The Current Yerushalayim Protests: Hardly Unanimous

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Many of us here in the United States continue to have a hard time processing the protests in Yerushalayim. As we try to comprehend, we can note some positive signs.

The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva – a long time Parkinson’s sufferer – rarely pens a letter in his own handwriting. He changed his practice, and posted a letter addressed to his entire yeshiva (not just the Americans as others reported) instructing that no one in the yeshiva position himself in the midst of a protest, and that there was no room for any exceptions, period.

Reports have it that Rav Moshe Sternbuch, hardly a stranger to the Eidah, has also spoken out against the protests. He is also quoted as saying that Hadassah personnel acted properly in alerting the police in regard to the cause célèbre that has started a second wave of protests. (A mother, a member of the Toldos Aharon community, stands accused of starving her son and was captured on hospital security cameras of purportedly tampering with his feeding tube. The case has been the lead item in secular Israeli media.)

Pinny Lipschutz’s job as apologist in Yated continues to get harder. He succeeds, as he usually does, in making a good case and offering valuable ideas to think about – even if you reject, as I do, much of the thrust of the piece and most of the conclusions. I am biased, of course, since he takes aim at those of us who called upon people to mitigate the chilul Hashem by writing into the Jerusalem Post. (The letters that I saw on the JP website were quite good, came from varied places, and I believe did create a counter-image of Torah Jews to what people were seeing on television and the internet.) Before you get angry at him, he does unequivocally condemn the violence. (Not quite enough for me. How many protests in which you cannot control the small number of crazies do you need before you do a cost-benefit analysis and realize that every peaceful protest you call inevitably leads to violence, stoned and destroyed cars, etc.? Also, comparing protest today to those he remembers of decades ago seems hopelessly wrong. Times – and the way people behave– change.

What makes his position harder is that more and more people simply won’t swallow every bit of apologetics without some serious heartburn. Yated, of course, is not going to print the critical letters. Matzav.com is another matter. Last I looked at the comments, the scorecard read Pinny 1, I’ve-had-enough-of-the-nonsense 9. Not even close.

Defenders of the protest insist that the troublemakers are a small, uncontrollable minority. We hope that they are right – while still arguing that if the minority is uncontrollable, then street protests just shouldn’t take place. An argument for the skeptics, however, can be found in this photo warning people not to trust workers at social service agencies. (Earlier, a crowd tried to storm or burn one of them.)

Some people – myself included – have always had a problem with the use of emotionally charged hyperbole as a commonplace Others would differ, and argue that it is just a cultural thing. A line, I would think, should be drawn at calling other Jews “The Enemy,” as above. It is certainly inflammatory, an invitation to the unstable, a granting of license for violence – and a declaration that the hated other’s life and property are not worth quite as much as our own.

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14 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    1.Rabbi Lifshutz writes this week ” defending people for trying to exercise commonly held freedoms of expression and assembly”
    Then he writes in the same article:
    2.”He called off all garbage collection and municipal services to the areas which the shababnikim damaged. So, not only do the parents suffer by having such children, not only does the community suffer by having fires burning under their noses,”
    He can’t have it both ways.
    The Yated and much of the chareidi media has developed a game plan to paint the woman as not guilty and the hospital as guilty. They defend violence and revolt as acceptable and pretend that the rioters are not part of their problem. It is a disgrace.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by nachum klafter — July 23, 2009 @ 2:33 am :

    Kiruv is needed to root out the problem, but petitions and the like can help somewhat with damage control in the meantime.

  3. nachum klafter says:

    By the way, with all due respect to Rabbis Haber and Adlerstein, I think a petition against Sabbath desecration is an absolutely ridiculous idea. We combat Sabbath desecration with Kiruv, not petitions.

  4. nachum klafter says:

    I believe this points out the potential dangers of a religious ideology which centers around demonization of the non-religious and the modern Orthodox. This is not true for every facet of Haredi society, but it certainly is true for much of it. A tinder-box has been created, and we have seen it go up in flames as soon as there is a spark. It is certainly being portrayed by the demonstrators/rioters as though this is a Haredi-Hiloni issue. It is important to recognize this, and I hope it will move at least some religious leaders to consider the consequences of preaching an ideology in which hatred is central. Contrast this with the religious leadership during the evacuation of Gush Katif. The rabbinic leaders, even though they were against the expulsion, were very concerned with the implications of civil war (ch”v) or local violence, and in many cases prominent rabbis actually showed up on site to help prevent violence. Why are this community’s leaders not doing the same? Does anyone doubt that if prominent rabbinic leaders issued directives for everyone to stop and and showed up on site, telling people to go home, that the crowds would disperse immediately. Why are teachers in schools and camps not being directed to condemn violent demonstration and protest. To the contrary, a friend of mine with children in Haredi schools tells me that her kids came home from school having been told that “She is a wonderful mother and the Hiloniyim want to take her children away from Torah.” Yes a few rabbis here and there have spoken against it after days of destruction, but that is very different from what the rabbinical leadership did at Gush Katif. I believe this could and should have been stopped immediately. That would would have been a great Kiddush HaShem. I hope if this happens again ch”v the Rabbis will anticipate how things can spiral out of control and that they will act to stop it. After all, strong rabbinic leadership is supposed to be one of the great attributes of Haredi communities. This is a very serious moment in our history where the Torah is being portrayed as violent, destructive, and hateful. It occurs at a horrible time in the Jewish Calendar.

  5. Andrew says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein tries hard to convince us (himself?) that the rioting is not unanimous among Chareidim. Yet he can reference only two leaders in that community. (And one of them he cannot even verify and is forced to write “Reports have it…”)

    How … sad, tragic, funny. A community bereft of leadership, and those in power are powerless to stop this madness.

    Even those condemnations came so late. It boggles the mind of us lowly non-gedoylim.

    [YA – It should perhaps disappoint, but not boggle the mind. There are multiple reasons possible for gedolim not stopping the madness that you ought to consider, including the possibility that you haven’t thought of all possibilities! Other possibilities come to mind. Gedolim in the past were loath to get involved when they knew they would not be listened to, thus further eroding the little power they had. Gedolim have learned that they simply cannot do everything. They have had to specialize, with some dealing specifically with halacha, others with academic learning, others with personal advice.

    People have complained about inadequate leadership from their Torah leaders for at least several centuries. It is possible that the real problem is not them, but your last line. Some jobs belong not to the Gedolim, but to us ketanim. We should know enough, and be effective enough, to respond to certain problems on our own volition. I believe this assumption was behind Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz’s call to arms for the masses to distance themselves from chilul Hashem.]

  6. Sam says:

    This is news? It is a long standing joke in my family that we do not allow either Pravda in our house.

    It is unfortunate since the Frum do have a side to every story. But we are not always right and ‘they’ are not always wrong. (and ‘they’ are not always out to get us) If we could be honest with ourselves and the world we would generate alot more respect.

  7. ThemesOfGray says:

    Does anyone know why the Israeli Gedolim have not spoken out against these protests? There are a few possibilities I can think of: 1. They actually don’t realize the negative image that these riots create. They assume everyone realizes that “just the Eidah” is rioting, and that chiloni newspapers will patiently explain to their readers about the extensive factionalism in chareidi society. 2. There is an assumption that the chilonim don’t like chareidim no matter what. Any efforts at reaching out to them are useless and a waste of time. 3. At some level, they identify with the sentiment of the protestors. Even if they do not encourage the violence, they are uncomfortable publicly criticizing it.
    4. Gedolim view their roles as maintaining the integrity of the yeshiva world, not criticizing other groups for their behavior, nor defending / explaining chareidi positions to the outside world. This whole issue has nothing to do with them.

    Of all of these possibilities, the fourth seems the most favorable towards the Gedolim, and therefore is my current explanation for their silence. However, even that is hard to understand. Everyone can see what a disgrace these past few weeks have been. The Gedolim would do well to speak out and demonstrate to the chilonim, and to their own followers, that they do not agree in any way with these violent protests. Besides, these issues do relate to all chareidim.

    Why is the job of defending frum Jews left to R’ Horowitz and readers of this blog?

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    “There are dysfunctional families among all strata of Israeli society. But the only stratum that reacts with collective violence when abuse is exposed is the most insular subdivision of the haredi world.

    Why is such antisocial behavior tacitly countenanced by the more conventional hassidim?

    Violence – stopping archeological digs (which might unearth Jewish graves) and protesting the opening on Shabbat of cinemas, 24/7 mini-markets, and parking garages outside their neighborhoods – has become a default, communally sanctioned response.

    THIS impulse is emblematic of an alienation which, because it is ripping Israeli society apart, begs to be better understood.

    Perhaps we need a state commission to tell us not only why a volatile minority of hassidic sects periodically runs amok – but also how to discourage the culture of extreme insularity that lies at the root of their self-perpetuated estrangement. ”
    I only included the facts and left out the commentary of this Jerusalem Post editorial. From my reading of the news and the comments on this and other blogs, a lot of frum people sympathise with the rioters and are angry at the “apologists”.
    One rabbi chastised me for sending him the editorial of Rabbi Horowitz and spoke in his shul that someone told him that we should protest the rioters and why are we not crying for chilul shabbos instead. He felt that we “liberals” are off the derech and we have mixed up values.

    So, it isn’t just the Toldos Aharon that opposes our opposition to this behavior, they have sympathisers in our communities also.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the Comment by dovid landesman — July 17, 2009 @ 5:42 am :

    David,
    Your comment said, in part:
    “The political manipulations and handling of gedolim – and we know that it exists – has precluded their standing as our spokespersons.”

    In this quoted sentence, does “their” refer back, as I think it does, to Yated and HaModia? I can’t see any objection to having the (of course, unfiltered and unmanipulated) Gedolim speak for us.

  10. dovid landesman says:

    Never would I have believed that I would become an apologist for the Israeli police, but as my mother zichrona levracha warned me: “Never say never.”
    I was in Meah Shearim on Tuesday evening and had occasion to drive by the cheder of Karlin-Stolin. There were perhaps 400 to 500 [and I am not exaggerating] children standing on the steps and walking toward Rechov Yoel where every dumpster on the street had been overturned and numerous had been set alight. The stench was overpowering and there was not a single adult present to insure that these kids did not remain and stay out of trouble. I pulled over and watched as many of them ran down to Rechov Meah Shearim, screaming and yelling. Others crossed Yechezkel to make their way to Bar Ilan and I could hear them yelling to each other to hurry because that is where the action was. Where in Hashem’s name were their parents? Why was there absolutely no supervision?
    A number of them started to rock my car but stopped when i got out and they saw that I was “unsere.” The police did not enter Meah Shearim at that point but were content to simply post officers at the major intersections. I left Meah Shearim and drove over to Shmuel ha-Navi corbner of Yechezkel and bought two Cokes in a local kiosk. I parked and walked over to the police man manning the intersection and offered him one. He was quite fearful looking with his shachpatz [flak jacket] and night stick and looked at me quite skeptically. I simply held out the Coke and he took it with a small smile and then pointed to his shaved head. I laughed and handed him my kippa and he made a berachah. We talked for a minute or two and he asked me, “Do those people really think I’m a Nazi?”
    I have seen as much police violence as Reb Pinny – perhaps more. But I have also been a part of Israeli society – not only its religious component – and can tell you that a great deal of the “hatred” that he speaks about has nothing to do with the media.
    It’s time that we faced the music guys and realize that we are greatly responsible for the image that we have. This may not be the place nor the time, but I am convinced that we have a major cheshbon hanefesh to make. The apologetics of Yated and HaModia and their continued avoidance of any tiny bit of self-criticism and examination does not serve us well.
    As I posted, I am no longer willing to allow them to speak as the sole representatives of chareidi Jewry. Their silence and their distortionate/revisonist views are causing us harm that I fear is permanent. The political manipulations and handling of gedolim – and we know that it exists – has precluded their standing as our spokespersons.

  11. Chardal says:

    >can be found in this photo warning people not to trust workers at social service agencies. (Earlier, a crowd tried to storm or burn one of them.)

    It also warns against trusting the evil hiloni and mizruhi nurses who work at tipat halav (pediatric care facilities which offer pre-natal and pediatric care to families) since their real agenda is not to give medical services but to expose the innocent hareidi women to their sinful way of life. Who writes these posters and where should I send them the medication they so sorely need???

  12. Shades of Gray says:

    Yeshivah World has posted 100 pictures from the hafganot; most are negative, but two are suprisingly positive.

    Pictures # 99 and # 98 show a Chasidic man with peyos and a clean shaven person–both from Zakka– helping wounded Israeli police officers. That is the only positive and hopeful picture in the whole sordid 100 pictures, and THAT should also be shown in the media, secular and Charedi.

    As far as apologetics, I think the following:

    1) Chazal are harsh about holding those who create a negative environment responsible for misdeeds. For example, the entire Beis Bilgah was held responsible by Chazal for what the child learned in her parent’s house. Also, a bas Cohein who commits adultery “profanes her father” because people say “arur s’hzu gideil”.

    Thus, we must trace the behavior to the environment. Why does a group feel that they must great mayhem in order to get their way; where did they learn this from? Agudah in America created B’tzedek; that is a civil means of advocating Charedi rights in Israel.

    If the issue is that you are conducting a war against the secular government and the violence is merely collateral damage, then there should be an issue of responsibility. One can’t have it both ways. If the Eidah can’t control it’s fringe members, they shouldn’t be involved in peaceful protests, in my opinion.

    2) There must be an organized effort to stop individuals from holding the majority of the Eidah hostage, just as is done regarding enforcing Tzniyus(children of mothers who don’t dress acceptably are not allowed in schools).

    Just as we don’t accept from the Arabs that no one is responsible for the violence, neither should we accept it from the “Charedi street”. Whichever sect is responsible has a leader and a Rav who should be accountable.

    3) To quote R. Eli Titelbaum Z’l in a letter to the Jewish Press(11/11/07):

    “If we remain silent when women are attacked by misguided individuals, we are all guilty – as we learn from what happened when the holy shevet of Binyamin refused to take action when a woman was violated by a wild gang of youths in their midst. A tremendous number of Jews died in vain and the shevet of Binyamin was nearly wiped out…All of us must protest such behavior lest our silence be interpreted as acquiescence. Unless we all clearly distance ourselves from such behavior we, too, are guilty.”

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. I went to Matzav.com and read all about it,very informative. The article by Mrs. Ungar-Sargon explains that there is a communal need to defend one of their own against shame as it affects others in the community is the charges are true. This is a situation that keeps problems under wraps here also.
    Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel is such a great person, if only others would also speak out and prohibid their followers from such behavior.

  14. Rabbi Yaacov Haber says:

    What positive steps are you taking to protest the organized agenda of secularizing Jerusalem and the press’s campaign to vilify Chareidim? This is not paranoia; it is the outright platform of the left wing! During the elections it was printed on bill boards and on the sides of buses.It is difficult to understand this if you don’t live here.

    Everyone I know is against violence and property damage but Chareidi bashing plays right into their hands and makes the Chilul Hashem worse.

    I recommend using the power of the Internet to create an international petition protesting the desecration of Jerusalem’s sanctity by violence, destruction of property, public desecration of Shabbos and needless hate.

    Reb Yitzchok please right the nusach.

    Yaakov Haber

    [YA – With all due respect, Reb Yaakov, your comment is a smokescreen. It is a good topic for future discussion – and any article of yours will be welcome here on CC. It is not relevant to the issue of the wholesale degredation of the Torah and its followers, either by the direct malfeasance of a small number, or the inadequate resistance by the many (in a climate that is often tolerant of treating outsiders as untermenschen). That degradation has to be resisted. What many, many of us are saying – to borrow a phrase from Americana – is “Not in Our Name.”

    How should chilul Shabbos be protested? Perhaps, as some commenters suggested, like it used to be: with anashim chashuvim plaintively crying “Shabbos, Shabbos” in front of the offenders. Not having an answer, however, is not a permit for issurim.

    Rabbi Bulman zt”l used to argue that there were three or four essential paradoxes in Israeli life. One of those was protests. On the one hand, no protest ever brought about more shemiras mitzvos. On the other, how does one keep silent in the face of the bizayon Hatorah by the wholesale disregard of Torah principle by governmental agencies acting on behalf of a Jewish people?

    He did not have a solution. When there is no solution, shev v’al ta’aseh becomes the halachic avenue to take. Come up with a protest that will not endanger lives, property, and the good name of Torah. If you can’t, say Tehillim.

    Your petition sounds like a wonderful idea. Write one, and I pledge to sign it, BE”H.]