Dear Reb Yakov:
Re: your latest article, "The Pierced Teen and I":
The story of your encounter with the secular Israeli youth was very interesting. I, too, was disturbed by the negative feelings that these teenagers have towards charedim. But I am equally disturbed by your conclusion that, to some degree, the charedim themselves are responsible for creating this image. In my humble opinion, nothing can be further from the truth.
Firstly, let me ask you a simple question - have you ever seen a charedi Jew throw rocks at anyone? In my twelve years in Eretz Yisroel, and I've been to dozens of charedi neighborhoods, I've never witnessed such an occurrence. And I'm willing to bet that your pierced teenaged friends haven't either. What they have seen and heard - on television, in the newspapers, and on the radio - is the incessant secular propaganda that portrays the charedim as rock-throwing, closed-minded, leeches of society. They were just spitting back at you the poisonous propaganda that they have been fed their whole lives.
Your assertion that the charedim are partially responsible for the hatred that the secular harbor for them, is not only incorrect, but it is a dangerous perpetuation of this propaganda. Charedim turn off the secular? Do you have any idea how much kiruv is done by the charedi community, bringing secular Jews back to Yiddishkeit? It's a shame you didn't have a chance to ride on one of the many buses of avreichim who travel weekly from my community (Kiryat Sefer) to secular neighborhoods in order to teach Torah to non-religious parents and their children.
In my twelve years as part of the Israeli charedi community, I have witnessed charedim treat chilonim with kindness and human dignity, never sticks and stones. I have had countless encounters with local non-religious cab drivers that are genuinely impressed with the local population, and in many instances this brings them closer to Yiddishkeit.
Yes, stone-throwers are certainly perpetrating a terrible crime of chilul Hashem. But to characterize the charedi community by this aberration is simply a crime. Yes, soul-searching is always a productive endeavor. But I don't agree that the charedi community is due any in this instance. It is a known fact that the State of Israel was founded on animosity towards the "old Jews." This can be read in countless books. Hence, Eretz Yisroel has been a virtual "war zone" between the secular and the charedim from the onset – a war that they waged against us. This is the sad fact. Let's not let our healthy American liberalism pull the wool over our eyes and wallow in self-blame. Self-blame, in this case, is out of order.
I recently read the Artscroll biography of Hagaon Rav Pam zt"l. Chapter eleven is dedicated to Rav Pam's involvement with Shuvu, an organization that arranges proper Jewish education for Russian immigrants to Eretz Yisroel. The author describes the many battles that Shuvu had to fight against the secular government, who repeatedly tried to thwart their efforts to offer Jewish children an alternative to the secular public schools. From the fact that Shuvu met with animosity and strong opposition, should we infer that they – Rav Pam and Shuvu's heads – must have been partially responsible for their opponents’ ill feelings? Perhaps if Rav Pam had dealt with the non-religious in a different manner, he would not have met with such opposition? No! Such a suggestion is ridiculous, and a disgraceful thing to even think! Your call for introspection on the part of the charedim is, in my opinion, equally out of place.
Yair Spolter, Kiryat Sefer
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Thanks for taking the time to write and I must once again express my gratitude to Hashem Yisbarach for granting you a complete refuah.
Permit me to respond to the some of the points that you note in your letter:
To begin with, I did see rocks thrown regularly on Shabbos twenty-six years ago when I was single and learning in Yerushalayim. In my days, it was the ‘Kvish (the road leading to) Ramot.’ Later, the battleground shifted to Rechov Bar Ilan. There were only a few dozen kids and teens throwing them – but they shamed frum Jews all around the world. These rock-throwing incidents were covered in the newspapers almost weekly.
So the reflection and cheshbon hanefesh that I suggest is long overdue, in my humble opinion. I still ask: Sure, there were kids throwing rocks, but where were the adults? And if we felt helpless to stop them, why was this lawlessness (and chilul Shabbos) not roundly condemned?
There was another Chilul Hashem just a few weeks ago when charedim protested the actions of two ‘modern Orthodox’ young men in Ramot Beit Shemesh. I do not know what happened there and I do not want to judge without such knowledge, but it almost doesn’t make a difference why and what. What is important is what was reported – and what was reported was horrific. Moreover, with the power of the Internet, these articles and pictures are emailed around the world and posted on blogs in a matter of moments.
Here is my more-than-ironic question: If a protest was organized a few weeks ago for the actions of two people, why were there not ‘Shmiras Shabbos’ peaceful gatherings to protest the chilul Shabbos and chilul Hashem of the rock-throwers thirty years ago – and today. I was glad to see that the mother of the two boys told reporters that the rabbis intervened to protect her son (albeit a few days later on Monday). But I would have liked to see a quote from responsible community leaders and rabbonim condemning the actions of the protesters.
When a frum young man with emotional problems, Gideon Bush, was shot and killed by police in Boro Park, Brooklyn, a few years ago (he was unarmed and swinging a hammer ten feet from the closest police officer), there was understandable and significant outrage in the community. Hundreds of young men immediately gathered and began protesting and scuffling with the police. What happened afterwards was a true Kiddush Hashem – and the type of leadership that we need.
The Noviminsker Rebbi s’hlita personally walked among the hundreds of young people and repeatedly told them that this type of protest is not the way of our Torah. He informed them that they should disperse and go home. It was his personal presence and active leadership that calmed things. The Rebbi left his home many times during the long night – whenever a crowd gathered – and kept things calm. And even when he went to sleep, he appointed several of his talmidim to keep an eye on things and inform him if they spun out of control. The Rebbi’s valiant and courageous actions went unreported – but not unnoticed.
When I heard about the actions of the Noviminsker Rebbi from a close talmid of his the next day, I vowed to myself that if I were ever placed in a similar position, I would speak up just as he did. So when the recent 2005 election in my hometown of Monsey turned nasty, and anonymous letters were mailed to our community members calling the opposing candidates Anti-Semites and worse, I took pen to paper and wrote a widely-circulated email to Monsey residents and followed with an article that was published in several national newspapers.
My dear chaver, Yair, of course there are thousands of amazing acts of selflessness and Kiddush Hashem on a daily basis. Of course cab drivers are impressed with you, and the tens of thousands like you. Who wouldn’t be?
But that is my point. These beautiful messages are being snuffed out by the negative actions of a few. The four teens in the lobby that I wrote about a few weeks ago never met you. But they were introduced to your rock-throwing charedi friends, again and again, in various guises and formats.
Is the secular media biased? What difference does it make? Deal with it, as the kids say! But in this 24-hour news cycle and Internet blog world we cannot allow the thugs who commit violence in their perverted view of our beloved Torah to speak for us. Ironically, they are the greatest anti-kiruv movement as decent non-religious, not-yet-religious, newly-religious, and born-religious people alike are repulsed by their actions.
Don’t we owe it to ourselves and to our children to repudiate the actions of these people? Not only because it doesn’t play well; but also because it is wrong.
Because it is morally wrong.
Because it is not the way of our Torah.
Because it is the quintessential Chillul Hashem.
Because it is the antithesis of all that I was taught by my great rebbi, Rav Pam z’tl, whom you mentioned in your letter.
My rebbi lived and breathed Derocheha Darchei Noam. He taught us to love Yidden regardless of their backgrounds; to look inward and improve ourselves before looking for faults in others. His words were always measured and soft-spoken – even when he gently admonished us.
How I miss him in these troubled times.
May I humbly merit the zechus of following in his great footsteps and carrying his message of neimus and true Ahavas Yisroel to the next generation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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