It is amazing how naive people can be – more Beit Shemesh

I think we are over-saturated by now with Beit Shemesh.  However, I do have to post one more piece (h/t Life in Israel) that just came my way.  The piece below will probably not shock people so much as reveal the sadness of how some in rabbinic positions respond to sickening and traumatic events.  I am glad there are people out there making sure these words are not allowed to stand.

A Guest Post by by Rabbi Dov Lipman

THE NERVE!

Attack me all that you want. I have been an activist, trying to set the city on a better course for years and people can disagree with me, even vehemently. That is fine and part of living in an open society. I accept it and never feel the need to respond. But when a local Rabbi attacks a little girl and her mother in the most vicious of ways, I cannot remain silent.

The following attack on little Naama and her mother, Hadassa, was penned by a local Rabbi. Everyone with a heart and soul should speak out against this distorted use of the platform given to religious clergy and his congregants should not only condemn him openly but should really think twice whether they want him to guide them in their personal and family lives.

Here is the quote:

“Poor 8 year old Naama Margolese. If my child was spat at, I would wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, give her a piece of her favorite chocolate, tell her there are bad men in the world, and in 10 minutes it is over. Waiting three months (what’s that again? The huge outcry was orchestrated three months after it happened? Huh?) to create an overreaction, and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school, and having all sorts of people tracking through her house to visit her as if they’re coming for neechum aveilim… If this poor kid gets traumatized, I’ll tell you why!”You almost have to read it again to make sure your eyes are not playing games with you because it is not fathomable that a person who has spent years studying Torah and connecting to God could ever even think of writing these words, let alone actually writing them and publicizing them.

Let’s dissect the paragraph.

Wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, giver her chocolate, and it is over? The writer clearly has no concept of the trauma little girls experience when being called “prutza” and “shiktza” and when they are spat at. Maybe children who are familiar with a world where violence and abuse are a part of life would be able to just move on, but in the Margolese home, the children are taught to respect other people and never raise a voice or condemn the actions of others. Therefore, it is very traumatic when a child in that type of home is exposed to this type of behavior. When children are being taught proper derech eretz, verbal assaults cannot simply be ignored. When children are taught respect, spit cannot simply be wiped away and forgotten.

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized something. This Rabbi never even came to the school to see, firsthand, what was happening. He probably subscribes to the camp that it is all an exaggeration. Isn’t there a concept that one cannot really have an opinion about something without actually experiencing it? The nerve to make light of what many girls, not just Naama, experienced without actually seeing it in person!

Let’s go further. “Waiting three months?” and “Three months after it happened? ” Rabbi, perhaps it is time to get your facts right before writing such a strong condemnation. In case you did not know, the extremists returned within the last few weeks! They returned with more people and with an organized bus! Our informants in RBS Bet told us that if there was not going to be some kind of strong response the extremists were going to escalate things until who knows what could have happened to a Jewish child, rachmana litzlan.
“To create an overreaction and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school?” Since when is thousands of Israelis wanting to come to defend a little Jewish girl an “overreaction?” Baruch Hashem, all of those “horrible anti-Torah secularists” have a Jewish pulse and, upon seeing the tears of this Jewish girl wanted to help. What a strong contrast with the reaction of this Rabbi who for months upon hearing about the traumatized girls responded with a message which seemed to convey, “What do you want from me?”

We continue. “All sort of people trecking through her house like neechum aveilim?” What a sick and distorted image. All one had to do was see the look on Naama’s face when MK Rabbi Amsalem gave her a siddur and tehilim (she davens from that siddur daily) to see how therapeutic and important this was for her. The same goes for the gift which Eli Friedman and the TOV party gave to her. These visitors are people who truly walk in the way of God and reach out to love other Jews instead of being defensive and writing nasty and soulless declarations. Perhaps in the divisive, extremist world visits of love and care feel like “nichum aveilim” but for the rest of the Jewish people they are actually quite pleasant and inspirational.

Finally, this “poor kid” will not be traumatized any longer. Her parents did what any loving parent would do and found a way to secure their daughter’s safety. In addition, her parents were able to show their daughter the beautiful side of a unified am yisrael and the beauty of true chareidim.

All sensible and caring people must do anything possible to condemn this Rabbi’s statements. But even more than that, we must work to make sure that people with this type of flippant attitude regarding verbal/physical abuse and assault and religious extremism not have any involvement in guiding Jewish children or their parents. Because when those “poor children” are turned off by what is presented to them as a soulless, uncaring, and extremist religion and their clergy not protecting them from abuse, no one will have to “tell you why.”

Misusing the Holocaust

I was refraining from this particular aspect of the Beit Shemesh conflict, but the latest report (see here (h/t failed messiah) compels me to address what might be more sickening.  As you will see from the report below, the same crazies involved in the disgusting behavior against other Jews are also protesting against their own, claiming that Israel is the equivalent to Nazi Germany.  The original protests, which might be the cause for the uproar from the majority of the Haredi community, took place in Israel last Sat. night.  Many posts have already addressed the horrific pictures of young, religious looking kids, posing the like the famous picture of the kid surrendering to the Nazis (see here).  My disgust with the latest report is beyond the misuse of the Holocaust.  My problem is that other  Jews, regardless of their insanity, marching and claiming Israel to be like Nazi Germany, are furthering negative rhetoric against Israel.  Look, we know the difference between Neturei Karta and Satmar (I think).  Yet, does the rest of the world.  I just wish these people would have the seichel to keep their political opinions to themselves.  Its bad enough we have press about gender bias, but we need another round of the Israeli government are Nazis.  Again, I place this back into the hands of the Haredi rabbinic establishment.  If statements had been made years ago, long before the crescendo of events we are watching, perhaps much of this could have been prevented.  Instead, now we are backpedalling and hoping that it can go away. 

Orthodox Jews to Protest Israel Wearing Yellow “Jude” Stars – TODAY

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Torah-true Jews will be gathering to demonstrate in front of Israeli consulates, in U.S.A., Canada and England. The protesters will don concentration camp clothing with the reviled “yellow star” pinned on their garments, to express their cry of desperation and to show solidarity with their brethren in the Holy Land, who demonstrated in Jerusalem this past Saturday night. Thousands of elders and children took to the streets of Jerusalem garbed in concentration camp clothing and yellow Stars of David pinned on their chests.

“The present incarceration of Torah-true Jews, beating etc. is not the sole event that brought the G-d-fearing Jews to such a desperate display”, said Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta International. “The present event is not an isolated event or some new policy of the State of Israel being perpetrated against the G-d-fearing religious community. It is only part of the long and ongoing battle between Zionism and the State of Israel with the Torah-true Jews.”

“The ideology of Zionism is both the transformation of Judaism from religion and subservience to the Almighty, to base material nationalism, and a plan to end our Heavenly-decreed exile through our own actions. Both of these concepts are totally contradictory to the true Jewish belief. The Almighty alone will bring our redemption. We are expressly forbidden to take any action to end exile.”

“Therefore, all the great sages and leaders of Judaism in past generations, have stood in total opposition to Zionism and the existence of the State of ‘Israel’. Zionism works with all its power to totally eradicate, Heaven forbid, these true Jewish beliefs. To Torah-true Jews, their Jewish beliefs take precedence over their lives. Therefore, these Jews have undergone a long chain of suffering, imprisonment and letting their blood be spilt in this battle. The present events are just one more link in the long chain of the Zionist campaign in their attempted abolishment of the true Jewish faith.”

“Therefore, our brethren in Jerusalem demonstrated their anguish and pain by wearing the yellow star and striped Holocaust clothes.”

“We stand with them in solidarity.”

“May we merit to see, soon in our days, the revelation of the glory of the Almighty, when all the nations will serve the Almighty in peace and harmony. Amen.”

Jewish Rabbis and laymen will demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulates, TODAY: Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEW YORK CITY: 800 second Avenue [between 42 and 43] at 3:00 pm, followed by a march to the United Nations [First and 43]

LONDON:  2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB, at 2:30 pm

MONTREAL: 1 Westmount Square, Westmount, Quebec, at 2:45 pm

 

 

And the responses truly begin – Beit Shemesh continued

I will highlight a couple of posts that have begun to pop up. I came across a couple this afternoon which I will highlight. All I can say is I wish these thoughts had existed earlier, but… Additionally, still waiting for Gedolei Yisrael to speak up against the violence, as opposed to the following report.

It’s Time to Act

Wow! Maybe things are beginning to change. These seems to be a groundswell of Charedi outrage about the the Chilul HaShem that the Meah Shearim crowd has been responsible for – both in Bet Shemesh and on their home turf. The following is a front page editorial published in the very Charedi newspaper, Hamodia. It was written and signed by the publisher Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein. This is unprecedented. It is republished in VIN. I republish it here in its entirety:

Last Shabbos morning was exceptionally beautiful in Yerushalayim. As always, the streets were full of Yidden going to and from shul, passing walls plastered with a variety of posters and advertisements.

Suddenly I noticed a placard announcing a demonstration in Kikar HaShabbos, to take place on Motzoei Shabbos.

Participants would be required to wear a yellow star and don prisoners’ uniforms, similar to what was worn in the Nazi death camps, and demonstrate against the harassment of the authorities with regard to the mehadrin lines and other similar grievances. I was horrified.
In a subsequent conversation in which I described the placard, its content and style, to a resident of Yerushalayim with a lot of life experience, I was surprised at his calm response. He just brushed it off with a wave of his hand. “Nonsense! Meshuga’im!” he exclaimed.

But this time, these “meshuga’im” overstepped the line. They went too far. What has been imprinted in everyone’s memory, with the eager collaboration of the secular media, is the horrific image of a small child wearing a yellow star, with his arms raised, and, not coincidentally, remarkably resembling the famous photo of a child with his arms raised in the Warsaw Ghetto.
How did the hands of the parents not tremble when they dressed their small child in this horrific uniform?

What does this father know about the Holocaust, about children in the Holocaust, about the significance of such a photo? Obviously, less than nothing. With pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.
What will this father tell his son when he grows older and tries to understand how his father opted to turn him into a symbol that will haunt him all his life?

It’s not pleasant to be a chareidi in Yerushalayim — or anywhere else in Eretz Yisrael for that matter — these days. During the remainder of my brief stay in Eretz Yisrael, wherever one went the reaction was the same: “You chareidim! Shame on you!”

The more polite, well-mannered people said, “We know they are a radical minority, we know they are casting a stain on the entire chareidi community with their behavior, but why do you remain silent?”

The time has come to shatter the silence. Ignoring these fanatics is no longer an option, since they go out of their way to attract the secular media in order to broadcast their warped messages to the entire world.

I make no demands on this group, since they are not rational. The father of that child and his cohorts not only did not apologize or explain themselves, they even pledged to continue in their ways, according to secular media reports.

My demand is from us: How did we, in our naiveté, think that the actions of this fringe group could just be ignored? How did we give them a platform, allowing them to act as the representatives of chareidi Jewry?

What we desperately need is a serious media campaign to present the true position of Torah Jewry to the world. As my father, Rabbi Leibel Levin, z”l, and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, understood when they founded Mercaz L’hasbarah Datit and Am Echad, respectively, for this purpose, we dare not relinquish the spokesmanship of Klal Yisrael to irrational, irresponsible and self-serving fringe elements.

If we want to survive, if we want to merit understanding in Israel and abroad as Orthodox Jews who want to live our lives in accordance with the Torah, we must act — immediately!

Postscript: VIN also has this from Rav Ovadia Yosef. Finally the righteous outrage I have been waiting for!

By , on January 4th, 2012

Just when I thought I was going to have to spend time taking issue with what others have written on these pages, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rav of Cong. Ahavas Israel in Passaic NJ captured the mood perfectly enough, that I no longer feel compelled to distance myself from the content. (This “Short Vort” appears today on his website, ahavasisrael.org )

Hey Yankel- how are you doing?

Thanks a lot for the pics you sent me. You and your son really look well fed and robust.

However, since you asked me how I am doing, I have no choice but to be honest.

Jake, oh sorry, I meant Yankel- I have known you all of my life; after all, you are my older brother.

I have always worshipped the ground you walked on and attempted to emulate all of your ways and movements.

After all, why not? While I went off to live in ‘treif America’ you settled in the land of our fathers’: Eretz Yisroel.

While I chose to use English as my spoken language, you kept to the ‘mama loshon’ and insisted on exclusively speaking Yiddish.

While I dressed in more ‘Western style dress’, you were obsessive in maintaining what you were emphatic was ‘authentic Jewish dress’.

I admired you for both of these traits.

And while me and many of my friends had no issue in using our ‘goyishe names’, you always insisted that we refer to you as Yankel and nothing else.

Although sometimes I kidded you for you obstinacy in the maintenance of these three cardinal traits of Jewish identity, in truth I envied you for what certainly seemed to me at the time as your authentic and ‘more Jewish’ lifestyle.

You are living in Meah Shearim; you have the freedom to teach your kids the way you want to; you are protected by the State; and for the most part no one- and I mean no one- interferes with your life at all.

When I came on my frequent visits to you- I was constantly amazed and happy by your financial stability and the growth of your neighborhoods.

You now have air conditioning and cell phones, beautiful Shabbos clothes and thank Hashem you purchased apartments for all of your children when they married.

In short, you were blessed by He whose blessings count and I was happy for you.

Even though you complained sometimes about all of the Americans who came through your neighborhood, privately you admitted to me that only because of those American dollars which pour through the shops and collectors of your streets were you able to make beautiful and wonderful weddings for your children.

I remember how at the last wedding of your daughter you had two video-people- one for the women and one for the men. It did make me wonder why you needed that – after all, I (the Modern American) had no video person at my son’s wedding while you had two! However, I let it pass and was happy for you.

When you came to visit I took you around and helped you raise money for your apartments with a smile and with a feeling that ‘at least there are still authentic Jews’ living an authentic Jewish life in Yerushalayim.

When the incidents occurred in Beit Shemesh, I believed what I read in the Chareidi media that this was not indicative of the feelings of most ‘authentic Jews’ and that this was the work of a ‘fringe group’. Perhaps I did not ‘really’ believe this, however, I so wanted to believe that this was true so I let it pass.

I decided not to contact you about those incidents; after all, you do not live in Beit Shemesh and after all you are a member of the Edah Chareidis an ‘official and respected’ organization.

All that was before Motzei Shabbos; on Motzei Shabbos I turned on the computer and there you were with your son- my nephew- Yossele!!!

My own brother Yankel in the middle of the melee!

Yankel, how could you do it? And how could you do it to our Yossele?

Look at your smile Yankel as you proudly set your eyes on your son that you have manipulated to raise his hands in a grotesque, sickening and revolting pose which imitates that which is truly holy and pure.

Yankel, I am sending you a copy of the ‘authentic’ (as I know you always want that which is authentic) original photograph of the scared and frightened little boy.

That boy is terrified; not knowing what life has in store for him.

Look at the other people in the photograph (I know most of them are women, however, let’s be honest Yankel, you must have studied this photo intently before you ‘offered your son’ on the alter of hate) – they are petrified and to be pitied.

Look now at you Yankel and at the other people in the picture. All of you are well fed, dressed in your Shabbos finery; having just eaten a big Shalosh Shiddush and a big Melave Malka. None of you in the picture appear truly frightened or scared.

Yankel, what did you say to little Yossele before you sullied him with the badge of hate?

What words of ‘chizuk’ did you offer to his pristine Neshama as you told him to pose in that position of mockery and as a caricature of contempt and as a parody of sarcasm.

Yankel, you know and I know it; you have benefited from the ‘Zionist State’ more than the majority of secular Israelis!

You have protection from the Arabs; dollars streaming in from tourists and students and you do not have to give back a dime.

However, after the events of Motzei Shabbos- and you have pointed this out to me- no one can claim that you are just a ‘few fringe people’.

Yankel, I must admit that you are correct, just as you have told me so many times before- you are not a fringe group.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and execution of this Motzei Shabbos ‘rally’.

You had women sewing the Concentration Camp uniforms.

You had technical assistance in surfing the web to get the best Holocaust pictures.

You had printers and translators printing and translating your signs into Hebrew and English.

You had choreographers and script writers planning and practicing this complicated cavort of callous insensitivity.

In short as you had told me time and time again, you are no fringe group and you are not a few individuals as others would have us believe.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the planning and the execution of this demonstration!

And as you have pointed out to me many, many times; although we have seen rabbinic bans and protests against concerts and books; against women rabbis and against individual authors, there has never been a single signed pronouncement appearing with the names of any prominent Chareidi Rabbis who have protested or denounced your actions!

I guess Yankel you are correct. If ‘shtika K’Hodaa’ (if silence is akin to agreement) then I guess you are right, as sad as it may be.

However, Yankel, with that being said, the reason I am writing to you is really because you are my brother and I do love you dearly.

I love you with you all my heart and soul and I so cherish the good and wonderful and spiritual times we spent together singing and discussing Torah.

I remember fondly you telling me about how happy you were when you found solace and peace in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

How happy you were with his love of each and every Jew and how he accepted all Jews no matter who they were and what their standing was.

You told me how he started a movement wherein each and every precious Jew could be counted and loved, irrespective of how learned he was or how he dressed.

You told how the Baal Shem Tov himself dressed as a simple Jew as he went around sharing his love for each and every Jew irrespective of their level of observance.

You told me that Hashem looks into the heart of every precious Jew and forgives their lapses.

However, that was before you sent me the picture of you and Yossele.

That was before I saw my nephew forced to pose with his hands held upright in ridicule of that which is pure and pristine.

You told me about love and now I see hate.

You told about compassion and now I see cruelty.

You told about sanctity and now I see sacrilege.

Yankel, I know you are my brother; however, Yankel I must ask you:

Who are you?
Often I can no longer recognize you anymore.

With all my love,

Your brother who loves and misses you.

Is There No Stopping The Flood?

Just like the below blog posting indicates, the plot thickens.  Is it really possible that much of the rabbinic leadership carries so little weight?  It has been clear to me throughout the recent scandal that the Haredi leadership (and yes I am lumping them all into one) has been merely giving the zealots a slap on the wrist, but in reality does not want to condemn them because it still furthers the agenda.  This point was brought home to me yesterday when I read the following story, which I have to assume occurred within the past 20 years but don’t know exactly (the point being the conversation was not a recent one).

“During my tenure at Yated Neeman, where I served as founding editor and continued several years after, I once asked Rac Shach ztz”l what approach to take in writing about the demonstrations that were taking place in Yerushalayim every Shabbos on Bar Ilan Street and on the Ramot road, typically featuring stones thrown at passing cars.  Rav Shach’s answer to me, quote from memory was, ‘It’s quite possible that the real mechallelei Shabbos here are the demonstrators.  First of all, throwing stones is absolutely assur in and of itself, in addition to the risk of killing someone.  But aside from the stone-throwing, they’re causing Shabbos desecration through the demonstrations.  Instead, they could vote in the municipal elections and shift the balance of power in the local government.  With a religious majority, a lot of this chillul Shabbos could be prevented.  But they won’t listen to us…”

(R. Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha Magazine, Issue 389)

So here are my questions:  1.  Is it really true they won’t listen?  2.  So what if they won’t listen, these things need to be said over and over again?  Why are we only hearing such comments years later?

To me, the situation is simple.  The violence between ultra-religious has been allowed to go on for so long, whether openly or quietly encouraged, that the tide certainly will be difficult to turn now.  And yes, it is a small group perpetrating the hate, but we are all responsible for not having cried out sooner.

Is There No Stopping The Flood? – FailedMessiah.com.

No stopping the flood

The vocal extremism within the ultra-Orthodox community should be seen as a reaction to their peers’ increasing openness to the outside world.

By Yair Ettinger

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman had no mention of the religious clashes in Beit Shemesh on its front page. Instead, the headline trumpeted a letter signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leader of the non-Hasidic, “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox.

“We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to strike at the cruse of pure oil, to alter the spirit and the essence of the ultra-Orthodox public,” blared the headline. The letter called for boycotting all the new study tracks designated for Haredim in academia, and employment programs in the army and civil service, since they were intended to form “a group of ultra-Orthodox subordinate to persons who have thrown off the burden [of obedience to the commandments], their rule and their culture.”

The missive was written three weeks ago, but intended for publication during Hanukkah. It had no connection to this week’s events, but it does cast new light on them.

The gender-segregated bus lines have been plying the country’s roads for several years now, the fanatic ultra-Orthodox ghetto in Beit Shemesh is not new and the modesty signs urging women to avoid places where men congregate or walk are a part of the landscape there. The city’s extremists, known as the Sicarii, have been harassing little girls from the modern-Orthodox community for four months now. Why did this flare into a storm at now of all times?

While some among the secular would say that it’s due to growing ultra-Orthodox extremism, which is only now being exposed in the media, Knesset members from United Torah Judaism believe the timing is entirely cynical, a result of the race heating up between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and Labor Party chair MK Shelly Yachimovich. Netanyahu knows he does not have a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas, and that both parties will leave the government if he launches a conflict with the ultra-Orthodox, even though they have no better coalition option. And in one month, the test period set by the High Court of Justice for determining whether gender segregation on buses is being done voluntarily (rather than by coercion ) will come to an end.

There may be another explanation behind the ultra-Orthodox rabbis’ exhortations about the unseen hand reaching for the “cruse of pure oil.” Are the rabbis – and the Sicarii – sensing dramatic internal changes within ultra-Orthodox society itself?

This is not the first time Rabbi Elyashiv has denounced higher education, but it’s unlikely that he has ever before issued such a sweeping prohibition of participation by the ultra-Orthodox in any kind of framework beyond Torah study. The rabbi is denouncing vocational training, ultra-Orthodox colleges and military and civil service because their initiators “acknowledge openly that the aim of all these trends is to alter the spirit and essence of the ultra-Orthodox public and to introduce all kinds of aspirations, national and ‘enlightened,’ of which our forefathers never conceived and to promote integration with secular and sinful people.”

Fanning the hatred A broader reference to current events can be found in the remarks of another Lithuanian rabbi, which also appeared in Yated Neeman. Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach wrote, “The spirit of rapprochement with the general [secular] public is causing the great hatred.” It is generally believed, or at least said, that the answer to hatred is reconciliation and dialogue. Actually, the Lithuanian leadership believes the answer is distancing and separatism. A more radical approach, both separatist and anti-Zionist, characterizes Those who have sanctified separatism and anti-Zionism are the extremist ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit, which is descended from descendants of the pre-Zionist Jewish community in Palestine, and which today controls Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Most extreme are Unlike the mainstream ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Auerbach, the extremist Sicarii: They do not even want to dissipate the hatred.

“The more you disparage us, the better,” they told us in Beit Shemesh this week. This is the essence of the fanatic ideology, which has drawn attention due to several cases in recent years – the ultra-Orthodox mother arrested for starving her child, the fight over opening Jerusalem’s Karta parking lot on Shabbat, the ancient graves alongside Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade and more. Two decades ago, Eda rabbis were already permitting young fanatics from Mea She’arim to move to the increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. The extreme Lithuanian courts of Toldot Avraham Yitzhak, Toldot Aharon and smaller groups like Torah Veyireh and the Pharisees are all sending members to the new neighborhoods there. They have done a remarkable job of establishing a fanatic ghetto. The Sicarii within this ghetto are terrorizing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet as well as the rabbis. No one in the ultra-Orthodox camp is willing to clash with them.

Yet winds of change are blowing even among the most fanatic camp. Once, former Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Pappenheim was frequently dispatched to represent the official, extreme anti-Zionist line and to defend his sect, Toldot Aharon. But Pappenheim, a Beit Shemesh resident, recently came out of the closet as a sworn reformist: He is studying for a degree at Bar-Ilan University and heads an office encouraging ultra-Orthodox employment in Beit Shemesh, on top of his other public activities.

Pappenheim thinks that in the ultra-Orthodox’s clash with outsiders, the extremists on both sides are failing to see the powerful processes underway in the ultra-Orthodox mainstream: The ultra-Orthodox are irreversibly opening up, he believes.

“This week I spoke before a Scout troop in Jerusalem, alongside a representative of Yisrael Hofshit [Be Free Israel, an organization that works to advance religious freedom and other democratic values], who denounced ultra-Orthodox extremism,” says Pappenheim. “I told her she was missing the entire point. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox public has begun to understand that it needs to take its fate into its hands. There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army, in academia, in the free professions. Are they telling us we’re in a religious war? On the contrary. The religious public is heading toward something great, and the rabbis’ attempts to stop this are like the rooster running in circles after being beheaded.”

The Sicarii are acting out of frustration, not ideology, he says. “They see society around them progressing and are frustrated. They do not really think; they just act violently for the sake of causing action and chaos.”

Pappenheim believes the rabbis’ attempts to turn back time are destined to fail. “I’m not seeing any students dropping out of ultra-Orthdox colleges” due to Rabbi Elyashiv’s letter, he says. “That isn’t going to help anymore. Maybe this is the rabbis’ job, to try to stop the flow so that 16-year-old boys know their only aim in life is to study Torah, but this process is reality.”

Pappenheim himself is being smeared by wall posters declaring, “Greeks have ganged up on us!” and draws condemnations from his extremist neighbors, but as the son of an aristocratic Toldot Aharon family, he retains access to the top.

“A married yeshiva student from Toldot Avraham Hasidut is serving in Shahar [a prestigious Israel Defense Forces technology program for married yeshiva students]. Things are happening. I told my rebbe and he asked: ‘What? Do you think our married yeshiva students will also be there?’ I said it could happen. He said, ‘Such a thing should not come to us,’ and I told him that while his role may be to prevent it, this is the process. We need to understand this and not shut our eyes. He knows this well. A month ago President [Shimon] Peres visited [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s daughter] Adina Bar-Shalom’s ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem. In the first row were three married yeshiva students from Toldot Aharon.”

Conflicting changes Pappenheim’s remarks show that the discussion about “growing ultra-Orthdox extremism” ignores the fact that this sector, like the national religious sector, is going through conflicting processes. The public at large is now noticing the modesty revolution, which includes the segregated buses, the “Taliban” women in black cloaks, the gender segregation at the health clinics in Beit Shemesh and the advertising companies’ reluctance to post outdoor ads with pictures of women in Jerusalem, but it has been going on for years.

But there are only a few dozen women in cloaks and a few hundred hot-headed Sicarii. Even if we generalize and include the thousands of Gur Hasidim – the largest Hasidic faction, known for its obsessiveness on matters of sexuality and whose functionaries have been pushing segregated buses for years – this is still only a minority within the ultra-Orthodox sector.

This minority certainly is smaller than the large group of ultra-Orthodox women – including women from Gur – working in the free professions and high-tech, the thousands of men and women studying at ultra-Orthodox colleges and the men volunteering for special ultra-Orthodox programs in the IDF and civil service. And many more ultra-Orthodox use computers, smartphones and the Internet, despite the rabbis’ loud but futile war against these technologies. Even if these people are still a minority, they are a much larger minority than the extremists.

Economic distress alone is enough to push the ultra-Orthodox to reform, which in turn damages the supreme ultra-Orthodox value of separatism, “the pure cruse of oil.” The change in values is keeping the rabbis awake at night. The more openness there is, the more they seek to close things off. That is how Orthodoxy was born 200 years ago, that is how the “Taliban” sect in Beit Shemesh was born and that is likely how innovations like “kosher electricity” will be born – out of the growing push for strictness and the ultra-Orthodox representatives’ intoxication with political power – as well as the secular politicians’ ignorance.

The segregated buses were not intended to exclude women; they were intended to exclude secular people, to create a sanctified ultra-Orthodox space detached from the threatening outside world. The new ultra-Orthodox suburbs of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit were intended as sacred ultra-Orthodox ghettoes, sometimes with the help of secret “acceptance committees” that filtered out the newly observant, the national religious and sometimes also Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox. The Lithuanian girls’ schools make a point of accepting only students “like ourselves,” meaning no Mizrahim. Likewise the Haredim developed their own transportation system under the nose of Egged, Dan and the High Court of Justice.

The radical idea that came out of the Prime Minister’s Bureau this week, to split Beit Shemesh into two municipalities based on sectoral affiliation, no doubt appeals to some of the ultra-Orthodox extremists. But Pappenehim says that in order to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into workplaces, colleges and military service, they need unique frameworks that allow for gender segregation. “There is no other way,” he says.

Aryeh Goldhaber is an activist in the ultra-Orthodox reformist movement “Tov,” in Beit Shemesh. He says ultra-Orthodox people like him are suffering both at the hands of the extremists and from the authorities’ blind eye. He, like Pappenheim, favors tough police action against the fanatics, because the “violent campaign against the ultra-Orthodox” is driving moderate members of his community to close ranks with the Sicarii.

Unlike Rabbi Elyashiv, he says, “We are happy to be active partners in the larger Israeli society – in employment, the army and studies, but the more openness there is, the louder the extremists shout.” Pressure from Shas and UTJ is pushing the establishment to ignore ultra-Orthodox reformists, “and this is making things difficult for us.”

Failed Messiah continues with his own assessment of the situation.

Lets be clear.

What Ettinger contends is that Rabbi Elyashiv and the other so-called mainstream haredi leaders see that they are losing control of their rank and file, who are in increasing numbers opting to get secular educations and jobs in the wider Israeli community. So they have become increasingly strict, banning secular education, army service, etc., to try to stop up the ‘breech’ in the haredi ghetto wall.

This moves “mainstream” haredi leadership closer to Eidah Charedit and their street gang offshoot, the Sicarii.

At the same time, press coverage of the violence and statements by secular politicians about it that in any way blame “mainstream” haredi leadership and the the wider haredi community for the violence supposedly committed only by the Sicarii gang pushes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the haredi rank abd file to become more extreme and to move closer to Eidah Charedit and and the Sicarii.

And this is true even though these “mainstream” haredi leaders have not condemned the haredi violence against women and little children that sparked this press coverage and the statements of those secular politicians.

In other words, haredi leadership won’t condemn the violence because the violence is meant to help goals be achieved that they strongly support – and all of those goals further separation of haredim from all other Jews. And haredi leaders want this increased separation in order to retain power over the haredi rank and file – and to retain control over lucrative communal institutions, like yeshivas.

This makes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the politicians and newspapers that answer to them – as guilty as the Sicarii gang.

And that should never be forgotten.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring – Um, excuse me!!

Update: To add fuel to the fire, see this post at Failed Messiah. If all the judge gives this person is house arrest with Yeshiva privileges, what recourse is left to fight the problem of tznius patrols.

I don’t often get into these debates with others, but this post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and IRF (I don’t want to here comments about whether it is Orthodox or not), are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to this piece. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet, you only hear about that years later. And even in this, while all the organizations are talking, who is to say the zealots are listening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talk we must, but let’s not get carried away and make declarations like R. Adlerstein is, that this is the beginning of an “Charedi Spring.” I find the usurping of that term preposterous, as while I hope this event does cause a change, to equate it with what is going on in the rest of the Middle East is absurd. Besides, the Arab Spring upon which this is predicated upon is, by many accounts, turning into an Islamic winter.

To me, the violence should have been condemned and punished years ago. But when there was public silence against protesting Shabbat desecrators, all it did was embolden some of them to take their violence to another level. And to top it off, unless one of their grand Rebbes comes out and says the violence is not allowed, which most likely will not happen because of their own fear of their followers, I don’t see much in the way of curtailing it. And should the Israeli government step in and arrest some of the more egregious men who are attacking and cursing young girls, I have a hard time believing the more mainstream Haredi world won’t be up in arms to an extent.

To conclude, we should all hope that this violence will end as it is making us all look bad as well as proving Hillary Clinton correct to an extent when she sparked her own controversy with her comments about gender bias in Israel. To outsiders, it is no different, even if on the inside we can try to find the subtleties. I pray that these men find some seichel (intelligence) and stop this disgusting display of zealotry in a time when we need to be banding together as one nation.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring | Cross-Currents.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring

The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follow it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

Call for education reform in Haredi world

(h/t failed Messiah)

Knesset Member Rabbi Haim Amsalem is at it again.  He wrote an opinion piece arguing for a need in the Haredi community to study the sciences.  His primary argument is the age-old idea that if it was good for Maimonides and others, it is good for the Haredi world as well.  His argument comes on the heels of the naming of the Nobel Prize winners, of which a few were Israeli.  Two things strike me. 

1.  He is the same Rabbi who came out vehemently against the conversion backlash and annulment of conversions by the Haredi courts a couple of years back.  He has tremendous concerns about the outlook of the Haredi community in its relationship with the rest of Israeli society if it continues on the path it has followed since the establishment of the state.

2.  His primary argument about other great figures in the past is one often used to justify the needs of a well-rounded education.  To me, the argument is lacking as those like Maimonides lived in a world much different than ours and to say that because they studied science, so should we, is distorted.  How do we know what a Maimonides would do today.  Maimonides cannot be a model because in those days, science and religion were one and the same.  The idea of non-religious, non-sacred studies was not a category.  In our times, we have a “divide” between secular and holy studies. 

Professor Dan Shechtman’s Nobel Prize win is wonderful news for the New Year. However, a recent article by Professor Ron Aharoni argued that the picture produced by from the recent Nobel wins, as if Israel is a scientific paradise, is distorted.

Aharoni claimed that the State of Israel chose to invest its resources in the study of the Torah, which he says is no more than an “ancient book of laws.” He created a complete distinction while presenting two options: Either religion or science. Yet I believe that presenting these options as “black or white” also creates great distortion. Dividing the world into two is unnecessary and wrong.

Generations upon generations proved that we can have it both ways. The greatest rabbis in history mastered the sciences as well and made a great impression on the world. There is no shortage of examples: Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon (Gersonides), in addition to being a great scholar who wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, was also a scientist, doctor, mathematician and philosopher.

Another noteworthy figure was Rabbi Abraham Zchut, who was a historian and astronomer and studied at the Salamanca University. He was known for upgrading the astrolabe, an instrument used to make astronomical measurements. Just like Gersonides, he was honored by having one of the moon’s craters named after him.

We can of course make note of other giants such as Maimonides, Nahmanides and many others, who combined Torah and high-level science.
 
Restore the tradition

The Torah, our ancient book of laws, is the Jewish people’s constitutive document. Thanks to it we survived for thousands of years while other ancient peoples around us disappeared. Just like we must not neglect scientific studies at this time, we must also not neglect Torah studies, heaven forbid.

Yet just like not everyone is fit to be a math or physics professor, researcher or lecturer, not everyone can be a great scholar or rabbi. For most of the ultra-Orthodox public, a path that combines Torah studies with a dignified job is proper and suitable. Only a select haredi group should dedicate all its time and energy to Torah studies.

In recent generations, a false perception was entrenched as if one must study nothing but Torah. This resulted in a holy war being declared against core studies and of course against academic studies. However, there are broad questions in the Talmud and Halacha that cannot be studies without a deep, broad sciences education.

Shunning non-religious studies led to the haredi public’s inability to secure dignified jobs and, for lack of any other choices, kept thousands of unfit students at yeshivot and advanced Judaic studies programs.

This perception must be changed by providing relevant information and education. Meanwhile, the impossible economic realities of the ultra-Orthodox public are also having their effect.

The time has come to restore the tradition of our forefathers. We are no wiser or more righteous than Maimonides or Gersonides. Maybe in a generation or two we shall have a Shechtman with a black kippah and a beard.

Separate tables

I find myself fascinated by this article in Haaretz.  While I myself would not to live the lifestyle of complete segregation of genders, even in one’s home, I am not looking to offer a critique of this Hasidic practice.  Rather, I would like to comment on the article’s descriptions as to why separate tables has become a way of life for many in the Hasidic world.

Gender separation in schools and synagogues has always been an important facet of ultra-Orthodox life and is generally not contested. But the Hasidic members of the ultra-Orthodox community are now determined to extend gender separation to other venues in the public domain, such as banquet halls, buses, health clinics, and even some sidewalks in Jerusalem on certain days of the Jewish calendar.

Among the various Hasidic sects, the Gur Hasidim are known to be most vigilant, going so far as to keep tabs on the activities of families and couples to ensure that the rules of gender separation are not violated. Among the most devout Gur Hasidim, a married couple will never be seen walking together in the street. Instead, the husband will walk ahead and the woman will follow, a few paces behind him. Not surprisingly, when gender separation was first instituted on buses about a decade ago, it began on those lines traveling from Jerusalem to Gur Hasidic neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and Ashdod.

Hebrew University lecturer Dr. Benjamin Brown, who specializes in Jewish philosophy and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, notes: “In the Gur Hasidic community, measures are taken to ensure that there is no mutual understanding between men and women, even between husband and wife.” Total gender segregation, especially among adolescents and young adults, he notes, is enforced. For this reason, a yeshiva student in the Gur community will never be present in the same house with a female guest, even if the female guest is a relation of a young woman who has just become engaged to a brother of the yeshiva student. Similarly, when they are invited to the wedding of a peer, Gur Hasid yeshiva students stay only for the ceremony and do not partake in the subsequent banquet. They also make a point of avoiding conversations even with their sisters-in-law.

According to Brown, this rigorous code of conduct is rooted in a desire to maintain what Gur Hasidim call “sanctity” in day-to-day life. It was formulated as a response to the appeal made by their legendary leader Rabbi Yisrael Alter (known as the “Beis Yisroel” ), who headed the community from the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948 until his death in 1976, that the principle of “sanctity” be formally integrated into family life. “The motive was not really the promotion of modesty,” Brown explains, “because during this same period, despite the strict code of conduct, women in the Gur Hasidic community always dressed elegantly and maintained a well-groomed appearance.”

When it comes to the general genre of gender separation, it would appear that one of the primary purposes is to increase one’s sanctity.  It is interesting to note how within much of the Haredi world, the idea of men learning (not just Torah) from women is not something looked well upon.  A women can attend a lecture given by a man, but not the other way around.  Much of this is related to the famous words from Psalms, Kol Kavuda Bat Melech Pnimah (45:14 – All glorious is the king’s daughter within the palace).  In the context of eating a meal together, it must be that since eating should be a sacred act, the sacredness of eating must not be done in the company of the opposite sex.  Further, by sitting together, even at different ends of the table, there is an increased possibility of social interactions, which would invalidate the sacredness of the meal.  A final thought comes to mind as well. 

For the Hasidic world, based on an idea of the ARI, the table is like a miniature mizbeach.  As such, the food we eat represents qodshim, which are to be eaten in a state of purity,  The table therefore cannot be hindered by gender mixing, as the meal is symbolic of partaking of the sacrifices in the Temple. 

Nava Wasserman, who is preparing her doctoral dissertation on Gur Hasidism at Bar-Ilan University, notes that the Beis Yisroel also favored separate tables for men and women. However, she points out, not all Gur Hasidim accept this strict code of conduct and there are no widely accepted norms in the community. Instead, each family applies the code or deviates from it, as it sees fit.

“In any event,” says Wasserman, “no one wants to see the woman of the family being forced to eat in the kitchen.”

But according to a Gur Hasid who asked to remain anonymous, when there are many guests for a meal and there is simply not enough space to accommodate them in the dining room or living room, the women sit in the kitchen. Whenever men and women sit separately, he notes, the men serve themselves so at least the women do not have to stand around, waiting to serve them.

To me, this was the most telling part.  I remember one meal at my Rabbi’s house, a chabad Rabbi, during Sukkot, when the men ate in the sukkah and the women ate indoors.  What was interesting about this separation was that the only reason was due to space limitations.  For many in these Hasidic communities, space is a real problem.  Even if one never invites non-family guests over, tables are full and sometimes it just becomes less of hassle to separate eating spaces instead of playing games.  It is like setting up a kids table when one has many guests.  It is not because kids shouldn’t be at the table, but there is no room and it becomes easier to separate kids and adults. 

About the in-laws

Over the years, the Gur Hasidim have become somewhat more flexible on this point, and in recent years, according to Brown, have opened their code of conduct to internal debate. Meanwhile, other Hasidic sects, such as Slonim and Toldot Aharon, have gradually become influenced by the Gur way of life and have begun to apply similar prohibitions in the area of marital relations. In addition, in many Hasidic families, Brown emphasizes, when guests are invited for dinner, there are always separate tables for men and women. Gender segregation often begins when the nuclear family expands, as children marry and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law are brought into the fold.

According to halakha (Jewish religious law), brothers-in-law are not relatives of the first degree. As such, they are prohibited from listening to a woman in their wife’s family sing and they are not allowed to be alone with any of the female members of their wife’s family. Thus, in Hasidic families, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law never sit around and engage in small talk. Instead, they keep their distance from one another.

This is another challenge that is faced.  In addition to the shock of men and women coming together in marriage when neither side has a good understanding of the other gender, but then there is the greater challenge of interacting with others of the opposite gender who are not directly related.  As such, many find their meals more comfortable with less intermingling.  Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between separate areas of the table and relegating women to eating in the kitchen.