For all the protests to the contrary, recent news articles (and comments right here on Cross-Currents) have demonstrated why Agudath Israel felt the need to warn against confusing the behavior of isolated thugs with the sincere religious convictions of many Orthodox Jews. With alarming speed, the voluntary separation of genders in public spaces has been muddled with spitting on seven-year-old children.
Like it or not, or whether our favorite writer Naomi Ragen has heard of it, it is true in Halacha that a man should not walk behind a woman. Manoach walked after his wife, and for this reason was called an Am HaAretz (ignoramus). You and I and most everyone else might not consider sitting behind a woman to be problematic, but I know many Chassidim do — and I’m not willing to tell them how to observe their religion. Freedom of association and freedom of religion apply to Chassidim too. If they don’t want to sit behind a woman, does that mean they don’t deserve to ride public transportation?
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely is the most recent to demonstrate that she doesn’t believe that Chassidim should have these freedoms. She recently, with her entourage and the media, boarded a Mehadrin bus to Beit Shemesh. She sat in the front, and the charedim sat behind her. Then she got off — until she noticed that as soon as she did so, the men moved forward while the women remained in the back.
At that point, she got back on the bus. She impeded public transportation for the sole and unique purpose of harassing the other riders. Is that defensible? Do you think there was no need to speak out against the trampling of the religious rights of tens of thousands of people, because of the misbehavior of 100?
That isn’t an exaggeration, by the way. Even The Forward acknowledges that there are perhaps 100-150 families of Sikrikim among the 40,000 charedim in Beit Shemesh, “and the vast majority of them, it must be said, are peaceful and not affiliated with the Sikrikim sect.” Yes, that means the Sikrikim are less than 1% of the population of Charedim. Yet their header for the article said “THE ultra-Orthodox picked the wrong Israeli town in which to pick a fight” — smearing not just the 40,000 Charedim of Beit Shemesh, but every Charedi in the world. My wife teaches kids who dress like Naama Margolese. My daughters play with kids who dress like Naama Margolese. But we’re ultra-Orthodox, and therefore “picked a fight” in Beit Shemesh?
It is entirely akin to saying that “Occupy” protesters are rapists. Indeed, the incidence of rape in “Occupy” tents appears to vastly exceed the number of Sikrikim willing to spit on children. So why has there been no similar demand that the “Occupy” protesters do some crowdspeak sessions about the horrors inflicted by their own?
The only Charedi leader who legitimately should have done more, and done it sooner, is the Charedi Mayor of Beit Shemesh, to the extent that he failed to heed the warnings of those, including our own Jonathan Rosenblum, that he was giving in to extremists. It is not legitimate criticism to expect the American Agudah to ignore the rights of Orthodox Jews right here in America.
While some pointed out that the OU/RCA Statement said nothing about tzniyus, it is still true that their statement didn’t merely condemn the hooligans. Their statement, too, defended Torah Jews, if not a Torah value: “We also urge all observers to recognize that the behavior of these hooligans does not in any way represent the attitude or demeanor of the Charedi community at large. The vast majority of Charedi Jews find these actions abhorrent, and the community should not be judged by the inexcusable conduct of a few.”
What the OU and RCA know is that this won’t stop with the Charedim. The “activists” have, in fact, already come for the best and brightest of the religious Zionists, those most anxious to serve in elite IDF units. Now in Israel, people are speaking out against “mistreatment” of women in the IDF. Are they referring to the rampant problems of sexual harassment of female soldiers? No — “extremist religious behavior… affecting the role of women in the armed forces.” The one speaking is Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, the Chief IDF Rabbi,” and he expressly made reference to Beit Shemesh. Has he so soon forgotten that the religious “problem” most recently afflicting the IDF was the desire of some young men, not one of whom was Charedi, to observe halacha with regards to Kol Isha?