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Monday, 28 July 2014

031) Who Gave Me the Right?

Recent media reports have focused much on the unfortunate actions of some so-called Chareidim in both Israel and abroad. Some of these people have used rock throwing and other forms of violence as a means of ethnically cleansing their areas of anyone who is not exactly like them. (See Kotzk Blog 30)

I believe these growing trends of violence are the first stirrings of a new and insidious type of 'reconstructionist' Judaism that is doing a good job of misrepresenting authentic and multifaceted Orthodoxy. They don't practice a Judaism I know.

Whatever happened to the concept of a Jew being supposed to set an example? Whatever happened to the concept of a Jew being supposed to practice a form of spirituality that is warm and inviting? When did ‘exclude’ become the battle-cry instead of ‘include’?

Let’s leave these extreme ‘reformers’ alone for a moment and look at something closer to home. I have occasion to interact with many young religious people in our community. The vast majority of them are wonderful caring and empathic young people, concerned about the world around them, and conscious of their obligation to contribute to society. They also understand the importance of creating a good impression upon those Jews who may have wandered away from Torah values.

But again, there is a small segment of this group, who having been raised religious, take their Judaism for granted. They just want to live like everyone else without the extra burden of having to set a good example. Some of these youngsters do just what other youngsters their age do, except they do it with yarmulkes on.   

I came across such a group, driving drunk around a parking lot with loud music blaring and behaving despicably. People were looking at them and I was embarrassed. I took the liberty of gracefully approaching them and asked them to please calm down. I suggested very politely that they put caps on their heads and tuck in their Tzitzit if they wanted to behave like this. They looked at me incredulously. They failed to see how they were harming anyone by their behavior. What right did I have to reproach them? In their eyes they were just a couple of kids having (dangerous and disruptive) fun. However in the eyes of others, they were representing every other Jew on this planet. Including you and I. This may not be fair but it’s the truth. That’s why I felt I had the right to approach them and not just ignore them.

If they are going to fly the flag by sticking out in a crowd, let them do so with dignity. If not, we reserve the right to censure them because they represent us. If they didn’t represent us, we would ignore them and let them be.

Being visible Torah Jews in public, means we have an obligation to preserve the integrity of the whole nation.
If even one person looks at us and hates Jews or Judaism because of us, we have misrepresented our people.

The Kotzker Rebbe teaches:
“Abraham sat at the doorway of his tent.” Rashi comments: “…To see if anyone was passing by, so that he could bring them into his home.” - In Hebrew the expression ‘passerby’ (over ve shav) can also mean a ‘sinner whom through your exemplary action, you cause to have a change of heart’. Such a person then becomes so inspired that he wants to come into your ‘tent’ and be like you.
(Kochav HaShachar p168, par1)

Being ‘frum’ is demanding. When a Torah person walks in the street, he cannot be neutral. He has to, by his actions, use his Torah as a means of changing even in some small way, the lives of others. They must want to come into his ‘tent’.

If some of our visible and vocal religious youth are offensively rowdy, how will they influence ‘sinners’ to have a change of heart?

And if some of our stone throwing so-called Chareidim chase people out of their areas, how will they ever be able, let alone want to, come into the tent of Abraham?


The irony is that those who were offended by the youngsters, and those attacked and excluded from the Chareidim, were perhaps the very people Abraham went in search of.

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