Friday, July 17, 2009

Violence & leadership in the Chareidi world

I have received inquiries from a number of people who have asked questions concerning why the gedolim of the chareidi world have not said or done anything to stop the riots. In fact there have been apparently only two voices - Rav Eliashiv and Rav Sternbuch - and their statements seemed not to have had much impact. In addition they presented their views in an indirect manner. There has also been much scholarly pontification about the nature of the chareidi world in the secular press and about their desire for the secular world not to intervene with their people. The following quotes are typical of the questions that are being asked.

Earlier Thursday, Jerusalem District police chief Aharon Franco voiced harsh criticism over the failure of the Haredi leadership to speak out against the violent riots…."There is not one sane voice within the Haredi community that will rise up and cry out against this phenomenon," Franco said. "They have rabbis, they have leadership, and I haven't heard the rabbis or sages crying out."

Garnel Ironheart asked
Maybe someone can explain this to me. I hear over and over again: The Gedolim have Daat Torah. The Gedolim have Ruach HaKodesh. Listening to them is like listening to God. Disobeying them is like disobeying God. Over and over again. Whenever a non-Chareidi Jew challenges the latest chumra of the week, we're are told: But the Gedolim said so, so you have to! So Rav Eliashiv has come out against the riots. Rav Sternbuch has come out against the riots. And the rioters aren't listening. Aren't they Chareidim?

It is true that that many in the chareidi world think these riots are justified - even if they are not happy with the level of violence. They object to the heavy handed manner that the police have acted in that they have taken a respected pregnant mother from her family and put her in jail with common criminals. The police acknowledge the truth of this but say it is because she hasn't cooperated.

However I would like to discuss another critical factor - one which will not please some - but one which needs to be addressed. That is the issue of violence and threats of violence by elements in the chareidi world - against other chareidim. These threats also include threats against the life of rabbonim who disagree with these elements. Consequently the leaders are silent. Most of this has been addressed by someone with an intimate knowledge of this world who insists on being identified only as Aaron.

Aaron wrote:
There are two concerns. One is the fear of the outsider – especially secular authorizes such as the police and doctors. Distortions and outright lies are believed because they fit the stereotype of the outsider who hates and wants to hurt frum Jews. For example, most people on the street believe the wall posters that this is a "blood libel". People are really stupid. This claim definitely causes hatred to the frum community in the Hadassah hospital – because of its unfairness to many who genuinely try to help heal and accommodate the needs of frum Jews. So even if there was no bias against frum yidden it sure encourages it. This talk about “blood libel” is totally forbidden. These people are going on a witch-hunt, trying to portray Hadassah as a place with hatred towards the frum people. I have spent a lot of time there – both during the day and at night. These charges are an outright slander against the hospital. The hospital staff in fact treats frum people very well. While there are medical mistakes made, but this is typical of every hospital in the world. People have bought the story that the hospital is against frum people and they believe this nonsense. Unfortunately it becomes a self-fulfilling belief when doctors and nurses become angry when all their efforts and care are forgotten and they are accused of these disgusting lies.

The second concern is that of violence and intimidation by the low lives of chareidi society against other chareidim. This is a fact that everyone must come to terms with. One needs to acknowledge that besides the tzadikim and the talmidei chachomim and those who work hard to help others - every society has their dropouts. Our society is being dragged around by a bunch of renegade hooligans. They aren’t representative of the whole society but they have a very strong impact on the way the community is perceived and on the type of responses the people – especially the leaders can do. It is very sad that it has come to this.

Rav Sternbuch has consistently and repeatedly denounced acts of violence in our community. There was even a long quote in a recent Mishpacha magazine in which he strongly condemned any types of violence and especially in demonstrations. His demonstrations against the gay parade were totally without violence. Rav Sternbuch stated that anyone who acts violently demonstrates that he does not belong in our community

Regarding why Rav Sternbuch has not been more direct and forceful in denouncing these riots, the simple answer is that he realizes that he is taking his life into his hands. So while he feels an obligation to try and change the situation - but he does it cautiously. The statement he gave denouncing the riots could cause him much trouble when these hooligans find out about it. They are likely to call him a collaborator or moser – they have no respect for any rav who doesn’t do what they expect. There are many rabbanim – chareidim and non-chareidim who could and should have condemned these riots – but they haven’t. Basically everyone is scared for their lives and safety from these guys – it is very sad.

I remember a number of years ago when the Bedatz was investigating the issue of heart transplants. They wanted to discuss the issue with some doctors – and some hooligans said no. The issue was decided when the dayanim of the Bedatz found a bullet hole in the door of their meeting room. There was no further discussion of the issue.

Paradoxically the only way this situation can be corrected is through the police. There have been a number of violent incidences in the last two years in Meah Shearim that the police have not taken seriously. This includes not only property damage but also violence to people. If the police would have been concerned for the well being of frum yidden in those cases and have protected the innocent against the hoodlum – things might not have spiraled out of control as they have now. The hooligans are aware that they can get away with a lot – and the police won’t exert themselves. It is primarily when the modesty squads attack people who are not part of the frum community that the police get involved.

Therefore at the present moment – despite some arrests – the police are not viewed as a significant threat by the hooligans. In fact the police go from doing nothing in legitimate cases of extortion and threats to overreacting with brutality against the innocent. This is especially true regarding yeshiva bochurim that they think are attacking them with stones. The incredible insensitivity that this woman was treated is unfortunately viewed as typical brutal police action in the chareidi world. Therefore if the police dealt with the chareidi society with a greater sensitivity and showed a genuine interest in helping protect against these gangster – the frum society would be more cooperative with the police. Unfortunately the police and the chareidim are involved with demonizing each other – while in fact they truly need each other for a stable and productive society.

In sum the Eidah has no power to oppose these hooligans and there are those who think that the violent riots serve a genuine purpose. Rav Sternbuch has in fact showed much bravery by trying to protest this violence – especially since other rabbis who agree with him are afraid to do anything.

Hopefully a growing awareness of the dangers of allowing this vigilante action and the greater concern of the police – will lead to the necessary improvements.


  1. I have said the same. The words that I am hearing from many Rabbonim as to why Paskilim are not being posted is because the printers are scared of violent reprisals from certain sectors.

    R' Eliashiv, who many consider the Gadol HaDor of the Ashkenazim, can request that they be printed. But if the printer will not do his job, it simply will not get done. As far as other media. Perhaps he wishes to wait until his reqular weekly shiur to speak against these things. That seems to be the plan of R' Yosef as well.

  2. "That is the issue of violence and threats of violence by elements in the chareidi world - against other chareidim. These threats also include threats against the life of rabbonim who disagree with these elements."

    I see no difference between the Arab "street" and the Charedi "street" in terms of the concept of responsibility, and the concept of terrorists holding peaceful people hostage. When it comes to the Arabs, l'havdil, we hold the leaders and community responsible for the terrorists in their midst.

    I do not accept the fact that the Eidah can, on the one hand, wage war against the government, and on the other hand, say that it is helpless against the "Biryonim" in its midst.

    Real leadership and normal communal life means a collaboration betweeen responsible Askanim and Gedolim. Just as the community has power to deny a child a Jewish education because his mother doesn't dress modestly, just as a Vaad Hatzniyus has organized power even in American communites, so too, the Jewish community must take action against the Biryonim of our time, who happen to dress like Charedim.

    An interesting parallel is the Biryonim and R. Yochanon Ben Zakai, and his discussion with Vespasian:

    "Rabbi Joseph, and some say Rabbi Akiva, applied this verse to him: "He sends sages backward and confuses their minds" (Is. 44:25). [Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai] should have said, "We take tongs and grip the snake and kill it, and the jug we may retain for ourselves."

    How does one "kill the snake"? Not literally, of course.

    There needs to be a combination of ostracization from the Charedi press, Gedolim, and community. This has not happened yet.

    Every sect of Meah Shearim has a schul and a Rav whose responsibilty it is to bring order. If a Rav refuses, perhaps his name and community should be publicized so people know who not to give tzedokah to. Is there any other way of putting pressure on communities?

    The only way to have a normal community life and stop the Biryonim from holding other Charedim hostage is for an organized community to fight back as any sane society does(in a Halachicly appropriate way).

  3. Read Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" if you want to know how this story ends.
    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu

    Joel Rich

  4. "The issue was decided when the dayanim of the Bedatz found a bullet hole in the door of their meeting room. There was no further discussion of the issue."

    "In sum the Eidah has no power to oppose these hooligans and there are those who think that the violent riots serve a genuine purpose. Rav Sternbuch has in fact showed much bravery by trying to protest this violence – especially since other rabbis who agree with him are afraid to do anything."

    Baruch Hashem for people like Rav Shternbuch(not that he needs my Haskamah)!

    If it is true that there is such violence, I again say, that the community reaction is not strong enough.

    From a J Post article:

    "While he shies from the title, the slender, 36-year-old father of 11 is indeed the man behind the men - the coordinator of the Eda's meticulously coordinated protests and behind-the-scenes deal-brokering that brings leading rabbis into its fold on various issues. He can set the haredi street on fire, often literally, with a telephone call or even a word. "

    If Aharon is correct, that Eidah rabbonim are scared of bullets, then it is criminally irresponsible, to say the least to allow Yoelish Kraus to "set the haredi street on fire".

    You can't have it both ways.

    Moreover, the Charedi press would be derilict and COMPLICIT in not condeming the violence. Are they, too, afraid of bullets?

    A Yated editorial criticized those who, "encourage other frum Jews to write letters to the secular media decrying the objectionable behavior of their fellow chareidim...", and added that " rabbis who ought to know better feed the media one-liners against the violent extremists, as if they constitute a sizeable camp".

    If Aharon is correct, then of course one must condemn the violence. How elese do you deal with hooligans?

    A Jersusalem press article wrote as follows:

    "The escalation saw several hundred haredim pelt police with stones at the end of a prayer vigil in Mea She'arim, police said. At the vigil, one of the rabbinical leaders of the radical anti-Zionist Toldot Aharon hassidic sect to which the mother belongs, Rabbi Yitzhak Kershenbaum, reportedly declared that his followers would "fight to the last drop of our blood" to secure the mother's release and clear her name of what the community has charged is a blood libel. "

    Is it responsible to urge your followers to "fight to the last drop of our blood" if you have hooligans in your midst?

    As far as what to do if one feels that Charedim are treated unfairly, well, there civil ways of doing that! Agudah organized "Btzedek" to legally fight injustice. I understand some in the Eidah don't recognize the "Medinah", but there is a civil way of dealing with things.

    You can't have it both ways.

  5. The laws of physics are physical manifestations of spiritual principles in many way. One of these principles is that a force cannot be deflected except by a greater force. The only thing that will stop the violence from the frum community is an absolutely merciless zero-tolerance policy by the police which will no doubt involve many deaths before the Ravs get a clue, but likely they won't even then.

    This whole paradigm stems from the fact that the UO do not consider themselves bound by any secular or civil law - they consider themselves above the law and it is a direct threat to their authority for them to submit in any way to secular that (and that is not just true of anti-zionists, though they are the worst offenders).

    This is about power and control and has nothing to do with Torah, frankly. It is about making it clear to the secular and civil authorities that they dare not apply their laws to frum people. And I don't see that philosophy changing anytime soon.

  6. This business that the Rabbonim are scared for their lives is ridiculous! Why in the world can't these Rabbonim get up and organize a counter rally? Is the violnet group really a minority? If so why can't the Rabbonim be assured protection? Why is there no outcry of this chillul hashem? On every other issue there are kol koriehs, on this not?

  7. Well, if they do not condone violence, they have two possibilities:

    1) Stop fakshvilim appealing for "protests" and signed "Eida hacharedit" from being published

    2) Withdraw from "eida hacharedit" so that everyone knows that it is just a bunch of troublemakers and find a new name for their own activity.

    But by the way: it is quite some time that I have the impression that those gedolim do not always know what they sign, or that they are somehow coerced into it...

  8. Shadesof said

    If Aharon is correct, that Eidah rabbonim are scared of bullets, then it is criminally irresponsible, to say the least to allow Yoelish Kraus to "set the haredi street on fire".

    Yoel Kraus is a slef made spokesman of whomever he sees befiting, to benefit him at the appropiate time. He is one of the leaders of the renegades. He accepts no authority from anyone. The secular press enjoy quoting him as the spokesman for who ever it might be , since this ignites extremsim and sensational articles against the Frum people, which is what they are seeking. Did they ever check out his authority before bringing him?

  9. quotation from a YWN article about the demonstrations;

    "Moshe Friedman, who is a member of the Munchausen mother’s family has released a message calling for calm and an end to the violence. “I repeat, in the name of the rabbonim and the family, please, stop, the violence is counter-productive and hurts our case. It diverts the public’s attention”. Friedman calls for calm law-abiding protest, tefilla, and tehillim."

  10. Anon-

    You will frequently hear the claim that it is a "vocal minority" that is engaging in violence, but that claim is for PC reporters alone. In fact, the majority of UO agree in whole or in part with using violence and social terrorism to establish their little autonomous fiefdoms. Moderate voices are themselves targets of vitriol by these opinions which are not nearly as "minority" as others would have you believe.

    Look at it this way, if people are truly scared to oppose them, then they are either not the minority after all, or they are so powerful and so full of hatred and violence that it makes no difference if they are. Those with no regard for the rights, property, and well-being of others will always win in such an instance. To paraphrase what the famous oriental philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his "art of war," the moderates cannot adopt rules of engagement that their enemy will not honor - and the UO/Chereidi will not honor anything that moderates consider the bounds of decency and acceptableness. They know their power is doing otherwise.

  11. Sorry, but as President Truman said, "the buck stops here". The gedolim have it in their power to stop these demonstrations. They have it in their power to stop the chareidi world from believing this nonsense that it's a blood libel. We all know that the doctors allegations against this women are true.

    This generation listens to everything the gedolim say. Just as the last Lubavitcher Rebbe had it in his power to stop the messianic excesses that desroyed Lubavitch, so the gedolim have it in their power to stop chareidi violence and nonsense.

  12. I think this post is too important not to be spread. I am writing a commentary on it on my blog and linking to it this post.

  13. Our society is being dragged around by a bunch of renegade hooligans.

    If this is so, that the thugs are setting the agenda, then right now, the thugs are the leaders of the community. If responsible rabbis can take (back?) power, than might be a positive step.

    This is especially true regarding yeshiva bochurim that they think are attacking them with stones.

    It is a standard tactic of the instigators of mob violence to hide behind or among a group that can be portrayed as innocent. It's even better if they can persuade a bochur or two to pick up and throw a stone (make no mistake, hurled stones are deadly dangerous.)
    That way the mob organizers win both ways: If a designated victim is injured by the police they have discredited the forces of Law and order; they also win if a policeman is injured by a stone since they may well have succeeded in escalating the violence.
    Don't assume the bachurim are innocent, either. It's all too easy to get caught up in things when you decide to turn out for a demonstration to see what happens (i.e. for self-righteous kicks.)
    Of course if the bachurim are really innocent and really on the side of Law it would be easy enough for them to non-violently prevent the throwing of stones; has this happened?

  14. This is yet another proof that discipline and regimentation in one aspect of life can be completely absent in another. These young men were raised to avoid anything with the slightest doubt on kashrus, fast on ta'aneisim, wear particular clothing, and so on, but were never taught to practice that discipline in interpersonal or civic relationships. They end up being "chayos hakodesh."


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