A Much Needed Response

I have been too busy to post as often as I wanted, and yet wanted to say something, anything, about the fool who said his “rabbis” told him it was ok to spit at a child because she wasn’t dressed the way he wanted. It’s shocking, it’s appalling, and of course has been used to stir up an anti-charedi media frenzy — as if the men and women who voluntarily separate on public transportation are somehow related to lunatic sikrikim (loosely, fanatics) who listen only to the “rabbis” found in their feeble imaginations.

So it was something of a relief to receive the following in my inbox, from the authoritative source of charedi Rabbinic thought in America, putting to rest once and for all the idea that these thugs have rabbinic backing and sparing me the task of writing something more coherent myself:

Upon consultation with its rabbinic leadership, Agudath Israel of America issued the following statement today:

Reports of recent events in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh are deeply disturbing.

Violence of any sort, whether physical or verbal, by self-appointed “guardians” of modesty is reprehensible. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – behavior. We condemn these acts unconditionally.

Those who have taken pains to note that the small group of misguided individuals who have engaged in this conduct are not representative of the larger charedi community are to be commended. It is disturbing, though, that some Israeli politicians and secularists have been less responsible, portraying the actions of a very few as indicative of the feelings of the many. Quite the contrary, the extremist element is odious to, and rejected by, the vast majority of charedi Jews.

Lost in all the animus and ill will, unfortunately, is the concept ostensibly at the core of the controversy: the exalted nature of tzenius, or Jewish modesty.

Judaism considers human desires to constitute a sublime and important force, but one whose potential for harm is commensurate with its potential for holiness.

In a society like our own, where the mantra of many is, in effect, “anything goes,” many charedi Jews, men and women alike, see a need to take special steps – in their own lives and without seeking to coerce others – to counterbalance the pervasive atmosphere of licentiousness, so as to avoid the degradation of humanity to which it leads.

It would be tragic were the acts of violence to lead Jews to, G-d forbid, reject the culture of tzenius that has always been the hallmark of the Jewish nation, to regard Jewish modesty as something connected to violence and anger, rather than to refinement and holiness.

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33 Responses

  1. Baruch Gitlin says:

    I think it’s quite disappointing that the Agudath spokesman could not simply condemn these actions without diluting the condemnation with defensiveness and a general defense of the value of tzinuit. The defense of tzinut would be perfectly appropriate as a separate statement, but in this context, I feel that it undermines the impact of the condemnation of the violence that has occurred. The fact is that the ugly incidents in Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit are just the most extreme example of a larger phenomenon in the haredi world of an obsession with tzniut that has impacted the rights of others in many ways. I have witnessed (and objected to) haredi men verbally abusing women on buses for sitting in places that they deemed to be reserved for men. I also remember an incident in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph several years ago in which a leading haredi rabbi and several others attempted to break up a performance of a boy’s choir, in a public park, on the grounds that men and women in the audience were not separated (the audience was made up primarily, if not entirely, of families). These types of actions have gone without any condemnation from the haredi establishment. It is good that Agudah has condemned this extreme case, now that it has made worldwide news (where has Agudah been since September, when the harassment of these girls in Orot started?), but at least their untimely condemnation could have been undiluted by defensiveness and apologetics.

  2. L. Oberstein says:

    The next time I speak with a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah I will ask him if the defence of modesty has parameters for America also. When I go to weddings on a chartered bus (to Lakewood usually), I sit next to my wife. That is something I could not do on a segregated bus in Chareidi Israel. We have instituted separate standing at kiddishes (not enforced but suggested in some shuls), will we move beyond that to seperate kiddushes, maybe the women in the house and the men in the shtible. How far will “modesty” go in the brave new world? I am not at all sure that I can relax after reading this statement. It is the very least they could have said and least is the operative word.

    I think segregation is illegal, immoral and un American. If some Jews want to re-segregate our public transportation, they should know that it is wrong.

  3. ShlomoH says:

    They still try to split the hairs. They are against the violence and the extremists but not against their cause. So which is it Agudah?

  4. joel rich says:

    Is there a parallel pronouncement from Israeli Chareidi leadership?

  5. lacosta says:

    thank you . the more condemnations [such as now at matzav and YWN , the better]
    and non-haredi O, this affects you too
    nbc calls the extremists “orthodox’ . no matter what kipa you wear, these people tar you.

  6. dr. bill says:

    what is not said: 1) we stand with the victims whose dress is certainly halakhically acceptable. 2) We encourage charedi gedolai torah and leaders to place themselves between the girls and the reshaim who molest them.

    what dilutes the message: 1) talking about the wrongs of some unnamed politicians who lump those who are the silent chareidi majority with the bad actors. 2) talking about tziniut as if that has any legitimacy or relevance in this affair.

    if that is the best the american moetzet can come up with, is there any wonder why some in Israel do not only condemn the violent few in Beit Shemesh?

  7. Bob Green says:

    Sorry, I feel I must disagree that this press release constitutes a meaningful condemnation of the events unfolding in Beit Shemesh. It actually engages in implied moral equivalence: yes, some Chareidim are engaging in violent and thuggish behavior, but those darn secularists are also culpable of over-generalization! The violence in Beit Shemesh is coming to a head now, but the intimidation of little girls going to school has been going on for months. As such, now is not the time to take a middle-of-the-road, blame everybody approach. A genuine response to this issue needs to be focused solely on the violence, and how to stop it.

    Furthermore, the Agudah trots out the tired trope that the rioters are only a fringe element. Fact is, the “fringe” element is enabled by a hapless Chareidi mayor and an ominously silent Chareidi majority. More and more it seems that Chareidim are unwilling to speak out against the violent means as long as desired Chareide ends are achieved.

  8. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Not surprisingly, I had a somewhat different response than R. Menken.

    To me, this shows, yet again, that the Agudah is part of the problem. Rather than just leave their statement as a strong condemnation of extremism, they reinforce the extremists’ behavior by spending half the statement obsessing about… you guessed it – Tznius!

    In the Aguda’s world the REAL tragedy would be if, “the acts of violence to lead Jews to, G-d forbid, reject the culture of tzenius”! In my view the REAL tragedy is that there is dearth of Rabbinic leadership that should have been working to prevent this behavior, rather than being left to meekly respond to the embarrassment of world attention to it.

    Leadership leads, it doesn’t follow.

  9. Daniel Weltman says:

    Editors: please post this comment, and not my first; it is proof-read.

    many charedi Jews, men and women alike, see a need to take special steps – in their own lives and without seeking to coerce others – to counterbalance the pervasive atmosphere of licentiousness, so as to avoid the degradation of humanity to which it leads.

    If increased modesty is expressed by individuals’ attempts to avoid situations they feel are improper, that is one thing. If a man feels unable or uninterested in walking on the same sidewalk as a woman, and he switches sides, no one will complain. If a woman chooses to not speak with a man out of a sense of modesty, again, no one will complain (although people may question the motives, value and repercussions these types of behavior have on the individual and on the community).

    However, if “special steps” taken include gender-segregated buses, signs asking women to walk on the other side of the street, and an unwillingness to vociferously reject the more radical embodiment of these strictures (such as assault (insults and taunts against adults and, more horrifically, children) and battery (spitting, brick throwing, etc)), then, far more than the “atmosphere of licentiousness” the charedi community wishes to avoid, they contribute to the degradation of humanity.

    The true irony is found when considering the very concept stated above in my first paragraph: the idea that as long as one does not impact others with his “special steps” in modesty (or other strictness), one should be allowed to take them. This idea of personal autonomy and freedom comes not from the Torah, but from liberal philosophy.In the past, the danger posed to society from overly strict individual behavior was viewed as damaging no less than overly lax individual behavior. One who deviated too far off the golden mean, the societal norm, in either direction, was herded back to the norm. It is ironic that only in the context of modernity and the liberalism it engenders that the charedi world can support “special steps in their own lives”, steps that have no basis in normative Halacha and derive their validity from modernity’s “individual freedom”.

    Finally, while Aguda’s condemnation of the violence is welcome, it comes belatedly, at a time when the media has picked up on an old story in Beit Shemesh. This has been going on for months, the segregated buses (and violence in their defense) has been going on for years. Why is the vast majority silent? Why is it only when the media pick up a story that the leaders of the charedi world in Israel feel the need to begin to condemn? Was there nothing to condemn months ago, when the heckling of little girlds started? Was there nothing to condemn years ago, when women were assaulted on buses for not moving to the back?

    Could it be that the majority supports the goals of the violence, and therefore, they ignore the means?

    I hope not.

  10. Shaya Karlinsky says:

    If the first half of the Agudah statement had been issued a year ago, and forcefully, we may not have reached the situation we are in today. And it wouldn’t have needed to tack on the second half. One of the points being made to demonstrate the politically motivated agenda of the (secular) media and politicians in focusing on this now is “Hey, this has been going on for a long time. Why are you waking up today? You must have a political agenda.” Being a keen observer of the Israeli scene (I HAVE lived here for forty years) I agree with this statement. But the silence of Gedolim/Rabbonim/Leaders of the Torah community has been deafening — until now. So the same point needs to be made in their direction. “Hey, this has been going on for a long time. Why are you waking up today? Why was this kind of violence and behaviour acceptable when it wasn’t in the media spotlight?” A VERY difficult question to answer with integrity. We reap what we sow. As Rabbi Adlerstein points out in his new post, how do we fix this massive Chilul Hashem? Attempts to disown our own responsibility for allowing the situation to reach its present point — that will only amplify the already great Chilul Hashem.

  11. koillel nick says:

    Just as it is wrong when Arab leaders condemn both terrorism and Israel in one statement, so too is wrong for the Aguda to condemn terrorism and politicians in one statement. Neither should the statement have any religious agenda. The statement is counterproductive, and is not representative of the people the Aguda claims to represent.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    if only the black hatters in israel were exposed to views like yours we might not be at the outbreak of a war between the jews in israel.
    i pride myself on trying to understand others perspective and have always felt that there is a place in israel for all jews. The recent events in beit shemesh and yesterday in ramat eshkol have led me to question my tolerance. It is very disappointing that the rabbis are condoning their talmidims actions. I dont see any reason for the citizens of israel to support charedim learning if they dont condemn their talmidim for spitting on an eight yr old girl walking to school.
    n. This is an email from my daughater in law in Israel. I think this thing is going to explode and I heartily agree that my friends in the PR dept of the American Agudah tried to have it both ways.Sometimes, we can’ be so even handed. But, if half of the Agudah thinks that publishing a dead,90 year old Rebbertzin’s picture in her obituary is immodest, what can you expect. The gedolim of yesteryear like Rabbi SZ Auerbach were so much more tolerant and open minded. I think the ones of today are intimidated and afraid, just like the majority of residents of the chareidi area of Beit Shemesh who allow these thugs to go on their merry way.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    Any leader who speaks out forcefully against animalistic behavior by sikrikim and the like, but leaves it at that, is playing into their hands. Being lawless, they don’t respect leaders or what leaders say. Like it or not, the needed follow-up is to organize self-defense, and ultimately to get the legal authorities to enforce civil order.

  14. Yitzchak says:

    Some of the comment-writers here don’t seem to know the meaning of the word “ostensibly.” They should read Agudath’s statement more carefully.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    Thank you to the commenters for proving that the charedim are truly the Jews’ Jews.

    They didn’t speak fast enough. They dared to mention tzniyus. They dare to operate gender-separate buses. They dare to help their own values by suggesting opposite sides of the street before Sukkos, when the crowds and tiny sidewalks of Meah Shearim make physical contact mandatory. All of that means the charedim (including Rav Lipman, who is in Beit Shemesh and has vociferously opposed the Sikrikim) condone their behavior. Deliberate provocation is an acceptable media tactic against them. If we don’t get the desired result, we’ll keep trying until we do, or present a verbal confrontation as violence.

    If you condemn the charedi separate buses, and do not condemn those in Korea and Mexico City, you are a bigot. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, or wear a yarmulke, if you condemn it simply because it is done by Jews, you are a bigot.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken wrote above, “They dare to operate gender-separate buses.”

    Isn’t this the ideal, namely, that they should own and operate bus lines in keeping with their principles? However, the actual situation, in which public bus lines are made to conform to some riders’ principles, is a whole other thing.

  17. Eli says:

    “If you condemn the charedi separate buses, and do not condemn those in Korea and Mexico City, you are a bigot. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, or wear a yarmulke, if you condemn it simply because it is done by Jews, you are a bigot.”


    Women’s only busses (as in Mexico city) would not be a problem. Women in front would not be a problem. If the women asked for their own space but were allowed in the men’s space as well that would not be a problem.

    It goes back to the main problem. How can you condemn Terror when you also want to worship at Al Aqsa/higher standards of Tznius, and support the end result for which they are fighting?

  18. S. says:

    “If you condemn the charedi separate buses, and do not condemn those in Korea and Mexico City, you are a bigot.”

    In case you forgot, we are all Jews and in many cases we live in or have intimate connections with Israel. We are discussing our own issue, we are discussing the issue of how Chareidi extremism affects other Jews, including us, and not only them. There is nothing bigoted about having opinions on our own political and religious issues.

    Actually, I think this is something that you keep overlooking: extremism doesn’t only affect Chareidim.

  19. Menachem Lipkin says:

    And thank you R. Menken for proving that you are incapable of taking off your Chareidi colored glasses long enough to see the big picture here. If you can only see this as an issue of Chareidim under attack then you, too, are a part of the problem. Here in the trenches we know many Chareidim who understand the need for a clear and unequivocal statement of revulsion and, for months, have been despondent that their leadership has let them down. While they are not thrilled with the media blitz, they understand and appreciate the pressure that it’s bringing to bare on the government and law enforcement.

    Also, FYI, Rav Lipman, a close friend and neighbor, has been leading us in this effort. He totally agrees that the Chareidi leadership didn’t speak fast enough, that they “dared” equivocate in this statement by mentioning tznius, and is totally opposed the separate buses operating the mixed city of Bet Shemesh. You don’t have to believe me though, here’s a quote from Dov in today’s Jerusalem Post:

    “I view this behavior as similar to Reform Judaism,” he said. “There is no basis anywhere in the Torah for saying where women should walk, for segregated buses or any of these other similar rulings.” Find yourself another poster boy.

    Please read R. Adlerstein’s defining essay on the topic to understand what a true, thoughtful, and productive Chareidi response should look like.

  20. Southern Belle says:

    Despite my enormous admiration for my teacher Rabbi Karlinsky, I am confused by his response here. Does the Agudath Israel of America really hold sway over these zealots? What kind of influence does it hold over the Torah leaders and Torah communty in EY? It seems the statement that you wish was made a year ago should have come from the Eida Chareidis. I assume that now that this has become a public media issue, the Agudah’s statement was issued to support Torah-true values for the consumption of the media and those in the public following this story — not to wield influence over the zealots or call for particular actions, when the rabbaim that are closer to the problem have failed themselves to effectively do so.

  21. koillel nick says:

    I guess the OU and RCA do a better job representing almost all those replying on this site. Their statement is clear, and without qualifications. Unfortunately, the Auda couldn’t do that. Perhaps we all identify with the wrong organizations.

    The Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union join together to strongly and unambiguously condemn the recent violence and intimidation committed by segments of the Jewish community in Beit Shemesh, Israel. As the largest body of Orthodox Rabbis, and the largest organization of Orthodox Synagogues, respectively, we call upon all involved to return to the peaceful ways of our sacred Torah and to respect the dignity of all human beings. It should be clear to all that this hateful activity does not represent Judaism.

    We also urge all observers to recognize that the behavior of these hooligans does not in any way represent the attitude or demeanor of the Charedi community at large. The vast majority of Charedi Jews find these actions abhorrent, and the community should not be judged by the inexcusable conduct of a few.

    Finally, as rabbis and national congregational leaders, we support the right and the duty of Israel’s police to act with the full force of the law in putting an end to these illegal, and dangerous, activities.

  22. Arnie says:

    The increasing emphasis on hyper-tznius in the chareidi community has diluted the Agudah’s statement. Agudah does not criticize the Sikrikim on principle. Agudah does not assert that seven year old girls with long sleeves and long skirts are dressed tzniusdikly,and that all else is chumra. Instead, the Agudah endorses the “special steps to counterbalance the pervasive atmosphere of licentiousness”, in essence just criticizing the spitting. This subtle difference is lost on the Sikrikim. It is lost on me too.

  23. lacosta says:

    while many parsers here are being medayek in the aguda statement, those of us who are not haredi or part of its establishment know how difficult it is for anyone in haredi establishment to criticize anything that a haimishe jew does , no matter how evil the outside world might see it—-so , just the fact they say anything is positive.

    it would be interesting to analyze WHY it’s so difficult for the establishment to react..
    the velt sees it in terms of ‘coverup’ ; but there has to be more to it— maybe waiting for daas tora to congeal. one hopes that it’s not a case of after EVERYONE else says something is wrong , then a reaction may come forth….

  24. Yaakov Menken says:

    On the street, it is obvious that Rabbi Adlerstein, Rabbi Shafran and myself would all be joining Rabbi Lipman, as would Rabbi Rosenblum, who wrote about this months ago. Yet RJR also wrote very recently about the sudden assault on any attempt to provide a decent, modest separation between the genders. It is certainly an odd coincidence that both of these erupted at the same time, wouldn’t you say?

    No press release is needed simply to condemn the sikrikim. Anyone who needed to listen has already heard. Menachem Lipkin cannot claim that anyone in the charedi community was surprised to learn the Gedolim look down upon thugs who believe spitting at 7-year-olds is acceptable. Complaints that they did not speak out a year ago are a non-sequitur as relates to Ramat Beit Shemesh, as the school is newer than that, at least as far as I know.

    Everything Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, I agree with completely — what has happened may benefit the charedi public most of all, by creating a massive backlash against the sikrikim. But that’s the charedi public, not the Gedolim. Yes, it may become necessary for the Gedolim to call for a ring of protection around the school, just to demonstrate charedi opposition, but it’s the police’s job that they would be doing. The Israeli police have never hesitated to beat non-violent charedi protesters; I do not understand why the situation in Beit Shemesh has continued this long.

    Several of the commenters have simply proven why the Gedolim felt it necessary to speak out against any attempt to connect sikirikim with the value of tzniyus.

    Bob Miller is mistaken. As Shira Schmidt wrote last year, the Charedi community operated their own “mehadrin” bus lines until Egged put them out of business. Egged runs separate-seating buses based upon demand within the community for that service. And Eli was doing fine until he wrote that women, but not men, should be entitled to a separate space. Why are men not entitled to something that women can have? Who are the bigots here — the people who believe a community should be entitled to sit separately if they so choose, or those who believe that only women, but not men, should be entitled to that?

    In Mexico City, we do not see women deliberately asking to board the men’s bus. Yet in New York, women will board the private Monsey-Manhattan buses and sit on the men’s side (in the U.S., the separation on buses is side by side). Please explain why the right or left side of the bus is superior before trying to connect the mainstream charedi community to the sikrikim.

  25. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken wrote, “Bob Miller is mistaken. As Shira Schmidt wrote last year, the Charedi community operated their own ‘mehadrin’ bus lines until Egged put them out of business. Egged runs separate-seating buses based upon demand within the community for that service.”

    This does not make my point a mistake. Egged should not run any segregated bus lines as it now does; these should be private. When Egged pushed out the private lines to introduce its own lines tailored to one group’s principles, they were acting improperly.

  26. S. says:

    “Yes, it may become necessary for the Gedolim to call for a ring of protection around the school, just to demonstrate charedi opposition, but it’s the police’s job that they would be doing.”

    It will seem too late when or if it comes at the end. Why not at the beginning? The stuff protesting Orot has been happening for months. Little Naama is a symbol, and that’s why it became a story heard round the world, but we all know that this is not a new story. I know that you are not personally responsible for what the Gedolim choose to do, but do you really think in your heart of hearts that speaking out at the end, after apparent compulsion by outside forces, is going to make any sort of statement, unlike speaking out early, under no pressure or compulsion to do so? Even in this Agudah statement – which spends most of it complaining about others – there are no signatures of Gedolim. What a pity.

  27. Toronto Yid says:

    Yitzchak said: “Some of the comment-writers here don’t seem to know the meaning of the word “ostensibly.” They should read Agudath’s statement more carefully.”

    A very good point. What does Agudah mean when they say: “Lost in all the animus and ill will, unfortunately, is the concept ostensibly at the core of the controversy: the exalted nature of tzenius, or Jewish modesty.”?

    A synonym for “ostensibly” is “seemingly”. By adding that word, Aguda seems to suggest that the real reason for this behavior to school girls and the reaction to it isn’t really to protect tzniut. If not, then what? We are left to guess. Power? Control?

    I agree with others; they should have stopped after the first 3 lines.

  28. Phil says:

    Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Project YES just sent out an email that demonstrates what a charedi response should look like:

    “…how much more destructive is it for our children in Beit Shemesh to see their peers and even the adults in their lives shrug their shoulders and allow this sort of deplorable behavior by a group of radical adults go on unabated? How about its effects on Jewish children worldwide who see reports of this through the 24/7 media coverage, or hear this discussed this in school among their friends? My dear friends, it has come to this. We have two choices. We can continue to blame the secular media for its campaign against our charedi community or we can admit the painful truth – that we collectively have allowed ourselves to be abused for many years now by a small and violent group of uncontrolled kanoim.”

    He doesn’t whine and complain about how much everyone hates the charedim but instead implores us all to take a stand, clean house and stop giving our detractors this kind of ammunition to use against us!

  29. Bob Miller says:

    More on Egged:

    Its website refers to its public mass transit functions:

    Whether or not Egged is literally part of the government, the government has evidently given it the franchise to provide public transportation. This means that, in its normal operations, it’s not acting as a private company, but as an agent of the government.

  30. Eli says:

    I’ll try again.

    Men can have their own space.

    So a suggestion:

    Have men’s only & women’s only buses. However, the front of each bus is mixed.

    The power is the issue, not the Tznius. Your inclusion of Monsey Bus “(in the U.S., the separation on buses is side by side)” is a concept with the Israeli RBS would not accept, but the Frum probably would.

  31. Shmuel says:

    It would be interesting to compare and contrast the Aguda’s official pronouncement in response to what is going on in Beit Shemesh with its official pronouncement in response to the ‘ordination’ of a woman rabbi and see what can be learned from any similarities or differences.

  32. Chaim3321 says:

    R I’m highly in favor of the separate buses, and if I were not observant at all I would also be in favor of them. But the rude behavior that is exhibited towards women who come upfront for example to pay their ticket is absolutely indefensible. furthermore any rude behavior even for woman who insists on sitting in the men’s section is also indefensible. It is not just the small amount of extremists that are rude. More and more the so-called mainstream people are likewise being rude.

  1. December 30, 2011

    […] Rosenblum, that he was giving in to extremists. It is not legitimate criticism to expect the American Agudah to ignore the rights of Orthodox Jews right here in […]

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