Refreshing, If Long Overdue

Several weeks ago, I wrote a short post providing an example of Israel’s media twisting the words of Charedi protesters, turning a quote from Torah and Halacha into a perverse call for the death of other Jews. The most frequent nay-saying comments said one of two things: “yes, but they did say such and so,” or “yes, but their behavior was abominable” — as if either justified the media’s bad habits — and why didn’t I criticize those?

It has become obvious by now that those “on the inside” in Israel, those with sufficient stature that their voice actually makes a difference, are coming forward and making the necessary and well-deserved statements of condemnation of the violent demonstrators. I did say their behavior was abominable and inexcusable, but also knew that Israel’s Torah leadership does not need the voices of American writers telling them what to do or the hooligans how to act [the idea of me sharing my opinion alongside that of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel or Rav Moshe Shternbuch is frankly laughable]. As I expressed in a recent comment, I concur that there is internal soul-searching to be done, and not just at the individual but the communal and educational levels, in the wake of events like these, but my voice is hardly necessary there. The residents of Meah She’arim are not the readers of Cross-Currents.

The internal soul-searching should also be largely irrelevant to anyone outside the Charedi community. In any other situation, a person expects the police to behave in a reasonable fashion, and in the absence of such, will be less interested in the behavior of individual demonstrators than police lawlessness. In any other situation, one expects the media to attempt an unbiased picture of the totality of a situation, neither, for example, underestimating the total size of a protest, nor overestimating the number who resorted to vandalism or violence. As I mentioned previously, to condemn the hooligans and overlook police brutality and lawlessness because these hooligans are Charedim is hypocritical and anti-charedi, and frankly indistinguishable from the way anti-Semites treat Jews in general. The fact that Charedim are supposed to behave better is no excuse. Jews are supposed to behave better, and — to use another, perhaps even sadder example — a generalization from five Rabbis in Deal and Brooklyn to all Rabbis is no different than a generalization from Bernie Madoff to all Jewish financiers. [There were five Rabbis accused of money laundering for the benefit of their charitable efforts, and sixteen mayors, assemblymen and other officials — all elected to serve the public trust — accused of abusing that trust by accepting bribes for their personal enrichment. Now which do you think got the above-the-fold photographs and dominated the headlines?]

What is remarkable is that a number of distinguished Israeli journalists have awakened to this reality, and are saying the same thing. Quoting Ruthie Blum Leibowitz in the Jerusalem Post: “the knee-jerk presentation of the haredim as hypocrites at best, and evil at worst, should be cause for pause. That such pause came this week from Yediot Aharonot‘s prime political pundit, Nahum Barnea, is as surprising as it is refreshing.” This is a double surprise, coming from a Jerusalem Post writer better known for her interviews with politicians and broadcasters than her defense of Charedim.

Concerning the allegedly mentally-ill mother, suffering from Munchausen-by-Proxy Syndrome, she criticizes the Israeli press — as a group — for failing to acknowledge “the presumption of innocence,” and then goes on to attribute this to anti-Charedi bias.

It certainly hasn’t been doing so. Every lead into every Hebrew news story this week has referred to “the starving mother” (“starving” as a verb, not an adjective), with additional features discussing Munchausen Syndrome — as though there has already been a diagnosis, a trial, a guilty verdict and a sentence.

This is only partly due to the fact that child abuse is one of those issues that everyone feels strongly about, and which makes for sensationalist copy. More to the point in this particular case is its connection to a community toward which the bulk of the public, egged on by a largely secular press, feels a sense of schadenfreude whenever something dark emerges from its midst.

Let’s be frank — I’m sure that not a few readers were snickering that I would bother to insert the word “allegedly” in front of “mentally-ill mother.” Schadenfreude — “delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate” — made real. The sad fact is that when it comes to the accusation, I think the evidence is very substantial. Munchausen-by-Proxy Syndrome is a very tragic mental ailment, doubly-so because it afflicts people who do not merely appear to be dedicated, doting parents, but often truly are with the exception of the one child visited with the most abhorrent “parenting” one could imagine. The mother in question has three (apparently) healthy older children, is carrying a baby, and — as the Court decided late last week, poses no apparent danger to her other children if placed under house arrest, especially under supervision. As Jonathan Rosenblum wrote last week, there is no “Charedi consensus” that the accusation is false. There is only a consensus that it is strange, to say the least, to see a woman jumped, shackled, and imprisoned with convicted murderers, in response to an accusation that she is mentally ill and needs urgent psychiatric care.

This is why it is so positive to see the media stop and reflect, if several weeks too late for this round of conflict. Besides Leibowitz’s opinion piece, the JPost also ran “Haredim Under Attack” by Peggy Cidor, a piece providing a far more nuanced picture of life in Meah She’arim amidst the demonstrations.

Two of the kids, one dressed in a black suit with a hat too big for his head, found a pile of ragged clothing and tried to set it on fire. Their third attempt succeeded, and suddenly the flames rapidly spread to a neighbor’s clothesline.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a van burst onto the scene. The [young haredi] driver jumped onto the sidewalk, leaving the vehicle’s engine running, … managed to catch the boy in the suit and, holding his arm firmly, brought him to his car, asking for his principal’s name. One of the women shouted in Hebrew, “His parents will have to pay for the clothes he burned; it’s a shame. And in the newspapers they will say that we’re barbarians.”

The reporter also took the dramatic and unusual step of actually interviewing the Charedi driver, who had this to say: “I feel that the secular press is too eager to put us all in the same basket. After all, they could see for themselves that it was mostly children and teenagers. I’m not saying that we should be indulgent, but hey, they’re kids, you know? It’s summer, they feel part of what’s going on, but the secular — authorities, residents and media — are too quick to accuse us of anything.”

The same article also quotes extensively from an interview with Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, a Toldos Aharon Chassid. Yes, this is the same Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim who spoke with Jonathan Rosenblum and expressed opposition to the demonstrations — even saying they delayed the final Redemption. To the Jerusalem Post, he had this to say:

“Who sends a pregnant — and presumably sick — woman to prison with her hands cuffed?,” retorts Papenheim. “If someone thought she could hurt herself or someone around her, well, that’s what guards are for, no? Nothing can explain the decision to send her to prison in her condition. And on top of that, I know about the cruel attitude she had to face there. They even took away her mattress, and she had to lie on the floor. Where does that cruelty come and for what purpose? What she is going through is a trauma. And we all know that a fetus feels his mother’s traumas while in her womb. Who will be responsible for the damage caused to that baby once he is born with some trauma?”

Asked if he was expecting the medical authorities to act differently once suspicions were raised, Papenheim says he expected the Hadassah authorities to establish contact with the woman’s community leaders. “We would have taken care of her in the most appropriate ways, and they knew it,” he says.

Papenheim, like [Zaka founder and charedi activist Yehudah] Meshi-Zahav, says that the whole haredi community, and more specifically the Eda Haredit, feels that the secular society and the establishment is after them out of hatred, ignorance, perhaps fear of their difference. “We feel that Israeli society considers us all as neglectful or abusive parents. We are judged by different criteria without taking into consideration any cultural differences to which we have the right like any other community.”

“They just don’t understand; with us it’s different. These people, the ‘primitives,’ the ‘not so well groomed,’ they ‘only’ know by heart the whole Babylonian Talmud, but then they don’t know who Madonna is. They may not even know that Michael Jackson is dead, who knows how? But that’s the way we are: primitive, but we love our children, even if our houses are small, not fancy and sometimes not so neat and tidy.”

Not only does Cidor quote Rabbi Papenheim, but she even quotes a fellow who “didn’t look like a member of the Eda Haredit” who nonetheless condemned the police for “indiscriminate” arrests of innocent bystanders — the same story the Post told me they were uninterested in pursuing less than 20 years ago. Something really may be changing.

But most stunning of all, without question, is to hear Rabbi Papenheim’s sentiments echoed in the words of Yediot‘s Nahum Barnea, who is secular and, as quoted below, in favor of opening the Carta parking lot on Shabbos. As translated and quoted by Leibowitz:

A hospitalized child is the responsibility of the hospital, not the mother. Before we turn her into a monster, perhaps we should look at what the hospital did with the responsibility given to it. Hadassah’s hospitals make a living from the haredim. They have extensive experience in treating them. Many problems, including mental ones, have been solved there discretely over the years, through dialogue with the rabbis… Many haredim truly believe that secular Israel is plotting to exterminate them, and if not that, then to humiliate them, disparage them and force them to betray their faith. A responsible Israeli establishment needs to disprove these suspicions, rather than reinforce them.

In no way am I suggesting that we mitigate the punishment of a haredi abuser, that we turn a blind eye to vandalism or that we capitulate in the face of the groundless campaign managed by elements within the Eda Haredit sect against the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat.

What I am suggesting, however, is that the champions of secular righteousness wipe the drool off their face. We used to have a party, Shinui, which fed off hatred of the haredim. This party disappeared… The haredim, on the other hand, were there before, and will continue to stick around.

Stunning, I tell you, absolutely stunning.

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18 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Quite a bit to chew on so let me ask 2 simple questions:

    1. To what do you attribute the time gap between the initial actions (let’s include those related to the parking lot as well) and the well deserved statements of condemnation of the violent demonstrators?

    2.Do you see a similar nuanced picture of life outside of Meah She’arim appearing in the charedi press?

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu


  2. dr. bill says:

    A piece written by Yair Sheleg in Haaretz is required reading. I realize one can nitpick. However, IMHO it gives a yet more hopeful, refreshing and long overdue view of what is happening, without denying “the facts on the ground.” lu yehi!

  3. Esther says:

    Kol Hakavod, Rabbi Menken. Finally, finally. A breath of fresh air.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    I just came across this editorial in today’s JPost.

    From the streets of Jerusalem to the streets of New Jersey, the media have lately been spotlighting what seems like an epidemic of ultra-Orthodox Jews behaving badly. In fact, the number of haredim who riotously attack police officers in Jerusalem or engage in money laundering in New Jersey is minuscule. And it would be stating the obvious to point out that the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are law-abiding; many live simple, unadorned lives, genuinely focusing their energies on the study of Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvot, down to their minutiae.

    The JPost stumbles in failing to notice that the biased and often inaccurate ‘spotlighting’ by the media (case in point, Bernard Madoff is not Orthodox, no matter what institutions’ boards he may have sat on) is part of the problem, as it searches for a solution. But otherwise it’s another positive read.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Joel, I can’t answer #1. I heard that the original ‘pashkevilim’ called for non-violent protests and that the ‘word was out’ in Mir before Rav Nosson Tzvi’s handwritten letter was posted. But I’m not there. Why do you think it took so long for so many different media outlets to simultaneously become cognizant that they were engaged in an irrational feeding frenzy of anti-Charedi bias?

    As for #2 I think the answer is obviously that the situation is very different. Contrary to popular opinion, as carefully cultivated by the media, the average Orthodox person has vastly more exposure to the secular community than vice-versa.

    How many Americans grow up never having met a Jew? Now, how many American Jews grow up never having met a non-Jewish American? No matter how ‘insular’ a community may try to be, it only goes so far. This is even true in Israel.

    So when the Charedi press reports on life “outside of Meah She’arim,” it reports to a readership substantially comprised of readers already familiar with it.

  6. YM says:

    There were five Rabbis accused of money laundering for the benefit of their charitable efforts
    The fact that Charedim are supposed to behave better is no excuse.

    I disagree. Charedim are supposed to behave better. If a Rabbi were to sell illegal drugs to finance charitable activities, you would condemn it in the strongest terms. The Torah does not allow us to take short cuts. Hashem runs the world in a way that specifically and particularly makes it hard for Klal Yisroel when Jews run afoul of the Torah.

    In the Catskills, there is a big ashram. We believe that many of the people there are Jews. Yet, as Rabbi Moshe Weinberger says in one of his shiurim, where would we bring them? what would we do with them? if they could be convinced to switch to Orthodox Judaism. Bring them to an average OJ shul, with 25 minute Shacharis and Rabbis perhaps more interested in raising money for their charitable endeavors than dinei malchuso? I would prefer to be connected with the neshamos meditating in the ashram than the wheeler-dealers

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    One should always read the coverage of the Charedi world in Israel from Israeli media, except for the JP, with a very jaundiced eye. The secular media in Israel has always viewed the Charedi world in a manner akin to blacks in the Jim Crow south that is way over the top in what can rightfully be called demonization and dehumanization. Obviously, that does not excuse the out of hand demonstrations, but the secular post Zionist left in Israel is not and has never been a source of Torah values-RZ or Charedi, in any way, shape or form.

  8. Yaakov Menken says:

    YM, from whence this delusion that the Rabbis who laundered money should not be condemned for it in the strongest terms? Please read more carefully. The relevant comment is that an elected official taking a bribe for personal enrichment is even worse, which is obviously true.

    If one thinks he will find better ethics in an ashram than the “average shul”, bevakasha. That is also delusional at best.

  9. joel rich says:


    The problem imho with the delayed response (as a general rule in damage control situations) is it gives the impression of lack of understanding of the gravity of the impact the news is having on the public and communicates a lack of clarity on the appropriate response (to “calibrate” as per the POTUS). R’ Rosenbloom and R’ Shafran’s articles were how many weeks after the first parking lot activities?

    With regard to the media outlets, they may be wrong, but 2 wrongs don’t make a write 🙂

    As to charedi press, the situation may be different , but if I am correct (from limited exposure to their US Cousins), then continually showing everyone else as “the other”, reinforces that “official” message even to those who have exposure to other sources. Perhaps that is the intended result, but as ye sow so shall ye reap.

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu


  10. cvmay says:

    The media, secular, Jewish and frum has tarred and feathered this entire episode in such grandiose terms. Can we not just pause, divide fiction from fact, and give it some time before reacting?

    “expressed opposition to the demonstrations — even saying they delayed the final Redemption”.- I found the next statement (and the following one which is not posted here) where Rabbi Pappenheim continues saying, the Dushinsky Rav believed that when the nation moves closer to tshuva is when Mashiach and the Redemption will come. This is a quite a departure from the Chassidish teachings that Mashiach will arrive when the entire nation has done tshuva. (the hashkafa of Rav Kook regarding the beginnings of the geula is when tshuva is in the air and the nation has returned to Eretz Yisroel).

  11. someone says:

    Yes people have flaws on both sides, but we good individuals, on both sides should try to be an example for other Jews. We need to come together and stop the back and forth fighting. Hashem is waiting for us. It is our call.

  12. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Actually, there is nothing “stunning” here. It all makes sense if you understand how the “media” works.

    For better or worse the “news” is first and foremost a business. When there is “new” news media must scramble to be the first with the story in order to catch as many readers as possible. (This has become even more critical with web-based news as advertising income is based on highly volatile page views.) This rush to get readers often leads to a lack of in-depth investigation and sensationalist headlines and pictures.

    A friend of mine posted on his Facebook status that we should all call the NJ paper The Star Ledger to complain because, of all the 44 people indicted in the FBI probe, including 3 mayors, the only picture they chose to put on the front page was that of a very Rabbinic-looking Rabbi. Could there be anti-Semtism involved? Possibly. But more likely they chose, what they thought was, the most “sensational” picture. I responded to my friend that this is a back-handed compliment. Thankfully, the Star Ledger considers a crooked Rabbi more newsworthy than a crooked politician. When they don’t choose the Rabbi, that’s when we really have to worry.

    Once the initial rush of a story passes there are still journalists around who must earn a living. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that there are many altruistic journalists out there. Given the benefit of time and hindsight, if the story still has “legs”, they can provide the depth, context and background that was often missing in the initial rush. Add to that the fact that journalism is highly competitive, so each of these reporters needs to find an angle to make his story unique. It’s very typical for these subsequent stories to attempt to undermine the assumptions and broad generalizations of the original stories. In effect what has become sensational is the critique of the initial sensationalism.

    As members of specific special interest group we tend to focus much more intently on how the media treats our group. There’s no question that bias does exist in the news media; editors and reports are human and publishers have political orientations. But there’s a difference between bias and outright false reporting. A sophisticated reader can see beyond the bias and extract the salient information.

    R. Menken is correct in his implication that we shouldn’t rush to judgement based on an initial headline and story (something we all do when the headline is in synch with our pre-conceived ideas). Nor, however, should we reject that initial information out of hand (especially when it opposes our world view). As usual, with most information in the world, the truth lies somewhere in between.

  13. Name Removed says:

    Assuming the media paint the Chareidim with a broader brush than they do other distinctive groups, do not the Chareidim do the same? According to Pinchus Lipschutz et cie, all Israeli police engage in brutality, all prison guards were cruel to the “Munchausen mother,” all government social workers lied in wait to ambush her, the entirety of Hadassah Ein Kerem participated in a cabal to destroy this woman and harm Chareidiut. Not only that, but the CW in chareidi circles is that all secular Israelis have a pathological hatred for chareidim. Has the Chareidi press ever once showcased a prominent secular Jew and expressed pride in his accomplishments? Would Chareidim ever acknolwedge people like Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Chagall, Franz Rosenzweig, David Sarnoff (notice I’m not including religious or political leaders in this list) etc. as honored members of the Jewish people? Has the Chareidi press ever presented non-chareidiut in nuanced way at all? I’ve never seen it. Yet Chareidim demand precisely the acknoledgment and respect from non-Chareidim that they are unpreprepared/unwilling/hostile to giving in return.

  14. CJ Srullowitz says:

    Excellent post.

    Nonetheless, your rhetorical comment regarding the arrests of rabbis and politicians, “Now which do you think got the above-the-fold photographs and dominated the headlines?”, is unfair. In the NY Post, NY Times, and Bergen Record I saw, lulei demistafina, no bias toward publicizing the Jews over the elected officials. The Record, in particular, being a Jersey paper, focused much more on the politicians.

    The only reason the Jews perhaps stood out more, such as on the Times’s front page photo, is because of their distinctive clothing and yarmulkas. It’s not the media’s fault that they dress that way.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    I have removed the name of commenter #13, because the comment showcases the way that one can tar the Charedi community with such a broad brush, due to the fact that most people don’t know the obvious contrary factual information.

    There isn’t a single contention in that post that is true, but it obviously takes a longer time to rebut a string of lies with actual evidence than it does to dump venomous drivel in a comment in the first place.

    “All Israeli police engage in brutality” — No. The Israeli police is an organized unit. “All Israeli police” have to follow orders. Now, I have personally experienced brutality, false arrest, theft, and the threat of false imprisonment, all at the hands of an Israeli police unit with covered badges. No reader of Cross-Currents can avoid reading the multiple eyewitness accounts of similar activities, including in the above article. No one says that every individual policeman is brutal — but the claim that the police, as a unit, behave in an unlawful fashion toward Charedi demonstrators has voluminous evidence to back it up.

    “all prison guards were cruel to the mother” — I have never heard that. I understand a woman in urgent need of psychiatric care was taken instead to Ramle prison in chains, and they took her mattress away according to Rav Pappenheim. I have no record of any individual prison guard giving her her mattress back.

    “all government social workers lied in wait to ambush her” — Demonstrably false from multiple accounts.

    “the entirety of Hadassah Ein Kerem”… oh, please do find me where Pinchus Lipschutz printed something so moronic and I’ll buy that bridge you’re selling. This is mindless and hate-filled. Do you have any clue how many of Hadassah’s doctors, nurses and technicians are observant? And how many are Charedim? As far as I recall, Hadassah is the destination of choice for the residents of Har Nof.

    The “CW” exists only in the mind of Name Removed, because it isn’t common at all. I challenge you to find one person who feels that “that all secular Israelis have a pathological hatred for chareidim,” as compared to a pervasive bias in the secular media.

    Then we get to the “Charedi press.” “Has the Chareidi press ever presented non-chareidiut in nuanced way at all? I’ve never seen it.” — from which we reach the inescapable conclusion that “NR” is illiterate in the material in which he claims to be an expert.

    He’s never bothered to read the Charedi news online, and has certainly never rifled through the pages of Mishpacha, which is now the most popular Charedi journal, and which, on a weekly basis, describes non-charedi Jews in exclusively positive terms — the geophysicists from Kibbutz Ein Gedi saving the Dead Sea region from sinkholes, Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, the man who searched out his brother 60 years after the Holocaust and the lawyer who helped make Coca-Cola Kosher back in 1935. And those are just 4 issues still lying around.

    You should read it sometime, “NR”. Then maybe you wouldn’t come across as a hate-filled ignoramus.

    Anyone still wondering why we moderate comments?

  16. Moishe Potemkin says:

    I think I agree with Rabbi Menken’s observation of press bias against chareidim. (I’m quite sure that I disagree that “NR”‘s rhetorical exaggerations render him or her a “hate-filled ignoramus,” that such terminology is consistent with the Cross-Currents’ instructions to “be sure to write politely,” or that Rabbi Menken’s assertive denials constitute “actual evidence”.)

    Getting back to the point at hand, though, I wonder whether Rabbi Menken believes that chareidim – the real people, not an idealized concept – have contributed in any way to that bias, and if so, whether that matters.

    [YM: To be precise, I said he won’t come across as a hate-filled ignoramus if he reads charedi press before telling us so confidently how dismissive it is of others. As for the rest, we agree to disagree.]

  17. L. Oberstein says:

    It is more than a coincidence that these chillul hashem episodes erupted during the 3 weeks. We all get used to cutting corners and after a while we feel it is ok. The difference if which corners we cut.Some people make a parnassah from criminal operations and say it is ok since the customers are either not Jewish or not our kind of Jews. Some people cheat on their taxes and say that everyone does it so the government takes it into account and expects it. Some people write checks for tzedakah and expect 90% back in cash. After a while, they think that this is just a way to get the government to help Torah, what could be wrong with that? Some people get paid off the books and take from government programs that they are not entitled to. They say that the non Jews take so why shouldn’t torah true Jews also get their share. After all, we pay taxes, at least some of us, why shouldn’t our schools get money by lieing, cheating and bribing corrupt non Jews. It is ok, they feel and after many years ,they feel that everyone does it,so why not us. What I have described is true and you all know it, just maybe not in our school or town, but it is widespread, especially among those who are the most un assilimated.
    When Rabbi Moshe Heinemann had his tefillin boxes opened by customs, he was told by the officer that he is sorry but ” a lot of your people hide diamonds in these boxes”.

  18. YM says:

    If one thinks he will find better ethics in an ashram than the “average shul”, bevakasha. That is also delusional at best.

    I don’t think I would find better ethics in an ashram. I think I would find serious spiritual seekers who are clueless about what being a Jew means and why they should be pursuing their spirituality in Judaism.

    By contrast, in the Frum world, I think I would unfortunately find too many people who have “missed the boat”, who think that ethical business behavior and their Judaism are two separate categories and who have substituted a combination of mindless ritual observance and a careless, know nothing approach to life for a serious pursuit of avodas Hashem.

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