In mid-December 2009, we were approached by the Mayor’s bureau with an interesting request. For many years, churches and clergies are harassed in Jerusalem by extremist Jews. These harassments include spitting, cursing, offensive graffiti, trashing dead cats to the gardens of the churches etc. There are mainly two geographical areas in which this phenomenon occurs. One is the Mea Shearim neighborhood, an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish area in which there are some old active churches – e.g. Ethiopian, Polish, Romanian and Russian. The other is the Old City of Jerusalem – mainly the Armenian Quarter and Mount Zion (where, by the way, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center is physically located).
Recently, the representatives of the churches at the Mea Shearim area approached the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jerusalem Municipality and asked them to make an effort to stop these hate crimes. A meeting was arranged with the Mayor, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and churches’ representatives to discuss the issue. Prior to the meeting the Mayor’s bureau requested that we, with our connections, will approach the leaders of the Eda Haredit, one of the extreme Ultra-Orthodox groups in Jerusalem. “Chances are slim” – they told us at the bureau – “but maybe you will be able to get their cooperation in the matter”. As a reminder, the Eda Haredit boycotts the Municipality as an illegitimate regime in the city, and throughout the years has led many struggles and demonstrations against it, including in the past few months. On the other hand, a formal statement by this extreme body may affect most of the less-extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish world.
So we gave it a try… We knew that the Halachic (Jewish Law) part was easy. According to the Halacha, such hate crimes are sinful due to many reasons. But we did not have a way to know whether the Eda Haredit Rabbis would agree to write a condemnation against these deeds. Indeed we used our connections, and to our great surprise we got a fast response saying – “of course, we will write such a formal statement”. Moreover, a member of the innermost circle of the Eda’s management, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, was assigned to attend the meeting at the municipality to ensure that the Christian representatives will receive the clear message directly. We received the letter within a few days from our request:
A translation of the letter (thanks to Rabbi David Rosen):
Beth Din Tzedek of the Orthodox Jewish Community
26A Strauss St.
Tevet 7, 5770
Recently repeat complaints have been heard on the part of non-Jews from other religions regarding assaults and insults with which irresponsible youth have harassed them in the city and in particular in the vicinity of Shivtei Yisrael St.
Aside from the Desecration of the Divine Name involved in this which is a very serious sin indeed, such provocation of gentiles is forbidden by our rabbis and may also heaven forbid lead to tragic consequences for the Jewish community at large, May the Ineffable One have mercy.
We thus call on all who are in a position to act to end this shameful phenomenon through means of persuasion, to rally forward as soon as possible to eliminate this blight, so that our camp may be one of peace.
And may the Holy One Blessed be He spread His tabernacle of mercy, life and peace over us and all Israel and all Jerusalem; and we wait for and look forward to the coming of our righteous messiah speedily in our days, amen.
Signed this day by the ecclesiastical court of justice, here in the holy city of Jerusalem
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch (the Head of the Beth Din Tzedek of the Orthodox Jewish Community)
Rabbi Naftali Herzka FrenklRabbi Yakov Mendel Yaravitsh
The meeting at the Mayor’s office was very good. Rabbi Pappenheim talked convincingly about the Jewish approach to harassment and was very empathetic towards the harassment stories conveyed by the clergies. On the way out, Rabbi Pappenheim discussed with us possible next steps. This was very interesting as from the point of view of the Municipality, the meeting was the end rather than the beginning of the process. But Rabbi Pappenheim thought differently, and since the meeting we are making efforts together with the Eda and himself to prevent future harassment events. It is important to emphasize that mostly these incidents are not conducted by members of the Eda Haredit, but what drives the leaders of the Eda to continue the process is their leadership role and a sense of shared responsibility.
A few days following the meeting, we got another letter from the Eda:
The second letter was very similar to the first, except for three significant alterations. First, Rabbi Weiss, the main leader of the Eda Haredit is now himself signed on the statement. Second, the letter refers to acts against gentiles not only at Mea Shearim but also at the Shimon Hatzadik area. When we called to check about this change, we found that it was made since there are also harassments of Muslims at Sheikh Jerah and the Eda leadership added this locale to make sure it would be widely understood that the letter is against the harassment of both Christians and Muslims. Third, the statement now gives a clear directive for all those who are able to act to prevent further harassment.
The full story was covered in the press. First, the Ultra-Orthodox newspaper “Bakehila” published a long article with photos from the meeting with the Mayor and the clergies (in Hebrew). Then it was covered in Haaretz in Hebrew (http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1139305.html) and in English (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1139705.html). Our involvement was mentioned in all of these articles. Here is an excerpt from Haaretz:
Poland’s honorary consul in Jerusalem approached Avraham Kroizer, the mayor’s adviser on ultra-Orthodox affairs. The latter turned to members of the Eda Haredit and to Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, closely tied with the group. [our emphasis]
Eda Haredit representatives denied that members of their community were involved, but said it was possible that “fringe youth” who had participated in the demonstrations were causing the problems.
In recent years, and particularly in the past few months, there have been several incidents in which Palestinians have also been attacked in the area separating the western and eastern parts of Jerusalem. Agmon-Snir and Kroizer said it was not by chance the appeal had been made to the Eda Haredit, even if they were not responsible for the attacks, because rabbis from that community could lead other ultra-Orthodox to follow in their footsteps. [our emphasis]
This is not the end of the story, as we continue the process to minimize such hate crimes in Jerusalem.