Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wanted: sane voices

Rabbi Yona Metzger

I have a feeling that things have gone a bit beyond their correct proportions. Most of the Israeli public - ultra-Orthodox, modern Orthodox and secular - is normative and balanced. But every society has its extremists, and as is natural, these moonstruck folks are more colorful and attractive than the mainstream, sane movements.

Hilltop youth who wish soldiers "Shabbat Shalom" or ultra-Orthodox men who sit next to women in line for the doctor are less curious to the media than the reckless youth throwing a brick at an IDF brigade commander, or an ultra-Orthodox person who spits on an 8-year old girl who is not dressed according to his tastes. Thus, it is legitimate that the media chooses to focus on these incidents. fear that these things are not just coming from the extremists. These groups are already designated as evil, both within their own communities and by the general public. My real concern is that these extremist groups have expanded the stage for their activities and they might get addicted to the spotlight.

It seems to me that the almost obsessive attitude of all media channels to their activities causes radicals to fall in love with the role they play. It gives them extra power and increases their presence and relevance within their sector of society. My position, which is that of the sane majority among Orthodox religious communities in Israel, is against the extremist phenomena of excluding women or "price-tag" attacks. We are in favor of gender separation and maintaining the boundaries of modesty, but not by force and certainly not by cursing or hurling insults at those who do things not to our tastes. Many of us oppose the evacuation of settlements in the middle of the night, but there is no sane authority who would agree to raise a hand against an IDF soldier or burn a mosque.

Frankly, I am quite shocked at the recent strange phenomena happening in both modern and ultra-Orthodox religious societies, reminiscent of autocratic cults, in which women are wrapped in veils, the criminal Sicarii use violence in Mea Shearim against those who do not look like them, people burn cars of fellow citizens just because they are Arabs, damage military bases and other such shameful things.

I am not going to pretend, as has already been claimed in the past, that we are talking about just a handful. They are already more numerous than that. But I am sure that these fringe groups would shrink, fade or even evaporate, were it not for their higher than expected ratings. I have one request of the media: please let up a bit on dealing with the phenomena that encourages violence and extremism. We have had enough glorification of the "exclusion of women" issue. Do not ignore it completely, but do not give the extremists more motivation by advertising them excessively. Give a bit more room in your columns to the sane and balanced voices out there, because we are in great need of them.

The writer is the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel.

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