Thursday, December 29, 2011

One Event – Two Reactions

There has been a lot of righteous outrage about the events that have been taking place in Bet Shemesh. In fact I am not aware of a single Orthodox organization that hasn’t condemned (or wouldn’t condemn if they haven’t done so yet) the behavior of those Charedim who have been terrorizing little children in a Dati elementary school.

But few have done it so powerfully or as eloquently as did Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein on Cross-Currents. What makes this particular response so significant is that the writer is Charedi. He is a Musmach of Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim – a mainstream Charedi Yeshiva.

His attitude on many things can best be described as Moderate Charedism. His views on just about any subject can be found mirrored in what I call Right Wing Modern Orthodoxy. Rabbi Adlerstein should in my view be seen as the prototype for Charedi behavior and attitudes. If all Charedim were like him, there would be a great deal of Achdus among us all even if we did not agree on every single issue.

One must read his essay in its entirety. It is a masterpiece of outrage at what happens to Judaism when practiced in isolation. And what happens - has now been demonstrated to millions of human beings all over the planet. Israel’s Chanel 2 report on the events of Bet Shemesh has indeed gone viral on the internet. Literally the whole world is watching. This is how Orthodox Jewry is now seen.

The angry tone in his article is justified. It matches my own. I am humbled by his eloquence, forthrightness and ‘pull no punches’ approach. He spoke to the core issue in no uncertain terms - directly and to the point. With no equivocation. I only wish the same people who saw the video would read his words. Unfortunately that is unlikely. His words ought to be spread far and wide.

As I said there has been universal outrage and disgust expressed about this event. This includes Agudath Israel. After checking with their Moetzes they released their own statement. And frankly I am very disappointed.

More than half of that statement dealt with other issues including the very matter the Reshaim of Bet Shemesh were protesting - lack of Tznius. After condemning the self appointed (...isn’t the Agudah Moetzes self appointed? – but I digress) …self appointed “guardians” of modesty as reprehensible, and calling the report deeply disturbing; and saying they do not represent us, they immediately change the subject and go into attack mode. Using the same word ‘disturbing’ they saw fit to condemn the reaction of others. They said: some Israeli politicians and secularists have been less responsible, portraying the actions of a very few as indicative of the feelings of the many. Even if that were true, should that be included in this statement?

But what is worse is the fact that they actually wanted to make sure to say that the point of the protest is a valid one... that Tznius is an important subject which should not be abandoned because of this.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why Agudah felt it necessary to give these people the slightest pretext for what they do. No one will come away from these condemnations thinking that the laws of modesty should somehow be abandoned. Is that what Agudah thinks? There was absolutely no reason to bring this up. To the best of my knowledge there was not a single public pronouncement by any other Orthodox organization or prominent religious figure that had added these comments – Charedi or otherwise. It is almost as if their strongly worded condemnation was secondary to their main message of maintaining Tznius.

Do they not realize that this kind of talk would be seen by those who spit on little girls as a justification? Don’t they realize that these people will grab onto anything that gives even the slightest hint that their cause is just? And that even though their means aren’t appreciated, their results will be?

What possible motivation could Agudah have for doing this? Furthermore the Tznius issue that these Reshaim were protesting was against an 8 year old girl who was completely Tzanua! The Agudah statement did not even mention that – which could easily lead one to believe that Agudah agreed that she wasn’t Tzanua enough - and that the particular grievance in this case was valid - if not the method of protest. Saying they condemn these acts unconditionally and then following it up with the matter of Tznius is in fact a conditional condemnation. Is it not?

One more thing. I disagree with Rabbi Yaakov Menken who in a previous post on Cross-Currents said he was relieved to find this statement in his inbox. It is quite telling that he felt ‘relieved’. It is as though he was afraid that Agudah would ignore or maybe even approve of those events because of the righteousness of the cause. What does this say about the expectations by the Charedi masses of their rabbinic leaders? He was relieved?!

Nor do I agree with his condemnation of the media and government officials for trying to paint all Charedim this way. First of all, who can blame them even if they did. Second of all they didn’t. Not only that, but many Charedim were themselves trying to get that media to keep up the pressure so that the government will act! Here is how Rabbi Adlerstein put it:

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

I wish Agudah had made the statement Rabbi Adlerstein made. His entire article. Word for word! ...instead of the one they did make. In my view that would have been far more effective. Truly disappointing.

The following are links to statements by other Orthodox organizations and leaders.

The always amazing Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Joint RCA/OU statement
IRF statement