For some background, see yesterday’s post: Thoughts on Kiryas Joel: The Poorest City in America
The chasidic town of New Square (an enclave that is very similar to KJ) has found itself in the news for all the wrong reasons. Last week an 18 year old goon attempted to burn down a man’s home along with the people inside the home. The target had been a victim of intimidation and vandalism on previous occasions so he had recently installed a surveillance system of cameras around his home. It was on these cameras that the victim first saw the goon. He went outside and confronted the goon.
A short brawl ensued and the goon lit his Molotov cocktail and fled. Both men caught on fire but the house was spared. The victim suffered severe burns all over his body and has already undergone skin grafts.
The arson and attempted murder were escalations of previous action against the victim. Prior to this incident he had been subject to protests in front of his home, broken windows in his car and his home.
What crime did the victim commit that sparked vandalism and violence?
He prayed at an old age home nearby instead of praying in the community synagogue. The grand rabbi of New Square requires that all residents of New Square attend the same prayer service on Friday nights. The victim did not attend. The goons were enforcing the rabbi’s rule.
No one excuses the behavior of the goon. Social pressure is one thing, by violence is inexcusable. It would be unfair for me or anyone to place specific blame on anyone other than the goon who committed this act. There is no hard evidence that he was instructed to do what he did. There is some circumstantial evidence but for purposes of this article, it will be conceded that this person acted alone.
One response that I have seen on blogs, Twitter posts and Facebook comments is that the victim “had it coming”. (See: Avi Shafran on New Square) The village has a rule. He chose to live there and should expect that he will suffer some indignity for his failure to live by the standard of the village. Further, if he doesn’t like the rules, he should have left the village instead of staying AND breaking the rules.
In my opinion, this completely misses the point.
There was another scandal this week. The Head Football Coach at Ohio State University resigned amid a whirlwind of allegations that he assisted and enabled players to break the rules of NCAA. The players are being disciplined and their Head Coach, Jim Tressel has resigned and is being crucified in the media.
Jason Whitlock wrote a really great column about the scandal (Tressel Product of Flawed System). Whitlock contends, and I agree with him, that while Tressel is culpable for his sins, he is really just the product of a system built on lies. The primary lie being that student athletes are amateur. Whitlock has been saying forever, and I have been agreeing just as long, that the NCAA is the biggest fraud in America. They make billions of dollars off of these athletes but the athletes see none of that money. To maintain amateur status they must adhere to thousands of rules that basically prohibit them from taking any gifts or benefits from anybody.
Tressel was just part of the system. He didn’t create the problem. He didn’t make the problem worse. He was just a cog in a mighty machine. Indeed, he broke the rules. However the system is deeply flawed and everyone is breaking the rules that the real criminal here is not Tressel. It is the NCAA. [The same should be said for USC, Reggie Bush, OJ Mayo and Pete Carrol.]
What happened in New Square is the result of a flawed system.
Any system that demands absolute fealty in every respect of one’s life, stripping one of independence and the opportunity to think and choose is a bad system. Any system that demonizes someone for asserting one smidgen of original thought is a bad system.
The perpetrators of violence and social terrorism are cogs in the machine. The machine is the problem. It isn’t the cogs.
To complete the analogy, the arsonist was a football player, the leadership is Jim Tressel and they are all part of a system like the NCAA.
The system needs to be fixed. The cogs are all responsible for their actions but the most frustrating thing is that their actions are justifiable in the system. That is why the system needs to be scrapped. It permits behavior like this to occur. This incident is only one example of a rotten system. There are more.
Maintaining control over people is not easy. But with per se poverty and social terror it becomes easier to enforce. That is part of the reason why the Kiryas Joel situation is so problematic. (See: Thoughts on Kiryas Joel: The Poorest City in America). It creates a breeding ground for anti-social behavior.
According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch the Torah is designed to create a positive social environment for growth and spiritual development. It can’t be that poverty, oppression, terror and anti-social behavior are the darchei noam, pleasant ways of the Torah. It just can’t.