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. George

    This is a case where secular society is trying to put down conservative religious values. I admire these ultra-orthodox Israelis for their strict morality. I'm glad that they are standing up for themselves.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Psycho Christian, Qu'est-ce Que C'est?

      Spitting on people who don't obey you is your idea of morality? Well, that fits you, George.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • George

      I don't necessarily agree with their tactics, but I'm glad they are standing up and trying to bring morality to Israeli society.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Bozobub

      You're going to have to explain how their views are in any way moral before I'll buy THAT one, buster.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      Moral is as moral does. Somehow, calling names, throwing vegetables and rocks, and spitting don't seem moral in any way, nor designed to get the abused to change their ways. I suspect it makes those who are abused more determined to maintain their ways. And George, calling a woman a harlot because she isn't wearing the right kind of wig cannot be called moral by any sane person.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  2. SANE


    I am Jewish and these people do not, and I repeat, do not represent me, my views, or my faith. These are sick people who have been brain washed by their religious leaders, and cannot think on their own, nor outside the box. We are living in the 21th Century, with the threat of wars, and such, these people will not fight, but will take Government hand outs. They keep having more and more children because their so called reigious leaders say that is the way to take over the world.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • musings

      If they get the upper hand, you will be spitting into the wind, just like today's moderate Moslems have to do when everyone thinks all Moslems are the same.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • jon love

      i agree with you 100%. i am a 17 year jew from nyc. i love religion but she ultra crazy people are brain washed and its not their fault it just happened. people get crazy from being hunted down their whole lives to be murdered. i understand why they are protective and i have sympathy for them but its a little to extreme. look at me and you'll see im just a normal american. people look at me and they dont even know that im jewish. thinks have to change for the good

      December 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  3. musings

    Guess it isn't only Moslems who go overboard with their aggression.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  4. Will

    You people want to hear hate? I'll give you hate. These people need to be shot dead in the street like the rabid dogs that they are. It's them or us. I choose us....

    December 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • MHindin

      Shooting people dead in the streets solves all problems? Sounds like 1930's Germany. Or the Tea Party conservative extremists I unfortunately met. I don't appreciate anyone forcing their religious or political beliefs on anyone else period.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  5. Peikovianii

    Religious fanatics are bad, and religion is a myth some people live by. Israel is a secular state, the religious types do not control the government, and they do not represent the majority. This sect of Judaism is terrible, but they do not require holy wars of conversion. As lunatics go, there is far worse everywhere else in the region. They are only wasting their own time.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  6. john

    at least they are not beheading people like the Muslims . additionally this is a very small minority within the ultra orthodox community,overall the orthodox Jewish community like in America are good people that take their religion very seriously,I know allot of orthodox Jewish people here in new york they are the nicest people in the world and real god fearing people unlike their liberal secular Jewish friends

    December 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm |


      December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Will

      They would behead people if they thought they could get away with it and weren't too wimpy to face the consequences. There is no difference between these people and the extremists in Islam or Christianity. None.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • collins61

      There's a huge difference you nitwit. Jew and Christian are not taught in their respective holy books that murdering and subjugating others is the path to heaven. Did you kind of forget that one?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • musings

      Sad. Collins61 just hasn't read the Bible (Old Testament) or studied the Spanish Inquisition either. For some of us, history started on 9/11 and all that went before it is forgotten.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  7. john

    at least they are not beheading people like the Muslims . additionally this is a very small minority within the ultra orthodox community,overall the orthodox Jewish community like in America are good people that take their religion very seriously,I know allot of orthodox Jewish people here in new york they are the nicest people in the world and real god fearing people unlike their liberal secular Jewish friends at ACLU

    December 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm |


      December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • musings

      "At least they are not beheading people" – that sure is conceding a lot to these fanatics who attack women. You must be a man.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm |



    December 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • collins61

      Give it a little time. The story is about Jew on Jew. Unlike Islam news stories which is always about Muslims blowing up or beheading innocent infidels. Can you see the difference or are you one of the latter?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:34 pm |


      Dude, hate = hate.

      and we only know what the news tell us or whatever information Israel chose to release.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • collins61

      Dude, thats the way news is everywhere. Why would Israel be different?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  9. Reality

    Dear Ultra-Orthodox Jews,

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    December 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • .........

      hit report abuse on reality garbage

      December 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      @..... Please provide your citation to show that this is incorrect. My own research (and I am not Christian, Muslim or Jew) shows that the archaeologists haven't located anything that proves the bible or any other holy book is verifiable.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm |



    December 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Dan613

      Well, true, picking on jews isn't tat catchy as picking on Muslims....

      December 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • collins61

      How many Jews burned churches to the ground this month? Muslims? See the difference?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  11. mak123

    Every country has their own extremists. Its a matter of showing the nutjobs and the normal ones to give a full picture.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  12. Dan613

    Why do they need to dress the same hat, the same hair style, the same colour, the same way?? W-E-I-R-D !!

    December 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Donna S.

      The Fundamentalist Mormons, The Amish and the Mennonites also dress eerily similiar. It's really weird.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • just sayin

      so does the army, air force, navy and marines. Do you suppose?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  13. David Johnson

    From the article:

    "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."

    Looks like they are having the same problem as we are. The big difference, is that the Jewish religious nuts at least follow their god's will. Our Christian Right are nuts, but also are not Christians.

    Ladies, don't let your children grow up to be Evangelicals. Don't let this nation go down the drain.

    Evangelicals make me want to puke!


    December 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • collins61

      How many Christians have spat on you or your children this week?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel, Very Anti-Haredim

      David, I don't see your contrast between Evangelicals and the extreme Orthodox, who I do not view at all as "following God's will" (which is what?) To me, they are a disgrace to Judaism and violate its basic emphasis on care, justice, and concern for others. Incidentally, for those who do not know this, Judaism is not a religion of belief (only one = one God), but of action or practice. The ultra-Haredim take this practice to such an extreme that it destroys the moral and ethical core of Judaism. Israelis are only now beginning to realize this.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      @collins61 – Try attending a military funeral complete with Westboro Baptist Church members. Abuse (and spittle) are pretty free-flowing, from what I understand.

      December 27, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  14. bannister

    In Israel, the Jews want gender segregation.
    In America, Jewish attorneys like Gloria Allred will sue anyone with even a HINT of gender discrimination!

    In Israel, the Jews want racial segregation.
    In America, Jewish groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center will prosecute the slightest incident of racial discrimination!

    In Israel, Jews demand secure borders (and use American money to enforce those borders)
    In America, Jews support open borders, illegal immigration and multiculturalism!

    In Israel, Jews proudly display their religion in the public square.
    In America, Jewish groups like the ACLU will SUE Americans for publicly displaying a nativity scene!

    Are you starting to see a pattern here, my fellow Americans?

    December 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • john

      great comment and true. the problem is cnn will not tell u that these Orthodox people in Israel are a Small minority of orthodox Jews,that are shunned by the rest of the ultra orthodox Jewish community in Israel

      December 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • MHindin

      What pattern do you propose? The United States is a secular nation with religious freedom for all. Israel is a religious nation.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  15. thefrumpeter

    Apparently ultra orthodox jews don't remember the scenes leading up to the holocaust. We no longer have any place in this world for people who want to put their religious beliefs above the collective. Religion and Stupidity have always been synonymous, people like these just continue to prove that point.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  16. Richard

    Fundamentalists on any side should be arrested.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      First we have to make fundamentalism illegal – then you can arrest as many as you want. Can you imagine all the citizen arrests you could make at a large fundamentalist church?

      December 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  17. Nic

    Those are some sick, ignorant and inbred people. They really should stir that genetic pot a little because, 'whoa–they do not look well,'. What a tragedy for a girl to born into a world of men so weak that they have to "imprison" their women.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • collins61

      Wait, was this about Islam?

      December 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  18. teremist

    No one has the right to impose their beliefs on another. No man may rise by stepping on another: both will sink into the mire. Any belief system that diminishes women in favor of men, has no favor with God.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  19. The Central Scrutinizer

    Do they have mirrors?

    December 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • collins61

      Love your name. Love your nails.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. KSam

    All monotheistic religions will agree to the belief that, every individual human being on this earth will be responsible for his/her actions in the day of judgement, and not be liable to answer to other people's deeds. So, I don't understand why then people force their beliefs or way of life on to others?? It's totally fine to invite others or teach others about your faith, but not to be arrogant and force others to live by your values, because then you are truly not following your religion! God doesn't want you to force others to live like you! This is a give away, any person even without religious belief should know that!

    December 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Cool, how does that work for Kathenotheists? I just worship whatever feels right on any given day.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • shah

      well said, you are absolutely right sir.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
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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.