Friday, July 24, 2015

Better Nuclear Holocaust than Unity?

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.)

29 comments:

  1. I agree with your basic premise. The only caveat I would add is that when you're dealing with intolerant people who don't share your fundamental values of tolerance and who also happen to be "in power" you must keep your guard up as such people will inevitably take a mile if you give them an inch.

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  2. The bottom line is that many Haredim do not care (or are outright hostile) about yidden with different ideas and lifestyles and don't want their children to see (and perhaps fathom - the ultimate danger!) Jews confident in their different guises and forms.

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  3. While the Haredim didn't send large groups to this rally, that doesn't mean they never participate in general rallies. For example, they participated in the 2002 Israel rally in Washington. I don't know if enough advance notice was given to organize haredi groups, and perhaps they didn't see this rally as important:

    While I think the Iran deal is crazy (and I went to the rally), I don't think it's that clear-cut that protesting it will accomplish much good: 1. It seem very unlikely congress will override the president's veto. 2. Even if that happens, that won't cause a better deal to happen or cause Obama to suddenly take action. The deal may be bad, but that doesn't mean anything better can be done about it at this point.

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    1. No, they didn't participate in 2002. Some individuals did, no more.

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    2. Ari - no, Chareidi groups did NOT participate in the 2002 rally as groups. The Agudah dithered for a week on whether or not to participate, largely due to the strong opposition of Rav Elya Svei. As the Agudah works based on consensus and were not able to reach any agreement on whether or not to participate, they released a mealy-mouthed statement saying that each individual should ask his Rav whether or not to participate.

      I sent an e-mail at the time to Avi Shafran calling out the Agudah for "dithering" (a word he took exception to, but which I felt and continue to feel is accurate) until either Friday afternoon or Saturday night before coming out with their non-position - which left many Chareidim who would otherwise have participated but were waiting for the green light from the Agudah - with no time to make arrangements to attend. His response was that it takes time and deliberation to reach a position, and there were meetings all week to discuss - and the reason the Agudah ultimately did not formally participate was that they were afraid that one of the speakers from one of the other participating groups would say something the Agudah would find objectionable - and the Agudah's participation would be seen as giving an endorsement to such position. A weak excuse, in my view, but for a group like the Agudah, given their institutional biases.

      an Israeli Yid

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  4. You can rationalize all you like, but REALLY? Could you not control your usual prejudicial judgementalism and the need to comment negatively on everything Chareidi for once? Erev Tisha Bav? Really?!?

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  5. If anyone wants to complain about my publishing this post during the Nine Days,

    Wait, what?

    Is not "pointless divisions between Jews" one of the biggest reasons for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash?

    When could this possibly be MORE relevant?

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  6. But if you want to be tolerant, then you also have to be tolerant of intolerant people.

    One can be tolerant of even the most extremely intolerant person with capitulating to them. It is utterly asinine that in an act of tolerance the end result is to entrench intolerance.

    The fundamental problem with the solution that you have outlined is that the community center resources are built for the general public benefit and paid for by everyone's rates and taxes. During its regular operations the Charedim elect not to attend, but their presence is not specifically excluded. On the other hand, as you have described it, now there are times when people are actually excluded from the facility to privilege a specific segment of the community to the determent of all other segments. In this case it is not a case of a tolerant society making accommodation to a specific intolerant group, it is capitulation to their intolerance, and contradictory to the tolerant principles and best interest of all.

    If the community and recreation center's resources are inadequate for the Chareidi community, then they always have the option of building and maintaining their own institution and running their own (private) center according to their own rules. (This by the way does not excuse them from paying taxes to the city to run the community and recreation center that is open to ALL citizens.)

    To me their intolerance is a Chilul Ha Shem. By privileging themselves and sepperating themselves the push people away of Ya'hadut and Shmirat Mitzvah. Further they entrench Sinat Chinum.

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  7. This whole matnas issue is one of the many reasons I am so glad (sadly) that I left Israel. The whole society in Israel vis a vis the Charedi/Dati/Secular issue is a mess. Until there is a total separation of church and state, both the religious and secular communites will be subject to perversion. Until the majority of Israelis want a halachic state (which won't happen until the rabbanic establishment chooses to unfreeze and un-karaitize halacha, which is to say, never) the only way to have a reasonable society is to have a secular society which respects all religious practices that do not contradict its laws. Until then, Israel is not an ideal place for either religious or secular Jews to live. I say this all as an observant Jew who has lived in both the US and Israel, in Charedi, Modern Orthodox and secular communites. No religious state can function in 2015 as a democratic state, fairly representing the interests of all of it's citizens, unless it becomes a terrorist state, punishing those who do not conform to morally neutral, religious laws.

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    1. Perhaps because you're not in Israel now, you can be more objective. What practically would you like to see change? For example, it would be very destructive to allow civil marriage, or non-Orthodox conversion, or other Kashrut standards (since the Rabbanut hechsher is considered very lenient). If you were a legislator, what would you propose?

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    2. Civil marriage, non-orthodox conversion and private kashrut orgs have yet to destroy the orthodox community in the US, why would Israel be different?

      What would I propose? The complete seperation of church and state. Period. The Rabbanut, which currently controls marriage, conversion and kashrus, does not represent the VAST majority of Israelis. Not Charedim, Chilonim, Masorti, or LW Dati communities. We are left with RW Dati Leumi and RW Anglo Modern Orthodox Jews living in Israel. Does it sound like a democracy when the majority of the citizens are limited religiously by a government agency not of their choosing? The State of Israel was created to protect Jews from the hands of their constant enemies and as such, is still relevant. Until the majority of Israelis want Halachic leadership on a government level though , such leadership is irrelevant - and even harmful - to the state.

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    3. Civil marriage and non-orthodox conversion might not affect the orthodox community, because the Orthodox will check stringently before marrying. But what about traditional Jews, or Conservative or Reform? You're not concerned that they're absorbing people into Judaism that aren't truly Jewish? That's a real problem in the Diaspora, and I don't think it's wise importing that problem into Israel.

      Over 60% of Israeli Jews define themselves as traditional--which implies that they want their children to marry Jews. But if they broaden the definition of Jewish to even someone who converted Reform or Conservative, or only whose father is Jewish, it will soon be impossible to keep track anymore of who is Jewish according to halachah. And what if some of those traditional Jews then decide to become Orthodox?

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    4. Wow, talk about kicking the sukkah on your way out.

      Many people have good, serious reasons for leaving Israel. This (and the bunkum about "not Religious Zionism") is not one of them, and I strongly suspect post-facto rationalization which isn't even very good, to boot.

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  8. Natan, what evidence do you have that the non-attendance at the rally was for the reason you outlined i.e. to keep their distance from other streams of Judaism?

    Might it not be simply because they are unconvinced that the deal is necessarily a mistake? Might it not be alternatively because they don't believe protesting will achieve anything?

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    1. There's no doubt they believe it's a mistake. There is no significant sector of orthodox Jews that doesn't see it for what it is. And you can make the same "what good will it do" argument for any protest, on any issue. Charedim believe (rightly) in the power of the protest.

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  9. EtheP-
    How the heck is running away from Israel going to make things better? For me, a DL, things couldn't be better...nice synagogues, nice communities, nice shiurim, good education for the children. I just came from 3 days of the Yomei Iyun l'TANACH which Michlelet Herzog puts on every years. It was FANTASTIC.dozens of shiurim by open-minded Orthodox scholars whom I feel comfortable with. Something like 7000 people attend this. A DL couldn't ask for any more.
    Did you run away to the US or Europe? These are societies in rapid decline often run by people (Obama, for instance) who more or less despise who we are and what we believe in. How could it be better than being here in Israel. If you don't like the things the leaders of the different ideological groups are saying, just tune out and don't listen to the radio.
    It is stated that it is better to live in Eretz Israel among non-Jews than it is to live in the galut among "frum yidden" as they put it.Thank G-d the situation in Israel is far, far better than that situation. Here you can find a community that fits whatever your religious outlook is So how is wherever you are now better? Instead of working to make things better here you run away. The Galut is eating away at the communities that still live there spiritually. This will drag you down along with them.

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    1. I can't speak for EtheP, but I imagine he is referring to exactly the situation in the blog post where a community is constantly embroiled in conflict because the government is not secular and doesn't have separation between religion and state. You can't just join a community and ignore the rest of society. First, sometimes the nature of our community changes due to demographics or new people moving in. Second, the politics and culture of the nation as a whole impinge on your little community whether it's taxes or the draft or government policy.

      Israel offers so much to religious Jews, but it also demands so much as well.

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    2. Ah Dr. Doomsday is back with more predictions about the immanent death of Diaspora Jewry. The fact that you can describe President Obama (who I happen to not have voted for) as someone who "more or less despises who we are and what we believe in" makes it clear to me that you and I are not in the same category of "we".

      My Zionism is not of the Religious Zionist persuasion, though I am religious and a Zionist . A state is a tool, used by its citizens to reach their common goals and protect their common interests. When the state has religious policies that don't represent the majority of its people - chilonim, charedim, masortim - and rather has become a tool of the RW Dati Leumi community (or any community), a separation of church and state is long overdue.

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  10. Have you ever heard the expression "Cutting off your nose to spit on your face"? Or the story from the Gemara about the two guys in the rowboat and one of them starts to drill a hole under his seat and rebuffs his fellow's protest by insisting that he can do whatever he wants in his part of the boat?

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    1. It's "to spite your face."

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  11. There is a simple solution to the Matnas problem: simple charge a fee if certain groups wants the building "adjusted" on certain days to accommodate their cultural needs.

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  12. Rabbi Slifkin, I believe that you are not being fair. We all know that a couple of thousand of jews rallying in times square has very little chances of influencing the situation. The chances of congress voting against the deal are very slim either way. Given this, the charedi organisations do not want to compramise their position of not joining with other organisations that they fundamentally disagree with. when the charedim rally against the israeli goverment they also know that there is little chance of them actually influencing anything, but there's nothing to lose and they are not compramising on there principles. To say that the charedim feel that fending off a nuclear holocaust is less important than not joining non-charedim jst show how deep your animosity towards the charedi community. do you really believe them to be so callous and uncaring? come on.
    shimmy kline

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  13. On the Iran rally: The major spokesman for American charedim has been very, very vocal about defending Obama here, in way that not even Democrats are. Either he believes the propaganda, or his dislike of Israel is shining through, or it's just the typical galuti charedi attitude of not upsetting the poretz. (Ironically, they have no such compunctions in Israel.) But it's more than likely that if the Agudah decided formally not to participate, it was because of him.

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  14. Being tolerant of the intolerant is a good thing, especially as the definition of "intolerant" has grown so wide today (e.g., not baking gay wedding cakes). However, sometimes lines have to be drawn. In defense of your own, for example: Do the non-charedi kids get to use the library on days it's closed? Apparently not. (Do the charedim realize what a house of cards they have that they have to physically bar their kids from libraries? Apparently not.) Or if the intolerance has separatism at its root: Reciprocity is a way society functions. Is there a drop of reciprocity here? Would the charedim get rid of everyone else if they could? We know the answers.

    And yes, there always is a place for "We built it, our rules." Charedim are free to build matnasim of their own.

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  15. EthP-
    Your comments are quite interesting. First of all your insistence on saying what Israel should have is "separation of church and state" whereas you know very well there is no "state church" in Israel, there is instead a state-recognized Chief Rabbinate. Your use of Christian terms is illuminating;.
    Secondly, you don't like the government so you leave the country. Well, I don't see a hundred million Republicans leaving the US because they don't like Obama and the Democrats. You could, of course, stay and fight but you chose not to. I have the feeling that you have other reasons for leaving and the 'political argument serves as a convenient rack to hang your coat on.
    Thirdly, I find it fascinating how my postings here and at other location end up enraging so many people, many of whom identify as "Religious Zionists"! The most interesting point is that neither you nor they ever refute any of the FACTS I bring, which are based on writings by David Goldman and Charles Murray (a non-Jew). I guess it is too difficult to say "I am comfortable here in the American galut and I don't want to hear anything that will disrupt my reverie".

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    1. Very well put.

      Let me clarify my above point: Being tolerant of intolerance is one thing. Being tolerant of *separatists* is another. If X hates blacks (without breaking any laws, say by being violent about it) but still, say, wants to be part of a society that includes many blacks- then black people, if they are decent, should accommodate him. There was a picture last week from a Klan rally in South Carolina of a black cop helping a white supremacist out of the heat.

      But if the other side, peacefully or not, says that they think you and your entire state are illegitimate, that they want no part of it, do not want to contribute, but *do* want to use their services, it is much more understandable if said public services would say, "Sorry, you take the whole package or nothing." *Especially* if it inconveniences everyone else.

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    2. I feel I must add that I know a lot of people who were very angered by the Oslo Agreements in which the government brought in a large nujmber of Palestinian terrorists and turned them loose, knowing they would kill or main thousands of Israelis and then a follow-on disaster was again carried out by the government which has lead to more death and destruction, again, knowingly. In spite of this, these people did NOT abandon the country, as pained and frustrated as they were, and still are for that matter.. Believe me, this was a much more serious matter than "separation of church and state" (as EthP puts it) but these people didn't throw in the towel, and are still struggling against these disastrous policies, with much success.

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    3. On the subject of leaving the country because one dislikes the government, it seems to me that you're making an unfair comparison. If someone decided to leave the USA because of who got elected, yes, that'd be a bit silly. But this sounds like it'd be more comparable to, say, deciding to leave the USA because you don't like the notion of separation of church and state, and take issue with things that are built into the Constitution. It seems more like a case of leaving the country because one feels there is something fundamentally wrong with the system of government, rather than the people elected to it.

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    4. Dov Oren-
      I wish EthP would explain to me what makes life in Israel so completely intolerable because there is a state-sponsored Chief Rabbinate and some religious legislation. Most secular Jews manage quite well by simply ignoring the Rabbinate by getting married in Cyprus, or living together without huppa and kiddushim. Sometimes they have make a bit of effort to buy hametz during Pesach or using taxis on Shabbat where there isn't public transport. EthP says he is religious so what is so intolerable about life in Israel under the current imperfect system?
      EtheP says he is a "Zionist". What does that mean to him? Is he like Obama and the other "progressives" in that he graciously says the state of Israel has a "right to exist" as long as it is run according to his dictates, as Obama said in his lecture to us at the Washington synagogue, otherwise not?

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