It looks like the school crisis in Beit Shemesh has been resolved for the time being, with the teachers invited to prepare for the school year under police protection.
Today’s poster reminds us that disputes over religious issues in Israel can be worked out peacefully.
Please welcome Naomi Elbinger for today’s guest post.
The Haredi Protest that Ynet Missed
If you follow the mainstream Israeli media, you probably know all about the fanatical haredim. Their destructive protests in reaction to every perceived breach of their iron-clad principles regularly make headlines.
But for some reason, none of the major news outlets picked up the story of a recent protest that occurred in my Jerusalem neighborhood, which is home to a large and growing haredi population.
Last month, some concerned haredi citizens raised on outcry about the fact that the local swimming pool is open on Shabbos. This was discussed on our local community Yahoo Group, where one member wrote:
“…the frum [religious people] are the majority that use the pool. Our opinions at this point would make a big difference and this certainly creates a strong responsibility to demand that they keep it closed.
… On almost every Shabbos they play music and bring a clown to the pool to encourage people to come. They sell tickets and ices like any other day of the week. Hashem Yerachem [L-rd have mercy], if we could prevent this, we must certainly act fast!
Please speak to all rabbis and anyone who could make a difference. Send letters to those who run the pool and show your objection so they will know that we will not allow this to continue.
Please consult whoever you can that has an influence.”
Can you guess what happened next?
Were there pashkeveilim (street notices) pasted all over the neighborhood, condemning the pool’s management and calling on all G-d-fearing Jews to join the outcry? Did hordes of black-hatted youths gather outside the pool chanting “Shabbos! Shabbos!,” burning garbage and pelting police with rotten gefilte fish?
No, none of that happened. If it had, you would have read about it on Ynet already.
What really happened will never be reported by the press. But I happen to think it’s pretty noteworthy.
In response to the protest letter, one community member wrote:
“I suggest that before anybody takes any major action on this highly charged and complex issue, the Mora D’Asra [leading neighborhood rabbi] should be consulted.”
Later, a veteran community activist wrote at length:
“While I certainly admire and respect your sense of outrage at the opening of the pool on Shabbos, I would like to ask you to consider some points. First of all, one of the main bones of contention here in this country between the religious and the irreligious has always been Shabbos. In a country with a 6-day workweek, a major cause of hatred towards the religious Jew has been the fact that everything is closed on Shabbos: the movies, the malls, the stores, the restaurants, the beach, public transportation to the beach, etc. We have stopped them from being able to do anything on their only real day off.
They have always felt that we impose our religion on them, and they resent it greatly. I don’t think a single irreligious Jew has been attracted to Judaism by this approach, but much hatred has been engendered instead.
I don’t think it would be a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) to start a project to close the pool on Shabbos at this time. It would probably turn out to be quite the opposite. My suggestion to you, and to all of our neighborhood: if you would like to increase awareness of Shabbos in our irreligious neighbors, if you would like to create a true Kiddush Hashem, if you would like to really impress people with the beauty of our tradition . . . go up to the local shopping center on Friday morning and distribute candles. And then invite a Russian Jew home for a Shabbos meal.”
These are very nice sentiments, but what did the local haredi rabbis have to say? Surely they weren’t going to identify with this “love thy neighbor” mumbo-jumbo! One million Ynet readers can’t be wrong when they think that all haredi rabbis are rabid fanatics.
As one community member put it: “your response to hillul Shabbos [Sabbath desecration] seems to me, to be far from understanding the seriousness of the responsibility placed on every frum Jew to enforce God’s will on His people.”
That pretty much sums up how many people assume haredim think.
Well, here’s what actually happened:
After some protest letters against the pool’s opening on Shabbos were lodged with the “minhal,” the local community council, they consulted local rabbis for their opinion on the issue. They first approached the leading neighborhood rabbi of the Litvish (non-Chassidic) community, a venerable sage and halachic authority who is one of the heads of the ultra-haredi She’eris Yisroel Rabbinic Court.
This is taken from a report of the meeting:
“The Minhal was asking for a clarification of the position of the Rav and the kehila concerning the position that it is the obligation of the community to enforce Shmiras Shabbos [Sabbath observance] and take steps to force the minhal to close the pool on Shabbos.
The Rav communicated a clear position that he does not believe in doing anything in this fashion, and will not endorse any such action. He is against our community doing anything of this sort.
It was suggested that the most effective way to act letovas hatzibur [for the public benefit], to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim [sanctify G-d’s Name], to increase Shmiras Shabbos, and to decrease Chilul Shabbos would be for someone to organize a group to go to the local community center and invite people for a Shabbos meal in their homes. We would encourage participation in this activity.”
The rabbi who leads the local English-speaking community and the rabbi who leads the local chassidic community, both of them renowned halachic authorities in their own right, were also consulted. They both agreed with the leading neighborhood rabbi’s statements.
As a result of this, all those who called for the closing of the pool on Shabbos backed down. They are entitled to their opinions and are to be respected for their readiness to abide by the ruling of our community rabbis.
This whole dispute over the pool unfolded in an unremarkable fashion and was never reported anywhere, not even in our local neighborhood rag.
Unfortunately we have all heard about incidents that didn’t end so peacefully with an atmosphere of mutual respect and sensitivity on all sides. Why was it different in our neighborhood than in other parts of Israel where there really are pashkevelim and burning garbage and worse?
Probably because around here everyone knows who the true rabbinic leaders are, and the local authorities went straight to them to obtain a public statement on the matter, rather than letting the rabble-rousers and the press draw the battle-lines.
Would this approach work in other communities where the situation is more inflamed? I don’t know. But maybe it’s worth a try.
I am proud of my community, even though I passionately believe that the pool should be closed on Shabbos. However, I understand that this must be put aside for the sake of “ve’Ahavta le’reicha Kamocha” (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). That’s the rabbis’ ruling.
Rabbi Akiva said it long ago.
And this is a true story that occurred in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh in July 2011.
Naomi Elbinger is a web entrepreneur who specializes in Jewish audiences. She is one of the co-founders of MavenMall, a mall and fashion magazine for modest clothing. She also writes a popular blog about running a business as an Orthodox Jewish woman – MyParnasa.com. Raised in Australia, Naomi now lives in a friendly, haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem.