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No tolerance for hooliganism

The thugs who so nastily disrupted the Robinson's Arch bnei mitzvah hail from my world - to my great shame and that of all truly principled Orthodox Jews
The scene at Robinson's Arch credit: TOI Laura Ben-David

There is no excuse – none whatsoever – for downplaying the sheer loathsomeness of the disruption by a group of young Orthodox Jews of non-Orthodox bnei mitzvah celebrations at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall last Thursday.

The ragtag group of teenagers and young men, some sporting Haredi dress, others religious-nationalist kippot, reportedly catcalled and insulted the celebrants, and individuals among the disrupters tore a prayer book and otherwise acted obnoxiously.

I am ashamed, as all principled Orthodox Jews who understand what being Orthodox means should be, that acts like those reported took place. Many groups include hotheads and hooligans, but we Orthodox expect those among us who are motivated to “wage war” to honor what the Talmud teaches about the evil inclination: Drag him to the study hall – i.e., channel the unbridled energy into spirited debates over our holy texts.

That those who participated in the hateful nastiness not only didn’t do that, but didn’t understand how to treat fellow Jews from different backgrounds is tragic.

At the same time, it is tragic, too, that some have sought to employ the broadest of brushes to tar the entire Orthodox community, millions strong, as somehow complicit in the ugly acts of a small group of misguided juvenile delinquents.

We are not. We Orthodox Jews, centrist, “yeshivish,” Hasidic or otherwise, teach our young to respect all Jews as brothers and sisters, and to love them as such. We are exhorted constantly to care about all other Jews, and to treat them with honor.

Our deeply held principles do not allow us to accept Jewish theologies that reject essential elements of the millennia-old Jewish mesorah, or religious tradition, that lies at the root of each and every Jew.

And so, we must reject all theologies that, sadly, have jettisoned the Jewish mesorah. My wife and I raised our children (who are today raising their own the very same way) and I have taught hundreds of students over decades, to understand that only fealty to the Torah – as it has been understood and observed over the centuries and in the face of terrible challenges – can legitimately be called Judaism.

But just as clearly and just as strongly, every one of those descendants and students was taught to unconditionally accept and love every Jew, no matter where he prays, or if he prays; no matter how observant, or unobservant, he may be. And I know that every Orthodox Jew in whose life I have been privileged to play any role was just as appalled as I was at the recent show of narrow-mindedness.

And so, when Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs writes that “these young zealots were simply reflecting the views they have learned from Israel’s chief rabbis and Orthodox politicians” and cynically derides what he calls “empty appeals to the ideal of Jewish unity,” he demonstrates ignorance. Or bigotry. What else does one call the derogation of a large group “because” of the criminality of a few individuals? The “because” is an excuse. The animus preceded the ostensible “reason.”

And when the grandfather of one of the bnai mitzvah, Gene Greenberg, a regional board member of the ADL, claims that the hooligans were “thugs [who] had been taught to hate their fellow Jews,” and publicly spreads the unfounded fantasy  – ”I understand that…” is how he prefaces the slander – that the youths’ “shameful rabbis arranged for a bus, dismissed them from class, and instructed them on how to disrupt non-Orthodox services, using whistles and shouting terrible things,” it is hooliganism of its own.

What happened at Robinson’s Arch fills me with sadness. How could any Jew who presumably received some degree of Jewish education treat another Jew like those hooligans did? And my sadness is only compounded by the attempt by some to use the hateful happening to further their own animus toward fellow Jews.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Shafran has been the director of public affairs and spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, since 1994. His essays have been published in, among others media, The New York Times, the Washington Post, at NBC-THINK and Fox Opinion, in addition to Jewish media. He is also the author of five books.
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