It's nice to see that Rav David Kornreich was able to take time off from his usual anti-Slifkin crusade to contribute to Cross-Currents. It's even more interesting to see that even as condemnation of the Chareidi fanatics in Israel grows he has chosen to throw his lot in with Rav Yaakov Menken's "We are not to blame!" campaign. Rav Kornreich makes the perfectly logical point that Chareidi society, like any other society, is composed of multiple groups and that bad behaviour by one sector does not mean all the others are responsible or equally to blame. He notes that these fanatics listen to almost no one which makes official statements of condemnation by "Gedolim" meaningless. Therefore why should the greater Chareidi community be held accountable for the actions of these few that are beyond their control?
I would like to provide an answer to his concerns.
One of the most important lessons I learned in medical school was how to appreciate that people have unique perceptions of situations that can vary quite significantly between folks. I might think that I have been perfectly clear in explaining to a patient what his problem is and all he might have heard was "Blah, blah, blah". Consider the dreaded scenario, the one where I tell someone they have cancer, Rachmana litzlan. I might have a great speech prepared, full of comforting words and copious assurances about the various treatment options and all the appointments I've arranged. Once the patient hears "cancer" everything else I say turns into an incoherent mumble. If I don't realize that, if I walk out the room convinced I've done a great job handling the situation I'm fooling myself and I haven't done my job. The patient's perception is everything. If they're not happy, I haven't done what I'm supposed to, no matter how great I think my performance was.
Now, to the outside world the Chareidim are one big monolithic group. It's bad enough that if you put on a skullcap of any kind that people automatically lump you together, how much more so the Oreo cookie uniform? It's true that amongst Chasidim each can tell which clan the other is part of from the way the hat is styled and worn but to those of us on the outside they all look the same. A Gerrer chasid who sees a Belzer tearing up the street with a chainsaw in hand might think "Nothing to do with me" but for outsiders all they see is a crazy Ultraorthodox Jew and they'll look at the Gerrer next to him and wonder what he has stashed in his bekishe.
Then consider what the situation is like for those who pay attention to ongoing events in the religious world. Every week another pashkevil or cherem seems to appear on the streets of Israel. This is banned, that is condemned and the Heavens shake to their very foundation every day over some new outrage over such nonsense and meaningless things. But we are still waiting for a fiery denounciation of this ongoing Chilul HaShem. Not part of your community? It's never stopped you from condemning someone before. Indeed the responses from the Chareidi camp that have appeared only seem to cement impressions that the "gedolim" have no real clue what's going on and see non-Chareidi resistance to the thugs as yet another pogrom against them.
For these reasons alone it is imperative for the Chareidi leadership to come out with unequivocal statements of condemnation of the whackjobs in Beit Shemesh and Meah Shearim. The perception from the outside is what matters. What people outside the Chareidi community matters. It is not enough, as Rav Kornreich claims, to know that the primitives don't care about pronouncements from Ravs Eliashiv and Sternbuch. It is not enough to say "Well I can tell the difference between 'my' Chareidim and 'them'". Too many on the outside cannot and are getting fed up with part of what they see as a big monolithic family covering for and quietly supporting these provocations. They will not endure this forever.