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Tragedy

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When a young ultra-Orthodox man admits to biting and beating his handicapped infant to death, how is it possible that the greatest rabbis of our generation publicly declare that this is a blood libel on the part of the secular Israeli authorities and that the man is innocent, before any trial or complete investigation? This is what happened recently in Israel.

How can one not be totally ashamed of a religion whose leadership act in such a way? Is there any excuse? Any explanation?

I am really very reluctant to attack the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they are my brothers and sisters, in that my lifestyle and spiritual values have more in common with theirs than any other religion or group in society, even though externally I look nothing like them. Extreme Orthodoxy in Judaism is devoted to the principle that Godliness, Torah study, and good deeds are the overwhelmingly important goals to be pursued in life. That can’t be bad, provided of course it is actually followed in practice. In this case, however, it seems that because the perpetrator is a brilliant scholarly student all else must be ignored.

I do not identify with fundamentalism in any way. I regard it as intellectually dishonest and counterproductive, if not dangerous. But I always admire people with the guts to stand up to society if it’s on a spiritual and moral basis, rather than a criminal or excessively self-indulgent one. I do not think history repeats itself exactly but there do seem to be cycles of extreme permissiveness followed by waves of strict Puritanism; fundamentalism is often a response to extremes of permissiveness. In general they are making a stand against the values of society as a whole at a time when it might well be argued we are reliving the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

But one of the problems with being a minority and on the defensive is the paranoia it engenders that leads its members to believe that everyone else is against them and that all other value systems are evil and corrupt.

I also feel very hesitant to criticize the rabbinical leadership of the ultra-Orthodox world. Its outstanding rabbis are exceptional men, intellectually and morally. But, precisely because they are scholars and men of spirit who find themselves constantly dragged into politics and mundane affairs, they are surrounded by hangers-on and assistants and filters and minders and holy-rollers and politicos with their own agendas which they often disguise. And these busybodies act as a barrier between them and the world of normal people. A curtain between a man and the world distorts the view of even the holiest of saints.

Men who achieve the pinnacle of religious leadership in Lithuanian (that is, non-Chassidic) Torah Judaism are never appointed. They emerge on the basis of their own qualities. In this meritocratic situation they certainly hold a morally higher ground to appointees. But they live such rarefied lives. In pursuing excellence in some areas, they are sometimes in danger of failing to cover all bases. Living in a hothouse can make you hot, but sometimes you need to be cool.

Wiser counsel would have added something to the expression of horror about how society in general does not prepare young people sufficiently for the pressures of marriage and parenthood. Particularly where there are children with difficulties the strains are enormous and we should be concerned etc. But simply to try to sweep the whole thing under the mat, to declare that the young man is “holy” and blame the outside world, is a sign that someone badly needs a reality check.

It is true that tension between religious and secular has been a running sore in Israel throughout its existence, on all sorts of issues such as mixed bathing, modest dress, autopsies, travel on the Sabbath, kosher food and civil rights. And it’s true that Israeli civil society is not the most sensitive in the way it deals with its minorities, be they immigrant, Arab, Black or Black Hat. And, of course, now according to secular hatred all ultra-Orthodox are wife- and child-beaters. Perhaps another system might have bailed the offender or put him in a psychiatric hospital rather than keep him immured in a common jail for a week.

But the response of the ultras was to demonstrate, to destroy property, and to behave in such a loutish, unreligious way that no normal, objective human being could possibly find anything praiseworthy in such a religious group.

(Coincidentally, a similar thing happened thousands of miles away the previous week in Borough Park, New York when a religious man was arrested for traffic offences and the area erupted in an orgy of ultra-Orthodox violence. In America at least the rabbinic leadership condemned the excesses. But in Israel they praised them.)

Tensions have been higher than normal since Netanyahu reduced the social benefits to large families, both Orthodox and Arab (interesting that these anti-Zionists who decry a social state so depend on social support). But in truth the Ultras have been spoiling for a fight as long as I’ve known them, and I‘ve lived amongst them on and off and joined in their demonstrations since 1957. So I know a thing or two, and I know that it’s usually in vacation time that the riots take place, and it starts as fun and ends in tragedy, and there is a tendency to say, “Let them let off steam,” and it’s only that.

But when great rabbis declare there is no crime and follow a consistent pattern of refusing to face up to the abuses that take place in their society we see a pattern of immorality I find so dangerous that I believe it threatens the very core of Judaism. It implies that it matters not what one does, so long as you belong and conform to the God Squad. If that is what Judaism has come to mean, then frankly we have lost it and it’s time for an Ezra to come and drive the false priests out of the Temple. Many non-Orthodox Jews support ultra-Orthodox institutions because they believe they are helping the Jewish people survive. But what is the point of survival if we have lost our God?

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8 thoughts on “Tragedy

  1. Psychologically, this is an easy one. What is easier, to suspect that a Torah life is not an automatic guarantee of righteousness or to suspect that the secular courts must have fabricated the charges ?

  2. It’s a horrible thing for religious leaders to cover up a murder but they likely had their reasons maybe

    They didn’t want to draw negative attention to the orthodox community and give secular Jews another reason to say, ‘Those orthodox’ and they wanted to deal with the problem themselves.

    Or maybe they were just judging him favorably and wanted to do their own investigation because they realized that the secular media would be quick to condemn.

    However, they really should have thought about how it looks to the secular observer!
    ‘Religious Leaders back Murderer’

    To the religious world, many can see probably that these leaders were trying to do the right thing and protect the ‘innocent until proven guilty’

    However to a secular world and to the media who is quick to condemn, it doesn’t look this way.

    And also many secular Jews have heard horrible stories about Mea Shearim, how people throw rocks at people for dressing unsneut.

    There is much tension in Jerusalem between the orthodox and the secular.

    Perhaps the secular community wouldn’t be so damning of anything that happens in Mea Shearim if there was more tolerance between the religious and the secular, both ways.

    However, bridging such a gap is easier said then done. It’s easier for an outsider to say ‘This is the problem with your community’.

    I think that the religious leaders who protected the man who confessed to murder thought they were ‘Judging favourably’ and ‘Protecting the innocent until proven guilty’.

    I think a major problem is Mea Shearim needs to realize that it is in Israel and needs to respond to a secular government, however much they don’t want to!

    Maybe the solution is for religious leaders to become more involved in politics.

    Again, it’s easier for an outsider to judge and condemn and propose “simplified solutions”.

    From an outsiders perspective, this is my perspective. However, I’m Jewish and currently living in Israel so I feel like I should have a comment.

  3. In Reply to:
    “What is easier, to suspect that a Torah life is not an automatic guarantee of righteousness or to suspect that the secular courts must have fabricated the charges?”

    I think it is more believable to an outsider that he is guilty than the secular courts fabricated the charges.

    The reason for this is…Motive.

    The individual police who did an investigation: Maybe one or two of them had bad experiences with the religious community and drew unfavourable conclusions based on bias.

    However, evidence speaks for itself.

    There is a possiblity of coersion or the father confessing because he feels guilty somewhat (even though he never abused the child), having a moment of temporary insanity based on police officers placing too much pressure on him in a moment of crisis. When he’s thinking, ‘My baby’s dead’ and at the same time ‘My marriage is over’ ‘What will my Rabbi think?’ ‘What will the community think’. A man in this state might be susceptible to coersion and might give a false confession in order to get rid of the police.

    If the confession is all that they have going for them than it is a very weak case!

    However, if they have ‘bite marks’ on the baby (To the poster who posted this, where did you read this?) then the case becomes stronger.

    Why would the secular courts fabricate evidence?
    I don’t think they would.
    However, individual people connected to politicians might in order to win votes.
    However, the baby can undergo another autopsy and the defense can call in their own experts so fabricating evidence, What evidence would they have to fabricate? Hiding evidence in the father’s favor is more likely however what would they hide?

  4. I read this in another blog (third hand information)
    “One of the rabbis, speaking to Israel Radio, said that the basis for the decree was that Valis’ wife was still supporting him, and that if he had indeed killed his son, she would not be at his side still.”
    Is this true?
    If it is, this is not a good rationality.
    Why would a woman stand by her man who killed her son?
    Why would a woman stand by an abusive husband?
    This situation is also unique:
    She probably has many reasons for doing so.
    1. Marriage Prospects: What will her future look like if she decides to divorce a convicted murderer after giving birth to a handicapped son?
    1. Her situation for re- marriage isn’t bright as she has given birth to a handicapped baby. It would be hard to find her a new husband. Maybe she figures staying married to him, even if he is a murderer allows her to have more kids and if the kids are healthy, Vales won’t abuse them.
    2. Maybe she blames herself for giving birth to a handicapped son. If only she had given birth to a normal baby, this never would have happened mental. It’s my fault that my husband “murdered my baby” (if in fact he did)
    3. I can’t go through this alone. Vales can be a comfort to me and I believe there is a chance he’s innocent. I’ve known him for a long time, I can’t imagine him ever doing anything like this. I can’t have married a murderer! I’m a good judge of character. He was a good father! (i.e. self denial if he did in fact murder the baby)

    So there are many reasons why a wife would stand by her husband. For anyone to say that a wife standing by her husband proves his innocence does not understand psychology and is judging too favourably. This one fact alone doesn’t prove anything. If you have many facts to go with it, than maybe it proves something.

    You can think you know someone by talking to them but do you?

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