Thursday, February 25, 2016

Isolation and Chilul HaShem

A burning dumpster at a past Charedi protest in Jerusalem
One of the problems with living your life in isolation from the rest of the world is that it cannot possibly teach you how to behave in the outside world. That’s because you would have no clue what the outside world is like. Except for the biased way it is presented to you.

In enclaves like Meah Shearim and other ultra Charedi sections of Israel like Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet, the outside world is presented as a den of iniquity to be avoided at all costs. It is presented as so evil and so likely to entrap you that it should only be entered when it is absolutely necessary.  

And even then to try and avoid contact with anyone in that world.  Including religious Jews that do not share their values - having been influenced by being immersed in that culture. Religious though they might be – they are damaged goods. And certainly secular Jews and non Jews are completely discounted as having little if any value at all. They therefore could not care less how the outside world sees them. Apparently.

By living isolated lives that are free of any outside influences they see themselves as the crème de la crème of the Jewish people. Striving to live their lives exactly as they believe God wants them to - and sacrificing much in the process. Doing whatever it takes to live their lives by the high standards they define for themselves.

If one understands this, one can understand much of their behavior, like the common practice in certain of their circles to squeeze out as much money from government financial aid as possible. Mostly by legal means. Sometimes by trying to stretch the definition of what is legal. Sometimes crossing that line. Sometimes in error. Sometimes on purpose.

Just to be clear, such shenanigans are not limited to ultra fanatic extremist Charedim. There has certainly been a fair share of this kind of behavior on the part of non Charedi religious Jews, secular Jews, and non Jews. But all too frequently it is extremist fanatic Charedim that are the subject of such reportage, which as recognizably religious Jews – touting themselves as the most religious  among us – is an unavoidable Chilul HaShem.

And when they are jailed for such crimes, they are treated like captives by their community - to be redeemed as required by Jewish law. In one very high profile case a Chasidic Rebbe actually met with the President of the United States and asked for clemency and a reduction in their sentence to time served on behalf of his jailed Chasidim (convicted of fraud)  - and he got it!

I have witnessed some of this type of behavior more than once. I recall one particular time when on a flight to Israel from New York - a group of Chasidim came aboard and acted like royalty to the flight attendants, treating them like they were their personal servants. As a Kipa wearing religious Jew, I was embarrassed by their behavior. So I went over to one of the flight attendants and apologized for my coreligionists. I assured her that as a religious Jew these people did not represent us all. They were truly an exception. Religious Jews do not normally act like this. To my surprise she thanked me and said she knew that not all religious Jews acted this way. And that she was used to these people acting that way.

My God, I thought. This particular flight attendant was understanding. But what about other flight attendants that have had this experience? Do they think all religious Jews are like this? What a Chilul HaShem, I thought. And there was nothing I could do about it. Those Chasidim had no clue that they were doing anything wrong.

And it just happened again. From an article in the New York Post
An Israeli man on an El Al flight to Israel went on a rampage on the plane because he objected to an “immodest” in-flight movie, according to reports.
The 36-year-old passenger, a resident of the city of Beit Shemesh, was on the Israeli national carrier’s aircraft on its flight from Poland on Wednesday when he reacted violently, Channel 2 of Israel reported
The man, who lives in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, was arrested upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport.
“In the course of an El Al flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv, the passenger ran wild and damaged the plane’s equipment,” El Al told Arutz 7 in a statement. 
Many people have asked me if I consider people like this more acceptable that Open Orthodox Jews. The answer is no. I do not.  Not because of their theological beliefs. Their theology is not any different than my own. But because of a behavior based on a Hashkafa that does not teach any understanding of what it means to interact with others in the civilized world.

They therefore react to certain things in ways that lead some of them to have an occasional outburst like this far too often. You cannot chalk this up to exception. True, most of these people would not react this way.  But too many of them do for it to be an exception. Not to mention the almost immediate defense of these people by their peers and rabbinic leaders. Saying something like:  ‘OK. They shouldn’t have done it. But their heart was in the right place.’

In my view this kind of behavior puts into question their entire Hashkafa of isolationism and vilification of the ‘other’.

How many women have to be beaten up on a bus? …or little children yelled at? …or clothing stores burned down? Or merchants selling smart phones beaten up? …or dumpsters being set fire, …or reporters spat upon... before the rest of the religious world stands up and sees this Hashkafa for what it is and rejects it as in any way legitimate?

So how do I compare Open Orthodox Jews with these extremists? They are gold compared to these fanatic extremists. Sure Open Orthodox  Hashkafa is seriously problematic for me. But a Hashkafa that results in the kind of occasional behavior like that of this Ramat Bet Shemesh Jew - which is a major Chilul Hashem - is far worse in my view. And it ought to once and for all be rejected by all of us.