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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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Exacting Vengeance on the Gentiles?

Seeing the sight of Jesus on a cross must have made them feel like they were seeing Avodah Zara in the Beis HaMikdash.
A figure of Jesus on the cross defaced in Hebrew opposite the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, Aug. 14, 2013.

A figure of Jesus on the cross defaced in Hebrew opposite the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, Aug. 14, 2013.
Photo Credit: Alena Vovchenko / JTA

Once again we are treated to the sight of very religious looking Jews acting like a street gang. A statue of a cross with a figure of Jesus on it was defaced by a group of Breslover Chasidim in Uman. The cross was recently erected opposite the grave of the founder of this Chasidus, Rav Nachman of Breslov – located in the Ukrainian city of Uman. From JTA:

“To exact vengeance on the gentiles,” reads the message, which was scrawled across the torso of a figure of Jesus. A further inscription on Jesus’ leg reads, “Stop desecrating the name of God.”

This kind of thing would not surprise me if it were being done by extremists from a community that embraces an isolationist lifestyle. But although they are hardcore Chasidim who dress and look much the same as Satmar Chasidim – Breslovers do a lot of outreach. I would expect them to know how to behave in a more civilized manner. They must have had a socialization process that taught them that or they could not do outreach. And yet here they have acted in a completely uncivilized way.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that a Christian symbol near their venerated Rebbe’s grave site was desecrated with graffiti. I guess their socialization process goes just so far. A statue of Jesus so close to their Rebbe’s grave site was too much to handle.

I don’t know why the Ukrainian Government chose that site for its statue. I don’t think it was a wise decision. But at the same time, I don’t think it was necessarily meant to ‘stick it’ to the Breslovers either. It was probably just not a well thought out plan.

I can understand why these Chasidim felt outrage. They consider the Breslover Rebbe’s gravesite to be so holy that make annual pilgrimages to it. Tens of thousands of Jews (mostly Breslover Chasidim) from all over the world visit it during Rosh Hashanah – one of the holiest times of the year. It is almost as though they were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. Seeing the sight of Jesus on a cross must have made them feel like they were seeing Avodah Zara in the Beis HaMikdash.

The outrage is understandable. But their expression of it is inexcusable. It is the kind of behavior that can bring tragedy upon the Jewish people. Uman is not Jerusalem. R. Nachman’s gravesite is not the Beis HaMikdash. The citizens of Uman are their hosts. Breslovers are guests. And the guests have just defaced the image of the god their hosts worship.

The more responsible Breslover leadership has apologized. Sort of. From JTA:

“We respect other religions, and don’t wish to damage symbols of other religions. But, unfortunately, not all of our coreligionists understand this. They could break or destroy the cross. That would lead to a genuine war between hasidim and Christians. We cannot allow that, so we request that the cross be moved to a different location,” said Shimon Busquila, a representative of the Rabbi Nachman International Fund…

It may have been a legitimate request. But it was made too late. If made at all it should have been made politely before the statue was vandalized. Nonetheless the deputy mayor of Uman agreed with it.

On the other hand the citizens of Uman were so outraged by the vandalism – that they will have no part of moving the statue. They promised retaliation against Rav Nachman’s grave if it is moved. I can’t say that I blame them.

I think the point to be made here is contained in the response made by Shimon Busquila: ‘…not all of our coreligionists understand this’.

That is exactly the problem. Why don’t they understand this? It is not enough for a leader to simply say that some of their co-religionists do not understand the consequences of being uncivilized – thereby damaging the property of their hosts.  Especially their religious symbols. No matter how upsetting it is to them.

The Chasidim who did this are taught to hate non Jewish religious symbols much more than they are taught to behave in civilized ways when encountering them. So when they get upset at the sight of one of those hated symbols, they react in ways that bring ill repute upon – and ill will against – our people. They do so without thinking or perhaps even caring about the consequences.

It would be similar to a Jewish patient being admitted to a hospital run by Catholics which have a crucifix in every room and defacing the one in your room with anti Christian graffiti.  Can you imagine a response by a that was similar to the Breslover response in Uman? ‘We respect other religions but not all of our coreligionists do so please remove the cross from his room or more of them will be damaged and we will end up in a war between Christians and Jews’.

This is not a response. This is an excuse… and a means of trying to get rid of that statue via a subtle threat.

That said – if I were the Ukranian government I would relocate the statue just to avoid conflict and thereby continue the positive impact tens of thousands of tourists have on their economy. But at the same time I would privately resent the reason I had to do so – the disrespect of these Chasidic Jews of my god.

The real solution to this – so that it never happens again – is for the Breslover religious leadership to re-educate their coreligionists to never do anything like that again and instead act like civilized human beings at all times. I’m not even sure if asking them to move the statue politely without any prior vandalism is appropriate. They are your hosts. Be grateful for their hospitality! Breslover leadership has to realize that if they are going to get along with others in the world, they have to teach their flock to behave like human beings at all times… and keep their outrage to themselves.

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Harry Maryles

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.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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