By Rabbi Avi Shafran
The teaser e‑mail alert from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read: “Hasidim for Iran”; and the headline of the linked article, about a Neturei Karta member arrested for allegedly spying for Iran, was “Haredi Israeli Charged with Spying for Iran.”
Well, yes. But one has to wonder if, say, a “progressive” anti-Zionist Reform Jew had allegedly offered his services to an enemy of Israel he would be similarly described by his religious affiliation. And we certainly (and thankfully) didn’t see headlines back in 2008 about Bernie Madoff reading: “Jew Accused of Bilking Thousands of Their Savings.”
The accused spy, who reportedly visited the Iranian embassy in Berlin in 2011 expressing his wish to replace the Israeli government with one controlled by gentiles and saying he was willing to murder a Zionist, did indeed wear the sort of clothing associated with chareidim. And he’d probably call himself one. But just as a psychopath who happens to be a doctor is hardly a representative example of his profession, neither is a chareidi who aids a murderous regime (assuming the fellow is guilty as charged) anything more than an outlying grotesquerie.
That seems to fly over some heads, like that of the commentator who posted his thoughts to one of the news stories about the accused spy. “EYES WIDE OPEN” wrote: “Haredi = anti-Zionist = anti-Israel! Haredi are a parasitic drain on the State!”
Let’s be clear. Neturei Karta is a fringe sect, with perhaps several hundred adherents around the world. Offensive actions of its members have been denounced by all other chareidi Jews, even the much larger part of the chareidi world, the Satmar chassidim. No Satmar chassid, no matter how strong his principled opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state before the Messiah’s arrival, would ever do anything to harm another Jew, much less a country (theologically legitimate or not) filled with them. And the vast majority of the rest of the chareidi universe—chassidim of varied stripes and the entire non-chassidic “yeshiva world”—can most accurately be described as a-Zionistic, not anti-Zionist. Chareidim may not regard Israel as the flourishing of the Davidic kingdom or even as a potentially holy entity. But their commitment to Israel’s security and well-being is beyond all question.
No less mainstream a chareidi organization than Agudath Israel of America (full disclosure: I work there, although I write independently) publicly stated several years ago, when members of Neturei Karta were hobnobbing with Iranian Holocaust-deniers at a “conference” in Teheran, that “visibly Jewish men who regularly appear publicly with virulent anti-Semites and claim to represent Jewish Orthodoxy not only do not represent anyone but themselves but are a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
The Agudath Israel statement continued with a reference to the “pitiful spectacle” of the self-representatives’ “greeting and shaking hands with Iran’s demonic president” and to the fact that their garb obscures “the fact that all they accomplish is to offer succor and support to people who eagerly wish to do grave harm to Jews.”
The chareidi mainstream bristles at the actions of Neturei Karta members, as it does at the actions of other self-proclaimed guardians of the faith who do ugly things like shout at observant soldiers for choosing army service, or who fall prey to the provocations of Women of the Wall and righteously (in their minds, at least; sinfully, in the judgment of every chareidi rabbinic leader) hurl insults and more at the in-your-face feminists.
It’s unfortunate that the chareidi world includes men with a surfeit of testosterone and a deficit of intelligence, but that messy combination is the unhappy reality in many a group, religious or otherwise.
It might be too much to hope that the media will take pains to convey the sharp disconnect between the handful of chareidi louts and the hundreds-of-thousands-strong mainstream chareidi world. Too much to hope that purveyors of information perceive the fact that characterizing criminals as “chareidi” in headlines is as wrong as would be the characterization of a less observant Jewish criminal as a “Jew.” But it sure would be nice. v
© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran
“It’s All in the Angle” (Torah Temimah Publications), a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran, is available from Judaica Press.