Rattling the Cage: Community of collaborators

Haredi parents have good hearts, they love their kids, but they are brainwashed members of a cult.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
It's one thing when the haredim riot to keep a street closed on Shabbat, or to stop archeological digs, or to trash billboards showing girls in bikinis. But when they're rioting against the police for daring to look into the alleged deaths by child abuse of haredi babies - even when a haredi father has confessed to bashing and biting his three-month-old son to death - that's something else altogether. When haredim in Jerusalem instantly turn the young so-called father Yisrael Valis into a hero and victim of a police "blood libel," and when haredim in Ashdod storm a cemetery and snatch the corpse of a one-year-old girl who allegedly died because her haredi parents didn't believe in inoculations or antibiotics, this is not "colorful." It's not a "cultural difference," either. This, instead, is all the proof any reasonable person needs to see that there's something twisted in the psyche of haredi society. The problem is not just the Valis family in Jerusalem and the Sitner family in Ashdod, it's the haredi community at large that's gone to war for these two families against the "evil regime" that's pursuing them over the deaths of their little children. Imagine if such deaths had occurred to babies living in normal, mainstream communities. The accused parents would obviously be seen as monsters, or at the very least strongly suspected of being monsters, by everyone. People's allegiance would go strictly to the memory of the babies. But has anyone in the haredi community spoken up publicly for these two deceased infants, Refael Valis and Malka Sitner? In the haredi war against the "Nazi" police, these two young victims are irrelevant. The real victims, in the haredi view, are their parents. Valis's grandparents' home in Mea She'arim, where he is under house arrest, has become a pilgrimage site; the place is reportedly filled with haredi yeshiva students coming to study and pray with him. The big-name haredi rabbis put in obligatory appearances. By now Valis has retracted his April confession - that he slammed his son against the wall because of the boy's birth defect and incessant crying - but even before he wised up and claimed the police coerced him into confessing, the people of Mea She'arim had made him their new martyr, their new cause celebre, and were setting streets on fire. In Ashdod, whoever knows where Malka Sitner was buried isn't saying. Police asked a prominent local haredi rabbi, Shmuel David Gross, to make a halachic ruling that anyone with information about the body-snatchers or the burial site should tell them. Rabbi Gross, however, made a very different ruling - he warned his followers not to go to the police with information because this might make them "informers" in the biblically worst sense. "Only the leading halachic authorities can decide on giving names to the police," the rabbi declared. (The baby girl died after a week of high fever, which her parents chose to treat homeopathically instead of with antibiotics as a physician had prescribed. They reportedly hadn't seen to her inoculations. The child's corpse was abducted last week from the purification room of the Ashdod cemetery as hundreds of haredim, enraged at having learned that a criminal court had ordered DNA tests to be performed on the baby's body, assaulted police.) WHAT IS there to make of all this - that the haredim don't love their children as much as other parents love theirs? That they have so many kids, and have them at least in part out of religious obligation, that they don't really care that much about them as individuals? A lot of secular, anti-haredi Israelis believe this; I definitely don't. As far as basic, instinctive parental love goes, I see no evidence that haredim have any less of it than the ordinary run of mothers and fathers. (Yisrael Valis, however, seems to be a different case entirely.) But I also believe that the mothers and fathers at Jonestown loved their children, even as they gave them cyanide-laced Kool Aid to drink. The problem with the parents at Jonestown wasn't a lack of love for their children, the problem was that they belonged to a crazed cult, and had been brainwashed by a messianic leader and by group hysteria into thinking they were "saving" their children from an evil regime, the US, that in fact was coming to rescue them. The problem at Jonestown wasn't in the parents' hearts, but in their minds. When a community mobilizes to murder its own children, that's the mind working, not the heart. Just so it's clear, I am not equating the canonization of Yisrael Valis or the omerta being enforced in Ashdod with the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown. The haredim aren't lining up to kill their children - you obviously can't equate the two. But you certainly can compare the two. While the haredim aren't a community of child-killers, they are a community of moral collaborators after the fact with the killing of two haredi children that, to a disinterested eye, seem at this point to have been caused, respectively, by the Sitners' fanaticism and Yisrael Valis's awful brutality. (Incidentally, these people are innocent until proven guilty only in the eyes of the judge; everyone else is fully entitled to form any opinion he wants.) The haredim aren't guilty of evil on the scale of Jonestown, but they are guilty of evil. They've made heroes and martyrs out of parents who give any normal person the chills, and made villains out of the police trying to do justice in the name of the victims. What sort of message about child abuse are the haredim sending to young haredi parents? What sort of message about child abuse are they sending to haredi children? This is almost too appalling to think about. But Israeli society had better start thinking and doing something about it, for the sake of the helpless haredi children if nobody else. Their parents have good hearts, they love their kids, but they are brainwashed members of a cult - a very large, ancient Jewish community, but one led by absolute spiritual rulers, one that insists on utter conformity, that holds fanatical beliefs, and that views society at large and its instruments of power as demonic. In short, a cult. The haredim are rioting for the Sitner parents and Yisrael Valis. Shouldn't society at large be rioting for Malka Sitner and Refael Valis?