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Let's Stop Enabling Our Jewish Fanatics
Mon, 01/09/2012 - 19:00
David Sable
David Sable

A number of years ago the Agudath Ha-Rabonim, a relatively small group of right-wing Orthodox rabbis, declared that Conservative and Reform Judaism were "outside of Torah and outside of Judaism.” Much has been written to justify and rationalize their statement. I found it offensive, but for argument’s sake let’s say they are right – more importantly let’s say that in fact they are the true spokespeople for the application of halacha (Jewish law).

That being the starting premise I looked in vain for a similar statement regarding the haredi fanatics in Beit Shemesh, Israel who verbally abuse little girls; who clearly have disturbing female fantasy issues; who call Israeli police “Nazis” and who riot and cause bodily harm and physical damage.

But the problem isn’t really the radical rabbis. Rather it is so-called Modern Orthodox Jews like me, from the more left wing, open fringes to the more strictly observant black hatters, who have become enablers of the type of violent intolerance that is threatening the democratic foundation of the State of Israel as well as the credibility of our own religion.

What does it mean to be an enabler? For one it is the pretense that what the shocking behavior we have witnessed in Beit Shemesh or in settlement communities is new. These aberrations of our religious and social compact have been present and prevalent for many years.

 Rocks have been thrown; curses have been hurled; Jewish law has been flouted for evil purpose – by fanatic elements of our community for way too many years. And for way too many years we have downplayed, swept under the rug, and “pretended” the problem away rather than confront our own ugly image in the mirror. Rather than repudiate them we have continued to support institutions that do not reflect values consistent with the Jewish and democratic values we claim to uphold; we send our children to such institutions for a year or more of study and we allow the rabbis of these institutions into our homes and synagogues for fundraisers and other outreach activity.

We marginalize or allow the marginalization of those whose religious practices aren’t like ours; we have allowed singularly stringent interpretations of observance to divide our community; we support religious leaders who promulgate hatred of others and excuse aberrant behavior when the perpetrators are “learned and observant.”

Reform and Conservative rabbis too often are excluded from Orthodox community events even at times when an entire neighborhood will come together around an act of chesed (kindness), like the communal recitation of Tehillim (Psalms), for those who are ill.

Orthodox rabbis give talks on whether one can desecrate the Shabbat to help save a non-Jewish life, and sadly, many conclude that it is permissible so as to avoid causing disfavor with the larger community -- rather than asserting that all human life is precious, that we are all created in the image of God.

No need to need to rehash the tales of child molesters who were let off scot free because this or that Beit Din was convinced that a Torah scholar could not possibly be an abuser.

And then we cry crocodile tears when a little girl in Beit Shemesh is called a prostitute for dressing improperly on he way to a Religious Zionist school. We issue press releases condemning the protesters/attackers and we wring our hands.

As they say in the movies – “time to take back the streets.”

We need a new standard of behavioral acceptance.  A new filter by which we – as a community – can better evaluate what we will and will not allow from each other and, yes. from our rabbis.

For example an Orthodox rabbi who won’t walk into a room with a Reform rabbi has no right to our support. A rabbi who assails other Jews who make use of an Eruv on Shabbat and creates an atmosphere of hatred and distrust has no right to our support. Rabbis and rabbinical courts allowing molesters to operate freely have no right to our support. The anti-Zionist yeshivot, as well as those that call themselves Zionist but foment against the State, have no right to our support.

Bottom line, there is room for all – there should be room for all. But think about how scary it is when the same behavior we tolerated for so long against those “outside of Judaism” boomerangs back on those who allowed it to happen -- in this case “modern” observant Jews.

So this is the future. If you don’t speak up against injustice, when they come for you there will be no one left to speak up.

Speak up. Demand. Don’t allow your religious leaders to marginalize other Jews or anyone for that matter. Demand accountability for personal behavior and for community standards built on love of Jews and Judaism and not on stringency for the sake of stringency. How many of us criticized President Obama for not walking out on his religious leader when clear lines of decency were crossed? And how many of us have followed in his footsteps rather than have the courage to walk out in protest when our own leaders have crossed similar lines?

Do not support institutions that are happy to take your money but in reality have no use for you or your practice of Judaism. Understand the continuum of not recognizing Reform Jews, segregating buses by gender, calling Israeli soldiers “Nazis,” turning a blind eye to molestation, traumatizing a 7 year old girl and throwing rocks and eggs at others. It all comes from the same place…an arrogant and twisted interpretation of our religion. And by not stopping each one we are only escalating the issue.

If you don’t take action, when the protesters’ hit you, don’t ask “why?”

David Sable, a member of the board of The Jewish Week, is an executive in the marketing and communications field.

Agudas Ha-Rabanim, Anti-Zionism, Beit Shemesh, Eruv

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First of all, the worst sign of bigotry is to lump everyone together and to tar them with the same brush. As a Jew Mr. Sable should be aware that this has been done too many times in the course of our history with terrible results.

Secondly, there are plenty of religious Jews in Israel (with black coats) who earn a living, pay taxes and serve in the Israeli army. Referring to those who wear black coats etc as Hareidim (as if they a bogey men) and then blaming them for the behavior of a small minority of bigoted crazies is nothing but callous and being a mirror image. And if they happen to have a different set of criteria for what they would like a Jewish State to be or for how Jews should behave – isn’t that what free speech is all about? They are also Jews and trying to keep to the Torah. If they are more to the right than we are, so be it.

Thirdly, the Second Temple was destroyed as a result of causeless hatred. We are told that the Third Temple will be rebuilt if we have unconditional love for our fellow Jews. Something to think about, no?

Fourthly, the Torah instructs us to help a fellow Jew in financial need irrespective of his or her weltanschauung. That includes people who are both politically and religiously to the right or left.

Lastly, please see how the Mishna in Pirkei Avoth (5:16) describes someone who does not give charity and also encourages others not to give.

Hi David,
You say "we have continued to support institutions that do not reflect values consistent with the Jewish and democratic values we claim to uphold; we send our children to such institutions for a year or more of study and we allow the rabbis of these institutions into our homes and synagogues for fundraisers and other outreach activity."

Can you name these institutions?

What if religious women (and men) WANT to have private bus lines where they can sit separately? Should they not be allowed to- if that is what they want? What about women who extremely uncomfortable in very crowded buses when people are packed together tight? Would it be wrong to offer an alternative?

If you look at the big picture- Haredim women are less discriminated against than their secular counterparts. As a "Haredi" father i can tell you i am glad that my teen age daughters (and sons) are not involved in pre-marital sex (which is the norm in secular circles) this prevents my daughters (and sons) from being used... As a Father I am glad to say that the first man that will touch my daughter is the one who will commit to her for life- in marriage! How many secular fathers can say that?
How sad for secular girls who grow up in front of the T.V. and to think they have to be models and forever young to be considered attractive- a guaranteed formula for depression and low-self worth. No one in our community has T.V. or internet in their houses. We’re glad our children aren’t on the internet and are boys aren't being fed a narrow notion of what beautiful is.
Ever heard the line..."yea sure baby i love you just let me ..." Isn't there some of that in all pre-marital sex when there is no commitment involved?
Whose talking about discrimination? In the secular Jewish societies both in the US and Israel it is documented how women are paid about 39% for the same EXACT kind of work as men- isn't THAT discrimination?...Not to mention giving the vast majority of the Executive positions to men. See and look at the 3rd article posted, if you have a stomach for having your preconceived notions challenged.

To Gordon Silverman,

I am surprised at your vain search for condemnations by the MO leadership. Certainly many, many have -- my good friend Rabbi Shaul Robinson is a case in point; however, you are blaming the victims. The Modern Orthodox in Beit Shemesh (and in other places in Israel) are the ones under attack. Not only have many condemned the Haredi Fanatics, but they have fought them -- both in the realm of P.R. and physically.

But David Sable is certainly correct, all those who donate to Haredi Yeshivot, send their kids to "Haredi Lite" yeshivot in Israel, and hire Haredi sympathizers in their schools in the U.S. are enabling the continued radicalization of Judaism. Time to stop and only support those with whom you share a world view.

Excellent article, but...
I don’t think halacha demands “there is room for all”.
I think halacha demands that we be HOLY – separate.

Women davening at the same exact spot at the kotel or in a shul that an Orthodox Jewish man davens at.
Where is there room for all?

At the same time, there is NO excuse for abuse, obscenity, etc.
The halacha demands we behave like mencshen.

Life is complicated.
Jay H

Can you give some examples of organizations and yeshivot that your average modern orthodox Jew supports and should not? Which yeshivot do modern orthodox Jews send their children to that are anti-Zionist and/or support the actions by those in Beit shemesh?

Bravo to David Sable. I have been looking for comments by leaders of the Modern Orthodox condemning the actions of the haredim. Like him, my search has been to no avail. I only hope that his article will have some effect. If it doesn't, and the response to these actions is an overwhelming silence from those men and women who purport to follow halacha (and not the made up "halacha" that has become so widespread), we will know that the Modern Orthodox are not just enablers, as Mr. Sable writes, but are co-conspirators in the degradation of Judaism.

To my fellow member -- I didnt mean to pull any punches -- I was clear -- no support for people who dont support our values. having said that I leave it to you and others to apply it to specific issues -- I dont give those type a penny.

David: You are spot on, but pull you punches on an issue we confront almost daily at the synagogue we share: Haredi "schnorers" soliciting money at the daily minyanim. These people are from communities that reject our mode of orthodoxy, reject Zionism and practice the same sort of misogyny which has given rise to this debate. But our rabbi hands them money, as do many others. I think it should be synagogue policy to bar these guys at the door.

Well written! part of the problem is that Modern Orthodox Jews have a inferiority complex. We were raised with a sliding scale of "frum" that emphasized Mitzvot between Man and G-d and also emphasized the external looks and actions of a person from the way he dresses, to the way he washes his hands before meals to his rating on the shokel meter during davenning.

You are right, it's time to take back the streets. It's time to evaluate people based upon Chessed, honesty and actions between man and man. As the prophet Michah says, Mah Hashem doresh mimcha, Ke Im Asot Mishpat, Vahavat Chessed Vhatneah lechet Eim Elokecha (What does G-d want from you, To do justice, to love loving-kindness and to walk modestly with your G-d).

The truth is that no matter how we act they look at us with disdain and as being less than full fledged Jews anyway. It's time that our values of embracing the world and being open without compromising the core of Halacha was in their face without compromise or apology!