Dear Rabbi Shafran,
I read your recent articles in the the Forward and the response written by Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll with great interest. You see, I live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. As I am about to disagree with you, I cannot think how to prove that I am not a chareidi-hater but simply a semi-chareidi Jew who sees the actions of those extremist chareidim who live near me. I hear my fellow moderate chareidim (the ones who made aliyah from America and are vocal on local Facebook groups) defend the freedom of speech and right to protest of these extremists who dress in chareidi clothing.
I have previously read what you've written with respect for the position you hold, but your recent response to Shoshanna's response in the Forward showed that, like many American chareidim, you are out of touch with the reality in Israel and naively believe that Israeli chareidim are just like you and that it behoves us to be tolerant of their difference of opinions.
Sadly, this is not a case for tolerance. I am tolerant of their decision not to join the army. I am tolerant of their choice of dress and speech and even of their dislike of the army and the state in which we all live. But I am not tolerant of their violence, their attacking me and women like me, nor of their invading my neighbourhood in order to loudly shout insults and death threats at a dati leumi man who works for the army. You and many moderate chareidim think I should be tolerant. I think that your call for tolerance of this sort is exactly what Shoshanna correctly labelled abetting extremist chareidim.
Let me share some information with you to correct a few of the points you made:
"Anecdotes, no matter how compelling, are not evidence. Let’s assume that the claim of “hundreds” of radicals in Ramat Beit Shemesh is not an exaggeration. And let’s add a similar number in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim. Let’s even round the number out to an even 1000 – though there is no real evidence of that many prone-to-violence haredim.
According to the Myers-JDC-Brookdale institute, an independent, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee /Israeli government effort, there were 911,000 haredim in Israel in 2014. 1000 hooligans represent 0.1097695% of haredim. Barely one-tenth of one percent"
There were over 10,000 men at the Peleg Yerushalmi rally on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, when Rav Shmuel Auerbach asserted that they will fight to avoid having to have anything to do with the army. Considerably more than a tenth of a percent. Granted, they might not all be violent, but they did all choose to attend a rally promoting violence, which should be taken as an indication of their tendencies. Note these are only men: I assume that their families share their views.
In Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet (where many of the most extrerme chareidi fanatics live), there were pashkeveilim up along the main street calling for every shul to daven from the amud for the destruction of Yaacov Rashi, giving his hebrew name and his mother's name, and his entire family.
(If you do not know who Yaacov Rashi is, then you should really know before you pontificate about the real level of violence in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Yaacov Rashi lives in the apartment building opposite mine. He works for the Lishkat Hagiyus, in the unit that drafts Yeshiva boys. Note that he does not force, pressure or in any way encourage yeshiva boys to sign up. He merely processes their draft papers when they do choose to, such as to enter the Nahal HaChareidi unit set up by Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. Because he works in this role, however, chareidi extremists have elected him as public enemy number one.)
Flyers have been scattered outside my building against Yaacov Rashi, calling him a rasha, a rodef, a threat to all of am yisrael, yemach shmo v'zichro (yes, those very words. I am happy to send you photos of the flyers if you remain unconvinced as to the truth of my words). They promised destruction for him and his whole family.
Groups of extremist chareidim regularly come to protest outside his building, shout insults such as calling for him to die, calling him a rodef and an eater of Jewish souls, and have tried to break into his home. They come sometimes at 3am to disturb the whole neighbourhood shouting insults and death threats.
In response, Rashi and his wife turned to the mayor of Beit Shemesh, a 'moderate chareidi', and asked him for his support in encouraging the local police force to squash the protesters. They asked him to use his influence to make it clear that this behavior is not acceptable in our town. His response: ‘This is not my problem’. That is the response of a moderate chareidi in a position to do something about extremist chareidi violence.
In the days before the giant Peleg Yerushalmi rally of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, pashkeveilim were put up all around Ramat Beit Shemesh aleph and bet, calling on all Jews to attend and promising to fight ‘to the last drop of blood’.
Shoshanna is quite right about the children of Ramat Beit shemesh bet throwing garbage and shouting insults at dati leumi girls who walk through their neighbourhood on a shabbat. Dressed modestly, I might add, in skirts to the knee and sleeves to the elbow, although without tights and in bright colors. Teenage girls walking through RBS Bet on a Shabbat afternoon really were set upon by a group of over 100 children throwing garbage and shouting insults. When I walked through that neighbourhood on that same Shabbat, it was only about 50 children who shouted 'shiksa' at me, an adult woman in long skirt, long sleeves and a headscarf, walking together with my bearded, black-hatted and –suited husband, which should have been some deterrent. I presume that that number is ok with you?
And granted, these are only children. Where did they learn this behaviour? How is it that my children know not to shout ‘parasite’ at a chasid walking down our street, even though there are some dati leumi Jews who call chassidim ‘parasites’, and yet chareidi children do not know not to shout ‘shiksa’ at a modestly-dressed girl who does not look like their sisters?
And as for the absence of media reports being ‘proof’ that Shoshanna’s comments about the state of violence in Beit Shemesh is just an exaggeration - those of us who live here are tired of being fodder for the media circus. We chose not to call in the media this time because it doesn't work. Media attention brings not one jot of pressure to bear upon the chareidi extremists of our town, and not one jot of pressure to bear on ‘moderate chareidim’ like those who make up our municipal board, who have made it clear that they do not care to stand up against extremist chareidim who harass their moderate chareidi or dati leumi neighbours. And one more thing – the American chareidi facebook commenters who I referred to above, the ones who share your belief that everyone who criticises extremist chareidi behaviour is a knee-jerk chareidi-hater, they think that calling in the media shows that all that the ‘chareidi-haters’ want is media attention. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
And are you right that there are moderate chareidim who have condemned such extremist behaviour? Yes, absolutely. There are chareidi rabbis and ordinary chareidim who stand up against extremist chareidi behaviour in word and deed. But there is no mass feeling amongst moderate chareidim that the behaviour of extremist chareidim is wrong. There is no automatic response to stand up for what is right rather than for what is right-wing. Instead, there is an automatic reaction to close ranks and support those Jews who also wear black and white, because the non-chareidim must be the enemy.
When a horde (almost 100) of extremist charieidi members of the Peleg Yerushalmi descended on Rashi's building three days before the Rosh Chodesh Nisan rally, it took 40 minutes for the police to arrive. In that time, the only people preventing them from breaking into his building were the regular residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh aleph, such as myself and my neighbours. There are many many moderate chareidim who live here, as I'm sure you know, but the vast majority of those who came down to stand against the protesters (peacefully, may I add, without violence) were what you might call dati leumi or chardal. We – myself and other adult women – were pushed, kicked, and spat upon by the extremist chareidi protesters who bussed into our street ready to attack Yaacov Rashi. And no, we gave no provocation other than standing opposite them. And yes, these extremist chareidim came to physically rip Rashi apart if he had stepped outside his front door.
Two days later, we (the Rashi’s neighbours) tried to prepare for the expected return of the extremist protesters by organising a system for notifying as many people as possible as quickly as possible of the beginning of a protest, so that they could come to peacefully oppose the protesters and make it clear that such behaviour is not acceptable in our town. Most of all, we wanted to gather as many adult chareidi men as possible, so as to show that chareidim do not condone this behaviour and to take the rug out from under the extremists’ feet by showing that they do not speak for the majority of chareidim.
We gathered almost 150 names on our ‘quick-response list’, out of which only about 20 were American chareidi olim. In a neighbourhood mostly populated by American chareidi olim, in response to request shared by English speakers on forums frequented by American chareidim, this is pathetic. Probably most of them also think that it’s not their responsibility to stand up for ahavat yisrael, or even just for not calling for a man to be killed, against their fellow chareidim.
If you complain about knee-jerk chareidi haters, then I think you must consider the possibility of knee-jerk chareidi defenders, who assume that a man who wears black and white must be believed over a woman who wears a mitpachat and sandals.
I do not think that you deliberately set out to disparage and belittle the sense of siege that is felt by those of us who live in the midst of extremist chareidi protests. I think that you are unaware of the reality of the situation. Please let me know, or Shoshanna, or my husband if you would prefer, when you next come to Israel, and we will be happy to show you around our neighbourhood so that you can learn the reality.
Ps. I did not address you ignoring of the issue of erasing women's presence from maagazines, adverts and periodicals, but suffice to say this topic has been much discussed and it is absolutely clear that this was not the norm in yeshivish chareidi circles, not in magazines, not in the Hamodia, not in the Jewish observer and not in advertisements in free advertisers until the last few years. Talk to any woman over the age of 60 and you will get a clearer understanding.