Thursday, June 27, 2013

When vitriol is justified

[Note: I don't like the word Chareidi, since I believe it is an overused term that obscures the nuances between certain religious groups, but I don't have a better term for this post. So I'm using it.]

I've been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, unsure what I want to say and even more unsure how to say it.

In my rabbinic circles and in my Toronto circles, I've heard a lot about "vitriol", "venom" and "hate speech" coming out of Chareidi circles regarding Yesh Atid, Rabbi Dov Lipman, and the much-discussed plans to cut stipends for kollel members and push Chareidi men into the army or the workforce.

Realistically, I know that much of the vitriol/venom/hate speech is aimed at "my kind": RCA-affiliated rabbis with knitted yarmulkas who are open to the idea that:
1. The Chareidi community in Israel has grown past the point where it can be supported at current levels, and
2. The combination of its size, its political and economic demands and its political inflexibility has become unacceptable within an Israeli society that is increasingly fed-up with dealing with it.

However, I don't think it's fair to criticize Israeli Chareidim for the violence of their speech. We are talking about people who are being forced to radically change their lives or face starvation, aside from feeling that they are under ideological siege by a powerful majority. If it was fair for Jews in Gaza facing Disengagement to sharply criticize those who evacuated them - and the term "rasha" is hardly the worst term they used at the time - then it is fair for Chareidim to use such language now. Being wrong does not mean they cannot be upset.

I'm not talking about people who have no personal connection with the situation, for whom the debate is one of ideology; they should be guarding their tongues.

I'm not talking about the battles over whether to compromise with women who want to wear tefillin at the kotel, or whether a restaurant serving treif will open in another neighbourhood. In that matter, too, they should be guarding their tongues.

But when it comes to their livelihood and the existence of their community in the form they desire - This isn't about ideological debate, or delivering tochachah with a positive tone. These are people who feel their lives are being threatened.

As I said above, I've been mulling this post for a couple of weeks now, and I'm still not sure I'm the right person to say this, and I'm not sure this is the way to say it. But my sense is that when it's a matter of life and death, then vitriol is justified.

Is vitriol helpful? No. Understandable? Yes.


  1. However, I don't think it's fair to criticize Israeli Chareidim for the violence of their speech.
    Where does this definition of fairness appear in halacha? hashkafa?

    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. People got convinced by their own rhetoric that they saved the Torah from the claws of the Secular Jews.
    They thought they are indispensable. Secular Jews would show up in Israel and if the are not young collage students with rich American parents, then they are often so uncomfortable that they have to leave. This includes breaking window and locks on the doors and throwing stones at them as they take walks. there is no limit to the imagination that a charedi Jews will use to get rid of secular Jews. I myself am not so very secular but i have experienced them all.

    The reason collage students are different is it is like the many cults operating on American campuses that see collage student as legitimate prey.

  4. Cart and horse.

    The reason why chareidim are facing a battle rather than a more normal conversation an attempt to compromise is because they excluded themselves from a society they consider evil first. There was no chance for dialog. An American-style Yeshivish person who wants to make sure chareidim end up with a healthy middle road that can actually preserve the essence of their worldview has to join Yesh Atid to influence what the Other tries to impose on them.

    You yourself note that the "political inflexibility" is part of the problem, not a response to it.

    This is because "Yaldei Teiman" sums up their view of how the State treats Judaism. (Never mind the accuracy of their perception of that event.) And you heard it and other such fiascos brandied about decades later. As though a Keneset in which the majority of Jews do something they personally consider "shemirat Shabbat", more wear kippot than ever before in history -- as is true among army officers (the prestigious Golani is dominated by kippot serugot), there is an actual seder in gemara for MKs running at the Keneset!, that such a gov't can be typified as anti-religion and of an ilk with the Avodah-led coalitions of 50 years ago is a farse.

    And it's their holding on to this demonization that forces the majority to treat them as an Other, as a combatant. That makes dialog and slow progressive solutions impossible.

    At least, impossible as political statements. I bet the final result will be something of that sort, forged in back-room meetings away from the eyes of the screaming masses.

    (Unlike Gush Katif, where those masses refused to take gov't help until after it was too late for an orderly move. Some kind of R' ZY Kookian messianic belief that retreat from territory was not only prohibited, but metaphysically impossible.)

  5. Anonymous 5:25 AM-
    Bava Basra 87b - מכאן שאין אדם נתפס בשעת צערו, "We see from here that one is not held accountable for what he says during his time of pain."

    R' Micha, Adam-
    But those are points regarding their correctness/incorrectness, no? That doesn't address the justification for their hysteria.

    1. Justification for hysteria? I saw things differently. I went about telling people, "The house is on fire."
      [I was not the only one. There were the Na Nach people saying this from the beginning.

      Some people thought that means, "There is fire in the house." So they went about rearranging the furniture. More Halacha, more Musar, etc. I was saying get out of the house while you still have time. Now they are hysterical when the walls start crumbling.

  6. I feel uncomfortable about the shift in the penultimate paragraph from vitriol being "understandable" to "justified". Something may be understandable, but wrong, but something justified is, at least on some level, morally right, even if other considerations make it inadvisable. And I don't think vitriol of this kind is right, whatever the circumstances (and, yes, I did think that about the vitriol at the time of the Gaza Disengagement too).

    I have long had the suspicion that the 'baseless hatred' that caused the destruction of the Temple was not simply about personal animosity, but was connected with the many deep religious and political divisions in Jewish society of that time (Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes; Hellenizers, Zealots and moderates). The divisions were no less fundamental than those which divide the Jewish people today, yet the hatred was nevertheless "baseless" because people should be able to have fundamental disagreements without resorting to personal hatred.

    As Tisha B'Av approaches, I feel we should all of us, regardless of our religious or political views, think very carefully about how we argue with each other, even - especially - when we are sure that our opinions are correct.

  7. I very much agree with Daniel Saunders' recent comment. And once we make the justifiable vs understandable distinction explicit, I can make my point more clearly.

    Yes, it's just as understandable that someone painted into a corner will lash out regardless of who did the painting.

    Nut in terms of justifiability, even within their own givens, the fact that the animosity was a critical element in causing their crisis rather than being caused by it, your point has no bearing on justifiability.

    AND, in terms of sympathy, I find it harder to find sympathy for someone who got unnecessarily shot in the middle of attempting a burglary than someone who got shut by the burglar. The chareidim caused this by ignoring the beris yei'ud. By the vast majority of them treating other Jews as enemy and yet also relying on them for their existence -- to the extent that life for people like R' Meshi Zahav, head of ZAKA, is made difficult by people who can't handle their attempt to reach out in ways other than pushing for laws to prohibit aveirus. Ways that actually treat chilonim as brothers with whom one could dialog.

    So they shut the door on dialog and then are surprised that the Other thinks of them as outsiders, non-participants, and people with whom one can only impose by force, not negotiate.

    They caused this chiloni reaction. The chilonim (and much of the Religious Zionist world) are treating the chareidi refusal to serve the way the chareidim have for decades treated the chiloni refusal to keep hilkhos Shabbos.

  8. I think you mean 16b and I don't notice a note in the gemara linking to this being brought down lhalacha
    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    Joel Rich

  9. OK, so anger is an understandable response to major stress. Still, doesn't leadership include doing one's best under the circumstances to ameliorate or even fix problems, as opposed to lashing out bitterly? Venting is a reaction, not a plan or strategy. We can and should pour out our hearts to HaShem, but need to measure our words to people.

  10. The vitriol is understandable but not for the reasons you give.
    A spoiled child always has a temper tantrum when his parent has had enough and finally laws down the law. And the more spoiled the child, the more violent the reaction.
    For over 60 years the Chareidi community has lived off the finances of the State while contributing minimally in return and villifying the source of the funds. What's more, it was allowed to build an ideology in which that financial support along with the glaring lack of hakaras hatov were an iron-clad entitlement dating back to Matan Torah.
    Now suddenly the source of the money has decided it will actually demand something in return for its money. Of course the Chareidim are outraged. You might as well tell them they have to have bacon every morning for breakfast. It's the same thing. Accountability, mutually respectful relations, these things are all against the Torah according to the religion they have built it.
    So yes, the vitriol is predictable and should be dealt with just the way a parent does with his screaming toddler.

  11. Daniel-
    Is it not morally right - justifiable - to scream when you believe someone is threatening your life? [And see my note to R' Micha below.]

    R' Micha-
    Maybe the word I should be using is "reasonable"? That avoids the moral judgment of "justifiable", which would require more of an assessment of how they came to be in this corner.

    Correct, it's 16b. But it won't have an עין משפט note because there is no application within practical halachah.


    But what if the parent is threatening to kill the child?

    1. "Vitriol" is not the same as "screaming". A scream is a sign of terror and a cry for help. Vitriol is a way of going on the offensive, an excuse to avoid a rational discussion and compromise.

      Further, how grounded in reality does the threat have to be for us to permit screaming and vitriol? For decades Arabs across the region have been screaming that Israel is threatening their lives - is this also justifiable?

    2. Re: Grounding in reality - I don't have a precise gauge, but take a look at Yesh Atid's formal platform at and let me know what you think.

    3. I've looked and I'm still not convinced this is threatening life. There is a difference between life and lifestyle. I am not convinced a threat to lifestyle permits such vitriol, particularly when such a lifestyle is supported by a third party.

      I might add that although this in an extreme case due to ideology, similar scenarios are not uncommon at the moment, when the financial crisis is forcing governments in welfare states across Europe to reassess which groups deserve welfare and what they, if anything, should do in exchange for it. Such vitriol is not unknown, but I think it is a sign of a society in crisis, where government has become seen as a way of getting money or concessions for free and by right; meanwhile, the ideals of reasoned debate, attention to alternative views, acceptance of a changed reality and compromise are thrown out the window. I think it is a sign of an unhealthy society and I can't condone it among Charedim or anyone else.

  12. The parent is not threatening to kill the child. The parent is tired of the child taking and taking and, when asked to give back, screaming "I hate you! You're a horrible parent!"
    Meanwhile the parent would dearly love to give this child a whupping to within an inch of its life or toss the child out of the door and into oncoming traffic and be done with this abuse but he can't because he still feels a connection to and a responsibility for the child despite the abuse he's taken from it

  13. Respectfully, I must take issue with your comparison of the Chareidim and the Jews of Gush Katif.

    The Chareidim are NOT "being forced to radically change their lives or face starvation." Many of them (but not all!) will now have to serve in the IDF for two years once they turn 21. That's it. They can continue to sit and learn in Kollel before and after. How is that a "radical change"?

    In contrast, the Jews of Gush Katif - who did not attack anyone and instead did everything in their power to reach out with love to their fellow Jews and Israelis - had their homes, their livelihoods, and their entire way of life torn away from them.

    1. Mrs. S.-
      You are there and I am not, but what I am hearing from Yesh Atid is rather stronger than serving in the IDF for two years. See

      But I absolutely agree that Gush Katif is different from the Chareidi situation in certain key aspects. My only point of comparison was that both groups were threatened at the most serious level.

    2. Mrs. S, I think you're falling for the problem in the disclaimer at the top of the post: "Note: I don't like the word Chareidi, since I believe it is an overused term that obscures the nuances between certain religious groups, but..."

      There are subcommunities of Chareidim where programs like Machon Lev and the chareidi track at Kiryat Ono are growing in popularity. Then there are the subcommunities that question Dov Lipman's self-definition as chareidi.

      (Aside from the question of whether he is Yesh Atid's "court Jew" or the chareidi voice trying to have input into their proposals to keep them livable. Or more accurately: which combination of the two describes reality.)

      People toward the latter end of that spectrum ARE being forced to change their lifestyle.

      Yesh Atid recognizes that financial pressure will skew that demographic, and therefore wants to insure core curriculum among today's chareidi children so that those who grow up to realize they need a job aren't forced into poverty by their parents' decision.

      And in a very real sense, but one too subtle to get articulated among all the screaming, every chareidi is being forced to change. Because the chilonim are trying to get them to participate in the country. Not just to blackmail coalitions into providing handouts, or to pass laws to force people not to do certain things on Shabbos or with treif food (and hate it). But to actually join the "Zionist enterprise" by becoming fully active citizens.

  14. Iust submitted the following to Daas Torah, R Daniel Eidensohn'sblog. It is awaiting moderator approval, which might mean until after Shabbos ends in Har Nof. RDE is the compiler of the indices to Igeros Moshe and Mishnah Berurah, and the author of a few books titled "Daas Torah" on disparate subjects -- a huge source book of rishonim on various topics of Jewish Thought, and a series of books on the halachic, psychological, communal, and hashkafic aspects of abuse.

    Begin quote:
    As RMTorczyner noted, there are (limited) parallels between this situation and that faced by the residents of Gush Katif. In that both felt threatened on an existential level by the Israeli gov't, and responded by screaming irrationally (my description) in panic.

    Also, RAM, your description is false. There is willingness to compromise on one side. There are proposals of chareidi tracks, more limited tours of duty, etc... The lack of compromise is one-sided. (And, as I wrote already, predates and caused the issue, and therefore cannot be forgiven under the excuse of panic.)

    And since Israel cannot afford to follow Cyprus into the fiscal abyss, things will change for the chareidim. Again, like Gush Katif. Those who refused to cooperate, to take the money and time to move out in an orderly manner, suffered the most.

  15. Micha wrote above about willingness to compromise with chareidim. Does any of that willingness emanate from Yesh Atid, or only from more rational players?

    1. I do not agree that YA is a less rational player. This is their plan, as written on the page our host already gave the link to (emphasis in original):

      The Yesh Atid plan states plainly and simply: For the next five years, open the doors for 18-year-old ultra-orthodox young men to go to work with no requirement to serve. During those five years the National Authority for Civilian Service will identify the differing needs throughout Israeli society and arrange to address those needs by harnessing those who will enter National Service after the initial five year period. Furthermore, during those five years, a payment plan will be established for combat soldiers who serve for a full three years.

  16. Is the cited Yesh Atid platform document consistent with the subsequent actions and statements of Yesh Atid leaders once they assumed office? I get the distinct impression that the document was a political tool and only the opening wedge for a more general post-election assault on Chareidim.

    1. The answer to your question is "yes, everything they've done is consistent with that page." Your second sentence is a description of the impression you get when you form your opinions around the chareidi screaming masses, rather than actually look at the facts they're screaming about.

      Why do you think Dov Lipman claims he's acting in a way consistent with his Ner Yisrael background -- a fact the current rosh yeshiva had to apologize for challenging?

  17. I respect Rav Dov Lipman but don't think he's calling the shots.

    Also, there seems to be government planning on more than one front (economic, for example) to nail chareidim to the wall with no gradual phasing-in; it's not all someone's vivid imagination.

  18. In negotiation theory (at least as it was about 30 years ago) you need to have a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated alternative). The chareidi leadership has refused to negotiate over IDF or workforce participation for years (because it is a core value I assume). The rest of society is now impementing its BATNA. Next move is up to chareidi leadership

    She-nir’eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu,
    Joel RIch

  19. I do not agree that the vitriol is justifiable and I do think it’s justifiable to criticize the Charedim for the violence of their speech.

    “We are talking about people who are being forced to radically change their lives or face starvation,” No, we are not. In spite of the rhetoric, and the arguments of polemicists like R. Avi Shafran, no, nobody is being forced into starvation. I have no doubt Israel, like any democracy, will continue to maintain social safety nets to keep its citizens from starvation. Israel has made other budgetary cutbacks to social services and to welfare over the years which affected various demographics which reflects economic realities that money doesn’t grow on carob trees and yet nobody is dropping dead in the streets from starvation. Repeating the arguments of R. Shafran such as here does not make it true. Although I am thrilled that R. Shafran, long a supporter of the Republican Party, is finally appreciating Big Government and wealth distribution by gov’t of money collected through taxation to help the poor like Cindy.

    Perhaps you meant to say, “We are talking about people who BELIEVE they are being forced to radically change their lives or face starvation”. But the facts are otherwise, and it is absurd for any thinking person to think that the Israeli government, the largest distributor of yeshivah support in the history of the planet, has some secret plan to starve its religious citizens. It is absurd, and anyone who believes that is choosing to believe it in spite of the facts. But it is certainly not the facts.

    As for the argument that Gush Katif supporters engaged in vitriol and violent speech, that somehow makes the vitriol of the Charedim understandable – no, it does not. First, I was very opposed vitriol of the Gush Katif supporters and their violent speech at the time so I can be just as opposed to the vitriol of the Charedim today. It’s not like I condoned the antics of the Hill Huggers during the Disengagement and therefore so as not to be a hypocrite I know have to have sympathy for the Charedim and their antics.
    Secondly, the RCA blew the Gush Katif analogy out of the water here:
    Thirdly, it’s not like Charedim are using the Gush Katif playbook. It was the other way around: the Gush Katifers hijacked the vitriol against the State of Israel of the Charedim (and to some extent, also adopted some of the antics of Palestinians).
    Fourthly, keep in mind that the Gush Katif people and the Charedim have way more in common than not. Both groups are absolutely sure that God is on their side of the argument and therefore compromise is impossible since God isn’t subject to compromise.

    No, that the Gush Katif people used vitriol against the State does NOT mean that for now on in perpetuity I must tolerate all vitriol directed against the State.

  20. Nobody is suggesting that the State stop being compassionate. But that doesn’t mean it can economically continue its massive and ever increasing level of support for the yeshivot and the yeshivah world for people whom even R. Shafran admits are “wilfully destitute”.

    And no, there is not an attempt to destroy a way of life. As others have noted above, the Charedim are welcome to the bargaining table to negotiate, something that is seemingly an anathema to them, as here:,7340,L-4229040,00.html

    “An attempt to destroy a way of life” is a value judgment and makes assumptions about motivations.
    There is no attempt to destroy a way of life. There is an attempt to make their way of life economically and socially sustainable.

    Regardless of the merits of the arguments in favor of cutbacks to yeshivot, of economic incentives to seek employment, and suggestions of “sharing the burden”, the rhetoric is absurd, and there is no justification for the vitriol. It makes any discussion impossible. The charedim are under a siege of their own making since they are the ones who have long insisted on lifting the drawbridge and manning the ramparts rather than engage in dialogue. At best, I have sympathy for regular Charedim who are pawns of their leaders.

    This isn’t czarist Russia nor Haman-era Persia nor Amalekite-era Rephidim. And R. Lipman is not a rasha. And those who have attacked him such as R. Feldman and Jonathan Rosenblum have been forced to retract and apologize when confronted with things like the facts.

    It is fair to criticize anyone for this kind of hatred and vitriol and violence of speech. All the more so rabbanim and others who are supposed to epitomize the darchei noam of the torah. If this is the way of torah, count me out. But it isn’t. Although it does continue a very long tradition of rabbinic vitriol, yelling, and screaming.

    I spent the weekend with R. Lipman. It was a beautiful Shabbat, and informative, and he had a wonderful message of achdut. He delivered multiple divrei torah, conducted two hour-long shiurim, had a number of question and answer sessions. Fine, disagree with his politics and solutions for what everyone agrees is a difficult problem that needs some sort of solution. Question the halachic acceptability of his theoretical solutions for the conversion problem. Confront him on how to select the 1800 iluim whose learning would count as service. Discuss whether tying maintaining 55% of the yeshivot budgets should be linked to core studies or if it`s reasonable to reduce the support to only 35% if they opt out of core studies. Call him out on his claims that helping elderly and sick charedim in nursing homes for two years is worthwhile for a ben torah. But no, vitriol is not an acceptable reaction.

  21. Micha, with regard to your reference of the plan to allow yeshivah kids to work over the next four or five years, R. Lipman suggested that the yeshivot estimate minimum 30% of kids will drop out of yeshivah and take that work option if offered.
    I`d think that in and of itself would make the yeshivah system and charedi society far more sustainable than it would now if not only are there 30% fewer kids to support, but those kids will contribute to their own economic support.
    I also think that`s a pretty big indictment of the current system, that that many kids are there in yeshivah just because they don`t have other options. And I have no doubt many others are there to avoid army service.

    Again, one can disagree with the merits of the plan, but there are no plans to destroy a way of life, unless by that one means the artificial way of life that is only being enabled by the government beneficence. What the plan does seem to do, though, is negatively impact the current hegemony of the yeshivot. And that`s apparently what has some of the gedolim and askanim and screeds publishers running scared.

  22. Mrs. S.: not only are the charedim not being starved into submission, but to strengthen what you said that it`s just an option to serve in the IDF for two years, from what I understood from R. Lipman it`s not even that: they can also opt for a sherut leumi type of service, what R. Feldman apparently referred to derogatorily as emptying bed pans. That is to say, working in old age homes or hospitals in the charedi community, or let`s say making Zaka service a type of sherut leumi.

    These of course are things the RW people who refused to listen to R. Lipman over shabbat might have learned.

  23. By the way, R. Lipman also said that the proposed legislation includes the chiloni schools including increased religious education, some basics of Judaism.

    Yet I don`t hear any vitriol about how Yesh Atid is trying to destroy the chiloni way of life and starve them into submission.

  24. The question is: to what extent is speech a representation of attitude, and to what extent did such attitude create this cultural divide?

    The fact is that there are many secular mesorati sefardim that respect Judaism, and to a certain extent a charedi lifestyle, despite not wanting anything to do with that lifestyle. Such people are inspired by the beauty of Judaism, and their inspiration has largely been due to some form of positive exposure to open-minded and pleasant religious people who have shared common values with them.

    When such hate speech surfaces, it further distances chilonim from that respect for religion, and incites further disdain for the ambassadors of religion in the state (after all, they have jurisdiction over many religious sites and processes). To what extent does such speech distance them from their cause?

  25. It depends what their cause is. If their cause is greater appreciation and respect for Orthodoxy among the non-Orthodox (or non-Charedi), then you have a point. But who says that's their goal?

  26. I was reading this article today:

    Israel - Fierce Charedi Opposition To Teaching Basic Studies

    I had thought the terrible thing the government was proposing was INTRODUCING secular studies into the pure torah-only curriculum with the proposed legislation. It seems from the article they are really just INCREASING secular studies from 6 to 11 hours, and that's what all the hullaballoo is about. The vitriol and claims that this is aimed at destroying the torah community doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Nor are they forcing anyone out of yeshivah, they would still fund schools that opt out, albeit at a lower rate. The education issue of funding (and granted, there are other issues such as encouraging work, and sharing the burden with some sort of national service) seems to be about increasing the already present secular curriculum from 6 to 11 hours a week. If anyone chooses to believe that the charedim are being starved into submission and their way of life is being destroyed, it is a willful belief in spite of the facts.

    Again, disagree with the plans and the details, maybe suggest alternatives that make more sense, but the vitriol seems unjustified to me.