Friday, January 06, 2012

Why Are We Not All on the Same Page?

As I continue to watch events in Israel unfold, I have noticed a trend in how the Charedi world has responded to them. Surprisingly it does not break down in to how extreme or moderate one is. And it makes me wonder why the reactions are coming out as they do. The events I am talking about are: 1)The extremist Charedi attacks against innocent young Dati elementary school girls. And 2) the public protests in Meah Shearim by those sympathetic to them - using Holocaust imagery to paint media coverage and government treatment toward Charedim as Nazi-like.

The first type of reaction is much like the one I had. It was revulsion. Revulsion at - and unequivocal condemnation of - both of those events. But I was not the only one who had that reaction. The revulsion was almost universal. But the condemnation was not all unequivocal. In some cases it seemed like it was almost beside the point. In one case it was even treated like a non-event!

Let us look at some examples of this.

One was the Agudah reaction. They condemned what happened but seemed to care more about the issue of Tznius those extremists were complaining about. And about the way some in the media and government unfairly bashed all Charedim instead of the actual extremists who deserved it.

Another reaction was an article by Moshe Montag a Charedi member of the Bet Shemesh city council, in the Israeli newspaper Maariv (translated by Rafi Goldmeier). He wrote a satirical piece cynically ‘thanking’ the ‘outside world’ for the way they treat Charedim. He didn’t even mention the injustice that generated the current storm. Just the ‘unfair’ reactions and other ‘unfair’ issues with respect to the way ‘outside world’ treats Charedim.

Then there is the way one Charedi Rav in Ramat Bet Shemesh has been treating the entire problem from the very beginning. I will not mention his name since the post describing it has been removed from the blog in which I read it. His reaction was to not condemn it at all. He claimed that doing so would make it seem like there was some reason that Charedim needed to do so... that this is so far from Charedi behavior that he it did not require condemnation by a Charedi Rav. He apparently thinks his attitude it is an even bigger condemnation.

Bigger Condemnation? Really? My response is to quote from Hamlet: ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’.

What is worse is the reaction he seemed to have when asked what he would have done had he been the father of that child and been there. His answer was along the following lines:

He would have gently wiped away his daughter’s tears away and told her to ignore those bullies and taken her to her class. By doing this instead of making a big public deal about it, the whole thing would have gone away.

How unbelievably and uncharacteristically naïve this Rav is about this! As another Charedi Rav who lives near the school said, ‘Does he not know the history of this problem and how long it has been going on?’ ‘Does he think that only one girl has been harassed?’ ‘Does he really think his reaction would have made the problem go away?’

Frankly I am shocked by his reaction. I used to think of him as a hero for some of his courageous stands on other issues. I am now beginning to question that.

There were many other reactions like this in the Charedi community where the focus was on other issues; past grievances; or just a misperception of why the entire world is so upset. They seemed to all be looking to blame others for the core issue of the problem instead of focusing on the evil - and what it should mean. This should be see as a clarion call to change the way they have treated the outside world. The public outrage is as much against the way they have been treated by much of the Charedi world as it is against the evildoers themselves. The last straw was placed on the camel’s back. The chickens coming home to roost. And all the pent up outrage and anger has been released.

No I am not looking to bash the Charedi world. I am simply a keen observer of what goes on there. Besides I am not the only one who thinks this way. As I said there were a great many more Charedim who saw this event much the way I did. They are seeing this as their moment of truth. And there seems to be a general groundswell of Charedi soul searching going on right now.

Rav Edelstien, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevitch did. You can’t get much more Charedi than that. While I do not necessarily have his take on it, it is clear that he is looking inward rather than outward. Speaking about his own Charedi world he said, ‘We Deserve What We Are Getting’:

“The hate comes from sinas chinam, but it is explained by chilonim as being the result of one thing or another, telling the chareidi tzibur it must make a tikun in one area or another. While it is true that they are inciting for their own reasons but for us, we must realize that this is what we deserve and we must mend our ways.

This is a very positive development. And yet there are still these apologists I speak of. I don’t know why some feel the need to always add a spin to their condemnations that ends up turning around some of the blame onto the others.

It sure would be nice if the entire world was on the same page here. And not trying to ‘explain it all away’ to one degree or another with any number of different apologetics. Or to focus more on the negative public reaction rather than the evil itself. The core issue here isn’t that Charedim are hated by secular Jews. I think it’s the way secular Jews are treated by Charedim. That causes hatred in both directions. When it is clear who is at fault here, the apologetics generate even more hate. Who can then blame the secular world for the kind of polemics coming out of them?

Here is my message to those who have not fully and unequivocally condemned these people and their kindred spirits in Meah Shearim. It does not help matters when you add a ‘but’ to your condemnations. Nor does it help if you only see others as the problem or ignore the evil itself as not ‘our problem’.

We are all in this together. Every observant Jew has a stake in this – no matter what our Hashkafos are or how far up or down the spectrum of religiosity we go. We ought to all be on the same page on this. And instead we are bickering over whom or what is really to blame here.

Get a clue! As the great Pogo once said, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us!’