Analysis: A sense of collective destiny drives haredi coercion

As haredis gear up for a major protest against the sale of hametz in Jerusalem, secular Jews ask themselves why their haredi brothers cannot just live and let live.

As the Edah Haredit gears up for a major protest against the sale of hametz in the streets of Jerusalem, secular Jews are asking themselves why their haredi brothers cannot just live and let live. After all, why should a haredi Jew from Mea She'arim possibly care if a Jewish Israeli with no religious ties whatsoever enjoys a slice of thoroughly leavened pizza? The haredi and the secular Israeli drew their lines of demarcation long ago. The haredi barely acknowledges the legitimacy of the State of Israel and might go through his entire life without ever having a significant social exchange with the secular Israeli. Nevertheless, for some seemingly inexplicable reason the haredi is propelled into action when confronted with the secular Israeli's blasphemy. The haredi even seems totally oblivious to the fact that his protests are counterproductive: Aggressive religious coercion fosters an equally aggressive secular backlash born of a desire to spite the coercer. So why does the haredi do it? Part of the answer lies in the deeply ingrained belief among religious Jews that the Jewish people has a collective destiny and a collective responsibility. Invisible strings tie us together whether we want them to or not. When one of us sins it is as if we all sinned. When one of us ignores the Torah's command to remove all hametz from our possession and decides instead to enjoy a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven, it's as if we all have rebelled against God. However, a religious Jew can only be responsible for his fellow Jew's sin when this sin is performed openly, in a public place - for instance, in a pizzeria. By standing idly by and not getting involved, the religious Jew becomes an accomplice to that sin. One who was able to prevent his fellow Jew from sinning but didn't would, therefore, be punished as well. On the other hand, publicly protesting the sin performed by one's secular brother, and making an effort to prevent him from sinning in the future, absolves the religious Jew of his rebellious brother's sin. What if, though, public demonstrations end up encouraging secular Jews to fight even more against religious coercion? MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) said he considered this possibility before drafting a bill that would more strictly prohibit the sale of hametz during Pessah. "I believe," he said, "that in the long run, we simply cannot create a situation that gives legitimacy to the public sale of hametz."