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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71 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    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.

  2. Nachum Boehm says:

    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.

  3. Dovid Kornreich says:

    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.

  4. Dovid Kornreich says:

    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.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    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?

  6. Yaakov Menken says:

    I am mystified by Nachum’s assertion that Rav Aharon Feldman said “the exact opposite” of my statement, given that we used different words to convey exactly the same meaning.

    I am equally mystified by his question “why won’t the Eida” denounce extremism, when as said here often enough to write a book by now, it did do exactly that.

    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.

  7. Nachum Boehm says:

    Rabbi Ahron Feldman wrote the exact opposite of your statement. In defending the ban on R. Slifkin’s books, R. Feldman wrote:

    “The rabbis were asked if the book is permitted to be held in a Jewish home and were obligated to respond, as they are on any other halachic question. Their intention was not to halt the sales of the books, and it was not their concern if, as a result of their ruling, the book would sell more copies.”

    What would be the downside to publicly denouncing extemism? If the U.S. Agudah did it in consultation with the members of the Moetzes, why won’t the Eida?

    Is there not one chareidi askan or Rav that is willing to “ask” if the actions of the extremists is permissible, and then publicize the answer?

    I understand that Rav Elyashiv should not be involved in this sort of issue, but what about Rabbonim aged 75 and lower? What would be so bad if a group of Chareidi Rabbonim would issue a statement that it is unacceptable to make a woman feel uncomfortable about the way she’s dressed when in public, or to ask a woman to switch seats on account of the requester’s frumkeit? What would be the downside to having Chareidi Rabbonim and community members walk the Orot girls to school from time to time, in order to make a statmenent?

    I will try to get hold of the Ami article.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    Gedolim in America did speak out about the Beit Shemesh spitting, by endorsing the very Agudah press release you posted here. Since Israeli Gedolim are located closer to the problem, doesn’t logic seem to call for them to do likewise?

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think Nachum is fundamentally misunderstanding what a Gadol is, as are many others. A Gadol B’Torah isn’t an elected leader. He doesn’t run for office. He doesn’t make PR statements to burnish his image.

    A reporter once asked Reb Moshe zt”l how he became the acknowledged Gadol HaDor, which he truly was. Until his petirah in 1986, he was the single address for p’sak halacha. Obviously there were other Gedolim, both as Roshei Yeshiva and in p’sak, but we all know how dominant his opinions were.

    So how did he answer the question? He said that someone came with a question, and he gave that person an answer. That person must have liked the answer, because he told someone else, and he also came with a question. And it grew from there.

    Gedolim are resources. We look to them for guidance, and they help us. I go to my Rav, and if necessary he asks his Rav, and if necessary he asks a Gadol.

    Therefore, Gedolim do not speak at random, or because they feel like it, or because they want to appear in newspapers. They answer questions. And they are only going to issue a public statement, if people are going to listen. And by listen, I don’t mean they are going to feel good that a Gadol said something, but they are going to change their behavior as a result.

    In all of the cases that Nochum mentioned, people listened. You may not share their opinions, but tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people listened to them. Lipa canceled his concert! They told him the situation is getting out of hand, and he canceled the whole thing, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, to listen to the Gedolim! And then he went back and did it again, in the right way.

    But here’s the problem: the Sikrikim are not listening. Contrary to what Nachum says, the council of Gedolim that people in that community listen to — the Edah HaCharedis — “has published pashkevilim condemning all sorts of violence, even before what happened in Beit Shemesh” (see my comment above). People did listen, but the Sikrikim did not. They didn’t listen to the Edah, so they’re going to listen to Rav Shteinman & Rav Kanievsky shlit”a? To Rav Elyashiv? We can hope no one was foolish enough to tell Rav Elyashiv this even happened. They didn’t tell him that his daughter passed away, due to his health. This could kill him! Of course he cares, but no one who hasn’t already listened to Gedolim will listen to him now.

    Again I suggest picking up a copy of Ami Magazine, if only to read the interviews with people associated with the Edah and Toldos Aharon. Instead of condemning them, if you read with an unbiased eye you will be left wanting to help them, because they are the ones truly under siege.

  10. Nachum Boehm says:

    “they are all forms of protesting one overall principle: “Chillul Kedusha”. . . ”

    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.

    The Litvishe Gedolim indeed did publicly protest Rabbis Kamenetzky, Slifkin and Steinsaltz, and separate seating concerts. They also protested against Israeli Yeshivos that offer secular education.

    Now, perhaps you will say that those examples indeed do constitute “Chillul Kedusha”, but public violence against women and girls does not. In that case, I ask you: what other public wrong does NOT constitute “Chillul Kedusha,” for which we should expect no protest?

    Are you not even a (tiny little) bit disturbed by the silence regarding public displays of extremism?

  11. Eli says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken:

    Fair enough. Try an OOT community, and see that everyone learns how to get along. (and then you will say OOT denegrates in town! ;-) Where I live, everyone manages to be part of the community school (or at least support it, even if they don’t send their own children there). Sephardim, Ashkinazim, Chassidic, TV watchers, TV haters, Hats over shaved heads, no hair covering, African American Jews, everyone is accepted and welcomed.

    My Rosh Yeshiva recently gave a Va’ad that Ahava comes with giving, and Ahavas Hashem comes from giving up of yourself to Hashem. Perhaps Ahavas Yisroel can only be obtained by giving to all Yidden.

    Otherwise I agree with you.

    [Eli, try Baltimore some time! We have the infrastructure of a large community, with much of the Achdus of a small one. Yeshivish, Chassidish, Modern, all living in close proximity — and we all get along. As I said in one of my posts, my wife teaches at the school Naama Margolese would probably attend if she lived here. My son’s closest friend throughout grade school goes to the co-ed community day school, and he and his father both attend my weekly shiur. You are right that some of those living in larger communities have much to learn from “out of town.” — YM]

  12. Bob Miller says:

    If the Sikrikim were caught texting on cellphones, or walking around in tank tops and cutoff blue jeans, wouldn’t they catch a lot more heat from their immediate neighbors?

  13. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I did not intend to backtrack, but I did add a distinction I should have made the first time between the Israeli and American haredi media. If you want to call that backtracking, I accept it – I forgot, or maybe I didn’t really appreciate the large gap in attitudes between the haredi media in Israel and in the United States. I also forgot to mention Misphacha – I haven’t read the English Mishpacha, but I did read most of the Hebrew Misphacha’s newspaper supplement last week, and all I saw was articles about the incitement against the haredi world, nothing whatsoever about the underlying incidents by haredim against the police and non-haredim. And as I think others have pointed out, the point isn’t what’s being read in Meah Shearim. First of all, this issue is centered in Beit Shemesh. Second, the incidents of violence and abuse that have taken place on the segregated buses have taken place in many places, including Beit Shemesh. If this were just a Meah Shearim issue, it would not be of such general interest – although I temper that statement by saying that I think that by having stood aside from violence and vandalism in Meah Shearim for so many years, the Israeli police have greatly contributed to the situation today by allowing the feeling that the law is hefker in haredi neighborhoods to take hold. Also, it hasn’t been fair to the many haredim in Meah Shearim and Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit who do not necessarily want their lives disrupted by demonstrations and burning garbage bins.

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    Regrettably, I can’t agree with Eli on that one. I’ve not yet found any group, within or outside the Torah community, without too many members who are quite happy to denigrate others. You have Charedi people who denigrate YU and YU people who denigrate Charedim. Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Chassidim and Misnagdim, Israelis and Americans… see the Beis HaMikdash up on the hill? Me neither.

    What is wrong is to lump all members of any group in a basket, and that includes all residents of Meah Shearim, much less all Charedim, and to project upon others the problems we still find within ourselves.

  15. Eli says:

    In all fairness, Moshe should agree that not all Charaidim (especially the Americans) denegrate other Torah Jews. Only the isolationists (such as his family in Beni Brak, NK, Sikkrikim, TA, etc.) would be included.

  16. Dovid Kornreich says:

    To Rabbi Landesman:

    Is there some reason why the comments here have not penetrated at all? It’s not our pet cause – it is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

    Funny, that’s exactly what the kannoim/askanim claim when they bring problems of Tznius, internet, chillul Shabbos, kevarim, etc. to the attention of the Gedolim to issue public declarations to condemn them…

    “Do would you want to subject Chareidi Gedolim to more uncharitable political analysis if they do come out against the extremism.”

    I find this statement astounding. Who exactly will be uncharitable – the same vile riffraff who attacked R. Aron Leib for his tacit support of Nachal Chareidi?

    That’s not who I had in mind. How about people like Naomi Ragen? She took the Eidah Chareidis’ public declaration placing the “Burqua Babes” outside the pale, and she tried to deduce from it that the Eidah is really jealous of them for coming up with the burqua chumra first! I kid you not:

    People like this are just waiting to find any way possible to twist a straight-forward declaration of protest into tacit approval. Who needs this?

    I find the level of violence and lack of civility in chareidi society to be apparent almost across the board

    You just conflated two entirely separate criticisms, which allows room for the implication that if you have proof for the latter, you’ve proven the former.
    Sorry, but I don’t think this is an honest debating technique. If the problem here is violence and abuse lets talk violence and abuse. It is not helpful to pile on all our pet peeves about Chareidi society as if they are all equally reprehensible and equally worthy of vocal public condemnation.
    It is this kind of talk is counter-productive and puts the Chareidi side needlessly on the defensive.

  17. Michoel says:

    two commenters have stated that Rav Lichenstein condemned the use of NAZI imagery by the religious zionist community. It behooves someone to post a link. If / when the link is provided, it behooves R. Menken to retract.

    [I already accepted the correction. My point was that it’s ridiculous to imagine he or anyone of his stature (read: Charedi gedolim) condone something when they “fail” to condemn the obviously repugnant. But I don’t see many retracting their accusation of Charedi “silence” despite multiple eyewitness reports of Edah pashkevilim condemning violence. — YM]

  18. Yaakov Menken says:

    I appreciate the correction that Rav Lichtenstein apparently condemned it — someone sent me the link to remind me that Kikar Shabbat was not the first, and I looked around in vain for any condemnation still on the web.

    Nonetheless, Baruch is trying to backtrack and make distinctions, but HaModiah is an Israeli journal. I don’t know what they printed in Hebrew but don’t expect there to be a tremendous difference between the English and Hebrew. Most importantly, none of these are read by the residents of Meah Shearim — what they read are the pashkevilim plastered on the walls, and as some have already pointed out, the Edah HaCharedis has published pashkevilim condemning all sorts of violence, even before what happened in Beit Shemesh. It’s simply not true that the Rabbis in their neighborhoods have been silent, or that the press has been only defensive.

    Moishe continues the same. To say that the violent fringe is “an inherent product of Chareidi culture” contradicts Eli’s point, which is that American charedim have nothing at all to do with the culture which produced Sikrikim and burka women. Neither, for that matter, do yeshivishe charedim in Israel. Bnei Torah are a very different subcategory within the Charedi world — not that I would say the vast majority of Chassidim have anything to do with this either, but it’s certainly not an “inherent” part of being Charedi.

    Rabbi Landesman claims without merit that I distorted his comment, but his words speak for themselves (and Chaim Tzvi Yehida shows that I was not alone if I misapprehended what Rabbi Landesman intended to convey). He closely tied “the level of violence” and “lack of civility” to the “‘unzere’ mentality” … which he then called pervasive. Sorry, but few people say something is found “across the board” within a group, when what they really mean is that its no more frequent within that group, it’s just a bad trait wherever it might be found.

    Now, if he had asked why certain groups in Meah Shearim fail to achieve the level of non-violence of yeshivaleit, much less American yeshivaleit, he’d be asking a valid question. But to imply that the charedi community has a violence problem — even within Meah Shearim — is entirely discordant with reality. I know he’s not unfamiliar with chareidim, so I had only one other option to work with.

    I am pleased that he came forward with a third option — namely, that he never meant to imply what his words implied, and in the end, he agrees that Charedim are no more violent than anyone else. In fact, they are much better, as even the Israeli police know very well.

    Chaim Tzvi Yehida’s understanding of my personal situation is consistent with his understanding of Charedi violence (or lack thereof). I stand by my claim: anyone who states that Charedim are more violent than others is not aware of the reality in the Charedi community, outside it, or both. The only remaining alternative is still less charitable: they are aware of the reality, but are saying otherwise due to personal bias. Regardless of Rabbi Landesman’s disregard of my tone, tenor or reading ability, he’s now stated for the record that he never intend to imply anything about Charedim being more violent than others. He is to be commended for correcting the record, but Rabbi Landesman should note that Chaim Tzvi Yehida read his original comment exactly as I did.

  19. Chaim Tzvi Yehida says:

    Rabbi Menken: “Those of us who attended elite secular colleges know better. Those of us who live in mixed neighborhoods (like Baltimore) know better.”

    I commend your willingness to print negative comments, unlike others on this site, but I must still shake my head. Do you truly believe any of the many who disagree with you did NOT attend elite college, or do NOT live in mixed enightborhoods? Come on. If your only method of debate is to wildly attack the background of your disputants – whom you don’t even know! – then it is pretty sad indeed. If one wishes to argue like that, he might say that the only reason you are still trying to defend chareidim is because you are a baal teshivah, and thus do not really have a true grasp of charedi life. You have no charedi family, and you did not go to a charedi yeshivah when you are young. You have this vision of charedim you were taught at Ohr Sameaich, and you accepted it as gospel along with all the other things you were taught. In other words, while you keep trying to say that all critics must somehow be outsiders, YOU are the real outsider here.

  20. Gavriel says:

    There is a huge difference here between the Charedi press in the US and the Charedi Press in Israel.

    And with the exception of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, not one Israeli Gadol has issued a statement of condemnation. Rav Steinman’s statement only condemned the secular.

  21. Yitz Waxman says:

    This de facto recognition and respect for the laws of the State put mainstream Chareidim in an entirely different social (and some would say religious) category than the extremists.

    Without addressing the merits of Rabbi Kornreich’s comments here, it is interesting to note that he concedes that the Meah Shearim society indeed engenders extremism, but this is not at all the case of mainstream Haredim. This then leads to the obvious need to provide a reasonable explanation to account for the sharp distinction, and that is no mean task (although he did make an attempt at it).

    More significantly and in all fairness, we must now raise a protest against Rabbi Kornreich for spewing vitriol against the entire Meah Shearim community (including satellites).

    Have you no shame, sir?