Monday, July 12, 2010

Whose Fault Is it?

Let me stipulate the following. Desecrating grave sites is wrong. This means that uprooting ancient corpses buried in an ancient burial site is generally prohibited – unless there is a pressing need. What the pressing need is - is perhaps a debatable issue. There are Halachic guidelines for that which are subject to interpretation.

For the sake of argument though - let me further stipulate that the ancient grave sites found in a Yaffo building project should indeed not be disturbed for purposes of building a luxury hotel. Although I should add that if discovering an ancient grave sites means stopping all construction - it might well be impossible to build anything anywhere in Israel. There are ancient grave sites everywhere. But I digress.

Assuming Halacha is on the side of those who oppose further construction so as to avoid desecrating the graves - I can only strongly condemn the kinds of things going on in the name of that Halacha in Jerusalem. Once again for – I don’t know how many times – some Charedi gangs are acting upon the declarations of their Charedi leadership (e.g the Edah HaCharedis) who condemn those excavations and call for a halt to them - and protests against them. That was all these Charedi thugs and gang members needed. Here is a description of what followed:

In Jerusalem:

Two people who were riding on a motorcycle along Highway 1 sustained serious and moderate injuries overnight Thursday when they crashed into a trash bin that had been pushed onto the road by a group of ultra-Orthodox.

More than 200 haredim began rioting Wednesday evening on Jerusalem’s Shivtei Yisrael Street in protest against the construction work at Jaffa’s Andromeda Hill complex.

The demonstrators clashed with police for a few hours, and shortly after midnight some of the rioters pushed a trash bin onto the nearby Highway 1. A motorcycle rammed into it, and the driver and passenger were flung into the air from the impact.

Police said one person suffered serious injuries while the other sustained moderate wounds. The injured, residents of east Jerusalem, were treated at the scene by Magen David Adom paramedics and then evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital and the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

Paramedics said haredim tried to prevent them from treating the wounded.

And in Yaffo:

The protesters dubbed police officers as “Nazis,” “murderers,” and robbers,” while hurling eggs and water bottles at them. Three demonstrators were held for questioning, while others donned yellow construction helmets bearing the caption: “Protective gear against police violence.”

First of all I would address those Charedi leaders who say that these people are by definition – ‘not from our camp’. That is the ‘No true Scotsman’ argument – and it is fallacious. One cannot define wrongdoing out of one’s group. If it were that easy then no group would ever be culpable for anything. Anyone from it that does anything wrong is by definition not part of the group. That is like saying there is no such thing as Jew who ever sinned – because by definition one is not a real Jew if one sins.

If one sins as a Jew – he is still a Jew. And if a Charedi acts like a criminal - he is still a Charedi. What defines Charedism is not what each of them necessarily do or don’t do independently. It is their shared core religious values. It is therefore incorrect for Charedim to say that these people are not from ‘our camp’. They are. They may be a criminal minority for whom mainstream Charedim have no particular responsibility… but they are nonetheless a distinctly Charedi criminal minority.

I say this not to bash Charedim. Only to clarify the overall primary shared Hashkafos and to insist that those within that community realize that these gangs - are their gangs.

Let me also reiterate an important point made here frequently in the past. Part of the problem is the kind of Chinuch these particular Charedi gangs get. That is certainly something that should be looked at. The fact that most of Meah Shearim type Charedim do not do what their gangs do does not mean that the overall chinuch in Meah Shearim isn’t at least partly responsible. The venom preached against the State of Israel cannot help but contribute to the violence. I would be shocked if the vast majority are not sympathetic to the goals and rhetoric of those gangs – though unapproving of the actual violence .

But that isn’t even the main point here. It is to lay blame at the feet of those in the Charedi rabbinic establishment who are making a public issue of this. Of course they are not the primary ones responsible. The Charedi gang members who are actually doing these horrific crimes are responsible. They should have the book thrown at them by the legal system. Of course that probably won’t happen.

But getting back to assigning responsibility - there is a concept in the Gemarah called ‘Yotza Scharo B’Hefseda’. As applied here - whatever is gained in saving an ancient grave site from desecration is more than lost by the tremendous Chilul Hasehm, physical harm to human beings, damage to personal property, and health hazards created by these gangs. They have clearly established that this will be the way they will act when rabbinic leaders find any reason to protest the government.

So even if their outcry against this is legitimate – it was wrong to do so. They had to know something like this was going to happen. This is not the first time violence has occurred. The only difference is that it seems like each succeeding protest is increasingly more violent. If they cannot control the scum of their own Charedi street they must control what they can.

It is in the hands of the Charedi rabbinic leadership. If they continue making an issue of this - the violence will only get worse. And as many well intended Charedim keep saying –Charedi leaders even in Meah Shearim have no control over these gangs. I submit however that they do have contro over the situation.

They ought to stop making public outcries like this and calling for any further protests. If they want to do something about their issue - let them work within the system. They may sometimes succeed and other times not. But by not making their posture public - they will avoid the kind of thing that happened here.

Perhaps they may finally be getting the message. A partial fast day was called for yesterday by the Edah HaCharedis over the ongoing construction in Yaffo. From a Ynet article:

During the fast, a "lamentation and forgiveness" rally will be held in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

If Charedi leaders call for fasts to protest against disturbing those grave sites – that is their right. And they are correct to apologize in this instance because it was indeed their fault. Perhaps calling for a fast is what they should have done in the first place. It is my hope that this signals a new beginning for them where violent protests like this become a thing of the past. We’ll see.