Many people are talking lately about the awful story of the 8 y/o Modern Orthodox girl being harrassed and bullied by members of a different Orthodox group.

It’s easy — and correct — to condemn such treatment of a child. Even if this young girl had herself done something to deliberately violate the halachot (laws) and minhagim (customs) of the offending group, any response must be moderated by the simple fact of her age. I don’t consider her gender an issue: an 8 y/o child should always be treated carefully, regardless of whether male or female.

The Talmud itself says, “G-d is always with victim.”

But this young girl seems blameless from all accounts. So, no justification or rationalization should be accepted for mistreating her.

At the same time —

The world is in many ways hostile to religious commitment. The more extreme it is, the less it’s tolerated.

This is certainly often true regarding secular vs. religious (or even “spiritual”). But it can be no less true regarding one kind of observance — even of the same religion — vs.  another kind. I purposely don’t use the word “level” here. I don’t consider Hareidi Jews “more” observant than Modern Orthodox Jews; just “differently” observant. When sincere, the depth of commitment that each one feels to their “school” is the same. The same holds for “Reform” Jews, “Conservative” Jews, etc.: the sense of commitment is the same, when sincere.

What I’m raising here isn’t the issue that the “Ultra-Orthodox” could be more tolerant. We could probably be more tolerant of them — of their commitment — than we most likely are, too.

They’ve chosen to live in accordance with Torah as their rabbis teach them. This includes allowing as few “outer” influences as possible. They feel that accepting a person who lives differently than they do also tacitly implies acceptance of the differences themselves. Their response is then to try to cut off contact as much as possible. We might not agree, but we should understand their feelings — their ways of thinking — and acknowledge their right to follow them without provocation.

Again: this doesn’t justify the mistreatment of anyone, especially of a child.

But the wider issue — no less in Israel than in America — is the need for greater understanding of people who live differently than we do.  “Tolerance,” in this instance, may mean no more than not asking someone to live any differently than they choose to.