Unity in tough times

Sadly, some non-haredi Jews have stereotyped entire haredi community.

kotel tisha be av 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kotel tisha be av 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jewish unity is a rare commodity. This is doubly true when times are tough. A recent spate of criminal allegations directed against members of the haredi community has made it particularly hard for some non-haredi Jews to respect their haredi brothers and sisters. The result, sadly, has been the undermining of Jewish unity. Admittedly, it is difficult not to be shocked by the severity of some of these yet-to-be-proved accusations and the apparent chutzpa and immorality of the purported perpetrators: organ trafficking, child abuse, money-laundering and exploitation of religious positions. This sorry state of affairs has been magnified in proportion by sometimes tendentious media coverage. Not unsurprisingly, some non-haredi Jews have chosen to vent what seems to be a deeply seated, long pent-up grudge, in the process stereotyping the entire haredi community as if what these fellow Jews had in common was not a lifestyle chosen out of religious conviction, but a shared inherent character flaw that predetermined aberrant behavior. But as a people with a hefty amount of real enemies who would like to see us wiped off the face of the earth or at least divested of all political and military power, as we were nearly 2,000 years ago, we Jews would do well to avoid using unfortunate incidents like these as an opportunity to bash ourselves. Whether the suspect is a mother who belongs to the super-insular Toldot Aharon hassidic sect, a rowdy rioter from the virulently anti-Zionist Edah Haredit or a rabbi from the Syrian Jewish community in America, we should strive to restrict our criticism to the criminal act and to the individual who allegedly perpetrated it. We may have our ideological differences, but there is nothing immoral about being haredi. OBVIOUSLY, STICKING together does not mean denying blame or redirecting it at the FBI, the police, social workers or other state authorities. It is counterproductive to claim that these authorities were motivated by anti-Semitism or by anti-religious sentiments as some haredi leaders have tried to argue. Skirting responsibility for one's actions makes moral improvement an impossibility. But we must also be careful of stereotyping. The same reasoning can be used elsewhere: Bernard Madoff proves nothing about modern Orthodox Jews. That a secular Israeli man recently murdered his three-year-old daughter is not a comment on secular lifestyle. And if, God forbid, a Reform or a Conservative Jew were arrested for misdeeds, this would not reflect on other Jews of similar faith. Not everyone understands this. A case in point on how not to react to the current events was provided by Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew. "Is it possible that there is something in the Orthodox community in general and the haredi community in particular that creates fertile ground for this kind of fraud?" Charendoff wondered this week in an op-ed that appeared in the New York Jewish Week. "I've too often witnessed, here and in Israel, a perverse notion that we few who feel bound by the laws of God are free to flout the laws of man. That the seriousness with which we hold Halacha (or, Jewish law) forces us to view state law as trite, flawed - unimportant at best, a nuisance at worst." The claim that there is an overemphasis on the intricacies of law at the expense of more basic moral principles - a classic Christian criticism - may or may not be true about some Orthodox or haredi Jews. But it is wrong, repugnant and destructive to suggest that haredi Judaism has an inherent quality that creates fertile ground for fraud. Our rabbis teach that the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile which led to the stripping of all Jewish political and military strength was a result of baseless hatred among Jews. Divisiveness among vying sects weakened the Jewish people and made it easy to conquer. Most Jews understand this lesson from history. That's why the political party Shinui, which based its platform on haredi-bashing, disappeared after a brief heyday. Instinctively, Jews understand the ultimate value of unity. There is no better day than Tisha Be'av to remember this.