Friday, April 19, 2024 -
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Riots in Jerusalem

The thought, and the sight, of Jews rioting in Jerusalem — not against Arabs, but against other Jews — hardly calms the mind. Whatever the cause, whatever the justification — if any — the thought and the sight are sad, indeed. The revered dean of the Mir yeshiva, Rabbi Natan Zvi Finkel, has condemned riots as a tactic in Jewish social protest. We concur.

What, then, of the cause? On its face, it is absurd. A mother is arrested for nearly starving her child. This, one would think, would merit no objection, let alone a riot. But in Jerusalem, now and for more than a century, matters are not so simple. In Jerusalem, Jewish ideas count. People’s lives and passions are consumed by Jewish ideas. One central Jewish idea there is that the Jewish people are excessively religious, and need a healthy dose of secularism. The opposing Jewish idea there is that the Jewish people are excessively disrespectful of Jewish tradition, and need a healthy reintroduction to it.

Attached to these opposing ideas are communities; that is, not just intellectual visions but social rights and prerogatives. The haredi Orthodox claim that their community is not understood by various social service agencies, not to mention the police. There is truth to this. There is, in fact, a long history of ruling secular Jewish authorities demeaning or ignoring this religious community. However, to make the point, the haredi Orthodox community often chooses the worst possible case — an apparent, blatant case of child abuse — and the worst possible tactic:riots. One suspects that many in the haredi Jerusalem community side with Rabbi Finkel and are duly embarrassed by the turn of events. Read the related blog entry on Rocky Mountain Jew

The secular community in Jerusalem, too, claims that it is neither understood nor respected by the most of the Jewish religious community there. The secular community points out that demographically it is quickly becoming outnumbered, and politically it has lived under a religious mayor for nearly a decade, until the recent municipal election. The secular community is leaving the city, feeling unwelcome, and leaving Jerusalem with a lower tax base. People’s lives and passions, Jewish ideas and communities, do clash. Indeed.

One may add up the rights and wrongs on both sides, but this will not take us very far. We will suffice with this single observation: Under the previous mayor, a likeable, almost jolly, religious man, a legend in the Israeli philanthropic community, Uri Lupoliansky, these riots did not occur. He had a different temperament from the current, secular mayor. Temperament is separate from policy. Many of Lupoliansky’s policies did not differ drastically from current Mayor Nir Barakat’s. But his temperament did. Translation: Cooler heads should prevail. Alas, when the haredi religious did not renominate Lupoliansky and thus ended his leadership, cooler heads did not prevail. Now the shoe is on Nir Barakat’s foot. The Jewish world is watching — his temperament.

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