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. Tsimbi

    Jews- Just Arabs with a different religion.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  2. Unknown

    Its a shame the Muslim and Jewish fanatics are fighting each other, they have a lot in common.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Imminent

    Remember when a similar group in the states edited Hillary Clinton out of a White House photo? They were quickly put in their perspective places. The same has to be done in Israel. In fact, the same applies to any zealots who inflict their will upon another human being.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  4. steven

    I thought they were talking about Islamic fanatics. Seems Islamic and jewish ultras are not that far apart. What is it with religion and women?

    December 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Imminent

      It's my personal belief that women represent compassion and value of life. A woman can literally make a man think twice about his choices. Zealots are often the opposite of this and don't want their only feeling of power stripped away. It's like obsessive compulsive – religious disorder or sorts.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • JohnR

      It's not just Islam and Judaism. Christianity has a long history of fearing and oppressing women. Hindu fanatics have gone nuts over similar issues.

      December 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  5. CanterberryRT

    If the wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish protestors were actually allowed to protest, I wonder which side of the debate they'd come out on. Israel needs to intervene on behalf of those poor women.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  6. Mike


    December 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  7. razzlefrog

    I truly like the way the Israeli government is dealing with this. I know often it is the fashion to maintain the singular political approach where you only criticize and shed negative sentiment, optimism being seen as naive or uninformed – with probably good reason people feel that way – but I wonder if positive reinforcement might be helpful to democracy? The security cameras and added officers and general look-out atmosphere, as well as the statements from their leader expressing, in no uncertain terms, the unacceptability of these ultra-conservatives' actions, are nice to see and offer me hope for the country. They're not pandering to extremism. I wonder if American politicians could be moved to take so firm a stance against religious fundamentalism. Of course, we know the answer to that. I think we could learn a few things from other countries, even when we may believe we have it "better" than them, you know?

    December 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  8. Hypatia

    Fundie a$$hattery is the same regardless of label.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  9. Bob Raffel

    This group represents the lunatic fringe of Judiasm. As is the case with all biblical fundamentalism groups, Jewish or otherwise, they believe that God is on their side. Hence, anything they do is divinely sanctioned, and all others are apostates. It's about time that someone, somewhere, calls their bluff. They represent only themselves, certainly not the larger aspects of their religion, which is anything but narrow and judgemental.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • George

      Calls their bluff? What is that supposed to mean?

      December 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • GonzoG

      They're not bluffing. They are extremists. They have proven thru several incidents in Israel they are willing to kill and do not care about the consequences to themselves.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Imminent

      By calling their bluff, he might mean they're pretending to be divine tough guys who feel they're protected no matter what they do. Obviously, these kinds of zealots are very mistaken. Try that secular garbage here in the U.S.A. and you deserve the inevitable consequence.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • S1N

      The problem is that these loons are much like their extremist Islam counterparts. In other words, they AREN'T bluffing. They need to be crushed quickly and without mercy.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Adam Levy

      Hear, Hear

      December 27, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  10. Donna Leshne

    Uy Gavalt! My greats and grands couldn't wait to rip the "shmatas" off their heads when they got to this country. There is no difference (to me) in having one of my own spit-on and degraded me than it would be for some Sharia Law proponent to push his world view of what "modest" womanhood is supposed to be. Same stuff, different head-gear.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  11. Fay

    Ahhh, yes, fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic, is a dangerous thing. Then again, since violence and hatred spewed in the form of religious doctrine is what has caused the majority of problems in this world, perhaps people should pay closer attention to what they spew in the name of God.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • mollyd

      I work in an industry where I am exposed to the US Ultra-orthodox Jews.......most of the men are dirty....they wear filthy clothes, they have a dozen kids, and a wife so stoned on drugs following him around.....it is so depressing to witness. Girls as young as 20 with 3 kids, another on the way......YIKES.........what a crazy bunch of people......so intolerant, and such women-haters............

      December 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  12. Liberty Queen

    These ultra-orthodox jewish males are terrorists, misogynists and fascists. Let us remind you, boys, you came from between the legs of a strong woman, that would be your Mother, and you can kiss our collective sacred feminine a**-es.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • mollyd

      Love your comment. You are SO right.

      December 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Imminent

      Very colorfully descriptively stated. Odd how fleeting perspective is for zealots like this.

      December 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • james murnane


      December 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • retired fed

      Great reply!! These men are as bad if not worse than the Muslims who preach the same damn crap!!

      December 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  13. Steve

    Meet the Jewish Taliban

    December 26, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • mollyd

      These guys are NO DIFFERENT than the Taliban or the Iranian Muslim extremists.....throwing acid, stones...etc......ALL AGAINST WOMEN............SHAME ON THEM........they are not men of any 'cloth.' They are hate-mongers.........the worst of the bunch are those from the US that move there and behave like this.......ha ha ha .........how ignorant these people are....

      December 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Liberty Queen

      That's right, Steve, these punks are nothing more than the jewish taliban with littler girlie curls dangling from underneath their dorky hats. Little fascists!

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

      Bingo! Jewish Taliban is EXACTLY what this is... the Orthodox jews whos parents and grandparent likely suffered and died through the holocaust now use the same tactics to impose THEIR worldview on those they deem unclean, unfit, and undeserving... I am glad to know the Israeli government is acting to strongly counter these radicals and their outrageous behavior... does not matter if it is Islamic, Jewish, or Christian fundamentalists, the behavior to others and women in particular always seems to be exactly the same... with so much in common perhaps all of the fundamentalists of every religion should all go off and live on some remote island together.. they could just fight and kill each other thill all of them and their intolerant ways are destroyed...

      December 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  14. man tan

    Psssst, Satan is telling the ultra-Orthodox Jews to throw rocks, spit on innocent little girls... Rumors are swirling that ultra-Orthodox Jews surrounded a innocent 9 year girls they started to spit on her, take off her clothes etc...

    December 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  15. bulbasaur

    white people are weird

    December 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  16. bill

    once again netanyahu plays prominantly at the root of the politics of hate – this time catering to the crime of hate by iseralis upon israelies. next he'll be coming to visit our president asking for money to build programs to educate his hateful country men to extend tolerance. he is like the typical rightwing republican in the u.s.a.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • mollyd

      Ultra-ANYTHING is no good. These people are nuts. I can't believe the way they treat their women......shame on them...they are as BAD as Muslim fundamentalists..........no different from them, in fact.
      Religion was created to control land and property, which included women. Get rid of it........

      December 26, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  17. liberals go away!!!

    Orthodox jews to declare war against the jewish.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • mollyd

      nice moniker......

      December 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  18. man tan

    The people throwing rocks, eggs and spitting on women are the evil ones. No where in the Bible does it say take it upon yourself to judge another and throw eggs, rocks etc.... If the ultra-Orthodox Jews want to re-earn there respect then they have to show the world where in the does it state to throw rocks at women because they do not want to sit in the back of the bus. And one more thing if anyone tells any of the females in my family or friends to sit in the back of the bus will have issues. Everyone knows that forcing women to the back of the bus is evil because bad things happens to innocent women forced to go to the back of the bus. Looks like the ultra-Orthodox Jews have a problem with ordinary women... They would never do that to a women that is from a super rich family.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  19. TheGoat

    angry white men...

    December 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  20. Kat

    if that's what they do to their own, imagine what they do to non-jewish Christian and Muslim Palestinians. They out right steal their lands and kill them in cold blood. FREE PALESTINE.

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

      YOU MUST BE JOKING WITH THIS GARBAGE. Your filthy lies have no place here. Palestinians have nobody to blame but themselves.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:19 am |
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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.