Tzniyus Patrols, Abuse, Violence and Getting Personal about Torah

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The intrepid Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post recently hailing the sentencing of an operative for a self-appointed tzniyus vaad in Yerushalayim to four years in jail. He then republished it on his blog, and called on others to join in the condemnation of violence and vigilante terrorism in the name of Torah. We should do so without hesitation.

The convicted perp had accepted $2000 from a tzniyus vaad, in payment for his breaking into the apartment of a woman in Maalot Daphne and viciously beating her. The vaad hoped that she could be convinced thereby to move out of their neighborhood. Members of the vaad itself escaped conviction because the case against them was bungled by the authorities. (See the piece on Rabbi Horowitz’s blog for the fuller story, and Dr Benzion Twerski’s thoughtful comment about the needed balance between openness and transparency on the one hand, and following halachah in regard to unfounded allegations on the other.)

Rabbi Horowitz did the right thing in publicly distancing the Torah community from violence in pursuit of purported Torah values. He called upon haredi MKs to see to it that the authorities fully prosecute such abominable behavior. I’m not sure why he stopped at MKs, rather than demand that all leaders, whether in the government or not, unequivocally condemn such actions, and to marginalize both those who participate in religious terrorism and those who support the terrorists. We should be equally demanding, refusing to contribute to institutions whose leaders are respected in the communities affected, but whose proclamations critical of zealotry have been lukewarm.

Religiously-motivated violence will not stay confined to Meah Shearim and Ramat Beis Shemesh. Visiting Flatbush last week, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Hirhurim’s Gil Student in person. We worked on some areas of common blogging interest, and he mentioned in passing an incident that occurred within a half a block of where we met over coffee.

A clothing store, in business before the neighborhood turned considerably frummer, had some female mannequins in a window. Before beginning a shiur, a prominent rov departed from his scheduled topic to warn of the great evil in this local display, and offered that it would be a great mitzvah for someone to burn down the store, even if he would have to spend long years in prison for doing so. It is not clear why he did not rush to perform the great mitzvah himself. [NOTE: A retraction has been issued concerning this story.]

It is not enough for the rest of us to tell ourselves and our children that we would never act that way or speak that way. We have to find ways to proclaim that having a beard, a Shas, and a following does not preclude being a fool.

For those confused about halachic sanctioning the use of force to prevent another Jew from committing a sin – sometimes offered as “justification” for violence – see Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma 3:9 who cautions that this does not extend to ordinary citizens. Prophetically, he warms that such a practice would “not leave anyone with a life,” as “every empty fellow” would become a self-appointed guardian of the law.

Rabbi Horowitz can direct our ire to religious MKs in Israel, where they can be expected to bring the weight of the law upon criminals. We have no one to turn to but ourselves when it comes to ferreting out rabbinic and other malfeasance on our shores, in several ugly manifestations thereof.

I recently stumbled across the aftermath of one of the most horrible tales of sexual abuse I had ever heard. The girl’s victimizer was her father, and the results were disastrous and not suitable for the public domain. While in Flatbush, I shared the story with Rav Dovid Cohen, shlit”a, long known for his strong stance against abuse. I hoped that the story would give him some chizuk in what is often a lonely task. He listened, and then sarcastically spoke about those who protect the guilty and block their vigorous prosecution. “They call it mesirah. If you want, though, I can show you a letter I have, penned by someone in Lakewood who had been a childhood victim of abuse. He was supposed to get married. The letter is his suicide note.”

The vast majority of our community fully supports vigorous, effective and halachically responsible methods of dealing with abuse. There are those in our midst who still impede progress, obfuscate the truth, and cover up for those who deserve no sanction. Those who misunderstand and misapply laws of mesirah ( which actually state that those who “vex and pain the public” – which is clearly the case in regard to abusers – may be handed over to secular authorities. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 388:12), or who sanction violence, do not deserve a place or a voice among us. It is time we stop coddling them, or simply shaking our heads in disbelief. It is not enough.

I am not sure how to balance two independent sources of outrage, each one so enormous as to take up all the space in a cranium. Do we rail at the harm they do, which means people killed, lives destroyed, and kids running from observance? Or do we mourn the black mark they leave on Torah itself. How can people turn the beauty of Torah into an object of revulsion?

Recently, I listened to a recording of a shiur by Rav Herschel Schachter, shlit”a, which included an intriguing reference to a teshuvah about accepting the handshake of a woman. I do not cite it here as a bottom-line halachic argument. I have known wonderful and thoughtful talmidei chachamim who offered arguments to prohibit the practice, and others who came to the opposite conclusion. What is interesting about this responsum, written by Rav Chaim Berlin z”l (the son of the Netziv), is that it goes off in a completely different direction than others who are lenient. Those lenient authorities argue that shaking hands is not forbidden at all, clearly and obviously lacking any amorous intent, or at most a derabbanan which should be trumped by the kavod habriyos issue of sparing one or more of the parties significant embarrassment. R. Chaim Berlin, however, wrote to a talmid that he should shake hands, because refusing the proffered hand would seem so bizarre in America, that it would bring shame to Torah! People – non-frum Jews and non-Jews – would assume that Torah-true Jews were primitive morons, and that is intolerable. What do people think of Torah when they hear about foot-dragging and cover-ups of abuse, and the encouragement-through-silence of vigilantes?

Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who learned Torah in the presence of an am ha-eretz is as if he violated that ignorant person’s betrothed in front of him. The ba’alei mussar explain that every Jew has a stake in the Torah. The am ha-eretz may never have done very much with his portion, but he recognizes on some level that the Torah belongs to him, and finds it painful that another party seems to be absconding with what rightfully belongs to him.

Some of us are perhaps a bit more knowledgeable than R.Akiva’s am ha-aretz. We certainly should be taking a personal interest in the Torah that others are stealing and dragging through the mud of primitivism and boorishness. If we can’t react for Hashem’s great Name, or through compassion for His children, then let us at least be selfish and become overprotective of our own portion in His Torah that is so diminished by the actions of others.

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40 Responses

  1. dovid says:

    Asher: “… One second of hana’ah during the handshake”

    The emmes is that the handshake’s objective in business setting is not hana’ah, and in most cases there was no unintentional hana’ah derived. It’s a formality that I would gladly skip whether it involved man or woman. I researched the issue. All the rabbanim I asked were against shaking hands with women.

  2. Raymond says:

    Why all this emphasis on naming names? This is not the National Enquirer, this is a forum for honest and sincere discussion. Right?

    At least from my perspective, the most important issue being discussed here is, what is more important, Torah law, or the freedom to follow or reject that same Torah law? If the former is the more important thing, then G-d would have created a world in which He would have forced Torah law upon us. So every time one of us decides to eat at McDonald’s, lightning would strike that Jew dead.

    Obviously, G-d did not create the world in such a manner. In fact, the very reason why so many of us have asked the question of why good people suffer and bad people prosper, is precisely because we do not see G-d exacting justice in our world. Apparently, G-d Himself has decided that our freedom of choice is more important than the actual decisions we make. Well, if it is good enough for G-d, then it is good enough for me.

  3. Alvin Temperland says:

    And if a community has no right to enforce standards, then I presume you’d have no issue with a town permitting a brothel to open up next to your shul or a strip club next to your children’s school. After all, there is no entitlement to community standards.

    That’s a poorly designed straw-man, of an argument, of course, but what I actually wrote is that there is no entitlement to standards if the entitlement leads inevitably to violence.

    (Or is it only certain standards that are entitled to be enforced, not others?)

    Yes, of course only certain standards are entitled to be enforced. Others ar silly, and there is no reason for a civil society to be allowed to enforce this sort of tyranny of the majority. I apologize if I was somehow unclear about this.

  4. Robert Lebovits says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein writes:”Naming names sometimes detracts from effectiveness”.
    I believe that to be true only because it is not an automatic response. If it were a matter of course that individuals engaged in cover-ups were publicly identified along with the abuser, then those so eager to defend “baseless accusations against men of prominence” would have to come out of the shadows and risk their own reputations. If the defenders truly believe their actions are just they should have no hesitancy coming forward openly.
    Robert Lebovits

  5. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Response to a few comments:

    I did not omit names because of any qualms in pointing to the guilty when it serves a purpose. The name of the confessed criminal who beat the woman was in the story. Naming names sometimes detracts from effectiveness. (At the Museum of Tolerance, affiliated with my place of employment, we have a wall honoring non-Jews who saved Jews during the War. We deliberately omit names to make the effect more universal.) In some cases, I would omit names if it served no function in warning others who might be impacted by his behavior. I do believe that the laws of lashon hora preclude saying true but nasty things about the guilty, if doing so serves no direct, constructive purpose.

    The most disconcerting comment came from Bob (#20). I don’t have a quick fix. OTOH, I’m not sure that we have imported a violence problem yet from points further east. If it ever does come to that, I can’t think of anything foolproof. We should be prepared to do two things, one of which can’t be done in Israel (using secular authorities to prosecute, without qualms, after proper consultation with halachic protocols), and one which generally isn’t (absolute shunning of the party from all parts of community life. If he walks into a shul, everyone should move out of his daled amos.)

    The halachic analysis by some of the commentors is incomplete. The issue is not hana’ah. The issue is called “lo sikrevu.” According to the Mechaber (YD 195:16) and the Rambam, physical contact that does not involve a full sexual liaison is still prohibited, and may be a yehoreg ve-al ya’avor, requiring one to give up one’s life rather than violate. Ramban, on the other hand, knows of no such issur. The Shach argues that even according to the Rambam, the issur exists only when the physical contact is amorous (and I employ here a deliberate circumlocution.) Rav Moshe zt”l in a teshuvah held that there were three levels. Contact that is passionate is assur mi-d’orayso according to Rambam; where it is not passionate, it is still forbidden mi-derabbanan (and even Ramban may agree to this); where it is non-passionate and clearly understood that way by all, it is not even forbidden rabbinically. Many believe that the handshake (in contradistinction to the Italian embrace) is in the third category. R. Chaim Berlin apparently was among them.

  6. Robert Lebovits says:

    Tal Benschar notes, “In days gone by, when there was an organized kehilla system headed by a Rov and a Beis Din, then they were empowered (often by the ruling authorities) to enforce these standards in the community”.
    My parents grew up in perhaps one of the most well-known chareidi European communities where two thirds of the Jews were frum. Yet I NEVER heard of any instance in which violence was the sanctioned consequence to a violation of community standards. And there were more than a few unsavory characters in the kehilla. The idea that violence against individuals has a place in the frum world MUST be rooted out at every level, especially when the concept of kanoiyis has become so easily assumed by so many (I thought the kanoi was by definition the exception since he went beyond the limit of the common man). No amount of rationalization or empathy for people’s sensibilities can excuse the Chilul Hashem committed by those who willfully hurt others in the name of frumkeit.
    Tal,I absolutely agree with you that the kehilla system provided leadership and structure to its constituents, something terribly lacking today. Nevertheless, though no kehilla exists today – with the possible exception of K’Hal Adas Yeshurun – we need to demand more of those in leadership postions throughout the frum world. Rabbi Adlerstein, is it impermissible al pi Halacha to “name names” and identify the individuals you mentioned in your essay? I assume Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita, is of the opinion that he cannot publicly identify those individuals who attempted to thwart the prosecution of abusers. It would be very helpful – in light of the many calls for public exposure of the bad actors in our midst – for Rav Dovid to issue a tshuva explaining the halachic limitations of public condemnation.
    Sadly we are likely in for terrible times to come because of our inactions protecting the victims of abuse.
    Robert Lebovits

  7. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Mark, you said:

    “Instead of reading my second post where I clearly stated that I was against the violence in any form, you chose to go back to the first one which you misread again and pretend that I was in favor or trying to mitigate it.”

    Actually, I did quote from your second post. Here it is again:

    “My point was that although their response is wrong and unbefitting a Torah Jew, in many instances their were legitimate or semi-legitimate provocations.”

    You don’t see how, by speaking of “legitimate provocations”, you are to some extent, despite protestations to the contrary, legitimizing the response?

    I get that you want to talk about how to deal with provocateurs and that may be an important, yet very separate topic. But the fact that the violence we’re discussing here is perpetrated against both “provocateurs” and non-provocateurs proves that provocation is not really the issue.

  8. Tal Benschar says:

    can I suggest that if violence is an inevitable outcome of a community’s being entitled to set its own standards of modesty, then no, there’s no such entitlement

    Actually, what I wrote is nearly the opposite — violence is the result when there is no peaceful mechanism is enforcing its standards.

    And if a community has no right to enforce standards, then I presume you’d have no issue with a town permitting a brothel to open up next to your shul or a strip club next to your children’s school. After all, there is no entitlement to community standards.

    (Or is it only certain standards that are entitled to be enforced, not others?)

    Following your reasoning, the large community of non-kannoim, which is under siege by kannoim and is otherwise unable to avoid victimization, ought to employ counter-goons for its own protection. Is that OK with you?

    Bob, the larger community has such a mechanism already — its called a police force. Which sometimes behaves justly, and sometimes behaves like a goon squad.

    The law developed to accept these requirements for the simple reason that the alternative is the kind of endless on again off again warfare of the middle ages.

    Are any Charedi communities in Eretz Israel able to meet these criteria? IF not, that I respectfully submit they are not allowed to set their own standards like that. At the most, they are allowed to use civil law, for example by making the purchase of a house in the community conditional on agreeing to Tzniut, and to requiring it from any residents in the house or future purchasers.

    Ori: your comments get to the root of the problem. In days gone by, when there was an organized kehilla system headed by a Rov and a Beis Din, then they were empowered (often by the ruling authorities) to enforce these standards in the community.

    That structure has almost completely broken down, so instead you have a group of hooligans like the Vaad ha Tzeniyus acting in a lawless and abominable fashion.

    (This is probably a corrollary of the Mishna: Hispallel bi Shloma Shel Malchus, she ilmaleiha Ish Es Re’eyhu Chaim Balu. That’s what we are seeing.)

    Your suggestion of using civil law, while a good one, ignores the fact that Israeli courts are heavily politicized and cannot be relied upon to enforce the contractual restrictions you suggest.

  9. Ori says:

    Tal Benschar: The nub of the issue is whether a community is entitled to set its own standards of modesty, and if so how are these to be enforced. If a peaceful mechanism is not available, then the kannoim will find hired goons who will. No matter how much we find such behavior to be abominable, a community that feels itself under siege with no peaceful means of enforcing its standards will end up with unsavory elements coming to the fore.

    Ori: I got started writing an argument how wrong you are, and then I realized you’re right. I live in Texas. My community has a certain standard of behavior that forbids breaking into houses. If that standard is broken, I have a perfect right to shoot the burglar.

    However, the communities that get to set their own rules, and enforce them with violence or the threat thereof, are typically called countries. They tend to have these characteristics:

    1. Ability to defend themselves against all likely attackers.

    2. Clearly delineated boundaries in space (borders) and in time (when territory moves from one country to another).

    3. Explicit law authorities, with a clear way to resolve disagreements between those authorities.

    4. Ability to police themselves consistently.

    The law developed to accept these requirements for the simple reason that the alternative is the kind of endless on again off again warfare of the middle ages.

    Are any Charedi communities in Eretz Israel able to meet these criteria? IF not, that I respectfully submit they are not allowed to set their own standards like that. At the most, they are allowed to use civil law, for example by making the purchase of a house in the community conditional on agreeing to Tzniut, and to requiring it from any residents in the house or future purchasers.

  10. Mark says:

    Menachem,

    Instead of reading my second post where I clearly stated that I was against the violence in any form, you chose to go back to the first one which you misread again and pretend that I was in favor or trying to mitigate it. I believe I made myself clear and see no reason to continue to defend myself on that point.

    As to whether there’s room to criticize the provocateurs, I believe there is. Before my comment, there was an entire article [many, in fact] decrying the violence. There isn’t much to add on that point. What I felt is missing, and still believe is missing, is room in the conversation for the legitimate issue of when people are disrespectful of the accepted norms for tzniyus behavior and dress and how to respond effectively. Certainly the examples you cited are not pertinent to this conversation but I allowed for the fact that they weren’t and made it clear that I was speaking about legitimate examples.

    Face it – there is a problem of people living in frum communities who choose to depart from accepted norms. You may not see it as a problem, but others do. Sometimes it handled effectively. Other times it’s handled ineffectively. It wouldn’t hurt to recognize that there’s a problem and try to deal with that as well once we’re on the subject. It’s not conflating the two issues. It’s the way mature adults conduct conversations. There’s been an abundance of talk about the evils of the vigilantes by you and so many others. No harm in expanding the conversation to related areas as well.

    As to my moshol, I agree that if the only examples allowed in the discussion are the ones you cited it falls flat. If, however, we can include others that are not as open-and-shut [and those exist too as I have witnessed with my own eyes,] then it still applies and probably resonates with people who are less shrill on the subject.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by Tal Benschar — April 2, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

    Tal,
    Following your reasoning, the large community of non-kannoim, which is under siege by kannoim and is otherwise unable to avoid victimization, ought to employ counter-goons for its own protection. Is that OK with you?

  12. Alvin Temperland says:

    Tal – can I suggest that if violence is an inevitable outcome of a community’s being entitled to set its own standards of modesty, then no, there’s no such entitlement.

    I’m not even sure I understand the presumed source of this entitlement.

  13. mb says:

    Raymond,
    I agree with everything said in #25.Comment #21was frightening.Keep reading Chief Rabbi Sacks. You will keep your sanity, and your Orthodoxy.

  14. Raymond says:

    I can hardly believe what my eyes have apparently just read a few comments back. Somebody here apparently supports violence as a means to enforce religious behavior, because, he says, it works.

    What this person is doing, is giving tacit approval to the methods and tactics used by the islamofascists themselves. After all, an American islamofascist father who shoots to death his two teenage daughters for daring to go on dates (yes, this actually happened), probably was effective in making other teenage girls of that same religion think twice before going out on dates.

    But is this what we wish to become? Have we Jews so lost our moral compass, so abandoned our role as the G-d’s moral representatives on the Earth, that we feel compelled to follow the ways of the most barbarically savage of our neighbors? What in G-d’s Name have we come to?

    The proper Jewish way is education. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has so eloquently said so, and frankly, so do I. Education as the cure may sound old fashioned and dull, but it is nevertheless the only way to truly change people in any deep and meaningful way.

    Let me ask all of you what should be an obvious question. Suppose you are a Torah scholar with children. Would you rather your children stand up for you whenever you enter a room, because you are pointing a gun at them threateningly, or because you have so instilled true Torah values in them, that they voluntarily and quite enthusiastically, stand up for you all on their own?

    If Judaism is to become no different than the Taliban, then I wish to sever all ties from it.

  15. Tal Benschar says:

    The nub of the issue is whether a community is entitled to set its own standards of modesty, and if so how are these to be enforced. If a peaceful mechanism is not available, then the kannoim will find hired goons who will. No matter how much we find such behavior to be abominable, a community that feels itself under siege with no peaceful means of enforcing its standards will end up with unsavory elements coming to the fore.

    (In golus, of course, all of this is tamped down by the authorities, who would simply never tolerate the type of lawlessness that is tolerated in EY.)

  16. L.Oberstein says:

    Maybe, we cannot change thekanaim, the extemists. As I understand it, this type of violent behavior is part of the behavior pattern of parts of the Yishuv Hayashan. They acted this way towards Rav Kook and many others.Their mind set is they are fighting the whole world and only by absolutism can they survive. I agree with the person who wrote that such abnormal behavior is indicative of some inner struggles these violene prone individuals may be having themselves. They are prisoners in a system with no outlets for anything and they may be taking out their own problems with their lot in life on innocent people who aren’t trapped in their world.
    Understanding their problem does not mean they shouldn’t go to prison.This may help them realize that such behavior is not allowed. I wonder if any of the rabbis in the Charedi world really have the power that some of us think they have.
    One thing we must do is not passively allow evil disguised as good to prevail. Rabbi Adlerstein and Jonathan Rosenblum have both written about some of the ills of frum society. Maybe we are too charitable. What has religion or Hashem got to do with petty political infighting and backstabbing by “askabnim” over who gets what position in the Israeli government. Maybe these are just regular people dressed like G-d fearing people but no different than some of us simple people who make no claims to being the elite of the elite. We just don’t wear costumes, they do.

  17. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Mark, you wrote:

    “Why then, when people act out in other ways are we so quick to dismiss them as jerks and wish them eternal hell? Why don’t we also assume that their behavior demonstrates inner pain and wonder if we aren’t sometimes causing that?”

    While I appreciate your latter comment attempting to set the record straight as to your lack of acceptance of this behavior, your earlier comment above is at odds with that. I don’t see how you can possibly say that a guy who beats up a woman for $2000 is demonstrating any “inner pain”. Nor could the 40 men who assaulted a tzniously dressed girl in RBS B have been acting out of such pain.

    Further, even as you try to distance yourself from the “but” you say, “in many instances their were legitimate or semi-legitimate provocations.” Sorry, but that’s exactly the type of “but” I’m talking about. You want to address tznious, fine. You want to address boorish behavior, great. But commingling the two by talking about “legitimate provocations” undermines your “disgust” at their behavior.

    Just look to the fine people in these communities to see the error in your thinking. They would never, in a million years, act or condone such behavior even if it did pain them. Everyone, in every community has their own issues and shortcomings. By giving any credence whatsoever to this evil, even if at some level the evil behavior “coincidentally” happens to point to a shortcoming, only serves to perpetuate the evil.

    Your moshul falls flat in that it doesn’t really reflect reality. The terroristic behavior we’re dealing with is not well correlated to actual transgressions. Yes, sometimes, randomly it seems, these criminals will react to an objective halachic issue, but just as often, and in the case of RBS, more often, only their own strictness is being “violated”.

    A better moshul, to reflect this reality, would be if I bought a container of milk and one of these goons beat me up because it wasn’t Cholov Yisrael.

    So in a broad sense, to the extent that when anything bad happens we are supposed to introspect and evaluate our behavior you’re correct. However, there is no more basis to look at the alleged “pain” of these cretins than one would look at the “pain” of a raging fire. Even if they carry a message, both must be prevented and their spread must be stopped by any means possible.

  18. DF says:

    I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein, but here’s where things get tricky.

    Violence works. No one will deny that people have learned not to drive in Meah Shearim, exactly as the residents wanted. The rock-throwing might not have been pretty, but neither was flaunting their sensitivities, and they fought back the only way they could. And it worked.

    Same thing with unions. In the old days, when union goons were going around beating people up, the unions were a lot more successful than they are today. Today , when they rely on corporate campaigns like the one succesfuly used to besmirch Agriprocessors, they are not doing that well (Of course there are other reasons for the deline too.) As any good hockey team with an enforcer will tell you, or a basketball team with a physical center, violence works.

    I started off by agreeing with Rabbi Adlerstein, and I affirm that. Attacking the woman in her home was a crime, no matter what the rationale was. (Though I really dislike Rabbi Horowit’s puerile call for “long” prison sentences on his blog. That is pure vindictiveness, and not in the Jewish tradition at all. ANY prison sentence sends the needed message, it need not be “long”.) But if we see the kinder,gentler nation Rabbi Adlerstein seems to advocate, who will stop it when the next round of “women of the wall” shows up to provoke? Who will prevent some not-so-sensitive types from riding roughshod over religious feelings? Who will step in the next time a call goes out to arrest a well-known Rabbi for “incitement”? The Israeli Supreme Court? Dont make me laugh.

    It’s very easy to condemn violence. Anybody can do that. But you have to take a real hard look at what the consequences would be without the threat of violence Charedim present. (As an analogy, the African-American “community” in America are often treated with kid gloves because the politicians fear them rioting.) And everyone agrees violence is sometimes neccessary, such as in the Chanukah story, it’s only a judgment call as to when it’s necessary. Perhaps distinctions should be made between forms of violence. I dont know how or where a line should be drawn. But I do that simplistic condemnations of violence is not as simple as Rabbis Adlerstein and Horowtiz make it out to be.

  19. Mark says:

    Menachem,

    “While Mark is attempting to show a great deal of sensitivity, in reality this attitude is very cruel.”

    I believe you have completely misunderstood my words.

    “There must be complete and utter revulsion at this type of behavior. Anything less, anytime you hear that it’s horrible… “BUT” followed by some attempt at justification,”

    Nowhere did I state a “but” in my words. I am disgusted by their behavior just as you are. My point was that although their response is wrong and unbefitting a Torah Jew, in many instances their were legitimate or semi-legitimate provocations. That we are not troubled by the provocations and only seek to condemn the people who respond incorrectly is troubling.

    Allow me to offer a moshol. Imagine someone entering a grocery store and pilfering a bottle of milk. The grocer chases him and beat him within inches of his life with a sledgehammer. I don’t think there’s any question that the grocer is absolutely wrong for his response. Nothing at all justifies it ever. Even if the thief would have gotten off scott-free that would be preferable to his outrageous response.

    Yet – that does not exonerate the thief of mitigate his actions. He is still a thief and we should care about that. We should respond far more appropriately but to know that there’s a problem and do nothing about it for the longest time is also not proper.

    I am aware that some of the so-called provocations are nothing of the sort and deserve zero response. Yet, in my experience, some of them are definitely issues. I have been at the scene of a few altercations with members of the tzniyus vaad in Meah Shearim and there is no question that their victims were behaving highly inappropriately by any Torah standard. [There were instances that they did nothing wrong too.] We should be troubled by that. We should seek alternative – non-offensive measures of dealing with that. I have seen some Yerushalmi yidden do a great job of approaching such people and helping them see why their actions were out-of-bounds.

    All I ask for is that we be troubled by the provocateurs too. Perhaps to a lesser extent, but at times, their behavior can be [or should be] highly troubling. When nary a word is ever heard on that subject, we allow the madmen to hijack the situation and it makes me wonder whether the outrage is as altruistic as all that.

  20. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Short of being able to reprogram these violent vigilantes, what practical, effective steps should the victimized communities now take? What role should the official community leadership play in this?

  21. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Count me too as a card-carrying member of Rabbi Adlerstein’s fan club!

    In response to Mark (comment 10). Most importantly, one must distinguish between the “kids” that Rabbi Horowitz is referring to and the adults who engage in, what to my mind and first-hand experience is nothing less than, terroristic behavior.

    The very reason that most civil societies have a concept of juvenile justice apart from that of adults is because to some degree “kids” are less responsible for their actions.

    We are constantly lectured that the vast majority of Chareidim, do not ascribe to the behavior of the “few” fanatics. If this is so then there really is no basis to be “troubled” by what troubles these criminals.

    While Mark is attempting to show a great deal of sensitivity, in reality this attitude is very cruel. It fits perfectly with the adage that “those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind”.

    There must be complete and utter revulsion at this type of behavior. Anything less, anytime you hear that it’s horrible… “BUT” followed by some attempt at justification, opens the window, every so slightly for more of the same. There can be no “buts”, there can be no equivocation period.

  22. Chaim Fisher says:

    Ori:

    The same way they stopped a lot of people from smoking: by explaining how dangerous the activity is, by advertising against it–and that includes Rabbis speaking publicly against immodest clothing–by teaching young people in schools, etc.

    You know that story about the new rabbi that the 1st Shabbos talked about Shabbos, and they told him, you know, its embarassing to some of our big contributors, so the next week kashrus, and they told him, what can our congregants do when they need to entertain their business clients, so the next week mikveh, same problem, and he asked them, so what do you want me to talk about?!, and they answered, you know, yiddishkeit, all that nice stuff…

    Tznius is soooo beautiful…when it’s explained right.

  23. dovid says:

    Asher: “… One second of hana’ah during the handshake”

    The emmes is that the handshake’s objective in business setting is not hana’ah, and in most cases there was no unintentional hana’ah derived. It’s a formality that I would gladly skip whether it involved man or woman. I researched the issue. All the rabbanim I asked were against shaking hands with women.

  24. Steven says:

    Mark wrote “When it comes to kids acting out in all sorts of insane ways, Rabbi Horowitz reassures us that they’re in real pain and must be heard. Their voices must not be stilled. We must look inward and discover what we did to cause them to behave this way. Good points all.

    Why then, when people act out in other ways are we so quick to dismiss them as jerks and wish them eternal hell? Why don’t we also assume that their behavior demonstrates inner pain and wonder if we aren’t sometimes causing that? Perhaps some people are too lax in matters of tzniyus – something unquestionably very objectionable in the eyes of the Torah – and it does cause others pain? Does no one care at all? One must be Pinchas to do what he did, but one needn’t be Pinchas to care about the issue.”

    Children “act out” in part because they have not developed the social tools to deal with something that is upsetting them. As an adult, hopefully, you have come to understand issues like self control, proportionality, prioritizings, delayed gratification, consequences, etc. There may be a time to be a Pinchas but they are very rare and if you act incorrectly, you risk the full weight of judgment on yourself.

  25. Raymond says:

    I am going to respond to what Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, before I read what others have said here, as I think what he wrote deserves my undivided attention. Afterward, I will read what others have said, and will consider responding to those statements as well.

    I know that Rabbi Adlerstein does not feel comfortable with me or anybody else praising him, especially in too emotional of a manner, but let me just say this: G-d bless Rabbi Adlerstein! I am not the Torah scholar that he so obviously is, but he said in his Torah way, thoughts that I have had for too many years now. I have unfortunately had many painful experiences of supposedly religious Jews treating me in a manner that left a whole lot to be desired, but virtually any time I would try to bring up the subject with any of the many religious Jews that I know, they would discount what I would say, or not even let me say what I wanted to say, in the first place. They were sending me the message that my feelings and therefore I do not matter, which only drove me further and further away from their way of life.

    I actually let out a cheer when I saw Rabbi Adlerstein specifically using words like terrorist and terrorism when describing the abhorrent behavior of some religious Jews. While even our most fanatical members have not gone as far as to engage in suicide bombings or chopping people’s heads off, I do think that fanaticism in ANY religion can lead to behavior so atrocious, that it is indeed terrorism. Do we want to be associated with the Taliban or Al Quaeda? Frankly, I would rather be associated with Melrose Avenue.

    I realize that Dennis Prager is a controversial thinker in some areas, but I am a huge, long-time fan of his. Well, one of the things he has often said, is that a person’s moral credibility is dependent, in part, on his willingness to criticize his own group. In the political realm, while I definitely lean to the Right, I have also made it a point of being critical of people on that side of the fence, when they act stupid or contrary to their principles. Similarly, we Jews need to be self-critical, to call a spade a spade, even and especially when it is one of ours who is acting in a reprehensible manner. Bernie Madoff is a really really bad guy! So are those fringe supposedly religious Jewish nutcases, who met with and praised Ahmedinijad.

  26. asher says:

    b’nogea the rationale you cited to advocate shaking of a woman’s hand – we have an explicit gemorah – “mutav sheyeheh shoteh kol yamav v’al yeheyeh rasha sha’ah achas lifney haMakom.” One second of hana’ah during the handshake is certainly – by all means – an issur d’orysa, which no gentile’s viewpoint should have any bearing.

  27. Yaakov M says:

    I liked the article but can’t understand why the name of the zealous Rabbi in Brooklyn or the abuser from Flatbush weren’t mentioned by name. They don’t deserve to be protected.

  28. L.Oberstein says:

    You are absolutely correct and now we have to figure out why the nutcases are stronger than the normal people sometimes. Two gentlemen visited my home collecting for Dushinsky Cheder0I asked them,as Yerushalmim, to explain to me how people like the principal of the Bais Yaakov that wants to segregate American children can get away with not listening to gedolim who told them they were wrong. Their answer says it all. In a ironic way they answered”if I don’t listen, then that means he isn’t a godol.” The people with an agenda only use gedolim for their purposes, they don’t really listen to anyone unless he tells them what they want to hear.

  29. Miriam says:

    During municipal elections in Bet Shemesh, one of my friends was shocked that I wasn’t following daas torah in my voting choices. But I found it rather funny that her sheitl is 10 cm longer than the takanon of the gedolim that is over 15 years old and was renewed 2 years ago with much fanfare.

    So I’m not sure whether we as a generation just pick and choose too much, otherwise the formula would work.

    Or perhaps the leaders make much more noise about some issues than others, which we interpret as a prioritization. But in reality no prioritization is being made – to everyone’s detriment because ultimately the derech eretz suffers.

    And anyway it’s much easier to drop a ballot in a box than change your look for life, or switch freezer cases for the more “in” hechsher than go through social discomfort of calling a 1st grade pervert what he is rather than Rebbe like the parents of the new school he’s in call him.

  30. Raphael Kaufman says:

    As I recall the din, “Kanoyim pogin bo” at ther own risk. A Kanoy is indistguishable from a stam rodef and, as such, is fair game to any who want to prevent him from carrying out his kanoyus. I would say to anyone witnessing such an act that “Al sa’amod al dam reiechah” would be the operative mitzvah. Any such atrocious attack may and must be be halted with force up to and including deadly force.

  31. Mark says:

    Tzippi,

    “(I just love that they’re on the internet. I guess their filters are even better than mine.)”

    I don’t know what filters you use but there are some great ones out there. Mine not only blocks just about everything objectionable but it records where i go and my good friend looks over the list so I’m pretty well protected. It’s highly possible that others have similar or even better filters.

    On the whole I appreciate your point very much. It is well-known that these “zealots” don’t represent the average Chareidi Jew very well and there’s no question that they’re actions are difficult to condone. What troubles me is why NOTHING is ever done by anyone in a manner that is more effective. If the best everyone can do is rail about how terrible it is without stopping to think that they should do better, it’s not worth too much.

    When it comes to kids acting out in all sorts of insane ways, Rabbi Horowitz reassures us that they’re in real pain and must be heard. Their voices must not be stilled. We must look inward and discover what we did to cause them to behave this way. Good points all.

    Why then, when people act out in other ways are we so quick to dismiss them as jerks and wish them eternal hell? Why don’t we also assume that their behavior demonstrates inner pain and wonder if we aren’t sometimes causing that? Perhaps some people are too lax in matters of tzniyus – something unquestionably very objectionable in the eyes of the Torah – and it does cause others pain? Does no one care at all? One must be Pinchas to do what he did, but one needn’t be Pinchas to care about the issue.

    When all the condemnations only flow in one direction that tells me that few of are truly troubled by the issue – and that’s troubling in its right.

  32. Ori says:

    Chaim Fisher: This is quite wrong. Tznius, as Maran says, as HaRav Kanievsky says, is the ikar problem of our dor, and violations of it must stop–peacefully, and without damage–but they must stop.

    Ori: How do you propose to stop those violations?

  33. robert says:

    Why wasn’t the perp choshesh for the issur of yichud?

  34. tzippi says:

    I’ve followed the thread on Rabbi Horowitz’s website and am not exactly torn, but do have to wonder if the twain will ever meet. On one hand, we have those who espouse deracheha darchei noam (Her, i.e the Torah’s, ways are of pleasantness), and who live, as many of us do, along the lines of Rabbi Reisman’s excellent shiur of a few weeks ago introducing the last section of Jeremiah, the Jew going into galus. As Rabbi Reisman said, there is a conundrum of our not reaching our potential under the optimal conditions of living in Eretz Yisrael, with the Temple, so the solution is to throw us into brutality of galus! We are to live engaged in the world, fighting the battle to emerge with our integrity intact.

    Most of us here identify with this. Yet there are some(as one newcomer to RYH’s site) who can identify with the other side (I just love that they’re on the internet. I guess their filters are even better than mine.) even if not fully condoning their actions. I want to say that their insularity is beautiful and legitimate to aspire to. (I think of the end of Rabbi Mayer Schiller’s The Road Back, where he describes different approaches in Orthodoxy, all legitimate,from Chassidim to the MO largely based on how much the adherents interface with the world.) Not my derech, necessarily, but beautiful. I still want to believe that, and hope that these bad apples are not true representatives.

    As one line I read about acts of zealotry go (based on biblical accounts), kids, don’t try this trick at home. We have to be on the level of say, a Pinchas. That our generation’s Pinchases are not visibly in the forefront of these terrible actions is quite telling. Yet, and I tremble to type this, where are they? Why are their protestations – and they are out there – not getting the full-page ads, etc. they warrant? The reason I tremble is I don’t want to start a barrage of anti-gedolim/daas Torah/the “askanim” rhetoric. So please, not here. But what ARE we to think and not get cynical? As Rabbi Frand once so eloquently said in one of his shiurim, cynicism is our major enemy. (Those weren’t his exact words, I mean his shiur on cynicism as a whole was eloquent.)

  35. Chaim Fisher says:

    Another very damaging result of these wrong attacks in the name of tznuis is how they allow the members of our community who are already very weak in the area of tznius the opportunity to tar all of tnius with the same brush.

    “See!” they cry. “I told you all this tznius stuff was bad for us!” Then they feel they can forget about tznius, and continue in their sinful ways.

    This is quite wrong. Tznius, as Maran says, as HaRav Kanievsky says, is the ikar problem of our dor, and violations of it must stop–peacefully, and without damage–but they must stop.

    It would have been very nice if somewhere in this article the author had mentioned how important it is to keep the laws of tznius.

  36. ben navon says:

    just to reinforce OUR responsibility of be equally demanding, refusing to contribute to institutions…

    I used to contribute significant funds to a vaad for Eretz Y. aniim.

    after hearing of the Religiously-motivated violence in Ramat Beis Shemesh
    I called the US office and explained my problem, requesting their response if those individuals were being given tzedaka[sic] from this fund.
    At first i was treated to laughs, as if the matter was a joke, but when i insisted and promised to spread my feelings, dump their pr pamphlets, i was vaguely told “we dont differentiate poor families”.

    It is our responsibility NOT to ignore such tipshut & CHILUL HASHEM
    because if we dont we are the tipshim who are being mchlel shem shamayim.

  37. aron feldman says:

    Recently, I listened to a recording of a shiur by Rav Herschel Schachter, shlit”a, which included an intriguing reference to a teshuvah about accepting the handshake of a woman.

    Funny how the Vaad HaTznius sickoes would hear this shiur they would say RHS is a shaygetz,yet they can justify negiah when it’s for their own ends

  38. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    Forgive me, but now YOU are the problem. Why are you protecting this outrageous behavior by redacting his name? Now that you have protected him from any consequences, he will do it again, and others will be emboldened to this type of radicalism, too. Had he been matir kitniyos or non-glatt, his name would be all over. Using hilchos lashon hara to protect the destroyers of Judaism is a perversion.

  39. Leah says:

    Thank you R’ Adlerstein for a beautiful and comapssionate Torah article.
    I have looked at this issue for many years (coming down upon the victim and looking the other way at the perpetrator of abuse). It is sickening.
    There is an issue that I have with how the kibud av v’aim laws are brought forth to begin with. The issue of quoting a particular area of the Talmud about the Roman soldier and how his mother spits on him and hits him in public and he takes it. The problem is not that the Talmud uses this example. It is also not a problem that this soldier takes the abuse. The problem, I believe, is that it does not clearly convey that she is meturefes b’daata. Without this particular aspect not being clearly conveyed, it appears that we , as Jews many times more than not, tell small children or others in general that they are to accept any and all parental “discipline” or interaction with others that is abusive as acceptable and that it must be put up with-even when it is clear that it is abuse to those who are trained both in Torah (Shulchan Oruch -Yorah Deah etc and modern day Psychotherapy.
    I believe that we mourn the black mark that they leave on the Torah by (both the abuse and the leaders who look the other way)I believe that we are to help those who are the victims, try to educate them as to the the Torah’s views on abuse and what is proper family life etc., and thru using our voice by being the voice for the victim, the truth of what the Torah’s persepctive is will come to (eventually) educate klal Israel on what is proper and what is not and how to react.
    I sometimes read articles that are easily dished out about how wonderful the kibud av v’aim laws are and how we should obey etc, yet it is these same rabbis who write these articles that do not discuss the issues of what unfortunately goes on in far too many situations. Is it write to air Jewry’s dirty laundry? I don’t know, yet at this point it seems that maybe we are losing too many children and others to abuse and THAT is something that MUST change.

  40. Ken Applebaum says:

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this excellent post. On a related note, my Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Leib Bakst zt”l, would become visibly upset when hearing “Torah” thoughts or lines of reasoning which he believed were incorrect according to Torah. He would say that if Torah isn’t dear to you, then it won’t bother you if someone says whatever they want under the guise of a d’var Torah; your attitude will be “what’s the big deal”. However, if we truly value Torah as the Divine wisdom it is, then we shouldn’t allow others to belittle it with their incorrect explanations (and certainly not with their incorrect behavior).

    Chag Kasher V’samaach.

    Ken Applebaum

    P.S. Please let us New Yorkers know the next time you are in our area.