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. man tan

    Can' we just get along? Why are there people in the world who people who are different than they are? I am very sadden by this.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Ooh why did baby get a boo boo, Kiss and make better.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  2. CS: Why can't I type?

    All human beings are equal and deserve to be treated with respect and to be heard in matters of their concern if they wish.

    Some people are mentally ill and must be dealt with by the criiminal or medical systems.

    Children need to be taught a well-rounded education that DOES NOT include religion of any kind, with the exception of history.

    A will educated child that is capable of critical thinking and is educated with the FACTS will most likely not join a cult.

    Outcome: A better world to live in.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  3. vic

    Yeah, it is the Muslim and the Christian faiths that are full of Religious loony tunes. It is the Muslim and Christian faiths that are so intent on stuffing their beliefs down other peoples throats. Yeah.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  4. George

    People are tired of liberal secular values and are standing up. Secularism is going to go down. The writing is on the wall.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Hey Goerge, what do you base that on? I KNOW you won't reply. You NEVER do. You have NOTHING to say.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • George decides to try some of that brain stuff and comes up with one of them idea thingies

      Yes, those steadily increasing numbers sure inply the imminent demise of secularism.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • George

      All I can say is watch and learn. Conservative Christians are poised to gain the largest majority that they have ever enjoyed in the US. Islamic fundamentalists are taking over where formerly there were secular dictators in places such as Libya. Watch the same thing happen in Egypt. And now this story about Judaism. Secularism is on its way out.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      So George, you think the chuch will take over the U.S. Government??

      December 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. The Central Scrutinizer

    All human beings are equal and deserve to be treated with reapect and to be heard in matters of their concern if they wish.

    Some people are mentally ill and must be dealt with by the criiminal or medical systems.

    Children need to be taught and a well-rounded education that DOES NOT include religion of any kind, with the exception of history.

    A will educated child that is capable of critical thinking and is educated with the FACTS will most likely not join a cult.

    Outcome: A better world to live in.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Petesamson

    Hitler was exterminating all the Jews, based on what Ultras did and how they behaved in Europe. Honestly, I would be scared of them, judging by the funny hats they wear. They gotta be under average intelligence, and as such makes them very dangerous. Same as taliban.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • George

      Right, because hats are always a measure of one's intelligence.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      George, aren't you a Republican? Them's fight'n words in Texas!

      Follow up question, don't you ever get tired of being the dumbest person on the blogs?

      December 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      George, aren't you a Republican? Them's fight'n words in Texas!!

      Follow up question, don't you ever get tired of being the dumbest person on the blogs?

      December 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      George, aren't you a Republican? Them's fight'n words in Texas!!!

      Follow up question, don't you ever get tired of being the dumbest person on the blogs?

      December 26, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      You see how it is escelating? The Texas Guvs are BAD news....

      December 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  7. liberals go away!!!

    Yeap, Dow Jones predicted Jewish illuminati way back in 2008 computer chart. They foresaw Jewish rabbi becoming more radical than American jews and jews. They hate them.

    Orthodox Jewish Communists and Inspired by Karl Marxist movement.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Karl Marxist?

      Words fling you most strangely! Feculence!

      December 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Smote asunder!. Verily?

      December 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  8. mysteryrighter64

    If its about hate, its not about God.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • So you are a righter, are you? Right lots of mysteries?

      Actually, God does lot's of hating in the Bible and the Koran, as well as a great many other religious traditions.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  9. SPLAT!~

    Cool hats, look a little tight tho!~

    December 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Religion: The Great Anti-Fashion

      If you think the hats are tight, wait until you see their panties!

      Okay, you may want to wait a LONG time before you see that.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  10. Conchitumadre

    I am sorry guys, but where the heck do you live? That behavior occurs in our backyard also... just visit a jew neighborhood and you will see how man treat their slaves... I am sorry... their wives! The poor things have to walk behind their husbands AND sons with their daughters or alone...

    December 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Josh

      well, i think it is obvious your hatred of Jewish people extends further then this. However, just so you know...this happens in many cultures. Some closer than you think. If you paused from your Xbox or reality shows long enough...you might pick up on a few things.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Sorry, have plenty of Jewish friends, and their wives would murder them for trying. Bigotry fail.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • JohnR

      I've known a lot of Jewish women and not one would put up with this. If you are talking ultra Orthodox communities, on the other hand, you aren't totally off the mark, but the ultra Orthodox in Israel have been unabashed about being openly violent in a way we haven't seen here in the US.

      December 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  11. Jerry

    How can you trust a man waring Pig Tails????

    December 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • nadine

      you cut them off !

      December 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  12. Conchitumadre

    Let's invade the jews so they can learn how to live on a democratic American way as we do in the Arab countries!

    December 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Josh

      your comments only expose how foolish and dumb you are. try not to procreate

      December 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Bozobub

      Invade the Jews..? Ok, fine. WHICH Jews? They don't just live in Israel, doofus.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  13. DDM

    Way to go to make yourselves to look as unworthy and stupid as the backwards m-uslims, you ultra-orthodoxs jews. You'll get the same support as they do – NONE! Too bad. It would be a good idea for you to wake up and join the human race.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Brian

    There are side issues with this. One reason for hyper religiosity in Israel is that some people use it as a means to dodge the draft. Abolish the draft and this problem would vanish for the most part.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  15. J

    The women need to kick these men's asses, pull their beards off, and spit on them. Then they will stop. Don't get scared, ladies. Get angry.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  16. Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel, Very Anti-Haredim

    This is an interesting and troubling situation. Most Israelis are secular (believe it or not), unlike the woman described in this article. They have, until now, tended to be rather indifferent to the rising power and influence of the ultra-Orthodox and haven't appreciated how the latter could actually lead to the elimination of a modern democratic Israel. The Supreme Court has acted well in supporting human and civil rights, even when the Israeli government has objected to some of their decisions. Organizations like Peace Now, B'Tselem, the New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, etc. have tried to counter the influence of the ultra-Haredim, only to be censured by the Israeli government. Netanyahu's actions cited here are admirable but do not reflect his long-standing hypocrisy. He, himself, is a secular Jew, but he has cultivated extreme Orthodox support for political reasons. Now may be he can begin to see what this is doing to Israeli democracy.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  17. elreyJones

    Evangelicals have been fools for worshiping these idiots. I am my own evangelist and I'm converting the evangelicals with truth so that they quit worshiping these idiots. Worship God. Love America. Israel is composed of fools, idiots, and bolsheviks. Nothing there that mankind needs.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  18. mike from iowa

    Jewish terrorism. Christians, Jews and Muslims are the sickest people on the planet. These are all part of the same insane religion that encourages hatred and violence, and yet they think they are full of "god's love." Religion is a mental disease.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • elreyJones

      You are correct. Hindus have to be thrown in there as well.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Josh

      Throwing rotten fruit doesn't qualify as terror. Either way, you simply prefer killing in the name of greed and power? Religion isn't the genesis of the violence you refer too....it is the hate that is buried inside the person. Religion is the cloak

      December 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  19. JKale

    Extremist muslims, extremist jews, no difference. And the country of Israel will not be orthodox at the end because it's very existence is safe guarded by Americans, and the bulk of American jews are not orthodox and will not support a country of people who don't consider them jewish or jewish enough for their liking.

    December 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Josh

      I would say there is a slight difference....that whole "mass murder" concept. Hamas' charter calls for the death of all Jews. They blindly shoot rockets at homes and schools. They break into homes and murder entire families (babies included). They walk into a cafe or on a bus and blow up a bomb. A women's head was cut off in Saudi Arabia for "witchcraft". In Libya they threw out all the Jews. In Iran, if a Jewish person wants to visit Israel, that is a crime and you will be arrested. FYI – these examples are all facts. I didn't make up any of this. So, yes....Ultra Orthodox Jews are obnoxious pr!!!!cks. However, I wouldn't go as far to lump them in the "barbarian" category aka Extreme / Radical Islam.

      December 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Infidel

      @ Josh, there is no different, they are all extremist...

      December 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Josh

      Sigh....I guess thinking isn't part of your MO. There is a massive difference, but I can't help you understand. Carry on with your ignorance.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • collins61

      Josh is correct.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  20. gwats

    These Ultra-Orthodox Jews don't see that they are doing the very same thing that they criticize the Muslims next door for? You cannot suppress the rights of Women simply because you're not MAN enough to handle those lovely Jewish ladies one on one. In Israel, Women serve in the military, vote, and one exceptional lady even led your Nation in War. Accept them as equals and partners. God knows they've earned it with their very life's blood, and you are PIGS not to accept that! I hope your secular Government locks you sorry a$$es up till you see the light. Jewish Women are NOT subject to your narrow minded views!

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

      Exactly and they will play the race card and the holocaust card all the time.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:13 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.