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It's Not An Aberration
I would love to get back to topics relating to Rationalist Judaism - I have a number of posts planned. But when I see certain claims being made about the situation in Bet Shemesh, I feel compelled to respond.
A commonly-heard refrain from Charedi apologists is that the appalling events surrounding the Orot school in Bet Shemesh are merely the aberrant actions of a tiny number of crazy people, termed Sikrikim, who are not remotely representative of the wider Charedi community. As such, it's as ridiculous and offensive to expect Charedim to condemn them, or to perform a cheshbon hanefesh, as it would be to expect Jews to have a particular obligation to condemn Madoff or to perform a cheshbon hanefesh as a result of his crimes.
This apologetic was made a little more difficult after hundreds of people in Ramat Bet Shemesh-Bet rallied around in support of these thugs, including rabbonim in that neighborhood. So the apologetic was adjusted to it being just an aberration of that particular neighborhood, who are not remotely representative of the wider Charedi community.
This apologetic in turn was made a little more difficult after the rally in Mea Shearim in defense of the Jerusalem thug who was jailed, where people desecrated the memory of the Holocaust martyrs. So the apologetic was adjusted to it being just an aberration of radically anti-modern Mea Shearim types, who are not remotely representative of the wider Charedi community.
But what about the events in Ponovezh yeshivah a few years back? According to news reports, "the yeshiva’s administrative director, Aharon Gertner, was arrested after police claimed he attempted to assault members of Rabbi Markovich’s faction with an ax." And "Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman, the new yeshiva head... was assaulted with sticks and hospitalized. Berman was replaced by Rabbi Haim Shlomo Lebovic, whose first lecture was held under heavy security of dozens of policemen. Upon returning home that day, he found an explosive device waiting for him at his doorstep." As a result, "the district police chief summons the yeshiva’s leaders to his office once every few weeks for a talk, which is usually followed by a short-lived truce that ends whenever a new conflict – over the distribution of food or rooms in the yeshiva for instance – emerges." Can anyone imagine this happening in a Modern Orthodox or secular institution of higher learning?
Fine, the apologist says, so maybe it's just an aberration of Israeli charedim - after all, they live in a rough country, and it presumably rubs off on them. But it's not remotely representative of the wider Charedi community!
But what about the events in New Square, where the Rebbe's assistant tried to set fire to the home of a person who did not abide by the community's policies? According to residents of New Square, he was "part of a network of up to 40 men and boys who defend the Skverer Rebbe with intimidation and violence."
Fine, the apologist says, but that's just an aberration of a Chassidic American community. But it's not remotely representative of the Litvish American charedi community!
Well, it's true that I don't have any stories of violence in the Litvish American charedi community. But are they really such a distinct and different entity from the American Chassidic and Israeli Charedi community that they have no need to condemn them, and no need to do a cheshbon hanefesh regarding charedi isolationism, disregard for civil law and civility, and devaluation of outsiders?
And violence is itself just one part of a spectrum of problematic behavior. Other forms of problematic zealotry and intolerance are vastly more widespread. There are simply countless examples of harassment of people who don't toe the Charedi line, in cities from Kiryat Sefer to Bayit Vegan to Beitar to Bet Shemesh - and I presume that there is also no shortage of such stories in the US.
If people are going to seriously deny this, then I will have to collect and publish a long list of examples. For now, I will just cite one particularly striking example of how this problematic attitude becomes endorsed at the highest levels. A recent work, Vayishma Moshe, reports that an avreich consulted Rav Elyashiv after "a spirit of zealotry" entered him and he "embarrassed" a couple on a bus (not even a mehadrin bus) who ignored his request to move to the back. According to the avreich, Rav Elyashiv told him that he acted perfectly appropriately! Of course we have no way of knowing if Rav Elyashiv did indeed say this. But the fact that such a sefer exists, and that it bears the haskamah of Rav Elyashiv and his son, shows that such behavior is considered by many to be acceptable.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I certainly do not believe that all or even most charedim support spitting at people or cursing them. Rather, my point is that such behavior is an extreme but predictable manifestation of an attitude that is, unfortunately, pervasive.
There is a general attitude in the Charedi world of thoroughly delegitimizing all those who do not follow the One True Charedi Way, and having no respect for such people. It is found in the leadership, in the charedi media, and in the street. If people challenge this statement, or claim that it is no more true of Charedi society than of Modern Orthodox society, then I am ready to back it up with countless examples. (It is especially ironic that a recent apologist on Cross-Currents, who claimed that the extreme zealotry is an aberration, is himself a person who has called for homosexuals to look into the option of suicide, and who has zealously maintained a blog entirely dedicated to delegitimizing me!)
Now, some might claim that this problem is inherent to religion itself. I don't have arguments on hand with which to counter that, but I would instead say that if that is indeed the case, then the further to the right one is, the more one has to be careful about this problem!
There are several aspects to charedi society which exacerbate the problem of delegitimizing others. If a person is of rabbinical stature, then people will not protest his expressing intolerance. There is a social structure in which the most zealous, intolerant people wield the most power. In the charedi educational system in Israel, sports and physical activity are frowned upon, leaving no kosher outlet for males to let out their pent-up energy. And there is violent language used and endorsed in Charedi society at the highest levels. The book Chaim B'Emunasam, written as a response to my books, and bearing especially glowing haskamos from various Gedolim, called for the execution, "by any means," of people who believe the Gemara to contain scientifically-inaccurate statements - i.e. me! Do those Gedolim really bear no responsibility for the terrifying and menacing phone calls that I have received?
It is obvious to many people, some of whom are even in the Charedi world, that recent events are but an extreme reminder of a widespread problem. It is tragic that some refuse to acknowledge it.