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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Bet Shemesh’

The ‘Houses of Ill Repute’ of Nahal and Shahar

Monday, July 8th, 2013

And out come the extremist zealots of the Charedi world! Those who in part because of their insular lifestyle – have no concept of civilized behavior. And have the unmitigated gall to act in uncivilized and dangerous ways with absolutely no respect for human dignity. These are the people who have become all too familiar to us. They are the spitters, rock throwers,  and haters who do all of those things and more in the name of God.

We see them constantly in Meah Shearim, Bnei Brak, Bet Shemesh, and Williamsburg. In fact they were at it again this morning – directing their rage toward the Women of the Wall at what was otherwise a mostly peaceful event. From the Jewish Press:

A crowd of mostly male haredi Orthodox protesters surrounded the barricade, with some protesters singing and yelling epithets such as “Get out, Nazis!” Later in the service, protesters threw eggs and a bottle of water at the women, striking a male supporter of the group in the head.

I need not go into all the damage they have done and continue to do to Klal Yisroel. I have discussed their escapades so many times in the past that it’s getting boring, already. Not to mention the fact that I will run out of space if I start mentioning them all.

What have they done this time? From the New York Times:

On billboards in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter of Jerusalem last week, black-and-white posters warned the public against the “licentious military” coming to tempt innocent Haredi youths into “the whorehouses of Nahal and Shahar.” (and) portraying those soldiers, who volunteered under programs meant to attract Haredim, as fat, bearded, gun-toting caricatures in uniform snatching terrified Haredi children off the streets.

… The comics-style campaign against Haredi soldiers has been primarily aimed at children to counter what opponents of the draft said was the military’s attempt to legitimize the young men by sending them into ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in uniform.

As part of the outreach to children, the anonymous organizers of the “Hardakim” campaign announced a children’s poster competition this summer via a Gmail account, soliciting entries showing how best to shun the soldiers.

Pini Rozenberg, a spokesman for the Haredi community in Jerusalem, said the campaign was “an internal Haredi matter meant to explain to the Haredi youth why the army institutions are not, and will never be, legitimate.”

He added: “It is not personally directed against any particular soldier. It is purely educational.”

Who said that these people don’t get an education?! They do. And this is it.

Here is a description of one Charedi soldier’s experience:

(H)e had suffered daily abuse in recent months, being spit at and chased by children and teenagers calling out “Germ!” and “Traitor!” He now carries tear gas for self-defense…

This is indeed the sad and unintended consequence of what the government is trying to do to correct inequities in the military draft. It is something Jonathan Rosenblum first wrote about in lamenting the  reversal of progress made in this area internally by Charedim themselves.

Jonathan feels that the blame lies with the Lapid and company … that this backlash is a result of their external interference. Had they not tried to force change on the system, the Charedi world would have continued correcting themselves on their own and innovations like Nachal Charedi and Shachar would have continued to expand.

While I think that’s probably true – as far as it goes, I do not see Lapid et al at fault here. You cannot blame someone for doing the right thing just because vigilantes will strike back. You cannot let evil dictate your actions even if there are negative consequences due to retaliation. That would be giving in to evil. It would be like telling witnesses not to testify in sex abuse cases because their families will be harassed.

The fault lies in the attitudes fostered in the societies that produce these animals. A society that educates their children as described above. All that is needed to precipitate that kind of response is the kind of rhetoric heard in these quarters about Lapid’s actions being a Shas HaShmad. And then the Eytan Kobres of the world pour gasoline onto the fire with their own rhetoric… all while pointing out that we shouldn’t have rocked the boat. His words are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem.

Find A Solution – But Not On My Cheshbon

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Several days after the incident that caught the attention of Israelis and Jews – and non-Jews – the world over, in which an 8-year-old dati girl in Bet Shemesh was spat on and cursed at by a young chassid for not being dressed modestly (according to HIS standards), Israeli TV interviewed a number of chassidim and others in the community for their reaction. The words of one particular interviewee were extremely disturbing. This man, who looked to me to be in his early 30s and no doubt saw a pious, G-d-fearing man when he looked in the mirror, adamantly justified his peer’s rant and assault against this child by stating that ” I am a healthy male” and insisted that provocatively dressed females deserved to be spat upon and insulted until they dress in a Torah manner.

Even little girls, the newsman asked incredulously. The answer was an unequivocal yes. Had this interview taken place in North America, I feel fairly confident that this “healthy male” would have been investigated for possibly being a pedophile. What normal adult male reacts to the elbows and knees of a 3rd grader?

But on a different level, the man’s answer represents a very problematic mindset, one that is epidemic across the board – refusing to take responsibility for resolving one’s issues and expecting others to – usually at their own expense and inconvenience; on their cheshbon.

If someone is unhappy with a social, financial, or spiritual issue, he/she insists others fix it or change to accommodate the complainer’s demands. For example, if someone needs money (often because they live beyond their means) there is the expectation that those who are perceived as being “better off” such as parents, grandparents, strangers or taxpayers, should dig deeply into their pockets and pay his or her expenses. Working harder or being fiscally responsible and living on a budget is not the solution. There is a problem, and it is incumbent on others to “do something” about it.

Decades ago, there was a predator on the prowl on the streets of Jerusalem who was assaulting women. The attacks were so frequent and injurious that a member of the Knesset suggested that a law be passed that would forbid women from going out after dark. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, pointed out that “Men are attacking the women, not the other way around. If there is going to be a curfew, let the men be locked up, not the women.”

Likewise, if certain elements of the charedi community have issues with the way women are dressed, let them figure out a way to alleviate their obvious spiritual and mental distress in a way that does not encroach on other people’s rights. It’s their problem – they need to resolve it, instead of demanding that a huge segment of society change their lives and the way they do things just to accommodate them.

Since they might be a bit rusty in the “thinking outside the box” department. I have a couple of suggestions that I am happy to share.

I know of a very ehrlich young man, a long time learner who is genuine in his love of Torah and its precepts. Since the teumah of the world outside the kollel where he learns is diametrically opposite to the kedusha of the study hall, he decided to stop driving because being behind the wheel meant having to view what was in front of him. He could not avoid being exposed to inappropriate billboards, advertisements, and other problematic sights, especially in the hot summer months when pedestrians of both genders and of all ages were dressed in a manner that would make their great grandparents blush.

Instead of going to City Hall demanding that the municipality remove what he viewed as being offensive and toxic to impressionable minds – or insist that the city council pass a bylaw forbidding men and women to wear clothes that expose their bodies, accusing them of being anti-Semitic if they refused – this young man created his own solution. His wife, friends or neighbors drive him to where he needs to go, while his face is happily buried in a sefer. He is an example of an enterprising person who resolved an issue that was very important to him, but on his cheshbon, not someone else’s.

Having a private “chauffeur” is not an option for most people, but all is not lost. Perhaps a car pool can be created with drivers taking turns at the wheel, so that soul-polluting teiva is not a daily occurrence, rather, this toxic exposure can be cut down by a fifth or sixth, depending how many yingelach you can squeeze into the car.

Another option for this “healthy male” and like-minded fellows is to take the bus. And if there are any “uppity” females who “don’t know their place” and insist that they have the right to sit in the front, then there is a very quick and easy way for the pious to distance themselves from these femme fatales – especially the pregnant ones: The men can sit in the BACK of the bus.

Building Bridges to Save a City and a Nation

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Yes, it is true. I, as a Haredi with right wing political leanings, stood on the same stage with representatives of Yisrael Chofshit, Hitorirut Yerushalayim, and Meretz – three secular and very left wing groups – at the massive rally in Bet Shemesh on the last night of Chanukah. I have received a lot of criticism for doing so but maintain that it was not only the right thing to do but the only thing to do to save our city.

I could have focused on the issues which separate myself and most residents of Bet Shemesh from those groups and not worked together with them. However, history has shown that if Jews had not been willing to put aside ideological differences to unite surrounding the things we agree upon, we would not have a State of Israel, we would not have a functional government, and the Jewish people would be doomed for destruction. And, Bet Shemesh would be in real trouble.

The Talmud is very clear that just as people’s faces are different, so are their ideologies. God created the Jewish people as twelve tribes, each with its own perspectives and focus. Our challenge is to find a way to put those differences and work together to achieve progress and success. How did Agudat Israel join together with the vehemently anti-religious communists to sign the Israel Declaration of Independence? How did the Allies join with Russians to defeat the Nazis? The answer is – necessity. The Nazis needed to be defeated so arch enemies joined together to do it. The Jews needed a homeland so Jews from all backgrounds united together to make it happen.

Residents of Bet Shemesh had two pressing issues on the table as of just a few weeks ago. First, extremists were causing trauma to little girls through their verbal assaults with police refusing to arrest them because “it was just verbal”. Second, the national government was in cahoots with local authorities to build future neighborhoods for Haredim alone. (No one is against construction for Haredim. The issue is not building for the rest of the city’s many populations as well). These were real threats to our city’s present and future.

We had to do something to change the tide. Our efforts on our own to address both situations were not yielding fruit. However, as a result of our partnering with the secular and left wing groups to organize a nationally televised rally, both issues were brought to the national agenda. Now, because of our efforts, the police have committed to arrest anyone who merely screams at a girl. Success for our present! The national government now wants to work with us to build future neighborhoods for all populations. Success for our future! If the partnerships which helped bring this success mean that I and other rally organizers are labeled as “foolish,” or “naïve,” we wear those labels with pride.

Let it be clear. Religious extremism in Israel needs to be mitigated and dealt with, now. All Jews, from moderate Haredim through secular, must unite together to remove this threat to our country’s future. We must proactively work to transform Israel in this realm before we can reach our full potential. Along with the negative e-mails and messages which I have been receiving for my activism these past few weeks, I have been so touched by the outpouring of support from moderate Haredim to secular who have thanked me for taking on this challenge and doing what is right. So, those who are closed minded and not willing to join forces with other groups can remain at home while complaining about our problems. No worries. The rest of us will join together to save your country.

But I must add one more point. I have been stunned at the venom with which people have written about these “left wing” and “anti-religious” groups. Have those critics ever taken the time to actually talk to representatives of these groups? Yes, I disagree with these groups about many fundamental ideas but sitting with them during the planning of the demonstration taught me so much.

I was always told that these groups were “anti-religion” and the greatest danger to the religious continuing to worship God in Israel. But then, in sitting and talking to them, it became clear that this was simply not the case. First of all, many of them are the nicest and most quality young people I have ever come across and their sincere intentions are to make Israel a better country. But beyond that, even on the level of ideology, their very liberalism actually dictates that no one be told what to do and that everyone be able to worship as they choose. So, they are not out to stop the religious from observing the Shabbat, kashrut, circumcision, etc. They simply want us to back off and not tell them what to do – a very reasonable request! The proof to all this is what was said or actually not said during the rally. There was not one “anti-haredi” or “anti-religious” sentiment expressed.

InDepth: Beit Shemesh Religious Tensions

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Tensions in in the mixed Haredi-Secular city of Beit Shemesh came to a head this week as thousands of protesters from around Israel came to join in a protest against violence by a small group of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have been harassing school girls attending an elementary school on the border between a Hassidic and a national-religious neighborhood. The issue of the Beit Shemesh violence came to national prominence earlier this week after Israeli television broadcast an expose featuring Na’ama Margoles, an eight year old girl traumatized by members of the Sicarii extremist sect who attacked her verbally and spit on her.

Media attention took on unexpected strength following a previous story regarding ultra-orthodox men harassing women on public buses that they have claimed as their own, enforcing a strict separation of the sexes.

Rabbi Dov Lipman, an American-born educator from the mostly national-religious Kiryat Sheinfeld neighborhood adjacent to the Banot Orot school, the focal point of the violence in the city, organized a mass protest in the name of his organization, the Committee to Save Beit Shemesh. Lipman, who describes himself as both a haredi and a zionist, allied himself with Israel Hofshit (Free Israel), an NGO dedicated to maintaining the separation of religion and state in Israel’s public sphere.

Following calls by President Shimon Peres and other national figures, both secular and religious residents of towns from across the country streamed into Beit Shemesh, causing massive traffic jams and marching through the streets yelling slogans in favor of religious tolerance.

There were few ultra-Orthodox attendees at the rally, despite vehement opposition to aggression within the community itself. One ultra-orthodox attendee, a reporter for the moderate-haredi news website Behadrei Haredim, told  Jewish Press that he believed many haredim, “hundreds [of whom] wanted to attend,” were turned off by the inclusion of groups his community perceives as anti-religious. “Why should we attend a rally against our own community,” he asked.

One ultra-orthodox man attending the protest, who like many members of his community spoke with the media on condition of anonymity, stated that the lack of opposition to the violence of the extremists in his community could be explained by the “fear” of retribution.

Another member of the community expressed a similar sentiment, telling Jewish Press that voicing significant opposition could lead to loss of marriage prospects for children and difficulties in enrolling children in certain schools.

While many of the attendees stated that they only opposed religious coercion and not the haredi community in general, there was a vocal minority that expressed vehement opposition to Israel’s ultra-orthodox.

Some protesters carried signs comparing the expansion of the haredi community, Israel’s fastest growing, to the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb; though one attendee carrying such a sign did clarify that she was only referring to the violent minority and not to the community in general.

However, the focus on violence, some believe, masked a bigger issue, that of the “haredi’ization” of cities such as Bet Shemesh.

Several local activists, including Rabbi Lipman, have explained that while the mainstream haredi and secular communities get along well in general, some members of the haredi leadership are attempting to take over the city.

Citing 20,000 housing units recently approved for haredi residents, as opposed to a much smaller number for all other sectors, Lipman explained that as part of his coalition agreement upon taking office, Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the haredi parties that Bet Shemesh would be theirs to develop.

In response, local hassidic activists were quick to point to their fast growing community as a reason for the large numbers of housing units being built for them, saying that they only want to live in peace. Taking over the city is not their intent, they emphasized.

Local activists were quick to point out that the Edah Haredit, the umbrella organization representing many of the most extreme of the anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox groups, has condemned the violence in the forms of pashkevilim, street posters that are frequently used to communicate Rabbinic edicts to the haredi public.

However, one local haredi activist opined, the ultra-orthodox media has fallen down on the job, keeping the full extent of the extremists actions hidden from the view of the community, which is disgusted by such behavior.

Following Friday night’s television broadcast on Beit Shemesh, religious leaders have come out strongly against violence and coercion in religious affairs, with Israel’s Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Yonah Metzger stating that the haredi community does not own the public sphere and popular Sepharadi ultra-orthodox politician Aryeh Deri calling for residents to beat up anyone using violence against children.

Stretching The Rubber Band

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The Torah is defined as flint, a hard stone that is sturdy and unbreakable. It is therefore ironic that the year 5770 saw the Torah stretched as a rubber band – with the extremes causing the fraying of the bonds of Torah and Klal Yisrael and with no respite in sight.
 
              Take women’s issues, for one. On the left of the rubber band, Orthodoxy was stretched to the breaking point, and likely beyond it, by such non-Orthodox innovations as female clergy and female prayer leaders. The negative reaction from the Torah community was as swift as it was unequivocal (as unequivocal as a free-thinking, stubborn nation can ever get), leading to the freezing of both innovations for the foreseeable future, if not permanently. (Why do I have the sense that there is more coming ?)
 
While the retreat was alternately portrayed as either tactical or substantive, the bottom line was the same: an admission by the innovators that such actions have no place within the framework of the faithful Torah community.
 
While the leftists were inappropriately shoving women into the public domain, the haredi community in Israel was inappropriately shoving women far into the private domain. The right of the rubber band was stretched (broken?) so that the Torah became unrecognizable.
 
              The trends started several years back but became exacerbated in the recent past. There are Israeli communities these days with restaurants that have no public seating, lest it lead, I suppose, to mixed eating. It is a terrible infringement on normal family life, part of which involves families eating out together or husbands and wives taking time together. The Mehadrin bus lines that have become popular furthered this trend, with separate seating for women in the back (bad symbolism, there).
 
   The latter entered the public fray again with the recent announcement that the new, long-delayed (and I mean, long-delayed) light-rail in Yerushalayim will have Mehadrin cars as well, with separate seating for men and women. This prompted the usual litany of complaints about the encroachment of religious law in the public sector, and about the coercive nature of that community.
 
   In truth, I understand the economics of both: faced with a choice of the haredim starting their own transportation system or accommodating their requests, Egged simply catered to their customers and gave them what they wanted – a Mehadrin line. That makes good business sense. So, too, the director of the new light-rail system said that if haredim boycott the light-rail, it will fail – so, again, a prudent business decision was made, though it would seem more logical to me to have separate female and male cars on the light-rail, rather than force women to the back of one car.
 
It is the religious imperative of such a setup that escapes me. Where exactly does the Talmud, the Rambam, or the Shulchan Aruch mandate such a separation in the public realm? Rav Moshe Feinstein famously wrote that incidental contact even on crowded public transportation is sexually innocuous. Normal people are unaffected by it, and generations of pious Jews conducted themselves accordingly. One wonders what has changed. Just because something can be done – by sheer numbers of consumers – does not mean it should be done, and certainly not on a religious basis.
 
   Some argue that the Torah may not mandate such separations but tzniut (Jewish modesty) always strives for higher standards. Yet a group of haredi rabbis recently prohibited the wearing of the burqa (only eye slits are visible), which a group of peculiar Jewish women in the Bet Shemesh area have donned, saying that Jewish law does not require such concealment. But on what grounds can it be prohibited? The Torah certainly does not prohibit or demand it.
 
As we have seen on the left side of the rubber band, just because something is not explicitly prohibited does not make it permissible, prudent, or sensible. There are customs and values that define the Torah community, and we twist and elongate that rubber band at our peril. Eventually it snaps, and we become a people defined by our eccentricities rather than our wisdom, by behavior that is weird rather than rational, and by our segregation from society rather than by our integration in it and elevation of it.
 
It is sociologically fascinating that it was the Edah Hacharedis that put the kibosh on the burqa, apparently sensing intuitively that this was beyond the pale. Certainly, nothing is simple, and the overreaction on the part of the haredim can easily be seen as a response to the laxity in moral matters and relations between the sexes that characterizes much of Modern Orthodoxy and of course the general society.
 

In some quarters, tzniut is openly derided, even as in other quarters it is taken to unprecedented excesses. And it goes without saying (all right, I’ll say it) that everyone fancies himself/herself in the sane, normal, mainstream, broad-middle of the Bell Curve. (My rebbi used to say, accordingly, that each person feels that someone driving faster than him is a maniac, and someone slower than him is an idiot. Each person thinks he drives at the optimum speed.)

But we do see how the extremes, right and left, dim the light of Torah and drive away Jews who unthinkingly perceive the Torah as having no real norms – subject to the whims of every generation and fad – or having no real limits in its demands on us.
 
Rav Soloveitchik said it well, in U’vikashtem Misham (Ktav, page 54): “This is the tragedy of modern man: that, instead of subordinating himself to God, he tries to subordinate his God to his own everyday needs and the fulfillment of his gross lusts.”
 

Or, said another way, in an exaggerated fear of his gross lusts. The Torah gave us the perfect prescription for all our needs – spiritual, moral, ethical, social, psychological and physical. It behooves all of us to reinforce the rubber band, experience joy and fulfillment in the Torah we were given and not one we create ourselves, and find true service of Hashem in our subordination to His will.

 

 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Yehoshua” (Gefen Publishing, 2009). He blogs at www.rabbipruzansky.com. 

Title: City of Refuge – A Novel Of The Ancient Past

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Title: City of Refuge – A Novel Of The Ancient PastAuthor: Valerie FarberPublisher: Inkwell Enterprises

 

Valerie Farber’s impressive research (with experts acknowledged in her text), her captivat-ing story and seamless dialogue will entertain readers of her first book, City of Refuge – A Novel of the Ancient Past.

Set in the times of the Mishkan several hundred years after Matan Torah and against the raw natural beauty of ancient Israel, the story concerns the lives of two teenagers from different villages and tribes. One is Bat-Shachar, the dutiful daughter of a prominent kohen in Michmash, Binyamin’s territory; the other is Tzuriel from Beit-El, Shevet Efraim’s land. He is apprenticed to a metalworking master in ancient Bet Shemesh.

The teens witness rising Jewish life, almost 100 percent d’orayta, in idol-worshipping times. Through their eyes and ears, readers see and hear diverse lives unfold in living, breathing fashion. Manmade campfires and donkey rides to distant markets, halachically oriented legal hear-ings, kashering freshly slaughtered meat as well as witnessing incidents of celebration and mourning among Jews and non-Jews are part of Bat-Shachar and Tzuriel’s daily lives.

The nobility of Jewish life versus common savagery in ancient times lifts vividly off the page with readers sensing the touch of linen, cotton and home-spun wool and the scents of per-fumes and medicines made of spices, berries, roots and bark. The polar opposites of their in-tended use drive the action of the story.

Handling tithes to her father is a routine part of the heroine’s chores, and so is growing up with Basmat, the Canaanite servant girl she re-gards as a sister. But the naivet? of adolescence blinds Bat-Shachar to Basmat’s schemes. When Bat-Shachar must flee her socially prominent home to save her life, she accidentally finds Tzu-riel, her future protector, who is imbued with the trait of Jewish compassion.

In the middle of an errand for his employer when Bat-Shachar stumbles upon his campsite, Tzuriel is soon thrown into a halachic quandary that sends him on his own life-saving mission. He and Bat-Shachar run for safety to an ir mik-lat – a city of refuge – observing Halachah all the while.

Readers can experience life in ancient Israel and gain insight into its dynamic population mix as breathlessly as the story’s hotly pursued char-acters and can follow the action with helpful dia-grams, maps and illustrations included in the book.

The story’s ending is as charming as it is edifying. The mitzvot shine with spiritual clarity and a deep sense of personal identification for all concerned. The book is a treasure and should be made into a movie. Add it to school, home and community libraries.The book is available at cityofrefugenovel.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books//2008/11/12/

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