At least four times a week, when putting away the Torah during prayers, Jewish men recite the verse from Mishlei (Proverbs) concerning the Torah. The verse, 3:17, reads as follows: Deracheha Darchei Noam V'chol Nesivoseha Shaom -- Her ways are of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.
And yet, we find that this isn't always the case. We find people who stone cars that drive through neighborhoods on Shabbos. We find people who stone buses because they aren't segregated, or those who beat up women for presuming to sit in the front of a non-segregated bus, or people who throw acid in the faces of a young girl for daring to walk through a neighborhood while not living up to their standard of tznius. We have seen stories of people who harass or shun their neighbors for failing to live up to the "chumra of the month." People have been pressured to move from their homes through violence, intimidation or harassment because they chose to live within halacha but not within the extra-halachic standards that some communities decide upon.
Is this d'rachecha darchei noam? Is this v'chol nesivoseha shalom? And, more importantly, is this actually bringing anyone closer to observing the mitzvos?
The problem with violence is that it's a great motivator when those whom you want to influence have no other alternative. If a woman lives in the areas of Afghanistan or Pakistan ruled by the Taliban, she wears a burka -- not because she really wants to, but because if she doesn't, she's liable to be beaten, put in prison, or executed. Since the power of the state is behind the threats, the version of sharia that the Taliban practice is enforced.
But using force to compel behavior has two major drawbacks. The first is that in order to compel the behavior, you have to have the authority to back up your threats. If you want to force your neighbor to keep kosher, for example, you have to have the authority to do something about it if she or he doesn't. That does not exist today. Even in enclosed chareidi or chassidic communities, no one today has the governing authority to compel behavior. No community can pass a law stating that they have the authority to whip someone for not keeping kosher. Zealots may take it upon themselves to do so, but they may be subject to punishment themselves, as their activities are strictly extra-legal.
But there's an even more severe problem with using force to compel behavior. The problem is that of motivation. God wants us to keep the Torah out of a desire to keep it -- and force is a lousy way to achieve that result. Consider, for example, taxes. All of us (barring the most ardent anarchists and tax resisters) recognize the importance and necessity of taxes. We may argue about methods, rates and models, but we all agree that taxes are necessary to pay the police, the army, the fire department, the EMS workers, the garbage collectors, etc. And yet, despite the fact that we all know that taxes are necessary, how many people would actually pay them without the IRS's ability to take action against us? Very few. In other words, despite the fact that we all know that taxes are necessary, very few of us would actually pay without the fear of going to fines, penalties or prison. In other words, when force is the primary motivation for a behavior, then most people will not observe that behavior absent the force. If most people could find a foolproof out to paying taxes, they would take it.
But we don't want that to happen with Shabbos, kashrus or any of the other mitzvos. We want people to keep the mitzvos even in the absence of force. We want people to keep Shabbos even if there is no Bais Din which is going to punish them, or some thug ready to break their window. God wants us to keep the mitzvos both in public and b'chadrei chadorim (in the innermost chamber -- i.e. in private). God doesn't want us to put on an outward display of keeping the mitzvos but yet break them when we're alone and reasonably safe from prying human eyes.
And, in many parts of the Orthodox community, that seems to be the case. I keep Shabbos not because someone is going to beat me up if I don't, but because I want to. I keep kosher not because the kashrus police are out there spying on me, but because I want to. If I wanted to violate Shabbos in the privacy of my home, I could easily do so with no repercussions from any communal authorities. If I wanted to, I could easily sneak pork into my home, or even make a cheeseburger from existing kosher products in my house; but I don't -- because I want to keep kosher. And this holds true for the vast majority of the Orthodox community today.
There is a story that is told of R. Levi Yitzchock of Berditchev. R. Levi Yitzchock was known as someone who was always trying to find a way to find favor for the Jews in the eyes of God. One erev Pesach, after the time for the burning of the chametz, he called in his shammos (aide) and asked him to try to obtain some beer (which is chametz) from one of the Jews of Berditchev. The shammos was shocked at the request, but eventually agreed to try to obtain the beer. After a few hours, he returned and told his Rebbe that he had failed in his mission. He then asked him to try to find some tobacco*, a substance banned by the government. Within a short while, he was able to procure some. Seeing this, he turned to the heavens and proclaimed "Ribbono Shel Olam, see how much Your people love to observe Your mitzvos. The king has all sorts of police and soldiers and yet people still flout his authority and smoke tobacco. But You - You have no soldiers, no armies, no police - and yet, Your people keep Your mitzvos and not a drop of beer was to be found in their possession on Erev Pesach."
*That's* the type of approach that we need to foster if we are to see an increase in the observance of the mitzvos in the future. But to maintain that, and certainly to extend this to the non-Orthodox community, you can't take the stick approach -- you have to use the carrot. Throwing stones at people, yelling at them, throwing acid in their faces and the like does not encourage a single person to want to keep the mitzvos - on the contrary - it causes the victim and other non-Orthodox people to move further away from the keeping of the mitzvos. Even when violation of the mitzvos were punishable by Bais Din, I'm sure that the violence had a harmful effect. I don't think a single person who ever witnessed a person receiving malkus (lashes) for eating treif ever came away from it feeling "Wow! That inspired me to keep kosher." They may have kept it out of fear, but not out of desire -- and lacking that, they can and would continue to violate when they felt they could get away with it. I would be highly surprised to find that violence ever inspired anyone to keep a single mitzvah out of desire. And in an environment such as ours, where there is no direct enforcement of mitzvos, it is imperative that we mandate the carrot approach.
Ultimately, I think that people who use violence, intimidation and harassment have much to answer for. Ostensibly, they do these things thinking that they are increasing the observance of the mitzvos. But knowingly or unknowingly, they are, in fact, harming the cause of mitzvah observance. With every act of violence, they are driving more and more people away from seeing the beauty of living by the mitzvos and observance of the mitzvos. And for that, they will one day have to answer.
* The banned substance changes in various versions of the story. The one I heard was tobacco, but there are other versions with different substances.