I have been trying for some time now to find a hook in either this week’s parasha or haftarah on which to hang what I planned to write about in this musing. I haven’t yet found it. It’s probably there, and now that I’m about to give up trying, it will probably reveal itself. So, with apologies for straying from the usual topic of the parasha or haftarah, I offer these thoughts.
If you’re not living in a cave (or underneath a rock, as the Geico commercial says) then you have probably learned of the shocking news of the killing of Leiby Kletzky. Eight year old Leiby was walking home alone for the first time from day camp at a local Yeshiva in Boro Park. He was to meet his mother about halfway home, for this first attempt at going it alone. Leiby never made it. He apparently failed to turn a corner, kept walking, and got lost. He was befriended by 35-year-old Levi Aron, who apparently brought him to his house. What happened after that remains murky. There’s some evidence he actually took the boy to a wedding upstate that evening.
The whole hasidic community (along with neighbors, including Pakistanis, Christians, and others) took to the streets in a valiant effort to locate the missing child.
A self-proclaimed amateur dectective, whose son was one of Leiby’s teachers at school, pressed local businesses to see the videotapes from their surveillance cameras. His work, passed on to the NYPD via their liaison to the hasidic community, led the police to Levi Aron, and they stormed his apartment.
The accused killer, Levi Aron, has claimed that after he saw so many posters and people looking for the child, he panicked, fed the child a tuna sandwich, smothered him, and then dismembered him. Some of the body parts were found in a dumpster some blocks away. Leiby’s feet were found in Aron’s freezer. Levi has confessed, but so much about this crime remains a mystery, as does the accused and self-confessed killer himself. There is no evidence so far of any sexual crime.
The whole community, and I don’t mean just the hasidic community, is in shock at this brutal and incomprehensible act. Much remains to be explained and discovered in the case. The local news has really hyped the story, which makes sorting out facts from theories and assumptions difficult. I think we will all need to be patient to discover the whole story, if indeed we ever do.
What makes this story interesting for me is the interaction with orthodox and hasidic Judaism. The local papers are replete with quotes from members of the community who state that rather than going to the police, they always go first to their own community-based groups: the Shomrim , a civilian patrol organization, and, for medical emergencies, the Hatzolah ambulance service.
Each of the major hasidic communities in New York City has its own Shomrim. You’ll also find them in other hasidic enclaves (like Monsey, NY, Miami-Dade County FL, Baltimore, MD, London, England, Sydney & Melbourne in Australia.)
Local police do work hand-in-hand with these Shomrim, though they continue to insist the people should contact both their local Shomrim and Police at the same time. The NYPD learned of Leiby being a missing child a full three hours after it was reported to the local Shomrim. (NYPD’s Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, while stating that the police always wanted to be notified concurrently, did say that in this case it did not make a difference. ) It is also true, as I noted earlier, that it was a community-member’s efforts that led the police to the kidnapper/killer/whatever he is.
I find myself frowning and disgusted when I read comments from members of the Hasidic community like “you always go to family first,” or “it’s against halacha to go to the police before speaking to the rabbis except in the most extreme situations” or “the folks at 911 aren’t personally involved, but the people at Shomrim are like family.”
We shouldn’t forget that the various neighborhood Shomrim in NYC have on occasion, been accused of unfair treatment of those who are not members of the community (i.e. people of color, Arabs, Palestinians, Muslims, basically anyone who isn’t a hasid, orthodox Jew, or who looks like a nice safe white person. They are quick to pursue those who are different, and, I would suggest, sometimes not as quick to pursue some within the community.
(It’s interesting to note that, as word spread about the missing child, that most in the hasidic community assumed an outsider was responsible. Many who contacted the office of the local state assemblyman were asking if the killer was from the neighboring Arab community! People in the community were actually hoping this child’s murder was somehow anti-Semitic in nature. Hoping. Unbelievable.)
Which brings me to something else that has me troubled about this whole situation. It’s all the geshrying that the accused killer is Jewish, orthodox, Yeshiva-taught. “He’s one of us!” One local woman was quote din the paper as saying “To me he is not an Orthodox [Jew] because an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t do that.”
What self-righteous poppycock! As history, much of it recent, has shown, the hasidic community is rife with thieves, scoundrels, racketeers, perverts and more. These insular communities think they are somehow better, made purer by their separation. Wake up and smell the coffee, folks. Jews DO kill other Jews. Jews do steal from other Jews (and not just, as the expression goes, from the schwartzes, the blacks. Even today I still see discrimination in hasidic-owned business-mostly in electronics-where people of color just don’t get the same deals, the same respect, etc. as others.)
Now don’t get me wrong. This is not an anti-hasidic screed. New York’s hasidic communities are full of good, honest, caring people (though for my taste they care a little too much more for people on the inside than on the outside.) Hasidic and orthodox Judaism are not for me, but I respect those who choose to live such lives. I may believe that they are misguided in their belief that clinging to ancient (and not-so-ancient) traditions is the only thing that will keep Judaism alive, however I will accept their choice. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to “convert them” into liberal Jews. In fact, I often wish liberal Judaism had it’s own version of Chabad!
Members of the hasidic community have started their rationalizing. Levi Aron isn’t a good Jew, or a real Jew, they will say. Or they will say “this is all G”d’s will.” Leiby’s own parents (who still have not been told the gruesome details of their son’s death) have said, in effect, that this must be what G”d wanted and we have to accept it.
Wake up and smell the coffee. If this is what G”d wants, maybe it’s time to call G”d to account, or find a new G”d. And stop believing that piety keeps a community honest and pure. All that piety seems to be creating is rose-colored glasses.
Torah is pretty up front about the fact that G”d expects human beings to err, to be imperfect, to break G”d’s commandments. Is not the whole idea of trying to live a pure life an oxymoron given what the Torah says?
Wake up and smell the coffee.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
PS-if you find a connection in the parasha or haftarah, let me know!
Other musings on this parasha:
Pinkhas 5770 – Thanking Those Who Didn’t Make It
Pinkhas 5769-Why is This Rebuke Different From All Other Rebukes?
Pinkhas 5768 – Still Zealous After all These Years
Pinhas 5766-Let’s Give Moshe a Hand
Pinkhas 5765-Kol D’mamah Dakah
Pinchas 5762 — I Still Get Zealous
Pinchas 5764/5760-It Just Is!