The recent hype surrounding the Nechemya Weberman trial brought to light a term that I had certainly never come across in my conversion studies: Mesirah, the Rabbinic prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to non-Jewish authorities that will likely result in excessive punishment. A brief overview of Jewish history puts this ban in its proper context; if another Jew stole from you, would you report it to a Roman or a Russian, or would you let the Rabbis handle it? In the present-day United States, with a judicial system built largely on Jewish principles, it gets more difficult to justify hushing up illegal activity, particularly when the victims are a community's most vulnerable members.
One of the many revolutionary ideas that the birth of Judaism introduced is the concept of linear time. The surrounding polytheistic cultures based their beliefs off of nature, which included time. History, they conjectured, must go in cycles, just as seasons do. This belief represented not only a limited understanding, but a limiting one; why seek to improve anything if everything will just stay the same anyway? I'd even be so bold as to argue that the progresses of cultures which stemmed from Judaism (the Christian West, the Islamic East) paid tribute to time in continuous form, especially in comparison to the stagnant state of the pagan Native Americans. Most of the modern world references Common Era and Before Common Era, a year zero designated by the birth of a Jewish man. Before then, a calendar depended on whichever part of the world you were in and ruler you were under, as emperors, pharaohs, and kings liked to hit the reset button once they came to the throne.
So why do some Jewish communities insist upon acting as though no progress has been made, as though they are still stuck in the shtetl and the next pogrom could come at any moment? On an individual or collective level, to dwell on the past to an extent that it prevents you from moving forward is a tragedy. And we absolutely must acknowledge that a society which espouses certain Jewish values and ethics, e.g. punishing murderers, protecting animals against cruelty, and awarding monetary damages for injuries sustained, is one in which we should fully participate, not shun.
The second issue I'd like to address is that of Chillul Hashem, a term that was thrown around to decry the embarrassing spotlight that had landed on Orthodox Jews. Such complaining only reminds me of Lindsay Lohan or Kanye West: Why won't the goyim let us be great? Judaism holds that major advancement in technology is a step toward the Messianic Age, but right now we are in the Age of Information. To that end, anything that can be made public will be made public, and it turns out Hashem wouldn't have it any other way. As the Talmud states, "Rabbi Yochanan ben (son of) Beroka said, 'Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret will be paid back in public.'" The much revered Rashi took it a step further and claimed that G-d delivers punishment in such a way that makes evident the desecration committed in private.
The Jews have undoubtedly been victims of persecution since the beginning of, well, time as we introduced it. But if we make "Jews are always victims" the official party line, not only do we misrepresent Judaism and G-d by refusing to take responsibility for our actions (and what, pray tell, is the point of the mitzvot except to own up to our deeds), but we act as though G-d does not exist. As a Jew, I don't believe in coincidences. I know that life is a constant dance between the gift of free will and G-d's omnipotence, and I trust that His Will is always carried out, one way or another. Nechemya Weberman had the opportunity as a Rabbi to bring more light into the world and to make G-d's presence apparent, but he instead chose to commit a heinous act. As the above passage from the Talmud makes clear, the very public trial was not a shanda but a humbling reminder that there is no hiding from G-d. May we, the Jews, the people whose continued existence defies all rational explanation and can only be attributed to the Divine Hand, always remember it.