This morning Shira Schmidt had an op-ed column in the Jerusalem Post, which she told us about here. Her thesis was pretty straightforward: wouldn’t you expect a conference on, for example, “Ultra-Orthodox Jewry and the Holocaust,” to feature some real-life “ultra-Orthodox” Jews?

She provided several possible invitees, people clearly involved with the academic community who are also known to be experts in some of the very topics to be discussed. She even acknowledged that members of our community might come across as “apologists,” and discussed the need for balance between apologists and anthropologists — the latter unfamiliar with the community, and likely to misunderstand basic attitudes and practices due to a lack of underlying knowledge.

From the responses, you would imagine that Mrs. Schmidt had proposed placing the State of Israel under the aegis of a newly reconstituted Sanhedrin.

My daughter is walking with a Tour group in Meah Shareim, and is BOOED because she has the audacity to be in a group with young men. It reminds me of their courage, of all the service Haredi have done in the IDF…

The writer, of course, is stationed in a front-line position somewhere west of Long Island, so his credentials to speak about Israeli draft-dodging are questionable. And how a confrontation with his daughter reminds him of draft-dodging is a mystery. But is this at all relevant to Mrs. Schmidt’s point? Do his statements, even if taken at face value, somehow render it more likely that a conference about Charedim, yet nearly devoid of Chareidim, will emerge with a balanced picture? Or is it more likely that the writer was merely waiting for an opportunity to heap invective upon the charedi community — and the publication of Mrs. Schmidt’s op-ed was the chance he needed?

The haredi & orthodox seem to think that by hiding they will survive. The leadership cares only about the hand outs they can get. Leadership is invisible because each group thinks they are the chosen ones. By hiding they think they can make an impact.

In an effort to make even the most tenuous connection between this comment and the topic of the article, I will posit the following: he is opining that the lack of charedi presenters is not the fault of the organizers, but the fault of the Orthodox for not pushing to get into the conference. Mrs. Schmidt and her leaders are busy “hiding” when they are not writing op-ed columns for the Jerusalem Post or attending conferences as the token charedi. [When this is the reponse you get for writing such a straightforward article, could you be faulted if you were to decide not to write for the JPost anymore?]

There are so many different sects and personality cults of Hareidim, some of which will not even talk with some of the others, or consider the other sects Rabbis to be apostates or Heaven Forbid, reformers, I can only ask which Hareidim would this writer have invited? Indeed, about the only things that the Israeli Hareidi sects and personality cults have in common is a rather extreme and warped view of Judaism, a totally unwarrented feeling of superiority to everybody else, and the desire to politically blackmail the secular Israeli taxpayer into funding their yeshivas and large families

All the Hareidim think each other are apostates… The ignorance represented here is beyond what can be addressed in a paragraph — but it does exemplify the danger of having a conference attempting to analyze “charedi” views without charedim present. You might end up getting nonsense such as the above delivered with an academic veneer. [I’ll leave it to Rabbi Rosenblum to talk about the financing of yeshivos by comparison with, say, dance troupes in Israel.]

Haredim have worked so hard to separate themselves from the rest of Am Yisrael, so how can they be surprised when other Jews take the hint and don’t invite them to pluralistic events?

The writer seems not to notice that Shira Schmidt, card-carrying charedi that she is, is both planning to attend and wondering why a number of charedi scholars were not invited. What about a conference on “Ultra-Orthodox Jewry and the Holocaust” is a pluralistic event? This one is a bit more subtle… but boils down to a classic effort to “blame the victim.”

The most poignant comment, though, was this one:

A friend of mine was in Yad Vashem, watching two secular Israelis stare at the famous picture of the smirking German Nazi kicking a Hasidic Jew who was already crawling upon the ground. One remarked to the other: “What fun, to do that to the haredim!”

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5 Responses

  1. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Dear Rabbi Menken

    Shira Schmidt did not go far enough. Academic conferences are small potatoes. It is the media that is most guilty of the sin of never letting Charedim be heard. The New York Times and the Jewish Week are prime examples of this. In their coverage of the Charedi issues, especailly when there is conflict with other communities involved, they will interview the opponents of the Charedim and so-called Charedi experts that tend to be biased against the Charedim but never the charedim themselves.

    That being said, your question about the firestorm is not hard to answer. Most people who spend their time on the internet sparring back and forth are a little “off”. I do not exlude myself from this description. People should have better things to do with their lives. Therefore the responses tend to be on the wierd side. the internet is not a debating society.

    Secondly, the wall that Charedi society, has built around itself to keep foreign influences out is not a one way mirror on the other side. It has effetively cut all human contact between the charedim and others. Contacts and networking which are so important in the media and academe are simply not there. This has allowed the enemies of the charedi world to demonize it. Shades of Shakespeare and Shylock.

    Thirdly, there was a study done concerning the most hated groups in Israeli society. The charedim were the second most hated group, not far below the Arabs. Why is this so. The Charedi answer has always been that it is the Rishus(evil) of the other groups that accounts for it and that that it and its leadership is in no significant way responsible. maybe it is time for re-evaluation of this theory

  2. Toby Katz says:

    I’m wondering what was said about chareidim at the conference, and I hope Shira Schmidt will report on that.

    Just a guess but could the fascination + hatred that secular Israelis evince towards chareidim stem from their uneasy awareness that they ALL had great-grandparents in Europe or North Africa who would have been considered chareidim by today’s standards? And that without generations of “chareidim” passing the torch from fathers to children, there would be no Jews around today?

    I’m putting “chareidim” in quotes because our ancestors — though they’d be called chareidim today — were not called chareidim way back when, but were just called — Jews.

  3. sarah elias says:

    You missed this gem: “Being anti-Haredi is being anti-religious-extremism – such extremism is simply extremism, and it is ALWAYS destructive. What do you all have to say about the sect of Haredi who believe less in Israel’s right to exist than the average Palestinian? Do all of you sincerely believe that doing little more than reading the bible does more for Jewish character than being the good neighbor and hard worker our deepest cultural roots have instilled in us?” Interesting to watch the bigots coming out from under the rocks.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    People, as we know, have to be taught to hate. Much alarm has been expressed about the anti-Jewish hate content of the Palestinian Arab school curriculum at all levels. It’s correctly understood that what is taught has consequences. Now is the time for a thorough review and overhaul of Israeli government-owned and government-funded secular school curricula at all levels, to make sure they present a fair view of Haredim, their outlook, and their accomplishments.

  5. T. F. says:

    This is yet another example of Jews trying to achieve “diversification of thought” through the window of their own political biases….
    To achieve diversity, one generally debates their current opinions and biases and targets the inconsistencies,
    and then searches for reason to believe that the iconsistency is generated by the system/ideology behind it….
    It seems that unfortunately, (especially with the ultra-orthodox)when a cohort which constantly seeks out
    ways to convey in physical/tangible terms that they are different and are not interested in taking part in regular society, opinions rooting from a feeling of inferiority (from regular jews) are developed, and are fueled by the incosistencies of behavior(led by the evil inclinations) on the part of the ultra-orthodox, and to debate such inconsistencies without a TRULY OPEN MIND will just generate more negativity with tolerant actions to justify. Howeverm n open mind will only happen with the true UNDERSTANDING towards all factions of jewish sociey, and then formulating an opinion.

    Off topic : (this article reminds me of this video…)
    [YM: Ok, I’m letting the video through. It’s G-rated (at least through the second minute), and if it’s very mildly offensive, one has to admit it is funny.]

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