Friday, September 10, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A police raid on a illegal Rosh Hashana Minyan (YWN)
There has been a lot of talk about the antisemitism expressed by government officials during the pandemic.  It usually came in the form of something like this: ‘the ultra-orthodox (Chasidim) just don’t know how to follow the rules…’ the reference was to how that community has scoffed at rules designed to protect public health. It was felt by many Orthodox observers that the government is ‘picking on us’ for no other reason than that we were Jewish.

In my view, that is nonsense. And yet it does seem that way. At least when it comes to Chasidic Jews. But I don’t believe that it can be called antisemitsm when only one segment of Orthdoxy is targeted. if indeed they even are. I do not think that is the case.

The problem is that all of Orthodoxy is tainted by that one segment. Chasidic Jews are the most identifiably Orthodox of all of us because of how they look. Hence the focus on them by the media. The public does not necessarily make distinctions between one type of Orthodox Jew and another. So when there is misbehavior - the public sees us all as ‘guilty’. 

The question remains, however, why does it seem like governments pick on Chasidim? Is there some justification for it? 

Unfortunately I believe there is. Now that might  suggest to some people that I too  am ‘antisemtic’. At least as it pertains to Chasidim. How dare I excuse the way governments have been treating the Chasidic community during the pandemic?!  

I’m not. There has been a multitude of occasions where Chasidim did not  follow the rules designed to protect the public from the spread of the disease. Like the recent case of  Chasidim in Melborne, Australia on the first night of Rosh Hashana. From YWN

A tense stand-off outside a Melbourne Shul has ended with police warning all adults who illegally gathered that they will be found and fined.

Up to 30 people are now believed to have attended a Rosh Hashanah Minyan, which let police and media in a stand-off with on Tuesday night as they gathered for the first night of Yom Tov… Six people have been been fined $5,452 for breaching public health orders.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett has told other Mispalilim to come forward and turn themselves in.

He’s vowed to hunt down every adult inside the Shul and fine them.

‘I’m appalled,’ he said on Wednesday morning. ‘Come forward, identify yourself.

‘My instruction to my investigators today is every person at the gathering will receive a penalty notice.’

Supporters stood outside the Shul in Ripponlea, Melbourne on Tuesday night as the Rosh Hashanah continued inside.

 The reaction of that commuity after getting caught breaking the rules? 

…a well-known Jewish community activist told YWN that “Melbourne felt somewhat like Nazi Germany this year Rosh Hashana.. as police sieged a Shul for 14 hours”.

He went on to ‘explain’ why they felt justified at breaking the rules. Basically saying that they tried to get a legal exemption by virtue of their high level of immunity based on a 90% vaccination rate. They didn’t get the exemption; felt it was unfair; and decided to break the rules clandestinely.

One can debate whether those rules were fair or whether they should have gotten an exemption. But one cannot debate the fact that they broke the rules and should suffer the consequences.

I realize of course that it was a relatively small group of people (30). But this is not the first time Chasidim decided to break the rules. It was just the latest. I am not aware of any other segment breaking the rules. At least not as often as segments of  the Chasidic community have.

To be clear, I do not believe that this kind of behavior applies to all Chasidic groups. Of which there are many. But there are enough of them that it does apply to – to make it easy to generalize.

When government officials say that ultra-Orthodox don’t follow the rules they are not just making it up. They see it happening again and again. The result? A Chilul HaShem. Which also contributes to the  very real antisemitism that is already out there. 

And yet, there have been some amazing acts of selflessness and kindness by the Chasidic world that has benefitted victims of the COVID virus beyond their own community. Most notably, early in the pandemic when Chasidic communities like Monsey were hit hard and early with the virus. They donated their blood plasma in massive numbers in a project to benefit everyone, not just Chasidim or even just Jews. Blood plasma transfusions were an early and relatively effective way to treat seriously ill COVID patients back then.   

Chasidim are not some sort of evil Cabal out to help only themselves. One of the character traits most associated with Chasidim are their acts of kindness. That is what that plasma drive demonstrated. The majority of blood plasma collected for therapeutic use was from the Chasidic world. For which they received public recognition at the time.

But then again you have what happened in Melbourne last Monday night. Watching videos of that event (posted at YWN) made my stomach turn. 

How does one explain this dichotomy?

The answer, I fear is their sense that when it comes to any religious ritual - they answer only to God. If government rules prevent them from doing it they are going to violate the rules clandestinely. They see violating unfair rules as a Mitzvah. They do not think they will be caught. But if they are, they ae going to accuse government authorities of persecuting them just for being Jews.   

Now it’s true that Rosh Hashana is an important time of year where we seek to be extra careful about performing Mitzvos. .Especially when it comes to praying to be forgiven for lapses in that regard over the past year. But when it comes at the expense of a Chilul Hashem - the opposite is true. Not only are you not forgiven - you have added to your total burden of sins. 

These Chasidim do not see it that way. They believe they are experiencing the same form of antisemitism their European ancestors experienced. And they are not going to be stopped by some arbitrary rule they believe to be sourced in that.  They are going to go to Shul on Rosh Hashana. And if they are caught, they will scream ‘Nazis’!

As important as going to shul on Rosh Hashana is, it is not a do or die requirement. Especially when there are rules against it designed to protect public health. Not agreeing with it does not mean the rules should be violated.

But these Chasidim have an exaggerated belief that - in the final analysis - ‘the goyim are all antisemites and are out to get us’. They are determined to not to let them do that! They were going to go to Shul on Rosh Hashana by hook or crook. And make a lot of noise if they are caught.

As I have said many times, I don’t think there is much of anything we can do to change their way of thinking - although it is always worth a try. All we can do is try to explain it – and try and convince the world that this is not the sum and substance of who we are.