Self-criticism

letter-447577_1280

A few weeks ago, Marvin Schick threw out for discussion an incident in Ramat Beit Shemesh where a group of residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh “B” were alleged to have pelted a group of teenagers returning from a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration with eggs and tomatoes.

At the time, I asked myself whether it was permissible for me to feel about another group of Jews who surely see themselves as shomer Torah u’mitzvos that we belong to two different religions. I recalled something that Rav Schach, zt”l, once said about the national religious movement: it distorted the Torah by elevating yishuv Eretz Yisrael above all other mitzvos. And it occurred to me that a similar distortion can take place in the opposite direction as well. Isn’t that what has happened to the Neturei Karta members who spend their Shabbosos at Palestinian demonstrations? Their anti-Zionism has not just distorted, but warped their Judaism beyond recognition to the point where they feel more affinity for the murderers of Jews than for their victims. (Actually I wrote this many years ago in Yated Neeman in response to a news item that the widow of Rabbi Amram Blau, the former head of Neturei Karta, was planning to travel to Iran to offer condolences upon the death of Ayatollah Khomeini.)

Predicably, I’m afraid, the incident in Ramat Beit Shemesh went uncriticized in Israel’s chareidi press. I have in the past been bold enough to criticize members of the community in “B” for protesting Shabbos traffic by sending flaming shopping carts hurtling on to the highway long after the end of Shabbos, but I must confess that I too have never thought of doing so in either of the secular venues in which I write: the Jerusalem Post or Maariv.

Contrast the chareidi response to that of prominent leaders of the national religious world, who are themselves bitterly opposed to the Gaza withdrawal, to the actions last week of some of the more extremist opponents of withdrawal. Rabbi Moti Elon, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel, said, “Whoever in the supposed name of the love for the land is capable of lynching is a murderer, and whoever in the name of the love for the land is capable of placing spikes and pouring oil on roads is a criminal.” Yisrael Harel, a veteran settler leader and Ha’aretz columnist, described himself as unable to sleep after witnessing the savagery displayed by three young men wearing knitted kippot as they threatened to kill an Arab teenager they had overpowered, after a stone-throwing melee between Palestinian and settler youth in Gaza.

Now, of course, the responsible opposition to the Gaza withdrawal had an important incentive to condemn the actions of the radical fringe in the strongest possible language. They are all smart enough to realize that the pouring of oil and spikes on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway and news photos of the attempted “lynch” in Gaza had completely reversed whatever momentum the anti-withdrawal forces had built up. Indeed polls taken after the wide media coverage of these two incidents showed that approval of withdrawal had gone up in response.

Still I could not help but be impressed by the passion with which Rabbi Elon and Harel condemned the actions of those viewed as members of their camp. Their passionate denunciations stand in stark contrast to the complete reluctance to ever criticize “our own” to the outside world that characterizes the chareidi world. (For example, I’m not aware of any chareidi spokesperson who went on record condemning the Kiryat Sefer resident who stabbed three marchers in last week’s homosexual parade in Jerusalem Understandably no one want s to seen to be defending the parade itself.)

Why are we so hestitant to criticize public behavior that damages not only the image of our community but that of the Torah itself ? And not just criticize the behavior but ask what in our world gives rise to it.

Obviously there are many factors at work. An embattled and frequently denigrated community will naturally close the wagons. And no one wishes to provide further ammunition for our enemies. We know from bitter experience that every negative action of a Jew in religious garb will be portrayed as typical of our entire community.

And perhaps we feel so little implicated by certain actions — e.g., throwing stones at motorists on Shabbos — that we feel no need to speak out against those actions. They simply have nothing to do with us. (Do prominent secular Jews feel the need to issue public condemnations every time a secular drug dealer is arrested?)

In this vein, I once heard from Rabbi Zev Leff that the late Telshe Rosh Yeshiva Rav Mottel Katz, zt”l, used to reply to anyone who asked him a question along the lines, “Rabbi, how can you explain a frum Jew who beats his wife?” with a question of his own, “What do you say about a frum Jew who eats pork on Yom Kippur?” When the startled questioner inevitably responded that the latter was not a frum Jew, Rabbi Katz would say neither was the former.

This is a worthwhile arrow for the quiver, but perhaps a little too glib, at least so long as our community does not treat someone who abuses his or her spouse as they would someone who eats pork on Yom Kippur.

No matter how alien we may view certain actions, at the end of the day we are identified by the behavior of every other Jew in frum garb, and not only we but the Torah itself. And that is something that we should keep in mind in calibrating our responses.

Rabbi Elon and Israel Harel recognized this point. Perhaps it is time that we do so as well.

(One disclaimer: I use Cross-currents not to make Olympian statements, but to throw out some thoughts — occasionally half-baked — in order to stimulate discussion that will in turn enlighten me on troubling questions.)

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. Joshua says:

    I would like to thank Jonathan Rosenblum for his piece called “Self Criticism”. I was bothered why he felt obligated to bring a quote from Rav Schach Zt”l that knocked the national religious movement. We are now coming to the period of the “three weeks” which we mourn the destruction of the temple. It is important that we take heart why the temple was destroyed and why it is still not rebuilt. I grew up in America and I dont recall the term charedim being used like it is used here in Israel. I was always taught that one should aspire to be a “ben torah”. People may have had different views and different opinions but he could still be considered a ben torah. Many people are doing outreach to the nonreligious which is very good but I think that if we want the temple to be rebuilt we should as Bnai Torah work together with out knocking one another in the name of religion.

  2. Menachem says:

    Edvallace,

    “None of these quotes are limited to the RBS crowd. They’re barbs aimed directly at the Chareidim, inspired by your experiences with the RBS crowd.”

    We’ll leave your ad hominem attacks on me out of this discussion. Clearly you’re not familiar with the Beit Shemesh community. My neighborhood is bordered by Nachala Menucha and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Just up the hill from RBS B is Ramat Beit Semesh Alef. Within these three different neighborhoods live a broad cross-section of chareidim. Nachalah Menucha is an older more established community. RBS B is a recent transplant of Jerusalem area Chasidim. And RBS A was originally envisioned as a mixed chareidi, daati leumi, chiloni community that is swiftly becoming “black hat” chareidi.

    In these three neighborhoods one has a microcosm of chareidim throughout Israel. Talking to people, both chareidim and not, in other areas of the country the basic trends I outlined are validated.

    The differences between US and Israeli chareidim is well documented, by chareidim themselves. Take a look at a recent article in the Jewish Observer regarding the problems that US chareidim are having adapting to their Israeli communities.

    The recent book bannings, while one of them was centered here, crossed the Israeli chareidi spectrum. Again a nationwide problem that I was able to connect to because I live here and got to know one of the authors.

    And I still stand by my theory that, because the Israeli chareidi population seems to have its agenda driven by its more radical elements, it would be disastrous if they were truly in control of running this country. Yes, this is largely, but not totally, based on my observations and experiences in Beit Shemesh. But like I said I think we have a fairly broad representation in our local chareidi microcosm.

    Again, I beg you, rather than shooting the messenger, deal with the problem.

    Menachem

  3. Edvallace says:

    “I responded to a request for comments about a serious problem in a chareidi community where I happen to live and about events which I have witnessed. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. Being defensive prevents one from even getting to the first step.”

    there’s a world of difference between commenting on a particular community whose actions have not measured up to standards, and painting a broad picture of negativity against an ENTIRE group of people.
    To quote you:
    “One of the differences I’ve found between the US and Israeli chareidim is that the Israeli chareidim are truly fundamentalists.”

    “It’s also the same mind set that can allow some great Rabbis to ban a book all the while not acknowledging the impact the personal life of the author of the book.”

    “Unfortunately, at this point in time the predominant religious group here – chareidim – are in no position to take over the mantle of leadership.”

    None of these quotes are limited to the RBS crowd. They’re barbs aimed directly at the Chareidim, inspired by your experiences with the RBS crowd. That my friend is intolerance [which would explain your need to reassure us about 20 times that you DO love ALL Jews] and Lashon Harrah.

    Unfortunately the RBS crowd [and by that I mean the limited ones who cause the problems] are a problem and one that their Rabbanim struggle with. No one condones, the question is how to best respond. So far, the solutions haven’t worked all that well. It doesn’t mean that anyone agrees with it. It’s not much different than the fact that you don’t react when you sit next to a scantily clad women reciting Tehillin. You don’t condone the dress-code – you realize it’s wrong – but you don’t have a good qay to address it and you choose to see the positive in an otherwise unfortunate situation. I suggest you do the same with the RBS crowd.

  4. Menachem says:

    Edvallace,

    Unfortunately, I’m not reading into anything. The observed actions may be done by “only” a few people. The acquiescence is by a great number. This is implied by Jonathan Rosenblum’s original post. Nobody in that community has spoken out against the continual abuse of people who do not behave and look like them. My Rav and some other Rabbis in greater Beit Shemesh have spoken to the Rabbinic leaders in the chareidi areas and asked them to intervene. The response was basically that they are scared to for fear of repercussions.

    I would have hoped that most people would have seen my examples of the rides and gemachs as figurative not literal. Of course I don’t know anybody who was given a ride one day and burned the flag the next. I know many fine chareidim and I admire much about their religious commitment. (My charedi neighbor sincerely wished me a “Chag Somayach” on Yom Haatzmaut.) However, in general they act as a very cohesive community so it’s not unreasonable to expect tolerance from the very community that asks the rest of us for rides and needs us to spend money in their stores.

    You said the Ramban, “never meant it to be used to broadly paint a negative of Torah observant communities throughout Israel”. Now who’s trying to read who’s mind? Clearly the Ramban directed the interpretation at any and all members of the greater “frum” community to which the shoe fits. Almost by definition, the more behaviorally frum a community appears to be, the more they are susceptible to the Ramban’s admonition.

    Actually, while many leftists within successive Israeli governments have been antagonistic to religious Jews. Overall there has been support both systemically and financially from the government. How else would one explain the flourishing of yeshivot and other religious institutions to the point where, in a relatively short time Israel is once again the world center of Torah learning? Do you actually believe this would have come about without the Jewish state? Most of the food in this country is kosher, maybe not to yours or my standards, but b’dieved it’s kosher. There are army deferrals for men who are learning. There are deferrals for frum women. Start a new community and the government gives you money to build a shul and mikva. Yeshivas are funded by the government as public schools are in other countries. The list is long, the kibbutz galiyos its resulted in is not a thesis but a fact.

    I’m neither frustrated nor embittered. As I said I was happy to find a niche here religiously which didn’t exist for me in the States. I am in awe of this place and the people who live here. I care about all Jews and if anything I’ve learned to be more tolerant here. You only once have to be sitting on bus near a scantily clad woman who is deeply concentrating on reading tehilim from her well worn sefer to understand why. However, neither am I blind to the problems in each “camp” or community. It’s not like a showed up in a forum where they were discussing how to garden petunias in Nebraska to criticize a group of Jews. I responded to a request for comments about a serious problem in a chareidi community where I happen to live and about events which I have witnessed. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. Being defensive prevents one from even getting to the first step.

    With love of Israel, my fellow Jews, and even you Ed. :)

    Menachem

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Menachem,

    An impressive attempt, but the person to whom I referred was attending a Rav Kook-style school, and describing the attitudes of the teachers there as being the exact duplicate of what they always said describes the charedim (as you do). The individual had previously attended charedi schools (and left for other reasons) and found their expressed attitudes towards other Jews to be significantly more open and welcoming than those of the Rav Kook school. Obviously your mileage may vary, but you cannot claim that your personal experience is a trend while yennem‘s is an exception.

    Your comparison of a charedi government to the Taliban is as odious as it is obviously false — the elected mayor of Jerusalem is charedi, for example. You seem to have a boulder-sized chip on your shoulder about charedim; there’s plenty to criticize fairly, but that will be lost if that fairness is not maintained.

    Nachum,

    No, I haven’t “heard of charedim kidnapping kids to make them religious.” Because it doesn’t exist. What has happened (in perhaps two cases) is that 15-year-olds have run away from their homes because their parents would not tolerate their decision to become observant, and were forcing them to violate their newly-developed religious convictions. They ran away of their own accord and certain individuals (wrongly, in my opinion) sheltered them rather than encouraging reconciliation.

    In this context it would be worth noting that Israel’s Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism runs an organization (called “Hillel” in recent years — but is now absent from their web site) that, at least in its early days, specialized in encouraging and welcoming teens leaving charedi homes to become secular. The organization would shelter these individuals even if there was no evidence whatsoever that their families would coerce them to observe Jewish law (outside of, say, violating the Sabbath in front of their siblings) had they remained at home. It would take some work to find, but an article in the Jerusalem Report from 1991 or 1992 describes the founding of this organization along with interviews with teens contemplating or post-departure from charedi life, identified only by first name so that their families wouldn’t find them. Please, if you will, find me a charedi organization devoted to encouraging teen runaways, much less kidnapping babies.

    Sholom,

    The man claimed to the media that he stabbed marchers “on orders from G-d.” So on the one hand, we have an individual whose attorney’s first recourse will likely be an insanity defense, and it looks like that argument has a pretty good set of legs. On the other, we have an organized and sophisticated campaign of kidnapping and lying that went on for years, and affected dozens of families. Is there a rationally-defensible comparison to be made here?

  6. Shimshon says:

    I am in concurrence with Moshe, in comment 3. The media, as I am sure Mr. Rosenblum is all too aware, intentionally distorts and misleads in its reporting, in order to make sure events fit their agenda, IF THE EVENT EVEN HAPPENED. In the case of the “lynching,” distortion was the order of the day.

    However, in the case of the oil and spikes, it is not even clear that this happened at all. No pictures. No names of those who’s tires were damaged. No accidents, even though supposedly 20 or more cars were affected (and if you know how spikes work, you know a HUGE QUANTITY would need to have been used for that many punctured tires). Later, reporters were supposedly paged by the alleged perpertrators or their representatives. They didn’t claim to be in opposition to the expulsion, or part of some organization (that would most likely be a government front). No, they claimed to be “chabadnikim!” (I don’t remember the exact article, but it was on Arutz 7). This screams “government fabrication” along with willing journalistic stooges. Yeah, if I were to do that, I would just call reporters and say, “I’m a Chabadnik.” How likely is that?

  7. Sholom Simon says:

    R Yaakov Menken said: “You will never, in a million years, find a level of charedi “fundamentalism” that rises to the toenails of that—yet you praise the secular government?”

    What about the man who stabbed three marchers?

  8. Edvallace says:

    Menachem,

    I stand in awe of your ability to read so much negative into the actions of a few people who may have rubbed you wrong.
    “However, cynically viewing the gemachs as merely a “mitzvah” and not something done to better the world and the relations between people these fundamentalists are able to detach the act of giving from the recipient to which its being given.”
    How do you know what they’re thinking? You admit that there are hundreds of Gemach’s for everything, yet all of Gemach owners are cynically reflecting the viewpoint you purport?

    “Or one day the chareidi in RBS “B” will plaintively beg for a ride up the hill and the next day he’ll steal the Israeli flag off the very same car.”
    I challenge you to find me two examples of this behavior – not alleged – but proven.

    ” To put in the words of Ramban on parshas Kedoshim, these chareidim are becoming menuvalim bershus Hatorah;”

    To quote the words of the Ramban in this context is the greatest act of Naval B’Reshus HaTorah that can exist. He never meant it to be used to broadly paint a negative of Torah observant communities throughout Israel.

    “The secular democracy we have has allowed anyone and everyone to feel comfortable returning to our land and thus Eretz Yisroel has regained its position of the world center of Yiddishkeit.”
    I hate to break it to you, but the the secular govt. has only very reluctantly allowed religious Jews to come to EY, they have thwarted efforts to promote Torah on any significant level since the inception of the state. They have allowed tens of thousands of non-Jews to mix in the population as well. So much for your Kibbutz Galiyus thesis.

    As someone who moved from the US to EY, I can empathize with your feelings of frustration at the incredible difference in mindset and action between American and Israeli Jews [all of them – not just the chareidim]. It’s a far cry from the idyllic scene painted in the Aliya booklets and spoken about in the Young Israel’s around the ocuntry. It’s hard to adjust to and very easy to become embittered. Beware, hoever, lest you allow that embittered feeling to push into wholesale Lashon Harrah about your fellow Jews.

  9. Nachum Lamm says:

    R. Menken, you’ve never heard of charedim kidnapping kids to make them religious? Glass houses…

  10. Menachem says:

    Thanks for your reply. I did not “praise” the secular government. However, I am able to conjecture that of all the types of “Malchuyot” this medina could have been founded with its secular democracy may have been the one that enabled the greatest number of Jews to return. I’m not blind to the negative things the this government has done and continues to do. For better or worse a democracy more or less reflects the will of its people. But I strongly feel that if the country would be run with the current chareidi mindset it wouldn’t be too different than Afghanastan under the Taliban.

    That you corresponded with “someone” who is unhappy with a chardal school really doesn’t indicate much. First of all even if there is a problem maybe it’s the “char” part of chardal that’s the problem, further reinforcing my point. But beyond that, the general hashkfafa of religius Zionist is, in general, much more open and less dogmatic than the chareidi. Your example is yotzei min haklal and unfortunately the examples of chareidi implosion are more and more becoming the clal.

    I have seen no counterpart in the chareidi world to the loving openess of the likes of Rav Kook, or currently Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein. Again, nothing is perfect. As we’re seeing now and as both Jonathan and I mentioned there is a land-centered fundamentalism within the religious Zionist camp.

    Menachem

  11. Yaakov Menken says:

    Menachem,

    As discussed previously here, and as you yourself hinted with reference to all sorts of “fundamentalists”, the type of black-and-white relations with other groups that you describe are not restricted to charedim, but are endemic to Israeli society. There is no segment of Israeli society which fails to display those same symptoms — recently, in fact, I corresponded with someone who expressed dissatisfaction with the chardal dati-leumi schools for demonstrating all of the superiority and self-centered attitude that they painted the charedim as having.

    The secular “malchut” that you praise displayed all of the “fundamentalism” that you decry — ask the Yemenite children adopted by secular parents after their parents were informed that their babies had died. You will never, in a million years, find a level of charedi “fundamentalism” that rises to the toenails of that — yet you praise the secular government?

  12. The Hedyot says:

    Kol Hakavod for writing an honest, unapologetic appraisal of the situation.

    > …at the end of the day we are identified by the behavior of every other Jew in frum garb,
    > and not only we but the Torah itself.

    It’s more than just the external dress that makes the identification. It’s the fact that those perpetrating such behaviors are claiming to do it in the name of Torah ideals. You ask, “Do prominent secular Jews feel the need to issue public condemnations every time a secular drug dealer is arrested?”, but no drug dealer would say that his behavior is proper and according to the ideals of his education, whereas those who throw stones, pelt religious zionists with eggs, stab homosexuals, accost female worshippers, and commit other heinous acts believe that is exactly what they are doing. Living up to the Torah’s ideals.

  13. Moshe says:

    I’d like to make an additional point. Maybe the reason we are so hesitant to criticize is because we prefer to be “dan le’kaf zechut” as opposed to jumping to conclusions. Let’s take a hypothetical example.

    After Yom Haatzmaut, you received reports of Haredi youth burning an Israeli flag in public, causing a large public outcry, and as such, you yourself issue a condemnation of the fact. A few days later, you learn that the “Haredi” youth was a non-religious youth paid 500 shekels by an anti-religious reporter in order to besmirch the Haredi population. What do you do then?

    A similar dilemma now faces Rabbi Elon. He spoke out against the “lyniching”, yet proper investigation show that the “lynching” was set up for TV by the leftists media. To see the proff, see this article on Arutz Sheva (pictures there):
    http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=85118

    What does one do? Is it not smarter to remain silent until all the facts are known and undisputed, rather than to insert your foot into your mouth?

  14. Menachem says:

    Excellent, candid and refreshing post! I live in Beit Shemesh in a neighborhood that is bordered by the Chareidi neighborhoods of Nachalah Menucha and RBS “B”. I made aliyah almost a year ago. When I left the US I was borderline chareidi. I davened at an Agudah, my son went to a black hat yeshiva and one of my daughters to a Beis Yaakov. Though I didn’t buy into all of the American chareidi ideology, I’m a religious Zionist and believe in the concept of Torah U’Maadah, I found that in terms of mitzvah observance I was more at hom in the Agudah.

    As I’m sure you know there is a huge gap between American Chareidim and Israeli Chareidim. Compared to the Israeli Chareidim their US counterparts are virtually modern orthodox! Fortunately I found that here the “frum” daati Leumi crowd is quite similar to the US chareidim in term of mitzvah observance. So luckily I have found my place both in terms of observance and ideology among this group.

    One of the differences I’ve found between the US and Israeli chareidim is that the Israeli chareidim are truly fundamentalists. There’s no grey, no room for compromise, no room for other, legitimate, veiwpoints. I know this is a generalization, but limited oberservations are conitinually bearing this out. I think this is the root of the problem you’re identifying. A fundamentalist, wheter a fundamentalist Zionist who put’s the land above all else, a fundamentalist anti-Zionist who puts his own warped ideology above all else, a fundamentalist Muslim who puts his bizzare world view above everything else, or fundamentalist Chareidi who puts his narrow orthodox view above everything else, has little room in his behavior pattern to care about other people and their feelings.

    As the Israeli Chareidi world (and soon to follow the US chareidi world) implode inward they are taking with them all sense of kovod habrius, because there’s just no room for that when you’re right and by your defenition everyone else is wrong.

    I used to think it was paradoxical that mixed in with the fundamentalism was an amazing network of chesed. There are gemachs here for anything you can imagine. And the gemachs will give to anyone. However, cynically viewing the gemachs as merely a “mitzvah” and not something done to better the world and the relations between people these fundamentalists are able to detach the act of giving from the recipient to which its being given. So one minute they can be giving an interest free loan to a “chiloni” off the street and the next minute or next night they can stone the very same chiloni’s car for driving NEAR their neighborhood on Shabbos. There’s no paradox and no cognitive dissonance.

    It’s also the same mind set that can allow some great Rabbis to ban a book all the while not acknowledging the impact the personal life of the author of the book. Or one day the chareidi in RBS “B” will plaintively beg for a ride up the hill and the next day he’ll steal the Israeli flag off the very same car. The list is long but it all proves the same point. To put in the words of Ramban on parshas Kedoshim, these chareidim are becoming menuvalim bershus Hatorah; their mitzvah observance is at a very high level but as Jews they are becoming unrecognizable or worse.

    Ironically, I think all this has given me insight on why Hashem may have chosen to begin the geulah, through the creation of the State of Israel, with a secular “malchut”. I don’t believe we would have seen anything aproaching the amazing kibutz galiyos we’ve seen over the past 50 years had a malchus with this fundamentalism been in control of this holy land. The secular democracy we have has allowed anyone and everyone to feel comfortable returning to our land and thus Eretz Yisroel has regained its position of the world center of Yiddishkeit. Unfortunately, at this point in time the predominant religious group here – chareidim – are in no position to take over the mantle of leadership.

    Maybe the examples you gave indicate that this job may be better suite to the religious Zionists.

    Menachem
    Beit Shemesh

  15. DMZ says:

    “Understandably no one wants to seen to be defending the parade itself.”

    You basically answer your overarching question right there. People are so afraid of being misinterpreted that they (probably incorrectly) figure that it’s best to just stay silent. It’s not by people on the opposite side of the issue, either, I think, but rather their counterparts on the same side, bizarrely enough. Leftists in Israel are not going to claim R’ Ploni is now pro-disengagement because he condemned some Jewish idiots for trying to lynch a Palestinian. Rather, it’s people on R’ Ploni’s “side” who are going to claim he’s soft on disengagement because he’s too busy defending Palestinians.

    It’s the same thing with wife beatings. Do you think people were afraid to speak out against such abuse because they’re afraid to let the non-Jews we’re against wife-beating? No, it’s because others were accusing them of trying to make the community look bad by “airing the dirty laundry”.

    Obviously, this problem is far stronger in the charedi world than the modern Orthodox. I won’t speculate on why, but that’s the way I see it.

    -DMZ