(Editor’s note: Since the publication of this editorial, the Chronicle has become aware of a Jan. 5 letter by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in Israel, that is far more than just a condemnation of the Haredi demonstrators in question for their treatment of women.
According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, Yosef forcefully accused the demonstrators of “making Israel’s Torah stink with deeds that mustn’t be done, without considering the consequences of their actions,” and he declared that “our sages aren’t pleased with them.”
Yosef continued, saying, “This is not the way of our sacred Torah. As our rabbis taught us, it is better for a man to throw himself into the fire than to humiliate someone in public.”
He added that even repentance on Yom Kippur would not atone for these deeds.
Those are powerful words from one of the leading Orthodox voices in Israel, and they deserve to be considered when reading this editorial.)
The Chronicle has received reader feedback criticizing us for not adequately stating that only a small number of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews are actually taking part in these shocking actions in Israel.
These actions include attacking girls they deem to be dressed immodestly and women for not sitting at the back of segregated buses, not to mention using symbols of the Holocaust to paint themselves as victims for defending their religious convictions.
It’s a fair criticism, so we make that statement now: Only a small number of Haredi Jews, compared to the total number in Israel, are taking part in these activities. It’s true.
We’ll go even further: A more accurate picture of Haredi Jews is the members of ZAKA, the team of emergency responders who travel to disaster areas the world over to assist people in need — including many non-Jews. The earthquake in Haiti is a recent example of their good work.
That said, the Haredi who are taking part in these odious activities do not constitute a small number in and of themselves. We’ve seen the pictures and video transmitted from Israel. It’s not just a handful of extremists standing on a street corner. Their demonstrations must be taken seriously.
The truth is that the actions of this segment of Haredi, however many there are, embarrass not just the Haredi, but all Jews. We all share a common interest in seeing these activities come to an end. Simply condemning them, as Haredi groups have done, isn’t enough.
The best way to do something is for the Haredi community to police itself, to make it clear that these activities won’t be tolerated, that there is a price to be paid, possibly in exclusion from community or religious activities.
If this sect of the Haredi wants to defend the institution of tzenius (modesty), that’s fine. As Agudath Israel America said in its Dec. 28 statement on the troubles in Beit Shemesh, “It would be tragic were the acts of violence to lead Jews to, G-d forbid, reject the culture of tzenius that has always been the hallmark of the Jewish nation, to regard Jewish modesty as something connected to violence and anger, rather than to refinement and holiness.”
But defending tzenius can be done with responsible dialogue, using the media and debating opposing groups — all without slinging verbal and symbolic mud at other Jews.
Only Haredi can deliver this message to other Haredi. More liberal Jewish organizations hold no sway with this community.
The Haredi are good people, moral people, and responsible people; and this is the time to show it.