So, following a few weeks where we didn’t hear much about the Spittin’ Haredim of Beit Shemesh, they are back in the news. A Channel 2 news story in Israel gave a face to the little girls of the Orot school, in the form of Naama Margolese. Naama, a student at Orot, was interviewed, and shown crying in fear on her way to school as her mother gently tried to cajole her to walk the short distance.
News outlets all over the world picked up the story. The harassment of the Beit Shemesh girls, as well as a general push by Haredi elements to exclude women from public life, became water cooler talk in Israel and beyond. Israeli citizens from all over organized a massive protest in Beit Shemesh to decry the marginalization and harassment of women. Thousands attended.
I considered going and taking my children. We attended the last, much smaller protest, because I felt it was important to show support for the Beit Shemesh community, and because I wanted to teach my children about equality and caring for others, even others you have never met.
But, when the opportunity came ‘round again, I declined to go. Honestly, I didn’t want to have to explain again how one group of Jews is acting so hurtful to another group. How Jewish people could claim that harassing and terrorizing innocent people is “l’shem Hashem” (for the sake of God). I thought the educational opportunity was not worth the loss of innocence, and I decided that letting them be ignorant for a while longer would be okay.
I actually found it harder to explain to them about Jew vs. Jew than about tragedies such as the Shoah. Children live in a clearly defined world of good and bad. “Bad guys” are easy to understand. During the Holocaust, “they” were out to get “us.” This, a child can comprehend. “They” have been trying to get “us” for five millennia, ever since Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish baby boys were to be tossed into the Nile.
But trying to explain that some of “us” are trying to hurt others of “us?” I don’t have a good way to explain that that won’t lead my children to have a distasteful view of religion.
The language we use to discuss these issues makes a powerful impact, especially on children. And maybe that language needs to change. The Haredim have essentially removed themselves from Judaism in their acts of harassment, vandalism and worse. Why should we confer upon them the title of “Haredim,” which comes from the Hebrew of “haradah,” meaning trembling in fear before God? Or call them “ultra-Orthodox?” Are they really Orthodox Jews, only an ultra, more, super version of Orthodoxy? I think not.
We should not give them a name that implies they have anything to do with our religion at all. We need to change our language to reflect that these people are no longer Jews.
Once we do that, we won’t need to differentiate when we talk about our Haredi cousins or when we talk about these menaces. Because they aren’t Haredi, or even Jewish. At least this is how I will explain it to my children. I will tell them that these guys may be dressed like Jewish people, but they aren’t Jewish. They don’t share our values, our religion or our name. They are the “bad guys.”
And “we,”—i.e. those of us who value people above all else—will continue to fight this and any other threat to our people, the same way we’ve been doing for centuries.