Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Religious Extremism in the Holy Land

Rav Shteinman - Photo credit: YWN
Extremism in the defense of Torah is no vice. This is a turn on a phrase popularized back in 1964 by Barry Goldwater, a politically conservative Republican when he ran for President against Lyndon Johnson. 

Of course he did not say Torah. He said liberty. But the principle is the same. If one believes in their principles one may go to extremes in fighting for them. Nowhere is this principle more followed than in Israel. And there is no more religiously conservative (small ‘c’) group than the Charedi world there. 

One might argue that indeed! …fighting for one’s principles is the right thing to do. Normally I would agree. Except when those principles end up hurting others. When that happens one has to weigh the value of the principle versus the hurtful result and see if it is still worth fighting for.The hurt fighting for a principle might cause may be a far greater wrong. In essence you end up violating other more important principles than those you are fighting for.

In Israel it appears that there is no such consideration. The principle one is fighting for supersedes all other considerations. Especially in the Charedi world. I see it all the time. The rhetoric in support of certain goals by even rabbinic leaders is so hyperbolic that it hurts innocent people. If they were just touting the righteousness of their position, it would be one thing. I would support their right to espouse their views as strongly as possible. But they don’t stop with just promoting their point of view. They villainize their opposition in the extreme. 

This is how for example they have been treating the issue of drafting Charedim. Condemnations will include phrases include ‘Shas HaShmad’ (a time of forced conversion away from Judaism). It will  include hyperbolic statements like telling all Kipa Seruga wearers that they have lost their portion in the world to come. Or that one is worthy of the death penalty if they do not vote a certain way... There are many such statements by rabbinic leaders, their representatives in government, and their media people.

The hurt this attitude inflicts upon their targets is apparently irrelevant. The main thing is standing up for principle. Which is why even Charedi Gedolim can be dishonored in major ways by other Charedim when prinicple is at stake. Extremism in the defense of Torah begets even more extremism. From YWN
HaGaon HaRav Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman Shlita was in the midst of giving a shiur in his home. The avreich got up and began yelling at Rav Shteinman to “change your hashkafa and return to the correct derech.” There are conflicting reports if the assailant succeeded in slapping and/or punching the gadol hador before being subdued, but it is reported the rosh yeshiva stated he is not feeling well and his physician was summoned…

According to Ichud Hatzalah EMT Uzi Barak a call was received for “screams coming from the rav’s home”. He was among the first responders on the scene. According to the information received from people present, it appears the 28-year-old assailant did indeed strike the gadol hador and shouted “I’ll kill you” at him R”L.
Obvioulsy this fellow is mentally disturbed. And of course the vast majority of Charedim are outraged by something like this. They are right to be outraged –as am I.  

But one has to ask, why do things like this happen?  Mental issues aside, the reason this fellow chose that target and those actions is quite clear and has nothing to do with his illness. This is not the first such incident.  Rav Moshe Sternbuch was similarly attacked by Charedi extremists as was Rav Elyashiv a few years ago (Extremist Charedim threw rotten fruit at him in public because they believed he violated their principles. He issued a lenient Psak with respect to disturbing a particular grave-site).

The answer is unfortunately all to easy to see. They have good role models in their own leaders. Not that any of these Charedi leaders or the vast majority of their constituents would ever do anything like that. But the rhetoric coming out of them about those who do not accept their principles - inspires these extremists to act the way they do.

Most Charedim have enough respect for the  Gedolim they do not agree with to not dishonor them this way. Or any way. But this is becoming a fine distinction that is ignored by increasing numbers of them… as things like this seem to be happening with more frequency.

I don’t know what it is about the holy land that pushes these extremists to cross the line. But I do know that whatever it is, it isn’t holy.