In his masterful autobiography, Out of the Depths, the former chief rabbi of Israel, Israel Meir Lau, tells the story of his time as a young boy in Buchenwald. Outside Buchenwald there was a sign which read in German, "Each man to his own fate."
Rabbi Lau found that sign very disturbing in a cruel and cynical manner since in Buchenwald it was the Nazi guards who had unlimited control over the prisoners. In telling the story of that sign, Rabbi Lau then jumped to when he was Chief Rabbi of Israel in 2002. Terrorists from Islamic Jihad blew up and killed Israeli soldiers, and the terrorists retained control over fragments of their body parts. The army asked Rabbi Lau if they should bargain with the terrorists in order to recover the minute body fragments of the soldiers.
Rabbi Lau writes: "My reply was unequivocal: no soldier, alive or deceased, would fall under the rubric of 'Each man and his fate'...The moral strength that guides...the State of Israel is expressed in the well-known phrase Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, (All Jews are responsible for one another). This is the direct opposite of 'Each man to his fate,' which defined the Buchenwald experience." (p.41-42)
Whether or not one agrees with Rabbi Lau about the need to negotiate with terrorists for body fragment parts, his basic point that all Jews are responsible for one another is an axiom of our faith. It is so tragic that a theme of late, coming out of Israel, is the exact opposite of this message. Not only are we not hearing enough about fraternal responsibility, but we are hearing about sibling rivalry between Chareidim and other Jews.
This year our Chanukah holiday was marred by another story in Israel about religious Jews in their quest for spiritual purity flexing their muscles and intimidating other Jews.
I feel like this type of story has been a recurring theme over the last year.
The latest story is told of Naama Margolies, an eight-year-old religious Jewish girl, who was physically intimidated by grown men as she walked with her pious mother to her religious school in Beit Shemesh. Even though Naama is religious, her garments do not conform to the Chareidi requirements and so she was intimidated. As a result, Naama complained of "her tummy hurting" and was afraid to go to school. Her brave mother, Hadassah, said, "It shouldn't matter what I look like. Someone should be allowed to walk around in sleeveless shirts and pants and not be harassed."
I believe that the stories we hear in the media represent an extremist fringe portion of the Chareidi community. There are many, many other sides to the Chareidi community which are beautiful and which we should all learn more about. But these negative stories are disturbing and threaten to undo all the good work of the Chareidi community; in general, the leadership of the Chareidi community has not spoken out forcefully enough against it.
Together as Jews we must work to put a stop to this behavior. Unfortunately, some non-Chareidim have reportedly already reacted the wrong way by attacking an innocent Chareidi girl on a public bus. Instead, let us do something positive.
This coming Thursday (January 5) the Jewish community will observe the fast day of Asarah Betevet, the tenth of Tevet. Some rabbis have written and taught about the idea of recognizing Asarah Betevet as a day of ending the infighting amongst the Jewish people; i.e. loving our fellow brothers regardless of whether or not we always agree with them.
Without question the extremist fanatics that are harassing and scaring and even physically attacking the little girls as they walk to school in Beit Shemesh are certainly wrong. They are wrong on so many levels. But the question for the Jewish people is: What are we going to do about it?
What we should do this year on Asarah Betevet is turn it into day of improving our relationships and ending our internal religious bickering. We should teach about the day and emphasize how we are all in this together.
This year I challenge each and every one of us to spend time on Asarah Betevet towards this end. On Asarah Betevet this year, everyone should do at least one act to counter the seemingly unending reports of internal religious hatred. Or as another chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, once put it: Respond to baseless acts of hatred with baseless acts of love.