The Uses of Violence

Much of the Jewish world unleashed a torrent of invective denouncing the recent violence at the Kotel. A few weeks ago on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the self-ordained “Women of the Wall,” as is their wont, arrived to breach the traditional customs of that holy site and were greeted by thousands of young women who had already taken their place in the Kotel plaza. The NY Times reported – grossly inaccurately – that the women were met by thousands of “protesters” who violently tried to prevent their prayers, all of which required police intercession. In truth, as numerous eye witnesses testified and video accounts verify, the “thousands” were praying silently even as roughly two dozen male hooligans engaged in the “violence:” chanting, the pouring of water and the throwing of some plastic chairs.
The males were dressed in the black garb of Haredim, and therefore this event became a “Haredi” attack on the women. A few points need to be made. Clearly, Jews have a low threshold for what is considered “violence.” In a world in which Muslims just in the last month set off bombs in Boston that killed and maimed innocent people, in which two Muslims accosted and beheaded a British soldier on the streets of London, and in which Muslims across the world – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere – are brutally killing other Muslims and Christians, it seems overwrought, to say the least, to use the word “violence” for them and for what is the present equivalent of a schoolyard spat.
Additionally, one prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi in NYC took the opportunity on Shavuot day to decry the events at the Kotel, speak of achdut (unity) as the heart of Kabalat HaTorah, and then lambaste the “Haredim” for the violence at the Kotel. Suffice it to say, he would never blame “Muslims” for the violence of Muslims but speak of radicals, extremists, Islamists and other euphemisms. It is strange how “unity” for some is a one-way cul de sac. All Haredim apparently are responsible for the work of a handful in a way that he would never, ever, suggest that all Muslims are responsible for the violence of their “handful,” or two handfuls.
The reaction at the Kotel to the provocation of the women was beautiful and spirited. Thousands of women and young girls who lack any grievance against the Torah and actually love the Torah came to the Kotel early to pray. They dwarfed in size the number of provocateurs which barely registered 100 souls. The plaza held thousands more Jews praying that morning; 99.9% of the people were engaged in no violent acts at all, even of the mild variety committed. It should have been a non-story. The Kotel functions with a Rabbi who makes spiritual decisions; no one has any more right to impose their forms of worship on the Kotel as they do in Teaneck. More deference should be paid to those multitudes who come daily and conform to the norms of the place than those who come monthly and deviate from those norms. The Women were frustrated. Period.
Let me be clear that I also denounce the violence, as I do the provocations. Here are the problems with said violence: it is against the Torah, it is immoral, it is wrong, it desecrates the holy place, and it is counterproductive. And so that became the story –not the outpouring of genuine prayer on the part of the overwhelming number of Jews who love the Mesorah and find no fault with it but the catcalls of those few ruffians.
But here’s another problem with violence: it works, especially in the Middle East.
Arab terror in Israel for the last 45 years, going back to the era when they began hijacking planes, has succeeded in gaining them near statehood in the land of Israel and international support and acclaim for their cause (much of that, of course, because opposition to them carries with it the implicit threat of violence). Every new act of violence brings calls for more Israeli concessions. Arab terror internationally has provoked a wave of sympathy for their causes, and they are successfully infiltrating European capitals and exercising dominion there. The Left regularly blames America and the West for provoking the violence, and that violence has forced Americans, for example, to invent new words – Islamists – to describe the perpetrators rather than run afoul of the perpetrators and their supporters and trigger new violence. One can’t even say that Muslims have a problem with violence – even after the savagery in London and 50 years of evidence – for fear that aggrieved Muslims will retaliate with violence, which sort of proves the point. Every new attack or bombing fuels the strain in American politics that either blames America first and/or wants to withdraw from the world entirely.
Bashar Assad remains in power because he is violent; Hosni Mubarak – no saint – fell from power because he did not attack his own people in a sustained and deadly way. These lessons are lost on no one in the Middle East.
Indeed, the threat of violence is even better than violence itself. Jews are kept from praying on the Temple Mount because of “Arab sensitivities,” i.e., the threat of Arab riots if they do. MK Moshe Feiglin himself was barred from the Temple Mount because of the threat of Arab riots, despite his parliamentary immunity. The Bedouin in Israel’s Negev are running rampant, seizing land and harassing Jews with little official response except meek acquiescence because there is an explicit threat of violence (and already, numerous real life examples of thuggery) if they are restrained in any way. Illegal Arab construction in the Galil is left unchecked because the threat of violence intimidates government officials and the police. In the face of Muslim extremism, pusillanimity is the norm of Western governments. Threats work. It is easier to allow lawlessness than to use force to protect the law and the rights of victims; it is even easier then to enforce the law only against Jews whose notion of “violence” (!) is pouring water, throwing paint, and usually just sitting down. Remember Gush Katif – the fears, the hype and the reality.
A little passion in defense of religious rights is good, although it can often go awry. Jews have such an aversion to violence that we allow desecrations to take place rather than respond vigorously, which is probably just as well. Just a few hundred yards from the Kotel – in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – riot police are always on duty, lest one of the Christian groups vying for control there move oner of their chairs three inches and provoke a holy war. Muslims defend their religious principles…well, we know what they do, and most often to each other. If a Jew steps onto the Temple Mount carrying a prayer book, Muslims claim he is trying to undermine Al-Aksa and call for protests and riots. Would a Haredi threat of violence be more effective than violence itself? Would the police then tell the women, as they do to Jews on the Temple Mount, we cannot allow your activities because of the “threat to public order” they will cause? Of course not, because a Jewish threat of violence is never credible, and the wave of condemnations for the sporadic violence that does occur is so universal that it undermines whatever cause the lout is espousing.
Jews use words rather than acts to express anger. That is why events such as this engender paroxysms of platitudes from Jewish officialdom, a cascade of clichés that can drown out both clear thinking and right-minded action. For all the blather about settler violence, there is actually very little violence relative to the threats and the provocations of the Arabs – constant stone-throwing, shootings, the seizure of crops and the burning of property, and the occasional mass terrorist attack. Any Jewish response is suspect; Jews are often arrested for self-defense and the burden of proof is on them to prove their innocence. Why? Because the Arab threat of violence trumps Jewish rights. But using words has limited effect in the climate in which they operate.
Over a decade ago, during the height of the civil war for the land of Israel then raging, with the horrific terror that was persistent and lethal, I was asked to sign a proclamation of local clergy and politicians denouncing “hatred and violence” in all its forms. It was – still is – a fairly typical liberal response to crisis: pass a resolution or a law (and if a law exists, pass a duplicate law – see Obama response to the persecution of Fox News’ James Rosen). I refused to sign, saying that “hatred of evil is good, not bad, and violence in self-defense is a virtue, not a vice.” To equate all forms of hatred and violence is wrong and immoral, and such a resolution was therefore meaningless claptrap. I still remember the dozens of scowls directed my way. The proclamation was never promulgated, and that particular bubble was burst. This squeamishness about violence is irrational, and frankly, does not emanate from Jewish values.
Nevertheless, it is also true that Jewish “violence,” such as it is and especially the Kotel affair, is not carried out by the dedicated, spirited, zealous and pious Jew who is offended by the cheapening of the Torah – but by young people who are just drawn to violence. It is a way to expend their aggressive energy in a way they think is kosher but is not. And had they not acted out, they would not have provided the pretext to the media to miss the real story – the profound expression of love of God and faith by thousands of pious women who love the Torah, not feminism.
To call the Rosh Chodesh event a “horrific riot,” as that senior Modern Orthodox rabbi did, inflames passions and serves an agenda, but hardly accords with reality. We should save the hyperbole – especially the word “horrific” – for savage beheadings and suicide bombings and not for the throwing of plastic chairs. Violence at the Kotel in this context is sinful and detrimental, strengthens the women’s cause, and provides a forum for polemicists and sermonizers to distract people from the real issues. Indeed, violence has many uses, for perpetrators and responders.
But we should recall as well that, lamentable as it is at times, violence will be with us until the day when all men will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Let us hope that day comes soon, because within a very short time, few people will actually still be using plowshares and pruning hooks.

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7 responses to “The Uses of Violence

  1. The ‘press release’ by WoW widely circulated that day stated their intention to “liberate” the Wall (its on their webpage). Liberate from whom or what? I’ve been thinking about that.

    The underside of Human Rights, Social Justice and all forms of “equalitism” morality is that the spectrum of thought starts with “the oppressed” and ends with “the oppressors”. Virtually everything is seen from that lense and not unlike all other ‘isms’, stereotypes are created, so you have you don’t just have oppressive behavior, you have labelled “oppressors”, like…. wait for it… aparthied.

    As are all too familiar examples, Israel can do no right (as oppressor), suicide bombs are tragic but suicide bombers are understandable (as oppressed), any discussion about “root causes” (though we’d _never_ blame the victim, but the oppressor had it coming), anyone who says “sure the Holocaust was bad, but Jews don’t have the corner on suffering” and “don’t confuse anti-Israel with anti-semitism” (oppressors can’t be sympathized).

    If there was no Israel right now, we would have much more of putting restrictions on circumcision, or ritual slaughter since they oppress the poor baby/cow. If there was no Israel right now, there would be more curtailing religious expression in public, most noticably under the guise of separation of church and state, which increases as the state increases its reach into various instituions and social welfare programs (public money = state). Its not as far we think and, I think, when the day comes that our Orthodox synagogues lose tax charitable status for segregating genders during prayer, that will be the canary of our western exile (if the circumcision part isn’t already). Organized Labor – to raise up the Oppressed; Organized Religion – Oppressor to keep people down.

    Passover brings out the most of our brethren who have bought into this morality, since they co-opt the “We were oppressed in Egypt and redeemed” part of it. G-d? – well that’s just how the story was framed at the time, pass the orange.

    Until recently, as the police were acting on behalf of the State as the ‘ushers’ keeping decorum at the Wall, the media story was that of civil rights. Now that the police have been removed from that role (…until the next group…), the lay people who care about maintaining the agreed status quo at the Wall have become the ushers. The quoted “liberation” is from the traditional Judaism that these lay ushers represent. At least WoW as an organization is very open about it.

    It should also not be a surprise that our brethren are the first to try to distance themselves from the unenlightened “Old World”. If we change this or that, we’ll be accepted. We’ve seen this cycle before, pretty recently. “Never Again”? I believe we are seeing symptoms of a depressingly familiar disease.

  2. Rabbi Pruzansky said:
    “The NY Times reported – grossly inaccurately…”

    Over the past 40 years, many thousands of Jews complained about the New York Times portraying the Jewish people and the Jewish state and the Jewish faith negatively and unfairly and inaccurately.

    Yet amazingly, many Jews seem to be hopelessly addicted to buying and reading that newspaper, like a drug addict is addicted to cocaine or heroin.

    I stopped reading New York Times in 1982, and I never went back to it, because of their grossly unfair coverage of Israel at that time, which still persists 40+ years later, and also because of their persistent pro-Arab bias at that time, which still persists 40+ years later.

    Like smoking cigarettes, reading New York Times is a bad habit; I urge my fellow Jews to abandon both bad habits, the sooner the better.

  3. Rabbi Pruzansky said:
    “All Haredim apparently are responsible for the
    work of a handful, in a way that he would never, ever,
    suggest that all Muslims are responsible for
    the violence of their handful, or two handfuls.”

    Thank Rabbi Pruzansky for identifying
    an unfair double-standard against Jews.

  4. Phil Slepian

    Another wonderful post by Rabbi P. On Achdut: I always find it funny how leftists and progressives define achdut. It’s usually something like this: A Reform organization sponsors a Unity Dinner and invites Jews from across the religious spectrum. The menu includes shrimp cocktail and a main of Veal Cordon Bleu. The Orthodox organization politely declines the invitation. The sponsoring Reform organization responds: “You see. those Orthodox won’t accept us. How can there be Jewish Unity if the Orthodox won’t accept us? They won’t even share a meal with us!” IOW, if the traditional Jews resist the changes demanded by the reformers and leftists, the traditionalists become the impediment to unity, when the real impediments are those groups demanding both change and the universal acceptance of the changes they have made for themselves.

  5. The daughter of a friend of mind walks though Jerusalem and past Heridi neighborhoods every day. She is dressed in casual modern clothing, nothing “provocative” Every day she is spit on. i told he that she has to go to the police and identify the assailants. This is not isocated. It has been happening in the town of Bait Shemesh for years. The police fail to do anything out of fear of a violent reaction. These are Heridim who do not serve in the army live off of state welfare and assault law abiding woman. Secular, law abiding, tax paying Israeli citizens who have served in the IDF have their rights as well.

    • See the response to Hannah.
      Anyone who uses violence as you depict it should be in prison. It is shocking that anyone thinks that the government can’t or won’t arrest them. A group was just arrested today. Who would oppose it, among normal Jews?
      -RSP