An Alternative to Fighting Extremists

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How should we respond to the thugs who are harassing young girls, and the greater Beit Shemesh community, in the name of our religion? There are three ways to respond to bullies: 1) fight back, which risks escalating the conflict; 2) do nothing, in the spirit of Gandhi’s passive resistance, which may allow the bullies to succeed; 3) strengthen whatever the bullies are trying to stop. I don’t know that any one method is right for everyone but I believe that the third is most appropriate for those of us in the US, so far away geographically from the controversy but so close socially and emotionally, in our desire to support our extended Jewish family.

I assume readers are aware of the events in Beit Shemesh over the past few months. Orot Banot, a Religious Zionist girls school in Beit Shemesh, has been subject to ugly attacks by Charedi extremists. In particular, the young students have been harassed and intimidated.

All responsible Jews condemn those who treat little girls in such an abhorrent fashion. However, the question remains what we can do to help. R. Akiva Males, rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg, PA, reached out to the school’s administration for suggestions on how he and his synagogue can help, whether they can sponsor a Shabbos party or the like for the students. R. Males received the following e-mail from Mrs. Pirchiya Nachmani, the principal of the Orot Banot girls school in Beit Shemesh:

Dear Rabbi Males,
Firstly, thank you for your note and support. It is very appreciated. At this point, we believe that the best way to counter the intimidation that has been aimed at our school, is by continuing to do what we have been mandated to do. That is, educating our young girls with a passion for learning, teaching them to strive for excellence in all areas,and developing in them a strong love for Israel — עם ישראל עם תורת ישראל בארץ ישראל .
To that end, we would be grateful if you would consider a donation towards our library or our science lab. This would react to destruction with building, it is something that will stay with our students and as you wrote “put a smile on their beautiful faces”.
We invite you to come visit our school so you can see personally how our students themselves are the “living response” to the situation.
Again, thank you so much for your support,
Mrs. Pirchiya Nachmani, Principal Orot Banot School

Mrs. Nachmani offers wise counsel. While some wish to fight back and others hope the conflict will subside on its own, she asks us to help defeat extremists by not only refusing to back down but strengthening our efforts. By building that which the extremists wish to destroy, we stand up for freedom, for community, for Jewish values. We build not only a school but a healthy and diverse Jewish community. Needless to say, R. Males’ synagogues sent a sent a check and the entire congregation feels proud to support the wonderful students of Orot Banot.

To donate to Orot Banot, please make the check out to “American Friends of Shaalei Torah” — a recognized American non-profit organization — with Orot Banot, Beit Shemesh in the memo section. (Shaalei Torah is the parent organization of the Orot schools.)

Please send your donation to Michal Glatt, the co-chair of the PTA, at:
Michal Glatt
Hayasmin Street 23B
Beit Shemesh, Israel

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

62 comments

  1. Glatt some questions

    At the same time, we can refuse to give tzedaka money to those institutions which actively support the thugs who terrorize young girls (or that tacitly support them by looking the other way and choosing not to condemn their actions).

    Money talks.

  2. Glatt SQ,

    That’s one option that so many “armchair generals” here in my neighborhood keep suggesting.

    However, that does not require any action on their part, and also does nothing to show support and give some comfort to those poor girls at Orot who have been terrorized.

    I think the best thing we can do is stop talking and commenting, and honestly try to support those little Orot girls.

  3. Donating money to Orot Banot is certainly a nice gesture, but how does this help fight the extremism of the latest incident in which Natalie Mashiach was attacked? Or, Tanya Rosenblit on Egged 451? Or…

  4. IH,

    “Ain Hachi Nami”, we need to find some way to help them too.

    But what does that have to do with supporting those Orot girls who were victims to months of abuse and harassment?

    Let’s not just comment and knock, let’s do more and support those who have been victims of abuse.

    Can you reach out to the two women you mentioned, ask how we can be supportive, & then tell us what you learn so we can help?

    Thanks.

  5. It seems to me this is exactly right. Support the one and, as Glatt indicated, do not support the other. The only problem is that I have to remember how to send international mail.

  6. David — while it sounds admirable, it simply doesn’t scale to donate money for each victim. Should I start a fund for my wife because of she was physically (!) shoved aside by a man dressed like a chasid while we were walking in Mea She’arim?

    Again, I have no issue with donating money to Orot; but, this is a topical ointment that relieves pain rather than addressing the disease.

  7. Gil,
    “Do nothing” has nothing whatsoever with Gandhi. He advocated active, but non-violent, response.

  8. Gil,

    You forgot 4) Never make Aliyah. Who wants to live next to the crazies?

  9. Here’s a good one:

    4) Call the police. That’s what’s done in, you know, civilization.

    If they do nothing, elect a new civilian leadership who will ensure they do, and will pass the right laws. Can’t vote? Guess you took The Dude’s “sage” advice.

  10. MDJ: Gandhi certainly recommended the Jews of Europe do nothing. Accept their deaths happily or some garbage like that.

  11. Naḥum,

    I was being sarcastic. As the timing of my post would indicate, I live in Jerusalem.

    I am tired of N. American Jews feeling a need to weigh in on issues here.

    I am even more tired of N. American Jews using the problems here as an excuse not to make aliyah.

    I believe it was your beloved Ghandi who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Consider the positive effects a significant N. American aliyah would have on Israeli society.

  12. Nachum,
    That’s as may be, but is not what Gil was talking about. Gil implied that passive resistance meant doing nothing. This is not true.

  13. One can take action without fighting if this ugly situation is seen as an opportunity.
    So far these thugs appear to have been able to call the tune. Rabbinic leadership is nowhere to be seen. And yet ordinary members of the Torah community are ashamed, embarrassed and confused by all these goings on. So what can be done?
    Like Dov Krulwich (see http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/01/22/fighting-yesterdays-battle-a-view-from-the-beit-shemesh-front-lines/) ordinary people can act positively rather than grumble, wring their hands and/or get defensive.
    Imagine, for example, a grass roots counter offensive in which dozens (hundreds even – I wish!) of Torah Jews mobilised on hearing of an agressive Charedi picket. They would not engage the thugs verbally or physically but simply surround them and recite Tehillim. There is so much love, warmth and kindness in Charedi communities – this is an opportunity to show it, to lock thuggish behaviour up in an embrace of loving admonishment. Meanwhile others would escort the victims into/out of the school.
    It could be a wonderful opportunity for Charedi Jews to prove to the world that these extremists are the fringe group that we believe them to be. And if they join together with dati leumi people it could be a chance to build bridges across the communal divide. As the Satmar Rebbe said after the Mercaz HaRav massacre, we learn the same Torah, the same Gemara.

  14. Shimon: Problem is, ain’t gonna happen. Just look at all the other posts on Cross-Currents equivocating, rationalizing, or even justifying. And that’s “elite” *American* charedim. Imagine what the Israeli hamon am believes. (“She lifted her shirt!”)

    Dude: I apologize. I realized you were probably being sarcastic after I posted. I am, in fact, a neighbor of yours who feels similarly.

  15. Well, similarly on *some* points. 🙂

  16. One more thing- among Americans, at least, perhaps the “elites,” more trained in spin, are more prone to rationalize.

  17. I’m shocked at the cynicism towards the actions taken by the Shul in PA.

    Perhaps all that cynicism is coming from people in Israel (not that makes it excusable).

    I’ll tell you what the situation is here in America – no one is doing a thing other than condemn the crazies and spewing all sorts of hot air.

    No one has done anything to support or comfort the victims.

    Finally one Shul does, and people knock them down? Disgusting.

    Sure, you can’t set up a fund for every victim, but how about sending letters of support, etc.?

    I’m shocked that not one of the nayayers above have said “Yasher Koach”.

    From the comments above, it seems that many would feel better about themselves just being full of critisism and comments rather than actually trying to support and comfort those who have been wronged.

    I stand up and salute that Harrisburg Shul for reaching out and contacting the school to offer them comfort and support.

    To this date, for all their talk & commenting, I’m not aware of any other US Shul that has done the same.

    Kol Hakavod Harrisburg!

  18. “Donating money to Orot Banot is certainly a nice gesture, but how does this help fight the extremism of the latest incident in which Natalie Mashiach was attacked? Or, Tanya Rosenblit on Egged 451? Or…”

    Adding Tanya Rosenblit to that list is distasteful. After nobody talked to her or said a word, she decided to grab the elbow of the next charedi who passed her.

    Donating to the school, will help everybody as it will be publicized and the growth of the school will show the inevitability of these tactics causing the charedim more harm than good.

  19. Great job Harrisburg!

  20. I stop in for the weekday Minyan at Kesher Israel whenever I’m in the area for business.
    What a great bunch of people!
    BTW, they’re only 20 minutes from Hershey Park.

  21. I also hope that people will pass this information about helping Orot to everyone they can.
    Yasher Koach Harrisburg!

  22. I am tired of N. American Jews feeling a need to weigh in on issues here.

    Accept when they agree with you. Or give your country money, push for US diplomatic cover etc.

  23. Avi – What is distateful is that you dare to take a shot at Tanya Rosenblit.

    And, while props to due to the shul in Harrisburg, the fact is that there is a real simple solution here. The post erroneously asserts fighting back is disfavored because it “risks escalating the conflict….” This is a staggering error. Fighting back is the ONLY effective response to bullying of the nature seen in Beit Shemesh and the buses etc. Perhaps it is the byproduct of a midwestern America upbringing, but it seems to me the old saying “don’t go looking for start a fight, but if someone brings it to you, be sure that you finish it” holds here.

    And, to be frank, I’ve very disappointed in the fathers of the girls at Orot Bnot. If someone spat on my little girl, I’d find him, meet him with a baseball bat and break his legs. Why is this so hard?

  24. Reuven, one father against dozens of charedi thugs, is that a fight you would enter?

  25. HAGTBG,

    Keep your money and diplomacy. It would be the best thing that could happen to the State of Israel. We are 64 years old and still live with our parents.

  26. Reuven: That solution only works if you’re willing to spend time in jail.

    HAGTBG: Exactly. They’ll complain no matter what, and when we make aliyah they’ll complain that we’re too American and aren’t willing to change. There’s no way to win and that is why we just ignore them. Here it comes… but I won’t bother reading their comments anyway.

  27. We are 64 years old and still live with our parents.

    No you moved into a bad neighborhood and go to mom and dad to support a nice apartment there. And you still come for that money all the time. Anyway people should pay attention to their parents.

    ***
    The one thing, on reflection, that I don’t like about this money idea is that it implies you have to agree with the people under attack. I’m not about to start supporting Palestinian causes though I think actions of the Hilltop Youth (or whoever backs “price tag”) are vile and little different then the thugs here … both want to kick the others out. The only difference is that the Hilltop Youth are probably more likely to kill.

  28. My one regret commenting here (today) is that I said “Accept” instead of “Except.”

  29. Hirhurim: “Reuven: That solution only works if you’re willing to spend time in jail.”

    Some things are worth jail time.

    Shlomo: “Reuven, one father against dozens of charedi thugs, is that a fight you would enter?”

    Obviously, not an ideal situation. One would hope there would be support from other, similarly situated parents. But if my child was being abused, and there was no alternative, you betcha.

  30. Avi – What is distateful is that you dare to take a shot at Tanya Rosenblit.

    Oh, come on. Rosenblit is a provcateur. She shouldn’t be lumped in with the others at all.

  31. Blaming the victim is an old game, Rafael.

  32. It really pains me to see brothers and sisters pointing fingers at each other and talking to and about each other with such negatibvity.
    Kt

  33. “If someone spat on my little girl, I’d find him, meet him with a baseball bat and break his legs.”

    Everyone says stuff like that, but in the real world you just don’t see all those fathers of abused kids beating up/ killing the abuser, at least not nearly as many who claim that’s what they would do. Sort of makes you wonder if you are just blowing hot air.

  34. gil – “How should we respond to the thugs……in the name of our religion?
    why in the name of religion? why not as decent human beings – and do the answers have anything to do with religion?

    surprisingly, not on your list was insisting that the police and judges finally do their jobs and lock people up and not give them light sentences: the message should be – this will no longer be tolerated anymore. also, i do not see how fighting back applies to “we” in america.

  35. I meant that the harassment is done in the name of religion. But I’m curious why you believe that religion does not require acting like a decent human being.

    I’m not sure what you mean by insisting the police do their job. How does that translate into action?

  36. i just thought the answers would have religious component if the question was in the name of religion. maybe i just misunderstood – didn’t see the connection (one can always say a religious jew always act int he name of religion).
    insisting that the police… – is fighting back to a certain degree. we in america do have some influence on politicians in israel to protest the previous lack of action by the police. whether its true (that we have influence is of course debatable but certainly ms. clinton may have when she made a comment) is a different matter.

  37. “How should we respond to the thugs who are harassing young girls, and the greater Beit Shemesh community, in the name of our religion?”

    I don’t think peple realize how insane these wackos are. When I learned in the Mir, I used to read the filth they printed in Me’ah Shearim. Their weekly newsletter would include refences to “Kook Yemach Shemo[sic, and sick]” , and the ferverent prayer that the state be dismantled soon through the work of “mar achmidinejad yarum hodo”. (In fact when Achmidinijad planned to throw a stone at the Israeli border, there was sign up reading “Eis Lizrok Avonim” from koheles.) They view Mayor Abutbul as a sellout to the zionists and claim that the Eida Hachareidis has moved way to the left. But most importantly they see violence as very important in keeping up the Sinaah Le’rashaim, thus making it an end in and of itself. Giving money to Orot is great, but the only real way to deal with these thugs is by employing bigger thugs.

  38. I commend Kesher Israel Congregation for even making the effort to reach out to the victims.

    I mean, sure there’s been plenty of condemnation, but who else in the US has made any effort to reach out and give those wonderful girls a long distance hug?

    Frankly, I’m shocked at most of the comments to this post.

    Gil, I only hope that the vast majority of your readers are in full positive agreement & just don’t have the time to leave their comments.

    I find most of the comments here disgraceful.

    Great job Kesher Israel!

  39. Yasher Koach to R Males and his shul for a constructive response that sends the messages of solidarity and that “money talks.” How one decides to spend his, her or communal tzedaka dollars sends a far more constructive message than the contents of one’s circular file for those Mosdos that you deem unworthy of your tzedaka.

  40. Once again, it’s the Shuls in the smaller Jewish communities that come up with the great ideas that all of us in the “Big City” seem to overlook.

    Very well done Kesher Israel Congregation of Harrisburg, PA!

    (These are the same people who make sure to thank their Fire Fighters with a full Thanksgiving meal each year.)

  41. The “three ways to respond to bullies” is an incorrect analysis of the situation. Individual bullies have to be put down forcibly, and not allowed to hurt other people. There are indeed bullies involved, though one report from a FOAF says that many of the street thugs appear to be mentally disturbed. (Standard tactic from the organizers of such violence to set it up so that the violence is in part committed by good “victims” such as kids, women, or possibly the disabled. A vigorous response, even from skilled and humane crowd control forces, is then likely to produce “victims.” A classic tactic from the 60s in Berkeley to the Intifadas: mix disciplined civil disobedience with individuals primed for violent provocative acts, and have elements on hand who are likely to form a violent mob.)
    Even without that, several bullies can become a mob, and that needs a different response.
    That is paramount.

    However, as several comments have said, passive resistance doesn’t mean doing nothing. In this case, it would mean providing voluntary victims of the thugs (as opposed to little girls going to school) to move public opinion. Rosenblit was doing this; however, it is likely that her agenda is in many ways that of the thugs she was provoking.

    Which leads to another point: what is going on in RBS is in part the public face of an ideological war between two Jewish factions, both of which would like to see the state of Israel disappear.

    On the one side, we have the “religious” faction. On the other, the hard left. Tanya Rosenblit is no blushing innocent; the “One Voice” organization in which she is an “activist” is part of the New Israel Fund universe. NIF’s former (once Wikileaks broke the story, see http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=10TELAVIV439&q=nif) Executive DIrector in Israel felt a single state, non-Jewish because it would be “more democratic” would be no tragedy.

    That in no way justifies either the anti-chareidi incitement, or chareidi violence. Both NIF and NK want martyrs. The challenge for civil society in Israel is to protect the innocent without proving them. And those chareidim who say the thugs don’t speak for them need to find someone who does pronto.

  42. “The challenge for civil society in Israel is to protect the innocent without proving them.”

    providing them

  43. “IH on January 27, 2012 at 9:31 am
    Blaming the victim is an old game, Rafael.”

    Rosenblit isn’t a victim by any definition of the word.

  44. “Keep your money and diplomacy. It would be the best thing that could happen to the State of Israel. We are 64 years old and still live with our parents.”

    Except, Dude, you don’t speak for the State of Israel. When that becomes official policy, then your point would have some validity. But I’m not holding my breath.

  45. Avi — neither was Rosa Parks then, right?

  46. IH on January 28, 2012 at 7:31 pm
    Avi — neither was Rosa Parks then, right?

    Rosa Parks lacked certain basic rights as a black woman. How does Tanya Rosenblit fare.

    “Blaming the victim is an old game, Rafael.”

    I guess bashing Charedim is the new game in town.

  47. “Barry Gelman on January 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm
    Please see here for a proactive way to respond to extremism”

    Very little info provided. What exactly is this youth center going to consist of, and how does it help establish ‘roots’?

  48. Shaul — Rosa Parks and Tanya Rosenblit are cases of women who refused to sit in the back of the bus. It’s really that simple. Why is Rosenblit any more a “provcateur” (as Rafael called her) than Parks?

    See also: http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2011/10/rosa-parkenstein.html for another example of the two phenomena being related.

  49. HAGTBG,

    Hilltop youth likely to kill?

    I expect anti-Zionism on this blog. But that is just rabid anti-Semitism.

    Shame on you HAGTBG!

  50. Nah. Since the response to Ms. Mashiach, I’d say that charedi apologists have zero credibility on anything.

  51. There are plenty of victims of what the Sirkirim are doing. But Rosenblit isn’t one of them.

    If you want a name for a Rosa Parks in Israel, it’s Yocheved Horowitz.

    http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/israel-s-real-rosa-parks-takes-to-the-buses-1.403135

  52. “Rosa Parks was part of a movement of dozens (hundreds?) of women who sat on the bus, peacefully and did nothing other than sit on the bus and get off at thier stop.”

    The entire Rosa Parks incident was very well orchestrated. She was specifically chosen- it wasn’t a coincidence that she worked for the NAACP!- over another woman who had had the same problem but wasn’t as “appealing.” This is not to say that what happened was wrong, but it’s best to get your facts right.

    “Rosenblit, after sitting on the bus for a couple stops and getting no reaction from the Charedim to tell her to move to the back, decided it was a good idea to take off her shirt, and grab each Charedi man as he passed her.”

    What’s your source there?

  53. Avi,
    You have a very creative and disturbing imagination. No published account of the Rosenblit incident, even those in the charedi media which attempt to smear her, is as risque and scandalous as yours.

    As for Rosa Parks, she was definitely an activist too. From Wikipedia, “At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers’ rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen “tired of giving in”.”

    I may not agree with Rosenblit’s politics, but there is no evidence that she took the bus for any reason other than to get from point A to point B. The Israeli courts have ruled that the segregated busses are not legal. In fact Parks was in that sense more of a provocateur because she disobeded a current (unjust) law. Rosenblit did nothing wrong.

  54. Rosa Parks, as a black woman was subject to discrimintaion against her everywhere she went. At the worst, Rosenblit needs to avoid certain Chareidi neigborhoods. I don’t see that as much worse than the fact that I can’t walk in certain parts of Manhattan at night for fear of being accosted by a person of color. It’s ridiculous to compare Roseblit to Rosa Parks and it’s even worse to compare her to Naama Margolese who is afraid to walk to HER OWN SCHOOL!! Margolese deserves protection no matter what it takes; Rosenblit needs to grow up.

  55. This is a cynical use of a story to make money. Never let a good crisis go to waste. This is Israeli shnorrerism at its best.

  56. “Cynical?” Kol haposel…

  57. Thank you Dude for accusing me of being an anti-Semite. I guess we are all Hilltop Youth to you. So to you it is a huge step from arson and assault (the “price tag” policy) to murder. It isn’t.

  58. “Rosa Parks, as a black woman was subject to discrimintaion against her everywhere she went.”

    No, in segregated black neighborhoods she would not have been subject by the residents there.

    ” At the worst, Rosenblit needs to avoid certain Chareidi neigborhoods.”

    Great. Rationalize violence by telling the victim just to avoid the area. They used to say that in NYC before we finally had had enough of it.

    ” I don’t see that as much worse than the fact that I can’t walk in certain parts of Manhattan at night for fear of being accosted by a person of color.”

    Really? What neighborhoods? There is no neighborhood in the Bronx I can’t walk in, and the Bronx is 11% non-Hispanic white. My wife has practiced medicine in some of the “bad” neighborhoods and never had a problem.

    ” It’s ridiculous to compare Roseblit to Rosa Parks and it’s even worse to compare her to Naama Margolese who is afraid to walk to HER OWN SCHOOL!!”

    They are not the same, but they are both the victims of illegal activity.

    ” Margolese deserves protection no matter what it takes; Rosenblit needs to grow up.”

    Margolese deserves protection no matter what it takes; Rosenblit deserves to be able to sit wherever she wants on a public bus without any reprisals.

  59. “These are the same people who make sure to thank their Fire Fighters with a full Thanksgiving meal each year.”

    Riverdale Jewish Center does this, too.

  60. ” Rosenblit deserves to be able to sit wherever she wants on a public bus without any reprisals.”

    And she could.
    But when you get in the face of people, and try to flaunt your position,then you will get faced with equal and opposite reaction from the people who disagree with you.

    Sure you can have the right to free speech, and can dress however you want, but would you call someone walking around in a Nazi outfit a victim?

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