Objectivity and the Haredim
To the Editor:
I was most disappointed to find that COMMENTARY now seems to have joined the fashion du jour of demonizing the haredim [“The Ultra-Orthodox on the Warpath,” February]. I am not a member of the haredi community, but I am offended by the mindless litany of anti-haredi clichés and factual errors that constitute Mati Wagner’s article.
To cite only one egregious example among many others: To Wagner, yeshiva students are not simply young men, but, in an unwitting echo of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, “pale-complected, skinny young yeshiva men.” In his world, are there no ruddy and chubby young yeshiva men? So much for his objectivity.
He also states, erroneously, that “some religious Zionist soldiers walked out in protest during a ceremony in which female soldiers began to sing.” The reality is that these Orthodox soldiers were not protesting anything. They were maintaining the halachic principle of tzeniut, or modesty, which includes not listening to female singers, and so they simply left the hall quietly. Wagner certainly knows better, but apparently it fits his thesis to tweak the facts and have them leave “in protest.”
Haredim these days are being regularly vilified by the secular and sensationalist media. That COMMENTARY should now be adopting this herd mentality is very distressing to a loyal reader who always admired your fresh and original perspectives. Rather than poison the atmosphere with one-sided accounts, you would do far better to commission a truly objective analysis of who the haredim really are, what they stand for, and the underlying causes of the tension between the haredi and non-haredi communities. If possible, the author of such an analysis should not wear his prejudices on his sleeve.
Estelle S. Feldman
Mati Wagner writes:
I was surprised by Estelle Feldman’s claims that I should be counted among those who “poison the atmosphere with one-sided accounts” that “vilify” the haredi community. I am an Orthodox Jew who spent four years learning Gemara at the (haredi) Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. These were some of the best years of my life, and I learned to respect the scholarship and lifestyle of members of the haredi community.
My depiction of haredi demonstrators who clash with police on the streets of Beit Shemesh and elsewhere as “pale-complected, skinny young yeshiva men” was not motivated by anti-Semitism. Rather, it was motivated by my amazement as a reporter who has covered many haredi demonstrations during my stint as religious-affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post at the willingness of young men—who spend much of their time in the sedentary pursuit of Torah knowledge—to disregard their own physical welfare and grapple with big, burly policemen in riot gear. These yeshiva students tend not to be big muscular types and cannot hope to overcome policemen who look as though they spend a good part of their day in the gym lifting weights. Their willingness to get beaten up reveals a certain selflessness and zealotry.
Regarding the question of whether or not the decision of religious Zionist soldiers to walk out during female singing was a protest or merely a personal choice based on religious sensibilities, the soldiers were punished by the Israel Defense Forces precisely because they did not ask permission in advance not to attend and instead made a demonstrative show of their walk-out.