Extreme or mainstream?

Today's young generation includes various strains of ultra-Orthodoxy, and is blindly following in the radical footsteps of those before them.

Store partition 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Store partition 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
With so many potential threats developing from the “Arab Spring” fallout or Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions, it is easy to forget that some of our greatest threats actually stem from within the country. One of the main issues, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) extremism, has landed in the spotlight once again as recent developments have made headlines.
Disturbing incidents are becoming commonplace and the question is whether an increasing number of ultra- Orthodox Jews are becoming blinded by the notion that they must save the world from itself by verbally or physically attacking anyone who does not adhere to their standards of religion. Is radical ultra-Orthodoxy becoming mainstream?
The exposure a few years ago of a small group of haredi women in Beit Shemesh who wear burkas received further attention last week when the Badatz Eda Haredit court ruled against the group and forbade other women from joining it.
Their reasoning was based on a recent case of alleged bigamy and another case where a woman refused to give birth in a hospital due to modesty reasons.
The Eda Haredit finally took action, not when one woman was discovered to have abused her children to the point that they allegedly committed incest, but only when the women’s husbands complained that their wives refused to go to the mikve (ritual bath) for reasons of “modesty.”
And this paper published an editorial in 2010 in which it defined women who wear burkas as undermining social cohesion.
In Israel’s case, it means these women are essentially inventing their own religion. They have stopped sending their children to school and have created all sorts of stringencies for themselves which have no place in Judaism.
And if Israel were to legally ban burkas, it would not be alone though it would, almost certainly, come under heavy criticism from many directions.
Several European countries, including the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Denmark and France have already been considering and enforcing anti-burka legislation for the past few years.
And now, Canada’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, announced that new immigrants will be required to remove any face-coverings, such as the burka, while they take the oath of citizenship.
While it does get credit for banning violent acts such as stone-throwing, the Eda Haredit, considered the representative body of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel, can and should be taking further steps to prevent radicalism.
OTHER INSTANCES of radical Orthodoxy have begun to occur more frequently and the younger generation appears to have been swept away by its idealism. For a number of years, haredi men have hurled epithets, and even chairs, at monthly gatherings of Women of the Wall members, screaming “Nazis!” and “You caused the Holocaust!”
These protesters aren’t necessarily from stringent hassidic backgrounds either. More of these types of protests are a mix of ultra-Orthodox Jews from different backgrounds.
In 2010, the High Court of Justice ruled that “voluntary separation” would be permitted on public buses as long as riders aren’t forced into separate seating. But many haredim have little regard for the High Court of Justice and still believe they have the right to force women to move to the back of the bus.
In October, The Jerusalem Post reported that separation barriers erected in the streets of Mea She’arim designed to prevent male and female intermingling during Succot were ordered dismantled.
At a hearing of the High Court of Justice, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ordered the police to remove the separation barriers and also ordered the police to remove private security personnel enforcing the gender separation.
Where does this type of thinking come from?
Rabbis and community leaders in the ultra-Orthodox world must be aware of the damage they are causing. Hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) is one of the gravest of sins, and yet radical haredim seem to have no compunctions when it comes to protecting their “religion.”
Over the past two years, a bookstore, known as Or Hahaim/Manny’s, was targeted by the Sikrikim, a small group of radicals considered by locals to be the “mafia of Mea She’arim.”
The name “Sikrikim” comes from the Latin “Sicarii,” or “dagger-men” a term applied, in the decades immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, to an extremist splinter group of the Zealots who tried to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea through assassinations with concealed daggers.
The men smashed the stores’ windows several times, glued its locks shut, threw tar and fish oil at it, and dumped bags of human excrement inside.
Earlier this year, the Post reported that “the same group of Sikrikim has also targeted an ice cream store in the Geula neighborhood because they thought licking ice cream cones in public was immodest. Haredi media reported last year that Sikrikim in Beit Shemesh have targeted shoe stores in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that refuse to remove high-heeled shoes from their selection.”
“They attack haredim in their own neighborhood,” said David Rotenberg, an employee at Or Hahaim.
These radicals are also said to be related to the extremist group causing trouble at the Orot Banot nationalreligious school in Beit Shemesh.
Earlier this week this paper reported that the school, located between the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and the mixed neighborhood of Givat Sharett, has drawn anger from certain haredi groups who are opposed to the school’s location close to their community.
In 2008, it was discovered that Hassidic parents at a state-funded school in Immanuel had established a separate track for girls from more observant families, which in practice meant that the overwhelming majority of girls in the track were Ashkenazi. The two tracks were taught in separate classrooms.
It was claimed that the separate tracks were established because the Sephardi families were less stringent in their observance of Jewish law than the Ashkenazi parents, and so negatively influenced the Ashkenazi girls.
THESE ARE no longer isolated cases, but a real and growing phenomenon that is quickly becoming the norm.
Extremist groups in the haredi world seem conflicted between the ideal world and the actual world and they are expressing their confusion in an overt and extreme manner by trying to manipulate others to conform to their radical ideals.
Instead of resolving to be more personally devout, these people have become convinced that they can enforce their radical beliefs on the general public.
Are more haredim becoming extreme? Are extreme ideals becoming mainstream?
While the above cases can be considered extreme and the people involved are not representative of the general haredi public, if they aren’t stopped, what will this mean for the haredi world? Will the rabbi’s allow these “Jewish Taliban” groups to terrorize the general haredi public with their heresy?
If small groups of extremists today are threatening the public – and succeeding – what will this mean for the future?
The Central Bureau of Statistics has just released its latest report on the projected population growth through 2059. Concerning haredim, it projects their community will grow to 30 percent of the entire population within the next 50 years.
Given the fact that many haredim do not work or serve in the army, this type of forecast, if accurate, is somewhat disturbing.
And if the violent extremists today are not stopped, what will happen 50 years from now?
Something needs to change and it can only come from within.
There is something about the way rabbis are responding to this heresy that appears wrong.
If rabbis are encouraging their students to help fix the world, perhaps they should focus on correcting the one sin that destroyed the Second Temple in the first place – sinat hinam, causeless hatred.
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