They’re Not Us


netureiBy Rabbi Avi Shafran

The teaser e-mail alert from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read: “Hasidim for Iran”; and the headline of the linked article, about a Neturei Karta member arrested for allegedly spying for Iran, was: “Haredi Israeli charged with spying for Iran.”

Well, yes.  But one has to wonder if, say, a “progressive” anti-Zionist Reform Jew had allegedly offered his services to an enemy of Israel he would be similarly described by his religious affiliation. And we certainly (and thankfully) didn’t see headlines back in 2008 about Bernie Madoff reading: “Jew Accused of Bilking Thousands of their Savings.”

The accused spy, who reportedly visited the Iranian Embassy in Berlin in 2011 expressing his wish to replace the Israeli government with one controlled by gentiles and saying he was willing to murder a Zionist, did indeed wear the sort of clothing associated with charedim.  And he’d probably call himself one.  But just like a psychopath who happens to be a doctor is hardly a representative example of his profession, neither is a charedi who aids a murderous regime (assuming the fellow is guilty as charged) anything more than an outlying grotesquerie.

That seems to fly over some heads, like that of the commentator who posted his thoughts to one of the news stories about the accused spy.  “EYES WIDE OPEN” (and, apparently, CAPS LOCK ON) wrote: “Haredi=anti-Zionist=anti-Israel! Haredi are a parasitic drain on the State!”


Let’s be clear.  Neturei Karta is a fringe sect, with perhaps several hundred adherents around the world.  Offensive actions of its members have been denounced by all other charedi Jews, even the much larger part of the charedi world, the Satmar chassidim.  No Satmar chassid, no matter how strong his principled opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state before the Messiah’s arrival, would ever do anything to harm another Jew, much less a country (theologically legitimate or not) filled with them.  And the vast majority of the rest of the charedi universe – chassidim of varied stripes and the entire non-chassidic “yeshiva world” – can most accurately be described as aZionistic, not anti-Zionist.  Charedim may not regard Israel as the flourishing of the Davidic kingdom or even as a potentially holy entity. But their commitment to Israel’s security and wellbeing is beyond all question.

No less mainstream a charedi organization than Agudath Israel of America (full disclosure: I work there, although I write independently) publicly stated several years ago, when members of Neturei Karta were hobnobbing with Iranian Holocaust deniers at a “conference” in Teheran, that “visibly Jewish men who regularly appear publicly with virulent anti-Semites and claim to represent Jewish Orthodoxy not only do not represent anyone but themselves but are a disgrace to the Jewish people.”

The Agudath Israel statement continued with a reference to the “pitiful spectacle” of the self-representatives’ “greeting and shaking hands with Iran’s demonic president” and to the fact that their garb obscures “the fact that all they accomplish is to offer succor and support to people who eagerly wish to do grave harm to Jews.”

The charedi mainstream bristles at the actions of Neturei Karta members, as it does at the actions of other self-proclaimed guardians of the faith who do ugly things like shout at observant soldiers for choosing army service, or who fall prey to the provocations of Women of the Wall and righteously (in their minds, at least; sinfully, in the judgment of every charedi rabbinic leader) hurl insults and more at the in-your-face feminists.

It might be too much to hope that the media will take pains to convey the sharp disconnect between the handful of charedi louts and the hundreds of thousands-strong mainstream charedi world.  Too much to hope that purveyors of information perceive the fact that characterizing criminals as “charedi” in headlines is as wrong as would be the characterization of a less observant Jewish criminal as a “Jew.”

But it sure would be nice.

© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran

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  1. Naturei Karta is a fringe sect. I do not associate with them, nor do most of us. Nevertheless I know what NK is. I have talked to those people, I disagree with them, but I have seen them and talked to them. A Moroccan non-religious person who later in life becomes observant and, how amazing, joins NK and is promptly accepted. Hello hello? I have a 3×2 offer on the Brooklyn Bridges, special time-limited, hurry and contact me!!!

    PS I am sure my fellow readers will notice I have not commented on the possibility such a person is able to become an Iranian-collaborator spy. That would be like suggesting on every 3×2 Brooklyn Bridges I’m about to sell you at unbeatable price, there’ll be a winning powerball lottery ticket waiting for you on the sidewalk. Oh and of course, as a courtesy to the lucky buyer, I’ll also switch off the wind while you collect your tickets.

  2. BTW, this guy wasn’t even NK. He was a mentally ill Tzhal product, who later joined this group. To tie a whole community to 1 deranged guy is insane.

  3. The Chofetz Chaim expressed regret that his original instructions were to avoid martial fighting with (Jewish) communists

    There might be in present reality a wide difference today,
    but it may be narrowing

  4. Rav Aharon Feldman shlit’a said years ago that NK are like Conservative Jews that they have no connection to Daas Torah and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky ztzl denounced them publicly at a couple of Agudah Conventions in the late 70s but that was for wildness.

    Today’s NK has rodfim and sonei yisroel amongst them and no #3 it is not just 1 guy. Many of them associate with sonei yisroel arab terrorists.

    Kudos to R’ Shafran on a fine piece.