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Friday, December 15, 2006

Spiraling Out Of Control?

I received e-mails regarding this awful story earlier in the week, and saw it posted on a few blogs as well, and every time I read an account of the events that transpired, I feel like vomiting. The story goes like this, from Haaretz (via Shmarya):
Miriam Shear says she was traveling to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City early on November 24 when a group of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men attacked her for refusing to move to the back of the Egged No. 2 bus. She is now in touch with several legal advocacy and women's organizations, and at the same time, waiting for the police to apprehend her attackers.

In her first interview since the incident, Shear says that on the bus three weeks ago, she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women. The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that violence was used against her, but Shear's account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked "severe beating.
More details of this woman's brutal treatment are in the article. I simply cannot believe that something like this could happen, with witnesses looking on and doing nothing. According to witness accounts, Charedi women sitting in the back of the bus (they knew their place, at least!) found fit to criticize the victim for her actions. Is this going to the harbinger of a complete societal breakdown in the Charedi community, as some said the 1964 Kitty Genovese story was indicative of in society at large (Genovese was famously stabbed to death on a city street over thirty minutes. Numerous witnesses were said to have heard her screams, but no one attempted to help her or even call the authorities)? The fact that this common thuggery and violence is considered an appropriate response to deal with a woman who apparently "doesn't know her place", and that numerous people seemed to have looked the other way or declined to inform the authorities in the face of this appaling behavior seems a dreaded throwback to another era or religion.

I just feel that recent events have indicated that things are getting out of control in some pockets of the Charedi world. (And though I am well aware that it is not the case in the vast majority of Charedi communities - I still feel that someone with the Charedi Levush simply does not have the luxury of behaving badly when they are so readily identifiable as a member of such an ostensibly God-fearing community). I can understand that they must feel helpless in the face of the encroaching modernity that is a fact of life in 2006. I struggle with it myself, on an entirely different level, when I drove into Manhattan via the Midtown Tunnel with my son last week and he was treated to a completely inappropriate show of flesh from one huge, five-story billboard after another of half-dressed (and in one case, completely undressed - I kid you not) women. But did I get out of the car and throw eggs or paint at the billboard? Did anyone else who might have been offended by the billboards? Of course not. Would I be perfectly justified in calling or writing the companies whose ads are on the billboards, appealing to their decency and modesty (as unlikely it is that such a tactic would be successful), or perhaps organizing a boycott of those companies? Sure.

Well, members of the Charedi world have the same choice of behaving appropriately or inappropriately in the face of what they find offensive. A boycott of El Al in hopes that they will stop flying on Shabbat? Great. Totally appropriate. A peaceful march to protest the Gay Pride parade? Sure. A violent demonstration where fires are set and people are stoned? Decidedly inappropriate. Throwing bleach at women whose clothing is deemed immodest? Inappropriate.

In this case, there were many options available to this group of men if they were so offended by the prospect of sharing the front of the bus with women. (And please be assured, I am not at all convinced that a man who is sitting minding his own business, with a nose in a sefer, should be in any way bothered by a woman minding her own business, sitting in another row). They could have chartered their own bus line, petitioned for this line to be granted "Mehadrin" status (which it did not have). They could also have attempted to speak with this woman in a reasonable manner instead of resorting to spit and violence.

I don't think that any reasonable person, Charedi or not, could possibly feel that this story is an example of the proper way for members of any community to prevent the encroaching of modernity on their lives. As always, I hope to hear this incident roundly denounced from those aforementioned reasonable people in the coming days.

61 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really believe that granting "mehadrin" [a misnomer for this phenomenon] to any public bus is wrong. If men, or women for that matter, wish to keep separate from the other, then they should either hire their own carservice or walk. It is not right to impose these standards on others. And believe me, I'm not one for mixing myself. I resent the fact that any gender separation automatically puts women in the inferior position. On the buses it's the back as it was for the blacks discriminated against by the Jim Crow laws. In Brooklyn halls that cater to the really "frum" there are separate women's entrances -- on the side. You want to make it separate, then let's have the women go in the main entrance and the men on the side for a change!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

You mention the levush in the context of curbing personal behavior....I believe wearing the levush has the exact opposite effect.

When one walks around their entire life dressed like they're from another planet, they tend to lose their self-consciousness and lower their inhibiiton to acting in unabashed ways.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Yehoshua Meyer fellow who watched the whole thing, and didnt try to help her or even tell them to stop must be really proud of himself. How embarassing for him.

11:00 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...


Anonymous said...

This Yehoshua Meyer fellow who watched the whole thing, and didnt try to help her or even tell them to stop must be really proud of himself. How embarassing for him.


Maybe you should reread the article a bit more closely. This is Yehoshua Meyer's account:

he tried to fight back and no one would help her. I tried to help, but someone was stopping me from getting up. My phone's battery was dead, so I couldn't call the police. I yelled for the bus driver to stop. He stopped once, but he didn't do anything. When we finally got to the Kotel [Western Wall], she was beaten badly and I helped her go to the police."

I don't think he has anything to be ashamed of.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Ariella said...

I disagree with Still Wonderin on effect of Levush. My husband recounted to me that a chasid wrote of treating himself on chol Hamoed to watching movies at home. When he was in the video store --dressed in his Hasidic garb -- he called some friends for recommendations. Another man walked up to him and said that he felt he had to discard his Hasidic garb in order to walk into the video store.

On the female side, see Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls

Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls by Stephanie Wellen Levine and Carol Gilligan. When the chassidim give up their faith or decide to explore the secular temptations around them, they discard their customary dress.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Rivka said...

Apparently, "Charedi" does always mean "frum," or even "decent person."

Those people on the bus might go around calling themselves "Charedi," but a more apt description would be "evil."

11:28 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"When he was in the video store --dressed in his Hasidic garb -- he called some friends for recommendations. Another man walked up to him and said that he felt he had to discard his Hasidic garb in order to walk into the video store."

You disagree, then validate my claim in the effort to defend your postion.... if this chasid hadn't been dressed in his holier than thou costume his whole life, he'd be a little more sensitive and self-conscious of what he looks like and where he goes when he is dressed like that. Instead, he does whatever he wants, regardless of how he looks, besmirching his correligionists in the process.

When the chassidim give up their faith or decide to explore the secular temptations around them, they discard their customary dress.

Sure....tell that to the hookers and strippers of NY who can spot their chassidish clientele from a mile away. These religious johns and strip club patrons are a legend, a public joke, and a deep shame for religious Jews, all throughout NYC and beyond.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I find this story infuriating. It is more than shameful.

11:37 AM  
Blogger I'm Haaretz, Ph.D. said...

This is horrifying. In a way it's worse than the Kitty Genovese example, because in that situation many residents heard the screams but assumed someone else had called the police--it was never a matter of supporting the rapist & murderer. In this case, the entire bus (aside from a few exceptions) ganged up on the woman, and whoever didn't (the other women) felt she had it coming and let her be beaten!

When I think about how much the ultra-orthodox leaders opposed Zionism and the creation of the State, I assume they knew how bad Israel would turn out to be for frum Jewry, not in the sense of turning people away from religion, but in turning religion into a fundamentalism that isn't found anywhere else in the world.

11:58 AM  
Blogger I'm Haaretz, Ph.D. said...

"...fundamentalism that isn't found anywhere else in the world."

I should have said **Jewish** world because when looking Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, etc... the behavioral similarities are striking.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous farrockgrandma said...

Isn't it strange -
We can ignore complaints of sexual abuse against a trusted rebbe for decades because we just don't believe that a man can be sexually attracted to boys.
We can dismiss a frum man struggling with homosexuality because - surely he must be mistaken.
Yet at the same time, the chareidi world increasingly worhips men, encourages the closest relationships between school-age boys, hangs rebbe portraits on every wall, publishes magazines where women don't appear and don't exist (such as wedding pictures with no bride) - and treats women as unclean objects.
How do we expect boys raised this way to appreciate and respect women?

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Al Gore said...

I'm reading Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point in which he talks about how the Kitty Genovese incident is held up as an example of modern-day indifference to the travails of others. However, Gladwell mentions the experiments of psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley, and the different explanation that they offer: "When people are in a group . . . responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem . . . is not really a problem." What is surprising about the ordeal, is not that no one called for help, "despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it's that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her scream."

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Al Gore said...

I'm reading Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point in which he talks about how the Kitty Genovese incident is held up as an example of modern-day indifference to the travails of others. However, Gladwell mentions the experiments of psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley, and the different explanation that they offer: "When people are in a group . . . responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem . . . is not really a problem." What is surprising about the ordeal, is not that no one called for help, "despite the fact that thirty-eight people heard her scream; it's that no one called because thirty-eight people heard her scream."thirty-eight people heard her scream."

12:36 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Al:

I read that and it's certainly a plausible theory. Unfortunately, in this case, there seems to have been a bus full of people who presumedly knew that this woman was not getting help from the fact that she was getting beaten up right in front of them.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Al Gore said...

OM:

This entire incident is just something that I cannot understand. When I first arrived in NYC for yeshiva, I remember walking with a group of about five bochurim and we witnessed a thief snatch a purse from an old woman. Having grown up in a part of the country were it's just a given that men stand up to help women who are in trouble, I immediately started to run after the thief. Before I had managed to run about four feet, all of the bochurim grabbed me restrained me from running after the thief. I asked them why they wouldn't let me run after the thief, they said, "you might get hurt."

I also remember another incident in the same neighborhood where someone I know got a severe beating from a goy near the mikveh. About ten "frum" people stood around and watched and did nothing. The next day, I chastised one of the witnesses for not helping. Can you believe he told me that they "weren't obligated to put our lives in danger."

/ I believe it's time for frum "men" to "man up"
// It's funny that these sort of people are really quick to condemn the United States for not moving fast enough to save the Jews during WWII

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find something fishy about the whole story. The origional account i read stated that there was a video of the occurence, now the video is not produced. I believe she got on that bus with an agenda, to antagonize the other riders. Did she have a right? Absolutely! I have a right to blare Rap music with innappropriate lyrics from a boom box right outside a yeshivah. Believe me, would I do that, anywhere, I'd be asking for a beating. I'm not saying that the women deserved what she got, but what I am saying is, that someone who enters a situation looking for a fight, and then gets one, loses some credibility in my eyes. That being the case, all posts of the incident bear only her side of the story from start to finish. I'd like to reserve judgement until I hear the entire episode from a third party, one who was on the bus, was not involved in beating her, but saw everything that happened. If it happened as she said, then I hope they find the guy(s) involved, and string them up by thier privates.
But what happens, if what actually occured was as follows:
After she refused to get up (as was her right) he got agitated (the response she was looking for) and he (wrongly, but not unheard of) got up in her face.
While yelling at her let's say a little spittle flew from his mouth, granted it's disgusting, but the spittle could very well have been unintentional. Now she with her self righteous indignation, let's fly a lugi right in his face, because "he 'spit' at me". Now you got the makings of a 'he said she said fight'. I'm not saying this is how it happened, but I'm saying that without corroboration from another party, I am not willing to take the story exactly as she told it, and assume there was no embellishment on her part.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are u joking? who cares if she starrted up? that doesnt excuse her getting beaten up by a group of charedi men. you are seriously deranged, my friend.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you give enough weight/consideration to the charedi community feeling as though their backs are against the wall as they try to modernity's onslaught against them.

No, it's not an excuse, but your value system is just radically different from theirs and while I know you recognize that, this post suggests you havent fully internalized that aspect of these recent events. If s/t you valued deeply was at stake you wouldnt just write a letter to complain. You'd fight back.

again, i'm hardly justifying their actions. but if you want to analyze these occurences properly, you have to truly understand where, as a society, they're coming from.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"are u joking? who cares if she starrted up? that doesnt excuse her getting beaten up"
Beaten up is her definition, how do I know that she didn't get hurt in a scuffle that ensued after the group of hareidim saw a deranged woman fighting with an elderly hareidi man, and then tried to break it up, and she received a minor injury (in her own words she did not need medical attenton). I don't know whether or not this is what happened, and if it happened the way she decribes it, then I agree that these people deserve the worst they can get, but I am skeptical.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If s/t you valued deeply was at stake you wouldnt just write a letter to complain. You'd fight back.

that isnt the case here. this woman sat in the front of the bus. thats the comlaint here. what great values are at stake?

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beaten up is her definition, how do I know that she didn't get hurt in a scuffle that ensued after the group of hareidim saw a deranged woman fighting with an elderly hareidi man, and then tried to break it up, and she received a minor injury (in her own words she did not need medical attenton). I don't know whether or not this is what happened, and if it happened the way she decribes it, then I agree that these people deserve the worst they can get, but I am skeptical.

im glad youre sceptical. but i see a story like this, with a clear eid, and i am not sceptical at all.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is difficult to comprehend in America, but here in Jerusalem the realization that significant (not small minority) aspects of the charedi world have simply turned Taliban is a terrible realization.

No aspect of this Talibanization is worse than the denial of facts if they are inconvenient truths to the worldview that we are not only wonderful, but superior.

We are living in terrible times within yiddishkeit, and it is our own doing.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 2:54,

OM used the incident to also discuss the broader social context. That is what i was commenting on, not the incident itself.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parts of the Orthodox world have descended into fanatisicm. [Yes I am Orthodox]

6:47 PM  
Anonymous RABBI LICHTMAN said...

Whats all the rucus here ,we have literally kicked,punched and slandered one of our local glatt supermarkets Gourmet Glatt while nobody says a word. Jew against Jew who will go to Gan Eden now?

8:37 PM  
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8:37 great post. Its time to patronize this store!

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9:08 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

"A boycott of El Al in hopes that they will stop flying on Shabbat? Great. Totally appropriate."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. I think that people are too quick to call boycotts these days. 99.99% of the people clamoring to boycott in response to this 'gross violation" don't even know the facts. Like the CEO of El Al (which is no longer a state-owned company) said, for years El Al has bent over backwards to accomodate the chareidi community. It's time they showed a little respect and constraint as well.

Do you see the chareidim boycotting Egged? I believe they run on Shabbos. While I think they should definitely take into consideration the feelings and needs of a large percentage of their ridership, to have Rabbinic veto on what realy amounts to running a profit-generating business is unneccesary.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

What floored me was the response of Egged (the bus company):

The Egged response also noted that their drivers "are not able and are not authorized to supervise the behavior of the passengers in all situations."

Hahahahaha! That is sure a lot different from the drivers of the Greyhound buses I used to take to college.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

Who ussured mixed seating on buses?

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who mattered touching a woman?

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

OK, I'm going out on a limb here . . .

Let me preface this by saying that anyone who reads my blog, or knows me, knows that I am both Orthodox and VERY feminist. And I have NO PROBLEM criticizing chareidim (or Jews to the left of me, for that matter - anyone) when they deserve it, and maybe sometimes when they don't. And, having inadvertently gotten onto one of these "women in the back" buses in Jerusalem once, and having been not-so-politely urged to move to the back, I deplore the existence of these buses (couldn't they AT LEAST put the women in the front, so there is SOME modicum of respect for them?), and deeply question their legality. And if this story is true, then the men involved should be brought to justice by the police, and I fear for the women who are so brainwashed that they side with the men. And, yes, I DO believe that there are pockets of the chareidi world that are so out of control that they would beat up a woman rather than let her sit up front on a bus, and that it's just crazy and hypocritical and terrible.

All that having been said, there is something about this particular story, and the quotes by Miriam Shear, that leads me to believe that PERHAPS there is more to the story. I'd have to go back through the articles and pick out each place that made me go "hm," but the impression I'm personally left with is that PERHAPS Ms. Shear DOES have something a little "off" about her, and that maybe we shouldn't jump to believe her without further investigation (or, waiting for the police to investigate and the media to report it, if those things ever happen). Perhaps she's unstable, or was placed on the bus for the express purpose of creating a scene, or SOMETHING -- but I just have this nagging suspicion that she's not 100 percent genuine. I emphasize that I'm not jumping to conclusions either way, especially since so much is filtered through the lens of the reporters who write the articles. I'm not saying that she "must" be lying. Only that my intuition is telling me that something strange is going on here.

2:32 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Sarah:
I agree with you. My first reaction here was similar to yours. That said, the fact that the story as recounted by Mrs. Shear might be a little "off" doesn't change the fact that there were witnessed to be men beating her up. So I kept my feelings on whether she was, as you put it, "not 100% genuine" out of the post completely because (and I want to be clear about this) I don't think it in any way mitigates the behavior of those men who attacked her.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I'll have to go back and read the article again, but I thought that there is only one witness saying that she was beaten up, and everyone else is saying that she was the one who was out of control and instigated the matter . . . except the driver, who basically says that nothing happened.

Now it really could be that the one witness who helped her and is vouching for her story is really telling the truth and that he's the only one brave enough (and intellectually honest enough) to report facts as they happened. But the whole thing smacks of . . . I don't know . . . there's something strange . . . I can't put my finger on it without going over the media articles again, which I don't have time to do at this particular moment.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Azamat said...

Not having read the entire story (and having no intension to do so, I will say this. MY impression, based on reading OM's post and the comments, is that NO ONE knows nothin' and this entire story is based on speculation.
That's fine - it's a good "what if..." scenario.
So let's assume this story did in fact actually occur. As one commenter above pointed out, the Kitty Genovese comparison is not really a good one because in that case, the reason why no one called police is because they all assumed "Someone else MUST have called". In this case, the witnesses were right there and simply watched instead of helping. The commenter used this to illustrate why this case is WORSE than the Kitty Genovese case.
I have the opposite take on this - Can you imagine the absolute chaos that must have been taking place on this bus (Again - assuming that this actually happened)? I have been in "Mob-like" situations - things happen fast and totally out of control. There is NOT a lot of time to think and there is an overwhelming survival instinct that consumes you - you just want to get AWAY from the situation - not jump into the fray to get trampled and killed.
Seriously, can you picture in your mind what this scene could have looked like? A woman gets on the bus and sits in the "Wrong" seat. First, words are exchanged and, when it is clear that this woman has no intension of complying but rather, to the contrary, has every intention of holding her ground - tempers flare and before you know it, in a VERY TIGHT AND CONFINED SPACE, she is surrounded and being bullied. Now picture a stereotypical alpha-male tough guy hero type ... John Wayne, Dirty Harry, whoever - The bottom line is, I don't care who it is, he (or she, for all you fems out there) would have a hard time affecting the situation in any meaningful way. There's pretty much NOTHING anyone could do.
Don’t get me wrong, if this DID happen, it is shameful and inexcusable. All I’m saying is that this is not a good case to blame the people around for doing nothing. The sad fact is that 99.9% of us would react in the same feeble and pathetic manner.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This story is simply not true it reminds me of this story http://www.momentmag.com/archive/feb00/feat1.html

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Open Season on the Orthodox


From concubines to feces-throwing, Orthodox Jews have been accused of it all—wrongly.

Avi Shafran

Shabbat at the Kotel Ma'aravi , Jerusalem's Western Wall, people standing in prayer, a paraplegic in a motorized wheelchair, a group of Hasidic men turn their heads and then:

". . . like a big-league pitcher [one Hasid] cocked his arm and flung [a] rock at the man in the wheelchair. The rock hit him in the middle of his forehead, his neck reeled back and blood oozed down his face.
"Unable to wipe the blood from his eyes, the man was blinded. Then the adorable little children, who only seconds ago were throwing candy [at a bar mitzvah boy], turned into savages and started picking up rocks and hurling them at the man. Two of them grabbed the brightly colored prayer shawl from around the man's neck and cracked it like a whip in his face.
"Some people, mostly Americans, tried to stop the rock throwing. They were cursed and hit with rocks . . . [Nearby guards] did nothing to stop the stoning, apparently assuming that the man was getting just punishment for his crime: using electricity on the Sabbath."

This report appeared in the November 15, 1994, issue of the Arizona State University daily paper, the State Press; it had been recommended for publication by the chairman of the university's journalism department and the director of the school's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. The story, after all, was compellingly written and important.

There was only one problem: it never happened.

On November 29, after the article had been read by thousands, the newspaper printed a retraction: A law student had demanded corroborating facts, and none were found. Pressed for the truth, the aspiring 24-year-old senior journalism major who had penned the piece admitted that the entire account, from start to finish, had been the product of her own fertile imagination.

It was a gross, but far from singular, example of the "anything goes" attitude often adopted by the media for Orthodox Jews. In fact, in terms of the injury done to the Orthodox community and intra-Jewish relations, it pales beside some of the more subtle, hence more believable, misreportage that has appeared in recent years.

Many Jews, and no doubt many more non-Jews, have read news reports of confrontations at the Western Wall, often on Tisha B'Av (the anniversary of the Temple's destruction) or Shavuot (which commemorates how all Jews stood as one at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah). Groups of American non-Orthodox Jews and clergy, declaring their equal rights to the Wall, have chosen the Kotel plaza for mixed-sex services, a practice regarded by the Orthodox as flouting Jewish religious law. Their services often feature women cantors, which the tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews who traditionally gather at the site consider an assault on traditional Jewish modesty. Some of the Kotel regulars react with pain; others, unfortunately, react with anger, vented by casting objects at the nontraditional worshippers.

These inexcusable expressions of outrage are prominently featured by the press (invariably notified of the likely photo-op beforehand by the non-Orthodox groups' organizers). Media reports promote the impression that non-Orthodox Jews are not welcome at the Wall.

New York Times correspondent Joel Greenberg, for instance, reported on August 12, 1997, that the Western Wall, "which used to attract Israelis of different religious backgrounds, has in recent years become a preserve of the strictly Orthodox."

Rabbi Ami Hirsch, director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, told Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on February 2, 1999, that the Western Wall, "belongs to all Jews."

"It appears," asserted Jacob Stein, a past president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, that "we [non-Orthodox] cannot worship at the Kotel without the risk of physical attack."

Anyone who has been at the Kotel, though, knows that it always has and still attracts Jews (and, for that matter, non-Jews) of all stripes and is, at least in the absence of provocative acts, a place of profound peace and prayer. Since the Wall's capture in 1967, separate areas for men and women have been designated, and anyone who wishes can approach the Wall. It is the pointedly nontraditional mode of worship that offends, not the presence of Jews of different bents.

Despite their protestations to the contrary, the nontraditionalists mean to rankle, as is evident by their own comments.

"I have no problem acknowledging [that] our rally—I mean our prayer service—was political and provocative," confessed David Breakstone, a Conservative educator and organizer of Tisha B'Av 1997's egalitarian minyan at the Kotel. (His comment, and hasty rephrasing, were reported by the New York Jewish Week on August 15, 1997.)

Asked why he was reluctant to publicize his movement's positive accomplishments in Israel, an unnamed but honest Conservative rabbi told journalist David Bedein "There's no money in that. We can only raise money by bashing the Orthodox" (reported in the Jewish Voice and Opinion, September 1997).

And yet the press has consistently portrayed the Kotel confrontationists as innocent victims, veritable freedom riders.

Non-Orthodox writer Hillel Halkin was one of the rare voices of reason in the wilderness. "Are there no other places to practice Jewish feminism in the world, in Israel or even in Jerusalem that they must do it at the one site where it most infuriates large numbers of other Jews?" he asked in a June 27, 1997, column in the Forward. "Even common property has to have rules ... [the mixed services at the Kotel constitute] a foolish, insensitive, and unnecessary provocation that has nothing to do with religious freedom."

Notably unreported in most media reports of Kotel confrontations is the trenchant but boring fact that only a minuscule percentage of the Orthodox Jews who gather at the site have reacted at all to the nontraditional groups. The overwhelming majority simply ignore the visitors' presence. On August 12, 1997, after a Tisha B'Av Kotel clash, the Jerusalem Post reported that "inside the [Kotel] plaza, some 30,000 worshippers were oblivious to the tumult that was taking place outside. They sat on mats in front of the last remnant of the Second Temple, mourning its destruction 1,927 years ago."

Similarly unnoted was the fact that the (Reform) Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel declared that the Wall should not be considered by Reform Jews "as possessing any sanctity." The Kotel, according to the rabbinic body, "does not represent Jewish cleaving to God nor the experience of prayer ... for our times."

Likewise glossed over is the fact that Orthodox religious authorities have regularly and unequivocally forbidden any violence against the groups. The Edah Haredit, an Israeli religious court, considered the main religious authority by Israel's most right-wing haredi element, issued posters that read: "With the authority of our holy Torah, we warn elders to in turn warn the young to perpetrate no violence whatsoever."

And few if any media outlets, other than the Jerusalem Post, noted how after the summer of 1997 altercation Orthodox folks admonished those who reacted angrily, and came to the assistance of non-Orthodox Jews.

One report, first published in the New York Times on June 13, 1997, received exceedingly wide coverage and has since become a deeply cherished legend in some circles. At one Kotel confrontation, it was alleged, Orthodox youths hurled feces at the nontra- ditional worshippers. (Within hours of the first reports of such outrageous behavior, a friend of mine, an official in the Reform movement, phoned to get my reaction to his "inside information"—that bags of dung had apparently been discovered stockpiled in a yeshiva near the Kotel. I was appalled and told him so.) The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), a newswire to which virtually every Jewish weekly in the country subscribes, also reported that "haredim pelted a group of men and women worshippers with human excrement."

To this day, the image continues to be invoked, despite the fact that the New York Jewish Week could not find any victims of the alleged act. The stockpile story turned out to be pure balderdash.

Indeed, subsequent reportage has all but ascertained that l'affair feces—according to Lisa Hostein, editor of the JTA—"probably didn't happen" (Long Island Jewish World, July 17, 1999; reprinted from the Cleveland Jewish News). It might seem a minor quibble: A tossed banana peel or stone, after all, is sufficiently objectionable. But this ugly canard presented a particularly incendiary image, which, thundered from the pulpit and the press, has generated immense ill will toward Orthodox Jews, despite its apparent lack of mooring in reality.

In February 1998, a story appeared in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot: The Orthodox rabbinate directed a man to divorce his wife because she had been raped. The story quickly made other Israeli papers and eventually crossed the Atlantic. After several weeks, the report was exposed as a reporter's hoax, complete with references by name to nonexistent rabbis (Arutz-7, March 3, 1998). Though the misreportage was serious enough for the paper to dismiss the reporter from his job, Yediot's eventual apology was buried on page 19.

Another widely reported story in 1997 concerned Orthodox-inspired gender-segregated Israeli buses. Men were to sit in the front rows, women in the back. Outraged comparisons were made to the treatment of blacks in the 1950s American South.

"Oh, my God!" said feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin. "Besides evoking the obvious echoes of blacks sitting in the back of the bus, for me it evokes signs in hotels that said, 'No Jews and no dogs allowed'" (New York Jewish Week, July 18, 1997).

In the end it became apparent, at least to attentive readers, that the bus lines in question exclusively serviced Orthodox neighborhoods (two lines in two cities—B'nei Brak and Jerusalem) and that the program had been designed and promoted by Israel's Transportation Ministry—hardly a haredi hotbed—in order to increase local ridership. Furthermore, as the Jerusalem Post noted the day after the Jewish Week reported Ms. Pogrebin's shock, the plan turned out to be entirely voluntary.

Essentially, all the plan entailed was the installation of automatic ticket punching machines in the backs of several buses whose men and women passengers felt more comfortable sitting separately.

Reasonable people might well disagree about the wisdom of even so benign a commercial promotion. But apartheid it was not.

In the spring of 1997, while observant Jews were joyfully celebrating Purim, the Los Angeles Times was creating a Jewish communal crisis that would result in an unprecedented outpouring of hatred against Orthodox Jews. In a front page headline on March 22, an Orthodox rabbinical group reportedly declared that the "Non-Orthodox" are "Not Jews." CNN lead with "Orthodox rabbis: Most U.S. Jews aren't really Jewish."

The rabbinical group, of course, had proclaimed no such thing. The Orthodox consider all born Jews and anyone halachically converted to be every bit as much a part of the Jewish people as the most observant rabbi. The group simply stated that Orthodoxy rejects non-Orthodox philosophies. Nonetheless, the headline writer's carelessness was reproduced nationwide—with predictable results. The New York Times even allotted op-ed space for an expression of umbrage at the rabbis' alleged statement.

"So I'm not Jewish after all," began the piece, written by Jewish movie producer Marty Kaplan.

The Los Angeles Times correction appeared two days after the original article and was allotted two column inches on page 3.

The pain and anger that followed in the wake of the misreportage are keenly felt even today—and the distortion the headline trumpeted continues to be perpetuated by certain Jewish organizations and religious leaders, and the press.

The New Israel Fund, for example, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times (and in numerous Jewish publications) a year ago that declared in its "grabber," which took up more than half the page, "It's time for American Jews to tell the Israeli Government exactly what we are. Jews."

"Who are [haredim] to define who are the only authentic Jews?" fumed Reform Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, in the Hartford Courant on February 3, 1999.

And a graphically outrageous cartoon in the Los Angeles Times portrays a menacing Der Sturmer-style silhouette of an identifiably religious Jew's hat and earlocks atop a broken-armed menorah with the caption "Only I am a Jew."

In New York City, in the summer of 1996, a man identified only as Yossi claimed that the biblical institution of concubinage was being revived in the Orthodox community. In the Bible, Israelite men with wives—predominantly kings—took legal mistresses. The practice had allegedly become widespread in New York, although it has been in disuse among Jews for several thousand years, rendered both impractical by secular laws and inadvisable by traditional Judaism's ideal of monogamous relationships. Yossi reportedly had a concubine service, christened with the rather ironic name Shalom Bayis (peace in the home), and claimed that he had serviced hundreds of satisfied—though unidentified—customers. The press was all eyes and ears—and keyboards.

Without so much as even a last name to go with, and no real substantiation (Yossi did eventually make one purported concubine available for interviews), everyone from the JTA to the BBC, from the Washington Post to somewhat less staid publications such as Marie Claire, reported on the concubine trend as if it were established fact.

It was not, of course, and Yossi is now nowhere to be found.

As it turns out, one year prior to the coverage of the concubine trend, Yossi had also managed to fool the press into swallowing a story about a flood of Orthodox child betrothals.

The duped included the New York Times, which ran three separate articles on the issue over the spring of 1995. "Only a few cases of minor betrothal have surfaced in New York in recent months," the Times said on May 27, "but they are enough to cause concern the practice is spreading."

In a JTA report, Yossi claimed that the biblical practice of kedushei ketana (betrothal of a minor) had been revived.

Orthodox men involved in messy divorces were marrying off their young daughters—but withholding the names of the new husbands as a means of protecting themselves, the story went. The Times quotes an unnamed Shalom Bayis spokesman who explained the phenomenon this way: "Men who refuse to give ghets [divorces] are often hounded, threatened, and even beaten up by their wives' backers ... but if a husband holds knowledge precious to his daughter's future, he can trust, at least, that he won't be killed." The paper reported details of one such case, that of an 11-year-old girl, who was only spared "a future of spinsterhood" by a ruling of Orthodox judges.

The JTA report described the details of only one alleged case; the New York Jewish Week upped the ante to two.

But the JTA, paraphrasing Yossi, reported that "at least 20 girls have been betrothed by their fathers in the past several months alone." The Times also reported that there might be as many as 20 such cases, citing the unnamed Shalom Bayis source.

Yet no other specific cases were ever subsequently described.

With a bit of perspective born of hindsight, the Forward, in an editorial, rhetorically asked, "Just who is this renegade group [Shalom Bayis]?" and drolly answered: "Its spokesman, who goes by the name Yossi, claims that it has some 100 member rabbis—all of whom insist on anonymity."

Yet despite the utter lack of substantiation (which would surely condemn any other similarly outlandish story to most respectable newsroom shredders), and despite condemnation of the practice by dozens of respected Orthodox rabbis, this story persevered.

But perhaps nowhere is the media bias against Orthodoxy more evident than in the reporting of internal political matters in Israel. It is routine to read that the Orthodox seek to disenfranchise other Jews in the Jewish state when all that is really happening (and has happened for the more than 50 years of Israel's existence) is that attempts are being made to maintain conversion standards accepted by all religious Jews for millennia. The rather straightforward and reasonable notion that multiple standards for conversion will yield multiple Jewish peoples in Israel is seldom given expression in news reports; only the "Orthodox monopoly"—with evil and unfair undertones—is blamed. The United States government maintains standards, too, for everything from food labeling to immigration. Seldom, though, does one find either the Food and Drug Administration or the Immigration and Naturalization Service condemned as a monopoly. Is it outrageous for the Jewish state to have a standard—not to mention one with the weight of history and Jewish religious tradition behind it—for conversion?

Whether or not one agrees with the Orthodox position is beside the point; its basis is seldom explored in the media.

Moreover, the Orthodox alone are faulted for their inability to accept the validity of other groups' conversion rituals. The Conservative movement's own conversion standards require it to consider most, if not all, Reform conversions ineffective. Likewise, the Reform movement, despite its declared commitment to personal autonomy, will not include Humanistic Judaism or Hebrew Christian congregations under its umbrella, as the Central Conference of American Rabbis made clear in a published responsum available on the CCAR Internet site (www.ccarnet.org). In the responsa committee's words, "There are limits."

In fact, Jews born to Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers who do not affiliate Jewishly are considered full Jews by Orthodoxy but not by the Reform movement. This was pointed out by Reform philanthropist Robert Lappin in a June 25, 1999 Forward essay.

Yet only the Orthodox are pilloried for their principles.

The press's selective vision regarding the Orthodox manifested itself when the Orthodox held a prayer gathering in lower Manhattan on February 28, 1999. Though it was a mere two days before Purim, 40,000 Jews, mostly haredim, gathered in a bone-chilling rain for an hour and a half to pray and recite psalms. The gathering was called in response to the Israeli Supreme Court decisions that the Orthodox felt threatened to dismantle the Jewish state's religious status quo.

Forty thousand men, women, and children united in heartfelt prayer. The press was well aware of this unprecedented gathering, but most chose to ignore it. The New York Times ran no article, only a photo with the caption "20,000 Vent Anger Against Israeli Court." The Times might be forgiven for disregarding the official police estimate and undercounting the crowd by half, but "anger"? Not a single word written or spoken at any point by the event's organizers, or by any of those who led the crowd in heartfelt prayer for the preservation of Jewish tradition in the Jewish state, could remotely be characterized as angry. They were haredim, though, and so they had to be angry, no?

The press presumed anger because it alone is regularly reported about haredim; responsible haredi reactions are not.

On August 12, 1997, for example, a piece about a Kotel confrontation by the New York Times's Greenberg began, "Jeered by strictly Orthodox Jews who called them 'Hamas,' 'terrorists,' and 'Christians,' about 150 Conservative and Reform Jewish men and women were shoved away from the Western Wall by the police ... "

The rest of the article featured a number of statements from members of the Reform and Conservative activist groups, but none from an Orthodox spokesperson. When I asked Mr. Greenberg why, he responded that "there was no need to interview the strictly Orthodox people at the scene because they were making their views amply and loudly known. I reported their remarks extensively." His reference, I confirmed with a careful rereading of the article, was to the rude jeers.

It was then, I think, that I had a revelation of sorts. I understood clearly why the Times's man on the scene had not bothered to follow journalistic norms (or the rules of fair play) by quoting a responsible Orthodox spokesperson or noting any of the well-publicized warnings against violence issued by respected haredi leaders: He didn't want to.

Much of the anti-Orthodox animus—from the exaggerated reports to the entirely fabricated ones, from the principle pillorying to the subtle name-calling—should sound sadly familiar. They echo something all too well known to students of Jewish history. The way the Orthodox are portrayed and projected today is painfully reminiscent of the way all Jews have been portrayed by their enemies. Tragically, the Orthodox have become the Jews' own Jew

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too bad that we never learn what Sinat Chinam does to us.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

i disagree with your approval of the el al boycott. from my post on this issue:

1) The unintended consequence of such a boycott could be that El Al will simply decide that the time has come to inaugurate regular Shabbat flights. One of the Israeli papers reported a few days ago (I can’t look for the link now) that a study commissioned by the airline indicates that the loss of the haredi customer base could be offset with new revenue by commencing Shabbat flights.

2) At some point the non-religious public will get so fed up with being “bullied” that some elements may call for their own anti-haredi boycotts. Will proponents of the current boycott continue then to argue that a boycott is a legitimate expression of communal protest?

3) Most importantly, is a boycott really the best way to draw Israelis closer to observance? (Or worse yet, will it produce the opposite result?)

http://agmk.blogspot.com/2006/12/potpourri-el-al-seattle-menorah.html

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I drove into Manhattan via the Midtown Tunnel with my son last week and he was treated to a completely inappropriate show of flesh from one huge, five-story billboard after another of half-dressed (and in one case, completely undressed - I kid you not) women"

I know I'm straying from this (very serious) topic, which is too far out of this galaxy for me to comment on, but I wanted to comment on OM's above quote.

Last week, my GPS led me astray trying to find the Jewish Children's Museum of Brooklyn. On one building there was a HUGE billboard of a woman who was more than half naked. My kids started giggling and when I realized what they were laughing at, I was shocked beyond belief.

I am not ortho, this is a problem for all decent parents trying to keep their kids kids. Is there no decency in advertising left at all?

Sorry to hijack the thread.

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