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Friday, April 27, 2018 

Jerusalem's natural history museum covers display to avoid hurting oh-so precious feelings of Haredis

The natural history museum in Jerusalem has made itself another embarrassment in the list of petty censorship cases:
The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem has been keeping an exhibit on human evolution covered under a sheet to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox visitors, and a staff member earlier this month asked a customer to leave when she inquired why the museum was censoring the display.

“I was saddened by it and rather shocked,” the visitor, Chaya David, told The Times of Israel following the incident. “It’s unwarranted and illegal.”
It certainly gives a bad image to anyone in Israel by making it look like the country condones frivolous censorship that would be considered idiotic in the US if Christians were to demand the same.
The Hebrew-language display, titled “The beginning of human evolution and culture,” details the stages of the gradual transformation from apes to the modern homo sapiens, complete with various skulls, models and ancient hunting tools along with written explanations.

It is kept under a pink sheet that blocks it from visitors’ view.

The museum said it had received approval from municipal authorities to hide the exhibit, along with two other displays on dinosaurs and on the human body and sexuality, during visits by ultra-Orthodox groups.

But on at least two occasions this month, the exhibit was covered even when there were no ultra-Orthodox visitors present.
It makes no difference whether the Haredis want to visit or not, it's cowardice and encourages their censorious visions even more. For this, the museum owes an apology to the public.
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews reject the scientific theory of evolution since, according to the Bible, humans were created separately from all other animals. According to the traditional reading of the Bible, the world was created 5,778 years ago, as opposed to the 13.8 billion years cited by modern science. Evolutionary science says human evolution occurred over hundreds of thousands of years.

Some ultra-Orthodox reject the existence of dinosaurs and generally do not teach their children about reproductive organs, and would thus consider exhibits on those topics, too, to be inappropriate.

But many Jews reconcile a belief in Torah with science by interpreting the biblical creation story in non-literal ways. Chaya David, the visitor who complained about the evolution exhibit being hidden, is herself an observant Jew.
Only in the twisted view of ultra-Orthodox could this possibly be the case, and I don't think the Bible ever literally said evolution from simians did not occur. In any case, denying the existence of dinosaurs is laughable, and another example of cowardice, along with fear of sexuality.
The museum said it had received approval to temporarily cover up the exhibits on dinosaurs, human evolution and human body. The approval was based on a recommendation by the Jerusalem Haredi Education Division, a joint body that is part of both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry. The division confirmed those details.

But David feels the museum was shooting itself in the foot.

“I think that when you self-censor unnecessarily, you draw lines that don’t really need to be drawn and you further separate demographics in the city that may not need to be separated along those lines,”
she said. “This action is pushing more people away rather than making more people feel welcome.”
I'm afraid so. It's alienating when you kowtow, and then some will understandably wonder if Jews have lenient standings on Islam to boot. The museum may have apologized to the visitor, but if they keep covering the exhibit whenever Haredis come about, then they haven't apologized at all. The municipal division on Haredi education also owes an apology for making a recommendation that only gives them a bad image too. This kind of insult to the intellect is just what's wrong with how the Western Wall is run today.

Update: here's a Haaretz report, just for the record:
The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem covers up an exhibit on evolution and dinosaurs during visits by ultra-Orthodox students. The museum says it only covers one specific exhibit with a curtain when groups from Haredi schools visit, as part of the educational program of the Jerusalem municipality, and when they request to do so in advance.

The permanent exhibit on “the beginning of human evolution and culture” was covered by pink sheet, as reported and photographed by Michael Bachner of the Times of Israel. The exhibit presents the stages of human evolution using illustrations, texts and archeological finds. A visitor who asked about the curtain and then complained when she was told that Haredim do not like to see such things, was told by a museum employee that she could leave, according to the story.

Since the beginning of the school year, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the Natural History Museum as part of the city’s “Jerusalem Advantage” educational program. This is the first year such visits to the museum have been subsidized by the city.

The museum’s educational director, Dr. Evgeny Roznitsky, says schools made their visits conditional on the exhibit being covered up, and he decided to agree to their request. “The agreement is that when such a group arrives we close the curtain and the guide does not explain about those parts. When they leave we open the curtain,” he told Haaretz.

“It has happened 12 times and we would be happy for more – before this year there were no Haredi groups at all, only in a few private frameworks. This year groups come from [Haredi] schools in an organized manner, so I still think this is an achievement,” said Roznitsky.
If the Haredi groups wanted an exhibition on black people of Africa censored, would they comply with that as well? This is just so stupid. Censorship of this sort is not an "achievement".
It is preferable to expose the students to the rest of the worlds the museum has to offer than to refuse their request and have them cancel completely, he says. “My dilemma was either not to close [the curtain] and not agree to the request, and then not to receive this public and not to expose them to the beauty of the other exhibits, or to temporarily close something that is 0.3 percent of all the museum’s space and expose them to the rest: The environment, nature, environmental quality. We have animals in the garden zoo, a beautiful garden. These are children who have never seen an animal in their lives. So I expose them to an entire world. So on behalf of pluralism and education I close this curtain,” said Roznitsky. He completely denies that a visitor who criticized the curtain was told she could leave.

Biology Professor Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago, who specializes in evolution, read about the affair and sent the museum a letter in which he criticized their decision to cover the exhibit. “As an evolutionary biologist of Jewish ancestry, I am deeply offended at your practice of covering up the human evolution exhibit lest it offend the Haredi Jews who go to your museum. Why would a museum hide the truth, even if it’s offensive to some religious believers? Is this proper in a largely secular state like Israel?”
Even in a religious state/community, it most certainly isn't. Clearly, they're just so desperate for money, and definitely virtue-signaling. I also don't buy the notion the children never saw an animal in their lives, because I'm sure there's some who've seen birds flying around the city, that's for sure. Though nothing compared to the birdbrain running the museum.
He also published the letter on his blog “Evolution is True.” Coyne called on his readers to send their own letters to the museum. “I hope you realize that by literally hiding the evidence for human evolution, you are misleading people: in effect, lying by omission. The truth is the truth, regardless of whether some people are offended because it goes against their upbringing; and by catering to the false beliefs of creationists, you are, in effect, censoring whatever science that some people find unpleasant. This kind of behavior makes me ashamed of my Jewish background.”

The Jerusalem municipality said: “The city’s Educational Administration initiated the ‘Jerusalem Advantage’ program in which all the city’s students from all communities are entitled to visit a wide variety of museums in the city within the framework of their studies. Within this program, thousands of students visited the Natural History Museum in the city and enjoyed the exhibitions and exhibits there. As opposed to what has been claimed, the aforementioned exhibit is open regularly to all groups visiting the museum.”

The city said that out of a desire to attract groups from the Haredi community, too, it was decided to agree to the request from Haredi schools and cover a specific exhibit during the visits. “So far, 12 groups from Haredi schools have visited the museum. The Educational Administration will continue to make cultural institutions and enrichment activities accessible to all the city’s students from a viewpoint of tolerance and equal opportunity for everyone.”
I'm sorry, but this is plain pathetic. Of course, it's the Haredis who have to shoulder blame here for not only dumbing down education for the sake of religion at all costs, but also for demanding these institutions comply with their beliefs, even if the curtain was only kept in place temporarily. For that, they should be ashamed of themselves.

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