(nablopomo day 2)
Why is it so hard for people to be honest about what they see? Why are we Jews afraid to admit that there is a serious, serious problem with Hareidi* Judaism?
We experienced this ourselves, in our own family, when our daughter (Rambo) first went to Israel in 2004. She was fifteen years old, and had completed her first year in high school here in the States. For her next three years of high school, she was in Israel, on the Na'aleh program, first attending high school at Kvutzat Yavneh.
One of their first class trips to Jerusalem took them to the Me'ah She'arim neighborhood, an old ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the north-central part of the city. The class was small, consisting of 7 or 8 girls and 3 boys. Although it was a modern-religious school, they knew where they were going and were dressed modestly, wearing long skirts and long or three-quarter length sleeves, and walked through the neighborhood quietly and respectfully.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, they were surrounded by so-called "Hassidic" men, shouted at, and pelted with garbage in plastic bags which burst all over them and their clothes. Basically, these 15-year old girls and boys were attacked. I'll never forget the call I received from our daughter, her voice shaking, describing what happened.
Afterwards, when I mentioned this incident--and how frightened and disgusted my daughter and her classmates were--to people in my community, they all said more or less the same thing: 'don't blame the Hareidim,' or: 'this was perpetrated by only a few hooligans, a few out-of-control people who were a minority,' and: 'this does not represent Hareidim as a group.'
I wanted to believe them--I truly did. But ongoing and recent events prove that this is not the case.
Some time back, there were riots perpetrated by Hareidim in Jerusalem over the city parking lot which was to be opened on Shabbat. They rioted by trashing the streets, overturning garbage dumpsters, and generally desecrating the Sabbath. This is Judaism? No. It's actually a violation of Jewish law.
I have read stories of women who complained of being harrassed and verbally abused by Hareidi men on ultra-Orthodox 'segregated ' buses, where women are supposed to sit in the back of the bus, in order that the so-called 'religious' men won't have to look at them and 'be aroused. ' This is Judaism? No, it isn't. It's a stringency that is sheer nonsense, and criminal.
The recent school-protest incident between the Ashkenazi Slonim Hassidim* and their Sepharadi counterparts in the town of Emanuel also illustrate this disconnect with the values and tenets of Judaism.
Everyone and his uncle has been writing about this, but I stayed out of the fray and left the subject alone, until I read this article (hat tip D.H.) in the Jerusalem Post, which prompted me to address this issue.
Here was another person--the author of the article--who had the courage to see what the majority of the Orthodox Jewish community refused to admit: that these so-called religious Jews aren't religious, and do not have true Yir'at Shamayim,* no matter what they profess.
They dress the dress and talk the talk, but their behavior does not match: they do not "walk the walk" - in essence, the Emperor has no clothes. This is what Michael Hirsch (the author), himself an Orthodox Jew, writes:
Throwing dirty diapers and stones at police officers on Shabbat? Calling members of the riot squad Nazis? Setting public facilities on fire? What warped sense of Judaism allows one to desecrate the Sabbath in order to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath? How does one who knowingly injures a fellow Jew acquire the moniker “haredi”? I seriously believe those who are careful in their adherence to the kashrut laws should question the validity of kashrut supervision provided by an organization (Badatz) which condones and implicitly supports such anti-religious behavior.In addition, these ultra-Orthodox young men do not serve in the IDF* at all, ostensibly because they are carrying on the tradition of learning Torah full-time. This should no longer be permitted, because Israel is surrounded by enemies wanting to annihilate her, and needs all her citizens to serve to protect her, not only the secular.
As a matter of fact, there are religious Jews, Dati Leumi (National Religious) and Hardal (Hareidi Dati Leumi) who serve in the army, and also continue to study Torah part-time, and to accomodate them there have been special Hareidi units set up in the army--so it can be done, without compromising religious principles. There are also Hesder yeshivot* where Torah study and army service are combined.
As Michael Hirsch states, the ultra-Orthodox segment which refuses to serve, does nothing to promote kiruv--bringing secular Jews closer to tradition. On the contrary, by not serving, they push the secular further and further away.
When Israel is fighting an offensive war (milchemet reshut), the Levites (those responsible for maintaining religious observance and study) are exempt from serving in the army; when the nation is engaged in a defensive battle, no one is exempt. I am sorry, but however one attempts to twist the facts, at present the nation is in a state of siege. Surrounded as we are by those who seek our extinction – Iran, Syria, and their proxies (Hizbullah, Hamas) – we are clearly fighting a defensive battle, fighting for our very existence. Everyone is to serve in the army, period. Again, when secular Jews see their sons’ blood being spilled in defense of our country, while their religious counterparts sit ensconced in halls of learning, how many are drawn closer to Judaism and how many are driven away?
This phenomenon of very religious men and boys studying full-time stems from the time of the Shoah*, when millions of Torah scholars and religious Jews were slaughtered in the gas chambers by the Nazis, just for being Jewish. There had been a drive to replenish the decimation, and so young ultra-Orthodox Jews had a heter* not to serve. The time of this need has passed, thank G-d; instead of there being a vacuum of no Torah learning because of the Holocaust, the Jewish People have since grown and flourished, kept up their traditions and laws and continued their scholarship in learning--despite the attempt to exterminate them. And serving in the army does not preclude Torah study.
It is time to revamp the system, emphasize service and support of Israel by all of her citizens, and bring in a new era of Ahavat Yisrael.*
*Hareidi: literally, 'fear [of G-d]'; refers to the Ultra-Orthodox Jews
*Slonim Hassidim: A Hassidic sect which is stringent in their traditions
*Yir'at Shamayim: Fear of Heaven
*IDF: Israel Defense Force
*Hesder yeshiva: Yeshiva combining learning with army service
*Shoah: Hebrew for Holocaust
*heter: rabbinic permission
*ahavat Yisrael: love of all Jews