Haredim heed leaders' call to stop rioting [pg. 7]

The haredi community's transition from an all-out war against any kind of gay pride event to a complete acceptance of Friday's rally in Jerusalem's Givat Ram stadium was surprisingly smooth. The vast majority of haredim heeded their rabbis' call to refrain from rioting during Friday's gay pride event. When a group of haredim attacked a TV crew near Kikar Shabbat in the heart of Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, head of the Edah Haredit Rabbinic Court, personally intervened to prevent violence. Dudi Zilbershlag, publisher of the haredi weekly Bakehila, said that part of the reason for the community's sudden equanimity was the realization that the compromise reached Thursday was the best possible outcome. "If the haredim had managed to force the homosexual-lesbian community to cancel the event altogether it would have backfired for us," said Zilbershlag. "It would have created a backlash of hatred for haredim even worse than what last week's trash bin burning caused." Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, chairman of the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization and a veteran organizer of haredi protests, explained the reasoning behind the compromise. "We managed to prove that homosexuality is an abnormality, a sickness that needs to be cordoned off in a restricted area," he said. Both Zilbershlag and Meshi-Zahav said that in the coming week there would be a lot of discussion in the haredi media about the way haredi leaders directed the struggle against the Gay Pride Parade. This will include moral stocktaking and a reevaluation of some of the methods employed, such as burning trash bins and grappling with police. "A lot of damage has been caused on many different levels," said Zilbershlag. "For us the damage was educational. Our children were exposed to impure influences. But relations with secular Israelis were also hurt." Zilbershlag, who also heads Meir Panim, a charity that provides people from all sectors of society with food and other basic needs, said that looking back, he thinks that Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, the head of the Gerrer Hassidim, was right to refrain from involvement in the anti-gay demonstrations. Meshi-Zahav said that in retrospect he would have preferred to have had all the leading rabbinic leaders meet to plan the campaign. "Some of the rabbis were dragged into the battle against their will," he said. Despite his acknowledgement that the anti-gay demonstrations damaged the haredi community's relations with secular Israelis, Meshi-Zahav, the first haredi to light a ceremonial torch at an Independence Day celebration, said he had no regrets. "When such an abomination seeks to attack traditional family values, and does it in the holiest city in the world, we as protectors of Judaism have an obligation to rebuke them. "Remaining silent would be tantamount to lending our support, God forbid," he said.