Mayor Abutbol – Say No to Extremism

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In September 1998, a two-room school opened up in Tzoran, a residential community of 1,500 young families, nestled among the agricultural settlements east of Netanya, for 25 six and seven-year-olds. When they arrived at school that first day, the young children were confronted by a chanting mob of 60 adults, some of whom had tied attack dogs to the school gates. Despite the heat, the principal had no choice but to close the windows, as curses and stones rained down on the school.

The same scene was repeated every morning for the first months of the schools existence, and the school was defaced and repeatedly vandalized over the course of the year. The purpose of the demonstrators was to terrorize little children by forcing them to run a daily gauntlet of verbal abuse and physical menace.

The confrontation in Tzoran was not widely reported in the Israeli press, certainly not compared to the efforts by a group of religious extremists to prevent the opening of a national religious girls in Beit Shemesh last week, on a plot long designated for the school and lying adjacent to both haredi and national religious neighborhoods.

But Tzoran has a lot to do with why I am so strongly opposed to the vandalism, taunts, and threats used to prevent the national religious girls school in Beit Shemesh from opening. The small school in Tzoran, you see, was haredi-run, and I wrote in these pages at the time strongly condemning the demonstrators in Tzoran.

Mutual respect for the rights of others is the necessary basis for any democratic society. Mutuality is not just a basic moral intuition; it is a fundamental principle of the Torah. Hillel taught: That which is hateful to you do not do to others. One cannot with consistency condemn the demonstrators in Tzoran and turn a blind eye to the extremists in Beit Shemesh.

BUT I HAVE AN even more fundamental objection to the extremists: They distort the Torah and make it something ugly. They would exercise a territorial imperative – we establish the rules wherever we live and adjacent thereto – that is more in tune with Islam. Islam is a religion of conquest, which divides the world into territory conquered by Islam (dar al-Islam), in which Sharia, Islamic law, must be imposed, and territory not yet conquered.

Judaism, by contrast, was never a religion of conquest outside of Eretz Yisrael, and Jews have never viewed territorial conquest as the primary sign of Divine favor. More fundamentally, Jewish law recognizes the legitimacy of parallel legal systems, as expressed in the famous Talmud statement “dina malchusa dina – the civil law of the country is the law.”

Last week, I found myself davening Mincha in Kiryat Sanz in Netanya, prior to spending a few hours at the separate beach across the road. Kiryat Sanz is a largely self-contained neighborhood of Klausenberger Chassidim, though late Klausenberger Rebbe insisted from the beginning that there be a Sephardi community within Kiryat Sanz. Laniado Hospital, which the Rebbe built, lies at the edge of the neighborhood.

While in Kiryat Sanz, I noticed one or two women in decidedly non-Chassidic dress walking through the neighborhood. No one paid them any attention. Just to make sure that my powers of observation are not waning, I called a doctor friend who lives in the neighborhood, and he told me a story of rabbi who once spent his summer vacation in Kiryat Sanz. After a week, he complained to the Klausenberger Rebbe, of blessed memory, that he was shocked by the presence of immodestly dressed women in Kiryat Sanz. The Rebbe replied, “That’s amazing. I’ve been here over ten years, and I never saw anything like that.”

My friend then told me another story that captures the ahavas Yisrael that the Rebbe made the animating value of his community, along with devotion to Torah study. Once the Rebbe heard that some Chassidim had shouted, “Shabbes,” at seaside bathers. He ordered them to cease and desist forever. “Nobody ever came closer to Torah because someone shouted at them,” he said. “Open your windows and sing Shabbos zemiros at the top of your lungs. That might have a positive effect.”

How do I know that the relations between Kiryat Sanz and secular residents of Netanya are normative Torah behavior, and threats by a handful of newly arrived, self-proclaimed “zealots” in Beit Shemesh to their national religious neighbors that they better remove their TVs or else are not? Because the Klausenberger Rebbe was a universally recognized giant of Torah scholarship, while the “zealots” listen to no rabbinic authority. Rabbi Aharon Feldman, today the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, once told me how thirty years ago he and a group of some of Jerusalem’s most distinguished younger talmidei chachamim tried to convince a group of kids throwing stones on the Ramot Road on Shabbos to stop. The kids just laughed at them.

And my conclusion is confirmed by the dozens of places around Israel, where haredim live harmoniously with secular neighbors – in mixed cities like Petah Tikva, in Jerusalem’s Givat Zev neighborhood, with a large group of Stoliner Chassidim, or Arad, with its large population of Gerrer Chassidim. Unfortunately, harmony never garners media attention, perhaps because it does not further anti-haredi propaganda.

JEWS, UNLIKE MOSLEMS, have a millennia-long history of living as a despised minority. Minority status has also mbued us with an appreciation of prudence. Satmar Chassidim in Williamsburg, for instance, do not post dress code advisories, in the elevators of buildings they share with Puerto Ricans.

Despite its rapid growth – or perhaps because of it – the haredi population in Israel today is a highly vulnerable. Secular Israelis fear haredi domination, just as many of those of native European stock fear the loss of their cultural patrimony to rapidly growing Muslim populations. And fear triggers backlashes.

That has certainly happened in Europe in response to the growing number of Muslim neighborhoods that are “no-go” zones for the police, the assaults and worse on European women who do not conform to Muslim dress codes, and the retention of Islamic customs, like honor killings, even when they contravene the criminal law. The leaders of Germany, France and Britain have all declared multi-culturalism a failure. Anti-immigrations parties are ascendant, and a number of countries have enacted restrictions on Muslim dress. Some observers warn that the blood of native European and Muslim immigrant combatants will flow in Europe’s streets.

Haredim in Israel cannot afford such a backlash. And nothing will do more to trigger one than assertions of territorial sovereignty by those who, ironically, profess to believe that we are still living in Galus (Exile). Contrary to what the protestors on Rothschild Street may think, for instance, the haredi community suffers from a critical housing shortage. Haredim will have to move many mostly secular cities (which I view as largely positive development for many reasons). But many mayors have actively fought to prevent haredim from moving in to their cities, in part motivated by fears that once haredim become a critical mass they will demand that streets be closed on Shabbos and the like.

EVEN THE DANGER THEY represent to the larger haredi public is not, however, the greatest threat posed by the “zealots.” I spoke last week to one of the veteran leaders of the Eidah Hachareidis and a resident of Meah Shearim for more than seventy years, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim. This outspoken opponent of violence, was one of the prime movers behind the move of hundreds of families from Meah Shearim to Beit Shemesh, among them the small group of “zealots.” “I envisioned them teaching Torah to their neighbors,” Rabbi Pappenheim told me.

In the course of the conversation, he shared the view of his teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yosef Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eidah, that the coming of the Messiah only requires some spiritual arousal from below, not that every Jew first become Torah observant. The latter is G-d’s business, not ours, and will only happen after Messiah’s arrival, Rabbi Dushinsky taught.

Anyone who makes the Torah ugly in the eyes of the broader public, in that view, is doing nothing less than blocking the Redemptive process itself.

I DON’T EXPECT the “zealots” to be convinced by anything I write: They don’t listen to Rabbi Elyashiv, why would they listen to me? But I do expect the haredi mayor of Beit Shemesh to take a strong stand that violence will not be allowed to establish facts on the grounds and that all citizens of Beit Shemesh will be treated fairly and equally. Doing so, will constitute a powerful statement that the haredi public understands the requirement of mutual respect and tolerance in a diverse society, and allow us to maintain the moral upper hand when we demand fair treatment in places like Tzoran.

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17 Responses

  1. dlz says:

    Eliezer:
    They “listened” and moved to Bet Shemesh because they could get affordable housing there – it wasn’t a case of obedience to any authority.

  2. Eliezer says:

    R’ Rosenblum,

    Kudos for addressing this issue, but there’s something that, to me, doesn’t add up.

    You assert that ‘the “zealots” listen to no rabbinic authority.’ Yet you mention towards the end that Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim was ‘one of the prime movers behind the move of hundreds of families from Meah Shearim to Beit Shemesh, among them the small group of “zealots.”’ Presumably, moving out of Mea Shearim would be a major decision for these families that have lived there for generations. If they listen to no rabbinic authority, why would they have listened to Rabbi Pappenheim when he encouraged them to leave Mea Shearim?

    Also, you describe Rabbi Pappenheim as an ‘outspoken opponent of violence.’ With all due respect to Rabbi Pappenheim, has he made an effort to use his influence to stop the violence in Beit Shemesh? Has he publicly condemned it?

    Finally, his claim that ‘I envisioned them teaching Torah to their neighbors’ strikes me as not very credible given these people’s history of violent behavior towards outsiders.

    I know this may be a bit over the top, but the analogy that comes to mind is Yasser Arafat’s penchant for giving one message to the Arab street and another message to the Western world. It may cause us cognitive dissonance to consider the possibility that this violence is condoned if not encouraged by the leadership in the Eda, but I think the facts behoove us to think about it.

  3. AP says:

    Michael, I don’t read Haim B’s post as having anything to do with the reform, or how old any particular label is, or who called who what name first. It’s about association or disassociation with the people that you aptly refer to as “thugs”. Whatever clothing they wear, a thug is a thug is a thug. But that does not mean that the people who the thugs are dressing up like and whose community has given rise to them, do not have an even greater responsibility than others to repudiate the particular thugs who are dressing up like them. This goes for all groups. And in this particular case it is the Haredim (and it is made all the worse because these crazies are yelling at the little girls, they say in the defense of the Torah). It is truly wonderful and a great Kiddush Hashem, and a true defense of Torah values by the particular Haredim who showed up to counter-demonstrate. But in the case of this tremendous Hilul Hahem being made by thugs dressed as Haredim it would seem that there should be an overwhelming number of Haredim counterdemonstrating as well as a repudiation by the leaders of the community. If not, then it is disingenuous be surprised when people associate the thugs with the wider Haredi community. And if the Haredi community is called on it, thaty’s not extremism, and its not hate. If you would like to see extremism or hate, take a look at the video of the “thugs” outside the school.

  4. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >Thanks so much for these comments, which demonstrate how the extremism and even hatred are clearly a two-way street.

    You really believe that expressing disdain and loathing towards those who chase, yell at, and threaten 7 year old girls as well as those parts of the chareidi ideology that enables this behavior is of the same moral value as the terror of these crazies???

    >Verbal stones thrown on the Internet can do even more damage than physical ones!

    really?!?!? You really think that expressing disdain for these evil actions is the same evil as the actions themselves?

    >Do the majority of Charaidim essentially agree with the Satmar, but simply argue over some details such as voting, accepting money from the government, visiting the Kotel (the Satmer Rebbe forbade this after the 1967 war), etc., or do they really have a conceptually different view then the Satmer?

    Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky has a chapter studying the mainstream chareidi position (he aslo has chapters on Munkatch ideology and R’ Kook’s students, and Lubavitch) on the state in his book הקץ המגולה ומדינת היהודים : משיחיות, ציונות ורדי קליזם דתי בישראל which was translated into english as “Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish religious radicalism”. He discribes pretty well the schizophrenic nature of mainstream chareidi ideology regarding the state. As Dr. Israel Eldad once quiped: “I can undersand the position of the students of R’ Kook and I can understand the position of Satmar, for the life of me, I do not understand the position of those in the middle.” I think that over the past 50 years, there has been a general adoptation among mainstream chareidim of the Satmar position, in ideology if not in action. This is a great tragedy and in reality enables the kind of behavior we see in Beit Shemesh.

  5. dm says:

    A basic issue that should be raised:Regarding the attitude towards Midinat Yisrael, we have the Dati leumi on one extreme (viewing the State as a Divine Bracha)and the Satmar on the other (viewing the State as the work of the Satan, which needs to be dismantled), with the Charaidim somewhere in the middle. A question to ponder: Do the majority of Charaidim essentially agree with the Satmar, but simply argue over some details such as voting, accepting money from the government, visiting the Kotel (the Satmer Rebbe forbade this after the 1967 war), etc., or do they really have a conceptually different view then the Satmer? This may have ramifications regarding their attitude and actions towards the Religious Zionist community.

  6. Michael says:

    Thanks so much for these comments, which demonstrate how the extremism and even hatred are clearly a two-way street.

    Haim Brandspiegel has a uniquely twisted version of history, with which to cudgel the charedim. It is the MO world which created the MO term to describe itself as something unique and different, and used the term “ultra-Orthodox” to describe the folks they aren’t (and isn’t that exactly how the Reform are the ones who called us “Orthodox”?). The term charedi is certainly much older than even a few decades, much less one. As for these thugs, they are a new group which hasn’t yet named itself, but clearly they are less at home with the charedi leadership than are most of those at Kerem B’Yavneh, for example.

    Then there’s Baila Pressnik, who has basically said Etana Hecht is hallucinating or lying, because Hecht describes charedi shul emails and a noticeable charedi group from RBS A. I wouldn’t come out to help Pressnik, because the next day she’d tell her kids I was a figment of their imagination.

    The Kitzonim are lacking in Ahavas Yisroel, and the commenters are lacking in Ahavat Yisrael. Verbal stones thrown on the Internet can do even more damage than physical ones!

  7. Dr. E says:

    While the essay is a decently written piece, I am reluctant to accept the parallels that Jonathan appears to draw from Sanz and other scenarios he cites. We are not talking about “Chilonim” or Jews driving on Shabbos, but Shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos. [As such, I might even take offense to the tzu-shtel (connection) if I lived in the Dati Leumi community.]

    The “tolerance” to be promoted in Beit Shemesh should not merely be predicated on motives like Ahavas Yisrael, Kiddush Hashem (or preventing the opposite), or being nice to others– with an implicit Kiruv agenda. Those are certainly noble motives, but miss the big-picture mark. “Tolerance” should be about an acknowledgement by the Chareidi community, (not only the unemployed, illiterate zealots with time on their hands) that those in the Dati Leumi community are living their lives according to a viable derech of Avodas Hashem. Yes, the DL community dresses differently from the zealots and mainstream Chareidim, which is a visible symbol that many find to be an affront to their religious sensitivities which are often informed by chumra. Less visibly, but equally objectionable, the DL community educates their children differently in terms of Limudei Kodesh, Hashkafa, Limudei Chol, and military readiness. IMHO, there has been a dearth of genuine respect, in the spirit of “Eilu V’Eilu”, happening. Even beyond recognizing the value of a different religious ideology, there is a wholesale failure to recognize the crucial contributions being made by the DL community to Eretz Yisrael (even if one does not hold of “Medinat Yisrael”). These contributions include playing key roles toward the national infrastructure, economic viability, and national security from which that ALL residents benefit.

    It is quite easy to continuously marginalize the Zealots as being beyond the pale of Chareidi ideology in print and social media. But, that is convenient, as it is simply beating a dead horse inasmuch as these thugs are meshuganeh nebachs. What should be the charge is a greater spirit of proactive achdus by the mainstream Chareidi rank-and-file and even leadership independent of damage control reactions to incidents like these. It would be interesting to record the Shabbos table conversations within the Chareidi neighborhoods and what is really being said about the DL. This is not to say that the DL community is perfect. Of course, all communities have their challenges and imperfections. But, all reasonable frum Jews must stipulate that opening a new religious elementary school for girls is not among the debits recorded on the Theological Ledger.

    As we all know, the DL community in Beit Shemesh settled in these neighborhoods first. As such, they have the right to continue to grow, build, be mechanech their children, and live productive lives. It is what it is and people have the right to buy-in by deciding where to live. While this practical reality is not the ideal posture of tolerance and achdus, that might be the most that we could ask for. What seems to be at stake here is with the increasing percentage of the Chareidi community in different parts of Eretz Yisrael, who is going to set the ideological and Halachic standards for that locale (or Egged bus)? With an ongoing agenda to impose religious standards on others, this seems to be an ongoing battle that would not appear to be settled soon.

  8. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >I think we need to be honest that most of the haredim give their tacit support to the violent crazies by not challenging them

    It’s deeper than that. The mainstream chareidi leaders give these crazies ideological legitimacy. Looks at the Steipler Gaon’s (a mainstream chareidi leader by any standard) letters regarding the Neturei Karta and you will see that he sees them as holy zealots fighting the wars of Hashem and that he only disagrees with some of their methods.

  9. saul says:

    Do not see a comparison between hilltop settlers and these extremists, at all.
    Personally, R. Rosenblum – Charedim are happier living with secular Jews then with RZ frummies.

  10. Baila Pressnik says:

    Why didn’t Mayor Abutbol come to stand with the DL community who were in wronged? And then he wonders why they won’t vote for him. And if the zealots are only a fringe group, why didn’t the mainstream haredim come out to support their DL neighbors? I think we need to be honest that most of the haredim give their tacit support to the violent crazies by not challenging them. Last Yom HaAtzmaut, the zealots graffitied the buildings in RBS with the following happy independence day message: star of david = swastika, with the symbols in color – stars in blue, swastikas in black. Who came to cover up the graffiti? Guess. We tell our kids stories of goyim who wore yellow stars to show solidarity with their Jewish neighbors in Nazi-occupied Poland. Is it too much to expect a few Israeli flags to be hung up in RBS B to support the victims in the neighborhood who had their flags ripped off their cars? Lots of Germans didn’t actively support Nazis, but hisotry judges them for not siding with the victims. . their silence showed the Nazis they approved or didn’t disapprove too much. this Rosh Hashana, we Jews have much to atone for.

  11. Eli says:

    Excellent article overall. Just on the factual side of things, I would recommend that you look into the situation with the Gerrers in Arad a little more before you use it as an example of a successful mixing of hilonim and haredim.

  12. AP says:

    “Unfortunately, harmony never garners media attention, perhaps because it does not further anti-haredi propaganda.”

    As I tell my children, you do not get rewarded for behavior that is expected. It is not and should not be viewed as newsworthy when Jews of different stripes who happen to be neighbors are cordial to each other. That is expected from any decent person. There is no “propoganda” that is anti-haredi greater than the true actual actions of actual haredim (though they may be extremists) standing outside a school with the intent to intimidate their neighbors and humiliate little girls. There is however an opportuntiy for a tremendous kiddush Hashem if the remeiander of the haredi community would show up to stand with their RZ brothers. And if and when that happens, it will most certainly garner positive media attention.

  13. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I think this was a very good article, saying many things that need to be said. I do, however, question Rabbi Pappenheim’s statement that “I envisioned them teaching Torah to their neighbors.” Giving the benefit of the doubt to Rabbi Pappenheim’s good intentions, I wonder if he or anyone else considered that these neighbors, the people of Sheinfeld, Nofei Aviv, and the other predominantly Dati Leumi neighborhoods near Ramat Beit Shemesh B, might have some Torah to teach the families who moved from Meah Shearim to Beit Shemesh. I think a lot of us, and most particularly the zealots of all stripes, could benefit from an attitude that they do not have a monopoly on truth, and that they might try listening on occasion to others, even if those others don’t dress like them and don’t necessarily think like them.

  14. Haim Brandspiegel says:

    Perhaps it is time for you to throw your hats in with the mainstream modern orthodox and moderate religious zionists who you in reality have more in common with, but your organization has worked so hard to separate yourselves from. This term “chareidi” has been popularized in the past decade or so to make it clear to your constituency that you are NOT chas veshalom MO/RZ, but “torah true”. You haven’t seen a need to create a label that separates yourselves from these thugs though. The clear message this sends, is that you still feel a greater kinship and common ground with these people simply because of the uniform. Quite sad. When will you and your leadership get it?

  15. Moshe says:

    Has Rabbi Pappenheim ever spoken out against the violence of kanaim is Beit Shemesh. I have not hear a single leading charedi rabbi do so.

  16. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, the reason that both groups – the charedim and the RZ – are beset with these issues was predicted almost 2 decades ago by the late prof. katz ztl. ideologies left unchecked are in large measure responsible for the consequences that follow. Moderation by the fringes of both groups will occur when the rhetoric of their (rabbinic) leaders is less strident. I am familiar with a (very) few voices in the RZ community who have strongly questioned even some of the movement’s venerable sages for their deeply held views. It may just be my lack of awareness, but I have not seen similar questioning of the views of the sages of the chareidi right. when rabbis can verbally attack without being called to task, hooligans become be yet harder to bring under control. hopefully both groups are getting a wake – up call. unfortunately in my MO community many of the RZ hooligans still get a reprimand and a wink.

  17. L. Oberstein says:

    The chareidi extremists share a desire for action with the Hilltop Youth. The latter give a bad name tgo the settlers and the former to chareidim. If the National Religious can’t control their wild youth, why do they think the chareidim can control their’s ? In both cases, there is a failure of leadership to lead and for the moderate majority to establish hegemony over the riotous minority. What is the reason the Mayor of RBS doesn’t do more? Is he afraid of losing the next election? Thuggery is all to common in all sorts of venues, the common denominator is that moderates are too slow to overpower people who like to make trouble. Some are religious , some are secular, they are all thugs.