I read with interest the Letters To The Editor in this week's Jewish Press. Many of the letters were in response to Rabbi Horowitz's excellent column "You Might End Up Dead." Most of the letters (including one from Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum) supported Rabbi Horowitz's point regarding extremist violence from some Hareidim. However, there was one letter that, while not condoning the violence, seeks to mitigate it. Here's the letter:
I am amused by the sanctimonious expressions of outrage directed against those individuals who attacked that lady on the bus in Israel. While I cannot condone taking the law into one’s own hands, there is an incontrovertible point to be made that one of the Jewish tradition’s important messages to the world is that men and women not married to each other should not mingle with each other.
Rejecting violence is one thing, but let’s not indulge in political correctness at the same time. The young men in question obviously burn with the love of Torah. Their hearts are in the right place, even if they overreacted in their determination to enforce the standards and morality of our Holy Torah.
In short, he's saying that the extremists deserve sympathy because "their hearts were in the right place." Sorry, but that's not good enough for me.
Firstly, there is the question of Mr. Melnick's premise -- that men and women should not mingle with one another. While I'm grant him the obvious point that the Torah truly does discourage mingling of the sexes, there is the very significant question of what represents "mingling."
I travel by public transportation in New York City just about every day. There is mixed seating (and standing) in the subways, but I would hardly call what happens there "mingling." Over 99% of the time I have no interaction with any other person in the subways and buses, despite sitting next to or standing in front of them. Certainly no one has *ever* started up anything that could even remotely touch upon what the Torah would legitimately look upon as inappropriate mixing of the sexes. (Now that could be because I'm short, fat, balding and somewhat dumpy looking, but my general impression is that this is the case for most people.) I don't think that sitting next to a woman on the train or bus is any more "mingling" than passing her while walking in the street. If it were, there would be people seeking to have a p'sak passed that riding on the subway is forbidden. To my knowledge, no one has even attempted such a thing. Thousands of Orthodox Jews ride the subways every day without any question of whether or not it is considered "mingling."
In addition, while in this case, the chayal and the woman weren't married to each other (and weren't even companions), I doubt that even if the couple were married (where we can all agree that "mingling" is allowed) that the extremists would have left her alone (provided, of course, that the husband looked like the type who wouldn't/couldn't fight back). I'm fairly certain that had they been in a situation where no one could question the propriety of them sitting together (husband/wife, son/mother, etc.) that the extremists would have made trouble if they could.
Lastly, I want to address Mr. Melnick's point about their "hearts being in the right place." In this, he's dead wrong again. They weren't "enforcing the standards and morality of our Holy Torah" but rather their own extremist version of it. While they may have thought that "their hearts were in the right place" and that they had "good intentions," we all know where that road goes...