freedom from old social norms, from old moral contracts and from pre-described truths all seemed to be enhanced by the culpable cry of disorientated parents of emblematic disenfranchised families, saying, “Whatcha gonna do; everyone’s doing it.”

    Is repentance possible? As Rabbi says, “Of course – after contrition . . .”
    Perhaps such is possible for one individual at a time, but what about for a nation?

    Hopefully shame is not dead, but only mortally wounded. Perhaps it is those who are responsible for shaming who have died; or at least, who have become fearful of being labeled as “intolerant” or “divisive” . . . hum? We bemoan fatherless families and feckless fathers, but some shame must befall their fathers who rode the wave of modernity rather than adhering to the obligations or their moral duties to rebuke and/or train their sons and daughters in the way that they should go. Of course as some say, “It is always easy to pass blame onto others.” Agreed – But what about shame?
    Again, as Rabbi said, “It would also take the reawakening of shame, whose return would be most welcome to our troubled world.”

  3. I wish I could say that the frum world is so much better. True, the sexual mortality is better. You don’t have open discussions of unwed singles living together. But there’s a different kind of immorality. It’s hard to describe. I would summarize it as “nothing matters but Torah study.” In a certain way, nothing matters to frum people anymore except that. And that is a kind of immorality.

    • You mean “sexual morality,” not “sexual mortality,” although for Weiner it might be both.
      The issue you raise is a different one altogether.

      -RSP

  4. I am not sure I do feel sorry for the wives. A strong wife would make it clear, knowing that her husband has “issues,” and in no uncertain terms that he cannot run for for office and remain married. Although divorce is a sad state of affairs, having one’s family dragged through the mud as your husband does the false penitence for the TV cameras is also very sad indeed.

    Fortunately, I will never have to make such a decision. My wonderful husband treats me like a queen and would never do anything to humiliate me, privately or publicly. And he is entirely uninterested in having public attention. Thank G-d.

  5. Anthony Weiner has some serious, unmanageable, even pathological disorders he has long since lost control of. Even more incongruous and bizarre is the fact that so many people are willing to look the other way and elect someone like him to lead society, write laws, dictate public policy and impact their lives in ways they cannot even imagine. Unfortunately for some of us, this is occurring time and time again with a multitude of public figures and is quickly becoming the norm. To link any aspect of someone’s private life with their public life will certainly result in mean-spirited accusations of hypocrisy and demagoguery.

    The saying that every nation gets leaders it deserves is attributed to a number of great men and women but it was William Cowper who said, “When was public virtue to be found when private was not?” Benjamin Franklin stated, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” I think this is the proverbial handwriting on the wall and a terrifying message we should all take to heart. I hope and pray it’s not too late.

  6. Once again, Rabbi Pruzansky has tackled a difficult societal issue and nailed it squarely on the head. Ko Hakavod, Rabbi. The elimination of shame from our society was a prerequisite for the destruction of the family, which itself was a presrequisite for the triumph of progressivism. After all, how can the progressives “re-educate” all those college students if they show up with strong moral compasses that they received from their parents? In the good ol’ days the Rabbi refers to, there were still perverts, deviants, homosexuals, etc. And, provided they did not break the law and vicitmize others, they were left to behave as they wished. But, and this is a huge “but”, they did it discreetly, in private, and kept it to themselves. They self-marginalized, because they had a sense of shame, of what was and was not acceptable public behavior and speech. Thus, the dignity of society, the importance of the traditional family unit, and the innocence of children was preserved. Our present state is more akin to Sodom and Gomorra than the nation founded by the founding fathers. Sadly, I do not expect a recovery of our sense of shame without some kind of violent and destructive reformation of this country, if at all.

  7. Neither the Rabbi ‘s blog nor any of the comments indicate awareness that this is a POLITICAL MARRIAGE….they are a team, a political team. Huma Abedin is from a Muslim Brotherhood family, she is part of the infiltration project in America. The embarrisment of her Jewish -possibly Muslim convert- husband is not her main agenda, its a minor irritation, as long as she can continue her family/tribe’s infliltration of political structures of the US. Why do you suppose her family would even let her marry a [supposed] Jew?For political purposes. Study up on this, please. Huma Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood princess who even edited an islamic supremicist journal while being the major assistant of Sec of State H. Clinton!

  8. Great, truthful, thorough article on target Rebe!! I definitely feel that the reason for our present society’s mortal decadence is that it has lost SHAME, FEAR, RESPECT…and SELF-RESPECT! All of which brings on their unbearable aggressiveness. Of course, lack of punishment for crimes of any size, even rewarding them in many cases is the main culprit. Meantime….God help us all!!!

  9. t. s. siegel: Good point. However, a “political” marriage implies a legitimate, if underhanded, marriage for political ambition’s sake, like the Clintons. But Huma is much more than a “political” operative. Google it. She is, in all probability, a Muslim Brotherhood operative. No longer able to influence the State Department through Hilary, I believe her present task is to neutralize the last law enforcement agency in the U.S. that still monitors Muslims and mosques, and is not afraid to call Muslim terrorists what they are: Islamic Jihadists. I don’t know if Weiner is wise to Huma’s true nature, and part of her schemes, or not, or if he dismisses it as untrue since, after all, Huma denies it (or, more likely, he does not need Huma to divorce him and become a political enemy). If Weiner becomes mayor, watch for personel changes at the top of the NYPD, and policy changes similar to what the Muslim Brotherhood forced on the FBI, CIA and NSA, rendering their counter-Islamic terror efforts inneffective. The result we be Boston Marathon-style attacks here in NYC. Boston PD had long ago abandoned monitoring mosques and Muslims in Boston, if indeed they ever had done so. The Boston bombers would have had a much larger chance of being stopped prior to executing their attack if they were in NYC. I hope New Yorkers have more sense than to elect this Muslim spy couple, but I doubt it.

  10. I appreciate the power of your prose. Your knife thrusts deep, but that is exactly the way it should be. There is no shortage of conservative commentary, but most of it is very tepid. Society needs to hear your points, and precisely in such crystal-clear, vivid tones.

  11. I dated a Jewish boy one time when I was in college. He had asked me several times for a date before I went out with him, and I turned him down. He spent lots of money on that date. He was furious when I wouldn’t kiss him on our first date, and I felt like he expected me to kiss him because of all the money he had spent on the date!!!! Needless to say we never had another date!!!! I always thought Jewish boys asked girls who weren’t Jewish for dates because they thought our morals were more loose than Jewish girls!!!! I didn’t kiss the boy I later married until our third date, and it was on my parents’ front porch after a fraternity “blanket party” where he and I discussed Einstein’s Theory of Relativity while looking at the stars!!!!

    And this was in the sixties, not the forties or fifties!!!!

    • Hi Charlotte, you did the right thing!!!!!!! Today’s society (starting from the early 60s) is incredibly LOOSE physically and spiritually! However, not only the Jewish boys try to get as much as they can from the girls regardless whether they spend a lot on dates or not. In my time I dated many non Jews who ALWAYS tried too. So, it’s the nature of the beast…..literally! LOL!

  12. Charlotte – I also agree you did the right thing. However, I wish you would not generalize based on your limited experience. Jewish men come in all types. Some are respectful and kind, some are not. Just like, um, people.