Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Analysis of a Murderer’s Community

There is a fascinating article in Ha’aretz that deals with the violence in extremist Charedi camps. It discusses the latest tragedy where Nachman Anshin, a Breslaver Chasid literally beat his 8 month old daughter’s brains out by banging her head on the floor until she died. It is in this context that the following observation was made by reporter Tamar Rotem:

It is difficult to ignore the fact that this is one of a series of violent acts in which children were harmed by members of extremist ultra-Orthodox sects. Before Nachman Anshin there was Yisrael Valis, a young father from the Eda Haredit community in Jerusalem, who was convicted of killing his infant son to death about four years ago (and then too there were complaints that the Eda Haredit community was being picked on). And there was Elior Chen, who is accused, together with his pupils from a marginal ultra-Orthodox group, of abusing children. Then there's the member of the Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect who's accused of starving her 3-year-old son, in a case that made the headlines over the summer.

The list goes on. I can think of quite a few more incidents where violent acts were undertaken by members of this community.

The question arises about whether the Hashkafos of these extremist Charedi sects in any way contribute to this phenomenon.

This isn’t about one isolated incident. Yes, if the Anshin baby murder was the only thing that ever happened one could easily say that this is a one-time event perpetrated by a madman. The community could then not be blamed in any way. But – obviously it is not a onetime incident. There are far too many - incidents. They can’t all be exceptions. There must be something about these sects that produce these kinds of violent aberrations.

I have suggested in the past that their Chinuch be looked at. Not that they raise their children to be sadistic murderers. But there is an element of violence that is very acceptable to them. All one has to do is see what their calls for various protests have recently wrought- and the tepid responses of their leadership.

If violence is more or less OK in one context – it might very well be internalized - that it is OK in other contexts. Is beating children an acceptable means of disciplne? I tend to think it is more acceptable there than in other Orthodox communites - as a sort of extreme version of ‘spare the rod spoil the child’.

If one is physically abused as a child, one often becomes an abuser as an adult. That seems to be an accepted truth among mental health professionals.

Before anyone says I am just picking on Charedim again, it isn’t only me. Prominent Charedim are saying it too. Last week it was Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. This week it is someone else:

Haredi journalist Dudi Zilbershlag, for example, is calling on the community to take stock of its own shortcomings.

Yes, this community has shortcomings. But they will not acknowledge any. Unfortunately calls for self examination will fall on deaf ears. The leadership of these extremist sects tend to ignore what the outside world says – even the Charedi outside world. When it happens their members just start circling the wagons – denying that there is anything wrong.

To them every accusation is false:

The mother accused of starving her child – didn’t do it. She is presumed innocent and those who accused her are lying anti Charedi types with a nefarious agenda. The Valis murder – Never happened. It was an accident. All evidence is circumstantial. Valis was an exemplary human being. It’s all a blood libel. Never mind that he was convicted. The courts are anti Charedi – don’t you know…

These poor people are all victims. They are victims of a primitive culture that refuses to recognize reality. It is difficult to fathom how these people can be in such denial of what the rest of the world so clearly sees. It is difficult to fathom how people who are generally so kind to each other can be so hateful - or at least so completely dismissive of outsiders who question them. It is difficult to fathom how any Jew can do the kinds of things so many of them do to in reaction to people that displease them.

I frankly don’t know how to react to them anymore. They are insular. They like it that way. And all the truth in the world will not convince them that they are wrong. Because to them the truth – is just a lie.

Is help on the way? Apparently there is one self appointed social worker in Meah Shearim who tries. Until the ‘starving mother’ case came up this social worker was able to work with professional social service agencies who know how to deal with these problems. They were actually able to help - working in cooperation with Meah Shearim leaders. And they met with much success. But now the social service agencies have become the enemy. The belief in the innocence of the ‘starving mother’ has created a tremendous sense of mistrust of the system.

Avigail Arieli, who heads the social welfare administration for northern Jerusalem -including Meah She'arim - says the number of people from Toldot Aharon who come to the welfare bureau has dropped since the starvation case.

They fear that they will be accused of child abuse at the drop of a hat! This distrust has extended to even places like Har Nof – which is not exactly Meah Shearim!

"This week I heard that an inspector in the kindergartens of Beit Yaakov in [the Jerusalem neighborhood of] Har Nof instructed the teachers that if a social worker calls to get details about a child, they must hang up and not give any details," she said.

I’m not even sure what that is all about. Are Meah Shearim values and suspicions creeping into mainstream Charedi circles?

I don’t know what the future holds for these people. But if they don’t join the 21st century soon, they may end up destroying themselves in short order.