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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
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An Obscenity In Jerusalem


We thought the outrageous incident involving an eight-year-old child being spat on by a haredi man because he didn’t think she was modestly dressed was about as over the top as one could get. But then came the demonstration in Jerusalem Saturday night in which extremist Orthodox Jews actually marched with yellow “Jude” armbands and also play-acted several infamous scenes of Jews in the throes of the horrors of the Holocaust.

The purpose of the costumes and the posturing was to draw parallels between what the Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis and what haredim supposedly experience at the hands of an Israeli government they say is opposed to their standards of Judaism.

The analogy is an obvious obscenity and an unspeakable affront to the memories of the victims of the Holocaust, and as such is utterly unacceptable. It reflects a juvenile perception of human events and an extraordinary lack of sensitivity and judgment. It is also an example of an unfortunate development in Orthodox Jewish life as individuals with narrow agendas arrogate to themselves the right to speak for the faith – with impunity.

When all is said and done, the demonstrators speak only for themselves. Indeed, their tactics are supported neither by the general community nor by halachic authority. Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon will continue to grow unless haredi leaders are better informed by those they look to for information and enabled to deal with the growing usurpation of their authority. This hefkeirus is plainly destructive to the interests of Klal Yisrael.

As we noted last week, it is important that the Jewish tradition of modest dress and separation of the sexes not be called into disrepute because of the excesses of some zealots. It is also important to appreciate that the backdrop to the current controversy is a long-simmering conflict in Beit Shemesh between ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox residents for political control, with each side advocating its agenda.

As a community we must come down hard on the zealots. But at the same time we must not let the underlying dynamic be defined by their excesses.

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One Response to “An Obscenity In Jerusalem”

  1. jeffh52 says:

    I am a long time subscriber (early 1980′s) to the Jewish Press having seen your growth and development into the largest English Jewish newspaper. Your willingness to take on the internal problems of the Jewish community with the aim of improving rather than pretend we are a ‘perfect’ people is a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in situations of deplorable and unthinkable behavior exhibited between Jew upon Jew. The actions by the few in Beit Shemesh is truly an obscenity, so correctly described by your editorial. However, there is another travesty of decadent behavior between Jews which is going on in your front yard. I bring to your attention the shul located in Manhattan Beach on the corner of West End Avenue and Hampton Avenue. I believe some of your senior editorial staff are familiar with the problem the shul is causing it’s neighbors at 96 West End Avenue.
    The shul as part of it’s renovation a few years ago, installed central air/heating. By doing so, they placed the outdoor unit in the rear of the building next the bedroom of their neighbors. Being that the properties are attached, this is a major noise concern. The neighbors are senior citizen holocaust survivors. When the A/C is turned on, which is week day Shachris, all Shabbos, Yom Tov, Shavous -all night and both days, sleep is impossible, clearly gezel shanah. This has been going for the past 2 summers with numerous ‘promises’ by the rabbi that they would resolve the problem. “We’re working on it!” the neighbors were consistently told.
    A while ago I happened to speak with a member of the shul – he would not give me his name- I believe he’s the shamesh or gabbi, he responded to me in anger and admitted to having turned on the A/C unit on occasions purposely at 5 am! His response expressed no remorse as the neighbors were not shomer shabbos! Is this attitude coming from behind these doors? The rabbi’s devar torah? Is this person influenced by the executive board policy? This elderly couple’s health is frail. The shul’s flagrant lack of derech eretz caused by defaulting on their agreement continues to add stress and destroy the sholom bayis of these people’s lives. The shul’s lack of sensitivity and responsibility towards it’s neighbors is a Chilul Hashem. The fact that these are elderly Jews truly makes this an obscenity. No neighbor, regardless of their religion or beliefs should be treated this way. To have such aggravation at this point in their lives caused by a shul is unimaginable.
    I believe the senior management at the Jewish Press know this shul quite well. When I lived in Manhattan Beach in the 1980′s, I davened at the Beis Midresh of MBJC 7:45 Shabbos minyan and remember Rabbi Klass’s class following davening. Would he not speak out at this situation? Opining on acts of baseless hatred far from your door is easy, safe and righteous. But what about your own turf? Are there 2 sets of values?
    Perhaps the answer is in the Haftorah from this past Shabbos Va-Yechi. I offer you a portion of Rabbi Strickman’s (of Marine Park Jewish Center)devar Torah:

    “We read in the Haftorah:
    When the days of David drew near that he should die, he charged Solomon, his son, saying: ‘I am going the way of all the earth; but be thou strong, and become a man.’ Keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to that which is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself.

    A close reading of the text revels that David is telling Shelomo two things. 1. Be a man (ve-hayita le-ish). 2. Observe God’s commandments.

    The word “man” has many connotations. It can refer to a person’s gender as in ish o ishah, a man or a women. It can also refer to an individual’s moral status as in ish-yisrael. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch renders the latter as Mensch-Yisrael. Mensch connotes more than a biological entity. Mensch refers to a person’s standing as a human being. When we say so and so is a Mensh we are not stating that so and so is a homosapien but that so in so is a decent and worthy person.

    David first tells Shelomo ve-hayita le-ish, be a mensch. He then adds, keep the mitzvoth.

    The Rabbis in the Talmud tell us derekh eretz kodmah le-torah, civility precedes the Torah. The Midrash explains that the charge to act decently preceded the Torah by twenty –six generations. In other words, the mitzvot of the Torah were revealed at Mount Sinai. However, the obligation to act with courtesy and civility originated with the creation of man.

    Ramban speaks of a naval be-reshut ha-Torah, a person who acts disgracefully while clothing himself in the garb of the Torah.

    Rabbi Soloveitchik writes:

    “There is an unredeemed moral and religious experience, just as there is an unredeemed body. Let us be candid: if one has not redeemed his religious life, he may become self-righteous, insensitive, or even destructive. .. [such a person] lives in a world of illusion and leads an unredeemed existence. It matters not what we call such a complacent state of mind – self-righteousness, pride, haughtiness, stupidity – it is all a manifestation of a brutish and raw state of mind.”

    Rabbi Shimon Shawab once commented that there are people who are meticulous regarding glatt kosher but not care about glatt yashar.”

    I request your involvement to have the shul rectify the broken promises by properly soundproofing or removing these units and re-establish the peace with their neighbors, and yes to be Mentsch.

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