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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Back of the Bus – is Gender Segregation Really Necessary?

This Shabbat at Lincoln Square Synagogue I will be devoting my afternoon class to examining the Halachic Literature and Jewish Sources behind an important story in the news. Please join me for a class titled Back of the Bus – is Gender Segregation Really Necessary?

Behind the Headlines:

Israelis Facing a Seismic Rift Over Role of Women: When a prominent Israeli professor of Pediatrics attended the ceremony where she was due to have an award conferred on her by the Israeli Ministry of Health, she was told that, for reasons of modesty, a male colleague would have to accept the award on her behalf. Read more

Jerusalem – New In Modiin Illit: Segregated Elevators: Recently, a new innovation was introduced to the town of Modi’in Illit. Going beyond the necessity for separate seating on buses, signs were posted announcing separate elevators for men and women. Read more

Does Halacha, indeed, demand ever increasing segregation between men and women? From where do these innovations come? What is actually required by Jewish Law, and what is not?

The class takes place in the Main Sanctuary, at 3.45pm and will be followed by Mincha at 4.30pm and Seudah Shlishit.

On Shabbat morning our Community Scholar, Elana Stein Hain, will be speaking after the main service on the topic of Family Therapy on the Nile. Services start at 9am and Elana will be speaking around 11:30am, followed by a communal kiddush.

I look forward to welcoming you to Lincoln Square Synagogue this Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!

 

Recovering Our Sense, Recovering Our Unity …

I find the end of the book of Berishit (Genesis) incredibly moving. It’s an account of how, against the odds, a bitterly divided family became whole, and became a nation.

Yaakov Avinu (Jacob, our forefather) had two wives, two concubines and 13 children from those 4 different mothers. These children quarreled bitterly. There were rivalries, jealousies, suspicions, hatreds and vying for position that led to the most unimaginable acts.

When Yosef (Joseph) was sold to Egypt, it seemed that that was the end of the Jewish people. The brothers had stooped too low for words. They had lied to their father and covered up their sin. The shechina (divine presence of G-d) departed from Yaakov, Yehudah (Judah) left home, and things began to fall apart.

And yet, against all odds, a miracle happens. The family is made whole, the brothers are reunited, Yaakov sees Yosef again, old rivalries are put aside, and all talk of revenge, hatred or jealousies is brushed aside.

As Yaakov’s life is slipping away, the Torah is able to tell us:

כָּל-אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר; וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם, וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם–אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is it that their father spoke unto them and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them. 

How completely impossible that must have seemed a short while earlier.

So what happened? How could a family, a people, divided by hatred, violence, moral shortcoming, slander and rivalry become whole again? And, in our times, when these words so perfectly describe much of what is happening in the Jewish world, how can we make ourselves whole again?

Interestingly, the Torah leaves out so much of what we would love to know. Did the brothers ever tell Yaakov what had happened, or did he prefer not to know?  When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers he rushes to tell them that all that had happened was Hashem’s plan – but after Yaakov’s death there is great unease that Yosef might now take his revenge. Clearly uniting such a family was no easy task.

One can only assume that a tremendous amount of patience, courage, determination on the parts of all concerned was necessary.

But, on his death bed, as Yaakov turns to bless his children, and to name his successor (one of his children who will be considered the leader henceforth), he reveals so much of what was in his heart.

In a scene of intense drama – even suspense – Yaakov explains who will succeed him. He addresses each of his children in turn:

 רְאוּבֵן בְּכֹרִי אַתָּה, כֹּחִי וְרֵאשִׁית אוֹנִי–יֶתֶר שְׂאֵת, וְיֶתֶר עָז

Reuven, thou art my first-born, my might, and the first-fruits of my strength; the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.

Reuven, you truly are the first born, it should have been you. You should have been my natural successor. You have so many talents and so many wonderful qualities – but that cannot be:

פַּחַז כַּמַּיִם אַל-תּוֹתַר, כִּי עָלִיתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵי אָבִיךָ;

Unstable as water, you will not lead; because you went up to your father’s bed;

Reuven you made terrible mistakes.

When Yaakov’s beloved wife Rochel (Rachel) died, the Torah tells us about Reuven (the first born of Leah) …

וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת-בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו

Reuven went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine

Although Chazal (our sages) insist that what really happened was that he moved his father’s bed out of the tent of Bilhah (Rochel’s concubine), into Leah’s tent to show respect for his mother (whichever way you look at it), this was an act of tremendous disrespect.

Reuven was Leah’s oldest child. He felt it was his job to stand up for his mother, to be the leader – and it was. But – “pachaz kamayim” – he was unstable like water. He was impetuous, and rushed into leadership without thinking things through.

But there is even more to Reuven.

When the brothers saw Yosef coming to meet them that fateful day, they wished to kill him. It was Reuven who put a stop to that

וַיִּשְׁמַע רְאוּבֵן, וַיַּצִּלֵהוּ מִיָּדָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ.

And Reuven heard it, and delivered him out of their hand; and said: ‘Let us not take his life.’

Reuven here is acting as leader. It’s his job, he is the one who considers himself born to lead, to end this madness. No killing, he tells his brothers. Instead, let’s put him into this pit, we can get rid of him without actually shedding blood.

Reuven leads – but his leadership is compromised. He won’t stand up to his brothers and their violence, and their evil plans. A true leader would have said, are you out of your minds? There will be no more of this talk – we may not like Yosef, but enough is enough.

But Reuven’s leadership is yet more flawed. His whole plan of putting Yosef in to the pit was …

לְמַעַן, הַצִּיל אֹתוֹ מִיָּדָם, לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ, אֶל-אָבִיו

He wanted to be a hero! He wanted to get the glory, the one to bring his brother home and receive the credit.

Again, Reuven takes a stand – but his leadership is flawed. It’s not principled. It’s not moral and, ultimately, it’s self-serving.

So Reuven cannot be the leader.

The Ramban (Maimonides) says that, although Reuven was the first to offer to guarantee Binyamin’s (Benjamin’s) safe return from Egypt, he had lost credibility in the eyes of Yaakov – and that’s why he couldn’t succeed him.

And when I think of Reuven, so much of what is happening in Israel and the Jewish world seems to be relevant.

There are those whom we regard as natural leaders. We look to them for leadership – but the leadership is flawed.  Rather than saying, לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נָפֶשׁ, now lets live together, they use crisis to their advantage. Their leadership is moral, not political. It’s an opportunity to make themselves look good, without really leading and taking a clear moral position.

This week in Israel, we have seen (aside from genuine moves to reconciliation that I will talk about shortly) more and deeper division. The sickening sight of Chasidim dressed up, and dressing their children up, as victims of the Nazis, shakes us all to the core. It’s an attempt to play the victim card, to use these terrible events to foster, not unity, but rather advantage.

And, as I said last week, and want to re-enforce, at the same time, the vast majority of the Charedi community have no part in this extremism, but rather have been made the objects of group defamation and attack by much of the hard line secularist leadership.

Sadly, hardliners on both sides are using these events as a way of gaining political advantage. The tragedy we see before our eyes is that the tremendous advances that have been made (with Charedim entering the army and the workplace), all stand in jeopardy because those who claim to be leaders, who feel entitled to lead, aren’t leading, they are using this crisis for their own ends

And next come Shimon and Levi.

שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי, אַחִים

Shimon and Levi are brothers.

What this means is, more than the fact that they are each other’s brothers (or even that they are unusually close) is that they are good brothers. They have an unduly developed sense of brotherhood, loyalty, and commitment to their entire family – more than anyone else.

When Dina was raped, it was Shimon and Levi, with their love of their siblings, who stood up for her.

And with that sense of family and commitment, Shimon or Levi would have been natural successors for Yaakov.

But that must never be, because …

כְּלֵי חָמָס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם

They are men of violence.

They committed unspeakable outrages (Chilul Hashem, desecration of G-d’s name) of mass proportions, and Yaakov utterly rejects them – unambiguously, strongly, in ways we long to hear from even more of our leadership.

אָרוּר אַפָּם

Accursed be their anger!

And here is one of the paradoxes of modern Jewish life. In some of the most extreme parts of the Jewish world you find the most incredible sense of achva (brotherhood) and chesed (kindness) for fellow Jews. It never fails to astound me that, for example, Satmar is known both for its utterly extreme derech (path/philosophy), that often leads, on the part of some of its followers, to verbal and physical violence of the worst kind, and it is also known for its outstanding chesed. Anyone who has ever spent time in hospital in New York City will have been amazed at the Satmar Bikur Cholim system who will bring food, often cooked to order, for any Jew.  They do this with an incredible sense of giving. There are many Satmar Chasidim who wouldn’t hesitate to give you the shirt of their back if you needed it, and at the same time are part of a sect associated with violence and extremism. The same is true of other Chasidic groups, too. It really is amazing.

Yet Yaakov was uncompromising. You may be achim, good brothers, to your family, but you are not our leaders, and you are not our role models. Your anger and violence is completely rejected.

(And the same is true, regrettably, for extreme parts of the religious Zionist movement which are descending into violence. And Rabbi Riskin has condemned this – utterly and absolutely.)

And so, at long last, we come to Yehudah.

יְהוּדָה, אַתָּה יוֹדוּךָ אַחֶיךָ–יָדְךָ, בְּעֹרֶף אֹיְבֶיךָ; יִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ, בְּנֵי אָבִיךָ.

Yehudah, it is you that your brethren praise…your father’s sons shall bow down before you.

Yehudah, all agree that you are right for leadership, in you all the people are bnei avicha, a united family.

Why Yehudah? Why the fourth born child? Why the one who left the home, the one responsible for selling Yosef? Why is he to be the leader?

Yehudah is an individual who lived by his name – hodah – to acknowledge. He confessed (vidui) when his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant and he had condemned her to death. She sent word, privately, that he was the father. How easy it would have been for him to deny all – his reputation would have been saved, nothing ever known about what he had done. Instead, he allowed himself to be shamed and humiliated. He admitted – tzadkah mimeni – she is more righteous than I am. He confessed, and she was spared.

Yehuda made no pretensions of being perfect – far from it. But he acknowledged his imperfections. He rose above them. Because he was humble, he could be accepting of others failures as well. He became a leader because he wasn’t arrogant, he was trustworthy.

People knew that, even if it was against his own interests – overwhelmingly so – he would do what was right.

That is why when he looked Yaakov in the eye and said – אָנֹכִי, אֶעֶרְבֶנּוּ – I will take responsibility for Binyamin, his father believed him.

And when the unknown stranger was tormenting the brothers, accusing them of theft and threatening revenge – Vyigash elav Yehudah – it was Yehudah who stepped forward to save the family. He had learned what he was capable of, and he felt compelled to save his people. Not for glory, but out of love

And so Yehudah becomes the king, the true successor of Yaakov, the ancestor of Mashiach (the messiah).

When I think about Yehudah, I think of a remarkable group of people. I think of the community, the growing beautiful daati leumi, modern orthodox community of Beit Shemesh, and many other towns. Religious Jews, idealists – a huge percentage of them olim (immigrants) – committed people who gave up so much material comfort to make aliyah.

And I think of their idealism – genuinely committed to achdus – to being a bridge, a link between all parts of the Jewish world. They are raising their children to learn Torah and to earn a living, to love the land and State of Israel, and to serve in the army, if necessary, chas veshalom (G-d  forbid), to pay a price beyond our imagination.

A community that all through this crisis has acted with dignity and love.

We should be proud of them – yodoocha achecha – your brothers will acknowledge you. They are committed to being a bridge, holding together all the parts of the Jewish world – we in the diaspora, those in Israel, secular, religious, Charedi.

I spoke to a friend yesterday, who has lived in Beit Shemesh for over 10 years. He described how Bnei Akiva meets with secular youth, how members of their community set up roundtable groups for the entire spectrum of the city to come together, how Charedi women come to the Orot school and give the kids cookies for Shabbat,  how they have even reached out to (and met with) people from the Edah Charedis. These Yehudahs are at the center, in the midst of hate, of repairing the Jewish people. They are working, not to take advantage of the crisis, but rather to heal the Jewish people.

It’s moving beyond words, and it actually gave me pause.

Whenever there is a tragedy in the Jewish world – a terror attack, the awful murder of Leiby Kletzky, a forest fire in Israel, someone, somewhere is going to start fundraising. (I am not saying that that is necessarily a bad thing – there are wonderful organizations, Magen David Adom, the JNF, etc, do incredible things, and they know that people want to help.)

After a terror attack, G-d forbid, within an hour, I have usually received two or three emails from organizations raising money. I don’t think it would even occur to the idealistic, religious zionist community of Beit Shemesh to do that.

Who among us wouldn’t have written a check to the Orot School to help them after what they are going through? But just like the Biblical Yehudah who did not look to act out of self interest, so, too, this strong principled idealistic community is not interested in profiting from a crisis.

But the fact is, all Jews are named after the tribe of Yehudah – for all of us have this capacity.

Last week I spoke about how desperate I was to see condemnation from the Charedi leadership, at least for the violent extremists in their midst. And this week has seen incredible things. Hamodia, the ultra orthodox newspaper, and many important figures are speaking out.

The head of the Ponoveitsh Yeshiva issued a strong, heartfelt statement to the Ultra Orthodox community, telling people that it’s sinas chinam, baseless hatred, to blame the secular media for their attacks. Rather that this is a time for genuine soul searching on the part of Charedim, where we all have to look inwards.

The fact is that there are many different types of observant Jews. We all have our opinions, and our beliefs. And I hope we are passionate about them.

But beyond our group, is a people.

It is true that there are fanatics, and we have to speak out. And there are groups interested in tearing other groups down, or taking advantage of a crisis. But that’s not the way. And in Israel, I genuinely believe – and we all certainly have been davening (praying) for this these past weeks – that the spirit of od Avinu chai, our father Yaakov still lives, that Yaakov Avinu’s determination to leave behind one people – defined by a sense of unity and led by people who care for each other as much as for themselves – lives on.

Let us all strive to be Yehudahs. Let us reach out to Jews who are different from ourselves, learn to respect and love even those from whom we differ, and let us make sure that Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) remains a nation of Yehudim (Yehudahs), people who see greatness in each other.

 

Recovering Our Sense, Recovering Our Unity (preview) …

As the Patriarch Jacob lay on his death bed, he saw something that had once seemed impossible. The family that had ripped itself apart through violence, near murder, betrayal and slander was once again whole. The pain and separation were forgotten. Truly, it was his life’s achievement. But how did he accomplish that – and how can we?

This Shabbat, I will be addressing this topic in my sermon at Lincoln Square Synagogue. Services start at 9am, please join me.

 
Comments Off on Recovering Our Sense, Recovering Our Unity (preview) …

Posted by on January 5, 2012 in parsha, Rabbi Shaul Robinson

 

The Curse of Violent Extremism – from the 10th of Tevet to Bet Shemesh

I want to address the terrible scenes we have seen in Israel this past week – indeed these past years. Horrifying scenes of violence, of extremism. The nauseating sight of grown men, extremists, shouting, hitting, spitting at and chasing school girls. And all of the other problems that we have become so used to – of violence, and extremism, from a small (very small) section of the Ultra Orthodox community.

I want to make a few things clear.

First of all, I have huge sympathies, and personally identify with, what is known as the “Charedi world”. Thank G-d, I find myself quite able to live without labels, but I am just as at home – sometimes more at home – in what we might call right wing orthodoxy, than many other parts of the Orthodox world.

Secondly, more to the point, I have tremendous sympathy for the Charedi world and its feeling of being embattled and attacked. The Ultra Orthodox community has tremendous pluses to it, and is often the victim of terrible prejudice.

I was once in the car of a Kol Yisrael reporter. He was someone I had made the acquaintance of when I was a student leader in the UK. This was well over 20 years ago, but we were driving through the streets of Jerusalem, through an Ultra Orthodox area one Friday morning. As we were stuck in traffic and surrounded by black coated, hatted, bearded men, he began gripping the steering wheel with immense pressure and he started saying “these people – ani soneh otam, I detest them…” over and over again. I was appalled.

A few years later, when I was the rabbi at Cambridge University, a well known secular Israeli politician came to address the students. At question time, I asked about the issues of religious and secular politics. He addressed the issue for a few moments, and concluded by saying “… and as for the Charedim, I don’t hate them, they just have to remember that it’s our country not theirs.”

So I understand that, with all of the recent negative publicity (especially as many have used recent events as an opportunity to attack the entire Charedi community), what many Charedim are feeling. They are feeling what we feel when we see Israel or Jews being attacked by the media – angry, outraged, discriminated against, and with a tendency to circle the wagons.

I understand. But I don’t agree.

Because I don’t believe that the Orthodox world can say “these people are nothing to do with us”.

It’s not credible any longer.

The recent events concern the opening of Orot, a Dati Leumi (Modern Orthodox) girls school in Bet Shemesh. Bet Shemesh used to be a poor, mainly Sephardic town in Israel. Over the years it has greatly expanded, attracting many Anglo immigrants, to the town itself and to the surrounding area of Ramat Bet Shemesh. Parts of the new neighborhoods are designated Charedi, and many people from Jerusalem, some of them members of extreme, anti-zionist Chasidic sects have moved to Bet Shemesh. And they have sought to impose their standards and way of life on the surrounding neighborhoods.

For years now we have been reading about violence by members of this community – attacking a Yom Haatzamaut (Independence Day) concert in a park, pelting eggs at the participants, threatening people with violence, and so on.

The new school is situated not in, but close to, a Charedi neighborhood. When it opened in September violent demonstrations began. These have continued, on and off, through this week, which have seen young girls afraid to walk to school. There have been shouts of “pritzus” (immodesty) and “prostitute” at girls.

The Modern Orthodox community – many of them olim (immigrants), many of them people like us, who have followed the dream of going to live in Israel to live religious lives – has, quite simply, had enough of this. The issue has now attracted major media attention, not just in Israel, but also throughout the world.

It is a Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) of major proportions.

Much hostility has been addressed at the fanatics, but some also at of the wider Charedi population.

But that is a problem that the leaders of that community have to address. Yes, of course, it is true that, at least in America, rabbinic organizations, including the Ultra-Orthodox Agudah have condemned these violent thugs – not to do so is unthinkable. We are talking about the worst sort of violence, in the name of religion, directed at little girls. It’s inexcusable.

But press releases in America – and in Israel, where, sadly, it has been more muted – don’t begin to address the real problem.

These people are fanatics, they are extremists, criminals – call them what you like – but they are a product of Orthodox Judaism and we have to take ownership of the problem. As well as the fact that parts of the Orthodox world are spinning out of control – growing more extreme, more insane, day by day.

It’s happening in the Modern Orthodox, religious Zionist community in Israel, with the so-called “price tag attacks” on mosques and army bases, and it’s happening in the Charedi community with more and more violent demonstrations, more and more attempts to coerce people into following a way of life that they do not want to.

When did violence become acceptable in Judaism?

When did the admirable concern for Halachic high personal standards become an excuse for intolerance of others?

When did the concept (as my friend Rabbi Adlerstein of Los Angeles so eloquently puts it) that every human being was created in the image of G-d, the concept of ahavas yisrael (love of Israel) and the concept of bein adam lachavero (mitzvahs of interpersonal relationships) all get forgotten?

Years ago a spokesman for Agudas Yisrael created a fury when he wrote that Reform Jews are, of course, part of the Jewish people, Reform Judaism is not Judaism. Well let’s ask a question. The Rambam says that the Jewish people are defined, marked as being rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chassadim (merciful, humble and kind. What then of these people? It may not be acceptable to call them non-Jews. But will the Agudah please say what they said about Reform, i.e., that these extreme sects of Chasidim are not practicing a recognizable form of Judaism.

And while they are at it, can we please address the wider issue – that these extremisms are growing and infecting the wider orthodox world?

A few weeks ago, in a terrible tragedy in Brooklyn, a Chasidic man was hit by a car and killed on a Friday night.

Days later, posters went up around his neighborhood, Williamsburg, entitled “michaleleh mot yamot”, those who desecrate it will die, announcing that the victim died (and deserved to die) because he used the local Eruv to carry on the sabbath.

Please, can we hear a statement that this is not a legitimate Jewish movement?

And that the people that dressed their children up in concentration camp clothes and claiming they are the victims of a new Holocaust (a sight that sickens us to the core) are not part of Orthodoxy?

These weeks, the rabbinic leadership of the Orthodox world has rushed to distance itself from these attacks. (I suppose we have to be grateful to the New York Times for ensuring that something was said.) However, the main response is that these people are but a tiny bunch of fanatics who represent no one.

But that is inadequate, because they have supporters.

In every online article or blog about these incidents, a significant percentage of people will write in support of the extremists, saying things like  – “these Modern Orthodox girls dress like sluts – they have it coming to them.” Or “if they want to dress like this – let them move to Tel Aviv” – forgetting that Bet Shemesh is not a Charedi town and this school is not in a Charedi neighborhood. Why should they move?

Moreover, it’s not enough simply to disassociate from just the demonstrators. The violence may be limited – but what leads to the violence – a rising tide of extremism –  is taking over the Jewish world.

When did separate seating on buses become an obsession?

Decades ago, Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuva (answer) about how there is no problem whatsoever in men and women travelling together in a subway car.

What changed?

When did the laws of modesty (which are important laws) mean that you cannot print a picture of women in a newspaper? (It recently emerged that the Jerusalem municipality had adopted a policy of not printing pictures of women in any advertisements for fear of offending the Ultra-Orthodox community.)

Jewish life in this day is undergoing a tragic disfigurement – more extreme, more strict. All sense of moderation, of tradition, is being pushed out.

Chumras, stringencies, are supposed to be just that – stringencies that you take on as an individual, not something to be pushed onto other people.

If your interpretation of the laws of modesty mean that you don’t want to sit on a bus with a women, then get off and walk.

Don’t push an entire gender to the back – and don’t impose that with threats of violence and spitting (as has been happening recently).

There is a beautiful story about the late great Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Issur Zalman Meltzer. One day, he was walking home with some of his students. As he climbed the steps to his front door, he stopped suddenly, turned around, and began strolling up and down outside of his house. The Rabbi was famous for never wasting time so his puzzled students asked him why he wasn’t entering his house?

He explained: “As I walked up the steps, I heard my maid singing. The prohibition of Kol Isha (voice of a woman) applies to me, not to her. She is allowed to sing, but I am not allowed to listen. If I walked into the house she would immediately stop singing out fo respect for me. But she loves to sing, so I will wait here a while until she finishes work.’’ 

That’s a true understanding of the laws of modesty.

But, as well as extremism, there is a root of intolerance and superiority that enables, and tolerates, this violence. It’s not just the few hundred protesters who think that the Orot School isn’t really Orthodox, that the Dati Leumi community isn’t really religious. There are yeshivot in Israel (where our own children study) where rebbeim say about the secular Israelis, Zionists, Modern Orthodox Jews, that we are the “Eirev Rav” – Non-Jews.

The fact is that the Orthodox world is being overtaken by extremism. And that the leaders of that world are reluctant, or unable, to speak up.

But speak up they must. For too much is at stake.

First of all, we are all, all of us, horribly threatened by this violence and extremism. We may not think of ourselves as anything like these people – but others do.

A member of the shul – and I mean no disrespect when I say he probably wouldn’t define himself as Ultra- Orthodox – called me the other day. As he had been calling round friends and relatives to wish them a happy year ahead, many of his cousins – secular, barely affiliated Jews – had asked him how he could possibly justify these goings on in Bet Shemesh, and how could he practice such a religion?

We are all tarnished by this. And Israel and Judaism are weakened by this.

We used to be able to say: Judaism is not like Islam, and Israel is not like Afghanistan, and there is no Jewish Taliban. When we cannot say that any longer, we are all incredibly weakened.

So what must be done?

First of all, we must ask for those who proclaim themselves the leaders of the religious world, here and in Israel, to condemn this. The rabbis, the roshei yeshiva, the rebbes.

Condemnation is not a press release.

A few weeks ago Rabbi Riskin wrote a powerful op-ed piece in Haaretz condemning the extremists in the settler movement who had attacked an army base. He wrote “You did not throw stones at me, and still you have mortally wounded me.” Let one Rebbe, one Gadol, write such an article, in Haaretz.

People will say: “It’s beneath their dignity”. But the Gemara tells us: Kol makom she’yesh chilul Hashem, ein cholkin kavod l’rav – there is no kavod (honor) when chilul Hashem is in question.

For decades, we in the Modern Orthodox world have been challenged: “where are your Gedolim, where are your leaders? After all, we Ultra Orthodox do nothing without our Torah leaders.”

Now is the time for leadership.

Let the greatest Rabbis in the Jewish world go to Bet Shemesh. Let each walk a little second grader to school. Let their rebbetzins hold a girl’s hand and say, “Come my dear, don’t be afraid, I will walk you to school.” Let them, our Gedolim, our Torah giants, look in the face of the Chasidim yelling “Nazi” at little girls and Jewish policemen and tell them to be silent.

Show your love for kal yisarel! (The people of Israel)

That’s condemnation – not a press release – but tochacha, rebuke.

But that’s not all we need.

Let the voice of moderation be heard again. Anyone who has ever studied one page of Talmud knows about the value of debate, diversity, disagreement, respect – “Elu v’elu“, “these and these” are the words of the living G-d.

And let them clarify the difference between halacha and extremism.

And for all the rebuke (much of it deserved) at modern innovations that depart from accepted traditions, which has been directed at Modern Orthodoxy, let us now hear a word against the craziness of modern chumras, unknown in previous generations, that are just as new, just as damaging.

Let us hear again Torah leaders, like the Gedolim of recent generations – the Rav Moshe Feinsteins, the Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbachs – who hated extremism and insisted that Judaism was a perfectly normal, peace loving religion. Let’s hear those voices again.

And lastly, we demand action, of the most draconian kind. Because the future of Israel is at stake.

When all is said and done, we are one people. Secular and modern Jews have a deal with the Ultra Orthodox world. I’ts unstated but we sense it. It’s the basis of the status quo arrangement between the Chazon Ish and David Be-Gurion:

You are our shaliach (representative). We help pay your way – taxes in Israel, charity dollars in the US. And you keep Israel spiritual. (Should there be others models? Perhaps, yes – but that’s the way it works.) And that’s the reason for the army exemption. That Torah is pure, and it’s a shemirah, it protects all of us. As a nation we have a collective interest in people devoting themselves to Torah. I firmly believe that.

But theres a limit.

Because this violent extremism is not part of the deal.

And silence isn’t part of the deal.

If the religious world is serious about stopping this extremism, then let the religious parties in Israel (who are seemingly obsessed with power and money) let them make a kiddush Hashem (honor of Hashem).

Let them write a bill, and lobby to pass it, that says that every single violent demonstrator, every single person who intimidates, spits, shouts at little girls, who yells “Nazi” at soldiers should be sent to the army.

Not because to serve in the army is a punishment – quite the opposite – and not because the army necessarily wants these thugs, but rather to make it clear that they are not considered part of the frum (religious) world. They don’t have the privilege of being considered Torah scholars. That all of the arrangements between secular and charedi societies simply don’t apply to these groups who have placed themselves beyond the pale.

Because, if we love the Torah, and we believe in its purity (and we do) then we have to protect it – all of us – from the insanity of extremism.

This coming week will see Asarah B’tevet (10th of Tevet), one of the fast days for the Temple, the day the siege of Jerusalem began.

Rav Baruch Simons writes of an ancient tradition: The 10th of Tevet commemorates the first tragedy of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) to affect the Jewish people – the sale of Yosef (Joseph) which happened on that day. From that day to this, the Jewish people will never be whole, never repaired. The Moshiach (Messiah) cannot possibly come while we are plagued by hatred.

May the Ribono Shel Olam (Hashem) give us, and our leaders, courage to eradicate the hatred and evil that is threatening to destroy the country we love, and the religion we hold dear. May we merit to see the coming of the Moshiach, bimheyra biyameynu (soon, in our lifetime).

 
 
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