Another Point of View

Call it nepotism, if you wish. I am partial to my very extended family, which includes the people who frequented our Shabbos table for years.

Even though he takes issue with some of what I wrote in my Charedi Spring piece, it was a delight to hear from Dr. Michael Schein. In the old days, he as an undergraduate at Caltech; today he is on the mathematics faculty at Bar-Ilan. His letter breaks some new ground, and is worthwhile sharing with our readers.

How are you? Yasher koach on your recent Cross-Currents article on the Beit Shemesh situation. It is not at all clear to most people who aren’t closely familiar with the situation why the thugs in RBS, despite their stripey bekeshes, should not be seen as the “authentic” charedi Jews. I was told many years ago that the way to distinguish a true gadol from someone who is only pretending to be one is by his derech eretz. This was confirmed to me during my first year in Israel, when I was living in Mea Shearim while doing a postdoc at the Hebrew University. An aside, in case the reader should ask what a mathematician in a knitted kipa was doing in Mea Shearim: I came there because I found a one-room apartment for a decent price and because I was unaware at the time that Israeli black hats are so very different from American ones. I am grateful for that blissful ignorance: otherwise I would never have met a few people with a level of absolute devotion to the service of Hashem that I might not otherwise have believed was possible.

I ended up davening in Rav Elyashiv’s old beis medrash at Tiferes Bachurim. Rav Elyashiv himself had stopped davening there a few years before, since it is on the second floor and he couldn’t climb stairs, but a small minyan was maintained by a few of his sons and students. So one had Rav Elyashiv’s minyan, but without the crowd that follows him around. I didn’t realize what the place was until a few weeks after I started going there. When I first moved into the neighborhood, I was looking for a nice minyan for shacharis and went to different places each morning. In many of them, I was looked at like something the cat had dragged in, or, at best, totally ignored — unless they were forced to give me an aliyah if there were no other kohanim. Tiferes Bachurim was completely different. I felt immediately welcomed to the davening, and treated simply as a Jew davening shacharis and not as a charedi or non-charedi or anything else. That is why I decided to make it my permanent place (and entered the somewhat bizarre situation of addressing routine shailos to R’ Elyashiv, the local Orthodox rav, while directing more hashkafic ones to my Modern Orthodox rav from Boston). It took them a few weeks to start inviting me to Shabbes meals and simchas, which I understand. It was from his beis medrash that I saw that R’ Elyashiv is truly a tremendous gadol.

I don’t share your optimism about the charedi community finally ridding itself of these thugs with help from the chiloni media. In Mea Shearim the thugs were regarded with contempt (certainly not the sort of people you want your children to associate with) but also seen by many as indispensable. I was there during the year of the riots against the “pride” parade. The thugs’ activities hurt the residents of Mea Shearim more than anyone else — we had to breathe the smoke from the burning dumpsters every night and step around the broken glass in the morning — but in the end they did get the parade postponed, and they got the rescheduled one to avoid the center of town. The charedim are convinced (and, unfortunately, are for the most part justified in this) that their voice is ignored by the outside world and that these means, however unpalatable, are the only ones by which they can influence anything. Until that perception changes, there will be a place for the thugs.

I also really don’t see the charedi community hoping for salvation to come via attention from the outside world and its media. I remember going to a very large rally in Kikar Shabbat against the parade. I counted three kipot serugot there, including my own. Most of the leaders of the Eida Chareidis spoke — in Yiddish. The speeches were followed by a synopsis in Hebrew “for our brothers the Sephardim,” but there was no desire or expectation that any Jews, even frum Jews, from the outside join them. On the contrary, the speeches all spoke of “their desire to be metamei our neighborhood, the one tahor place remaining in the world.” All the rest of us are so tamei anyway that the parade wouldn’t make much difference. The parade was opposed by the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Jerusalem — charedi, dati leumi, and chiloni — so it would have been a perfect opportunity for cooperation had there been any inclination towards such. I fear that the charedi world is not ready to accept that it has anything to learn from the outside; they are not confident about being able to accept some influences, but not too much. And being swamped by secular influences is a greater danger than the thugs.

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14 Responses

  1. Rafael Guber says:

    I’m sorry, but with respect this does not square with reality. Gedolim practice moral suasion through the judicious use of moral authority, p’sak and example. Derech Erertz and Gadlus in learning are not the only qualifications. Ask yourself, what would the Chofetz Chaim have done about RBS? Does anyone doubt he would have walked that little girl to school himself? Everyday if necessary? Much of the world we see today which claims it flows from the mesorah established in Europe is at best very much mistaken. There are more men over the age of 22 learning full time in Lakewood a number of times over than ever learned full time in all the Yeshivas in Lita combined. This was not simply economics. It had to do with values. Sadly we live in a world were respected publishers can conveniently leave out that the Chofetz Chaim actually worked in the store he owned with his wife. That he kept the books and actually put in time working in the store to make a point. The most careful Jew who was also among the holiest Jews in recent Jewish history was trying to tell us something. He still is. Rav Adlerstein, please stand fast.Do not retreat.

    [YA – How is this a retreat? Besides, I live in a neighborhood so frum, that my motto has become, “Don’t fire till you see the black in their eyes!”]

  2. Menachem Lipkin says:

    “In Mea Shearim the thugs were regarded with contempt (certainly not the sort of people you want your children to associate with) but also seen by many as indispensable.”

    I’ve been saying this for some time to anyone who would listen. (I may have even written it here once or twice.) One can’t just conveniently dissociate extremist behavior from extremist ideology. While that vast majority would never contemplate lifting a finger, some subset of them do appreciate the “benefits” that accrue to them by the actions of those who do. This is not mere supposition. We’re out there and we talk to people. We know, for instance, that the Gur Chassidim are very much on our side. They moved to Bet Shemesh because they davka wanted to live in a mixed city, unencumbered by fanatic behavior. However, there are those from other sects whose denunciation of the criminal behavior is always followed by a huge BUT. And that “but” is quite telling. We also know, again from first hand conversations, that there are leading Rabbis who actually send out the “troops”.

    I agree with Dr. Schein, that this mentality is not changing any time soon. In fact it will probably get worse as extremists feel more threatened. However, on the plus side, I think one of the biggest threats they are reacting to is not the media or the secular world, but the movement of more and more of their flocks in the direction of becoming functioning members of society.

    The short term answer is not, as our Gur neighbors constantly recommend, to break their legs or worse. The answer is strong and consistent law enforcement. Something we’re finally seeing in the wake of the recent media frenzy. People can hold whatever ideologies they want, they just need to be forced to keep it to themselves, physically speaking that is.

  3. joel rich says:

    To pick up on one point-is there any cognitive dissonance created by insisting anything from the outside is impure but saying we need help from the outside to rid us of impurity? btw jewish history argues against inviting outsiders in to help, hopefully at some point there will be a realization that brothers and sisters are not outsiders.

  4. dr. bill says:

    The last sentence that Dr. Schein wrote: “And being swamped by secular influences is a greater danger than the thugs.” is the nub of the issue. i am not a historian, but i suspect shutting the door on modernity, was more effective at the beginning when modes of dealing with modernity was not understood. Certain individuals paved the way and were by and large attacked (or isolated) for their efforts by contemporaries. Having created the way forward, it will take time (generations) before they are acknowledged versus maligned. This is where chareidi leadership is at its worse. Those individuals were never as maligned in life as they are now by both the leaders and as a result many of the hamon am. but slowly change is occuring, bottom-up.

  5. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Dr. Schein’s letter really rings true to me. I think one point we can take out of this is that there is a great gap among the several different Torah worlds that exist, a gap that transcends the classifications of haredi, modern orthodox, dati leumi, and whatever else is out there. This gap is as much or more about communications, knowledge of the world, and assumptions about the world, as it is about hashkafa. In fact, to some extent, maybe to a large extent, I think some of the differences in hashkafa arise from this communications and knowledge gap. For example, I have long felt that some of the differences in how people perceive the meaning of Yom HaAtzmaut and the state of Israel arises from differences in how they perceive the role of Zionism and the state of Israel in what has happened religiously to the Jews in the last 100 or so years. I believe that the “Old Yishuv” of Eretz Yisrael and its spiritual descendants oppose Zionism with the vehemence that they do because they associate it with the invasion/aliyah of the hundreds of thousands of secular Jews that changed the face of the Old Yishuv’s limited and insular world from an isolated world of Torah to a world surrounded by modern secular values and culture constantly threatening the old world they are trying to preserve. In contrast, someone like myself sees a Jewish world that become largely secular in America for many reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Zionism, and everything to do with the temptation of an attractive outside world that had much to offer in terms of prosperity and culture, and that allowed the Jews to be a full part of it. To me, and I think to many that were brought up in the West or the Soviet Union, the state of Israel is not a force against religion, but rather, one of the greatest validations there can be of the truth of the Tanach that predicted the return of the Jews to their homeland many many centuries, even millennium, ago. It’s also a place many of us go to learn Torah and find our place, spiritually.

    In terms of tachlis, I believe all we can do is recognize this gap, because I think it can only really be bridged with the passage of time. If we recognize it, we can at least try to be less judgmental about those on other sides of the gap, even if we must oppose them forcefully when they are infringing on our right to live according to our own perception of what Torah demands, or, as in the Beit Shemesh and Nazi symbols cases, subjecting Judaism to ridicule.

  6. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    What Dr. Schein is saying is that the thugs are tolerated because they further the Charedi agenda. The ends justify the means, no matter how abominable those means seem to others. And as long as that continues, their behavior will be accepted by the mainstream Charedi community. How discouraging!

  7. YM says:

    “they are not confident about being able to accept some influences, but not too much”

    Now, how many of us fear the Yetzer Hara and take our inevitable trial in the beis din lemalaah so seriouly that we are willing to admit that we are weak and that we need to make fences to protect our neshamos? I would say none, if “us” is defined as those who are reading this on the internet.

    What I believe Dr. Schein witnessed on a day-by-day basis are Jews who do take Olam Ha-ba seriously; more than that; it is their main interest and focus; everything they do is intended to be avodas Hashem. (I am not talking about the sirikim, obviously)

    As far as the sirikim are concerned, I think everyone agrees that the police should enforce the law. The Charedim are not going to condemn people who are making fences, even if virtually all would agree that these fences are being put up in an improper manner or are too restrictive. The same Judaism that emphasizes derech eretz also says to hate those who cause us to sin or stumble; in most of us, our “pipes” are too clogged to be able to see the harm we are doing to ourselves by our participation in activities that are not part of avodas Hashem, and we are not a level that we could “hate” anyone or anything without it doing more harm than good to our neshamos.

  8. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I think that, contra Dr. Kaplan’s conflation of the two, we should be careful to maintain the distinction that exists in Chareidi society between behavior which is tolerated and behavior which is accepted or approved of. No typical Israeli Chareidi I know of wants their kid to grow up to be a thug.
    This distinction applies in other areas in Chareidi society vis-a-vis the modus vivendi achieved with the secular establishment as well.

  9. Tzei U'lmad says:

    I have no doubt that the Agudah et. al. sincerely find the acts in BS to be reprehensible. Unfortunately in my view this is an ugly logical culmination of a process that has been building to this point throughtout the Charedi velt. Certainly a majority of traditional Orthodox people are disturbed by the behaviors, but the behaviors are built on attitudes that have been widely nurtured throughout our communities. These include a dismissive attitude about those who are different than us, and a dismissive attitude about general knowledge. The use of the term “shkatzim” and “urmazim” proliferated among our young. Of course in the frontstage of the public eye the spokespeople for our communal organs (be they RCA, Agudah, Eidah, or Toldos Aharon) would decry the use of those deprecating terms, but backstage what attitudes were in fact being fostered? I can say from personal experience that children are subjected to inappropriate statements from individuals vested with great authority such as “I think the Goyim are repulsive, what do you think?” Fed a steady diet of such statements is it so hard to believe that the breeding of contempt for others could translate into action? I am weary and tired of the hand-wringing, strained polemics, and public declarations of the organizations charged with defending “our way of life” and point of view. The question is what attitudes are being fostered behind the veil of the public statements, backstage, and on the homefront? Of course we were’nt the ones involved in the Chillul HaShem, “THEY” were. We can always condemn the “THEY”. But we can’t completely disassociate; “THEY” is part of us and we need to look at us.

  10. cohen y says:

    ” The parade was opposed by the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Jerusalem — charedi, dati leumi, and chiloni — so it would have been a perfect opportunity for cooperation had there been any inclination towards such.”

    Therein is the key.No one did care enough join them to do anything.

  11. Dovid Kornreich says:

    The question is what attitudes are being fostered behind the veil of the public statements, backstage, and on the homefront?

    Well, the one place you won’t be able to find an answer to that question is in the media. I suggest you manage to obtain a first-hand, inside look and see for yourself. It may be the result of mazel but many thousands of Jews who have shifted over to the Chareidi way of life as adults, have actually found it to be warm and inviting. Which is one of the reasons why they stayed.

  12. Tzei U'lmad says:

    “I suggest you manage to obtain a firsthand, inside look and see for yourself.”
    Mr. Kornreich, I am Chareidi and I “manage” to obtain a firsthand look everyday. There is a disconnect between public statements about respect do to Kol HaBriyot and more subtle (sometimes not so subtle) contradictory messages that proliferate and to which young people are exposed and which is a turnoff to many. I know that from the kishkes of the inside.

  13. Dovid Kornreich says:

    Well, then your experience simply contradicts mine the those of thousands like me who have seen apparently joined a different Chareidi society than what you have described. There may be contradictory messages, but I think the primary values of derech eretz and kavod habriyos come through in more fundamental ways by parents and teacher’s actual actions and interactions with others.
    A lot of verbal and political negativity is directed towards others outside the camp, and I’m not defending it. But its being blown out of proportion. In my experience, it consistently remains firmly in the verbal realm.
    Yes, the verbal negativity and verbal intolerance of other groups is a big turn off which should be softened, but I’ve never seen it come to the surface–unprovoked–in personal interactions with other groups. I’ve seen nothing less than derech eretz in action. The argument that the intolerant speech and attitudes leads to violence is simply a canard.

  14. Tzei U'lmad says:

    “A lot of verbal and political negativity is directed towards others outside the camp…”
    “Yes, the verbal negativity and verbal intolerance of other groups is a big turn off….”

    You can love HaShem, love Torah, and love Jews, but still see things for the way they are…. and it isn’t always “warm and inviting”. The so called “hooligans” didn’t rise out of a vacuum. In my original post I said that the “behaviors are built on attitudes that have been widely nutured in our communities”, that of course does not mean that there is an incitement to violence, but the attitudes of dismissiveness are meant to diminish the importance of other people and other realms of knowledge. So, for example, on a very mundane level it is frequently frowned upon to invoke a non-Frum or non-Torah source in conversatiion or in a speech and it is perceived as somehow lessening ones Charedi bona fides to do so (by contrast Rav Lichtenstein frequently cites non-Frum writers and thinkers….. but he is not thought of as Charedi). These influences are subtle but they can be oppressive because they can constrain genuine interests and talents as not belonging to a progressively narrowing realm of Charedi Frumkeit. I think they operate in most of our society to a greater or lesser degree; but in their worst manifestation they lead to blatantly prejudiced and coarse declarations about “others”(which I have witnessed), and ultimately violence in some quarters. Obviously we choose to be Frum despite these attitudes and influences….. but it does not make them right. So in this regard of nurturing attitudes of dismissiveness regarding the importance of “others”, we should “own” our Charedi hooligans and consequetly take a look at ourselves.

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