It was only up on Twitter for a day or two, so maybe you missed it. I hope you missed it because it was terrible. It was there on Sunday when I decided to write about this and gone on Monday when I sat down to actually write it.
It was a video that went viral on multiple social media platforms showing a grown man verbally abusing a small child (maybe four years old). The nature of the abuse was the child’s Hasidic-style haircut – a mostly-shaved head with long payes (sidelocks). It’s certainly not a style common outside of Hasidic communities. The man was laughing at the child, saying that he felt bad that they (presumably the child’s parents) cut his hair like that. “I’d be crying if I looked like that, too, bro,” the man says at one point. Perhaps the child was crying because, you know, a strange adult man was mocking him for no apparent reason?
The video was widely shared because people found it funny, which is in and of itself disheartening. What’s more disheartening is that when people pointed out how inappropriate the video was, some viewers doubled down on it, urging critics to “laugh it off” and move along. Some people tried to provide a positive spin, that the original poster was sincerely commiserating with the child over what he considered to be tonsorial faux pas, but an honest reading of the video does not support such an interpretation. A number of commenters tagged Twitter itself, asking them to remove the video as a violation of standards – a request that appears to have eventually been met. As of today, the New York Post reports that the video can still be found on Facebook.
The general consensus is that this video wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did had the abused child not been Jewish. We have previously discussed why, in this enlightened era, people still consider the Jews to be fair game. (In short, they see attacking Jews as “punching up,” which is okay.) This may be wrong but, even if one does feel this way, leave the kids out of it.
There are rules about involving children in our conflicts. These basically boil down to: don’t do it. That’s a pretty universal standard:
* The Geneva Convention prohibited conscripting children under the age of 15 and, when military recruitment necessitates drafting 15- to 18-year-olds, nations were required to prioritize the oldest first. A May, 2000, addendum raised the age for compulsory recruitment to 18 and called on nations to raise the age for voluntary recruitment to above 15. Use of children under 18 in any circumstance is discouraged and nations are urged to criminalize the practice. Children are not only guaranteed the general protection granted to non-combatants, the Geneva Convention also recognizes their special needs for medical attention, food, shelter and clothing. War affects everyone but, as much as possible, we’re supposed to leave the kids out of it;
* You may have noticed that President Trump is a favorite target for Saturday Night Live. Nevertheless, Weekend Update writer Katie Rich was suspended in January, 2017, for tweeting that Trump’s son Barron – then 10 years old – “will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.” SNL is not shy about skewering the president, Melania, or adult children Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr. But mocking a 10-year-old on Twitter, they recognized, crossed the line to which we all agree: leave the kids out of it;
* Torah law also recognizes that we should leave the kids out of it. For example, Leviticus chapter 18 discusses the service of the idol Molech, which entailed passing one’s children through fire. All forms of idolatry are bad – they’re an affront to God and a capital crime – but the Torah singles out Molech as particularly reprehensible. Why? According to the opinion that Molech involved the human sacrifice of one’s own children, that’s easy to answer but what about according to the opinion that the children were passed through the fire unscathed? Even then the service of Molech is worse than other idolatry because if you want to worship idols, that’s bad enough, but (say it with me now) leave the kids out of it!
I don’t care if a child is wearing payes, cornrows, a mohawk or even the dreaded mullet, there’s never any reason to comment to a child on his appearance. Sadly, it’s inevitable that some people are going to act like jerks to strangers for whatever reason. That’s not good but if one must do so, please at least have the class to limit your jerkiness to other adults. Even if one feels that he’s actually been wronged by a child, he should still take his complaint to the child’s parent. There’s never a reason for an adult to enter into a row with a child, let alone to verbally abuse some stranger’s toddler on the street.
And if you see someone else do such a thing online, don’t laugh, hit “like” or share – and certainly don’t defend it! The only appropriate response is to step up and say (all together now): Leave the kids out of it!
Update: The person who shot the video has issued a well-received apology.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.