Tuesday, 6 November 2007

But Will It Accomplish Anything?

There's an old line that makes the rounds whenever someone notes the high level of intermarriage in the North American Jewish community today. "You should become Orthodox," the person says. "No one Orthodox intermarries." "That's because if you intermarry, you're not Orthodox anymore," is the rejoinder.

I was thinking about that when I read this article in the Jerusalem Post today about how the non-Chareidi population of Beit Shemesh recently held a demonstration in protest against the acts of violence the local Chareidi community has visited upon them recently.

For those who haven't been following the news, here is what has been happening in Beit Shemesh. High costs of living in larger Chareidi communities have brought large numbers of young Chareidi families to Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh where beautiful and relatively large homes are available and far more affordable.

However, Israel being Israel, some of the less civilized elements amongst these Chareidim don't just move into a neighbourhood and take it over. They also attempt to take over the surrounding neighbourhoods, which may not be Chareidi, as well. Thus we have read about attacks on shoppers in a mall in Beit Shemesh, acts of vandalism, attacks on women who are not dressed al pi the Chareidi version of modest clothing and riots in which police and public property are damaged. All these acts have had one intent: to force the locals to adopt Chareidi standards of dress and public behaviour in order to avoid insulting the sensitivities of the Ultra-Orthodox population.

Now, I am not suggesting that Chareidim should not control what happens in their own neighbourhoods. I personally make a point of trying to be aware of where I am when I visit Israel. When I enter a Chareidi institution to learn or daven, I make sure to wear shoes and socks, whereas in a Mizrachi shul I might wear sandals. Were I to board a mehadrin bus in which men and women are seated separately, I would be sure to avoid the woman's section and I know that if I ever found that I didn't want to sit on such a bus, I would take the regular bus instead. One does not spread love of Judaism through rocks and inflammatory rhetoric but rather through kind actions and quiet persuasion. As Koheles says, "the words of the wise are heard when quiet."

This is what is so important about this protest. No one in Beit Shemesh is suggesting the Chareidim change their neighbourhoods, abolish their customs or adjust their lifestyles. What they are getting angry about is the chilul Hashem that the violent members of the ultra-Orthodox community are causing. Imagine you're a religious Jew but not Chareidi. You go amongst the non-religious Israelis you work with knowing full well that for many of them, a kippah is a kippah is a kippah. You want to show them that one can be a fully religious, Torah observant Jew and still lead a normal, productive life but all they see when they look at you is a religious fanatic likely to throw a rock at them if they were short sleeves in public.

It even goes further. Many attacks in Beit Shemesh have been on Dati Leumi/Mizrachi Jews because the Chareidim have decided that since they are not ultra-Orthodox, they are possibly worse than the non-religious Israelis. Imagine a religious woman being attacked for not being modest, not because she's wearing immodest clothing but because her skirt isn't long enough, her hair isn't covered enough, etc. What does that say about these people's conception of mutual respect.

Over Shabbos I had a long debate with someone about how to best interpret this behaviour. Her point, which was told to her by a woman she could only describe in glowing terms as a tzadeikes, was that the Chareidim are so sensitive to chilul Shabbos that they couldn't help but be outraged when they see it happens. Not to justify their behaviour, she added quickly, but this is why. It's because they care so much.

I was dumbfounded (but not speechless, I'm never speechless) by this statement. Consider this statement: "I don't support suicide bombers of course, but I can understand why they do it. After all, they live in such hopeless poverty and this is the only way they know how to protest." Does this make sense to anyone, even for an instant? Yet now I am supposed to take a step back and think: Well, sure they're endangering the public and desecrating God's name in public through their actions but, gosh darnit, it's because they love Shabbos so much.

If that's how one shows intense love of Shabbos, then maybe a little less emotion in relation to God's holy day would be in order. If passionate love of Torah and mitzvos leads to violence and destruction, how exactly does that glorify God's name in this world.

Judaism does not believe the ends ever justify the means. If protecting Shabbos, or tznius, means doing what some of these Chareidim are doing, then the Torah and Judaism they are practising is far different from the one Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, brought down from Har Sinai.

1 comment:

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H Well, I guess that confirms that a campaign to bring "mehadrin" buses to the Shomron would undoubtedly fail...

On a deeper topic, you mentioned the datti leumi community. Well, I hate to break this to you, but there are at least two "national camps" as it were:

1) Toranim: those who do their to follow the Torah, even when there is a conflict between Torah and Israeli law, and...

(Let us set which rabbis to follow or not to follow aside for now)

2) Mamlakhtim: those who also do their best to follow the Torah, yet sometimes confuse Torah with Israeli law, often showing a bizarre, undying loyalty to the State (not Land, but State).

3) Perhaps there's a third category, call them what you will, who think that western/modern sensibilities cancel out "ancient" and "outdated" customs like men and women not touching, or women covering their hair, etc. Even though these are more than just customs which we "grow out of." I call them either "closeted, orthoprax reconstructionists" or "am ha'artzim."



I'll try to read more of your blog to learn more of what you think about these things.

Ya'aqov
"datti leumi"