Sunday, July 08, 2007

Debasing the Torah

What an embarrassment. That is the nicest thing I can say about these people. They are an embarrassment to Klal Yisroel . Why don’t they just go back to where they came from and leave the community of Beit Shemesh alone? They have very few challengers in causing Chilul HaShem amongst Jews who identify themselves as religious. Perhaps Neturei Karta.

The opening line in this article tells us: “Beit Shemesh's main street has become a battle zone between haredi residents and the police.” I read the article and just shook my head in disgust.

I understand their motives. The motives are sincere. Who wouldn’t want what they want… a community of like minded observant Jews who all have the same Hashkafos? A community who has the same goals, values, and stringencies about how to live one’s life in the most pure and pristine environment one can create.

What is so wrong, one might ask in doing that? Isn’t it the right of any group of citizens in a democracy to build a community based on their own values? Values they believe the Torah requires? A Torah lifestyle versus the secular lifestyle. If they move in to a community that lacks those values they must change the environment from one of Tumah, spiritual impurity, to one of Kedusha, holiness.

The problem is that that is not what they are doing. They did not move to an uninhabited area as did the residents of Monroe, Squaretown, or Kirayt Yoel in America. Nor did they move into a Kiryat Sefer or Bnei Brak in Israel and start from scratch. One does not have to agree with these communities to concede their right to build a community from scratch into a Makom Torah as they understand it. Kol HaKavod to those communities.

What this community of hooligans from Meah Shearim want is to move into a fully inhabited town of secular and religious Jews and turn it into another Meah Shearim. The residents of that town don’t want it to become another Meah Sherarim. But these Meah Shearim transplantees don’t care. And that is unconscionable.

They have absolutely no right to impose their standards on that community. Yet they are going to do whatever it takes to get that accomplished. So they move in take over the town imposing all their religious standards upon everyone religious and non religious alike. And when they are challenged about it by city police who removed an illegally placed sign about Tznius, the response is beyond arrogant. It is the kind of full blown hooliganism one would expect from inner city gangs. The following quote from one of their leaders expresses the attitude:

The mayor here thinks that if he removes the modesty plaques, more secular people will come," said Shmuel Haim Popenheim, spokesman of the haredi community, who lives in Beit Shemesh. "But he does not understand that every time the media reports burning trash cans and people being arrested, it keeps the secular people away for another 10 years."

The hatred by these Charedim of other Jews is palpable. This isn’t only about setting up standards of community decency. This about getting their way. The methods don’t matter and include massive protests, spray painting walls and buring dumpsters full of trash. They are not only imposing Orthodox standards upon the secular. They are imposing the extreme standards of Meah Shearim on other non Charedi Orthodox Jews that live there too.

If they are successful, they will have their Meah Shearim in Beit Shemesh. But at what price? They will have alienated all their secular neighbors who heretofore were probably at worst indifferent to Torah observance. They have created a whole new population of Torah haters. They will have alienated any non Charedi Orthodox Jew who does not want to live like a resident of Meah Shearim. And worst of all they created another massive Chilul HaShem. But they don’t care. They only care about themselves. Causing damage to city and private property, and in the process putting innocent bystanders in danger... all for the cause. It doesn’t matter. God is great!

This is not the first time people like this have shown who they really are. I do not believe one can anymore claim that these people are exceptions to the rule. There are just too many of them. Their leaders are talking about burning dumpsters and chasing decent citizens away from their communities… and even further away from Torah. I can barely imagine a Chilul HaShem bigger than this.

I have no sympathy for the religious needs of this community. None whatsoever! Not the way they are seeking to get it. They are a bunch of spoiled babies.

I have written about incidents like this in the past and have been criticized for it. I have been accused of bias: Everybody else is at fault, not the poor Charedim. They are innocent victims. The media is biased. The reporting isn’t fair. The police are brutal and pick only on Charedim. The secular hate us anyway. It isn't the Charedim... it's only a few hooligans. Well some of that may well be true. But if even a fraction of what has been reported by the media is true, I stand by what I say. This kind of behavior cannot be allowed to continue.

I’m not sure what to do about it except help spread the story. I know that some rabbinic leaders have spoken out against this kind of behavior in the past to no avail. But I can’t believe that it can’t be stopped. The problem is the leadership of this very community. I believe that they secretly condone it… or even encourage it. Just look at the statement by the Charedi leader quoted above. Besides it is not possible for so many people in so many different places to act this way when their leadership genuinely opposes it.

So when I hear the occasional denouncements from leaders in their communities I don’t believe them. They have the power to stop it. This mob violence is mostly that of Chasidim. They have Chasidic Rebbes that they venerate. Those Rebbes have to come out full force and completely condemn this behavior unequivocally. That’s the only thing that will work. And if they don’t do it themselves then rabbinic leaders from every other segment of Orthodoxy have to come out and not only condemn it but put pressure on them. These Chasidic Rebbes have been all too tepid in their denouncements. There has to be teeth in them. Sanctions have to be put in place. Strong ones!

We are one Jewish people. Not two. Or ten. We all have a stake in what happens in Beit Shemesh. Our leaders must be moved to speak out more forcefully about incidents like this when they happen. No apologetics. These people are taking our Torah and trashing it… all L’Shem Shamayim.