Hyper-partisanship has claimed yet another victim – this time a person who – in normal times – would be considered a tzadik, a saintly man. And while the vultures crow over their misbegotten victory, we are all the sadder for it.

Rabbi Elimelech Firer is a phenomenon in Israel. A Belzer chasid without standard medical training, he has developed an encyclopedic and in-depth knowledge of both state-of-the-art medical procedures and the best practitioners. For over 40 years, he has used that knowledge to give expert advice to countless people who have turned to him, absolutely free of charge. Widely recognized for his work, he has won a richly deserved Israel Prize, awarded to a prestigious group of select citizens who have made outstanding, lifelong contributions to the betterment of Israeli society. Here is how the website of Ezra LeMarpe, the organization that carries out his vision, describes his work:

Ezra Lemarpe is a nonprofit medical support organization founded by Rabbi Firer in 1979. It handles thousands of emergency calls and has become Israel’s leading medical referral expert. Rabbi Firer’s up-to-date knowledge in many areas of medicine has led him to develop a data bank on the world’s top medical specialists. People come to the Rabbi, not only for help in medical diagnosis but for advice where to best be treated and by which doctor.

Rabbi Firer’s vast knowledge and care for any human being, no matter race or religion, has also led him to develop desperately needed services for the sick all over Israel. All these services are provided free of charge.

In addition, Ezra leMarpe offers a wide array of assistance, such as rehabilitation centers, ambulance services, transport of patients overseas, medical equipment loans, services similar to Chai Lifeline for sick children and their families, and much more. Of course, running such an organization requires large amounts of money, and fundraising is an integral part of the process.

In response, the idea arose of a concert to benefit Ezra LeMarpe, billed as a tribute to Israeli musical icon Shlomo Artzi. Although not fully observant, Shlomo Artzi is traditional and has warm feelings towards Rav Firer and his organization, and was thrilled at the opportunity to help. Besides the personal assistance he received, Artzi knew of so many, including his colleagues in the music business, who had similarly benefited, and warmed to the idea of a concert in which many singers would perform Artzi’s music. The target audience that would attend the event, to be held in the large Heichal HaTarbut in Tel Aviv, was to be a cross-section of Israeli society, with religious and non-religious enjoying an evening of music together.

Rav Firer, who would obviously be the guest of honor at this concert, made only one stipulation. He asked that the performances feature male singers only, as he did not want to be subject to hearing kol ishah – the singing voice of a woman performer.

Kol Ishah is a well-known halachic prohibition, much disliked by feminist activists. Although there are certain exceptions and lenient views that perhaps allow men to hear women singing in limited circumstances (which go beyond the scope of this essay), there is no question that hearing a female singer singing solo live in a public forum is prohibited. As a result, Rav Firer asked that the performers at a concert devoted to honoring him and his organization, at which he would be sitting front and center, not include female singers.

As soon as this became known, all hell (literally) broke loose. Feminist activists started complaining that this was a horrendous example of “hadarat nashim,” a term that has come to mean “exclusion, demeaning, and belittling of women.” Liberal columnists in the Israeli press and pundits on the radio and TV spoke of the scorn of women by chareidim. They derided the misogynist and hateful attitudes of religious observers and encouraged all male singers to boycott the event. They even implicitly threatened those who performed, including Shlomo Artzi, with severe repercussions if he dared to go on with the concert. Artzi’s pleading that throughout his career he had sung with and supported female artists and that he merely wanted to honor the Rabbi’s desire to observe halachah was mocked.

Predictably, one performer after another (including guitarist Avi Singolda who regularly is featured on chareidi music productions) canceled their performance.  Piously citing their refusal to violate the dictates of their conscience in an event designed to demean women, they refused to have their name associated with an organization that engaged in primitive prejudice. The level of hate and invective that was directed at Rav Firer for his supposed bigoted intolerance was frightful and growing. Day after day, the press was having a field day with this story. It got so that even ordinarily reasonable people were saying the most terrible things. A (law) colleague of mine, whom I usually respect, had the following to say on Facebook, using a “clever” play on the Rav’s name, with a picture of Hitler (ym”sh):

“This Rabbi Fuhrer would prohibit women from singing in his fundraising event! It is illegal under the laws of Israel and the United States. I bet he is raising money in America, too. It is gender and religious discrimination. He better surrender his fund’s certificate of non-profit organization.”

Recognizing that attempting to go on with the concert was doing more harm than good, the concert was canceled, to the delight of the haters – and we are all the poorer for it.

Although American readers may not have been subjected to the daily garbage on this topic, they are more than familiar with the tactics. The animus and hatred that have been directed at anything to do with President Trump are unprecedented. I am among those who did not vote for him (or Hillary), and am often exasperated by his immature and crude comments, and the unnecessary fights that he engages in. But I am quite happy overall with his performance as president, and of course in his great friendship towards Israel. And I am profoundly troubled and angry at the nonstop hatred that he has been subjected to since the moment that he was elected; long before he took office, the impeachment talk began. The campaign to discredit another good and decent man, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, was almost a mirror image of what was going on with Rav Firer – the only difference being that Rav Firer pulled out before the going really got ugly – before truly revolting sewage with which to smear him was invented.

These terrible battles are ripping us apart, as Americans, as Jews, and as decent human beings. The intolerance for someone with a different opinion, the unwillingness to accept anything that goes against one’s own values and non-recognition that good and decent people may hold different – but no less valid – values is killing us.  Thank G-d for people like Rav Firer, who will continue to help men and women, religious and secular alike, and embody the teaching in Gittin 36b: “Those who are insulted but do not insult others, who hear their shame but do not respond, who act out of love and are joyful in their suffering, about them the verse states: ‘And they who love Him are as the sun going forth in its might’ (Judges 5:31).”

It is time that society stands up to the bullies who seek to destroy anyone who disagrees with their views, and who engage in character assassination of those with whom they differ. It is time that we countenance that Liberals believe in liberal values toward anyone except non-liberals, and that Conservatives see that conserving our society means allowing other voices to be heard. If we fail to do so, we face a growing civil war that can have disastrous consequences.

Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer is a rabbi, attorney, and writer living presently in Forest Hills, and hoping to go on aliyah.  He has served as rabbi in several congregations, and helps individuals with wills, trusts, and mediation.