Two different responses

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I just had a chance to catch up on the strings discussing the pre-Pesach protests/demonstrations/riots in Boro Park and Meah Shearim. The latter were triggered by the arrest of a nineteen-year father belonging to Neturei Karta on charges of inflicting fatal injuries on his infant son.

Clearly the provocation was much greater in the Boro Park case. There can be little justification for throwing a 75-year-old, hard-of-hearing man face down in a paddy wagon, even if he failed to hear or ignored police instructions not to get out of his car after being stopped for talking on his cellphone. Nor can the anti-Semitic epithets of one of the arresting officers and the local police commander (who subsequently apologized) be excused.

By contrast in the Meah Shearim case, no one knows what actually happened. Whatever the police did or did not do in extracting a confession from the father, they certainly did not kill the baby.

Despite the greater provocation in the Boro Park case, leading rabbinic figures, including the Novominsker Rebbe, Rosh Agudas Yisrael of America, were outspoken in their criticism of the riots. The Rebbe labelled the actions of those who set fires and attacked police cars a chilul Hashem that required condemnation in no uncertain terms. And Rav Yosef Rosenblum, a senior rosh yeshiva, reminded the chareidi public that we too are beneficiaries of law enforcement officials, without whom men would swallow one another alive.

In Israel, there was no such condemnation of the rioting in Meah Shearim. To be sure, no respected rabbinic figure not connected to Neturei Karta came out and declared the father’s innocence. (Cross-current readers who assert the contrary simply do not know how to read the coded signs of Meah Shearim. A call for support for the legal expenses of the accused family so that they can prove his innocence is hardly a declaration of belief in his innocence.)

Why the difference?

The simplest answer is that the comparison is a false one. It is highly unlikely that any major rabbinic figure in America would publicly say anything about the internecine strife in Satmar, for the simple reason that no one would be listening and both sides would likely resent outside interference. Similarly, Neturei Karta is a self-enclosed world — no stranger to burning garbage cans in Meah Shearim in one kind of protest or another — and would not have paid the slightest heed to any rabbinic statements coming from outside the community.

Yet it still may be that rabbinic authorities living in a majority non-Jewish world are much more sensitized to the way the Torah and Torah Jews are viewed by the general public than are those in Israel, where even current events take place against a backdrop of more than a 100 years of bitterly fought battles between the old yishuv and the Zionist movement.

The more self-enclosed a community, it seems, the less concern with the image projected to the outside world. That was one of the lessons of the different approaches taken by various chareidi groups in the metzitzah b’peh controversy. (More on that another time.)

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13 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Yaakov,

    You have a good point. I don’t know if there ever was a community in the past two hundred years that achieved the perfect balance between being intensely frum, and simultaneously outwardly focused.

    While the philosophy of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, for example, is one of the hashkafos that is very much concerned about how the image of the Jewish nation is perceived by outsiders, there is certainly nothing-even in the philosophy of the most insular communities- that negates the imperative of sh’yhei shem shomayim misahev al yadcha. It is true that there are still unhealed wounds after the Holocaust and other atrocities committed against the Jewish People throughout history. However, we can still take advantage of the situation- unique in our history- of living in a malchus shel chesed to fulfill the task of being Ohr Lagoyim, the latter mandate which is sometimes thought as only being in the domain of non-Orthodox groups. Ironically, it is the traditional awareness that we are in galus–whether in Boro Park or even in Yerushalayim– that precludes us from acting as if we own the streets of the neighborhoods which we live in.

    Theoretically, just as a particular age population is statistically more at-risk for automobile accidents, one might say that the closer a community is to either end of the insularity-integration spectrum, the more some of its members are “at risk” for either being less intensely observant, or for being less concerned about the effect of some the group’s behavior on the broader public. However, with this awareness of the need for balance, there is no reason why each community can’t work on strengthening its weak areas and pulling towards a more balanced point, even as it holds true to its cherished essential hashkafos that define its individuality.

  2. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    The more self enclosed a society, the less it is concerned about what others think of it.

    Question: has there every been an intensely frum community, not influenced by the external world, that also cared that the rest of the world understood its values and respected its mission?

    Can it be done?

  3. Yossi says:

    Zev: Tell that to the man then, he claims not to be hard of hearing.

  4. BB says:

    To Yossi – When I told my mother what happened in BP, her first reaction was “Arthur is hard of hearing.”

    So, yes, he is hard of hearing

  5. Zev says:

    The Novominsker and Rabbi Rosenblum are as much outsiders to the American rioters – who were all chassidim – as the Israeli gedolim are to Neturei Karta.

    And to Yossi: In fact, the man is hard of hearing.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Whether a Orthodox Jewish community or society is open, closed, or in-between, Torah leaders need to speak out against the evils they see, even in the face of opposition or indifference. Otherwise, fringe elements will come to set the tone for us.

    Our leaders’ public criticism is not needed only if it has an immediate effect on the “guilty” or has PR value in the wider world. There is value in forthrightly speaking the truth to those who will listen, so we will not take bad behavior or bad doctrines to be authentic Judaism.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Isn’t the notion that we are “bayshanim” part of our character as well?

  8. Dov Kay says:

    The references to Neturei Karta might give the impression that all this has nothing to do with mainstream charedim in Jerusalem, but a lunatic fringe. However, whatever the particular hue of the accused’s political views, he was supported by the Eda haChareidis and, despite Mr Rosenblum’s assertion to the contrary, the other Lithuanian Gedolim who offered their admittedly more guarded support.

  9. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Much of Rabbi Rosenblum’s analysis seems to hinge on his assumption that the rioters in Meah Shaarim were all Neturei Karta and thus external Rabbinic “advice” would be pointless.

    I’m curious as to what this assumption is based on. In reading the papers it appeared that a group called “Eidei Chareidas” was the main instigator and that the rioters themselvs were not just from one sect.

    Furthermore, in other similar riots recently, e.g. in RBS B, the rioters were clearly not from a single sect.

    I certainly do agree with his summary that, “The more self-enclosed a community, it seems, the less concern with the image projected to the outside world.”

  10. irwin L. says:

    Perhaps one more striking difference is that regardless of the religious persuasion of the participant, Israeli society in general is unapologetic, while the Diaspora Jew feels the need to apologize, out of true embarrassment or stock response.

  11. abcdefg says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum states that the Boro Park protests were triggered by the NYPD “ throwing a 75-year-old, hard-of-hearing man face down in a paddy wagon, even if he failed to hear or ignored police instructions not to get out of his car after being stopped for talking on his cellphone,” and (he is less clear here) by anti-Semitic comments of the police.

    Mr. Rosenblum makes it appear the riots were caused by self-righteous outrage when that is not how it appears at all.

    In fact, the newspaper reports (which I assume is all Mr. Rosenblum had access to as well) indicate that the “old, hard-of-hearing man” ignored a police siren to move his car out of the way as they were going to a location. He decided to ignore them because he decided to assume they were just blaring their siren to cut traffic. As for how I know this, this is what I say that man himself said on the news. Later, when their call was cancelled, they went back to fine the person who blocked them from going to what they believed to be an emergency.

    The anti-Semitic remarks, which arguably are not anti-Semitic given context, were certainly not a cause of the riots as they occurred after the riots already started.

    The newspapers also indicate that the riots were caused by a belief police were giving out to many tickets and not by what happened, which was, at most, a trigger.

    Finally, Mr. Rosenblum, while making a distinction between closed and less-closed communities refuses to actually engage in which action was right – condemnation versus support or silence. Giving sociological causes is irrelevant in itself and excuses nothing.

  12. Yossi says:

    Just a quick fact check, the man is not hard of hearing. As for burnings and protests, I’m not sure if that’s the major issue. For me, at least, the major issue is that a baby died, we’re not 100% sure how, yet the community all protests when the police try to investigate an obvious suspect. It’s disturbing how they reacted.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that one can question some of the above analysis as factually flawed and creating an impression that we tolerate actions that create a Chillul HaShem. First of all, the element of anti Semitism in the BP case was injected by local politicians after the fact to deflect responsibility. In fact, one of these politicians even stated that the community was primarily at fault. The fact that a highly decorated police captain apologized says both everything and nothing. The facts are that the victim critized both the NYPD and the protesters.

    The MS case seems to have dissipated in impact. It appears that the community and its leaders are now seeking any kind of exculpatory evidence, especially as the value of a confession seems less credible and the medical evidence seems also subject to an attack, especially given the medical examiner’s office poor relations with the Charedi world on other issues.

    Satmar’s succession struggle raises a simple issue. Why is a major Chasidic dynasty so willing to have the issue adjudicated by the courts of the State of New York, as opposed to a Bes Din? What about the prohibition of litigating in a non-Jewish forum? Is there any Mesorah within the yeshiva or chasidishe worlds for resorting to a non-Jewish forum to resolve this issue as opposed to a Bes Din that both sides would respect and agree to be bound by a psak? Isn’t this issue as important as other issues that Batei Din and ,by extension, Gdolim have ruled upon recently?