Shooting Ourselves in the Foot — Again

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With Meah Shearim resembling a war zone last week, and the top headline in every newspaper blaring, “Chareidim . . .,” I felt the need for a voice of sanity. I found him in the person of Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, one of the veteran leaders of the Eidah Hachareidis. Our conversation on Erev Shabbos left me feeling like a parched traveler who finds a desert oasis.

My talk with Rabbi Pappenheim was part of my efforts to get the inside scoop on the rioting in Meah Shearim over the arrest of a pregnant mother of four from the Toldos Aharon community on charges of having interfered with the medical treatment of her son. Even before I reached Rabbi Pappenheim, I had spent hours on the phone with various askanim who have been involved in negotiations with the police and welfare authorities. Each of them left me with an extremely positive feeling that our community has askanim of such mesirus nefesh and sophistication. They have built up relationships over the years that allow them to explain elements of the chareidi community to governmental authorities and the latter to the community.

A resident of Meah Shearim for seventy years, Rabbi Pappenheim founded Beit Lepleitot, a residential educational facility for girls whose families are unable to raise them – he has already attended the weddings of over 2,500 graduates – as well as Jerusalem’s first convalescent home for new mothers.

I wanted Rabbi Pappenheim’s perspective on the recent demonstrations and the ensuing violence. I was surprised both by his vigorous opposition to the demonstrations and his reasons. When I asked if I could quote him by name, he told me, “The minute you say, ‘But don’t quote me,’ you have lost 90% of your power.”

He offered me four reasons for opposing the recent demonstrations. Three were practical concerning the impact of the demonstrations on the future of Torah Judaism in Eretz Yisrael and on the participants in the demonstrations themselves. The fourth – and most surprising – concerns the impact on the Redemptive process itself.

Rabbi Pappenheim explained that the recent Shabbos demonstrations were triggered by Mayor Barkat’s bombastic announcement of the opening of a municipal parking lot on Shabbos in anticipation of thousands of Shabbos visitors to the city. The mayor was perceived as laying the ground for the opening of all commercial establishments in the city. While in full sympathy with the demonstrators’ cause, Rabbi Pappenheim nevertheless feels that the demonstrations have been a disaster.

Rabbi Amram Blau, the founder of Neturei Karta, chose Mahatma Ghandi as a model of civil resistance, Rabbi Pappenheim explained to me. He and his followers always adopted passive means, even when beaten by police. Today, however, once a demonstration starts it almost inevitably turns violent because no one can control the demonstrators. Invariably, some hot-headed youth will throw a stone, the police respond with full force, and soon a full-scale riot has erupted.

The participation in violence – i.e., the appropriation of the tools of Esav – leaves its spiritual mark on those involved. In addition, after every violent demonstration, there are a large number of arrests, and even one or two nights in jail can permanently scar those arrested. Rabbi Pappenheim relates that the veteran leader of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rabbi Gershon Stemmer, would not allow any posters for demonstrations in the later years of his life out of fear of the impact of Israeli jails on those arrested.

The Torah community in Eretz Yisrael today faces an urgent housing crisis, says Rabbi Pappenheim, who was one of the moving forces behind the development of Ramat Beit Shemesh as a Torah enclave. If the secular population becomes convinced that it is impossible to live together with chareidim, they will fight with all the means at their disposal to drive chareidi young couples away from the cities in which they grew up and to resist any housing solutions for those couples. Chareidi violence ensures that secular resistance.

But the greatest damage of violent demonstrations is not to the Torah community, but to the Torah and Hashem, k’v’yachol. Rabbi Pappenheim quotes his teacher Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eidah Hachareidis, to the effect that that the Redemption does not require that all Jews first become fully observant, only that there be some drawing closer to Hashem. The rest Hashem will do.

Never has the time been so ripe for such a spiritual arousal, Rabbi Pappenheim feels. The “isms” that once drew Jewish youth have lost their appeal. The spiritual hunger of Israeli youth manifested in their travels to the Far East in search of enlightenment was already foretold by the Prophet: “Behold, days are coming . . . when I will send hunger into the Land; not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem. [People] will travel from sea to sea, and from north to east; they will wander about to seek the word of Hashem, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

If we who claim to represent Torah make it appear as something ugly and violent to the larger Jewish world, we guarantee that those who hunger for the words of Hashem, will not seek it among us, but in foreign pastures.

My last question to Rabbi Pappenheim is: Do most residents of Meah Shearim share your Klal Yisrael perspective? He admits that they do not, and offers a historical explanation. Two hundred years ago, Torah Jewry began to feel itself under assault from the forces of Reform. Those communities that preserved themselves were those that followed the Austritt principle and cut themselves off from the larger Jewish community, which was perceived as a threat. As necessary as that separation was, it gave way, in time, to the loss of Klal Yisrael consciousness.

But today Torah Judaism is flourishing – the biggest threats are from within not without – and it is time that we once again turn our attention to slaking the spiritual thirst of our Jewish brethren and hastening the Redemption.

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15 Responses

  1. L Oberstein says:

    The comments so far show no understanding by one side for the other. It is like Henry Louis Gates and the policeman. Maybe Obama can invite both chareidim and regular frum Jews to have a beer and figure out why some of you see nothing good in Hadassah Hospital and others see nothing sick in the “starving mother”. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the mddle and maybe not. But, no one is open minded here.

  2. cvmay says:

    What is really ironic about the dialogue with Rabbi Pappenheim is his admittance that ‘the community does not agree with him’. We are living in a generation of spokesmen for invisible members.
    Does anyone have the clout & power to speak accurately for others? The role of leadership has tarnished & decayed when there is a ‘leader without a herd’.

  3. Itzik Mendelowsky says:

    I find the article and comments fascinating. Open dialogue is so important and helps alleviate issues that negatively impact our community at large. Thank you to all for enlightening discussion!

  4. Miriam says:

    Is this not a compelling quote to partially justify secular Zionism?

    I must admit I am baffled by this. How did secular Zionism bring Jews closer to Hashem? You think that as the generations progress in Israel, the government schools are educating to more closeness to Hashem?

  5. cvmay says:

    “Rabbi Pappenheim quotes his teacher Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eidah Hachareidis, to the effect that that the Redemption does not require that all Jews first become fully observant, only that there be some drawing closer to Hashem. The rest Hashem will do.”

    Resembles TORAT HARAV KOOK

  6. dovid says:

    “the Reform movement did not really exist 200 years ago; the first Reform synagogue opened in 1811.”

    So it’s not 200 yrs. It’s only 198 yrs. and seven months.

    “Reform never developed any significant following east of Hungary.”

    The Charedi community needed to insulate itself from various secular and quasi-secular movements that in effect and often in ideology had much in common with Reform. In Poland in Lituania, it was the bundists and socialists. In Hungary, it was neologue. In mother Russia, it was the maskilim, the socialists, and secular Zionists. In EY, it was the secular Zionists. From a Charedi perspective, it’s pretty much the same unsavory cholent.

    May I suggest that your post has the hallmarks of nit picking?

  7. Charlie Hall says:

    “Two hundred years ago, Torah Jewry began to feel itself under assault from the forces of Reform. Those communities that preserved themselves were those that followed the Austritt principle and cut themselves off from the larger Jewish community, which was perceived as a threat.”

    I question the historical accuracy of this statement. First, in a inor point, the Reform movement did not really exist 200 years ago; the first Reform synagogue opened in 1811. Secondly, and more importantly, communities in Eastern Europe for the most part did not cut themselves off from the larger Jewish community, and Reform never developed any significant following east of Hungary. And while the Old Yishuv did cut itself off in the 19th century, the first Reform synagogue in Eretz Yisrael opened in the 1950s so it is really difficult to see how this isolation had anything to do with Reform.

    I’m not an apologist for the Reform movement, but I just don’t see how the cause and effect works here.

  8. Eric says:

    “Rabbi Pappenheim quotes his teacher Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eidah Hachareidis, to the effect that that the Redemption does not require that all Jews first become fully observant, only that there be some drawing closer to Hashem. The rest Hashem will do.”

    Is this not a compelling quote to partially justify secular Zionism?

  9. yishuv says:

    My Rebbi is a noted personality in the torah world. I would like share his expressed perspective relating to this issue which he modeled based on what he gleaned from his rebbi Rav Chaim Shmulevits. ( I regret that I have never clarified with him if I can quote him publicly).

    Strengthening the Charadie community’s intolerance for secular ideals and culture is of critical importance to survival of torah jewry; but it must noted that it should never become a impetus for hatred and all the more so not a basis for violence G-d forbid. On the contrary, strengthening our love and concern for the secular community part of an attitude which is the very basis of our torah.

    It is sad that the simultaneous prioritisation of the two aforementioned ideals is becoming less and less prevalent, especially in Israel . On one hand there is a sector of frum society that has turned the rejection of secular ideals into naive cult of hatred. On the other end of spectrum, ancient and sacred ideals of modesty and zealous dedication Kiddush Hashem are being discarded in name of ahavas yisroel.

    But despite the widespread problems plaguing the Jewish nation’ Rav Chiam Schmulevits always taught of love for every Jew, and the importance of focusing on the good existent in every Jew ranging from the zealot in mea shearim to the secular soldier risking his life in the defense of his fellow brethren, something my rebbi has done publicly in his shmuezim.

    Today’s challenge is to develop love, compassion and concern for the Jewish people on a general and individual level while passionately rejecting secularism and not comprising one iota on the eternal ideals of Judaism.

    Let us stress on focusing in on our personal shortcoming in ahavas yisroel and concern for the sanctification of Hashem’s name. In these days of mourning we must more than ever pray for an end to all these problems and for the coming of mashiach.

  10. dovid says:

    “Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, one of the veteran leaders of the Eidah Hachareidis.”

    “Do most residents of Meah Shearim share your Klal Yisrael perspective? He admits that they do not, and offers a historical explanation.”

    Reb Jonathan, in what sense is Rabbi Pappenheim their leader if they don’t share his perspective, and most likely don’t listen to him?

  11. dr. bill says:

    You write:

    “My talk with Rabbi Pappenheim was part of my efforts to get the inside scoop on the rioting in Meah Shearim over the arrest of a pregnant mother of four from the Toldos Aharon community on charges of having interfered with the medical treatment of her son.”

    NO – her child was being starved PERIOD END OF SENTANCE. This is not history from 100 years ago, this is testimony from credible, frum doctors. Starving a child is not interfering with medical treatment!!

    God forbid, this is not about chareidim and the secular!

    Assume you think I am wrong and jumping to conclusions. Do you have any evidence of that? Are you unaware of what the medical community has reported or do have ANY reason to doubt them?? And calling doctors at Hadassah Mengele?

    A young woman, now chareidi and living in Israel, who grew up in my neighborhood, is picked up on shabbos by a clearly marked taxi when she is needed in Haddasah hospital. That her taxi is REGULARLY stoned implies there is a much more fundamental lesson that must come from the Eidah’s leaders.

    In addition to misstating the facts, your intellectualization is altogether innapropriate. Perhaps Moshiach is not coming because of some secular Jews; but i could think of a few other reasons.

  12. observer says:

    Nice article.
    One observation though. The “Austritt principle” was – as Rabbi Rosenblum has himself written – largely defined by R’ S.R. Hirsch…and his “school” seems never to have lost its “Klal Yisrael consciousness”.

  13. L. Oberstein says:

    Yasher Koach for this article and the others in Hamodia. I would love to believe that we are reaching a turning point where we will stop covering up our dirty laundry and being so defensive about perceived imperfections in the frum community. I wonder if the Hebrew Hamodia and the Hebrew Mishpacha are as open minded as the English versions.
    I honestly did not get the feeling that the Chareidi community disowns the rioters to the extent that they are considered dregs . If so, then why are they not in jail? Who is hiding them and keeping them safe? If they caused a million shekels in damage, how can the frum community not spit them out. I guarantee you that no one realizes that these guys are disowned, if they are so reviled, then why don’t we scream it from the rooftops, call off all demonstrations for the time being and repair the relationships. The case of the woman is far from over and the one psychiatrist is far from accepted by his peers. He has a personal grudge against Hadassah and has said very controversial things in the past. Don’t jump to conclusions either way. Let the system work.

  14. Miriam says:

    A beautiful piece, but a shame we all sit feebly on historical explanations and no future plans:

    Do most residents of Meah Shearim share your Klal Yisrael perspective? He admits that they do not, and offers a historical explanation.

    And perhaps by continuing to look only inward, to the existing establishment, we will never find those answers.

  15. Daniel says:

    Rabbi Pappenheim is indeed a voice of sanity. However, some of the points in your post only serve to raise more questions:
    1. Why are askanim necessary to mediate and “explain elements of the chareidi community to governmental authorities and the latter to the community” when there are charedi elected officials whose job is to serve as liaisons for the charedi community?
    2. Why is there no unified public outcry from within the charedi community when “hot-headed youth” incite riots and burn garbage cans?
    3. Your final point is a non-sequitor. Rabbi Pappenheim explains that the Meah Shearim community has taken the principle of Austritt too far, cutting themselves off from the rest of Klal Yisroel. Your next statement is that “it is time that we once again turn our attention to slaking the spiritual thirst of our Jewish brethren and hastening the Redemption.” You seem to ignore the issue that Rabbi Pappenheim implicitly raises, which is that an entire sect of Orthodox Judaism willingly cut itself off from the rest of Orthodox Jews and is continuing to follow the Austritt principle, to the detriment of all of Klal Yisroel. The issue is one of Kiruv Kerovim, not Kiruv Rechokim.