The first is of a young Dati Leumi (or ‘Modern-Orthodox’) girl being insulted and spat on by so-called Charedi (‘ultra-Orthodox’) men in Beit Shemesh for not adhering to their extreme version of modest dress for Jewish females.
The second is a Jewish female Israeli soldier being harassed by another so-called Charedi man for refusing to move to the back of the bus (just because she’s a woman) on a route between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
Inevitably this was followed by demonstrations in Beit Shemesh, with extreme Charedim on one side, and Dati Leumi and the secular on the other (how often does that happen?!). In demos and in the media though, not much has changed for the secular and left-wing, who have used the incidents as another excuse to show their hatred of and contempt for the religious, portraying some fringe extremists as representative of the wider Orthodox community.
Thankfully, the top Rabbis and religious leaders in Israel and around the world have demonstrated why they are in those positions, with their unequivocal condemnations of those who have abused the Jewish religion with their extremist interpretation of it, in a similar way to extremist Muslims who abuse Islam with terrorism ‘in Allah’s name’.
The Chief Rabbis said the Charedim cannot impose their views on the rest of the population and if they want segregated buses they should run their own bus line – the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said “A person can be strict about himself, but not about others. If the Charedim want to be strict in their own buses, let them. But imposing it on other people is irrelevant."
One Rabbi points out on his blog Thinking Israel that the Jewish laws regarding social interaction and relationships between men and women are there precisely to “facilitate a non-sexualized public space” where men and women can interact in a ‘neutral’ way, not to segregate them.
Ironically, the fact that some Charedim are so concerned with hiding women away only makes the whole situation worse, as they would “identify sexual stimulation in the slightest reminder of a woman”.
“In most places that the Shulkhan Arukh addresses modesty, the man is instructed to restrict his gaze and not to look at a woman in an inappropriately sexual manner. But it doesn't say that a woman is required to button up in order to prevent or ‘protect’ the man. Men are expected to take care of their sexual drives and to control their eyes and minds... modesty in the public arena is not achieved by suppressing women; it is not women who are to pay the price... any man who has a problem must take care of his problem on his own.”
Rabbi Schochet, a columnist for the London Jewish News wrote on his blog:
“Both these men [involved in the incidents] have been described as ‘Charedi.’ This is typically taken to mean ultra-Orthodox. I take umbrage to that definition. I think of myself as ultra-Orthodox but believe these ‘Charedi’ men to be a disgrace to Jewish society.”
“Maimonides states that if a pious individual acts in a way that the general population would consider inappropriate, this person is performing a chilul Hashem (lit. desecration of G-dliness)”, which is breaking the third of the 10 Commandments - 'Do not take G-d’ name in vain'. He continues:
“If this is, as it is justifiably argued, a fringe group, then that can only be made obvious with vocal protestation. There could be no greater kiddush Hashem (lit. sanctification of G-d’s name) to counterbalance the chilul Hashem. In the words of King Solomon: 'There is a time to be silent and a time to speak'."
Rav Ovadia Yosef of Shas addressed theextremists, saying “We do not hate seculars. On the contrary – we love them and bring them closer. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself' is the entire essence of the Torah.”
He wrote that “he could no longer remain silent after seeing extremists ‘humiliating and insulting people in public, despising and cursing, and causing discomforts among the late Torah sages'", noting that "the Torah promotes graciousness and peace." He warned:
“Do not let the dignity of Torah and Judaism be mocked and humiliated, as this is our life and longevity, the secret of our existence throughout our years of exile, and we must respect each other and bring people's hearts closer to G-d."In my opinion, the Charedi extremists need to stop checking how girls and women are dressed, go home, learn some more and then practise what they’ve learned, because I don’t recall the Torah anywhere saying to spit on and shout abuse at girls and women. Or just take off their hats and stop pretending that they represent Judaism in any way.