Sunday, October 27, 2013

Seeking Peace, Or Immunity?

(I really hope that this will be the last post relating to Orthodox societal problems - at least for a while! I have a post about Ghostbusters and rationalism/ mysticism that I hope to present very soon.)

In the aftermath of the elections, tensions between charedim and non-charedim here in Bet Shemesh are at an all-time high. People have left their shuls, people have been kicked out of their shuls, people have asked their rabbis to leave their shuls. There has been a huge protest against the improprieties involved in the election. Mr. Y. posted the following message to a local email list:
I do request from those that are protesting and from the general public to stay focused on the issue being protested and not to allow the process to degenerate into an insult slinging contest.

Some of the language that was being used by protesters on Thursday night was really inappropriate and contained delegitimization and dehumanization of certain residents of Rama Aleph and Bet. Terms that reflect a very frightening perspective on the polarization of our community.

I am concerned that if the community allows the situation to deteriorate we may face a disaster... let's keep in mind that at the end of the day we are one nation.
Doesn't that sound great? He's campaigning against delegitimization and dehumanization and slinging insults. Boruch Hashem!

The problem is, this same Mr. Y. is rather notorious for making a public statement that there are two categories of people: those who want to increase Torah learning and Jewish families, such as Moshe Rabbeinu and Rambam, and those who want to do the opposite, such as Nebuchadnezzar, Hitler, and Dov Lipman. (Yes, you read that correctly.) I wrote to him to ask how his description of Rabbi Lipman is to be reconciled with his campaigning against delegitimization and dehumanization and slinging insults. He answered that he believes that Rabbi Lipman is a rasha, and so it doesn't apply to him; it's a mitzvah to denounce a rasha.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn't bother commenting on the actions of one person, but this is part of a larger phenomenon. Consider this: a charedi resident of my neighborhood sent out a public letter calling on people to practice ahavat chinam (baseless love) rather than sinat chinam (baseless hate). Sounds wonderful, right?

The problem is the examples that he gave of people failing at ahavat chinam and succeeding at sinat chinam. His example of the former was the dati-leumi community failing to simply give their school, Orot, to the extremists who violently protested their using it. He wrote about how they should have understood the sensitivity of those who can't abide to see women dressed immodestly by their standards, and even though it was their school, they should have been mevater and given it to that community. Hashem is prolonging the exile because they did not do this.

But as a friend of mine pointed out, surely it's presumptuous to demand ahavat chinam on someone else's behalf. Why would he expect the dati-leumi community to shoulder all the burden of sensitivity, before asking their attackers to be minimally civil?

The second example that this person gave was of people talking about the eight charedim arrested for having 200 identity cards that were to be used for electoral fraud. He said that it's sinat chinam to make this charge; one should assume that they were collecting the identity cards so that people in their community would not vote in the Zionist elections.

Of course, it's not sinat chinam to believe that it was electoral fraud; the facts clearly point to it. All of the identity cards belonged to people who are living abroad and who are barred from voting in the municipal elections. (Not to mention that they were found together with a large number of head coverings, indicating that there were plans for disguises.) But the broader point to notice here is that both examples given by this person were of alleged shortcomings in the non-charedi community, and included an attempt to stifle criticism of charedim.

One final example. As posted here, one local doctor issued some criticisms of the charedi "Four Doctors" electoral campaign. One of the four doctors responded, criticizing him for fomenting divisiveness, and asked, Why can't you be tolerant of different people? He quoted Moshe Gafni, speaking at the Rav Steinman rally in Bet Shemesh, about how machlokes is bad. Doesn't that sound like the words of a peacemaker, who is interested in coexistence with all types of people?

But in fact it was nothing of the sort! I read a transcript of Gafni's speech, and he was NOT saying that machlokes is bad and that therefore we have to love each other despite our differences. He was saying that machlokes is bad and that therefore everyone has to vote for the same charedi party!

I could give other examples, but I think that the point is clear. There are some people who talk about ahavat chinam and tolerance and the importance of speaking positively and the evils of lashon hara, and who are clearly bothered by such things across the board, and that's great. But there are others who talk about these things, and one is forced to ask, is this really what bothers them? After all, they don't seem to be bothered about applying this to how people in their own community treat people outside of their community. It seems that what actually bothers them are criticisms of the charedi world. All the speeches about ahavat chinam and tolerance and the importance of speaking positively and the evils of lashon hara are merely an attempt to gain immunity from such criticism. (There are doubtless also examples of this occurring the other way around, with people from the non-charedi community. But I don't think that there is the same degree of inconsistency.)

Still, one could ask as follows: Whatever their motivations, isn't it good that they are asking for these things? But the answer is no. Since they obviously do not issue such protests about charedi behavior, the only effect of these protests is to make everyone else resent them all the more. You don't attain peace by attempting to whitewash or stifle criticisms of the wrongdoing in your own camp.

I want to finish on a positive note, so here's a link to a story about a wonderful initiative to bridge the gap between religious and secular Jews by having joint Shabbat meals. An amazing six thousand families took part! There's hope for us yet!


  1. By "bridging gaps" you mean to bring secular Jews up and closer to Torah observance or get Religious Jews somewhat down as well to the level of the secular? Meaning get Secular to become more religious and understanding etc. and get Religious a little more secular and understanding and closer to their ways etc. ?
    Anyway if Meretz is their 1 of 2 things are happening, either they are making teshuva and woow we are about to have a Jewish State, OR they are up to no good as usual and they want to keep Religion under control (their control that is).

  2. I want to finish on a positive note, so here's a link to a story about a wonderful initiative to bridge the gap between religious and secular Jews by having joint Shabbat meals. An amazing six thousand families took part! There's hope for us yet!

    My wife has often stated that it would be beneficial to start an exchange program between residents of Aleph and Bet for Shabbos meals. The idea being that us Anglos would see Chasidim and ultra-Charedim in their natural setting, and vice versa, and might learn greater tolerance for each other.

    So you might say she's advocating a program to bridge the gap between religious and Charedi Jews! :-)

  3. For those who are stuck living in this situation, it is no doubt unpleasant, but it is important to see the big picture here. This extremism can't last, for several reasons:
    (1) A prominent moderate Rav was distraught that his grandson, who attends an extremist haredi school came home and said his rebbe said that "the creation of the state of Israel was the worst catastrophe the Jewish people have ever encountered"....presumably including the Shoah. Now, this kid walks around, seeing people living and even thriving and religious Jews going about their business, yet this is supposed to be the worst situation possible. The kid sees that reality is not connected with what his rebbe says. No doubt he may be conflicted, trying to reconcile the two, but we all know they can't be reconciled. Many kids will finally conclude..."the rebbe is wrong about this, what else is he telling me that isn't true?". History has shown that regimes and ideologies that claim reality is the opposite of what people see with their own eyes CAN'T LAST! They collapse in the end.

    (2) The Haredi spokesmen themselves admit that their educational system is ineffective and inferior when they make the claim that the state and society must see to it that Haredim not come into contact with any other people because if they do they will stop learning Torah or become not religious. We all know this is not true, but this is what they are telling their own people. They admit that only coercion and enforced conformism can perpetuate their ideology and lifestyle.

    (3) When it is acceptable to throw out all the halachot about lashon hara and loving other Jews, because someone has defined another Jew as a "rasha", then it gets easier and easier to do this with more and more people, leading to the extremists turning on one another, causing self-destructive conflicts, which we are indeed seeing now.

    Rav Natan Lopes-Cardozo has been saying for some time that, in spite of the seeming success of the Haredi world, he believes a major spiritual crisis is brewing among the young (and not only among the Haredim but also among the the more moderate religious people). I, for one, in my limited contact with Haredim, have not found a high level of emunah among many of them and many are simply going through the motions and would be completely incapable of explaining to a non-religious Jew why they should even bother to observe the Torah.

  4. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzOctober 28, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    I don't know why you think this is anything new.
    charedi greed and self interest is as old as the hills. It is known that the yeshiva refugees in the far east during WWII took scarce Joint resources even though they had private access to fundraising and they felt entitled to the "better life" as "bnei torah"

    see here for example - this is also documented in more scholarly studies

    "He describes his schooling at the Kadoorie School and the Mir Yeshiva, and how his faith was shaken by the yeshiva’s greed and self-interest. During the war, the yeshiva students could afford to purchase cigarettes and new clothing, and were served expensive food such as butter and cream, while many refugees were starving and wore clothes made of flour sacks. When funding from the U.S. was cut off to the refugees, the yeshiva received private funding, but did not share with others in need. "

  5. It would be a good idea, perhaps, to have a similar drive to get Chareidi and non-Chareidi families to eat a Shabbat meal together.

    To show that we have more in common than not.

  6. He answered that he believes that Rabbi Lipman is a rasha, and so it doesn't apply to him; it's a mitzvah to denounce a rasha.

    Sounds similar to Islamic groups making proclamation about how Islam respects human rights of all peoples etc. They leave out the caveat that "all peoples" includes believers in Islam only.

  7. Given the crisis in the Haredi world and the rapid decline of rabbinic authority - exacerbated by the recent deaths of leaing Haredi gedolim - it's not at all surprising that the Haredi street has been behaving the way it has.
    A community that eschews change is nevertheless in the midst of a cultural revolution; its increasingly irrelevant leadership is scrambling to retain what authority it has left. The proliferation of smart phones, internet connections, the rise of alternative Haredi parties (Tov, Bnei Torah, Koach LeHashpia, etc), the growth of Haredi vocational schools and colleges, and the rising number of Haredim seeking work rather than remaining within the kollel system are all symptoms of this irreversible decline in rabbinic authority Given the Haredi views on Zionism (religious or secular), the disintegration of the old order is truly terrifying for them. Everything the Haredi leadership has been guilty of, from the outrageous rhetoric and comparisons to the shameless hypocrisy are all byproducts of this seige mentality.

  8. Perhaps a simpler way to put it would be this: Don't judge based on everyone, but davka on the people issuing calls for ahavat yisrael and unity. I've never heard a non-charedi issue such a call in anything less than a sincere way; most if not all of the time, a similar charedi call is not sincere.

  9. Speaking of voting fraud...


  10. As one who grew up in chareidi yeshivos, yet became a fervent Zionist, I have, long ago, turned my back on the so-called leaders of the chareid world. Their insistence that the only valid view is theirs (the fictitious "daas torah") is totally fallacious and therefore, I always act acocording to my own views. Additionally, I refrain from financing any of their mosdos- the only way to make changes is to starve the beast.

  11. Your piece reminds me of the famous Steven Weinberg quote: "...good people do good things and evil people do evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
    I believe the same applies to politics - just as religion can distort reason so can political affiliation blind someone from right and wrong.
    What you have in your neighborhood is double whammy - religion and politics. Good luck! i would let the place self-destruct but you live there...

  12. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I agree with what you're saying, and I'm glad you're saying it. Still, I may have to stop reading this blog because of what it does to my blood pressure. I don't see how you can stand living in such a community. My solution would be to take my family and get the hell out.

  13. Forget about politics, let's move on to the more pressing issue of the day: the publication of Rabbi Meiselman's work (finally). It just came out today.

  14. lets see if he will respond.

    Rabbi Meiselman concludes by saying that he "awaits everyone’s critique once the book appears in a final and complete form." I am not sure whether this means that he has any intention of responding to such critiques.

  15. As a Londoner I look with dismay and revulsion upon the disgusting behaviour some Israeli Chareidim practice in the name of their version of yiddishkeit.

    The bottom line of it all is that they have no idea how to live and let live.

    On the contrary, despite giving nothing back, all they do is demand, take, and seek to foist their way of life on anyone else.

    There has never been a movement among the Jews anywhere on the world on the last 5000 years quote like it.

    In fact it's more reminiscent of the Crusaders and Arabs who sought to impose their way of life on everyone else.

    Shame history has served no lessons.

    As a conclusion I would suggest you come and join us in London. Yegias sheneihem meshakachas ovon. Most frum people here are more concerned with providing for their family while keeping the Torah to have any time or interest on imposing anything on anyone else. You'd be hard pressed to find a secular Jew who has had to contend with the stuff some of you guys have had to put up with.

    So with regret I say....come join us here in England!


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