|Israeli Keneset member, Rabbi Yisrael Eichler|
IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) is the public advocacy arm of the Reform movement. As an Orthodox Jew, one might expect to see me in opposition to any stand taken by the Reform Movement. It’s not that I fully agree with everything IRAC advocates. I don’t. I do not for example support their pluralistic agenda where they seek equal footing with the Orthodox rabbinate.
When it comes to fighting the kind of growing extremism one finds in various Charedi communities in Israel, I find it hard to disagree. But then who wouldn’t agree with fighting the kinds of things mentioned in a Forward editorial on this subject:
Women harassed when they refuse to go to the back of a public bus.
Women forced to sit in segregated areas at public health clinics and at burials in cemeteries.
Women berated for wearing clothes deemed to be immodest.
Women’s voices banned from a radio station.
Women excluded from participating in municipal programs and state celebrations.
A woman attacked in a Jerusalem square for wearing jeans.
A woman soldier, in uniform, called a “whore.”
As far as I am concerned anyone that does not agree with fighting this kind of extremism is at best misguided. And at worst - giving tacit approval for extremists to act violently on behalf of that extremism.
As these types of extremist communities in Israel continue to grow, so too will their influence. They are increasingly flexing their muscle in areas like Bet Shemesh and Meah Shearim – posting signs about segregating women in public areas to different sides of the street, and removing the word ‘woman’ for a medical facility for women in Ramat Bet Shemesh. In essence forcing their extremist values upon all of the city’s residents. Even though most residents of that Bet Shemesh suburb are Orthodox, most do not share those extremist values, and yet they are increasingly being inundated with values only the most extreme residents among them adhere to.
These are not people that love their fellow Jews. They are people that love only themselves – seeing only see their own extreme values as valid. Even as they must know that most streams of Orthodoxy in their community do not share those values.
And in some cases, when they don’t get their way, violence ensues and people get hurt. Violence like throwing stones at people they see as not toeing their extremist line.
It has been pointed out in the past (many times) that Charedi leaders oppose those tactics. And when they happen are as upset by it as anyone else. They condemn it just as I do. But I don’t think that they mean it. Because if they really did, they would not do what Charedi MK Yisroel Eichler did. He opposes a law that would make it easier to put stone throwers in jail. From Life in Israel:
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has made a move to come down harsher on stone throwers. Shaked revived an old law proposal, originally proposed by Tzippi Livni, by which a stone thrower can be convicted for his actions with a the full harsh sentence allowed without requiring an impossible level of burden of proof.
MK Yisroel Eichler (UTJ) is the person who opposes this law. And he opposes it because he is concerned that it would be used to put Haredi stone-throwers in jail.
Eichler has in the past stood up for the extremists, working to get violent extremists out of jail, and he does so again. Eichler says this law is too vague, and in truth there is a difference between Haredi stone throwers who have no intent to kill or maim and are only expressing their pain and sorrow about Land issues (for example) and betwene people looking to destroy the State.
We know that all the Charedi members of the Keneset do not blink without consulting the Daas Torah of their rabbinic leaders. If MK Eichler opposes a law that punishes stone throwers, they must be opposing it with the full approval of their leaders. To me this is proof positive that all the shouting about extremists being thugs and rogue members of their community is just that - shouting. They will pay lip service condemnation of those people, but when it comes to punishing them – forget it. They don’t want them punished at all. They go out of their way to get them out of jail. When instead they should be doing everything they can to put them there!
I never thought the day would come where I side with a Reform organization over an Orthodox one. But there it is. In this case the Reform organization is right. It’s more than time to go back to normalcy in the Orthodox world. Instead of increasingly moving towards extremism. And if it takes IRAC to do it, I am with them here. At least in spirit.