Welcoming The Charedi Spring


The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire country contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh to help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follows it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

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3 years 8 months ago

I have lived in Bet Shemesh for almost twenty years. Rabbi Adlerstein’s words are so important for those of us who live here.
We need the chizuk! We need to know that someone out there understands how we feel and is concerned! We are grieving for our city, a place in which we invested so much in an effort to build a community of all types of Jews. The behavior recently reported in the press has been going on for YEARS and have been documented. It is nothing new. There have been dozens if not hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse towards not only the dati leumi population but against charedim as well. Our pain is not so much due to the actions of a few ‘terrorists’ who live in our midst but rather the silence of the majority of mainstream charedim who will not protest or speak out. The charedim of Bet Shemesh and elsewhere are experts at protesting,at putting up pashkevilim signed by charedi rabbanim and in general, making their voices heard.

There are a few reasons why they have not done so in this case: 1. Some in the charedi community are afraid to speak out against such violent, threatening people 2. Others feel that this behavior has nothing to do with them. It doesn’t impact on their lives 3. Some feel that to protest is to admit some connection to these awful people. Just as they would not protest murder by a ‘charedi’ person, they will not protest something which has ‘nothing’ to do with the person’s ‘charediness’. 4. There are those who do not agree with the tactics of the kanaim but agreewith the reasons behind their protest. They will not object to the violent behavior because it might look as though they are disagreeing with the reasons behind the protests. This includes charedim who have themselves been victims of the ‘terrorists’. 5. The last group does not agree with the tactics nor with the issues being protested but is quite happy to see the end result which will be the exodus of dati leumi families from the city. They want Bet Shemesh to be a charedi city are willing to put up with some fuss in order to get this result. Of course these are not distinct groups and some people fall into more than one category.

This is what we mourn; this is the true Chillul Hashem in my opinion.
Hashem gave us two chances to live here and rule ourselves. We failed and he sent us into exile.
Now he has given us a third precious chance. What are we doing with that chance? I firmly believe that we can only stay here if we can manage, somehow, to treat each other with the most basic respect.

May Hashem redeem us speedily.

3 years 8 months ago

I get it that we condemn the violent actions of extreme groups in certain sects. But, I don’t see though why we need to go so far as to assume that these people are “sickly weeds”. And, I don’t see the relevance of saying that they are being ungrateful by closing their eyes to the benefits that they receive from the State. Many of them do actually avoid government funding, paying for medical services, schooling etc., out of their own pockets. Some of them do benefit from the government, but we do not need to condemn them for it more than we need to condemn Chareidim in general.

Zev Bar
3 years 8 months ago

Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,
I have lived in Israel for over thiry years, and before that twenty five in the USA.
There can be no justification for violating any halacha – spitting in another person’s 4 amos being one particularly clear-cut prohibition.
Having said that, the fact is that spittle (and worse) flies in innocent (and not-so-innocent) people’s faces all the time. It would be impossible to count minor and major infractions perpetrated by ‘meshuganahs’ around our globe. No government, people, no religion, no culture, no country nor continent can say: ‘We have not thought,spoke, or acted improperly.’
Last month at a golf driving range, a ‘fellow-golfer’ accused me of ‘stealing’ his driving range ball, and cursed me! (I didn’t pilfer the little white ball w/ a red stripe.)
I stared at him and said: ‘For a golf ball you swear at me?’ He said nothing.
Spitting at little girls is, Hashem knows, serious. If we collected all of the spittle, we’d probably fill up Lake Tahoe in no time flat.
But the point is this. It isn’t, according to my most humble opinion, news.
Not first page, not last page. No page at all.
Right, I believe, will prevail when people use judicious words and reasoning to settle problems- both real and perceived ones.

3 years 8 months ago

Could it be that the Chareidi Gedolim aren’t commenting because they don’t know? They probably don’t know because they aren’t being told. I bet you didn’t know that Rav Chaim Kanievsky doesn’t even own a telephone!

Also, all we are all going by is what we see in the media. The media is hardly an objective place to judge what exactly is going on.

Mr. Cohen
3 years 9 months ago

Yitzchok Adlerstein said:
“Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz ztl used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal.”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl said (in the last year of his life) that we should pray for the soldiers of Israel.
This remark was made at one of his Thursday night public lectures.