An Anguished Question

Israeli media are reporting that there was another incident of violence against a woman for refusing to move to the back of the bus.

I have no way of knowing whether the story is true, in whole or in part. Past history, however, would predict that there is some kernel of reprehensible truth, no matter how much it may have been embellished by the haredi-haters in the media. My spies in Ramat Beit Shemesh-Alef (the next community over from Ramat Beit Shemesh-Bet where the deed was done, if it was done) are hard at work, but I don’t have verifiable corroboration of the charges that five haredi youth assaulted a frum woman and the IDF soldier sitting next to her. Reportedly, police efforts were then thwarted by a crowd of supporters who came to their aid, who also disabled the tires on the police vehicle.

Verified or not, I can tell you who is interested in the story, and who picked it up right away: the Muslim media. I have seen with my own eyes the output of one Muslim listserv under the appropriate enough title “5 ultra orthodox Jews beat the hell out of woman in public.”

When the Neturei Karta rashaim gave succor to Ahmadinejad, there was a huge show of revulsion from all – and unexpected – parts of the community. Even those who shared NK’s radical anti-Zionist platform drew the line at offering aid to the enemy. There is no reason to believe that the Muslims who circulated the story are our enemies. But there is also no way that the story will not propagate itself virally, and quickly fall into the hands of our enemies, who will joyfully point out to the world that in the much-vaunted Israeli democracy, elements every bit as primitive as themselves have free rein.

Ahmadinejad may very well be bluffing. Others, however, are involved in a daily, sustained war against our country and our people. How long will we tolerate people who strengthen the hands of our enemies, hands reaching out at this very moment to murder and maim, R”L?

Some of the citizens of Ramat Beit Shemesh have organized a petition campaign, condemning all forms of violence. They have some support from their rabbinate, but not enough. Perhaps it is time for the rest of us to get involved. Perhaps when meshulachim from RBS come knocking at our doors – and they certainly will – perhaps we precondition our donations on the heads of those mosdos signing on to the petition.

If we don’t, are we as well aiding and abetting those who are poised to destroy us?

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71 comments to An Anguished Question

  • Bob Miller

    While some actions of others may give the hotheads a pretext or opportunity, they are still hotheads to be disciplined and not applauded.

  • Mark

    Dr. Klafter,

    Before I comment on your remarks, I’d like to point out that while I don’t always agree with you, I find you to be someone whose comments I look forward to reading.

    “Only a very insecure person responds with denial and defensiveness to all criticism. A secure, confident person can look at his own flaws, can acknowledge legitimate criticism.”

    I assume you’re point is that therefore Hareidim should not reflexively defend themselves against criticisms of practicing unacceptably high levels of violence and should instead accept and acknowledge the legitimate criticism.

    What troubles me about that is where do you find evidence that anyone in the Hareidi community thinks that such violence is acceptable? Who defended it? Did many people defend it to your knowledge? Are you basing your position on the fact that it hasn’t been widely condemned?

    I also wonder what your feelings are about what constitutes legitimate criticism? Does post #459 discussing this incident from a rabidly anti-hareidi blogger qualify or must it come from a source who would generally be perceived as favorable [or at least unbiased in either direction] to qualify?

    In your mind, do you think the cacophony of anti-haredi’ism that pervades the blogosphere hinder any efforts to convey sincere mussar in a manner that could be acceptable? IOW – if ones mother-in-law berated him daily for every imaginable offense, don’t you think that would hamper her ability to convey valid criticism?

    I’m really curious about your opinion n this matter or please correct me if I misunderstood your point in the first place. Thanks

  • Tal Benschar

    While some actions of others may give the hotheads a pretext or opportunity, they are still hotheads to be disciplined and not applauded.

    Comment by Bob Miller

    ABSOLUTELY! The actions of the hotheads are clearly far beyond the pale and need to be controlled, if for no other reason than they are counter-productive.

    But that does not mean you should ignore the wider context.

    This reminds me of what occurred in EY when I was studying there some 15 years ago — when bus stations were torched. Surely a reprehensible act worthy of condemnation.

    But at the time I wondered — the ads featuring women in skimpy bathing suits which “ignited” the problem were put up in Charedi neighborhoods, including one I personally saw at a bus stop at the entrace to Geulah. How many bikinis did the company think would be sold by advertising there? It was clear that the posters were put up as a provocation.

    Again, it seems to me that there is a simple way for the community to enforce its standards in a peaceful way, as I have outlined. Is it that no one has tried, or is it that the parties invovled have no interest in reaching a peaceable modus vivendi?

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “In your mind, do you think the cacophony of anti-haredi’ism that pervades the blogosphere hinder any efforts to convey sincere mussar in a manner that could be acceptable?”

    It’s a good point about the blogosphere(and some mother-in-laws) making it difficult to talk about these important issues without heat.

    However, I’ve found that even an article published in the Jewish Observer(before blogs) and Mishpacha magazine articles by a Charedi writer have sometimes caused what I perceive as defensive reactions by some(certainly not all) readers which I do not think is helpful. Granted, everyone is entitled to defend themselves, and other readers should portray the situation as a complex one, and as fairly as possible.

    Be that as it may, the good news is that any resistance has been overcome regarding public discussion of other issues, so eventually it can be overcome here as well, as more people want to see a particular subject publicly discussed in a constructive manner.

  • nachum klafter

    “I’m really curious about your opinion n this matter or please correct me if I misunderstood your point in the first place. Thanks.”

    Yes, I think you partially misunderstood my point, but you ask some important questions nevertheless.

    My point–there IS a very big problem in the Haredi world now. Violence may still be relatively rare, but it is a manifestation of an increasingly intense hatred and demonization of the rest of the world. This includes slightly less right wing Haredi jews, non-Haredi Orthodox Jews, unobservant Jews, and to a lesser extent non Jews.

    I hear this criticism from Haredi rabbonim themselves. The article I posted shows that this was already a concern back in the 1970′s.

    “What troubles me about that is where do you find evidence that anyone in the Hareidi community thinks that such violence is acceptable? Who defended it? Did many people defend it to your knowledge? Are you basing your position on the fact that it hasn’t been widely condemned?”

    When I say “defensive” I do not mean “defending violence” in the sense of condoning or advocating violence. What I mean is things like this: “We are less violent than others.” “The media is jumping at the opportunity to make Haredim look bad.” “How do we know that this really occurred–it may be made up.” “There is even more violence among secular Jews.” “Rabin was murdered by a modern orthdox Mizrachi-nik, not a yeshivish, Haredi Jew,” etc.

    In other words, defensive reactions are those which are intended to minimize or deny the significance of the incident, and to avoid consideration of the possibility that there is a problem with hatred and anger toward “others”, and intolerance toward other Orthodox approaches to issues in hashkafa and idology.

    “I assume you’re point is that therefore Hareidim should not reflexively defend themselves against criticisms of practicing unacceptably high levels of violence and should instead accept and acknowledge the legitimate criticism.”

    I don’t think ANYONE should reflixively defend themsselves against criticism. This is not the derekh of Chazal or the ba’alei mussar.

    The capacity for self-reflection is one of the most important middos to cultivate in human nature. Look at Haredi publications–you will not see much humility or agonizing introspection. I am putting it mildly.

    I suppose what I would would like to see would be that the spiritual leaders who have advocated extreme measures to root out immodesty and modernity would show at least as much passion about rooting out the hatred and demonization of outsiders which leads to violence.

    “Dr. Klafter, before I comment on your remarks, I’d like to point out that while I don’t always agree with you, I find you to be someone whose comments I look forward to reading.”

    The fact that someone who disagrees with me nevertheless looks forward to reading my comments is a great compliment. Thank you.

  • joel rich

    I don’t think ANYONE should reflixively defend themsselves against criticism. This is not the derekh of Chazal or the ba’alei mussar.
    ==================================
    I think this is inherent in modern public political discourse in all walks of life. Is it inherent in the briah for the tzibbur or are we all not as insulated as we think?

    BTW the need for continued criticism is probably most needed from within (for all groups – I don’t think my own does near enough)

    KT

  • Gilana

    I have been sitting here thinking about what I would do if I was approached by an indignant man (or five) and commanded to change my seat or leave the bus, and my answer came more easily than I expected. I would behave as my mother and father taught me. That is, I would acquiesce. My heart would be pumping with fear and shame (from having been singled out,) but I would have no choice to comply, really, because it would be at that moment that it was within my power to prevent the situation from accelerating. And I am certain that afterwards I would be depressed and feeling hopeless, because it is not within my realm of comprehension to be able to approach an inert stranger and impose my will. With my action, however, I could possibly be assured of one less news article being fodder for those to whom denigrating all those with any observance in their hearts as contemptible.

  • dovid

    What’s “semi-Hareidi public”? Are we semi-Hareidi, or maybe semi-semi-Hareidi, because after all we use the Internet?

  • Mark

    Dr. Klafter,

    Thank you for your response. I guess we differ on this point:

    “My point—there IS a very big problem in the Haredi world now. Violence may still be relatively rare, but it is a manifestation of an increasingly intense hatred and demonization of the rest of the world.”

    I don’t know your background but if I recall, you’d affiliate somewhere other than the Hareidi community, no? Thus your perspective may be different than mine, which is as a card-carrying member of the Hareidi community, although I’d generally be considered more to the center of that group, as opposed to right-wing.

    I know that it’s a given in the blogosphere that there exists “an increasingly intense hatred and demonization of the rest of the world” in the Hareidi world, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t see it nearly the way you do.

    I attended a fairly typical BP HAreidi yeshivah and almost NEVER did the subject of MO come up, certainly not in the bashing sense. Of course, we knew that there are differences regarding certain hashkafos, and we believed that ours were correct but then again, so does every MO person believe about his hashkafos. There was no wholesale trashing of them as one might think.

    The same went for the Mesivtah and Beis Medrash I attended in the US, again a mainstream yeshivish place. And the same was true for where I studied in EY and Lakewood.

    In EY, things are different than they are in the US and any attempt to draw a parallel is bound to fail. Everything there is so much more radicalized, from secular to MO to Hareidi. In my time there I saw secular Israelis get into fistfights over a taxi fare, MO guys beating up arabs that they didn’t like and Hareidim shoving each other over a space in a falafel shop. In all my years in the sates, I’ve never seen such behavior from anyone, Jewish nor non-jewish.

    I think the defensiveness comes when people see outsiders [IOW - non Hareidim - and often people who are constantly attacking all things Hareidi - I don't mean you here] read so much into a story like this one as if it was symbolic of a deep rooted issue in the Hareidi community. I’d venture that many of the people who are so sure of themselves haven’t ever lived in EY and don’t truly understand the situation there. Nor have they studied and lived in Lakewood or Boro Park/Flatbush. Much of what they opine is based upon what they’ve read from others and their opinion is just not as valid as they may think.

    Perhaps mine is not either, but at least I’ve lived in all the aforementioned places for significant amounts of time and I have reason to believe that the problem is greatly overstated. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems in the Hareidi community, but “an increasingly intense hatred and demonization of the rest of the world” isn’t one of them. If anything, there’s a movement toward greater tolerance. [As an example - Five years ago the JO ran a long Dvar Torah from a Young Israel Rabbi who's heavily affiliated with YU and heads a fairly left-wing YI. That was unheard of in the seventies and eighties.]

  • Miriam Shear

    With my action, however, I could possibly be assured of one less news article being fodder for those to whom denigrating all those with any observance in their hearts as contemptible.

    Comment by Gilana — October 29, 2007 @ 8:34 am

    No, Gilana, you would have assured that those demanding you move would be empowered and encouraged to continue their obnoxious, belligerant behavior. You would thereby become an unwitting accessory to the chillul Hashem (s?) that will inevitably occur as they get bolder and bolder. Perhaps it was the “Gilana” before you who also acqueisced to these inappropriate demands that allowed this scene to repeat itself with you.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “If anything, there’s a movement toward greater tolerance.”

    I, too, believe that in certain areas there is a movement towards greater tolerance, namely, that greater care is taken in public statements and print publications on the organizational level in America, in both the Charedi and MO worlds; I think that one must give credit where it’s due, in that area. As far as my personal experience living in the Charedi world, I also agree with Mark that there is no demonization of the Other; people are generally busy with their own lives and not with judging what other people think or do.

    Yet, there is room for improvement as well. There have been recent articles in the Jewish Observer by R. Elyahu Meir Klugman and R. Yehuda (Leo) Levi on the topic and it was mentioned at an Agudah Convention a while back.

    This issue is how bright or bleak to paint the picture. I agree with Rabbi Shafran’s response to Rabbi Wein, both in the JA and on OU Radio, that one needs to emphasize the positive as well. Yet, Rabbi Wein’s article(“Weeping and Wishing”) can not simply be dismissed as one does to an irate blogger.

    Bottom line, there is much positive—whether on the individual level, or regarding improvements made in organizational communication. But if people feel so strongly a certain way, to the extent that it’s called “Weeping and Wishing”, I would not say that they are imagining it, but rather that there is something to think about, if not to the extent mentioned, then at least partially so.

  • joel rich

    This issue is how bright or bleak to paint the picture. I agree with Rabbi Shafran’s response to Rabbi Wein, both in the JA and on OU Radio, that one needs to emphasize the positive as well.
    ==========================
    R’BH
    Agree, but as we’ve discussed before (and I emailed Steve Savitsky after his OU interview on the issue) someone has to ask Charedi leadership if TUM is an acceptable derech in avodat hashem. A simple yes or no will suffice. The action plan for your thought will then be much easier.

    KT

  • Eliyahu

    asking charedi leadership if TUM is ok or not won’t work. Simply because you have to first define whose version of TUM you are asking about. RAL? RHS? YCT? Lander College? TUM is too braod a term. And also is it ok for a very talented individual or for the average person?

  • cvmay

    Gilana
    Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz just released an article about “Bullying” in schools, workplace, home, etc., and compared it to the recent event that occured on the bus in BS. By acquiesing to bullies you are encouraging the act to reoccur, I am in full agreement with M. Shear.

  • cvmay

    BTW bullying is bullying, a venue does not change the episode. Youth, Adult, Charedei, MO, secular, non-jewish, Israeli and/or American – it is the same, BULLYING is BULLYING. People can benefit from classes on ‘Conflict Resolution’ as much as classes on tzinius, hilchos shabbos and taharas mishpacha. Grants and donors should be approached to fund these important sessions of ‘Conflict Resolution’. (not joking..)

  • tzippi

    Re TUM, by whose definition: there’s TUM, and TIDE. Some will say that the conjunction (U=and, I=with) isn’t nuance, it’s the crux of the matter.

  • joel rich

    OK, try this then (although saying one can’t answer without a specific definition of TUM sounds more like it comes from the presidential debate forum)- is YU an acceptable Yeshiva for a ben torah.

    KT

  • Bob Miller

    OK, Joel Rich, what’s your definition of “Ben Torah”?

  • joel rich

    A young man serious about his avodat hashem.
    KT

  • RBS A resident

    It took me a few days of asking around to find anyone who saw evidence of the original news story. I got two responses:

    (1) Someone who drove through RBS B later that evening and described it as a “mess” – the garbage dumped in the streets as is typical of an ad-hoc demonstration.

    (2) Someone saw the bus pulled over by police, but was walking into a nearby store to do some shopping. When he came out (say 10 minutes later) the police were interviewing two women, and a soldier was having a yelling match with some charedim gathered around.

    #2 seems to cast aspersions on the newspaper descriptions of the woman and soldier “beaten up” (as opposed to unpleasantly harassed) and police tires slashed, and perhaps make the rioters who helped the bus riders escape a bit more dubious as well.

    Unfortunately this kind of news travels so quickly, that it’s nearly impossible to refute or clarify later.

  • michoelhalberrstam

    On a related note., some of you may have seen the New York Times video on the internat about Ramat Bet Shemesh Alef and Bet and the issue of what, for want of a better word might be called “not so gentle religious suasion.” a shop keeper is shown as saying that in his pizza store named after America he uses the twin towers as a symbol because many chareidim woulld object to the notion of personal freedom and liberty that the statue of liberty implies. Personally, I don’t think that American jews need to be embarrassed to believe in the virtue of democratic institutions, and I am disturbed that such an idea is taken for granted. I guess a lot of what we have been discussing here relates to this idea.