Tolerance is a challenging concept. After all, if you want to be tolerant of different types of people, then you also have to be tolerant of people who are intolerant - at least, to some degree.
My home town of Ramat Beit Shemesh has the challenge of containing diverse communities of Jews. The latest controversy surrounds a local Matnas (community center), and it reveals the inherent difficulties of getting along. Unusually for me, I am on the fence for this one!
Until now, the activities at the Matnas have been open to children from all community sectors. However, given certain aspects of the Matnas, the charedi community has not felt comfortable going to it. This week, it was announced that certain days would be designated as being oriented towards charedim, which means that the Matnas library will be closed on those days. Charedim do not want their children to be in a place where there is exposure to literature which does not reflect their values. In addition, there seems to be an effort by the Matnas to discourage non-charedi children from attending on days that are oriented towards charedim.
The non-charedim are up in arms. They argue that there has been nothing preventing charedim from using the Matnas as it had been running until now, and there is no reason for charedim not to fully participate in activities with non-charedim.
But if you want to be tolerant, then you also have to be tolerant of intolerant people. The fact is that charedi society is fundamentally built around the idea of insulation from wider society. This includes separating themselves from other Jews who have absorbed more of modern society. You might not like this or agree with it or find it the right choice for you, but surely everyone can appreciate the motivations for it, even if you think that they are taking it too far. I'm not going to say that either side in the Matnas debate is definitively right or wrong, and there are lot of further details, but I understand where each side is coming from.
The consequence of this is that there are severe limitations on the possibility of achdus, unity. (See my post What is Real Achdus?) Just as the Orthodox worldview places certain limitations on achdus with Conservative and Reform, the charedi worldview places certain limitations on achdus with other Orthodox Jews.
But there was an incident this week which I think illustrates how this can go way, way too far.
I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of the Iran deal (and I will not allow the comments thread to go off-topic with that). Suffice it to say that a large majority of Orthodox Jews see it as being one of the greatest threats to the Jewish People in a very long time. And I am certain that an even greater majority of charedi Jews see it that way.
This week, there was a public rally in New York to protest this deal. It was supported by scores of organizations from across the spectrum, including the OU.
Now, we know that charedim are strongly against the Iran deal. And we know that they believe in the power of rallies - that's why last year they brought tens of thousands of chareidim to rally in New York against the previous Israeli government. So why couldn't they bring their tens of thousands to this rally? Why did they leave charedi representation to Neturei Karta?
The reason is that they refuse to ever join in an activity with non-charedim. They believe that the rally is an important tool to attempt to fend off nuclear holocaust, but it's still more important to have nothing to do with non-charedim.
Again, I understand and sympathize with where this is coming from. But to take it this far? That reveals a wildly skewed balance of priorities.
(Note: If anyone wants to complain about my publishing this post during the Nine Days, please first read these two posts: What is Real Achdus? and When Lashon Hara is a Mitzvah.)