Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Besides being the name of a blog, ‘Chaptzem’ is a phrase reputed to be the one used by Satmar Chasidim when they see a Jew being attacked in the street. It literally means: ‘Catch him’! Legend has it that when a Satmar Chasid yells out that phrase - the perpetrator is chased down and gets the daylights beaten out of him by a few burly Satmar Chasidim.

These Satmar groups have been around a long time. But I’m not sure they still exist. They were a kind of primitive neighborhood watch group – or more correctly, vigilante group - interested in protecting fellow Jews.

But there are definitely neighborhood watch groups out there now. There is an interesting story about a couple of them in the Christian Science Monitor. One group is called Shomrim. They are basically a group of citizens that patrol and guard their neighborhoods - protecting them from violent crime.

Unfortunately there are plenty of muggings in the streets of New York. Some neighborhoods are worse than others and the police are ill equipped to deal with it effectively. People are robbed and sometimes even beaten, shot, or stabbed in the process.

These neighborhood watch groups have largely succeeded in preventing this type of thing from happening. The merchants and residents of these neighborhoods seem to be grateful and praise these groups for protecting them.

The story mentions a couple of relatively positive examples of Shomrim in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. Here is one of them. It involved a potential mugging of one of the Shomrim:

“You got a dollar?” the boy asked.

“No, I don’t got a dollar,” Lifshitz shot back.

“Give me a dollar!” the boy demanded, and suddenly Lifshitz was surrounded.

He pulled his two-way radio from beneath his coat and issued a distress code. “10-13, 10-13,” he called. “Corner of Eastern Parkway and New York Avenue.”

“Yo, it’s the Jew police!” he says one kid yelled in alarm. The boys scattered, and, within minutes, 60 Shomrim arrived.

That is a great story.

But of course not everyone agrees that everything is all roses with these groups. Some see this as highly negative - as the title and subtitle of the CSM article suggests:

Jewish street patrols curb crime – and generate controversy - Hasidic groups in New York patrol religious neighborhoods in marked cars, but they occasionally clash with outside groups and even among themselves.

One of the problems seems to be that these neighborhood patrol groups are not licensed or regulated. That has produced other groups like the one called Shmira that are creating a Chilul HaShem:

A local grand jury has indicted Yitzhak Shuchat, who news reports have identified as a Shmira member, for various assault and hate-crime charges…

So, I am not sure whether the entire enterprise is a Kiddush HaShem or a Chilul HaShem. I think it might depend on the overall net public perception of them.

There are several things to consider. First one has to ask if there is any danger to these Shomrim? How much training to they get? Ironically the rival group Shmira claims to be trained by the NYPD.

Are they making themselves targets of violence? Is that wise - or even permitted by Halacha? According to Jewish law one may not put oneself in a situation of even Safek Sakana - where there is even only a chance of danger.

And what about their public face? Do they know how to relate to the media? Responding properly to them is part and parcel of preventing a Chilul HaShem. Do they have any training in public relations?

On the other hand what about the violence to other Jews they prevent? Does that outweigh any danger to themselves or the potential for Chilul HaShem that might result in other cases?

What about the authorities? Do they approve - officially or even unoficially? Do they work with the police? How does this impact the non Jewish members of that community? Are they as protective of them? If not isn’t the net result a Chilul HaShem? Is it worth it? Is there another way to prevent violence against Jews in these neighborhoods?

I don’t know the answers. I’m just asking the questions.