Last week’s New York Times coverage of haredi economic muscle ended on a rather sour note. Both the print story and the accompanying video clip offered the story of a young man who capitalized on his experience in one of the pizza capitals of the West (Deal, NJ) and opened up a pizza restaurant in Ramat Beit Shemesh – bet. After enough people expressed their displeasure with the fact that his store sat both men and women, reportedly through visiting upon him various projectiles in the from of tomatoes, hot oil, and gasoline – along with a death threat – he relocated to the safer precincts of RBS-alef. (“You can get a lot further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word.” – Al Capone.) There, he found the haredi clientele much more to his liking.
American Pizza’s sign shows the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Asked why, Mr. Shmueli said he consulted his rabbi. “The rabbi told me that the Statue of Liberty is a problem, spiritually speaking,” he said. Liberty is “chofesh,” which implies pure freedom. “Haredis don’t have chofesh,” he said. “We are servants of God.”
Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, the always fearless General Editor of the Artscroll Gemara (Bavli and Yerushalmi) and Rav of an RBS shul, was moved to respond with a letter to the New York Times:
As the rabbi of a fast-growing synagogue in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I find the cited rabbi’s remark concerning the Statue of Liberty at the end of your article embarrassing and absurd (although I am not sorry that Lady Liberty fails to adorn a pizza store). As thousands upon thousands of Jewish immigrants to the U.S. can testify (including my father, of blessed memory, who entered the U.S. in 1948 after Hitler’s horrors), the Statue Of Liberty was, and remains, a symbol of selfless protection and freedom from tyranny, persecution, and vicious anti-Semitism. Immigrants would become teary-eyed when visiting it. If the good rabbi would bother to learn about its inscription (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”) he would know that the freedom which it represents is not the freedom of hedonism and self-indulgence, but the freedom of choice, a primary and fundamental value in Judaism, and one for which the United States of America deserves the world’s, and particularly Judaism’s, boundless gratitude.
Our thoughts, exactly.