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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Does the Very Air in Israel Make One Wise?

I don’t know what is in the air in Israel that makes some people think that they are doing the right thing by God in sticking knives into the heads of their opponents.
A Haredi man posting "pashekvilim" in Meah Shearim, in Jerusalem.

A Haredi man posting "pashekvilim" in Meah Shearim, in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90

“Charedim in Israel are street thugs who use murderous violence to settle issues among themselves!” That is the impression one would get after reading about recent events there.

Of course that is not true. I know many Israeli Charedim. I live among them when I visit Israel. The ones I know are extremely gentle people for whom the word violence does not even enter into their lexicon, let alone that it would ever be used to settle conflict. I have never met any Charedi in my entire over 60 years on this earth that was in the slightest way violent.

The Torah (Genesis 25:27) tells us “Yaakov Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim,” Jacob (In contradistinction to his brother Esav who was a hunter) was a person who “sat in tents.” If anyone can be called “The People of the Book” it is the Charedi world in Israel. Their biggest “sin” if you will – is that they spend as much time in study halls (tents) as they can. Their most “violent” acts are debating interpretations of Gemarah and Halacha with their study partners. I think that is true for the vast majority of Israeli Charedim of the Lithuanian variety. “Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulam” (1st Mishna in Peah) does not exactly inspire violence.

So what happened in Jerusalem last week was most definitely an exception to the rule. From Israel Hayom:

“Rabbis’ emissary cruelly attacked in Jerusalem by lawless men who tried to murder him,” the headline of the newspaper HaPeles screamed in red ink after the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Nati Grossman, was attacked last Thursday by two haredi men who stabbed him in the head and fled.

Like I said, this is an exception. The problem is that there have been too may exceptions like this in Israel in the not too distant past. One may recall similar violence surrounding who would be Rav Shach’s successor as Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevitch Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

To say that this is a Chilul HaShem is an understatement. Supporters of two of the Charedi world’s leading Rabbanim, 98 year old Rav Aharon Leib Steinman and Rav Shmuel Auerbach (son of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ZTL) are literally killing each other over who will become the head of Lithuanian Charedi Jewry in Israel. The undisputed head until his death was Rav Elyashiv. But now that leadership is in dispute.

The very idea that violence will solve this issue is so ridiculous that it makes those violent Charedi supporters of these rabbis look like imbeciles. Not to mention the obvious fact that it makes them look like common street thugs.

Can anyone imagine this ever happening in the counterpart Lithuanian Yeshiva type communities in America? When Rav Ahron Kotler died, did Rav Moshe Feinstein’s supporters go around sticking knives into people’s heads who had other candidates in mind? The very thought of something like that happening in the world of Amercian Charedi Judaism is so ridiculous that it is laughable.

There is no such thing as a “candidate” for being a Gadol. That status is earned and is a form of recognition by the masses. One becomes accepted as a Gadol by his works. He has either published major works in Torah, or by creating a new societal paradigm for Torah study as did Rav Aharon Kotler. Or by being a great leader and teacher of Torah who has attracted many thousands of followers as did the Rav. Or any number of ways in which Torah scholarship combined with leadership skills has transformed them into greatness recognized by many people.

There are no elections. There are no committees of rabbis who decide who is or isn’t a Gadol. There are no backroom political deals in smoke filled backrooms to choose a compromise candidate. And certainly they are not chosen by supporters who resort to violence against his competition. Greatness does not work that way. Not in Judaism.

But don’t tell that to supporters of great people in Israel. They think violence in pursuit of their candidate is a God given mandate for them. Kind of like the way their extremist counterparts in places like Meah Shearim act when they want to get their way. I guess they feel about their extremism on religious issues the way Barry Goldwater felt about liberty. Except that I don’t think Barry Goldwater ever supported violence against his political opponents.

The Gemarah (Bava Basra 168b) tells us that Avira D’Ara Machkim – the very air in the land (of Israel) makes one wise. Well, you could have fooled me. I don’t know what is in the air in Israel that makes some people think that they are doing the right thing by God in sticking knives into the heads of their opponents.

I can’t imagine what the rest of the world thinks when they see something like this reported in the media. Probably something along the lines of my opening sentence.

I realize that Rav Steinman is elderly. Perhaps he is unaware of the kind of thing that is going on – on his behalf. I do not know how old Rav Auerbach is but perhaps he too is unaware. Maybe he is sheltered by his close advisers about what is going on – on his behalf. I don’t know.

But it would seem to me that if they do not have power or ability to do anything about the disgusting behavior of their supporters, neither of them should be leaders of anything.

This is not to say that they are not Gedolim with tremendous Torah knowledge and life experiences to draw upon for advice. But leadership should be about more than about Teaching Torah, Psak Halacha, or giving good advice. At the very least it ought to be about influencing your own supporters enough to prevent them from doing harm to others while making a huge Chilul HaShem in the process.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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