What’s in a Name: A Call to Re-brand the Extremists in Israel from “ultra-Orthodox” to “Sikrikim”

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Over the course of Jewish history, groups of Jews have occasionally splintered off from mainstream Torah Judaism, in terms of theology and observance. For example, in the Second Temple period, there were the Sadducees and the Essenes. In the early middle ages there were the Karaites. And in modern times, Jews have broken off to form non-Orthodox denominations. While the system of halacha (Jewish law) has many paths within it (i.e., there is often more than one halachically valid answer to a question), at a certain point, an idea or practice is simply outside the scope of normative Torah belief and observance.

There is a group of Jews in Israel, who while still being referred to as “ultra-Orthodox” by the media, can no longer be considered part of mainstream Torah Judaism. They have conveniently given themselves a new name–”Sikrikim”–and we should only refer to them by this name from now on too.

The original Sikrikim were a group of zealots called “Sicarii” (dagger-men) who lived in the time preceding the destruction of the Second Temple. The Sikrikim of old attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea using concealed daggers and other forms of violence. The modern-day Sikrikim believe in violence too–specifically, they police other Jewish people’s level of observance through verbal harassment, spitting, physical assaults, and by throwing things like rocks, garbage, and bleach at Jews who they believe are not stringent enough in their observance.

Someone recently asked me how do we explain how far is “too far.” Where do we draw the line between very stringently observant and outside of observance? I think the answer simply is that if you wouldn’t feel safe walking down the street with someone, you are not sharing the street with a Torah observant Jew.

The Sikrikim’s actions have left many people wondering about modesty issues in terms of buses where men and women sit separately and women being cropped out of newspaper photos. Although in my circles we ride mixed buses and buy newspapers with women in them, I personally think we should let each community decide for itself what works for it as long as the stringencies do not lead to a place outside of Jewish law. Ultra-modest practices do not necessarily result in violence. Meaning, you can be a mentsch even if you’re part of a more stringent community.

I have firsthand experience with this as I once rode a men’s-only bus in Israel. (Accidentally, of course!) I was in seminary at the time, doing my weekly chesed (volunteering) project, and the bus I needed just wasn’t passing by. After waiting around for longer than I could handle, I decided that I would simply get on whatever bus came next. I reasoned that being anywhere was better than staying at that bus stop. So when the next bus passed by, I hopped on.

It was not terribly crowded, just a few men sitting throughout it. I had no idea that men’s-only buses existed, nor did I see a sign saying that I was getting onto a men’s-only bus, nor did anyone on the bus even attempt to ask me to leave. I rode the bus, uneventfully, for about twenty minutes, until I reached Jerusalem and some girls I knew saw me getting off the bus and asked me what on earth I was doing on it!

The men I rode with that day were ultra-Orthodox – not Sikrikim. How do I know? Because they left me alone, even though I wasn’t conforming to their community’s standards of modesty. The edges of Orthodox Judaism are hard to define. There’s an on-going debate on the left-wing border concerning women’s issues. How far can halacha move if people do things that are not technically outside the law, yet have no precedent? On the right-wing border of Orthodoxy, we see the flip side of the same debate. More and more modesty and segregation is not against the letter of the law, and yet there is a lack of precedent (mesorah) for some of these practices. The issues on both sides of the spectrum are complex and have valid arguments for and against.

But if the Torah standing on one foot, as Rabbi Hillel famously stated, is “not doing to your neighbor what is hurtful to you”–and if the Torah’s ways, as described in Proverbs “are pleasant and its paths are those of peace”–then we should not hesitate to recognize that these Sikrikim are the newest group to splinter off from Torah Judaism. Their ideology of violence and coercion are beyond the pale, and we should make every effort to call them only by their self-designated name until this group comes to be recognized as outside of Orthodox Judaism.

Why is this so important? As someone who has made it my life’s work to show the world authentic Orthodox Jews and Judaism, you can imagine the horror I felt after recently receiving this message:

I’m now an orthodox Jew hater. Never had a problem with Jews before, my best friend growing up was Jewish, and I celebrated Hannukah with him. Today, I have absolute hatred for Orthodox Jews. I’m sorry, you can believe what you want, but when I see a story about Grown men SPITTING ON AN 8 YEAR OLD GIRL AND CALLING HER A PROSTITUTE FOR NO REASON, I just have to hate. Sorry, but your stupid, irrational, archaic, dumb beliefs do not give the right to abuse and traumatize, for life, an innocent child. Shame on you. If you believe in hell that’s where you are going fools, because no god in the universe would be ok with the crap I see orthodox jews doing.

The Sikrikim are not a few “isolated” con-artists who happen to look like religious Jews. This is not “one case” of a man who is a child molester and unfortunately received rabbinic ordination too. These are not just a “few bad apples.” This is a group. This is an ideology, and it is foreign to our Torah values. We must protect ourselves and our children–and the good name of Orthodox Jews everywhere–against these extremists. Perhaps one day, we can reach out to some of them and bring them back to our ways of peace. But in the meantime, please share this post and help spread the word. These people are not Orthodox Jews.

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. This is a fantastic post and really helps people to understand religious divisions within ultra-Orthodox Judaism. I will be bookmarking this! Thanks!!

  2. Agreed. Fantastic post. Thank you for sharing what we all could not express in words. Kol hakavod!

  3. Fantastic comment – I agree 100%!

  4. First of all, almost all Israeli news media do refer to this group as Sikrikim, so I’m having trouble understanding how this is a “rebranding”.

    Second, the problem I have with your call is that it absolves the charedi community from taking action to root out these people and these attitudes from their midst and stop them from terrorizing the rest of us. Once you say “oh, but they’re not really charedi” than it becomes someone else’s problem- which is exactly what happened in Beit Shemesh over the last 4 months. When the Sikrikim started their terror campaign, no charedi rabonim came out against them, few from the charedi community took a stand because, as you said, they aren’t “real charedim”. And that’s a problem. Until the national uproar started on chanuka and the charedim really had their backs against the wall- nothing was really done.

    To say ‘they aren’t Orthdodox Jews because they engage in despicable acts” is also a little disingenuous. There are whole cellblocks in America and Israel full of charedi Jews who have broken the law (mostly tax laws). Are they also “not Orthodox” even though they dress the part, keep kosher and shabbat and a whole bunch of chumrot?

    Declaring that Sikrikim “aren’t Orthodox” might ease your mind about your own beliefs and relationship to Orthodox Judaism, but it doesn’t actually help solve the problem of stopping these people from terrorizing others. The better place to start is- what attitudes in my community, my shul, my kids’ schools and my own family could be encouraging extremism and hate and how can I change them?

    • Thanks for your comment, Abbi. Just to clarify the “re-branding” thing – outside of Israel no one calls them “Sikrikim” – they’re only called “ultra-Orthodox” – sometimes they add “extremist ultra-Orthodox.” I don’t think calling this group by a new name absolves anyone – I think it outs them as no long “frum.” Anyone who supports their violence as an ideology has transgressed the Torah prohibition of “don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

      The way that we deal with these people is arresting them if they act out. I noted that at the end when I said that we need to protect ourselves and our children. We also should try to reach out to them (as I stated at the end).

      In terms of your quoting my saying ‘they aren’t Orthdodox Jews because they engage in despicable acts” – I never said that! I said that it’s not a case of a few “bad apples” – it’s an ideology. It’s the way they approach their Torah observance and it’s OUTSIDE the borders of Torah Judaism. Not a random guy here or there who’s a faker or who had a moment of weakness. It’s a movement and it is foreign to Torah ways. I don’t know how far the problem spreads to, but we need to a)stop them through force, i.e. the rule of law, and b)make it very clear that they have left Torah ways.

      In terms of what in my community is causing extremism? Absolutely nothing! My community is very open minded, compassionate and accepting. THAT is the Torah way. THAT is why I want to draw a line in the sand. These people have splintered off.

  5. fantastic, well said. I was wondering how we could help people differentiate between us “haredim” and them, also known as “haredim” and here is the answer, they are shikrim.
    oh and btw, there is a halachic prohibition for people who add things to the torah or overdo it with stringencys, its called “baal tosif” and with no doubt these people are transgressing that halacha.

  6. David Jay says:

    This is why the proper name indeed is SICK-rikim!

  7. Whilst agreeing with the philophy of what you are writing. I think it is wrong to describe the people as ‘Sikrikim’ To my knowledge, the Sikirim at Masada were among the finest people alive. They did not use Herod’s royal palaces, instead they built on top! One should not use ancient words which neither you, nor many people understand! By using vocabluary which you don’t know the meaning of, weakens your article!

    • Thanks for your comment, Emmanuel. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of the ancient Sikrikim before this all started, but according to an article from the Jewish Week, the ancient Sikrikim were “an honorless group of Jewish terrorists from the Roman era who killed so many of their own they were chased out of Jerusalem before the Roman siege ever began.” So it seems that they are not the group from Masada.

  8. I think your call to re-brand them for what they are, Sikrikim, is spot on. They are clearly beyond the pale of haredim or any kind of normative Judaism.

  9. Thanks, Allison, for a good way to refer to these “thugs” and anyone who is fanatic enough to agree with what they are doing. They are beyond the pale and all of us, including the haredim, should make it clear to them.

  10. Simone Shapiro says:

    Well said.

  11. re: “…groups of Jews have occasionally splintered off from mainstream Torah Judaism, in terms of theology and observance. For example, in the Second Temple period, there were the Sadducees…”

    The Sadducees were “identified by Josephus with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society.As a whole, the sect fulfilled various political, social and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple.”

    They did not ‘spliter’ off from the mainstream; they were the mainstream.

    • Thanks for your comment, Daviv, but the “splintering off” I was referring to was not about what part of society they occupied, but rather their theology and observance. The Saducees rejected the Oral Law and all the observances that come with it, so I think it’s fair to say that they left mainstream Torah observant Judaism.

  12. Fashion-isha says:

    Allison, this is very well written and very much needed. Keep spreading the word about the many and beautiful positive aspects of orthodox Judaism!
    xo
    Sharon

  13. I agree with the comments made that your explanation seems to distance yourself and the Orthodox from these ppl. 1/2 the town around the school where this little girl is terrorized is filled with these “Haredim” who are daily terrorizing the girls school. The footage that was taken by cameramen who were then attacked by the same religious terrorists is heartbreaking. What I find disturbing is that “stringent Torah observance” when its classified as “good” by the orthodox, every orthodox runs to take credit & be front & center. In this situation where there is no excuse for such horrific behavior, you very quickly distance yourself in this article and make a separation between “us” & “them”.I agree with the comments by Abigail made earlier. Im from an Orthodox family (Baal Teshuva Family) and I’m disgusted enough to return to the secular world. Israel isn’t doing anything to stop these maniacs. I’ve seen the footage where they spit on children and attack ppl filming their shameful behavior but I have yet to see the Israeli govrmnt DO something about it. You can philosophize as your sitting in the U.S. with your kids safely far away from all this drama. Why don’t you write about what is being done or what can be done about this rather than just finding other names to call them by. They spill the blood of their brothers, they have turned on the Jewish ppl while clothing themselves in the garb of God fearing, Torah loving Jews. Perhaps their children need to be spit upon? “bringing them closer in loving ways” doesn’t work. I have seen them physically attack ppl filming their actions & run away.
    I completely agree with the comments below & its time that all true Orthodox take responsibility for this.

    [Second, the problem I have with your call is that it absolves the charedi community from taking action to root out these people and these attitudes from their midst and stop them from terrorizing the rest of us. Once you say “oh, but they’re not really charedi” than it becomes someone else’s problem- which is exactly what happened in Beit Shemesh over the last 4 months. When the Sikrikim started their terror campaign, no charedi rabonim came out against them, few from the charedi community took a stand because, as you said, they aren’t “real charedim”. And that’s a problem. Until the national uproar started on chanuka and the charedim really had their backs against the wall- nothing was really done.]

    • Thanks for your comment, Devora. You are correct – I *am* trying to distance myself from these people. I want no part of them – they are NOT Torah observant Jews, any more than people who desecrate the Sabbath are Torah observant Jews. It’s obviously a shame if there are a lot of them, but even if there are entire towns of them, I want no part of them. Of course watching these men, dressed in religious garb, doing unspeakable things, is heartbreaking. They look like they should be fervently religious and yet cast the most basic mitzvos aside!

      A person can be a mentsch without being religious, however, when a religious person acts like a mentsch, he does so, generally because he’s living up to the Torah values that he believes in. So yes – of course we’re proud when Jews acting according to the Torah. These Sikirikim however have perverted the Torah. Harassing and assaulting people (or being complicit in someone else doing those things) is not simply the right-wing side of Torah ideology. It’s OUTSIDE of Torah ideology and observance.

      That would be a real shame if these fake religious Jews caused you to leave Torah observance because they do not represent true Torah observance which is why I’d like them to be officially kicked out. How Israel deals with these people is not connected to what we call them. No matter what we call them, the Israeli government needs to punish them when they break the law, just as they would punish anyone in their country who breaks the law. And repeat offenders should be shown harsher and harsher punishments until they’re simply locked away. I closed the article by saying that we need to protect ourselves and our children. That can only be done through policing these people.

      I don’t think spitting on their children is the solution to this problem. Their kids are victims, being raised by lunatic parents. Of course not everyone can be reached out to. I closed the article by saying that first thing first, we need to get control of them, distance ourselves from them, and THEN in the future attempt to reach out to some.

      I don’t see how re-branding these people absolves the Charedi community from taking action to root out the Sikrikim. What I’m calling for is a line to be drawn in the sand. If you believe that violence and harassment, and policing other Jews (either b/c you do it yourself or you think it’s OK to do) is part of your service of God, then you are OUTSIDE the Torah world. If you oppose those things, then you are still an observant Jew. Pick a side. End of story.

  14. Look, it seems like you live in America (I’ve never seen your blog before this post). Unless you live here, and really understand Israeli charedi communities, I think it’s really hard to comment on this. Because most charedim here are not openminded, compassionate and accepting (Have you caught the video of the charedi the 3 wheelchair-bound siblings Ramat Beit Shemesh crying that the charedi neighbor throw stones at them and yell at them? That’s a real pleasure to watch).

    To say “These people aren’t really Torah Jews” is irrelevant. They associate with the larger charedi community here and seek to control it as much as possible and the rabbonim here have not taken a definitive stand against them (some are just starting to now, but not any of the real big ones). So you can draw your lines in the sand, but these people really don’t care and will do what it takes to keep as much control as possible.

    • Thanks for your comment, Abbi. I do live in America, though I lived in Israel for 3 years and never had too many interactions with the Israeli Charedi community.

      I don’t think it’s irrelevant t to say that these people are not Torah Jews, I think it’s EXACTLY what must be said. The rabbonim need to say it. We make people pick a side – if violence and harassment, either in action or in ideology is part of a person’s thinking, then they are no longer part of the Torah world. Which means that we can’t trust the kashrus of these people and we don’t daven in their shuls. That’s a pretty deal IMO, to make such a distinction.

  15. Ilana Newman says:

    Kol hakavod. Couldn’t agree with you more.

  16. Allison, I’m a strong follower of the Oral Law myself, but in fairness, the Saducees would probably argue (as would the Samaritans, Karaites, and others that exist to this day) that it was those who followed the Oral Law that were “splintering off.” Just to be historically accurate.

    As to the original Sicarri, yes, they were pretty bad. So bad that they were a break off from the Zealots, who were the “mainstream” in fighting for independence- and even the Zealots were considered extremists by many! That may be why those at Masada (who may have been Sicarri) were there in the first place- they were thrown out of Jerusalem by the Zealots and, of course, those even less extreme than the latter.

    There is evidence that the group at Masada massacred a nearby Jewish settlement that wasn’t supportive enough of them for their tastes. That, by the way, is part of what made the Sicarri so objectionable- not just that they stabbed random (or not so random) Romans, but they killed Jews they disagreed with as well.

    (I say all this with a tinge of regret, as one whose political views tend to the extreme. But again, being historically accurate. And you can see some parallels here, at least in the religious battles of today. Politically, remember that Menachem Begin, for example, refused to fight fellow Jews, even when extremely provoked. It doesn’t seem the original Sicarri were too interested in religion.)

    One more note: According to some, Judas Escariot was so called because he was a Sicarri.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nachum, but wouldn’t the Sikrikim ALSO say that they are the true Torah Jews and that violence and harassment is part of how one serves God? Just because a group believes something doesn’t make it true. The Torah Jews of today trace our lineage back to those who held onto the Oral law, and I believe, with God’s help, that the Torah Jew of the future will be the ones who cling to ways of peace, not terror.

  17. Yitz Waxman says:

    It would be nice, as the author suggests, to surgically remove the Sikrikim from identifying with the Jewish nation in general and the ulta-orthodox a.k.a. Haredim in particular. In practice, it is not at all so simple. Take the groups/labels in question: orthodox, modern orthodox, religious Zionist, yeshivish, Haredi, American Haredi, agudists, litvish, chasidish, Eida Haredi followers, neturei karta, ashkenazi, sepharadi and so on and so on until we get to our zealots the Sikrikim. Upon closer examination, we find that all of these labels are approximations only with ideologies and individuals overlapping into multiple groups and shades thereof.

    So now try to pinpoint the Sikrikim and followers of their ideology so that we be secure that they have nothing to do with our circle. How much flesh to we need to cut out of the patient in order to be certain that we have removed 100% of the tumor?

    In other words, take the quote above from the “orthodox Jew hater”. Let’s propose to substitute this comment with “Sikrikim hater”. Now we can at least sympathize with the hater, if not entirely agree with him – correct? Now go and identify the individuals that this applies to, and unfortunately we will face some difficult distinctions. Do we restrict this opposition (nicer than hatred) to the individual zealots, how about their wives, their Rabbi’s, their rosh yeshiva’s, their community? After all, the entire RBS bet community stands united in the common purpose of expunging the Orot school from their border territory. It is only in the tactics that are in question. Where does the intolerance stem from? Opposition to the state (medina)? If so, then we will need to oppose the entire Eida Haredi community.

    • Thanks for your comment, Yitzy. In terms of how much “flesh do we need to cut off the patient in order to be certain that we have removed 100% of the tumor?” We cut off as much is necessary – even if it’s painful. I think the line is pretty clear, though. Who is outside of the Torah observant world? Those who have changed the Torah in some way, either by adding mitzvos on or categorically rejecting some (as a way of life). So, in this example, it’s the people that believe that harassing or assaulting people is OK thing to do or is an OK thing to let someone else do.

      There’s no halacha that says that a person must believe in the state of Israel, HOWEVER, there’s a halacha that says that a person must obey the laws of the land. If a person categorically rejects that halacha as part of his “service of God” then he has subtracted from the Torah. Disagreement is an OK thing and should be allowed. If these people want to get rid of the school, they should go about it through political channels, as any other law-abiding group would attempt to get rid of an institution, though I doubt such actions would be effective.

      Do the wives, the roshei yeshiva, the rabbis get included? You get included if you add or subtract from the Torah. I agree that it’s not completely simple, but if people start thinking more along these lines, plenty of progress would be made.

  18. Yitz Waxman says:

    Allison – FYI – Looks like the “Eida” has officially put their stamp of approval on extremist violence. One of the signers of this “kol korei” was a featured speaker to the kiruv program from your (our) yeshiva during a recent Shabbaton.

    http://www.vosizneias.com/98512/2012/01/09/jerusalem-report-eida-chareidis-says-extremists-innocent

    • Oy vei! As some commenters mentioned, let’s make sure that this is an official statement from them. If it is – and they condone violence, I believe they have shown the world that they’re on the wrong side of the line.

  19. Yitz Waxman says:

    The “kol korei” lists the names of the signers quite clearly. If this is a hoax, then they’ll need to make it known.

  20. I agree with you Allison. What they do is reprehensible and a chillul Hashem. But Sikirim is too long a term and may be difficult for some to pronounce. Let’s shorten it and just call them the sickim (or sickoes for English speakers).

  21. Great post. My question is, where do you draw the line between righteous orthodox Jews, and Sikrikim? What about Jews who don’t serve in a mandatory army, don’t work or pay taxes, and take benefits from a government which they do not support (meanwhile the rest of the Israeli society is paying for them? They may not physically hurt anyone, but they are a heavy weight on Israeli society, and create a huge hillul hashem. Are they also Skikrikim? In my humble opinion, they certainly are not righteous, and they need to learn a thing or two about torah ve’avodah.

  22. Shalom Allison,
    Thank you for writing a thoughtful post, however I disagree with you for the following reasons. Your argument reminds me of the moderate muslims who say “Al-Qeida, hamas etc.. are not real Muslims because they engage in acts of suicide bombing.” I don’t think this is the case, and saying they are not real Muslims absolves mainstream Isalm of having to reinterpret the Quran in a manner that delegitimizes their abuse of it to justify terror.

    So is it wrong to cut out our extremists from the Jewish fold. As much as we may despise the actions of a minority of haredim in Beit Shemesh, it is wrong to say they are not part of the Jewish family, or that their views do not come directly from the shulchan aruch. What we do need to cut our from our fold is chapter 152 of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which is the source of many of their views.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ittay, but I will have to respectfully disagree. In terms of the al-Qeida analogy – I don’t know enough about what the koran says to know if violence is allowed or encouraged in Islam or if it’s a misunderstanding of the religion. I can and will speak about Jewish law, though. Yes, as you referenced in the shulchan aruch – we believe in modesty. That’s part of Jewish law – men and women who are not closely related (or married to each other) are not allowed to be alone in a private room together. The point of this is to prevent sexual improprieties from happening. As open-minded and “with it” as I am, I believe in these laws. The place that the Sikrikim have gone astray, where they have LEFT Jewish law, is by using violence or harassment against other people (or believing that that violence or harassment has a place within Torah Judaism). Those are the ideas that are outside of our traditions. Modesty is one thing, violence is another.

  23. I want to ask Abbi how she decided that MOST Charedim are not open minded. Do you personally know MOST of the Israeli Charedim?
    I live in Bet Shemesh, and can say that it is a wonderful community. Just like any other kind of community, there are some who get it right, and there are some who are getting it wrong. But the ones getting it wrong are not the majority. The media would like you to think that this is a cancer, metastasizing all over the community body, but it is only a small cut that unfortunately, is causing pain.

    The community did respond to this man who spit at the girl, by placing a herem against him. He was ostracized by his community, no one is allowed to speak to him and he cannot be considered part of a minyan (which is a real embarrassment for him). The Torah community is outraged by his behavior, and unfortunately, is suffering terrible backlash by people who now want to paint all Haredim in a black light. The Haredim, as a group, should not be judged because of the erratic behavior of a misfit, or a group of misfits.

    I remember when I first became a baal teshuva, I thought “Wow, everyone is going to go by the same rules..we all have the same values…everyone is going to care about everyone else!”. Then I had my first raw encounter with a religious person who did something, I felt was very rude. I came home shocked and told my husband. He said, “What do you think, all the Haredim are perfect? Just like you have some secular people who behave better than others, you have some Haredim that behave better than others”.

    In no other group would the majority be judged by the few. Only when it comes to the Jews. We know that the goyim do this to us,but we see that even the Jews do this to themselves!

    If I could be so bold as to be judgemental, I would say that the Haredim, in general, are a caring, giving, conscientious group of people. This has been my experience, and it is for most of the people who try to get to know them, instead of looking at them from media-colored glasses.

  24. Richard Gay says:

    Leah, it’s very good to see a comment from someone very much on the inside. I don’t recall seeing any press mention of how the offender was managed by his own community, so it’s welcome to know that some action was taken. Perhaps the press need to be taken to task? But are you saying there is only one person who is behaving this way, or more? How many unrighteous do we need to call it a movement?

  25. I rlaely like it when men and women arrive with each other and share opinions, wonderful website, hold it up.

  26. It seems to be standard that the press tend to give a skewed presentation of things, usually reflecting their own opinion and not necessarily the truth. It’s probably not one person behaving this way, however it is a very small fraction of a much larger group than has gone “astray”, causing a reaction way out of proportion to their size. I would say it’s defintely not a “movement”, it’s more like an aberration.

    • Leah, it’s true that the press likes to make Orthodox Jews look bad, however, even the frum websites were reporting that the Mea Shearim rally (where they dressed up in Holocaust garb) to support the actions of the Sikrikim drew 1000-1500 people. If you do violence or harass or condone it, I think it’s all the same, and it’s all outside the Torah spectrum.

  27. Again, those numbers are not completely accurate Allison. The numbers were much less than 1500, numbering in the 100′s. However, even that amount is unacceptable to the Torah community, and many Rabbis spoke out against it, especially against the insensitive and warped use of holocaust garb.

    I agree with you that those who commit violent acts and those who condone it are all guilty, and their name should not be linked with the rest of us religious Jews who are horrified by their behavior.

    • I don’t personally know how many were there – the number I gave (1000-1500) was something I saw on an “ultra-Orthodox” website -but who knows. The bottom line is that any amount is too many!

  28. This is a small group but is getting international attention from the press because they fit the caricature that anti-religious editors and journalists have of observant Jews. And readers who are already inclined to dislike observant Jews are being incited to become virulent haters. I think we are playing into the hands of the anti-religious agenda by condemning other observant Jews instead of condemning the prejudice in popular newspapers.

    Meanwhile, many other Jews are doing much more harm and receive no attention for it. How many reform, reconstructionist, and conservative rabbis speak in favor of same-sex marriage, the “right” to an abortion, and other destructive policies that Jewish law itself condemns? And how many of their congregants are doing the same? The harm that these Jews are doing to other Jews and to non-Jews across the nation is incomparably greater than the local actions of a small group of men in Israel.

    Condemning the words and actions of these reform, reconstructionist, and conservative Jews might be uncomfortable because they live in our own neighborhoods rather than across the ocean. But they are far more deserving of our attention, and fighting against them is far more important – for Judaism and for America.

    • Thanks for your comment, Josh but I have to disagree with you. When it comes to the Jews who use violence and harassment as a form of their service to God, we need to let the world know that this is outside of the Torah spectrum. It’s not simply an ultra ultra ultra religious interpretation of Torah – it’s outside of Torah. The non-Orthodox and non-Jewish world must know that Orthodox Jews neither permit nor condone such behavior.

      What non-Orthodox Jews are doing is not related to JITC’s mission. Condemning non-Orthodox Jews for not following halacha (Jewish law), I don’t think is a very productive exercise simply because these groups are not claiming to adhere to halacha. So all that would end up happening would be that they feel insulted and offended. My approach instead, which I do all over this site, is explain why *I* believe in the halachic system and process. Why I believe that an Orthodox lifestyle leads to meaning and Jewish continuity. I’d rather stick to a positive approach, because a) I’m generally a positive person and b) I think you catch more flies with honey.

  29. I can see why you disagree and why you believe that Jews who are opposed to halacha are outside your purview. On the other hand, many of these “Jews by birth, liberals by religion” do claim Judaism as a basis for same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. Many of them hold themselves out to the world as Jews, and as Jews they advocate for things that are in fact the opposite of what Judaism requires.

    I agree that often more flies are caught with honey, but if that is the case, why are you going out of your way to condemn the Sikrikim?

    If you are going to take this step as an exception to your general rule, I would suggest at least acknowledging that this story is being used by the New York Times and others to make all observant Jews look bad. It’s easy to pass judgment on these folks – they are far away and they have little power. The greater and more pressing problem, however, is that so many American news outlets feel justified in reporting the worst of the Jewish world without reporting any of the rest – thereby inciting their readers to real Jew-hatred. That person you quoted is a perfect example of what I mean. Anti-religious bigotry and Jew-hatred in the United States and Europe, where the New York Times circulated this story, is a much bigger problem than the actions of a tiny band of men in Israel.

    • It’s true the non-Orthodox movements are claiming that these ideas (carte blance abortion, gay marriage) are part of Judaism, but they also believe that driving on Shabbos is part of Jewish law, as well as many other things we (Orthodox Jews) disagree with. I guess my feeling is that they’re coming to Judaism from such a different place – either not believing in God at all, or believing the Torah was given with divine inspiration, and they certainly have a different notion of how the halachic process works. But no one is confusing them with Orthodox people. They clearly are part of a different movement. So what I do on this site is talk about why the Orthodox principles make sense to me and people can choose to agree or disagree, but there’s already a clear distinction between them and us.

      When it comes to the Sikrikim – people *believe* that they are the same as the rest of the Orthodox Jews and that is a problem. What I’m trying to do with this post is make the same distinction that exists in the non-Orthodox movements. When non-Orthodox rabbis say things that are against halacha, no one believes that what they say is part of Orthodox Jewish law. So too, I want the world to know that people who use violence and harassment as part of their service of God, should also not be confused with the rest of the Orthodox Jews.

      My reason for doing this is specifically to combat the incitement and anti-semitism you refer to. Whoever hates what the Sikrikim are doing should know that we Orthodox Jews also hate it.

      In terms of my reaching out to Sikrikim as opposed to condemning them none of them are online, nor would they listen to a woman, even if they were. Also, having grown up Conservative myself, I understand where the non-Orthodox movements are coming from. As we’d drive to shul on Shabbos we’d say “clearly driving is SO much more restful than walking” – we simply didn’t know better. We were never exposed to a frum perspective on halacha.

      When it comes to the Sikrikim, however, it seems that they should know better. These are people who were raised learning “v’ahavta l’reyecha k’mocha” (love your neighbor as yourself). And “deracheha darchei noam v’chol nisivosecha shalom” (the ways of Torah are pleasant and its paths are peaceful). How did they take those lessons and then become the people who assault and terrorize others?

  30. Thank you for the long and thoughtful responses.

    My main point is that when the New York Times attacks the Sikrikim, while at the same time remaining silent about all the good things (even from a left-wing perspective) about observant Jews, then the clear purpose is to make all observant Jews look bad. Even if we respond by agreeing that the Sikrikim are wrong, our strongest objection should be to the anti-religious bigotry of such slanted reporting. Otherwise, we will play into their manipulation of their readers’ sentiments, and remain on the defensive, implicitly accepting that the New York Times is a legitimate source for understanding Judaism. The first thing we should say to those who hate Judaism because of something they read in the New York Times is: “The New York Times does not want you to understand Judaism. It only wants you to hate Judaism. If you want to learn the truth, you should turn to other sources.”

    I have no problem with your opposing harassment and vulgarity by observant Jews. I share that position. This is not really what is at issue here, however. Rather, the NYT story is just one more step in the effort by secularists to keep people ill-informed and make them believe that all religion is vicious and backwards.

    As for the Reform/Conservative groups, I respect the sensitivity you show to their viewpoint, but I will leave off making further comments since they could distract from the goal of your article.

    Thank you again for considering my argument and posting my comments on your blog.

  31. :) Understood, and thank you for doing it.

    By the way, your article reminded me of a story I read in a book called “Seeing G-d.” After hearing an atheist complain about the silliness of belief in G-d, the rabbi responded, “That G-d you don’t believe in? I don’t believe in him, either.” Meaning, of course, that what was silly was the atheist’s skewed idea of G-d, not belief in the true G-d.

    One might say that you have made the same response in a different context by saying to the anti-Jewish critics, “That Judaism you don’t believe in? I don’t believe in it, either.”

    Again, thanks, and good night.

  32. I am glad they have a name I can use now. I was saddened to see some video clips of this group assaulting people (verbally and sometimes physically) in the streets. I knew that image did not jibe with what I know of Orthodox Judaism (and the acquaintances I have who are Orthodox), so I am very glad to have a name for the group rather than “Ultra-Orthodox Radicals” (which seems to lump all Orthodox Jews in with them). Thanks for this!

  33. Todd Berman says:

    The problem with this dichotomy, at least for Israeli Charedim, is that the Eida Charedis supports the Sikrakim. So to claim they are not really the same is very difficult.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment (we don’t allow outside links posted on the site). But I saw the article that the Eida Chareidis supported the Sikrikim. So I have two things to say about that: #1 things are said in rabbis’ names all the time that they didn’t actually say, so I HOPE that is the case. but #2 if that’s not the case – if a rabbi supports someone who destroys someone else’s property in the name of religion then that’s not my religion or my rabbis’ religion. It’s certainly not Torah Judaism. I don’t know how far this problem extends, but I know for sure that harassing people and destroying other people’s property is against halacha.

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