The Price We Pay For Contempt


A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists. The Catholic Church turns the heat on whom? Haredim! Sadly, however, I can’t be as critical of the finger-pointers as I would like to be.

The doors of the Trappist monastery at Latrun were set on fire. Graffiti indicated a “price-tag” attack, and also used language about Jesus that I won’t publish.
The Israeli reaction was swift and substantial, just as it had been after the recent near-killing of an Arab by a crowd of young Jews in Yerushalayim. The desecration was condemned by the Prime Minister, and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror,” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people travelled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.

Micky Rosenfeld of the National Police told CNN that it was a “criminal incident with nationalistic motives.” Public suspicions turned to a settlement that was recently evacuated forcibly. Yet members of that settlement came to the monastery to voice their condemnation of the attack.

Short of undoing the damage by way of a time machine, you could not ask for a stronger response. But the Church would not let go. In a harsh statement that was picked up around the world, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa lashed out at haredim – and others – for creating the climate that stimulates attacks on Christians in Israel. Here are excerpts from an article in the Daily Telegraph (UK):

The most important issue [is that] Israel has failed to address is the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that teach children it is a doctrinal obligation to abuse anyone in Holy Orders they encounter in public.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children as young as eight, spit at members of the clergy on a daily basis, Fr Pizzaballa said.

Such a culture of intolerance has resulted in a “scapegoating” of Christians, leading to them becoming the convenient target of extremists fighting political battles that have nothing to do with the community.

Fr. Pizzaballa is the Custos, or custodian of all Christian holy sites in Israel on behalf of the Vatican. He recognizes that the perpetrators of this attack were not haredi. He says so himself. So his words are a cheap shot, reflecting traditional Catholic animus for Israel and Jews, right?

Wrong. I know Fr. Pizzaballa, and he is an honorable man. He is fair-minded about Israel, and has stood against many of his colleagues in other churches who do hate Israel. He is ordinarily not given to harsh words attacking Israel. I called him myself after learning of the attack to express, on behalf of my organization, our shame as Jews that this would happen in a Jewish state. (He was abroad, but the message was relayed to him, and he received it with thanks.) While I don’t believe there is really any link between haredi education and this attack, I cannot dismiss his feelings – nor his observations about attitudes towards Christians.

How do I know him? He has complained before about spitting incidents directed at him and his colleagues in the Old City. We called at the time to apologize, and to see if there was any way we could intervene. A colleague sat with him in his office for an hour-long amicable conversation. We had hoped that the problem would subside, especially after a strong statement from the Badatz. Apparently, it hasn’t.

So what we have is a message, beamed to the world, that the “real” Jews, the ones that look the part and believe in the traditions of the Bible, etc., those Jews despise Christians and treat them like dirt. This despite decades of support from many large numbers of Christians as the most reliable advocates for the Jewish State. How’s that for gratitude! Should we speculate on how many pro-Palestinian sites will make fine capital of this, or restrict ourselves to worry about the hundreds of right-wing anti-Semitic sites in Europe and the US? Do we even want to think about the lone wolf maniac, and what a story (with accompanying pictures) like this might inspire him to do to Jews in his vicinity?

What could have been accurately written off as the work of extremist kids, not condoned by a majority within their own community, is now on record as an assessment that believing Jews despise believing Christians.

Do we need this? And is Fr. Pizzaballa wrong about a climate of intolerance? (In all fairness, he pointed to several places within Israeli society in which he detected it, not just the religious community. He spoke of a tepid response in Knesset to the desecration of a Christian bible by an MK. My recollection is that this was not true, and the MK was severely criticized by his colleagues.)

I’m uncomfortable because I’m not sure he is wrong. Don’t we indeed evidence too much contempt for others? Sure – we are equal opportunity contempt providers. We often treat our own with similar contempt, for dressing a bit different, or espousing a view we see as wrong. I can’t even guess which contempt comes first. Do we first show contempt for the person who uses/does not use the eruv, and then extend it with a kal v’chomer to non-Jews, and then even further with another kal v’chomer to non-Jews who hold theological beliefs we oppose with heart and soul? Or do we begin with the outsiders, and then move closer to the outliers, as the bitterness of contempt inexorably spreads through more of our emotional apparatus?

It almost doesn’t matter. The point is that contempt, springing from (in our circles) a glorification of bitul, backfires. It endangers us as a community, because when we are contemptuous of others, others learn to reciprocate.
כמים פנים אל פנים כן לב האדם לאדם (Mishlei 27:19)

Every negative attitude we harbor becomes a focus of public attention. In a world of insatiable curiosity and easy communication, not even our thoughts remain private very long.

More importantly, it seeps into our midos in ways we do not (or should not) like. And it is no consolation that we are not “worse” than other communities. That’s not the way they judge us; it is not the way we judge ourselves; it is not the way HKBH judges us.

Can we not convey firm and confident difference without showing contempt? When a child sees a Christian cleric in a Yerushalayim street, bedecked in his strange looking garb, does his parent help his understanding and development by saying something disparaging about the person and/or his beliefs? Wouldn’t the child (and our community) learn far more if the parent speaks about people who look for Hashem in different ways, and how fortunate we are that we have a Torah to show us how to do it, and how one day, all people on earth will learn to serve Hashem the way He wants them to? And when considering the hundreds of millions who are not spiritually engaged, would it not make more sense to speak of them as worthy of respect simply because they are endowed with an invaluable tzelem Elokim?

I have Christian friends and acquaintances who passionately and absolutely reject what I believe and practice. Yet they don’t display contempt! How do they manage? (Maybe that is why they don’t react to stories like this by burning down shuls, c’v, while more primitive cultures do.)

The Latrun monastery is located in Emek Ayalon, the place that Yehoshua miraculously made the sun stop. Alas, for too many of our brethren, time has stopped in regard to the way they interact with non-Jews. While we won that battle, we are not going to fare as well in the ones ahead if we cannot recognize the rules of the game in interacting with the world at large – and that we bear some of the burdens of galus even in our Jewish State.

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3 years 2 months ago

Ridicule & contempt has seeped into the Torah educationally system and into speeches, videos, recordings and lectures. It may have started innocently yet it has grown and blossomed out of control. If you ridicule “any segment, group, individual or nationality” it quickly becomes mockery, scorn, bullying and finally violent actions and behaviors. First in thoughts, then verbally or the written script and then the physical mode takes over.

When two extremists from the Chassidic camp (Bet Shemesh & Meah Shearim) were found guilty of graffiti/destroying of property with horrific & distasteful language on the grounds of Yad V’Shem, they pointed… Read more »

David F.
3 years 2 months ago

“The Chareidim oppose the Jewish State themselves”

Who exactly is “The Charedim”? Neturei Karta? Those who live in Meah Shearim? Lakewood yungeleit? Boro Park Chassidim? Run of the mill frum Jews who identify as yeshivalite?
Of that list, only a very small minority actually oppose the state itself. Perhaps they disagree with many of the tenets of Zionism which motivated the founding of the state, but in terms of supporting the Jewish state of Israel in just about every single regard, they score as high or higher than anyone. More Bnei Torah attend yeshivah and seminary in EY than anyone. The… Read more »

Josh Backon
3 years 2 months ago

The phrase YESHUA KOF was daubed on the wall at the monastery. Apart from the fact that Muslims routinely refer to Jews as “monkeys” (KOFIM), the word YESHUA was used instead of YESHU. No dati person in his right mind would ever use the Xtian missionary term YESHUA. The police officer at the YACHBAL investigating the case (Rav Pakad Ninio) was totally clueless about the usage. Trust me: I spoke with him twice. Let’s just say that the police now think it was a leftist provocation (like many other “terrorist” attacks of TAG MECHIR). R. Adlerstein: you owe slicha u’mechila… Read more »

Joe Hill
3 years 2 months ago

“This despite decades of support from many large numbers of Christians as the most reliable advocates for the Jewish State. How’s that for gratitude!”

The Chareidim oppose the Jewish State themselves, so it is difficult to expect them to have gratitude to those who support it.

[YA – Most charedim I know have a conflicted relationship with the idea of the Jewish State. OTOH, they will claim indifference or opposition to the theoretical existence of a secular state. At the same time, they are genuinely concerned and hawkish on the safety and security of that same state.]

Mr. Cohen
3 years 2 months ago

Having an attitude of contempt towards someone is one thing;
letting them know it is quite another.
The spitters are wicked fools.

PS: Too many articles on this web site have comments closed.

Bob Miller
3 years 2 months ago

What’s the basic point of our being a light to the nations if we think the nations are unnecessary to HaShem’s plan and/or evil beyond repair?

3 years 2 months ago

Terrific piece. I agree with every word.

Unfortunately, don’t we all realize that the attitudes you described are a direct result of the contempt with which non-Jews are held in much of traditional Torah literature, including Chumash?

To me, this the real elephant in the room. It’s easy to say that these people should be treated with respect. But when our children learn that stealing from non-Jews is not quite as bad as stealing from Jews and that idol-worshippers are to be executed, what do we expect?

My children learn in a Charedi Leumi school in Bet Shemesh. A science textbook listed… Read more »

Whoa nelly
3 years 2 months ago

UMordechai lo yochreh vlo yishtachaveh.

It is clear who are the oichlay seudas achashveirosh here.

3 years 2 months ago

Let’s just be clear on what Michael Ben-Ari did: He, like every other member of the Knesset, received a Hebrew New Testament in the mail as part of a missionary effort. Outraged, he tore it up, and it was filmed. He didn’t exactly go into a church and start destroying Bibles.

3 years 2 months ago

“A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremist” – It has been found in 9/10 of the cases that Nationalist JEWS (mitnachalim – settlers)have had nothing to do with these Price Tag violent actions. For example, the destruction of an Arab cemetary in Jaffa was found to have been committed by Arabs themselves. The Arabs were hoping that Settlers would be investigated and jailed. Ransacking and destroying property of Arabs are blamed on Nationalist Extremists — and that is an unfair assumption and in most cases DOWNRIGHT inaccurate.

Shades of Gray
3 years 2 months ago

“… would it not make more sense to speak of them as worthy of respect simply because they are endowed with an invaluable tzelem Elokim?”

Two anecdotes on this, which balance each other out:

Rabbi Simcha Feuerman relates(“Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch”?”, available online):

“…I was a yeshiva student, around the time that the Challenger Space Shuttle tragically blew up during liftoff. The mashgiah overheard one student callously commenting about the disaster, “It’s no big deal, after all, it’s just a bunch of goyim.” This spurred the mashgiah to deliver a fire and brimstone lecture, castigating the students for having so… Read more »

Eric Leibman
3 years 2 months ago

Oh, good grief. Everybody stop over reacting. Ask the Badatz to issue another stern decree,assign some reserve officers to hang around those particular neighborhoods, catch some of the kids (or kids in adult bodies)who do this, write them some very wicked citations with heavy duty fines attached, and the problem should diminish. Especially if they get hit with fines and the police follow through on collecting the money, or giving the offender a night or two in the local jail.

3 years 2 months ago

if you read the article, the Badat”z DID post a “strong statement” , but the people that need to hear it aren’t listening to them either.

3 years 2 months ago

It’s also worth thinking about how many of the “al chet’s” are regarding negative speech….

3 years 2 months ago

The problem did not subside because the strong statement from the Badatz was not accompanied by a change in attitude and education. Lehavdil, the PA makes strong statements all the time against terror but we all know that what really matters is what the children learn in school and what is preached when the press isnt listening.

3 years 2 months ago

Great article – totally hits a huge issue on the head.

It’s important to realize that this is not just chareidim and not just religious jews. There was a study done about 10 years ago about hatred in Israel, and the University professors that ran it sat on the results for 2 years trying to reinterpret the data. Ultimately they had to face the fact that so-called Israeli liberals hated other groups of Israelis as much or more than people on the so-called right. Right hated left, left hated right, religious hated non-religious, non-religious hated religious. I think it’s fair… Read more »

Harry Maryles
3 years 2 months ago

If only your words were heard by the people who need to hear them. Especially their rabbinic leaders!

David F.
3 years 2 months ago

“Do we first show contempt for the person who uses/does not use the eruv, and then extend it with a kal v’chomer to non-Jews, and then even further with another kal v’chomer to non-Jews who hold theological beliefs we oppose with heart and soul?”

Rabbi A.,

While I have no quibble with your argument, I find it difficult to swallow this example. Considering the incessant criticizing of Haredim that goes on here and to a much greater degree elsewhere, perhaps some other examples could have been cited as well just for balance. Here’s a possibility – “Do we first show contempt for… Read more »

Menachem Lipkin
3 years 2 months ago

Another home run! Soon I’m going to stop asking nicely… we desperately need your voice of reason over here! More and more this behavior has become the “language” of fanatics of all stripes. The ranks of reasonable leadership are becoming frightfully thin and without people like you it’s very possible fanaticism will overwhelm us all.

[All I need is gainful employment, and a neighborhood where I could fit in. I could try enrolling in a kollel (which I would love to do), but would probably get turned down on the grounds of possessing a computer…]

3 years 2 months ago

Perhaps the first thing we should do is to admit that the orthodox world (including national religious and Haredim) has become large enough to incorporate significant pockets of extremism and to realize that the sane, moderate voices such as yours do not penetrate the thick walls of insularity present in these communities.
We should protest the chillul Hashem that they do but I doubt our words or actions will do much to change their behavior.

3 years 2 months ago

“Strange looking garb”? Are you *** VERY SURE *** you want to go there? And I’m not EVEN talking about the conehead burka babes – just the regular charedim. Oy!

3 years 2 months ago

Rabbi Adlerstein, I normally find that that my views closely echo your own, but here I think that you are missing some nuance just by virtue of not living on the scene.
I live at the end of Meah Shearim, in an area that is suffused by churches and monasteries, all along Shivtei Yisrael Street. Over the years, the Romanian Orthodox church on my corner has been the focus of some problems. We even had a Jewish child forcibly detained in their courtyard, with no later follow up by the police (thank you Micky for being honest about the Jerusalem police’s… Read more »

Baruch Gitlin
3 years 2 months ago

Great article, and an example of how much more useful it is, when attacked by the media and others, to consider what they are saying and whether there may be something we can hear and learn from, rather than taking an automatically defensive attitude. Although I think this is a well-known story, I think it is worth mentioning how a nun came to Rav Yaakov Kamenetski’s funeral, and when asked why she was there, responding by telling of how Rav Kameneski used to greet her every morning, even though they were strangers to each other.

Harry Zeitlin
3 years 2 months ago

This is very important. We need to take responsibility for all our people, כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה. It’s not just a matter of inspiring secular Jews to find value in our traditions, but to inspire all of us, charedim included, to try to live up to the ideal middot we talk about.