The choice is ours

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Shortly after Shavuos, the Jerusalem Post published an op-ed “Two windows on hareidim.” The piece began promisingly enough, as the author described walking with his 11-year-old daughter to the Kotel for the first time on Shavuos morning and how impressed they had been by the “extensive hospitality offered by the chareidi community to those making aliya baregel.” They were particularly “struck by the extent of the refreshments and other items offered along the way to both observant and secular walkers passing along the capital’s Rechov Shmuel HaNavi, [which provided] a window onto a world of good deeds that too often gets overlooked by the non-chareidi Jerusalem public.”

Just as I was settling down to savor the piece, however, it abruptly switched direction, and the author’s real point became clear. Eighteen hours after his walk to the Kotel, and at least 20 minutes after the end of Shavuos, his holiday cheer turned to fear and frustration when his car’s side window was smashed by a rock thrown by some young chareidi kids, about nine or ten, as he drove through a chareidi neighborhood. A week earlier, he had hit a rope drawn across the same street after Shabbos.

The author struggled to remind himself that the chareidi community, like any other community, is comprised of individuals of many types, and that it would be wrong “to tar them all with the same brush,” despite his anger over “a random act of violence that could have easily cost me my life and injured others.” Nevertheless, he found himself casting mean glances at chareidim passing by on the street the next day, as he spent four hours filling out police forms and replacing his window.

My first reaction upon reading this op-ed was anger at both the author and the Jerusalem Post. I knew that the author is a shomer Shabbos Jew, and that he formerly served as an editor at a respected chareidi weekly, where he worked closely with dozens of chareidi Jews for whom nothing could be more antithetical to everything they stand for than the stone-throwing at his car. And I was also irritated with the Jerusalem Post for devoting an entire column broadcast around the world to one or two incidents of misbehavior by chareidi kids. How many other acts of violence and vandalism by secular youth on the same night went completely unreported? I wondered.

But as I thought about it, I decided that the author had posed a fair choice to our community: “Chareidim need to decide which window onto their public they want opened to non-chareidi Jerusalem residents: one that focuses on their many acts of charity and goodness, or one that forces us to focus on acts of intolerance and violence.”

THERE IS IN FACT a struggle for the soul of the chareidi community. On the one side, are those who think of themselves primarily in terms of their own sub-group, the more narrowly defined the better. They tend to view their own neighborhood as something like an Indian reservation, into which, ideally, no outsiders would ever venture, and which must be protected at all costs. About what takes place outside its confines, they have little interest, as long as the purity of their existence is not affected.

Within these neighborhoods, the children are instilled with many beautiful middos – a degree of modesty in the young girls found nowhere else, devotion in prayer, concern for one’s neighbors. But one thing is not emphasized: the interrelationship of all Jews, and the responsibility of Jews for one another. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh l’zeh is not one of the fundaments of their chinuch.

On the other side of the great divide, are those for whom the spiritual state of the vast majority of the Jews in the world who are not Shomer Torah u’mitzvos is of primary concern. The chinuch that they provide their children follows Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv’s dictate that the chinuch imperative of our time is: she’yehei Shem Shomayim misaheiv al yadecha — the Name of Heaven should become beloved through you.. Their children are never allowed to forget that they are ambassadors for Hashem and His Torah wherever they are, especially among non-frum Jews.

I should make clear here that I speak of ideal types – two extremes – that may not conform to any actual individual or group. Some of the greatest ohavei Yisrael of our time have grown up in the most insular communities, and others who have brought disgrace to Torah Jews are products of much more open environments.

Each approach has its own dangers. Those who focus on being drawing close Jews who are far from Torah are susceptible to unwarranted compromise of halachic standards. And it is possible to become overly concerned with the impact of every action in the eyes of secular Jews, to the point of being desensitized to other great evils.

The recent Parade in Jerusalem provides an example of the danger. The Talmud teaches that all the curses of Bilaam that Hashem transformed into blessings reverted to curses due to the immorality of the Jewish people at Shitim, except for the blessings of the batei knesset and batei midrash (Sanhedrin 105b-106a). Our final exile is that of Edom and Yishmael together – one representing idolatry and the other immorality. The two always go together – “Do not stray after your heart or after your eyes” – like two legs marching in tandem.

If we worry overly much about non-religious Jews and whether we can make our opposition to the Parade intelligible to them, we could find ourselves forgetting that the Parade represented a threat to the physical and spiritual safety of all Jews. The directive of our gedolim that the proper response to the Parade was not to confront the marchers head-on, but with tefillah and intensified Torah study represented an effort to prevent that desensitization.

On the other side lies the danger that the introduction of weapons of violence that are foreign to us will become commonplace in our camp – another form of desensitization. The potentially lethal (and ultimately ineffectual) stone-throwing on the Ramot Road that did so much to make the entire chareidi community anathema in the eyes of the broader Israeli public thirty years ago eventually led to the use of violence for far less noble goals – e.g., stone-throwing at Egged buses in Ramat Beit Shemesh hours after the end of Shabbos.

Little kids holding ropes across the road or throwing stones at cars passing through their neighborhood is just the end of a process that once unleashed is hard to keep under control.

Appeared in Mishpacha magazine today.

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13 Responses

  1. Rabbeinu says:

    To Chaim Fireman:

    Please leave Tosfos out of this. Actually, in a number of places in Shas, it is clear that the Tosafos were being written DURING AN ACTTUAL ATTACK. Torah was once equated with life itself.

  2. Jacob Haller says:

    Mr Rosenblum goes out on a limb to air a story that criticizes his own socio-religio-political group and apparently most responders view it as a “good window” to tell him it’s not enough or that the guilt is much greater and that he’s guilty for not acknowledging that.

    Sounds like what the UN, EU and NGOs said about Israel after they started Oslo and left Gaza unilaterally.

  3. Jeffrey Aftel says:

    “On the other side lies the danger that the introduction of weapons of violence that are foreign to us will become commonplace in our camp.”

    “Little kids holding ropes across the road or throwing stones at cars passing through their neighborhood is just the end of a process that once unleashed is hard to keep under control.”

    The implication from Jonathan’s words is that this is an emerging problem that WILL BECOME commonplace or WILL GET out of control. It is already the entrenched modus operandi of the charedi community and a chilul Hashem of biblical proportions. It is ALREADY out of control and it is ALREADY commonplace.

    Where are our gedolim? Of whom are they afraid?

  4. gibly says:

    You omit a crucial point – the tendency to see secular Israelis as an evil enemy rather than misguided and ignorant of Judaism. By contrast, in the US, who looks at irreligious Jews as anything but tinokot shenishbu? Yet in Israel, if there is so much as a move by the state to require haredi schools to meet minimal educational standards or give up funding — something that would be in the interests of any western government — the secular are demonized as though their intent was to destroy yiddishkeit. This demonization is what leads to violent extremism.

  5. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Yasher koach to Jonathan Rosenblum for writing this Mishpacha essay. In two past articles(one in Mishpacha and another by another writer in the Jewish Observer), some(but certainly not all) reactions have been to resist self-reflection and communual cheshbon hanefesh. That is an understandable reaction, but unproductive.

    It is a shame that those who “who view their own neighborhood as something like an Indian reservation”, ruin it for everyone else, by causing the whole charedi community to be tarred with a single brush. Part of the problem is that the Jewish community is splintered, and certainly, outside bridge-builders within Orthodoxy, such as the OU or Agudah, have zero direct influence with the zealous individuals in question.

    In the extreme case of Neturie Karta, the Austrian Jewish community has taken drastic steps towards ostracizing that group, but since other forms of zealotry are not perceived to be as traitorous as consorting with Iranians(and to the contrary, some hard-line positions such as “cursing” the police at the gay parade are considered to be an acceptable means of protest), it becomes difficult to take effective action against zealots, even if they are officially criticized in Kol Koreh’s issued in Meah Shearim. How does one teach the public to control the accelarator of zealotry? This is not to criticize any Rabbonim of those communities who certainly don’t want such results, but just to point out an arguable root cause of problems.

    Although it is unclear how it will occur exactly, I have faith that the “struggle for the soul of the chareidi community”, will end with the self-styled zealots having less influence, because in Jewish history, the good and the healthy eventually triumphs in the end of time.

    “The directive of our gedolim that the proper response to the Parade was not to confront the marchers head-on, but with tefillah and intensified Torah study represented an effort to prevent that desensitization.”

    This response is not only effective in preventing desensitization to the parade’s representing “physical and spiritual safety of all Jews”, but presumably, counters such dangers themselves, which are the reason why zealots, in the first place, feel the need to take extreme steps like rioting to prevent physical harm, G-d forbid.

  6. Chaim Fireman says:

    “>The directive of our gedolim that the proper response to the Parade was not to confront the marchers head-on, but with tefillah and intensified Torah study . . . .”

    While increased prayer has always been a traditional response – though not literally all the time, like it is today – since when has increased Torah study been a traditional Jewish response to anything? In the time of the Crusades, you did not see Rabbeinu Tam call for more learning.

  7. Ahron says:

    “The only difference here is that there is no “good window” evident. I know that there are good people, but they are hiding. And with their silence, whether out of fear or acquiescence, they are making a defacto choice to let evil represent them.
    Comment by Menachem Lipkin — July 11, 2007”

    Sounds a lot like contemporary Islam, without the bombs.

  8. Moshe S. says:

    How many other acts of violence and vandalism by secular youth on the same night went completely unreported? I wondered.

    The difference is, of course, that acts of violence by secular youth do not receive the tacit support of much of the rest of the community and even some of its leaders, as is the case with the charedi stone-throwers.

    You really should come and visit Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet. It’s not just a few stray little kids doing this.

  9. YoelB says:

    The problem pointed out in the Jerusalem Post op-ed article is that there are forces within the charedi community that lump Torah committed Jews who hold a different halachic opinion of when Shabbat is over together with irreligious Jews and think it’s a good thing to violently assault them and vandalize their property.

    Jonathan Rosenblum is undoubtedly right that many acts of violence by secular youth were not mentioned in the op-ed piece in question. But the secular youth are, in the Irish phrase contrasting burglars and muggers to the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries, ordinary decent criminals. The charedi shebab are justifying their actions–no doubt just as exciting to them as ordinary vandalism is to a secular kid–as defending their community.
    And the final paragraph that trivializes the dangerous behavior of the… what’s that word… “youth” by calling it “little kids holding ropes across a road or throwing stones” is chilling. Jonathan Rosenblum is talking about ropes that could chas v’shalom strangle or decapitate a passerby and stones that can injure or kill regardless of how old the thrower is. This is doublethink worthy of Orwell’s 1984.
    Secular Israelis, particularly the Left, tend to see charedim as Jewish Taliban. This article, in its quiet way, tends to prove them right. That it comes from Jonathan Rosenblum who is in many respects the public spokesman of the charedi community is deeply troubling.

  10. David says:

    Sorry, but the need to be sensitive to how non-frum Jews see charedim is a point that deserves a much, much more forceful piece than this. This article waxes poetic analyzing different approaches etc., rather than driving home the point that each and every charedi child and adult owes it to himself, his community, HKB”H and the Torah to present authentic Judaism in a positive light. Why can’t this point be made loudly, clearly and forcefully? And why does this issue not occupy a more significant portion of the public discourse among charedim?

  11. Menachem Lipkin says:

    I don’t have a lot left in me to write much about this issue. It has drained me. I live in Beit Shemesh on the border of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. I am struggling with the same issues as the author Rosenblum writes about.

    The only difference here is that there is no “good window” evident. I know that there are good people, but they are hiding. And with their silence, whether out of fear or acquiescence, they are making a defacto choice to let evil represent them.

  12. Jewish Observer says:

    why is acting like a behema for the sake of yiddishkeit any more valid of a choice than e.g. driving to shul on shabbos?

  13. Jewish Observer says:

    “How many other acts of violence and vandalism by secular youth on the same night went completely unreported?”

    – are you saying that misbehavior of a youth who grew up without the benefit of torah is as newsworthy as that of a misbehaving “moral” person? all you are proving is that there is recognition out there that torah is supposed to mean something. we should surely believe it ourselves.