Monday, December 26, 2011

Learning from the Beit Shemesh Zealots

The violent riots regarding the OROT National Religious school in Beit Shemesh gives us an opportunity to learn a few valuable lessons.

Our Rabbis taught us (Avot 1:6)

והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות

which could translated as "judge every man favorably." If you see someone doing a certain act, which could be interpreted negatively or positively, we should judge the person in a positive light.

An alternative translation could be "judge the entire man favorably." You should not judge someone on the basis of an isolated act. Everyone has their ups and downs. The same guy that you saw doing something nasty may also have many good deeds to his credit. You have to see the whole picture. Keep this in mind as you view the following clip about the zealots in Beit Shemesh:

The clip presents those people in a very unfavorable light. However, imagine if a camera crew followed you around, with the explicit purpose of filming you doing something improper. Afterward, after editing, adding narration and subtitles, the clip was uploaded to YouTube. Would this be a true representation of who you really are? So it is with the zealots in Beit Shemesh: I am sure that they have many good deeds to their credit and that there are many positive things to learn from them.

With regards to the OROT school, and what the zealots are doing their fellow Jews in Beit Shemesh (spitting on them, calling them "shikse" etc.), I believe they are terribly mistaken. What is their error?

When one wants to improve his service of God beyond the letter of the law, one must be very careful that his actions do not cause him to be lax in other areas. Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto discusses this issue in his book, "The Path of the Just":
WHAT MUST Now be explained is the weighing of one's deeds in relation to the aforementioned standards of Saintliness. This is an extremely fundamental process and one which constitutes the most difficult operation in Saintliness because of the great subtlety it demands and because of its susceptibility to great inroads by the evil inclination. The weighing of Saintliness entails great danger because it is within the power of the evil inclination to draw many good things far from one, as if they were evil and to draw many sins near to him, as if they were great mitzvoth. The truth is that a man must fulfill three requirements in order to succeed in this "weighing." He must possess the most just of hearts, whose only inclination is to give pleasure to the Blessed One; he must submit his actions to the closest scrutiny and exert himself to perfect them in accordance with this end; and after all this, he must cast his lot with God, after which it may be said of him (Psalms 84:6,12), "Happy is the man whose strength is in You ... Goodness will not be lacking for those who walk in purity." if one of these conditions is not observed, he will not attain to Wholeness and he will be very apt to stumble and fall. That is, if his intention is not select and pure, or if he weakens in the analysis of his deeds so that his full potential is not brought to bear upon them, or, if after all .this, he does not put his trust in his Master, it will be very difficult for him not to fall. But if he correctly observes all three - purity of thought, analysis, and trust, he will walk securely in truth and no evil will befall him, as Channah said in her prophecy (I Samuel 2:9), "He will protect the feet of his Saints." And David also said (Psalms 37:28), "And He will not forsake his Saints; they will forever be protected."

What must be understood is that actions should not be judged for saintliness at first glance, but should be carefully observed and reflected upon so that it may be determined how far their results extend. For at times an action in itself may seem worthy of performance, but because its results are evil, one will be obliged to leave it; and if he does not, he will be adjudged a sinner rather than a Saint. The episode of Gedaliah ben Achikam (Jeremiah 40:13ff) provides a clear illustration of this fact. Because of his abundant Saintliness, which would not permit him to judge Yishmael adversely, or which would not permit him to receive slander, he said to Yochanan ben Kareach, "You are speaking falsely of Yishmael." What was the result? He died, the Jews were scattered, and their last hope was extinguished. And Scripture attributes to him the death of those men who were killed, as if he were the murderer, as indicated by the comment of our Sages of blessed memory upon the verse, (Jeremiah 41:9), "All of the corpses of the men who were killed through Gedaliah."

It was also such incorrectly weighed Saintliness in the incident of Bar Kamtza (Gittin 56a) that was responsible for the destruction of the Temple: "The Rabbis thought to sacrifice the animal. R. Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, `They will say that animals with imperfections may be sacrificed upon the altar.' The Rabbis thought to kill him [Bar Kamtza]. R. Zachariah ben Avkulos said to them, `They will say that one who causes an imperfection in sacrificial animals should be killed.' While all this was going on, the evildoer slandered the Jews to the emperor, who came and destroyed Jerusalem." It was to this that R. Yochanan was referring when he said, "The humility of R. Zechariah destroyed our Temple, consumed our Sanctuary and exiled us among the nations."

We see, then, that one should not decide upon the saintliness of a deed on the basis of surface appearances, but should view it from every angle that human intelligence can be brought to bear upon it, until he can truthfully determine the better course - performance or abandonment.

In their pursuit of modesty, the zealots violated several Torah precepts: Insulting others(Ona'at Devarim), harming people and property, and desecrating God's name to name a few. They "rebuked" their fellow Jews, in an uncivilized and violent manner. The fact that they yell and terrorize little girls is especially revolting. Even if the girls are not dressed properly, it is the parents' duty to educate their children, and not the duty of the zealots. If the zealots were to put aside their emotions and to weigh their deeds according to the ways of Torah, I think that they would agree with me. However, when emotion rules, Torah precepts are often forgotten.

This reminds me of something I saw many years ago in Me'ah She'arim. Apparently a woman who was not dressed according to the standards of Jewish Law walked down the street. I did not notice her. All of a sudden, a wannabe zealot ran down the street after her all the time yelling "prutza, prutza" (harlot, harlot).

I could not help but wonder: If she is a harlot, why is he running after her?


Chana said...

Do any of these hotheads give a thought to how thwir actions will affect the spiritual development of the little girls? As opposed to Kiruv rechokim, perhaps this might be termed richuk krovim.

Cosmic X said...

I don't think that was on the top of their list of priorities.

oliveseeker said...

I live in America, spent a good number of years in Israel and visited Beit Shemesh a number of times, including in '77 for a week (I am Jewish). These actions are not new to Haridim... they have had this way of approaching non-haredi women for a long time (as per Cosmic's referral to J-m). I agree with Cosmic's application of torah values on this situation. The problem is, is that for several reasons, including emotion (like Cosmic said), leads these particular Haridim to be blind to what is really important. They are also putting ideological goals in front of important torah values of kindness, compassion, respect of others. The problem is when you have leadership (their rabbis that were referenced by the man in the car)who give them permission to act this way, combined with what looks to me to be confusion of the spirit and mental inbalance. The man kept on saying that they are "healthy men." My guess is that he is referring to his "healthy" response to women, which is healthy and normal, but also confusing and difficult. And his response to these feelings is to get rid of the source of these feelings. I wish the leadership and this man would help these men deal with their feeling in ways other than terrorizing women and girls. I more than wish: I think that it should be illegal to terrorize people this way (I think in America, it's called "assault" and it is a crime)and I think there needs to be outreach to the Haredi community/leadership to figure out how to end this.

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