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.

You may also like...

Abe 71
3 years 10 months ago

Thank you R’ Alderstein, for saying like it must be said. This is the first article that I have read that really “gets it”.

Apikorus Al Ha'esh
3 years 10 months ago

While the general sentiments you’ve expressed are correct and admirable, I object to your racist generalizations regarding Muslims in Paris. Are they all semi-literate and unwashed? Have you visited an extremist Jewish neighborhood and found its residents fully literate and recently bathed? I doubt it highly. You can make your point without putting down others who–however guilty in general–have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

[YA – You are entirely correct that any such implication would be racist and inaccurate. It was certainly not my intention to make any such assertion. Thank you for pointing this out.

Do understand,… Read more »

3 years 10 months ago

Let the Israeli government stop providing welfare to able-bodied non-workers and you’ll see how quickly this clears itself up. Busy people who need to work don’t have time to stand around spitting at little girls.

Michael Rogovin
3 years 10 months ago

(sorry – hit the publish button – iPads are not for long typing)

(continued) Hashem. The way forward is for the dati communities to lead by example, not by imposing restrictions. We must be sensitive to using kulot when appropriate, reserving chumrot for those who choose them for themselves, the way our sages did. Tradition published a great article on this several years ago. It is time for the moderns to ally themselves with the seculars rather than the litvaks and make orthodoxy so beautiful that everyone will admire it and want to join.

Michael Rogovin
3 years 10 months ago

This is an excellent piece and I agree of course. However, I do think that it skips over a larger issue that is directly related but ignored by much of the orthodox, and certainly the mainstream hareidi world. The extremists are an extreme form of a decades long shift among mainstream hareidi (and in some cases dati leumi) camps in which they seek to impose their Halachic norms on others. This is manifested in the haredi control of the rabbinate, imposing ever stricter standards in kashrut, public Shabbat observance, conversion, marriage, divorce, immigration and transportation. While the use of threats,… Read more »

Ariel Rackovsky
3 years 10 months ago

It can’t happen because there is no vociferous condemnation from those they hold to be Gedolim, and, more importantly, the Gedolim are not encouraging them to do that. And the reason they aren’t is that even the moderate Chareidim don’t actually want the school- or those who represent its target population- there in the first place, even if they don’t condone violence against them.

3 years 10 months ago

I’ve been waiting for this article!! Rabbi Adlerstein once again hit the nail on the head (teaching me some new words along the way). I think a quote from an old post by Rabbi Adlerstein is relevant here:

“They don’t see, for the most part, the sincerity and the chesed. They see people who in their eyes are fixated on the past, who’ve created cocoons for themselves in which they can avoid the issues that everyone they know faces. People who are contemptuous of the sons they’ve sent to battle in their place. People whose leaders are powerful enough to… Read more »

3 years 10 months ago

Beautifully written and an excellent articulation of true Torah Judaism…but so unfortunately, untrue. This is not what is coming out of the charedi establishment here in Israel. I live in Ramat Bet Shemesh, and I have not heard this, or even anything close, coming from any more moderate charedi Rabbonim. The only question I keep asking myself is; why isn’t this most obvious message coming from any segment of the traditional charedi leadership; from local rabbonim to gedolei israel???

Dan Daoust
3 years 10 months ago

I would be perfectly willing to buy that if the greater Charedi community had been loudly and unequivocally condemning the fanatics for as long as the Beit Shemesh situation has been going on. But that hasn’t happened, has it? The silence from the mainstream Charedi community and its leaders has been deafening. So while you’ve successfully explained how the actions of the fanatics cannot possibly be representative of the Torah, you have not provided an answer for the question of whether this episode shows that the broader Torah community actually sympathizes with the fanatics’ underlying motivations and whether it wouldn’t… Read more »

Daniel W
3 years 10 months ago

I’m not such a historian, so I ask this: Is this not an oft-recurring divide within our religion? Isn’t there plenty of historical precedence for a group to rise with an alternative understanding of Jewish law who attempts to run a community by it? What were the results there? History is written by the victors, who look in hindsight at the defeated and analyze after the fact why they were flawed. It is clearly important that the majority/mainstream should – both intellectually (like your post) and then, as necessary, physically – dispel those who advocate this distortion of Judaism, but… Read more »

Ellie Levi
3 years 10 months ago

Thank you for your well-written article. Please add another crucial point to the arguments against this behavior as follows: Sinat Chinam is assur. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam – and no one can expect to rebuild it through more of the same. Additionally, history has proven time and again that all those who built a form of leadership predicated on hatred of others, were consumed and ultimately destroyed by that hatred. Peace [Rav Kook’s Ahavat Chinam] is what changes the world for the better.

Yitz Waxman
3 years 10 months ago

Thank you for the refreshing article.

The issue that Rabbi Adlerstein of reclaiming the mantle of authentic “darche noam” Judaism is indeed as difficult as it is important. I suggest that no explanations are sufficient here – not for the public and probably not even for internal use.

Rather, the only remedy available against a chillul haShem is kiddush haShem. Imagine 500 mainstream Haredi men from Beit Shemesh and in full regalia of fedora hats and black jackets forming a human barrier against the Sicarii. For added effect, have them sing niggunim and songs while they escort the dati girls… Read more »

Harry Maryles
3 years 10 months ago

Wow! I wish Agudah had said that!

3 years 10 months ago

Great piece, but there’s one point which needs to be clarified: The second and third reasons you mentioned for why this can’t be authentic Torah is, I’m sorry to say, applicable to a good deal of the charedi population in Israel, and not just to the hooligans. Whenever I read the charedi press here (which I’ve done plenty), I am appalled by the dreadful lack of hakaras hatov both to the State and to HKBH who gave us this State. There are constant complaints about the “porkei ol” and how difficult the secular Zionists make it to live… Read more »

3 years 10 months ago

Outstanding — Yasher Koach!

A simple Jew
3 years 10 months ago

R. Adlerstein,

This is the best article/response I have seen— keep up the good work.

3 years 10 months ago

Breathtakingly eloquent. The most well thought out piece I’ve read on the subject. WOW!!!!!

3 years 10 months ago

As Rabbi Hillel said when asked to explain the Torah on one foot: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others- the rest is commentary. Now go and study!”

koillel nick
3 years 10 months ago

“It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them.”
It would help if the Aguda’s statement was unequivocal. The statement they released added some criticism of leftist politicians and some religious ideas. It is a very counterproductive statement, and does not represent the people the Aguda claims to represent.

Tova Taragin
3 years 10 months ago

Beautifully written. Kol hakavod.

Reuven Ungar
3 years 10 months ago

I totally agree with Mr. Gitlin’s endorsement of the article. Completely on the mark. The only thing that I’d add is what I saw elsewhere (escaping me at the moment)- encouraging all of us to learn the hakdama of the Netziv to Sefer Bereshit.

3 years 10 months ago

Yes, well spoke. I must point out some facts, though, as truth is truth:

“without qualification.”

The official American Agudah declaration, about as mainstream charedi as you can get, had three short sentences of condemnation and seven long ones of qualification.

“allows them to choose their own decisors”

That’s not respecting tzelem Elokim. Respecting tzelem Elokim would be to allowing people to make their own *decisions.* That the most freedom you will concede is the freedom to place oneself under the control of another human of your choosing is quite troubling.

“Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State”

So the UTJ-… Read more »

3 years 10 months ago

This post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and others, are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to Yeshiva World News. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet,… Read more »

Aharon Haber
3 years 10 months ago

Kol HaKavod. This is the kind of statement the world is waiting to hear from Chareidim who count themselves on the right side of rationality. I only wish it could translate into unqualified public condemnation (and piskei halacha where relevant) from Gedolim and into large numbers of Chareidim willing to join the rest of us in the battle to take back our streets. Then the world will know where to put the dividing line in this struggle.

joel rich
3 years 11 months ago

I suggest going to the Ratiojnalist judaism blog (iirc you don’t post links):

Spitting on Girls is Not the Main Problem

Charedi zealotry has been a hot topic in Israel over the last few weeks, and Bet Shemesh is the hotspot this week. Today, a huge rally will take place, sparked by a moving interview that aired on television last week. It featured an eight-year-old girl who was traumatized from going to her school, Orot, due to charedi extremists who scream at her and spit on her.

Now, I do not mean for one moment to minimize the awful nature of the… Read more »

3 years 11 months ago

Kol hakavod! Frum Jews need to stand up and seperate from the crazies. In case there’s any question, the kanayim involved are not chareidi in a way that anyone would recognize. See the YouTubes to see the sickness in their eyes, or to see the gauntlet that religous girls had to walk through. To quote a Rav who’s tried to talk to them, their Torah is not the Torah we recognize and love.

David Greenzweig
3 years 11 months ago

Wonderful, Rabbi Adlerstein! As a Beit Shemesh resident, dati-leumi, I take great comfort from your article. Sadly, it is not that difficult to know how to treat and talk to other people. Hillel said it clearly – “That which is hateful to you do not do to your fellow”. Is this *really* so hard? And to be fair, the issue is not only applicable to those extremist Jews in Ramat Beit Shemesh B. Our whole political culture here is lacking in basic decency. Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein!

3 years 11 months ago


Etana Hecht
3 years 11 months ago

Thank you for your words of reason!

Menachem Lipkin
3 years 11 months ago

Beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Baruch Gitlin
3 years 11 months ago

Rabbi Adlerstein, kol hakavod for what I feel is a very well balanced, intelligent, and impassioned statement about the violence in Beit Shemesh. I am particularly glad that in addition to dealing with the issue of tarring us all (the religious) with the same brush in a nuanced and intelligent way, you also take the trouble to avoid tarring the secular Israeli public with the same brush. An excellent article!