Wednesday 23 July 2014

030) Some Ultra-Orthodox Jews Are Revolting

The crazy events of the past few weeks and months in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, where small groups of Chareidim took to the streets – (and burned garbage and spat on young Modern Orthodox Jewish school girls who simply wanted a normal religious education) - have become most perturbing. Some of these Chareidim do not even want to ride in the same busses as women and are calling for segregation of the genders in some public spaces.

It is perturbing for a number of reasons: How can ostensibly religious people behave in this manner? This type of behavior is (not so) slowly becoming more and more acceptable to many segments of our very own community. Not enough people are speaking out against this deplorable trend. Does it not remind one of other communities in other parts of the world, who espouse similar sentiments?

The irony is that today, if an orthodox person does or says something just slightly left of center, he is very rapidly castigated by people with loud voices. If he speaks about, say, a possible theoretical reconciliation between Torah and evolution, he gets excommunicated. But if he stones, fights or spits, at best he is regarded as a misguided ‘defender of the faith’, and is free to fight another day.

It is no longer acceptable for those of us who are embarrassed and shocked by the barbaric behavior of some of these men in black coats, to glibly shrug it off by saying that this is just the work of an insignificant and tiny minority (as we have always done in the past). If one follows the news stories one quickly realizes that this trend is swiftly on the incline.

Unless our leadership (if it still exists) does something fast to stem the rising tide of religious extremism, both in Israel and abroad, I fear we may be staring down the barrel of a new phenomenon…a Jewish Taliban.

Sociologically, such rancid behavior can only be a result of a ‘group’ or ‘cult like’ mentality, taking over what once was the preserve of the strong, intellectual religious individual.
A hundred and fifty years ago, the Kotzker warned that Judaism was laying the foundations of its own destruction, by encouraging the emergence of religious mass movements, which were gaining popularity all over Eastern Europe.
Like minded people make a positive contribution to their society. Like clad people, however allow the preeminence of the individual human, (responsible for his actions, and aware of consequences), to be overshadowed by others (who because of allegiance have no concept of consequence). Weak people can now hide behind the coat tails of other weak people. And generally the group will deteriorate to the lowest common denominator.

He further warned that even someone hiding within the very walls and inner sanctum of the Beit HaMedrash, the Study House, may in truth be absolutely vile and despicable.
The Talmud says: ‘If the Menuval or despicable one comes to mislead you, drag it to the House of study’. This is generally understood as referring to the evil inclination, which gets subdued when brought under positive pressure and influence. However the actual term used is ‘Menuval zeh’, which seems to indicate a person rather than a concept. Therefore don’t be fooled into thinking that just because someone looks holy and spends time in a holy place, that he is actually holy. He may be in the House of study but he can still be despicable.
(Emet VeEmunah p20, par 2)

Let us be bold enough to acknowledge and recognize the existence of people who do despicable things in the name of Judaism. Let us speak out with sufficient force against these people, before instead of being a ‘light to the nations’, we simply become just like them.

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