The Slonimer Rebbe, leader of the protests against Israel civil authorities and the Israeli Supreme Court ruling demanding the de-segregation of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) schools in Immanuel, declared that “Even if they put us in front of a firing squad, we would not give up and would not compromise.” The comment is troubling for any number of reasons.
First, since nobody is threatening anything harsher than short prison stays for individuals found to be in contempt of the court’s ruling, the Rebbe’s declaration conveys a loathing for Israeli civil authority which operates independent of this case – a loathing which must be felt by many of his followers. He raises an ugly and false premise about a threat faced by his community to consolidate their commitment based on resistance against a non-existent reality. That kind of demagoguery only works on audiences ready to be ‘demagogue’d’.
That the hatred of the court is not really about this particular case, or even about the open hostility faced by Sephardic Jews in much of the Haredi school system, is proven by the Rebbe’s words. Speaking to the press, he said, “I have no shadow of a doubt that they (the members of Israel’s Supreme Court) know the truth, that their words are lies to the core, this is a struggle between faith and heresy, between sacred power and impure satanic forces? A struggle that we’ve always known would break out at the end of days.”
And it’s this second aspect of the situation that is really disturbing.
As his words indicate, for the Rebbe and all those who support him, this is no longer simply a matter of Ultra-Orthodox resentment of any but their own authorities; this is now an apocalyptic struggle. When leaders start mobilizing around end-of-days talk, look out! That’s the kind of talk which leads to the dissolution of nations, and often by violence.
Worst of all is, that like many religious folk intoxicated with apocalyptic visions and messianic expectation, the Slonimer actually delights in the prospect of struggle. Addressing his followers and supporters, he urged them to “join us in this sublime struggle that generations have waited and looked forward to.” It’s a sad and scary day when leaders, especially those who have a demonstrated track-record of wise and compassionate leadership, fall prey to such ugly ecstasy.
Who knows, perhaps the Rebbe is right and there are “satanic forces” at work here. And perhaps they are working through him. If such forces exist, then at the very least, that’s something I hope he will consider before dancing off to a culture war (or worse) he seems eager to fight.