Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Darkness unto the Nations

Perhaps the tide is finally turning. Two Chardi websites -Matzav and YWN - are now featuring editorials that are finally written with the appropriate degree of anger and disgust. And no wonder. The incident in Bet Shemesh has now made the New York Times. It is no longer just a story of parochial interest. It in fact exposes a terrible truth about the Charedi world. The increasing resort to violence by some in their community to achieve their aims… and the relative silence in speaking out against it.

Even when they did speak out, condemnations were couched in terms of apologetics. There would always be an explanation for the bad behavior – even while condemning the behavior itself. Often the behavior was denied with the media being accused of being anti religious and distorting or exaggerating the story to make them look bad.

No more. This is what one Charedi writer in Matzav said:

With those who hijacked the Neturei Karta name and engage in communication and behavior that clearly places them in the category of rodfim, there has long been dispute as to how much we, the true chareidim, should publically protest their shameful conduct. After all, some argue, why give those fools a platform and free exposure? Why help them spread their misguided messages?

Rodfim. Fools. My kind of language for these people (...although as was pointed out to me after I wrote the piece they are not in a Halachic category of Rodfim which has Halachic ramifications that do not apply here).

On YWN Aryeh Deri the former Charedi head of the Sephardi Shas party and protégé of Rav Ovadia Yosef had similar things to say:

“I am not giving a p’sak Halacha, but I can state my opinion, and it appears to me these people are to be categorized as a ‘rodef’ for their actions, which are simply a major chilul Hashem” Deri adds. “Look what they are doing to the name and image of chareidi Jews around the world. Just look, Hillary Clinton has already compared us to Iran!”

This is not about Halacha, but it is those extremists who simply wish to dictate how we are to live our lives, this small but extremist faction of individuals.They understand one language only, force. They are not controllable and no one can rein them in…

I know one rabbi and one rabbi only, Rav Nitzav (Police Chief) Danino. I do not say this jokingly, but with all seriousness. This is the reality. How can they smash a vehicle because of flag they saw inside? Who gives them the right to act this way, to burn buses and carts? The police must act.

In short the Charedi world is beginning to speak out in the strongest terms about this and perhaps this will finally lead to something more than lip-service condemnation and apologetics.

I realize I have been spending a lot of time on this issue. But it is time well spent. It is an issue of great import that demands being given a very high priority. Aside from the pain it has given to the people of Bet Shemesh - the damage it does to all of Orthodoxy is immeasurable. This isn’t only about Charedim. It is about all of observant Jewry. We are all tainted by this.

Just this past Tuesday night, as I was watching the NBC nightly News, I was shocked to see that the issue of gender segregation in Israel being featured in one of its segments. The reporter - Martin Fletcher is a secular Jew who lives in Israel. The NBC news segment featured the story about Tanya Rosenblit, the woman who refused to move to the back of a gender segregated bus, and was harassed for hours by the Charedi men on it who prevented the bus from leaving. The report also featured a Charedi women on another gender segregated bus sounding almost exactly the way a Muslim woman in Iran might sound – defending their modesty customs and not caring about the secular law of ther land.

Mr. Fletcher used only the term Orthodox. Not Charedi or ultra-Orthodox. And the report suggested that Orthodox Jews are trying to hijack the country and establish ‘tyrannical’ religious rule over all of Israel.

Some might blame this secular Jewish reporter for purposely painting religious Jews in a bad light because he is anti religious. But I would have to disagree. I blame the mentality of the people who insist on this lifestyle at the expense of others. The Charedi woman interviewed on that bus is of the same mentality as the people who approve of the goals of those who spit on 7 year old girl in Bet Shemesh. The angry response by that Charedi woman was not a fabrication by Martin Fletcher. He did not put words in her mouths.

The truth is that all Orthodox Jews are in the same boat. We can’t just write an observant segment of our people out of Orthodoxy because of the foolishness or even the criminal intent of some of its people. It isn’t right. There are good people and bad people in all segments.

The right thing to do is to act in unison to not only condemn them in the strongest possible terms. But to follow it up by action of the type proposed in some of my previous posts on the subject.

I would add that the condemnations without apologetics we are beginning to see ought to be spread. I call upon all Orthodox communal organizations to do this including - and perhaps especially - the Agudah Moetzes. They should come out with the strongest of condemnations without the slightest reference to their supposed ‘noble goals’. I would hope that all the moderate Charedi Rabbanim in Bet Shemesh would do the same.

It may not be enough – but it would be a start if the condemnations came out fast and furious. Hopefully that will also spur action.

Make no mistake about it. Only something like a massive Charedi protest against these Reshaim will even have half a chance at working. If these people see just how much people who look just like them oppose them, they may think twice about doing it again. And if the police see that Charedim are actually on their side, perhaps Aryeh Deri’s words will take affect… and the police and the Israel justice system will throw all of these Rodfim in jail where they belong. For a long time!

The Torah tells us that we must be a light unto the nations. Devarim (4:6) says, Chachmasam, U’Vinaschem L’Enaei Ha’Amim – Asher Yishmiun Es Kol HaChukim HaEleh V’Ameru: Am Chacham V’ Navon HaGoy HaGadol Hazeh. Loosely translated that means: Your wisdom and understanding is in the sight of the nations – when they hear all of all your statutes and say: A wise and understanding people this great (Jewish) nation is!

Rav Ahron Soloveichik tells us that the Rambam opens up his Sefer HaMada with the Pasuk which says ‘Show your kindness to those who know You and Your righteousness to the straight of heart’. Why, asks Rav Ahron. Why does the Rambam open up his Book of Knowledge with words dealing with charity and goodness? Because all the knowledge in the world will not get the nations to say what a wise people we are. Only if our knowledge leads to ethical behavior, kindness, and charity in the way that God shows these characteristics - will we be able to inspire the world.

The Reshaim who parade around in clothing that identifies them (correctly or not) as the most religious among us fail to understand the importance of being an Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations. With all their supposed religiosity, this D’Oraisa is lost on them. They are not a light unto the nations. They are a darkness to them that - like it or not - reflects poorly on all of us.