Sunday, December 14, 2014

Segregation Forever?!

Students from Zichron Yaakov on 12/3/14, after it was closed down (source VIN)
There is a lot of hatred of Charedim in Israel out there. Not by Chilonim (secular Jews). They are mostly indifferent.  But by Datim… religious Jews of a more Modern Orthodox orientation. And it is an unfair hatred. Because most Charedim are fine and decent people just like most members of any other demographic in Israel. I know this from personal experience. Just about all personal contact I have had with Charedim in Israel has been positive.  

This is a very unfortunate situation, considering the commonality they share with respect to Judaism. Both groups are observant of the Mitzvos.  Shabbos is holy to both. Kashrus is observed by both. As is Taharas  Mishpacha (Halachos of sexual matters between husbands and wives). These 3 Mitzvos are generally the defining characteristics of a religious Jew. Charedim and Datim both ft into that category.

It would seem that sharing these 3 important Mitzvos (as well as all the rest of the 613) would create a bond; a spirit of brotherhood that would bind each member of both groups to each other in ways that non religious characteristics in common with others would not. Nothing binds Jews together more than Torah observance. Or so one would think. And yet there is so much enmity between these two groups, it makes the enmity between Yaakov and Esav seem like a love fest.

This ought not be allowed to stand. And yet the more time passes the worse it seems to get. Why is this the case? There are many reasons some of which have to do with attitudes about army service and too much reliance on government welfare programs for sustenance instead of joining the workforce. But that isn’t all that separates them.  When one reads a story like the following one - it paints a very ugly picture. And the reaction to it can be visceral. At least that was my initial reaction. From VIN
Talmud Torah Zichron Gavriel was closed last week at the order of Local Council Chairman Eli Abutbul because of alleged repeated harassment of two brothers. While the student body is primarily Ashkenazi and the family in question is of Mizrahi background.
Sources say the family of the boys were not considered “ultra-Orthodox” enough to attend the school, reports Haaretz.
The father of the boys stated in a message sent to a relative that he and the boys’ grandfather were emotionally troubled by the harassment and had chosen to leave.
After a rumor spread that the father told the Education Ministry about the harassment of the children, the family was subjected to graffiti on their home, broken flowerpots in the yard and stones being thrown at them on the street.
Had I not had any personal contact with Charedim I would be inclined to think the worst of Charedim. And for good reason. This is not the first time that intolerance and harassment has shown its ugly face at a Charedi school. Racism against Sephardim seems to be entrenched in the Charedi world. Not that every Charedi thinks like that. But far too many do to call it an exception. Nor do I mean to say that it doesn’t exist elsewhere.  It does – even among Ashkeanzi Chilonim. But someone who claims the mantel of being the most religious among us ought to be better than that. And they are not!

Not that they ever admit it. Whenever a Sephardi is kept out of a Charedi school - it’s always about their level of observance. The claim is that the kids being harassed, expelled, or barred from admission always has a ‘good’ reason. Their level of observance is not up to the standards of the school. This again was the excuse given by school officials at Talmud Torah Zichron Gavriel where the harassment took place. Even if that were true, that is not a reason to segregate them. Not to mention the excuses made for harassment of the students an their families. Even if they were 100% right in their claims the behavior in this case is inexcusable.

Just to be clear, Charedi leaders are just as appalled at this kind of behavior as I am, if not more so. Rav Elyashiv famously forced one Charedi gilrs school to adjust their discriminatory policies against Sephardim a few years ago. And Rav Steniman scolded an official from another Charedi school who came to him for a blessing in his goal of barring Sephardim from his school.

I will never forget his words to that man. ‘Gavah’ (conceit) he shouted at him. He repeated it several times after each attempt by that school official to explain why he thought he was right to exclude them. His request was correctly interpreted by Rav Shetinman as naked prejudice. Claims about a a lower level of observance were dismissed by Rav Shteinman as an excuse and nothing more.

It seem that no matter what their own respected leadership says about it, it keeps falling on deaf ears.

Why would I want to respect a group of people that is so racist? I would not. Knowing nothing else about them, I would hate them too. Who wouldn’t hate a group of racists?!

The question is why? Why the disconnect between Charedi leaders and their constituents on this matter? I don’t know the answer. But I suspect it has a lot to do with their insular ways and the fear of ‘contamination’ by the outside world.

First of all the very idea of not accepting a student from a home that is not as religious as the standard of the school is in itself wrong-headed. Rav Shteinman’s dismissal of such claims indicates that he would concur. Exclusion is not what Judaism is about. And yet it is perhaps the thing most responsible for the divisiveness among us. Instead of teaching tolerance and acceptance of people slightly different  an ‘us and them’ mentality is taught. What is constantly hammered into the minds of Charedi young people is how much better they are than anyone else since they are the true bearers of the Mesorah and its Torah ideals. Every other Hashkafa is at best Krum – not quite right albeit not quite heretical either. This creates a condescending attitude to not only secular Jews but even to religious Jews that are not exactly like themselves

How do I know? Because I have heard the lectures from some of the teachers I had. There is a hierarchy taught to young students whereby the highest level of Jew is the Charedi Jew. They are the top of the totem pole. Other Jews may be fine people, but they are lesser Jews in the eyes of God. It is only the few and the proud Charedim that are on the right track.

With this as their base mentality - is it any wonder that they don’t want to be contaminated by ‘lesser Jews’? If a school accepts a student from less observant home The fear is that their students will be unduly influenced from their lofty goals. And overall lesser observance by their students will result, if not worse. This is an ideal of many schools. And it is nonsense. If you are Charedi and your child goes OTD, it will not be because there is a few students in the school that are not from Charedi homes.

The same holds true about their fear of Sephardim. They see their customs to be of lesser value and their culture as inferior to that of their own. And they do not want their children to be ‘contaminated’ by them.

That - my friends - is pure unadulterated racism. Rav Elayshiv Knew that. And Rav Shteinman knows that. The question is when will their constituents know it? Seems like they never will.