Actions, Values, and Education

by Rabbi Doron Beckerman

Much virtual ink has been spilled in recent months over the acts of vandalism, hooliganism, and general bad Middos of various sub-sectors of Charedi society. One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal, is that these actions show that the values of Charedi society are essentially rotten, and that a total reevaluation of the underlying messages given by the Rabbanim and Mechanchim of the Charedi world is in order.

Following this logic – of extrapolation from the actions of some members of a group to the nixing of its essential values – leads one to wonder how to relate to the values of the Torah itself, in light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tongue lashing of the Jewish Nation. Moshe Rabbeinu, according to Rashi in last week’s Torah portion, tells his brethren that they are cumbersome, brazen people who have no respect for their leaders, as well as insufferable complainers. At one point Moshe felt that he was at risk of being pelted with rocks. Does this reflect poorly on the values that the Nation had received at Har Sinai? Was Moshe’s knee-jerk attitude to question of what value was all the Torah he had taught the Nation, when they could not behave properly?

Clearly, the answer lies not in the values themselves, but in proper internalization of those values. Moshe Rabbeinu did not for a moment doubt that the Torah was the guide which would lead to creation of a holy people. What he did realize was that there was not, as yet, a full commitment on the part of some of the members of the nation to compliance with the instructions laid forth in the guidebook. “Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews” was certainly part of Moshe’s thought process, or else he would have had to question his entire mission of Matan Torah – which he never did.

How does one go about evaluating values of a religion/society if not by its adherents? After all, one might use the same line of argument for Islamo-fascism – perhaps we should not judge Hamas by its suicide bombers, but by its charity organizations?

I believe the answer is that a society should be judged by its heroes. Islamic terrorists look to people who are evil incarnate as their “Gedolim”. The names of the Mufti Al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat, Sheikh Yassin, etc., all people who have encouraged and participated in murder of innocents, are borne on the lips of the Islamo-fascists as role models of exemplary commitment to the ideals that their society espouses.

The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children – the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish and the Satmar Rebbe; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Tuvia Weiss. The personal failings of a limited number of hotheads notwithstanding, the overarching message of Charedi society is to strive to be like these men who were, and are, outstanding Torah scholars of the generation, and to emulate their unmitigated passion for a life brimming with Torah and Yiras Shamayim, to the exclusion of all other transient pursuits.

[Rabbi Beckerman is a Rebbe and a Mashgiach at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim and a very recent oleh from Los Angeles to Ramat Beit Shemesh. His work is familiar to many readers from his blogging days when he contributed prodigiously to a blog of his own under a screen name.]

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19 comments to Actions, Values, and Education

  • Neil Harris

    Well put, Rabbi Beckerman.

  • Ken Bloom

    Maybe I haven’t been around the blogosphere enough, but among people who conclude Charedi values are throughly bad because of the rabble mentioned in the article, I haven’t seen any instance from someone who isn’t also trying to throw out Torah completely. As far as I’ve seen, anyone who believes in Torah values has taken a more nuanced approach to acts of vandalism and hooligansim, and tries to understand what might be keeping hooliganism from being completely prevented. (And there’s also some level of internalization by the critic too.)

    In one example, I saw a poster who decried the people who spray bleach on women wearing non-Tzniut clothing. This poster was imagining all kinds of cruel punishments that he’d like to do to these people. Another poster popped up, and said her fantasy punishment would be to sue in Bet Din for damages, driving home the point that the Torah prescribes the punishment, as well as the law, and that people who care about halacha should care that the punishment is halachic as well.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children…”

    Agreed. As Rabbeinu Yonah explains, “The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, and a man is tried by his praise”. There is much beauty in the Charedi world which critics often do not focus on.

    “The personal failings of a limited number of hotheads notwithstanding, the overarching message of Charedi society is to strive to be like these men who were, and are, outstanding Torah scholars of the generation, and to emulate their unmitigated passion for a life brimming with Torah and Yiras Shamayim, to the exclusion of all other transient pursuits.”

    Precisely because Charedi society emphasizes a passionate observance of Torah, there needs to be a constant focus and emphasis on tolerance, just as Centrists emphasize it in their own way. The Netziv in the preface to Bereishis talks about the need for tolerance even amongst tzadikim of the Bayis Sheni.

    One should separate vandalism such as throwing stones, from the less mild forms, such as intolerance, in discussion, for those who think differently; nevertheless, the latter subject needs focus as well. Rabbi Berel Wein wrote in the current Jewish Action about the latter, as applied to the entire Orthodox world:

    ” The rabbinic and lay leaders of the Orthodox community, in all of its factions and divisions, should take a good hard look at the current societal situation and speak out about it. Of course they will be criticized, and perhaps even terrorized, by some within their own groups for doing so. Nevertheless, the responsibility of leadership is theirs. The Orthodox public generally should demand a more civil discussion, a tolerance of others and a rejection of extremism and misguided fanaticism”.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal…”

    There has been internal reflection as well. Especially in the blog world and secular media, there will be criticism and open discussion which can not be stifled, and it is therefore better that the criticism comes internally, from people who have our community’s interest at heart, so that people can point to a society that is reflective, and that also values external opinion.

    Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Yonason Rosenblum wrote in the Jewish Observer and Mishpocha, respectively, about stone throwing and/or trash burning. The Jewish Observer published articles by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman and Rabbi Yeuda Levi about tolerance in speech and thought for those who think differently. There was internal reflection and cheshbon hanefesh some time ago at an Agudah convention by a Moetzes Gedolie Hatorah member about the need for improvement in how some members of the Charedi world relate to “circles of shomrie Torah Umitzvos with whom we have serious ideological differences”.

    I think that the Charedi world would benefit if it would listen to outside criticism, such as one sees in some comments on this blog, and if it’s internal media would project such openness as well. One gets the feeling that while many would welcome it as a healthy sign for society, the media is afraid of criticism and of not appearing politically correct.

    Thus, I have noticed articles by Charedi writers which were “toned down” for the Charedi media, but which ironically, were more self-critical when they were published in the secular press. The Charedi media deserves credit for allowing some measure of self-criticism, but I long for the day when it will emulate what I think is the greater openness of the Modern Orthodox in this regard; in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with pointing to virtues of the latter society.

    On another note, I would like wish Rabbi Beckerman and his family much hatzlacha in his new venue.

  • shaulking

    Aren’t you curious who the Mentors and Role Models of the “rabble rousers” are?!

  • mycroft

    The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children – the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish and the Satmar Rebbe; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Tuvia Weiss. The personal failings of a limited number of hotheads notwithstanding

    Agreed-providing that the “personal failings of a limited number of hotheads notwithstanding” are truly not tolerated-the same way as if someone would talk in a shiur, a woman dress in a non-tzniut way, someone went to business on Shabbos. All of these activities would put one beyond the pale of tolerance-so too are the hotheads activities tolerated or not.

    If the “hotheads” are treated positively a la Pinchaes or even tolerated then the community can be tarred with those activities-the same way that Baruch Goldtein’s dastardly tied-can be used to tar the communities of those who could make apologies for his behavior.

  • Bob Miller

    When we evaluate any kind of Torah-based society, the values and qualities of its most revered leaders do matter but are not all that matters.

    If a society really respects its leaders, most, or at least many, society members should be conscientiously following their lead already. If the leaders are not respected to that degree, is this not a major defect in the society?

  • Arozora

    Juxtaposing the bad behaviour of haredi elements with the Sunday NY Times article by Noah Feldman, in which he (with his first-class Jewish education) pleads his case for intermarriage not alienating him from mod orthodoxy, it seems like neither intense religious observance and devotion nor a great Jewish education prevents a person from being in thrall to his or her yetzer hara.

  • Harry Maryles

    Do not judge a Hashkafa by actions of many of its adherents. I couldn’t agree more.

    And this is one of my pet peeves when Modern Orthodoxy is so often castigated by the right because so many MOs violate basic Halacha, like going mixed swimming, participating in social dancing sometimes with spouses other than their own, or dressing in halachicly borderline Tznius ways. And I agree that it’s a major problem.

    But it is with some of its people, not with the Hashkafa itself. That many do not follow certain Halachos can be attributed to a myriad of reasons, mostly having to do with background, lack of a decent Jewish education, and peer pressure… amongst many other factors.

    But Modern Orthodoxy requires the same degree of commitment to Halacha that Charedism does. And like the Charedim, the Hashkafos of Modern Orthodoxy should be judged, not so much who MO looks up to, (and I have no problem at all looking at the Rav, or Rav Hershel Shachter) but on the merit of MO Hashkafos. No Hashkafa should ever be judged on the actions of some …or even many… of those who claim to be its adherents.

  • Garnel Ironheart

    The article makes a good point. However, there is an old saying I remember from growing up: If Germans want to be proud of Bach and Goethe, they must also be ashamed of Hitler.

    It’s on thing to say we must judge Chareidi culture by its excellent leaders. It’s quite another to say that any deviation from that standard is caused by a limited number of hotheads. Yes, the news is skewed towards the bad. We don’t hear about good Chareidim having normal days because that’s not going to get the ratings but there is no ignoring that despite the examples of its leaders past and present, there is an increasing portion of Chareidi society that is getting part of the message and doing very poorly with it.

    Moshe Rabeinu knew the Jews had potential to do better, that it would take time to get the message of Torah across to them. In the meantime he had no illusions about the level of the people and knew exactly what they were capable of without a strong hand on their neck at all times.

    It would be nice to see the Chareidi leadership use that strong hand on their troublesome followers and show that Chareidi society is a force for good.

  • Hesh

    While I agree that it is unfair to generally judge a group solely by its lowest elements, in Israel, the haredi society insists that each and every one of its members is a “spiritual guardian” for the state and therefore should be exempt from national service. The existence of a minority that is clearly not living up to their responsibilities implies that the entire arrangement is inappropriate and that exemptions should instead be given on a case-by-case basis.

  • Jewish Observer

    “Do not judge a Hashkafa by actions of many of its adherents. I couldn’t agree more.”

    this breaks down when it can be shown that the errant actions of its aderents can be traced to elements of the hashkafa itself. this goes equally for heimish and MO

  • bag

    “One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal, is that these actions show that the values of Charedi society are essentially rotten, and that a total reevaluation of the underlying messages given by the Rabbanim and Mechanchim of the Charedi world is in order.”

    why is the same message when it is coming from internal quarters acceptable?

  • Bob Miller

    Some people here are attempting to apply the principles under discussion to Chareidim only and not to their own communities. This is more than a little off-putting.

    If one were to ask, “but don’t Chareidim claim to meet a high standard?”, I’d reply, “and your group does not?”

  • Mark L. Berch

    Rabbi Doron Beckerman writes, “I believe the answer is that a society should be judged by its heroes.” Why? He gives examples of who these people would be in terms of Charedi society, but gives no reasoning as to why that standard ought be used. Heroes, after all, represent only a tiny proportion of any society. To me, they seem no more appropriate that those considered to be the villians.

  • YM

    I’ve got to get the internet out of my house. What a waste of time.

  • Jak Black

    Well said, Doron.

    Harry, you didn’t read the article carefully. If a society cannot be judged by rabble in its midst, then it must surely be judged by its heroes. Who are the heroes of Modern Orthodoxy? Not yours – we can all read the box atop your blog. But who are the REAL heroes of the average Modern Orthodox Jew on the street? Which are the faces on the posters of the average Modern Orthodox teenager? The answer to that question expresses the true difference between Modern Orthodoxy and the Chareidi world.

  • Shlomo

    Of course i.e. R’ Eliashiv is not running around Ramat Beit Shemesh throwing stones. But then, (lehavdil) Nasrallah is not actually pushing the launch buttons on rockets. Leaders are judged not just by their personal behavior, but by what they allow from their followers. And if the “rabble” think that the gedolim sanction their behavior, then those gedolim must accept some of the blame.

  • Chaim Wolfson

    Shlomo, not only do I find your comparison (OK, because of your “lehavdil” I’ll call it juxtaposition) of Nasrallah to R’ Elyashiv offensive, but more to the point, the analogy is false. Nasrallah may not push the buttons that launch the rockets, but he does give the orders. Hitler never killed a Jew in his life either. R’ Elyashiv, on the other hand, never ordered anyone to throw rocks or burn tires, nor did he ever give any indication that he sanctions or condones such behavior. And to Shaulking, who wonders who the Mentors and Role Models of the stone throwers are, the answer is, no one I know of (and trust me, I know all the Chareidi mentors and role models). Not the figures the vast majority of the Chareidi world looks up to, and ceratinly not R’ Elyashiv! Interestingly, R’ Elyashiv himself was once the victim of an overzelous Yeshiva bochur who, using a warped thought process, deduced from his Rosh Yeshiva’s criticism of R’ Elyashiv (yes, R’ Elyashiv does have his critics on the right) that he was fulfilling a great mitzvah by throwing stones at him. The Rosh Yeshiva promptly expelled the boy from his Yeshiva. If you ask, why can’t all stone throwers be dealt with in a similar manner, the answer is that they feel beholden to nobody but themselves.

    Rabbi Maryles, I do not pretend to be a scholar of Modern Orthodoxy (even if I did grow up in Boston), so I cannot really argue points of its hashkafa. But it does seem to me, as an outsider looking in, that while it undoubtedly demands unswerving commitment to halachah, in practice the essence of its ideology lends itself to abuses of halachah by many. If you embrace the positive aspects of secular culture for its own sake, does that not leave you susceptible to the enticements of the baser aspects of that culture? (This I learned from no less a passionate proponent of Modern Orthodoxy than the estimable Dr. William Gewirtz, who commented on another thread in this forum that Modern Orthodoxy is the more dangerous, hence – in his opinion – the more rewarding, ideology.) In other words, the “chareidi rabble” exist despite chareidi ideology, as Rabbi Beckerman argues, not because of it, whereas the problems that confront Modern Orthodoxy, as you describe them, exist as an unintended byproduct of its ideology, which may just not be for the masses. And this is the criticism Chareidi thinkers have with Modern Orthodoxy on a practical level (aside from the problems they have with the theory itself, a topic for a different time).

    Mark, of course heroes represent only a tiny proportion of any society, but Rabbi Beckerman’s point is that in this case the heroes are venerated by the society because they represent the ideals of that society. Surely you would agree that a society can be judged by its ideals, even if some members do not always live up to them. Rabbi Beckerman’s post reminds me of a quote I once saw (I forget the exact source): “Ideals are like the stars. We cannot hope to reach them, but we chart our course by them.”

    Finally, Hesh, the Charedim in Israel do not insist that “each and every one of its members be exempt from national service”, only those learning in Yeshiva. Once they leave Yeshiva, Chareidim are subject to the draft just like any other segment of Israeli society, and there are many Chareidim in the IDF. Your argument has little relevance when applied to the rock throwers. As anyone who lives in Bet Shemesh can tell you, the rock throwers identify with a group whose members consider themselves exempt from national service not because they fulfill the function of “Spiritual Guardians” of the State, but because they do not even formally recognize the existence of the State (not to be confused with the handful of “useful idiots” who associate with those who wish to destroy the State r”l). They also do not take money from the State. So in their view its mutual: they have no responsibility to a state they don’t recognize, and the state they don’t recognize has no responsibilty to them. I am neither condoning nor condemning that view, I’m just saying it’s a fact.