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Oct 27, 2013

The increasing violence in the Haredi community

It used to be that whenever the issue would be raised of the lack of general education in the haredi school systems, the haredi response would be that the haredi system might not teach math and English, but it teaches behavior, character, and how to think, and the secular community should deal with the level of violence in their schools before preaching to the haredim how to educate their kids.

And it was a powerful response. It said, even though things by us might not be perfect, "we" are clearly doing something right and "you" are doing something wrong. And that aspect is even more important than math and English.

Unfortunately, that response can no longer be reasonably expressed.

For a few years the level of violence in Haredi society has been steadily increasing. It "began" (by "began" I mean on a communal level), I think, with some fairly contained incidents within Ponovezh Yeshiva in which students entered a fracas over which of the rosh yeshivas was really the leader of the yeshiva. The violence mostly stayed in that arena for a while, but more recently has expanded community-wide.

The last round of elections brought out the worst in many (and I don't mean just in Bet Shemesh). Rabbis cursed each other due to political differences, followers of said rabbis attacked each other based on perceived insults to their leaders. It led to one group of yeshiva boys recently attacking another group from a competing dynasty with tear gas, and then it led to a physical attack on Rav Shteinman, a 99 year old rosh yeshiva in frail condition, and just the other day a group of yeshiva boys burned books of Rav Chaim Kanievsky and of Rav Gershon Edelstein.

Locally in Bet Shemesh we had much verbal violence, along with kids getting violent with other kids and even throwing things at adults just for the crime of thinking differently, along with destruction of private property.

I called out the violence, naively thinking it was not something really supported by the haredi community. Maybe it was the unfortunate result of a broader issue, rather than an indication of a communal trend. I asked how people could be behind it, behind the people in whose name it is perpetrated. The truth is that I was wrong. The reason people were able to be behind it is because something has changed, and violence is now considered a justifiable means to achieve the glorified end.

I remember a number of years ago I heard from a yerushalmi acquaintance that the only reason the haredi community ever got anything from the government or society was because of its willingness to use violence and hold violent protests. They claimed that the country, specifically the government, hates haredim and would not give the haredi community anything, but is forced to because of the violent hafganot.

Since I heard that, I always thought it was relegated to the yerushalmi community. They were famous for their violent hafganot through the first 50 years of the State. The rest of the haredi community benefited from that, without even participating in it.

That is no longer true. The general haredi community is now absorbing those lessons and mainstreaming the violence as part of its repertoire. Sure, not everyone is involved in it, and many don't see it or even reject it, but it is there and it is increasing in scope.

Ediot of Mishpacha Magazine, Moshe Grylak, agrees with me. In his editorial this week he related a conversation he had had with somebody who asked him what he thinks the results of elections would be. Grylak said that the results of the election will be a churban, destruction. Grylak goes on to explain that we have recently had 6 minor earthquakes, and we hope it won't get worse, but we have already suffered a killer earthquake - without deciding who is right and who is wrong, these bnei torah hit those, those hit these, tear gas, excitement, hospitals, no end to the shame.

Families have been torn apart by competing camps in the yeshiva world, gedolim have been scorned, no values are left, no integrity is left. Teenagers are talking about gedolim and explaining why one is not as much of a gadol as the other, what failings this one or that one has. Even those who have not participated in this deterioration, were at least part of the atmosphere that allowed it to happen.

Grylak calls it a destruction of the society. The candidates will be chosen and others will fail, but at the end the fighting will continue.

Grylak mentions the midrash in which it is described how the wife of On ben Peles saved her husband. On was part of the crowd supporting Korach in his fight against Moshe, Mrs. On said to him - whether Moshe or Korach wins this fight, you are not going to benefit one way or the other. So, she said, why take sides? She thereby saved her husband.

That is something that must be remembered, because one day the parents will wake up and see how their kids turned out after being involved in these election campaigns. Who knows, Grylak wonders, how they will have been affected - the results will only come out in a long time from now - many years later in the form of an at risk teen, kids off the derech, or other deviations from haredi society.

Rav Yehuda Gliss also writes about this. In Kikar he writes how Moshe Leon got the haredi support - someone took him to Rav Shteinman's house, pushed his hand into Rav Shteinmans, Rav Shteinman said some bracha that was not understandable, and within minutes they went out proclaiming Rav Shteinman had given hsi bracha. Then they went to Rav Kanievsky where they said he would install a generator in jerusalem, and Rav Kanievsky also gave a bracha that couldn't be heard. They went out to announce the bracha and support. In the meantime, the rabbonim of Yerushalayim were deeply harmed and shamed, and then Leon had to be taken around to the local rabbonim. Gliss says that they lost because of the way they shamed and hurt the gedolim of Yerushalayim.

Then they put out flyers calling Barkat all sorts of names - a kofer, ochel neveilos (someone who eats treif food, a serious insult even if factually correct), and Barkat never responded because he is cultured and does not live in the gutter of yours.

Gliss lets the Sephardim have it too. He says they abused Rav Ovadia. "We love you, Maran!".  Does Rav Ovadia want to be remembered for his Torah lerning and the books he wrote, or for th epoliticians he supported?

Gliss says the community has to beg forgiveness from the rabbonim, from Rav Ovadia, from the school teachers who have to explain to the students what the difference between Gimmel and Etz is, for the harsh expressions used against each other...

Grylak recognizes that something has changed, something is wrong. Gliss recognizes it as well. These elections exacerbated everything and brought out the worst in people. Will the community do something to fix it?

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  1. How ironic that Mishpacha magazine is calling out the extremism in the charedi community. Well, maybe if they weren't busy promoting that extremism (refusing to print pictures of tzanua women, like the dead Rebbetzin Kanievsky, in the magazine) to make sure they move further away from the dati leumi world, they'd have the benefit of a little more ahavat yisroel. This last election was shameful. Shame on the rabbis who dared to write that the Torah says you have to vote for a frum candidate even if the nonfrum one is better (which even IF true, creates a massive chillul Hashem, just as bad as if they said to only vote for an ashkenazi or a man or a white guy), shame on the people who said this or that gadol said to vote for someone, shame on those who tried to cheat in the election, shame on those who lied. The day before the election, 3 men called - each one said my kid's principal said to vote for their party....so at least 2 of them were liars.

    1. What an utterly ridiculous argument. Not printing pictures of women leads to violence? Rafi's post was well-thought out and coherent. You are just looking to bash chareidim for whatever reason you can dig up.

  2. I think this phenomenon began long before the incident at Ponovezh. For years, "tznius patrols" have used occasional violence and vandalism (not really much difference) and the threat thereof to run "undesirables" out of their neighborhoods or cities, and violence and intimidation have occasionally reared their head in the name of "mehadrin" public transportation since the early days of segregated buses. Other types of intimidation have also been used to accomplish what seemed liked "frum" ends. I recall the municipal election in Beitar Illit 10 years ago, when a very well respected Rav was put under enormous pressure, including economic pressure, to publicly endorse the Degel candidate, something he was very reluctant to do. And so much for "daas Torah."

    I think there has been an attitude of winking at this kind of thing in order to accomplish goals such as "purifying" neighborhoods of "undesirable" elements. Bringing it out in the open and condemning it for what it is is an important step towards dealing with the problem, and I think you deserve a lot of credit for doing so in this post.

  3. Which leaves many of us asking one question: is the Charedi camp simply a continuum of extremism, or is there hope for the Charedi camp to stand up against extremism because there is some kind of line that can be drawn - to clearly indicate where the Torah ends and the extremism begins?

  4. Rafi: I don't see any evidence the violence isn't contained to a small number of hotheads as it has always been. Your and others speculation that it now has widespread support in the Chareidi community is offered as mere opinion without evidence that it is any different now than 15 or 20 or 30 years ago.

    1. it used to be that we could get away with saying it is just a small community of maybe 30, 40 or 50 crazies, and we are not part of them. now it has moved into our type of haredim as well. when haredim coming out of masas mordechai bankg on cars passing by and yell Nazi, when regular litvishe and sfardi kids and parents scream nazi at dl and secular, when the regular haredi kids mob together and throw thigns at people calling them Nazi and mechalel shabbos among other things, when kids push around and hit other kids because of the candidate their father prefers (I know some cases), we can no longer say it is just a few crazies. it has moved from the crazies to the mainstream.

      but that is just how I see it. you are welcome to disagree.

    2. Couldn't agree with Rafi any more. It used to be I could tell my kids that it's the few crazies in Bet. Now I have to actively explain and attempt to shelter them (very difficult) from all the garbage. My 12 year old son came to me on his own and said he hoped whoever gets elected stays as mayor forever so there never has to be elections again because of all the hatred and lasho hara.

    3. I definitely see how bad this has all become - last week I was at a park in bet (we live near there and I have to wait for my daughter's hasa'ah on Hayarden) and a FOUR YEAR OLD little boy called my three year old a Nazi. I still don't know how to process it, but i do know that it was just a little tiny symptom of a much bigger issue. And it really, really scared me.

    4. in the chareidi talmud torah history lessons they teach them about the terrible time 60-70 years ago when these guys named hitler, himmler and eichman who after years of fully supporting all the yeshivas and kollels in Germany and Poland for may years suddenly decided to drastically cut their budget....

  5. Rafi - excellent piece. Couldn't have put it better myself. It's time that more and more of us spoke up.
    Joe - when 30-40 kids (8-12 year olds) chase after the car of a mayoral candidate and nearly lynch him, then it is no longer isolated. When similar numbers of (different) kids of similar ages attack a campaign duchan manned by two teenagers, ripping up material and leaving one of them in a state of shock, I would say that it is no longer isolated. What's worse is that it now affects the Anglo parts of the charedi world.

  6. To go back to your Yerushalmi acquaintance: the government/Israeli society has often tacitly given in to Arab violence (or the threat of it), and the Haredim have internalized that message. And not surprisingly, the rest of Israeli society is beginning to avoid the Haredim just as they acid the Arabs.

  7. "no values are left, no integrity is left". You lost me there. Ridiculous statement.

  8. Rafi, no disrespect intended, but are you sure you're not confusing Judaism with another religion? People who are charedi / ultra orthodox, do so because they claim it is a more authentic version of judaism. Judaism is not a religion of peace. The torah is full of punishments of death and genocide.
    The 'anglo' charediim, are those who bring 'western' values to israel/judaism as opposed to the 'yerushalmi' jews without western values. and surprise! violence.
    So again, where do you get the idea that Judaism is about peace? Think about the concept that Rabbis can beat and torture a person that doesn't give a get... or that ultra orthodox jews (in general as a group) separate themselves from the rest of society and yet, unlike the peaceful quakers, insist that their laws be forced upon other segments of society.
    So I think the real problem here is you view Judaism like a reform american jew while living an ultra orthodox lifestyle in an ultra orthodox community.

    1. "Judaism is not a religion of peace" I would question you on that one....

    2. there is time for war, and times where violence is necessary and demanded, but in general one of our greatest desires is for peace, and that reflects in our prayers and in our daily actions. There is no daily activity of violence demanded of us. Those are unusual situations.

  9. This is why I truly believe when you involve children in politics you are robbing them of their childhood

    When asked about the posters etc, one should answer this is for adults, it's not for you to worry about, one day you will need to but for now have fun and enjoy the time you have now

    As children see things as black and white, good vs evil and one can't explain the dynamics of politics to a child so you either labeled as good or bad and unfortunately these labels stay with them into adulthood creating the situation we have today

  10. Rafi and Miriam,

    Where in the torah does it mention peace as a goal? Peace may come as a byproduct of serving god and being united in serving god... as seen through the numerous stories of the prophets and kings and judges. And how are the people of Israel united under god? by punishing evildoers, many of which call for death. God is the goal, not peace. Peace as a goal comes from people wanting to reform the philosophy of the religion: hence the term, reform. This philosophy is clear in the Tanach and has always been the philosophy of strict religious jews: the concept of right and wrong, and violence as an acceptable punishment with a clear acceptance of different classes of people. So violence is clearly not limited to wars. Teaching your children this philosophy is a daily act. And the violence which permeates ultra religious Judaism stems directly from the philosophy that daily acts are worthy of death. Are you sure you guys have read the texts and understood them? Last time I checked, charediim believed Jewishness comes from tanach and gemara. Belief in prayer and peace, and what you pray for as a symbol of your jewish identity, is a reform idea not an ultra orthodox belief.

    1. See beginning of Bechukotai, Rashi there. You have corrupted the Torah - a megaleh panim batorah shelo k'halacha. You would like those nuts to be the "authentic" torah, as that justifies your atheism. Sorry, I'm not buying it.

  11. I've got to admit, Way, you have an interesting point. At least, it requires some serious thinking.

    I won't pretend to be a scholar, but my impression is that over the course of our exile, we have emphasized the idea of peaceful relations with our neighbors and particularly with our host governments as a coping mechanism necessary to a minority community. I think this finds explicit expression in the halachas of dina-di-malchuta-dina.

    I believe that living in a Jewish state has shaken up our attitudes in this respect, and I think this change in attitude is very much related to the subject of this post. Ironically, it seems to me that the most vehemently anti-Zionist elements are those that tend to go the farthest in throwing off the "golus" attitude of going out of our way to behave as a peaceful and subsurvient minority.

  12. for a start..............

    יִשָּׂא ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.

    לָכֵן, אֱמֹר: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם

    וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ, וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד

    ה עֹז, לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן ה' יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.

    סוּר מֵרָע, וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב; בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ.

    שַׁאֲלוּ, שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם; יִשְׁלָיוּ, אֹהֲבָיִךְ

    יְהִי-שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ; שַׁלְוָה, בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.

    וּרְאֵה-בָנִים לְבָנֶיךָ: שָׁלוֹם, עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל

  13. exactly yehuda. god grants peace.

    peace is the reward for serving god. that is his brit, his covenant.

    what do you do to those who don't serve god? who violate his commandments?

    as the ultra orthodox often say, don't confuse your understanding, and modern values, with what god says is right. and god says that peace will be the reward for those who follow him. Peace for evildoers, for sinners, is not part of the tanach or gemara. Peace and harmony comes from getting rid of sinners... which is why while you may not recognize it as violence, forcing your laws on secular jews is a daily act of violence, because it is directly based on these principles. You just dont like it when those principles are turned on you.

  14. Baruch,

    thank you.

    and yes, the exile accounts for the difference between 'anglo' and 'native' charediim that rafi and others had pointed out. However, the children of these anglo charediim and grandchildren grow up without having any of the values of diversity. These children grow up in relatively closed communities, a rejection, to varying degrees not only of interacting with people who are different but even from education. Instead, these children are raised on high octane religion without the (unrecognized) reform values of their parents.

    1. Sometimes, not always. What also happens, sometimes, is that the kids see through the conflict between their parents' values and the values they are taught in school, and choose the parents' values - with or without the reliigious element. I think there are cases in which the parents are brought closer to their own core values when the choices their children make force them to confront this conflict.

      On the other hand, I think many parents do successfully pass along their combination of respect for others and religious fervor to their children. For that matter, I think there are many native-born Israeli charedim that also believe in these values, but unfortunately, they seem to have less and less of a voice. I believe this is the group that the Tov party seeks to represent, and unfortunately, Tov ended up with no seats. By the way, I think politics amplifies the worst elements of haredi hashkafa, by seizing upon hashkafic differences as a means to gaining power. Another unfortunate byproduct of having our own state - perhaps Herzl should have anticipated that once the Jews had self-rule, our old habits of internecine warfare and intolerance would return! I think politics also serves as something of an outlet for many haredim - they're told not to watch or play sports, but politics has a heksher, so they can act in politics like football fans act after a dozen or so beers at a game (or match, if you prefer), and fool themselves into thinking they're doing a mitzvah instead of the opposite.

  15. not the new testamentOctober 28, 2013 12:07 PM

    Are you aware that "The Way" is the name of a Christian evangalist group ?

  16. You should ask the christian evangelist group if they are aware they are using the name of a Jewish atheist.

  17. Maybe "the way" should spend a shabbos in RBS with his extended family to rediscover his roots....


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