One of the unique characteristics of Judaism is the seemingly contradictory value that is placed on the individual and on the community. This dual emphasis preserves the independence — and responsibility — of the individual on the one hand, while maintaining his connection and commitment to society on the other hand.
This duality in itself is a crucial safeguard to avoid the temptation to generalize. Whenever there is a matter in dispute, an individual could — and should — voice his opinion and focus on the specific issue but take care to avoid sweeping statements that spring to mind in the heat of the moment.
A case in point is the general reaction to recent unfortunate incidents in Israel, with a disproportionate focus on the response of the chareidi leadership. Logically, any responsible leader must take into consideration all sides of the issue, in particular on matters that are loaded with serious ramifications for the community that he represents. Emotionally, however, there is a rush to call a lack of harsh condemnation on this incident a “deafening silence”and to characterize it as rooted in indifference.
The buzzword has become “sinas chinam.” In reality, the chareidi sector is best known for its extraordinary devotion to acts of caring, charity and kindness without discrimination on the basis of the religious affiliation of the recipients.
A case in point is the Satmar Chassidic group, which the secular world views as the most extreme among the “ultra-Orthodox.” Yet anyone who has had the experience of spending time at one of the numerous NYC hospitals serviced by this group’s Bikur Cholim is well aware of their unparalleled acts of kindness.
Still, we have to recognize that we are in the midst of a media war, in which each side wishes to capture the attention and sympathy of the public. In the context of this war, we have to remember that every movement or statement of a chareidi individual — or one who just looks chareidi — is examined under a microscope. A misstep or misguided statement is seized upon and exploited by hostile elements for their own narrow political objectives with glee and speed, despite the common knowledge that these actions are committed by a few radicals who represent no one but themselves.
We in the media know that we have to react to inappropriate incidents quickly and unequivocally, which is what we did.
At the same time, we are cognizant of the fact that there’s another side to the coin. Responsible leadership does not want to give credibility or legitimacy to fringe elements who don’t represent anyone but themselves. This is a policy that Gedolei Yisrael have adopted and maintained for many years. This position is not an easy or popular one to maintain, but it has integrity and authority behind it.
The time has come to begin the reconciliation process from within. While we should look into the mirror and resolve to identify and correct those areas in which we may be lacking ahavas chinam, we should not feel pressured to give up our insular lifestyle. Despite frequent criticism, this has never caused us to be oblivious to our fellow Jews’ needs, regardless of their commitment to Torah and mitzvos.
We call on our brethren who share loyalty to Toras Moshe to unite and to fight for the support of those who learn and keep its mitzvos. In the place of generalizations of sinas chinam, we need to be dan l’kaf zechus, remembering that individuals — even a respected talmid chacham — can succumb to pain and make an inappropriate remark.
These individual missteps dare not distract us from the big picture: Our survival.
Instead of having an honest debate and open dialogue about the real issues, we are constantly cornered in a malicious media war. This is not anymore about the justification for drafting yeshivah bachurim for the sake of sharing the burden, but about tearing them away from their way of life.
Our survival hinges on limud haTorah and shemiras hamitzvos, and this is the direction towards which to harness our combined resources. We have to fight against the powerful brainwashing campaign to isolate chareidim politically and socially. We must mobilize all our resources to pressure the government into maintaining the freedom for yeshivah students to learn the Torah and not to be forced to join the army in a manner reminiscent of primitive and barbaric societies of old. And, last but not least, to allow chareidim to earn a living in a decent and dignified manner.
Most fundamentally, we must impress upon all those in a position to impact the government that the continued support of Torah institutions and Torah learners is the only guarantee of the survival of the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael.