December 26th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Ultra-Orthodox demands spark debate in Israel

By Guy Azriel and Kevin Flower, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN)–Eight-year-old Naama Margolis is afraid to walk to school.

She's afraid, her mother says, because life has become a nightmare for anyone who doesn't follow the edicts of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who have flocked in recent years to their city of 80,000 just outside of Jerusalem.

"They threaten everyone in town over everything they don't like," Hadassah Margolis told CNN on Monday. "We have suffered swearing, they have had eggs, tomatoes, stink bombs and rocks thrown at us. They do this to anyone who doesn't think, look or act as they do."

"I'm afraid when one of them passes by me," she earlier told Israel's Channel 2 "I don't know if he will spit on me or will curse me 'whore', 'slut', "bastards" 'go away from here' - exactly in those words."

The Margolis family, whose story was detailed Friday in a nationwide television broadcast, is the latest in a series of high-profile examples of what critics say are attempts by groups within Israel's ultra-Orthodox community to impose its religious beliefs on the public and excise women from the public sphere.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

Last week, for instance, a young Israeli woman made headlines when she detailed her experience refusing a ultra-Orthodox man's demands that she sit in the back of a bus. Several well-publicized rallies have also voiced opposition to various forms of gender segregation favored by the ultra-Orthodox.

In addition to demanding more modesty and trying to segregate bus passengers, ultra-Orthodox Jews have posted unofficial signs in some neighborhoods commanding men and women to walk on different sides of the street.

The issue has prompted responses from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who broached the topic Sunday for the fourth time in two weeks.

He ordered officials to take down the street signs and promised a stiff response to harassment, saying that Israel was a democratic, western and liberal state.

"There is no place for harassment or discrimination," he said.

The issue has played prominently in the Israeli press for weeks, and much of the debate has centered on Beit Shemesh, where the Margolis family lives.

In recent years, an influx of adherents to what critics say are the most extreme sects in ultra-Orthodox Judaism has inflamed tensions with other residents holding less strident views.

The Margolis family practice Orthodox Judaism, but are not considered strict enough by the extreme ultra-Orthodox faction in the community.

"I am not anti-religious, anti-Orthodox or anti-secular" Hadassah Margolis said, "I am anti-bad people and they are bad. They need to be taken out of here."

In the television report aired Friday, one unidentified ultra-Orthodox resident was asked whether he wanted the entire city to become religious.

"Not just Beit Shemesh - all of Israel will be ultra-Orthodox," he replied. "And nothing can help you. The country, at the end, will be an ultra-Orthodox country whether you want it or not."

In response to growing tensions in the city, Israeli police and the Beit Shemesh officials announced a plan to install more than 300 security cameras to document harassment.

Police also have deployed extra officers to prevent violence, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Two suspects were arrested in separate incidents this week. One man spat at a passing woman. Another tried to attack television crews covering the events.

Much of the public debate in Israel has centered on who is to blame for the situation, with most holding the government responsible for ceding too much power to religious parties.

But much of the responsibility lies with Israel society, said activists who have worked on gender segregation issues.

"I believe while this government is responsible to the situation to a degree, they are not the only ones" says Shira Ben-Sasson Fustenberg of the New Israeli Fund. "All of us are to blame for not stopping this from happening when it first started, we could have taken a stand a long time ago."

Israelis outraged about the incident in Beit Shemesh have planned a candle-light protest Tuesday in support of residents there.

"There is a sense that extreme margins in the Israeli society are growing in confidence." event planner Tzviki Levin told Israel radio.

"There is an attempt to deny freedom and values of democracy, the values on which the state of Israel was created," she said. "The rally tomorrow is our way of making a strong statement."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Israel • Judaism

soundoff (470 Responses)
  1. Josh

    Sounds like the GOP

    December 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      It IS the GOP

      December 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Talk to the Dems about how they feel about the Jewish ppl around election time.

      December 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  2. Carrie

    ROFL Welcome to the new Nazi state! After reading this I don’t want to hear another word about the holocaust. This sounds like what Jewish people described when talking about how they were treated on the streets of Germany at the start of WWII. As an American I now refuse to spend another dime on Israel. If I wanted to support the mistreatment and segregation of women, I would give it to Muslims in Saudi Arabia.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • nepawoods

      Every religion has their extremists. That Israel has some is no reason to call them a Nazi state. Your problem with Jews obviously goes way before this news item.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Josh

      Hardly Carrie. Please try to control yourself...as you sound like a complete fool. This is a small sect of people that need to get their values in check. Comparing this small population who throw rotten fruit and demand (horrific) segregation....hardly qualify as a country responsible for the death of 6 million Jews. And if none of that works....those who forget history....do you know the rest. I would think a little more before you expose your hastly and foolish comments.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      The haters on here just love calling Israelis the Nazis. Shock value...it's what the haters live off of.

      December 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  3. John Q. Public Sr

    These ultra-orthodox Jews are destroying the democratic nature of Israel. I don't wish to visit Israel now. It is becoming as oppressive as Islamist regimes in Arab States. Either these countries are going to exist in the 21st Century or face irrelevance in terms of relations with Western nations as we move forward. There is no room for barbarism in this era.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  4. luckluc

    just wait for more reported if allowed to come out. this just the a very small leak to the media. US media hides 99% of the hate reports that relates to that part of the world. If the Israeli tv didn't broadcast you would not even see this on the US news.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Good Lord, even more cold and flu symptoms.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Rahul

    Wow, after reading this I'm so glad to be Buddhist!

    December 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • 21k

      and you have such an easy hairstyle compared to these guys. not sure that look is working for the guy in the center of the photo.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  6. 21k

    hey, whoever said that xtians and muslims had cornered the market on religious nuts? they come in all brands.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Am I the ONLY one concered that there is and awful lot of spitting and phleming going on in that picture alone and it IS cold and flue season!

      December 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • 21k

      yeah, but no chickens in the photo, so won't be too bad, central. hauka! hauka!

      December 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      God dam chickens!

      December 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Ironicus

      No, UD/Central, you are not the only one. Spitting is assault. Considering all the germs and viruses, it should be felony assault.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Thanks Ironicus. Plus it just plain disgusting.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Perhaps what they need IS some UNGODLY DISCIPLINE!

      December 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  7. George

    Religion isn't the problem, it's the people.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • DumpRelion


      December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • 21k

      you can't have the religion without the people, george. religious leaders need someone to bully and take money from.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • A George by so many other names

      The people ARE the religion, dumb-dumb.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Sure, bad people will do bad things regardless of what religion they follow, but without the religion what sort of motivations would they have? And without religion, where would they get these crazy ideas? Religion is just one thing that must be dealt with. Crazy people are another. You, George, fall into both groups.
      Can we execute you? I mean, would you mind it terribly if we just came over and executed you? Because your religion says to execute all non-believers, just like Muslims, and you are not following all the rules, therefore you should be executed for heresy. Heresy, George. The Catholics would love to burn you alive because you're a protestant. As far as they're concerned you're going to HELL and just need a little push.
      Are you saying that as long as you ignore your religion you won't do the bad things it tells you to do?
      You can't have it both ways.
      Either you have a bad religion and you do everything it says or you ignore the fact that it's bad and do whatever you want to do anyway as you cherry-pick your way through life.
      In either case you'd be wrong to follow it in the first place.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • George

      The bible says that men should love their women, as God loves the church.

      December 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • George

      @Ironicus, My bad I'm not the same George as the other guy I'm the one who put this post up. The other George is somebody else. But there is nowhere in the bible that says non-believers should be executed. It says to preach them the gospel and win them over.

      December 27, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  8. muddiggermom

    good grief. if it isn't the muslims, it's the christians, if it isn't the christians, it's the jews....anything ultra-conservative in the religious sense smacks of fanaticism. and people get hurt and killed and there is no peace to be found....why these jews acting like they're good germans in the 1930' and 40's?

    December 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  9. dann

    Yet more reasons why ALL religions should be abolished

    December 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • muddiggermom

      I agree 1000% yep one thousand percent...

      December 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • JohnR

      So, you're gonna fight intolerance with some equal and opposite intolerance. What a maroon.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  10. tingle

    no one likes these guys in Israel. Israelis built a statue of King David playing a harp outside his tomb. They destroyed it for fear it might "be prayed to like an idol" This angered off a lot of people. These ultra orthodox make up less then 2% of Israel's population.
    I mean maybe a few Catholic tourists might pray to it as an icon but I seriously doubt any Jew would pray to it.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  11. Iskam

    I do have a problem with the argument advanced by Benjamin Netanyahu, namely that Israel is a democratic, western and liberal state. BENJAMIN is WRONG: Israel should normally be a an autocratic, eastern and conservative state, which is in line with the original Israel and which is what the Ultra-Orthodox are wanting it to be.

    To begin with, the true and original Israel society was NEVER democratic. It was always kings and kings and kings...when they chose Saul by themselves because he apparently had desirable physical features, things went terribly wrong. So the idea of Israel being a democratic society should be separated and forgotten.

    Israel is western: NO, it should be an eastern society. That's why Israel is not accepted in the Middle-East, they look as though they were an intrusion because they are trying to behave western: naked women on the beach, no respect for nudity, social, Jewish customs...and so on

    Israel is NOT a liberal state: As outlined in the Korah or the old testament in the bible, the Jewish people is commanded to live in a conservative manner. NO LIBERALISM.

    The Ultra-Orthodox Jews are right about what they want for Israel. If the whole society becomes Jewish, they will live in harmony with other middle-east countries at least in terms of the image they'd project, they'd look as though they belonged to where they are now... but then they'd still have the Palestinians to deal with.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • JohnR

      Well, besides the obvious idiocy of assuming that a Jewish state must be a Jewish theocracy (or theologically endorsed monarchy), you are also wrong about how accepted a culturally conservative Israel would be. There have been culturally conservative Jews throughout the Middle East who emigrated to Israel precisely because they were NEVER accepted in lands in which they lived for centuries.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  12. Propgandhi

    Wow, extremist, racist, women-hating jews. Sickly creatures.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      You have a little.....yeah right there....just a little something.....there you got it. Just wipe on off on Benyamin.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • yfpnb

      @the central: what??

      December 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      It was just little drool. You got it. Eh, what can you do?

      December 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  13. JohnR

    Ultra-Orthodox = Ultra-Narrow-Minded and Ultra-Bigoted, regardless of which religion's orthodoxy you adhere to.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Roscoe Chait

      JohnR. I agree. Doesn't matter which religion–Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. Ultra Orthodox or Fundamentalist groups always act like fascists. They think they know what's best for everybody else and will swear at you, beat you or kill you to make their points. Makes you wonder if the world would be better off without religion, where human beings would take personal responsibility for their behavior and treat everyone else like they wish to be treated.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • George

      The bigotry that I've seen displayed by atheists is unrivaled by any religious. God hates lukewarm believers.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      George. Prove it. Why, when, what. You have no answers. You contribute nothing but hatred.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JohnR

      How many atheists have you seen spitting on little girls walking to school, George?

      December 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Roscoe Chait

      Gee, George. Amazing how you personally know what God likes or dislikes. You are one of the brainwashed who hasn't learned to think for himself. The issue in this article has nothing to do with atheists. It has to do with Jim Jones type ignoramuses who would drink the poisoned punch without asking why.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • vjpgh

      George – God doesn't hate anybody...! He made all of us in his likeness, right?!

      December 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  14. mary

    What the He**? Food for thought For all you extremists out there if it weren’t for women you won’t be able to procreate and continue some of your ‘old fashioned’ ‘ridiculous and “barbaric laws”, so I would think twice before enacting them any further!!!!

    December 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  15. Ironicus

    I like how this is being dealt with very energetically by Israel. There was an immediate outcry and thousands of people protesting within hours of this news. Religious laws should not trump a nation's laws or why have any at all?
    Anyone can come up with a religious law and interpret it any way they like. You can't do that with a properly written secular law.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  16. George

    I don't know why C.N.N. runs these stories that cast religion in a negative light. The real enemy is not ultra Orthodox Judaism, not Islam, and not Christianity. The real enemy is atheism.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • An observation.

      Lord almighty George...the answer to fanaticism is reason, not more fanaticism.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mirosal

      Atheists are not to blame for this at all. Read the story. Do you want to declare 'jihad' against Atheists?

      December 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • More Creepy Religion

      Why would atheism be an enemy? That makes no sense at all. All atheists have ever asked is that you provide proof for the assertions you make – and no proof has even been given – and that you do not force your religion down their throats, as the Constitution clearly states.

      Let's hear your "enemy" theory. It should be a doozy!

      December 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Oh, George. Again with the lying and the hate. I suspect you're terrified of atheists because your religion is all you have. If you weren't such a nasty person, I'd feel sorry for you.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      If the few atheists that exist were eliminated the world would be a better and safer place. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things. Had someone made a worldwide law ridding the world of atheists 4000 years ago that was continually enforced millions if not billions of victims and their descendants would be alive today. Not a bad trade off for a few ne'er do wells.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Ironicus

      George, do you think there is nothing negative about religion after all those articles?
      After all the proof that stares you in the face day after day? Seriously?
      This is just another proof that religions have no redeeming characteristics and will always be used for extremism.
      Atheists aren't your enemies. You are your own worst enemy. Jesus would be ashamed of you.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      George, what did an Athiest ever do to you so that you have such a venomous dislike for people with a non-religious based belief set?

      December 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Luv dem kristyans!

      So inconvenient, you think that the murder of 161 million people is a good idea? How Christian of you!

      December 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Larry Quinze

      I don't remember this story mentioning any atheists at all. In fact most atheists are nowhere near as violent and virulent as these rude fundamentalist fanatics. Be it Christian/Muslim/Jew what have you, strident abusive hate filled zealots are the ones causing the majority of strife in the world. Read a book once in a while, get informed.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • 4mercy

      Amen, George! God bless you!...and all those non-believers out there!

      December 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • George

      The story doesn't mention atheism at all. I'm just pointing that C.N.N. is posting a lot of negative stories about religion on a belief blog. Enough with them already. Let's have some positvie stories. While I believe that Judiasm and Islam are misguided because Jesus is the one True Way, the fact is that they believe in the same God that I do. However, atheists have no belief and no morality. Hence, I said that atheism is the true enemy.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • ron


      December 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      George sez:
      "I don't know why C.N.N. runs these stories that cast religion in a negative light."
      I'm confused George. Show me one sentance in that artical that sheads a negative light on religion.
      I don't see one.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Mirosal

      @ George ... how can you say Atheists have no morals? We aren't the ones spitting on women in the street. We don't fly planes into buildings. We don't set off car bombs. We do not strap TNT to kids' backs and push them into a crowd. And we do not go knocking on doors, or go on TV, and tell others they MUST repent and see things YOUR way, 'or else' .. but don't forget to send in your money!! ... So tell me, who are the amoral ones again?

      December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      With the 161 million number drop the million and you will be closer to the truth. Eliminate a Stalin or a Pol Pot vs millions or billions of victims? Worth a shot, execution is not murder. The premise was atheism should have always been a capitol offense.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Yes, by all means, go ahead and start executing us. It sure beats listening to you droning on about your fake made-up bullshlt!
      Take me first! I have no reason to live beyond giving you crap for the evil things you do. Yes! Execute me!
      (to make things more interesting, you've got to find me first – and I can pretend to be a believer and you'd never know)

      December 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mirosal

      @ Truth ... first.. the word is CAPITAL offense .. learn to spell ho'monyms, ok? Second, Stalin and Pol Pot used their political power, not Atheism, to condone their (NOT 'there') actions. Pure politics, to remove any threat they saw, real or imagined... and most of it was imagined.They did not do it because of any lack of belief in a deity, they couldn't have cared less about that. It was pure politics.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      Think it through.You are guilty of conspiring to murder God. You are alienating your land and your people from God and dragging innocents down with you. Given the opportunity there is nothing to stop you from becoming the next Stalin or Pol Pot. Preemptive justice is the most humans course.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      Think it through.You are guilty of conspiring to murder God. You are alienating your land and your people from God and dragging innocents down with you. Given the opportunity there is nothing to stop you from becoming the next Stalin or Pol Pot. Preemptive justice is the most humane course.
      sorry spelling error

      December 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Mirosal

      To 'murder' a god is so easy .. simply STOP believing, and they go away. Just ask Zeus Apollo, Thor, et. al. They are all gone, were they 'murdered' as well? And if your 'god' can be murdered, not much of a god is it? You mentioned "pre-emptive justice" .. have you been watching "Minority Report" again? Oh ,,, just one more thing .. (In the words of Detective Columbo)... PLease tell me, just how many times is 'god' mentioned in the US Consti'tution?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • nepawoods

      CNN should not be judging whether the news is negative or positive before reporting it. They should not have a quota. Furthermore, you want more positive stories about religion, but negative stories about atheism. Your claim that atheists have no morals is a negative fantasy. You can't actually personally know many atheists if you believe that.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • An inconvenient truth

      Idolatry already was a capital offense. To discredit those false gods would be a service to God.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  17. More Creepy Religion

    More proof that the more religious you are, the more ultra-dumbass you are.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      There is a good reason for that. George is evidence too. Religion by definition is a form of delusional thinking. The farther you fall into the delustional mind set, the more mentally ill you become. For extremests, insanity has set in.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • 4mercy

      Religion "by definition" is NOT "delusional thinking. Thinking that you are an accident of evolution created solely by molecules accidentally colliding at some point in history is delusional.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • JohnR

      Thinking that evolution means molecules accidentally colliding sometime in history is a perfect example of religious cognitive dysfunction.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      4Mercy, you actually cheered on george. You can't be taken seriously.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  18. HeavenSent

    "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:

    In those days and at that time
    I will cause to grow up to David
    A Branch of righteousness;
    He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
    In those days Judah will be saved,
    And Jerusalem will dwell safely.
    And this is the name by which she will be called:

    Jeremiah 33:14-16

    December 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "that I will continue to delay the performance of that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah but which will never happen but for which you continue to wait in utter ignorance and oblivion:

      In those days and at that time which will never arrive
      I will pretend that I will cause to grow up to David
      A Branch of silliness;
      He shall execute all of you on the earth while ignoring all other living beings on other planets scattered around the…..(oops, I didn’t mean to bring that up…)

      In those days Judah will be shaved,
      And Jerusalem will still be a Hell Hole.
      And this is the name by which she will be called:


      Packers 35 : Bears 21

      December 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      What lovely poetry. Was it written by God? Please let me know; I'd like to send a fan letter.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Eric

    Did the reporters even attempt to interview an ultra-Orthodox Jew for this story, or were they intent only on presenting the opinions of the critics of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, the result was a severely imbalanced "news" story.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Journalists in Israel have interviewed at least two, one of which was arrested later based on the interview.
      They are completely unashamed of spitting on that little girl and are clearly willing to spit on any woman who does not follow every single tiny aspect of their extremist religious cult.

      December 26, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Kevin

      Did you read the entire article? Note: "In the television report aired Friday, one unidentified ultra-Orthodox resident was asked whether he wanted the entire city to become religious."Not just Beit Shemesh – all of Israel will be ultra-Orthodox," he replied. "And nothing can help you. The country, at the end, will be an ultra-Orthodox country whether you want it or not."
      I believe this statement appears to encapsulate the mindset of that group. Their actions provide the further evidence. No need to interview anyone else.

      December 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Ironicus

      Sorry, I got the news first from a Jewish newspaper. Or were you talking to me? *shrug*

      December 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  20. or.anthony

    Many religions have their zealots. Muslims and Christians too.

    December 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      They should all move... to New Zealot...

      December 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.