A Different Chareidi Perspective From Beit Shemesh

As we promised, here is a different POV on the electoral upset in the Beit Shemesh mayoral race, a rebuttal to the earlier letter.

by Yoni Samber

My story has some similarities to David Kasten’s. After growing up in Hollywood, California, in the 80’s and 90’s while attending yeshiva throughout, I landed in Israel in 1996 to begin the adult stage of my life. I spent four years in two wonderful chareidi yeshivas prior to getting married in 2000. (Point of interest to those keeping track of current chareidi affairs: Rav Shmuel Auerbach zt”l was our mesader kedushin).Two years later, we moved our growing family to Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef (RBSa)where we have been ever since. I spent the first eight years of our marriage learning in a chareidi halacha kolel before training to be a paramedic (ALS) in the great state of Texas. It took me two years to get my Hebrew up to par before I was able to get my Israeli license, but it was all worth it just for the looks I get when someone is having the worst day of their life and they look up to see this big American chareidi fellow there to help them.

I was going to address my grievances against Mr. Kasten’s submission at this point, but I feel that one can not fully comprehend some of the dynamics at play here in Beit Shemesh without some history. When we came here in 2002, Danni Vaknin was mayor. A local career politician, the anglo chareidi consensus of the time in this neighborhood was not positive. He was (allegedly) corrupt, not interested in helping frum elements, and intent on preventing chareidim from settling in the planned Shachar neighborhood (now known as RBS gimmel). Mayor Vaknin was ousted by Moshe Abutbul in 2008, to the joy of chareidim in this city. The Abutbul administration, supported by a razor-thin majority of chareidi councilmen, launched in 2009, amidst pledges to represent the good of all city residents. I made a point to pick up all free local Hebrew newspapers outside of the local makolet every Friday, so I could get a feel for what was going on. It did not bode well from the beginning, when the Gimmel party forced him to keep the Tov party’s Eli Freedman (the sole councilman elected to represent working chareidim) out of the coalition. But the feeling in old Beit Shemesh was one of cautious hope that the mayor would be fair to everyone.

That hope came crashing down late that spring, when Abutbul’s czar of housing and development, Moshe Montag, unveiled new plans for RBS gimmel. The media and elected officials from old Beit Shemesh exploded. Gone were plans for a lake and any other of the things designed to make this attractive to non chareidi residents. This was, in their view, a blatant attempt to permanently alter the electorate in order to prevent them from ever electing a non- chareidi mayor again. Abutbol had a plan for this. He would give his word to split the new neighborhood in three-chareidi, DL, and general (chiloni). With this promise in hand, the council voted to develop RBS gimmel. It was a matter of weeks before the agreement unraveled. Montag was determined and unapologetic. It was against the law and discriminatory to prevent anyone from living where they wanted, went the argument. The people of old Beit Shemesh watched as RBS gimmel went from a future for everybody, to Abutbul’s and Gimmel’s (the party) future.

That is how it all started. Abutbol had shown his true colors, and while he got his hilltop, he squandered the good will that was extended to him on credit.

The Great Orot Banot Catastrophe of 2011 was even more telling. The sequence of events was documented at length in English and on YouTube, so I will spare all of us the agony of rehashing it. But know this: Abutbol’s approach of speaking of problems “on both sides” (read- Charlottesville) was a complete disaster for Beit Shemesh, and for chareidim beyond our city. If he would have taken charge and said the obvious from the beginning, namely that there was one very wrong side here, then the whole thing would have finished in August a few days after it started. Instead, he looked elsewhere, as girls were spat on and yelled at on and off until the story went national in December. The results are known. Israel has never been the same. Draft laws were changed after Yeish Atid was swept into office, ultimately leading to the Peleg split, and non-stop tension between religious and secular ever since.

After Eli Cohen’s final defeat in March 2014, Mayor Abutbul pretty much had free rein to do what he wanted. More chareidi neighborhoods have popped up everywhere. The Golevences or Ramat Avraham area looks like RBS bet on steroids, with all that implies. And no one really likes to talk about the maps that show a planned expansion west of Nahar Yarden that would double the size of that troubled neighborhood. The incidents of rocks and boulders placed in my way as I drive through on Shabbos to attempt to help patients in cardiac arrest IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY indicates to just what level Torah has been distorted there. I have spoken to first responders who have been outright stoned on their way to help. Other documented incidents included an uptick in incidents in which frum soldiers from the community were harassed and assaulted. Large signs intended to intimidate women appeared without challenge. In each reported incident, the Mayor’s response was canned and pitifully inadequate: While we condemn all violence and intimidation, the police are responsible for law and order, not the mayor.

What was noticeably different in his last term was that the funding that he swore the national government would give us wasn’t quite working out the way he had promised. New communities like RBS gimmel remain construction zones to this day, with vital public services like schools, parks, a womans mikva and basic transportation worked out on the fly – if at all. The state of affairs at the city welfare office is one that I am embarrassed to admit I had not been aware of until I read the replies to Mr. Kasten’s letter.

Which brings me back to Mr. Kasten’s submission. What he has written is sadly representative of the sentiments of thousands of (but not all of) chareidim in our city. I know this because aside from my diligence in reading Temura and Keren Or (since defunct), I have invested countless hours, tears and increases in diastolic blood pressure to read the Chadash propoganda machine that has, both to my wife’s and the paper recycling man’s dismay, increased substantially in thickness since 2002. I have struggled to understand all perspectives so that I can be an educated consumer when it comes to voting, but also to be able to relate to the people of this city better. ( I always joked that if you balance the fake news of the Chadash against the rhetoric of the Keren Or, you end up with the closest thing to the truth in the Temura).

Mr. Kasten’s piece assumes malign motives in anyone running against his candidate. He has no doubt that they are out to get us, to suck us defenseless chareidim away from our God and into their schmutz filled orbit of hedonism and movie theatres and army. My line of work has brought me into direct contact with every walk of life in Bet Shemesh, from Moroccans to Ethiopians, the Dati of old Darom to the arsim of the Tayelet and Ayalon Park.

How dare you, Mr. Kasten? How dare you accuse any non-chareidi party or group of “hating Judaism and any thing to do with it?” In my sixteen years here I have NEVER met a SINGLE Jew in this city that fits anything close to such a description. Even Richard Peres, public enemy number one in this city among chareidim, does not want all yeshivas closed or bachurim who are truly learning drafted. I know that because I shmoozed with him once when he was my patient.

Whom have you spoken to? Have you ever tried to get to know Dr Finkelstein? I never met her, but please understand that not every women who has suffered abuse at the hands and mouths of Chareidi-dressed thugs, and who refuses to take it, necessarily becomes a “known rabid anti- religious activist.” (Unless of course the religion you are practicing involves intimidation and harassment of women, then I guess you could get away with calling her anti religious. So I really need to ask you, neighbor, “What religion are you practicing? Because I do not recognize it. It is certainly NOT what I saw and fell in love with in 1996, and committed the rest of my life to. Is using a chareidi epithet against the brave victim of an assault-whom you have never met-your idea of the kedusha you crave? Not taking into account the aspects of forbidden speech.

You have bought into an imaginary, paranoid world that mongers fear and feeds off of some delusion that all non chareidim are out to get us. Circle the wagons! Praise G-d and pass the ammunition! Only a person or a society that is insecure feels the need to fall back on such a perpetual state of war.

Other respondents have addressed how you repeatedly refer to Dr Bloch as not Orthodox. What an utter humiliation to chareidim everywhere that here, for all the world to see, a man makes no effort to conceal what too many chareidim think, but usually have the self respect to keep to themselves- any non chareidi person or sect is not truly Torah observant. I have heard this said before, but to see it written in public is simply bone chilling. Is this the spiritual aliya, the “ideal” that you had in mind when you came here? You have shown how spiritually bankrupt your ideals are. Your follow-up comment that defends applying the “not-frum” epithet to married women who do not cover their hair (to your satisfaction) is astounding. Woe to the generation that transmits such values to their children!

Separation of church and state? Lets talk about that. The obligation to struggle to be a good Jew is not dependant on the help or hindrance of the Israeli government, national or local. So even if a non-frum or anti-frum politician takes the reins of power for a while, I will double down and work harder to strengthen my spiritual roots and branches. I will encourage my family to fight harder to develop and intensify our relationship with G-d during the transitory period that we will endure. If the government is not giving money for kashrus or school, then we will have to pay for it ourselves, just like we did in the good old days .Only a man who has been hopelessly dependent on government handouts for most of his adult life would be too overwhelmed to step up to the plate and empower himself to take his fate into his own hands. It does not have to be that way, and I am not embarrassed to go on record to say I trust Dr Bloch not to destroy Judaism. Not over five years, and not ever. And to those that say that, yes she might be ok, but what if she is pressured by anti-chareidi people in her coalition?” I answer that this is where strength of character come into play. I trust her. She has not betrayed my trust like Mayor Abutbul has for ten years.

This leads to the next point. Separation of church and state can carry over to the compartmentalizing of ruchnius and gashmius. In the US it is easier to fall into a mindset of “my money is my money, and my ruchnius is my ruchnius.” When you come to Eretz Yisrael, your perspective of the two changes. You feel elevated ruchnius, and you realize how important that ruchnius is. If you develop a proper Torah perspective, you start to value essential gashmius fundamentals such as parnassa, basic food, safety from theft or terrorism, functioning public transportation, lit sidewalks free of obstacles and so on as not as just some gashmius need, but as a spiritual need! The spiritual ruchnius could not exist without all these things. And this is one of the merits of living here- even the gashmius pursuits are elevated to a ruchani level. By failing in all areas of essential gashmius, our very ruchnius is threatened. How can I send my son to learn Torah in yeshiva when the iriya could not find the money to provide an armed guard outside his school? How can I get to kollel if chalila I am maimed in a head on collision on Nachal Tzealim due to reckless traffic changes that have persisted for months? How could my wife go to the mikva Friday night for two years if we would live in gimmel? How can I explain to my Bais Yaakov daughters that we have a chareidi mayor, endorsed by gedolei Yisrael, who has done nothing to prevent or discourage the abhorrent treatment of frum women going about their business in rama bet? How can I explain to my children that the gedolei Yisrael instructed their followers to vote for a party in which their number two man was arrested for multiple cases of bribery and abuse of public funds?

And you have the audacity to boil it all down to one less soda can in the street? Moshe Abutbul and his Gimmel party of shame are in fact the greatest threat to ruchnius in this city.

The good news is, the Torah and the Jewish people will survive them. I can only hope that David and the thousands of like-minded chareidim can survive the attitudes that are manifest in his letter.

A final point. Last Friday night, a young Rav addressed his audience in a local shtiebel and related the following. At a public event several years ago, the mayor said, “This city is not under my control, it is under direct control of the cities rabonnim.” Can you imagine that?, he continued. Where else in the world can such a thing be said? he wondered in awe. I sat there quietly, thinking about what he said. And I found myself going back to a cold day last January, the morning after my kids had surprised me with a surprise birthday party when I got home from work after 11:30pm. After dropping them off at school, I suddenly found myself standing over the body of a six year old boy. His father had been rushing him to school, holding his hand as they crossed the street on a crosswalk at Sorek and Kishon. A bus rounded the corner and hit both of them. The father suffered a broken leg. His son did not suffer. He was dragged under the bus and killed.

I will never forget seeing the boy’s hand and remembering a hand the same size – that of my six year old son as hugged me when he woke me up that morning. The angelic, pure, peaceful face of the boy who was killed will be forever burned into my memory.

And I thought back to the newspaper articles in the Chadash, going back eight years when Yisrael Silverstein was not on the council, but as a Degel activist was assigned to be responsible for traffic flow and safety. How he spoke about that very intersection, about its jams and dangers to pedestrians. And how nothing had changed since then. And I thought about how twice after this tragedy the Chadash reported how the same man was back, this time with a team of experts from wherever, and how they were determined that blah blah blah…

And it is ten months later and nothing has changed there.

And the young rav continued on about rabonnim and Daas Torah. Wait a minute! If the rabonnim have direct control of the city, maybe we just had the wrong email address all these years! Maybe they bear some responsibility for this mess?

If what this rav said is accurate, then the rabonnim of this town who campaigned for this mayor three times over the last ten years should at least organize a symbolic egla arufa ceremony at the corner and say “Yadeinu lo shafchu es ha-dam ha-zeh!” Our hands did not shed this blood. Except that it would be dishonest.

If there was ever a greater challenge to emunas chachamim – the emunas chachomim that all of us crave and desperately need now -I have yet to see it.

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61 Responses

  1. Daniel Goldman says:

    Thank you!

  2. Shoshi says:

    Thank you for so clearly explaining that running a city right – especially keeping it safe- is the Jewish thing to do, and therefore religious people have a Torah obligation to vote for those who will do it, no matter what kind of hat the mayor wears.
    Commenters to the previous post said over and over again that they don’t believe all the rabbis supporting Abutbol were actually motivated by holy impartial thoughts, another issue the religious community needs to grapple with.
    Most people in Bet Shemesh are happy after the election, and Dr. Bloch said those who didn’t vote for her will be happy soon.
    May we all see peace safety and happiness in this city, and much success in the new administration.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Is some other Chareidi city well-run? What lessons can be learned to correct the problems identified here? If no such city exists, what is the general problem?

  4. lacosta says:

    if i wanted to distance someone from haredi judaism , and if foolishly considering aliya considering living in a mixed neighborhood including hareilim , to actively discourage that idea, i don’t think i could come up with better material than this pair of articles to fully accomplish the job.

    the onus then reverts to the haredi/hareili community to attempt to prove that the type of religious tyranny/effect of haredi hegemony listed here is a unique, rare exception –rather than the Boogie man that every neighborhood in Israel that faces ‘invasion’ must anticipate as an eventuality….

    again, i think it would have been better if neither article appeared….

  5. Michael Lipkin says:

    Magnificent piece. It’s an important juxtaposition to the previous article. At first I was incensed at the first article. I thought, how could you publish such a vile piece filled with hate and lies? But now with this pair, readers have a glimpse into two potential futures for this country. Currently, I believe the former is more representative. However, I’m hopeful that the latter one represents a small but growing change that is necessary if this country is to survive.

  6. Rachel says:

    Fantastic historical context and jolting conclusion. Thank you for speaking from a place of common sense and derech eretz.

  7. Ruchama K says:

    Many Charedi people are wonderful….but. We need to self -reflect. In particular, we need to ask ourselves if we are too judgemental, narrrowminded, if we are open to other opinions, if we are capable of self-criticism.
    It is a massive Chillul Hashem when charedi politicians make deals to support this candidate or that candidate depending on some quid pro quo. One day we are told one must vote only for a religious or charedi candidate, the next day that profile doesn’t matter, etc. There’s open discussion of which party gets to run this city in exchange for that city, with ZERO regard for the needs of the people in the city. This has to stop. This is NOT the way of the Torah.
    Justice justice shall you pursue….

  8. Saperstein says:

    Thanks Yoni from har nof

  9. Chana says:

    Excellent article.
    As for the Egla Arufa – they can only do that if they truly don’t beat any responsibility. As you point out, whoever considered himself to be a leader here for pass ten years, bears responsibility. Maybe the rabbis , outgoing mayor and Mr Silverstein need to go to an Ir Miklat.

    PS, re Orot Banot, the spitting on girls was televised, but it wasn’t the worst offense. For weeks, the goons threw dirty diapers and bags of excrement at the girls and into the classrooms. At the same time, the Hareidi press, including Mishpaha, were distorting the story, ignoring the laws and history and outrightt lying about the school’s location. The hareidi leadership, press and laymen who chose to trust them blindly under the guise of Emunat Hachamim, have a lot for which to answer. I sincerely hope and expect that under Dr Bloch’s mayorship, more Hareidi citizens will learn from your example and get to know the whole picture.

  10. Michal says:

    Wow…… thank you

  11. Sam says:

    Some city traffic/road planner designed a traffic circle at a very busy corner which also leads to the main the entrance of the shopping center (and the only other back entry point to the shopping center leads most people miles out of their way). So you have hundreds of cars and schoolchildren at a corner every morning that also serves as the main bus stop out of the neighborhood and of the city for commuters. I don’t know that a charedi can be blamed for this bit of urban planning.

  12. Dovid Rosenfeld says:

    I’ll add my 2c with some of my perspectives, in the hope I don’t get tarred and feathered for it. Personally I think it was basically an open secret that the Chareidim were hardly pushing for Moshe Abutbol this election. For a long time Degel was considering floating their own candidate until they decided to support MA. I don’t believe it was because of incompetence and certainly not corruption. I believe they had their own reasons (not lashon hara ones either, but I won’t get into the little bit I know).

    Further, (if I understood correctly) Eitz was planning to run their own man until literally a few days before the election — even though they knew full well that that was basically handing the election to Dr. Bloch — until at the last minute when they fell into line. Imagine, of all parties, Eitz willingly supporting (indirectly) the non-Chareidi candidate. This is clearly not an opponent we loathed and felt need to oppose at all costs.

    Notice also that there was no virtually no campaigning for MA. All of a sudden, literally a week before the elections — and long after everyone had already made up their minds who they were voting for, Gimmel “woke up” and began campaigning. Most of the local Chareidi rabbanim supported him and the typical moda’ahs were dutifully posted (and of course the city had the z’chus of hosting Rav Chaim K briefly), but there were noticeably fewer rabbanim on the posters and they were much less vocal about it.

    I feel that part of this was definitely because everyone recognized that this was hardly a repetition of 5 years ago when we all felt that the future of Beit Shemesh hung in the balance. (Let’s forget about whether or not that was true. I feel in hindsight it certainly was, but that’s not our current argument and I’m sure no one really cares to rehash it.)

    But there’s no question, part of the cheshbon is that we all recognize that Aliza Bloch is a decent, competent person with good plans for the city, and though not Chareidi, she is certainly not anti-Chareidi either. And it’s no secret (comparing the seats on the city council to breakdown in the votes for mayor) that Chareidim voted for her in the thousands. I personally think everyone is cautiously optimistic about her, and there is hope that the city will grow and develop to everyone’s satisfaction.

    All of that being said, I’ll make one uninformed comment which I’m sure I’ll get flack for, but what the heck. The one picture Arutz Sheva posted of her after her victory was taking a celebratory “selfie” of herself with someone else. I’m not writing this to judge her as a person. That’s the world she comes from and I’m fine with it. But could you imagine a Chareidi candidate taking a “selfie” of himself – even if he does own a smart phone? I know you’ll jump on me as being a trivial example and having little to do with the actual worth of the person. But from our perspective, we do see her as coming from a different world and a different culture. How much is she influenced by the non-Jewish world? Does she share our views about the centrality of Torah and halacha to the exclusion of outside influences? Does she own a TV in her home? Will she be more beholden to the non-Chareidi parties who supported her, etc.? Most of us are not so shallow as to automatically “passul” a person because her husband wears this or that kind of yarmulkeh. And it was completely wrong to characterize the election as a choice between religious and not-religious. But to us it’s hard to be fully confident that she is person who truly shares our religious values. I again think there is room for optimism and think we all have much to look forward to for the upcoming years. But let’s just say we’re only cautiously optimistic. We’ll just wait and see…

  13. Yoni Samber says:

    Upon having some time to reflect over shabbos, I need to correct two items.
    1- I would like to walk back the statement that that the the mayor and his party represent ” the greatest threat to ruchniess in this city”. There are greater threats.
    I originaly wrote that as a reflex to Mr Kasten’s letter, and it went too far. I feel that they do represent a threat; they have caused severe harm to how frum people are percieved, by not living Torah true behavior.
    The last two examples asking how I can explain criminal behavior inconsistant with Torah to my children is a small insight into the spiritual damage. (I do not subscribe to the “wipe away the spittle and give her some chocolate” approach that a rav here once recomended).
    2- To the best of my knowledge, Dr Finklestein was harassed, not assaulted. That difference is significant, and I accept fault for using the wrong word.
    Regarding the historical context- The discrimination the chareidim received from mayor Vaknin was bad and wrong. The problem was how they delt with it afterwards when they had the power. Hillel haZaken teaches that the Torah can be boiled down to “de alecha sani, lechavercha lo savid”, what is hatefull to you, do not to to your fellow”
    Had they remembered this and lived by it, history would have been different. Instead, they went for the carotid.
    One omission- while rama gimmel was being built, Moshe Montag was constantly pushing for the fastest pace of construction possible. I remember him telling a room full of constuuction executives” whoever works slowly, will lose out!” The reason was obvious. They wanted the neighborhood populated by the next election of 2013. They just missed the deadline; the first familes moved in about a month later.As we know, Abutbol won that election and its follow up with out their votes.The long term miscalculation, however, was only fully realized this week. In the frantic rush to get the operation running, the vital services that I listed were regarded by the iriya as “nice to have”, or ” lets cross that bridge when we come to it. There is a housing crisis, darn it!!” By the time the residents were complaining, the national building grant money had been exhausted.The total failure to provide basic services for these families, was met with a repetitive ” That is the responsibility of the national education/ transportation/ religious affairs ministry, we need to wait until they get their act together. In fact, I can not remember one mishap that the mayor ever took responsibility for. The irony is obvious. Between twenty to thirty percent of rama gimmel, which is (in my estimation)more than ninety percent chareidi, voted against Abutbol. Ultimately, the very motive to conquer that neighborhood and fast, for the votes, was his undoing last week.

  14. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Bob Miller,
    As far a I know Beitar Ilit is objectively considered a well-governed city. If anyone wants to know what a hareidi well-governed city looks like, that is probably it. But it is nowhere as pluralistic as Beit Shemesh.

  15. Meir says:

    A major Charedi news source is reporting that [one of the RBS rabbis] went to one of the gedolim to see how the new Charedi council members should act.

    If the report is true, they have been instructed to block the new mayor unless they get everything they want.

    It just proves that they don’t have anything but their own self interests in mind.

    Perhaps in 5 years they too will be voted out when people are given the opportunity to make real and healthy change.

    Please relay that this style of leadership leaves a lot to be desired. It causes the thinking people to reevaluate what and whom is truly Daas Torah.

  16. Ben Waxman says:

    “again, i think it would have been better if neither article appeared…”

    Better for who? While I totally disagree with DK’s article, his approach, his analysis, his beliefs about what constitutes a Torah state, I do feel that it is good that the ideas were aired, and that the massive pushback to his ideas were published.

    I don’t know why people don’t want the truth about Beit Shemesh or other towns published. Hiding issues never gets anything anywhere.

  17. Nachum says:

    Yoni: In the law, “assault” includes yelling at people. If someone touches someone else, that’s called “battery.” So yes, she was assaulted, even if that word isn’t used that way in ordinary speech.

  18. cohen m says:

    “The obligation to struggle to be a good Jew is not dependant on the help or hindrance of the Israeli government, national or local.”

    In the hashgafa of Rav Kook and the Religious Zionist founders, israel is all about the community, Galut about the individual..

    Dare I say for the elevating letter of R’Meir Kasten Which I perused ,
    had R’Meir & chaverim been less concerned for their ruchnius
    and more concerned with the ruchnius collectively of others ,the present situation have Not in all probability come to pass( I mean in terms of real ruchnius ,Rather than what some are now contriving it to mean all of a sudden)

    Piece of advice:
    Don’t worry about Those frothing ‘religious coercion’As they will most assuredly.Many will probably jump in right now and say ” that was precisely the problem” which is disingenuous and sleight of hand
    There is but little which on surface as difficult And bring forth as much howling,
    however in the long run reap the most for all

  19. Suzanne says:

    Share your values? What values are those? Beingvyirat shamaim is a value I espouse. Giving time and money until it hurts. I concur. Inviting the lonely to uour home every Shabbat. B’simcha. Giving your seat upbto the elderly or infirm. Check. I try my darndest to do all those. Those are my core values. I do not need to be dati to have tjose values. Yet I am, although you might not consider me such as I have a t.v., a smart phone and I dont cover my hair. NEWS FLASH: I dtudied in N.Y at yeshiva university h.s. for GIRLS. Only 1 teacher covered her hair. They wete all dati, fine, refinef – in speech as well as dress. I understand times have changed. But , our values have too I was taught to never judhe your fellow Jew. Sadly, you were not

  20. Ari says:

    Really? A selfie is what we need to worry about?

  21. Eliezer Shindler says:

    It is little wonder that the charedi street is turning (or beginning to lose confidence in) against rabbinical edicts when a leading sephardi charedi rabbi comes out with a statement as despicable as this? I am by no means suggesting that most normal rabbis are like that, not at all. However, if one is looking for answers as to why confidence in rabbinical edicts/authority has eroded to such an extent, one need not look further than Rabbi Cohens’ statement.

  22. dr. bill says:

    beitar illit may be well run given its construction. the city is, akaik, entirely lacking in any space for any type of commercial employment. those (largely women) employed must travel great distances as a result. sad and a violation of derech eretz if only partially true.

  23. Nachum says:

    Toilets actually come up a lot in Cohen’s talks. Elu elohecha Yisrael…

  24. chaya kasten says:

    I just wanted to ask which letter by reb meir kasten? as far as i can see there was only a letter written by dovid kasten and they do not reflect the full views of meir kasten

  25. Dovid Kasten says:

    I would like to thank Yoni Samber for his article, as his is a textbook story of a Chareidi who has lost focus of the reason for coming to Eretz Yisroel.
    I know many Chareidim who have very similar stories to his, some even sadder than his. These include getting attacked, whether verbally or physically. Children not being let into a certain school or worse, getting kicked out has definitely jaded many idealistic individuals. The “Chareidi Violence” (although I have never heard any Rav pasken to do such things) definitely turns off many individuals who have arrived from places where even the non-Jews are more civil.
    As Yoni points out, he arrived here and learned in Yeshivos and Kollelim and even had Rav Shmuel Aurerbauch Ztz”l as his mesader Kiddushin. We can easily label him as “Chareidi-Classic”.
    But things slowly went downhill. He quickly decided to get involved in the culture of a people who he had barely known for 10 years and in his own words, “made a point to pick up all free local Hebrew newspapers outside of the local makolet every Friday, so I could get a feel for what was going on”. While the Chadash was a “propaganda machine”, the Temurah was the “truth”. (On a side note, David does do a good job of trying, without bias, to show both sides of the story. Thank you, David!)
    Next was his disillusion with the Mayor’s handling of the RBS Gimmel situation, where the Mayor and his evil cohorts dared to “permanently alter the electorate in order to prevent them [the non-Chareidi] from ever electing a non-chareidi mayor again”. This also bothered Yoni.
    Next was the sad (according to all) incident of Orot. Where the stubbornness of certain parties unleashed an outpouring of protest by the more fanatical (fanatical something- I’m not sure what) residents. Yoni obviously felt that this was also the fault of the Mayor and this bothered him even more.
    Yoni’s amazing medical work for Jews of all walks of life has also opened his mind to the trials and tribulations of the non-Chareidi. And I’m sure his being a compassionate human being (as most medical people are), has led him to sympathize with them as well.
    Yoni has been disillusioned with the Chareidi mayor who has not done a single good thing in his 10 years of running Bet Shemesh, the Chareidi council members who mercilessly use politics as a tool against the innocent populace, and the Chareidi populace who attack small children for kicks. (He knows this because he read it in the paper.)
    Yoni, however, shows his blindness when he begins his assault. Yoni attacks my article which is, “representative of the sentiments of thousands of (but not all of) chareidim in our city” for “accusing any non-chareidi party or group of “hating Judaism and anything to do with it”, when he himself agrees that Vaknin was “intent on preventing chareidim from settling in the planned Shachar neighborhood” and that there was discrimination. Richard Peres, who has fought the Chareidi parties tooth and nail, is defended by saying that he does not want ALL yeshivos closed. His 3 minute chat with a politician was enough to convince him that Richard does not hate Chareidim. Let me tell you something, Yoni. When a mayor goes out of his way to make a segment of his population miserable or a councilman spends 5 years attacking everything a Chareidi mayor tries to do, that means he hates them. Let us look at the FACTs and not the words.
    He attacks me for not sitting down in Café Rimon with Dr. Finkelstein for a friendly chat. Accusing me of falsely accusing her of being a “rabid anti-religious activist”, is something which no one in their right mind can agree to. Is teaming up with the reform movement something any Rav (of any form of Orthodoxy, except “Open”), would condone? Again let us look at her actions, the FACTs, and make conclusions from there instead of blogs and anti-religious newspapers. She may have been unjustly harassed/assaulted/abused, but that doesn’t make her a lover of Religion… Is her religion the Kedusha you crave?
    I was blasted for falsely labeling Dr. Bloch as not frum and Orthodox. I have been called to task for that by my peers (as well as by the numerous comments) and regret using that term. Frum is a relative term and depends on ones’ background, location, and surroundings. For example, in the early 1900’s, one could be called frum even though he worked on Shabbos. I should have simply said strictly orthodox, something which cannot be denied. However, to claim how “spiritually bankrupt” my ideals are is a bit exaggerated. If she is “truly Torah observant” would you eat in her house? Let your kids play there? I surly hope not. Let us be honest with the facts and the “bone chilling” feelings will dissipate.
    As an American, Yoni rails against the socialist makeup of this country. Regarding this I must agree with him. To the Israeli government I say, “Let us keep our earnings and don’t try to improve our lives in your image. Don’t tax us through the roof and then give us back pittance.” Yet all our protests does not change the FACTs. The FACTs are that that the government is an essential part of the religious experience of living here in Israel. [It’s like the US government owning the OU and the right to be messader Kiddushin.] If this is so, our vote should reflect this FACT and not ignore reality. Yes, we are all “hopelessly dependent on government handouts”, including you.
    Yoni, and only Yoni, feels that Abutbol and Gimmel are a threat to Ruchnius in the city because they are not “living Torah true behavior” and therefore do “severe harm to how frum people are perceived”.
    All Yoni proves from his letter is that he has been fooled. Fooled into thinking that the Chareidi-Chiloni conflict is one sided, fooled into thinking that he can understand the situation based on a few newspaper articles, and fooled into thinking that Yiddishkeit is solely about being nice to people. If one paid attention to Yoni’s argument, it is not one of bitterness. It doesn’t appear to me that he was wronged by “those hareidim” but has pure motives for his beliefs. He honestly believes in his crusade against Israeli Chareidism. But let me ask one question. FACT: When one has a medical question they go to a Doctor. A Lawyer for law related problems. An accountant for tax issues. Why is a purely religious question being decided by a newspaper clipping? It’s a shame that Yoni, and all those like him, were too arrogant to seek out an understanding of the opinions and actions of his natural associates, the Israeli Chareidim. There are many Rabbanim in Bet Shemesh who can help with the understanding of these issues, many of them that are not afraid to buck the establishment but choose to go along with it because they have decided that it is the right thing to do.
    I will ALSO bring the heart-rending story of Yehuda Appelbaum who was run over by a bus while with his father. I am familiar with the story because Yehuda was in my son’s class. I went with my wife to the Shiva and saw not a bitter man railing against Yisrael Silverstein and Moshe Abutbol. I saw a man who was holding his Shulchan Oruch and was unable to get back to his learning. My wife saw a strong woman who was using the tragedy to get closer to Hashem and came to the class to give Chizuk to the boys and urged them to learn harder and do more Mitzvos L’Iluy Nishmaso. We all experience hardships that cannot be understood and explained easily. We have all been wronged by the Israeli Chareidi way of doing things. How we take it is up to us. Do we get bitter and rebel against the establishment. Do we open a party such as TOV and go against our natural allies. Or do we respond as the Appelbaum’s, with chizuk and Kirvah to Hashem? While Yoni’s letter was respectful, many comments regarding the sad state of affairs of many Anglo’s were mocking and full of hate. Is that the Torahdik way? Find me one Rav (again, any version except “Open”) who believes that Leitzanus is the way to foster Ahavas Yisroel and Achdus amongst the many factions of this city.
    “If there was ever a greater challenge to emunas chachamim – the emunas chachomim that all of us crave and desperately need now -I have yet to see it.” Sums up the sentiments of so many of these lost sheep. They crave emunas chachamim but don’t realize that just like emuna in Hashem, it’s something one must work on, and is not handed to one on a silver platter.
    Hashem should help us all reach the level where we respect and have emuna the Gedolim of the generation and do not Chas Veshalom put our emunah in Dr. Bloch and her irreligious backers.

  26. Bob Miller says:

    What does effective, fair, incorruptible municipal administration look like and what does it not look like? Citizens know!

  27. Moshe Dick says:

    I have been reading the many comments and letters on this matter these past few days but this last , long comment by Mr. Kasten (I would call him Rabbi if I knew he had semicha) has pushed me to write this comment. One sentence in particular incensed me. He writes ‘is she [ Dr. Bloch] truly Torah observant, would you eat in her house? Would you let your kids play there? I surely hope not.” The arrogance and the condescension of these comments are breathtaking. He continues to imply-nay, explicitly say-, and point out how irreligious Dr. Bloch is and that she doesn’t keep a kosher home. What amount of loshon horah has he just transgressed? And, of
    course, he [Dovid Kasten] , is so holy, so saintly, that he would not let his kids play there. The depth of this ‘sinas chinom” is jaw dropping. No wonder that chareidim who espouse this view are disliked by all other religious sectors.

  28. Atara R says:

    David, wow again.
    You regret saying Dr. Bloch was not frum…but you still don’t believe she actually is. You think choosing her is the anti-Torah choice.
    I know of widespread cases where the city was operating under a bribe/protektzia model with injustice for the poor and unconnected. Is that Torah? Is that ruchniyus? Is that a cheredi ideal???? If you don’t believe me, find me any information on record – on the city website, or any quotes from a city council member willing to go on record- which explains the process for getting a school building in this city. Does a building go to the biggest group of children that lacks one? The group waiting the longest? The more cheredi groups? How does the system work? If your answer is that you don’t know, then please defer to those who do know. When parents in my kids school asked the rules/policies, We “dumb” Americans were told to raise bribe money. David, do you defend this? Is this in fact your view of ruchniyus???? No thanks, I don’t want ruchniyus bribery and injustice is in your view, the way of the Torah. I will take Dr. Bloch, who said she wants to be fair and serve all the people.

  29. Gitty Cohen says:

    I challenge Mr. Kasten to answer the following questions:
    A. Is it OK that charedim in Jerusalem voted for a non-Charedi candidate in the election? This is a simple yes or no question, but an explanation would be appreciated too. (If it IS OK, why are your neighbors in Bet Shemesh so bad? If it is NOT OK, why did so many rabbis and charedim there support the non-Charedi candidates?)
    B. Assuming that your neighbors who have been posting to CC actually are reporting facts (about corruption in the city), does that in any way change your view of their decision to vote for Bloch? When she said she will “clean up the city”, her main message was to clean up the corruption and waste. I met her and spoke to her, and people at the meeting had firsthand knowledge of “dirty” deals, incompetence, bribes, etc. Maybe you don’t know about this (or the mayor giving some unqualified person a job overseeing welfare cases), but IF this stuff is true, IF it was, would that make any difference to you? Or should people vote for a charedi candidate no matter what wrong things/unjust things he does, because he wears a black hat?
    C. Is there any action you can point to that proves Aliza Bloch is anti-Torah? (Aside from not covering her hair properly — and I might note that some Charedi shuls in RBSA were funded by some women who do not fully cover their hair). Has Aliza Bloch ever done anything to indicate she hates Torah, or is anti-Charedim? In a majority-Charedi town, does it make sense logically that she would do things to get Charedim angry (when she knows she must have their votes to get re-elected next time)?
    D. I get that you wouldn’t eat in Aliza Bloch’s kitchen, but I fail to see why that means that you can’t vote for her. Are you saying that if a person wouldn’t eat in another person’s kitchen due to strict kashrus standards, that means they shouldn’t vote for them? For example, some people in Rama Bet and the Kirya wouldn’t eat in MY home, even though I cover all my hair and I went to Bais Yakov etc. So if my husband who learns in kollel was running for mayor, would you say those people shouldn’t vote for him because they have stricter kashrus standards? Would it be fair for them to say that because they wouldn’t eat in our home they also shouldn’t vote for my husband?

  30. Ben Menachem says:

    I had a meeting with Abutbul’s deputy, about doing a certain project. He asked me to meet with him, and Abutbul, in a place *outside of city hall,* so that I could offer them something to make it “worth their while.” (Because I am sharing this information publicly, I don’t want to divulge my name, but you can ask Rabbi Adlerstein to vouch for me.) Is this bribery and corruption the kind of Ruchniyos that Abutbul stands for? Do you think that a person who wears a black hat and eats Badatz but runs a corrupt administration is more frum than someone with integrity who eats Rabbanut?

  31. Chavi from Brooklyn says:

    Thank you Cross Currents for providing a forum to discuss the Bet Shemesh elections. Until I read the posts and comments, I didn’t know much about the situation in Bet Shemesh, even though I thought I did.
    I heard that there was a good Chareidi mayor, but a Dati woman who challenged him and said she would do a better job won. I did not understand that there were people in Bet Shemesh who had serious complaints against the mayor and the administration.
    Now that I have heard from people who live there, the election results make a lot more sense. The only part I can’t understand is how Chareidi rabbis supported the Chareidi candidate, didn’t people report to them what has been happening in the city?

  32. Not Important says:

    The comments on this blog (some of them outright lies, like the one about throwing excrement at little girls), prove that the blogosphere is populated by those who are inimical to one degree or another to classic charedi Judaism. To take a contentious topic and leave it open for comments will inevitably result in a one-sided smearing campaign, by virtue of the fact that the majority of charedim simply do not surf the net. Rabbi Kasten was mistaken when he published his piece, it was never going to get a fair hearing. This is something aspiring charedi writers learn very quickly, I am talking from experience here, there is absolutely no point in promoting the charedi view in the popular media, it will never ever be treated fairly. Never will a charedi be viewed as a human being, flawed though he may be, but rather he will be treated as the repository of all which is evil. And if he is a rabbi, no matter his pedigree and no matter his dedication to God and man, the posters will vie with each other for the contempt they have for him. All Kasten’s article accomplished, was to bring out all the negativity from the bystanders whose hearts are full about the flaws of the charedi community. And to the editors of Cross-Currents, I am certain you mean well, but I hope you treat this set of posts as a learning experience and never raise contentious issues again, or if you do, never leave them open for comments.

  33. dr. bill says:

    sadly, Israeli politicians of all political stripes appear to have any number of corrupt members. I wonder if the frummer have an increased number? in any case, frumkeit has beaten ehrlichkeit hands down. the treife medinah narrative supports the ability to permit corruption.

  34. Dovid Kasten says:

    This is a reply for Mrs. G. Cohen (the reply button did not work)
    A) Is it OK that charedim in Jerusalem voted for a non-Charedi candidate in the election?
    Good question. Of course it is. The Rabbanim and Gedolim decided that the best choice for the Ruchnius of the city was to vote for him. He was trustworthy in their eyes so they went with him. You can’t compare the situation to here where there is a candidate who has been working hand in hand with local Rabbanim for many years. [Just the opposite, the exception in Yerushalayim proves the rule.]
    B) Bloch will clean corruption, Abutbol is corrupt. Who does one vote for?
    Just like question A), you bring up a good point. Growning up in Chutz La’aretz we were always told to clean up after ourselves and act polite in order so we don’t make a Chillul Hashem. It’s been ingrained in us that the way we are used to is the proper way. It is not up to us to doubt the integrity of a person because of the sleezy way he seems to act. I am not involved in politics, but i know that politicians are forever wheeling and dealing. That’s the way things go. But i would say that the fact that after 10 years of the anti-Chareidi parties and people trying to get Abutbol and him never being caught with anything, that is a good sign for him. If the way he’s acting was upon instructions from the local Rabbanim or the Gedolim, would you still question his corruption?
    C) Please tell me where you saw something written about Bloch being anti-Torah, because i haven’t. It is her backers and partners, those “guiding her” who are tried and true anti-Torah. Richard Peres is a great example.
    D) The author of this letter implied that Bloch is truly Torah observant, even though she wasn’t Chareidi. I was asking him if he trusts her with basic religious needs. And if he does not, why does he entrust his city’s spiritual needs with her. I’m sure you understand that it all boils down to the first question you asked. If the candidate is willing to run the city with the respect of the Rabbanim and their requests, it really doesn’t matter if he or she is Mechallel Shabbos, like in Chaifa, where the Rabbanim supported a woman who does not. While someone can be the frummest machmir and would not get the support of the Rabbanim if he did not respect them.

  35. Weaver says:

    “I went with my wife to the Shiva and saw not a bitter man railing against Yisrael Silverstein and Moshe Abutbol. I saw a man who was holding his Shulchan Oruch and was unable to get back to his learning. ”
    Am I the only one who thinks that this sentence is a little disturbing?

  36. Weaver says:

    “I went with my wife to the Shiva and saw not a bitter man railing against Yisrael Silverstein and Moshe Abutbol. I saw a man who was holding his Shulchan Oruch and was unable to get back to his learning. ”
    Am I the only one who finds this sentence is a little disturbing?

  37. Yossi says:


    No, you’re not the only one.

  38. Natan Slifkin says:

    “If the candidate is willing to run the city with the respect of the Rabbanim and their requests, it really doesn’t matter if he or she is Mechallel Shabbos, like in Chaifa, where the Rabbanim supported a woman who does not. While someone can be the frummest machmir and would not get the support of the Rabbanim if he did not respect them.”
    I don’t understand Mr. Kasten’s train of thought at all. So now Aliza Bloch’s level of religiosity is completely irrelevant – the only relevant factor is whether or not she will do what the charedi rabbonim want. So then why mention her alleged lack of religiosity and Abutbul’s alleged religiosity in the first place?

  39. Ben Waxman says:

    “I was asking him if he trusts her with basic religious needs. ”

    I don’t know Doctor Bloch, but from what I have read about her, the answer is yes, absolutely. What is the question?

  40. Yisroel says:

    This post by Reb Yoni Samber has the ring of truth to it. Here in Lakewood we are faced with the same conundrum of issues.

  41. Ari says:

    I am also confused.
    During the elections I only heard people saying “vote for Abutbol because the Gedolim said to”. Nobody said “vote because he is a great mayor” or vote because he is charedi”. In fact a huge campaign billboard in RBS showed a huge picture of a gadol with the slogan “bet shemesh listens to Gedolim– vote Moshe Abutbol”.
    Mr Kasten’s original piece did not follow this line of reasoning. He said charedi people had a chance to vote for someone like them but they did not and he was disappointed by that. He said a vote for a charedi shows you care about ruchniyus.
    But now he has completely changed the argument. Now you don’t have to vote charedi, you just have to vote for who the rabbis say to even if the person violates Shabbos in public! Even if you know the charedI candidate takes bribes!

  42. Chaim Goldberg says:

    @Not Important,
    You realize that a great deal of the people reading and commenting on Cross-Currents are chareidi, right? That the editors and columnists are chareidi, right? Because I think that fact significantly changes the assumptions underlying your comment.

    As for Dovid Kasten’s responses, unfortunately he just said that we should endorse a candidate even if they are engaged in שוחד שקר וכזב, as long as it’s because the rabbanim told them to be deceitful liars.
    Sadly, I think that one line of reasoning underscores just how troubled Mr. Kasten and much of the more extreme chareidi community is becoming. It also underscores how corrupted the value of Daas Torah is becoming. And yes, I’m aware of the Rashi in Parshas Shoftim אם תגידו על ימין שמאל ועל שמאל ימין.

  43. lacosta says:

    >>>>…..prove that the blogosphere is populated by those who are inimical to one degree or another to classic charedi Judaism….

    —- maybe the question is whether what goes on in hareili society is actually ‘classic chareidi judaism ‘ , or is it some other aberation , a distant relative of what used to be….

  44. D Soffer says:

    I think just as there are 2 kinds of modern Orthodox Jews, those who are very religious and those who take some mitzvos a bit too lightly, there are 2 kinds of charedim, those who are truly religious and those who focus on externals/see identity as a culture and not as all about serving Hashem, etc etc.
    The Charedim who see DatiJews as their equals, who believe that honesty and fairness and safety are critical Torah values, voted for Bloch….

  45. Bob Miller says:

    There is a danger in instructing voters to pick the more corrupt candidate. Unless it’s properly and convincingly explained, it can lead many to question or ignore authority in general.

  46. Yoni Samber says:

    To Chaim Goldberg
    You summed up what prompted me to respond, and why I felt it was worth attaching my name to.

  47. M. G. says:

    From all the negativity regarding the Chareidi delegates, it would seem that there is some substance of claim. Reb Yoni, did you bring this up to the attention of the Rabbanim of Bet Shemesh? Perhaps they were uninformed as to the severity of their deeds. And if you did bring it up with them, what was missing in their answers that was unsatisfactory?

  48. Sholom says:

    I was following this debate just to educate myself…I wanted to hear both sides…I wanted to understand both perspectives…I don’t feel like I am on one side or the other….but now I feel I must comment…this is the strangest conversation CC ever hosted. A person writes that he believes everyone has to choose a Chareidi candidate because they are the ones who care about ruchniyus and not pick a dati person…and then totally flips that and says you don’t have to vote for the more religious person….I mean, does this at all make any sense?…I didn’t want to judge I just wanted to listen and learn but this is just astounding…so if it ok to vote for not religious people, and even some Chareidi rabbis and rebbes do that, why was Mr. Kasten mad at his neighbors??

  49. dr. bill says:

    when rabbis endorse corrupt political hacks they often are well aware of what they are doing. some say this le’shevah; some say this le’genai

    the repetition of the word tzeddek, ought give reason to think harder

  50. Sara Elias says:

    All of you posters who are so happy about Bloch’s victory: How effective do you think a former high school principal with zero political and administrative experience and few political allies in the city council is going to be in ridding Beit Shemesh of all the corruption, inefficiency and that you seem to find there?

  51. Leah K says:

    Sara Elias…at least she won’t make it worse.

  52. Dovid Wernicker says:

    To Sholom
    I too am confused. Perhaps the writer will weigh in.

  53. A says:

    Because, despite what the first opinion post said, it didn’t matter whether or not the opposition was religious. It only mattered who the rabbanim (or some selection of them) endorsed and instructed everyone to vote for. Mr. Kasten was expressing his disappointment in his fellow chareidi neighbors that they would go against the wishes of those rabbanim ( or some selection of them – the endorsement was not universal).
    For Mr. Kasten, it is indicative of your level of religiosity of how closely you follow the wishes of the rabbaim (or some selection of them).
    For others, the rabbanim (all of them) are acting in an advisory role (unless they are issuing psak halacha) and there is some free will to make one’s decisions about one’s own life. Crazy, right?

  54. yoni samber says:

    After Dr Blochs extensive rehabilitation of the Beit Shemesh branch, she was appointed to lead the national network of Branco Weiss schools. This (according to their website) involves eight comprehensive schools and fourteen supplemental at risk programs. The misconception that she was merely a school principal has been relayed in one form or another by every Abutbol supporter I have encountered. I have no question that a woman with moral clarity and strength of character will illuminate the darkest corners of the iriya. Regarding the lack of political allies, it remains to be seen if the eight gimmel reps will put aside their egos and work for the good of everyone in the city. If they do not, then they own the chillul H’ that will be broadcast for all to see.
    Regarding me attempting to bring all this to the attention of the Rabbonim, where do I even start?
    One point is that any Rav(and there are always several) who did not publicly endorse the incumbent, did so at great risk of retaliation when it would come time for them to get service on behalf of their shul. I know this first hand, and can not share the details. Suffice it to say that these Brave Rabbonim acted on conviction that overuled the fear of reprisal.
    Those who were oblivious to the publicized arrest of Moshe Montag and hundreds of allegations of corruption from the top down, should be asked directly how they can feel at peace with their actions.I urge the chareidi public to take the baton and ask them.

  55. CF says:

    So the whole post about ruchniyus and gashmiyus and voting for the more charedi candidate when there is one was basically fake? The original post said Dr. Bloch was not religious enough (and the author meant that, as confirmed by further comments he made about her kitchen not being “kosher enough”). The original piece argued that a person’s main concern when voting should be to vote for the candidate they think will bring more ruchniyus.
    Then when people responded and explained that they voted for Bloch BECAUSE they believe she will enhance the ruchniyus in the city by cleaning up corruption and caring for the vulnerable who need welfare, and when people pointed out that in other cities rabbis and others were fine with voting for non-Charedi and even non-religious candidates, suddenly the argument changed. (Round one, the commenters to CC).
    Now we are told that despite what the first piece said, it actually doesn’t matter how much hair the candidate covers and how kosher her kitchen is. It doesn’t matter how many bribes the mayor takes or how many unqualified people he hired, the ONLY thing that matters is what “the rabbis” say. Fair enough. So now I would like an answer to the questions someone else posted a long time ago, are we obligated to listen to the rabbis? a) are the rabbis fully informed? Did they meet Bloch and/or her supporters? Did they get reports on problems in the city and hear complaints against the current mayor? B) are the rabbis “nogaya b’ daver? Do they stand to gain personally in any way by having one mayor over the other selected? c) when one rabbi says one thing and another says another, who should be listened to?

  56. SKJ says:

    Yoni — absolutely stellar response. Thank you for saying what so desperately needed to be said.

  57. Chaim Goldberg says:

    @D Soffer, that’s quite an insightful point. Never thought of classifying it that way before….
    @Yoni Samber, thanks for chiming in to express that. Much appreciated!

  58. Natan Slifkin says:

    CF, yasher koach for your excellent summary and insights!

  59. Elie says:

    Yoni Samber
    it remains to be seen if the eight gimmel reps will put aside their egos and work for the good of everyone in the city. If they do not, then they own the chillul H’ that will be broadcast for all to see.

    The very last people who should be raising the problem of chilul Hashem are the anti Abutbol writers. There is so much sheker being assumed as part of the discussion of the election that it is hard to analyze what happened without first peeling away the layers.

    There has been a problem of violence by extremists in Bet Shemesh. This problem became a major national issue at the time of the spitting incident. Lapid used the issue as part of his, unfortunately, very successful campaign, which was based largerly on anti-charedism. Dov Lipman and others joined his anti chareidi campaign. The question is why should a small group of extremists become such a major national issue? The answer is Lapid and others created a larger issue by claiming and publicizing two things over and over and over again.

    1. That the charedi leadership was also at fault for the extremists’ behavior because they should have protested more.
    2. And the regular rank and file charedim are also ‘bad’ because they didn’t protest enough or demand their rabbonim protest more.

    Lapid’s campaign was not against those extremists. It was against me, and the thousands of other charedim in Bet Shemesh and elsewhere. And the entire claim was false from the beginning.

    The rabbinic leadership in BS and RBS spoke against the extremists, in sermons and other venues. It is obvious that all the rabbonim (I don’t know what the extremists own rabbonim maintain) were and are against this type of behavior. But the false narrative promoted was that the rabbonim and chareidim aren’t doing enough and are therefore complicit. Many bloggers wrote and write things like “it is part of the charedi mindset to support the violence” and somehow this violence proves the entire charedi enterprise is misguided. Again, the Lapid campaign was not against the extremists but rather against the thousands like me.

    Lapid and many others claimed the rabbonim should have protested more publically. Most didn’t. The best analysis of why they didn’t was presented in an article, written by an RBS rabbi, posted on the lifeinisrael.blogspot. The gist of the argument is that responding at all admits that it is “our” problem, i.e. the charedim of RBSA and the broader charedi public. But indeed it is not. We can’t control what the extremists of RBSB do, and anyway it is really a different world. It is similar to blaming all Italians for the actions of the mafia.

    The second argument is that once you respond, due to the pressure from Lapid/Lipman and the like, then by definition it will never be enough. And no matter what you say, you will be blamed even more. By responding based on outside pressure, you admit you have some responsibility, and then when the problem is repeated, you are setting yourself up for taking the blame. Therefore, it is better to state the obvious in shul, but not begin pronouncements intended to satisfy public opinion. It is worthwhile to read the article.

    A proof to the thrust of that article was what happened with the women of the wall and (lehavdil) the women for the wall at the kotel. The WoW have been loudly using the kotel area for public protests, disrupting everyone else who want to daven in the O way there, etc… They have been condemned by all leading Orthodox rabbis (except for some Open “Orthodox” rabbis, but that is a different discussion). The best analyses of the motivations for their deviations from Orthodoxy and for their desecration of the kotel through public protests where they use the Torahs as a ‘prop’ r”l, are found in articles by Yaakov Menken on CC and Rochel Slyvetsky on arutzsheva.

    So the W4W, by the way started by non chareid women, organized an incredible Kiddush Hashem counter ‘protest’. They encouraged religious girls, beis Yaakov and dati leumi, to come early and literally flood the kotel plaza and there would be no room for the desecration of the Reformers/disrupters to enter. Thousands came and davened quietly and respectfully, as the kotel has been properly used for generations. Unfortunately, there were some men in the upper plaza, who protested loudly and threw things, and the media largely focused on those extremists. These extremists of course had nothing to do with the W4W and were not following the instructions of any gedolim.

    Another Kiddush Hashem counter protest was then organized for the next month. And the Jerusalem Post reported that several gedolim signed a letter saying no men should come to the tefilah at all during that time and confront the Reformers/disrupters/WoW. This was widely known. And the next month’s kiddush Hashem was even greater. Again there was no room near the kotel for the Reformers, and there were nearly no men around in the upper plaza, as per the instructions of the gedolim. Daas Torah worked.
    However, even at the second kiddish Hashem protest there were a few hotheads who did not listen to the call of the gedolim, and threw things and shouted at the reformers.

    So the Jerusalm Post quoted a spokesman for the WoW saying (not an exact quote), “It’s not enough for the gedolim to tell the men not to come, THE GEDOLIM SHOULD HAVE COME THEMSELVES TO ENSURE NO VIOLENCE AT ALL”. This is clearly a ridiculous demand to make. However, in the eyes of the Reformers and left wing Orthodox, whatever the gedolim do is not enough, is wrong, etc… That episode exactly proves the point of the article on the lifeinisrael.blogspot.

    This false Lapid narrative is carried over to Mayor Abutbol by his anti charedi critics. He is also at fault because he didn’t do enough and is not doing enough. He is also a guilty chareidi extremist. He is building walls in BS etc… This is all fake news. The lifeinisrael blogspot reported a few times some of the extremists were arrested and Abutbol’s condemnation of the violence. Abutbol decided the best approach was to arrest perpetrators when possible, speak against, but not to make it seem like this is a broader charedi issue, which indeed it is not. He understood correctly that there was no way he could do enough in the eyes of the Lapidlike charedi haters. Many bloggers also write as if the existence of these extremists reflects a broad problem with chareidim, which is of course sheker v’chazav.

    The anti chareidi attacks against Abutbol, alleging he builds walls between charedim and everyone else, and alleging he did not reject the extremists forcefully enough etc… reminds me of the attacks against Trump for the episode in Charlottesville. People take some comments of Abutbol out of context, make up some other things, and build a picture of how horrific his actions were and that becomes the accepted (completely false) narrative and is referenced as a fact time and time again. The same thing happened with Trump in Charlottesville. His comments were distorted, taken out of context, some comments were made up, and the media now uses references to Charlottesvile as a proof for Trump’s lack of moral compass. It is a given. But the truth is Trump did not say the things he is attacked for in the way they are presented. Yaakov Menken wrote a cogent explanation and defense of Trump’s ACTUAL words. The same thing applies here with Abutbol. I saw that Yoni Samber references Charlottesville in his attack against Abutbol. He is right, how Trump is (unfairly mis)treated regarding Charlottesville parallels how Abutbol is (unfairly mis)treated regarding the Orot story.
    So Yoni Samber’s post, along with the other anti Abutbol posts have generated three chilul Hashems, based on their misrepresentations of what happened .

    1. The false narrative that all, or nearly all, chareidm are extremists or tacitly support them or don’t do enough to stop them etc…, which is sheker. Falsely presenting charedi Jews this way, which is picked up by the broader media is a chilul Hashem.

    2. Promoting the false narrative that there is a problem with the gedolim and Charedi leadership, r”l. This indeed is a chilul Hashem of the highest order. This point is mentioned in many of the posts responding to David Kasten.

    3. Promoting the false narrative that Abutbol is part of the broad chareidi extremist problem also generates a chilul Hashem. The media reports that a ‘chareidi’ mayor is very problematic and at least tacitly supports the violence etc…

    Much has been written about BS not being run well etc… There have been some problems in RBSG in RBSG but if RBSA is any indication, then the city is being run quite well. Anyone who lives here sees the traffic circles that have gone up at nearly every problematic intersection, I assume the same would have happened in time in RBSG. The garbage is picked up three times a week. When there is a yom tov that interferes, the garbage pick up times are changed to work out with yom tov, which reflects good running of the city and is a kiddush Hashem as well. There is no difference between Yerushalayim and RBS as far as cleanliness goes.

    There actually is one difference. BS, especially RBSA and RBSG are one big construction zone, B”H, due primarily to the leadership of Abutbol. I once heard a leading Rabbi say that Israel should not be called the land of flowing milk and honey, but rather the land of flowing steel and concrete. This is true of RBSA and RBSG, B”H. Anyone living in RBSA has literally seen a city, RBSG, being built before their eyes. It’s ironic that the supporters of Mrs. Bloch, many of whom are RZ are complaining against this. Obviously, an area that is a construction zone won’t be squeaky clean. So yes, RBSA and RBSG are messier than Yerushalayim due to the tremendous construction.

    This is one tremendous part of Abutbol’s legacy that he was privileged to oversee, promote, and guide the expansion of an ir b’ yisrael.

    During his tenure, routes 10 was finally finished which has completely changed the quality of life in RBS. He has built apmts for non chareidim as well, as in the big buildings near Big. He has built malls that serve primarily the non chareidim, as in big fashion and the new mall across from Big.

    Are things perfect? No. The revacha is problematic and there are other problems as well. And RBSG residents have taanot. But if RBSA is any indication, then RBSG would have soon been just as good as well. We all wish Mrs. Bloch well and hope she does an even better job in running the city, but RBSA is a good model for Mayor Abutbol’s accomplishments.

    Yoni Samber and others have written extensively about the corruption in BS, stemming from Mayor Abutbol. This is true hotzaas shem ra. Abutbol has been mayor for 10 years. The chareid haters on the left have been searching for anything to bring him down and found nothing. That itself is a strong indication of where he is holding. The Montag situation is certainly problematic. But we will see how that plays out, and we assume people are innocent until proven guilty. Also, there is no indication that Abutbol was aware. (Just as Lapid places the blame of the submarine affair on Netanyahu despite no evidence to back him, and the media consistently quotes Lapid, so too Lapid’s backers in BS blame Abutbol for Montag’s alleged offenses despite no evidence connecting Abutbol himself. And there is absolutely no indication or evidence of the hundreds of allegations that Yoni Samber refers to as if they are an established fact in beit din or lehavdil a court. The bloggers write as if it’s a given there is rampant corruption and then build arguments based on that, including derision of the rabbonim and gedolim, r”l.

    4. This generates a colossal fourth chilul Hashem based on the sheker. That Abutbol, a charedi mayor is corrupt to the core, and looks out only for chareidi interests. The bloggers and secular media picks up this false narrative and use it to attack charedim. and in particular this “fact” is used to make deride the gedolim, r”l, for supporting Abutbol despite all of the “known” corruption.

    So why did he lose? One, there was a lot of apathy. Many charedim assumed Abutbol would win and didn’t work hard enough to get out the vote and respond to the claims from Mrs. Bloch’s supporters. Two, there are problems of inefficiency in the iriyah, with the development of RBSG with the revacha, and Mrs. Bloch’s campaign successfully highlighted them to convince some chareidim to vote against Abutbol. Third, and this is the thrust of David Kasten’s argument, some charedim (around 700-1000) are confused about how control of the iriyah works, and they chose to ignore the correct advice of the rabbinic leadership to vote for Abutbol.

    Abutbol certainly worked for the benefit of all sectors in BS, but he also helped to protect the interests of the charedim, in BS and RBS in very specific ways. One major way is allocating of classrooms and space for schools. Anyone living in RBSA knows that many students from outside RBSA are bussed in to attend schools there. There was one large school building in RBSA that was being severely underused, and also by mostly non RBSA residents. During Abutbol’s tenure, that building was transferred, certainly the correct and proper thing, by a local chareidi school with literally hundreds of students who were without classrooms. This is an example, not of Abutbol favoring charedim, but rather protecting the interests of the local growing, B”H, charedi community. That perfectly proper action probably wouldn’t have happened if a non charedi was the Mayor.

    Similarly, Mayor Abutbol provided plots of land for many chareidi schools, including those for American style charedim in RBSA, whose students needed classroom space. That likely would not have happened if the charedim did not control the council and mayor’s office. I venture to say that many of the parents in those schools actually voted for Mrs. Bloch!

    This is why the rabbonim said that obviously one should vote for Abutbol. He would protect the charedi interests better than Mrs. Bloch, of schools for charedim, and building apmts. for charedim and many more issues. The issue is not how strictly observant Mrs. Bloch, and it was a mistake to focus on that. The issue is that it is obvious that Abutbol would protect the charedi interests better. That was the daas Torah, and it was obviously correct.

    This protection of charedi interests leads to a second major part of Abutbol’s legacy- his role in building a city of Torah- full of chadarim, yeshivas, etc…. It’s actually incredible. All of these institutions require allocating space and funds, which Abutbol did. BE”H, within the next 10-20 years Bet Shemesh will begin to resemble even more the other Torah cities in Eretz Yisrael. And the push to go in that direction was led by Abutbol, a wnderful zechut.

    Now the council still has power. And the charedim on the council should certainly try to protect the chareidi interests. And if they see that under Mrs. Bloch, the iriyah reverts back to 10 years ago by discriminating unfairly against the charedi interests, they should certainly be mekadesh shem Shamayim by fighting within the council to protect the charedi interest of spreading more Torah in BS and RBS. That is not being obstructionist, that is being proper. Yoni Samber’s portrayal of that type of activity as a chilul Hashem is laughable.

    It is not that one chooses charedism with corruption over non charedim without corruption. That is ridiculous. It is not about choosing charedim and extremism over non chareidim and healthy moderation. Both of those choices are literally fake news. Both of those choices are repeated to make the chareidm look bad, and in particular to make the gedolim look bad, r”l.

    Abutbol was very gracious in defeat. His letter wishing Mrs. Bloch well was particularly appropriate. He also gave a similar interview on the radio. He is a good person, with an excellent moral compass, who lead the city well. Just as he wished Mrs. Bloch success, all of us do so as well. We hope she is able to bring even better efficiency to the city government, and also provide everyone, including the charedim all the services they deserve.

    However, the horrible he chilul Hashems here are stemming from the anti charedi side. The charedi bashers should know that their words, built on the fake news narratives, are full of hotzaat shem ra and are also picked up by the broader press and used to attack charedim and religious Jews in general, a horrible chilul Hashem.

  60. Yoni Samber says:

    I think the greatest false narrative is in your allegation that all critics of Mayor Abutbol are anti chareidi.
    Claiming fake news over and over again, and motzei shame rah about indisputable facts does not leave me with the impresion that I am dealing with a mevakesh emes. So if you are defending a “chareidi” administration with a page out of Trumps anti insurgency manual, then I do not see us finding common ground on much.
    When I read an essay titled “suckerpunched” in January 2012, I was disgusted to my core. So was every other chareidi Jew that I discussed it with(in consideration of the atmosphere that it was written in). If you subscribe to that way of thinking almost seven years later, then you and I will have to move on.
    My view is that yair lapids arrival on the scene was only due to our own dismal failure to identify,confront and denounce the abhorant actions of fifty individuals. And once we were at it, we should have made it clear beyond question that signs demanding women walk on a different side of a public street, or dress in a tzanua way, have NO place in a Torah city, and no basis in Torah alltogether. That was a conversation that we still need to have. We, the chareidim of Beit Shemesh and our rabbonim, did not have it. So Lapid stole the ball and ran with it. That was our fault.
    We, you, the rabbonim here, and the Mayor, could have prevented the whole snowball that led to Lapids rise. How do you feel about that?
    No wonder you want to deflect attention to Dov Lipman, or the reform, or “feminists” that have the audacity to demand free passage on a public street.
    To claim that all, or even some of the mainstream Chareidi Rabbonim in ramat beit shemesh aleph condemned what these evildoers did (and continued to do through December of2011) is absolutely false.
    I was looking, listening, asking my friends in other kehilas, NOTHING!
    Your attempt at revisionist history needs some evidence. And what were you doing then, if you felt so strongly? Smugly reading suckerpunched?
    As someone who was here for six years before Abutbols admin kicked off, I can tell you this: As I pointed out, Vaknin was not an easy mayor to work with by any means. But as far as a Torah town, we were doing great! Kollels for young men abounded. Shuls of balei battim were making siyumei Shas every year, and expanding. People of all stripes were shteiging three sedarim a day. Schools for kids were hard to come by, but they were still being built, and populated by chareidim and everyone else.To clame that Abutbol walked into a spiritual midbar and got Torah off the ground here is distorting history to glorify a man who stood by as the worst strife between Jews played out on his watch.
    True Leaders are not affraid to take responsibility for mistakes.(ask president trump, I hear he is great at that).
    Accusing me of a chilul Hashem because I am pointing out our communities failures is not a sign of strength. It shows that you are more concerned with creating a false narrative to hide behind, instead of making a broken situation better. I have seen the same Satan at work when it comes to keeping child sexual abuse under the radar. The chilul Hashem card is deployed then too; all in an attempt to hide the truth. Those that speak up are branded”anti chareidi”.
    It makes me realize who the real anti chareidim are in this country.
    I am not your enemy.
    I want to learn, and grow, be a good husband, and raise my children to be the best Jews they can be. That last part has been harder, not easier, since 2009.
    And that is NOT MY chilul Hashem.

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