Monday, July 02, 2007

Haredi Violence and Intolerance.

This is a negative post. I try not to write negative things. My belief is that there is enough to write about that can spread light, love, positive energies. I steer away from contoversy, mud-slinging and accusation. I have deliberated whether to post this. However, for some reason, I want to. I hope I won't regret posting this.

Today I had a disturbing experience.

I had a few people to meet with in Beit Shemesh. As one drives from Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet to Givat Sharett, one passes through a Haredi neighbourhood. I have known for some time that it is a frequent "trouble zone" ... stones thrown at cars on Shabbat, garbage cans dragged into the road to prevent Shabbat traffic... but today I saw it with my own eyes. There were tens of Haredi men gathering at the sides of the roads. Enormous metal dumpsters had been dragged into the road practically blocking it. Stones, rocks and massive concrete "blokim" (industrial concrete building blocks) littered the traffic circle, and graffiti was painted all over the sidewalk of the traffic circle. As I passed I saw teenagers spray-painting signs in green and red paint, on the sides of Jerusalem-stone apartment blocks. The graffiti called for modest dress: "It is forbidden to enter other than in modest attire."

The entire scene was quite shocking. One of my friends in Beit Shemesh told me that the community there had put up signs calling for modest dress in their neighbourhood. The Municipality had taken them down as they were illegal signs. This was their protest.

And this is what I began to think about:

1. Where does this violence come from? How do these religious Jews justify destroying property and endangering human life (those stones could kill!) clearly violating many Torah commands? The Haredi community demonstrate a passivity when it comes to the army. Why is it OK to take off time from learning Torah for this? Again, where does the violence, the disregard for public property come from?

2. Who ever gave these people the impression that they could define the rules in their neighbourhood, as if the roads were not public? This road is THE major thoroughfare running the length of Beit Shemesh. How do they even imagine that everyone will comply with the strict rules of a minority? Can they define how people should dress in the streets? Who is to define the neighbourhood dress code? It's a free society ... or maybe not?!

3. Where were the Police? The incident had been going on for some time. Are they maybe afraid to get involved? Have they given in to the violence?

I am, time after time, puzzled at the violent demosntrations that come out of Haredi circles.. Last year, we had the demonstrations for the Gay pride parade (and again, a couple of weeks back.) A few years ago it was Rehov Bar Ilan. Where is Bava Kamma (that deals with damage to property and persons????)

And I am also bothered by the presumption of Haredi domination of certain areas.

I have always had positive views of Haredim. I recall time after time how Rav Lichtenstein would say that even if we feel that we can talk more easily to a secular classmate at University, we should never forget that as regards basic orientation and values: Torah, Mitzvot, God, etc. - we have way more in common with Haredim. I agree with him in principle. But sometimes, I just don't get it.

My kids went to the zoo last year. Unfortunately, that day a Cheder from Meah Shearim also visited. They pushed, littered, taunted the animals, fed them against regulations, acted wildly, abused and vandalised the train. Unsurprisingly, my kids returned rather shocked, shaken and bewildered.

Another time, we visited the kotel. Waiting to pass through the electronic gates, a bus-load of (adult) Hasidim arrived, and basically jostled us out of the way. My kids, again, looked at me: "Who are these people? Why do they push children out of the way?"

A third incident. Last Hoshanna Rabba, my 8-year-old daughter was essentially ejected from the men's section of the Kotel. Why? I was explained that "she is more than 3 years old, and she isn't even wearing stockings!" and I argued and debated, but in the end, my daughter just said: "It's OK, I'll go to teh Ezrat Nashim!" But who lets an 8-year-old wander alone at the kotel? So I left too! Needless to say, it wasn't a very good Mincha for me. Again, what gives these people the assumption that they "own" the Kotel? (The same presumption, I assume, that legitimised the raising of the Mehitza at the back of the men's section Kotel, so that now, ladies cannot see their grandson's barmitzva etc. Adopting a more stringent interpretation of the Halakha and totally marginalising the majority of Israelis, non to mention, tourists כי ביתי בית תפילה לכל העמים! Is the Kotel there for all Jews or just for the religious?)

I know that one cannot generalise. One could claim that this is a marginal fringe element. But then, 1. the centre have to reign in the marginal elements; and 2. These are too many experiences not to feel that something is deeply wrong. Anyhow, these people baffle me. They seem simply impervious to certain standards of Derekh Eretz, and they are frightening, because they aim to dominate, and when they dominate, their standard is the only standard, and it is usually the strictest version of that standard. (I think this is called Fundamentalism.)

Sometimes, I ask myself... Do I have more in common with the Haredim, like Rav Lichtenstein said? I share values with the Haredim, but with certain Hilonim, I share basic norms of decent behaviour, a respect for people, a belief that one has to work to make a living, a commitment to defend our country, a respect for Israeli Law, a belief that Israel as a State is a valuable and Historic thing for the Jewish people. I share many of my core values with the upstanding secular public. (Don't get me wrong .. I feel that these are Jewish, Torah values too!)

People have voiced concern that the Haredi school system is growing, yet it still rejects the national curriculum. This means that these children are not educated in basic things (like Government and democracy etc. History of Israel) designed to forge a common identity allowing all Israelis share a common heritage. I have deep doubts whether they ever will accept these things. But how then will we be a single society? We must be able to live alongside (not with, or together, God forbid, but alongside) one another. In Chutz La'aretz Haredim know how to ignore, turn a blind eye. how to get along. But here, they seem to have different assumptions and aspiritaion. The more I live here in Israel, despite my deep desire to see their community positively, my interactions with the Haredim are frequently so negative. I sense a deep disregard for law, a sense of non-compromise, and hence a lack of desire to co-exist, and ... there is that violence.

I wish they would prove me wrong.


Anonymous said...

As a "modern orthodox" 24 yr old living in England the issue of being able to relate more easily to irreligious Jews than Charedi Jews is something that troubles me. On the positive side, the problem isn't so big here because as you know, the religious community is more integrated and in general the haredi attitude in chul is different to the attitude in Israel.

However, I think that ultimately it comes down to mindset. On the one hand, I can relate more to one of my charedi friends when discussing matters of spiritual growth and the practical aspects of Torah & Mitzvot. But when it comes to a way of thinking - being willing to critique something, rejecting "daas torah" & censorship in favour of pluralistic orthodoxy, valuing liberalism & democracy etc. then I certainly feel like these values are shared more by my secular friends. It might not be so tangible but I think that this mindset issue is a big dividing factor between charedi and non-charedi communities.

Anonymous said...

Stripped to their essence, fundamentalists of all religious orientations and systems of beliefs more closely resemble each other in basic mindset than they do their more moderate co-religionists. When a group believes itself to constitute an elite, "chosen of G-d", then members of that group feel free to ignore or never to learn the rules of behavior and conduct acceptable to the secular society which surrounds their enclaves.

Decades ago in Brooklyn, NY we'd occasionally shop in a store run by ultra-Orthodox and would be ignored by the owners; as assimilated Jews we were treated as if we were toxic. Eventually a non-Jewish shop assistant would be dispatched to deal with us. Those who were clearly Gentiles were treated far better. This is an old story and a constant problem. Taken to its logical extreme one can envision partition of certain Israeli municipalities becoming necessary.