Burning down our own neighborhood — Reconsidered
What follows is not a recantation of my recent column “Burning Down Our Own Neighborhood.” Nevertheless, if an issue is worth writing about at all, there are usually two sides to it, and any single column will inevitably fail to do justice to the full complexity of the matter.
Various readers, including leading rabbonim whom I respect greatly, took the time to speak to me about the column. One of those rabbis called me to complain that column had failed to stress the threat posed by the Parade of Pride. To bring home the point, he noted that the gematria of the Parade of Pride and Atomic Strike (Mitzad HaGaavah and Piguah Atom) are the same.
I am unqualified to evaluate this gematria, or the dozen or so more that followed, but a similar point was made to me by a leading young rosh yeshiva in the United States. How would we react, he asked me, if a group nailed chametz to our doors during Pesach? His point: We can all acknowledge that there are actions against the Torah that require something more than polite letters to the Prime Minister expressing our discomfiture.
What those actions are and what form the response should take, however, remain the exclusive province of the Torah leaders of the generation. In that context, I should note that one of those closest to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was outraged when I told him that some had interpreted the Rav’s written statement that the march must not be allowed to pass without protest as providing carte blanche approval for any form of protest. He fairly shouted at me that only an idiot could believe that Rav Elyashiv condoned the resort to violence.
Another reader took me aside at the recent convention of Agudath Israel of America and complained that my use of the term “rioters” was too general, and could have been construed to include the protest marches led by Rabbi Tuvia Weiss and Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch of the Edah HaChareidis dressed in sackcloth.
For the record, I do not reject the use of civil disobedience. Had the leadership of the chareidi world called for a massive, non-violent protest gathering to stop the parade, the absence of a police permit would not have prevented me from heeding that call.
Nor am I a pacifist. The police units used to quell protests typically include some of the roughest and most violent elements of the police forces. And their modus operandi, when they cannot identify or catch those engaged in illegal actions, is to grab anyone who happens to be in the vicinity and beat him to a pulp.
When a resident of the Bais Yisroel neighborhood fled from police into the Mirrer Yeshiva, Mirrer bochurim were not required to stand around passively while police pummeled and attempted to arrest their fellow students who had not been involved in any illegal activities.
FINALLY, A NUMBER OF READERS argued that violence and the threat of more violence proved effective in stopping the parade. Perhaps, though my own guess is that misfire of IDF artillery that claimed the lives of 18 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun had more to do with the cancellation, as security forces were stretched to the breaking point in an effort to thwart retaliatory terrorist attacks.
Still, it must be conceded that Jerusalem was voted down as the venue for a European Pride Parade next summer, in large part due to the fierce opposition such international gatherings have occasioned. And the Israeli Supreme Court in a long series of cases has encouraged threats of violence. Thus the Court has repeatedly barred Jews from praying on the Temple Mount — not on halachic grounds but out of concern for provoking Moslem violence.
When the right of the Women of the Wall (WoW) to conduct prayer services at the Kotel according to their rite first came before the Supreme Court, the Court could have followed a long line of cases holding that it has no jurisdiction to determine the form of prayer at designated “holy places” and that it is up to the appointed religious officials to determine “the custom of the place.” Instead the Court effectively rewrote the governing statute and permitted WoW’s services.
But after police representations that allowing WoW to conduct their services at the Kotel might provoke riots, the Court agreed to rehear the case, and ultimately offered WoW Robinson’s Arch for their prayers. Rather than giving the governing statute its simplest reading, the Court reached the same result by perpetuating a stereotype of wild and crazy chareidim. It thereby conveyed the lesson to some members of our community that sometimes it pays to be seen as wild and crazy.
BUT MY ORIGINAL POINT was that the horror of the parade and the efficacy of violence in stopping it are at most the starting points of a proper Torah analysis. Neither consideration, in and of itself, justifies the use of violence. In the short run, for instance, vigilante action might deter some Chillul Shabbos, but no responsible Torah authority would ever encourage such action. Similarly, the Torah leaders unanimously condemned the Shabbos rock-throwing on the Ramot Road a quarter century ago, and the stabbing of one of the marchers in another Jerusalem Pride Parade two years ago.
What I decried was the implicit assumption by some in our community that once any phenomenon is classified as evil that any means are permissible to stop it. That assumption is the antithesis of the careful balancing required by the Torah, and for which we have the greatest Torah authorities.
Some of my critics are correct that if certain actions were required by the Torah, as determined by the Torah authorities of our time, it would not make any difference whether those actions won accolades from the secular public. But that is not because Chillul Hashem is irrelevant, but because no Chillul Hashem can be involved when we are doing the ratzon Hashem.
Nor is it because, as one reader wrote, it is no concern of ours what secular Jews think of us. Anyone who thinks that way completely fails to comprehend either the mutual responsibility of all Jews for one another or the common mission that binds us all together.
Originally published in today’s Mishpacha magazine.