The Culture of Evil Controversy

The fact that an evil figure like Amram Blau who cursed and insulted Talmidei Chachamim and physically harmed his disputants is appreciated by the Haredi public is most indicative of the culture of controversy that exists among them * Not all members of the Haredi sector act in the way of violence and controversy, but unfortunately, we also do not hear them condemn such phenomena * The rule for identifying a controversy not for the sake of heaven: If the parties involved practice boycotting and an evil eye * Apart from the damage of separation itself, the culture of boycotting prevents Talmidei Chachamim from expressing Torah opinion without fear

In the previous column I wrote that the difficult controversies that exist among the Haredi public, entailing serious transgressions bein adam le’chaveiro (between man and his fellow friend) and bizui Talmidei Chachamim (belittling Torah scholars) are not coincidental, but stem from a worldview that ignores the value of ahavat ha’briot (love of humanity) and kavod ha’briot (respect and dignity for humanity) – mitzvot that are the clal ha’gadol she’be’Torah (the great principle in Torah) (Leviticus 19:18; Sifra, ibid; Shabbat 31a). The hatred and boycotting that began towards the religiously distant Jews, gradually spreads to those close to them, and in consequence, all the difficult terms which they called Reform and assimilated Jews, such as “ocher Yisrael” (destroyer of Israel), “avodah zara” (idolatry) etc., they later call rabbis, Haredi communities, and even sibling Admorim (grand rebbes) and Roshei yeshivot. The root of evil lies in the methodology of separation, seclusion, and boycotting.

Some readers from the Haredi community were offended and puzzled; after all, so many members of the Haredi community act with kavod (respect) and derech eretz (good manners), so why did I blame the entire Haredi public for the culture of controversy and hostility towards fellow Jews.

The Figure of Amram Blau in the Haredi Public

Seeing as this is an important issue, in spite of the unpleasantness, there is room for clarification. I will explain what I wrote through the account of Amram Blau, who was a rasha gadol (exceedingly evil person), however, was perceived by many members of the Haredi community and its rabbis as a talmid chacham and a tzaddik (righteous person). The following is a concise summary of some of his exploits (as compiled by the diligent researcher, Rabbi Tzuriel Halamish).

Amram Blau threw a bucket full of sewage water on the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l during his visit to the Hurva Synagogue. He conducted a “Purim shpeil” with his collaborators in which they sentenced Rabbi Kook to death, and stabbed a doll in his image and burned it. He would always interrupt Rabbi Kook’s speeches and eulogies, such as his eulogy for Rabbi Klatzkin at the Mea Shearim Yeshiva, his eulogy for the Chafetz Chaim, and the laying of the cornerstone for the ‘Etz Chaim’ neighborhood. He repeatedly posted profanity, lies and slander against Rabbi Kook in posters on the walls of Jerusalem. He called Rabbi Kook “Amalek” and “oto ha’ish,” (Jesus), and would constantly boast of these evil deeds. As a result of these evil deeds, the Beit Din of Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, issued a letter of nidui (excommunication) against him.

Amram Blau humiliated the vast majority of the Torah giants. For example, he held a protest rally against the Admore and Gaon, the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg for collaborating with the government in the field of education, and published a letter of ridicule against him, in which he wrote “he [the Admore] displays fervor and enthusiasm during his prayers … (but) incites and agitates the innocent.” He considered the incredibly righteous Rabbi Aryeh Levin ztz”l as a rasha, and consequently, would not gaze at his face. This is how he treated Haredi yeshiva leaders, such as Rabbi Dov Meir Kroizer. He publically embarrassed Rabbi Moshe David Tenenbaum, director of the Vaad HaYeshivot. He threatened the Av Beit Din of the Eda Haredi, Rabbi Pinchas Epstein not to honor a rabbi who was not one of the zealots, at his daughter’s canopy. He routinely published derogatory remarks against the halakhic rulings of the rabbis of Jerusalem.

He cursed and insulted countless organizations such as Agudat Israel, and afterwards, the Eda Haredi. Under his charge, issues of the publication “HaChoma” were printed, in which it was written, for example, that the Agudat Yisrael Party was complicit in the crimes and abominations of the Zionists, and that they “continued to grasp on to the corners of the altar of the Baal.” He insulted the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chabad for their ties with Israel’s President Zalman Shazar. He regularly belittled rabbis who were members of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, and its chairman, Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin ztz”l. He issued a pashkvil (wall poster) fraught with invectives against the Gaon Rabbi Aharon Kotler. He was one of the leaders of a small group that issued death threats, for example to Reb Itche Meir Levin, the brother-in-law of the Rebbe of Gur, a minister in the first Israeli government, and the leader of Agudat Yisrael in Israel.

He and his cohorts called the Beit Yaakov girls’ school of Agudat YisraelBeit Esau” and other derogatory epithets. They called rabbis of the religious community the “sitra achra.” They issued a proclamation against the Gaon and Tzaddik, Chief Rabbi Herzog, and Yeshiva “Chayei Olam” which honored him, and called the day he was appointed chairman of the Vaad HaYeshivot “the day of the burning of the remnant of Torah.” They wrote about Rabbi Herzog as one who “raised his hand against the Torah of Moshe,” who “became addicted to avodah zara.” Followers of Rabbi Herzog were described as “those who follow Baal Pe’or.”

Accompanied by a gang of rioters, he would often act violently. For example, they evicted the members of the Agudat Yisrael branch of Social Welfare in the ‘batei Ungarin’ houses, and broke the furniture there. They invaded the Diskin Orphanage, claiming they were cooperating with the government. They beat innocent people and foreign consuls. His group was responsible for routine acts of destruction, such as smashing windows and spray-painting abusive graffiti at the Mea Shearim Yeshiva, destruction of the Beit Knesset Yerushalmi of Chasidei Sanz, destruction at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva due to receiving funds from the municipality. They threatened storeowners, and burnt one down. They assaulted a female soldier, tearing her clothes, and beating her until she fainted. Incidentally, at the end of his life, when he married a young convert, his partners in crime boycotted him on the grounds that a public leader like himself should not carry a convert – coming to teach us that one who persistently boycotts and insults others, ends up falling into the pit he dug.

How a Culture of Controversy is Created

If one wishes to be saved from the severe and terrible prohibition of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), they must condemn the evil baalei machloket (dispute mongers) like Amram Blau. Indeed, our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook regarded him as a rasha, and did not agree to look him in the face. However, when a man like Amram Blau receives respect from some rabbis of the Haredi community, such as the Brisker Rebbe, it is no wonder the culture of evil, hatred, contempt and controversy has become a widespread phenomenon. Someone who does not believe this is the situation, just take a look at books written in the last generation about rabbis and tzaddikim from the Haredi community, and will see that Amram Blau and his companions are most often regarded with respect. Even when reservation is expressed for his excessive zeal, it is inconceivable that he would be regarded as a rasha. This is how members of the Haredi public learn that, when necessary, one can behave with malice and violence like him. And ultimately when a controversy breaks out a need arises, evilness increases, and becomes a method.

The Mitzvah of Tochecha (Rebuke)

In their responses, some readers argued that the Hareidi public are unable to replace the police and prevent children and adults from calling policemen and soldiers ‘Nazis’, and throwing garbage at them, nor can they supervise every rabbi or reporter who despises Zionist rabbis.

A: The members of the Haredi community are not required to physically obstruct the offenders, but they are obligated to fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah and rebuke the sinners, as the Torah says: “You must admonish your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). And rebuking them once is not enough, rather, the mitzvah is to rebuke over and over again, as our Sages have said: “the word ‘hocheach’ implies even a hundred times” (Bava Metzia 31a). Kal ve’chomer (how much more so) when such people continue their evil ways in the streets, they must be repeatedly condemned in all educational institutions and yeshivas, in order to educate the students to know how bad and forbidden such actions are.

The main obligation and responsibility rests with the rabbis of the Haredi public and its leaders, as our Sages said: “Whoever can forbid his household from committing a sin but does not, is punished for the sins of his household; if he can forbid his fellow citizens, he is punished for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is punished for the sins of the whole world” (Shabbat 54b). And in particular when the words of contempt and controversy are published in censored newspapers, the responsibility of the rabbinical leadership is doubly important. They may argue ‘we don’t deal with condemnation and rebuke,’ but reality is the exact opposite. They are constantly engaged in gatherings of rebukes and condemnations, and halakhic rulings and proclamations, and warnings against Torah prohibitions conducted by people who are not members of the Haredi public, or against those with whom they fight within the Haredi public. So why not condemn the wicked who sin in the most grave transgressions for which the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed, and for which we were exiled from our Land?

Signs of Evil Controversy Mongers

The sign of controversy for the sake of heaven that is beneficial, such as the controversy of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, is that the disputants treat each other with respect. On the other hand, the clear sign of an evil controversy that is not for the sake of heaven is that the disputants do not respect each other, and hence, do not recognize the good sides of those who disagree with them, are not willing to learn anything from them, and are not willing to attribute a statement in their name.

Another sign for disputants is that they lie, whether knowingly or not. Some knowingly lie, because they believe that the “sacred” purpose – to eradicate their rival, or at the very least, to distance the public away from them – justifies all dishonest means, including lies and libel. And all partners in an evil controversy, at the very least, lie unknowingly, for since they see only bad in the other side, any evil rumor about them is accepted at face value, without proper examination.

Damage to Revelation of the Torah

These controversies undermine the sanctity of Torah study. Because when rabbis who express a different position from those of the disputants are humiliated and discredited, many rabbis prefer not to delve into issues that may complicate them. And even a rabbi who does delve into an issue, and has a different opinion, will prefer to remain silent. Thus, the violence in Haredi society destroys the ability of Talmidei Chachamim to discuss words of Torah properly and as necessitated.

Suppose there is a Haredi rabbi who thinks that science or vocational studies should be included in the curriculum for children and adolescents, as the vast majority of Torah giants of all generations believed. And suppose there is a Haredi rabbi who thinks it is a mitzvah to serve in the army as is understood from the pshat (simple and obvious meaning) of the Torah and the mitzvot, or at least thinks that some of the young men of the Haredi public should go to the army – would he be able to express his opinion, and explain it without fear?! This is the case with other considerable and important issues as well.

Therefore, unfortunately, despite the talent, devotion, and ability to delve into and elucidate specific, particularized issues, as long as they do not hold a large and serious protest against the culture of contempt and defamation, and teach all their followers to respect every person, and appreciate Torah scholars from all circles, the rabbis of the Haredi public will be unable to assess and deliberate with purity of mind as necessary, the great issues of Torah. The more this culture spreads among the National Religious public, even its rabbis will not be able to engage in explaining the Torah properly.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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