Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Orthodox Violence Grates ?מדוע אנו במיוחד נרתעים מאלימות ע"י חרדים

I received an interesting response from a reader to my post titled, “Environmental Education? Or Just Tidying up?” Referring to galloping consumerism, the reader wrote:

"You once again raise a deep educational question. It has nothing to do with sacrifice. To succeed in cutting consumerism, you would have to replace the progressive liberal ethos with which our children are raised with something else."

I assume he means that there is a spiritual void in the way non-Orthodox raise their children.
Not sure I agree, but he continues:

"My bet is that if reducing consumerism is really the challenge, then by far the most environmentally positive children in this country are probably Haredim. I am sure that the average non-Orthodox family with three children consumes more fuel, uses more metals, plastics, and paper products than the average Haredi family with 10 children. Nor are most Haredi families feeling that they are making the sacrifices you are calling for."

Here I assume that he is referring to the fact that ultra-Orthodox families consume less because they “answer to a Higher Power” than do non-Orthodox, as if Torah has more clout than Al Gore. Well, it does―for a certain population. The question is, does that make them more praiseworthy?

I happen to know the writer, and he is not Orthodox, certainly not ultra-Orthodox. I find it interesting whenever the non-Orthodox rush to the defense of the ultra-Orthodox. What exactly inspires this?

A reader asked me offline why no one raised hizzer voice when five ultra-Orthodox men beat up a woman and another man who refused to change seats on a mehadrin [gender-separated] bus route. While I find the mehadrin route abhorrent even without the violence, when I read of this incident, I seethed.

Then I asked myself, “Why does that make you seethe, and not the many acts of violence you read about every day?”, i.e., the security guards who get knifed by clubbers in the line of duty; the unfortunate fellow who stopped to tell someone he’d accidentally dropped some cash and ended up dead; the murdered cab drivers; the sexual assaults on children. Why do these not raise the same ire as the Mehadrin Riders or the Mea Shearim Dumpster Burners?

The initial response is invariably that the Orthodox purport to adhere to a code of ethics, so we expect them to eschew this aberrant behavior. Yet do not non-Orthodox subscribe to humanist and universalist principles that prohibit violence? OK. So, crossing that explanation off my list.
So now it seems we need to look for differences between the two populations, i.e., what is it about the ultra-Orthodox that makes us have differing expectations for their behavior? That makes us more taken aback when they are violent?

Well, unlike the non-Orthodox, they form a community with leaders and spokespeople. When members of a recognized community misbehave, unless the community is a terror cell, we expect the leaders of the community to disassociate themselves from the aberrants, or at the very least to condemn their behavior. Sadly, this doesn’t happen, or at least doesn’t get reported.

The non-Orthodox don’t have rebbes or spokespeople; it is assumed that we decry violent acts no matter who commits them. In fact, there’s a flipside to the response to ultra-Orthodox violence that we don’t like to talk about: When we read about a murder in the immigrant or Palestinian communities, we mentally shrug, not bothering to articulate the words, “Oh, no surprise there. They’re Russians / Ethiopians / Arabs.” This response doesn’t necessarily derive from racism; it may just be shorthand for, “These people come from deprived, distressed communities. What do we expect?”

Now it looks like we’re constructing a horror-o-meter: On a scale of zero to ten, violence in the immigrant or Palestinian communities registers below 5; in the native-born non-Orthodox community, it registers a 7 to 9, depending on the horrific-ness of the crime; and in the ultra-Orthodox community, a 10. Clearly, we have higher expectations of the ultra-Orthodox than we do for the rest of us.

And I don’t think that’s out of line. If we were to read of violence in the Amish community, we’d be aghast; ditto in the Bruderhoff. These are people who claim to live Godly lives; therefore, we indeed expect them to be non-violent, and /or are shocked if they are violent. Just as “the nations” are shocked when the Jews, former victims, are occupiers, we, the non-Orthodox, are shocked when the ultra-Orthodox are violent. They “wear the uniform”, therefore we hold them to a higher standard.

I welcome insights, because somehow I feel I haven’t gotten to the root of this conundrum. Flamers and seculars-are-spiritually-vapid-mongers need not apply.

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