As I've noted many, many times before, it's always a noisy minority of any community that makes it into the news and provides a negative impression of their entire group. The Chareidi community, in recent weeks, has proved to be no exception to the rule. Nasty anti-religious media bias doesn't help either. A chiloni serial rapist might rate a minor mention. A sexist public comment by a Chareidi gets front page.
That makes it so much more important to remember that just because there are idiots willing to give their friends and neighbours a bad name does not mean that all those friends and neighbours are equally nuts. For example:
Jerusalem: Haredim bring segregation to the street
Group of Neturei Karta activists tour capital's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods on Friday, call on men and women to use separate sidewalks
A group of ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets of the haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem last Friday and called on the public to adhere to a complete separation between men and women in certain areas of the city.
The activists toured the streets near Geula neighborhood in taxicabs and announced, using megaphones that on some streets men and women should walk on opposite sides of the road during the weekend.
According to a resident of the neighborhood, Avraham Cohen, those responsible for the initiative belong to the extremist Neturei Karta stream. "The leading rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox public do not support this initiative," he said. "This group decided to on their won accord go into the neighborhoods and set new modesty codes."
However, eyewitnesses said that although the segregation had not been sanctioned by prominent spiritual authorities, most passersby heeded the call last Saturday. "During the noon hours when women go out for a stroll and the men go to the synagogue, men and women walked on different sidewalks," one resident said.
But the same level of separation was reportedly not observed on the busy Friday, when the streets are regularly packed with crowds.
Look at the headline. Without reading the story, you'd easily conclude this was yet another wide scale Chareidi attempt to bring Taliban-style Judaism to the streets of Yerushalayim. After actually reading the article you get a different story - a bunch of misfits with megaphones trying to intimidate everyone, including their co-religionists, into following their xenophobic agenda, and failing.
Obviously the Chareidi community has to accept a share of the blame in how they are perceived by the outside world. As Rav Yonasan Rosenblum sadly notes:
That insight strikes with particular force today. What gentile looks at us and thinks, "Perhaps they really are the Chosen People?" What non-religious Jew looks to the Torah world and finds his curiosity aroused about the source of such refinement and simple mentschlikeit? The janitor in an Orthodox-owned factory recently asked his boss, "If you really are the Chosen People, why are you all so corrupt?"
We each carry around a set of adult pacifiers to grab onto at such moments. Who has not repeated many times Rabbi Berel Wein's famous line, "Don't judge Judaism by the Jews." But the Torah is judged, for better or worse, by the behavior of Torah Jews. Meeting a Torah Jew who exemplified something he or she has never before encountered serves as a major impetus for virtually every ba'al teshuva.
Rabbi Zev Leff likes telling a story of the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai (Mottel) Katz. A non-religious Jew once asked him, "Rabbi, how do you explain all these religious Jews who lie, steal, and cheat on their income taxes."
Reb Mottel replied, "I have the same question about all those religious Jews who eat on Yom Kippur, drive on Shabbos, and don't keep kosher." The man looked perplexed. "Those aren't religious," he said. "Well, neither are those you mentioned," Reb Mottel replied.
Unfortunately, writing all those who lie, steal and cheat out of the ranks of Orthodoxy only takes us so far. For one thing, the former view themselves and are viewed as others as frum Jews.
Nor can their self-image be dismissed as simply a bluff. An Orthodox prison chaplain relates how he once brought a prisoner a set of the Four Species for Sukkos. The prisoner, however, rejected the esrog, telling the chaplain, "I'm makpid (strict) on a pitom." The chaplain could not resist asking, "About a pitom you are strict, and about defrauding widows you are lenient?" But obviously the prisoner did feel some connection to Hashem. Otherwise, why would he have cared about the pitom either?
Certainly the Chareidi community has, in generally, developed its theology to the point that a person's piety is judged entirely by externals. Maybe Joe Blowstein stole a million dollars from widows and orphans but look at his shtreiml. He's frum!
But we must not forget that these people are the exceptions. As Rav Rosenblum goes on to note:
NO DOUBT many Torah Jews could pass the Rabbi Schwab bookkeeping test. They just don't happen to be the ones who receive any media attention. Someone raised in the Breuer's kehillah of Washington Heights once told me that he had never ever experienced the slightest temptation to cheat on his income taxes. Just as the prisoner mentioned above could not imagine taking an esrog without a pitom, he could not imagine trying to short change the government.
And you will never hear about these people because there's no news in "Today Yankel did a hard day's work, didn't cheat anyone and bought flowers for his wife on the way home." Before we judge any community, we must remind ourselves of that simple fact.