The term ‘sectarian violence’ has been used extensively to
describe the conflicts that have been occurring within various Arab countries, in
Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars there, and more recently with the
instability that has come as a result of the ‘Arab Spring’ movement.
Unfortunately, this is the term
that can now be used to describe what is going
on in pockets within Israel.
Most recently, things have flared up in the town of Beit Shemesh
, between people who have been called “ultra-Orthodox”, and others who are “not quite as ultra-Orthodox”. A 7-year-old Orthodox girl was spat upon by people who objected to her “immodest” attire. This friction has been strongly condemned equally by the Right and
the Left. As an Orthodox Jew, I am disgusted that other Jews can do this in the name of our religion. This sentiment is echoed by the vast majority
of the Orthodox Jewish world – indeed the representations made by the protagonists on a local Channel 2 story
in Israel don’t appear to be coming from their leadership (sadly and typically absent).
The Left are equally strident in their condemnation of the incidents, but more than this seem worried at the growing trend of friction – be it segregated seating on buses
, or women singing at ceremonies
– and see the whole country slipping into the control of these awful “ultra-Orthodox” (despite an official statement
from an Orthodox Rabbi on the issue of segregation, for example). As an aside, there does seem to be a common theme here with the Left constantly being more concerned about what might
happen (the end of democracy in Israel because of subtle changes in disclosure laws for not-for-profits or the appointment of high court judges, the “demographic time bomb” that will transform Israel into a bi-national state, the “occupation” that is ripping the soul out of the country, the impending hostile takeover by the ultra-Orthodox) than what is
This a sectarian conflict, because it’s going on between groups – between different religious denominations. But how are these groups defined and labelled? I think the labelling is part of the problem. What exactly is an ultra-Orthodox Jew? Well, that depends on who you ask, and is actually a relative term. Some of my (Jewish) friends consider me ultra-Orthodox, but someone from Neturei Karta
is likely to abuse me for walking the street wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
It’s far better to think in terms of a spectrum
of Jewish observance, and I liken this to the ATP tennis rankings
, which is a scale that appears logarithmic. This means that to someone who is ranked 500 in the world, any player in the top 10 would seem equally better than them. But the further you go up the scale, the gap between the players becomes wider.
Number 5 is a lot better than number 10, and number 2 far better than 5.
It’s much the same with Jewish observance. A modern-Orthodox Jew or secular Jew (and certainly the non-Jewish world) is likely to bundle all the ultra-Orthodox groups together and stereotype their behaviour. But the fact is that there are many hundreds of different ultra-Orthodox groups – mostly Chassidic dynasties that over generations have split and fractured into a very diverse world of its own. The behaviour we have seen in Beit Shemesh is far from representative of even mainstream ultra-Orthodoxy (to the extent that there is such a thing). It is an insult to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox alike, and it is incumbent on the leadership of all Jewish groups to publicly condemn and disassociate themselves from them. Because of the way the non-Jewish world perceives ultra-Orthodoxy, it is particularly important to clarify this diversity to the wider community.
In describing the holiday of Shemini Atzeret
, which follows immediately after Succot, the phrase used is “Kosheh Olai Pridaschem” – God figuratively says it’s difficult for Him to say goodbye
, so He wants the pilgrims to stay on for an additional holiday. The famous alternative explanation of the term is “Kosheh Olai Pridaschem” – God says that it’s difficult for Him to see how His beloved children are separated by classes and levels of frumkeit. How much sadder God must be to see this awful frummer than thou
attitude that continues to fracture our nation.