Burning down our own neighborhood — Reconsidered

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What follows is not a recantation of my recent column “Burning Down Our Own Neighborhood.” Nevertheless, if an issue is worth writing about at all, there are usually two sides to it, and any single column will inevitably fail to do justice to the full complexity of the matter.

Various readers, including leading rabbonim whom I respect greatly, took the time to speak to me about the column. One of those rabbis called me to complain that column had failed to stress the threat posed by the Parade of Pride. To bring home the point, he noted that the gematria of the Parade of Pride and Atomic Strike (Mitzad HaGaavah and Piguah Atom) are the same.

I am unqualified to evaluate this gematria, or the dozen or so more that followed, but a similar point was made to me by a leading young rosh yeshiva in the United States. How would we react, he asked me, if a group nailed chametz to our doors during Pesach? His point: We can all acknowledge that there are actions against the Torah that require something more than polite letters to the Prime Minister expressing our discomfiture.

What those actions are and what form the response should take, however, remain the exclusive province of the Torah leaders of the generation. In that context, I should note that one of those closest to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was outraged when I told him that some had interpreted the Rav’s written statement that the march must not be allowed to pass without protest as providing carte blanche approval for any form of protest. He fairly shouted at me that only an idiot could believe that Rav Elyashiv condoned the resort to violence.

Another reader took me aside at the recent convention of Agudath Israel of America and complained that my use of the term “rioters” was too general, and could have been construed to include the protest marches led by Rabbi Tuvia Weiss and Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch of the Edah HaChareidis dressed in sackcloth.

For the record, I do not reject the use of civil disobedience. Had the leadership of the chareidi world called for a massive, non-violent protest gathering to stop the parade, the absence of a police permit would not have prevented me from heeding that call.

Nor am I a pacifist. The police units used to quell protests typically include some of the roughest and most violent elements of the police forces. And their modus operandi, when they cannot identify or catch those engaged in illegal actions, is to grab anyone who happens to be in the vicinity and beat him to a pulp.

When a resident of the Bais Yisroel neighborhood fled from police into the Mirrer Yeshiva, Mirrer bochurim were not required to stand around passively while police pummeled and attempted to arrest their fellow students who had not been involved in any illegal activities.

FINALLY, A NUMBER OF READERS argued that violence and the threat of more violence proved effective in stopping the parade. Perhaps, though my own guess is that misfire of IDF artillery that claimed the lives of 18 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun had more to do with the cancellation, as security forces were stretched to the breaking point in an effort to thwart retaliatory terrorist attacks.

Still, it must be conceded that Jerusalem was voted down as the venue for a European Pride Parade next summer, in large part due to the fierce opposition such international gatherings have occasioned. And the Israeli Supreme Court in a long series of cases has encouraged threats of violence. Thus the Court has repeatedly barred Jews from praying on the Temple Mount — not on halachic grounds but out of concern for provoking Moslem violence.

When the right of the Women of the Wall (WoW) to conduct prayer services at the Kotel according to their rite first came before the Supreme Court, the Court could have followed a long line of cases holding that it has no jurisdiction to determine the form of prayer at designated “holy places” and that it is up to the appointed religious officials to determine “the custom of the place.” Instead the Court effectively rewrote the governing statute and permitted WoW’s services.

But after police representations that allowing WoW to conduct their services at the Kotel might provoke riots, the Court agreed to rehear the case, and ultimately offered WoW Robinson’s Arch for their prayers. Rather than giving the governing statute its simplest reading, the Court reached the same result by perpetuating a stereotype of wild and crazy chareidim. It thereby conveyed the lesson to some members of our community that sometimes it pays to be seen as wild and crazy.

BUT MY ORIGINAL POINT was that the horror of the parade and the efficacy of violence in stopping it are at most the starting points of a proper Torah analysis. Neither consideration, in and of itself, justifies the use of violence. In the short run, for instance, vigilante action might deter some Chillul Shabbos, but no responsible Torah authority would ever encourage such action. Similarly, the Torah leaders unanimously condemned the Shabbos rock-throwing on the Ramot Road a quarter century ago, and the stabbing of one of the marchers in another Jerusalem Pride Parade two years ago.

What I decried was the implicit assumption by some in our community that once any phenomenon is classified as evil that any means are permissible to stop it. That assumption is the antithesis of the careful balancing required by the Torah, and for which we have the greatest Torah authorities.

Some of my critics are correct that if certain actions were required by the Torah, as determined by the Torah authorities of our time, it would not make any difference whether those actions won accolades from the secular public. But that is not because Chillul Hashem is irrelevant, but because no Chillul Hashem can be involved when we are doing the ratzon Hashem.

Nor is it because, as one reader wrote, it is no concern of ours what secular Jews think of us. Anyone who thinks that way completely fails to comprehend either the mutual responsibility of all Jews for one another or the common mission that binds us all together.

Originally published in today’s Mishpacha magazine.

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17 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:

    AJ:

    Clearly, neither one of us is qualified to do Gematrias!

  2. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Clearly, the majority of the Israeli charedi community did not participate in the pre-gay parade trash-burning ceremonies in Yerushalayim, and probably abhors such actions. I have friends, now studying in some of the major Yerushalayim Kollelim, who I am sure think that the rioters/demonstrators are misguided. The Jerusalem Post(11/16/06) quoted a Gerer chassid who begged the hotheads to stop but was ignored and, sadly, vilified by the zealots according to the article.

    While by my own standards, I should respect their rights to an opinion, I was disappointed that Rabbi Rosenblum’s original Mishpocha piece was viewed as unbalanced be some Mishpocha readers, including some quoted in this article. I think, as Rabbi Rosenbloom originally wrote that, “the rioting revealed our community at its weakest”. I feel that the charedi community should look such behavior in the eye, instead of apologizing for it, or deflecting blame, by saying “amie aratzim anyhow hate talmedi chachamim” as one Mishpocha reader wrote. In my opinion, the trash-burning was wrong–period. It deserves nothing less than the Jewish equivalent of a strong, internal, mea culpa. I am certain that many Israeli charedim agree with me.

    The problem is that the “bad apples” will continue to represent the “face” of the Israeli charedi community, similar to the case of the Religious Zionist settlers. I agree that “only an idiot could believe that [any Gedolim] condoned the resort to violence”, even tacitly as “halacha v’ein moren kein”, but that wasn’t clear from reading the secular media, and most importantly, there were indeed a number of such “idiots”. Perhaps the media and the rioters purposely ignored Kol Korehs on Yeshivah Kol Torah stationary and the one in Bayit Vegan clearly stating that Rav Elyashiv forbade violence.

    Rabbi Rosenbloom’s original article was a start, as was the Edah Hacharedis statement, the latter which I think needs to be communicated to the fairer elements of the secular press. At Thursday night’s Agudah convention, two of the speakers made clear that the Ameriacn charedi community is not ignoring certain important social issues. Similarly, the Edah Hacharedis statement needs to lead to a sustained educational effort over many years, to make clear that separation from secular society should not lead to hooliganism, and that this issue is not being ignored. I understand that kannoim are violent, and can’t be controlled easily, but they influence the rest of society.

    Just as there was a recent public gathering in Yerushalayim regarding various tzniyus(modesty) issues, perhaps there should be a kinnus, attended by the highest level of Gedolim making clear, once and for all, that trash-burnings are just as wrong as immodesty, in terms of chillul Hashem. Just as there are Committees for Sanctity of Shabbos, and Modesty, I think there should be a committee for sanctification of G-d’s name, which is just as important as these two areas of Yiddishkeit. This would be more effective in the long run than kol korehs stating the same, and would show that in Eretz Yisrael as well, the Israeli charedi community as a group, is concerned how its public image is viewed by outsiders. I think that this can be done, even considering the Israeli situation involves the backdrop of the struggles between the old yishuv versus the Zionist movement.

  3. aj says:

    How do I know which way to add one? If I see an interesting phrase one way, and another the other way, how do I know which is which?

  4. HILLEL says:

    SHLOMO AND AJ:

    When doing a gematria, you need to remember to add one more in some cases. This is called “Im HaKollel.”

  5. HILLEL says:

    Ori:
    Most Gedolim consider Jerusalem’s holiness to extend to its suburbs. Remember, the Gemara discusses special rituals that must be performed by “Olei Regel”–Jewish pilgrims–when they arrive at Har HaTzoFim–within sight of the Holy City.

    As to your other point. All of Eretz Yisroel is Holy–under the direct supervision of the AlMighty, without intermediaries. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah were not in Jerusalem.

    Nochum:
    Nathan Birnbaum, one of the original founders of Zionism (he actually coined that term to represent Herzl’s movement), who later became a BaAl TeShuVa (Orthodox Jew), wrote a famous essay “In bondage to our secular Zionist Brothers.” Orthodox Jews in Israel are an oppressed minority who are subjected to countless forms of discrimination. Their voting power forces the secular oligarchs to throw them some meager crumbs from the Government table.

  6. Shlomo says:

    AJ – the gematria of chet and egoz is also one off, but people still refuse to eat nuts on rosh hashana.

  7. Ahron says:

    I simply have to note the bizarre reality that the same community whose members assert that “Hashem, not the Army, will decide what happens” when it comes to Israel’s dire security situation–and cite that belief as the reason for avoiding military service–took a far more, shall we say, activist approach when it came to defending the borders of their own neighborhoods and City from what they viewed as an invasion.

    Why the discrepancy?

  8. L.Oberstein says:

    Since the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government to reecognize gay marriages performed abroad as legal marriages, so what was the victory? If this happens it is worse than a parade.

  9. Baruch Horowitz says:

    While I respect the sensitivities towards kedushah displayed by those who criticized the balance aspect of Rabbi Rosenblum’s article, I am sorry that his article had to be “reconsidered”, even if it wasn’t “recanted”. I think that one must give condemnation to the lack of kedushah caused by the gay parade, but also to strongly condemn what comes across as mob violence, i.e., the images depicted on Getty Images of three bachurim throwing stones, or the pictures of trash- burnings in Yerushalayim.

    Without a vociferous condemnation, one may, with some justice, be accused by the secular world of “charedie apologetics”, or “refusing to deal with an issue”. We are told that the charedi community does not engage in the latter without a very good reason. If the charedi media would print the images of the three bochurim throwing stones, alongside what are to me apologetics, I would view that as a fair assessment of the issue(I assume, however, that most of those calling the overall charedi response a kiddush Hashem, certainly condemn stone-throwing).

    Fortunately, and to their credit, the Eidah Hacharedis has issued a condemnation against damaging property ( bleach-throwing)or harming people during protests over immodesty issues. I’ve also seen condemnation issued in the name of Rav Elyashiv and Kol Torah roshei yeshivah of November’s pre-gay parade riots/protests/demonstrations. Were there no articles like Rabbi Rosenblum’s original, unapologetically condemning the riots, I would consider that portions of Modern Orthodoxy might have something over charedi-Orthodoxy on such issues. Fortunately, though, there are responsible charedim who abhor such behavior.

    Gedolim can’t condemn something unless the community is willing to adhere to it. Charedi society may or may not be disengaged in some(but not all) ways from the rest of Israeli society, as are some Religious-Zionists. However, such extreme behavior need not be part of such arguable disengagement. If the community is willing to look the problem in the eye, and address how “bad apples” get through the educational system, as Rabbi Grylak wrote in Hamishpacha, then Gedolim will be able to lead the charedi community so that it can present a truer, Torah face to the world in the spirit of “ploni shlimdo torah, reu kamah naeh derachav, kamah mesukanev maasav”.

  10. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Nevertheless, if an issue is worth writing about at all, there are usually two sides to it.”

    As I wrote on Rabbi Adlerstein’s “Jewish Action” thread, I’d like to see more two-sided discussions in the charedi media. I therefore understand Rabbi Rosenblum’s considerations in addressing both sides of the issue.

    “What those actions are and what form the response should take, however, remain the exclusive province of the Torah leaders of the generation…

    and,

    … But that is not because Chillul Hashem is irrelevant, but because no Chillul Hashem can be involved when we are doing the ratzon Hashem.”

    I agree with both of these statements. I would note that the Mesilas Yesharim writes that chilul Hashem is based on public perception. Additionally, in the chapter on Mishkal Hachasidus, the Ramchal refers to the weighing and balancing of different courses of actions and using sechel, as pointed out in Rabbi Rosenblum’s original column.

    “How would we react, he asked me, if a group nailed chametz to our doors during Pesach?”

    One might argue that Hashem only demands of us to show pain, such as wearing sackcloth. Is a benevolent Deity who punishes innocent people who already expressed their pain over a lack of kedushah, but did not burn trash cans, a fair and just G-d? One can argue that it is “kochi v’otzem yadi” to say that we can control to what extent Yerushalayim is defiled. One can argue in the extreme, using the same logic of trash-burning, that the possibility of Hashem’s bringing a Holocaust(cv’s) because of the existence of the State of Israel, justifies the next step of meeting with, and embracing Iranian leaders.

    “FINALLY, A NUMBER OF READERS argued that violence and the threat of more violence proved effective in stopping the parade”

    I learned in yeshiva, as a explanation for certain Torah policies and hashkafos, that the ends don’t justify the means. The issue, of course, is what is acceptable means, and for that we need Torah wisdom, not what appears to people to be mob-rule and hefkeirus.

  11. Ahron says:

    First, that gematria doesn’t really make sense to me. Wouldn’t the proper term for a nuclear strike be piguah gar’ini ? Also why is there ipso facto no consideration of chillul Hashem when we are doing the ratzon Hashem? Let us assume that the ratzon Hashem was for Jews to work to stop the parade–there are ways to do that that could be consistent or inconsistent with kiddush Hashem. Is it really conceivable that it could be the ratzon Hashem for us to throw rocks at bus passengers as a form of “protest”? Or is it in fact permissible for Jews to assault uninvolved bystanders in order to cause chaos or make a “statement”?

    A disavowal of the pyromaniacal violence of a noticeable minority of charedim also should not detract from the utter condemnation due the Israeli police department and its officers’ customary brutality and unprofessionalism. I wrote back on R. Menken’s police brutality thread that we need to try walking and chewing gum simultaneously. Are we able to find a sensible medium between being shrinking violets and aggressive hoodlums? As for HILLEL’s comments above on “Matisyohu”–I shudder at the suggestion that the genuine kana’us of that hero could, l’havdil, be mentioned together with the pugnacious vandalism unleashed last month in Jerusalem. If we cannot tell the difference between the two….. then ours is a low state indeed and we probably are not capable of the “careful balancing required by the Torah.”

  12. Nachum says:

    “Instead the Court effectively rewrote the governing statute and permitted WoW’s services.”

    Hmm! Maybe, l’kaf zechus, the Court sees itself as Jewish, deep down, and so presumes to decide such matters. I wonder…

    Hillel, the Maccabbim were under foreign domination. They couldn’t vote. I don’t really see an analogy, not that we shouldn’t learn from them.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    If I understand correctly, this parade was particularly objectionable because it took place in Jerusalem, rather than a different Israeli city such as Tel Aviv.

    Jerusalem these days is a lot larger than it used to be. A hundred and fifty years ago, it was just the old city. Is there any Halachic border to Jerusalem, beyond which anything that happens might as well have happened in Tel Aviv?

  14. aj says:

    Gematria of Mitz’ad: 204
    Gematria of HaGeavah: 20
    Mitz’ad HaGeavah: 224

    Gematria of Pigua: 169
    Gematria of Atom: 56
    Pigua Atom: 225

    One off…

  15. Mordechai says:

    “Had the leadership of the chareidi world called for a massive, non-violent protest gathering to stop the parade, the absence of a police permit would not have prevented me from heeding that call.”

    And if they would have called for a violent response do we not need to also heed that call?

  16. HILLEL says:

    Jonathan:

    You are an honest writer. It is very rare for a writer to admit a mistake. Your willingness to do so is exceptional.

    Just a thought: I still wonder if there is a parallel with the “violent” behavior of Matisyohu and his five sons against the Greeks who desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem.

  17. L.Oberstein says:

    I guess Jonatan had to retract to save his neck, in the same way that Rabbi Reinman had to pretend to be sorry so he could still live in Lakewood. One cannot judge if one doesn’t live in such a controlled society. But it is a pity. There is nothing to retract. It was perfectly clear that the issue was not the parade, nor the right to protest but the hooliganism of an not insignificant element of Chareidi youth. The issue of the parade is irelevant, it is the tactics that were dispicable.
    However, the inabililty of the chareidi community to accept even constructive criticism from “one of its own” is very sad. The system is in need of repair and no one has the guts. It is interesting that we only hear from people “close to Rav Elyashiv”. The chareidi community cannot be led by spokesmen for gedolim , but needs vibrant and brave leadership . It is wrong to only rely on the few, and especially when it is only “people close to them” who control admission and disseminate what they say.