Monday, November 01, 2021

Is Extremism in Defense of the Torah the Right Approach?

Gerrer Chasidim
It’s no secret that extremism is currently in vogue. All one has to do is look at what happened on January 6th of this year. Unfortunately Jews are not immune to the extremist spirit of our times. Although not limited to Orthodox Jews – it seems like they are most often the Jews most guilty of this kind of behavior. 

There are far too many of us that are willing to resort to extreme measures to forward an agenda considered holy.  The news media is filled with incidents whereby extremists of one faction or another causes havoc. In some cases causing serious injury or death to innocent people.

The Religious Zionist movement surely has their extremists.  Just to mention two of the most violent among them: One is mass murderer Baruch Goldstein who thought he was killing enemies of the Jewish people. The other is Rabin assassin, Yigal Amir who actually believed he was fulfilling a holy agenda for the sake of retaining all of Eretz Yisroel.

Not to be outdone, the Charedi world has its own share of extremists that use violence in order to serve their holy agenda. In the Yeshiva world one does not have to look beyond Ponevezh in Bnei Brak - one of the most prominent Charedi Yeshivos in the world. The fight between factions there about who should be in control has precipitaed some of the bloodiest violence in the Orthodox world in recent years. 

The same thing is true about the Jerusalem faction of the Yeshiva world where in one case – a fellow motivated by what he thought was a holy agenda - attacked the late Gadol, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, ZTL - the most respected religious leader of their opponents. This faction thinks nothing about harming innocent people in carrying out their ‘religious’ agenda.

There are the extremists of Meah Shearim that burn dumpsters and cause all kinds of mayhem in their own neighborhoods during their holy protests. There are the extremists of Bet Shemesh (B) that spit on little girls and in one case poured acid on female runner in what they believe is their holy mission.  

There are the 2 feuding Teitlebaum brothers fighting over who is the rightful heir to the thrown of their father - the previous Satmar Rebbe. An issue that came to blows between  the followers of each a few years ago when their father died. Each side believes their side is the righteous one. To the best of my knowledge that issue remains unresolved.

Another incarnation of extremism is not in the form of physical violence. It is in the form of psychological violence on the part of the leadership in Ger - a large group of Chasidim. It involves one of the most extreme set of rules ever instituted by any Chasidic sect in the modern era. It has apparently caused a major split in Ger which has also come to blows.

I don’t know how accurate this list of rules is. But if it is even remotely accurate - the psychological damage it will cause (or already has caused) may very well be worse then the aforementioned physical violence. Tens of thousands of Ger Chasidim (or more) will be forced to live like that. Will they be expelled from their community if they don’t?

Forcing people to live like that cannot possibly be what God wants of His people. Living with these rules is at best silly - and at worst psychological torture in my view. Ger is not the only Chasidic group to have silly rules. Vizhnitz just came out with one of their own: Unmarried young men are no longer allowed to attend weddings. My only question is what’s next? Will Vizhnitz follow Ger’s example – so as not to be seen as less ‘Frum’?

Is this what Chasidus is all about today? 

Now I am perfectly willing to live and let live. These Chasidic leaders can live in any way they choose. And they can institute any rules they want along those lines. But I’m sorry. To call it Judaism is a misnomer.

Deracheha Darchei Noam, VeChol Nesivoseha Shalom – the ways (of the Torah) are pleasant and all its paths are peaceful (Mishlei: 3-17)  There is nothing pleasant about what these major Chasidic groups are doing. And clearly their paths of late have not been anything but peaceful.