Thursday, January 5, 2012

Religious Zealots Stone Non-Segregated Bus

Two Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men were arrested today for throwing stones at a non-segregated bus. This represents a new and disturbing turn of events. Previously, behavior had not extended beyond intimidation and harassment of women challenging sex segregation on largely Haredi buses. That behavior has now graduated to using dangerous, and deadly, weapons against a bus not falling into that category. What remains unchanged is that all these behaviors are equally unacceptable and equally worthy of condemnation.

Unfortunately, this is just the most recent of many incidents over the past several weeks. Many of them connected to Beit Shemesh, where a young girl Modern Orthodox girl was spat upon by a Haredi man because he considered her long-sleeved shirt and long skirt insufficiently modest and Tanya Rosenblit's refusal to move to the back of the bus. Since then, some Haredim have invoked Nazi imagery, and, when called out on it, doubled down, comparing their plight to that of our fellow Jews under Nazi rule.

According to today's report in YNet, the Haredi men were throwing the stones at the bus to protest the detention of several of their friends. The same article also reported an incident in Jerusalem, where a secular woman was harassed when walking through an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood:

Meanwhile, a haredi man was detained in Jerusalem after cursing at a secular woman walking in the ultra-Orthodox Meah Shearim neighborhood. The man referred to the woman as a "whore" and a "shiksa." [non-Jewish woman]

Meanwhile, the Ultra-Orthodox man arrested for harassing a soldier on a bus when she refused to go to the back, offered his side of the story, including an explanation of his inexcusable behavior:

According to Shlomo Fuchs, 44, [Doron] Matalon [the soldier] acted provocatively. "She stood amidst the ultra-Orthodox men. It's the most basic concept: A woman should not stand amidst men, just like no woman would go into a men's bathroom. So I called her a slut."

Yes, because standing where she wants on public transportation is the same as going to the bathroom and is sufficient to call a woman a "slut." I wonder, if a secular man got on the back of one of these buses and refused to move, would he be called a "man-slut" or a "man-whore" or some other derogatory term?

Thankfully, some major Ultra-Orthodox voices are beginning to speak out against this behavior publicly. Most notable among them is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of Shas, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition. Rabbi Yosef wrote:

Yosef notes in his letter that he could no longer remain silent after seeing extremists "humiliating and insulting people in public, despising and cursing, and causing discomforts among the late Torah sages."

Unfortunately, this disgusting behavior is not limited to some Haredim. Now, seculars are getting in on the act. According to a report in Ha'aretz, two Ultra-Orthodox children have been assaulted in recent days by seculars. Both attacks appear motivated by dislike of the Ultra-Orthodox. The first of the incidents is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the young girl in Beit Shemesh that was spat upon:

On Sunday, an 11-year-old Haredi girl told police she was attacked on a Jerusalem bus by a secular man who spit at her, pushed her and shouted: "We'll destroy the Haredim." The police said they knew who the perpetrator was and planned to arrest him very soon.

Whether it is some Haredim that are attacking seculars or some seculars attacking Haredim, neither is in accordance with Jewish values. All would do well to study the words of Rabbi Hillel from the famous story in the Talmud about what exactly is at the core of Torah and Jewish values, namely the importance of human dignity:

A man wanted to embarrass the two leading rabbis of the era, Shammai and Hillel. He decided that he would feign interest in converting to Judaism, but would only do so if the rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot.

He approached Shammai first. Shammai was so incensed at the ridiculous request — how could he dare mock the importance of Torah study and the discipline required to do it well? — that he kicked the man out of his academy.

The man then approached Hillel and repeated his request. Hillel's response?
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

It is time for everyone to remember that we are all human beings. We are all entitled to the same respect and dignity. We are all entitled to the same autonomy. That is what is at the very core of Jewish values. It is time that everyone, irrespective of their religious beliefs, remembers that. These are values not tied to any one religious tradition, but, rather, to universal notions of human decency.

Author's Note: Please do not use this as an excuse to attack the Ultra-Orthodox or religion in general. Many are bothered by recent events and just wish to live their lives without the outside imposing upon them and with no desire to impose on the outside. It is a small subset of the Ultra-Orthodox community that is causing these problems. The largest problem among the community as a whole is one that many of us suffer from in one form or another: a failure or unwillingness to call out those we consider our allies or kindred spirits.


  1. That's messed up. People need to coexist.

  2. Seems to me like a lot of calling out has been going on. The media has been full of all this. As have the blogs. This too shall pass. One wonders at the deeper political implications of it all. You know they are there. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

    Glad you point out the small subset causing it. I'm not sure a whole lot of people outside those like you and those here will get that.

    "Other haredim don’t speak out because they see fights like the one in Beit Shemesh not as a battle between extremists and moderates but as part of a broader Israeli assault on haredi life led by the mainstream Israeli media.

    “The source of the pollution is in halachah [Jewish law] itself,” former Knesset member Yossi Sarid wrote in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Sarid called for the disqualification of haredi parties from the Knesset. On Ha’aretz’s English-language website, the article was headlined “Orthodox Judaism treats women like filthy little things.”

    Facing such hostility, some haredim say, why get involved at all?

    And then there is the large segment of haredim who see themselves as totally apart from the haredim perpetrating the violence. Their attitude is that if it’s not their community members, it’s not their business and they don’t need to get involved.

    While to an outsider all haredim may look alike — with their black coats, hats and beards — the haredi community is as fractured as the Jewish community as a whole. It is Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Chassidic and non-Chassidic, moderate and extremist.

    But in a world seen by outsiders as monolithic, all haredim inevitably are associated with the extremism of a few, and haredi silence is seen as affirmation of haredi bad behavior.

    When the main haredi umbrella organization in America issued its statement condemning the Beit Shemesh violence, it also took a shot at those denigrating haredim in general.

    “Those who have taken pains to note that the small group of misguided individuals who have engaged in this conduct are not representative of the larger charedi community are to be commended,” Agudath Israel of America said in its statement. “It is disturbing, though, that some Israeli politicians and secularists have been less responsible, portraying the actions of a very few as indicative of the feelings of the many.

    “Quite the contrary, the extremist element is odious to, and rejected by, the vast majority of charedi Jews.”