Friday, August 30, 2013

Winning a Battle – but Still Losing the War

Rioters in Bet Shemesh - Photo Credit: Jerusalem Post
I read with a sense of both amusement and disappointment about the compromise reached between Rav Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss and Rav Moshe Sternbuch - the 2 leaders of  Eida HaCharedis

The issue was a dispute over a construction site in Bet Shemesh.  There were apparently grave sites discovered. Jewish gravesite may not be disturbed as a function of prohibition against Nivul HaMes  - the desecration of a corpse. Rav Sternbuch ruled that construction may continue. But Rav Weiss ruled that it could not.

Rav Weiss’s ruling generated protests at that site - some of them violent - that lasted for over two years and halted construction. The protests were organized by Asra Kadisha an organization that was founded in the 1950s.

The compromise was as follows from the Jerusalem Post
Rabbi Eliyahu Rosen – a rabbinical judge from the rabbinical court of senior haredi leader Rabbi Nissim Karelitz – will oversee the opening and inspection of any caves or pits at the site by a team of experts to check if any graves are within them, and if so, to check if they are Jewish graves or not. 
The Asra Kadisha has agreed to this compromise and now construction can go on. Which is good news for all the people who bought apartments there and suffered delays and the increased costs that delays generate.

All is well and good…or is it?

The compromise settled this dispute. But it does absolutely nothing to prevent violent protests like this in the future. How violent was this group? From YWN
Thugs affiliated with Asra Kadisha on Wednesday night the eve of 2 Elul 5773 visited the home of chareidi businessman Aryeh Golovnititz (גולובנציץ) and gave him a real beating, so bad that he required hospitalization. The beating appears related to his dealings with land sales in Beit Shemesh, the land where some feel construction is compromising Jewish graves.
Eight thugs identifying themselves as members of Asra Kadisha arrived at his Bayit Vegan home late in the night. They simply beat him without mercy, promising him this was only a first visit because of his real estate dealings with the controversial area.
The thugs knocked on the door presenting themselves as schnorrers collecting for hachnasas kallah. When the door was opened for them they knocked Aryeh on the ground and began beating him with a blunt object as the victim’s wife and daughter looked on in horror. 
This kind of behavior continues to exist with impunity. Even though there may have been sanction to individuals who went too far, the mere fact that Asra Kadisha is part of the process requiring agreement is an insult to civilized society. I see no condemnation of them by either posrty. Not Rav Sternbuch who was completely dishonored by them and not Rav Weiss on whose behalf all of this violence took place.

This is a disgusting group that has been in existence for at least 6 decades. They are not a group of individual hotheads that so many Charedi apologists say are the few who ruin it for the many.  They may think that they uphold the honor of the Torah by denigrating rabbinic figures that they disagree with… or with violence for their cause. But they do the opposite. And yet… no condemnation.  Instead their approval is sought. That they gave it here may serve to alleviate this particular situation. But it does not relive any future issue that comes up with which they disagree. They will no doubt do this again… as is the case with any extremists who see their way as the only way… and everyone else as anti Torah.

This is the same mentality that the people who beat up women on buses  have. Or people who spit on women whose manner of dress they do not approve of.  Or calling an 8 year old Dati Leumi school girl a whore… and tons of other incidents like this. This is not a just a bunch of extremist hotheads – although they are probably in the thick of things. This is a cultural problem. The goals of these zealots are supported by entire communities  – even though they do not personally get involved  leaving it to the zealots among them. They may not fully approve of their methods but they certainly do not protest them.

So even though it was nice to hear that construction at that site in Bet Shemesh will no longer be interrupted, the greater problem of the very existence of groups like Asra Kadisha has not been solved at all. We will no doubt continue to see this kind of behavior pop up from time to time, when communities of like minded people see what to them is an affront to their exclusive form of Yiddishkeit.

I would have preferred that the Eida HaCharedis outlawed this group entirely. Even if it once had a good purpose, its current behavior has delegitimized them.

Except that it hasn’t. By refusing to outlaw them – the Eida is in fact continuing to sanction  them. Which is a signal to every other Charedi extremist group in Israel – and even the United States - that their violent methods – if not completely sanctioned, is sanctioned enough to not do anything about.Which gives them complete license to continue their pathologically violent anti-social ways.