Q. In the wake of recent events in Bet Shemesh in Israel, I believe the charedi (ultra-orthodox) press is claiming that the orthodox are being targeted and persecuted. Do you agree?
A. I was always taught that Moses was punished for what seems like a relatively minor sin because everyone was watching, and there is a principle of “noblesse oblige”.
What this means in modern terms is that orthodox people ought to be extra careful and scrupulous to ensure that no-one can criticise them. Every time that someone with an orthodox beard or hat is deemed to have acted unethically, it damages the reputation of the whole of orthodoxy, and by extension the whole Torah community, so that people say, “If this is religion, it’s no wonder I don’t want it!”
I can’t judge whether the Israeli government, the media and the public are ganging up against ultra-orthodoxy, but if the charedim have that perception they have to be so squeaky clean that no-one can point a finger at them. The Bible says of the Torah (Prov. 3:17), d’racheha dar’chei no’am v’chol n’tivoteha shalom, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” – and giving an example of this principle is the best way to give orthodoxy a good name.