Denouncing Spiritual Terrorism

On March 16, 1968, soldiers of the 1st Battalion’s Charlie Company committed one of the most notorious war crimes in American history when they brutally massacred over 300 villagers in the Vietnamese hamlet of Mỹ Lai.

Was every soldier in the American army complicit in the crime? Did the perpetrators of the massacre act in accordance with the dictates and the mission of the American military? Was the savagery inflicted on innocent men, women, and children indicative of the country whose soldiers wore its insignia on their uniforms?

The simple answer is: no.

We can talk, legitimately, about collective responsibility and the mixed cultural messages that may have contributed to the atrocity. But when Americans learned about the barbarism of their own soldiers, the untempered outrage that poured forth testified that the individuals had acted as individuals, and that their inhumanity in no way represented the values of their country.

The same was true about the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995 by the marginally religious zealot Yigal Amir. As unpopular as Rabin may have been among the religious community, only the most extreme ideologues saw his actions as anything other than an aberration of the Torah values he invoked to justify cold-blooded murder.

And the same is true now with respect to the hideous spitting incident in the Beit Shemesh community in central Israel. It doesn’t matter that the perpetrator may wear a frock coat and sidelocks. It doesn’t matter that he may refrain from kindling fire on the Sabbath, may keep a strictly kosher diet, and may stand in prayer before his Creator three times a day. It doesn’t matter that he may study Talmudic texts and analyze the finest points of Jewish law. It doesn’t matter if his neighbors, whether few or many, sympathize with his attitudes and his actions.

At best, he is a misguided fool. At worst, he is an imposter and a terrorist. Whatever he is, he does not represent the ideals of Torah Judaism.

The sad truth is that the Torah, the Almighty’s guide to morality and virtuous conduct, is only as good as we allow it to be. The Torah may be a perfect expression of the Divine Will, but it only works to the extent that imperfect humans are willing to let it shape their conduct and, even more essentially, their character. It does not mystically or magically turn us into saints; rather, it teaches us how to transform ourselves into spiritual beings. But it remains up to us to follow the path it lights before us.

The sad truth is also that there are imposters among us; the Talmud itself laments the “pious fools” who clothe themselves in the external trappings of religiosity with no comprehension whatsoever of true spiritual values. The Jew who prays fervently and then cheats in business, the Jew who clops his chest in repentance then slanders his neighbor, the Jew who meticulously trains his son to read from the Torah scroll and then spits on a child who may have innocently absorbed the social mores of the surrounding secular world – a Jew such as this is worse than a fraud. He is nothing less than a terrorist, for he brings violent derision upon the Torah and all its sincere practitioners.

Frequently at odds with contemporary Western values, Torah values are easily mocked, satirized, and misrepresented by intolerant skeptics who would rather ridicule than seek answers to their questions. But the Orthodox community includes tens of thousands of Jews like myself, Jews raised in irreligious homes who chose to return to Torah observance, Jews who learned to appreciate the ancient wisdom of our people by asking those same questions, by searching for teachers and mentors who could articulate the answers, and by listening patiently to their explanations.

Unfortunately, many secularists and most of the media prefer to deal in stereotypes. It’s easier to depict bearded men in long coats as fanatics than it is to examine the historical and philosophical foundations of their tradition. It’s more provocative to caricature women wearing head-scarves, three-quarter sleeves, and knee-length skirts as burqa-clad Jewish Wahabists than it is to concede the modest elegance projected by many Orthodox women. It suits the progressive agenda better to decry separate seating on buses in religious communities as Shariah-like segregation than it does to contemplate how sensitivity to sexual boundaries bolsters the integrity of the family structure against the hedonism of secular society.

The useful idiots who masquerade as devoutly orthodox but possess little understanding of authentic spiritual refinement empower cynics eager to smear an entire theology with the broad brush of condemnation based on the actions of a few. But amidst the outrage, consider this: Does it make any sense that true adherents of the culture that taught the world the values of peace, charity, and loving-kindness would endorse the public humiliation of a little girl in the name of piety?

It doesn’t. And we don’t.

Rabbi Goldson writes at To subscribe to Torah Ideals email newsletter, go to the website and find the subscription link on the sidebar. Articles are posted, on average, every week or two.

Rabbi Goldson recently published Dawn to Destiny – Exploring Jewish History and its Hidden Wisdom. A captivating analysis of Jewish history and philosophy from Creation through the era of the Talmud

16 comments on “Denouncing Spiritual Terrorism

  1. These radical fringe groups that call themselves chareidim are so afraid of any contact whatsoever with any women other than their own wives or offspring. Is it that they are too animalistic to control themselves? So ironic that THEY are the ones who feed the notion of every woman being an “object”.

    Um…isn’t that the opposite of tznius?

    Maybe if they actually tried to emulate the gedolim who conducted themselves with dignity they wouldn’t have such a problem.

  2. I agree with Anonymous 16:45. This is just the latest in a history of violently targeting those who disagree with their agency re: women, masquerading as “tznius.” What about the acid attacks on those not dressing to their level of “tznius?” What about the threatening of clothing stores and bookstores in Geula/Mea Shearim?

    I find it incomprehensible that women are foced to the back of the bus, with its greater smells and swaying, when they are the ones shlepping strollers, little children, and are frequently pregnant (and nauseous when they are not yet visibly pregnant). And what about the elderly and infirm women who may find it difficult to alight from the back door?

  3. Micha’s comment is spot on.

    On the Aish website there was a similar letter condemning the spitter, suggesting he was not truly Orthodox and not representative of the community, but neither the article nor even one of the comments condemned those who rioted over the signs, attacking cops and burning cans, or criticized the fact that no one in the Ultra camp seemed willing to criticize either the spitter or the rioters, who are, in fact, a bigger shanda. (Aish completely censored my comment on that site, similar to the one I’m posting here, without even an explanation.)

    My casual appraisal is that the Hareidi riots in Israel appear to have been more consistently violent and uncontrollable than anything Occupy Wall Street has done. Even worse, is the epidemic of Hareidim in Israel spitting on Christian priests, which even fewer Orthodox Jews have stepped up to condemn, which to my mind indicates that really, Jews seem only upset when a little Jewish girl is spit upon, which is of course horrifying, but not when non-Jews are, which should also be horrifying to any decent human being.So yes, the silence of the Gedolim on the spitting and the rioting is, to my mind, truly damning.

  4. Mr. Cohen, those fellows at the parade are the same ones — not of the same ilk, the very same people — who went to Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference. These are people whose leaders kissed that virulent anti-semite intent on acquiring nuclear weaponry and who repeatedly speaks of Israel needing to be “wiped off the map”.

    Getting them to quit protesting at the parade is the least of dealing with them.

  5. Every year at the Salute to Israel parade, there is a small bunch of misguided fools dressed in the Chassidic black and white uniform, who protest against the parade.

    They do not seem to realize that the only thing they accomplish is to make secular Jews hate observant Jews.

    I wish to G_d they would stop.

  6. “We can talk, legitimately, about collective responsibility and the mixed cultural messages that may have contributed to the atrocity.”

    “It suits the progressive agenda better to decry separate seating on buses in religious communities as Shariah-like segregation than it does to contemplate how sensitivity to sexual boundaries bolsters the integrity of the family structure against the hedonism of secular society.”

    In my opinion, an overly-heightened “sensitivity to sexual boundaries” is the biggest single contributor among “mixed cultural messages that may have contributed to the atrocity.” Perhaps the author should address this possibility instead of dancing around it. To me, the biggest problem with the charedi response is that only the physical threats and violence are condemned, while the attitude that women should disappear whenever and wherever men are present is clung to as a Torah value.

    Shabbos rock-throwing, while far more violent and dangerous than spitting and swearing, never created a fraction of this kind of backlash around the world. Why? Perhaps because the underlying “value” being defended was seen as legitimate (Shabbos), and merely the means was problematic. Encouraging the increasing disappearance of women from all public space is a problematic value. Period. The fact that violent means are also problematic is merely a red herring as far as I’m concerned. Any response which only condemns the violence and doesn’t address the “disappearing women” issue in its own right is pretty worthless to me.

    *If there were no broader “disappearing women” issue and this was merely about separate buses or merely about one minhag-ha-makom tznius dispute, I would feel completely differently. The context would be entirely different, and my expectations of any charedi response would be much more limited.

  7. In case I wasn’t too clear, my message above was that the violent elements among Chareidim there may be useful (possibly unwitting) tools in a turf war that can be lucrative for some real estate wheeler-dealers and provide housing space for Chareidi families. This, plus the fact that they also scare many Chareidim, might account for the larger community’s failure to ostracize them.

  8. Related to attempts to drive non-chareidi Jews out:

    I recall the blockbusting that went on decades ago in major US cities. The blockbusters wanted to frighten Jews out of racially mixed neighborhoods in order to profit from the rapid sales turnover of homes (often from Jews to African Americans). They were quite successful in many cases. Around 1971, I was talking with an Italian-American woman from the Bronx who was working at MIT. She said her neighborhood was successfully defended because the Italian residents took a very hard stand. She contrasted this with other neighborhoods where the Jews gave up and fled.

    In the Beit Shemesh case, we also have another element, the ever-increasing need of large Chareidi families for affordable housing, which is in short supply. This kind of situation can fuel aggressive competition for housing. The Israeli government may find that the best solution is to foster greatly increased home-building activity free of domination by any religious or political faction.


  9. @Judy Resnic:

    The story was far from a secret. For example, it was reported in Ha’aretz (back in Apr 11th!), and the JTA (on July 12th), Canada’s Jewish Tribune (Sep 27). Common knowledge for months.

    That said, which charities do you give to that hit the Sicarii? Or are you simply interested in punishing all Chareidim — the guilty, those who could have spoken up and didn’t, and the man on the street (or in the beis medrash) who doesn’t even have a soapbox? Is that the way to resolve a shin’as chinam problem?

    Because you know that if you keep them the opposition, they are bound to embrace you in return. Aside from any prohibitions violated along the way.

  10. Readers of the 5 Towns Jewish Times, a Jewish newspaper serving the Orthodox Jewish communities in Far Rockaway and southern Nassau County, knew for months about the growing hostility in Beit Shemesh, thanks to an ongoing series of articles by Shmuel Katz. Katz, who made aliyah to Israel in July 2006, has been steadily reporting about incidents of hatred perpetrated by the chareidim against the “Dati-Leumi” Orthodox Jewish religious Zionist population (such as the Katz family). Shmuel Katz writes that the real issue is not whether the mothers who pick up their children are dressing with enough Tznius. He says that the real issue is about control, and about the ultimate future of Beit Shemesh, and whether the city and its mosdos will ultimately become a totally Chareidi town (with the Orthodox Jewish religious Zionist Dati-Leumi population forced to move out).

    Shmuel Katz has stated that the best weapon will be to hit the Chareidim in the wallet: for their wealthy supporters in the Five Towns and elsewhere in the United States to suddenly stop writing checks to finance these questionable activities.

  11. Comment #1 is correct. US rabbis are more condemning – but in Israel they are circling the wagons. It really sounds like the Israeli Charedi rabbinate is not on the same page with all the denunciations filling my email inbox.
    Is there a Talmudic justification for the Charedi behavior towards the girls? I suspect they are standing on some opinion somewhere for their actions.

  12. “It suits the progressive agenda better to decry separate seating on buses in religious communities as Shariah-like segregation than it does to contemplate how sensitivity to sexual boundaries bolsters the integrity of the family structure against the hedonism of secular society.”

    There are differences in opinion in the frum world, which perhaps reflect differences in people. Either way, one should be tolerant and understand the other side.

    For example, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, a RZ rabbi, wrote that separate buses can have a negative effect on tzniyus and on family life because(as quoted in the Jerusalem Post):

    A) A man can’t sit next to his wife, a father can’t sit with his daughter and a mother can’t sit with her son.

    B) For those adhering to such demands, every encounter with a woman becomes a potentially arousing experience.

    Rabbi Aharon Rakefet has spoken similar to R. Melamed.

    Possible response to this are:

    A) The EY Charedi world has poskim who advocate it

    B) Separate buses are simply an extension of mechitzos in shuls which all Orthodox Jews have

    C) People are diffferent. If one views it from the point of people in the Charedi community, R. Melamed’s arguments become not applicable, even on their own terms.

    Furthemore, within the MO world, R. Hershel Shachter recently said in an OU program that separate buses were not a bad idea with a caveat (he also elaborated in “Gender Separation in Halacha” on Torah Web on his views on separation, in general), and a Dayan in the RCA’s Tradition Magazine argued that it is a necessary and legitimate neeed. R. Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA was interviewed on Talkline this past week, and IIRC, while he did not deem it necesssary, his approach was also one of tolerance.

    To summarize, I basically agree with R. Goldson, but he(like Miriam Kosman in her important Jersualem Post/Aish Hatorah article)did not address the two arguments of R. Melamed(which I tried to counter here).

  13. Excellent article. Hoodlums and common criminals should be IMO denounced as such and not being representative of a communityy to whom they neither seek nor are beholden to for Halachic and Hashkafic guidance.

  14. Except… Except that the US denounced the killings at My Lai. The rabbinate denounced the assassination of Rabin.

    But no one spoke up for months as girls faced progressively more heated opposition.on their way to school. Where was everyone BEFORE the media backlash tried to tar the entire community?

    And even now, the response from Israeli Chareidi leadership is tepid. For example, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, Rav Gershon Edelstein talks about the media backlash, not the attack. In fact, much of his essay about sin’as chinam (pointless/baseless hatred) compares the Israeli media to Bar Qamtza, whose actions are used to illustrate the hatred that led to the fall of the Beis haMiqdash. And his focus is “why are we on the receiving end of such sin’as chinam?” Not “why war we harboring such spewers of it?”

    RGE spends space at the end in a call for more chesed, and that they wouldn’t be the butt of such hatred if Hashem weren’t punishing the community for some sin. Implicitly, but only implicitly, this is saying that the community needs to improve their chesed to people beyond their own population. (Presumably, aside from people at such wonderful tzedaqos like Zaka, Yad Eliezer, etc, etc, etc…)

    At no point does R Edelstein say that the behavior of the Sicarii is beyond the pale and un-chareidi. At no point does he lament the silence that allowed this to go on since the past summer.

    (On a less authoritative front, but still showing the tenor of communal attitude, MBD (the singer) associates the current tension to the Satmar Rav’s prediction of a time when it would be impossible for chareidim to live in Israel. He compares the secular Israeli community to the Egyptians and their fear that Jewish birthrates would overwhelm their population (Shemos 1:9, from the week’s parashah).

    And in fact, by focusing on the media and secular response, circling one’s wagons with the Sicarii, he gives them and those who might end up joining them, a very different impression. (Aside from tarring all chilonim with the sins of a few, pot-kettle-black.)

    Ironically, focusing on “we don’t do that” would have both put the Sicarii beyond the pale AND defused any attempt by the media to use them to slur the whole. This is simply seen as more “all chareidim are alike”.

    Where is the gadol’s wife walking these girls to school?

    Where is the post-Mercaz haRav massacre sentiment that a Jew learning Torah is a Jew learning Torah, that what unites yeshiva bachurim is far more than what divides?

    Where is anyone saying the simple message: Scaring little girls is creepy, and I am repulsed by such behavior?

    We hear these words from where — non-leaders from the Anglo Chareidi world? Is that the voice of the community in question? Where are the gedolim? Is belief in an old universe, or listening to Lipa Shmeltzer’s prior style of music, or going to a college program designed to be chareidi friendly actually more damaging to the soul than screaming at little girls?

    No, all the attention is on “poor us”. We don’t hear the outrage heard after the examples you cite. My Lai and Rabin are apt — as contrasts, as illustrations for how we should have responded. But didn’t.

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