Wednesday, November 07, 2007

You Might End Up Dead

The following is reprinted with permission from here.

Ezzie: It might be a good idea for people to e-mail this to or print this out and bring to places like shul for others who might not otherwise see it to read; it's a very important piece.

You Might End Up Dead
R' Yakov Horowitz

Once again, charedi Jews worldwide were shamed and disgraced by association due to the actions of a few violent criminals.

This time, it was two weeks ago in Beit Shemesh, where, according to reports in Israeli papers, a group of five charedi young men assaulted a woman for refusing to move to the back of a ‘charedi’ bus where the front seats were reserved exclusively for men and a male soldier seated next to the woman was also assaulted. When police arrived to arrest the individuals, dozens of other chareidi men attacked the police officers and punctured the tires of a police car, according to the newspaper reports.

This once again represents a colossal desecration of Hashem’s name, especially since the criminals who committed this despicable act claim that their violent actions chas v’shalom (G-d forbid) represent Torah values. Nothing could be further from the truth. They disgrace our holy Torah and bring shame to all of us. This is the third high-profile incident of brutal violence committed by charedi men on buses in Eretz Yisroel in less than a year – not counting the lawlessness in the streets during the gay-parade-protest riots.

Two weeks ago, the night the incident occurred, I prepared this column for publication in The Jewish Press. The next morning, I decided not to submit it, as I was reluctant to add to the horrific desecration of Hashem’s name that occurred when the incident was widely reported in the secular Israeli press.

Then, this past Friday morning, there it was for all to see in The New York Times, read by countless millions of people worldwide.

In a generally positive, 1,400-word column on charedi purchasing habits, the writer described, Beit Shemesh, …, a modern, attractive town of 73,000 people. There is a more secular part, with a large mall, and an ultra-Orthodox district, Ramat Beit Shemesh, which is divided into two. Bet, or B, is very strict, with 15,700 people. Aleph, or A, up the hill, is somewhat more flexible and contains 17,100 people… Though the sections look similar, there are more wall posters and angry graffiti in B, and streets are quieter, with fewer women visible…”

“The Egged bus company has special routes for the ultra-Orthodox, so that men and women are segregated, sometimes in separate buses. But there have been riots in Ramat Beit Shemesh B over certain bus routes, with graffiti comparing the company and the police to Nazis and calling Israel “the regime of the apostates,” rejecting the government as nonreligious. On Oct. 21, five ultra-Orthodox Jews assaulted a woman and an Israeli soldier on a bus bound for Beit Shemesh. The men demanded that the woman sit in the back of the bus; when she refused and asked the soldier to sit next to her, they beat them both. When the police came, dozens of ultra-Orthodox men attacked them while the assailants escaped.”

Later in the column, there was talk of the tensions between the two ultra-Orthodox communities, describing the harrowing experience of Ilan Shmueli, 35, who runs ‘American Pizza’ in Beit Shemesh A.

“He opened in the stricter B in August 2005, based on his work in a Deal, N.J., pizzeria.

After six months, he said, “the problems started — they began to throw things at us: tomatoes from the market, hot oil, gasoline.” Some ultra-Orthodox from B were customers, but “the Hasidim, who were a bit nuts,” started demonstrations, which became violent. His sin was to sit men and women in the same restaurant. “I went to their rabbi and I said, ‘Look, it’s like the war of Gog and Magog,’” Mr. Shmueli said. “And he said, ‘You might end up dead.’”

He closed at a big loss, then reopened in A last December with his father’s help. “Lots of very pleasant ultra-Orthodox people come in,” he said, especially new American immigrants.”

I believe that the vast, overwhelming majority of charedi Jews worldwide feel as I do; disgraced and shamed when these events occur. We also feel frustrated; as there is little that we can do to remove this collective stain from our shirts. We do not seem to have a voice in this process at all.

But there is much that we can do to distance ourselves from these thugs, teach our children right from wrong, and l’man Hashem, start protecting our women and children.

Eighteen months ago, when a police car was torched in Boro Park after an elderly Jew was treated roughly during a traffic stop, there were clear and unequivocal quotes of condemnation of those illegal acts and calls for us to act as law abiding citizens by the Noviminsker Rebbi shlita and Horav Rosenbloom shlita in a full-page editorial in the daily Hamodia newspaper and many rabbonim condemned those lawless acts in their Shabbos Hagadol speeches. I posted a column on my website (“Response to the Boro Park Riot”) the day the shameful event occurred condemning the violence and a few weeks later wrote an essay about it that was published in several charedi publications, “Before the Next Time”, where I asked some hard (still unanswered) questions as to why these events are occurring far too often in our community.

These are appropriate responses that ought to happen each and every time one of these horrible events that shame Hashem’s Torah occur. I think that every parent and educator who hears his (her) children/students discussing this matter must forcefully state in unequivocal terms, “These people do not represent us!”

Sadly, I believe the rabbi who told Mr. Shmueli that he might, “End up dead.” Make no mistake about it. These barbaric hooligans who are assaulting our women on buses and pouring hot oil on a decent fellow trying to make an honest living are capable of murder as well. Is that what we are waiting for to finally take action? For a woman to be permanently blinded by bleach poured on her? For someone with a heart condition to die as a result of an assault? Have we lost our minds? Why are we allowing this to go on? Why aren’t we demanding an end to this insanity?

I call upon all charedi publications to start reporting these incidents in the news sections of their papers when they occur and condemn them in their editorials. Additionally, we should treat these thugs like the ‘rodfim’ that they are and do our best to see that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We should stop using politically correct terms like “misguided youths” to describe the criminals who physically assault peaceful citizens – charedi or otherwise. We should use the same language that was used in our papers to describe the horrific beating of a 40-year-old rebbi in Lakewood, New Jersey last month with a baseball bat by a non-Jew. “Misguided youth” implies that they engaged in a prank like a water fight or that they went overboard in pursuit on a noble goal. There is nothing noble about hitting people – especially when a group of men cowardly attack a single woman. We must publicly state that violence is always wrong and it contradicts all the teachings of our holy Torah.

We should also stop blaming the press for reporting these incidents. We would be better served to turn inward and make a cheshbon hanefesh as to why they are happening.

Recently, I posted two columns on my website; Adults at Risk and Running out of Time describing the very real challenge that we face with well-adjusted adults and children leaving Yiddishkeit. Well; in my experience, there are few factors that contribute to this phenomenon (especially the adults who are leaving) more than the shame generated when decent Jews are asked by non-religious/non-Jewish colleagues or acquaintances to comment on or explain these thuggish acts purportedly committed in the name of our Torah.

I would like to see educators, rabbonim and lay leaders from across the charedi spectrum clearly and unequivocally condemn these acts of violence in the strongest language when they occur. I would like to see publicly issued halachic rulings that:

  • Those who commit violence constitute a real and present danger to the safety of the public and one is halachicly obligated to report them to the police (taking pictures of them if possible), and
  • If one finds himself in the presence of a violent act perpetrated by criminals, he is halachicly obligated to defend the victim as the Torah says, “Lo sa’amod al dam re’echa”

I would also like to see all charedi Knesset members call a joint press conference the next time such an incident occurs where they repudiate all forms of violence and vow to bring to justice all those who perpetrated these cowardly attacks.

If enough of us decent charedi individuals stand up, distance ourselves from these thugs, and put pressure on our elected officials to protect our women and children we might restore honor to Hashem’s name and end this senseless brutality.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved