"The main problem concerning Beit Shemesh is our silence, the disturbing silence maintained by religious, haredi people. We are the first people who really ought to come out and oppose such extremism," Rabbi Dr. Dov Halbertal said. Halbertal suggested that if a prominent figure, such as Ashkenazi haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, issued a denunciation of violence emanating from the haredi fringe, it would cause convulsions in the Haredi world, including its extremist fringes. Yet Elyashiv persists in his silence, as do the main haredi media outlets.
Originally published at 9:51 pm CST 12-25-2011
Rabbis maintaining 'disturbing silence' amid uproar over gender segregation
Beit Shemesh is posing as a microcosm; many wonder where the rabbis have gone.
By Yair Ettinger • Ynet
The small bubble of tension that is rising about Beit Shemesh bears notice. Local elections are still far off on the horizon and Mayor Moshe Abutbul (Shas ) sits confidently atop a wide, stable coalition that guarantees him the support of the Labor Party (the world of Beit Shemesh is filled with wonders ), yet two opposition forces are kicking into high gear, preparing for a political showdown.
What distinguishes these two forces, which compete with each other, is the fact that both operate on the Haredi playing field: the "Tov" party, which has under its belt an ultra-Orthodox political success (it managed to send a representative to the city council after the last elections, overriding the objection of local rabbis and religious functionaries ); and the "Am Shalem" faction, led by Shas renegade and former MK Haim Amsalem, who recently established a power center in Beit Shemesh.
These two rebellious movements appeal to moderate Haredim, English-speaking Haredim, disappointed Shas members, Haredi "home-owners" (referring to ultra-Orthodox who work for their living ) and others who are alienated from traditional leaderships of Shas and other mainstream religious parties. Beit Shemesh is filled with such off-the-mainstream Haredim, particularly in the town's new neighborhoods.
Eli Friedman, chairman of "Tov," and Dov Lipman, a representative of Am Shalem, gave interviews on secular media outlets, and Lipman expressed himself on Facebook. Their viewpoints acutely attack Haredi extremists, and strike squarely against Mayor Abutbul. Nobody can cast doubt about their strict level of Orthodox observance, and for both, it is important to be identified as a "Haredi" activist; but under current extremist circumstances in the city, they sound as though they belong to Meretz. The future of these two movements remains unclear, yet both bear witness to important facts of the past and present in Beit Shemesh. And Beit Shemesh is in many ways a miniature representation of the Haredi world, and of the State of Israel as a whole.
Many wonder about where the rabbis have gone. Can it be that the current media uproar, in which virtually every day Haredi extremism reaches the front pages of the newspapers, hasn't reached the rabbis' attention? Can it be that the norms of the outside, secular political world are completely foreign to them? Are the statements and denunciations uttered by the prime minister kept away from them? Do the rabbis have nothing to say about acts of violence that occur in Beit Shemesh?
The simple answer is that the Haredi rabbis, particularly in the Ashkenazi community, do not feel committed to any agenda or public viewpoint, certainly not anything rooted in media coverage. They do not "respond" and, assuming they are aware of public consternation concerning the Haredim, do not feel obligated to expectations of any sort harbored by secular Israelis, who believe they (the rabbis ) should deal with this or that phenomenon. None of this, however, is directly relevant to Haredi extremists in Beit Shemesh, who do not oblige dictates given by the mainstream Haredi world. In recent years these elements seem to have spun far from the main Haredi rabbis.
"The main problem concerning Beit Shemesh is our silence, the disturbing silence maintained by religious, Haredi people. We are the first people who really ought to come out and oppose such extremism," stated Rabbi Dr. Dov Halbertal Sunday. Halbertal suggested that if a prominent figure, such as Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, issued a denunciation of violence emanating from the Haredi fringe, it would cause convulsions in the Haredi world, including its extremists fringes. Yet Elyashiv persists in his silence, as do the main Haredi media outlets.