Mob Rule in Beit Shemesh

As has been widely reported in the media, a small group of fanatical Jews in Beit Shemesh Israel have been verbally abusive to women who they feel are not living up to their standards of modesty.

I join a long list of rabbis from almost every stream of Judaism in condemning this behavior. It has no place in Judaism and should not be tolerated. Those responsible should be prosecuted according to the full extent of the law.

It should be noted that Tzniut, or modesty, covers the entire gamut of human behavior, and is intended to cultivate dignified conduct in the privacy of a person’s life, and especially in their interaction with others.

What propelled this story into the pages of almost every media outlet, is not that chareidim (ultra orthodox Jews) can be abusive: unfortunately like every element of society chareidim are not immune to this type of behavior. What ignited the spark was more the fact that the abuse was directed against orthodox women and even children as young as eight. While no abuse is excusable this seems to have reached a new low for this segment of fanatical chareidi society.

But in addition to the pain that the abuse itself has caused to the individual women and children, one can’t ignore the widespread condemnation that these actions have aroused against the chareidi society. With the deplorable actions of a few, the entire ultra orthodox world has been broadly painted as radically intolerant.

The damage has not been limited to Israel. Colleagues outside Israel have received emails from congregants who have rescinded pledges, canceled synagogue membership and in one particular case a rabbi was even informed by a community member that he felt so let down by the Beit Shemesh story that he has opted out of choosing a traditional burial for himself and decided to be cremated .

If Senator Joe Lieberman’s religious beliefs and Shabbat observance – as highlighted during his run for vice president – has been viewed as one of the greatest positive examples for religious Judaism, then the Beit Shemesh story takes the prize for the most negative one.

The ultra orthodox community both here and in Israel must now make a concerted effort not only to sideline these thugs but to actively reach out to their non chareidi and secular neighbors in friendship and love showing them the beautiful family and community life that is the true hallmark of their way of life. By so doing, one may hope that the sadly wrong perception that has been created by a tiny minority will not take root.

A Shabbat dinner invite is a great way to accomplish this. It is an exercise in bonding, showing that people have more in common with each other than just the variations in  skirt lengths  or blouse sleeves that may appear to separate them.

There is beautiful parody song composed by Jewish songwriter Abi Rotenberg that describes two neighbours, a hasidik and sefardi Jew who both lament how due to their differences (like wearing a hasidik fur hat in the middle of the summer) they will both ignore each other.

This changes when their kids each hear the Shabbat melodies sung in their neighbor’s homes and realize that both families are singing the same melodies – just with different accents. Soon they are enjoying each other’s delicacies like shmaltz herring and couscous during their shared Shabbat dinners.

While this is a cute song and many may argue that the issues are more complex, nonetheless we should unite among our common melody of Judaism and increase our love we have for each other. Surely the power of goodness and kindness is way more powerful than the negative actions of a few misfits.

Let’s hope the opportunity won’t be lost and a greater unity among Jews can be forged as a result.


About Rabbi Benjy Brackman

Benjy Brackman is the Rabbi/Executive Director of Chabad of NW Metro Denver in Westminster, Colorado.

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  1. Thank you for writing this. Yours is a much needed voice. I hope many more speak out in a similar vein.

  2. Thank you Rabbi Brackman for your strong leadership in condemning this catastrophe and for your courageous calls for more unity!

  3. Thank you for speaking out about these very disturbing events. It is crucial that the Orthodox respond in a manner than makes it completely clear that this is not a normative Orthodox position. I commend you for taking such a public stand.

  4. Thank you for fearlessly pointing out that we have 'others' to one another within Am Yisroel, and that we need to be bridge building among ourselves. Widespread generalizations and condemnation of chareidi society – and I do not plead innocence – are as deplorable as when we spoke out against it when brought against, well, others. Shabbat shalom v'good shabbos.

    • Dear Rabbi,
      Unfortunately, from my experience, your dream of bringing the Haredi to a point where they would even consider another's point of view is a wishful dream. I hope I am wrong. I am the American grandmother of seven grandchildren who were alienated from their father, who lives in Israel, and his American family by their recently converted to Haredi mother. Our son, the children's father, who happens to consider himself as orthodox, experienced the trauma of divorce, the mother's wish. Since the divorce, his children have been systematically alienated from him because he refused to take on the fundamentalist views of the Haredi. He tried every way he could, to be a role model of respect for diversity within the Jewish religion, and he negotiated a divorce settlement stipulating that the children be educated in the core curriculum established for all Israeli children. The courts ignored the divorce agreement and granted the mother the right to have the children educated in the Haredi Yeshivas where they have been denied an education in math and science. When he attempted to visit his children they, along with other neighbor children, shouted cat calls and other forms of verbal abuse as well as the throwing and tearing of his personal items, including his tallit, while either the mother , the neighbors, or the maternal grandparents looked on. The court's response was to limit his access to his children. Thus the children have been taught to disrespect anyone, including their father, who doesn't share the Haredi view, as expressed by the mother's Rabbi. The Rabbinate court routinely sided with the mother, and routinely heard all of her imagined complaints while systematically ignoring any concerns my son had regarding his children. My son was told that he should give up on his children by numerous rabbis. So where is the fairness? My son doesn't get any credit for being a loving father and an extraordinarily kind, wise, and gentle man. What will happen to those children?
      Where will my grandsons think a man's rightful place is on the bus? What about my granddaughters? I fear the worst.
      Fran F.

  5. Thank you Rabbi Brackman for speaking your mind rightly and wisely against such extremism! We all AM EHAD-and divisions like this one unacceptable ! G-d BLESS JEWISH PEOPLE

    • Sorry, I accidentally disliked. I meant to like but it won't let me change. Your comment echoes the point of this article.. We are one people, even if we have different thoughts, and thank you Rabbi for pointing this out.

  6. Baruch ata adonai, elohainu melech haolam, shelo asani haredi!
    Baruch ata adonai, elohainu melech haolam, shelo asani lubavitcher!

    • Hateful. God doesn't make charedim, people make choices. God also doesn't make hateful or kind people. Again, those are choices. I hope we all make the right ones.

  7. Wow. I am surprised moderator allows such hateful and disrespectful comments. I will not respond and I will stick with the intent of the above article which is that we are one nation and should respect all within.

  8. Actually I'd like to respond more seriously.., several years ago, I lived in ramat beit shemesh. I experienced the best and worst of the community there. I have no personal connection other than my experiences, which like I said were both very positive as well as some negative. Despite that, I don't feel hatred for an entire community – i think that would be sad and unjustified. I feel that Rabbi Brackman's article is courageous and beautifully outreaches to the entire community. I don't usually respond to talk backs, much less get personal with absolute strangers, but it seemed so uncalled for for any responses to be hateful when the Rabbi is do clearly trying to connect and join forces against wrong –wherever it might be.

  9. I just read through these comments, and I really did not intend to reply again, other than my Kudos to R. Brackman above, but after reading "David's" spiteful comments above, as well as his obnoxious comments on R. Gavriel's article, I decided not to remain silent. What is the point of these comments other than to be hateful? Where is the "derech eretz" so beautifully iterated by R. Rose in his piece and by R. Brackman in his? Why is it so impossible to disagree without being hateful? David, your creative blessings above are so distasteful, no matter what you think of the blessings in the traditional morning siddur. Don't say "shelo asani isha" or "shelo asani goy" or any of the other blessings that do not mix well with your beliefs. There are many of us who do not – who choose to use alternate prayers. But why be so disdainful and so derrogatory? It helps no one. It unifies us not at all. And why the constant personal attacks? I do not know who you are, but it is shameful to continue to hide behind a moniker. I believe deeply in free press, so don't know how the moderators can get involved here, other than to publicly express their desire that BJN be a place where derech eretz is expected, as well of kavod for individual opinions, even if they differ from one's own.

    • I find it hypocritical that you can call for respect of others opinions, but not respect mine. I will start by saying that I am not "hiding" as David is my real name. Next, as was lamented by Marc Soloway, this is all in the public forum. As such anyone can openly state their opinions and beliefs. If you don't like it, fine. I however, will not be bullied or intimidated into feigning respect or even tolerance for beliefs which I find repulsive, infantile, or just plain stupid. I, like you, am a human being capable of independent and critical thought. The "derech eretz" business is much like the "lashon hara" business of the orthodox. Essentially Josh Rose is saying not to say anything that would offend other (religious) people. Note that there is a distinction between offending someone and hurting someone. This is a way to attempt to control free speech, and curb any comments which the "religious" do not like. I am also shocked that you are aware of aspects of Judiasm (such as shelo asani isha) which you do not like, but are OK with others preaching these beliefs in the public forum.

      I would finally invite you to read an article about the Haredi problem written by an orthodox rabbi, not a haredi apologist.