Warm fuzzy religious tolerance

The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.

One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules:

The half-century-old Easter procession at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Montreal’s Outremont district has been cancelled, caught in the crosswinds of a conflict over faith and public space. In an unusual move, the borough of Outremont has banned street parades and processions in response to an escalation of tensions involving another religious group – its ultra-orthodox community of Hasidic Jews.

The mayor and a majority of councillors in Outremont voted Monday to put processions on ice following a nasty confrontation last month between a municipal councillor known for her dogged surveillance of the Hasidic community, and members of that community. The clash – taped and posted on YouTube – degenerated into shouting, name-calling and an intervention by police.

In response, Outremont decided that it wouldn’t allow a Hasidic sect to hold a street procession later this month to mark the visit of a grand rabbi from New York State; the procession would have taken place after 10 p.m. and involved up to 1,000 followers.

The borough notes that it’s home to a high concentration of places of worship from a variety of religious denominations, and the moratorium applies to all of them. That means the freeze, which will remain in place until June 1 while the borough reviews its policies, is having a spillover effect.

Apparently the whole dust-up started because one busybody city councilor had a hate-on for the Hasidic Jews and decided to follow them around, documenting their every move like an obsessive dick of a next-door neighbour. Pro tip: if you don’t want to look like an asshole in front of the whole world, perhaps avoid persecuting Jewish people. For some reason they’re particularly sensitive about that. At any rate, after kicking up a huge fuss over bylaw infractions (seriously, does anyone like people who do that?), the city had little choice but to throw up its hands and say “no parades for anyone!”

Which kind of sucks for the Orthodox church whose parade seemingly doesn’t warrant the kind of obsessive stalker behaviour that the Hasids did. It does, however, raise the question of where the Orthodox church was (not to mention the variety of other faith groups that live in Outremont) when people were up on their high horse and trying to document every single minor infraction? Even now, the Orthodox church seems more interested in a show of division than one of unity:

Father George Lagodich, vice-rector of the church, said the conflict between Outremont and the Hasidic community “has nothing to do with us.” “It’s insanity,” he said. “Our procession is peaceful and quiet. It’s not just a celebration, it’s an integral part of our service.”

See, the problem is their parade, guys! Our parade is totally fine! Just go after them!

Of course, if there was the kind of ecumenical linking of arms against the burgeoning secular threat that religious leaders keep feinting at – in the spirit of “us vs. them” I suppose – we would see religious groups rallying to each other’s defense against the kind of persecution that triggered this whole problem. The Orthodox church would have stood up and said “we will not allow our brothers and sisters in faith to suffer alone – what happens to one faith happens to all of them.” It would be a remarkable show of solidarity that would have made the city think very carefully before enacting such a restriction. But instead, they said “that’s their problem, not ours”.

C’mon guys… you’re making this too easy!

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!


  1. Maude LL says

    The Hasidic Jews of Montreal are not easy to deal with. I lived in Outremont for many years, and I love the city for its many cultural influences. However, the Hasidics are not allowed to talk to non-hasidic. I tried to speak to many of them, friendly conversations with my neighbours, and in all those years, only one person replied. And it was to say: “Are you jewish?”. After my, “no”, he did not want to continue the conversation.

    Outremont has tons of special by-laws to accomodate the hasidic community. For example, snow cannot be removed from the streets on week-ends. Why? Because Yahweh doesn’t want them to drive on the Sabbath. So the whole neighbourhood has to be covered in snow – regardless of the size of the storm. Men can’t see women in shorts and tank tops, so they covered all the windows of the YMCA. These are minor issues. But it represents a bigger issue on their relation with the community (and their view of women).

    I always found the anti-hasidic “activists” of Outremont to be overzealous, they definitely are too agressive and most of them are bigots. However, the entire hasidic sect is built on bigotry. The problem is not as clear cut as it looks. I feel bad for the women whose only future in life is to have 15 children and have a beautiful wig on their shaved head, who are not allowed to live without their husband’s permission. I feel terrible for the little hasidic kids, where the girls are treated like sinful harlots only good for cleaning and procreation from birth and the boys can only interact with other hasidic boys. The young men who go to illegal schools (there are many of them) where *all* they learn is the Torah instead of going to “real” school until 16 like the law requires. It’s very sad. I don’t know what can be done about it. But sometimes people are afraid to call abuse “abuse” when it’s lacquered in religion.

    Outremont is not a majority hasidim community (as far as I know), but there is a high percentage of them. I think people just want to live in a community where they are not treated as inferior beings not worthy of interaction. The hasidim do treat people of other cultural background this way in Outremont (becoming an atheist in a hasidic family is horrible). It’s not a reason to be jerks with them, but it’s difficult to live in a community that adopts a medieval way of life. It affects everyone.

  2. sumdum says

    For example, snow cannot be removed from the streets on week-ends. Why? Because Yahweh doesn’t want them to drive on the Sabbath. So the whole neighbourhood has to be covered in snow – regardless of the size of the storm.

    Is the hasidic community prepared to pay the bills for any damaged cars and possible hospital bills that might result from this measure? Cause if not, they’re incredibly selfish and antisocial.

  3. left0ver1under says

    In Northern Ireland, the catholics and protestants march parades their through each other’s neighborhoods as a deliberately confrontational act.

    Is anyone surprised that competing religions elsewhere ended up in confrontation over parades? Given the history of religion, banning parades is better than someone shooting up another’s, which could happen.

  4. nomennescio says

    I liked the part where you thought a group of religious nuts gives a shit about what happens to the ‘out’ group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *