In September 1998, a two-room school opened up in Tzoran – a residential
community of 1,500 young families, nestled among the agricultural settlements
east of Netanya – for 25 six- and seven-year-olds. When they arrived in school
that first day, the children were confronted by a chanting mob of 60 adults,
some of whom had tied attack dogs to the school gates. Despite the heat, the
principal had no choice but to close the windows, as curses and stones rained
down on the school.
The same scene was repeated every morning for the
first few months of the school’s existence, and the premises were defaced and
repeatedly vandalized over the course of the year. The demonstrators’ purpose
was to terrorize little children by forcing them to run a daily gauntlet of
verbal abuse and physical menace.
The confrontation in Tzoran was not
widely reported in the Israeli press, certainly not compared to the efforts by a
group of religious extremists to prevent the opening of a national religious
girls’ school in Beit Shemesh last week on a plot long designated for the school
and lying adjacent to both haredi and national religious
But Tzoran has a lot to do with why I am so strongly
opposed to the vandalism, taunts and threats used to prevent the Beit Shemesh
girls’ school from opening. The small school in Tzoran, you see, was haredi-run,
and I wrote in these pages at the time strongly condemning the demonstrators
Mutual respect for the rights of others is the necessary basis for
any democratic society. Mutuality is not just a basic moral intuition; it is a
fundamental principle of the Torah. Hillel taught: That which is hateful to you
do not do to others. One cannot with consistency condemn the demonstrators in
Tzoran and turn a blind eye to the extremists in Beit Shemesh.
BUT I have
an even more fundamental objection to these extremists: They distort the Torah
and make it something ugly. They would exercise a territorial imperative – that
we establish the rules wherever we live and adjacent thereto – that is more in
tune with Islam. Islam is a religion of conquest, which divides the world into
territory it has conquered, or dar al- Islam – in which Shari’a, Islamic law,
must be imposed – and territory not yet conquered.
Judaism, by contrast,
was never a religion of conquest outside of Eretz Yisrael, and Jews have never
viewed territorial conquest as the primary sign of Divine favor. More
fundamentally, Jewish law recognizes the legitimacy of parallel legal systems,
as expressed in the famous Talmud statement “dina d’malchuta dina” – the civil
law of the country is the law.
Last week, I found myself praying Minha in
Kiryat Sanz in Netanya, prior to spending a few hours at the separate beach
across the road. Kiryat Sanz is a largely self-contained neighborhood of
Klausenberger Hassidim, though the late Klausenberger Rebbe insisted from the
beginning that there be a Sephardi community within it. Laniado Hospital, which
the rebbe built, lies at the edge of the neighborhood.
While in Kiryat
Sanz, I noticed one or two women in decidedly non-hassidic dress walking through
the neighborhood. No one paid them any attention.
Just to make sure that
my powers of observation were not waning, I called a doctor friend who lives
there, and he told me a story of rabbi who once spent his summer vacation in the
After a week, he complained to the Klausenberger Rebbe, of
blessed memory, that he was shocked by the presence of immodestly dressed women
The rebbe replied, “That’s amazing. I’ve been here over 10 years,
and I never saw anything like that.”
My friend then told me another story
that captures the ahavat Yisrael – the love for one’s fellow Jew – that the
Rebbe made the animating value of his community, along with devotion to Torah
Once, the rebbe heard that some hassidim had shouted, “Shabbes!”
at seaside bathers. He ordered them to cease and desist forever.
ever came closer to Torah because someone shouted at them,” he said. “Open your
windows and sing Shabbos zemiros [songs] at the top of your lungs. That might
have a positive effect.”
How do I know that the relations between Kiryat
Sanz and secular residents of Netanya are normative Torah behavior, and threats
by a handful of newly arrived, self-proclaimed “zealots” in Beit Shemesh to
their national religious neighbors that they’d better remove their TVs or else,
are not? Because the Klausenberger Rebbe was a universally recognized giant of
Torah scholarship, while the “zealots” listen to no rabbinic authority. Rabbi
Aharon Feldman, today the head of Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, once told me
how, 30 years ago, he and a group of some of Jerusalem’s most distinguished
younger talmidei hachamim tried to convince a group of kids throwing stones on
the Ramot Road on Shabbat to stop. The kids just laughed at them.
conclusion is confirmed by the dozens of places around the country where haredim
live harmoniously with secular neighbors – in mixed cities like Petah Tikva, in
Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood with its large group of Stoliner Hassidim,
or Arad with its large population of Gerrer Hassidim.
harmony never garners media attention, perhaps because it does not further
JEWS, UNLIKE Muslims, have a millennia-long
history of living as a despised minority. Minority status has imbued us with
some prudential values. Satmar Hassidim in Williamsburg, for instance, do not
post dress code advisories in the elevators of buildings they share with Puerto
Despite its rapid growth – or perhaps because of it – the haredi
population in Israel today is highly vulnerable.
Secular Israelis fear
haredi domination, just as many of those of native European stock fear the loss
of their cultural patrimony to rapidly growing Muslim populations. And fear
That has certainly happened in Europe in response to
the growing number of Muslim neighborhoods that are “no-go” zones for the
police, the assaults and worse on European women who do not conform to Muslim
dress codes, and the retention of Islamic customs, like honor killings, even
when they contravene the criminal law. The leaders of Germany, France and
Britain have all declared multiculturalism a failure. Anti-immigration parties
are ascendant, and a number of countries have enacted restrictions on Muslim
dress. Some observers warn that the blood of native European and Muslim
immigrant combatants will flow in Europe’s streets.
Haredim in Israel
cannot afford such a backlash.
And nothing will do more to trigger one
than assertions of territorial sovereignty by those who profess to believe that
we are still living in galut (exile).
Contrary to what the protesters on
Rothschild Boulevard may think, for instance, the haredi community suffers from
a critical housing shortage.
Haredim will have to move, many to mostly
secular cities (which I view as largely positive development for a number of
reasons). But many mayors have actively fought to prevent haredim from moving to
their cities, in part motivated by fears that once haredim become a critical
mass, they will demand that streets be closed on Shabbat and the
EVEN THE danger they represent to the larger haredi public is not,
however, the greatest threat posed by the small group of “zealots.” I spoke last
week to one of the veteran leaders of the Eda Haredit and a resident of
Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood for more than 70 years, Rabbi Shlomo
Pappenheim. Ironically this outspoken opponent of violence was one of the prime
movers behind the move of thousands of former Mea She’arim residents to Beit
Shemesh, among them the group of “zealots” in question. “I envisioned them
teaching Torah to their neighbors,” Rabbi Pappenheim told me.
course of the conversation, he shared the view of his teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yosef
Dushinsky, the late chief rabbi of the Eda, that the coming of the Messiah only
requires some spiritual arousal from below, not that every Jew first become
The latter is God’s business, not ours, and will only
happen after the Messiah’s arrival, Rabbi Dushinsky taught.
makes the Torah ugly in the eyes of the broader public, in that view, is doing
nothing less than stymieing the redemptive process itself.
I DON’T expect
the “zealots” to be convinced by anything I write. They don’t listen to Rabbi
Yosef Shalom Elyashiv; why would they listen to me? But I do expect the haredi
mayor of Beit Shemesh to take a strong stand that violence will not be allowed
to establish facts on the grounds and that all the city’s residents will be
treated fairly and equally. Doing so will constitute a powerful statement that
the haredi public understands the requirement of mutual respect and tolerance in
a diverse society, and allow us to maintain the moral upper hand when we demand
fair treatment in places like Tzoran.