They Will Come for You, Too


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?

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Eric Leibman
3 years 7 months ago

Hey, you people. Remember that you are speaking to and about
RABBI Menken. Whether you agree or disagree, speak to and about him with the kind of respect that the office of Rabbi deserves. Personal and ad hominem attacks, sarcasm and ridicule are always out of bounds, but especially when you are talking to a Rabbi. I personally think the operators of this site should automatically delete any posts from people who speak disrespectfully. You can disagree and make your points and your arguments without being nasty about it.

3 years 7 months ago

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

No, it does not mean that at all. Your math is wrong because you compared apples and oranges. As near as I can find online, the average charedi family size is 7.7-9 children per household. If we assume every Sikari family has 8 members on average (2 parents, 6 children) -smaller then the average size I found- then 150 families is 1,200 persons or 3% of the 40,000 you say are the charedi in Beit Shemesh. In a 9 child household (11 members of the family) 150 families is 1,650 persons or 4.12%. And that is assuming that everyone’s estimates are right that the Sikari do not exceed 150 families.

So if 1 in 25 members of the charedi community in Beit Shemesh is Sikari according to your own estimate then we must ask what percentage is the group that supports them.

David Ram
3 years 7 months ago

To Baruch,
Thanks for your response.
Firstly, please read my response to Rabbi Adlerstein’s nice article on the Chareidi spring:
I think you will get more insight into my way of thinking.
Regarding the buses, I strongly believe, based on information from speaking to people involved, that there was threats and extortion used to get Egged mehadrin lines. I think the issue you raised was that they added mehadrin lines in markets where it makes business sense (like Beit Shemesh), and effectively competed against a charedi owned company, so the chareidim stoned Egged mehadrin buses…so I feel it is a complex story – but my view is that it was largely driven by extortion, not normative business decisions.
Regarding Aryeh Deri – I accept the fact that I did not mention each and every point of the interview – like he felt that the police should use heavy violence against the protesters, etc.
And I never used the word “brainwash”, since I don’t believe they are. i just believe they are not being treated as princesses should be treated. And our Jewish women are princesses.
Regarding “Price Tag” attacks, I assume that you feel that I should be consistent between chareidi and dati leumi. For the record, i feel that I am. So in the dati leumi world – most rabbinic leaders came out very strongly against, and some were silent. and the ones that were silent are viewed as “shetika ke’hoda” (and for good reason). So the population accepts the fact that there is a fringe extreme group within the dati leumi and they have leadership. and there are battles against those extremists within Dati leumi. With the charedim, the torah leadership in Israel is silent.
Regarding your claim that i generalize, I don’t agree and here is my logic: I am referring to leadership. There aren’t that many individuals in real leadership positions. so my “generalization” is that if terrible acts are happening within a community – leaders of that community AND leaders of peripheral communities have 2 choices – denounce or accept. the large majority of the chereidi leaders have made their clear choice. In the chareidi world, there is a bit of a domino affect, since most chareidim are very much focused on Daas Torah – that one cannot disagree with the leadership. So that automatically CAN place most chareidim under the shetika k’hodaa category. I didn’t do that. So i don’t accept that I was generalizing. I was referring to the leadership.
Lastly, on “encouraging mutual respect” – you and I may have a difference of opinion here. I don’t view the requirement for women to sit in the back of the bus on certain lines – as religious freedom. I view it as discrimination. I don’t view it as a valid option for a “lifestyle”. I view it as demeaning. Whether the women say they like the separation or not. It is unequivocally outside the purview of halacha and only derisive and humiliating. so by trying to actively undermine that behavior in a free society, i view it as trying to encourage mutual respect for men and women. There are valid opinions against mine, I’m sure.

Baruch Gitlin
3 years 7 months ago

“There are two reasons that the Eida Rabbonim should publicly declare that such behaviour is abhorrent: (1) to teach those who may be on the fence regarding this issue, and (2) to make a Kiddush Hashem and thereby stop (what you perceive to be) the demonization of the entire kehila.”

I believe there is a third reason, hinuch. So that parents of non-charedi children can point to the rabbis and say, “see, the rabbis condemn what those people are doing,” and the parents of charedi children can say”you see, those people are going against the rabbis.”