Parashas Mattos -- We Were Robbed; Rosenblum's Rule Revisted
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 18, 2014
We Were Robbed
Last week I wrote that one only had to look at the faces of the two Palestinians suspected of kidnapping Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel to know that the yeshiva students could expect no trace of human sympathy from them. As I wrote those words, I had already heard the first news reports of a Arab teenager found murdered in the Jerusalem Forest.
Even though the most likely explanation of the murder of Mohammed Abu-Kdheir was that it was a revenge killing for the murder of the three yeshiva students buried just the day before, that possibility was more than I could wrap my mind around and I quickly dismissed it. At a sheva berachos that night, I even offered my own refutation of the rumors of a revenge killing: How come the Palestinian witnesses who claimed to have witnessed the abduction did not supply the police with license plate numbers?
My disbelief only grew when the police reported that the victim had been burned alive – i.e., by those showing no trace of human sympathy. I eagerly grasped at each rumor that the Abu Kdheir family was known to police and riven with internecine feuds or that the murder might have been an "honor" killing of some kind.
My reaction was typical. When the police announced the arrest of six Jews in the murder, every person I spoke to expressed disbelief and utter revulsion, in virtually identical words: No Jew could do that.
But we now know it is quite possible that Jews did do that. Nor will there be any easy outs for our collective psyche. Though the police have, as of this writing, not released the names of the suspects, the Internet is rife with rumors. This much seems sure: All the suspects arrested were not likely to be mentally ill or psychopaths. Nor were all likely to have been teenagers whose brains – neuroscientists tell us – have not yet developed fully and whose ability to consider the consequences of their actions is impaired. Nor were they all hilltop youth, or members of some other disfavored group. If the rumors have any credibility, at least some come from Torah families.
In short, we are all tainted, just as all Klal Yisrael was tainted when Achan alone took from the forbidden plunder of Jericho.
THE NEGATIVE IMPACT of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir has been immediate. First, the murderers endangered Jewish life. In my own neighborhood, parents have been warned to attend more closely than usual to their children, and not to let them play alone in the nearby forest.
During the 18-day search for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, Hy"d, and their funerals, Israel enjoyed a rare moment of international understanding. The murder of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir was eagerly seized upon haters of Israel to portray Jews and Arabs as involved in some kind of primitive blood feud, with neither side entitled to any special sympathy.
That characterization is baseless, as the revulsion expressed at every level of Israel society demonstrates, none more poignant than the messages of condolence sent by the parents of three murdered yeshiva students to the parents of the Arab teenager, even while they were still sitting shiva. Rachel Fraenkel wrote, "No mother should every have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed's parents . . . " A reciprocal gesture remains unthinkable. The Abu Khdeir family responded by claiming that the three yeshiva students were killed by Jews, not Palestinians.
The contrasts between us and our enemies made by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the levaya of Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad, and quoted here last week, remain as valid as ever. But now the argument has to be made with qualification and footnotes, and in today's sound byte world, no one has patience for nuance.
BUT THE GREATEST DAMAGE inflicted by the murderers of the Arab teenager was to deprive the Jews of Israel of that surge of gratitude to have been born into the Jewish people that I described at length last week. Over the 18-day-ordeal, we experienced how much better it is to live in a country in which Jews love one another than one in which we compete to scorn others not completely like us.
Some may have reacted cynically to Yair Lapid's declaration in his hesped for Gil-ad Shaer that he intended to take on the mitzvah of judging one's fellow Jew favorably. I'm not among them. While I claim no knowledge of the inner workings of anyone else's heart, Lapid's gesture was fully consistent with similar gestures made by Jews all over Israel in recent weeks. The taking onof mitzvos on behalf of the missing yeshiva students was a way of affirming pride in being Jewish and one's connection to the Jewish people. Though Lapid could not bring himself to commit to a mitzvah bein adam l'Makom – another reason perhaps for taking his commitment to a mitzvah bein adam l'chaveiro seriously – the fact that he turned to the Torah to express his sense of connection is positive.
For a brief moment the examples set by the Fraenkel, Yifrach and Gil-ad families, and the knowledge that their strength came from their deep emunah, opened up the hearts of Jews in Israel to one another and to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. For having broken the spell of that precious period, the murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir will not be soon forgiven.
Rosenblum's Rule Revisted
Long-time readers are by now familiar with Rosenblum's Rule: Where Torah Jews are in the majority their attention to issues of Kiddush Hashem declines; when they are in the minority, especially a small minority their intrapersonal behavior improves. I first formulated this rule many years ago while observing a group of kindergarten age kids in Boro Park rush out of class and promptly block all traffic on the street adjacent to their cheder. That was their turf, and they were not going to be deterred by the honking of a line of irritated drivers.
One of the research projects I'd like to see the newly formed Center for Jewish Reseach and Communication undertake is a comparative study of the attitudes of those raised in all-chareidi environments to those raised in religiously mixed cities and towns. Until then, Rosenblum's Rule remains only a hypothesis based on anecdotal observation.
But further anecdotal evidence of the positive side of the rule came last Erev Shabbos. My wife and I were in the Galilee for around 24 hours, and decided to visit the Torah community in Carmiel, where I know exactly one person, the son-in-law of a close friend. When I was a kid, my mother's always insisted on checking out every campus of a reasonably good college within a thirty mile radius on our family car trips, just in case one of her sons might one day wish to apply. And I have taken the same tack with respect to far-flung Torah communities: With today's skyrocketing apartment prices, you never know where your children may end up living.
We found our way to the home of my acquaintance just as his family was crowding into their car to drive to Jerusalem for Shabbos. I asked him if he could direct us to the beis medrash of the main kollel, and he agreed. The beis medrash is nestled in a tree-filled park, and I took the first available parking spot.
My guide immediately ran over horrified. I had unwittingly parked at the end of the walkway coming out of the forest in an illegal spot. Even though the area was virtually empty and my car was not likely to block anyone, my guide instructed me to repark a few meters away. He explained that in Carmiel the community is extremely meticulous to obey all traffic laws – e.g., not parking on sidewalks – and to respect the well-manicured parks that make the city so attractive.
He mentioned that they have other practices that can only strike a visitor from Bnei Brak and Jerusalem as weird. For instance, because of the relatively low percentage of religious residents Sephardim, national religious, and yeshivish actually run on one ticket in municipal elections.
The previous evening, we had stayed in Yavneel, a quaint village set up by Baron Rothschild in 1901, about fifteen minutes drive from Tiveria. Shmuel and Chana Veffer, old friends from Har Nof, moved a few years ago to the rustic setting, where they run Villa Rimona Zimmers for those looking for a break. The ratio of secular to religious Jews in Yavneel is about 60:40.
Shmuel told me that the rav of the local community shul established the official nusach over 40 years ago to use modern Hebrew pronounciation so that the local community would feel comfortable, even though he and his family are Chasidish. The difference may be slight, but the head of the kehillah is determined to make everyone feel part of the community no matter what their background.
Similarly in the Breslav kehillah, where I davened, they are strict that all the Chassidim greet every Jew they meet on the street on Shabbos with a warm "Shabbat Shalom."
That sensitivity reminded me of a friend in the United States who established a Lakewood Kollel in a large Modern Orthodox shul. He once told me that when he first went to Lakewood to interview avreichim, he told each candidate, "I don't have time to faher you, but there is one rule that I insist on for anyone who joins the Kollel: You must smile and greet every person you meet in shul or on the street. Can you do that?"
Finally, my guess is that those who live in completely insular communities might be more inclined to stifle the impulse to share, in the name of "speaking the truth," their negative opinion of other groups, if they ever had to look in the faces of those injured by their "divrei emes" and see the hurt in their eyes.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society, Jewish Ethics
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