The Price We Pay For Contempt
A monastery in Israel is desecrated, almost certainly by nationalist extremists. The Catholic Church turns the heat on whom? Haredim! Sadly, however, I can’t be as critical of the finger-pointers as I would like to be.
The doors of the Trappist monastery at Latrun were set on fire. Graffiti indicated a “price-tag” attack, and also used language about Jesus that I won’t publish.
The Israeli reaction was swift and substantial, just as it had been after the recent near-killing of an Arab by a crowd of young Jews in Yerushalayim. The desecration was condemned by the Prime Minister, and others in the government. Chief Rabbi Metzger called it a “heinous deed.” The Internal Security minister did not hesitate to use the word “terror,” and announced the formation of a special police unit to combat it. Many people travelled to the monastery to personally apologize, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Beit Shemesh, who took brush in hand to help scrub the offensive words from the walls.
Micky Rosenfeld of the National Police told CNN that it was a “criminal incident with nationalistic motives.” Public suspicions turned to a settlement that was recently evacuated forcibly. Yet members of that settlement came to the monastery to voice their condemnation of the attack.
Short of undoing the damage by way of a time machine, you could not ask for a stronger response. But the Church would not let go. In a harsh statement that was picked up around the world, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa lashed out at haredim – and others – for creating the climate that stimulates attacks on Christians in Israel. Here are excerpts from an article in the Daily Telegraph (UK):
The most important issue [is that] Israel has failed to address is the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that teach children it is a doctrinal obligation to abuse anyone in Holy Orders they encounter in public.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children as young as eight, spit at members of the clergy on a daily basis, Fr Pizzaballa said.
Such a culture of intolerance has resulted in a “scapegoating” of Christians, leading to them becoming the convenient target of extremists fighting political battles that have nothing to do with the community.
Fr. Pizzaballa is the Custos, or custodian of all Christian holy sites in Israel on behalf of the Vatican. He recognizes that the perpetrators of this attack were not haredi. He says so himself. So his words are a cheap shot, reflecting traditional Catholic animus for Israel and Jews, right?
Wrong. I know Fr. Pizzaballa, and he is an honorable man. He is fair-minded about Israel, and has stood against many of his colleagues in other churches who do hate Israel. He is ordinarily not given to harsh words attacking Israel. I called him myself after learning of the attack to express, on behalf of my organization, our shame as Jews that this would happen in a Jewish state. (He was abroad, but the message was relayed to him, and he received it with thanks.) While I don’t believe there is really any link between haredi education and this attack, I cannot dismiss his feelings – nor his observations about attitudes towards Christians.
How do I know him? He has complained before about spitting incidents directed at him and his colleagues in the Old City. We called at the time to apologize, and to see if there was any way we could intervene. A colleague sat with him in his office for an hour-long amicable conversation. We had hoped that the problem would subside, especially after a strong statement from the Badatz. Apparently, it hasn’t.
So what we have is a message, beamed to the world, that the “real” Jews, the ones that look the part and believe in the traditions of the Bible, etc., those Jews despise Christians and treat them like dirt. This despite decades of support from many large numbers of Christians as the most reliable advocates for the Jewish State. How’s that for gratitude! Should we speculate on how many pro-Palestinian sites will make fine capital of this, or restrict ourselves to worry about the hundreds of right-wing anti-Semitic sites in Europe and the US? Do we even want to think about the lone wolf maniac, and what a story (with accompanying pictures) like this might inspire him to do to Jews in his vicinity?
What could have been accurately written off as the work of extremist kids, not condoned by a majority within their own community, is now on record as an assessment that believing Jews despise believing Christians.
Do we need this? And is Fr. Pizzaballa wrong about a climate of intolerance? (In all fairness, he pointed to several places within Israeli society in which he detected it, not just the religious community. He spoke of a tepid response in Knesset to the desecration of a Christian bible by an MK. My recollection is that this was not true, and the MK was severely criticized by his colleagues.)
I’m uncomfortable because I’m not sure he is wrong. Don’t we indeed evidence too much contempt for others? Sure – we are equal opportunity contempt providers. We often treat our own with similar contempt, for dressing a bit different, or espousing a view we see as wrong. I can’t even guess which contempt comes first. Do we first show contempt for the person who uses/does not use the eruv, and then extend it with a kal v’chomer to non-Jews, and then even further with another kal v’chomer to non-Jews who hold theological beliefs we oppose with heart and soul? Or do we begin with the outsiders, and then move closer to the outliers, as the bitterness of contempt inexorably spreads through more of our emotional apparatus?
It almost doesn’t matter. The point is that contempt, springing from (in our circles) a glorification of bitul, backfires. It endangers us as a community, because when we are contemptuous of others, others learn to reciprocate.
כמים פנים אל פנים כן לב האדם לאדם (Mishlei 27:19)
Every negative attitude we harbor becomes a focus of public attention. In a world of insatiable curiosity and easy communication, not even our thoughts remain private very long.
More importantly, it seeps into our midos in ways we do not (or should not) like. And it is no consolation that we are not “worse” than other communities. That’s not the way they judge us; it is not the way we judge ourselves; it is not the way HKBH judges us.
Can we not convey firm and confident difference without showing contempt? When a child sees a Christian cleric in a Yerushalayim street, bedecked in his strange looking garb, does his parent help his understanding and development by saying something disparaging about the person and/or his beliefs? Wouldn’t the child (and our community) learn far more if the parent speaks about people who look for Hashem in different ways, and how fortunate we are that we have a Torah to show us how to do it, and how one day, all people on earth will learn to serve Hashem the way He wants them to? And when considering the hundreds of millions who are not spiritually engaged, would it not make more sense to speak of them as worthy of respect simply because they are endowed with an invaluable tzelem Elokim?
I have Christian friends and acquaintances who passionately and absolutely reject what I believe and practice. Yet they don’t display contempt! How do they manage? (Maybe that is why they don’t react to stories like this by burning down shuls, c’v, while more primitive cultures do.)
The Latrun monastery is located in Emek Ayalon, the place that Yehoshua miraculously made the sun stop. Alas, for too many of our brethren, time has stopped in regard to the way they interact with non-Jews. While we won that battle, we are not going to fare as well in the ones ahead if we cannot recognize the rules of the game in interacting with the world at large – and that we bear some of the burdens of galus even in our Jewish State.