One Week Later: Time for some Questions

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By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

It is almost exactly one week after the chilul Hashem in Boro Park where fires were set in the streets and a police car was torched after a respected 75-year-old man was roughly treated by police officers while being issued a summons.

I spent this past Shabbos in Boro Park celebrating a simcha in our extended family. Walking the streets and enjoying the tranquility of Shabbos in a predominantly Shomer Shabbos neighborhood, it was hard to imagine that such mayhem occurred in those streets just a few days past. Over the course of Shabbos, I spoke to many people who were in the vicinity during the melee. The vast majority of adults spoke of their horror and disgust at what happened. Several people told me that they found it to be the most embarrassing experience of their lives.

If charedi Yiddishkeit was a product, I would suggest that we took a terrible body blow to our marketing campaign (which we refer to as our kiruv movement) as a result of the events of the past Tuesday. Don’t believe me? Speak to anyone who works with or interacts with secular Jews or Gentiles and ask them how they enjoyed fielding questions about what happened in Boro Park last week.

Please note that I am separating the stimulus from the response. I do not wish to deal with the stimulus (the treatment of Mr. Schick by the police) – only our response to that stimulus. Discussing the facts of how Mr. Schick was treated distracts from the painful but necessary discussion about how our community responded to that stimulus – and what lessons we need to take from this horrific Chilul Hashem. The fact is that some (and I stress, only some) of our children who were raised in our homes and attended our yeshivos acted like thugs and disgraced ALL of us.

There were clear and unequivocal quotes of condemnation of these illegal acts and calls for us to act as law abiding citizens in this malchus shel chesed (benevolent government) by both the Noviminsker Rebbi shlita and Horav Rosenbloom shlita in a full-page editorial in the daily Hamodia newspaper.

Now, what? What do ‘we the people’ need to do?

Time for a Cheshbon Hanefesh

Ingrained in the hard drive of my mind are the teachings of my great rebbeim who shared with us the notion that a cheshbon hanefesh (an enhanced level of reflection and introspection) is in order when something goes wrong in our lives and when we succumb to averos (sins).

I think that a collective chashbon hanefesh is in order after the recent events – one that will hopefully result in an improved set of circumstances in the future.

For if we brush this over and do not explore the reasons and circumstances that created this mess, it will most certainly happen again. And, let’s be honest, this is not the first time these types of incidents have occurred, a fact noted by virtually all the newspapers when reporting this incident.

There are those who will undoubtedly fault me for ‘airing our dirty laundry in public.’ To that charge I respond by pointing out that the charge of ‘airing dirty laundry in public’ would be appropriate if I wrote an article about the private shalom bayis (marital) problems of a couple who came to me for guidance. That is not the case here, this matter ALREADY TOOK PLACE IN PUBLIC. So it is already ‘out there.’ We frum Yidden are already taking far too many body blows in the public arena from these types of acts. I didn’t cause this mess or chilul Hashem. I only responded to it. Every visibly frum person who interacts with non-Jews or secular Jews was bombarded with questions about this matter and was shamed at having to defend the indefensible. As for the notion that I and the others who condemned these acts of hooliganism are ‘piling on’ to the criticism of the secular media – I say that our critics will most certainly find it refreshing and comforting that frum Jews are engaging in the type of necessary reflection that will hopefully result in an end to this type of Chilul Hashem.

How Did We Get Here?

So, I guess we collectively ought to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves:

How did this happen? What tinderbox was ignited that turned a spiritual, great group of bachurim enjoying their bein hazmanim break to two groups: 1) The tiny number who participated in these acts and 2) The vast majority who stood by and did not interfere with the chilul Hashem that unfolded?

In the spirit of the Pesach Yom Tov, where asking questions is the order of the day, I pose some questions. I will not respond or editorialize (at least not now). I will only ask the questions, and allow you the reader to explore the answers to them. And perhaps encourage you to discuss these questions with your spouse, friends and children over the Yom Tov.

Are we conveying to our children the incredible, unprecedented gift that they have, one that was denied our people for 2,000 years – the ability to live our lives in peace and tranquility?

Are we repudiating these illegal actions unequivocally when they do occur with the same fervor reserved for other acts of chilul Hashem? Or other sins against our Torah? Are we stating that they are morally wrong and against all teachings of our Torah?

Where are our children learning these types of behavior? (They certainly didn’t see it in our homes.) Is it from the secular media? Is it absorbed behavior learned from the protests of other groups seeking redress? (The Times and other papers reported that the kids were chanting, “No justice, no peace.”) Is it a result of many bachurim returning from Eretz Yisroel where there is much more friction between the police and the charedi community? And, for each of these possibilities, what are we doing to ameliorate these influences?

If the exact same mistreatment of a respected, elderly Jewish individual occurred in the Jewish communities of Scranton, Pennsylvania or Seattle, Washington, would this type of protest occur? And, if you feel that it would not occur, why do you think it wouldn’t?

It is unquestionably the case that our neighborhoods and schools have become more insular over the past thirty years. That being the case, what are we doing to promote tolerance among our children, among different streams of charedi Jews, non-charedi Jews, non-religious Jews, and gentiles – especially since there is often little meaningful interaction between them in predominantly charedi neighborhoods?

How do our charedi children view the police?
a. Devoted public servants who protect us
b. Devoted public servants who protect us and sometimes give out tickets
c. Irritating people who give out tickets
d. Irritating people who give out tickets in much greater proportion in charedi neighborhoods

And, if I can paraphrase what my children ask in Yiddish after they chant the four questions – “Now that I asked the questions; will you, dear reader, please provide some answers.

Best wishes for a Chag Kosher V’somayach

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Menahel, Yeshiva Darchei Noam
Director, Project YES

Here are some articles that I have written on these subjects over the past few months:

My Grandfather and I
The Pierced Teen and I
The Pierced Teen and I – Round 2

Cross-Posted to BeyondBT.

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13 Responses

  1. David Gold says:

    Our marketing campaign is kiruv?!?!
    How about kiddush hashem, and the old-fashioned or la-goyim?

  2. ja says:

    “In the recently published Orthodox Forum book on Lomdus(the Brisker methodology) one of the authors posited (iiuc) that the charedi learning community could not appreciate R’YBSs extension of the Brisker methodology because it would require a change in the the basic mindset (to a more “polyphonic” state iirc)to move past the simpler chakirah (e.g. seemingly contradictory statements in the Rambam) stage to the (my terminology) broader underlying theory stage (e.g. why did chazal set 2 havdalot).”

    More biases coming as evidence to support the original biases. Academic theories of lomdus, spare us!

    This goes together with the claim that everyone is stealing RYBS’ torah, even though they also are too simplistic to understand it, right?

    What’s actually going on is that people who can learn think RYBS’ was a very fine talmid chochom, but don’t evaluate him in a bubble, and aren’t parochial enough to think he instituted radical advances in lomdus incomparable to anyone else. And they know more about lomdus than the folks you quote, not less.

    The arrogance of this type of analysis is something else.

  3. Jewish Observer says:

    “this sort of triumphalist martyrdom in place of any cheshbon hanefesh is all too prevalent in the charedi world”

    you win

  4. joel rich says:

    In the recently published Orthodox Forum book on Lomdus(the Brisker methodology) one of the authors posited (iiuc) that the charedi learning community could not appreciate R’YBSs extension of the Brisker methodology because it would require a change in the the basic mindset (to a more “polyphonic” state iirc)to move past the simpler chakirah (e.g. seemingly contradictory statements in the Rambam) stage to the (my terminology) broader underlying theory stage (e.g. why did chazal set 2 havdalot). I wonder if the same is true here – that to accomplish what R’ Horowitz describes would require us ascribing a greater value to individuals outside the “unserer” circle than can be sustained by a community that teaches a primarily exclusive value of unserer.

    Just a random thought for discussion.

    KT

  5. David Miller says:

    Discussing the facts of how Mr. Schick was treated distracts from the painful but necessary discussion about how our community responded to that stimulus – and what lessons we need to take from this horrific Chilul Hashem.

    Well said. Amazingly, Mishpachah magazine did the exact opposite. In a single paragraph article reporting on the story, the ONLY thing that they mentioned was how the police officer insulted Mr Schick and had to apologize, with NO MENTION WHATSOEVER of the ensuing riots. Unfortunately this sort of triumphalist martyrdom in place of any cheshbon hanefesh is all too prevalent in the charedi world.

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    This type of anti-social behavior occurs more often in Israel. Apologists for those who perpetrate these acts in Israel often point to a sour relationship between the police and the Chareidi community. They blame, what they claim, is unfairly harsh treatment of Chareidim by police and other government agencies. (Althogh, as we’ve seen recently, even routine arrests can lead to these mini-riots.)

    This episode in Brooklyn puts a dent in the logic of those who try to excuse this type of “response” by Chareidim in Israel. The orthodox community in NY enjoys a very good relationship with the police and the government and yet the response was almost identical to what you often see in Israel.

    This only underscores the need.that Rabbi Horowitz has identified to look inward in order to reduce this behavior instead of adopting the Al Sharptoneque ideology of blaming everyone else.

  7. Mincha Man says:

    Rabbi Horowitz –

    To respond further to R’ Spolter’s response, let me say that I witnessed rock-throwing more recently, when I was in Yerushalaim ten years ago. Charedi protesters set fire to some garbage dumpsters, then began throwing rocks at the firefighters who arrived to extinguish the flames.

    The firefighters called for police backup, and when the police arrived, the crowd began chanting, “Nazis, Nazis.” This is what happens when internecine resentments are left to simmer for so many decades.

    Even more recently, this summer, I was in Meah Sheaim shopping for some seforim. A charedi child (no older than 9 or 10) noticed that i was wearing an orange bracelet to show support for the residents of Gush Katif. He said, “Where did you get that? I’d like one like that? Can you get me one?”

    I was stunned. I thought, “Is it possible that he respects me and understands that I’m a decent Jew, despite our ideological differences?”

    I told him I’d be happy to buy him one. He said, “Get a few, because my friends want them, too…”

    I was even further stunned.

    Then he continued. “…so we can burn them!! We’re going to burn them! You’re a kofer (heretic)!”

    The child’s comments began attracting attention from some other nearby youths, and I realized that I could very well end up in the middle of an ‘incident.’ I told the child, “Don’t worry, I forgive you for your behavior and I hope one day you’ll learn about ahavas yisrael,” and then I left quickly.

    So there’s no real solution out there. And the problem is only getting worse, because the behavior seen regularly in Israel is now spreading to Boro Park. What’s next?

  8. Shmuel Friedman says:

    As one who was lives on the same block where the incident occurred, and who was present throughout the evening, I have a unique basis for input with respect to what actualy transpired. This was neither a “community protest” or a “community riot”. This was a situation where a crowd of teenage onlookers gathered in reponse to an unusual incident of an “arrest” in this area. The NYPD then called for a level 1 mobilization which included a helicopter hovering overheaed, which just served to attract more people from blocks away, which in turn called for more police. There was no “riot” or “protest”. The small fires of trashthat were set were presumably by several teenagers, out of the hundreds who had gathered. Aside from these unlawful acts (from a hanfdful) there was no violence whatsoever from the hundereds of people present.

  9. Micha says:

    And during that week we hear stories from Israel promising rioting in Yerushalayim because someone was accused of killing his infant — after teethmarks on that infant match his bite!

    We need nothing less than refocusing our definition of Judaism to remember that derekh eretz (proper interaction in this world) is a prerequisite for Torah.

    It’s a bold statement, but it’s Rav Yisrael Salanter’s — not mine.

    Orthodoxy is no longer fighting for survival. Back when we were in “rebuild mode”, it was natural that we focused on that which defines us in distinction to the non-Orthodox Jewish movements and western civ in general. And so while we all know intellectually that we’re no less obligated to pay our employee as we are to buy an esrog, we do not internalize that in our behavior.

    We need to talk about moral dilemmas at the Shabbos table (with thanks to R’ David Hojda’s recent Jewish Action article), teach the laws of tzedaqah and fiscal honesty starting from early grade school, and in general get our children thinking in terms of interpersonal mitzvos from an early age, so that they’re internalized as part of our gut-instinct level knowledge of Judaism.

    We need to spend time each day exploring our actions and seeing where our middos (sizes of various personality traits) could use work and work on them.

    And we need to remember that we can repent on Yom Kippur for accidentally making tea the wrong way on Shabbos, but we can not for accidentally embarassing another.

  10. David Brand says:

    “If the exact same mistreatment of a respected, elderly Jewish individual occurred in the Jewish communities of Scranton, Pennsylvania or Seattle, Washington, would this type of protest occur? And, if you feel that it would not occur, why do you think it wouldn’t?”

    Fascinating question. Perhaps the reasons might have something to do with the reasons why Jews walking the streets of Chicago (and other similar non-New York communities) on Shabbos wish each other “Good Shabbos” even if they are perfect strangers. The same reason that people who aren’t in New York (or Eretz Yisroel, for that matter) don’t shove each other as much in public when trying to get to the same place. There are a lot of Yidden who need to get out a little and see that we’re just a very tiny minority. We wouldn’t take each other for granted. I am reminded of the airport minyanim that I’ve davened in. I have never been happier to see other Jews. I think that a certain mindset filters in when we feel that we’re in the majority, which can only happen when Yidden live in tightly packed areas that are nearly all Orthodox. We fall into the trap of feeling that we run things. Put a Yid like that in Minneapolis, and his attitude will quickly change.

  11. Shlomo says:

    “(They certainly didn’t see it in our homes.)”

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. Do chareidi children see their parents denigrate “goyim,” government officials and other authority figures? Are our children raised in insular environments that paint this world as an Us (the holy, righteous and pure) versus Them (the evil, immoral sinners) struggle?

    The youth may not have been taught to protest violently in the streets, but our children have been taught to disrespect gentiles and those in positions of power.

    Unfortunately, until children are taught that the non-religious/non-Jewish have innate value as beings endowed with souls and a tzelem elokim, we will continue to see this sort of behaviour in frum communities.

    I would like to point out that this violence and disregard for gentile property seems to occur with greater frequency (and intensitiy) amongst Chassidic youth (both in the US and Israel), children who are raised with the teachings of the Tanya etc. of the non-Jew being inferior and possessing merely an animal soul.

  12. Bob Miller says:

    Mo, did Shlomo offer anything more than a personal guess?

  13. Mo says:

    A caller to a radio program under frum auspices in NY, by the name of Shlomo, stated on the air that some of the involved youth have recently seen or know of such type of behavior among some of certain Chassidic groups, such as Satmar and Bobov, related to succession issues. He basically said that if kids see that type of thing among their elders, is it so surprising that they reacted similarly ?