Whose Problem Is It, Anyway?


by Dovid Kornreich

There is a recurrent theme that I’ve read on Jblogs and newspapers, and it has two parts:

1) Chareidi society somehow engenders extremism and these incidents in Beit Shemesh are its bitter fruit.

2) Neglect by the rest of Chareidi leadership to publicly condemn the extreme acts is a form of acquiescence by silence.

The response to the first charge is that your average chareidi individual living in, let’s say Bayit Vegan or Har Nof, shares very little of the *cultural* values and norms of Mea She’arim Chareidim. The sad reality is that Chareidim are an extremely factionalized and subdivided group, and the divisions are deep and operate on many different levels of which outsiders simply have no appreciation.

True, on religious and political issues vis-a-vis non-Chareidim and especially the non-religious, most Chareidim seem to rally together as a unified group to oppose a common threat. But socially, there is very little meaningful contact between Mea Shea’rim Charedim (and their RBS offshoots) and the rest of the Chareidi population.

So one can’t credibly say that “Chareidi society” engenders violence, extremism, intolerance etc. There is very little *culturally* that unites all Chareidim. And it is the uniquely extreme form of anti-modern, anti-Zionist culture of Mea She’arim society which engenders physical displays of intolerance, lawlessness, and violence. Mainstream Chareidi society may certainly be anti-modern and anti-zionist and not tolerant to others to some degree, but those attitudes are simply not visceral enough to engender any extremist behavior in emotionally balanced people.

The response to the second charge is a direct corollary to the first. For a Litvish Godol embedded in mainstream Chareidi Society to come publicly against Mea She’arim Chareidim is almost as non-meaningful to the extremists themselves as the Agudas Yisroel of America’s statement of condemnation. (And if they come out publicly simply for appearances sake, they will look shallow and insincere. I have yet to hear anyone say that they have changed their minds about a violent group of people on the basis of its leaders’ condemnation of acts of terror. It is lip service and people know it. People change their minds about another group only once they observe that the group has consistently changed their behavior.)

If I understand the bloggers and the pundits correctly, the point of having Chareidi Rabbonim and Gedolim come out publicly against the extremism is to send an internal social message that such behavior is not acceptable in Chareidi society. The message being sent is that extremists will be socially ostracized for such behavior and the expectation is that such messages will actually pave the way to reverse the trend of anti-social behavior on the ground.

The underlying assumption of this is that Mainstream Chareidi gedolim wield any significant social influence over the Meah She’arim Chareidim (and their RBS offshoots), and that this sub-society will pay attention to any disapproval these Gedolim register. This assumption is simply false, and thus it imposes an illegitimate burden on the Chareidi Gedolim.

We hear all the time how Mea She’arim extremists use threats, intimidation, and even violence towards mainstream Chareidi Gedolim who have taken moderate stances on public social issues which these people consider unacceptable religious compromises. They have always lived in their own sub-society with their own version of religious authority/vigilantism and with dismissive social attitudes vis-a-vis the rule of secular Israeli law over their community and over their actions.

As many chareidim have said time and time again, this is not an “internal Chareidi” problem which can be resolved internally. It is a legal problem of wanton lawlessness on the part of the extremists (unfortunately, in the name of a very moderate religion) and it requires the law enforcement apparatus of the Israeli police and courts to contain it bring it to a halt.

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Bob Miller
3 years 8 months ago

The purpose of Austritt was to separate under Prussian law from formal legal connection to the general Jewish community organization in Frankfurt am Main that had dissolved Orthodox institutions (mikvaos, etc.) while taxing Orthodox Jews to support community-run institutions. It was only after the attempt at Austritt began that the general organization offered concessions. Some Orthodox Jews were willing to accept these concessions, while others (such as Rav Hirsch and many of his followers) felt the concessions were insufficient and unreliable.

Nachum Boehm
3 years 8 months ago

Rabbi Menken:

When, where and how did the Eida denounce extremism? The protest in support of the convicted extremist two Motsei Shabossos ago was officially sponsored by the Eida. Rabbonim of the Eida were in attendance and spoke at the rally. The official newspaper of the Eida called for people to protest and supported the convicted extremist. In light of the above, in truth, a denunciation by the Eida wouldn’t do it for me. I would indeed see it as nothing more than PR.

I would like you to consider this: Suppose a public statement signed by the Gedolim would come out today, denouncing the extremism, and stating unequivocally that it’s not okay to make strange women feel uncomfortable, especially in public, for any reason. Would you think to yourself: “They really shouldn’t have done that! They don’t understand what it means to be a gadol!”? Or would you look at the public denunciation with relief, and think that they did the right thing? Be honest.

If you believe that the Gedolim will have acted correctly whether or not they denounce, then all your explanations for a denunciation of lack thereof can be seen as nothing other than apologetics.

Rabbi Kornreich:

Books that are written in English by definition do not directly affect their community.

Dovid Kornreich
3 years 8 months ago

I would like to respond to a piece of historical revisionism by Rabbi Landesman posted on Jan 4, 1:12PM:
The real issues at stake in EY are not gender segregation on the buses. We are at a crossroads where we have to make a decision as to what kind of chareidi society we want to live in. Do we want to be contributors to the Yeshurun model as envisaged by RSRH which may mean that we may well find ourselves in a position where we have to make certain compromises [as sanctioned by qualified rabbanim and poskim] or do we choose to continue to live in the vision of R Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l and exist through the handouts and good will of the modern day chalukah of the medinah. I am scared because recent statements attributed to Rav Elyashiv would seem to point to choosing the latter.

As I have said numerous times, mainstream Chareidi society has in fact made serious compromises relative to the Eidah Chareidis community and has completely come to terms with living under secular law in Israel. When the mainstream wants something done for their community, they don’t just do it. Their elected factions propose motions in either the local municipality or propose bills in the Knesset. The Knesset! Doesn’t that tell you something very important about the modus vivendi that mainstream Chareidim have struck with the rest of Israeli society? The entire Beis Yaakov system teaches advanced secular subjects in modern Hebrew and with utmost seriousness in order to gain professional employment. This is not an expanded “Old Yishuv” enclave preserving its isolationist mentality.

Look, I’m not saying it’s nearly perfect nor as mentchlech and tolerant as you or I would want, but your dichotomy is simply false on its face.

And speaking of Rav Hirsch *vs.* Rav Zonnenfeld, you need to read up on the term “Austritt,” and know that the latter ADOPTED the model of the former specifically to maintain a religious infrastructure which was independent of the Chief Rabbinate and the dictates of State officials! That isolationist mentality was “the model envisaged by Rav Hirsch” for IRG in Frankfurt.
I’m not advocating Austritt today in Israel, just setting the record straight.

Dovid Kornreich
3 years 8 months ago

To Nachum:
I’m not sure how you define “Chillul Kedusha,” which is a halachik category that I have never encountered. If it does not include books about gedolim of the past that fail to toe the Chareidi party line (ie “Making of a Gadol”), or books accepting the scientific consensus on the age of the universe and accepting the shita of many rishonim that Chazal were fallible with regard to science (Rabbi Slifkin’s books), or other non Chareidi shittos (eg Rabbi Steinzalts), or separate seating concerts (Shwekey, Avraham Fried, MBD, and others), then your distinction does not hold up.

I think you lost track of the flow.
The “Chillul Kedusha” Category was utilized to explain why we see public protests (demonstrations) spearheaded by Gedolim (or at least their signatures) about issues which do not directly affect their own community.
I thought it was self-evident that when individuals who are embedded to some degree within the Chareidi community produce things for the Chareidi public which are viewed (rightly or wrongly) as undermining Chareidi ideology and values, no explanation for public protest and denunciations would be necessary.

Bob Miller
3 years 9 months ago

Rabbi Menken wrote,
“Bob Miller is mistaken. The American Agudah issued the release, because the American Agudah does PR. They did so in consultation with the Gedolim, as they do with everything, but although I have the greatest respect for Avi Shafran, he would be the first to tell you he’s not a Gadol — and his is the only Rabbi’s name I saw on the release.”

As an Agudah member, I’ve been told time and time again that the Agudah’s output represents the opinion of the Gedolim in its Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and won’t go out without their positive support. Is there no such organ in Israel?