by Sid Slivko, cross-posted with permission from Got Talmud.
Editor’s Note: Deja Vu. Although this essay was written in the middle of Chanuka (Dec 27, 2011) in response to a media expose that showed the trauma created for a little girl who was spit on an cursed as a prostitute by adult men, it is especially pertinent today. Yesterday, January 24, there was an escalation of violence when a mob stood by while a woman was attacked with not just words and spit, but stones and bleach.
In about an hour, thousands of people will converge on Beit Shemesh to protest the behavior of certain self-styled Haredim who have been polarizing the community. They and their fellow fanatics have recently dominated the headlines in the Israeli media these last few weeks by their misogynist actions, such as erecting mehitzot (dividers) on sidewalks to separate men and women pedestrians or holding up buses when women refuse to sit in the back. But the big rallying point that made all the media happened last week when one of the men spit on an eight year-old Orthodox girl going to her religious girls’ school in Beit Shemesh.
Now, I live in the Ba’aka neighborhood of Jerusalem where my two nine year old boys attend the religious school across the street. I don’t worry about them being harassed. But I do worry about is that these intolerant ignorami have successfully Talibanized Judaism. Not only are the Haredi religious leaders themselves afraid to voice opposition but even our own chief rabbinate is staying silent.
It reminds me of the story cited by Rabbi Yochanan in Masechet Gittin (54b). Rabbi Yochanan explains that the second temple was destroyed on account of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (You can read the story in Wikipedia by clicking here ). And while ultimately Rabbi Yochanan lays the blame on an overly pious Rabbi Zacharia ben Avkolus who refused to accept the less radical solutions of the majority of rabbis regarding Ceasar’s tainted sacrifice, the real blame rests on the rabbis and scholars who were at the party where Bar Kamtza was humiliated and remained silent.
Today, in Beit Shemesh, and in other places in Israel, we have examples of both parts of the tale. First, we have a fanatical minority imposing its standards on a majority afraid to act in its defense. And each victory brings increasing demands, each one more outrageous than the last. Meanwhile, we wait for the religious leaders to do something to stop it — which they haven’t. (Notwithstanding the defensive statement of Beit Shemesh Haredim released earlier distancing itself from these violent acts but blaming the media, we have nothing official from that community or any other religious community). In fact, just this week, a neighborhood synagogue which prides itself on its open, modern Orthodox image announced it was hosting a Hanukah puppet show for young children stipulating that only mothers could attend — no fathers welcome. It’s as if our leaders are afraid of what the fanatic minority will do to them!
Meanwhile, a popular video interview with one of the Beit Shemesh fanatics has gone viral. In it, the man explains that it is right and proper to spit on little girls who fo not comply with his community’s standards. The bar is rising with nobody to keep it at an attainable level.
The Mishnah in Avot states that one who says ”What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine” is evil. Those who cloak their coercion in the guise of piety and force their standards on others are doing just that. But more importantly, the Mishnah also tells us that one who says “What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine” is a Sodom type. If we do nothing to stop this we are the Sodom type.
The same can be said of silent Rabbinic leaders.
Let’s not be like that. Let’s be like the one in the Mishnah who says”What’s mine is yours and what’s your is yours.” The Mishnah calls him a “hasid” — pious and generous. Let’s be like that. Let’s give our strength and support whichever way we can, to the ones who are victimized by this kind of antisocial behavior.
Sid Slivko is an Orthodox Rabbi and Jewish educator living in Jerusalem, Israel. He studied and received ordination from Yeshiva University and the REITS rabbinical program