Rules Are for Schmucks: State within a State

Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Diluvi.

Last December, as 22-year-old Taj Peterson was walking home from a party in his Brooklyn neighborhood, he was jumped by a dozen men and brutally beaten. His right eye socket was shattered, his retina was torn, and his legs were badly bruised and lacerated. The pounding only stopped when a city bus driver pulled over and threatened to start taking pictures.

Taj Peterson is black, and gay. His attackers were Hasidic Jews who screamed anti-gay and anti-black epithets while pummeling him.

Four months after the fact, New York City police finally arrested five of the men, ranging in age from 19 to 39. The rest are still at large. At least two of those arrested are members of Shomrim, an organization somewhere in between a friendly neighborhood watch and a dangerous vigilante gang, depending on your point of view. Taj Peterson and his family would lean toward the latter.

Two facts are undisputed about Shomrim:

  1. It is limited to ultra-Orthodox Jews. Gentiles need not apply. Shomrim claims its protection services are available equally to everyone in the neighborhoods they patrol, but that’s a little hard to believe.
  2. It is funded by tax dollars, supplied by Jews and non-Jews alike. New York politicians believe (based on hard evidence) that Hasidic and other ulta-Orthodox Jews tend to vote as a bloc, and they want that bloc to vote for them rather than against them. So they’ve channeled hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to Shomrim over the years.

New York, like other jurisdictions, has a special category of “hate crimes,” carrying stiffer penalties for offenses committed because of a victim’s race or sexual preference. Yet not one of the five Jews was charged with a hate crime. There could possibly be a valid reason for this, relating to the lack of evidence for the “hatred” element from persons other than the victim himself. Many New York African Americans and gays aren’t buying it, though. They suspect that the political power of the Jewish community has made its weight felt once again. One New York elected official (who chose to remain anonymous) notes that “They’re the most disciplined voting bloc there is—people vote for who their rabbis tell them to vote for. That gives them a power totally out of proportion to their actual size. You can’t run for office without kissing those rings.”

According to some reports, it took four months to make the arrests. Perhaps that’s because the previous police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has plans to run for office and did not wish to cause any offense. We do know that the police waited until after the Passover holiday to make their arrests. If a humanist were to be charged with a crime, do you think the police would wait until after the National Day of Reason to make an arrest?

One of those arrested is also currently under indictment for illegally taking photos of the teenage victim of convicted Hasidic pedophile, Nechemya Weberman, as the victim testified against Weberman in a Brooklyn court. The photos were then tweeted and emailed to newspapers and blogs from the courtroom in an apparent attempt to intimidate the underage victim. We also know that when the Shomrim discovered Hasidic rabbi David Greenfeld sexually abusing young boys, they chose not to share that information with the police. This is strictly in accord with the dictates of Jewish God experts. Rabbi Schmuel Kamenetzky, for example, has been recorded telling an audience that if a Jew is suspected of sexual abuse, it is the duty of the accuser to take the issue to a rabbi before a decision is made to involve the police. Children who bring sex abuse claims against rabbis find themselves kicked out of Jewish schools and summer camps.

When a Jewish attorney wrote an article questioning this stance, he was vilified by another rabbi, Yoel Schonfeld: “My question to you as an Orthodox Jew,” Schonfeld wrote, “is what compelled you to write an article in the secular press trashing our fellow Jews? Especially in a media which is notorious for its hatred of Orthodox Judaism? Why couldn’t you keep your comments to yourself? … Your article may prove to be one of the most treacherous acts of mesira [intra-Jewish betrayal] in modern times.” In the Talmud, mesira is punishable by death without trial.

Shomrim has a presence not just in New York, but in places like Baltimore, Miami, and London as well. An adult Baltimore Shomrim member was charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment for beating up a 15-year old black teenager in 2010, breaking the boy’s wrist in the process.

The root problem here, as in so many other cases, is the notion that “God is on our side.” Highly religious Jews, just like highly religious Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, Buddhists, or what have you, have been duped into thinking that they are working hand-in-hand with God, so the normal rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. When they see someone breaking those rules, like disobeying an official prayer order from the Grand Rebbe, they feel free to do God’s work by setting the offender on fire. When they send women to the back of the bus, they tell Rosa Parks-like agitators that “When the Lord gives a rule, you don’t question it.”

Rules, after all, are for schmucks. God experts do what they want.

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