The following two news items that have recently broken in Israel regarding violent clashes between haredim and secular authorities have led many to question the sanity of haredi Jews.
1. Hundreds of haredim demonstrated and hurled rocks at police in Jerusalem recently in an ongoing protest against the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat to accommodate weekend visitors to the Old City.
2. Haredi rioting in Jerusalem over the arrest of a woman suspected of nearly starving her three-year-old son to death. The Jerusalem-born woman is suspected to be suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy - a psychiatric disorder that entails abusing someone, typically a child, to draw attention to or sympathy for oneself. The woman allegedly starved and abused her toddler son until he weighed less than seven kilograms. Police were forced to evacuate welfare workers from their offices in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem as haredim pelted the building with stones.
Many may point a finger blaming the haredi community as fanatic, backward and disregarding the realities and the rule of law. Often this is just an over simplification of what is actually going on, and can be very misleading.
With the often tense and recently inflammatory relationship between haredim and secular authorities in Israel It seems both sides to some degree are to blame. Perhaps a little analysis here and a sincere attempt to understand the mindsets of the parties involved, can give us a better idea of what is actually going on and how best to deal with it. A little more understanding and sensitivity may be all that is needed to ease tensions.
Firstly from the side of the secular authorities there must be a conscious attempt to understand the mindset of the haredim and respect the beauty of living a life of spiritual purity, free from the distractions of modern society. To graduate as a policeman in many countries, trainee cadets must spend time within the communities of various ethnic groups so as to get a feel and understanding for their way of life. There is no reason why new policemen in Israel shouldn’t have a similar curriculum within haredi and other communities and in dealing with them there should be an unwritten understanding of the sensitivities involved.
With regard to the parking lot issue, just as a visitor to a mosque is expected to remove his shoes, visitors to Judaism’s holiest site during the Shabbat should understand that it is disrespectful to drive there. Therefore it is plainly insensitive to insist on having a parking lot open on the Shabbat that is right next to the Western Wall.
This provocative behavior generates a persecution complex among haredim that creates a proverbial tinderbox.
On the other side of the coin is the second story regarding the haredi woman abusing her child. The haredi communities live an insular and Ghetto like lifestyle, with their own stores, synagogues and news outlets, this is commendable to many degrees because it enables them to live a lifestyle of focused piety living in our world of moral corruption. However the haredim should understand that the secular laws and accountability are in place to protect those that can’t protect themselves, and can even benefit their community.
It is a travesty that haredim don’t have sufficient access to infrastructures protecting children that are abused, and accountability is limited. If the lives of children are at risk, it is a crime not to allow this to be dealt with, and if it isn’t dealt with within the community, then yes, secular authorities should be brought in, and the guilty parties must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Instead of placing the blame on one party or the other, in this case both sides could do with some serious introspection, and a little humility and common sense will go a long way.