Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s would love nothing more than for the dispute over Shabbat traffic on Bar Ilan Street to disappear. Unfortunately that is not going to happen without both a determined and intelligent response by the mayor and the Jerusalem police.
If the Jerusalem police start banging heads indiscriminately, as they have sometimes done in the past, the disturbances of the past three weeks will only escalate, and the small handful of leaders of these demonstrations will have won. Once again, a fringe element of the haredi community will become the tail wagging the dog and succeed in dragging the larger community in its wake.
In the process irreparable damage will be done to the image of the haredi community in the eyes of the general public. The words "Bar Ilan Street" conjure up in the minds of secular Jews all their worst fears of haredi encroachment, and nothing could do more damage to the already badly frayed tenor of secular-haredi relations than a renewed flare up of violence there.
The first victim of escalating disturbances will surely be Lupoliansky himself. The bright hopes that many, both secular and religious, placed in his mayoralty have already been badly tarnished by the Shabbat disturbances. The demonstrations have cost Lupoliansky the presence of any secular parties in his governing coalition, at least for the time being.
Damaging Lupoliansky, of course, is precisely what the leaders of the demonstrations wanted. He is their target. Nothing other than Lupoliansky’s election can explain why these disturbances suddenly broke out again after six years of quiet on Bar Ilan.
In the eyes of the handful of ringleaders, the demonstrations are just another battle in their more than hundred year war with Zionism. They view Lupoliansky’s decision to run for mayor and his pledge to serve as the mayor of all Jerusalem’s citizens as a capitulation to the Zionist enemy, and are determined to destroy him.
The small band of "zealots" stirring up the action represents a small sliver of the haredi community. Even within Meah Shearim itself, they are a minority. They answer to no rabbinic authority. Posters signed by the rabbinic leadership of the Eidah Haharedis have never deterred them. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the greatest living halachic authority, is as much their target as Lupoliansky himself. In the past, they have thrown stones at the nonagenarian sage, and are fully capable of doing so again.
Religion has little to do with the Bar Ilan demonstrations. It is at most a pretext cleverly exploited by the zealots. By portraying themselves as "defenders of the Sabbath" they place the vast majority of haredi Jews, who find their actions repulsive, in an emotional bind. If they act forcefully to stop the demonstrators, they find themselves in the awkward position of appearing to defend the desecration of Shabbat by those driving on Bar Ilan.
In such a situation, few, if any, haredim will walk from their own neighborhoods and sacrifice their own Shabbat in order to confront those whose actions do so much damage to the community. Like the mayor, they prefer to pray that somehow the whole issue will disappear as precipitously as it arose.
At the very least, however, the condemnation of the larger haredi community must be loud and clear. Such condemnation is neither to condone driving on Shabbat nor to even to agree that alternate routes should not be utilized by traffic that now passes through exclusively religious neighborhoods. (In fact, the demonstrations reduce the likelihood of closing Bar Ilan Street to Shabbat traffic: Lupoliansky cannot afford to appear to be giving in to violence.)
To reject the tactics of the demonstrators is to condemn chilul Hashem. , the desecration of God’s name. The Mishna. in Ethics of the Fathers. says of chilul Hashem. , " Unintentional or intentional, both are alike with respect to chilul Hashem. ." Such a statement is made about no other sin. The imperative of saving a life overrides all the transgressions in the Torah, with the exception of the three cardinal sins of murder, sexual immorality, and idol worship. Yet two of the greatest rabbis of our time ruled that the imperative of saving a life will not justify chilul Hashem. .
There can be no doubt that rock throwing by those wearing haredi garb is a massive chilul Hashem. How else can one describe actions that violate the most stringent prohibitions of the Torah, including that against endangering life and limb? Even apart from the explicit prohibitions involved, no one with a trace of sensitivity to the sanctity of Shabbat could contemplate throwing stones or refuse or pushing a garbage dumpster into the street on Shabbat. The mostly young demonstrators are clearly drawn more by the typical teenager’s lust for action than concern for the preciousness of Shabbat.
When non-religious Jews witness such violations of the Sabbath committed by those shouting "Shabbes, Shabbes," they come to suspect that all haredi Jews are hypocrites. And who can blame them?
The zealots behind the demonstrations live in self-enclosed neighborhoods, and have little interaction with the outside world. Making the Torah more attractive to other Jews would not appear to be on their agenda. For the vast majority of haredi Jews, who interact with the general Israeli society and who do seek to demonstrate the "pleasantness of the paths of Torah," however, the stone-throwers are, in the words of Yated Neeman columnist Chaim Walder, a "poisonous weed" that must be uprooted.
Rabbi Elyashiv has stated that the preeminent educational imperative of our time is to teach our children the importance of "making the Name of Heaven beloved through your actions." It would be hard to conceive of actions more calculated to achieve the opposite effect than the rioting on Bar Ilan Street. My Rosh Yeshiva once told me that nothing did more to cool the first stirrings of the teshuva movement in Israel than stone-throwing on the Ramot Road.
WHAT MUST BE DONE NOW? Mayor Lupolianski must work together with the mainstream haredi community and the police to ensure that the Shabbat violence comes to a halt. He must do so not just to save his mayoralty, but, far more importantly, to preserve the honor of the Torah.
Neighborhood rabbis must strongly urge all those over whom they have influence to stay far away from any demonstration likely to turn violent, and convince them that such demonstrations will only produce the opposite of the Shabbat peace they desire for the neighborhood. Parents whose teenagers may be drawn to the excitement must understand that the consequences of that impetuosity could be very serious, and that even a few days, much less months, in the Russian compound lockup is no place for a haredi teenager.
And the police must act in accord with the principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Plainclothes policemen should keep a careful eye on those leaving Meah Shearim and other nearby neighborhoods and headed towards Bar Ilan close to the time of previous demonstrations and be prepared to isolate them at the first sign of incitement.
With such a demonstration of intelligence and determination, Bar Ilan Street will hopefully once again recede as a flashpoint of secular-religious tension.