Will Not Sit Idly By

In general, this is a pretty light blog. I talk about food, about the Torah portion, and about some of my experiences in that big adventure called “Jewish Life”. I make every effort to keep the blog accessible to as many individuals as possible with regard to observance, gender and politics.

But there are moments when current events are so tumultuous that not commenting would be a crime bordering on sin, when sitting idly by would be a gross lapse in judgement. This is one of those times.

I’ve held off talking about the issues of orthodoxy, segregation and oppression of (and violence against) women in Israel for a few reasons. My main concern was in my ability to present a coherent message that had credibility. Luckily, Miriam over at Tech-Tav has taken care of that for me. An orthodox Jewish CEO of an Israeli company (whose employees have been harmed as they attempted to protect schoolkids involved in this struggle), she has posted a passionate letter decrying the current situation.  I’m reprinting it in full here, but please stop by the original site as well to view the comments and updates. (also a tip of the hat to Out Of the OrthoBox and Rebbetzin Rocks for pointing me to this amazing article.)

There comes a time when even in a professional blog like this, it is our responsibility to take a stand on public issues.

Our country’s headlines over the last few weeks have been filled with stories of ultra-Orthodox men speaking harshly and striking out against women who, in their eyes, are dressed or acting in ways they feel are not in keeping with Judaism. We see stories of women being relegated to the back of the bus, of advertising posters being censored or self-censored by organizations who do not want to offend this minority.

As a company run by an Orthodox female CEO, we feel it is important for us to state our opinion in no uncertain terms. As a company with many orthodox and ultra-Orthodox employees, we have until now steered clear of speaking about politics, and we’ve encouraged our employees to keep their political views to themselves.

However, this is a clear-cut case where everyone on the Tech-Tav staff adheres to the same view: this violent behavior is an abomination. It is simply wrong to spit at schoolchildren, throw rocks at people on the street, forcefully stop buses, and punch elderly men and TV cameramen. We’re even going to take a chance and go beyond that. Although it is perfectly legal, it is wrong to curse people and call them derogatory names; it is wrong to denigrate others’ religious observance (or non-observance).

The wisdom behind the mandates against Lashon Hara were never clearer than in this instance. Rabbis who may have started by discussing the proper observance may have been tempted to say something against other people’s observance, and considered this not to be Lashon Hara, because they argued it had to’elet. Over time, the slandering of others gained more and more legitimacy, until it no longer became Lashon Hara, but actually led to Ma’asim Ra’im — violence against women and children. Children! In Medinat Yisrael today, there are children who are fearful of going to school, not because of bombs or terrorists, but because of other Jews!

The only label appropriate for the perpetrators of these acts is “criminals.” We know what to do with criminals. You arrest them, and you put them in jail. To date, this simple justice has not been done.

It is no coincidence that the mandate against Lashon Hara sits in the passage that forbids us to stand by when a neighbor is being wronged. Leviticus 19:16, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour.”

Every government official, every law-enforcement professional, and every citizen who has stood by and watched this abomination is equally culpable. It is shocking to us that we see footage of human beings, our fellow Jews, and people who call themselves observant, witnessing these abominations and standing by as if it is none of their business!

In Tech-Tav, we will not stand by silently. Our employees have been injured protecting their children and those of others going to school; we have spoken out on the radio and in the social media, and we are speaking out now, and calling you to speak and act out.

We urgently call on our government to stop this violence immediately. We do not need surveillance cameras. We need the perpetrators to be arrested and jailed. It is that simple.

We are all Zionists―every Tech-Tav employee has come to this country as a Jew seeking a homeland where we can feel safe and secure. We are committed to that dream and we demand that our leaders to provide us that homeland.

Dear readers, we encourage you to take a stand. Speak out, go to protests, and post on your blog. Regardless of your level of observance, it is time to call an end to violence and discrimination in every form. It is time to do our duty as bystanders, to act and speak loudly and clearly for the rights of all.