Preventing a Black Eye for The Black Hatters

Condemnations are frequently a most challenging affair.

On one hand, condemnations may actually bestow on hooligans a level of credibility and legitimacy they don’t deserve. Speaking out against them grants them the publicity they crave, and can actually fuel their reprehensible conduct. There is often a preference to remain silent, with the intent of sending a clear message that these individuals are considered nonentities, unworthy even to be mentioned.

On the other hand, there is real risk that sections of the public will fail to realize that these perpetrators are fringe elements accountable to no one and representing only themselves.

According to secular media reports, a chareidi IDF soldier walking in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Yerushalayim was surrounded and threatened by dozens of chareidim. The media reports related that stones and epithets were hurled at the police officers who arrived to extricate the soldier, who emerged “shaken-up,” but uninjured from the confrontation.

While some details of the story remain murky, there is no doubt that some of the “chareidim” present acted disgracefully.

Expressions of anguish, pain and even fury against the present government’s anti-chareidi vendetta are perfectly appropriate. But acts of violence, threats or insults against individuals are contrary to Torah hashkafah and can never be tolerated. They are not only terribly misguided, but they are extraordinarily counterproductive.

Indeed, in his condemnation of the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that the best way to respond to “lawbreakers” of this kind was to increase the number of chareidim enlisting in the IDF, an objective he said would be greatly helped by the legislation ending exemptions for yeshvah students approved by the cabinet this week.

The fact that police were greeted by stones and insults did not happen in a vacuum. This is only the latest episode in a decades-long state of hostility between police and chareidim, including documented incidents of police brutality, sometimes against innocent bystanders who just happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But two wrongs never make a right, and the same way that all chareidim should never be tarred with the same brush, neither should police officers. Throwing stones and shouting taunts is always inexcusable, regardless of who is doing it and why.

In recent weeks and months there have been numerous media reports of so-called “price tag” incidents, in which Jewish extremists attacked Arab mosques and Palestinian cars and property. It started out as a response to the dismantling by the Israeli government of unauthorized outposts. Now, price-tag attacks are no longer linked to any specific occurrence, but are an expression of anger against Arab violence. While these feelings are understandable, these actions, which are clearly contrary to Torah teachings, are not justifiable.

The individuals behind these acts certainly don’t represent the majority of peaceful, law-abiding Jews living in Yehudah and Shomron, much like the fringe “chareidim” don’t represent us.

It is crucial that the outside world gets to know the real chareidi Jew, a peace-loving individual devoted to family, whose life revolves around the learning of Torah and acts of lovingkindness. Acts of violence or even angry taunts have no place in a true chareidi society.

The perpetrators in Tuesday’s incident, as Shas chairman Rabbi Arye Deri aptly described them, were “extremist and delinquent youth,” and certainly not representative of the community in which they reside.

“Their ways are not our ways, and the sages said he who lifts up a hand against his fellow is called an evil person,” Deri noted in a statement to the press.

There is often the mistaken assumption that were the chareidi leadership or media to condemn these actions, these individuals would promptly cease and desist from any wrongdoing. Or even worse, the lack of outrage on the part of chareidi leadership is misinterpreted to mean that they are condoning their activities.

In reality, these hooligans, even if they masquerade as chareidim, don’t recognize any Torah leaders and are deaf to any calls to reason. They are well aware that they are considered outcasts within the community, and don’t take instructions from anyone. Unfortunately, in the eyes of much of the outside world, those who dress in a certain way and live within the same area are lumped together and are held responsible for each other’s actions. The secular media and much of the broader public prefer to paint all chareidim with the same brush.

There is an oft-repeated maxim taught in journalism school: “Dog bites man is no news, but man bites dog is big news.”

In the case of the canines, at least, the public realizes that this is because animals tend to sink their teeth into humans, but the average man doesn’t bite an animal.

Unfortunately, when it comes to chareidim, this bit of wisdom has been thrown to the dogs. Instead of realizing that it is precisely because chareidi violence is so rare that it becomes newsworthy, when individuals wearing traditional garb act this way, they are viewed as representatives  of Orthodox Jews everywhere.

Therefore, it is important for us as a community to unequivocally condemn the isolated actions of these sorely misguided individuals as having no place in civilized society, and urge the media and the public to recognize the fact that even though they may look chareidi by way of dress, that is where their affiliation with chareidim ends.

We can’t control them, but through public condemnation we can help prevent them from giving all black hatters a black eye.