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Violence to Preserve Judaism, or Diversity of Opinion?

by Eli Federman – Huffington Post

Various non-mainstream Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities in Israel and in the U.S. are clashing with western values embraced by less religious Jews. Daily reports are breaking out of Haredi sects imposing forced gender segregation on buses, spitting on women in the streets who are deemed immodest and rioting against anyone who is perceived different.

What is it that leads to Haredi violence? It seems that the motivation for Haredi resistance to outside influences is an effort to preserve their way of life from perceived secular encroachment. They view outside influences and exposure as a threat to their traditional existence.

The ultimate goal of the Haredi is preserving their heritage. The Haredi should be asking is what is the best method to sustain their way of life? Is it violence? Is it intolerance? Is it spitting on people who dress differently? Is it isolationism? Is there perhaps a better workable model? One that allows for co-existence with those that are different?

A good paradigm of Haredi living, thriving and integrating in the secular world while still preserving their heritage, is Chabad-Lubavitch. Chabad is an outreach movement that according to the terse web definition is “known for their hospitality, technological expertise, optimism and emphasis on religious study.” If you look at images of Haredi in Beit Shemesh, Israel, and at images of Chabad emissaries all around the world, they essentially look the same and share a similar religiously intense lifestyle. They sport fedora-style hats, often wear long trench coats and, of course, have conspicuous beards. They both follow the literal dictates of halacha (Jewish law) by praying three times a day, dressing modestly, following strict Kosher and all the rest. Yet the Chabad emissary is an integrated member of society involved in civics and community service with Jews of all observance levels, while the Beit Shemesh Haredi is an angry extremist who believes that violence and isolationism is the way to preserve their lifestyle.

Why is education, debate and acceptance the solutions to preserving Judaism and not ghettoization and violence? Besides the fact that insular Haredi communities will no longer be able to shelter their adherents in a religious cocoon free from secular encroachment, opposing other viewpoints and lifestyles with violence belies the Jewish intellectual tradition of healthy debate. The entire Jewish tradition, including interpretations of various Jewish laws, is based on rigorous, yet civil debates. In fact, the Talmud even preserves the losing arguments because the debate itself leads to a greater understanding of the issues.

The Haredi communities turning to violence have forgotten the essential cornerstone that has kept Judaism relevant, vibrant and intellectually honest through the ages. It wasn’t quelling other ideas through violence, intimidation and censorship, but providing a platform for meaningful dialogue about the issues.

The first century rabbis who typify the Talmud’s rich culture of debate are Hillel and Shammai, two opposing schools of Jewish thought. These schools of thought debate everything from ethics to interpretations of ritual practice. The dispute that typifies the example of resorting to violent demagoguery is the biblical story of Korach who contested Moses’s leadership but did so not for the sake of seeking the truth and engaging in meaningful dialogue but for the sake of attaining power and control over the people of Israel. For this reason the Talmud explains that the debates of Hillel and Shammai’s schools of thought will endure but the debates of Korach and his faction will not endure.

If the Haredi want their tradition to endure they should live by the example of Hillel and Shammai by encouraging meaningful dialogue with those that have a different philosophy than them instead of resorting to violence like Korach and his faction. Through encouraging different opinions the Haredi will go much further in preserving their way of life and enhancing their communities — and start to live consistent with Judaism’s rich culture of debate.

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22 Comments

  • 1. sad wrote:

    I wonder if the spitting will help other Jews improve in their avoda and/or help other Jews come closer to Torah (lol)

  • 2. Great source! wrote:

    The Huffington Post??????!!!!!! Why not articles on this subject from mags like Tikkun? At least they don’t mince words as this author does.

  • 4. Libi Davai wrote:

    The picture on top is painful to view. A p’nei zokein raising fists like Eisav?

  • 5. let-s try to make a kiddush hasem wrote:

    i think negative articles against any Jew should stay strictly in our one papers, we should not be the ones publishing negative stuff to the world about any Jew, we have enough others to do that.

  • 6. Just a Jew wrote:

    Perfect time to publish this – Asara B’Teves. Is this an attempt to lenthen the golus by airing Sinas Chinam in public? By grouping the nuts (who are smaller than a minority) who, ostracized by the rest of the Charedi world, spit and commit violent acts, with those who peacefully protest (being this is the way to get things done in the Israeli political system), in order to advance an agenda of ‘I am the only true Jew’, in a liberal rag known as derisively as the ‘Puffington Host’ in many circles, all the author has done is prove he has no wish to leave golus. I hope he is fasting today, as this is not Teshuva, and there is still time to do some!

  • 7. To #4 wrote:

    Ditto. I didn’t even need to read the title to know what this was about. The picture explained it all.

  • 8. Shameful. wrote:

    This is another blame the Haredim article by a self righteous Jew who is wolf in sheep’s clothing

    The secular Israelis are at fault for this. The woman on a bus was a plant. The news stories were propaganda pieces. This is being done out of political movtives. While their are few extremes out there, the anti-Haredi violence and racism far out paces that of the religious toward the secular.

    Eli is just part of the ganging up on the weaker kid who stands outs different then everyone else, just to make himself seem as an intellectual moderate.

    Furthermore, CrownHeights.info should be ashamed for putting such a photo up. The Israeli police are known for their brutality, the old man was probably responding to something the police had done to him.

    All around shameful. More signs of a movement with in Chabad to make us more secular rather than making the secular more religious.

  • 9. Is there another bandwagon I can jumpon? wrote:

    The article is incoherent on some many levels. Here are just a few:

    1) The debate in beit shemesh is not about the Chareidi lifestyle but about how to control a fringe that resort to violence. Chabad struggles with this dilemah as well with something as earth-shattering as 770’s cornerstone. The vast majority of chareidim (including R’ Ovadia Yosef, R’ Steinmen, The Agudah, the Hamodia and even Chabad) came out openly condemning violence. Painting with a broad brush and implying that “chareidim resort to violence as a way of keeping their heritage” is for someone less scrupulous like Yossi Sarid and is beneath Mr. Federman.
    2) The question of isolationism as a best method to preserve heritage goes back to at least when the Rebbe started the Hafahtzah movement. The Rebbe took on his pleitzes negative influences that may be absorbed by Shluchim’s children and as lamplighters we should always be illuminating the outside and now allowing darkness or negative influences to seep in. With the OTD rate in Chabad exponentially higher than in any other Chareidi sects, I am not sure you have a strong argument against the isolationist viewpoint.
    3) Korach did not resort to violence, he asked intellectual questions with the intent to undermine the religion (something we see all too often today). The biblical figure that personifies resorting to violence to maintain the heritage is Pinchus (which is why he is Satmer’s hero and not considered as your typical role model in the rest of Judaism).

    There’s plenty more if you read this piece carefully……

  • 10. Andrea Schonberger wrote:

    A very well written article. Chabad does provide an excellent example on how to live in the “modern” world while at the same time remaining true Yidden. Violence and spitting will gain no friends. Remember the old saying: you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  • 11. Ad Mosai !!!!!!!!!!!!! wrote:

    Picture looks like a chushave rebbe with his fists, as if to fight the policeman. What a big chillul hashem and shame.

    Ad mosai.

  • 12. Elesoy wrote:

    Hi Eli, I take issue with your last three paragraphs.
    You say these people have forgotten “the essential cornerstone that has kept Judaism relevant, vibrant and intellectually honest through the ages. It wasn’t quelling other ideas through violence, intimidation and censorship, but providing a platform for meaningful dialogue about the issues.”
    “Meaningful dialogue” was never used to solve the rise of the Reform and of the Enlightenment movement. “Meaningful dialogue” is a secular product scorned by our leaders (up until and including the Rebbe) as needlessly giving illegitimate groups legitimacy.
    It thus follows that you analogizing this conflict to that of Shammai and Hillel is in error, since the chareidi groups here don’t view their opponents as legitimate dissenters.
    “Violence, intimidation and censorship” are indeed the tools of Judaism, as they of any mainstream dogmatic way of life when it is threatened.
    Stop reaching for the Talmud to solve modern-day problems. The dark ages have influenced Judaism since that time.

  • 13. To: #8 wrote:

    To comment #8: I think you misread the article. The authors point was to show that violence is not the way to preserve Yidishkit but mutual respect is the way. Commet #10 your totally right, Chabad is the perfect example of showing the proper way to preserve Yidishkit, namely though love and etc.

  • 14. Meant #9 not #8 wrote:

    Previous comment was really address to comment #9 not so much #8. Thanks.

  • 15. Love a fellow jew wrote:

    I don’t think that anything is to be gained by putting these types of articles in a paper or on this site. However, I am in Israel at the moment and have heard of 2 incidents, one involving and adult and the other involving a child, who were both spat on, on different occasions. These people are members of chabad, dress in a tznius manner and are good chassidishe people. There was no reason for this to have happened. I believe in live and let live. However, this small minority of charedim are putting other frum people in a bad light. Violence and spitting is not the way to accomplish anything positive.

    People from chabad accept people for who they are. They don’t judge. They are warm to their fellow Jew and earn the respect of people and therefore, build up communities which thrive.

  • 16. Shalom wrote:

    “co-existence with those that are different?” What about in Lubavitch communities like Crown Heights or Kfar Chabad?
    “Through encouraging different opinions the Haredi will go much further in preserving their way of life and enhancing their communities” This does not sound like something that would preserve Lubavitch communities.
    The keeping of tznius standards is also a problem in Crown Heights (where there is also separate seating for men and women on buses). Violence is not the answer but neither is apathy and accepting of no standards.

  • 19. MaidofCH wrote:

    To #14
    Definitely we need standards, of which there has been a dreadful erosion here in Crown Heights.

    However, by whose standards do we go? And do we have the right to impose them on other groups? Especially in public areas not owned or shut off by us?

    Piety is worrying about your connection to Hashem. Fanatacism is worrying about everyone else’s. The best way to inspire is to set an example, which Chabad tries to do.

  • 20. Critic wrote:

    Didn’t the Rebbe once say of these same individuals “lo mehem velomayhomonom” publically after the nais of Entebbe?

  • 21. Shira wrote:

    you write that various ultra-orthodox groups are clashing with the less religious jews. I question what makes fully observant orthodox jews “less religious” just because they are not extremists that spit on women. I would contend that it is these ultra orthodox groups that are in fact the less religious ones.

  • 22. NotFrum wrote:

    This article is poor reporting.

    The secular in Israel have committed violence against orthodox, attempted to force orthdox to violate their religious principles, stirred up mass hysterial anti-Semitic hatred against the orthodox, and insisted upon taunting the orthodox, refusing all compromise.

    #8 is correct. Though secular myself, I see that too much of the aggresiveness of secular Israel is pure, intolerant, anti-Semitic bigotry.

    For example, the orthodox were willing to have their own private mehadrin buses, but Egged put the others out of business, at the same time promising the orthodox limited meharin buses. Egged and secular Israel are now reneging on those promises.

    And, Eged could simply change th mehadrin buses to have men sit at the back. Problem solved.

    Just as the IDF could allow orthodox male soldiers to use earplugs to as not to violate kol isha. Problem solved.

    Israel has arrested the two orthodox authors of a pashekvil calling a police chief a Nazi, even though (1) it’s a violation of freedom of speech to arrest anyone for even an unpopuar opinion and (2) Israel never arrested leftist who called Sharon Nazi.

    Israel has become hypocritical and anti-Semitic.

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