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How do we solve a problem like Beit Shemesh?

By ReligionDecember, 2011December 12th, 20235 min read
The term ‘sectarian violence’ has been used extensively to
describe the conflicts that have been occurring within various Arab countries, in
Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars there, and more recently with the
instability that has come as a result of the ‘Arab Spring’ movement.
Unfortunately, this is the term that can now be used to describe what is going
on in pockets within Israel.
Most recently, things have flared up in the town of Beit Shemesh, between people who have been called “ultra-Orthodox”, and others who are “not quite as ultra-Orthodox”. A 7-year-old Orthodox girl was spat upon by people who objected to her “immodest” attire. This friction has been strongly condemned equally by the Right and
the Left. As an Orthodox Jew, I am disgusted that other Jews can do this in the name of our religion. This sentiment is echoed by the vast majority of the Orthodox Jewish world – indeed the representations made by the protagonists on a local Channel 2 story in Israel don’t appear to be coming from their leadership (sadly and typically absent).
The Left are equally strident in their condemnation of the incidents, but more than this seem worried at the growing trend of friction – be it segregated seating on buses, or women singing at ceremonies – and see the whole country slipping into the control of these awful “ultra-Orthodox” (despite an official statement from an Orthodox Rabbi on the issue of segregation, for example). As an aside, there does seem to be a common theme here with the Left constantly being more concerned about what might happen (the end of democracy in Israel because of subtle changes in disclosure laws for not-for-profits or the appointment of high court judges, the “demographic time bomb” that will transform Israel into a bi-national state, the “occupation” that is ripping the soul out of the country, the impending hostile takeover by the ultra-Orthodox) than what is happening.
This a sectarian conflict, because it’s going on between groups – between different religious denominations. But how are these groups defined and labelled? I think the labelling is part of the problem. What exactly is an ultra-Orthodox Jew? Well, that depends on who you ask, and is actually a relative term. Some of my (Jewish) friends consider me ultra-Orthodox, but someone from Neturei Karta is likely to abuse me for walking the street wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
It’s far better to think in terms of a spectrum of Jewish observance, and I liken this to the ATP tennis rankings, which is a scale that appears logarithmic. This means that to someone who is ranked 500 in the world, any player in the top 10 would seem equally better than them. But the further you go up the scale, the gap between the players becomes wider. Number 5 is a lot better than number 10, and number 2 far better than 5.
It’s much the same with Jewish observance. A modern-Orthodox Jew or secular Jew (and certainly the non-Jewish world) is likely to bundle all the ultra-Orthodox groups together and stereotype their behaviour. But the fact is that there are many hundreds of different ultra-Orthodox groups – mostly Chassidic dynasties that over generations have split and fractured into a very diverse world of its own. The behaviour we have seen in Beit Shemesh is far from representative of even mainstream ultra-Orthodoxy (to the extent that there is such a thing). It is an insult to Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox alike, and it is incumbent on the leadership of all Jewish groups to publicly condemn and disassociate themselves from them. Because of the way the non-Jewish world perceives ultra-Orthodoxy, it is particularly important to clarify this diversity to the wider community.
In describing the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which follows immediately after Succot, the phrase used is  “Kosheh Olai Pridaschem” – God figuratively says it’s difficult for Him to say goodbye, so He wants the pilgrims to stay on for an additional holiday. The famous alternative explanation of the term is “Kosheh Olai Pridaschem”  – God says that it’s difficult for Him to see how His beloved children are separated by classes and levels of frumkeit. How much sadder God must be to see this awful frummer than thou attitude that continues to fracture our nation.
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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • drusho says:

    David, the problem is that you based your post on what you saw on from the TV.
    Don't get me wrong the sikrikim and NK are very violent groups.
    I am sure they spit on people, Slash tyres and make threatening phone calls. I know! They have scratched my car and punctured tyres.

    The problem is the Media portrayal of the events is one-sided.

    Consider this an ABC film crew starts filming outside Yeshivah, wanting to ask teachers their opinion on the David Kramer issue. Would you invite the film crew in?

    Does the girl portrayed "Na'ama" attend acting or drama classes?

    Right now there are 4 seperate issues being used to vilify Charedim as a group:
    a. sikrikim attacking the orot girls school in bet shemesh
    b. public bus lines that do/don't offer seperate seating
    c. a sign out the Toldos Aharon Shul asking women to cross the street
    d. the exclusion of women from advertising to the charedi public.

    for d. the issue that seems to be focused on the removal of Bar Refaeli from the advertising at the FOX chain in Jerusalems Ramot Mall.

    a. needs the police and Shabak to do it. The Shabak prefer to attack Jews residing in Yehda and Shomron.

    b. Bet Shemesh to Jerusalem already has a private bus line. The charedim asking for seperated public busses just want a cheaper ride.

    c the sign was taken down

  • admin says:


    I didn't just rely on that TV expose – it's all over the news here. Of course the media portrayal will be typically one-sided, and the Left will scream more loudly and disproportionately than ever about it.

    Suggesting that the girl was acting is downplaying the abuse she received.

    Rather than break this down into micro-issues (which will just keep recurring), I am looking at the bigger picture and the perception of charedim within and outside of Israel.

  • Ilana says:

    I am finding the actions of these groups and I am sure even within their own communities they are minority splinter groups and extreme, to be a complete Hillel Hashem (desecration of G-D's name).
    They are not representative of the vast majority of the Ultra Orthodox communities and they can hardly call themselves true Torah scholars because scholars are gentlemen which this rabble certainly is not. There is very little difference in their attitudes and behaviour and that of the attitudes and mob hatred displayed by our 'cousins in Aza' when they have a rally. Same attitude, different costumes one wears black hats and kapotes and the others wear combat fatigues and green head bands and carry AK rifles. Trouble is the former are far more damaging to us because they are dressed like observant Torah Jews, which they can not be if they spit at eight year old girls and call them 'sharmuttas' or 'zona' or a 'kedesha' whatever. Plus another report of a boy having a rock thrown at him and other incidents.
    This is a problem of correct behaviour and ahavat Israel. Obviously these people have not really studied Torah which as a guide to correct behaviour there is peace and love for one's fellow human being and G-D stressed again and again. In fact much is made of it and part of our service to G-D is a stress on how we treat our fellow human beings. In fact, for Hillel it was a core belief to the whole Torah.
    Such a person going out on the street like this is bored, looking for trouoble or cheap thrills and in creating the situation for such to happen brings about a massive Hillel Hashem which affects the whole Jewish Nation.
    In the Talmud are many debates and issues are discussed and different viewpoints expounded and each is backed up with different contentions. Surely with all the resources available to them, there has not been a solution reached on many issues or is not debate, good honest discussion and coming to some decision or several better than this behaviour and why are Rabbonim not coming out to say this sort of thing must stop?

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