Two Ways To Help

Here are two ways in which people are addressing the horrible images of recent events that we are still haunted by. One is an opportunity to speak out; the other deals with one of the painful core problems that creates the environment which nurtures the extremism that we recoil from when we see it on YouTube.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, known to our readers for both thinking out of the box and for speaking out courageously, has teamed up with a Brooklyn attorney to craft an online petition. The wording is plain vanilla. It stays clear of all politics and all divisions. It simply condemns violence and intimidation as thoroughly out of character with the ways of Torah. It deplores the misappropriation of Holocaust imagery. It makes no demands, points no fingers, and offers no solutions. Instead, it accepts that silence can be construed as acquiescence, and notes that the signatories are breaking that silence. While many in Israel do not accept the need to speak out, very few in the West doubt it for a moment.

The petition is just getting started; already important names in the public domain are among the early signatures. You can add yours here.

While it is easy for most of us to distance ourselves from the extremism, we remain disquieted by the reactions of all the good people on the scene who also deplore extremism, but often cannot bring themselves to stand in solidarity with those of another camp. Many in Israel (in several camps, not only charedi) erect non-permeable walls that bar anything and everything associated with a different ideology. That reaction is not so far from home – and even where it is, we recognize how easily it might be imported and embraced.

How to deal with those with whom we must disagree has always been a knotty question. I will confess to have agonized over the issue a good deal in the last ten days. So has my good friend, Rabbi Ilan Feldman in Atlanta. Joining with another community rabbi, they were able to persuade Atlanta rabbonim of all Orthodox stripes to trade pulpits for mincha on Asarah B’Tevers. Each rov spoke in a shul not his own on the topic of ahavas Yisrael.

The decision to go ahead with the program was not an easy one. We are a stubborn people, to whom matters of ideology mean very much. Those difference cannot – and in many cases should not – be erased. Yet, the rabbonim of Atlanta followed their intuition that at this very troubled moment of history, it is even more important to push back against institutionalized intolerance. They overcame their concerns about appearing to abandon their individual mission statements with a few lines sent to all their congregants:

We do not intend to de- emphasize differences in approach or opinion. On the contrary, we intend to send a message: disagreements are not personal, and do not diminish our passionate commitment to expressing ourselves in a way that makes mutual respect and ahavat achim (brotherly love) apparent..

Here, too, I think they captured the thoughts of a good number of their American coreligionists.

May HKBH help us all identify other helpful ways to heal a wounded people.

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11 Responses

  1. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Because comments are closed on the article by Eytan Kobre, I am taking the liberty of making a comment here. Levy is indeed a leftist, and it is to his great credit that he makes such a statement, even as it is to the credit of Labor’s Sheli Yechimovich that she spoke out against the bashing of settlers with a broad brush recently. But Harel is a token kipa, presently or previously living in Ofra and formerly a major figure in the Council of Jewish Settlements (Moetzet Yesha). So his position is less surprising. Nothing profound, just a clarification.

  2. cvmay says:

    Kudos to Rabbi Ilan Feldman. A breath of fresh air is needed while the smog is covering the hemisphere.

  3. Reb Yid says:

    I’d like to suggest this go a step further and have rabbis of all denominations switch pulpits for 1 week.

    I was wondering about this the other day, when a friend of ours in our town’s Conservative shul asked me what the dvar torah was at our Orthodox one. I told him the entire dvar Torah was about Beit Shemesh. He said it did not come up in their shul at all, which to him seemed to be a bit odd. Am seriously thinking of going to each of the shuls in our community (4 different denominations) and asking if I can review the sermon topics for the past year.

  4. Alan says:

    R. Adlerstein,
    Thanks for sharing the Atlanta idea. Very powerful.
    Watching how hard it is for Shomer Shabbos Jews in Israel (and here in the US on a smaller scale) to get along and legitimize one another, I am struck at how powerful the introduction of the Netziv to his Peirush on Chumash was so long ago.
    I think his introduction is worthy of a post in its own right about how important it is for Jews who differ in their Avodas Hashem to never delegitimize one another.

  5. Baruch Gitlin says:

    The Atlanta idea certainly sounds like a fine thing, and a credit to the entire Atlanta Orthodox Jewish community. If any of the rabbaim in Beit Shemesh read this, I sincerely and fervently hope they will see fit to initiate a similar program for this city.

  6. Gavriel says:

    A similar initiative to that in Atlanta was tried in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Needless to say, while the Dati Leumi shuls were ready to host Charedi rabbanim, the invitations were never reciprocated. Much like how Bnei Yeshurun in Teaneck hosted Gedolim from Chaim Berlin and BMG and Ner Yisroel, but the invitations would never be reciprocated. Atlanta is the exception that proves the rule.

  7. Dr. E says:

    What a wonderful idea that they were able to pull off in Atlanta. If everyone truly believes in Achdus and tolerance rather than now giving it lip service as a reaction to current events, pulpit exchanges in shuls and Yeshivos should be considered everywhere in cities in the U.S. and Israel. Kinas sofrim tarbeh chachma.

  8. DF says:

    Be appreciateive these rabbis even spoke about Beit Shemesh at all, from whatever their persepctive. In my shul, the rabbis (there are actually two) did not even speak about it Beit Shemesh, neither this week nor the previous week, and just gave a random dvar torah on the parsha as though nothing had ever happened. The rabbis in this shul, like too many of today’s rabbis who come straight from yeshivahs and koillelim, think somehow it is “modern-orthodox” to speak about curent events. NOTE TO FRUM-STYLE SHULS & THEIR RABBIS – If you want to be a real mora d’asra, you have to speak about current events. It doesnt matter if the ballebattim disagree with your take; that’s a constant in Jewish life. But you at least have to try. If you don’t address it, your followers will correctly interpret it to mean you have nothing to offer.

  9. Yisrael Asper says:

    There are positive outcomes perhaps most dramatically from one which defies a stereotype like this piece of news which shows a mainstream Chareidi leader in Israel saying a lesson must be internalized:
    “Ponivezh Rosh Yeshiva: We Deserve This

    The Ponivezh Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein related to the media incitement against the Hareidim and said that in the face of such incitement, the Hareidim should realize it is a message from G-d. The only response can be the eradication of baseless hatred, and repentance.”

    Unfortunately there is negative news even from the other direction that has always existed but with too much of blame being laid on can presently be worsened:
    “After a Channel 2 News report showed a hareidi-religious extremist spitting on a seven-year-old religious Zionist girl as she walked to school, the conflict escalated to a protest in Beit Shemesh last week, but now it appears that attacks are coming from the other direction.

    Channel 10 News reported on Tuesday about 10-year-old Bluma Shpitzer, a hareidi-religious girl who was attacked by a young secular man on Monday, as she was on the bus on her way to school. According to a report on Army Radio, the incident occurred on a bus in Jerusalem.

    “He began to spit at me and told me that I’m cursed because I’m hareidi,” the girl told Channel 10, adding she did not go to school on Tuesday, fearing the unpleasant incident would repeat itself.

    “He said he knew where I get off the bus and said he would come with all his friends to get back at me because I’m hareidi,” Shpitzer said. Her father, Moshe, told Channel 10 that his daughter could not sleep during the night and stayed in his room because she was afraid.”

    We just went through the fast of the Tenth of Tevet not long ago which commemorates the siege of Jerusalem. Let’s not make ourselves G-d forbid worthy of another siege. G-d gives Eretz Yisrael to us only conditionally. If we are G-d forbid not worthy, we’re out.

  10. Allan Katz says:

    ‘The Ponivezh Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein related to the media incitement against the Hareidim and said that in the face of such incitement, the Hareidim should realize it is a message from G-d. The only response can be the eradication of baseless hatred, and repentance.”

    Unfortunately the attitude that the israeli press is anti-chareidi precludes self refection , taking responsibility and doing teshuvah.

    The response should be refocusing on Jewish values – for eg redefining a mehadrin bus – people being respectful , standing up for older people, pregnant women , not seperating families especially those with young kids but giving them support etc

  11. Yisrael Asper says:

    Allan Katz said:”‘The Ponivezh Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein related to the media incitement against the Hareidim and said that in the face of such incitement, the Hareidim should realize it is a message from G-d. The only response can be the eradication of baseless hatred, and repentance.”

    Unfortunately the attitude that the israeli press is anti-chareidi precludes self refection , taking responsibility and doing teshuvah.”

    Well they Israeli Press does have an AntiChareidi streak and an AntiReligious Zionist streak and an AntiReligous streak. It is untrue to say though that self refection , taking responsibility and doing teshuvah is precluded. If it was how could the Rosh Yeshiva have been able to do what you said is precluded and he has talmidim too and supporters too? You are focusing on evidence in one direction and ignoring what’s staring you in the face. It is made harder by being bombarded with criticism and prejudice, but Chareidim are hardly monolithic and making too much of a generalization with them is making a caricature instead of a serious characterization. Further simply castigating the Chareidim rather than seeing ones own faults for sure precludes self refection , taking responsibility and doing teshuvah and it also precludes Ahavas Yisrael. The Chareidim are being attacked and just like the other groups need to feel free to respond to castigation, they have every right to say “yes we condemn what was done and Chareidim are not in general like that.” Imagine if any Jew did something awful to a Gentile, would we do any differently in condemning and asking not to be generalized about? Further if it is said they have to specifically say they condemn what was done, it is hardly consistent for those condemning them to not feel obligated to say they distance themselves from the condemnation of the Chareidim being made. If they feel they are stating the obvious, well don’t most Chareidim feel in condemning spiters they are stating the obvious? It will hardly prevent a future incident in Bet Shemesh if one does not concentrate on condemning and seeing what to do about those who really are to be certainly directly condemned for their attitude. A girl was spat on for goodness sake! All those professing to be concerned with her should be asking to focus on preventing another such incident if they want to be the most helpful.

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