Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beit Shemesh: Of Sikrikim and Givonim

[I received what could be a critical alert this morning from the ADL, regarding a man named Danny Lee Warner. It is most unusual for them to send an alert specifying a name and a location, as they did with this one. The JCRC of New York has put the alert on-line; click here to see it.]

In the Bible: The Givoni tribe tricked Joshua into a pact of non-aggression when the Jews first entered Canaan. Despite the fraud, the Jews committed to honor their agreement, and supported the Givonim by giving them a role within the Jewish community.

The book of Shemuel I (chapter 21) records that Gd punished the Jews with a famine because King Shaul later attacked the tribe of Givonim. [The commentators are perplexed, for such an attack does not appear in Tanach; some suggest this refers to his eradication of the city of Nov, which eliminated their livelihood.] The Givonim demanded a horrific price for their satisfaction: The death of seven members of King Shaul's family.

As explained in Yevamot 79a, King David reacted by declaring that no Jew could marry a member of this Givoni tribe; they could not possibly be Jewish, because they lacked the traits of bashfulness, mercy and kindness. Expanding upon this, the Rambam wrote in his work of law, Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Issurei Biah 19:17):

כל מי שיש בו עזות פנים או אכזריות ושונא את הבריות ואינו גומל להם חסד חוששין לו ביותר שמא גבעוני הוא, שסימני ישראל האומה הקדושה ביישנין רחמנים וגומלי חסדים, ובגבעונים הוא אומר והגבעונים לא מבני ישראל המה לפי שהעיזו פניהם ולא נתפייסו ולא רחמו על בני שאול ולא גמלו לישראל חסד למחול לבני מלכם והם עשו עמהם חסד והחיום בתחלה
Regarding anyone who is boldfaced or cruel or who hates Gd's creatures and does not perform kindness to them: We are exceptionally concerned that this person might be a Givoni, for the signs of Israel, the holy nation, is that they are bashful, merciful and providers of kindness. Regarding the Givonim it is written, 'The Givonim were not of the children of Israel,' because they were boldfaced, and they were not appeased, and they did not have mercy upon Shaul's family, and they did not perform kindness to Israel to forgive their royal family even though the Jews had [earlier] performed kindness for them, giving them life.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes this as law in Even haEzer 2:2-
מי שיש בו עזות פנים ואכזריות ושונא את הבריות ואינו גומל להם חסד, חוששים לו ביותר שמא גבעוני הוא.
Regarding anyone who is boldfaced and cruel and who hates Gd's creatures and does not perform kindness to them: We are exceptionally concerned that this person might be a Givoni.

Given the above, I have to wonder: How could anyone marry one of Beit Shemesh's self-styled Sikrikim, who - in an organized, premeditated fashion - brutalize children verbally and physically in an attempt to intimidate them and drive them out?

I know their justifications, but the Givonim had a justification, too, and it was a lot stronger than that of the Sikrikim. Claiming the banner of Torah does not hide עזות פנים (boldfaced conduct), does not mitigate אכזריות (cruelty) and does not substitute for חסד (kindness). It appears to me that we have here a modern version of חוששין לו ביותר שמא גבעוני הוא.


  1. I agree completely, but I'm also worried about the chillul Hashem. The story has been picked up in news outlets that are not so well-disposed to religion and/or Orthodoxy (to put it mildly in some cases) and won't miss the chance to make an implicit comparison with, say, the Taliban.

    And even though the Sikrikim are anti-Zionist and won't care, in the anti-Israel press this is going to be portrayed as "Israel sliding further to theocracy". Note that this report The Guardian ends with a quote about this being about "the future of Bet Shemesh and the future of the state of Israel" (emphasis added), which could simply be refering to the clash between the Charedi and and Religious Zionist and secular population, but given The Guardian's track record and readership is probably supposed to sound more sinister. Just look at the comments, which refer to Israel as "An [sic] religious apartheid state sleepwalking into a state of aggressive fundamentalist intolerance."

  2. Korach also had justified his ideas, are not all of Israel holy?

    Justification doesn't make it right, nor make it Torah values.

  3. Daniel-
    Indeed. (Although the rhetoric about the future of the State is also coming from within Israel itself.)

    Anonymous 2:34 PM-
    Quite true. I was going to cite Korach at first, but I decided not to because it wasn't really parallel.

  4. Daniel, is that your real name or is it taken from The Chosen? Just curious.

  5. It is my real name, although I think The Chosen is a great book.