The atmosphere of Beit Shemesh today
It’s a city where most men avert their eyes at the sight of a woman not cloaked in black, or walk a zig-zag pattern down a sidewalk to avoid coming close to a female Western photographer and interpreter.And these are the kind of people who exploit our tax shekels. There are Satmar and Neturei Karta around the country here too, and I have no doubt they've produced quite a few of the thuggish lemmings who're harrassing this poor woman (Update: during the election, they even caused a ruckus at a polling station). It'll be very sad if she too has to leave the neighborhood because of all this. Are the authorities still doing whatever needed to stop them?
But beneath the monochrome scene and apparent shyness lie some of the fiercest religious tensions in Israel, tensions that pit one branch of Judaism against another and that often turn violent. [...]
Two decades ago, there were almost no Haredim in Beit Shemesh, a city built mostly for Moroccan Jews who arrived in Israel in the 1950s. These days, the friction between the ultra-Orthodox and less strict Jews has grown increasingly heated.
Just last week, a group dubbed “the Mod Squad” – for “modesty” – appeared at Tzviya Rosenberg’s apartment door. The intimidating all-male Haredi committee had come to insist she give up her computer and telephone, and consent only to use what is known as a “kosher” cell phone, or one that prevents access to so-called “inappropriate content” such as text messaging, the Internet and sex lines.
Ms. Rosenberg, 48, a teacher and Orthodox Jew, flatly refused, knowing she risked retribution from thugs who often act as vigilantes.
“They told me I had to comply if we wanted to live in this community,” she said. The Rosenbergs, whose practices are similar to most Orthodox Israelis, moved here 15 years ago, well before most of the men who came to her door. This was not her first run-in with the squad.
A few years ago, Ms. Rosenberg said she put a small Israeli flag in the window to mark Independence Day, only to have a gang pelt the apartment’s windows with eggs when she refused to remove it.
Last week, the squad told Ms. Rosenberg she was on their list of “Israelis,” a term the leader spat out, she said. In this part of Beit Shemesh, the most extreme anti-Zionist Haredim rule the roost.
“Most of our friends have packed up and left,” she said.
Next year, her son’s moderate Orthodox school may close for lack of students. “If that happens, we’re out of here too,” she said, explaining that she would never send him to a Haredi school where only religious subjects are taught.
Many of the Haredim say they won’t vote next week as they don’t support the state of Israel.Two galling things lurk in those last 2 paragraphs: one, the paper has stooped to the "palestine" libel, and two, the rabbi named Louk must be a Shas supporter, which could explain his galling belief that the army doesn't need more recruits. Again, we have another fool who doesn't care about defending his country.
But the state certainly supports them. With almost all Haredi men studying for much of their lives in yeshivas, it is largely up to the women, mothers of 8.9 children, on average, to earn a living.
“We bring in very little,” says Mali, 25, a mother of two, who, like most of the Haredim interviewed, declined to give her full name. “We need support.”
The support mostly comes from the intervention of religious parties in the Knesset whose leaders often find a way to administer housing, health and welfare portfolios as part of a deal to join a coalition.
“Our taxes go to supporting these people,” says an outraged Moran Pahima, 31, a secular mother of three young children who has lived in Beit Shemesh for 28 years. “It isn’t fair.”
On the other side, Haim Louk, a Sephardi Orthodox rabbi and renowned singer, sees nothing wrong with this arrangement. “The government should pay families to have lots of children, said Mr. Louk, a father of 11. “For Israel’s security we have to ensure that Jews continue to outnumber Arabs” in Israel and Palestine.
The suave rabbi also objects to the idea of Haredi religious students serving in the military as many political parties now advocate. The army doesn’t need the extra men, he argues.
Producing more children is definitely a good thing, but only if they and their parents do their duty to serve the state and not bankrupt it on welfare checks. If neither parents nor children prove their worth to the rest of the country, then that rabbi's arguments ring hollow.
Dov Lipman, a U.S.-born rabbi from the Haredi community, has led a fight against extremism in the city. He says that army service is “a matter of sharing the burden. … It also leads to men working outside the yeshivas, which is good for the economy.”I fully agree. Now, he's a Knesset member, and I hope he'll remain true to his mission to turn Beit Shemesh around.
He is worried that extremists have come to dominate his city and its municipal authorities.
Just a block from his home sits a massive concrete and marble building that was constructed to be a shopping mall serving large parts of the city. It was never finished, however, after repeated attacks on the building drove the contractor away.
“The extremist elements objected to such a facility being built here,” he explains. Since it would have contained government services as well as stores, they argued it would have brought “undesirable elements” such as secular and less religious people into “their neighbourhood.”
The deserted structure, its every window smashed, is “a sad reminder of the failure of our municipal leadership and our national government,” Mr. Lipman says. “It’s time to take back our city.”
Update: here's a Jerusalem Post article about him post-election. Update 2: here's another article by a Beit Shemesh resident.