Ultra-Orthodox: The few over the many

Here in Israel, there is no lack for interesting and riveting news. In light of Chanukah, we are now suffering from the “victory of the few over the many.”

Back during the struggle of the Jews against the Syrian-Greeks from 168-165 BCE, the “victory of the few over the many” was a banner of pride, as the tiny group of Maccabees and their followers triumphed over the numerous and trained armies of our enemies. In our Chanukah liturgy, we acknowledge God as the ultimate source of our miraculous deliverance.

Today, however, “the victory of the few over the many” is not exactly a banner of pride, but rather, an embarrassment of major proportions. The “few” are those intolerant, ill-mannered and uneducated Orthodox Jews who pervert our Torah and its teachings, and who, through their actions, project an ugly Judaism to the rest of the world. We used to say about Jews who became an embarrassment through their behavior, “they are a shanda (disgrace) for the goyim,” as if to say, what will the gentile world think of the Jews? Now, the “few” are also an embarrassment to the Jews.

A small group of ultra-Orthodox men shout nasty and demeaning epithets at 6th grade girls….a small group of ultra-Orthodox men become a modesty mafia and strong-arm Orthodox Jewish bookstores to remove English and Zionist books, and to hang a sign prohibiting immodest women from entering, while stones break the store windows and human excrement in bags is thrown into the stores with Holy Books everywhere…groups of ultra-Orthodox men ignore the law of open seating and abusively order women to the back of the bus….Orthodox soldiers, rather than close their ears or look down or otherwise distract themselves as recommended by several Orthodox Rabbis, create a stir and leave IDF events where women sing….images of women on buses and in newspapers are banned by ultra-Orthodox groups….Orthodox youngsters vent their anger and mount a raid on an IDF base and throw maiming stones at soldiers who valiantly defend our country….

To my utter dismay, there is no shortage of stories, now coming daily, of Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox extremism, showing its ugliest face of intolerance, chauvinism and fanaticism. And this is sad, because this “few” is now having victory over the many, in the sense that in the eyes of fellow Jews, and the non-Jews who read about these abuses, all Orthodox Jews are implicated and by extension, all Jews are under the microscope.

“The victory of the few over the many” has hijacked our Jewish religion and given it the face of an ogre. And it’s time there were graver consequences for the monster.

I’m reminded of an event I attended many years ago, which became seminal and informs so much of how I think now. It was a debate of Democratic presidential contenders, all 10 of them, and as a news and politics hound, I simply loved being there. The rules of the debate were announced, each candidate came on to the stage to polite applause, housekeeping announcements were made about exits, behavior of the audience, no eating or drinking in the auditorium, no flash photography, the kind of stuff you expect at an event with heavier than usual security concerns.  I was thrilled to be there.

A few minutes into the debate, someone in the audience from several sections away yelled something to the debaters. Immediately, all attention was drawn away from the stage and into the audience, trying to find the source of the agitation. The person then stood and yelled some political statements, along came a bunch of security, and refusing to be quiet, the man was carried out in a matter of moments.

I remember saying to myself, “This is America? A person can’t express their opinions all of a sudden?” I was stunned by the near-instant evacuation of the offender, and felt this wasn’t American.

It wasn’t five minutes later when the same thing happened with another yeller- security, refusing to be quiet, out. Again I was astounded, thinking, “are we in a communist country?”

Less than five minutes later, the scene repeated itself, and by this time I was really getting annoyed. But no longer by security; this time, by the disrupters, who continued their scheme once or twice more until it stopped. I was now angry at the disobedience that cut into this debate, an exchange I was anxious to hear and the purpose for which I came.

Yes, it finally dawned on me. You can’t let the hecklers run the show.

And neither can the State of Israel. A victory of “the few over the many” is good for Chanukah, but for Israel, it’s too great a cost.