Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A School in Beit Shemesh

The Agudath Israel of America released a statement concerning the violence in Beit Shemesh. Read it here. Here is my response:

many charedi Jews, men and women alike, see a need to take special steps – in their own lives and without seeking to coerce others – to counterbalance the pervasive atmosphere of licentiousness, so as to avoid the degradation of humanity to which it leads.

If increased modesty is expressed by individuals' attempts to avoid situations they feel are improper, that is one thing. If a man feels unable or uninterested in walking on the same sidewalk as a woman, and he switches sides, no one will complain. If a woman chooses to not speak with a man out of a sense of modesty, again, no one will complain (although people may question the motives, value and repercussions these types of behavior have on the individual and on the community).

However, if "special steps" taken include gender-segregated buses, signs asking women to walk on the other side of the street, and an unwillingness to vociferously reject the more radical embodiment of these strictures (such as assault (insults and taunts against adults and, more horrifically, children) and battery (spitting, brick throwing, etc)), then, far more than the "atmosphere of licentiousness" the charedi community wishes to avoid, they contribute to the degradation of humanity.

The true irony is found when considering the very concept stated above in my first paragraph: the idea that as long as one does not impact others with his "special steps" in modesty (or other strictness), one should be allowed to take them. This idea of personal autonomy and freedom comes not from the Torah, but from liberal philosophy.In the past, the danger posed to society from overly strict individual behavior was viewed as damaging no less than overly lax individual behavior. One who deviated too far off the golden mean, the societal norm, in either direction, was herded back to the norm. It is ironic that only in the context of modernity and the liberalism it engenders that the charedi world can support "special steps in their own lives", steps that have no basis in normative Halacha and derive their validity from modernity's "individual freedom".

Finally, while Aguda's condemnation of the violence is welcome, it comes belatedly, at a time when the media has picked up on an old story in Beit Shemesh. This has been going on for months, the segregated buses (and violence in their defense) has been going on for years. Why is the vast majority silent? Why is it only when the media pick up a story that the leaders of the charedi world in Israel feel the need to begin to condemn? Was there nothing to condemn months ago, when the heckling of little girlds started? Was there nothing to condemn years ago, when women were assaulted on buses for not moving to the back?

Could it be that the majority supports the goals of the violence, and therefore, they ignore the means?

Finally, I want to point out that there is a troubling view of today's society as extremely licentious. Judaism has existed and survived in cultures far more explicit and licentious than today's. Just think about ancient Greek or Roman culture, or the 18th century dress and behavior across Western Europe.

Later, Rabbi Yaakov Menken posted a comment responding in part to me. I fisked it, and this comment has yet to be approved by Cross-Currents, even though Yaakov Menken has commented since. Here is the unapproved comment from me:


Daniel Weltman
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
If you condemn the charedi separate buses, and do not condemn those in Korea and Mexico City, you are a bigot.
I guess I am not a bigot then, at least by your standards.
I know you don’t mean to sound this way, but you sound as though you are trying to defend the indefensible. And so:
They didn’t speak fast enough.
They sure didn’t. Women have had bricks thrown at them, been physically (!!) assaulted on buses that are segregated, and little religious girls (albeit not charedi) have been called whores and prostitutes, and yet there has been no backlash from official charedi organizations until now, until the media blitz. In fact, rabbis have said that they refuse to speak out against these activities, because they are not related to them at all. It is sad that it takes what you call a “deliberate provocation…media tactic” to get the ball rolling on some much-needed, sadly missing public charedi outrage.
They dare to operate gender-separate buses.
No, Egged does. They do not operate the buses. If this were a private bus company, things may be a bit different, don’t you think…
They dare to help their own values by suggesting opposite sides of the street before Sukkos, when the crowds and tiny sidewalks of Meah Shearim make physical contact mandatory.
Suggesting? Or enforcing? I think your comment suffers from pollyanism. How about the mob-style forcing of stores to keep the placards about “please only enter modestly dressed” in their windows? What happens to those who refuse, Yaakov? How about Manny’s bookstore? If these actions are really only those of fringe elements, then the complaint of the mainstream charedim is much too late, and too little besides. If not, then I do not really know what point you are making.
All of that means the charedim (including Rav Lipman, who is in Beit Shemesh and has vociferously opposed the Sikrikim) condone their behavior.
שתיקה כהודעה – Silence implies consent. I doubt that anyone would say that any rabbi who “vociferously opposed” the hooligans condones their behavior. Let’s discuss without the false choices.
Deliberate provocation is an acceptable media tactic against them.
See above.
or present a verbal confrontation as violence.
Yaakov, spitting at someone is considered נזיקין in Halacha. It is ironically listed with one who “uncovers a woman’s hair in public”, and has the same compensation to the victim — 400 zuz (quite a sum of money). See Bava Kama 8:6.
Screaming obscenities in public is certainly against the law, and not covered by Free speech when it is disorderly conduct. Particularly when directed at a person in a threatening way, it is assault. It is assault. Throwing feces, rocks, bricks, and other objects at a person or a home is battery and property damage.
When you say “present a verbal confrontation as violence”, do you mean to imply that the above occurrences (some recorded) did not occur?
truly the Jews’ Jews
If by “Jews’ Jews” you mean, finding a demand to react against fringe elements of their society vocally and consistently, and not to allow evil and thuggery to fester in their midst, yes they are Jews. If you mean the colloquial usage, that they are the scapegoat for the people who serve as scapegoats for the rest of the nations, you are simply wrong, and throwing around loaded terms will do nothing to help anyone in the Beit Shemesh situation today.