The Ethical Dilemma: My Colleague Doesn’t Want Me to Meet His Wife. Why?

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Am I an Anti-Semite? I am an atheist from a Jewish background. When I go through my copy of Freethought Today (the newsletter of Freedom From Religion Foundation), I find myself skimming the “Black Collar Crime Blotter” section (a listing of crimes committed by religious leaders) looking for the Jewish entries—maybe three out of about seventy-five listings each month—and showing the juiciest ones to my wife, who is, alas, a practicing Jew. She says doing this makes me anti-Semitic. Other Jewish acquaintances have called me that or even worse—a self-hating Jew—whenever I take issue with the religion’s beliefs or practices. I don’t in my heart believe that’s true, but then I’m not sure what those terms really mean, so perhaps they do mean me.

—Just Pointing Out Crimes, Not Inventing or Committing Them

Dear Just Pointing,

When you get your alumni magazine, do you zero in on the years you attended and the people you knew, and pay little to no attention to the rest? When you read wedding announcements or obituaries, do you look for names you recognize and ignore the others? This is the same thing: You are picking out the stories you relate to because they are closest to home—the religious home you were raised in and still share with your spouse and people you associate with. I doubt you’ve been spraying swastikas on your wife’s pillow, barring Jews from your social life, or discriminating against them at work, so I don’t think you qualify as an anti-Semite. We’ll get to self-hating in a moment.

I believe these terms aim to chill criticism of things Jewish and tamp down internal disputes—rightly when the criticisms are false, inflammatory or hateful, wrongly when they shut down acknowledgement of genuine issues. Just as the Catholic Church has systematically hushed up reports of pedophiles, there is a code in Judaism that prohibits making incriminating statements to outsiders. It’s understandable that a group with such a history of persecution wouldn’t want to air its dirty laundry (and thereby provide ammunition) to the general public, which according to a recent survey is very anti-Semitic. There are Jewish factions that apply those terms to each other, depending on which side of an argument they are on. And in some extreme sects where members are required to report crimes to their rabbi and not to the police or the U.S. courts, the community will shun those who disobey and speak out about the crimes, while supporting those accused of the crimes (even if they may be guilty).

I think the term “self-hating Jew” is a projection by Jews who are not altogether comfortable with their identity themselves. A self-hating Jew would be someone who was embarrassed by or hid his own Jewish identity and discriminated against others for theirs. Some apply the term to any Jew who disavows Judaism in favor of another religion or no religion, but I disagree. If a Jewish person (or formerly Jewish person) comments on something amiss within the group, that action doesn’t reflect on the commenter (other than demonstrating objectivity) as much as the derogatory label reflects on the one doing the labeling. To stoop to the same juvenile and irrational level, consider “It takes one to know one” and “I’m rubber, you’re glue.”

I’ve never heard of people who blow the whistle on pedophile priest cover-ups referred to as self-hating Catholics, but if a Jewish person argues that synagogues have no right to block public sidewalks in front of their buildings for holiday celebrations, he’s apt to be called a self-hater.

So just take the high road and continue to call ‘em as you see ‘em, and let others call you whatever enables them to turn on you while turning a blind eye to what you’re criticizing. As you note, it’s not just one group that earns entries on FFRF’s Black Collar Crime Blotter. Every group has its predators and frauds. But how the groups address or suppress that determines whether they are interested in cleaning house, or just circling the wagons around their problems while pretending none exist.

Emotional Infidelity? Years ago I met a man through a professional organization who took an interest in me, and since he was big shot in the organization, I was flattered and responsive. He led me to a few opportunities that helped my career, and we became friends who have lunch together a couple times a year. Although I never hid any of this from my husband (who I met and married after meeting this man), I was a bit taken aback when I invited the man and his wife to an event with my husband and me, and he said he didn’t think it would be wise to introduce me to his wife nor for him to meet my husband–didn’t I agree?

That comment made me feel that the relationship was not as platonic or professional as I thought. I really have never entertained any idea of anything more, but I admit I enjoy his lavish praise (of my mind and talent) and I likewise admire him. Now I’m wondering if there is anything wrong with what we’ve been doing. I never thought so before, but I’m uncomfortable that perhaps he has a different perspective, and I feel guilty at the prospect of continuing the relationship.

—Just Lunch

Dear Lunch,

Unlike When Harry Met Sally I absolutely don’t believe that men and women can’t be friends without a sexual or romantic agenda. But if one of the parties begs to differ, then there is indeed at least a one-way inclination toward something beyond a professional or buddy bond. Your friend might be dropping a hint, and your discomfort suggests you are picking up on an undercurrent—one that may be new, or perhaps was there all along and you didn’t notice.

But it could also be as innocent as you always believed. Perhaps his wife has a jealous streak he doesn’t want to trigger, or he projects that your husband might. Perhaps he just likes to keep his life compartmentalized and uncomplicated. What if you all got together and there was friction between you and his wife, or him and your husband, or your husband and his wife? Why introduce unnecessary counterpoint to a perfectly nice little duet?

Even if there is a tiny spark between you, or just from him, is there anything wrong with savoring that? People need their fantasies. If he likes to daydream about how in another life you two might have been a great couple, or if you relish having a man you admire admire you, what’s the harm as long as that spark doesn’t light any fires? If your enjoyment continues to outweigh your uneasiness, carry on. But if it seems anyone is angling toward a different afternoon delight, it’s time to skip these lunches.