The Whole World is Watching

When I read the editorial on YWN (Yeshiva World News), I became sick to my stomach. And then it made my blood boil! I wanted to explode in anger. Not at YWN. But at the very target of that editorial – members of the Charedi world. What makes this particular editorial unique is that it comes from a website that is decidedly geared to Charedim. I believe it even follows guidelines set by Charedi rabbinic advisers. The YWN editor calls it a massive Chilul HaShem.

What makes this Chilul HaShem so massive is precisely the type of Orthodox Jews doing it. Charedim.  This is not to say that all Charedim are like this. Most are not. Or that there aren’t other people who behave this way – Jew and non Jew alike. But I don’t believe that there is an entitlement attitude of the type that fosters this kind of behavior among other groups of people.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that the more religious one looks, the greater the Chilul HaShem. Why do they look that way? I believe it is out of a sense of religiosity. Which I also believe makes them feel superior to other – even religious Jews.

And the world responds – calling them ultra-Orthodox. Where Orthodox are seen as the most religious of Jews, ultra-Orthodox are the most religious among them!

In many ways they are more religious. When it comes to Bein Adam L’Makom (laws between man and God – often called ritual observance) they go out of their way to be strict. Consider the recent story reported in the Forward about Chasidim refusing to eat any processed food on Pesach – no matter how reliable the Hechsher – fearing the remotest possibility that it might contain Chametz.  And yet when it comes to the kind of Chilul HaShem described by the YWN editor, they seem to be clueless – and couldn’t care less. The following in his own words is what the YWN editor witnessed:

A Charedi woman with her husband and family in a NYC subway station. A fare was paid for the mother to push her baby carriage through. Along with her carriage, however, went through FIVE others – all without meeting the fare requirement.

Three Charedi children in South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan tossing empty Kosher box drink containers into the East River. The parents sat on a nearby bench as this behavior continued for 15 minutes. With the river littered with chocolate bar wrappers, empty snack bag wrappers etc., not one – not two – but THREE non-Jewish passersby told the parents to have their children stop this behavior.

On the second day of Chol HaMoed, this writer witnessed a Charedi father pull his child’s pants down on a major street and allow his child to relieve himself on a public sidewalk. Later that day, this writer witnessed a Charedi woman walk her child to the front of a line in a popular amusement park, and simply cut the entire line of more than 50 people patiently waiting for their turn.

What makes matters even worse is the response the YWN editor got from one of these Charedim after trying to get them to be aware of the Chilul HaShem he was making:

After this writer confronted her and told her respectfully that approximately 45 of the 50 people on line were not Jewish and she caused a massive Chillul hashem, her Charedi husband reprimanded this writer and told him not to give other people “Musar”, and “mind his own business.”

The YWN editor ends with a plea for his community to be aware that people are watching them and begs them to stop. Unfortunately (and I’d be willing to bet that he knows this) he is wasting his breath. These people don’t care – as was made painfully clear when he tried to give Mussar to one of them.

There are two reasons which I believe explains their behavior and over-all attitude about this. They seem to feel that as members of the Chosen people and being the most religious among them, they are free to behave in any way they wish. But it’s more than that. There exists among them an attitude that has no concern about the world around them. They place little to no value on their fellow man… seeing the Goy as the ever hating anti-semite.

That is an attitude developed by their parents and grandparents in a Europe where Antisemitism ran supreme culminating in the Holocaust. An attitude their forefathers brought with them when they crossed over to these shores. An attitude their leaders promote. Many of them believe that even if they were to be on their best behavior, ‘the Goyim’ would hate us anyway, so why bother behaving? If the trash can is out of reach, just throw your wrappers into the river. If you can sneak onto public transportation for free, why spend a nickel?

As if to underscore this sense of superiority and attitude of the New York Times had a front page article about Charedim (mostly Chasidim) who ask their seats be switched if they find themselves seated next to a woman.  The phenomenon is increasing as the Chasidim increase their numbers exponentially. This too is based on their sense or religiosity and superiority, taking the laws of interaction with women to extremes. Thus being ‘Frum’ at someone else’s expense. They disrupt the airline schedule and inconvenience other passengers by asking them to give up seats they pre-arranged. Often refusing to sit down until the flight attendant finds a passenger that will change seats with them.

Here too they care little how it affects others. It’s one thing to feel so devoted to God that they seek to avoid sitting next to a woman for fear they might inadvertently touch them. But when they do it at some else’s expense it ceases to be a religious stringency and has the potential of becoming a Chlul HaShem. And what it is.  A stringency. Rav Moshe Feinstein, whom most Charedim consider the Posek HaDor of the 20th century sees no problem with a man sitting next to a woman on public transportation. Chasidim want to be more Machmir? That’s fine. But not at the expense of others.

But they have their Chumros and everybody else be damned. They are going to hold the plane hostage until they get their way.

I recall another experience when a large group of apparently wealthy Chasidim boarded  a flight to Israel and started treating the flight attendants like their personal servants –  making ‘requests’ of them as if they owned them. I could not believe my eyes. Wearing my Kipa I was extremely conscious of of my identity as a Jew and embarrassed. After suffering through this shocking display of behavior I later apologized to one of the flight attendants – and said that I hope that it didn’t reflect badly on all religious Jews. It was with a sense of relief that she said it didn’t. That was immediately followed with the not so surprising comment that she was used to this kind of treatment from Chasidim.

How much value do their religious stringencies have in light of the Chilul HaShem they constantly make?  The Chilul HaShem they constantly make reflects on all of us. It makes us all look bad. It is condemnable! God doesn’t take kindly to people that desecrate His name so carelessly. I don’t think the size of their Esrog will matter all that much when they finally meet their Maker and He asks them about their enormous Chilul HaShem.

This behavior ought to be condemned in no uncertain terms by all of us. I’m glad to see the a Charedi website has done pretty much that. But it shouldn’t stop there. The condemnation ought to be coming from the highest levels of Charedi and Chasidic leadership. And it ought to include severe consequences if the behavior continues. Something that will get their attention. Like expelling their children for their Yeshivos.  No apologetics. No caveats.

This behavior must stop. Unless there are consequences along the lines I just suggested it will only continue. And probably increase as their numbers increase. If it does not stop – the light unto the nations we shine will not be a very bright one.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.