Embarrassed to be a Jew
The Jewish people were, more than once, enjoined by our prophet Isaiah to be Ohr LaGoyim, to set an example for the nations of the world, to enlighten them with examples of goodness, morality, and peace:
I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations[.] -Book of Isaiah, 42:6
Yea, He saith, 'It is too light a thing for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the scions of Israel, and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth[.]' -Book of Isaiah, 49:6
It is certainly not working out that way in some quarters, where the behavior of fanatic misogynists in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh is bringing disgrace and embarrassment to the entire worldwide Jewish community. It embarrasses me for them -- and, if you are Jewish, I suggest that you ought to be embarrassed, too.
One need not rely solely on the lineage devoted in the New York Times to the behavior of what it calls "[u]ltra-Orthodox men and boys from the most stringent sects" to know what has been going on. The stories are all over the international media (see, for example, here and here) and in the Israeli press as well.
It seems that a sub-group of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews (known in Israel as Haredi) of that village have been stoning, taunting, cursing and spitting at an 8-year-old girl as she walks to school each day. The girl herself is an Orthodox child who, along with her mother, dresses in the "modest" style common among Modern Orthodox and Hasidic women.
Not only is the child vilified for her less-than-extremist garb, but women in general are being persecuted and oppressed. It extends to efforts to bar women from some parts of public streets and sidewalks, and to discourage them from tarrying in public village areas.
The Israeli government has roundly condemned all forms of gender discrimination and ordered police to take down the anti-women street signage. But it's not enough. Tens of thousands are out in the village streets protesting the efforts to restrict their civil rights.
Reports the Times:
The virulent coercion in Beit Shemesh has been attributed mainly to a group of several hundred ultra-Orthodox extremists who came here from Jerusalem, known as the Sicarii, or daggermen, after a violent and stealthy faction of Jews who tried to expel the Romans in the decades before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Religious extremism is hardly new to Israel, but the Sicarii and their bullying ilk push with a bold vigor that has yet to be fully explained.
Not quite true. Part of the explanation lies in a dread of sexual impropriety among these extremists. Just as the Saudi clerics insist that allowing women to drive a car will lead to promiscuous sexuality, some critics of these ultras claim that they regard exposure of an extra inch of skin or casual bumping in a crowd likely to arouse the male who sees or is touched into a sexual frenzy. In other words, we have a group of bearded sex fantasists who can't trust themselves among women who haven't been bundled up beyond recognition, segregated physically, and made available almost entirely for housekeeping and repeated impregnation.
I must stress that the activities of some of the Beit Shemesh community are not typical of that village or any other Jewish community, even the most religious. Rabbinical leaders of even the strictest ultra-Orthodox groups, as well as Israeli political leaders of all stripes, have roundly condemned the harassment of women. Nevertheless, what is going on appears to everyone outside much like the barbarism we observe being enforced by the religious police in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and some other Muslim lands. And, as usual, it makes Jews look bad -- especially to those who are anti-Semitic in the first place -- because of the execrable behavior of a few.
Most of us aren't rich bankers and international financiers, but you know how the story goes.
One major difference, of course, is that the oppression of women in Islamic countries is supported and encouraged by the government officials, ayatollahs, and imams who run those countries. In Israel, such practices are absolutely not supported by either religious or government leaders. A leading Israeli cleric, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, has come out strongly against the oppressive tactics, as well as against gender segregation on buses -- and so have others.
So too has the prime minister and many members of the Knesset:
Israel will act against anyone who harasses women in the public sphere, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, one day after a massive protest against gender segregation took place in the central Israel town of Beit Shemesh.
Referring to rising tensions over gender segregation in Israel's ultra-Orthodox community, Netanyahu said at the Knesset on Wednesday that Israel will act against "anyone who harasses women, anyone who harasses people in the public sphere."
"We won't accept spitting on people in the street just because someone doesn't approve of their apparel," the PM said, adding that the "public sphere is open and safe and will remain so."
Be that as it may, it does not appear, from reports I've been reading in the press, that the government is doing nearly enough to punish the perpetrators and to help put a stop to this ongoing uncivil behavior founded in a cult-like fanaticism and religious edicts of a few Jewish Jim Joneses.
As any Western-style democracy understands -- and Israel is numbered among them -- freedom of speech allows anyone to speak out in criticism of, say, a store of whose merchandise he disapproves -- or even to picket the place. But freedom of speech does not include the right to throw stones through the window or spit at employees and customers on their way in and out. The normal ultra-Orthodox do not condone this gender-oppression, and most certainly not the torturing of an innocent little girl.
Another factor that makes the behavior of these thugs so galling is that, by and large, they exist on the state's (taxpayer's) largesse, contributing nothing to society but the continuous creation of more mouths to feed -- i.e., children who will grow up to be parasites like them.
This has got to be nipped in the bud, and decisively so, for the sake of all the rest of us Jews. We have no truck with the ideas and behavior of these Beit Shemesh, but we will be tarred in the arena of public opinion and discourse just the same.
"For many Israelis," notes the Times, "this is not a fight over one little girl's walk to school. It is a struggle that could shape the future character and soul of the country, against ultra-Orthodox zealots who have been increasingly encroaching on the public sphere with their strict interpretation of modesty rules, enforcing gender segregation and the exclusion of women."
Back in the 17th century, when the behavior of Baruch Spinoza became an intolerable embarrassment to the Jewish communities of Holland, they excommunicated him and cut him off from all connections with them. Probably not a practical solution for the miscreants of Beit Shemesh.
To my way of thinking, the Israeli police should maintain close patrolling of the village and arrest immediately any individual seen committing an act of assault on a female, posting illicit signage, or in any other overt way interfering with the civil rights of any girl or woman, as well as any attack on a police officer. The perpetrators need a speedy arraignment and bench trial followed by at least a few months in a prison cell, garbed in regular prison clothes, heads shaved for delousing, etc. Second offense earns double the penalty.
Fanatics, especially those driven by a cult-like extremist faith, do not yield to normal reason and corrective action -- as amply demonstrated by the mullahs of Iran and the imams of Hamas -- but must, for the sake of everyone else, be removed from the general population, just as we do with the criminally insane or serial murderers. Perhaps the only effective way to deal with the woman-haters of Beit Shemesh is to do likewise with them.