Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No One Has a Monopoly on Violence

Image of past Charedi violence in Jerusalem
I am reluctant to criticize what is for the most part and excellent article by Rabbi Avi Shafran. It deals with the abhorrent crime committed against a Palestinian family by Jewish terrorists. There is no question that Rabbi Shafran condemns both that atrocity and the lesser but still abhorrent evil of religious Jews celebrating it at a wedding. They were rightly and forthrightly condemned by Charedi rabbinic leadership ‘across-the-board’. Here are Rabbi Shafran’s exact words: 
Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the dean of Haredi leaders today, has declared that “the path of violence and revenge are not our ways and anyone who does such things threatens the lives of the Jewish people”; and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen has stated boldly that “a person whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents is liable to the law of rodef,” a “pursuer” who can be executed to prevent him from acting again. American Haredim are across-the-board aghast at the actions of Jewish terrorist groups… 
As to Jewish terrorism itself, aside from its inherent evil, aside even from the heinous chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, it causes, it defames Klal Yisrael. Once it could be claimed, and backed up with facts, that Jews are different, that while our enemies exhibit blood lust and exult in violence, we do not. Thanks to the “Noar Hageva’ot” or “Hilltop Youth” and the group Lehava, such a claim can no longer be compellingly made. They may as well scrawl their ugly graffiti on the Kotel. 
I could not agree more. However the primary point he tries to make in his article is that the violence is not the way of the Charedi world at all. It is the way of Jewish ultra-nationalists: 
No, the “theology” that is twisted to yield violence against innocent Arabs, it must be said, no matter how long the beards of the perpetrators or how large their kippot, is not Judaism but nationalism. 
I think it is accurate to say that the violence these Jewish terrorists committed stems from a warped sense of Religious Zionism. One that is reinforced all too often by some of their right wing rabbis whose rhetoric in some cases is so extreme that it borders on incitement!  This is certainly not to say - God forbid - that all religious Zionist rabbis are like that. On the contrary. I’m sure that the vast majority of them condemn these acts and the celebration of them just as much as I do. But there are some that – while they may condemn an act this heinous, are guilty of fomenting it by their rhetoric. Or outright praising it when it  happens. Just to cite one example from Ha’aretz
(Former Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arab, Dov) Lior was also the rabbi of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron the year before the Rabin assassination. After the 1994 massacre, Lior praised him and said, “Baruch Goldstein is a holier martyr than all the holy martyrs of the Holocaust.” 
Unfortunately there is no shortage of extremist Religious Zionist rabbis who talk like this. Rabbi Shafran’s words are well articulated and rather accurate. Where I take issue with him is in his assertion that terrorism will not be found among Charedim. In his defense against accusations by ‘some politicians and pundits’  that blame for Jewish terrorism across all of Orthodoxy, including Charedim he says the following:   
The conviction that spiritual accomplishments are the path to personal and national redemption is the very sine qua non of the Haredi mindset... That’s why one doesn’t see Jewish terrorists emerging from the yeshivot of Ponevezh, Mir or Brisk, or from the populaces of Mea She’arim or Bnei Brak. 
I agree that Charedi leaders constantly say that their Torah study is the way to national redemption. But these words are not universally (or fully) absorbed by far too many of their students. While they may not be setting fire to houses with people that are sleeping in them - there is no question that violence has become a modus operandi in far too many cases. 

Need I remind anyone of number of times extremist Charedim in both Meah Shearim and Ramat Bet Shemesh used violence or intimidating tactics against innocent people  to further their goals? (...like the harassment of a 7 year old girl in school bordering Ramat Bet Shemesh)  Need I remind anyone of the apologetics by the residents of that town about that incident? 

Need I remind anyone of the tactics of beating up women that dared to sit in the wrong part of a sex segregated bus in both Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh? (Including in one instance a grandmother holding her grandchild.) 

Need I remind anyone about the violent protests in Jerusalem by residents of Meah Shearim? (which included burning dumpsters whose toxic fumes could seriously damage the health of the elderly residents there.) 

Need I remind anyone of protests where reporters were spat upon?

Need I remind anyone of the time a merchant in Jerusalem was beaten for selling forbidden electronic devices? 

Or the time a clothing shop in Jerusalem was set fire because it was deemed to be selling women’s clothing that were not modest enough?

It doesn’t stop with the extremists of Meah Shearim or Ramat Bet Shemesh. Bnei Brak has its share of violent Charedim too. Some of whom are (or were) students of Ponevezh. They were involved with some serious life threatening violence in support of their candidate for leadership of that Yeshiva.

Now it is of course true that the vast majority of Yeshiva students do not do this. I doubt for example that a student at Mir was ever involved in this kind of violent behavior. In fact they are forbidden by their rabbinic leadership from ever participating in any protests.

But to say that terrorism does not exist in the Charedi world is just not true. While it may not exist at the extreme level of atrocity perpetrated by those extremist ultra nationalists against that Arab family, it does unfortunately exist. It’s just a matter of degree. 

And I categorically reject the arguments I often hear that by definition someone who does it is not Charedi. That is the classic ‘No True Scotsman’ argument and will not work. The people are Charedi in every respect but are extremists that have adopted violent means in support of their ideals.

The truth is that no one has a monopoly on violence. The ideologies of Religious Zionism or Charedism do not support violent means against innocent people to achieve their goals. But that doesn’t stop the extremists among them from doing it. I think it is only fair to point that out.