Op-Ed: The Events in Beit Shemesh: A Hareidi Resident Speaks
Yona KleinThe writer authors Torah writings and teaches Torah. He has lived in the Beit Shemesh Area since 2005.
Some points to consider regarding the Beit Shemesh Tznius [modesty, ed] War .
My comments here are mainly addressed towards the “tznius patrol” themselves, but I feel obliged to note some common sentiments and respond to them in a way that, I hope, invites more rational discussion.
In every case, I ask that you discuss your feelings with your Rav [rabbi, ed.] before making any final decisions.
The “Tznius War,” as we shall refer to it, concerns a certain sect of Jews who identify themselves as hareidim, who have become more and more willing to use violent or offensive means to justify their goal of bringing everyone they come in contact with to their standard of modest dress. Much, but not all, of that standard seems to reflect the actual halakhah.
However, the halakhah does not condone, or even permit, the ways these extremists have chosen to express their feelings about people who do not dress appropriately in their opinion. Additionally, some of their standards represent chumrahs, stringent practices they have taken on themselves which in no way can be considered required. Whether such chumrahs are even legitimate acts of piety is debatable, but we must leave that for legitimate halakhic authorities to decide.
What I am about to say has been stated numerous times by great rabbis, and represents authentic Torah sentiments on the subject, and I shall confine myself to reporting what I can be fairly certain is daas Torah [Torah view as stated by rabbis].
Let me begin by addressing a few commonly heard quotes:
1. "Those crazy hareidim need to be stopped! This is what comes of their insular approach, their hard-headed refusal to join the rest of society, and their attempts to force everyone to be like them." Response: These crazies are hardly hareidim. The standard definition for a member of hareidi society is someone who follows the opinions of the great sages, Gedolei Torah. From the times of the Chazon Ish [famous hareidi sage] down to today, violence has always been clearly condemned.
The vast majority of people who identify themselves as hareidi are not members of the extremist groups. Most of hareidi society hates the way these crazies act as much as everyone else, or even more. You just don’t hear about people who act in a normal fashion because there’s nothing to report. Think about it.
2. "Why don’t the Rabbis condemn the violence? It’s because they condone it, that’s why, or because they are afraid to speak out against their own!" Response:That is simply not true. Gedolim have constantly condemned violence, and many local hareidi Rabbis have spoken out against the violence here since the beginning of this whole fiasco.
Rav Elyashiv, possibly the greatest Rabbi alive today, is disliked by certain extremist groups because of his position on what they do. hareidi Rabbis and Gedolim speak in forums where hareidi people hear them. You won’t see it in mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean they have kept silent. It is true that some Rabbis have not publicly condemned the violence. That is their business, and I won’t attack someone merely because I don’t know what they are thinking. But in any case, keeping one’s silence and attending to the countless other duties of a synagogue rabbi can hardly be considered the same as supporting a violent fringe group.
3. "Still, if the Charedim hadn’t had such silly attitudes in the first place…". Response: Just because there are terrible things happening doesn’t give you permission to start blaming other people or venting hatred. If you think haredi attitudes are silly, learn to read a Gemara and then start talking. The same ridiculous verbal abuse is being directed against the city officials and the government, as if they could simply arrest everyone who wears a gartel [rope belt worn when praying by hassidim] and thus solve the whole problem.
This is a complicated situation, where a small but significant group is willing to use violence, and we could clearly define what “this type of thing” is in unambiguous language that could not be abused in another case, such a law might be drafted.
Such a law is under consideration, from what I understand, but it is not so easy. What are we prohibiting here? Violence? I think violence has been illegal for a long time. If not, someone really has been negligent. Rather, we are trying to prohibit obnoxious and semi-violent behavior. So either come up with an exhaustive list of every single act we want to prohibit, or work hard on coming up with the right language. It’s not simple.
5. "I’m a hareidi. I wish there was something I could do about this situation." Response: Me, too. Because I wished I could do something, I am doing something. I’m making it clear that hareidim don’t agree with this stuff. This is a good start. If you are a hareidi, I believe you have a moral responsibility to reduce the chillul Hashem [desecration of G-d's name] as much as you can by making it clear that you condemn what’s going on.
6. "I used to be hareidi, but I’m sick of all this stuff…" Response: I sympathize with your pain. Right now, I’m almost embarrassed to be wearing a kippah. But the fact is, we choose our values based on what we think is right, not based on how uncomfortable it is to stand for something that other people are making out to be sickening. If you honestly believe that hareidi values are incorrect, then you need to decide for yourself what you believe in and live that way. Nobody is trying to “convert” you back – just look at the Torah sources with an open mind. But if you changed your yarmulke and your way of life because you felt tired of being associated with a bunch of punks, realize that you need to live by your convictions. And I don’t care what kind of kippah you wear. I’m talking about real values.
The remainder of this article is directed towards the extremists. If you are not an extremist, please feel free to read on anyway, if you wish:
I consider myself a hareidi Jew. I have several Rabbeim [rabbinic authorities]. One is a talmid [student] of Rav Steinman. Another is a talmid of Rav Sheinberg. I’m not “pseudo-hareidi.” I’m proud of what I represent. Which is why I am asking you to please take off your hats. No black hats, no davening jackets. Your are a disgrace to hareidi society.
Everything we stand for can be summed up in terms of following the Gedolim [great sages]. You don’t, and you make a very large, very public scene of it. Every Gadol has time and again explained that we have no business doing what you are doing. The Chazon Ish said it at the beginning. Rav Shternbuch, the head of Eidah Hareidis, said it very recently.
But you don’t listen to the Gedolim. So why do you dress like hareidim? In fact, you don’t follow halakhah either. What you do is totally ossur [forbidden]. For the sake of the hareidi world, I ask you to take off your hats. For the sake of reducing the massive and overwhelming chillul Hashem that you have caused and continue to cause, I ask you to take off your yarmulkes, too.
I am not saying you must change your way of life. Continue your violent terrorist activities if you must. I don’t think I can change your mind about that. But please, stop seeming to represent the Jewish world while you do it. I am embarrassed to be associated with you. I hate living in the same city as you, having to explain why I am a hareidi when you people are so disgusting. I wanted to move to a different city to escape you, but then, you moved here.
What’s to stop you from following me and every other hareidi wherever we run to? You probably see yourselves as Pinchases [a Biblical zealot], acting out of sincere zealousness for Hashem.
But Pinchas asked Moshe what to do. You just spit on little children. You are the Zimri here, not the Pinchas [the sinner, not the zealot who punished him].
Please, stop representing us to the world. We are trying to be light unto the nations. Stop spreading darkness in our name.
P.S. Time and again, the most effective way of achieving change in today’s world has been shown to be through kindness and education, rather than hatred and violence. If you really want change, why don’t you try that approach? It sounds crazy, but it just might work, and then you could keep wearing the hats.