Elan Adler

Civil war in Israel?

This is my inaugural blog for Times of Israel. I’ve had a lot on my mind and wanted to share so much, but stuff always got in the way. Now, after my daughter’s wedding, things are calmer and I can think and plan again.

One word got me writing. Dishrag. How strange that this word got me on this soapbox. Dishrag. As the host of the Derech Eretz hour on, I deal with the lack of derech eretz all the time and have much to say about it, as do my listeners when they email me. But for some reason, this word put me over, and so I write.


I read an on-line story of a religious member of Knesset who was angry at what he perceived was a stab in the back for his religious party by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. This MK understood that the Prime Minister made a promise that no ultra-orthodox draft dodger would ever be jailed for evading Israeli army service. And now, says the MK correctly, there is action that will lead to arrest and potentially jail any Yeshiva student who does not report to the IDF as summoned. And what does this religious Jew say about the Prime Minister? That he is mistaken? That he is wrong? Or misguided?

No. The Prime Minister is a dishrag, with all its connotations.

Nice work, Mr. MK. A shining example of derech eretz and a sterling example for our children.

How does this insult portray religious Jewish people? How does it look and sound to the average Jew to hear a religious Jew use such language? Does it make him or her love the Torah and Judaism more because abusive language is hurled at the Prime Minister by a visibly religious Jew? Does it look good in the eyes of gentiles who can’t wait to pounce on Jewish hypocrisy when they see a disconnect between religious Jews and their teachings? Does it firm up that religious MK’s base, does he rally them to passionate and often violent protest by calling the PM a dishrag? If this insulting and crude behavior is what his followers crave and adore and applaud, they are no better than he is. We certainly can’t expect rebuke from them.

There is too much insulting, demoralizing and nasty name calling in the religious community, and this is just one example. Another often occurs in religious neighborhoods where Israeli government policies are protested. Tires are burned and trash cans are lit with bellowing smoke enveloping the neighborhood and traffic comes to a standstill. Law and order needs to be restored by arriving Israeli police, who are there not only to calm but also to save lives, and the welcome they get is being called “Nazis.” Can you believe that?

When religious people- who should know better – curse and demonize other Jews –even religious Jews – and there is little if anything done about it, we are on the brink of a civil war here in Israel. Make no mistake. When religious Jews who are trained by our holy Torah and who claim to be sitting in the aura of the Almighty for hours upon hours a day- studying, praying, delving into a deeper understanding of the Holy One and aching for a deeper relationship with God- when religious Jews jab and cut and slice other Jews and NO ONE condemns this shocking behavior, we are on the verge of a civil war. Every breach of civility, unless roundly condemned, invites the next bigger breach, and then we have no right to call ourselves CHOSEN if people can’t tell the difference between our behavior and our neighbor’s behavior. If we allow this unchecked abuse of words against other Jews to continue, our society here in Israel will suffer terrible consequences. We look pitiful in our own eyes and in the eyes of the nations.

When religious people are more concerned about what goes into their mouths and almost apathetic about what comes out of their mouths, we suffer as a people, in the eyes of our fellow Jews and in the eyes of the world. We undermine our projected special status. When there are dozens of kosher supervising agencies that attest to the high level of intake, but no agency or rabbinic leadership that condemn the treif words of output, we have failed to grasp the essential task of the Jew, to be a light unto the nations, and an exalted example of God’s finest teachings to and expectations of humanity. We are doing a dreadful job when people hear our most religious people and wonder, “This is the Torah and this is its value?”

We need to create an environment within the Jewish community, and especially the religious community, where leaders think 100 times before hurling insults and invectives against other Jews, for they know that if they do, they will forfeit the mantle of leadership and find no audience for their diatribes.

Let’s take that dishrag and clean up our act!

About the Author
I was born in Israel to Hungarian Holocaust survivors. I was ordained by Yeshiva University. I served pulpits in Stamford CT and Baltimore MD. I made Aliyah in 2010 and lived in Ma’ale Adumim and now Efrat. I teach and am the Rabbi of a girls high school (YTA) in Beit Shemesh and teach classes in Efrat.