Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A Poisonous Atmosphere

Anti IDF poster from July of 2013 targeting 'Chardakim' (TOI)
Yesterday, one of my Charedi critics that lives in Israel accused me of ‘rank anti-Charedi hypocrisy’. That’s because I have been critical of how the Meisels seminary issue was being handled by a Beis Din in Israel and because I disagreed with the 5 American rabbinic leaders who came out in support of that Beis Din. I found it odd that I was so viciously attacked as blatantly anti Charedi and a hypocrite - since I was not siding with anti Charedi forces but with Charedi ones who had a different view.

I don’t know what it is. But the classic sentiment in the Gemarah that Avirah D’Ara Machkim (the very air in Israel makes one wise) seems to no longer be true. It is almost as if the reverse is true.  I say this with a heavy heart because I know many American Charedim who live there. They are all lovely people. But their Hashkafos seems to have dramatically changed – and along with that, their tactics.

Dr. Moshe Shoshan who resides in Bet Shemesh emphasizes this for me in his guest post on Cross Currents.  It is a heartfelt complaint about the lack of an appropriate response by Charedi leaders to the literal terror tactics by some of the more extreme and radical Charedi elements among their people. Among them were terror tactics aimed at Charedim that joined the IDF. There have been more than a few Charedi personalities in America that justifiably were outraged by this and said so. But in Israel, it is an entirely different story. From Cross Currents:
At the end of last month, an IDF officer in uniform, on leave from combat in Gaza, entered a shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his two young sons, to daven maariv. They were almost immediately expelled by a group of kizonim (radical charedim) who proceeded to surround them outside the shul preventing them from entering their car and then smashing its windshield.
Fortunately someone hearing the noise thought it was a terrorist attack and called the police, who soon arrived to rescue the soldier and his children. A few weeks before, a solider was attacked in broad daylight by a mob on a main street in Ramat Beit Shemesh. There were many bystanders but only a religious Zionist women who happened to be in the neighborhood came to the soldier’s defense.
That this happens in is and of itself a terrible commentary on the communal mindset of the Charedi world in Israel. But the lack of outrage by this community is the most troubling of all. As Dr. Shoshan notes:
To the best of my knowledge, until this most recent incident not a single leading Ashkenazi charedi Rabbi or spokesman has stood up to condemn this treasonous behavior. Indeed, while covering an earlier incident in Benei Brak, the respected Israeli journalist Razi Barkai reported on his radio show that his staff had contacted all of the many charedi public figures who appear frequently on his show to articulate the positions of the charedi community and their Gedolim.
But, with the exception of Aryeh Deri, they all refused to comment on the attack against the soldier. Following this most recent attack, Yaakov Litzman, a senior Knesset member from the Yahdut ha-Torah party, at long last issued a perfunctory condemnation of the attack to a local non-charedi newspaper.
More from Cross Currents:
Last year, Chaim Walder, perhaps the most beloved religious children’s author in Israel, wrote an editorial the Hebrew Yated Ne’eman, the official organ of R. Steinman’s faction of the Yahadut ha-Torah political party. Walder’s column unequivocally and unapologetically compared Yair Lapid to Adolph Hitler yemach shemo ve-zichro… (But) no public condemnation or criticism was forthcoming.
This is especially true here in Beit Shemesh, where a municipal election which we saw as being about fair and honest municipal governance for all citizens, was turned by the charedi leadership at the highest levels into a vicious holy war against non-chareidim in which all who opposed the charedi candidate were portrayed as rishaim and mechalelei shem shamayim (in the words of one respected figure in the charedi community ) and Nazis who allegedly sought to bring among other things, public chillul Shabbos to Beit Shemesh’s charedi neighborhoods.
How is it possible for thinking people in Israel that were raised in America to have these kinds of attitudes? I don’t know a single rational Charedi living in America that wouldn’t have condemned the rhetoric and tactics in the strongest possible terms. The lack of response to the terrorist actions by these American expatriates that at one time would have expressed outrage immediately - makes me think that something happened to them when they became Israeli Charedim. It is almost as though they have to prove themselves to their fellow Israeli Charedim who think that American Charedim too modern.

The sense of rationality and understanding seems to have completely disappeared. Making matters even worse is how they do respond by blaming the extremists. I agree with Esti Shushan who notes a typical response in a Facebook post republished at Cross Currents:
We are not like them, we are OK, we even pray for the solders and occasionally consider saying a mishbeirach for them. 
Ms. Shushan adds:
...it is so convenient to blame the extremists. To say “our hands did not spill this blood, what do we have to do with this craziness?” The charedi mainstream, its leadership, its askonim, its superficial and irresponsible media, they are the ones who laid the ground for attacks against the soldiers who protect your shtetl, your shtreiml and that which is or is not under it.
There is a lot more in the Cross Currents article… all worth reading. I am pleased that Cross Currents has seen fit to publish such a stridently critical post on its website. This is highly unusual even for a moderate Charedi website like theirs. But then again, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is one of the most rational and fair-minded Charedim I know. He is the one responsible for this. Which is why I admire him so much.