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Double Standards

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We cannot be sure if those chareidim who picnicked in aJerusalempark while the rest of the country was remembering the Holocaust had a good time, but they certainly gave the Israeli secular media a good time. In a dry news period, the media pounced on it voraciously: columnists thundered, editors condemned, speakers decried. For them the picnics were — they will pardon the expression — a “godsend.” (Media, always looking for a sensation, are known to dispatch cameramen routinely on such occasions to record chareidi behavior.)

Let it be stated that to have picnics or cookouts inJerusalemon a day when the rest ofIsraelis mourning the Holocaust is at the very least grossly insensitive. Would any sentient being have a picnic on the lawn of a house of mourning? Even a few religious Jews behaving thusly brings no glory to G-d or Torah, and only pours oil onto anti-chareidi fires that require no additional fuel.

The rationales are well-known: remembrance of the Shoah should be more distinctively Jewish, rather than the Goyish ways of a siren and silent standing. Or: we will mourn in our own way, and will not be dictated to by this secular government. But despite the rationalizations, those who behaved so mindlessly on that day not only brought obloquy to the name of Torah, but also showed disdain for the feelings of thousands of Shoah survivors and victim families scattered throughout Israel, plus disrespect for those murdered in the Shoah.

But one question nags: do the ever-vigilant secular watchdogs get into similar high dudgeon when non-religious Israelis display their own brand of insensitivity toward sacred religious days? On Tisha B’Av, the historic day of national Jewish mourning for the sacking ofJerusalemand theHolyTemples, do the media scour the countryside in search of Israelis who carry on normally: shopping, going on outings, attending pork-serving restaurants and pubs? I don’t recall seeing any photos of secular Jews drinking at a bar on Tisha B’Av night while thousands of other Jews are sitting on the ground and reading Lamentations. And on Rosh Hashanah, when millions of Jews are in synagogue returning to G-d and praying for a good year for everyone, is there editorial indignation at those secular Israelis who spend the day at the beach, or fly off to the garden spots of Europe? Granted, such people are a tiny minority who don’t know any better, and the vast majority of Israelis do honor the High Holidays. But then again, the chareidi disrespecters of Yom HaShoah were also a tiny minority — which did not prevent bitter condemnation of all chareidim.

The media silence about secular disrespecters is particularly curious when you consider that these unconcerned Israelis are insensitive not to a relatively recent memorial day, but to several thousand years of sacred Jewish tradition; that not only do they show disregard for Torah, the Jewish People, and for Jewish heritage, but are in fact belittling the behavior, if not of their own parents, then certainly of their grandparents and great-grandparents who surely observed these holy days fully and respectfully. How sad that the media closes eyes to such facts.

If the columnists seek material to explain offensive behavior, the secular school system is a good place to begin. In an open discussion I once had with a group of secular teenagers, it became clear that they thought Moses the Lawgiver and Moses Maimonides were one and the same person, and that they had never heard of Rambam, or Rashi, or Mishnah, or Gemara, or Midrash. These were fine young men and women, ready to give up their lives for the State and for the Jewish People, but had no idea what they are giving up their lives for. It is not their fault that their teachers and their secular society never instilled them with pride in being different and in being heir to civilization’s mother religion. Is it any wonder that they never heard of Tisha B’Av, or Succos, or Shavuos — or, for that matter, Shabbos?

Such religious illiteracy — widespread in the general school system — threatens the Jewish future of the State, and should engage the attention and raise the hackles of our opinion leaders. But although they are fully aware of this tragic issue, they, like Pavlov’s dog, instinctively lash out at their favorite whipping boys.

One cannot justify the foolish and thoughtless chareidi cookouts on Yom HaShoah. Torah Jews should live by higher standards of awareness and sensitivity. But what the media chooses to play up reminds us that they are, if not obsessed by hatred, at least as foolish and thoughtless — and much more narrow-minded.


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