Small groups of violent ultra-Orthodox in Israel seem to have strayed from Torah values, which is a chilul Hashem. Are there collaborative or independent initiatives from the three main denominations to meet with and inform the ultra-Orthodox leadership how their violent actions (rock throwing, spitting on others, verbal abuse) negatively portray the Jewish people to the world?
I find it hard to imagine that ultraOrthodox leaders would respond positively to such an initiative. Nonetheless, it is certainly the right of other Jewish groups to explicitly disassociate themselves from such people, and to describe them, when the description is accurate, as thugs, criminals, or terrorists rather than as Torah Jews. Honestly, I am afraid that your description falls short of what is actually occurring.
I think that Orthodox leaders, or at least Orthodox rabbis such as myself, have a particular responsibility to condemn violence by Orthodox Jews, and so long as we group ultra-Orthodoxy under the Orthodox umbrella – and I do, and expect to continue doing so – that means that we have to treat this as a problem within our own community. We need to make clear not only that we condemn such behavior, but that we hold the mainstream ultraOrthodox leadership accountable for preventing such behavior, including turning perpetrators over to the police. And we need to find ways in which accountability entails consequences.
I applaud and appreciate that your question refers only to small groups, and it is very important that we not overgeneralize. At the same time, some of these groups are identifiable, and the broader leadership has the responsibility of excluding them, and if they fear retaliation, of getting the help they need to overcome intimidation.
Religious faith is one of the most powerful forces on Earth—with the ability to shape lives and transform whole civilizations. Like anything so powerful- when placed in the hands of flawed human beings, it can be used for good or ill. Inevitably, every religious group will develop a small, but dangerous extremist element who misuse religion’s power and use it to justify their own destructive impulses. The Jewish community is no more immune from this problem than is any other religious community.
Over the past decades, we have been tested in our response to atrocities committed in Judaism’s name. In 1994, an extremist settler named Baruch Goldstein entered into a mosque in Hebron and shot twenty-seven Muslim worshippers as they prayed.One year later, Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for supposedly betraying Jewish principles by negotiating for peace. Thankfully, every major organization and denomination of Judaism forcefully and with a unified voice denounced these brutal crimes and their perpetrators.
However, today we are witness to a frightening surge in crimes being committed by Jewish extremists. This ranges from the verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse directed against individuals who enter ultra-Orthodox enclaves without “proper” dress to incidents of large-scale violence with major political consequences. This week, settler groups vandalized and set fire to a mosque near Ramallah and also turned their ire on their fellow Jews, attacking an Israeli Army base in response the removal of a few illegal outposts. Israeli government authorities and many religious figures have condemned these attacks, but the trend is truly disturbing.
The Jewish community must speak out loudly and consistently against any acts of violence, large or small, committed in its name. Our Tradition demands that we give tochecha, caring but firm reproof to those in our community who commit transgressions (Leviticus 19:17). The Talmud goes so far as to say that passivity in the face of a great wrong implicates us in the guilt for that crime (Shabbat 54b). When we encounter extremism or violence in a portion of our community, we have a holy obligation to not remain silent. The future of the Jewish People depends on it.
Any such rational initiatives will be a total waste of tie, energy, and whatever expense that led up to it. These Haredim have no interest in the opinions of others. They are totally irrational and will proceed in their cultic behavior because the rest of the world is irrelevant to them. They belong in jail for assault, but no Israeli government is strong enough to put them there.
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