Dateline Beit Shemesh: Jay Michaelson Suffers an Acute Attack of Harediphobia
No, Jay Michaelson, ultra-liberal, leftist, and progressive columnist for the Forward did not write that Haredi Jews use Christian blood for baking Matzah on Passover. However, in his all too predictable Haredi-bashing article entitled “Fighting Back Against Fundamentalism” it was about the only accusation that he did not level against what is commonly referred to as the “ultra-orthodox” community in Israel. The article is about the recent problems in the religious neighborhoods of Bet Shemesh, Israel. Michaelson trots out the usual stock clichés like “Iran-ization of Israel,” that Haredi population growth “threatens secular Jewish culture,” and worst of all, the Haredim are “deliberately ignorant of modernity” (that means they don’t like hip-hop music, don’t glorify the killing of unborn children, and don’t instruct teenagers in the use of condoms).
Extremists cause trouble everywhere, whether in the form of the pathetic losers who populate the “occupy” movements, liberal activists who want to destroy religious freedom in this country by forcing everyone to support homosexual marriage, or a handful of zealots in the Israeli city of Bet Shemesh. Their activities have already been condemned by the major orthodox rabbinic groups in the United States, both centrist and Haredi, and even by the Ultra-Orthodox Eidah Haredis in Jerusalem. I have a brother and sister-in-law, nephews and nieces, five children, and four grandchildren living in Bet Shemesh, so I do have some inside sources on what is going on there. My twin daughters were actually interviewed on Israeli TV at a recent demonstration in that city (by the way, they looked really cute on TV). Although it is clear that most of the problems are caused by a small group of trouble-makers, self-righteous progressives like Michaelson feel the need to demonize an entire community.
Michaelson is that annoying type of liberal who always expresses love and compassion for everyone else: baby seals, endangered species of all kinds, “suffering” Palestinians who must endure check-points manned by Israeli soldiers (after all, just because some Palestinians murder Jews, do we have to check all of them?!), homosexuals who are “bullied,” and of course maligned Moslems (“liberals have rightly rallied around the cause of Islamophobia”). However, for his own people, he reverts back to the tried-and-true method of sinat chinam, baseless hatred; the sin for which, our sages tell us, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. I guarantee you there is one word that will never enter the “liberal,” “loving,” and “compassionate” vocabulary of our friend Mr. Michaelson: Harediphobia, even though it is clear that Michealson suffers from this disease: “the Haredi population of Israel is set to grow 580% in the next half-century…threatening…secular jewish culture [and] non-fundamentalist Judaism…ignoring this threat would bring costs as severe as ignoring assimilation or anti-semitism…the Jewish future they create looks more like Islamist Iran than any Jewish culture that I, and most progressives, would want to be part of.”
Michaelson’s hypocrisy is out in the open for all to see. When a gunman murdered two teenagers at a gay youth center in Tel Aviv in August, 2009 (the crime is still unsolved), he wrote the following: “Here is how it happens. First, demagogues use incendiary rhetoric to inflame passions against a group or individual. Next, a “lone gunman” attacks the target of that rhetoric. Then, the same demagogues who fanned the flames in the first place condemn the attack, and express shock – shock! – that such a thing could happen.” If God forbid, someone commits an act of violence against a Haredi individual in Israel, you can be sure our demagogue friend at the Forward will be the first to issue a condemnation and express shock!
It is interesting to note that even Israel Harel, who writes for the super left-wing and notoriously anti-religious Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, wrote the following in a recent article about the brouhaha in Bet Shemesh, “From the strident tones of the past few days, one can safely assume that the goal of most of the critics…is Haredi-bashing, pure and simple.” Amen and enough said.
Michaelson proposes all kinds of solutions to solve the “Haredi Problem.” (Sound familiar?) They range from persuading individual donors and foundations not to give money to Haredi institutions to – I’m not kidding – sending missionaries into the Haredi community to convince them to be more liberal! “I think we need to proselytize for non-fundamentalist Jewish culture within the Haredi world…We can and should make the case…that a life of engagement with the modern world is better than the ghetto.”
What is most comical about this last idea is that Michaelson seems to be in complete denial about what is going on around him. Liberal, secularized Judaism is dying. The Reform and Conservative movements – whose success among American Jews was never a spiritual phenomena, but rather a sociological one – are scrambling for money to support their institutions and for congregants to fill their Temples. Intermarriage and apathy have decimated their ranks. How will you possibly convince the Haredim to be more like you? With arguments like the following, from your September, 2007 Forward article?: “I don’t believe the nonsense that our religion often spreads about God, Torah, and Israel. But I’ve found that there is something deeper than belief.”
Mr. Michaelson, you cannot even convince your own children to continue with your liberal, watered down form of Judaism. Whereas you compare the Torah with the latest issue of the Village Voice and cut out the parts of the Torah that don’t match, your children don’t bother. They have seen through the sham. They skip the Torah altogether and just read the Village Voice. You write about the Haredim, “If this is the Jewish future, count me out.” What a great tragedy (after all, you are my Jewish brother), you’ve already been counted out of the Jewish future and don’t even know it.
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