Thursday, April 30, 2015

Charedi Extremist Violence - Who Should Condemn It?

Last week there was a horrific attack by extremist charedim on a 21 year old charedi soldier who came to visit two of the members of his unit in Meah Shearim. At the Cross-Currents blog, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein posted a moving letter from the mother of the soldier. Both the letter and the comments bemoan the lack of condemnation of such violence from the charedi leadership and community.

Rabbi Doron Beckerman and Rabbi Yaakov Menken take issue with these complaints. Rabbi Beckerman points out that the violent thugs who did this could not care less what the Gedolim say (which is true). Rabbi Menken asks why when Israeli policemen beat up an Ethiopian soldier it is deemed an isolated incident with no bearing on the police, yet the Mea Shearim incident is seen as a stain on the entire charedi community. Similar arguments were offered by a leading charedi rabbi in Ramat Beit Shemesh after the extremist charedim made problems at the Orot school; he argued that regular charedim have no connection to such people and that it is offensive to demand that they condemn them.

All these people are, deliberately or unknowingly, missing the point. Yes, it is true that the extremist hooligans who do this could not care less about charedi rabbonim outside of their micro-community. But there is no sharp disconnect between them and other charedim with regard to religious zealotry.

There is a continuous spectrum ranging from physical violence to verbal abuse towards the IDF which exists throughout the charedi world. Furthermore, while the people at each level do not agree with the level of hostility coming from people to their right, there is near-constant refusal to condemn it. And even people who are horrified by the violence nonetheless produce inflamed rhetoric which creates an atmosphere that allows it and contributes to it.

At the extreme right you have a group of Meah Shearim and RBS-Bet hooligans who will commit physical violence against people. Less to the right are others from those communities who will not commit physical violence, but they publish the chardak campaign which portrays soldiers as pigs and evil beasts out to seize innocent charedim. Then less to the right are the Rav Shmuel Auerbach faction and suchlike, who describe Israel as a terrorist state and hold riots against conscription. Then moving left into the right wing of the mainstream Litvishe world, there is regular talk of people who are pro-equal army service being "Amalek" and suchlike. Then people across the board in the charedi world attended the notorious selfishness and ingratitude rally in which Shefoch chamascha was recited against the Israeli government.

Each of these groups does not approve of the actions of those on their right. But, with rare exceptions, they will never condemn them. Sometimes this is because they are afraid of not appearing frum/ right wing enough, and sometimes it is because they see it as more important not to break ranks with other charedim than to condemn violence.

As long as matters are this way, non-charedim are correct to consider the attempted lynch in Mea Shearim as a charedi problem. The problem is not the attackers, per se; it is that the attackers are part of a larger community which exudes hostility and ingratitude to the IDF and its advocates at every level and which almost never condemns verbal and physical violence from the right. Nobody standing around the attack came to help; except for Hamodia, the Israeli charedi press did not condemn or even discuss the event; and Anglo-charedim defend the lack of condemnation.

Who should condemn charedi extremist violence? Everyone. And the further you are to the religious right, the louder you should be condemning it. Otherwise, you are part of the problem.


  1. Well said. Not sure why you'd even lower yourself to responding to anything Menken says. Nothing comes from his poison pen other than pure hateful drivel. Beckermen is a step above, but he's imbibed way too much Kool Aid for things he says to be of any real value. But at least you used them to get out an important message.

  2. Would be interesting to see the spectrum all the way through . If you kept going left from "moving left into the right wing of the mainstream Litvishe world" what else would you encounter and where would you end up? R. Aviner and mamlachtiut?

  3. there was a famous statement in an article in the late Jewish Observer,z'l. a Godol noted while he frequently attacks to his left, he never criticizes to the right. why? because the reformers are always wrong, but there is probably some Truth in what the machmirim and kano'im have to say.....

  4. I was thinking about this when the whole RBS Bet story came out. I was sitting with a secular friend who asked me, sort of casually, what my opinion was about charedim spitting on that girl, and all the madness that ensued. "I am insulted", I told him "that you even consider that a shade of judaism, that you think I am related to in any way!" ...or something to that effect...

    So the rabbi in RBS who argued that "regular charedim have no connection to such people and that it is offensive to demand that they condemn them" is indeed missing the point. By not condemning them, he is upholding the default public image, that these people are simple a more extreme (yet existent, acceptable and viable) shade of the general charedi community.

    To denounce them would actually be making a stand against evil.

  5. The same can be said of the greater Muslim world.

  6. I posted the following comment over at Cross-Currents:
    The question of violence by members of a group with a strong sense of identity separating them from the surrounding society has been extensively discussed lately in contexts other than this one. If a minority, even a small minority of this group engages in acts like this, the response by the other members of their group will cover a wide spectrum of attitudes. They are:
    (1) I completely support and identify with those who are doing these things. They are tzaddikim and I would participate if I could.
    (2) Those who are doing these things are good, dedicated members of our group but they are going a little too far because their actions could cause a negative response against us by the outside socieyt.
    (3) Those who are doing these things are good, dedicated members of our group, but they are misunderstanding the message of our ideology, but it is not my place to correct them.
    (4) Maybe those doing these things shouldn’t do them, but we should never publicly criticize members of our group no matter what they do. We don’t wash our dirty laundry in public.
    (5) Indifference
    (6) Those doing these things are bad but it is not my place to correct. Maybe I am too afraid to confront them.
    (7) These people are despicable and we should do everything to confront them, delegitimize them and work to ensure that the youth doesn’t follow them.
    I don’t have any figures as to how the larger Haredi community fits into these categories. However, those who incite and instigate the violence are doing it in order to mobilize the larger community, feeling that basically they support these extremists but are too weak to get involved, so incidents of violence are good at mobilizing their support, and when the non-Haredi community responds, the extremists hope that it will bring about a siege mentality among the larger Haredi community which they hope will radicalize them (“see, they all hate us”!).

    That is why condemnations by the moderate leadership are useful and so they should be encouraged to do so They know the extremists won’t listen to them, but it is not to them the condemnation is to be directed….it is to the larger Haredi community in order to dry up support for the extremists and to educate the youth not to follow them.

  7. Never thought I see the day of an attack on an Israeli soldier, a defender of Am Yisrael, and the Holy Land by any 'religious' jew. This speak volumes how things have changed within 'Orthodox' Judaism since my youth. Speechless.

    1. Never though I would see the day when an Atheist mascarating as a Jew would come onto a Jewish blog and attack Jews. Just shows how much things have changed since my youth. Speechless.

    2. Jewish atheists have been around longer than blogs, so your surprise speaks more to your own lack of experience than anything.

      And if you think Alter Cocker was attacking anyone, you have a persecution complex that needs looking at.

    3. The officer was visiting his soldier, who comes from Meah Shearim. That's what's changed since your youth. The hooligans are resorting to violence because there actually is change.

  8. I agree with you that the problem is the whole charedi camp but I disagree with you that a person should criticize extremism in his camp. Leftists (poltically, religiously, etc.) almost never criticize extreme leftists and I see no reason why rightists should criticize extreme rightists. I think doing so undermines the cause (whatever particular cause is at stake).

    All one's energy should be devoted to fighting for the cause, not criticizing someone who fights for the cause a little more vigorously than you would like.

    (I'm talking as a general matter. In terms of specifics, I think charedi insults/attacks of soldiers is deplorable.)

    1. If one avoids criticising extremists merely because they are working to the same goals, then one is complicit in the actions of the extremists. If that's what you want people to assume, continue advocating your perspective.

    2. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

    3. Yes, you are complicit in some sense. But when you are fighting for a cause, it's stupid to stop fighting the cause and start devoting your energies to criticizing people who are a bit more zealous than you are. All you'll do is take off the focus from the real issue at stake -- which is exactly what the opposing party wants.

      A smart activist should respond: If anyone is to blame for extremism, it's you, the opposing party, that is being so stubborn that people felt it necessary to take extreme measures (and he can add a half sentence here if he'd like: "which I might not necessarily agree with). Any other response and you're playing into the opposing party's hands.

    4. Yehudah,
      I see you have bought into the "progressive" mind-set.....that there are no bad people, only misunderstood (or exploited, or victimized, or....or...) ones. Everything is politics, or as Marx said, everything is economics or whatever, but there are no people with a dangerous yetzer hara. Is that really the Torah's outlook on humanity and society?

    5. Yehudah-
      Or to put it another way, you are saying the "ends justify the means', right? In reality, according to the Torah, the "means justify the ends".

  9. Once you're getting into specifics as to the limits different segments of the Charedi community will go to, it's worth noting that no one has shown that anyone was physically assaulted in Mea Shearim last week. If you read descriptions of the incident carefully, you'll note that his car was vandalized and he was threatened with violence if he returns to the neighborhood. In fact, a crowd of riled up extremists argued with him for a few minutes (attacked him verbally) but no one laid a finger on him. There may be a segment of that community that would initiate an assault on a fellow Jew but they were not present at that incident.


  10. The "marginally relevant to my community" argument has never stopped Haredi leaders from condemning all and sundry. Why should now be different?
    It may be counterproductive to the all-consuming goal of "winning" to criticize members of your own camp. But these are leaders who claim moral authority. Well, to have moral authority you must speak to what is right, not just what is politically expedient.

  11. I believe there is a third reason why the hatred and violence is not condemned, and you left it out perhaps because you are extending too much benefit of the doubt. I think there are many, many charedim who deep down agree with the attacks and violence, and the extremists serve as an all-too-convenient proxy which reinforces the prevalent beliefs and attitudes of the community at large, so they will not condemn it. The thinking is, if this attack causes MY CHILD to think twice about entangling with the zionist entity, great! Or, for a rabbi, if this attack causes my flock to steer clear of the govt and think twice about straying from the kollel-society norm, great. Consider the very real fear and hatred these people live with (of course, this is engendered by the promulgated beliefs and hardly logical or sensible, but real nonetheless).

    Further, the childish belief set supposes that all kollel and kollel-promoting activities = good, all other activities = evil, and isn't that what the vast majority of this society believes in? So how do you expect them to behave? How is evil supposed to be fought?

    Ultimately, I believe that the "extremists" are simply taking the societal beliefs to their logical conclusions and behaving in ways that the majority of adherents agree with deep down but simply lack the courage to carry out themselves and ultimately wish that they could. But how convenient that some extremists will do it for me. If that is true, there is absolutely no incentive to condemn the extremists. The society at large views the environment of hatred and violence as the only way to combat this evil and keep it at bay from attacking the Torah society. And don't the rabbis give one this impression? So they will not condemn it or change it.

  12. In a related vein, there was a fascinating article in the last Makor Rishon newspaper about a "Zionist underground" among Satmar Hasidim. It is a small, but organized group who, on their own, decided that they want to be part of the Zionist project, and that doesn't only mean living in Eretz Israel, as a group of Satmar Hasidim do, but to identify with the concept that "The Jewish people are a nation and the Torah is our Constitution", i.e. they want to build a community based on working baalei batim and children who serve in the IDF, while still maintaining a Hasidic lifestyle.
    Interesting enough, those who came to join this group also discovered for themselves many of the issues that are discussed here along the "rationalist" line. That is, they found that the way Torah is studied in their community is completely abstract, and even metaphorical, with no relationship to the real world. One fellow mentioned that when he came across a gemara that discussed how several Hachamim of HAZAL came to Akko, they noted that this was the halachic border of Eretz Israel, and so this fellow went and got an atlas because he became interested in this question of where the borders are actually located, but his fellow students couldn't understand why the actual details of Eretz Israel were of interest to him. They said "This isn't a geography lesson". One studies because it is a mitzvah to study and you get reward for it. There is no other value in it.
    The article also pointed out that very few Satmar Hasidim have ever looked at the Satmar Rov's magnum opus on religious anti-Zionism, VaYoel Moshe, or even take much interest in the matter in an ideological sense, but their anti-Zionism is simply shoved down their throats by way of massive propaganda. They said few Satmar Hasidim have any idea what is really going on in Israel, and that includes those who visit.
    They believe that there would be considerable interest among the Satmar and other Hassidic groups in learning about the true situation IF material, such as that found in the Religious Zionist Shabbat gilyonot that appear in the Batei Knesset such as Olam Katan, Shabbat b'Shabbato or newpapers such as B'Sheva was translated into Yiddish! (oddly enough, even those these people were born in the US, many do not speak or read English very well).

    I found this to be very encouraging. That is why it is important for sites like this one to keep going and discussing these basic issues. People from backgrounds like those are indeed hungry for a new perspective on Torah issues.

    1. Aaaaaaand Eim Habanim Smeicha FINALLY hits its mark.

    2. yup we follow this blog 2...

      If only one "meshugene" would translate "chorev" and "aim haboonim smeicha" in yiddish...

      when we create a alternative haven in ideology for the yiddish speaking jewry, there would b no OTD!
      but here is the catch 22: the yiddish speaking cultured yidden appose with all their might A B and C [you name it, actually if u wont, they will...] and they have no idea whatsoever about the thousands of qoutes and thousand of great scholars and thinkers who were giants and accepted at tehir times, and were mesires nefesh yidden, so they have no clue that when anyone askes any simple chakire "Question" it was dealt and discussed already in gr8 length in so many seforim [like one heimishe satmare tinek shenishbe had so many deep and real questions that threw him off balance... but all his questions were dealt in ramchal, rabbi kaplan, rabbi kurman, and hundreds of others, but none of the chasidishe seforim talk about it... so how should he know?]

      now the other side of the coin:
      the acedemic frum yidden, dont know how badly the yiddish speaking society needs these seforim printed and circulated in "yiddish", so they should know even where to lookup, and if their mind accepts a rational way of thinking they should feel comfortable living such a life, and not have to go through a life of meshigene yesirim conforming to a few hierarchies [= mashbakim and askanim who reap the fruits. sometimes the righteous leader is in the same trap as the follower they r trapped by the middleman...]

      so here is the gamechanger:
      entrepreneurs are enticed to donate to where they get stable kavod and respect, printing chorev and the like wont bring them honor cause it doesnt bring yidden to "parenches" to look at them, just the opposite it will bring them self sustained kovod and dignity. so we actually dont need money, we need more people talking and promoting people who represent a rational way of thinking within the yiddish speaking community, and once there is a collective agreement on that, the entrepreneurs will give money for a recognized community or organization like that.

  13. Why when policemen beat up a soldier it is seen as an isolated incident? Really?!? Maybe it's because he leadership of the police and leading political authorities condemned the attack. Is Menken so thick that he can't understand his logic argues against him? Shame.

  14. Compare the President of Israel who clearly condemns the mistreatment of Ethiopians

    with the haredi leadership who don't clearly condemn mistreatment of soldiers


Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Tech Tzorress

It has come to my attention that there is a problem with the mailing system for my blog posts. A number of people have been spontaneously de...