Everyone’s been talking charedim here, this past week, after ultra-Orthodox Jews spat on a 7-year old girl as she walked home from school in Bet Shemesh (The Independent). And I am not going to hide behind the journo’s favoured “allegedly” because, even if this child has been telling tales, such incidents have been regular occurrences in the city – 15 miles west of Jerusalem, and with a large, modern Orthodox, Anglo expat community – over recent years.
And, the thing is, I just don’t buy the spurious, disingenuous even, “It’s not all of them” defence employed usually by more moderate, but still observant, Jews – for whom such extremism perhaps poses uncomfortable questions – as a smoke screen to conceal the fact that it is most of them. While having little time for the arrogance of so many of Israel’s chilonim (see Doss vs. Chiloni, Parts I and II), I couldn’t help but ask myself this past week: What have the charedim (unlike the Romans) ever done for us? (Suggestions by comment, please, below.)
As a (peculiar perhaps) child, I owned more black-hatted, long-bearded and sidelocked figures – collected on frequent family holidays to Israel – than Action Men. In fact, I was enchanted by chassidim, and – attending Orthodox schools, and possessing a precocious fascination with the “Old Country” (as well as grandparents who would relay the more juicy details, unfit for a child’s ears, in Yiddish) – they seemed the closest link to my matrilineal Galician forebears (to whom I was more drawn than the rather more clinical Litvak misnagdim on my father’s side).
Easily the most memorable aspect of our fourth year Hasmo Israel Trip (see fifth bullet point here) was the Friday night tishen in Mea Shearim and Bnei Brak, at which I had been mesmerized by the spectacle of thousands of chassidim gathered around the table of their Rebbe. And immediately upon making aliyah, I trained as a tour guide at Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial Museum), largely because – as well as allowing me to look the Teuton in the eye as I presented him with a less palatable account of his recent history than that fed him by Germany’s postwar educational system – it enabled me to really ‘touch’ this past. And, in 2000, I visited the south-eastern Polish city of Ropczyce, and its satellite towns of Radomyśl Wielki and Sędziszów Małopolski, which at least some of the Reiss Dzikówer chassidim had the vision and/or good fortune to abandon in time.
Something, however, has changed in me – perhaps I have lived here for too long – because I just don’t see charedim in the same light anymore: I no longer see warm, charismatic, spiritual guardians of our wonderful religion. What I do see are ridiculously anachronistic, lazy, chutzpadik, and in many cases (as in Bet Shemesh) violent, spongers and parasites, who threaten our democratic, tolerant values differently, but no less meaningfully, than our Islamofascist cousins in Gaza, Lebanon and Iran (see The Good, the Sad and the Ugly).
Following a Friday night dinner, last year, at my cousin’s home in the ‘normal’, Anglo part of Bet Shemesh, we took a late night wander up the hill into the charedi area on the other side of the valley. Stuey and Dexxy were on their leashes, and I didn’t let them get close to any of the ‘penguins’ whom we passed on the road. But the intimidation to which we were subjected – one particular nutter following us and muttering “noshim ve’yelodim” (women and children) as if he had never seen a dog – made us beat a hasty retreat. And how I resented that: these leeches, the overwhelming majority of whom, neither paying taxes (can someone please explain why they are allowed to vote) nor serving in the army, contribute nothing to this country, telling us – like the skinheads and “yobs” of our boyhood in England – on which of its streets we could and could not walk.
Sikrikim, a splinter group of Neturei Karta – the scum whose distinguished roll of honour includes kissing up to the little brown Hitler in Tehran (can any Jew ever have witnessed anything as sickening as this?) – are believed to be behind recent events in Bet Shemesh (see the darlings in action here). But they, to my mind, are just the worst of a generally bad lot. Charedi discrimination against women (it goes without saying that they are also viciously homophobic) – closing roads to them, forcing them to the back of buses, and even defacing female faces on advertising hoardings – has become commonplace in Jerusalem. And why would a secular Israeli choose to visit his capital on Saturdays when ultra-Orthodox pressure has succeeded in virtually closing it down (it is well-nigh impossible to even grab a cup of coffee in most areas of the city)?
Chassidic sects are also, on the whole, extremely exclusive – with the notable exception of Chabad Lubavitch (one of the main reasons that it is viewed so suspiciously by the others) – with frequent outbreaks of violence between them (the most recent just a month ago). While the rest of us may joke about our tendency to factionalism – “splitters!” – we also cherish our common brotherhood. Seemingly not so, however, charedim. A chassid of the Gerrer sect (considered amongst the more moderate), living in Tel Aviv, informed me that he considers secular Israelis “goyim”. And after helping constitute his struggling minyan – even dragging in reluctant “goyim” from the street – during my year of kaddish for my father, I was only once invited to any of their homes . . . and then only on the morning of Pesach for that evening’s seder (sure enough, though, at the end of the 12 months, I was asked for a donation!)
I exclude the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox from much of the above, though their Shas party is a toxic mix of religion, political patronage and social welfare, led by a small-minded twerp, and formerly by corrupt demagogues such as Shlomo Benizri (in jail) and Aryeh Deri (out of jail), all backed by a loose-tongued, rabble-rousing lunatic posing as a spiritual leader (should be in jail). Hamas without the virgins, if you ask me.
If charedim wish to live in the past, rather than in a modern, democratic Jewish state, I suggest that we ship them – or, at the very least, those amongst them who refuse to abide by the law of the land (and I would make all of them pay taxes and serve in the IDF) – back to eastern Europe. Let them see how their shenanigans are tolerated there.
One thing is for sure, though: we would be better off without them.
Happy (Goyishe) New Year!