Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Haredi violence...again

Reflexive violence


What is it about the sub-culture of a not inconsiderable number of haredim, primarily those belonging to sects adhering to social insularity and theological extremism, that makes them habitually turn to violence when frustrated? Rather than hold a peaceful protest, lobby elected officials, or seek relief via litigation, too many of those associated with the anti-Zionist Edah Haredit, a constellation that encompasses Satmar, Toldot Aharon, Toldot Avraham-Yitzhak, and elements of the Breslav, Dushinsky and Munkacs sects, reflexively - so it seems - turn to thuggery and intimidation. So do some other haredim.

The latest instance took place Sunday night when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was leaving a non-political meeting at the home of the "Admor of Kalib," Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, in the Ezrat Torah section of town. He was set upon by dozens of stone-throwing Satmar ruffians. After the mayor's security detail whisked him to safety, Barkat declared that he would not cave-in to violence.

He was referring to haredi opposition to his decision to provide free public parking near the Old City on the Sabbath. Despite initial, tacit approval from ultra-Orthodox municipal council members, haredi demagogues incited against the garage opening on the dubious grounds that it violated the religious-secular status quo. The car park is actually blocks from the nearest haredi district. And police had recommended its opening to accommodate the influx of vehicles heretofore scattered helter-skelter outside the Old City walls.

In pledging not to give into violence, Barkat could just as easily have been talking about the rioting that followed the arrest of a haredi mother accused of trying to starve her son to death. Extremist haredim reacted with nights of stone-throwing and property destruction.

With commendable alacrity, mainstream haredi leaders - Hassidic, Litvak and Sephardi - on the city council stridently denounced Sunday's assault on Barkat. Unfortunately, they've allowed themselves to be browbeaten into coming out against the car park opening.

The Edah Haredit, for its part, said it planned to "demonstrate" outside Barkat's home, office and at the disputed facility - possibly on weekdays as well as Saturdays. Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, a leading rabble-rouser, rejects any compromise "over the holiness of the Sabbath." Read: "We will continue to desecrate the holy day 'in order to save it.'"

WE WORRY that the authorities will - Barkat's rhetoric notwithstanding - ultimately find a "compromise" that essentially rewards the extremists. Doing so would send a terrible signal about the character of the capital.

We note that the court ultimately released the allegedly abusive mother to house arrest - just as the rioters had demanded. A legal observer we respect has argued that police could have separated the mother from the endangered child without taking her into police custody. Perhaps. But for those raised in a sub-culture that disparages outsiders, rioting - not reasoned dialogue - is the default response to not getting your own way.

There's no point in reminding the extremists that halacha obligates them to adhere to the law of the land - dina d'malchuta dina. They shamelessly engage in Talmudic sophistry to justify their immoral, unethical and anti-halachiac deportment.

The larger issue for us is the character of Jerusalem. Observant Jews of all stripes, and good number of secular residents too, appreciate the fact that Jerusalem slows down for the Sabbath. There is a dramatic drop in traffic; most businesses are closed. Public transportation comes to a halt. The calm is good for the soul and the environment.

Frankly, extremist haredim are giving Jewish observance a bad name. In one neighborhood, locals opposed the opening of a mikve (ritual bath) to be used by the entire community out of fear that it would draw haredim to the area.

Most Jerusalemites value tradition while rejecting religious coercion. Their ideal is a city whose neighborhoods are mixed - not one of Balkanized enclaves.

Whether the issue is Shabbat parking, gender-segregated buses, or the equal application of the law, we urge authorities to hold firm. And we appeal to mainstream haredim, the majority of whom, we fervently trust, do not identify with the tactics of the extremists, to at least speak out for tolerance even if their consciences do not allow them to advocate pluralism.

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