While in Kiryat Sanz in Netanya last week long enough to daven Mincha, prior to an afternoon at Netanya's separate beach, I noticed a few women walking through the Chassidic enclave in decidedly non-Chassidic dress. What struck me was that no one from the Sanz community seemed to notice.
Later, I called friends who live in the community to ensure myself that my powers of observation had not deserted me. They told me the story of a rav, vacationing in Sanz, who complained to the late Klausenberger Rebbe, zt"l, that he had seen immodestly dressed women. The Rebbe responded, "That's amazing. I've been living here over ten years, and I've never seen anything like that."
Another time the Rebbe learned that some of his Chassidim had shouted "Shabbes" at seaside bathers. He ordered them to cease and desist. "No one ever became frum from being shouted at," he said. "Instead open up your windows and sing zemiros at the top of your lungs. That might have some positive effect."
Sadly, the peaceful relations between Klausenberger Chassidim and their neighbors in Netanya; Stoliner Chassidim and secular neighbors in Jerusalem's Givat Zeev neighborhood, and dozens of other places around the country where chareidim and non-chareidim live side-by-side will never be reported. The media always prefers stories of extremist refugees from Meah Shearim ordering their national religious neighbors in Ramat Beit Shemesh to remove the TVs from their homes or threatening violence against the opening of a national religious girls school on a plot of land adjacent to both communities. Such incidents allow the media to make its favorite equation of chareidi Jews with the Taliban.
THE CHAREIDI COMMUNITY cannot afford that equation. We have witnessed in Europe the backlash against rapidly growing Muslim minorities, who often treat their neighborhoods as captured Islamic territory into which police dare not enter, visitors not conforming to Islamic dress codes can expect to be assaulted or worse, and in which Islamic mores, such as honor killings, still prevail. The leaders of France, Germany, and Britain have already declared multi-culturalism a failure, and voters have enacted bans on certain forms of Islamic dress and, in Switzerland, on the building of minarets. Many observers predict that blood will flow in violent confrontations between native Europeans and Muslims.
Just as many Europeans are terrified of the threat to their cultural patrimony from rapidly growing Muslim populations, so too are secular Israelis scared of the prospect of chareidi domination. Anything that feeds those fears endangers the chareidi community, which is very vulnerable today. The social justice protests have again focused attention on budget allocations to the chareidi community and revived calls for electoral reform to remove the stranglehold on the government of small – i.e., religious – parties.
The growing chareidi population desperately needs places to live. Many mayors, however, have actively worked to keep chareidim out of their cities, in part because of fears that as soon as they become a critical mass they will demand the closure of streets on Shabbos or seek to impose their lifestyles on their secular neighbors.
Such behavior has nothing to do Torah. Unlike Islam, which divides the world between territory already conquered by Islam and that still to be conquered, Judaism is not of religion of territorial conquest, and does not view territorial conquest as the sign of Divine favor. The Torah has no parallel to Islam's obligation to impose Sharia, Islamic law, on non-believers through jihad. It recognizes parallel legal systems -- dina d'malchusa dina. Even with respect to fellow Jews, it is not our duty to impose halacha. We leave that for Mashiach.
Jews have lived as despised minorities in larger Christian and Islamic societies for most of the past two millennia. Prudence alone militated against any attempt to foist our cultural norms on the surrounding society. Satmar Chassidim in Williamsburg, for instance, do not post dress code requirements in buildings shared with Puerto Ricans. Unless one believes that the Redemption has already arrived, the same prudential considerations that have guided Jewish life for two thousand years still apply in Israel today.
I don't expect to convince the small group of extremists in Ramat Beit Shemesh that their actions endanger the chareidi community. They don't listen to Rav Elyashiv, why would they listen to me? But I do expect the chareidi mayor of Beit Shemesh to make clear that violence will not be allowed to establish facts on the ground. A decade ago, the chareidi community rightly protested when 25 first-graders in a one-room cheder in the northern community of Tzoran were confronted by screaming mobs for a month, and the cheder stoned and defaced throughout the year. Now, it is time for us to show that we understand the principal of reciprocal respect for the rights of others upon which life in a democratic society is based, and that force is not our way.
It would be obscene to describe Hurricane Irene, which claimed nearly fifty lives, including at least two precious neshomos in our community, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, as over-hyped. But the projected first hurricane in recent memory in the New York metropolitan area never quite materialized.
I called a friend in Lakewood, after the storm had largely passed, to get a first hand report. He described how the city had braced for Hurricane Irene. Every available flashlight flew off the shelves. A local gas station owner reported selling 100,000 gallons of gasoline, enough to make up for the entire summer shortfall.
Then my friend said something that I think we can all use. "It's fascinating how frantic we all were over what was only a possible occurrence. Yet a month from now, we know with absolute certainty that we will stand all alone in front of the King and have to give account. Yet I don't see any signs of similar panic."
The explanation cannot be that there is still plenty of time to prepare for Rosh Hashannah. We all know from bitter experience that there is never enough time. Not for naught do the piercing shofar blasts call upon us to awaken from our slumber from Rosh Chodesh Elul.
The ba'alei mussar explain the injunction to the judge not to take any form of bribery "for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and render crooked the words of tzadikim," as applying to each of us as judges of our own behavior. The yetzer has an infinite number of bribes at its disposal, and knows each of our points of vulnerability.
Negating the impact of the yetzer's bribes is an almost impossible task, as the double language of the above-quoted verse indicates. Even when we are no longer blinded by the bribe itself, we still do not want to admit that we judged wrongly, and so we pretend that our original judgment was the right one and continue to act consistently with it. In that fashion, are the words of tzadikim – i.e., those no longer subject to the bribe – made crooked.
Unravelling the tangled skein of our self-deception, so that we can present an accurate annual report to ourselves and our Creator requires every available moment. It's time for a little panic.
There Must be a Reasonable Explanation
The Zionist Organization of America issued a press release last week noting some curious omissions from the Obama administration's communications. Candidate Obama omitted any Israeli city from an enumeration of cities victimized by terrorism in his much touted Berlin speech as a candidate in 2008. (Amman did make it so it cannot be that candidate Obama had placed an embargo on mention of the Middle East.) Perhaps he shrewdly estimated that his European audience would likely be more sympathetic to the perpetrators than the victims of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
And recently, the administration's talking points on the upcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11 did not recall any Israeli city when praising the resilience of "individuals, families and communities . . . whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London." I guess they could not think of another city whose name begins with the same first letter as Sderot or Jerusalem.
Something other than stylistic considerations, however, must explain President Obama's failure to mention Israel in remarks praising all those nations that contributed to relief efforts in the wake of the January 10, 2010 Haitian earthquake. Though Israel was the first nation on the scene setting up a field hospital and provided more aid than any other country besides the United States, it merited no citation in the President's list of contributing countries – "Brazil, Mexico, Canada, France, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic, among others."
A pattern or just a coincidence?