Aug 31, 2011

The Greatest Danger The World Faces Is From Extremism - A Look At The OROT Conflict

A Guest Post by Menachem Lipkin about OROT

Several people have written to me because they’ve seen articles online about some recent turbulence here in Beit Shemesh.
In a nutshell, a new Dati Leumi girls’ elementary school is scheduled to open nearby on Thursday and some extremists are threatening violence to prevent it from opening.  (Actually, they’ve already broken some windows and slashed tires.) Let this alone digest for a moment; people who claim to be very religious are threatening/using violence to prevent children from learning Torah. Even though the school had been approved by the city and state years ago, the mayor “holds the keys”, so to speak.  He said, earlier this week, that he would not let the school open on time for fear of these extremists. The parent body of the school and the larger community got involved.  A large rally was held at the school on Monday and yesterday there was a carnival for the community.  Last night shiurim were held there.  All this, to establish “facts on the ground”.  As of now, the Ministry of Education has overridden the mayor and ordered the school be open on Thursday as scheduled.  The extremists, in a Pashkeville, are threatening “war”.

The article that comes closest to capturing the situation appeared here in Haaretz.  There was also an article in the Jerusalem post, but it repeated a lot of false information that was being disseminated by the Mayor’s office. (Today there was another article where the author attempted to correct some of the misinformation.  He also caught the Mayor in an outright lie.)

Here are a few bullet points that I threw together, mostly dispelling some misinformation that’s making it to the media:
the designer of this map, Mike, clearly put
more time into it than I put into my map the other day
- The school is NOT in the heart of a “Chareidi neighborhood”.  This is the main claim of the extremists and it’s simply false.  It’s actually at crossroads of a few neighborhoods, mostly Dati Leumi.  You can see the layout from the attached satellite photo.  The area in blue is mixed neighborhoods of Dati Leumi and non-religious. The red area is mainly Chareidi. The star is where both the Orot Boys and Girls schools are. Also, keep in mind that when the Orot schools were initially planned, there were no “red” buildings nearby. 

- Though the extremists claim that the issue is about having a girls’ school in “their” neighborhood.  This is quite disingenuous, as 4 years ago when the boys’ school opened they behaved exactly the same way; with vandalism, graffiti, threats of violence... they even put dead fish in the school over Chol Hamoed Succot.

- There was never an agreement that the Orot school would be relocated. 

- Here are a few more that were posted on the Facebook group, “We are all Orot Banot”:
  • Contrary to statements made by Beit Semesh Mayor Abutbul, the Beit Shemesh police, according to the Beit Shemesh Head of Police Kobi Cohen, has  never received any indication from the Mayor that specific threats had been made against the school.  The determination of a credible safety risk to the school was made exclusively by the Mayor without any intelligence from or coordination with the Israel Police.
  • The presence of the school in the building can by no means be described as squatting.  Administrators and teachers have been preparing for the new school year uninterrupted for close to a month.  Only several days ago following a letter from the Mayor was it decided that the school should no longer be allowed to be used by the Orot Girls School.  Since that time, the Parents Council has been operating around the clock to try and peacefully mediate the issue with all the relevant parties.
  • The Mayor had on several instances over the past year publically issued his position that the school building would be occupied by the girls school.  The change in policy has only occurred over the last several days.
  • The school building’s construction was funded by the Ministry of Education after an extensive review for an appropriate site to serve the needs of the residents of Beit Shemesh.
  • The Parents Council takes the safety and security of the student body with the utmost seriousness and is prepared to partner with all relevant agencies to ensure that no student’s wellbeing is ever compromised.  The school is working directly with the Israel Police to ensure that every aspect of student safety is assured before the school year begins.
  • The Parents Council has called upon Mayor Abutbul and the Beit Shemesh City Council to fulfill their responsibilities as officials elected for the welfare of all the residents of Beit Shemesh and to ensure that the Orot Bnot Girls School will open as dictated by law on Thursday, September 1 in the building which was allotted for that purpose by the Ministry of Education.

As I’m sure you can imagine, these incidents have been very difficult for us and our community.  Meira (my 10 yr old daughter) wanted to know what’s going.  She doesn’t attend this school, but her school is similar and she’s heard us talking about the issues.  I told her that the people causing these problems are “kitzonim”, extremists, who are a minority of the people living in the Chareidi community.  I also pointed that many groups have their own Kitzonim, including ours and other religions.  I explained to her the Kitzonim think that they know the “truth” and that their truth is the only truth and that they feel compelled to make sure that others behave according to their truth.  I further explained that, even though these people look like “Chareidim” and may even call themselves Chareidim, they are not real Chareidim as real Charedim strive to be very pious and come closer to Hashem.  These people do the opposite. 

It’s lead to some terrific discussions about the importance of mitzvot between man and man vs. those between man and God. We’ve also discussed the idea of Chumrot and how they should be personal, not public.  I wish these Kitzonim had half Meira’s wisdom and intelligence.
The bottom line, and this has been my mantra for some time, is that the greatest danger the world faces today is from extremism.  You have extremism among leftists, rightists, environmentalists, etc. But I think the most dangerous is that of religious extremism.  When someone thinks they have God on their side, well just stand back, as there’s nothing and no one of this world that can get in their way.  I see no difference between Jewish, Moslem, or Christian extremism.  Though, lately, the Moslems have excelled in the use of deadly terror to advance their religious megalomania, terror does not have to be about killing the most people.  Terror is about the use of violence or the threat of violence against civilians to intimidate and coerce.  To that end our local terrorists are even more effective, as they’ve achieved their goals, so far, without killing anyone.  But it IS terror, make no mistake. 

You may ask; why don’t the police just arrest these people?  Well, just as in London, Paris and Detroit the police have “no go” zones where they’re afraid to confront the extremists, so too here in Beit Shemesh we have similar “no go” zones.  If the police do have to arrest one of these people it takes nearly the entire force to come out and protect each other from the masses of extremists who swarm out.  This is an unfortunate and dangerous precedent being set in free societies everywhere.

I leave you with the following from Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s wonderful book “The Dignity of Difference” which I feel really gets to the heart of the issue:
Rabbi Shimon said: When God was about to create Adam, the ministering angels split into contending groups.  Some said, ‘Let him be created.’ Others said, ‘Let him not be created.’ That is why it is written: ‘Mercy and truth collided, righteousness and peace clashed’ (Psalm 85:11).
Mercy said, "’Let him be created, because he will do merciful deeds.’
Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, for he will be full of falsehood.’
Righteousness said, ‘Let him be created, for he will do righteous deeds.’
Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, for he will never cease quarrelling.’
What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do?  He took truth and threw it to the ground.
The angels said, ‘Sovereign of the universe, why do You do thus to Your own seal, truth?  Let truth arise from the ground.’
Thus it is written, ‘Let truth spring up from the earth’ (Psalm 85:12)
This is an audacious theological interpretation.  God, it suggests, was in two minds before creating mankind. Yes, humanity is capable of great acts of altruism and self-sacrifice, but it is also constantly at war.  Human beings tell lies and are full of strife. God takes truth and throws it to the ground, meaning: for life to be livable, truth on earth cannot be what it is in heaven.  Truth in heaven may be platonic – eternal, harmonious, radiant. But man cannot aspire to such truth, and if he does, he will create conflict not peace. Men kill because they believe they posses the truth while their opponents are in error. In that case, says God, throwing truth to the ground, let human beings live by a different standard of truth, one this is human and thus conscious of its limitations. Truth on the ground is multiple, partial. Fragments of it lie everywhere.  Each person, culture and language has part of it; none has it all.


  1. First of all, kol hakavod. However, I have to take issue with one statement:
    > I see no difference between Jewish, Moslem, or Christian extremism.

    Yes there is. Moslem extremism, by definition, gets you killed. Jewish extremism gets you beaten and pelted by dirty diapers. Chrisian extremism gets you spoken to in harsh and condescending tones. When God said not to follow in the customs of the gentiles I am pretty sure He didn't mean to be worse than them.

    There is a fundamental problem in Israeli Chareidi philosophy. On one hand they refuse to recognize the Jewishness of the State. On the other hand they pull stunts they would never dare to in other countries because they know the Jewish state will let them get away with it. Is there any wonder they're so screwed up?

  2. Hi Garnel,


    I was talking more philosophically. However, it's really only a matter of time before "our" extremists cross that line. When you create a mob mentality and you incite the mob by dehumanizing your target, raw human nature takes over. They already violate countless Halachot. And anyway once you view yourself as a modern day Pinchas, you could easily rationalize turning killing into a Mitzvah.

    I also, do not believe this is only a problem in Israel. You have very similar behavior in Williamsburg, Boro Park, and New Square. It's not as frequent or as extreme, but the seeds are there.

  3. BEAUTIFULLY written... thank you!

  4. you said it all,brilliantly,where r leaders with your intelligence?

  5. as Zade said, beautifully thought out and expressed.

    And Garnel's point about the Israeli Jewish extremists behaving worse because they'll get away with it in a Jewish state is also right on target.

    I think the overall incidence of mischief on this scale in Boro Park or Williamsburg is relatively negligible; BP, in particular generally maintains very smooth/politically savvy relations w/local authorities--a few bad incidents over the years notwithstanding.

    OTOH, Garnel, I don't see how Christian extremists get off even lighter than Jews. Harsh tones? You don't have to go back to the Inquisition for examples of Christian intolerance & violence.

    Bottom line: yes, extremism is one of the worst evils going these days. But Jewish extremism may damage or ruin [Jewish] orthodoxy, not the whole world. Islam is best poised to claim that prize.


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