Monday, June 08, 2009

Tolerating Violence in Pursuit of Religious Goals

There is definitely a pattern of behavior here that is both violent and arrogant. It stems from a sense of righteous indignation. They believe they are doing God’s bidding. And they are going to do what is necessary to get it done.

So who am I talking about? Hamas? Hezbollah? No. They are murderers. I am talking about the Edah HaCharedis. They are not murderers. But they are motivated by the same kind of religious fervor and - if not condoning violence - are increasingly tolerating it. They certainly do not let that get in the way of their goals.

Last Shabbos there was a mass protest in Jerusalem to prevent the opening of a municipal parking lot on Shabbos - 10,000 people by Edah’s own estimate.

The mayor’s office defended their action. From YWN:

Members of Mayor Nir Barkat’s staff point out that travelers visit Jerusalem on Shabbos, arriving by car, as is the case weekly, and everything is being done to prevent chilul Shabbos by opening of the parking lots, stressing rabbonim were consulted, leading to the decision to shut off elevators in the multi-story underground parking lot, leaving the entrance barrier open, and have non-Jews man the facility in addition to waving all fees.

City Hall stresses it has done everything to operate the lot without chilul Shabbos with the realization that motorists will visit the capital on Shabbos.

They consulted with Rabbanim. But that’s not good enough for the Kannaim of the Edah. They have had it with Chilul Shabbos.

Now I have no problem with civil protest. Constituents of any city government should be able to petition their government to accommodate their religious beliefs. What religious Jew wouldn’t prefer an all Shomer Shabbos Jerusalem? If Bnei Brak can have it, why not Jerusalem?.

If this city were Bnei Brak, I could understand closing off the city. It is virtually 100% religious. Those who want to visit it on Shabbos will not be able to enter other than on foot. The residents and their elected officials can do what they want. The entire city supports it. But this is not the case in Jerusalem. Trying to make turn it into Bnei Brak will not work and it inconveniences what is still a non religious majority.

Nonetheless various constituencies have a right to make their voices heard. But they do not have a right to be violent:

Six policemen and a member of the press were injured.

When this happens the price of protest becomes intolerable. I can hear the naysayers saying these injuries were a reaction to police brutality. The problem is that only police were injured. And a member of the press! I guess we have a new type of brutality against Charedim: Press brutality!

Violence has become their signature way of accomplishing their religious goals. Many people have come to believe that only violence will get them what they want. Lest someone say that these are just a bunch of Charedi hooligans that are the exception to the rule -10,000 people are not exceptions to the rule. They represent an entire segment of religious Jewry. In trying to promote what they believed to be a Kiddush HaShem they caused a Chilul Hashem.

Am I exaggerating? Were all the protesters peaceful and only a few of them got rowdy enough to injure the 6 policemen? I think this represents a pattern of behavior - one that has spread beyond Charedi borders. Consider what happened to Mrs. Miriam Shear (in her own words):

1. I picked up the #2 at Har Tzion. The bus was completely full except for 1 seat in the very back row. Boys - whom I later verified through one of them were all in Kita Vav (making them approximately 11 - 12 yrs old), were seated in the back row with the empty seat in the middle. I sat down. The boys - on each side of me - began screaming at me at the top of their lungs, waving their arms, putting fingers in my face that I could not sit there; that this was not tzniut; that I should "get out of here". And here's the terrifying part: They were kippa sruga from a yeshiva I actually had interviewed for my own son.

2. A few weeks prior to this, an elderly woman with a cane, got on the front of the #2 bus. It was packed and I was standing in front. There were 4 young men - all in their 20's - who refused to offer this woman their seat even after I went over to them and quietly, politely asked them to let this elderly woman sit (she looked to be in her 80's). They refused.

3. Last week I took a seat up front on the #2. Several young men got on after me and came over to me and demanded that I move to the back. I refused. When one of them - no older than Bar Mitzvah - put his finger in my face and snapped his fingers demanding, in a loud voice that I move, I slapped his hand away. To the credit of one Chareidi guy, he got up and announced that the #2 is NOT a Mehadrin bus. Eventually they all moved away and other women sat next to me.

This behavior is self centered. It is arrogant. It often turns violent. And it is a Chilul HaShem!

Her narrative shows that this kind of behavior has spread to the non Charedi circle of the Kipa Seruga. And that there actually are moderate Charedim in Israel who will do the right thing. The problem is that violence seems to be growing and spreading faster and wider than decent behavior.

‘Defenders of the faith’ will be sure to arise and say I’m bashing Charedim again. I’m not bashing anyone. Just decrying what seems to be rapidly increasing bad behavior.

I would call upon rabbinic authorities of all stripes to condemn this kind of behavior. Rallies that end up with people getting hurt do nothing but create enmity towards Torah. Secular and Non Jews see people who look and claim to be he most religious among us acting like wild animals. And they want to run as far away from Torah as they possibly can.

I doubt there will be any unified effort in condemning them though. Perhaps they believe that condemning a pro Shabbos rally will be seen as somehow approving Chilul Shabbos. There also seems to be a fear of offending the Edah. But I think they deserve be offended here. Big time! They ought not to be seen by anyone as spokesmen for religious Jewry. They are not. They are religious Jewry’s version of the Taliban. Unchecked we will get more of the same:

Zaka founder and director Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a former operations officer of the Eida Chareidit, told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) on Sunday morning that if Jerusalem City Hall does not come to its senses and prevent the Chilul Shabbos, the protests will escalate in size.

Right. And probably in violence too!