Monday, May 4, 2015

Rationalist Judaism: Charedi Extremist Violence - Who Should Condemn It?

Last week there was a horrific attack by extremist charedim on a 21 year old charedi soldier who came to visit two of the members of his unit in Meah Shearim. At the Cross-Currents blog, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein posted a moving letter from the mother of the soldier. Both the letter and the comments bemoan the lack of condemnation of such violence from the charedi leadership and community.

Rabbi Doron Beckerman and Rabbi Yaakov Menken take issue with these complaints. Rabbi Beckerman points out that the violent thugs who did this could not care less what the Gedolim say (which is true). Rabbi Menken asks why when Israeli policemen beat up an Ethiopian soldier it is deemed an isolated incident with no bearing on the police, yet the Mea Shearim incident is seen as a stain on the entire charedi community. Similar arguments were offered by a leading charedi rabbi in Ramat Beit Shemesh after the extremist charedim made problems at the Orot school; he argued that regular charedim have no connection to such people and that it is offensive to demand that they condemn them.

All these people are, deliberately or unknowingly, missing the point. Yes, it is true that the extremist hooligans who do this could not care less about charedi rabbonim outside of their micro-community. But there is no sharp disconnect between them and other charedim with regard to religious zealotry.

There is a continuous spectrum ranging from physical violence to verbal abuse towards the IDF which exists throughout the charedi world. Furthermore, while the people at each level do not agree with the level of hostility coming from people to their right, there is near-constant refusal to condemn it. And even people who are horrified by the violence nonetheless produce inflamed rhetoric which creates an atmosphere that allows it and contributes to it.

At the extreme right you have a group of Meah Shearim and RBS-Bet hooligans who will commit physical violence against people. Less to the right are others from those communities who will not commit physical violence, but they publish the chardak campaign which portrays soldiers as pigs and evil beasts out to seize innocent charedim. Then less to the right are the Rav Shmuel Auerbach faction and suchlike, who describe Israel as a terrorist state and hold riots against conscription. Then moving left into the right wing of the mainstream Litvishe world, there is regular talk of people who are pro-equal army service being "Amalek" and suchlike. Then people across the board in the charedi world attended the notorious selfishness and ingratitude rally in which Shefoch chamascha was recitedagainst the Israeli government. 

Each of these groups does not approve of the actions of those on their right. But, with rare exceptions, they will never condemn them. Sometimes this is because they are afraid of not appearing frum/ right wing enough, and sometimes it is because they see it as more important not to break ranks with other charedim than to condemn violence.

As long as matters are this way, non-charedim are correct to consider the attempted lynch in Mea Shearim as a charedi problem. The problem is not the attackers, per se; it is that the attackers are part of a larger community which exudes hostility and ingratitude to the IDF and its advocates at every level and which almost never condemns verbal and physical violence from the right. Nobody standing around the attack came to help; except for Hamodia, the Israeli charedi press did not condemn or even discuss the event; and Anglo-charedim defend the lack of condemnation.

Who should condemn charedi extremist violence? Everyone. And the further you are to the religious right, the louder you should be condemning it. Otherwise, you are part of the problem.