Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Zealotry and Chilul HaShem

There was a march through the streets of Meah Shearim planned by non Charedi women to protest discrimination against women in that neighborhood during the week long Simchas Beis HaShoeva celebrations. These celebrations take place during the week of Sukkos.

Simchas Beis HaShoeva is celebrated by song and dance throughout the Jewish community by many Orthodox institutions (Shuls; Yeshivos; Kollelim)– irrespective of the Hashkafos. Most often during Chol HaMoed when bands are hired to enhace the dancing.

This is done to commemorate the annual practice on Sukkos in the Beis HaMikdash of Nisuch HaMayim. Water was poured onto the Mizbeach (alter) when the Korban Tamid Shel Shacharis - the daily morning sacrifice was offered. This was done with much rejoicing and dancing by the people gathered there to witness it.

The protest was supposed to have taken place last Friday. If it did I haven’t heard about it. I suppose that’s a good thing since if there was any violence it would have been reported by the media. But I would have been opposed to it in any case. Why incite a bunch of zealots who are consumed with Tznius issues – among other things?!

The protest was about a proposed ban on non-resident women attending these festivities in their environs. I assume the concern was over-crowding and possible Tznius violations by the crowds. Though there was no enforcement planned – these women wanted to protest their exclusion at any level.

While I agree that this is worthy of protest - nothing is gained except to incite the native residents who are admitted zealots toward violence – just looking for a fight! I am speaking of the vast majority of Meah Shearim residents known as Toldos Aharon Chasidim.

There happened to be a fawning article in the latest Mishpacha Magazine about this sect - an article that requires balance. And if one reads between the lines one can see exactly why this group is such a problem and the cause of so much Chilul HaShem. The primary factor is their self defining zealotry.

Two Toldos Aharon representatives - Tzvi Meshi-Zahav and Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim - were interviewed by reporter Yeruchem Landsman. They went to great lengths to distance themselves from the violence that some in their group are responsible for - claiming that the perpetrators are not really adherents of the Toldos Aharon philosophy. Though Toldos Aharon believes in protests, they do not believe in violence.

But that is disingenuous in my view. I don’t believe they truly see their zealotry being limited to non violent protests. They must see themselves as having no choice but to resort to various levels of violence - depending on circumstances - to make their point. (They might look to the biblical Pinchas who is praised via his own violent act of killing a prince of Israel in the midst of a public act of sexual relations with a Midianite princess. They must assume that they are thus vindicated when they resort to public acts of violence in similar if not quite as serious circumstances. Pinchas had no choice - they have no choice!)

The Mishpacha article describes the genesis of this Chasidus which stems from its founder - Rav Aharon Roth. His love of - and near obsession with - prayer and desire to spread his love of it to other Jews is what guided him. He never intended it to become a movement. He only thought of his group as a select few who would pay special attention to prayer. But his ideals caught on and his group grew into a movement larger than his wildest dreams.

Upon his passing Rav Roth’s son in law - a Satmar Chasid by the name of Avraham Yitzchak Kahn - assumed leadership. Although Rav Roth’s antipathy towards the state of Israel was well established it was not his primary concern. Rav Kahn changed all that. He brought his anti State animosity with him, raised it to new heights, and spread it to all his followers.

It seems to be issue number one with them now. Every protest in some way reflects that animosity toward the State or one of its agencies and is the focus of their protest. And their zealotry cannot but result in violence as has been shown time and again. All the hand wringing and denial in the world - and even their condemnation of it - doesn’t change that fact.

They do have some seemingly wonderful attributes as the article goes to great lengths to show. But if one examines many of these attributes – there are really two sides to them.

Their hatred of the State of Israel is abhorrent to me. But they are at least consistent with their rejection of the State and do not take any direct financial benefits from it. Although living under the State’s military protection is a definite benefit perhaps greater then any financial one.

They are known for their warm and and welcoming attitude to Jews of all stripes and generally display kindness towards every Jew they personally encounter. On the other hand if they see a fellow Jew as threatening their values such as women entering their neighborhoods in non Tznius clothing – as they define it – that might sometimes generate some pretty violent responses.

Internally they are very tight knit and unified in their approach to Judaism. They are opposed to any sort of elitism and go to great lengths to treat all their Chasdim equally - from their Rebbe to the common man. Yichus it seems is almost ignored. Outwardly however - it seems they could care less about what others – even of the most religious of Jews- think of them.

Their kindness to orphans and widows of any stripe is legendary. That is unassailable.

Nor do they oppose working for a living. If one cannot deal with a full time Torah learning program he is encouraged to work rather than waste his time. Although it escapes me how they find decent jobs without the requisite education. However they do claim that is changing somewhat and training is being allowed in certain fields.

They completely reject the outside world and try to avoid it at all costs. They are as insular as can be. Though the article says they are not isolationist - it is almost impossible to be so insular and not be isolated from the rest of the world.

But no matter how admirable some of their traits are the over-riding flaw in this group is their zealotry. And the biggest target is the State of Israel. That is what defines them. Their isolationist lifestyle makes them oblivious to outside concerns. That in turn causes much Chilul HaShem. This is very clear from current events in Meah Shearim.

And it is equally true of Ramat Bet Shemesh B where many Toldos Aharon Chasidim have been transplanted - and where many acts of violence on similar issues have taken place. Those acts and their perpetrators can be disavowed by their spokesmen all they want. But when most of the zealous violence over their issues takes place in the two communities where they are most prevalent – That speaks for itself and overshadows all their denials to the contrary.

Today’s Rebbe is Rav Dovid Kahn - Rav Avraham Yitzchak’s son. He is apparently carrying on his father and grandfather’s traditions. I have no issue with their isolationism and striving for perfection in service of God. As long as they do not make demands on other Jews – let them live and be well in happy isolation.

But I do have an issue with their over-riding zealotry that spills over into more than occasional violence – in far too many instances of it to list here. And that is the bottom line for me. All the rightousness in the world is worthless in the face of Chilul HaShem.