(photo credit: Stewart Weiss)
The media, all too often, has it wrong. Most of the main headlines are
gobbled up by wide-ranging international stories concerning threats – or implied
threats – to our well-being, such as the nuclear program in Iran, the protest
movements rocking the Arab nations on our borders, or the turmoil on global
financial markets. Only on the inside of the paper, or squeezed into the nightly
news broadcast as little snippets, just ahead of the weather, do we hear the
local news, about what is happening internally, inside our little
And it is precisely that part of the news, I suggest, which
ought to be our main concern. For it is those issues which represent the battle
for Israel’s soul, and it is those issues which we can actually do something
about, day by day.
Several weeks ago, I learned of the assault taking
place upon a bookstore in Mea She’arim which commits the heinous crime of
selling “Zionist” texts, and books in English. This, apparently, is
guaranteed to attract foreign tourists who – in some people’s opinion –
invariably dress in an inappropriate way. A small, self-appointed group of
vigilante vandals – known as the Sikrikim – were determined to drive this store
out of business and prevent the “contamination” of their
neighborhood. And so they continually attacked the place, breaking the
windows, gluing the doors shut and pelting the premises with rotten eggs and
In an attempt to stop the outrage, I contacted this
newspaper’s Jerusalem reporter, who immediately followed up on the story and
finally nudged the police into action. One of the leading hoodlums was
identified and arrested, and it looked like the matter had been resolved. But
last week we learned that, due to continuing harassment, the store had made an
“arrangement” with the Sikrikim that would require their books to be “cleared”
for content and that a sign, urging modesty in dress, would be posted at the
While I completely sympathize with the store owners and
their unenviable plight, I am sickened at this latest victory for vandalism,
this latest achievement for the horrific phenomenon that may best be called
In its most extreme manifestation, halachic terrorism
uses violence to force others to bend to its decree and follow its demands. But
in more subtle scenarios, it employs peer pressure, intimidation and fear of
being ostracized to compel the well-meaning observant Jew to forgo independent
thought and deed in order to toe “the party line.” All in the name of God and
Jewish purity, of course.
Examples of this insidious phenomenon abound,
from the simple urging of congregants to wear only a black kippa to services
(lest they stand out in the crowd, Heaven forbid); to kosher butchers being told
they will be boycotted if they carry non-glatt meat in their stores; to women
who sit in the “wrong” seats on public buses being cursed or spat upon; to
families being shunned if they dare send their children to the army or display
an Israeli flag on Independence Day.
The perpetrators may be small in
number, but their victims are many, across a wide spectrum of Israeli society.
They may be Beit Shemesh youngsters set upon as they walk to a coed school,
wearing clothes the zealots find immodest; they may be rabbis hesitating to
issuing more lenient halachic decisions, for fear they will be branded heretics;
they may even be haredim – as one friend recently told me – who was accosted,
his clothes ripped, because he was urging other haredim to vote for the Agudat
Yisrael party in the previous elections.
What is at the source, the core
of this deviant behavior? What would incite one Jew go to such lengths to attack
another Jew, just because he or she did not mesh with his mindset? Why are some
people unwilling to live their life as they see fit, while at the same time
letting others live their lives in peace?
Clearly, one factor is the witch’s
brew combination of insecurity and triumphalism. At the same moment that this
person is forced to confront his doubts and reservations about his own religious
doctrine and spiritual behavior, he is also convinced that he has the power to
suppress, or even eradicate, the spiritual choices of others.
psychologist Dr. Moshe Halevi Spero of Bar-Ilan University describes these
villains as being in a state of internal paranoia and sabotage.
feel persecuted, and so they persecute others. They can see things only in the
extreme – black or white, no compromise, with no middle ground whatsoever. And
because they feel threatened on the inside, they threaten those on the
The way these people view other Jews who do not act in
consonance with their opinion, says Dr. Spero, is essentially the same way
Islamic terrorists view the State of Israel: a foreign, renegade and dangerous
element to be eradicated before everyone is infected.
many rabbinic and political figures privately condemn the Sikrikim, few are
willing to do what it takes to stop them. We are worlds away from the great
halachic heroes of the past, such as the universally acclaimed decisor of Jewish
law Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
Rav Moshe was an unabashed defender of Jewish
law, but he believed in persuasion rather than persecution as a means of swaying
those who disagreed with him. In one celebrated decision, he ruled that a
Chicago mikve (ritual bath), built jointly by the local community and Jewish
Federation, could be used by observant women even though non-Orthodox
conversions were performed there. In that case, too, disgruntled extremists
railed against Rav Feinstein – even appealing against his decision and accusing
him of senility – but Rav Moshe would not be dissuaded.
terrorists harm three groups: They harm their victims, of course. They also do
injury to the haredi community, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding,
God-fearing individuals with exemplary behavior. But they also harm the Jewish
People and the Jewish state in general, projecting upon us an odious image of
being intolerant, incorrigible and at war with one another.
A Jew of
faith believes in two basic principles. The first is that we control our
own destiny, by acting in consonance with God’s will. The second is that the way
we react to our fellow Jew is precisely the way in which the world at large will
react to us, measure for measure. Given that, we would do well to battle
terrorism on all fronts – without and within.The writer is a member of
the Ra’anana city council and director of the Jewish Outreach Center of