How To Promote Baseless Hatred

Yes, yes, there is a media double standard when it comes to haredi Jews. That’s nothing new.

And so, when thousands of Iranians poured into Tehran’s streets in protest of what they saw as a fraudulent presidential election, the press emphasis was not on the protesters who threw rocks, set trash bins aflame and vandalized public property. The focus, rightly, was on the bulk of the crowd, peaceful protesters of what they believed to be a fraudulent election.

When tens of thousands of haredim, though, demonstrated in reaction to a decision by the Jerusalem municipality to open a public parking lot on the Jewish Sabbath, increasing traffic in the heart of the Holy City and disturbing the peacefulness of the day of rest, the main coverage was not of the overwhelming mass of the crowd, peacefully standing up for the sanctity of the Sabbath – but rather of the tiny fraction of the crowd that… threw rocks, set trash bins aflame and vandalized public property.

But that fraction of the crowd cannot be ignored by those of us who cringed at, and remain shamed by, its ugly behavior. The rioters may have been boys, but they were our boys. And if boys of ours can imagine that acts of destruction and hooliganism are somehow the right way to stand up for the Sabbath’s honor (leave aside the way to bring non-observant Jews to appreciate the Jewish day of rest), there is much, much work to be done to teach them what Torah is and what it isn’t.

And, yes, yes, again, there are unanswered questions about the arrest of a Hasidic mother of a long hospitalized child on suspicion of having starved him. The media, quoting hospital authorities, said that the woman was suffering from a mental illness that compels a person to invent or create symptoms of illness, sometimes in another person, in order to garner medical attention.

The hospital video footage, moreover, that authorities said showed the mother removing the child’s feeding tube 20 times has yet, at least at this writing, to be released. And why did the hospital not act after the first tube removal? Or the tenth?

Why, further, if the woman is in fact mentally ill, was a simple restraining order not obtained, barring her from contact with the child? Why did the police choose instead to slap handcuffs on the five-months pregnant woman in public (and in front of a summoned press) and place her in a jail cell (with an accused spouse-killer, an Arab woman, as a cellmate)?

None of us can know with certainty at this point the answers to those questions – or whether the woman at issue is a would-be murderess, a sufferer of mental illness or a caring mother wrongly accused.

What we can know, though, is that the reaction of some members of her community and some other haredim was horrible abuse of its own sort. To review in any detail even a sampling of the repulsive behavior in which some religious Jews engaged would only increase the desecration of G-d’s name it embodied. There may well have been grounds for protest – and civil protest is a fundamental right in a democracy – but there were no grounds for violence. None.

That judgment was made unequivocally by, among others, the head of the anti-Zionist Edah Charedis, the renowned halachic authority Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch. “Anyone,” he wrote, referring to the riotous behavior, “who commits acts of violence declares that he doesn’t belong to our community.”

Insulting another is a grave violation of halacha, as is causing him physical harm. Destroying another’s property – or communal property or, for that matter, one’s own property – is also forbidden by the Torah. No exceptions have ever been made in halachic codes for instances where a government policy or action is not to one’s liking. How ironic that the idealization of boorishness and destructiveness – most prominently embraced by the criminal world and Hollywood – should have managed to infiltrate the relatively insular haredi world – a world that clearly stands for diametric ideals.

This time of Jewish year, Judaism-conscious Jews are focused on the destruction of the Holy Temples. The second Temple, whose destruction led to our current exile, was destroyed, the Talmud teaches, “because of baseless hatred.”

The recent rioters in Jerusalem may well have believed their hatred to have had ample basis. But, whatever their rationalizations, their actions evoked disgust in Jews the world over, some of whom, tragically, will generalize from the rioters’ bad example and bear ill will toward haredim as a group.

And so, even if the violent protesters believe that they are innocent of baseless hatred, they should be made to confront the fact that they are deeply guilty of promoting it.

© 2009 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use and sharing, and for publication with permission, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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9 Responses

  1. Robert Lebovits says:

    Garnel Ironheart writes, “Never mind that the hospital they were protesting against was trying to protect a child from an abusive mother whose acts were caught on film”.

    The supposed rationale for rioting is irrelevant as it in no way justifies vandalism or assault. But suggesting that protesting against the hospital is wrong to begin with because their personnel are the “good guys” desrves a second look.

    Your assumption that the mother is guilty of abuse has yet to be proven. In fact she may not have a psychiatric disorder, which has been the hospital’s explanation for why the mother allegedly tampered with the feeding tube. The stories in the media dsecribing the mother’s behavior have been seriously inconsistent, some reports indicating that she was caught doing something more 20 times over many months. If anything like that is true, then the hospital is guilty of gross malpractice for not intervening at once.

    The fact is we have yet to learn what really happened to this child. Chareidi anger & frustration is generated from precisely the aspersion of wrongdoing so quickly presumed about their community as you unfortunately demonstrate.

  2. Michael says:

    Y Friedman: “Had the demonstrators held back and waited for the psychiatric examination of the woman and then presented their case in a more restrained manner, the results would have been exceedingly better.”

    In other words, it would have been “exceedingly better” had the woman been imprisoned for weeks, with the resulting emotional trauma added to her mental instability and all of that piled on her unborn child as well… with the police feeling free to do this in any similar, future case.

    Better for whom?

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The major rabbonim of the chareidi community say either to protest non-violently or not at all. The rabbis come to the demonstration, say their words, go home, and THEN the wild youth start up. The rabbis, back at home or in their beis medrash, say, it’s all lies, the people were perfectly well behaved. Elderly rabbonim who are not physically able to jostle around with the reality on the street and have access controlled by their handlers, the askanim, are having trouble exerting their leadership. This is the same phenomenon as lehavdil the imperial presidency which brought you Vietnam, Watergate and Iran-Contra. The attempt to act out of jumping to conclusions without investigating the evidence is a bad idea. Had the demonstrators held back and waited for the psychiatric examination of the woman and then presented their case in a more restrained manner, the results would have been exceedingly better. I am afraid that they are not capable of doing so because they have just been through too much in the years of the state and before. If you do not participate fully in the public life of Eretz Yisrael, you have to do your hishtadlus on the individual, private level. Mass demonstrations are always asking for trouble. What could be done quietly and with dignity in Baltimore will only get out of hand here.

  4. Robert Lebovits says:

    Daniel Schwartz writes, “Thus the media focus on chareidi hooliganism at the hafganot was not merely to showcase bad behavior, but to demonstrate chareidi hypocrisy”.
    I am curious: Do you have any adolescent children? Do they always listen to you & demonstrate mature behavior?
    Almost without fail, the rioting is initiated by some acting-out teen. If you want to condemn the chareidi world for the bad acts of a small number of its youth, feel free. I hope you’re equally prepared to condemn every other segment of the world for the actions of their boys. There’s certainly enough bad behavior all around to criticize.
    It may be cliched & trite to say we are failing our youth. Certainly it’s been said for more generations than one can count. But it REALLY is worse today & we aren’t doing what is necessary to help them. It is not chareidi hypocrisy that the rioting exposes. It is a terribly flawed transmission of Mesorah & generational breakdown that we are seeing.

  5. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Never mind that the hospital they were protesting against was trying to protect a child from an abusive mothe whose acts were caught on film. For Rav Shafran, she’s really the innocent victim in a horrible power play by nasssssty secular authorities.
    And while he remains clueless as to the behaviour of the police, perhaps I can enlighten him. There is a Jewish value that transcends divisions within our people. Religious or non-religious, traditional or modern, there is something that almost every real Jew feels and that is the supreme value of the life of our children. No other people worries so much about their children. No other people are willing to protect them from any danger possible. No other people places so much values in their happiness. This isn’t written anywhere in the Gemara or Shulchan Aruch but it doesn’t have to be. It just is.
    So imagine Israeli authorities, who have a little more Jewish feeling than their Chareidi antogonists generally give them credit for, seeing a child suffering? Imagine how they must have reacted to discover that the child’s community was not only denying the suffering but demanding that the child be returned to the same dangerous environment? Imagine what must have gone through their minds when this same community which preaches its purity in Torah threatened violence against the hospital for trying to protect the child?
    Do you think only Chareidim get upset about things?

  6. Daniel B. Schwartz says:

    There is no double standard. When a group portends to dictate religious observance via a public protest, the conduct of the entire group MUST reflect the religious values advocated at the protest. Vandalism and hooliganism are not religiously acceptable, as they do not promote the cause of religious observance. Political rallies however, do not have religious overtones, and as applied to protesting an oppresive regime, vandalism against the regime might even be appropriate. Thus, the media focus on chareidi hooliganism at the hafganot was not merely to showcase bad behavior, but to demonstrate chareidi hypocrisy.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the Iranian protesters referenced in this article,

    Their government is dictatorial and oppressive, and they have every right to escalate to an outright armed revolution if conditions are suitable.

  8. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Shafran,
    As much as I love your sharp writing, I think it would have been better to skip the comparison to the Iranian protesters. In Iran, they would have been justified in doing much worse than burning trash bins etc. Perhaps and all out civil war would be called for. How can one compare that to the situation in Eretz Yisroel? The press was correct in what they stressed because the protesters were demonstrating such profound lack of of basic decency toward their fellow Jews.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Shafran,

    If you had been a major Jewish community leader in that neighborhood before and during the street violence, what steps would you have taken to assert proper control?