Monday, May 29, 2006

Extremism in Defense of Torah

We seem to be having a cultural war. But not the one most people think of when this phrase is used. I am not talking about the war between the secular world and its complete lack of any standard of sexual behavior and the God fearing religious world who have clearly defined sexual mores. This indeed is a war fought in this country and in Israel as we speak. But I am talking about another war. The war is between normalcy and extremism within our own Orthodox world. The most recent and personal event which precipitates my writing this article is a something that happened in Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel on Lag B’Omer.

Ramat Bet Shemesh is very dear to me. I have spent much enjoyable time there visiting my son and his family. I love that community. It is a new and near totally Shomer Shabbos with a mix of Charedim (about 59%) and Daatim (about39%) and Chilonim (about 2%). It is a physically beautiful suburb of Bet Shemesh, newly developed and overlooking a gorgeous view of nearby mountainous terrain. All residences are built with Jerusalem stone and vary from single family homes, to townhouses, to multi-unit condominiums. It is well planned and very user friendly ...the fastest growing religious community in Israel. But all is not well there.

There is a segment of Orthodoxy that refuses to countenance anything other than their own Hashkafos and views. They refuse to recognize any deviance from their own interpretation of Halacha by anyone. And their rabbinic leaders who know that there are differences in Psak ignore those differences and encourage what can only be called hooliganism in the pursuit of their own agendas... hooliganism that results in violence and injury. Such was the case in Ramat Bet Shemesh on Lag B’Omer. This was made known to me in a comment in my last post:

“In Ramat Bet Shemeh, on Lag B'Omer, there was a boy's choir in the park. The concert was attended by a variety of people, although mostly chareidi mothers with their children, including Rebbetzen Kornfeld of the Gra shul. The mayor of Bet Shemesh was also there. During his speech, suddenly Rav Perlstein, the self-styled mara d'asra of Ramat Bet Shemesh, burst upon the scene with about ten of his goons. They shouted "pritzus!" and started pushing away the women and children. They even went on stage and physically pushed the boys away. One child was hurt and needed medical attention. Rav Perlstein is being sued for 100,000 shekel.”

I confirmed this Chilul HaShem with my Charedi children in Ramat Bet Shemesh and indeed this is what happened. And they are as appalled by it as I am.

It is somewhat of a relief to know that some of the prominent local Rabbanim spoke out against him. But... that someone who was considered a leader in the community felt justified in leading an attack like this is a major problem in the Charedi world. One which is reflected as well in their actions and attitudes on other issues: Rioting mobs, or in disparagement of Non-Jews or Modern Orthodox Jews, or covering up sexual crimes... all these are issues stemming from the same source, a source that creates a Rav Perlstein.

Rav Perlstein is not a crazy exception. He is a respected Rav hired many years ago by the Charedi community in Ramat Bet Shemesh from London to come there and basically be their Posek. He a Posek of some renown. And he does not represent some isolated fringe groups but a significant number of people who have similar ideas of how one should react to various situations they don’t approve of.

It is clear that many Charedim do not approve of such people. But they continue in positions of leadership and spread their influences becoming more strident with every passing event.

It seems as though our enemies within are as dangerous as our enemies without, at least in a spiritual sense. As great a danger as anti-Semites pose (whether Jew or non-Jew) there seems to be an equal danger by observant Jews who are hostile to their own Torah observant brethren. I don’t know how this will end but it seems like sanity and common sense is gone and extremism has taken its place.