Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 29 May 2010 / 15 Sivan 5770


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Allen

Dear Rabbi,

I saw in the Israeli media recently (as in the past) demonstrations on the part of Orthodox which involved burning trash bins, throwing garbage in the streets and various forms of violence against the police. How can this be tolerated? Can the rabbis possibly condone such wild behavior? And how can a Jew raise his hand against his fellow Jew? I find this all very disturbing.

Dear Allen,

I, as well as some 99.9% of Orthodox Jews, agree with your feelings.

While demonstrating in a legal, non-violent way is acceptable, the type of harmful, destructive and violent behavior you describe is certainly unacceptable.

I have never heard any rabbi encourage burning, throwing or fighting as a way of expressing opposition to policies and practices of the national or local governments, despite the fact that these governments often transgress, or are insensitive to, Torah law or outlook.

So who are the people you see in the media doing these things? They are nearly always the most extreme, fringe elements of Orthodoxy that do not represent the vast majority who oppose such behavior. Unfortunately, while these few at least sincerely care and are deeply pained by the issues, others are simply drawn to the action not to demonstrate, but for the thrill and excitement. These are primarily hotheaded youth who care as much about the issues as they care about the damage they cause to Orthodoxy or to the local residents.

You see, it’s Orthodoxy that suffers most from this behavior.

First, it creates a horrible image that only serves those who capitalize upon every opportunity to discredit Orthodox Jewry. It also wrongly raises the animosity of the authorities and the general populace against Orthodox Jews at a time when we need to be building bridges not burning them.

But even more immediately, such behavior doesn’t hurt those being demonstrated against; it hurts the demonstrators’ fellow Orthodox Jews who live where they come to wreak havoc. While these few irresponsibles burn bins, scatter garbage and play cat and mouse with the police until the wee hours of the night, the residents’ households are disrupted such that children who have to get up early for school can’t sleep because of the noise, while everybody, including pregnant women, infants and the elderly have to suffer the putrid smell of burning garbage and plastic bins.

And long after the action-seeking hot-heads disperse, the residents continue to suffer as the fires smolder, releasing fumes and smoke throughout the night and the next day, while they and their children have to navigate the garbage-strewn streets amid the foul odor of mounting trash with no bins that lingers for days until it can be properly collected — giving new meaning to the term "collective punishment".

You are probably asking, “If the residents suffer so, why don’t they do something to stop the trouble makers?” As just such a resident, I can tell you that we don’t know who they are or where they live. Nor can we stand vigil until they come. And even if we did, it wouldn’t stop them. That’s something the authorities have the capability and responsibility to do, and even they aren’t particularly successful. And once the havoc erupts, we certainly can’t be expected to put ourselves in the crossfire.

That being said, observing the methods used by the authorities during these demonstrations, one wonders if it is always their primary interest to prevent or defuse the violence and damage. Of course I am not an expert in riot control, but watching the way things happen, it would seem there are commonsense, concrete measures that could be taken to prevent people from gathering in the first place. And once things get started, it sometimes seems those responsible for order are just as enthralled by the excitement. Not to mention those suspicious characters that no one recognizes who sometimes seem to lead the provocations.

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