Oops, They Did It Again

As Joseph Schick notes, Jonathan Rosenblum pointed out here last week that calling a single incident a “phenomenon” of Jews spitting on priests is a wild exaggeration. There was no reason to call upon the Chief Rabbinate to issue some sort of condemnation of the obviously disgraceful behavior of the teen who did this. Furthermore, the news reports describing the national-religious high school student conveniently changed his affiliation to “charedi” / “fervently Orthodox.” This maximized the negative impact, reinforced the old stereotypes, and provided a nice reflection of the classic bias of the media against charedim.

Now, however, there’s a new report of an “Armenian priest assaulted by yeshiva students.” The report itself is somewhat suspicious — it says that three more students came along after the first was already in an altercation with the priest, and “got into a heated argument… over who had attacked whom.” If there’s another side to the story, why aren’t we hearing it? But if true, it’s the second time in the last three months that this has happened.

What is with these kids? Regardless of who this was and what they do or don’t wear on their heads, I have yet to hear a take on Jewish values that praises spitting on priests of other faiths. Deracheha Darchei Noam, [the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness.

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7 Responses

  1. David Brand says:

    R’ Yaakov,

    Maybe I’m out of line, but most of the Yeshiva students described also are teens. Why are we so quick to ascribe these stupid acts to their frumkeit, but not the fact that stupid teens do stupid things? Yes, it was wrong (if true) and yes, we all condemn such acts. But why assume that it was a a behavior that they were somehow educated to do? When discussing children who do things that would qualify as “going off the derech”, such a drug-use and sex, we become vexed and wonder how to solve the problem. We try to help the teens and modify their behavior. I think we should try the same approach here, rather than pinning the spitting/fighting to their education.

  2. Shawn says:

    Stupid teens are probably as anthropologically universal as the incest taboo, but I think R’ Yaakov raises important issues. Certainly these issues were important enough to Menachem Daum to make a new film about it, “Hiding and Seeking” (http://www.hidingandseeking.com/). From the website’s description:

    [The film] focuses on Menachem Daum and his sons, and explores the ways in which faith in God has perhaps unintentionally led to intolerance for others.
    His feelings were crystallized when his wife Rifke returned from a Rabbi�s lecture one night, where the Rabbi in unvarnished language called for distance and �hatred� of the non-jewish world. Menachem was no longer able to sit still. But after his attempts to make changes in his community fell on deaf ears, and after September 11th made clear to him the real dangers of religious intolerance, Menachem decided that he must at least try to influence his sons.

    The result was the trip to Poland–to meet the Righteous Gentiles who saved their family–and the film.

  3. Jack says:

    The bottom line here is that stupid teen behavior needs to be responded to and it is important to develop and appropriate response. Part of that response requires that a determination be made as to the root of the problem.

    Was this just a “random” act of stupidity or is there something in their learning that makes them think that this is appropriate behavior.

  4. EV says:

    I’m puzzled as to why your forum is calling the October 2004 spitting instance by the Yeshivat Har Hamor student a “single incident.”

    Before learning of this particular incident, I had come across accounts by Christians who reported great irritation over what they claimed to be an ongoing practice of Jews spitting on them Ba’aretz. Indeed, a little bit of googling has brought up this Ha’aretz report from almost exactly one year ago:

    Armenian patriarch bemoans `harassment’ by extremist Jews The Armenian patriarch of Israel, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, yesterday complained to Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of harassment by `extremist’ Jews. “They spit on us and swear at us when I or our people walk down the street,” Manoogian told Poraz.

    [Enter “they spit on us” on the Ha’aretz Archive page for the year 2004 to bring up the title.]

    Now, whether these reports are true or not, I do not know. However, I would think the veracity of these prior reports has to be addressed before the October occurrence is spoken of as a singular event.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    I’m not able to find “the Ha’aretz Archive page”, but it’s really not important. Clearly there have been other incidents of harrassment, but the “extremists” in the other cases — as the JPost article makes clear, by saying this is the second incident in 3 months — are not yeshiva students. Those were probably members of the settler movement, rather than members of a Chassidic or other “fervently Orthodox” group. Even the “yeshiva student” last time was a religious nationalist. There are so many groups in Israel being labelled “extremist” that it’s often hard to determine who is involved.

    Having seen Menachem Daum’s movie on Chasidism (my wife’s uncle, Conservative Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, is quoted extensively), I can’t say I would call Daum’s an inside view. Why is Arthur Hertzberg, who hasn’t been a Chasid for 60 years, an authority on Chassidism? The most articulate spokesman for the warmth of Torah life is an overweight fishmonger who speaks on the film in fluent Yiddish (I’m not kidding, even in Yiddish he’s great). Something is wrong with that. He’s not showing his movie to the “insular” groups he’s supposed to want to influence, so how is the movie helping to solve the alleged problem?

    But there are larger issues here, to which I hope to get in a later post — especially if Jonathan or a new news account give us more details on last week’s incident.

  6. Gil Student says:

    Menachem Daum lives in the Flatbush semi-yeshivish community, not the Boro Park or Williamsburg chasidic communities. His daughter went to high school with my wife and it was not a remotely chasidic school.

    I did love that fisherman! But that movie, according to the Q&A with him after the showing I attended in Flatbush, was intended to be both a documentary about chasidim but also to inspire the “pintele yid” in non-frum viewers. It was meant as a kiruv tool, not an internal community critique.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    I was (fairly) criticized for referring to “members of the settler movement” as the (probable) extremists. My point was that the fervently Orthodox are called not “extremists” but “ultra-Orthodox” — the former pejorative usually refers to political extremists, the right-wing political fringe.

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