Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
A "Charedi" Intifada?
Last night launched what some media outlets are calling "a Charedi Intifada." The videos are absolutely shocking (you can watch them on Yeshiva World News). In Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, certain charedim launched violent riots. They set fires, they vandalized trains, they burned a bus and destroyed it, they even tried pouring cement onto the light rail tracks (which, had they succeeded, would have caused derailment and Heaven knows how much loss of life).
All this was in response to the police beginning to respond more seriously to violations of Covid restrictions. These take place in parts of the charedi community on a much more serious scale than in the rest of the country, with the official encouragement of their rabbinic leaders. The results have been catastrophic, and so far there has been little enforcement in the charedi community (the charedi community represent 40% of the infections, but have only been receiving 2% of the fines).
To what extent can last night's events legitimately be described as a "charedi intifada"? It must be stated from the outset that not only were most Israeli charedim not involved in last night's events, they were disgusted by them. It is therefore misleading and even defamatory to consider it as representing mainstream charedi society. Likewise, with regard to the infractions of Covid restrictions which launched the police action in the first place, there is a distinct difference between various charedi groups and one cannot issue generalizations. There is a certain part of the charedi world (such as most chassidic sects and the Peleg Litvishe sect) who oppose any attempts to change their way of life, and there are plenty of other charedim who want to end the pandemic and are taking the necessary precautions.
Still, it is also not accurate when people claim that last night's riots are just the work of teenage hoodlums who are not at all representative or symptomatic of the charedi world. This takes us back to the same issues that we have discussed previously, regarding such phenomena as the violence in my home town of Beit Shemesh, the appalling near-lynch of a formerly charedi soldier in Mea She'arim, and last year's Charedi Day Of Rage.
There is a continuous spectrum of lack of loyalty to the State 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.
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 events such as 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.
Now, last night's riots are different from cases such as the Mea Shearim lynch and the Beit Shemesh violence, where the rest of the charedi community showed little interest in denouncing it. In the current case, there are many voices in the charedi community denouncing both the neglect of Covid restrictions and the riots against the enforcement of them.
Still, there is not the same level of mainstream charedi condemnation as there has been against other things. And the mayor of Bnei Brak, together with other chareidi rabbinic leaders, are being just as vocal in their condemnation of the police as they are regarding the rioters. (Yes, the Israel police can be brutal, but the reason why they need to take action is that the charedi leadership doesn't care enough about Covid precautions.)
Furthermore, while some prominent charedi leaders are condemning the violence, there has not been anywhere near sufficient condemnation of the neglect of Covid precautions which led to the police actions in the first place. The "House of Kanievsky" may make public proclamations about observing precautions, but on the quiet they ignore them and give permission to principals to open their schools. And it is the mainstream charedi politicians who are working to stop the government raising fines for Covid infractions.
But there is another reason why to completely disavow any charedi aspect of last night's "Intifada" is incorrect. As with the Mea Shearim events, the people that rioted last night do not exist in a vacuum. They are the naturally-resulting extreme fringe of a society which cares little about its responsibilities to wider society, about obedience to civil law, and which almost never condemns civil crimes, verbal and physical violence from the right.
And there's another factor, too. When you try to force an entire society into a mold which is unsuitable for many, many youths, with no option of military service and no outlet for leisure and physical activities, the inevitable result is that some of them will find inappropriate outlets for their energy.
You reap what you sow.