The Beit Shemesh Elections – One Chareidi Perspective
by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
It seemed to us, the residents of Beit Shemesh, as if the whole world stood still to follow the elections. Politicians from Netanyahu on down all made statements and took sides (strictly on party lines: everyone against the Chareidim). As they put it, the entire future of Beit Shemesh — and of Israel for that matter — depended on the outcome. This was the final hope for Beit Shemesh, they declared. Would it be a forward-looking city welcoming to all, or yet another (backwards, intolerant, impoverished) Chareidi stronghold?
What happened that pit this usually easygoing, peace-loving, heavily-Anglo city against itself in some cataclysmic, no-holds-barred struggle for survival? And why did some consider the outcome an awe-inspiring kiddush Hashem while others called it a disgrace to all the Torah is supposed to hold dear? We all know there are hotheads and troublemakers among us — on both sides of the fence — but in all honesty, I think all of us here know that the vast majority of us are proud of our city and proud of the fact that we live in peace and harmony 99.9% of the time. To most of us Beit Shemesh is a jewel of tolerance and coexistence, of Bnei Torah of all stripes living together in mutual respect. I love our beautiful little corner of Eretz Yisrael and am enormously proud and grateful to call it home. So what happened?
I’ll write up front that for the most part I try my best to stay away from politics. I am not coming to write a perfectly-informed analysis of everything good, ugly and indifferent which occurred over the past two elections. But it was clear from the media coverage — even on Cross-Currents — that the image most of Klal Yisrael was given of events was ambivalent at best, pitifully disgraceful at worst. And that is simply not what happened, nor how most of us saw it.
Many people seem to regard what occurred in Beit Shemesh as typical Chareidi machinations. We decided to favor the inferior candidate “just because he’s Chareidi.” Then we proceeded to perform one of our typical ruses: deliberately feeding biased information to Gedolim (who don’t know beans about Beit Shemesh politics) to get their “haskamah.” And once that was taken care of, we were clearly up against kofrim who have no regard for “da’as Torah.” And of course at that point all hell broke loose: Everything became permitted to malign the enemies of Hashem. There was no slander too low or accusation too outlandish to level against the opposition — all in the name of the holy mitzvah of “kiddush Hashem.”
Many saw parallels between Chareidi behavior here and Chareidi behavior in Israel at large. Chareidim have no regard for this “treifeh medinah.” We have no interest in running it or contributing to society. It’s all going to go to pot sooner or later anyway — until Moshiach comes along to save us. But while it’s here we might as well scream for as many benefits as we can milk it for. So too in Beit Shemesh. We couldn’t care less who’s a better candidate. We’re not interested in the facts. We just want our man to win — so we can run things for our benefit alone.
Before I explain our underlying position, a quick word on the polarization of the campaign. I honestly do not know who turned it into an “us versus them” battle; I don’t know who fired the first shot. But regardless, that is definitely how it was perceived by everyone, including (or especially) national politicians. A few easily-verifiable quotes:
The head of Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennet, called the elections “Beit Shemesh’s last chance” and said that “We can’t have anyone who isn’t Chareidi voting for anyone who isn’t Eli Cohen.” Nahum Barnea of Yediot Acharonot said the elections would be “the city’s last chance to turn away from its downward slide toward ultra ultra-Orthodoxy.” And the chairman of Tagar, a non-Chareidi organization for younger voters, said “We’ll fight with everything we’ve got. Election day for us is like going to war.”
Was this our fault, an ugly campaign of Chareidi intimidation against anyone who votes against our wishes? Eli Cohen ran with the official slogan “Save Beit Shemesh from the extremists” (read: Chareidim). [Believing that “extremists” meant only “bad” Chareidim, but not most of us, is to me as naive as believing most of those who claim to be only “anti-Zionist” and not antisemitic.]
The Abutbol campaign, by contrast, produced slogans such as, “A mayor for all Beit Shemesh,” and “Beit Shemesh votes with love.” Practically all the pro-Abutbol material I read and speeches I heard were perfectly dignified and cast virtually no negativity on the opposition. In fact, the big kenes held shortly before the second elections began with the theme that we love all of our neighbors — but we feel there are issues at stake here too critical to ignore.
There was certainly no shortage of inflammatory posters being plastered over our town by Abutbol supporters, but I highly doubt it was being done by people even unofficially connected to Abutbol’s campaign, and they certainly spoke for almost no one in the Chareidi community. I think I can speak for most of the Chareidim that we were equally appalled by such broadsides, and didn’t fall for their lies either. Should our Rabbanim have openly condemned them? Perhaps (and in some cases they did). But I just think we have become numb to seeing atrocious material being published and littering our streets at such times. They are usually destroyed before anyone has a chance to speak out against them.
Now let me get to what I felt and many Rabbanim expressed to be the major issues. I’ll offer these as numbered points.
- Whom to vote for is a halachic question. Rav Hershel Schachter (who I assume is highly regarded by virtually all Cross-Currents readers) was in Beit Shemesh recently speaking on the topic of da’as Torah. He forcefully made the point that all major life issues — whom to marry, where to live, what profession to choose, and whom to vote for — are questions in halacha and must be treated as such. At the same time, rabbanim must be careful not to weigh in on such matters without first receiving all the pertinent information.
- The fact that a religious candidate was pitted against an irreligious one has its own halachic ramifications (see Rambam Melachim 1:7). Exceptions are made — say, if the frum candidate is notoriously corrupt or incompetent, or if our votes for the badly unfavored frum candidate won’t help anyway. This is clearly an issue which requires a careful judgment and differences of opinion are certainly possible. However, in our eyes this is a serious halachic issue which must be presented to gedolei Yisroel — the einei ha’eidah — as carefully and objectively as possible for a decision. In this case, all of the local rabbanim in our camp and everyone asked provided the same answer.
- We need to see the issue of electing an irreligious candidate in a broader light. It is not simply a matter of whether it is halachically discouraged or not. I fully accept that Eli Cohen is a decent human being, even if not personally religious (regardless of how some made him out to be), and would have made a responsible mayor. But especially in this environment, electing him would have made a public statement: “We, the people of Beit Shemesh, do not feel adherence to halacha is an important qualification for our leader. We feel it is reasonable to hand the reins of government to a person whose practices are not guided by halacha and whose wisdom is not molded by Torah knowledge.” Greater Jews than I recognized that had Beit Shemesh made such a public statement to the world, it would ch”v have been a terrible chillul Hashem.
- It’s not much of a secret by now that the annulment of the first elections was laughable from a legal perspective. It basically rode on the court’s assumption that because some “Chareidim” are cheats, probably all are, and therefore it was reasonable — with virtually no evidence — to assume that the number of false votes corresponded to the number of Chareidi residents in certain parts of the city. Rav Aharon Feldman said at the kenes that although the court “acted out of twisted logic that would never have been perpetrated against any other community,” had the results of the second elections been different, many people would have pointed a finger at us: “Ha! You see? There really are that many Chareidi cheaters in Beit Shemesh. Now that we watched over them closely, they lost.” And that would have been a chillul Hashem of the most serious nature.
- Since in the eyes of everyone the election became a battle of “us versus them,” had we lost, the most virulent enemies of the Chareidim would have reacted: “Ha! We beat them! Kain yirbu!” It would have been viewed as a victory against the Chareidim and would have empowered and egged on many of our enemies for more. U’ch’dai bizayon va’katzef.
- A deep and fascinating speaker came to my shul in RBS this past Shabbos (Beis Knesses HaGra). In addition to many other things, he discussed current events. In the course of it he quoted Rav Kook zt”l who made the following point: If we are granted a country and it is led by religious leaders, Moshiach ben Yosef will not have to die. As we all know, the world is today undergoing the convulsions of the chevlei moshiach. To the extent that before the Geulah it becomes a religious country representing Torah values, less will have to be destroyed to create that wonderful future era of the Moshiach. The speaker therefore saw the elections and the question of appointing a religious mayor as nothing less than a major positive step towards the geulah shelaimah, one which would lead to the yeshua and beyond.
In the end, virtually everyone we consider to be Da’as Torah weighed in. Rav Shteinman made the trip to Beit Shemesh twice (before both elections) to urge us to vote for Mayor Abutbol, and personally recited Tehillim on election day. The Shevet HaLevi, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, broke with his decades-old avoidance of political matters in this case. Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal made a rare exception to his practice of not leaving the Old City in order to come to Beit Shemesh and urge us to vote. Rav Aharon Feldman flew in from Baltimore (during the yeshiva z’man, no less) to speak to us, saying that he would have swum across the ocean had he been able. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky and the Novominsker Rebbe sent their divrei bracha v’chizuk. Rav Zev Leff and Rav Noach Orlowek came out to speak before the first elections. Even Rebbetzin Heller penned a powerful letter of solidarity. Rabbanim in Ramat Beit Shemesh who are generally viewed as “moderate Chareidi” or who in the past refused on principle to take part in politics broke their practice and vigorously urged us to vote.
For reasons known only to Hashem, it was determined that we, the humble residents of Beit Shemesh, would be on the front lines of this cataclysmic struggle. Even kanna’im who had never voted in an Israeli election before in their lives came out in number. And Baruch Hashem (at least in our eyes), revach v’hatzalah amad laYehudim.
I have the utmost love and respect for all the residents of our fair town, and hope we will continue to live in peace and harmony as the vast majority of us have always done. But again, Jews much greater than I saw how serious the issues at stake were. I pray that this rift will soon heal and Beit Shemesh will continue to be the bastion of Torah and achdus it has always been.
Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph for over 15 years, answers questions (Shoel U’Meyshiv) for Aish.com’s Ask the Rabbi service and writes two columns for Project Genesis – Torah.org.
Thanks Rabbi Rosenfeld,
P.S.the charedim had in the past talked of splitting up the town,and were demagogued by the datim (, as opposed to the old timers who hardly cared enough to show up to vote,) against them for it
But now that despite all they lost, they promptly petitioned the BAGAT”Z to do just that!
Rabbi Rosenfeld,you excuse all of the garbage spewed by those on the chareidi side by writing that they were unofficial people not affiliated officially with any campaign, but to demonstrate how the Cohen side was on the attack you have three proofs: Your own interpretation of his slogan, and two quotes from people unaffiliated with his campaign. So, take your pick: Either look at the official campaign alone, or look at all the leaflets etc. that came out from either side.
As a Charedi resident of RBS who voted for Eli Cohen, please let me share my thoughts.
1. I do not believe that Rav Shteinman was presented with the opportunity to meet with Eli Cohen, (a traditional Sfardi Jew whose wife is a full ba’alat tshuva). I do not believe that Rav Shteinman met with a group of RBS charedi residents – hundreds of residents like myself – who have children sitting in caravans because Abutbol has not managed to get schools built in the 5 years he has been mayor, nor did he hear our stories about our homes being robbed on a daily basis while Abutbol refuses to install more video cameras or work with the police to reduce crime, nor heard many other complaints and concerns. If you have evidence to the contrary, please present it. (I also know for a fact that one local charedi rav told my family he never signed a letter supporting Abutbol – his signature was simply forged).
2. We have many concerns and complaints against Abutbol as a mayor, not the least regarding his behavior concerning Orot Banot which we feel made an international chillul Hashem. As for “rabbonim in our camp” – excuse me, but our camp in RBS contains many different types of religious Jews. What, only some rabbis count? Many charedim here ask questions to Rav Soleveichik (a tzaddik who donated a kidney to a stranger last year), and he said we should not believe the lies about Eli Cohen wanting to bring chillul Shabbes to Bet Shemesh etc. and vote for who we thought would be a better mayor.
3. Our public statements of “If we are charedi we must vote charedi” made a chillul Hashem, instead of “We are charedi but we will vote for the best mayor for all of us”. In Yerushalayim, many charedim voted for Nir Barkat, but suddenly it is assur to vote for a non-frum mayor? Israelis heard it as the equivalent of a racist statement (If you are white, only vote for the white guy).
4. The police raided an apartment with over 200 ID cards. Many people, including the courts, believe there was widespread cheating. Anyone who denies that there was cheating by charedim is simply delusional. Even Rav Malinowitz, who is squarely on your side, publicly said that he is appalled at charedim saying, “They only caught 36 people cheating.” As he said, ONLY? Are we not horrified and ashamed by that? If not, what is wrong with us? (As for the argument that chilonim cheated too, that does not make it right. It is worse for charedim who learn Torah to cheat.)
5. If a chillul Hashem resulted because of the election results (which I believe it did), the people who cheated last time are the guilty ones, not me for voting my conscience. I didn’t cause the chillul Hashem, and it is not my responsibility to cover it up.
6. I sincerely hope we are zocheh to complete yeshua. But we need emes first. Here is the truth, which perhaps you don’t have all the details about: Abutbol DID put up ads saying Eli Cohen was planning bus service on Shabbes, a complete LIE. I personally was at a meeting where a man told him he was embarrassed by the ad – which we all knew to be a smear – and Abutbol did NOT deny that it was his ad or disown it or condemn it in any way. Furthermore, I personally witnessed horrible sinas chinam directed at Eli Cohen supporters. One example: On election day itself, I saw a charedi man screaming at Eli Cohen supporters that they were goyim. I was frankly ashamed that my husband wears a black hat and people might associate us with that guy.
Abutbol won by a few hundred votes in a city of tens of thousands of people (and only because the people who usually forbid voting came out and voted). Rather than addressing the concerns of basically every other voter in the city who rejected him for an untested rival, he crowed over his victory. Now our children will continue to sit in caravans, our homes will go on being robbed, and we will still have dirty streets. Abutbol may be a nice person, but I do not think he is a good mayor.
Many of our wonderful dati neighbors feel so hurt that they are making plans to leave the city. I am saddened by the hatred I saw during the elections – and I can only report what I saw with my eyes, and that was hatred by charedim, not the reverse – and I am sick that my community was part of a massive chillul Hashem. I can only wonder how Mrs. Eli Cohen – a tzanua who did not want her relationship with Hashem publicized for campaign politics – feels now about the Torah Jews she has joined.
As another RBS resident who used to be b’shita uninterested in politics, this article begs a response. My perspective was formed by simply keeping my eyes and ears open in RBS, and from conversations here and there with other residents while being careful to maintain an attitude of detached scepticism about anything I was told.I do not bother with secular opinion pieces in general.
As such the following quote:
“And of course at that point all hell broke loose: Everything became permitted to malign the enemies of Hashem. There was no slander too low or accusation too outlandish to level against the opposition — all in the name of the holy mitzvah of “kiddush Hashem.””
is unfortunately largely accurate, as painful as that may be. I’m not suggesting that the good mispallelim of the Gr’a, or indeed any other anglos, engaged in slander. However the official mouthpieces of the Abutbul campaign were indeed slanderous. In particular, the Chadash local newspaper published Hebrew language slander on a regular basis about Eli Cohen’s intentions for the city. Not to forget the disgraceful concentration camp image before the first election suggesting clearly that Cohen would be shipping charedi kids off behind barbed wire. These are not inventions of Eli Cohen activists or secular journalists, they were published in an Abutbul connected newspaper for all to see.
On the subject of the second election campaign, Abutbul did indeed have nice sounding slogans. I also agree that Cohen’s ‘we’ll beat the extremists’ slogan was inappropriate and a mistake since it allowed people to think he meant charedim in general.
It’s important to note that he has consistently reached out to the charedi community in his campaign material and promised improvements to charedi school buildings. I have not seen anything negative about charedim or about Abutbul in any of his official campaign material, and a couple of people I know who are close to the centre of his campaign say that’s because he indeed harbours no il will to the charedi community and is keen to help them thrive.
This is all in marked contrast to Abutbul’s mouthpieces, aside from nice words on the side of buses.
With regard to the halachic issues mentioned of voting for a shomer mitsvos, the writer himself states that the usual situation changes if a candidate is incompetent or corrupt. I have no concrete information to go on since I’m not an insider. However the participation, albeit possibly passive, of Abubtul in the slanderous campaign against his opponent by his own campaigners must make put his candidacy as a ‘yirei shamayim’ in doubt.
As far as this requiring local a rabbinical decision to ascertain, perhaps the writer could tell us if his shul Rav is aware of the material in the Chadash newspaper and how directly it’s connected to Abutbul? If not, he could he make an informed decision?
The writer expresses his uncertainty as to who made it an “us vs them” issue. The answer is perfectly clear as demonstrated. No mystery here. The journalists the writer quotes as stating anticharedi opinions have no connection to Beit Shemesh. On the ground in Beit Shemesh only one side maligned the other in its campaign. I had no horse in this race to start with and in the event had cause to be incensed only by one side.
“Rabbanim in Ramat Beit Shemesh who are generally viewed as “moderate Chareidi” or who in the past refused on principle to take part in politics broke their practice and vigorously urged us to vote.”
The Rabbonim of the 2 shuls I go to, neither of which are dati leumi, have actively expressed no preference whatsoever between the candidates.
A last point. Rav Aharon Feldman, at the recent keness, expressed the view that we should vote for Abutbul because he’d be able to turn Beit Shemesh into a Torah city like Bnei Brak. Now half of the city is not charedi. Bnei Brak is entirely charedi, much power to it’s right arm. Which means that R Feldman wants Abutbul to turn the other half of Beit Shemesh charedi. There appear to be two means to achieve this. Either they become baalei teshuva or they leave. Which, do you suppose, R Feldman meant? If I were a secular, traditional or dati leumi resident would I be incorrect in taking umbrage at the fact that the charedi residents want their mayor to drive them out, as encouraged by a major rabbinical figure? Or perhaps I’m missing something here?
Oi LaTorah, Oi Lalomdeha.
Finally, a post that explains a point of view without knocking the other side! I for one one relish seeing a presentation of the other side:
1: without resorting to lumping all chilonim or chareidim in one group due to the actions of a few or judging all chareidim by some aspects of chareidi media sensationalism.
2: It would be great if there was a blog with mutual respect, where people went to understand 2 (or 10) sides of an issue.
3: Where it was ok for people to have opinions different then your own.
4: Where the side opposing yours was presented with logic and clarity and we would say “aha! so they also have a side”
5: Where it wouldn’t be assumed that people understand the basic issues and sides before resorting to going on the offensive.
6: Where if you were going on the offensive you would present the other side in a fair minded way before explaining why even though that way make sense from a certain perspective you have a different perspective which forces you to disagree.
7: Where sholom between different camps was a primary consideration
Nice job Rabbi Rosenfeld and here’s to a new kind of cross-currents.
How can you have democracy when you must vote like the rabbis tell you? In my whole life, this never happeened in Baltimore. Rabbi Herman Neuberger would put out a personal letter on personal stationary stating “I have been asked…I will be voting for….” Never did he tell me that I had to agree and vote as he was. Although out of respect for his wisdom, many people did vote as he did because they assumed he knew better. If you are honest, you know that there are multiple religious parties and within each party,there are factions. There is rivalry and much chicanery , so why make it that “my party is the Party of G-d” and your’s is the party of Satan? The hyperbole in Israeli chareidim media is over the top. I am amazed at the meanness and utter hatred that seems to reep Yated Neeman when it talks about another party. You can disagree without demonizing. Our rabbi spoke from the pulpit today about Amalek(what else). He said Amalek is Hamas,etc. who kill babies without mercy. It is sinful to call another Jew -“Amalek”. Even if you think Yair Lapid is doing what he is doing for all the wrong reasos and you oppose ‘shivyon baneteel” don’t call him Amalek, the rabbi said. I wish all of our leaders spome that way.
Perhaps Rabbi Rosenfeld didn’t realize of remember that not every Rav in RBS felt this way about the election. Right here on cross currents, the views of R’ Chayim Soloveichik were published and they ran counter to his views. R’Chayim espoused the view that it was indeed permitted to vote for a non Frum candidate if one felt that he would make the better mayor. R’ Chayim was expressing the views of his father, R’ Ahron.
I can fully appreciate and respect R’ Rosenfeld’s perspective. But please let’s not say or imply that there are not legitimate opposing views to the ones he expressed here. There certainly are.
I do agree that the elections are over and that it’s time for reconciliation. I call upon R’ Rosenfeld and other Charedi Rabbonim to join with the non Charedi Rabbonim to unite and form an umbrella organiozation of all Rabbonim in RBS that will serve the needs of the entire city.
I am a big advocate of Achdus. A good place to start is to call R’ Chayim and ask to join him in the rabbinic supervision of L’Maan Achai – one of the great Tedaka organization of Ramat Bet Shemesh. It would be even better if the other Charedi Rabbanim of RBS would join him. Now that would be a real gesture of Achdus and a true Kiddush HaShem.
Rabbi Rosenfeld, are you up to the challenge?
The distortions in this post are extraordinary.
I fail to understand why the author objects to statements such as “Beit Shemesh’s last chance,” “We can’t have anyone who isn’t Chareidi voting for anyone who isn’t Eli Cohen” and “Election day for us is like going to war.” The exact same statements (in reverse) were made by Charedi rabbonim. Rav Aharon Feldman said that this is Beit Shemeh’s last chance to turn into Bnei Brak. Many of the local charedi rabbanim said that it is prohibited to vote against Abutbul. One of the charedi MKs said that these elections are war, while Abutbul’s slogan was “it’s not politics – it’s your life!”
Yes, Eli Cohen ran with the official slogan “Save Beit Shemesh from the extremists.” It was patently clear to all of us who actually know him that he meant what he said – extremists, not Chareidim. He spoke constantly about how he wants to improve the quality of life for mainstream charedim here, and planned to oppose only those who use violence in pursuit of their goals. I do not know of any basis, halachic or otherwise, for insisting that he was lying about this.
On the other hand, when Moshe Abutbul’s campaigners produced slogans about how Abutbul is all about love, this was visibly dishonest (as is Rabbi Rosenfeld), because this is only one part of the campaign. The other part of the official campaign were the messages that appeared in Chadash – depicting the threat of an Eli Cohen victory as charedi children behind barbed wire, using phrases from the Megillah about how Jews must gather for their lives, and so on. Then there were all the posters in the street about how we must be “victorious over the haters of religion” and how “I vote for those who love God, not for those who hate him,” etc. These were apparently not part of the official campaign, but were totally consistent with what many people in the charedi community here were saying. Likewise, there were all the people yelling “Nazi,” “you’re not Jewish,” etc. against Eli and his supporters.
The idea that there is a serious halachic problem with voting for a non-Orthodox candidate is neatly refuted by the fact that most of the charedi community in Jerusalem voted for the secular candidate, Nir Barkat, rather than the national-religious candidate. Clearly, charedim do not have a problem with voting for a secular candidate.
The latter point makes it very strange that Rabbonim who have no connection or knowledge of Beit Shemesh insisted that it is a religious obligation to vote for Abutbul. (For the record, it was not only the Dati-Leumi rabbanim of Bet Shemesh who supported Eli Cohen – a few moderate charedi rabbanim here were also quietly in favor him, but did not dare say so; it was sufficient for them to not join the Abutbul bandwagon.)
Finally, the author claims that Beit Shemesh is a model of peaceful co-existence, with “Bnei Torah of all stripes living together in mutual respect.” If so, then let’s see if his shul, the Gra, will invite one of the Dati-Leumi rabbanim to give a shiur, with the invitation being reciprocated by the other shul.
I did not hear Rav Shteinman say, “I know you have concerns about Abutbol as mayor, but despite that, please vote for him because he is charedi.” If Rav Shteinman did not even reference the very great concerns people have about him as mayor, then either he a) didn’t know about them or b) didn’t care about them. Either way, what are we to make of that?
Let me tell you a story that might explain why many in RBS did not feel that they should listen to the gedolim who clearly said to vote for Abutbol.
The last major politics in town was a yeshiva high school opening that offers secular studies. The neighborhood was blanketed with pashkevelim, signed by gedolim, saying people are forbidden to send their sons to such a place. Many people avoided the new school for this reason: the gedolim said. The gedolim said it is assur.
But a board member of the new school happened to be in Yerusahalyim and bumped into one the great men who had “signed” the poster. After shul, he went up to him and said, “May I ask the Rosh Yeshiva a question about the new boys’ high school in Ramat Bet Shemesh?”
“What high school?” asked the gadol. “What are you talking about? I didn’t hear about this.”
What do we make of a story like this? Should we believe that Rav Shteinman’s people encouraged him to meet with people in RBS who are unhappy with Abutbol? No one I know was allowed to present “their” side to the gadol. I personally, despite my black hat, beard, and background in charedi places (the Mir, even a short stint in Brisk), despite my life in klei kodesh (I am a rebbe and a sofer), do not believe that a gadol is, lehavdil, infallible. We all know stories about a gadol saying, “If I had known what the concert actually was, I would not have signed the ban, but I was told that….”
What saddens me is that while I have great respect for gedolim, and of course would take any psak and eitza from a gadol, many others, as a result of these stories, feel that they can dismiss what a gadol says. This is terrible! But can you blame people for thinking this way if the gedolim involved don’t try to meet with the “other side”?
I’m sorry, please clarify: do you think ANY charedim cheated in the the first election? If so, do you think THAT was the cause of the chillul Hashem? Do you think there was any hatred or wrongdoing by the charedi side, or was Abutbol’s campaign all positive and about love and achdus?
We must live in different cities, because even the charedim I know in town believe there was cheating by charedim, believe that Abutbol’s camp spread stories about Eli Cohen bringing music and busses on Shabbes (see a previous Cross-currents article featuring Rav Soleveichik who referenced these lies, I supopose you think he made that up?), and most Charedim think there was chillul Hashem – caused by many people, not just chilonim.
In politically campaigns, outsiders or unknowns are often engaged to put out scurrilous publicity that the “official” campaign organizations are free to disavow. This makes it hard to determine whose campaigns are really clean.
First of all, I appreciate everyone who took the time to respond. I have no qualms at all with anyone who disagrees with my conclusions. I’m just trying my best to present the situation how the vast majority of the people in my circles saw it, and in particular, to counter some of the generalizations made about the Chareidi community as a whole based on the objectionable behavior of a very few.
Here are a few specific responses:
(1) To the best of my knowledge, the Chadash is not the official mouthpiece of Moshe Abutbol, nor of very much of the Chareidi community for that matter. I highly doubt their articles are reviewed by any self-respecting rabbinic figure. (The English side of it, written / edited by a neighbor of ours, is generally a dignified, respectful presentation of the Chareidi position. I for one don’t take the Hebrew side very seriously.)
I personally have no idea who was behind most of the slanderous posters, and I doubt I know anyone who knows anyone who was. And again, I’d be surprised if they were anything more than self-appointed spokesmen for their holy cause. Klal Yisrael seems to have a lot of them.
But my main issue is with people who made broad, critical statements about how despicably “the Chareidi community” (all of us) acted based on articles they saw in the Chadash or anonymous leaflets they saw tossed around. Judging all of us based on the behavior of a very small non-representative minority was simply not fair. To me it’s the equivalent of what the courts actually did — finding 36 fake votes (which we all agree was reprehensible) and making broad conclusions about the election since “All Chareidim act that way.” Countering this type of allegation was in fact my main impetus for posting an article on this forum.
(2) I felt it was important to state — as I quoted from Rav Schachter — that how to vote is a halachic question and should be treated as such. In general, voting for a nonobservant person, no matter how nice and fair-minded he is, is problematic. It is a form of publicly stating that we do not consider abidance by the Torah an important quality for a Jewish leader. Exceptions are at times made (as I stated in my original post), but the question is a very serious one which requires the careful judgment (shikul ha’da’as) of a posek — of “da’as Torah” — and certainly not one to be left to the individual voter’s discretion.
I can certainly accept that other rabbanim reached different conclusions, but in my mind the judgment had to be made by poskim who appreciate the severity of making such a public statement — especially in view of the “us versus them” light which, whether we liked it or not, the race was viewed as by all. To me it seemed that great poskim recognized that much more was at stake than simply the benefits of having a frum mayor.
(3) It’s unfortunately no secret that it seems too easy to fool gedolim today. There are too many undeniable cases in which they clearly relied on faulty information. To be frank (and at the risk of landing myself in cheirem), Rav Shteinman’s involvement moved me less than the vociferous support of so many local rabbanim who are both gedolim in Torah and quite familiar with the local political landscape. (And again, I fully accept that there were respectable rabbanim on both sides of the fence.)
In this case, we also saw big rabbanim who are not the type to take sides in issues they know little about willingly and actively involve themselves in the situation, b’rosham HaRav Nebenzhal shlit”a, but many other big names as well. Considering the number and caliber of the gedolim involved, I do respectfully have issues with people who readily dismiss them as “getting involved without knowing what they’re talking about.” As a gadol b’Yisrael once told me years ago, if you hear (reliably) that a gadol said statement X which bothers you, you have a “moral obligation” to pose your concerns to the gadol. But short of doing so, simply dismissing his words out of hand as wrong or informed is not something we should do lightly.
Rabbi Rosenfeld, I see that you did not address my challenge to combine forces and create an umbrella rabbinic organization in RBS that includes all Orthodox factions. And to start by joining with R’ Chayim Soloveichik as part of L’Maan Achai’s halachic board.
Am I too assume by your avoidance that this level of Achdus is not possible? If so, why not? I know that there was at least one Charedi Rav that actually aksed to be included in governing L’Maan Achai, but then changed his mind. Why? Is it because the Charedi Rabbonim do not value R’ Chayim’s views which are based on his father’s Shitos?
If there can be no Achdus in the matter of one Tzedaka organizatioin, then there can’t be any kind of Achdus. Just delegitimization, and a growing sense of bitterness, resentment, and anger by each side against the other. Why would anyone want to live in a community like that?
1) The fact that you still bring out “36 votes” is telling.
2) It’s not a religious issue at all, but political and this is one of the great benefits of living in the US with a separation of church and state. My politics is my politics and my religion is my religion. In Israel, politics=religion and religion=politics.
“But my main issue is with people who made broad, critical statements about how despicably “the Chareidi community” (all of us) acted based on articles they saw in the Chadash or anonymous leaflets they saw tossed around. Judging all of us based on the behavior of a very small non-representative minority was simply not fair. To me it’s the equivalent of what the courts actually did — finding 36 fake votes (which we all agree was reprehensible) and making broad conclusions about the election since “All Chareidim act that way.” Countering this type of allegation was in fact my main impetus for posting an article on this forum.”
This is straw man of your own creation. Very few, if any, non-Chareidim tarred all Chareidim with the same brush. Nor is that what the court did in making its decision. And please stop repeating the 36-vote canard. Did you even read the 60 page court decision? Nowhere did they say or imply that “all Chareidim act that way”. There decision, rightfully, was based on the fact that there was systemic fraud and attempts at fraud that undermined the democratic process. What was astounding was that that there wasn’t a huge outcry from a community the prides itself on adhering to the strictest levels of halacha. Rather, many, like yourself, preferred to hide behind the “36 vote” nonsense.
“Those who sow the wind ,will reap the whirlwind”
These posts broadcast rather further disguise the evident gross lack of erlichekeit of the datim and anti aboutbul’ites
Who chose to make the city’s name a global synonym !?
Who turned the city the Kulturkampf !?
Who relished the national and international media prancing around the former bedroom community !?
And then strutting in the in the limelight !?
That the NIF and “anti religious” and “anti zionist” NGO’s poured thousands to support the “religious zionists” over the charedim is telling !
Eli Cohen ,a amiable decent chap,could well be a better city executive than Aboutbul, but present pretense aside,EVERYONE (minus a few with red hairs on their necks and ‘Useful Idiots’) understood how enormous the stakes were !
That you were gullible pawns in a bigger game are hardly grounds for innocence !
“Yes, Eli Cohen ran with the official slogan “Save Beit Shemesh from the extremists.” It was patently clear to all of us who actually know him that he meant what he said – extremists, not Chareidim.”
( Which extremists, might you mean ?
The fanatic RBS yerushalmis who you long artfully played up as charedi strawmen,albeit that they refrain from voting and taking money from the state,but who have been in the country for generations before you.
And one of their leaders,Pappenheim,declared he preferred your candidate ELi Cohen to win !)
” It was patently clear “to all sides and of all ages that the charedi slogans being bandied, were little more than harmless campaigning ,with less intent that what is consistently posted (barely even stopping for breath) on the blogs and facebook pages of the whining commentors !
We are all war weary from this campaign and I don’t have the energy to respond to every point. (And there are issues with each point!) However, the biggest issue of Rabbi Rosenfeld’s perspective can be summed in this statement: “To most of us Beit Shemesh is a jewel of tolerance and coexistence, of Bnei Torah of all stripes living together in mutual respect.” We all know what the Rabbi means by “Bnei Torah” and its highly exclusive of pretty much half of Bet Shemesh. It’s pretty easy to see tolerance and coexistence among a bunch of people who, more or less, look and think like you. And therein lies the problem. Many of the good Anglo Folks of Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph see only their Daled Amos. The do not “see” the rest of Bet Shemesh. And truth be told, if RBS A *were* a separate city there’d be little reason to vote for another candidate. But RBS A is not its own city and it’s not a Jewish quality to only care about those in your own back yard. With such blinders on it’s very difficult for someone like Rabbi Rosenfeld to properly asses the performance of the current Mayor. Those of us able, from our vantage in “old” Bet Shemesh, to “see” more clearly, see a huge population, many of them traditional Shas voters who supported Abutbol the first time around, whose lives, needs and environs have been grossly neglected by this mayor. Just a few blocks from my house sit an unfinished sports center and cultural center. Unfinished because neither fits in with the ideals of a new “Bnei Brak”. In old Bet Shemesh there is dereliction everywhere you look. Even Rabbi Rosenfeld admits that there would be an “exception” the edict of voting for a “frum” candidate, “if the frum candidate is notoriously corrupt or incompetent.”