Occasionally one comes across a statement so audaciously outrageous, so leap-from-your-seat politically incorrect, so preposterously preposterous that you simply freeze on your first encounter. You then go back to the beginning of the sentence to make sure you actually read those words. Still reeling from incredulity that such sentiments could be uttered in our prejudice-free era you reread the paragraph, restart the article and even check the cover of the book or masthead of the paper to ensure that the context, the tone, key and pitch of the words which so profane all our sancrosanctities are not only there and carry their usual meaning but were actually intended to mean as they do.
Such were the words in Geoffrey Alderman's article in last week's JC which I reproduce here in their full glory.
It is, however, well known that charedi men are notorious harassers of the opposite sex.
And then when you finally thaw and are sitting comfortably again you are at a loss at how to respond? What does one do and say in such instances? Pitch tents outside the JC's offices or Mr Alderman's home with banners reading 'members of the opposite sex welcome?' They'll just use it as further proof of our roving fingers. Initiate a chesed campaign of holding doors open for the fairer sex to show what a gallant and chivalrous lot we are? For goodness sake we don't even look at them so how are to we know when they're coming and going. Perhaps get the Neturei Karta involved to walk to Trafalgar Square on Shabbos with banners pinned to their bekitshes, 'Chareidi and not Harraser'. Or, preferably, 'WE FRESS NOT HARASS'.
Alderman is a man of many talents but impartiality is unfortunately not one of them. Let us not forget that Alderman is also the columnist who publicly rejoiced at the brutal murder of a peace activist because he happened to favour the Palestinian cause. There appears to be nothing the Israeli government can do that will condemn them in Alderman's eyes and nothing chareidim can do to win them his praise. Heaven help us were a similar sweeping statement to have been made against Israelis. You'd have Melanie Phillips squalling in the shrillest tone she has yet to muster and Alderman himself collapsing apoplectically from his perch smothering Jonathan Freedland below him. Yet when it comes to the frummers you can malign, slander and impugn us with impunity and none of the Jewish anti-bigotry campaigners on the left and media obsessives on the right will take up cudgels on our behalf.
But before the unnaturally gifted columnists of the Hamodia and Tribune indignantly dip their quivering quills in their seething inkpots it is worth considering what leads a commentator to make such a sweeping statement. As outrageous as it may be the fact of the matter is that tales of harassment, child abuse, violence, fraud and a whole panoply of crimes are reported against chareidim with increasing frequency such that they are hardly news items any longer. Yet they are met with total silence from chareidi leaders and press.
When a London couple were arrested in Israel last year for allegedly abusing and trying to abduct their daughter, Tehilim was recited for the suspects and the victim was instantly declared mad and wayward. In Israel violent demonstration have been held in defence of murderers and abusers often with the tacit if not express support of some leaders. Yet these leaders are not shy of heaping a curse or two for anything from the misdemeanour of too short a skirt to the cardinal sin of possessing a blackberry.
Besides, without getting too talmudical about it, Alderman didn't say sexual harassers but merely harassers. In my shul on simchas torah small kids were slamming doors and knotting curtains in front of adult women to block their view of the men's dancing. In other shuls women were yelled at and threatened for not clearing the exit. From young girls to adult women, the opposite sex are constantly made to feel that there isn't a malady in the world that hasn't been caused by their lapses in tznius and which won't be cured by an inch on the skirt and off the sheitel respectively. One would indeed require a heavy dose of talmudic ingenuity to argue that these are not forms of harassment.
So before our apologists and 'spokesmen' get onto their soapboxes and cry wolf yet again they may wish to reflect how their whitewashing over the years has led to criminals feeling safe in the knowledge that they can always rely on support from the home side, while those on the outside will not believe a word uttered in our defence. We revere the leaders who lead us astray and by our reverence and blind obedience we come to be tarred with the crimes they condone by their silence and inaction when not by their express approval and encouragement.