On the value and futility of protest: Two scandals which rocked secular Israel—how did it happen?

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31 Responses

  1. Dovid Kasten says:

    Rabbi Kornreich,
    First of all, thank you for the wonderful article. If only the world would internalize your words; that society cannot be held responsible for the act of the individual, maybe much of the craziness that is so prevalent in even the most advanced countries, would subside…

    Regarding your suggestion, that secular Jews learn the weekly Sedra, it seems flawed. First of all, as we know, religion is tossed (most usually) because of the want for a “free” life, void of responsibility towards our creator. That being so, those that have chosen to live this life will never agree to such an idea. This is what they are running from. True, they therefore have no choice but to suffer from the immorality and destruction of a secular world, but that is what they have (perhaps unknowingly) chosen.
    But even for those who are in the category of “Tinok Shenisha” and grew up secular, it is hard to see how studying the Chumash on their own will help. Being that they grew up with Treif Hashkofos and worldview, most of what they learn will be twisted into their small-minded understanding of what is wrong and what is right. For example, one who was raised liberal will wonder why Avraham had slaves while one who is a staunch feminist will be upset that Sarah is not featured more prominent in the Torah. Yes, a small minority may benefit from this program, but as many may be hurt and turned off from Yiddishkeit completely. Only with a Kesher to a competent Rebbi [or a Mehalech Halimud] can a person hope for Torah learning to have a positive impact on him/her.

    • Dovid Kornreich says:

      I understand your pessimism and share it partly, but I wrote this post because something tells me that these shocking events may be an awakening of sorts for the typical secular parent. For those who realize that they need to find some kind of anchored moral compass for their family if they are to avoid the abyss, they might just be desperate enough to consider looking in their own backyard.

  2. Daniel says:

    But when groups of Yeshiva bucherim throw garbage at soldiers and refer to soldiers as nazis and females as prostitutes, should we not also say “When the norms of a society are not strong enough to make inhumane behavior unacceptable in a public setting, the failure lies at the feet of [chareidi] society at large.

    • Dovid Kornreich says:

      Of course we should call out behavior unbecoming of Bnei Torah and the societal failure it represents. But I think we should maintain a sense of proportion and resist making the kind of broad equivalencies that you are making. Not every moral failing reveals the same depth of moral depravity and therefore does not warrant the same kind of response.

      • dr. bill says:

        Hazal have higher standards for those who wish to teach others; they must approximate angels. RY /leaders calling a TC doctor a nazi for diagnosing a sad case directly and not being reprimanded tarnishes the entire community and makes them ineligible to instruct others.
        their sins are significantly less than the evil acts of rapists and child abusers, but their ability to teach is still not to be suggested.

        i could go on talking about behavior that precludes one from teaching, but those acts are known throufghout the Israeli population.

  3. Raymond says:

    I normally do not hesitate to give my responses to even the most controversial or difficult of issues. In this particular case, though, I have to admit that the questions raised here are far too big for me to even hope to answer. I will say, though, that the issues raised above is really THE most central and crucial of all. The way I see it, society can only function successfully for any meaningful length of time to the extent that they follow the Ten Commandments or, alternatively at least the Seven Noachide laws. I realize that not all societies have historically been built or even had easy access to such a foundation, such as much of the Third world. And yet even in such societies, there is some degree of instinctively knowing that such laws are the true definition of Right and Wrong.

    Having such a general sense of basic human decency is, of course, not enough. One needs to also put in conscious effort to build one’s character, through learning and implementing G-d’s Torah, yet it seems to be a matter of feast or famine. Those who most need to learn such rules, are often the ones least likely to have been trained in them. Those who are drawn to websites such as this one, need no prodding to get us to study the Torah, because the pleasure we get from such activity provides its own motivation. But what about those who are completely clueless? To use an extreme example, I cannot imagine walking up to a terrorist or a rioter and advising them to follow G-d’s Laws. Fortunately, I am neither a teacher nor anybody of any importance, so I will leave it to minds greater than myself to come up with an answer to this one.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    An excellent article on what happens when those educated in a completely secular manner act in a manner that illustrates the consequences of being raised and educated without any sense of morality. That is what Peggy Noonan a superb WSJ columnist hearkened to when she described school shootings RL as the consequence of being raised in a society where the value of life at all stages is cheapened and when a society does not allow consideration of Thou Shall Not Kill to be considered an ethical value worth as part of being an educated cultured and refined individual CR J Sacks has a new book out entitled “Morality” which examines what happens when a society outsources the emphasis on the family and morality to the state. It looks like a must read.

    • Bob Miller says:

      This book by Melanie Phillips is an excellent survey of this topic:
      https://www.amazon.com/Turned-Upside-Phillips-Melanie-Paperback/dp/B00HRDN4PG
      Her 2016 presentation and question period about the book:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_Ma-4LORU0

    • write a comment says:

      you contradict yourself. The idea that morality should not be outsourced to the state is the idea that the state should not be religious at all, it should not promote or discuss religion at all. Like European countries. Then Ms Noonan seems to have a problem with the schools that don’t teach religion.

      School shooters are not more likely to be atheist than the regular public, and it is telling that they are more prevalent in a religious country like the US.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Public schools and the teachers unions which are stalwart defenders of the so called wall seaparating church and state and strongly opposed to parents deciding where to send and educate their children in settings other than public school and who lately are well enough to protest but not teach until there is massive change in America are places where students will never hear of the universally binding teachings of the Torah The outsourcing of morality to the state redults in the dictating of a secular religion that now revolves around being woke enough

  5. dr. bill says:

    More religious training is certainly a desideratum, but only if done correctly. I would rather rely on secular ethics than Haredi /TOMO like instruction that includes an attack on rationality as part of its ideology. Given the recent COVID deaths that afflicted the Haredi community disproportionately, still evident in demands by Litzman for RH/YK rules, the cries of Nazi against the police by those receiving maximal religious education as well as by Hareidi leaders against religious medical personnel on occasion, I would look elsewhere for much needed ethical education.

    I suggest Hareidim have enough work in their own patch that requires fundamental fixing; the rest of society has other and better places to look for much needed ethical guidance.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      It is easy to pick on the Charedi community for not adhering to a basic Halachic principle of a Torah nature that supercedes almost every other Torah based law and certainly Mitzvos of s Rabbinic nature . that is a wholly different issue than a secular populace that has little if any idea of the basic universal let alone the particular aspects of Jewish unity No system of secular ethics is superior to the covenants nature of Jewish identity simply because a secular system is completely dependent on its leaders and followers for adherence whereas even if the adherents to Halacha make grave mistakes the system to which they adhere to binds all of us whether we like it because of our common past and destiny A secular Jewish identity is incapable of transmitting it’s set of values to succeeding generations precisely because its sense of identity and values precisely fluctuate with the cultural moral and political Zeigeist of the times whereas Torah has relevance and a message for every society Thatvis what RYBS should have been the 14th Ani Maamin

    • Steve Brizel says:

      There is much that even those of who champion a rational approach to Torah that is clearly of an irrational nature that cannot be separated from either bedrock levels of observance or Jewish committment and identity I would maintain that Torah study and observance clearly has elements of the rational and irrational and that focusing on aspect at the expense of the other is a terrible mistake

      • Dovid Kornreich says:

        @dr. bill:
        For the record, I never recommended that the secular public receive their ethical instruction specifically from chareidim. Just from the Tanach and some basic commentary.
        I sincerely believe a Dati-Leumi rabbi could have written the exact same article that I did. Every single word.

        A shame you read the entire post with such a jaundiced eye simply because of the bio at the end of it.

      • dr. bill says:

        correct I have a very jaundiced eye, reenforced last Sunday by another TOMO/ rabbi Meiselman devotee. His last talk on a Hakirah session on the Rav ztl was another disgrace. fortunately, there a few of us still alive who heard the Rav and understood both his few mathematical and philosophical remarks.

        and as more of the Rav’s talks are found, revisionism will become harder.

        i agree that the better teachers of ethics are members of a community that feels obligated to serve in the IDF and are not part of the same camp as those who castigate doctors and police.

        while I am happy you see that. it would have been significantly better had you said so proactively and not inresponse to my coments.

  6. Shaul Shapira says:

    I somehow wasn’t aware of either of these 2 scandals till reading this article. I think you are reading too much into the massive societal outrage. Put simply, I don’t think it proves all that much. You don’t need to have any kind of pintele yid in you to be repulsed by such depravity. You don’t even need to be a decent person overall. A sliver of humanity will do. (That’s not to say that I don’t agree with your positive view of Israeli society. I probably, in fact, largely agree. This is very much an ‘ee mishum ha lo iryah’ comment. If anything. I think you might actually be damning with faint praise here.)

  7. caren may says:

    Most ppls who keep up on Israeli news on a daily/weekly basis through the media are well-aware of these two horrific events. YET as someone who is connected to Israel through heart/soul, friends and family, I’m always at lose at the well-oiled expression of “SECULAR” Jews.

    According to author (who I respect & admire) and many of the commentators, the underlying assumption is that Secular Jews have no ethics, morality or concern for what is right or wrong. Is that a truism? I have friends (& family members) who consider themselves as SECULAR since they are not mitzvah observant, yet are believers in a creator of the world and have strong regard for the Ten Commandments. And even those who are not in the ‘Believer category’ – are not ruthless, immoral and pleasure seekers at the expense of others.

    How to increase morality, kindness and pursuing of justice among others? Not an easy task yet usually through modeling and heroes (leaders, community officials, known personalities) who represent these middos it will be modeled. Rav Grossman of Migdal Haemek, Volunteers of Yad Sarah, Magan David and United Hatzala, are a few examples.

    • Dovid Kornreich says:

      According to author (who I respect & admire) and many of the commentators, the underlying assumption is that Secular Jews have no ethics, morality or concern for what is right or wrong.

      That is a blatantly false reading of this article. I can count at least 4 places where I state quite clearly that secular Israeli society is certainly concerned for what is right and wrong.
      Here is one key part you must have missed:

      Why weren’t these abusers and rapists sufficiently humanized by their parents, mentors, and society at large?
      One factor could be the lack of structured and pointed moral instruction inherent in a secular society/educational system.
      In a secular society, moral instruction is completely optional—not an absolute given as it is in religious societies.

      The critique of secular Israeli society wasn’t a complete lack of morality. It is obvious that they sincerely want to have a moral society (because they hold protests when things like this happen), but are failing at it quite badly. My suggestion is that It is because secular parents and teachers lack of any systematic program for delivering moral instruction to their youngsters.

      I think an apology for your defamatory misreading of my article.

      • Caren May says:

        My motto is never to cause undue discomfort to another, if you felt that I misread your article & was defamatory – please accept my apology.

        These two accounts, communal assault/rape in Eilat & harsh mistreatment of children in a day-care group is not an indication of secular society losing its entire moral compass. It’s a wake up call that a godly connection is missing in these perpetrators & help is needed. I dislike general statements of who’s to blame (secular society) since similarly horrible events have occurred in our kehillot.

        Violence, anger, hurtful/hateful rhetoric has become the norm & fills the media constantly. The challenge to rise above the garbage is harder than ever.

      • Dovid Kornreich says:

        “Similarly horrible events have occurred in our kehilot”?!!
        Talk about general statements…
        I know we have child abuse and molestation in our community, and even one is too many, but these are individuals. You won’t find an instance where there was a group of perpetrators involved in a semi-public incident of an utter lack of basic humanity. I think it makes a profound difference in measuring the moral strength of a society, for the reasons I gave in the article.
        Not all bad behavior is the same.

      • dr. bill says:

        David Kornreich, I believe you are correct in claiming a difference between individual acts and those done by a group. However, there are a number of gradations in between. 1) The offensive act is defended by community leaders as happened too many times to count in the Haredi community. One continued outrage is hiding a son of a known MO rabbi by the Haredi community where his ex-wife resides.

        2) Multiple offenses are attempted to be hidden less they reflect badly.

        This does not approach a widespread gang-rape or child abuse, but it is also not the act of an individual. In fact, it may be worse since the attempt to hide these occurrences includes the very elite of the Haredi community, haShem yerahem.

        It has been thirty years since the MO community did PUBLIC teshuvah for what is STILL occurring in Hareidi circles.

        you know what is said about residents of glass houses.

    • Dovid Kasten says:

      Perhaps we can divide Morals and Ethics into 3 categories:
      1) Those that are inherent in all human beings
      2) What one learns from his family, environment, culture
      3) And that which one chooses (using his/her Bechira)
      Secular Jews and even non-Jews can and do have #1. All human beings are, in some shape or form, connected and mirror Hashem. That being so, one does not need to be religious at all to have a certain basic morals and ethics.
      The problem is, that #2 can only be acquired if one both lives in a moral environment and is being taught to live morally. With out that, they will be thoroughly lacking in the moral/ethics department, unless #1 is very strong by them.
      Regarding #3, even if they have 1 and 2, one still needs to be making the right choices when different situations come up. You may feel very bad for that homeless fellow, but having the knowledge to make the right choices may end up causing you to do more damage to him then good. In fact, all over the world we see well-meaning people destroying the lives of others while trying to help them.
      This problem can only be solved by being a Torah-True Jew. Only the Torah, the blueprint for the world, will tell us the right path to take in every single situation. This as well, prevents a secular Jew from using the ethics and morals that he does have, for good.

  8. lacosta says:

    on the topic of kiruv ,
    see https://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/was-i-doing-kiruv-all-wrong/2020/09/03/

    in which the bright eyed american rabbi believed he could convert the world in a hiloni area , and now moving away after realizing they aren’t interested in the torah or avoda part-but maybe they would take the chessed given freely…..

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    Rabbi Yehuda L Oppenheimer wrote an article last week, “Was I Doing Kiruv All Wrong?” in the Jewish Press, about his kiruv efforts upon moving to Israel, excerpted below:

    “The majority of Israelis (and non-observant Jews everywhere) are simply not interested. They are not anti-religious (although they have way too many legitimate gripes about the behavior of too many religious Jews). They are not mean-spirited. They simply feel that they have fine values, morals, and ethics and don’t need outdated religious ideas to enlighten their lives, thank you very much.”

    His conclusion is to emulate Avroham Avinu:

    “If we pursue kindness with people – sincerely with no expectation of anything in return – Hashem will eventually fill their hearts with love and appreciation for Him and His Torah.”

    See link:

    https://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/was-i-doing-kiruv-all-wrong/2020/09/03/

  10. Eli Julian says:

    The basic flaw in this otherwise excellent article, is that it’s focused on them and not us. So long as we haven’t lived up to our own Torah ideals, we are in no position of telling others how to live their lives. We need to look inward, first to ourselves, our relationships, our families, our communities. Let’s make sure that those are shining examples of how Torah is supposed to be lived – as the paradigm of צדקה ומשפט, where we care for the weak and never have a bad word for others. Then we will merit the promise of this past week’s Haftara – וְהָלְכ֥וּ גוֹיִ֖ם לְאוֹרֵ֑ךְ וּמְלָכִ֖ים לְנֹ֥גַהּ זַרְחֵֽךְ. Forget about the Goyim though, first we need to be a beacon to our secular brothers and sisters, and we are far far from that. So Dovid, yes, hallevai they would read the Parsha every week, but the work starts with us so that they aren’t repulsed by the very idea of opening a chumash…

    • Dovid Kornreich says:

      Eli Julian said:
      “So long as we haven’t lived up to our Torah ideals, we are in no position of telling others how to live their lives.”

      I got news for you: collectively, we will NEVER really live up to our Torah ideals. The necessity for everyone to do teshuvah every year underscores this fact. Not because religious Jews are particularly immoral, but because the Torah ideals are simply too high for the masses to ever live up to them fully on an ongoing basis.

      And just to clarify, I am not expressing disappointment that secular Israeli society isn’t living up to our lofty Torah ideals. If that were the case, then the charge of hypocrisy would be justified.
      I’m expressing disappointment that secular Israeli society isn’t even covering the basics of decency and humanity adequately if such semi-public incidents can happen.
      Religious Jews shouldn’t have to first be shining examples of how the Torah is supposed to be lived before gaining the moral right to point this out publicly and wonder what can be done about it.

      • Hmmm. For a slightly different take, try this on for size:

        Repentance is predicated on two principles. First, on the power within men to be able to accuse themselves, on their ability to think of themselves as unworthy and inferior. In our declaration on Yom Kippur, And You are justified for all that befalls us, for You have acted faith- fully and we have acted wickedly, emerges the expression of self-accusation. Second, on the ability of each individual to cleanse himself, to comprehend the boundless hidden spiritual powers which are found in the human personality and which propel one in the direction of return to the Sovereign of the Universe; on the ability of man to elevate himself to majestic heights even after he has sunk into the abyss of impurity. The second principle is just as important as the first. A man obviously cannot engage in repentance if he does not have the boldness to admit that he has sinned. Without recognition of the sin there can be no regret. Yet there can be no commitment for the future if the man has no faith in his ability to rise above the sins he has committed. If he believes that he is helpless and subservient to natural, mechanical forces which pull him downward, if he is not convinced of the freedom of the human creative act-then he cannot feel his own guilt and he will not change. If man looks upon himself as an impotent creature, then the position of the sinner is helpless. (The Soloveitchik Chumash, Devarim 26:13

      • Dovid Kornreich says:

        After thinking about this some more, perhaps Eli Julian is not only criticizing my right to be critical of secular Israeli society. He is also putting forth a solution I requested from the readers at the end of my article.
        Perhaps he is suggesting; a way for secular Israeli society to become more humane and moral is by having better role-models in the religious population.
        If we, religious Jews, would do a better job in living up to our own lofty Torah ideals, and not exhibit any behavior that repels our secular brethren, then seeing our elevated morality would trickle down into the secular population.
        The problem I have with this solution (if I am indeed correct in my assumption) is that the religious and secular populations live mostly isolated from each other by choice. And the choice goes both ways. We routinely read how secular residents resent the ‘charedization’ of their neighborhoods and clearly have no interest in being influenced by overtly religious neighbors.
        You get the feeling that our very presence in their daled amos is stifling–it poses a challenge to their way of life and is an unwanted burden.

        I don’t see how living a life which is more committed to Torah ideals will lower the level of threat we pose to them. Having better middos and more integrity will not sugar-coat the reality that a fully religious lifestyle means giving up on a lot of freedom– which the secular seem to enjoy very much.

  11. Shades of Gray says:

    Below is a link to Rav Moshe Shapira’s seven principles of kiruv, from an article by R. Menachem Nissel in Mishpacha’s Family First(also reposted by Olami/Ner Lelef).

    https://mishpacha.com/moonlight-reaching-in/

    R. Shapira has room for “Tickling”(Part 2), material that is attractive, entertaining, and relevant to the audience, which should be kept to a minimum and lead to the ” The Real Thing”(Part 3), the healthiest form of kiruv, which is in depth Torah study for men and women.

    R. Steven Burg similarly said at the 2017 AJOP Convention that Aish redid it’s tours for men where half of the day is now spent in the Beis Midrash(“AJOP 2017: A Vision for What the Kiruv World Should Focus On in These Tumultuous Times”, Minute 55, available on Torah Anytime). This is an excerpt from Part 3 of R. Nissel’s article, which I can relate to, as I had the same experience in a barber shop:

    “Rav Moshe strongly felt that kiruv should only be done by authentic talmidei chachamim with proper hashkafos. Anyone less could cause damage. He once mentioned that when he goes for a haircut he’s subjected to whatever radio station the barber is playing. Occasionally he hears a kiruv lecture. Rav Moshe’s verdict? “If I was a teenager listening to this I would be totally turned off!”

  12. Chava Rubin says:

    I just want to mention the work of organizations like hidabrut and chavruta telephone learning partners which afford authentic Torah learning programs for secular Israelis. There are also the Arachim seminars.
    Any frum man or woman who has the time and ability can sign up as a volunteer for the chavruta programs . I think Ayelet Hashachar is the name of one of the umbrella organizations that runs a phone learning partner program In the US there’s Partners in Torah.

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    R. Pam’s vision of the transformative power of Shuvu for Russian children, IIRC was partly based on a symbolic interpretation of the story of Moshe and the staff/snake which he would quote from R. Zeidel Semiatitzky’s earlier one for Sephardic children(from Artscroll’s “A Vort from Rav Pam”, reprinted in the FJJ):

    “There is much symbolism in this miracle, and Rav Pam would relate an insight he heard about it from the gaon R’ Zeidel Semiatitzky in the late 1940’s. R’ Zeidel was one of the “lions” (great students) of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Poland. In the post War years, he traveled extensively to Morocco and different parts of South America to found yeshivos there and to bring promising young Sephardic students to learn in the yeshivos in New York. The rebirth of Sephardic Jewry in America and the Torah institutions it has produced was greatly aided by the pioneering work of R’ Zeidel.

    The guiding light for R’ Zeidel’s efforts were the pesukim cited above. He would compare Jewish children to Moshe’s staff. If they are never exposed to the beauty of Yiddishkeit nor given a Torah chinuch, and are, figuratively speaking, thrown to the ground — abandoned —they will become “poisonous snakes,” from which people will be forced to flee. They will not simply be ignorant and indifferent to Torah and mitzvos. They will become haters of religious life and everything associated with it.

    But if they are carefully befriended(and, like the staff , “taken into the hand”), and given a proper Torah chinuch and shown the pleasant ways of Torah living, they can develop into a staff of Hashem (4:20) with which miracles can be performed. They can become loyal Torah Jews whose lives will have purpose and spiritual fulfillment. All it takes is the Ahavas Yisrael of their fellow Jews to teach them Torah and expose them to the beauty of Yiddishkeit. This was Klal Yisrael’s greatest need in R’ Zeidel’s time and is the monumental task of our generation as well.”

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